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Movies by State: New York

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Photo (c) D.G. McCabe

Movies by State: New York

Movies by State is back!  And you thought I forgot about this ambitious project?  Well not so much, it’s just that it’s summer and an ambitious blog series isn’t really a warm weather activity.

Outside of California, and maybe even including California, New York City is the most common setting for American movies.  Being from a part of New York State that’s far from New York City, however, I’d like to start with non-NYC movies and take it from there.

Non-NYC Movies

Western New York (Buffalo), Central New York (Syracuse), Northern New York (The Adirondacks), Long Island, and the Hudson Valley Region don’t get nearly as much Hollywood attention as New York City.  Bruce Almighty (2003) is one of the few recent films set in Buffalo, The Express (2008) and Snow Day (2000) represent Syracuse, and Last of the Mohicans (1992) is set in the Adirondacks.  Of course, the most pivotal scenes in Miracle (2004) are set in Lake Placid.

Long Island and the Hudson Valley region get a little bit more notice from our friends in the film industry.  Long Island is of course the setting of the Amityville Horror and The Hamptons get a starring role in Something’s Gotta Give (2003) among other movies.  The Hudson Valley is the setting of The Word According to Garp (1982) and Regarding Henry (1991).

New York City Films

There are too many films set in New York City to really do a couple of paragraphs of justice.  Since this is a blog, you don’t have all day to read a bunch of ramblings either.  But what is New York City to five of film’s greatest directors?  In alphabetical order:

Woody Allen

Allen is most comfortable when he gets to describe interactions between highly educated New Yorkers.  Allen’s New York is one of museums and dysfunctional relationships – so think Central Park North.

Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin’s New York is a kind of dirty, kind of sleazy, kind of funny place.  There are immigrants and millionaires, kids and tramps, and although it is sometimes not named, Chaplin’s New York is a magnificent stage – so think Midtown.

Francis Ford Coppola

The Godfather (1972) is the greatest American film, and Coppola skillfully uses the bustling immigrant communities of the Old City as a backdrop to his tale of the corrosive seduction of evil – mostly old Little Italy.

Spike Lee

Brooklyn, 1989.  It’s a hot day, too hot for pretending anymore.  Pretending like we all get along and there aren’t problems in our cities and our neighborhoods.  Sure that’s the setting of his most notable film, but Lee paints this all too familiar picture throughout his body of work.

Martin Scorsese

New York is Scorsese’s muse.  It would be unfair to take any section of the city and use it as an analogy for his films, most of which examine issues of violence and masculinity in American society.  No one director has portrayed the city in as many great films as Scorsese has.

Next Up – The Southeast

(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe

The Great Oscar Re-Do (Part 2: 1951-1975)

Here’s Part 2 of Cinema Grandcanyonscope’s Great Oscar Re-Do:

1951 – Winner: “An American in Paris;” Should Have Won: “An American in Paris.”  1951 was a competition between An American in Paris and A Streetcar Named Desire, and it’s close enough that I wouldn’t be able to argue with either result.

1952 – Winner: “The Greatest Show on Earth;” Should Have Won: “Singin’ in the Rain”  This is often listed at the top of the list of greatest Oscar snubs, especially considering when most people imagine a Western, they are imagining High Noon.  Still, it is Singin’ in the Rain that has stood the test of time from 1952 rather than either of these films.

1953 – Winner: “From Here to Eternity;” Should Have Won: “Tokyo Story.”  From Here to Eternity was the best American film of 1953, and I had difficulty bumping it from its perch.  It is high entertainment, but Tokyo Story is high art.

1954 – Winner: “On the Waterfront;” Should Have Won: “Seven Samurai.”  This one stings a bit, and “Rear Window” came out in the same year as well.  “On the Waterfront” is one of the greatest American films by any estimation, but Seven Samurai is a far more important film.

1955 – Winner: “Marty;” Should Have Won: “Pather Panchali.”  Ernest Borgnine’s greatest performance deserves the recognition it received, but Pather Panchali is the milestone that marks the start of a truly world cinema.

1956 – Winner: “Around the World in Eighty Days;” Should Have Won: “The Searchers.”  What many consider John Ford’s greatest work is meditation on the destructive power of vengeance where the supposed hero and supposed villain are basically the same character.

1957 – Winner: “The Bridge on the River Kwai;” Should Have Won: “The Seventh Seal.” Some years had an embarrassment of riches.  The Bridge of the River Kwai is one of Lean’s finest films, but it is flawed in ways that The Seventh Seal isn’t.

1958 – Winner: “Gigi;” Should Have Won: “Vertigo.”  Vertigo is now considered by some polls to be the greatest film of all time, but it was actually a commercial flop when it come out.  That is probably the reason it did not win Best Picture in 1958.

1959 – Winner: “Ben-Hur;” Should Have Won: “Ben-Hur.”  While it’s true that Ben-Hur has been surpassed in the epic genre and in some respects it hasn’t aged well, it won everything in sight in 1959 for good reason.

1960 – Winner: “The Apartment;” Should Have Won: “Breathless.”  Oh 1960, what to do with you?  Billy Wilder’s greatest film (The Apartment), Kubrick’s first great epic (Spartacus), Hitchcock’s most popular film (Psycho), or the French Citizen Kane (Breathless)?  L’Avenntura, and La Dolce Vita also came out that year.  In final analysis, the French New Wave changed everything in cinema as an artform and Breathless is a worthy representative from that movement.

1961 – Winner: “West Side Story;” Should Have Won: “West Side Story.”  West Side Story has had so much praise lavished upon it that I won’t repeat that here, except to say that I recently watched it and I still can’t get Bernstein’s score out of my head.

1962 – Winner: “Lawrence of Arabia;” Should Have Won: “Lawrence of Arabia.”  Peter O’Toole’s Lawrence blows out a match and the scene transitions to the sun rising over the desert, and to cinema’s greatest adventure.

1963 – Winner: “Tom Jones;” Should Have Won: “8 1/2.”  8 1/2 is the greatest movie about the art of making movies.

1964 – Winner: “My Fair Lady;” Should Have Won: “A Hard Day’s Night.”  I pose the following – the Academy picked the wrong musical in 1964.

1965 – Winner: “The Sound of Music;” Should Have Won: “The Sound of Music.” I pose the following – the Academy picked the right musical in 1965.

1966 – Winner: “A Man for All Seasons;” Should Have Won: “Persona.”  Bergman once said of Persona, “Today I feel that in Persona, and later in Cries and Whispers, I had gone as far as I could go. And that in these two instances when working in total freedom, I touched wordless secrets that only the cinema can discover.”

1967 – Winner: “In the Heat of the Night;” Should Have Won: “In the Heat of the Night.”  It must have been tough awarding a primarily American award in the 1960’s when so many great and influential foreign films were coming out.  Still, In the Heat of the Night is an important American film and deserves its spot here.

1968 – Winner: “Oliver!;” Should Have Won: “2001: A Space Odyssey.”  This one is hard to imagine, but the Academy loved musicals in the 1960’s since so many of the older voters were nostalgic for the “Golden Age” of musicals earlier in the century.  If movies like Oliver! were the past, movies like 2001 were the future.

1969 – Winner: “Midnight Cowboy;” Should Have Won: “Midnight Cowboy.”  Midnight Cowboy and Easy Rider were the harbingers of the New Hollywood, and either could be considered best picture of 1969, so I’ll defer to the Academy.

1970 – Winner: “Patton;” Should Have Won: “Patton.”  I almost put “MASH” here, but Patton is a good choice too.

1971 – Winner: “The French Connection;” Should Have Won: “The French Connection.”  The French Connection is the epitome of early 1970’s action cinema.

1972 – Winner: “The Godfather;” Should Have Won: “The Godfather.”  The greatest American film.

1973 – Winner: “The Sting;” Should Have Won: “Day for Night.”  Day for Night actually did win Best Foreign Film in 1973.  The Sting is a fun movie with great actors, but Day for Night is the last of the great French New Wave masterpieces and may be Truffaut’s greatest film.

1974 – Winner: “The Godfather, Part II.”  Should Have Won: “The Godfather, Part II.”  I’ve heard some arguments for Chinatown but none that have really convinced me.

1975 – Winner: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest;” Should Have Won: “Jaws.”  One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest won everything there was to win in 1975, but Jaws changed everything about the film industry.  Also I find that Jaws has aged better.

Now we’re rolling.  Stay tuned for Part 3!

(c) D.G. McCabe

The Great Oscar Re-Do 2012 (Part One: 1927-1950)

Awards season is upon us! Here’s a fun little exercise – what was really the best film for every year of the Academy Awards?  I’ll admit I’m slightly re-imagining the Oscars since they really are awards for American films primarily.  I’ll try to keep to that and only select a foreign films sparingly, although that will be tough to keep to in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  The following is my opinion, and it’s just a fun exercise since I realize Hollywood people do not have magical powers to veer into the future and never have.  Today 1927-1950:

1927 – Winner: “Wings & Sunrise: A Tale of Two Humans;”  Should Have Won: “Metropolis.” It’s close and critics love Murnau’s Sunrise, but Metropolis was ultimately more influential.

1928 – Winner: None; Should Have Won: “The Passion of Joan of Arc.”  The Oscars took a bit to grow into their format, as there were two winners in 1927 but none in 1928.  Dryer’s masterpiece is a landmark of cinema, however, and quite possibly the pinnacle of silent film.

1929 – Winner: “The Broadway Melody;” Should Have Won: “Man with a Movie Camera.”  I did my research since the Sight and Sound Poll came out, and Man with a Movie Camera is one of the first demonstrations of the potential of film as an artform completely separate from the theater.

1930 – Winner: “All Quiet on the Western Front;” Should Have Won: “All Quiet on the Western Front.”  They don’t always get it wrong that Academy, and in 1930 they awarded the Best Picture to the first realistic portrayal of warfare committed to celluloid.

1931 – Winner: “Cimarron;” Should Have Won: “M.”  Fritz Lang invented the police procedural in M, and fans of CBS shows have been thankful every since.

1932 – Winner: “Grand Hotel;” Should Have Won: “Grand Hotel.”  What were the Hollywood Golden Age films like?  This one is considered a good representative.

1933 – Winner: “Cavalcade;” Should Have Won: “Duck Soup.”  The Academy hates comedy, but with the Marx Brothers being as influential as they were, the film considered their best deserved more recognition.

1934 – Winner: “It Happened One Night;” Should Have Won: “It Happened One Night.”  Another old Hollywood classic that people still enjoy today, and one of Capra’s best.

1935 – Winner: “Mutiny on the Bounty;” Should Have Won: “Mutiny on the Bounty.” 1935 wasn’t a particularly notable year in film so I’ll defer to the Academy’s judgement.

1936 – Winner: “The Great Ziegfeld;” Should Have Won: “Modern Times.”  Florenz Ziegfeld’s ultra-mega-huge celebrity had a lot to do with this biopic’s success, but Chaplin’s masterwork belongs in this spot.

1937 – Winner: “The Life of Emile Zola;” Should Have Won: “The Grand Illusion.”  The Grand Illusion is possibly the greatest pre-war French film.  “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” is a close runner-up.

1938 – Winner: “You Can’t Take it With You;” Should Have Won: “The Lady Vanishes.” It’s close but Hitchcock’s first great film trumps Capra’s fourth or fifth.

1939 – Winner: “Gone with the Wind;” Should Have Won: “The Wizard of Oz.”  I could produce a long list detailing why the Wizard of Oz is a better film but I don’t have that kind of time.

1940 – Winner: “Rebecca;” Should Have Won: “The Grapes of Wrath.”  And likewise to 1938, John Ford’s masterpiece trumps Hitchcock’s eighth or ninth best film.

1941 – Winner: “How Green was My Valley;” Should Have Won: “Citizen Kane.”  Duh.

1942- Winner: “Mrs. Miniver;” Should Have Won: “The Magnificent Ambersons.”  Orson Welles should have gotten two Oscars in a row, as many critics and historians feel Ambersons is almost equal to Kane.

1943 – Winner: “Casablanca;” Should Have Won: “Casablanca.”  Double Duh.

1944 – Winner: “Going My Way;” Should Have Won: “Double Indemnity.”  A bit of a surprise going down the list and not seeing this one.

1945 – Winner: “The Lost Weekend;” Should Have Won: “Children of Paradise.”  This wouldn’t have happened in 1945 but Children of Paradise deserves its due if only for the seemingly insurmountable conditions during which it was made. “Rome, Open City” is a close second.

1946 – Winner: “The Best Years of Our Lives;” Should Have Won: “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  It’s a Wonderful Life wasn’t appreciated until years later when it was revived by television.

1947 – Winner: “Gentleman’s Agreement;” Should Have Won: “The Lady from Shanghai.”  Orson Welles had already angered everyone in Hollywood by this point in his career, so this one got predictably shut out.

1948 – Winner: “Hamlet;” Should Have Won: “Bicycle Thieves.”  Due respect to Sir Lawrence Olivier but the Academy awarded the wrong foreign film best picture in 1948.

1949 – Winner: “All the King’s Men;” Should Have Won: “All the King’s Men.”  1949 wasn’t a banner year for movies so I’ll defer to the Academy.

1950 – Winner: “All About Eve;” Should Have Won: “Rashomon.”  All About Eve is a good movie, but the effect of Rashomon on how movies are made can’t be overstated.

Join us for Part 2!

(c) D.G. McCabe

 

Oscar Weekend! Top Snubs by Category

Top Oscar Snubs by Category

Ah the Academy Awards, the annual love-fest when the Hollywood elite get dressed up and give themselves a big pat on the back.  While Hollywood’s love for itself is true, sometimes its collective judgement proves false.  In that spirit, here are Cinema Grand Canyonscope’s top Oscar snubs of all time in the “Big Four” Categories:

Best Picture – “How Green was My Valley” over “Citizen Kane” (1941)

“How Green was My Valley” is generally considered to be ranked somewhere in the top quarter of John Ford’s films.  Certainly the tragic tale of a Welsh coal mining family has much to recommend it, and fabulous performances by Maureen O’Hara and Donald Crisp.

That being said, many film historians consider “Citizen Kane” to be the most important and most influential American film ever made.  The reasons for the snub include William Randolph Hearst’s vicious campaign against the film and Orson Welles’ legendary ability to burn bridges in Hollywood.  Also, perhaps Welles’ masterpiece was too far ahead of its time, and the Academy chose safer, more comfortable ground by selecting a high quality John Ford film for the Best Picture of 1941.

Best Actor – Art Carney for “Harry and Tonto” over Al Pacino for “The Godfather Part II” and Jack Nicholson for “Chinatown” (1974)

How does Jackie Gleason’s goofy sidekick from the “Honeymooners” beat out not one but two unforgettable performances by legendary actors?   Certainly, Carney is terrific in “Harry and Tonto.” But I can only guess that the votes for Nicholson and Pacino were so split that the third best performance got the award by a nose. But Pacino and Nicholson each gave one of the two or three best performances of their careers in 1974, if not the best, and that tells me that the Academy should have honored at least one of them that year.

Best Actress – Judy Holliday for “Born Yesterday” over Bette Davis for “All About Eve” and Gloria Swanson for “Sunset Boulevard” (1950)

Sometimes it’s hard to pick a winner.  The year1950 had an embarrassment of riches in the Best Actress category, and I don’t mean to downplay the quality of Holliday’s performance in “Born Yesterday.”  Still, “All About Eve” may be Bette Davis’ best performance, and Swanson’s Norma Desmond is one of the greatest characters in the history of film.  Did Holliday win because her Billie Dawn was a more familiar, more comfortable Eliza Doolittle inspired character than the other two choices?  Were Norma Desmond and Margo Channing (Davis) too similar?  Or did they hit a little too close to home for some of the aging actresses that voted in 1950?

Best Direction – The Entire Category

The entire category of “Best Direction” has been so mangled over the years that I can’t in good faith choose one snub over any of the others – they’re all bad.  For instance, if you look at my Top Twenty Directors list, you will only find four Oscar winners (John Ford, David Lean, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg). Examples of specific snubs include: “How Green was My Valley” over “Citizen Kane” (1941), “Going My Way” over “Double Indemnity” (1944), “West Side Story” over “La Dolce Vita” (1961), “Tom Jones” over “8 1/1” (1963), “My Fair Lady” over “Dr. Strangelove” (1964), “Oliver!” over “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), “Cabaret” over “The Godfather” (1972), “Terms of Endearment” over “Fanny and Alexander” (1983), “Out of Africa” over “Ran” (1985), and “Dances with Wolves” over “Goodfellas” (1990).

Don’t forget the 84th Annual Academy Awards are at 8:00pm EST on Sunday, February 26, 2012 on ABC!

(c) 2012 D. G. McCabe

Top Twenty Directors List

To begin my film discussions, I would like to start with a list that I hold near and dear.  For those of you who know me, you have probably heard me recite this list, possibly more than once.

Here’s the background.  Back in 2006,  having noticed hundreds of “best film of all time” lists I realized that there weren’t nearly as many lists of the greatest directors.  At the time, I was in law school and I needed a good distraction to prevent myself from going batty, so I started doing research, got myself a Netflix subscription, and got to work.

That being said, here’s the list, complete with a few of the directors’ most important films (no more than five) and a brief description of them.

1) Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998).  Some notable films: Rashomon (1950), Seven Samurai (1954), Ikiru (1952), Ran (1985), The Hidden Fortress (1958).

When you watch a Kurosawa film, you may be struck by the number of conventions that seem familiar, but it’s because he invented them.  “The Emperor,” as he was known in some circles, directed 32 films from the early 1940’s until shortly before his death in 1998.  Kurosawa drew inspiration from Shakespeare, the samurai stories of medieval Japan, and his own personal experiences in post-war Japan and used all methods available to him to tell those stories exceedingly well.  It often appeared that he had the power to harness nature itself and bend it to his will.  In some of his later work, he used color film for the first time.  Like fishing with dynamite – it just wasn’t fair.

2) Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980). Some notable films: Rear Window (1954), Psycho (1960), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), Notorious (1946).

Hitchcock started his career in silent films, and to him, images came first, and everything else was flourish.  Images of a man with a broken leg spying on his neighbors with a telescope, a biplane firing upon a cornfield, a knife cutting up a shower curtain, and hundreds of others are seared into our popular imagination.  He started his career in his native England and moved to Hollywood in 1940.  Overall he directed 65 films and six seasons of a popular television series.

3) Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007). Some notable  films: Persona (1966), The Seventh Seal (1957), Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Wild Strawberries (1957), Fanny and Alexander (1982).

I once went to an open house at the Swedish Embassy, and when I mentioned that most of what I learned about Sweden I knew from Bergman, the tour guide responded, “Well, we’re not all that depressing.”  Bergman’s films were more than an endless Scandinavian winter of despair though, and even his darkest films have a silver lining.  Bergman’s 63 films deal with themes more in the realm of literature than film: the silence of God, the mental illness of a loved one, growing old, the alienation of modern society.

4) Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999).

Some notable films: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Full Metal Jacket (1987), Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), Paths of Glory (1957).  Is Kubrick the greatest American director?  It’s close, but I think he edges out John Ford.  He only made 16 films, but he never made a bad one (even Eyes Wide Shut is not a bad film).  I always like to think that Kubrick excelled by making his audience uncomfortable, but the reason his films make us uncomfortable is because he is showing us a part of ourselves we’d rather not acknowledge.  Still, we keep coming back.

5) John Ford (1894-1973). Some notable films: The Searchers (1956), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), Stagecoach (1939), How Green Was My Valley (1941).

John Ford is best known as the man most responsible for the rise and fall of the Western.  He made so many so well that he set an impossible standard for the genre.  Most of the directors on this list that followed Ford have referred to him at one time or another as an influence.  Although some of his 146 films feel dated now (and his depictions of Native Americans in his early work leave much to be desired), his best work features some of the deepest characters and best performances in all of cinema.

6) Fredrico Fellini (1920-1993). Some notable films: 8 1/2 (1963), La Dolce Vita (1960), La Strada (1954), I Vitelloni (1953), Amarcord (1973).

I sometimes don’t know where to begin with Fellini.  The first of his 24 films were squarely in the Italian neo-realist camp, but then something happened around 1960 when he started using the conventions of the realists to tell stories in unconventional ways and create possibly the most unique style in all of cinema.

7) Orson Welles (1915-1985). Some notable films: Citizen Kane (1941), The Lady from Shanghai (1947), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Touch of Evil (1958).

Orson Welles was many things (actor, writer, radio star, frozen food salesman) and few of the 42 films he directed are widely seen today (the majority of them are shorts and documentaries).  One stands above all of the others of course, but Citizen Kane was not Welles’ only masterpiece from behind the camera.  His films were some of the first that felt like they could be real when you watched them, and he made them a decade before the Italian neorealists or the auteurs of the French New Wave.

8) Francois Truffaut (1932-1984). Some notable films: Jules and Jim (1962), The 400 Blows (1959), The Last Metro (1980), Day for Night (1973), Fahrenheit 451 (1966).

Speaking of the New Wave, I don’t think it had a more versatile director that Truffaut.  The “French coming of age film” is arguably his invention, but it was Truffaut’s knowledge of film that really set him apart from other directors.  He knew what worked and what didn’t, and it allowed him to transcend genres in ways that even some of the directors I have ranked ahead of him could not match.

9) Martin Scorsese (1942 – ). Some notable films: Goodfellas (1990), Raging Bull (1980), Taxi Driver (1976), The Departed (2006), Cape Fear (1991).

So far, Scorsese has made 51 films.  His best work deals with characters at the margins of society, and his best stories deal with subjects we’d rather have swept under the rug.  The images that stay with us from his films are oftentimes the most shocking and violent, but the context that Scorsese places around those images make us consider their meaning rather than simply recoiling from them.  Even when Scorsese reaches beyond what we usually think of as his comfort zone, he never loses his ability to place intricate context around memorable images.

10) Charles Chaplin (1889-1977). Some notable films: City Lights (1931), Modern Times (1936), The Great Dictator (1941), The Gold Rush (1925), The Kid (1921).

For a time, Charlie Chaplin was the most famous man in the world.  Once the British vaudeville actor got behind the camera (he starred in 86 films and directed 73), he was one of the first people to see that film could be art and not just silly or melodramatic images flashing across the screen.   It is hard to overstate the importance of Chaplin’s work, especially his later films, in the development of the comedy genre.

11) Jean-Luc Godard (1930 – ). Some notable films: Breathless (1960), Vivre sa Vie (1962), Pierrot le Fou (1965), Alphaville (1966), Week End (1967).

Godard made the best of his 97 films in the 1960’s.  He’s still making movies, largely unbeknownst to American audiences.  Breathless alone has been called the French Citizen Kane for its innovations (the jump cuts especially).  To some, his work may seem like experimentation for experimentation’s sake, but his creativity has influenced many of the best post 1960’s films.

12) Stephen Spielberg (1946 – ). Some notable films: Schindler’s List (1993), Jaws (1975), E.T.: The Extraterrestrial (1982), Saving Private Ryan (1998), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).

This one is more controversial than it needs to be.  Spielberg has 48 films in the can, and yes, some of them are terrible.  One thing that I always remember about Spielberg though is his interest in the macro-story – the story of the world in which his characters live.  He doesn’t dwell on the day-to-day lives of his characters, and if they come off a little flat sometimes it is only because Spielberg is eternally preoccupied with the magnificence around them, and by extension around all of us.

13) David Lean (1908-1991). Some notable films: Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Brief Encounter (1945), Doctor Zhivago (1965), Great Expectations (1946).

Speaking of magnificent, there are the 19 films of David Lean.  While Chaplin and Hitchcock were born in England, it is Lean who was the master of a uniquely English cinema.  His undisputed masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia and his other big budget epics have given him a  reputation in the United States as a master of large scale, Hollywood productions.  Still, in many ways it is his early Noel Coward and Dickens adaptations that set him apart by demonstrating his unique awareness of English culture.

14) Fritz Lang (1890-1976). Some notable films: Metropolis (1927), M (1931), The Big Heat (1953), The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933), Fury (1936).

Metropolis is the first great science fiction film, and of his 46 films, it is probably Lang’s best known.  Even so, Metropolis is a bit of an outlier in Lang’s German period.  Most of his pre-1936 films built the foundation of what became known as the police procedural genre (later, television producers would owe him an enormous debt of gratitude).  After Lang fled Germany in 1936 rather than work for the Nazis, his work in Hollywood served as the bedrock of another important genre: Film Noir.

15) Vittorio De Sica (1901-1974). Some notable films: Bicycle Thieves (1948), Umberto D (1952), Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (1963), Shoeshine (1946).

De Sica is best known as the director of Bicycle Thieves, but he made 36 films and starred in 156.   De Sica and others developed one of the most influential movements in film history – Italian Neorealism.  The basic idea behind Neorealism was that film should imitate life as closely as possible.  By doing so, it would break through the conventions of popular cinema to give the audience a heightened awareness of social issues, specifically the plight of working class Italians after World War II.  While other directors such as Roberto Rossellini were important to the movement, De Sica’s films are probably the best known and most influential internationally.

16) Yasujiro Ozu (1903-1963). Some notable films: Tokyo Story (1953), Late Spring (1949), I Was Born, But…(1932), Floating Weeds (1959).

Ozu’s films are slow meditations on the nature of family and human relationships.  If Spielberg is eternally preoccupied with the magnificent worlds his character inhabit, Ozu was his counterpoint.  His 54 films do not have plot twists or fantastic adventures, but instead focus on the daily lives of ordinary people in pre and post war Japan.  Ozu is also well known for his distinctive artistic style (low angle shots, using scenes from nature to pace his films, having actors speak directly into the camera, etc.).

17) Satyajit Ray (1921-1992). Some notable films: Pather Panchali (1955), Aparajito (1956), The Chess Players (1977), The Visitor (1991), World of Apu (1959).

The Bollywood style is iconic of Indian cinema, but it is the Neorealist influenced style of Ray that is often referred to as the apex of Indian art cinema.  If Bollywood represents escapism in Indian film, Ray represents the confrontational with his unforgettable meditations on poverty.  Both styles are valuable, but Ray casts a larger shadow over Indian art cinema than any single director does over Bollywood.

18) Luis Bunuel (1900-1983). Some notable films: Belle de Jour (1967), Un Chien Andalou (1929), The Exterminating Angel (1962), The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), Viridiana (1961).

Bunuel was close friends with Salvador Dali, and what Dali is to art, Bunuel is to cinema.  The first of his 34 films was a collaboration with Dali, and despite the fact that it makes absolutely no sense, Un Chien Andalou remains one of the most influential short films ever made.  His later work is more accessible, but never loses the unique dreamlike qualities that made Bunuel an icon of surrealist art.

19) Sergei Eisenstein (1898-1948). Some notable films: Battleship Potemkin (1925), October (1928), Alexander Nevsky (1938), Ivan the Terrible (1944).

Eisenstein may not have invented the montage or the propaganda film, but he might as well have.  Eisenstein’s first films glorified the Russian Revolution on behalf of the Bolsheviks, but he fell out of favor with them for time while he traveled the world.  He earned their favor again with his later films which are credited with inspiring the Russian army during World War II.  What we have of Eisenstein’s work is impressive, but I can’t help but think what could have been if he was free to fully explore his genius without the Soviet government breathing down his neck.

20) Robert Altman (1925-2006). Some notable films: Nashville (1975), MASH (1970), Gosford Park (2001), McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), Short Cuts (1993).

There are 89 feature length films, television programs, and documentaries that credit Robert Altman as a director.  He started as a television director, loved working with ensembles and without a script, and the results are often as messy and hilarious as daily life.  If there ever was a director who could be called the master of controlled chaos, it was Altman.

The next ten (in alphabetical order by last name): Woody Allen, Michelangelo Antonioni, Frances Ford Coppola,  Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog, Buster Keaton, Spike Lee, F.W. Murnau, Jean Renoir, Billy Wilder.

(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe