best film: Double Indemnity is a one of the greatest film noirs. The only real contender vying for the top slot as far as Barbara Stanyck's career is concerned is the The Lady Eve. The edge goes to Billy Wilder's noir here with stunning performances by Fred MacMurray, Edward G. Robinson, and, of course, Stanwyck. Stanwyck is the archetypal and greatest femme fatale in cinema history- and the essential resource here Senses of Cinema agrees. http://www.tasteofcinema.com/2018/the-20-greatest-femme-fatales-in-american-cinema/ best performance: Double Indemnity but this might be closer than the category above with Stanwyck’s work in Preston Sturges’ The Lady Eve.
best film: Three Colours: Blue from Kieslowski and Cache from Haneke stand alone in the upper echelon for Juliette Binoche. Her split second role in Three Colours: Red is omitted from contention here. She has a slew of films in a tier or two below: Lovers on a Bridge, Summer Hours, English Patient, Code Unknown. Binoche has been as steady as a rock for decades- but her high-water mark is clearly 1993's Three Colours : Blue working with Kieslowski best performance: The answer is Three Colours: Blue and it is not close. This is no
best film: Discussing Liv Ullmann’s best film really requires one to talk about Ingmar Bergman’s best. She is not in The Seventh Seal (made nearly a decade before they started collaborating) so that is out. She is not in Fanny and Alexander, either. But Bergman’s best single film is Persona so that is the answer here. Cries & Whispers is not far behind Persona. It is likely that both Persona and Cries & Whispers are two of the best fifty (50) films of all-time- and Liv is simply spectacular in both. at 28-years-old Liv Ullmann would become
best film: Casablanca is the winner here though Notorious is a masterpiece as well and I owe Rossellini’s Journey to Italy another revisit. Casablanca is deserving of its reputation and iconic status. Curtiz is not Hitchcock or Rossellini, but he directs the hell out of this one film and of course it has one of the best screenplays in Hollywood history. Chief amongst the reasons to appreciate Casablanca are the lead performances by Bogart and Bergman. It is Bogart’s speech at the end but its Bergman’s emotional range (while Bogart plays Rick as more even and cool/steady) that help
The Seventh Seal arrived at Cannes in the spring of 1957- and then just a few short months later Wild Strawberries was released in Ingmar Bergman’s native Sweden just before the close of the year. Wild Strawberries would be a big part of the festival circuit in 1958. In Wild Strawberries, Professor Isak Borg (played by the greatest Swedish director of all-time until Bergman came along, Victor Sjöström) travels via car instead of plane- a last minute change by Borg- to receive an honorary degree. The trip is not only physical of course- but spiritual and existential. During the
To Sir, with Love is an actor’s vehicle for Sidney Poitier. It exists in the drama subgenre of empathetic teachers working with troubled youth. Blackboard Jungle from Richard Brooks in 1955 is the obvious companion- in that film Poitier himself played one of the students. Glenn Ford played the teacher. Dead Poets Society (1989), Stand and Deliver (1988), Dangerous Minds (1995) are others. Here Poitier plays Mark Thackeray. Poitier was at the height of his powers in 1967. He had won his Oscar (1963) and had been a star already for nearly a decade (The Defiant Ones is really
Nightmare Alley is Mexican auteur Guillermo del Toro’s adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 novel of the same name (and what a brilliant name it is!). There is a 1947 film adaptation from Edmund Goulding starring Tyrone Power that certainly has much in common. Guillermo del Toro’s version opens on Bradley Cooper as Stanton Carlisle burning the body (and home) of his deceased father. There is sun pouring in the window and Carlisle escapes. The shot of the family house in the far distance on the hill certainly resembles Malick’s Days of Heaven. The film is set between 1939
The Paleface is a great vehicle for comedian Bob Hope and former World War II pinup Jane Russell. As it would happen, it turns out she was a gifted comedienne as well. The film was co-written by Frank Tashlin (he would come out and say he disliked Norman McLeod’s direction of this film- and would go on to direct the sequel himself- Son of Paleface in 1952). McLeod had experience directing comedies though- including a few with the Marx Brothers in the 1930s (Monkey Business and Horse Feathers), W.C. Fields (It’s a Gift) and Cary Grant (Topper). Bob Hope is
Talk about the power of the number three- this is the third film in Danish auteur and enfant terrible Lars von Trier’s Depression trilogy (Antichrist, Melancholia). The Depression trilogy itself is actually von Trier’s third trilogy. He made the Europa trilogy first in the 1980s and then The Golden Heart trilogy from 1996 to 2000 where he rose to international fame. Nymphomaniac is one film that had to be broken up, like Kill Bill, into Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 for running time and commercial purposes. All told it runs just about exactly four hours long. It is a
Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi is not the first director to do such (Ozu, Rohmer) but his 2021 entry A Hero not only feels like a companion piece to a previous work (2011’s A Separation in particular)- but his two films are even named as though they two parts of whole. Farhadi has seemingly an unmatched gift for creating moral tales that are both domestic dramas and white-knuckle intense thrillers. Perhaps only fellow realists- The Dardenne Brothers- deserve comparison to Farhadi (a compliment to them both). This is Farhadi’s return to his native Iran after 2018’s Everybody Knows in Spain.
best film: The Card Counter from Paul Schrader tops the list for 2021. Schrader has always been an intellectual. He wrote “Transcendental Style in Film” on Dreyer, Ozu and his main source of inspiration- Bresson. But Schrader has also always leaned into sensationalism as well and he seems to have found the right balance at this point in his career. The Card Player is largely minimalistic—but there are this ripe little opportunities for sweeps of style and visual flourishes. Isaac’s character is rich with depth and complexity. He is a savant at card playing- but he is also an ex-con and ex-soldier.
Dustin Hoffman not only stars as parolee ex-con Max Dembo- but this was a passion project for Hoffman (a major player in 1978 of course) and he was actually planning to get behind the camera himself before Ulu Grosbard was ultimately chosen to direct. The source material is Edward Bunker’s novel and it not only a gripping character study and crime film- but a sort of expose on the treatment of ex-cons. Bunker's debut novel was "No Beast So Fierce" and if elements of the film feel authentic (and they do)- Bunker was an actual ex-con and wrote from