Fine flicks

The Critic’s Choice: 150 Masterpieces of World Cinema
Selected and Defined by Experts
Forward by Bernardo Bertolucci
Edited by Geoff Andrew
The Ivy Press

No ‘best’ lists can ever satisfy everyone. But Bernardo Bertolucci (The Last Emperor, Last Tango in Paris) forewords this best selection – where he muses about his discovery of ‘Kamerasutra’: the magic and sensuality of the moving camera! Moreover, it is 150 films, not the traditional 100. Perhaps that additional 50 allowed the inclusion of some Asian gems like Ozu’s ‘I Was Born, But…’; Guney’s ‘Yol’; Kiarostami’s ‘Close-Up’ (though many would have preferred Kiarostami’s sublime ‘Through The Olive Trees’); and Tian Z’s ‘Horse Thief’.

That extra 50 also permits some directors to have more than one entry: Lang’s 3 films (Metropolis, M and Ministry of Fear); Hitchcock’s 3 (39 Steps, Rear Window, Psycho); Bunuel’s 2 (Viridiana, Los Olivdados); Lubitsch’s 2 (Lady Windermere’s, The Shop Around The Corner), Scorsese’s 2 (Mean Streets, Raging Bull.)

Goddard, Kieslowski, and Rohmer get two ‘best’ entries each. But the Welles, Kubrick, Altman and the true genius of cinema, the versatile and incomparable magician of cinema, Fellini, only manage one ‘best’ each which are, respectively: Citizen Kane, Eyes Wide Shut, Nashville and La Dolce Vita. Bertolucci’s own is ‘Before The Revolution’ -directed when he was a 22-year old ardent Goddard fan- surprisingly not his more fashionable, ‘The Conformist’.

Forever-busy A-List ‘geniuses’ only get one entry: Spielberg (Jaws), Woody Allen (Annie Hall), and Lucas (Star Wars.)

The list begins with the silent era greats –‘Birth of a Nation’, ‘Noseferatu’, ‘The General’…. But how could Erich von Stroheim’s 1925 masterpiece ‘Greed’ be missed? The list ends with 1999 British animation, ‘Pleasure of War.’ In between, it rounds up the usual suspects: It’s a Wonderful Life, His Girl Friday, Wild Bunch, Bonnie & Clyde, The Godfather…and some deserving unusual gems: Sternberg’s Morocco, Nicholas Ray’s In A Lonely Place, Red Shoe, Brazil, Stranger Than Paradise, Sex, Lies…, Do The Right Thing, Pulp Fiction, Blue Velvet, and Clair Denis’s Beau Travail.

Some choices raised my French film scholar colleagues’ eyebrows. However, in fairness, this book is a choice of master films, not master directors. Still, could not one Ingmar Bergman film make the cut and perhaps replace a trendy ‘so so’ transient film like ‘Clerks’, which shines only against the lackluster films of Hollywood in the 1990s?

Many of your favorite films maybe missing from this Choice: Casablanca, Chinatown, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Some like It Hot, The French Connection (why should not a great thriller be also included?), Costa Garvaz’s ‘Z’, The Crying Game, Cinema Paradiso- best nostalgic film on film! Moreover, you may question why Kazan’s ‘East of Eden’ is chosen instead of his more remarkable classic ‘On The Water Front’. And why Kenji Mizoguchi’s ‘Story of Last Chrysanthemum’ is favored over his more mesmerizing masterpiece, ‘Ugetsu Monogatari’?

This FILM’s selection admits a bias towards the West’s output, because of its easier ‘accessibility’. Sadly, many Asian masterpieces – such as Satyajit Ray’s ‘Pather Panchali’ or Yimou’s ‘Raise The Red Lanterns’ and ‘Ju Dou’ – are honored briefly with photos but are not chosen.

‘Yol (1982)’, the epic Kurdish film by the legendary Yilmaz Guney should be in the Guinness Book of World records for the first true, independent film written and directed (via his assistant) from a prison cell. The legendary actor, screenwriter, novelist, director and producer Guney was serving an accumulated one hundred year sentence in a Turkish prison.

Guney escaped prison and finished Yol in Europe, eventually living in exile in Paris, pursued by Turkish government’s agents. Tragically, he died of cancer in 1984 at the age of 47. Attended by French Minister of Culture and Paris’s top filmmakers, intellectuals and artistis, Guney was honorably buried at Pere La Chaise in the company of Chopin, Wilde, Morrison…

Yol is highlighted in this book for its striking visual language: “The most surprising thing about Yol is its non-reliance on dialog to make its points. It is an overwhelming visual film that renders everything…in images so elemental that they have an almost expressionist power. Even in jail, Guney thought in images- as if he felt that words could never be enough. His film argued for revolutionary change with superb visual rhetoric.”

Most of Guney’s over 50 films were lost, censored or damaged through the deliberate actions of the Turkish government Yol and many of Guney’s master films – such as ‘Hurd’ and ‘Wall’ – were banned in Turkey until the 1990s when finally Guney’s films were shown in Turkey after censoring all words or references to Kurds and Kurdistan.

I did not count but it seems that most of America’s contributions in this Critic’s Choice are films made prior to 1980’s: only a few U.S films made in the last 20 years were chosen. So much for the power of tons of money, super stars and high technology! Perhaps the general deterioration of Hollywood films, aimed more and more at the billion-dollar ‘impressionable and easily exploitable’ kids’ market, is true. If so, look for even larger percentage contributions in future ‘Best Lists’ from abroad, especially from the emerging world.

The inclusion of the special chapter “British Cinema” betrays a British tilt despite the contribution of a few Americans like Amy Taubin, Jonathan Rosenbaum, and the British Transatlantic, San Francisco-based, David Thomson. The editor is Geoff Andrew, editor of film listings of “the very influential film pages” of London Time Out. (How Time Out changed from an alternative underground magazine –when I was a student in London- to a mainstream, if not a yuppie, influential is another story! Its New York Food Guide calls my favorite wonder food store ‘Fairway’ (cited aptly by Zagat as “a major reason to live in New York”) as “a poor man’s Dean & Deluca.”

Why not also include special chapters on Italian and French cinemas when each of these has provided the world with equal, if not more resonant, counterpoint, in both style and content, to Hollywood’s slick films? It is surprising that Bertolucci does not seem to have prevailed on these mostly Anglo-Saxon and American film critics, the unique importance of Italian neo-realism or French nouvelle vague.

Then, perhaps Italian ‘human story’ films about marginal people – such as Bicycle Thieves or La Strada or Nights of Cabiria – may have replaced some British oddities like Leigh’s Topsy Turvy. (Or, did I miss something when I dizzily walked out after 30 minutes of Topsy Turvy?) This book’s ’150 Best’ is what the French might well label as ‘le gout u peu Anglo-Saxone’, with Bertolucci’s Foreword probably added for Latin prestige.

If the likes of Richard Pena, Kent Jones, David D’Arcy, Godfrey Cheshire, Dave Kehr, Jean-Michel Frodon, Giona Nazarro, Joan Dupont, Michael Henry Wilson … decide to make up their own ‘best’ list, then many more foreign films such as Slavic (‘Viy’, ‘Ruslan I Lyudmila’), Middle Eastern (‘Cairo Station’), South America (‘Pixote’), Iranian (‘The Cow’) would likely replace many ‘so so’ British and American films. Still, this somewhat Anglo-Saxone Best List is well worth browsing.

No best list is perfect!

Jalal ‘Jay’ Jonroy, New York, the writer/director of David & Layla, now showing in U.S. cinemas in a nationwide roll out that will continue into 2008. Current cinemas showtimes at official movie site:

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