Wilder. Wilder is one of the best screenwriters in film history. You won’t get a ton of argument from me if you want to call him the single best but regardless- any list without him in the top 5 is incorrect. This, however, is not a list of the best screenwriters of all-time but a list of the best directors. Wilder all but agrees with me- Wilder admits he became a director out of necessity—so no other director would screw up his writing.  This may be an oversimplification and some self-deprecation but still—TSPDT has him as the 16th best director of all-time and this is simply incorrect.  I’ve found that he certainly transcends being just a screenwriter at times (Sunset Boulevard and Double Indemnity in particular are remarkably directed) at times- but not at all times . I’ll get to it below but Some Like it Hot baffles me at #28 of all-time on TSPDT. I don’t get it. It’s not there in the text.  

Best film:  Sunset Boulevard. Gothic and savage. It’s wickedly funny and is certainly his best directed film in my mind. The ending is one of cinema’s great endings.

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an ingenious shot from Sunset Boulevard
it’s not just the line delivery- but Wilder’s camera movement which helps make the end of Sunset Boulevard

total archiveable films: 20

top 100 films: 0

top 500 films: 4 (Sunset Boulevard, Double Indemnity, The Apartment, Some Like it Hot)

silhouette perfection in Double Indemnity

top 100 films of the decade: 6(Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend, Sunset Boulevard, Some Like it Hot, Ace in the Hole, The Apartment)

most overrated:   Some Like it Hot is #28 on TSPDT…. Holy hell.. I’m at #265. If you’re here to argue how funny it is, how good the performances are—absolutely. It’s impeccably written, riotous and the three leads are irreplaceable.  If film is just entertainment sure—but if it’s art? The films I have at #27-31 are The Rules of The Game, Battleship Potemkin, Touch of Evil, Pulp Fiction, Ambersons, Taxi Driver… these films are superior works of art.

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sharp writing, prime performances and great comedy in Some Like it Hot

most underrated:  Stalag 17 and Sabrina. Wilder actually only has 5 films in the TSPDT top 1000 (the same as my top 5).  Stalag 17 is wonderfully cynical. William Holden (in his Oscar winning role) as a POW anti-hero spitting absolute fire for 2 hours. Sabrina is my #6 Wilder film and though I haven’t yet pushed my top 500 to 1000 I believe it would make the list.

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a perfect shot from Sabrina – an isolated figure on a the tennis court by moonlight

gem I want to spotlight:  Ace in the Hole. Kirk Douglas ripping heads off and chewing scenery here. Sense a trend (cynical as Stalag and as ferocious as Sunset Boulevard).  You combine this dialogue with this performance and you get a top 1000 film pretty easily. It is dark and disparaging. One of the best films from both Wilder and Douglas.

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a stunner from Ace in the Hole

stylistic innovations/traits:      He’s certainly witty and can adapt and be romantic (Sabrina, Apartment), post-ww2 dark hardboiled skeptic (Double Indemnity, Lost Weekend) and that savage cynicism (Sunset Boulevard and Ace in the Hole).  I go back and forth in my head about where Wilder will ultimately as a director on my list when all of the contemporary directors have said what they want to say. Although I think Wilder is a style-minus director (in the context of this list/project) he’s made great films and has, despite my prior comment, crafted many of cinema’s most magnificent and iconic Hollywood scenes (certainly including Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe, Holden, Audrey Hepburn). His best work (Sunset Boulevard and Double Indemnity and to a less extend The Apartment) he puts on the master director’s hat and doesn’t just rely on his gift of the written word and supreme Hollywood acting talent. Sunset Boulevard uses the camera and shot choice in the opening pool shot and final “I’m ready for my close-up” scene. The Venetian blind lighting work in Double Indemnity is masterful and the office as a set-piece and architectural cue for Lemmon’s loneliness touches greatness in The Apartment.

set piece character work in The Apartment
there are many of these from Double Indemnity– cinema’s long lighting tradition of work with Venetian blinds — Double Indemnity is on the Mount Rushmore with Bertolucci’s The Conformist

top 10

  1. Sunset Boulevard
  2. Double Indemnity
  3. The Apartment
  4. Some Like it Hot
  5. Ace in the Hole
  6. Sabrina
  7. Stalag 17
  8. The Lost Weekend
  9. Avanti
  10. The Seven Year Itch

By year and grades

1942- The Major and the Minor R
1944- Double Indemnity MP
1945- The Lost Weekend HR
1948- A Foreign Affair R
1950- Sunset Boulevard MP
1951- Ace in the Hole HR
1953- Stalag 17 HR
1954- Sabrina HR
1955- The Seven Year Itch R
1957- Love in the Afternoon R
1957- Witness for the Prosecution R
1959- Some Like it Hot MS/MP
1960- The Apartment MP
1961- One, Two, Three R
1966- The Fortune Cookie R
1970- The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes R
1972- Avanti HR
1974- The Front Page R
1978- Fedora R
1981- Buddy, Buddy

*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