Leone. There are no easy choices on this list/project. By and large, I think much more of all 3 Leone/Eastwood collaborations than the TSPDT critical consensus. Also, I view Leone’s style as a huge plus (i.e. I think he, as a stylist, is even stronger than his filmography which as I’ve said on this project isn’t always the case). Like many on this list (and coming after) I wish Leone had made more films but damn his top 5 is really strong and they compare favorably with nearly any director’s top 5 (especially when you get away from the top 10 directors on this list). His films are also really long and saturated with style. His 6 archiveable films are 934 minutes which is about 155 a piece. Every director has their own style but 934 minutes is about 10-11 Woody Allen movies– I’m just saying—it’s not always just about the number of films.
Best film: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. I don’t think this is open and shut. The consensus is Once Upon a Time in the West and you won’t get a strong argument from me. I think the showdown at the end of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is the greatest showcase of film editing (ahead of JFK and right there with Eistenstein’s Odessa Steps showcase in Battleship Potemkin) in film history so maybe this pushes it over the top for me when comparing Leone’s best two films.
total archiveable films: 6
top 100 films: 2 (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West)
top 500 films: 5 (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West, Once Upon a Time in America, A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More)
top 100 films of the decade: 5 (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West, Once Upon a Time in America, A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More)
most overrated: Once Upon a Time in America . TPSDT has it at #101 and I’m at#150. Once Upon a Time in America is the only thing close and even that is a fairly accurate ranking. That’s a wonderful film.
most underrated : A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More are nowhere to be found in the top 1000 on TSPDT and I think that’s a travesty. They are fantastic films. I guess you could argue that A Fistful of Dollars is one-part Kurosawa (it is a remake of Yojimbo), one-part Morricone, and one-part burgeoning star Eastwood and use this to detract from Leone’s accomplishment – but someone deserves credit for putting all of that together and revamping an entire genre.
gem I want to spotlight: For a Few Dollars More. It’s the least known of the man with no name trilogy but the middle entry, For a Few Dollars More, is not far off Leone’s masterpieces in terms of stylish direction. When the TSPDT readers voted this one of the most overlooked films for not being on the top 1000 I think they were in error and meant the first film but after another visit I have to tip my cap to them- this is sensational.
Leone was the complete package. He moves the camera like Murnau, he’s as strong an editor (the opening of Once Upon a Time in the West) as any in film history. There is gorgeous use of freeze frames in the opening of The Good the Bad and the Ugly quickly borrowing from the French new wave—and his films’ music are clearly iconic. To finish things off from a mise-en-scene standpoint there were no shortage of tableaus to draw from here for the images on the page- stunning.
- The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
- Once Upon a Time in the West
- Once Upton a Time in America
- A Fistful of Dollars
- For a Few Dollars More
- Duck, You Sucker
By year and grades
|1964- A Fistful of Dollars||MS|
|1965- For a Few Dollars More||MS|
|1966- The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly||MP|
|1968- Once Upon a Time in the West||MP|
|1971- Duck, You Sucker||R|
|1984- Once Upon a Time In America||MP|
*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
I think Once Upon a Time in America is one of the greatest films ever made and certainly Leone’s masterpiece. It’s thematically more substantial than any of his previous films, exploring themes of time, love, friendship, and the American dream. The structure of the film is also far more interesting, since the story is told non-chronologically and over multiple time periods. There is a level of ambiguity and poetry to the film that I believe lends it greater depth and shows Leone maturity as an artist – for example, the final scene with Max (James Woods). The sheer scope of the film is matched by few others – a true epic at 251 minutes (restored version). The accurate recreation of the time period is also very impressive.
On top of this, Robert De Niro gives an extraordinary performance as Noodles – this would be career best material were it not for his performance in Raging Bull. He evokes such genuine emotion in his eyes, shown in those beautiful extreme close-up shots. The acting in Leone’s other films is good but cannot compare. The original score by Ennio Morricone is superb – less iconic than his score for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly but more haunting and evocative. The cinematography is very good, not on a par with Apocalypse Now or 2001: A Space Odyssey say, but very good nonetheless.
Once Upon a Time in America is such an incredible viewing experience, full of emotional highs and lows. The butchering of the film for its original American release was a terrible injustice, and I suspect this has damaged the film’s legacy even to this day. I’m pleased to see it climbing TSPDT’s Top 1000 though – perhaps next year it will finally and deservedly enter the Top 100.
@Aaron– wow- thanks for sending. What a convincing argument for “Once Upon a Time in America”- I like it more already having just read your words here. Much appreciated. I have it as Leone’s #3 and #150 overall which is no insult– but has grown on me every time I’ve caught it so I think it could keep trending upwards. I’ll say i just think the editing, particularly in the final duel, in “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” has reaches a peak I don’t think any other Leone film reaches. And I just think “Once Upon a Time in The West” is Leone’s most beautiful work– but this is a strong argument here– the scope of the film– you’re so right!
Hi Drake, love the site. Here’s a question about your methodology: if you remove ‘Duck, You Sucker’ from Leone’s filmography, does his ranking on this list become better (because his average film score goes up) or worse (because you’ve removed an archivable film)?
@Haider — thanks for the comment and praise of the site- so happy to hear it. Great question- I don’t think overall there’s a real right answer but it doesn’t really change my ranking of Leone if I remove it. I factor in a weighted ranking of the top 500 films, and then after that films that are in the top 100 of their respective decade (which includes roughly another 500 films)– and then it’s mostly about stylistic trends, authorship, etc. I don’t really look at “average film quality” or “total archiveable films” when I run my numbers. There are too many problems doing it that way (this would put Leone ahead of Kubrick and Ozu and I don’t think that’s right and on the flip side someone like Ron Howard has more archiveable films than Leone so sheer number of archiveable films shouldn’t be the deciding factor either… right? What do you think?
ennio morricone just died. his compositions were not my favorites, i prefer john williams, bernard hermann, or max steiner. but he was a great composer and the good, bad ugly is just straight up iconic. also helped out tarantino on his best film, inglorious bastards, and did one of the best film compositions in history, the tragic masterpiece once upon a time in america.
@ m – I saw this, too. What a loss– but I think he was 91 so a full life at least. Absolutely- a great composer. I just did a Corbucci study so Morricone’s work is in the front of my mind here.
Ennio Morricone left a gigantic influence on the film scoring world with emotional, heartfelt scores that add a lot to their respective movies.
Morricone’s loss is a huge
What’s the best Ennio Morricone film score? Or like a top 3?(This question is to Drake and all the other readers of the blog)
@Azman- I don’t know if I can do just three. Navajo Joe has a great score. The Good the Bad and The Ugly seems like the obvious choice- and for good reason. Days of Heaven has a brilliant Morricone score as does both “Once Upon a Time” films from Leone… The Untouchables is masterful as well.
For me, Ennio Morricone might be the best film composer ever. TGTBATU is my favorite score ever, but Lawrence of Arabia, Blade Runner, Empire Strikes Back and so many others make it difficult. Obviously there are many great scores and composers for them; who do you think has the best case for being the greatest in both categories (score and score composer)?
max steiner is the best. did the greatest score ever the searchers. i do think morricones once in america is masterful.
@Graham— another tough one! I’d have to really sit down year by year and do it but Bernard Herrmann comes to mind along with Morricone quickly. Of course John Williams is a genius… Hans Zimmer has been doing great work for a long time. This list is a little contemporary heavy for my money- but, does a very good job overall https://pitchfork.com/features/lists-and-guides/the-50-best-movie-scores-of-all-time/?page=1
@graham, @m and @Azman
show some respect to my man Nino Rota please… La Dolcevita, 8 e mezzo, amarcord, The Godfather… I mean like three of the best films ever and I don’t know more iconic themes than 8 e mezzo and the godfather
Nino Rota certainly does deserve respect! I think The Godfather’s score has a strong case as the greatest movie music of the entire 70s, and that’s the decade that brought us Jaws’ ominous trills, Star Wars’ epic melodies, Days of Heaven’s soaring luminous tones, Apocalypse Now’s haunting soundscape, and Rocky’s uplifting beats.
Regardless of who places where, I think these six film composers can all be generally agreed upon to deserve placement in or near the top ten of all time:
Hell yes, the more I watch of Fellini the more I consider Rota as a contender for the best of all time. Every score he made for the man has that wonderful carnivalesque feel that perfectly encapsulates the Fellini body of work, and in some of his later films (thinking the self-titled series from 1969-1976) can give us a chilling sense of unease.
Of course, I’ve mentioned a few times I would need to rewatch The Godfather films in order to consider that work myself, as it has been too long since I have seen them, but I would even think, based on his work with Fellini as well as Visconti alone that he would be a contender.
Il Maestro on Rota:
“The most precious collaborator I have ever had, I say it straightaway and don’t even have to hesitate, was Nino Rota — between us, immediately, a complete, total, harmony … He had a geometric imagination, a musical approach worthy of celestial spheres. He thus had no need to see images from my movies. When I asked him about the melodies he had in mind to comment one sequence or another, I clearly realized he was not concerned with images at all. His world was inner, inside himself, and reality had no way to enter it.”
@Zane- On this train of thought- I just finished City of Women from Fellini in 1980– and one of my observations is Nino Rota’s absence and just how much he is missed (Nino Rota passed in 1979)
@Drake – That is very intriguing as I considered watching a few of Fellini’s 80s films but got sidetracked by entering college (I didn’t go further into Fassbinder as well because I wanted to be done with him by the time that started) and needing to deal with that stuff. Would you archive it, or did you not think it was very good?
@Zane- I’ll have a page for it soon in the archives. It won’t be in Fellini’s top 10, but it is certainly worth seeking out and watching.
Beautiful, well edited films and iconic, memorable music in almost all of them. Great point regarding movie length. His filmography is not that deep but then you remember how long his movies are and that has to count for something. I go back and forth ranking his top 3 all the time and I agree with you that A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More are underrated and should be in top 1000. To bring up again what I said yesterday, we can find enough space for 13 Hawks and 11 Renoir films but can’t for these two? I find that hard to believe. I would even give some credit to A Fistful of Dynamite (Duck, You Sucker). Very good film too.
[…] 20. Sergio Leone […]
Umm… Once Upon a Time in MEXICO? That’s what it says under the shot from the start of Once Upon a TIme in the West. “Once Upon a Time” movies seem to have a particular tendency to switch around words; I remember you wrote that Joe Pesci was in OuaTitW somewhere. Once Upon a Time in Spain would be more accurate, because I think that’s where they filmed them.
Great shot, though.
@Graham– haha thanks for the help- fixed. There must be a glitch in my brain that keeps messing the words around here
Haha, it seems the glitch you theorized above has struck again. I just noticed that under the first image you placed on the page (besides the slideshow at the top), you say the shot is from OuaTiA, when it is clearly from Once Upon a Time in the West.
Also, since it is officially 2021 now where I live, happy new year!
@Graham–much appreciated- should be fixed now. Thanks for the help on the cleanup-
Ten Directors with Great Editing (followed by their best edited film)
1. Leone (tie) – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
1. Eisenstein (tie) – Battleship Potemkin
3. Coppola – Apocalypse Now
4. Peckinpah – The Wild Bunch
5. Truffaut – Jules and Jim
6. Nolan – Dunkirk
7. Scorsese – Raging Bull
8. Kurosawa – Seven Samurai but Rashomon and Ran are close editing-wise
9. Stone – JFK
10. Ozu – Tokyo Story
I’m sad to be missing Griffith (Intolerance), Dreyer (PoJoA), Fincher (not sure), Allen (Annie Hall), Bergman (Persona), Hitchcock (Psycho), Hill (Butch Cassidy) in the list. I have probably forgotten some.
I forgot Welles (Citizen Kane), Malick (ToL), Penn (Bonnie and Clyde), and Spielberg (honestly there are four or five films with a case as his best edited) in my editors’ list above.
Mann with Heat is another example.
Sorry for the late response. I agree that Mann should be among the best for editing. George Miller (Fury Road) and Friedkin (French Connection) came into my mind to add as honorable mentions as well. There are also some modern auteurs such as Chazelle, Aronofsky, and Innaritu who, although primarily long-shot directors, have sequences of tremendous cutting and montage. The only great directors that can be argued not to have very good editing (I’m not even saying I agree; it’s just that there could possibly be a logical case) are those who only use long shots, such as Tarkovsky, Cuaron, and Ophuls. However, that scarcely matters for them when other aspects of their films are so brilliant.
@Graham— great breakdown here again– I’ll add Wes to the mix– the way he edits the suicide attempt in Royal Tenenbaums and the helicopter crash in Life Aquatic come to mind
I’m surprised that I did not include him before. Wes Anderson is simply one of my favorite directors working today. His editing is playful and brilliant. I will also add Spike Lee (Malcolm X assassination) and the Coen brothers (Big Lebowski bowling montage). Actually, the worst offense I have done is to not have mentioned Stanley Kubrick, the greatest director, at all. 2001 includes the bone cut and stargate sequence, among other brilliant editing scenes.
Drake, do you think OUaTiTW would be listed as Leone’s best film above TG, TB, & TU had Eastwood returned as The Man with No Name instead of being replaced by Bronson? Because in my opinion Bronson isn’t actively terrible but I don’t think he’s quite on the level of Fonda, Robards, and Cardinale, and Eastwood would definitely be on similar footing to them.
@Zane– fascinating. You know I love Leone and Eastwood and have never thought about that. It’ll be fun to watch again with that in mind the next time I get the privilege to watch Once Upon a Time in the West– I only have like 9 slots separating those two films on my all-time list which is a virtual tie anyways. Certainly Bronson is no Eastwood.