My Favorite Movies of All Time, circa age 30 – #70-61

70. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (John Ford, 1949, USA)

If there is one specific thing I personally gained on my John Ford masterpiece series back in early 2021, it was my sudden appreciation of John Wayne as actor. Not simply movie star mind you, of which it’s hard to deny his iconic stature, but his talents as an emotional figure on-screen. The Quiet Man was maybe the work that began cracking at that shell for me, but his 3 year earlier work She Wore a Yellow Ribbon is the crown jewel of his career as the centerpiece to Ford’s musing on what masculinity is as a concept and where it succeeds and fails, compared to The Searchers as a fully deserving excoriation of masculinity and the western adventure. “Never apologize it’s a sign of weakness” seems widely mistaken as the thesis to the film as opposed to what the movie is battling against with its tenderness, disappointment, and helplessness. Plus… it’s got some of my favorite Technicolor imagery. Hell, the movie has a color in its title.

69. Sherlock Jr. (Buster Keaton, 1924, USA)

I’ve mentioned this on my letterboxd XXX list and can’t think of a better way to put it: “I feel like I’ve lived most of my life similar to Buster Keaton’s character in Sherlock Jr., taking his cues from the movie he’s projecting, dreaming in the language of movies, and being confused when neither of those reference points are available to him.” It’s not simply the case that this is one of the high masterpieces of physicality captured on film, but that I relate to it as a representation of what makes movies give us the space to dream in heroics and romance. Transcends slapstick hilarity to be sharply modern and dramatically thrilling for its very short runtime, which makes that relatability both amiable but also a bit of a punchline for spending too much of my thoughts in cinema.

68. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Jacques Demy, 1964, France/West Germany)

No matter how many times I watch it, I’m blown away by how casually the movie lands its final punches over the time and space of a cut to black. For all the praise the movie gets as one of the great tragedies of emotional manipulation, I don’t see as much talk about the ugly truth that Demy transfers all of that pain to the viewer and spares it the characters whom we watch fall in love and then lose that love because the world is just too tough for that. But that’s getting ahead of myself and I hope I’ve been vague enough to preserve the movie’s power for the uninitiated. If not, there are other appeals: the lovely bold color suggesting fantasy in the realist textures around our characters and the non-stop opera-like delivery of my favorite music ever developed for a movie, courtesy of my favorite movie composer Michel Legrand.

67. Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1975, Belgium/France)

Now that this most quiet and challenging of art films has found its way to the tippity top of Sight & Sound’s latest Best Films of All Time poll, I expect a lot of people will have their first exposure to it be in their living rooms (and to be fair, that’s how I first watched it too more than a decade ago). I implore you all though: there is nothing like watching this in a dark theater trapped for the 3+ hours in the quotidian routine, observing every detail so that even the slightest shift will knock you right off your axis and you’re still unprepared for the unraveling left to come. A miracle of minimalism and quiet but angry feminist cinema.

66. Trouble in Paradise (Ernst Lubitsch, 1932, USA)

I am prudish enough to be a bit chilly towards explicit depictions of sex in cinema (not always or even frequently, but the exceptions always have to be extraordinary beyond “and here is some people fucking”) but not too prudish that the right sort of edgy innuendo in Pre-Code cinema won’t tickle my fancy. Lubitsch is the most reliable sort on that, a sort of moviedom’s Prince (as in the artist formerly living as) in how perfectly he mixes in the idea of the physical with the ravishing sensations of the intellectual in his dialogue and usage of suggestive imagery. For my money, Trouble in Paradise is the peak of that sophisticated and sexy Lubitsch touch. It makes me laugh as much as hard as any comedy, gets me as hot and bothered as much as any smut, and you couldn’t ask for better if you need to be in either mood.

65. Deep Red (Dario Argento, 1975, Italy)

Giallo is definitely not the first horror subgenre I fell in love with – that would go to that most child-friendly set of monster movies from the 1930s to the 1950s – but it is the movement that made me understand the artistic sophistication of horror as an experience. Deep Red remains after all these year’s a perfection of that sophistication: all the artistry of Italian art cinema, all the vulgarity of genre cinema, all the anxious tension of mystery storytelling, all the goofy buoyancy of a romantic comedy (Daria Nicolodi’s character remains one of my biggest screen crushes), in perfect synchronization for a dizzying journey as a fellow stranger like David Hemmings’ character wandering into a line of depraved murders and buried psychopathy simply because he couldn’t mind his own business (a la his other big Italian arthouse hit Blow-up). Neither can I really with how many times I’ve rewatched this just to chill out at night to Goblin’s awesome prog rock.

64. House (Obayashi Nobuhiko, 1977, Japan)

I’ve heard and said this a lot about Miami and I’m sure this is a frequency in other parts of the world as well: “if you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes”. House is that way for me in movie form: if you don’t like the movie, just wait a few minutes. Except I love every single movie that House‘s versatile revolving door of style is portraying for us, pulling from Obayashi Nobuhiko’s background as a commercial director to animate a fantastical ghost story his own adolescent daughter conceived of. Much too often I’ve witnessed audiences as the permission to approach this movie with detached irony, but I think House houses (pun intended) within itself a wounded and tragic post-war soul. If its non-stop concentration of energy keeps things pumping and heightened, it’s only so that the movie isn’t the slightest bit a downer that a widowed and girl-hungry witch could suggest.

63. The Heart of the World (Guy Maddin, 2000, Canada)

I am frustrated that Tim Brayton (in his list of the best movies of the 2000s) already went with the cocaine overdose analogy because there is no better way to describe it: 100% raw uncut kino, as the kids say. Even as a work of commission, this is handily my favorite thing Maddin made to tribute only the art of cinema itself not only by mythologizing of its communicative potentials but by mythologizing the way it transforms itself into the action of the individual (which is relatively small-scale for a movie adopting homage to the collectivist propaganda of early Soviet montage cinema) and the heartbeat of society. A breathless miracle in the image of the flickering miracle it is born from.

62. The Scarlet Empress (Josef von Sternberg, 1934, USA)

Not sure I’ll ever love a woman the way Josef von Sternberg loved Marlene Dietrich. Not a romantic love necessarily, just a pure ecstasy and lavish care for every feature of her distinct face and form. Shanghai Express, Morocco, and The Blue Angel appear to get most of the attention and praise (as they should) but this underappreciated gem is the one where I feel that adoration vibrate. The lavish and mad set designs and costume designs, driven more by indulgence in bold classicalism than any historic fidelity to Imperial Russia, are an extension of Dietrich’s force of personality here. The stage therefore is set to Dietrich’s development of Catherine the Great from a young naïve ingenue into a shrewd and calculating mastermind of sex appeal. “Take the money and run” studio pictures are among my most thrilling movie watches – why wouldn’t you want to see an artist exercise the full extent of their imagination with limitless resources – and von Sternberg is one of the greatest directors to take that indulgence at an era that I consider to be the Hollywood studio system’s peak.

61. Law of Desire (Pedro Almodóvar, 1987, Spain)

I feel like Almodóvar’s most recent sets of films have suggested more of an elder statesman storyteller than the once enfant terrible he was between the 1980s to the 2000s (hell, even his arguable biggest hit Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is kind of the least fucked up movie he made in the 1980s when he was really pushing as many provocateur buttons as he could). Law of Desire feels to me like the greatest balance he took in celebrating our flaws and social transgressions – in terms of Spanish Catholic moralism – and having an unexpectedly clear-eyed view about the costs and pains of freedom and passion in those transgressions. As a movie about a torn queer artist diving into conflict and drama even at the threat of his loved ones, it feels the most personal and autocritical of Almodóvar’s works. That doesn’t stop it from being no less fun and appealing: in the warm nuclear family chemistry between Eusebio Poncela, Carmen Maura, and Manuela Velasco, in the sharp coding of Almodóvar’s characteristic indulgence with color (probably the most intelligent and sharpest usage of red-blue for him outside of possibly Talk to Her), and in letting the bad news Antonio Banderas’ psychotic murderer brings genre and melodrama as a personification of the worst case scenario when you just give in to your unregulated desires. But what visual brilliance and profound emotion hits the screen when you do give in…


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