best film: Ikiru from Kurosawa
- Both visually masterful and staggeringly profound and poignant
- One of cinema’s greatest character studies- Kane, Raging Bull– the examination of a man’s life. A bit of It’s A Wonderful Life and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
- Kurosawa adapted Dostoevsky the year before with The Idiot but achieves here a work on the level of those novels he clearly admired
- Kurosawa’s meticulous mise-en-scene arrangement of Shimura’s character’s office—a fortress of paperwork keeping him captive, a magnificent shot (one of 30-40 art museum up on a wall pieces in the film) from behind his head with the two rows of workers flanking him
- A triumph of black and white deep focus photography that passes Wyler and heads squarely into the Welles territory – compositions that may not have have Welles’ playfulness and inventiveness with angles but surely rival them in beauty
- The narrative structure is different (and not as earth-shattering) than Rashomon but slyly complex as well—we start with knowing Shimura’s character’s fate, we have the shattering flashbacks of raising his son: the funeral, baseball, appendix, his son going off to war—. He dies at the 92 minute mark in in a 143 minute film – like Citizen Kane here we get multiple opinions and people trying to define a life posthumously- a intriguing and bold structure
- The intersecting heads at the bar in the frame at 39 minutes like the famous shot from Bergman’s Persona – which is fourteen years after this, there’s an obstructed window at the bar, the neon signage bouncing off the window of the car during the night of drinking
most underrated: Park Row from Sam Fuller
- energy pours out of Fuller’s Park Row– his fifth film and easily his best to date in 1952
- Opens with a marvelous tracking shot as Gene Evans (Fuller’s lead now in three straight films after Steel Helmet and Fixed Bayonets!) strolls through park row with the credits on top
- Fuller’s first full scene here after the titles and opening tracking shot over the titles is in a bar and he’s so skilled here at blocking faces and placing them in the square frame—a standout is at eight minutes he has three rows of individual people talking to each other but they’re all facing the camera
- Sharp, fast-faced crackling witty jargon-filled dialogue like a Hawks’ screwball (like His Girl Friday also a film about the newspaper industry) or Aaron Sorkin
- In that same opening scene at the bar there’s a shot of four faces at the bar with Evans in the foreground – his profile in the camera
- Fuller is clearly buzzing with admiration for the subject matter— another tracking shot overhead the street—he’s going back and forth in this little world he built and clearly loves like say Cuaron’s Roma or Tarantino’s 1969 Hollywood in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
- The film is one of cinema’s most underrated films- not in the TSPDT top 2000—my guess is not enough people have seen it (it notoriously bankrupt Fuller upon release), and still isn’t easy to find today. Also, comparisons with Citizen Kane (it’s about a one-man newspaper man eccentric artist, an ambitious entrepreneur seeking truth) don’t help
- the tracking shots along the street, the work with body and face blocking in the frame, and then Fuller has this swirling shot of a dramatic kiss at 56 minutes—swinging behind bars obstructing the frame- stunning.
most overrated: Limelight from Chaplin just shouldn’t be at #523 (which is where it sits on the TSPDT consensus list). Singin’ in the Rain really shouldn’t be at #12 but that feels like a nitpick in comparison to Limelight. I’m probably 1000 slots lower on Limelight.
gem I want to spotlight: The Bad and the Beautiful from Minnelli. I feel bad that I keep ignoring Minnelli and this is his seventh archiveable film since his debut in 1943 (so 7 in 10 years). It is also a welcomed opportunity to give a shot out to Kirk Douglas again. Douglas had three archiveable films in 1951, two in 1952—giving him 10 in 7 years since his debut in 1946.
trends and notables:
- In the 1951 recap Ozu and Kurosawa were the big story—well here we add Mizoguchi to the mix (these three make up 3 of the top 10 films). Mizoguchi had been around for a long time—but his two peaks are just before WWII—and then from 1952-1955. Of course, as far as Kurosawa is concerned– this gives him two of the best films of the 1950’s so far with Rashomon in 1950.
- With Umberto D and Europa ’51 this is sort of the last bastion for Italian Neorealism’s heyday. Visconti’s next film (Senso in 1954) is definitely not neorealism, Rossellini starts moving on, and though De Sica would be back in 1960 with Two Women—this is sort of the end of the momentum for this movement
- We’re smack in the middle for Ophuls’ peak in 1952 — Le Plaisir is sublime and Earrings comes out the following year—similar period for Sam Fuller- his two best films are 1952 and 1953—and this is a good time to send up a reminder that there has always been an indie cinema. Jarmusch must laugh when people talk about indie cinema starting in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s with Tarantino, Soderbergh, Spike and Linklater—and ditto here- I mean go back to Cassavetes and then to Fuller and Ulmer. Anyways- Fuller’s Park Row was self-financed and shot in 14 days—if that isn’t indie cinema I don’t know what it is
- His artistic breakout would be the following year- but this is the first archiveable film (and solo directing debut) for Federico Fellini with The White Sheik– Fellini was a writing collaborator on some of Rossellini’s films (Rome, Open City, Paisan, The Flowers of St. Francis). So 1950 gave us Bergman’s debut, and in 1951 we have Fellini- two of the best five or so directors of all-time
- As far as acting first timers in the archives the big breakthrough in 1952 is the luminous Grace Kelly. She plays Gary Cooper’s Quaker wife in High Noon. Kelly’s career would last only four short years before she’d retire at age 27 to become Princess Grace. In that four-year span Kelly would have seven archiveable films (made a total of just eleven)
- Lastly- they if you watch old movies or TCM enough you’ll eventually recognize the work of Arthur Kennedy- a supporting actor (five oscar noms– all from 1949-1958) with fourteen (14) archiveable films and three of them in 1952 (Bend of the River, Rancho Notorious, The Lusty Men)
best performance male: The answer here is Takashi Shimura in Ikiru plan and simple. Shimura gives one of the better performances of the 1950’s- often a physical silent performance, the pained grimace—the vast canvas of a face, slumping of the shoulders. There is no shortage of strong performances right behind Shimura though. Carlo Battisti in Umberto D is one of the faces of neorealism—you can’t go more than 3-4 performances recalling the history of that movement without getting to his work here in 1952. A pair of Genes are next. Gene Kelly does his finest work (coming off An American in Paris the year before so this is his summit here) in Singin’ in the Rain. Gene Evans may be even better in Samuel Fuller’s Park Row. Evans lost about 40 lbs. from the war films he made with Fuller in 1951 for Fuller. He plays Phineas Mitchell—and Evans’ brazenness is a perfect fit for Fuller’s street-wise maverick. Lastly, Gary Cooper deserves mention for his work in High Noon. Cooper has been a star for 20+ years at this point in his career in 1952—and usually I’m not overly impressed— but this it here in 1952—the superb pained expression on his face for the entire running time—his best performance.
best performance female: Kinuyo Tanaka leads the way in the best female performance of the year category in 1952. Tanaka is Mizoguchi’s titular character- a tragic victim. Maureen O’Hara goes toe to toe with giants of the screen John Wayne and Victor McLaglen in Ford’s The Quiet Man. Packing the same fight and energy in about half the size is Debbie Reynolds– the third and final mention here for her work in Singin’ in the Rain.
- Singin’ in the Rain
- Umberto D
- Le Plaisir
- High Noon
- The Quiet Man
- Park Row
- The Life of Oharu
- Forbidden Games
- The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|5 Fingers- Mankiewicz|
|Bend of the River- A. Mann|
|Breaking the Sound Barrier- Lean||R|
|Carson City – De Toth|
|Clash By Night- Lang||R|
|Deadline USA- R. Brooks|
|Europa ‘51- Rossellini||R|
|Forbidden Games – Clement||HR/MS|
|High Noon- Zinnemann||MP|
|Ikiru – Kurosawa||MP|
|Kansas City Confidential – Karlson||R|
|Le Plaisir – Ophuls||MP|
|Life of Oharu- Mizoguchi||MS|
|Park Row – Fuller||MS/MP|
|Pat and Mike- Cukor||R|
|Rancho Notorious- Lang||R|
|Singin’ In the Rain- Donen, Kelly||MP|
|Sudden Fear- D. Miller|
|The Bad and the Beautiful- Minnelli||HR|
|The Big Sky- H. Hawks||R|
|The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice – Ozu||HR|
|The Golden Coach- Renoir||R|
|The Greatest Show on Earth- DeMille||R|
|The Importance of Being Earnest- Parker|
|The Lusty Men – N. Ray||R/HR|
|The Member of the Wedding – Zinnemann|
|The Quiet Man – Ford||MP|
|The White Sheik- Fellini||R|
|Umberto D- De Sica||MP|
|Vita Zapata- Kazan||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
You’re reviews annoy me sometimes. You try to be to ‘critical and you always look for the ‘artistic value’ from a film. Some good films can be entertaining and extremely emotionally like ikiru. Watching a man wailing may not be ‘visually appealing’ and the’ mise-en-scene'( or whatever you call it ) may not be good, but to most people it is extremely emotional and impactful
@Azman– Yep- I always look for the artist value from a film. I can laugh, be scared, be entertained without it (or much of it) but I’ll always take a film that has artistic value over a film that just does one of those things. Anybody can tell you what is emotional or impactful to them personally and their feels are often inconsistent and not based on anything of real merit (not saying that here specifically). Mise-en-scene. If you google search it it, refers to what we see onscreen in a film. It’s the film’s visuals; meaning, all of the elements that appear on camera and their arrangement. Feels like that is important…
You said “anybody can say what is emotional to them personally”. Well art is subjective too. What you think of as art might be boring to someone else. But I really appreciate your criticisms most of the time. I agree with a lot of your choices. You have a lot of knowledge about movies!
@Azman– Thanks for the comment. I’ll just say this– I do not believe a beautiful mise-en-scene, masterful camerwork, good film form (a little tougher), or impeccable editing (cinema art) is subjective. I believe people (including me) can miss things when watching movies (which I do– even doing this for 20 years– this is what Mr. Harris is implying below and that’s fair). But I believe you can prove that out.
The only problem with that is the seeming implication that something is lacking in Ikiru’s mise-en-scene… excuse me while I go print off any random screenshot and put it up on my wall…
@Matt Harris… haha fair. Look forward to a revisit. I’ve been contemplating an entire Kurosawa study in 2020 here (i’m doing Visconti now) like I did with Hou Hsiao-Hsien/QT/Scorsese/Leigh and others in 2019 and Ozu and a few others in 2018.
The word masterpiece was invented for movies like High Noon
What do yo mean? I would like to know her thoughts
“I would like to know her thoughts”. Whose thoughts are you talking about?
Most people I know consider it to be a masterpiece. It’s one of the only black and white movies on netflix
@Azman. I asked this because i had not seen it, i just saw it today, very nice movie, i liked it.
High Noon is great. It’s interesting to note that John Wayne and Howard Hawks hated it and conceived of Rio Bravo as a repudiation of it.
@Matt, do you also run this website along with Drake? Both of you seem to be friends. If you run this website, I must say it’s easily one of the most informative websites I have ever come across. The streaming service I used to get movies, seems to be down at the moment because of server overload because of the corona virus. What are your favorite movies on netflix? Sadly High Noon seems to be one of the only few B and W movies offered on Canadian Netflix. 🙁
@Azman This website is entirely Drake’s baby, but he and I have been friends for a long time and have a movie discussion email chain going back about 15 years.
well im american so netflix might be different for me, but im looking forward to watching mystic river. inglorious bastards, indiana jones, Steve Jobs (danny boyle) is great. florida project. one i watched recently was snowpiercer by bong joon ho and that had some interesting stuff in it. not a great visual movie but id recommend gus van sant’s promised land with matt damon, frances mcdormand, and john krasinski (jim from the office) for its interesting story.
What a year!!! High noon barely makes the top 5!
@Azman— absolutely a strong year– a very impressive top 5
Starting off my year with The Shining. Haven’t seen it in forever and I knew I needed to get back to it. What about you guys?
I am thinking of watching Bicycle Thieves for the first time
Over December I made it a goal to get into European cinema to some extent and I watched a few of its best examples: 8 1/2 and The Seventh Seal were a couple. Also got myself into Asian cinema (only previously watched Parasite which every cinephile watched in 2019 or 2020) with Rashomon. Definitely planning to involve myself into more foreign films in 2021.
About The Shining, I loved it. MP and I’m certain. Starting to feel we might even need a MP+ category for films that are just utterly transcendent, though someone more eloquent could perhaps put it into better words.
@Tanishk Shingala- that’s great– what a tremendous film
Magnificent work, i’m glad that Ikiru took the top spot, singing in the rain is insanely overrated. Seeing it in so many lists in the top 10 or even in 12, i do not understand.
What is your theory about it occupying position 12? I have come to the conclusion that they seem to try to be inclusive, that’s why they include movies like Some like it hot and Jeanne Dielman.
By the way, have you reconsidered seeing Jeanne Dielman again?
I was able to catch it for the first time a few days ago with a friend and i’m quite disappointed, i wouldn’t call it boring, but my biggest problem is how little happens.
I was probably not prepared, i have heard some defenses towards the film and read some reviews and conclude that it is hypnotizing.
They say it has one of the best forms in movie history. And they could be right, since the movie is repeat and repeat.
I’m not really an expert with the form, that’s why i say you should see it again, you have much more experience with the film form.
“Singing in the rain is insanely overrated”.
With all due respect, this couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s literally right around Drake’s top 100, so not even a 100 spot difference. That’s certainly not insanely overrated.
Also, I feel bad for anyone who spends 4 hours of their life watching Jeanne Dielman?
I didn’t understand your point about inclusion.
@Azman. I’m not sure if i feel bad, it was a good experience in the cinema, the free exhibitions are always welcome, tomorrow i will see Paris, Texas.
Have you seen it? if so what did you think?
@Aldo- thanks for the kind words on the page. I think you could be right about it being “inclusive”- meaning some listmakers feel like they have to pick a comedy, a musical, etc to fill out their best of list? Right? I think there could be something to that.
I am going to see Jeanne Dielman again- yes– I’m hoping to do an Akerman study in 2021. But we’re pretty much on the same page here right now.
Ikiru is a towering masterpiece and the best film of the year, but Singing in the Rain is still a tremendous film and one of the greatest musicals ever made. Perhaps the greatest.
As i said @Matt Harris and @Azman, my biggest problem has to do with ranking in the top 10 (12). Maybe i’m wrong and it turns out to be a top 10 all time and i will retract, but at the moment it does not seem to me the twelfth best film of history.
I agree, there are very good musicals, but none as good as singing in the rain, the best.
Just caught The Quiet Man as my St. Patrick’s Day film (thanks for the recommendation) and it was breathtaking in terms of the visuals. I think it’s the 1st non Western John Ford film I’ve seen and I was very impressed with the story telling and humor to go along with the visuals. Also, I’m glad that John Wayne doesn’t even try to have an Irish accent as funny as that may have been. Loved Barry Fitzgerald’s character, only the 2nd time I’ve seen him as he was great in Jules Dassin’s The Naked City (1948) as well.
Today i will see singing in the rain at the theater, i have previously expressed that i do not like it, but i will give it another opportunity to fulfill my cinephile schedule.
It took me several tries to enter in the mood for the love, who knows probably this time i like it.
I never share photos, so this time i decided to share.
@Aldo- very cool! Thank you for sharing.
Well definitely this time i liked it, still would give the advantage to Ikiru, but i am impressed by the camera movement, quite fluid, it reminded me a bit of Casablanca with the slow tracking shot as intro to a scene.
Although i still have some problems, i wonder what the editors would say of some editing choices, i remember clearly seeing star transitions haha.
My question is what is the best scene in the movie?, after watching i think it’s the Broadway melody ballet, not only is it the best image in the movie, the camera moves and rises.
@Aldo- thank you again for sharing. I’m overdue for seeing this one so I’ll leave most of this to others– but if my memory serves (again- it has been a minute)- the choice by Donen (and Kelly) to elevate the camera during the title song would be the best scene in the movie.