“The Grand illusion is story of people like you and me, thrown into this terrible adventure that we call war.” These are the words of the French creator of the film, the great Jean Renoir, years after in the re-release of the film. In relation to the story and content of the film that held through beyond the world war I, that the film is about, into the horrible world war II, Vietnam, Korean and now Gulf wars, Renoir continues to proclaim “The question that we ask our agonized world today closely resembles the question that Spaak (the screen writer), myself and many others, put to ourselves when working on The Grand Illusion…that things are as relevant today as it was at the time.”
“We should all be grateful for.” that is what Martin Scorsese comments on the film, and “If I had to save only one film in the world, it would be Grand Illusion” claims Orson Wells, the creator of Citizen Kane. What has made “The Grand Illusion” such an icon of cinema? The film, one of the masterpieces of French Cinema by one of the frontiers of the French film art, Jean Renoir, is a film about world war I, but without any war or killing scenes that is customary in such genre. Instead the film’s theme is the class distinction and relationship among humans at the time of war in a prison camp. Through such story plot, Renoir two years before the start of another world war, conveys his anti-war message that humanity goes beyond territorial and economic conflicts, race and nations. The film truly depicts that the ordinary men or soldiers are not in fact at war, and that still connect as humans with common interests. But before discussing further about the film, lets see who was its creator.
Jean Renoir: A Born Artist
Jean Renoir was the second son of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, the renowned French painter, while his older brother was a stage and film actor. He was mainly raised by his nanny, Gabrielle Renard who introduced him to puppet shows and “She taught me to see the face behind the mask and the fraud behind the flourishes. She taught me to detest the cliché.” During the World War I, Renoir was serving in the French cavalry, and was injured by receiving a bullet in his leg, that led him to serve as a reconnaissance pilot. His leg injury left him with a permanent limp, but allowed him to discover the cinema, and the works of D.W.Griffith and Charlie Chaplin. After making several silent films, in the mid 1930’s when Germany and Nazis were preparing Europe and the whole world for a full fledge war, and Spain was burning for freedom from right wings and dictatorship, he like many other intellectuals joined the popular front to fight and resist fascism that was on rising.
As the artist needed the right social and historical circumstances to create, Renoir made his first masterpiece “La grand Illusion” in 1937 with great acclaim, then shortly after at the brink of second world war in 1939, his second masterpiece “The Rules of the Game”. Both of his great films were seized by France occupying German armies and banned until the end of the war. Both films have been regarded one of the best films ever made collectively by the world most renowned critics, film historians and filmmakers alike. After the war in 1940, Renoir moved to the United States and Hollywood, where he could not create as he did at home. In 1975, Renoir was granted the lifetime achievement award by Academy Award and the rank of commander in the Legion d’honneur by the French government. He died on February 12, 1979 in Bevelry Hills, but his body was returned to his homeland, France and was buried beside his family.
It was 1936, in the midst of the great economic depression, unemployment and poverty all across the western world, particularly the United States. Chaplin after making two other great films, “Circus” in 1928 and “City Lights” in 1931, takes a break and travels Europe, where he observes not only the impact of the great depression, unemployment and poverty, but the inception of other major events. Spain was fighting for socialism and democracy, and Germany was preparing to take his lost power in the first world war back by empowering his Nazi’s party and his leader, Adolf Hitler. When Chaplin returned to Hollywood and created “Modern Times” in 1936, the civil war in Spain between the social democratic republicans who held the government for almost a year (the first such in Europe out of Russia) and the rightists or phalanges had already started. At the same time Hitler, the head of the Nazi party, the largest elected party in German’s history, targeted his nation’s economy towards war and achieved a staggering reduction in the country’s unemployment of 6 millions in 1933 to 1 million in 1936. He withdrew from the league of nations and the world disarmament conference that was created after the World War I, signed the Anglo-German Naval Agreement with Britain, ordered Goring to implement a four year plan to prepare Germany for war, and assisted the dictator Franco of Spain to defeat the socialists and republicans against a universal attack against the growth of socialism.
Chaplin who had already shown his keen and critical eyes in observing the world in his earlier films such as “The Kid” and “The Gold Rush” through his comedy, knew that this time he needs to go farther. Before making the impossible “The Great Dictator” in 1940 and mocking Hitler right in the middle of World War II (a task that nobody else dared to do), he decided to show the world the slavery of labor by capitalism that would soon take the world to the brink of war. This warning was well achieved in “Modern Times” through laughter and tears, the unique style of Chaplin. A glance through the films made in 1930s, even the acclaimed ones such as “Grand Hotel”, “Cimarron”, “Frankenstein”, “Cavalcade”, “Scarface”, “Baby face”, Duck soup”, “42nd Street”, “L’Atlante”, “The 39 steps”, “The informer”, “The Bride of Frankenstein”, “A night at the opera”, “Top hat”, “The Great Ziegfeld”, “Camille”, “Swing time”,…one wonders what other filmmakers were doing at the gravest time of all in the modern history! No one portrayed the great depression, unemployment and poverty all over the western world and at the center in the United States of America, no one alerted the world of the inception of the second world war in Europe and burning of Spain for freedom. Obviously no one, how great they were in entertaining people, did not feel the duty and responsibility of using the film medium to enlighten and inform people of what is happening in real. Therefore this is a proof that Chaplin was not only the greatest of all in his own art of comedy, acting, directing, composing,…but the greatest in having such duty and responsibility carrying such mission single handedly on his shoulder for the rest of the world of cinema. He was the only one able to dare and to make “Modern times” and later on “The Great dictator”, and nobody could even touch him or hurt him for depiction of the dark reality, as he was Charlie and made everyone laugh even reportedly Hitler when he watched his own mockery, and made everyone cry at the same time and above all think!
Chaplin the Legend of World Cinema:
Whatever could be said and have been said about Chaplin does not yet deserve what he has done for the art of filmmaking. Federico Fellini, the great Italian director has called Chaplin “a sort of Adam, from whom we are all descended”. The great French filmmaker, Jacques Tati has said about Chaplin “Without him I would never have made a film”. René Clair, another major French director has praised Chaplin “He inspired practically every filmmaker”. Billy Wilder, the great American Filmmaker commemorated him as “Chaplin not only wrote the scripts, he directed , acted in, and composed the music scores,…Chaplin, up to the moment he started writing dialogue, was an absolutely unique genius. He was a God.” Vittorio De Sica, the maker of “The Bicycle thieves” and a great actor has called himself the successor of Chaplin and how much he was influenced by him.
Rottentomatoes.com is a website ranking movies based on aggregate of film reviews. Since the website accumulates and aggregates the film reviews, it is a popular and relied one for measuring the quality of films. At the same time, this website is a window that through it one can see how film reviews are, many without sufficient or no research into the film, its subject, and else, but solely based on personal preference. In the following, first the 100 greatest films of all time on this website by aggregate of the film reviews will be discussed. Since the website is mostly relied on the number of reviews than the number of 100% positive reviews, then the films with higher reviews (that are mostly modern era films as they are more reviewers now than in the past), will get a higher ranking. But films with 100% positive reviews if they have lower number of reviews, such as old films as you will see, they will get lower rankings and many great films do not appear on this list of the greatest 100 films of all time, but some mediocre recent years films with more number of reviews appear in the list.
Historically Oscar or Academy Awards has ignored many great films and has recognized bad or mediocre films for political or trend of time reasons. For a list of great unrecognized films, you can read the article on Academy Awards on this site, as the list is too long to be repeated here. Also historically Academy Awards have followed the footsteps of Golden Globe by awarding almost the same films that the younger sister has done it more than a month before. This year as everyone knows, the Golden Globe at this sensitive era of political adversary in America against the whole world, has done the worst of all time. The unrealistic and flawed in making fairy tale of “La La Land” wins a record of 7 awards, while more realistic films representing the current era or the American society such as “Hell or high water”, “Moonlight”, and “Nocturnal Animals” are ignored.
As Maurice Druon, the writer of the French resistance anthem in 1943, in his historical monument “The Accursed Kings” in comparison with the British empire writes for USA “history is far too short for them to really know and understand cultures with millennia under their feet”. This matter of fact was written long before this century and what is now happening to the world all scripted by USA. So if Hollywood as Modris Eksteins discloses in his “Rites of Spring” does not intend to be a mutual corporate in the war crimes by promoting and rewarding elite arts and fairy tales at this important point in history by not portraying “working parties digging or repairing trenches repeatedly uncovered corpses in all stages of decay or mutilation”, she needs to change her attitude in nominating and rewarding real pieces of cinematic art in the matter of fact direction.
At this time in history that as Niall Ferguson analyses in his “Colossus: The Rise and Fall of American Empire”, that USA more and more is striving hard to create “new world order” and “spread of democracy”, and provision of “economic stability”, Hollywood and so Academy Awards have a strong and influential public role to disclose such and intervene by promoting and rewarding the right films in the direction for the commons and not a few elites. Hollywood as representative of America on silver screen and Academy Awards as the awarding agency, need more than ever to enlighten people and even the politicians that as Francis Fukuyama in his book “The end of history and the last man” announces the New American Liberal Capitalism “could well corrode from within in a welter of dissatisfaction. It is not then ‘external’ threats-religious fundamentalism for example-which need to be guarded against but the will-to-superiority of the elite few who find their ambitions thwarted in a Western order which threats everyone as equals.”
Now looking at the nominations of the 89th Academy Awards, one anticipates that Oscar repeats the similar wrongdoing as the Golden Globe and as it has been done in its past. Cinema could easily portray the history, politics, the society and any era of time in anywhere or the whole world, and could be the most influential in enlightening audience or reflecting people’s voice. Some great films in the past have done so, such as “Born on the fourth of July”, “The grapes of wrath”, “The great dictator”, “Deer hunter”, “Apocalypse now” and else. The past year although we did not witness similar great films, still there are films deserving recognition than “La La Land”. The world is going to watch the Oscar ceremony on February 26, 2017 and will judge Hollywood who will admire itself in its glory ignoring the world around her, or recognizing the films that portraying our time better while deserving some recognition cinematically as well. Here we make some suggestions among the nominations for a better recognition at this time of empire striking back in America.
“King Kong” directed by Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack is an original adaptation of a story by Copper and Edgar Wallace. The film is the first in a genre of its own kind with remakes in 1976 and 2005. Although the film was not the first genre of man against beasts, but the first one with a pre-historic giant ape, a prototype for later years films such as Jurassic park film series. The film is also the first classic to portray the affection between the beast and the man (Ann Darrow, the leading female protagonist acted by Fay Wray), while majority of other humans out of fear, attacking and finally murdering King Kong in a frenzy.
A Gigantic undertaking:
King Kong was not the first film on a jungle beast, as films such as “Beasts in the Jungle” of 1913 showing fights of man with lions, tigers, and other animals; “Tarzan of the Apes” of 1918, “The Lost World” of 1925; and “Ingagi” of 1930 (showing man and the jungle gorillas’ in fight and even intimacy) had already captured the silver screen and the box office, as the last film was one of the highest-grossing movies of the 1930s at over $4 million. In fact “Ingagi” was influential in the writing and production of King Kong.
Merian Copper, the principal writer and director of King Kong, had been long fascinated with gorillas and other jungle beasts since his childhood. Later on he developed the storyline of the encounter of some adventurist documentary makers with a giant gorilla in a remote island and presented it to the Paramount Studios in the first years of the Great Depression. But he was rejected due to its high cost of sending the film crews to Africa. Then he submitted his project to RKO in 1931 that was accepted, though the cost of travelling the film crew to Africa was still a setback. While Cooper immediately was in the process of making “The Most Dangerous game”, a story about a big game hunter, co-directed with his friend Ernest Schoedsack, they built a jungle stage in the studio. Afterwards when he achieved the similar jungle set in the studio in the film “Creation” about an island of dinosaurs, he realized that he could do the same with King Kong and spare the high travel cost.
“All Quiet on the Western Front” of Lewis Milestone is a prototype antiwar film, adapted from the same name novel by “Erich Maria Remarque”. Although the film won the best direction at the second Academy Awards and not the best picture, is on the list of 100 best American film of the American Film Institute and is considered one of the best American epic films. In 1990, the film was also selected and preserved by the United States Library of Congress’ National Film Registry as being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” It could be easily said that this film is the frontier all antiwar movies, and all such films in later years have been one way or another influenced by “All Quiet on the Western Front”. Before discussing this classic prototype antiwar film, its creator, “Lewis Milestone” deserves a brief mention.
An antiwar man:
Milestone (1895-1980) born in Moldova of Russia to a Jewish family, moved to US in 1912 at age of 17. He enlisted in the US signal Corps, where he worked as an assistant director on army training film during the world war I and gathered some experience in war film making later on. After the first world war, he also worked as an assistant director in Hollywood until Howard Hughes promoted to the rank of director and he helped him with some of the aviation scenes of his “Hell’s Angles” film. This antiwar man made three films during the second world war, but ironically was blacklisted under the suspicion of sympathizing communism in Hollywood among many other greats. So he decided to leave US for Europe until late 1950’s when he returned to make “Ocean’s 11” with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, then “Mutiny on the Bounty” with Marlon Brando. Lewis Milestone’s final request before he died in 1980 was for Universal Studios to restore “All Quiet on the Western Front” that had been cut short everywhere in the world to its original length. That request would eventually be granted nearly two decades later, so that the current popular version today is that restored version.
The 74th Golden Globe on January 8, 2017 celebrated itself and Hollywood with “La La Land”, a film about Hollywood, L.A, and the promise land of hope and dreams come true! The golden Globe website proudly announces “A record seven Golden Globes for La La Land!. A first Dreams come true for dreamers.” The film wrote and made by Damien Chazelle , beats the previous records of 6 awards by “One flew over the cuckoo’s nest” of 1975 and “Midnight express” of 1978 and of 5 awards of “Doctor Zhivago” of 1965, “Love Story” of 1970, “The Godfather” of 1972, and “A Star is born” of 1976! The Hollywood Foreign Press Association prizes itself and the dreamland of Hollywood by awarding the most to their “La La Land” as their well presented symbol for the promotion of their cause to the foreign lands outside US, the initial and continuing reason of their foundation!
Damien Chazelle who could not believe it himself and his previous better film, “Whiplash” was not nominated for the best film last year, called the whole frenzy at the award ceremony as “insane”! And the ecstatic producers of the film announce “We need such films now more than ever” perhaps to create empty hopes and dreams in the “La La Land” of Hollywood! These are said and done while Meryl Streep in receiving the life achievement awards, delivers one of her best speech as a wake up call to American politics and people. Again Golden Globe like Oscars recognizes and awards the content and not the process of filmmaking, and a content not enlightening and vital for the time, but deceiving and distracting. Golden Globe did not cheer and award so much for “Moulin Rouge” of 2001 and “Chicago” of 2002, two very good musicals that won each only three awards from this association! A brief note about “La La Land”, that mixed up a musical theatrical show and dance, imposed uncoordinatedly to the film story and jazz. From the first shot of everybody jumping out of their cars and dancing on a highway in very artificial scenario, to the rest of film, the Broadway style of dance that is the centre of the film is imposed to a jazz story, even in a jazz concert. The script is flawed, the direction is Disney and kiddish type, and the acting cheap and beneath any awards consideration.
Golden Globe and its voting members perhaps awarded the film for reminding themselves of the great old classic films that “La La Land” indirectly paid homage to, such as “West Side Story”, “Singin’ in the rain”, “An American in Paris”, or Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals, or even on the dream content side to “It’s a wonderful life” and alike. But they had a better choice of paying tribute to the old time, by having recognized “Nocturnal Animals” of Tom Ford, for reminding the expert viewers of classics of “Alfred Hitchcock” , “Cape Fear” and “Natural Born Killers”. Perhaps it is not the best time to recognize such violent film as “Nocturnal Animals” as the world and the United States of America is safe and in good hands with no killings or terrors on every corner! What Malcolm X has said years ago still hold the truth and not the deception created and distributed by La La Land: “We don’t see any American dream. We’ve experienced only the American nightmare.” Even in “comedy and musical” category that “La La Land” won more than what belongs this category, “Florence Foster Jenkins” being both comedy and musical with unequalled hillarious performance by Meryl Streep, deserved more.
Lastly the Golden Globe in their 74th ceremonies reprimanded for their last year not having recognized any black filmmakers and artists, so this time awarded the “Moonlight” as an apology to their last year mistake that was criticized by some to be “racist”! Alas that is all politics and fashion and these awards have nothing to do with the real art making, and real artists! Despite “La La Land” an unrealistic fairy tale film robbed most of the awards, at the same time “Moonlight” a very realistic, totally opposite, won a few. “Moonlight” is so representative of the poor and crime-stricken society of America, in another dreamland of Miami, that until half way through the film, the audience may not recognize the place of happening events is US and not South Africa or a poor Caribbean or an African country.
Some believe that since the advent of digitalism, that has made movie making easy for almost everyone, Cinema in its real sense has died. Many films in the past few decades have been shot not on 35 mm films, but digital cameras and special effects have taken away any artistic creations. Filmmakers and casts have been flowing from television to the silver screen and the movie theatre or cinema audience have declined as people watch movies at home on TV or the internet. Even movies on DVD have become a rarity as they are rented or pirated from the internet and film file sharing. Therefore the number of great or even good enough films from an artistic point of view have tremendously diminished. As a result Cinema has lost its capacity of enlightening and nourishing minds, or even pleasuring the sights. The past creations and inventions have been copied one after another and the public consume as mindless followers or brain washed to follow and watch what is made, solely for the sake of profits of the studios. Hence as time goes by and Cinema ages, the number of films to be included in any greatest list of all time, has lessened so it has made the effort of such true list makers a lot easier.
The following is a meager list of a few great films of only 12 in the present century of 21, from the year 2000 on, and a few more of good enough films to watch. Although hundreds of films are made each year all over the world, mostly by Hollywood, and in this century the number could reach thousands, and many of them are sufficiently entertaining to please the lay audience and even some critics, the real art film as an art medium is a rarity. All the following list have been carefully selected among many acclaimed and awarded films all over the world by critics and film festivals, that some could not even be put on a good enough films list, based on our criteria. There are only two American films on the following great film list, “The Aviator” and “The Reader” that did not even win any Academy Awards. There are 10 foreign films on our great film list that non won any best foreign film awards by Academy Awards, and none any recognition by the “prestigious” Cannes Festival. For the this year 2016 there has not been any great film, and three good films of this year, “Nocturnal animals”, “Queen of Katwe” and “Sonwden” have not been nominated for the upcoming “Golden Globe Awards”! Even perhaps none of the following 12 great films of this century could compete with the greatest films of all time!
There are only a few great films in the 21 century thus far, almost less than one for each year, per this site standards and criteria. Two great films each in the years 2000, 2001, and 2002, one great film in each year of 2003, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2014. There have not been any great films in the other years of 2005, 2006, 2007-2010 and 2012-2013 and none for 2015-2016. The following short list of 12 great films deserve a brief explanation each of the reasons of their inclusion in the list. The films are listed temporally by the year they have been released, not by ranking or significance.
Amores perros (“Love is betrayal”) is the first chapter in González Iñárritu’s “Trilogy of Death”, succeeded by “21 grams” and “Babel”, three distinct stories connected by the themes of the inequality of classes, lack of trust and betrayal of love, cruelty and violence of humans towards both animals and other humans, showing how humans may live dark or even hideous lives. This deep contextual film is beautifully portrayed in an ambiance of sexual, thrilling and action process, all in a perfect fast and enthralling tempo that ordinary audience will enjoy it the same as the sophisticated ones. In brief, the due to Cinema has been done in this modern classic at the dawn of the new century, perhaps as a message that this art medium has not yet died!
In the mood for love (2000, Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong)
From Mexico to Hong Kong, our second great film of this century, in the same year 2000, is also about love, but not on its betrayal, but its secret, innocence and tenderness. The film has an original Chinese title of “the age of blossoms” or “the flowery years”, to convey the fleeting time of youth, beauty and love. This film is also a part of a trilogy, second to the first “Days of being wild” (1991) and “2046” (released in 2004). The film telling the secret cross love affair of a married couple, leaving door to door in a small building, to the surprise of audience, at least the western ones, does not lead to a sexual but platonic love relationship, like two children or young teenagers. Captivating with its classic Chinese, Latino, and English soundtracks, edited well into the shots and fit perfectly to the camera moves, the film elegantly tells this story of unspoken but well expressed love in “secret”. This flowery years’ innocent love that could not be shared with anyone else or even united by the two lovers, leaving behind a sorrow, that only in the Chinese culture could be shared with a hollow in a tree by whisper in the secret and cover it with mud.
Kandahar (2001, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Iran)
The next film in our list, Kandahar or “Journey to Kandahar”, alternatively known as “The Sun Behind the Moon” released in 2001, is a tale of the rescue of a sister left behind in the war torn Afghanistan, before her plan on committing suicide on the last “solar eclipse” of the millennium. A rare and true documentary film in a narrative context, stunningly colorful, visionary and poetic, leaves the audience with an awe impression of Afghanistan never seen before.
Werckmeister harmonies (2001, Béla Tarr, Hungary)
The film adapted from a 1989 novel “The melancholy of resistance”, is a black-and-white film, of only 39 long and sluggish shots, telling the story of Soviet occupation of Hungary at the end of the Second World War. It also shows the journey among helpless citizens as a dark circus with its star performer, “The Prince” comes to a desolate small town casting an eclipse over their lives. The title refers to the baroque musical theorist “Andreas Werckmeister”, and his harmonic principles in music, that is a metaphor in the film in the search of the utopian harmony for a society, that has never been so for Hungary before or after the war. The film is really a manifesto of reviving Cinema once again as a medium for visionary poetry and while entertaining, being enlightening and conveying ideology and concepts.
Russian Ark (2002, Alexander Sokurov, Russia)
This film is a celebration of imagery, but within a narrative of tale telling of 300-years of the “Winter Palace” of the Russian State Hermitage Museum. But like Samsara, the film appears documentary-like as the unnamed narrator or the man behind the camera wanders through the palace and time, passing by people over ages like a ghost, and interacting at times, still invisible. The film other than its grand imagery, rarely seen on the screen, has been filmed all in one single long shot of 96 minutes, another rarity in Cinema.
City of God (2002, Fernando Ferreira Meirelles, Brazil)
The film depicts the growth and war between the organized crime in the “Cidade de Deus” or “City of God”, suburbs of Rio de Janiro, between the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1980s. Most of the actors were, in fact, the residents of “Favela”, “Cidade de Deus” and a few other nearby towns. The film is partly based on the true events of organized gangs of the suburb of Rio, during the military dictatorship of 1964-1985 in Brazil. Only a few miles away from Rio with its beautiful beaches, nightclubs, parties and all other extravaganzas, the poor children of “City of God” for survival and a better life, succumb first to petty theft then grow into major robberies and finally killings. Part of this organized crime that in the beginning had some Peter Pan’s type of goodwill or social ideology, over time evolve to pure crimes, arms and drugs trafficking, unequal to anywhere else in the world, and still to this date ongoing. The film is quite shocking and put any other gangster organizations on film and in reality as less significant, as crimes in the “City of God” run not by adults, but by the kids!
Oldboy (2003, Park Chan-wook, South Korea)
Oldboy from South Korea, is actually based by the same name Japanese novel, is a mystery, thriller and neo-noir film, the second in “The Vengeance Trilogy”, preceded by “Sympathy of Mr. Vengeance” and followed by “Sympathy of Lady Vengeance”. The film right away put every critic and filmmakers in surprise awe, including “Quentin Tarantino” and many American thriller, action and revenge films in shame. The film has already had an American adaptation or remake by Spike Lee, starring Josh Brolin in 2013. The film according to Roger Ebert is a “powerful film not because of what it depicts, but because of the depths of the human heart which it strips bare”.
The aviator (2004, Martin Scorsese, USA)
This film is the only American narrative film in our short list of the great films of the 21st century thus far, for quite a few reasons. The subject of the film, “Howard Hughes”, an aviation pioneer and filmmaker, and the process of depicting his life story on the screen is quite a drama on its own. Howard Hughes’ involvement in many creative aviation projects and relationship with many Hollywood stars such as Catherine Hepburn and Ava Gardner (also played in this film) and finally his struggles with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) has been himself the subject of several film projects over years. First in 1970’s “Warren Beatty” planned to make such a film and had the same project on his mind until most recently this year, 2016 that finally released “Rules don’t apply” on the life of “Hughes” but with a quite different take than “The aviator”. In 1990 “Beatty” approached “Steven Spielberg” to direct such a film that never materialized, then “Brian De Palma” with acting of “Nichols cage” between 1997 and 1998 failed, so the promise of “Johnny Depp” playing “Hughes”. “Leonardo DiCaprio” who has done his best performance on the screen in this film after dedicating hundreds of hours working to better acting “Hughes” and his OCD, was first supposed to be directed by “Michael Mann”! But the chance fell on “Martin Scorsese” who made quite a different film than his usual gangsters types and in fact better than his rest!
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006, Guillermo del Toro Gómez, Mexico)
This fantasy, fairly tale film is unlike other such types and “Harry Potter” kinds, channels between the clean world of fantasy and the dark world of real life full of wars, atrocities and injustice. The story takes place in Spain in 1944, one year before the end of the second world war, and five years after the country’s Civil War, now torn and tortured under the dictatorship of General Franco. The main character, the young “Ofelia” escapes such cruel real world of the time and his falangist stepfather, Captain Vidal, enters the “Pan’s Labyrinth” and interacts with “Faun” creatures. Dreaming of helping her ill pregnant mother and save her to be soon born brother, and stopping the killings of the cruel “Captain Vidal”, “Ofelia” who cannot do so in real world, seeks refuge in the underworld of “Labyrinth” requesting help from its kingdom. While she fails in real life to save his mother and many revolutionary fighters who all die by Captain Vidal, she succeeds to rescue his newborn brother, but at the cost of the loss of her own life. But drops of her blood falling on a staircase opens the altar to the golden throne room of the underworld where the king and the queen welcome their daughter or princess Moanna (or Ofelia) to her kingdom to be “visible only to those who know where to look”!
The Reader (2008, Stephen Daldry, Germany/USA)
“The Reader” is a German-American film based on the same name German novel by “Bernhard Schlink”, directed by the British director, Stephen Daldry, the last film produced by Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack who both died prior to the release of the film. Kate Winslet in her best life career performance, plays Hanna Schmitz who in the late 1950’s while in her 30’s falls in a romantic relationship with a teenager boy, Michael Berg. The first half of the film is a romantic and sexual adventure, between the pair depicted better than “The Graduate” or anything alike. Then on a sudden twist, all the pleasure and happiness, like the life itself, are blasted away and the truth of the darkness and wrong behind the surface, creeps out. Years later Hanna with a few other women, accused of war crimes as guards in the Nazi concentration camp are in trial. Michael who is now a law student attends the hearing as a part of his teaching with his professor and classmates, when he sees Hanna among the defendants. All the other accused claim that Hanna has had a major role in selecting Jewish women for extermination and it has been her to write a report on a church fire. Hanna refuses to provide a handwriting sample to the court, so receives a life sentence, but Michael realizes a life long secret she is hiding that is her illiteracy and that cannot read or write. Since Hanna’s wish is to keep her secret, Michael respects that and she will remain in prison for many years until in 1988 when she receives amnesty, but on the day of release when Michael comes to receive her with flowers, he finds her dead by hanging in her cell! The film unlike many other Nazi’s crime movies, takes us behind the facades to show the victims on both sides of the wrong and darkness, the mass murder of the Jews and the forcing of the ordinary Germans to work in the concentration camps and select the victims for extermination! Such depiction of life beyond the Nazi’s, Jews and wars, with all its ebbs and flows, love and lust, trust and lies, honors and dishonesty, and at the end guilt for all, has rarely this beautifully been shown on the silver screen.
Samsara (2011, Ron Fricke, USA)
This film is a documentary celebration of mesmerizing and wonder images from around the word in 25 countries, shot in 70 mm format, by Ron Fricke, originally a cinematographer as a sequel to his earlier “Baraka” in 1992. The film like “Man with a movie camera” is an extraordinary experimentalism on the silver screen, to show the audience the beauty and haunting images all around us in the nature and our cosmopolitan livings, without narratives or even interpretations, leaving all to us for enjoyment and judgment.
We are many (2014, Amir Amirani, England)
This brave documentary about the “February 2003 global day protest” against initiating war against Iraq, is astonishing and eye opening for everyone around the world. The players are all the people of the world from Africa, Australia, Asia, Europe to North and South America. The largest humans protest in history with up to 30 millions marching in more than 600 cities all around the world on the same day certainly needed to be depicted on the screen. Although such a huge seas of people, famous and unknown at the end failed to stop the hungry war machines, the root of imperialism was seriously shaken, the history was recorded, and the future for war crimes tribunals were founded. The media owned by the war machines, all over the world specially in the western lands, on that day of February 15, 2003 chose not to show this historical moment to their people. But it took more than 10 years for an Iranian/British documentary maker to depict this historical triumph onto a film and show it to the world. The film is tremendously great, perhaps the greatest on this short list, not for being very inventing and technical, but for the courage and dedication to show what needs to be shown. This is a great lesson to all filmmakers, critics, festivals and award agencies that documentaries could not be ignored and that the great films are only narratives. Some of the greatest films of all time are pure documentaries such as “Man with a movie camera” and other greats such as “Battleship of Potemkin” and “Birth of a Nation” are basically documentaries in the format of some narratives. Even in this short list of great films of the 21st century thus far, that is only 12, four of the films are documentaries, “Kandahar”, “Samara”, “Russian Ark”, and “We are Many”. Therefore if no great art work on the screen wants to be missed, documentaries need to be included in the major category as feature films in competition for any awards!
Good Films in recent years:
Each year thousands of films are made all over the world, majority by Hollywood and Bollywood, but only a handful of them could be considered as good enough films from an artistic, technical, significance and influential points of view. The following is a short list of such good films that not many won any awards, like the above list of great films, and also not included some awarded films by different festivals or agencies. Unfortunately recognition of good and great films have become political as well and are focused often on the subject of the story than the process of the filmmaking, so the recognition and the awards usually goes to the trend of the time and day than the real art of filmmaking!
“Un Chien Andalou” of 1929 by the Spanish filmmaker, Luis Bunuel will be perhaps the only short film (16-21 min., based on the copy) on this list, for its significance, heroism, invention and influence in the history of cinema. This great film which still to this day, viewers discretion is advised and would not be appropriate for young audience, was Buñuel’s first film. The unusual avant-gard film for the time and even now, was a product of collaboration between the famous Spanish painter, Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel. When Buñuel was working as an assistant director for Jean Epstein in France, one day at a restaurant, he told Dali about a dream in which a cloud sliced the moon in half “like a razor blade slicing through an eye”. Dalí responded that he had also dreamed about a hand crawling with ants. Then both excitedly decided to write a script based on the concept of suppressed human emotions, dreams or nightmares. Bunuel deliberately intended in this film and many of his later films, like the paintings of Dali, moving beyond reality, logic and approach the depth of humans’ darkest imaginations, so to be only interpreted and understood perhaps by Freudian psychoanalysis. So Bunuel brought “surrealism” of earlier work of other artists such as Dali and Breton in painting and other art forms onto the screen.
The film, initially released in 1929 with a limited showing in Paris, soon became popular that ran for 8 months. The film with no plot or story, unconventional and chronologically disjointed, is the frontier of so many similar surrealistic and avant-gard films from Hitchcock to David Cronenberg, that deserves its creator introduction. Bunuel is perhaps second to Charlie Chaplin, his contemporary who also met and partly collaborated, with five decades of filmmaking and many other activities including politics and fighting for freedom and democracy of his homeland Spain.
A man for all seasons:
Luis Buñuel (1900-1983), who when died at age 83, was called by the New York Times, “an iconoclast, moralist, and revolutionary who was a leader of avant-garde surrealism in his youth and a dominant international movie director half a century later”, was born in Calanda in the Aragon region of Spain. Bunuel’s film career is long and significant, from his first film, “Un chien Andalou” in 1929 in the silent era, that has been called “the most famous short film ever made” by the critic Roger Ebert, to his last film,“That Obscure Object of Desire”, made 48 years later, won him Best Director awards from the National Board of Review and the National Society of Film Critics.
Cinema, though was invented in the late 19th century, but it took a couple of decades until 1920’s to come to fruition, and produce great films that some great ones are in this list and many other list of great films of all time. That is why the 1920’s is the most significant decade of the art of filmmaking and many inventions in cinema were created during this period, so the foundation of cinema. A year after the production of the first talkie film and the assumption of the fall of the silent film era, in 1928 “The Passion of Joan of Arc” a silent French film was created by a Danish filmmaker, Carl Theodor Dryer, that has influences so many films and filmmakers for years to come. Still by the end of 1920’s, cinema was mostly dominated by Americans, Germans and Russians, and other societies did not have much contribution to the art of film, including France that later on in 30’s start to emerge. So Carl Theodor from Netherland was invited to France to make a film that he chose “The Passion of Joan of Arc”, for being very patriotic subject in the country, despite many opposition why such a national subject has to be made by a non-French! The film is based on the actual record of the trial of Joan of Arc by when captive in England by the British Christian court. The film is not only by many has been regarded as a landmark of cinema for its groundbreaking techniques and direction, but by its only principal actor’s performance, Renée JeanneFalconetti’s performance, which is often listed as one of the finest in cinema history.
Dreyer spent over a year researching Joan of Arc and the transcripts of her trial before writing the script. Although the film has had many replica in the later years, such as “The Messenger: The story of Joan of arc” in 1999, none has been based on the true story, showing Joan of Arc, as a simple young girl, only 19, without armors and glamor. So the film stands out as well for its genuineness and simplicity, staying away from distortion of the history and commerciality, in spite of Dryer to do so for the popularity of the story in France. The film which is also a frontier of not all court films with interrogation and inquisition, but all the films mostly running in a room, such as “12 angry men” of 1957 and 1997. For doing this Dreyer needed a stage actress, so he picked Falconetti as her only major and last film role, but her performance and devotion to the role have become legendary among film scholars. This great influential but simple film that to this day has been well known for its cinematography, use of close-ups, directing and acting, deserves some introduction of its creator, Carl Theodor Dryer.