Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Top 100 Films of the 20th Century – Part 17: 25-21

Rank: 25
Title: City Lights
Release Year: 1931
Genre: Comedy
Director: Charles Chaplin
Cast: Charles Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, and Harry Myers
Plot Summary: The Tramp falls in love with a blind flower girl, trying his very best to help her.
What Makes It Special: In addition to being a beautiful love story and very funny, City Lights is just a plain wonderful cinematic experience. Charles Chaplin’s The Tramp character is at his very best, most touching, and most hysterically funny in what is possibly the auteur’s greatest achievement (although, as you will see, I do have Modern Times ranked slightly higher). The film transcends the limitations of silent film (or perceived limitations, as some of cinema’s most artistically compelling films were made during the silent era) resonating on a deeply emotional level. It is an incredibly charming piece that pulls its audience in and never lets them go all the way through its utterly brilliant ending. City Lights is the gateway by which all other fantastic silent film comedies can be accessed and appreciated. It is almost impossible not to be consumed, changed, and illuminated by the film.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 24
Title: Psycho
Release Year: 1960
Genre: Horror/Mystery
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Plot Summary: Marion Crane just wants to escape her life in Phoenix. She steals $40,000 from her place of work and goes on the run, checking into a small motel along the road. The motel is operated by Norman Bates, a man who appears to be dominated by his overbearing mother. Marion is almost home free until Norman takes a special interest in her.
What Makes It Special: Psycho is iconic for so many reasons and forever changed horror cinema. Its score from composer Bernard Herrmann alone is universally known today in addition to many of its famous scenes. It is funny then that auteur Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous and successful film was also one of his hardest to get made. The studios would not touch it, even after he had just made the very successful North by Northwest. Hitchcock had to fund the film himself and to save money he shot it on Universal’s backlot with his Alfred Hitchcock Presents television crew. The lack of money and time seems to have invigorated Hitchcock, as it is one of his most innovative and aesthetically interesting films of his later career (something true too of Frenzy).
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 23
Title: Modern Times
Release Year: 1936
Genre: Comedy
Director: Charles Chaplin
Cast: Charles Chaplin and Paulette Goddard
Plot Summary: The Tramp desperately tries to survive the oppression of modern industrial society. His only salvation comes in the form of a young homeless woman he meets.
What Makes It Special: Just above I called City Lights Charles Chaplin’s (possibly) greatest achievement, so then why is Modern Times ranked slightly higher? Well, Modern Times is equally as powerful emotionally as City Lights; it is just as funny; and, the love story is touching as well. What Modern Times has over all other Chaplin films are two things. First, it features Chaplin’s most engaging comedy bits. Everything in the factory is brilliant and I particularly love his scene on roller skates in the department store. Second, Modern Times has a powerful social and political message, coming out right in the middle of America’s Great Depression essentially as a plead for help for the poor and unfortunate consumed, crushed, and spit out by the industrial age. Chaplin was never one to shy away from making a social and/or political statement – just look at films like The Great Dictator or the ending of Monsieur Verdoux (something that eventually led to him, in part, being deported from the United States – J. Edgar Hoover just plain did not like him, thought he was a communist, and went out of his way to tarnish and destroy him). Modern Times is eternally hopefully in the face of the crippling economic depression and oppression – that is its most American quality, to find hope and optimism for the future even when by all rights there should not be any.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 22
Release Year: 1966
Genre: War Drama
Director: Gillo Pontecorvo
Plot Summary: The people of Algeria (and more specifically the people of its capitol city Algiers) fight for their independence from the French government.
What Makes It Special: With The Battle of Algiers Gillo Pontecorvo has made a narrative film that feels like a historical documentary (though no documentary footage is used in the film). It is so visceral, vibrant, and authentic that the actors feel real; the violence feels horrifying; and, the call for independence is palpable. Even more impressive is that the film does not take political sides. The camera merely observes instead putting the burden of conviction on the viewer. It is a one-of-a-kind film that has never been equaled in terms of filmmakers recreating true events.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 21
Release Year: 1929
Genre: Montage
Director: Dziga Vertov
Plot Summary: A cameraman travels around the city documenting urban life.
What Makes It Special: Man with a Movie Camera is the most abstract of the films on this list. It is not really a narrative film as there is no real story; rather, the film is an exploration of life in the Soviet Union and the creative possibilities of the movie camera. Dziga Vertov mostly made documentaries, but with this film he wanted to probe the narrative power of montage, yielding a film that is quite striking and profound. It is an art film way ahead of its time.
Trailer: Here
Available on: DVD and Video On-Demand

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