Cassavetes. Cassavetes not only has 2 top 500 films but is rightly known as grand forerunner of independent American cinema. His films have a definite atmosphere and authenticity about them that isn’t just a stagey showcase for actors. Cassavetes, as auteur, gets credit for that look and atmosphere- it’s very anti-Hollywood. He not only sets the tone for future independent cinema (both the good and bad traits of) that still lingers today but is truly one of the great actors turned directors. I wish I thought more of his oeuvre after his two top films (Faces is really good but Husbands and some of the others are just so tough to watch- maybe I’ll open up to them with more repeat visits). Cassavetes also died too young (age 59) and surely would’ve rounded out his archiveable films with more time.

from A Woman Under the Influence – an angry, ugly, beautiful film about a marriage

Best film:  A Woman Under the Influence. It will make you squirm with the level of closeness—intimacy. Gena Rowlands gives one of the best 10-20 performances of all-time in this film which is like a marital saga epic.

Cassavetes pulls you in close in all of his work like this image here from Woman Under the Influence

total archiveable films: 9

top 100 films: 0

top 500 films: 2 (A Woman Under the Influence, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie)

top 100 films of the decade: 3 (A Woman Under the Influence, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Faces)

close-up work here in Faces with his wife and muse Gena Rowlands

most overrated:  Husbands– #280 all-time on the consensus TSPDT- ranking is definitely overrated in my opinion. It’s uneven (even for a Cassavetes film), long (ditto), and unpolished. It feels like a draft of a film. Basically it’s just a weaker Cassavetes film but certainly made in his consistent mode (which is a plus). I still like the film—look forward to a second visit.

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nice image positioning the actors here in Husbands

most underrated:  Minnie and Moskowitz. It’s kind of a shaggy dog movie but also very accessible for a Cassavetes film, which can be difficult. It’s great to see a young Seymour Cassel’s impressive acting chops, too.

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from Minnie and Moskowitz – the Bergman/Agnes Varda shot here of shaping faces through blocking

gem I want to spotlight:   The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. I think the work here with natural lighting here is pretty spectacular. It’s certainly offbeat but probably the strongest pure narrative in a Cassavetes film—and there is a lot of real humor here. Clearly, it’s Ben Gazzara’s shining moment as an actor as well.

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shadow work and natural lighting in Killing of a Chinese Bookie
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phenomenal shot here in Bookie
a masterclass in an auteur-driven neo-noir — Killing of a Chinese Bookie

stylistic innovations/traits:   Certainly improvisational acting and hand-held cameras are the first things that come to my mind when thinking of Cassavetes. 16mm (though his best 2 films are 35mm). Natural (dark) lighting. At the time, his films really challenged the distinctions between documentary and fiction films and his films had a complete lack of Hollywood gloss. With Cassavetes you also think of his stable of great actors who gave fantastic raw performances: Gena Rowlands, Peter Falk, Ben Gazzara and Seymour Cassel. Fans of narrative Hollywood tradition film will also be driven nuts by Cassavetes films but you have to admire the heightened reality and soul-baring in his films.

top 10

  1. A Woman Under the Influence
  2. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
  3. Faces
  4. Love Streams
  5. Opening Night
  6. Shadows
  7. Minnie and Moskowitz
  8. Husbands
  9. Gloria

By year and grades

1958- Shadows R
1968- Faces HR
1970- Husbands R
1971- Minnie and Moskowitz
1974- A Woman Under the Influence MP
1976- The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
1977- Opening Night
1980- Gloria R
1984- Love Streams

*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