best film: Tokyo Story from Ozu
- Tokyo Story is a candidate for the greatest mise-en-scene in film history. It is jam-packed with gorgeously arranged sets and shots
- The film, and the style, is a high-water mark for Ozu— but it is not aberration – it is not a major departure by any stretch from his previous films (starting in the late 1940’s) and stretching to his untimely death in 1963 (at age 60). There are actually a number of shots that mirror his shots in previous films (including that shot of Ryu meditating alone in the finale). Though, where another film of his is filled with 10-25 of these gorgeous mise-en-scene shots and compositions… this one has 50-100. It is impossible to keep count unless that’s all you want to do
- There’s ordinariness in the narrative—even banality– as Ozu is after man of the same things De Sica and Rossellini were interested in in Neorealism
- Ozu has a way of funneling the frame so to speak- he has objects and walls that not only take up all the white space (teapots, clocks, slippers, flowers, bicycles laundry, lighting those shoji doors) but directs your eyes by creating frames within a frame, division and blocking of the mise-en-scene a la von Sternberg (though this dwarfs anything von Sternberg ever accomplished as much as I love him)
- 4-5 times with the smokestack pillow shot form… I love the cloud one to signify day change on Ryu
- There’s another quick montage of the wife moving through the empty house in her daily routine- to the trained eye it’s like Ozu showing off with the interiors. Stunning.
- The line writing is sublime “By the time you become a doctor I don’t know if I’ll still be here” is haunting
- At Hara’s friend’s apartment there’s a baby in this bubble thing that, again, is just Ozu showing off with his blocking and framing- it’s so awesome
- Awe-inspiring shot of the two elderly characters laying down at the spa, the lamp, the tea, the two heads—clearly an influence on Bergman’s shot from his arsenal or Varda’s (La Pointe Courte) blocked faces—the staging of the mourners at the funeral
most underrated: Julius Caesar from Mankiewicz—I’m fine with it not landing in the TSPDT consensus top 1000— but nowhere to be found at all in the top 2000? Yikes—that’s wrong. Brando is brilliant yes—but James Mason and John Gielgud are standing on their heads as well.
- It’s a Shakespeare adaptation of course but it’s in-line with Mankiewicz’s work- multiple characters perspective driving the narrative, dialogue on fire, and top-notch acting—not that different than All About Eve
- The third nom in four years for Brando with Streetcar in 1951 and Viva Zapata! In 1952—of course he would win in 1954 for Waterfront and yet another nom in 1957 for Sayonara
- Brando is absolutely genius—but he’s not alone, John Gielgud and James Mason are great- Gielgud probably comes out second best- he has a scene, about 20 minutes in just before the story with a soliloquy as he’s pacing forward… jaw = dropped
- It’s an imaginative casting for Brando or/and role choice for him. It shows range and that he can do “elevated” material. It’s so varied from his previously nominated work including his 1951 star-making (and artistic acting-paradigm-shifting performance in Streetcar where he plays an animal)
- The cast is filled with actors with distinct dictions—many imitators and comedians over the years would tackle Mason and Brando especially
- The narrative moves—packs in the dialogue at a rapid pace- very exciting- excellent choice by Mankiewicz Among the best dialogue of the Bard—Louis Calhern doesn’t fair quite as well- He’s a tall elegant figure though for Caesar—Deborah Kerr not so much either-
- I love George Macready—not enough of him here
- When James Mason plunges his dagger into Caesar his face—the acting is spectacular- that isn’t Shakespeare—that’s acting and direction
- Brando really arrives one hour in—he’s only really mentioned before and in a scene during a parade for a few moments. Of course at the hour mark when he comes in he takes over the film
- He’s supremely brave, emotional- he’s sweating
- The camerawork on Brando is fantastic—Mankiewicz knows he has something special—there’s a crane that backs up and expands when Brando yells to give him space and then comes back in closer at the more intimate end of the scene
- Mason and Brando talking to the roman mob are like two brilliant lawyers making fantastic closing statements. Dueling pianos- it’s acting transcendence– that’s the reason this is a top 10 of the year film
most overrated: The Band Wagon from Minnelli is a very fine film—but the TSPDT launches it way up to #247 overall, and, perhaps more egregiously, #4 of 1953. 1953 is so strong- I can’t find room for it in my top 10 and I’d go beyond that- I’d be at least at #13 here.
gem I want to spotlight: Beat the Devil is never a film I considered for the top 10—but there’s something about it. It is an odd film—buoyed by solid work from Bogart, Robert Morley, and Peter Lorre. Apparently, Huston, Bogart, Lorre and screenwriter Truman Capote stayed up all night drinking and writing the shooting script for the next day (mostly drinking I think). It is a film I return to often—partly perhaps for its imbalance.
trends and notables:
- 1953 marks the years where we get the single best film from Ophuls and Ozu- two of the best 20 directors—they are the yin and yang when it comes to moving the camera—Ophuls’ camera is almost always moving—floating around- very influential (an extension of Renoir). Ozu on the other hand has the sedentary camera, choosing the low seating height, the meticulously blocked and arranged frame, and editing with his famous cutaway pillow shots
- the big technology change and story of 1953 is The Robe with Cinemascope—How To Marry A Millionaire was shot first in Cinemascope but The Robe was released first because of its importance (it is actually the weaker of the two films)– 2.55 : 1 aspect ratios— these are also both in color—part of the strategy from the industry to differentiate from television. The results would be important for many director artists (even if they aren’t immediately revolutionary in 1953) working in cinema. It gives these auteurs a larger canvas.
- The Robe was also a massive hit—and it started the sand and sandal epic genre we’d see dominate some of the larger budget Hollywood productions over the next decade plus until the New Hollywood films would come along in 1967
- it is an incredible year for cinema—the two big masterpieces at the top, at least another seven films worthy of being in most years top five, the top ten is bursting with as many as 15-20 films
- 1953 marks leaps forward in quality for Bergman (with two films that would land in my year’s top ten), Antonioni, and especially Fellini
- International cinema is dominant (another great year for Mizoguchi)- there are only two American directors in the top ten films of 1953 (Sam Fuller and George Stevens)
- This is not Tati’s debut year—but this is the first time he uses his Chaplin tramp-like famous reoccurring character Monsieur Hulot with hat and umbrella
- There are some big-time actors with their first archiveable film. Harriett Andersson makes her first and second appearance in the archives in 1953 with the two Bergman films: Summer With Monika and Sawdust and Tinsel. Lee Marvin does the same—making a name for himself in The Wild One opposite Brando and The Big Heat. Richard Burton makes his first appearance in the archives in The Robe. Lastly, Ernest Borgnine makes his first of many appearances in archiveable films as Sergeant ‘Fatso’ Judson who terrorizes Sinatra’s character in From Here to Eternity
best performance male: Chishû Ryû is here yet again for his work with Ozu. This year it is Tokyo Story and it is a magnificent performance. He internalizes just about everything- so natural. His unspoken frustration at the loud music at the spa is great acting. Richard Widmark in Pickup on South Street is next. I’m 93% sure this is Widmark’s best work. He has great chemistry with Thelma Ritter- and he has a great scene with Jean Peters where he massages her face (after smacking it). It is a fine year for acting across the board- but these two stand above the rest. If I had to mention a third it would be Brando. Again, I hate dipping outside of my top 10 but nobody thought Brando could do Shakespeare—well— he’s the best.
best performance female: There are six elite female performances worth praising in 1953. There’s nobody stronger than Thelma Ritter. Ritter is absolutely commanding in Pickup on South Street. She’s good in everything she’s in from All About Eve to Rear Window (this is a stretch 1950-1953 where she was nominated for a best supporting actress Academy Award four years in a row). She’d be nominated a total of six times (never won), Brooklyn born and first movie credit at age 45. She plays the street-wise Moe and she’s a perfect match for Fuller’s sordid world and the cracking hot dialogue. She has bags under eyes, playing cops against robbers, giving information, selling ties as a front. She has a great scene with Widmark (man, are they good together) in the coffee shop and then her death scene soliloquy is perfect street poetry. The “I’m so tired” speech and the song on the record ends and the camera pans… gunshot (I mean Fuller behind the camera is one hell of a dance partner for her but still). Ritter is levitating. You could do no wrong picking either Danielle Darrieux from The Earrings of Madame De… or Setsuko Hara from Tokyo Story next. Harriet Andersson was discovered by Bergman and she’s in both of his superior 1953 works here. Jean Arthur is next. I think Alan Ladd, Van Heflin, and Brandon De Wilde are very good in Shane– but Arthur gives the single best performance in the film. The great Deborah Kerr gets the last mention for her work in From Here to Eternity.
- Tokyo Story
- The Earrings of Madame De…
- I Vitelloni
- Pickup on South Street
- Monsieur Hulot Holiday
- The Big Heat
- The Wages of Fear
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|Angel Face – Preminger||R|
|Beat the Devil- J. Huston||R|
|Bread, Love and Dreams – Comencini|
|From Here To Eternity- Zinnemann||HR|
|Gentleman Prefer Blondes – Hawks||R|
|How To Marry a Millionaire- Negulesco||HR|
|I Confess- Hitchcock, Clift||R|
|I Vitelloni- Fellini||MS|
|I, the Jury- Essex, Cook Jr.|
|Julius Caesar – Mankiewicz||HR|
|Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday- Tati||MS|
|Peter Pan – Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Luske||R|
|Pickup on South Street – Fuller||MS|
|Roman Holiday- Wyler||HR|
|Sawdust and Tinsel- Bergman||HR|
|Stalag 17- Wilder||HR|
|Summer With Monika- Bergman||HR/MS|
|The Band Wagon- Minnelli||HR|
|The Big Heat- Lang||MS|
|The Blue Gardenia- Lang||R|
|The Cry of the Hunted- Joe Lewis|
|The Earrings of Madame de… – Ophuls||MP|
|The Hitch-Hiker – Lupino||R|
|The Lady Without Camelias – Antonioni||HR|
|The Man From the Alamo- Boetticher|
|The Naked Spur- A. Mann||HR/MS|
|The Robe- Koster||R|
|The Wages of Fear- Clouzot||MS|
|The War of the Worlds – Haskin||R|
|The Wild One- Benedek||R|
|Thunder Bay – A. Mann||R|
|Titanic – Negulesco||R|
|Tokyo Story – Ozu||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
Tokyo Story (the first foreign film I have ever seen) may well be the greatest movie of all time. (very close to the greatest, if not the greatest). Yet it’s not even the best film of the year according to you. That makes Tokyo Story a bit underrated.
Fritz Lang’s best Hollywood movie, ‘The Big Heat is a few spots underrated too. Nothing major but it’s still a tad bit underrated.
I just saw Henri George Clouzot’s The Wages Of Fear today, and again, I think you are underrating it a lot. It’s a masterclass in suspense with many Jaw-esque moments and it incorporates Hitchcock’s philosophy perfectly. “There is no terror in the bang, only the anticipation of it” – Hitchcock. Pauline Kael also praises the suspense aspect of the film. The ending with the blue danube is really sudden and powerful and one of the only times when music plays during the movie. The lack of music gives it an authentic feel as if it were a documentary. It is both a great suspense adventure while also being a powerful satire on the working conditions some men have to endure. The acting by Yves Montand is brilliant. He is great in Z, but he is even better in the Wages of Fear which (in my opinion) is a cinematic masterpiece.
I know everyone loves the 60s and 70s… but damn just look at the 50s. And we haven’t even arrived at the Kurosawa, Ford, and Hitchcock apexes yet!
@Matt Harris– quite right– I don’t think it is a landslide– and however you measure it- I do think the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s are 1-3
I thought I’d share this as well —- saw this yesterday and it really got me excited for 2021
no comment for the top spot tokyo story is my number one favorite films ozu is among my top three directors with kurosawa and bergman and i think tokyo story is the best movies of all time.for the rest i agree with the comment of @azman few films are underrated in your grades.only two “MP” films in a year like that is very little.the wages of fear,Monsieur Hulot Holiday,the big heat and I Vitelloni are in my opinion four masterpieces but the big mistake concerns ugetsu because it’s not only a masterpiece but one of the best movies of all time(i think his 46th position in TPSDT is well deserved although i prefer Sansho the Bailiff)
I think now that Drake has started using borderline ranks(he has been for a long time) and which tier a film leans towards, it makes much more sense than just 4 tiers.
I really like The Big Heat and Wages of Fear from the films from 1953 you talk about.
I feel like a broken record but this is a great page.
I forgot that Tokyo Story was not the best movie of the year before the update. I remember you still had it as MP.
Out of curiosity, at that time why were you praising him?
Not Montgomery Clift? he passed from being the first to not receiving a mention.
Certainly the film is stronger than Julius Caesar.
Personally i prefer it over Brando.
@Aldo- Clift is probably the odd man out in 1953– I don’t have a big problem if you want to add him here– I’m just trying to get away from doing it to HR-level films (and lower obviously) unless there is something earth-shattering (like in Brando’s case). I feel good about one combined mention for Clift for A Place in the Sun and 1953’s year for now
It’s unbelievable that 1953 may have the greatest or near-greatest example of two major cinematic style elements – mise-en-scene with Tokyo Story and camera movement with The Earrings of Madame de… – yet still is inferior to many of the surrounding years.
I wanted to know if you think The Big Heat has a case for being a MP.
I watched it for the 3rd time yesterday and was again thoroughly impressed for several reasons:
– Glen Ford is a bad ass (maybe that’s not a normal grading metric haha but seriously he’s
awesome to watch the way he calls people thieves to their faces and doesn’t back down to
anyone and keeps his moral compass)
– It has a similar dynamic to The Untouchables, both of which examine good and evil in a way
that at least initially seem straight forward but are more complex as Ford’s Bannion causes
extraordinary collateral damage to those around him even if he’s always doing what he
believes is morally correct, this is also an interesting twist on the standard film noir in which
it is a female who is the cause of deaths or character’s misfortune
– The film is a cross being a noir and a gangster movie (obviously those genres have a lot of
– Great use of symbolic visuals for example Wilks orders Bannion to stop going after Duncan
as Wilks washes his hands in the bathroom, essentially washing himself from any
– Truffaut was a big fan of the movie and noted how this movie fit into a common worldview
of Fritz Lang which was good/moral people struggling against a world that is either directly
evil or at the very least indifferent
– At an hour and a half flat there are no unnecessary or wasted scenes
@James Trapp- a compelling case- thank you for sharing! I haven’t seen it in over a decade. This was before I took notes during viewings and before I started the blog– so I can’t really expound on it more. I hope you’re right- always fun to find another masterpiece- new or old
Yeah, this one is a masterpiece for sure. One thing I noted was the influence that the film – and Glenn Ford’s performance in particular (which deserves a mention as some of the year’s best acting work and probably Grahame as well) – on a lot of action movies (particularly from the 80s); films like Commando, Predator (throw in any of McTiernan’s 3 famous films to be honest), or First Blood featuring extremely badass male characters with extreme strength (Glenn Ford is clearly both much stronger and a much better fighter than anyone he comes across in this movie and at times it looks a little exaggerated even), and even the a lot of the one-liners that a lot of these films use seem heavily influenced by a lot of Ford’s put-downers he uses in this film, notably when Lee Marvin is abusing one of the gangster molls in a bar.
Everything on this page is absolutely broken on mobile.
@Zane- thanks- should be fixed now
What do people here think of Marilyn Monroe as an actress? Prior to Blone (2022) I knew little to nothing about Monroe other than she was a sex symol in the 40s and 50s who had several high profile relationships with athletes and artists
I realize that none of these films are MP but she had a very impressive 1953 playing the lead in 3 films:
How to Marry a Millionaire
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
She was a very talented comedienne and I believe she was hoping to break into more dramatic roles eventually but she was largely typecast. Capote wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s with her in mind and though I think it would have been interesting, it’s impossible to imagine anyone other than Audrey Hepburn as Holly. Though reading the source material, Marilyn would have brought the more explicit sexual nature that Capote originally intended. Of course hollywood censorship would have downplayed that aspect regardless.