Category Archives: Film

My Favorites By Decade: Music, Books and Movies

I made a list of my favorite books, movies and albums from each decade since the 1950s. I chose to begin with the 1950s, as that was the decade that the long-playing record album was introduced. I limited my picks to 12 or fewer in each category.

NOTE: To be clear, these are works of music, literature and film that were produced during the decades listed – it doesn’t mean I read, saw or listened to them during that particular decade (which would be particularly difficult for the 1950s, since I wasn’t born then!).

1950s

Albums
Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! (1956) – Frank Sinatra
Jazz at Massey Hall (1956) – The Quintet (Parker, Gillespie, Powell, Roach, Mingus)
After Midnight (1957) – Nat “King” Cole
West Side Story (1957) – Original Broadway Cast
Birth of the Cool (1957) – Miles Davis
Brilliant Corners (1957) – Thelonious Monk
Saxophone Colossus (1957) – Sonny Rollins
At the Opera House (1958) – Stan Getz & J.J. Johnson
Somethin’ Else (1958) – Cannonball Adderley
Blues from the Gutter (1959) – Champion Jack Dupree
Kind of Blue (1959) – Miles Davis
The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959) – Ornette Coleman

Books
Memoirs of Hadrian (1951) – Marguerite Yourcenar
Invisible Man (1952) – Ralph Ellison
Henry James: A Life (1953) – Leon Edel
Nine Stories (1953) – J.D. Salinger
The Foundation Trilogy (1953) – Isaac Asimov
Lucky Jim (1954) – Kingsley Amis
The Inheritors (1955) – William Golding
Lolita (1955) – Vladimir Nabokov
The Lord of the Rings (1956) – J.R.R. Tolkien
A Death in the Family (1957) – James Agee
Molloy; Malone Dies; The Unnameable (1958) – Samuel Beckett
The Tin Drum (1969) – Günter Grass

Movies
Sunset Blvd. (Wilder, 1950)
Ikiru (Kurosawa, 1952)
Singin’ in the Rain (Kelly & Donen, 1952)
Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (Tati, 1953)
Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953)
The Apu Trilogy (Ray, 1955-1959)
The Searchers (Ford, 1956)
Wild Strawberries (Bergman, 1957)
Nights of Cabiria (Fellini, 1957)
Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)
Touch of Evil (Welles, 1958)
The 400 Blows (Truffaut, 1959)

1960s

Albums
The Incredible Jazz Guitar (1960) – Wes Montgomery
Sunday at the Village Vanguard & Waltz for Debby (1962) – Bill Evans
Live at the Regal (1965) – B.B. King
A Love Supreme (1965) – John Coltrane
Highway 61 Revisited (1965) – Bob Dylan
Tristan und Isolde (1966) – Richard Wagner (Bayreuther Festspiele, Karl Böhm)
Chicago/The Blues/Today! (1966) – Various Artists
Blonde on Blonde (1966) – Bob Dylan
Revolver (1966) – The Beatles
The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967) – The Velvet Underground
The Beatles [White Album] – The Beatles
Tommy (1969) – The Who

Books
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960) – William L. Shirer
Franny and Zooey (1961) – J.D. Salinger
The Golden Notebook (1962) – Doris Lessing
A Clockwork Orange (1962) – Anthony Burgess
Labyrinths (1962) – Jorge Luis Borges
Cat’s Cradle (1963) – Kurt Vonnegut
V. (1963) – Thoman Pynchon
Fanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village (1966) – William Hinton
Giles Goat-Boy (1966) – John Barth
One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) – Gabriel García Márquez
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968) – Tom Wolfe
The Double Helix (1968) – James D. Watson

Movies
La Dolce Vita (Fellini, 1960)
L’Avventura (Antonioni, 1960)
The Exterminating Angel (Buñuel, 1962)
Vivre Sa Vie (Godard, 1962)
La Jetée (Marker, 1962)
Lawrence of Arabia (Lean, 1962)
8 ½ (Fellini, 1963)
The Servant (Losey, 1963)
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Kubrick, 1964)
Repulsion (Polanski, 1965)
2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968)
Midnight Cowboy (Schlesinger, 1969)

1970s

Albums
Moondance (1970) – Van Morrison
Plastic Ono Band (1970) – John Lennon
Blue (1971) – Joni Mitchell
The Dark Side of the Moon (1973) – Pink Floyd
There Goes Rhymin’ Simon (1973) – Paul Simon
Quadrophenia (1973) – The Who
Blood on the Tracks (1975) – Bob Dylan
Born to Run (1975) – Bruce Springsteen
Music of the Gothic Era (1976) – Early Music Consort of London (David Munrow)
Ice Pickin’ (1978) – Albert Collins
This Year’s Model (1978) – Elvis Costello
The Roches (1979) – The Roches

Books
A Theory of Justice (1971) – John Rawls
Invisible Cities (1972) – Italo Calvino
The Gulag Archipelago (1973) – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Breakfast of Champions (1973) – Kurt Vonnegut
Gravity’s Rainbow (1973) – Thomas Pynchon
All the President’s Men (1974) – Carl Bernstein and Robert Woodward
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974) – Robert Pirsig
Ragtime (1975) – E.L. Doctorow
Song of Solomon (1977) – Toni Morrison
The Family Crucible (1977) – Augustus Napier
The Stories of John Cheever (1978) – John Cheever
On Human Nature (1978) – E.O. Wilson

Movies
Five Easy Pieces (Rafelson, 1970)
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Buñuel, 1972)
Cries and Whispers (Bergman, 1972)
Aguirre: The Wrath of God (Herzog, 1972)
Badlands (Malick, 1973)
Chinatown (Polanski, 1974)
The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (Herzog, 1974)
A Woman Under the Influence (Cassavetes, 1974)
The Godfather: Part II (Coppola, 1974)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Forman, 1975)
3 Women (Altman, 1977)
Apocalypse Now (Coppola, 1979)

1980s

Albums
Remain in Light (1980) – Talking Heads
Making Movies (1980) – Dire Straits
Pirates Choice (1982) – Orchestra Baobab
Imperial Bedroom (1982) – Elvis Costello
Legend (1984) – Bob Marley
Rain Dogs (1985) – Tom Waits
King of America (1986) – Elvis Costello
So (1986) – Peter Gabriel
The Joshua Tree (1987) – U2
Shadowland (1988) – k.d. lang

Books
A People’s History of the United States (1980) – Howard Zinn
The White Hotel (1981) – D.M. Thomas
Midnight’s Children (1981) – Salman Rushdie
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1981) – Raymond Carver
The Growth of Biological Thought (1982) – Ernst Mayr
White Noise (1984) – Don DeLillo
Money: A Suicide Note (1984) – Martin Amis
Common Ground (1985) – J. Anthony Lukas
World’s End (1987) – T.C. Boyle
And the Band Played On (1987) – Randy Shilts
Battle Cry of Freedom (1988) – James M. McPherson
Parting the Waters: America in the King Years (1988) – Taylor Branch

Movies
Stardust Memories (Allen, 1980)
Raging Bull (Scorcese, 1980)
My Dinner With Andre
 (Malle, 1981)
The King of Comedy (Scorcese, 1982)
Fanny and Alexander (Bergman, 1982)
Local Hero (Forsyth, 1983)
Brazil (Gilliam, 1985)
Blue Velvet (Lynch, 1986)
The Sacrifice (Tarkovsky, 1986)
Wings of Desire (Wenders, 1987)
Raising Arizona (Coen & Coen, 1987)
Do the Right Thing (Lee, 1989)

1990s

Albums
Goodbye Jumbo (1990) – World Party
Out of Time (1991) – R.E.M.
Aurora Gory Alice (1993) – Letters to Cleo
Whatever (1993) – Aimee Mann
Exile in Guyville (1993) – Liz Phair
To Bring You My Love (1995) – PJ Harvey
Garbage (1995) – Garbage
Odelay! (1996) – Beck
OK Computer (1997) – Radiohead
A Go Go (1998) – John Scofield
Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998) – Lucinda Williams
69 Love Songs (1999) – The Magnetic Fields

Books
The Things They Carried (1990) – Tim O’Brien
Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos (1991) – Dennis Overbye
Consciousness Explained (1991) – Daniel C. Dennett
Mating (1991) – Norman Rush
Hard Rain: A Dylan Commentary (1992) – Tim Riley
Charles Darwin: Voyaging (1995) – Janet Browne
Ship Fever (1996) – Andrea Barrett
Infinite Jest (1996) – David Foster Wallace
Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth (1997) – Richard Fortey
The God of Small Things (1997) – Arundhati Roy
Annals of the Former World (1998) – John McPhee
We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families (1998) – Philip Gourevich

Movies
Unforgiven (Eastwood, 1992)
Short Cuts (Altman, 1993)
Pulp Fiction (Tarantino, 1994)
Before Sunrise (Linklater, 1995)
Lone Star (Sayles, 1996)
Secrets & Lies (Leigh, 1996)
Fast, Cheap and Out of Control (Morris, 1997)
The Sweet Hereafter (Egoyan, 1997)
Happiness (Solondz, 1998)
The Celebration (Vinterberg, 1998)
Being John Malkovich (Jonze, 1999)
Magnolia (P.T. Anderson, 1999)
All About My Mother (Almodóvar, 1999)

2000s

Albums
Fado em Mim (2000) – Mariza
I Am Shelby Lynne (2000) – Shelby Lynne
Strories from the City, Stories from the Sea (2000) – PJ Harvey
Sweet Tea (2001) – Buddy Guy
The Id (2001) – Macy Gray
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002) – Wilco
Fever to Tell (2003) – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Electric Version (2003) – The New Pornographers
Funeral (2004) – Arcade Fire
Shostakovich: String Quartets (2006) – Emerson String Quartet
Boys and Girls in America (2006) – The Hold Steady
Bird-Brains (2009) – Tune-Yards

Books
White Teeth (2000) – Zadie Smith
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000) – Dave Eggers
Atonement (2001) – Ian McEwan
Austerlitz (2001) – W.G. Sebald
Middlesex (2002)  – Jeffrey Eugenides
Europe Central (2005) – William T. Vollmann
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (2005) – Charles C. Mann
Never Let Me Go (2005) – Kazuo Ishiguro
The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006) – Michael Pollan
The Inheritance of Loss (2006) – Kiran Desai
The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (2007) – Alex Ross
The Hemingses of Monticello (2008) – Annette Gordon-Reed

Movies
Yi Yi: A One and a Two (Yang, 2000)
In the Mood for Love (Wong, 2000)
Requiem for a Dream (Aronofsky, 2000)
Mulholland Dr. (Lynch, 2001)
Waking Life (Linklater, 2001)
The Royal Tenenbaums (Anderson, 2001)
Talk to Her (Almodóvar, 2002)
Dogville (von Trier, 2003)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Gondry, 2004)
Grizzly Man (Herzog, 2005)
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Mungiu, 2007)
No Country for Old Men (Coen, 2007)

2010s (so far)

Albums
The Suburbs (2010) – Arcade Fire
The King Is Dead (2011) – The Decemberists
Let England Shake (2011) – PJ Harvey
Yuck (2011) – Yuck
Four Sonatas by Charles Ives (2011) – Hilary Hahn & Valentina Lisitsa
Bad As Me (2011) – Tom Waits
Visions (2012) – Grimes
Pedestrian Verse (2013) – Frightened Rabbit
Brill Bruisers (2014) – The New Pornographers
Monteverdi (2016) – Magdalena Kožená
My Woman (2016) – Angel Olsen
Antisocialites (2017) – Alvvays

Books
Cleopatra: A Life (2010) – Stacy Schiff
Lennon: The Man, the Myth, the Music (2010) – Tim Riley
There But For the (2011) – Ali Smith
Tenth of December (2013) – George Saunders
The Riddle of the Labyrinth (2013) – Margalit Fox
Lawrence in Arabia (2013) – Scott Anderson
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (2013) – Elena Ferrante

Movies
Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Herzog, 2010)
The Tree of Life (Malick, 2011)
Moonrise Kingdom (Anderson, 2012)
The Act of Killing (Oppenheimer, 2012)
Boyhood (Linklater, 2014)
Anomalisa (Kaufman & Johnson, 2015)
Moonlight (Jenkins, 2016)
The Florida Project (Baker, 2017)

 

Soft Cel: Announcing the Animated Films Meta-Lists

I’ve created two new meta-lists of the best animated films of all time (both feature-length and shorts), so if that’s a topic that interests you, click on the links below:

Best Animated Films of All Time- Ranked
Best Animated Films of All Time – Chronological

As always, these meta-lists are not my personal opinions; they are the combined opinions of many other people. But if you are curious to see what my favorite animated movies are, I made a list of my top 10 (in chronological order):

  1. Fantasia (Ben Sharpsteen, David Hand, et al., 1940)
  2. One Froggy Evening (Chuck Jones, 1955)
  3. What’s Opera, Doc? (Chuck Jones, 1957)
  4. The Hand (Jiří Trnka, 1965)
  5. How The Grinch Stole Christmas! (Chuck Jones, 1966)
  6. The Wrong Trousers (Nick Park, 1993)
  7. A Close Shave (Nick Park, 1995)
  8. Waking Life (Richard Linklater, 2001)
  9. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)
  10. Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson, 2015)

The Biggest and Best Movie Meta-List in the History of Cinema

Sorry for the over-the-top title, but hyperbole can be effective in getting your attention. I’ve just created a new movie meta-list – it’s the largest one I’ve ever made (791 movies) and, for the first time, I’ve arranged it in reverse chronological order so that the most recent movies are at the top. Click here to go directly to: The Big Movie List.

To make this list I put together all the movies on three other movie meta-lists from Make Lists, Not War: Best Films of All Time – Ranked; Best Films of All Time – Ranked (Older Version); and Top 200 Movies of All Time – Using a New Methodology.  Then, I took the meta-lists from Best Films – Year by Year (which covers 2002-2016) and added the top 10 movies (or more, in the case of ties) from each Year by Year list.  The result is a comprehensive list of the best movies ever made, as determined by film critics, scholars and journalists.  Since the typical “best films of all time” list tends to skimp on recent movies, the addition of the Year-by-Year lists has infused the overall list with a large number of movies from the last 20 years.

Of course, as with all lists, many will find glaring omissions (how could they leave that out???) and a few clunkers (how could they put that in???).  But that is of course the fun of lists.  Note that these are not my personal favorite 791 movies – I haven’t even seen many of them.  I did add my personal 1-10 rating for all the movies on the list that I have seen.  If you want to see a list of my favorite films, go HERE.

If you have strong opinions one way or the other, please feel free to add a comment.

If you think this list is pretty cool, feel free to share it.

 

The Making of a List – The Best 200 Movies of All Time – Using a New Method

This post introduces a new “Top Movies” meta-list that I compiled using a completely new methodology.  Those of you familiar with my lists know that I usually make all my meta-lists the same way: I collect “Best of” lists on a specific topic from the Internet, books and magazines and give one point to an item for every list it is on.  You also know that, for complicated mathematical reasons explained HERE, I treat all lists equally, no matter how long they are (a top 10 list and a top 1000 list are not weighted differently, as long as the total number of items in the classification is much higher than 1000), and no matter where an item is on the list (in the case of a top 1000 list, for example, I treat the item at Number 1 exactly the same as the item at Number 1000).  Don’t fret – it all works out.

NOTE: The links to the new list are at the bottom of the page if you want to skip the methodology and analysis information below.

Because my traditional method for making meta-lists does not take advantage of the more complicated rating schemes available on certain websites (particularly those involving film), I thought it would be fun to use those websites to see what kind of a film list they would create.  Here’s what I did:  First, I took the top 250 movies (as rated by the public) on the website IMDb.com (the Internet Movie Database), along with the 1-10 rankings for each movie.  I then added the top 100 movies on the Rotten Tomatoes website, as determined by the site’s Tomatometer score, which uses an algorithm based on critics’ reviews.  I added to that the top 200 movies as rated by the members of the Rate Your Music website (which rates films as well as music), along with the ranking (RYM rates on a 1-5 scale, so I just doubled each score to get a 1-10 rating). To put my personal opinions in the mix, I then added every movie that I rated 10/10.  I then added all the films on the most recent Sight & Sound Magazine polls of film critics and directors (100 movies on each list, from 2012).  To get a ranking, I assigned numeric values on a 1-10 basis (10 for the top 10 movies, 9.95 for the next 10, and so on).  I took that list of nearly 500 movies and looked up for each movie the average critic score from Rotten Tomatoes (which is calculated differently from the from the Tomatometer score and tends to be lower), my personal 1-10 rating (if I had seen the film) and the critics’ rating from Metacritic.com, if available. (Metacritic doesn’t rate most older movies unless they were recently re-released or reissued.) This gave each film the possibility of up to eight 1-10 ratings.  To avoid skewing the data, I then deleted any film that did not have at least three of the eight ratings, which reduced the total number of movies on the list to 376.  Using Excel, I calculated the average rating for each movie.  The top film had a 9.67 rating; the film at the 376th spot was rated at 6.25.  I then somewhat arbitrarily selected the top 200 films on the list as the best of all time (the 200th film’s rating was 8.67).

The result is definitely not your typical best movies list: for one thing, there are quite a few very recent films; some perennial favorites are missing and some unusual selections have made it. The list sometimes rates less well-known films of a director higher than the film usually considered the director’s best.  Using my personal ratings means that many of my favorite movies are on the list (and movies I gave very low ratings did not make the cut: so long Forrest Gump, Inception, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Up and WALL-E!).  But don’t think of this as a list of my favorites.  If anything, the Sight & Sound movies received the most weight, since they are drawn from hundreds of respected movie critics and directors. Many of my top-rated movies were cut because they didn’t have a minimum of three ratings out of the eight potential sources.  So, for example, I have never seen the top three movies on the list – Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar, Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard and Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist – although you can believe I’m pushing them to the top of my Netflix queue.

I have examined the new list a bit and came up with some interesting tidbits about it, as shown in the analysis below:

MOST FEQUENTLY LISTED DIRECTORS AND THEIR MOST-LISTED FILMS

6 Films
Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo)

5 FIlms
Jean-Luc Godard (Contempt)
Ingmar Bergman (Fanny and Alexander)

4 Films 
Robert Bresson (Au Hasard Balthazar)
Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai)
Federico Fellini (La Strada)
Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey)
Luis Buñuel (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie)
Billy Wilder (Sunset Blvd.)

MOST COMMON COUNTRIES OF ORIGIN AND TOP FILM FOR EACH COUNTRY

United States: 107 films (Top Film: The Godfather)
France: 27 films (Top Film: Au Hasard Balthazar)
United Kingdom: 19 films (Top Film: A Hard Day’s Night)
Italy: 16 films (Top Film: The Leopard)
Japan: 9 films (Top Film: Seven Samurai)
Germany: 8 films (Top Film: Aguirre, the Wrath of God)
USSR: 5 films (Top Film: Battleship Potemkin)
Sweden: 5 films (Top Film: Fanny and Alexander)
Denmark: 3 films (Top Film: Gertrud)
New Zealand: 3 films (Top Film: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) (co-production with US)

DECADES WHEN FILMS WERE PRODUCED AND TOP RATED FILM OF EACH DECADE

1910s: 1 film (Intolerance)
1920s: 12 films (Top Film: Battleship Potemkin)
1930s: 16 films (Top Film: The Rules of the Game)
1940s: 19 films (Top Film: Open City)
1950s: 33 films (Top Film: Anatomy of a Murder)
1960s: 36 films (Top Film: Au Hasard Balthazar)
1970s: 27 films (Top Film: The Conformist)
1980s: 11 films (Top Film: Shoah)
1990s: 15 films (Top Film: Pulp Fiction)
2000s: 18 films (Top Film: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King)
2010s: 13 films (Top Film: Boyhood)

TOP-RATED DOCUMENTARY FILMS
Shoah (France, 1985) Dir: Claude Lanzmann
Man with a Movie Camera (USSR, 1929) Dir: Dziga Vertov
Capturing the Friedmans (US, 2003) Dir: Andrew Jarecki
The Act of Killing (Denmark, 2012) Dir: Joshua Oppenheimer
Grizzly Man (US, 2005) Dir: Werner Herzog
Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Canada/US/France/Germany/UK, 2010) Dir: Werner Herzog
Man on Wire (UK/US, 2008) Dir. James Marsh
Hoop Dreams (US, 1994) Dir: Steve James
Stop Making Sense (US, 1984) Dir: Jonathan Demme

TOP-RATED MUSICALS
Singin’ in the Rain (US, 1951) Dir: Stanley Donen/Gene Kelly
A Hard Day’s Night (UK, 1964) Dir: Richard Lester
The Wizard of Oz (US, 1939) Dir: Victor Fleming
Nashville (US, 1975) Dir: Robert Altman
Once (Ireland, 2006) Dir: John Carney
La La Land (US, 2016) Dir: Damien Chazelle

TOP-RATED ANIMATED FILMS
Anomalisa (US, 2015) Dir: Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson
Toy Story 3 (US, 2010) Dir: Lee Unkrich
Spirited Away (Japan, 2001) Dir: Hayao Miyazaki
Toy Story (US, 1995) Dir: John Lasseter

So now that I’ve piqued your interest, you probably want to see the new list.  Click on the links below for two versions: one is organized by rating/ranking, the other is chronological.

Top 200 Movies – By Ranking
Top 200 Movies – Chronological

The Sound of Silents: The Best Films from the Years Before Talkies

Silent films were never silent.  At the first official movie screening by the Lumiere brothers in Paris in December 1895, a guitarist accompanied the presentation of 10 short films, including the first documentary, Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory, and the first comedy, The Sprinkler Sprinkled.  In the U.S. it was more common for a pianist or – in the case of major films in big cities – a small orchestra, to accompany early films, which due to lack of the requisite technology had no synchronized soundtrack.  The musicians began by improvising or linking together popular melodies to illustrate what they saw on the screen, often adding sound effects for galloping horses, thunderclaps, ringing bells and other actions. In 1908, the first fully-composed film scores appeared in France (by Camille Saint-Saens) and Russia.  The first major U.S. film to have a score was D.W. Griffith’s racist blockbuster The Birth of the Nation, with music composed by Joseph Breil, in 1915.  The giant movie theaters built in the 1910s and 1920s often incorporated immense theater organs that allowed for musical accompaniment, which usually involved a combination of following the score as well as improvisation and elaborate sound effects.  The switch to synchronized sound after the success of The Jazz Singer in 1927, a change that permitted the actors to speak their dialogue and allowed moviemakers to incorporate music into the film itself, put thousands of movie theater musicians out of work.

Modern audiences often have difficulty watching movies from the “silent” era.  The acting style necessary to communicate without spoken dialogue – essentially a form of mime – seems histrionic and over-the-top to many now.  (Even some contemporaries agreed. When Charles Chaplin made A Woman of Paris in 1923 – one of the few Chaplin films that did not star The Little Tramp – he specifically instructed his actors to adopt a more subdued acting style than was the norm. As a result the film seems more modern than many other silent films.)  The stilted, corny or moralistic tone of some of the intertitles can also be offputting to modern audiences.  On top of these substantive concerns, there are also physical problems with many silent films – many were badly preserved.  In fact, we are lucky to have any silent films left at all – it is estimated that 70% of all feature films from the pre-talkie era have deteriorated beyond repair or were deliberately destroyed after the switch to the new sound technology.

But these difficulties should not dissuade movie buffs from checking out some of the classic silent films, particularly those made in the 1920s.  It was during the silent era that filmmakers developed the basic visual vocabulary of moviemaking. By the mid-1920s, studios around the world were turning out high-quality films, some of them with dazzling visual technique and inventiveness.  In fact, the first years of sound movies, which required the noisy film cameras to be placed in soundproof (and immobile) boxes and anchored the actors to the location of the nearest microphone, saw a decrease in the cinematic inventiveness and overall quality of films. Look at many sound films from the late 1920s and early 1930s and you will see film returning to the days when everything looked like a filmed play – no moving cameras, few or no tracking shots – everything static.  The transition period is lovingly parodied by Betty Comden and Adolph Green in their screenplay for Singin’ in the Rain, the 1952 musical directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly.

Because there was no dialogue, and intertitles could easily be translated into any language, silent film was a more international art than film after the introduction of sound. Germany during the Weimar Republic was a particularly strong producer of high-quality films in various genres: horror (Nosferatu), science fiction (Metropolis), crime thriller (Dr. Mabuse – The Gambler), and drama/social commentary (The Last Laugh; Pandora’s Box).  Several of the best German directors – Fritz Lang, F.W. Murnau, Ernst Lubitsch, Erich von Stroheim, Josef von Sternberg – brought their expertise to Hollywood in time to produce silent film masterpieces on both sides of the Atlantic.

Perhaps the most accessible of the silent films to modern audiences are the comedies. Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and other comic geniuses created personae that appeared in film after film in one outrageous fix after another.  The relative critical reputations of Chaplin and Keaton have see-sawed over the years.  At times, the sublime mix of comedy and pathos that characterizes Chaplin’s best work receives top billing; then the pendulum swings to the unsentimental acrobatics of the stone-faced Keaton, who never asks the audience for its sympathy.

I urge you to take another look at silent films, many of which are available online either free on YouTube or through a streaming service.  Or take the DVDs out of your local library.

To give you a selection of the best silent films that have been preserved, I collected 10 lists of “Best Silent Films” and made two meta-lists.  One organizes the movies by rank, that is, with the movies on the most lists at the top.  The other list is chronological.  Enjoy.

Best Silent Films of All Time – The Critics’ Picks
Best Silent Films of All Time – Chronological

My Personal Year-End Round Up: Books and Movies

It’s not quite the end of 2016, but like many of you out there, I am in a rush for the year to be over, so I’m publishing my end of year summary a few days early.  Here are some of the highlights of my year in movie-watching and book-reading.

MOVIES
Number of Movies Seen in 2016: 64

Category
Feature Films: 37
Short Films: 17
Documentaries: 10

Date of Movie
1920-1930: 12
1930-1959: 10
1960-1979: 4
1980-1999: 3
2000-2014: 16
2015: 9
2016: 9

Highest Rated Movies
10/10
Shoe Shine (Italy, De Sica, 1946)
Anomalisa (US, Johnson & Kaufman, 2015)
Moonlight (US, Jenkins, 2016)

9/10
Ballet mécanique (France, Léger & Murphy, 1924)
The Freshman (US, Newmeyer & Taylor, 1925)
Ghosts Before Breakfast (Germany, Richter, 1928)
Lot in Sodom (US. Webber & Watson, 1933)
Meshes of the Afternoon (US, Deren & Hammid, 1943)
21-87 (US, Lipsett, 1964)
Land of Silence and Darkness (West Germany, Herzog, 1971)
The Cruise (US, Miller, 1998)
The Secret in their Eyes (Argentina, Campanella, 2009)
The Big Short (US, McKay, 2015)
45 Years (UK, Haigh, 2015)
Tangerine (US, Baker, 2015)
Son of Saul (Hungary, Jeles, 2015)

BOOKS
Number of books finished in 2016: 12

Category
Fiction: 4
Non-Fiction: 4
Epic Poems: 4

Date Published
1000-1299: 5
1300-1799: 0
1800-1999: 1
2000-2016: 6

Highest Rated Books
FIve Stars

The Tale of Genji (Japan, 1021). By Shikibu Murasaki
Europe Central (US, 2005). By William T. Vollmann
Lawrence in Arabia (UK, 2013). By Scott Anderson

Best Films of the 21st Century (So Far)

If there’s one thing listers like to do, it’s make lists, and we don’t need much of an excuse. Case in point: I was wandering around the Internet the other day and found about 10 lists of “The Best Movies of the 21st Century.” Being that this century is less than 16 years old (less than 15 if you want to be technical about it), this seemed like a rush to judgment, to say the least. Nevertheless, I was intrigued enough to pull all the lists together to see which movies were on the most lists. Spoiler alert: David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001) was the highest vote-getter – it was on seven lists. The resulting meta-list is below, organized in chronological order – with every film that made it onto 3 or more of the 10 lists I collected. In addition to the title, number of lists, country of origin, date and director, I have added my personal 1-10 rating for those movies on the list that I have seen.

– John M. Becker

In the Mood for Love (on 5 lists)
China 2000  (JMB: 10/10)
Director: Wong Kar-Wai

Memento (on 3 lists)
US 2000  (JMB: 9/10)
Director: Christopher Nolan

Yi Yi (Yi Yi: A One and a Two) (on 3 lists)
Taiwan 2000  (JMB: 10/10)
Director: Edward Yang

Mulholland Drive (on 7 lists)
US 2001  (JMB: 10/10)
Director: David Lynch

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (on 5 lists)
New Zealand/US 2001  (JMB: 10/10)
Director: Peter Jackson

Amélie (on 4 lists)
France 2001  (JMB: 9/10)
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Spirited Away (on 4 lists)
Japan 2001  (JMB: 9/10)
Director:  Hayao Miyazaki

The Royal Tenenbaums (on 3 lists)
US 2001  (JMB: 10/10)
Director: Wes Anderson

City of God (Cidade de Deus) (on 6 lists)
Brazil 2002  (JMB: 9/10)
Director: Fernando Meirelles

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (on 4 lists)
New Zealand/US 2002  (JMB: 9/10)
Director: Peter Jackson

Talk to Her (Hable con Ella) (on 3 lists)
Spain 2002  (JMB: 10/10)
Director: Pedro Almodóvar

Punch-Drunk Love (on 3 lists)
US 2002  (JMB: 8/10)
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (on 4 lists)
New Zealand/US 2003  (JMB: 10/10)
Director: Peter Jackson

Oldboy (on 3 lists)
South Korea 2003
Director: Park Chan-Wook

Elephant (on 3 lists)
US 2003  (JMB: 8/10)
Director: Gus Van Sant

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (on 4 lists)
US 2004  (JMB: 10/10)
Director: Michel Gondry

The Incredibles (on 3 lists)
US 2004  (JMB: 8/10)
Director: Brad Bird

Caché (Hidden) (on 5 lists)
France 2005  (JMB: 9/10)
Director: Michael Haneke

The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) (on 5 lists)
Germany 2006  (JMB: 10/10)
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Pan’s Labyrinth (on 4 lists)
Mexico/Spain 2006
Director: Guillermo del Toro

Children of Men (on 3 lists)
US/UK 2006  (JMB: 9/10)
Director: Alfonso Cuarón

No Country for Old Men (on 6 lists)
US 2007  (JMB: 10/10)
Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen

There Will Be Blood (on 5 lists)
US 2007  (JMB: 9/10)
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Zodiac (on 4 lists)
US 2007  (JMB: 8/10)
Director: David Fincher

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (on 3 lists)
Romania 2007  (JMB: 10/10)
Director: Cristian Mungiu

Let The Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in) (on 4 lists)
Sweden 2008  (JMB: 8/10)
Director: Tomas Alfredson

The Dark Knight (on 4 lists)
US 2008
Director: Christopher Nolan

The White Ribbon (Das weiße Band, Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte) (on 5 lists)
Germany 2009  (JMB: 10/10)
Director: Michael Haneke

The Tree of Life (on 4 lists)
US 2011  (JMB: 10/10)
Director: Terence Malick

12 Years A Slave (on 3 lists)
UK/US 2013
Director: Steve McQueen

Boyhood (on 3 lists)
US 2014  (JMB: 10/10)
Director: Richard Linklater