Michael Mann. Fact, all eight of Mann’s archiveable films below would show up on their respective years’ top 10 if I had to update all my yearly top 10’s today. That’s remarkable. Now with another look at Blackhat, Ali (neither in the archives) or his earlier work that’ll change with his perfect top 10 record (these aren’t his only 8 films of course) but still.  He also has a big “M” Masterpiece in Heat (top 100 all-time) and is an auteur with a distinct worldview and aesthetic. His films are bleak, serious, dark films (often shot at night). He’s an auteur with visual consistency and a fairly deep filmography (not many auteurs this far down from #1 on the list have a 6th best film like Thief).

Best film:  Heat I don’t think there’s a realistic challenger here to one of the best films of the 1990’s. It’s a modern crime epic told with a controlled yet ambitious scrupulous style and polish. It’s as much Mann’s take on the genre as say Leone’s on the western.

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a pair of paintings from Heat here and below
I think it’s both Mann’s greatest image— and one he uses many times over the course of his body of work

total archiveable films: 8

top 100 films: 1 (Heat)

top 500 films: 3 (Heat, The Last of the Mohicans, The Insider)

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this is from The Insider but again could be from a half dozen of his films from Manhunter to Miami Vice

top 100 films of the decade: 7 (Thief, Manhunter, The Last of the Mohicans, Heat, The Insider, Collateral, Public Enemies)

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exceptional foreground/background work here in Collateral – Mann is creating an atmosphere– a tone

most overrated:  Absolutely nothing here. Michael Mann isn’t in the TSPDT top 150 directors, and, shockingly, he has only 1 film in the TSPDT top 1000 (Heat but even that isn’t in the top 300). It’s one of the largest gulfs between the consensus and myself.  I think the evidence shows (films themselves) pretty clearly that I have the correct reading on Mann.

from Last of the Mohicans – he may be the action genre’s greatest auteur

most underrated:   Public Enemies is #722 on TSPDT… OF THE 21ST CENTURY… haha. That’s absurd. It’s one highlight after another starting with the opening prison break. I don’t think it’s on the level of Last of the Mohicans but I think it’s an even more personalized period piece (Mann is so modern) with a patented aesthetic.

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wall art bliss in Public Enemies

gem I want to spotlight:  Thief.  The urban neon florescent motif so magnificently achieved here. James Caan is great in the lead here as well. It’s not just the lighting here- he uses natural lighting and the magic hour to turn the sky pink. Some of the best shots in Heat or The Insider 15-20 years later are set up here initially.

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the lighting motif in Thief
urban genre art

stylistic innovations/traits:  Mann shares certain urban-art shadowy auteur sensibilities with WKW and David Fincher. It’s an interesting juxtaposition with more traditionally (nature) appreciated filmmakers known for great cinematography like Malick, Lean or Leone.  Mann has a penchant for neon and florescent lighting, the use of deep blue day for night (which is Nicholas Ray). Mann’s films are serious and bleak in tone—meticulous illumination and often pushed aside by some critics as genre exercises or style exercises (sign me up). Mann has been on the cusp of the digital camera expansion in the 21st century. Many of his subjects pit two men against each other. There are reoccurring shots of the water, just after the dusk, and night city skylines.

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this one is from Manhunter – the window water landscape shot
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atmosphere and performance from a camera position in The Insider
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again in Collateral – both actors nominated– both partly thanks to Mann

top 10

  1. Heat
  2. The Last of the Mohicans
  3. The Insider
  4. Collateral
  5. Manhunter
  6. Thief
  7. Public Enemies
  8. Miami Vice
pink sky– jaw-dropping here from Manhunter– Mann does not get mentioned enough of one of the medium’s great artists

By year and grades

1981- Thief HR
1986- Manhunter HR
1992- The Last of the Mohicans MS
1995- Heat MP
1999- The Insider MS
2004- Collateral HR
2006- Miami Vice R/HR
2009- Public Enemies HR

*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