Chaplin. Chaplin’s filmography suggests a much better fate than where I’ve got him at here– sitting at #80. . I’m lower on most of his films than the TSPDT consensus so that’s one thing. Even so, I would have him rated as #30 if I were just using my filmography points system (TSPDT has Chaplin as the #15 rated director of all-time—which I find to be preposterous). He’s clearly a style-minus director- one of, if not the overall lowest on this list. As I’ve said and hinted at before he’s clearly one of the 5-10 greatest screen performers/actors of all-time in any era (I’ve got him at #9). He’s just not that great a director and over time I see him falling down this list, not working his way up it. To end positively here though, his films are filled with some of cinema’s most iconic images and scenes: the dinner roll dance in The Gold Rush,, the bounce with the globe in The Great Dictator and the walkaway to conclude Modern Times. He was also remarkably consistent. He only directed 11 feature films. 10 are archiveable (the only one was made in 1967 when he was nearly 80), 5 are in the top 100 of their respective decade and from 1925-1940 he went –MP, MS, MP, MP, MS—impressive.
Best film: City Lights is a giant masterpiece. Its romanticism is set up formally– and well-earned.
total archiveable films: 10
top 100 films: 1 (City Lights)
top 500 films: 4 (City Lights, Modern Times, The Gold Rush, The Circus)
top 100 films of the decade: 5 City Lights, Modern Times, The Gold Rush, The Circus, The Kid)
most overrated: He’s got plenty. Limelight #508 of all-time on TSPDT. … Gold Rush at #71….Monsieur Verdoux at #272… I’ll pick Limelight since I’d rather not attack some of the others that I like so much. Limelight is a simple recommend and there are easily 12-15 better films from 1952 alone that I’ve seen and rated.
most underrated: The Circus– This is Chaplin’s 8th highest rated film on TSPDT. I have it at #4. The Circus was made at the height of his powers between Gold Rush (1925) and City Lights (1931) and though this film isn’t as good as those two its way better than some of his overrated later works.
gem I want to spotlight: Modern Times. This has really been the one film of his that has grown on me over the years. It’s a perfect film and his brilliant sheep to the slaughter opening and iconic tramp walk off finale. A brilliant satire.
stylistic innovations/traits: Here’s the problem for Chaplin. When, if ever, have I ever felt compelled to compare another filmmaker (again filmmaker key word) to Chaplin? It rarely happens—I guess occasionally when talking about the power of the close-up but more often it’s as an insult when talking about being stale behind the camera, simply setting the action in front of the camera or sometimes when talking about sentimentality—not good. He was detailed and exacting and must be praised for the way he framed his action and worked on choreography but he’s no great stylistic influencer and after all this is a list of great directors. As a director it’s hard to even compare him to other “style-minus” directors on this list who likewise made great films like Wilder or Lumet. Their imagery is stronger. However, his oeuvre is truly impressive—I really can’t omit Chaplin completely or drop him further when you look at and compare the end results (the films).
- City Lights
- Modern Times
- The Gold Rush
- The Circus
- The Great Dictator
- The Kid
- Monsieur Verdoux
- A Woman of Paris
- A King in New York
By year and grades
|1921- The Kid||HR|
|1923- A Woman of Paris||R|
|1925- The Gold Rush||MP|
|1928- The Circus||MS|
|1931- City Lights||MP|
|1936- Modern Times||MP|
|1940- The Great Dictator||MS|
|1947- Monsieur Verdoux||R|
|1957- A King in New York||R|
*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