best film: The Third Man from Carol Reed has so many superior elements to praise: the Ferris wheel set piece, post-war Vienna as the film’s backdrop. On top of that it is written by freaking Graham Greene, it features the zither-based Anton Karas score, the spectacular chase in the sewers, the Welles cuckoo clock monologue, and one of cinema’s truly great endings.
most underrated: White Heat from Raoul Walsh at #630 on the TSPDT consensus list irks me. It belongs solidly in the top 500 (I have it in the top 150)— I don’t know how some of the critics that are lower on it get past the blowout of an ending.
most overrated: Kind Hearts and Coronets is clever and well-made—but clever and well-made probably doesn’t belong at #224 of all-time which is where it sits on the TSPDT list.
gem I want to spotlight: She Wore a Yellow Ribbon from John Ford is one I was late to come around on. It is the second leg of the Calvary trilogy (Ford Apache and then Rio Grande as the final installment in 1950). It is really a rough draft for The Searchers in a lot of ways visually. It is jaw-droppingly painterly—Ford’s first true triumph in color. It is also Ford’s fifth top-10 film of the 1940’s. If I can cheat a little and pick two for this category for 1949– try D.O.A. if you haven’t seen it and love film noir. People are right to point out Double Indemnity, Out of the Past, Touch of Evil first for noir of course- but if you’ve seen those and love film noir and want to keep going—try out D.O.A. It boasts, amongst other things, an ingenious premise.
trends and notables:
- The lead story for 1949 is the full-on arrival of Ozu and Kurosawa—master Japanese auteurs. Of course by 1949 Ozu and Mizoguchi have already had really great careers but 1948-1949 is when Ozu and Kurosawa start becoming a mainstay in the top 10— I mean we’re talking nearly every year—and they don’t really let up until the early 1960’s. Both Ozu and Kurosawa made their best film to date in 1949. Stray Dog is Kurosawa’s best film to date (which he would top quickly in 1950 with Rashomon) and Late Spring is Ozu finding his finished aesthetic rhythm. Really the rest of his work from here on would just be variations on this mode.
- Career-best work from second-tier auteurs like Carol Reed and Raoul Walsh would be the next big story in cinema for 1949. It is particularly disappointing Reed never really came close to this again.
- If I expanded the top 10 to top 15 – you’d see it is a very good year for Joseph L. Mankiewicz- both A Letter to Three Wives and House of Strangers would be #11-15
- 1949 marks the first archiveable films for Sam Fuller (I Shot Jesse James– debut), Jacques Tati (Jour De Fête – yet another true debut), Stanley Donen (On the Town– yes a third true debut) and Don Siegel (The Big Steal)
- On the acting side- both Janet Leigh (Act of Violence and Little Women) and Patricia Neal (The Fountainhead) make a splash in their first year in the archives
best performance male: James Cagney is great as one of the original cinema gangsters in The Public Enemy and as the song and dance man in Yankee Doodle Dandy but his finest moments are on screen are as Cody Jarrett in Raoul Walsh’s White Heat. When he roars: “Made it, Ma! Top of the world!” – you should, rightly, have goosebumps. Just behind Cagney is Chishû Ryû in Late Spring. Talk about the polar opposite of Cagney’s brash performance. Ryu’s minimalist approach is perfectly befitting for Ozu’s cinematic world. He has these little grunts of acknowledgement and vocalizations—and then bestowing thoughtful, measured wisdom to his daughter. You can’t talk about 1949 without The Third Man and I think both Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles deserve mention here. Cotten is our vehicle for the narrative, and Cotten often gets unfairly overlooked altogether in the film. Welles gives probably THE sub-10-minutes-of-screen-time performance of all-time (I’m not sure there’s a better per/minute performance period). His Harry Lime gets talked about for the entire film leading up to his very brief appearance. He slays it with one of cinema’s great monologues, and then gets the epic chase through the sewer. Edmond O’Brien (who would disappear behind makeup (and great acting) into character in films like The Wild Bunch and Liberty Valance) is front and center (and recognizable) as the film noir narrator and central character in D.O.A. He in fifth place here in 1949—but worthy of at least a quick note.
best performance female: Alida Valli gives the best female performance of the year in The Third Man. I think you could argue she out-acts Cotten, and she’s just a bigger part of the film than Welles. She has the bulk of the big emotional swings in the film (and nails them all). I also love that she gets the final walk-off. Setsuko Hara actually had like 50+ credits under her belt by 1949 (including one archiveable one with Kurosawa)—but it is her partnership with Ozu (starting in 1949’s Late Spring) for which she’d be remembered. She’s Ozu’s greatest female acting collaborator—just like Ryu is Ozu’s greatest male acting collaborator.
- The Third Man
- Late Spring
- White Heat
- She Wore a Yellow Ribbon
- Stray Dog
- The Reckless Moment
- All the King’s Men
- Kind Hearts and Coronets
- The Fountainhead
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|A Letter to Three Wives – Mankiewicz||HR|
|Act of Violence- Zinnemann|
|Adam’s Rib- Cukor||R|
|All the King’s Men- Rossen||MS|
|House of Strangers – Mankiewicz||R/HR|
|I Shot Jesse James – Fuller||R|
|Intruder in the Dust- C. Brown||R|
|Jour De Fête- Tati||R|
|Kind Hearts and Coronets- Hamer||HR/MS|
|Late Spring – Ozu||MP|
|Little Women – LeRoy||R|
|On the Town- Donen, Kelly||R|
|Sampson and Delilah- DeMille||R|
|Sands of Iwo Jima- Dwan||R|
|She Wore a Yellow Ribbon – Ford||MS|
|Stray Dog – Kurosawa||MS|
|Take Me Out to the Ball Game – Berkeley||R|
|The Big Steal- Siegel||R|
|The Fountainhead- K. Vidor||HR|
|The Heiress- Wyler|
|The Inspector General- Koster||R|
|The Reckless Moment-Ophuls||MS|
|The Secret Garden- Wilcox||R|
|The Set-Up- Wise||R|
|The Third Man- Reed||MP|
|The Window– Tetzlaff||R|
|Twelve O’Clock High- H. King||R|
|We Were Strangers- Huston|
|White Heat- Walsh||MP|
*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
Very surprised not to see The Quiet Duel(1949) directed by Akira Kurosawa not in the archives.Is it not good enough?
@Hashan– oddly enough wasn’t part of the criterion’s available films for Kurosawa. So I didn’t see it- and haven’t seen it.
I think Mifune should be mentioned in the best male category for Stray Dog(1949)?
Mifune is great in Stray Dog(1949).Definitely one of the best performances of the year.
Much has been made of the best scenes in film, but what are the best cinematic moments in history? Ebert did a list of 100 once. Obviously, a moment is hard to classify, but I’d count it as anything up to ten or fifteen seconds, or at least a time period where only one thing happens. I think emotion, narrative, and form have a bit more leverage in the “moment” category as compared to scenes because there is less time for complex cinema style. I ask on this page because Harry Lime’s entrance in The Third Man is surely a top contender. Here are some ideas in release order:
– Intolerance: An expansive crane shot shows hundreds of ancient Babylonians as they walk through Belshazzar’s massive gate.
– Sunrise: A beautiful silent film that could’ve turned into a useless love triangle comedy is turned on its heels when The Woman from the City lightly suggests. “Couldn’t she get drowned?” The intertitle washes away as it is sinking.
– City Lights: The flower girl, no longer blind, discovers that the strange man outside her shop happens to be her lover and benefactor,
– M: The criminal underworld, masquerading as advocates of justice in the “trial” of Hans Beckert, raise their arms with trepidation as police arrive,
– Citizen Kane: A mysterious man states one strange word in a dark tower, “Rosebud,” and drops a snowglobe as he dies.
– Citizen Kane: The sled from the above man’s childhood on the day in which his tragic arc of success began reveals the meaning of Rosebud as it becomes covered in flames.
– Casablanca: As Germans begin to sing a Nazi chant, Victor Lazslo protests with the anthem of France, and Rick silently nods to Sam play along.
– Casablanca: Rick and Ilsa’s relationship might need to end for their lives to prosper, but they will always have Paris.
– The Third Man: A charismatic, enigmatic man is suddenly lit up in a dark doorway. As the camera moves in on his smiling face, we realize the weight of his identity.
– Sunset Boulevard: One of cinema’s most intriguing characters, Norma Desmond, has lost all wits. No one ever leaves a star, unless they are shot by a star and fall into her pool.
– Ikiru: A finally content man, perhaps knowing very well he is just about to die, sings on a swing as the camera watches through a jungle gym.
– On the Waterfront: Terry Malloy speaks for himself. “You don’t understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am – let’s face it. It was you, Charlie.”
– Seven Samurai: The samurais’ fighting has not come to nothing; they have saved the village successfully. However, the camera pans up to the four comrades that have been lost, and the only true victory is for the villagers.
– The Searchers: Finally content with the state of his daughter, Ethan Edwards turns around toward the unknown, and the doorway now behind him closes.
– 12 Angry Men: Juror 8 has worked endlessly for more than an hour to prevent the murder of a young man, and only 1 Angry Man stands in his way. Juror 3 breaks down in tears and declares “No. Not guilty.”
– Paths of Glory: It has been stated that the ending of Paths of Glory, purposefully, seems out of place compared to the rest. The soldiers gradually begin to hum the tune of the nervous singer, realizing her fears are just like their own.
– The Seventh Seal: This is certainly one of the seminal shots of cinema. Death leads his captives, now willing to explore a new future, in a dance across the hillside as Jof watches below.
– Vertigo: The expression of all Scottie’s twisted desires emerges from the doorway, swathed in bright green, appearing exactly like the Madeline Elster we know from before.
– Psycho: They aren’t watching, and they won’t see, and they won’t know about that fly. But we are, and Norman Bates’ smile is devilishly creepy.
– Lawrence of Arabia: A match cut, which viewers do not often notice actually includes a literal match, blows out the light on T.E. Lawrence’s pleasant past and rises it on a new land with an epic score.
– The Trial: Too late to continue his anger toward the authorities of law, Josef K laughs as his executioners cannot decide who will stab him and throw in a stick of dynamite.
– 8½: Although we do not know much about Guido Anselmi yet, his floating away from the crowd of cars that has trapped him will become emblematic of his quest to
– Dr. Strangelove: The team of incompetent has been working fruitlessly to prevent the bomb, and the team of incompetent pilots has been working fruitlessly to drop it. No one was expecting that the pilot of the plane would be sitting on top of it as it fell.
– Persona: While a nurse repeats a monologue revealing the cause of her patient’s choice to become silent, their two faces suddenly join in an eerie close up.
– The Good, the Bad and the Ugly:
– 2001: A Space Odyssey: A triumphant ape throws its new weapon up in the air, and we suddenly are cut to a similarly-shaped spaceship thousands of years later.
– 2001: A Space Odyssey: A large, striking block that we have seen three times before suddenly appears in a sterile and opulent room. The aged Dave Bowman reaches toward it and is transformed.
– Once Upon a Time in the West: There are few moments of cinematic musical brilliance that widened my eyes like the entrance of Frank and his gang after murdering the children. Leone’s genius may be 50% Morricone.
– Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: It had to end this way for Butch and Sundance. The outlaws blaze out into the open in a glourious freeze-frame. The sound of an explosion of bullets from the guards leaves no ambiguity as to their fate.
– The Godfather: The parallel finale is a very common trait of Coppola, but the baptism-murder combination brings the technique true meaning. Michael renounces Satan while his capos do the devils work across New York.
– Chinatown: Jake’s lover has been wrongfully murdered, and everything else has been lost. He should forget it, though, because this is Chinatown. The camera’s, lifting into a crane shot, agrees.
– One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: The effect of this ending is indescribable. I can only say what occurs plainly: Having relieved Randle from misery, Chief finally uproots the water feature and escapes through the window.
– Network: Howard Beale is mad as hell, and he’s not going to take this anymore. That’s all there is to say.
– Taxi Driver: During Travis Bickle’s apologetic phone call about the first thing in his life he as ruined, the camera glides over to an empty hallway. The symbolism of loneliness here is easily noticeable and simply ingenious.
– Apocalypse Now: Next to “Rosebud,” it is the simplest and most intriguing moment of character death on camera. A parallel montage of two acts of killing culminates in the horror… the horror.
– Raging Bull: Jake LaMotta, fed up with a life that has failed entirely due to his own doing, leans limp on the ring ropes. Everything goes silent as Sugar Ray Robinson prepares to attack.
– Blade Runner: Roy Batty speaks for himself. “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”
– The Shawshank Redemption: It is likely too obvious a prison escape to succeed, but the realization the audience has along with the Warden is a great cinematic moment. The camera tracks back into the whole he unknowingly revealed in anger for a great compositional framing.
– Se7en: Detective Mills cannot help but complete John Doe’s system of murders for the seven deadly sins when he sees the contents of the delivered box.
– Lost in Translation: Bob and Charlotte have lost the world around them, but they have finally found mutual understanding through each other. It is time to return to their older lives, and Bob whispers something we will never know as they embrace.
– Children of Men: The camera tracks through a large group of battling military members, who kneel when they see the only sign of hope in a destroyed world.
– There Will Be Blood: A hopelessly greedy and angrily regretful man is forced to yell out his sin of abandonment in the church of a naive worshiper.
– Inception: Cobb spins his lost wife’s top in order to be sure that he is in reality, but does not look to see if it falls.
– The Tree of Life: The older Jack O’Brien has spent a whole movie looking back at his childhood and the galactic cycle it parallels. On the metaphorical seabed of his past, his knees crumble at the sight of the people he remembers.
– Mad Max: Fury Road: Many heart-pounding minutes of action and struggle have all been for nothing for Imperator Furiosa. Realizing that her old home no longer exists, she crashes down into the sand.
– Roma: Cleo and the children she has looked after for such a long time, all saved from literally or figuratively drowning, huddle together on the beach. Cleo reveals she never really wanted her own child.
That was quite a lot! Of course there are many more. I’m sure most people would lobby for one I have not even mentioned. What do others consider the best moments?
Guide for those who do not want to read all of the most overlong comment on the site:
Intolerance gate crane shot|Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans “Couldn’t she get drowned|City Lights ending|M police arrive at the “trial”|Citizen Kane opening death|Citizen Kane sled reveal|Casablanca dueling songs|Casablanca “We’ll always have Paris|The Third Man Harry Lime entrance|Sunset Boulevard Norma shoots Joe|Ikiru singing on the swing|On the Waterfront “coulda been…” taxi monologue|Seven Samurai final shot|The Searchers final shot|Twelve Angry Men Juror 3 breaks down|Paths of Glory ending|The Seventh Seal dance of death|Vertigo Judy turns into Madeline|Psycho fly and creepy smile|Lawrence of Arabia match cut|The Trial Josef laughs in his execution|8 1/2 Guido floats above the cars|Dr. Strangelove the pilot straddles the bomb as it falls|Persona the two faces merge|*see TGTBATU moment below*|2001 bone cut|2001 monolith appears at the end|OUATITW Frank’s gang entrance|Butch Cassidy freeze frame|The Godfather renouncing the devil|Chinatown “forget it, Jake”|One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest ending|Network mad as hell|Taxi Driver calls pans over to hallway|Apocalypse Now “the horror”|Raging Bull final fight silence|Blade Runner “tears in rain”|The Shawshank Redemption escape route is discovered|Se7en Mills shoots Doe|Lost in Translation goodbye embrace and whisper|Children of Men soldiers back down seeing baby|There Will Be Blood “I’ve abandoned my boy”|Inception ending|ToL falling onto the beach|Fury Road Furiosa kneels onto where she thought her old home was”|Roma beach huddle
I forgot to put a description for one above:
– The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Three men’s lives and fotunes are at stake whether they shoot or not. Finally, the Man with No Name breaks the suspenseful tension in the graveyard.
@Graham – this is unbelievable. Thanks for sharing! You hit almost all of the big ones – which is impossible. There’s always one or two to add. I’d add the deactivation of HAL in 2001, the Odessa Steps in Potemkin, and the Copa shot in Goodfellas
Thank you so much. Those three are some of the best scenes in cinema, certainly. I think they are a bit too long to consider a single moment. The strength of the Copa shot and the Odessa Steps are entirely due to editing and camera movement, which I don’t think you can fully capture in one 10-15 second period. All or most of those you mentioned might be in my top ten of scenes if I made a list of that. Raging Bull final fight, Apocalypse Now opening scene, 8 1/2 opening, Citizen Kane opening, Rashomon woodcutter walks through the forest, Ran castle attack, and Vertigo probably multiple scenes might be in there, too.
@Graham- got it- I missed the 10-15 second time limit portion. That changes my thoughts a little. How about the final freeze in The 400 Blows? Or the door left ajar at the very end of The Irishman. I tend to gravitate to opening and closing shots for moments like this. Tougher to think of ones that land in the middle of a film (at least for me). Great work, again. Thanks for sharing.
I will now try a different “best moment” exercise than the one above: the single best moment of each major aspect of film. Again, the rule of roughly 10-15 seconds at the most applies.
Acting – Brando’s wistful monologue in the taxi in On the Waterfront is a solid win: ” “You don’t understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am – let’s face it. It was you, Charlie.” Terry Malloy might always be less than a contender in his own life, but he will always place as a winner on our acting lists.
Editing – The shortness of the allotted time essentially allows only two types of moments for this category: match cuts and freeze frames. The match cut in Lawrence of Arabia, which uses a literal match to cross hundreds of miles, blows out (pun partially intented) the competition.
Mise-en-scene – One could choose a million shots, but I’ll take this one from Days of Heaven above them all: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/KK9SIrIFf74/maxresdefault.jpg. Guidelines of superb photographic composition that can’t usually occur in the same shot are all tremendous here. There is the rule of thirds for the farmer, central composition for the house, texture for the locusts and grass, framing for the three men beside the farming, balance for the two men on the left, and quite a lot more.
Cinematography – This is quite difficult. I’d accept a hefty chunk of shots as the single most beautiful in all of cinema. Today, I bring forward one from Lawrence of Arabia and one from The Assassination of Jesse James as standouts: https://i.imgur.com/Ffkm6Jug.jpg and https://i.pinimg.com/originals/5b/80/38/5b8038b327f0480cf657ad65491343f9.png. I have created a slideshow of some top contenders here: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1vZM6986omJnPDAsMVRLlgzNKAybAI9WVj2TIDeQfyb0/edit?usp=sharing
Soundtrack – Many of my favorite scores have themes which repeat, making this category hard to determine as well. I could pick the Lawrence score after the match, cut, but I cannot allow a movie to win three different categories (!). I suppose my choice is the moment in 2001: A Space Odyssey where the camera silently tracks in to the monolith at the end, and the sudden “da-duh” of Also Sprach Zarasthustra comes on while we cut to a shot of the moon.
Form – It might seem silly to pick a single moment of a category that, by definition, refers to the structure of an entire film. Here, I choose Persona’s opening montage due to its bravery in quite literally showing film itself, and suspending the often-spoken of suspension of disbelief.
Camera Movement – As with form, transcendent sequences of camera movement depend on their length and sustained brilliance, so I had to choose one with tremendous symbolism even if the literal movement of the camera is not special in and of itself. It’s the symbolic slide over to the empty hallway in Taxi Driver, the best single moment expression of one of cinema’s most common themes: loneliness.
Framing – Framing is an element of image composition that particularly interests me. I don’t think the final shot of The Searchers can be denied the opportunity to win this slot. The dark dooway and the closing door have been redone by other movies in far too many instances to number.
Camera Angle – Is it allowed to choose a shot with two different camera angles at once? I don’t why the opening of Apocalypse Now cannot be chosen. Captain Willard’s superimposed head has been turned upside down in a dreamy world angled a bit too high up to gain the context he needs.
Sound Design – Raging Bull is continually loud and brutal, so it is certainly a vital aspect of the film’s success that the most memorable moment occurs in silence. Jake LaMotta leans on the bars in his first experience of quiet content as Sugar Ray prepares to attack, and suddenly the world crashes down once more.
I have skipped a major element for which I cannot yet decide a moment: script. What do others choose as the best moment for each of these categories?
@Graham– great share! Thank you. I’d have to give all of these some thought– and will try do to that today and tomorrow. I like the Days of Heaven choice in particular.
In about the past 10 days I’ve watched Midsommar, Once Upon a Time in the West, Citizen Kane, 8 1/2, and The Tree of Life. Wow. I don’t even know what to write. They were all just so amazing.
@Zane- whoa- what a run!
Orson Welles as Harry Lime has to be one of the greatest performances ever on a per minute basis, he also has one of the greatest character entrances of all time with the light shining on him than he does the eyebrow raise.
What are some other all time great character entrances?
Hannibal Lecter is Silence of the Lambs, Rita Hayworth in Gilda, Alex in a Clockwork Orange, Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark
@James Trapp— superb comment here and great choices- agreed. I’m doing this freestyle so forgive me if I forget some. How about Brando’s introduction in both The Godfather and Apocalypse Now? The opening of The Searchers is really the introduction of Wayne’s Ethan Edwards in The Searchers… Tom Cruise in Magnolia (to 2001’s music)… Wayne gets another crazy-good intro from Ford in Stagecoach https://youtu.be/DJokM8okIWM … and does it get better than this from PTA? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iiXtFyZqvQQ
Tom Cruise in Magnolia never fails to crack me up (so hilariously over the top), Brando in Apocalypse Now is great as it has the weight of over 2 hours leading up to it. Actually a lot of similarities between Harry Lime and Colonel Kurtz just in terms of how their characters are able to dominate the movie to a crazy degree before they are ever even on screen. Then they just show up and give unbelievable performances.
the Joker in The Dark Knight “I believe whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stranger” line
I was going to ask this question myself, but I noticed it was already here. I’d definitely add Frank’s absolutely epic arrival in Once Upon a Time in the West (Leone’s movies contain many great entrances) and the glimpse of Madeleine Elster in the restaurant scene in Vertigo.
@Graham – Great choices, going the other way with a comedy, how about Derek (Will Ferrell’s brother) in Step Brothers lol
Watched White Heat for the 1st time in years and wow!
James Cagney was electric, all time great gangster movie performance, the entire movie has tremendous energy, never lets up, enjoyed Public Enemy (1931) with Cagney as well but this was another level
Edmond O’Brien was terrific as well, dude was a workhorse (123 acting credits according to IMDB)
Definitely one of the best cat and mouse criminal vs the cops movies, in a way the entire movie is one giant chase scene (despite the fact that he spends about a 1/3 of the movie in prison) its almost like the prison scene is just a break and the chase resumes as soon as he gets out
The Third Man is not Alida Valli’s first archivable film?
Don’t you think Broderick Crawford in All the King’s Men is one of the year’s best? He won the Oscar for best actor.
@M*A*S*H- I do not. He’s fine it it- it is certainly a great role. But I am not sure I wouldn’t rather see another actor here.
@Drake- which actor would you like to see in that role?
@M*A*S*H – Maybe Edmond O’Brien