De Palma. When talking about De Palma people either start with either a) talking about him as a brilliant technician/stylist or b) talk about him being a Hitchcock imitator or c) talk about him the maker of dumbish’ pulp films. I think all three things are somewhat undeniable and I officially have no problem with them. I mean Obsession is a pretty straight Vertigo remake. Dressed to Kill has elements of Psycho but it certainly doesn’t stop there either with Hitchcock or other homages or pilfering. A brilliant sequence in The Untouchables steals from the Odessa Steps sequence in Battleship PotemkinScarface is obviously an updated remake of the early Howard Hawks gangster film and De Palma has an entire movie called Femme Fatale. I appreciate De Palma’s visual style and nearly his entire oeuvre.  He has three films in the top 500 which is strong this far down the list. His best work was from 1976-1987- his 5 best films during that stretch (he gave us 4 of the top 100 films of the 1980’s). He’s such a great technician that even his bad fims (and he’s made a few) have some bravura sequences.

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Scarface is not a subtle film and De Palma is not a subtle filmmaker– but this is an elegant shot here

Best film:  Blow Out. The finale is such a grand visual spectacle. It’s good narrative (like The Conversation from Coppola this is taken from Antonioni’s Blow Out) and has all the De Palma elements—and the fireworks slow-motion sequence is De Palma’s zenith.  

De Palma’s zenith

total archiveable films: 13

top 100 films: 0

top 500 films: 3 (Blow Out, Carrie, Scarface)

top 100 films of the decade: 5 (Blow Out, Carrie, Scarface, The Untouchables, Dressed to Kill)

Wellesian low-angle and using the entire frame– stunning shot here from The Untouchables

most overrated:  Not a thing for De Palma here- he has three films in the top 1000 on TSPDT (Blow Out, Carrie and Scarface and all three are either rated correctly or underrated).

most underrated: Blow Out- it’s #684 on TSPDT but I’m at #189 so we’re 500 slots off- substantial disconnect here. Mission Impossible, Snake Eyes, and Femme Fatale all have metacritic scores in the 50’s and are in my archives.

gem I want to spotlight:  Dressed to Kill­– Ebert said “De Palma is not yet an artist of Hitchcock’s stature, but he does earn the right to a comparison.” This film is perfect De Palma. It’s pulpy (almost soap opera-y at times) and part Hitchcock— and 100% technically stunning.

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from Dressed to Kill– lighting magnificence here
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great mise-en-scene here from Dressed to Kill– and of course a love letter homage to Hitchcock and Vertigo

stylistic innovations/traits:   Yes, amongst the many, he is the A-1 Hitchcock disciple. This is not easy (De Palma’s to imitate Hitchcock come off much more successfully than Truffaut) and if you’re going to pick an auteur to pattern yourself after – Hitchcock is a good one (he’s #1 on this list). De Palma has some original touches too- he goes to slow-motion (which Hitchcock didn’t) and he basically invented the split-screen shot and the gorgeous split diopter shot. Other shots (the overhead shot from Psycho, the POV shot, the 360 swirling tracking shot from (Vertigo) he used so often he made his own (and when someone like Tarantino talks about them he says he got them from De Palma). He’s such a gifted technician and adored those stunning long rolling tracking shots. He’s not Hitchcock and honestly never really tried to top the great master. He’s a visual master and frankly, gave us some of the better directed sequences (the opening of Carrie, the end of Blow Out) of the 70’s and 80’s. I cherish his oeuvre.

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the overhead tracking shot- Carrie
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here in The Untouchables
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trademark split diopter shot from Blow Out
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another one from The Untouchables
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the split-screen– De Palma’s most signature shot — here in Carrie
in Sisters

top 10

  1. Blow Out
  2. Carrie
  3. Scarface
  4. The Untouchables
  5. Dressed to Kill
  6. Carlito’s Way
  7. Mission Impossible
  8. Sisters
  9. Femme Fatale
  10. Casualties of War
tremendous imagery here from the climax in Carrie

By year and grades

1973- Sisters R
1976- Carrie MS
1976- Obsession R
1978- The Fury R
1980- Dressed To Kill HR
1981- Blow Out MP
1983- Scarface MS
1987- Untouchables HR
1989- Casualties of War R
1993- Carlito’s Way R/HR
1996- Mission Impossible R
1998- Snake Eyes R
2002- Femme Fatale 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