Fellini. Perhaps only Coppola has a 1-2 that can match 8 ½ and La Dolce Vita which come out as #2 and #3 film of the 1960’s behind 2001. The 1960’s is the strongest decade and this means that Fellini’s second best film, is superior to anything by Kurosawa, Truffaut, Godard, Renoir, Bergman and many other great auteurs- that’s his case. Fellini’s roots are in neo-realism (co-writing Rossellini’s Rome, Open City and Paisan– two staples of early Italian neo-realism) and though I Vitelloni (Fellini’s breakout Mean Streets film – or vice versa) is based on some real-life experiences (and is no less personal) his work clearly goes from neo-realistic tendencies (La Strada) to the fantastic and surreal towards his wonderfully bat-$hit crazy self-named- “Fellini” films in the late 60’s and early 70’s (Roma, Satyricon, and Casanova –all fantastic, bizarre, and admittedly a notch below his work from 1960-1965 where he gave us, in a row, three of the best 82 films of all-time) over the arch of his career.

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How do you follow-up a masterpiece like La Dolce Vita? —with an opening like 8 1/2

Best film:  8 ½ . An autobiographical catharsis and surrealism come together in a mad circus of a film filled with scene after scene and image after image of some that culminate in an achievement worthy of a top 10 film of all-time.

top 100 films: 3 (8 1/2 , La Dolce Vita, Juliet of the Spirits)

perhaps the greatest achievement in cinematic surrealism in 8 1/2

top 500 films: 7 (8 1/2 , La Dolce Vita, Juliet of the Spirits, La Strada, Amarcord, The Nights of the Cabiria, I Vitelloni)

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opulence and a breathtaking mise-en-scene– theme and visuals married here in Casanova

top 100 films of the decade: 7 (La Strada, The Nights of the Cabiria, I Vitelloni, 8 ½, La Dolce Vita, Juliet of the Spirits, Amarcord)

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silhouette work in La Dolce Vita

most overrated:   So TSPDT has 10 Fellini films in the top 1000 and I’ve seen each at least twice. None of them are vastly overrated. I’ve seen most of Fellini’s other career work (outside the TSPDT top 1000) and I’d skip Ginger and Fred (1986). It’s too bad it took this long for the first film starring both Masina and Mastroianni. Both, and Fellini at this point, are clearly past their prime and it’s not too good.

most underrated: Juliet of the Spirits currently stands at the catastrophically underrated position of #890 on TSPDT.  There’s no way there are 889 better films (I’ve got it at #82) than this sprawling and entertaining exercise in film bravado and visual splendor. It’s his first color film and he took on the challenge like few after him would.

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the use of color in cinema doesn’t get much better than Fellini’s work in Juliet of the Spirits

gem I want to spotlight:  I Vitelloni. If you haven’t seen it you’re in store for a treat. I can’t imagine what cinema enthusiasts thought of it in 1953 because the style behind the camera put on showcase by Fellini smacks you in the face. It’s surely the arrival of Fellini, who, after this, would give us 3 of the top 100 films of all-time in the next 10 years.

even in 1953 in I Vitelloni Fellini had an eye for composition

stylistic innovations/traits:  Fellini has three important phases, from I Vitelloni, to La Strada and Cabiria in the 50’sthere are still roots in Neo-realism—one of cinema’s most important movements. It’s his break from that though, in the symbolic (water means youth , seven deadly sins) La Dolce Vita that starts his peak-work. It continues with 8 ½ and Juliet of the Spirits where he blends surrealism—daydreams, flashbacks to childhood, fantasies.  His period from 1969-76 starting with Satyricon, peaking in this period with Amarcord, and ending with Casanova where he permeates in exceed gone overboard (but in a good way)—full blown expressionism. Fellini really mastered both— the crisp formal allegories in La Strada (which would make Rossellini and De Sica proud) and the world-building personal cinema and expressionism that would make David Lynch or Wes Anderson proud. Fellini’s mise-en-scene would mirror this transition and would grow busier and busier (think Wes Anderson in Bottle Rocket to Grand Budapest change). The photography in La Dolce Vita, 8 ½ and color work in Juliet of the Spirits is immaculate. He loved formal parables. His camera tended to track forward or backward with a character (or two or three talking over each other) talking to the main character (Marcello, or Masina in Juliet) slightly off camera- this is one of the foremost stylistic trademarks of Fellini.  His main characters here are really just empty vessels watching the spectacle and circus of life dance around him. In his 1950’s films the truth cuts you like realism can— and in the 60’s and 70’s it’s the magnificence of excess (in the mise-en-scene) that washes over you. These films are meditations on glut, ego, fame, indulgence and nostalgia—extremely personal cinema—it’s no surprise his greatest work is about the struggle of trying to make a movie.

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a stunner from La Dolce Vita

top 10

  1. 8 ½
  2. La Dolce Vita
  3. Juliet of the Spirits
  4. La Strada
  5. Amarcord
  6. The Nights of the Cabiria
  7. I Vitelloni
  8. Fellini Satyricon
  9. Fellini’s Casanova
  10. Fellini’s Roma
style meets narrative in one of Fellini’s greatest images

By year and grades

1952- The White Sheik R
1953- I Vitelloni MS
1954- La Strada MP
1955- IL Bidone R
1957- The Nights of the Cabiria MS
1960- La Dolce Vita MP
1963- 8 1/2 MP
1965- Juliet of the Spirits MP
1969- Fellini Satyricon HR
1972- Fellini’s Roma R/HR
1973- Amarcord MP
1976- Fellini’s Casanova HR
1983- And the Ship Sails On R
1987- Intervista R
the greatest shot from Amarcord

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives