Cimino. Cimino is probably as well known for killing the fertile artistic period of American cinema of the 1970’s with expensive economic (but certainly not artistic) failure of Heaven’s Gate as he is for his 1978’s best picture winning Deer Hunter. Cimino only has three archiveable films and although I think Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is a fine film—it doesn’t sniff the top 10 of 1974 so his case really rests on The Deer Hunter and Heaven’s Gate. That is a remarkable 1-2 though— and they are certainly clear companions (long films, immaculate visuals, sagas/opuses/portraits) and look at the compositions below, breathtaking wide-angle arrangements, some of the most beautiful shots of this or any era in cinema’s 100+ long history. It makes me to sad that Heaven’s Gate was basically the end for Cimino — if he could have put together a long string of films on the level of The Deer Hunter and Heaven’s Gate– he goes down as one of the best of all-time.

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awe-inspiring composition from The Deer Hunter

Best film:  The Deer Hunter. Come for the unbelievably tense Russian-roulette scenes and stay for the painstakingly detailed and authentic wedding, hunting sequences, and peak (or very near) work from De Niro, Streep and Walken. It is a portrait of a Pennsylvanian town and an innocence lost—tragic and powerful.

the single-greatest shot from The Deer Hunter here
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another remarkable shot from The Deer Hunter

total archiveable films: 3

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it is a distant third behind Heaven’s Gate and The Deer Hunter in Cimino’s body of work this is certainly an inspired arrangement of mise-en-scene here

top 100 films:  0

top 500 films:  1 (The Deer Hunter)

The Deer Hunter is a story of Vietnam, Russian roulette, prisoners of war– but it’s also a portrait of a small town. This show here captures the blue-collar steel town of Pennsylvania– Cimino’s opus

top 100 films of the decade:  2 (The Deer Hunter, Heaven’s Gate)

most overrated:  Nothing here really—not enough to get worked up about. Cimino has two films in the TSPDT consensus top 1000 – Deer Hunter is at #162 and Heaven’s Gate is at #421. I’m about 50 slots behind the consensus with The Deer Hunter at #227 and I’ve got Heaven’s Gate near my top 500— one of the first films left off the list.

most underrated: Nothing here either. The only other film in the archives is Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and it’s good- but it shouldn’t be in the TSPDT top 1000 so they have this correct.

gem I want to spotlight:  It’s Heaven’s Gate. Time has been kind to Heaven’s Gate. If you’re watching it on a crappy VHS copy (which we were all forced to for years) it isn’t a top 1000 film. DVD and the Bluray has put this film in the right light/perspective. It has sequences and shots that are as stunning as anything put on film. Still, it is uneven, and there are stretches that falter—but there is real ambition and genius here. Vilmos Zsigmond’s photography, the use of natural lighting. The wide angle shots. It’s all on display.

gob-smacking- from Heaven’s Gate– Cimino and Vilmos Zsigmond’s photography, the use of natural lighting
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another here– any one of these would be the shot of the year — it makes me think Heaven’s Gate and Raging Bull in 1980 may be the 1980 version of 2007’s There Will Be Blood and The Assassination of Jesse James

stylistic innovations/traits:  I mentioned much of it here with Heaven’s Gate but the wide shot compositions are breathtaking. The work Cimino and Zsigmond has just gotten better over the last 40 years.  Cimino’s films take their time, but they’re draped in authentic and ambitious epic visuals. I think of The Conformist or 1900 from Bertolucci as well. There may only be 3 films here for Cimino in the archives but I had a large time keeping the visuals taken for this page under 10—there was an abundance to choose from.

a stunner from Heaven’s Gate— achingly beautiful
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from Heaven’s Gate– a twin to the shot above from The Deer Hunter

top 10

  1. The Deer Hunter
  2. Heaven’s Gate
  3. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot

By year and grades

1974- Thunderbolt and Lightfoot R
1978- The Deer Hunter MP
1980- Heaven’s Gate MS




*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