best film: Bicycle Thieves from De Sica. 1948 is the single greatest year for Italian Neorealism and De Sica’s masterpiece is the crown jewel- one of the best films of all-time. It is simple yet epic harrowingly tragic—real.
most underrated: A Hen in the Wind from Ozu. You have to see every film from the great auteurs is something I say often–and A Hen in the Wind is one of the main reasons why. It, somehow, isn’t in the full extended top 2000 on the TSPDT consensus list—a miss from the critics.
- A superior formal work—poetic and beautiful
- Post-WW2 of course with his cohorts Sakamoto in Ryu in support but it’s really a simple story of Kinuyo Tanaka (superb) who has to prostitute herself to pay for the hospital bills of her son while her husband is away at work Shûji San– though in less time than Tanaka—is equally excellent—but this is narrative—and Ozu has loftier artistic goals in mind with the way he weaves the story
- The editing is magnificent- he opens in an alley and then a short establishing shot montage (with a quick shot of laundry swinging on some houses) of a town which includes a large metal building set piece. He closes the film with a perfect bookend of the same sequence in reverse
- The pillow shots or cutaways are a plenty here and seem to be picking up steam in his work over the years
- the row of bottles along the bottom of the frame of the unsavory woman who suggests prostitution—it makes for a beautiful frame- but it is a character statement as well
- It’s a half neorealism (poverty take as matter of fact- mostly with a slight grin) and half melodrama with that set up
- Plenty of grand-father clocks, the trademark hall shot with the bike in it
- It’s not part of the cutaway brilliance but there’s a long scene that’s fantastic where Tanaka stares into the mirror realizing what she has to do to pay the bills
- It’s methodically edited with the cutaways, some reoccurring and some new in perfect union and theme and variation— form and rhythmic
- Gorgeous use of metal on the ground to structure some framing—you even see characters walking through it— this film would make for an unbelievable double-billing with Antonioni’s Red Desert or Cronenberg’s Spider
- Another simple but gorgeous shot of a row of three chairs in the office so carefully eschew
- The big accident of her pushed down the stairs is set up formally when he knocks a bottle down the stairs earlier—it reminds me of the stool and how Eastwood earns the big dramatic scene by showing it again and again (that’s part of film form) in Million Dollar Baby
most overrated: I saw it over a decade ago and the VHS copy was really rough, but I have to admit that Spring in a Small Town would be my choice for most overrated film from 1948. It currently sits at #151 on the TSPDT consensus list (good enough for #3 of 1948) and I would go through at least 15 films before thinking about it for 1948.
gem I want to spotlight: They Live by Night from Nicholas Ray
- It is a key film in the history of film noir
- Also well-known and often cited as one of the best film debuts of all-time
- Begins Ray’s exploration and medication on youth (specifically troubled youth) that he would revisit throughout his oeuvre- most notably in Rebel Without a Cause– there are countless comparisons between these two films including these two young lovers playing house and trying to be happy normally just like the Natalie Wood and James Dean character (with Sal Mineo as their faux-child)
- Very busy mise-en-scene- repeatedly shows these characters trapped and behind bars- well done
- All four leads are superb- Granger, Cathy O’Donnell, Howard Aa Silva, and Jay C. Flippen
- The young couple on the run of course makes you think of many films in cinema history from recent American Honey to Badlands, to Bonnie and Clyde to You Only Live Once to Gun Crazy
- The first shot is a helicopter shot- that’s how you announce yourself as an auteur- it had to blow people’s mind in 1948 when they saw the shot. Ray would go back to that same shot at least 3 times- great film form here
- Devastating ending with O’Donnell- back of her head walking away reading his letter
trends and notables:
- 1948 is Neorealism’s zenith—the three films at the top 1948 are among the best 6-8 films from the entire movement—these are major accomplishments for De Sica, Visconti and Rossellini (this is the final leg of Rossellini’s war trilogy)
- It’s a markedly better year than 1947 as we’ve no less than eleven (11)1films here in 1948 that are top 5 of the year quality films. They Live By Night does not make the top 10 of 1948 and would be no worse than #4 for 1947
- I’ve already mentioned Nicholas Ray’s stirring debut (yet another noir debut as it would be for so many auteurs during the 1940’s)—filled with cinema style and relatively low budget
- Although they would both appear separately in How the West Was Won and The Longest Day (both of those are like that tiny subgenre of early 1960’s all-star cameo films)—Fort Apache marks the only shared scenes (to my knowledge) of towering heavyweight actors Henry Fonda and John Wayne (and John Ford’s dueling screen alter egos a la Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant for Hitchcock). It doesn’t disappoint. Don’t we all wish Hitchcock had the chance to direct Grant and Stewart together in a film?
- Speaking of Hitchcock—1948 is an important year for the history of the long take shot. Hitchcock would mask the 10 cuts (believe) in Rope. It is hard to talk about Victoria, Birdman, Gravity, 1917, Russian Ark without talking about Rope
- In 1946 and 1947 I mentioned the big difference may be Ford, Hawks and Hitchcock—and here is more evidence to that idea— these three bounce back with Fort Apache (MS), Red River (MP) and Rope (MS) and we’re back with a brilliant year again.
- Toshiro Mifune makes his debut in 1948 in Kurosawa’s Drunken Angel (another film that would be in the top 5 of 1947). Kurosawa was so impressed by Mifune’s skill and dedication that apparently he wrestled some of the dialogue/screen-time/spotlight away from Takashi Shimura.
- 1948 would also mark the debut for the young (28 in 1948) and talented Montgomery Clift whose more modern acting (inside emotions from the actors own past—or method– coming to surface instead of technical skill and imitation) in The Search and Red River would go on to influence other actors including Marlon Brando, James Dean and Paul Newman.
- Lastly, putting talents like Fred Astaire and Judy Garland together for Easter Parade deserves to be at least noted—it would be the only time they’d work together. What could be screen’s most iconic dancing (Astaire) and singing voice (Garland) is fantastic to watch.
best performance male: 1948 is absolutely loaded with transcendent male screen performances. It’s one of the toughest choices for this category in recent years. I think three stand-out above the others. First off, there’s Bogart as Fred C. Dobbs in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Bogart’s arc throughout the film is mesmerizing to watch. I think you could just as easily go with Lamberto Maggiorani in Bicycle Thieves – pathos. Lastly among the trio at the top is John Wayne in Red River. It is Wayne’s best performance to date and John Ford joked that it was the movie that showed him that Wayne could actually act. That sort of back-handed compliment is a nice anecdote but his arc isn’t that much different than Bogart’s and he’s dueling with Montgomery Clift the whole time. That leads me to the second tier behind Maggiorani, Bogart and Wayne. Clift heads up this next group. His actual debut is The Search and that’s in the archives for 1948 below, but he’s here because of his groundbreaking inside-out method work in Red River. It is a big year for naturalism with this performance and Maggiorani’s. Walter Huston may actually get some people’s vote for the best performance in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (they’d be wrong) but he’s worth a mention here as is Farley Granger for his combined work in 1948 both Rope and They Live By Night. He’s fine in Rope– but it is his work in Ray’s debut that gets him marks here among 1948’s best actors.
best performance female: There are two correct choices here for this category in 1948. One is Joan Fontaine in Ophuls’ Letter From an Unknown Woman. She gives a performance of such pain and sympathy. Kinuyo Tanaka in Ozu’s A Hen in the Wind would also be correct—a tragic figure. It is a half-step, or two below Tanaka and Fontaine, but Cathy O’Donnell is worth mentioning opposite Granger in They Live By Night. O’Donnell carries the torch between Sylvia Sidney and say Faye Dunaway (among others in You Only Live Once and Bonnie and Clyde respectively) in a strong tradition of criminal lovers on the run in cinema.
- Bicycle Thieves
- Germany Year Zero
- La Terra Trema
- Red River
- The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
- Letter From an Unknown Woman
- A Hen in the Wind
- Fort Apache
- The Red Shoes
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|A Foreign Affair- Wilder||R|
|A Hen in the Wind – Ozu||MS/MP|
|Bicycle Thieves – De Sica||MP|
|Blood on the Moon – Wise||R|
|Call Northside 777- Hathaway||R|
|Cry of the City – Siodmak||R|
|Drunken Angel – Kurosawa||HR/MS|
|Easter Parade – Walters||R|
|Force of Evil – Polonsky||HR|
|Fort Apache- Ford||MS|
|Germany Year Zero – Rossellini||MP|
|He Walked By Night – Werker||R/HR|
|Joan of Arc- Fleming||R|
|Johnny Belinda- Negulesco||R|
|Key Largo- J. Huston||R|
|La Terra Trema– Visconti||MP|
|Letter From An Unknown Woman- Ophuls||MS/MP|
|Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House- Potter||R|
|Naked City- Dassin||R|
|Oliver Twist- Lean||HR|
|Portrait of Jennie- Dietierle||HR|
|Raw Deal- A. Mann||HR|
|Red River- Hawks||MP|
|Secret Beyond the Door- Lang|
|Sorry, Wrong Number- Litvak||HR|
|Spring in a Small Town – Mu Fei||R|
|The Big Clock- Farrow||R|
|The Dark Past- Maté|
|The Fallen Idol- Reed||HR|
|The Pirate- Minnelli||R|
|The Red Shoes- Powell, Pressburger||MS|
|The Search- Zinnemann||R|
|The Snake Pit– Litvak||R|
|The Three Godfathers- Ford||R|
|The Treasure of the Sierra Madre- J. Huston||MP|
|They Live By Night – N. Ray||MS|
|Unfaithfully Yours- P. Sturges||HR|
|Yellow Sky- Wellman||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
Germany year zero (1948) is another great example of Italian neo-realism.
@Azman- thanks. You’re right- it is a 1948 film. I made an error actually- I had it incorrectly down as a 1947 film (see here http://thecinemaarchives.com/2017/08/15/1947/) – I’ll fix it when I update my early archives. I noticed it when i recently caught up with Germany Year Zero earlier this year in January – post here http://thecinemaarchives.com/2020/01/02/germany-year-zero-1948-rossellini/
How often do you update/add new films to your archives? How many movies do you watch every month?
I hope I’m not being too annoying by commenting so much on this website.?
@Azman… so I add movies to my archives (which i keep in Excel spreadsheets for films, directors, and actors) as I see them. Right now I don’t have a way to efficiently update them all on the site so each page on the site is as updated as the day I posted (and each URL address has the date)
I watch a lot of movies. In 2019 I watched 527 movies— close to that in 2018— 700+ in 2017— over 1000 per year in 2015, 2014, 2013 and 2012….
Not annoying at all! I enjoy the discussion and appreciate all the comments. Thanks again
what about stewart in rope. when he yells ‘did you think you were GOD brandon’ that is great acting at its finest.
@ m – You want to knock off once of these six listed here or just add Stewart as the 7th exceptional male acting performance from 1948? Stewart is great it in– not that I always care about the size of the role but he’s only in it for what? 10 minutes?
That one deserves a mention as m says, but there are many this year as Drake says. I’d also say Walter Huston should be there for Sierra Madre. His son believed it was the best performance in any of the movies he directed.
Great page, i love that you mentioned the domain of neorealism.
As for performances, i like that you put Bogart first, it’s interesting that he displaced Wayne.
Ford is definitely right, in movies from the 30s, he really acted horrible, that changed with Stagecoach, thanks to Ford he was able to act.
But i must point out that Clift equals Wayne, i personally prefer his naturalism, together with Magnani it is the beginning of less theatrical performances.
Great job i will be waiting for the updates.
I agree with your comments, Aldo. I am happy that Drake placed Bogart in Sierra Madre over Wayne, as I consider Fred Dobbs one of the greatest characters of Classic Hollywood, Huston one of the best screenwriters of the era, and that performance one of the best explorations of madness of all time. Although I agree with Drake that Wayne is very slightly better than Clift in Red River, I would put his performance on the same “level” of greatness whereas Drake places him one step below.
Drake, do you have any intentions to see Bicycle Thieves soon? There is no review for it on The Cinema Archives as of now. It is one of the highest rated movies for which you don’t yet have a page, and I am eager to see your specific thoughts. The Tree of Life, 8 1/2, Breaking the Waves, Persona, Breathless, and 12 Angry Men are some others about which I am excited (no hurry haha) for various reasons.
@Graham. Happy to hear that, Bogart is a less intense Daniel Plainview, PTA said he viewed this movie in preparation for There Will Be Blood, so if a very important performance, very different from any
thing that he has done, Bogart essentially did Bogart, here he plays Dobbs.
I mean i have no problem if someone thinks Wayne is better, just don’t diminish Clift’s achievement, its performance is just as good
I think he said he uses a random generator, in fact he has long been asked for reviews of Star Wars, so we’ll have to be patient, as for your list of highest rated movies why did you include 12 angry men alongside Persona and Breathless?
I have read that about PTA being inspired by The Treasure of the Sierra Madre for There Will Be Blood. Although it was a departure from Bogart’s likable antiheroes to a straight-up despicable protagonist villain, I feel that he was a perfect casting choice for the part. I agree that Clift’s performance is just as good as Wayne’s, and an incredibly important one in the progression of acting styles.
I was not necessary listing the highest rated movies, although I am a fan of 12 Angry Men. Those films are ones about which I would be very interested to see a Cinema Archives page, and it is a simple coincidence that most of them happen to also be movies he rates as some of the greatest masterpieces. The mention of Bicycle Thieves being one of the highest-rated films without a review was not related that short list. For why I would be interested in a review page for 12 Angry Men, I will say that because it is a film I saw earlier in my progression as a cinephile, as well due to its placing in the IMDb top 10 but its lack of placing on The Cinema Archives’ top 500, I want to see what Drake thinks about the stylistic aspects of the film (mise-en-scene, form, editing) that most audiences do not typically notice.
@Graham- I do have Malick earmarked for a study in 2020– I’m not sure about the others– I’ve been thinking about Godard as well and I’ve had 12 Angry men circled for awhile. I will probably get to those three before the others.
@Aldo- I don’t mean to disappoint but I really just have three actors at the top here: Bogart, Maggiorani, and Wayne
Why did you drop Rope by so many slots??? 🙁
@Azman– haha I know- I don’t think any less of Rope- I adore Rope. Rossellini’s film I had in the wrong year before, and then getting my first look at Ozu’s A Hen in the Wind and my second at Visconti’s La Terra Trema.
Would you still have rope as a MS?
I surely think of it very very highly. I know Matt Harris had praised it a lot too calling it almost a top tier Hitchcock film.
Curious to hear other readers’ opinions.
@Azman- I would- I just put it as an MS again a few days ago on the 1948 page
I apologize for the fact that I sometimes comment on minor typos, but here there is a rather funny and important one here. You say, “Fort Apache marks the only shared scenes (to my knowledge) of towering heavyweight actors Henry Ford and John Wayne.” I didn’t know that one of the United States’ most famous car manufacturers was a towering heavyweight actor!
@Graham- don’t apologize- I thank you for the correction. Should be fixed
Holy hell!!! A Hen in in the Wind is 12302 on TSPDT ranking. This one will have a hard time cracking the top 10000 let alone top 1000.
Bogart as Fred C Dobbs is so good in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, his portrayal of descending into madness/paranoia is amazing. It’s probably my favorite performance from him although Casablanca and Maltese Falcon come close.
It got me thinking though, what modern actor would be a good choice for the Fred C Dobbs role if they made a remake? My choice….Joaquin Phoenix
I think Tom Hardy would do a hell of a job.