Monday, January 3, 2011

Love, Death, and the American Film

Regardless of past avowals on the subject, I have not quite given up on the American film. More than forty years after he made his assessment, I find I still don't differ with Vernon Young: "There is always someone announcing that the American movie has come of age. The announcement is always premature." It has rarely measured up to the best films from France, Italy, Sweden or Japan - the countries that have produced the greatest number of excellent films in the first hundred years of the medium. Those critics who continue to try and hoist the likes of Stagecoach, Vertigo, and The Godfather alongside L'Avventura and The Rules of the Game are merely exposing their true status as fans. American films can be charming, funny, and can contain hugely talented entertainers. What it has had such a hard time doing is being works of art - works that enlarge our understanding of ourselves and of others, that challenge the way we think and live our lives.

But there have been exceptions in the last fifty years - films that are made far enough under the radar or without substantial investment from the money men. There have even been a few big budget films that were too good for their producers to ruin. Allowing for sins of omission, not to mention a faulty memory, here, in alphabetical order, are thirty American films that I regard as substantial achievements. I hope to expound on some of them in the coming months - the ones, that is, I can get my hands on down here in The Sticks.

Badlands (Terrence Malick - 1973)
Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn - 1967)
Born on the Fourth of July (Oliver Stone - 1989)
Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee - 2005)
Chinatown (Roman Polanski - 1974)
Cool Hand Luke (Stuart Rosenberg - 1967)
Cutter's Way (Ivan Passer - 1981)
Dog Day Afternoon (Sidney Lumet - 1975)
Donnie Brascoe (Mike Newell - 1997)
Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick - 1964)
Driving Miss Daisy (Bruce Beresford - 1989)
Fight Club (David Fincher - 1999)
Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese - 1990)
Hard Times (Walter Hill - 1975)
Jeremiah Johnson (Sidney Pollock - 1972)
The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese - 1982)
The Man Who Would Be King (John Huston - 1975)
MASH (Robert Altman - 1970)
Melvin and Howard (Jonathan Demme - 1980)
The Pledge (Sean Penn - 2001)
Prince of the City (Sidney Lumet - 1981)
Schindler's List (Steven Spielberg - 1993)
Smoke (Wayne Wang - 1995)
The Straight Story (David Lynch - 1999)
Straight Time (Ulu Grosbard - 1978)
Straw Dogs (Sam Peckinpah - 1971)
Tender Mercies (Bruce Beresford - 1983)
The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick - 1998)
They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (Sidney Pollack - 1969)
The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah - 1969)

No comments: