Best Films of 1920
Best Films of 1921
Best Films of 1922
Best Films of 1923
Best Films of 1924



Best Films of 1925
Best Films of 1926
Best Films of 1927
Best Films of 1928
Best Films of 1929



Passion of Joan of Arc
The Crowd
Man with a Movie Camera

BEST FILMS OF 1929
by Mike Lorefice

Blackmail
Alfred Hitchcock

The first fully talking feature from Britian would have been better if it stayed silent. In fact the film was finished as a silent and that shorter version is also in circulation, though generally considered superior by critics it's of course much harder to find. Some scenes were reshot later to "improve" the film, but it also caused major problems such as the lead actress, Anny Ondra from Poland, being dubbed. What's more disconcerting is how the sound scenes kill the flow; the film is all starts and stops and it's always obvious when the new scenes give way to the old (which glide but lack background noise). Still, with some silent scenes the film remains far more artistic than Hitchcock's early sound films, and generally a lot more fun. There's an economy that creates tension and suspense, for instance a shadow subtly hints the presence of the blackmailer at the crime scene. It's the first of Hitchcock's guilt-ridden woman pictures, with Ondra killing a would be rapist, and where the film is successful is in depicting Ondra as trapped between her policeman boyfriend who is trying to protect her his way and the blackmailer. Though many might prefer the more flashy chase though and on top of the British Museum, the first of his monumental climaxes which utilizes The Schufftan process (Metropolis), to me the rape scene is the most impressive. Everything but one hand is hidden behind the bed curtain. We see the woman grabbing and clasping until she gets the knife, and soon the man's hand appears limp. After this Ondra is constantly reminded of what's she's done, both conventionally with the gossipy locals going on and on about it and more creatively with scenes like a close-up of a sleeping homeless man's hand. In this regard, Hitchcock does utilize sound to his advantage, also showing the psychological breakdown of Ondra through distortion of things she hears, most memorably the word "knife" being constantly repeated while the rest of the words become an indiscernible mess. Along with the silent version of The Lodger, Blackmail appears to be the best of the early Hitchcock films. It's marred by a lead performance that makes Grace Kelly seem like a best actress winner, oops, and suddenly getting leaden in many talking scenes because of the poor sound technology. However, it went a long way toward establishing Hitchcock's reputation and the addition of sound did put British films back on the international map. [12/15/05] ***

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Un Chien Andalou
Luis Bunuel

Meaning is in the eye (or what's left of it) of the beholder in this disturbing purposely irrational surrealistic short from the dreams of masters Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali. This hugely important work opened people's eyes (in one case literally) to so many new cinematic possibilities, most notably the ability to deal solely with the subconscious. Detractors write it off for it's shock value, but shock value lasts a lot closer to 75 seconds than 75 years, and this is one of those landmark cinematic events that will always be talked about. In reality, they most likely can't deal with being alienated by the film, which was more or less designed to offend everyone in the audience, especially the bourgeois and hack surrealists, again making it revolutionary. Money men notoriously only care about "pleasing" the audience (and of course they are always directly in touch with the audience, who curiously love precisely the same thing they always sell), but Bunuel & Dali could do what they wanted because it was on Bunuel's mother's dime. Chances are you've at least seen the opening eye-ball slicing, and part of the reason it's difficult to say whether this is groundbreaking work is a masterpiece is certain images are so memorable, or notorious, they've been pulled regularly for highlight reels and film classes. Still, this work maintains an eerie intensity, in good part because the absolute lack of connection between the atrocities never ceases to be surprising. Ultimately, the film teaches us more about ourselves because Bunuel & Dali defy anyone to watch it without connecting unrelated events, which is all of them, teasing us by utilizing the techniques and ordering principles that create free association (cross cutting, including the same objects in later shots, etc.). Their goal is to get us to break free from conventionality in all ways, but we find ourselves trying to apply rules, laws, and psycho babble because it's what we've been taught. [10/24/05] ***1/2

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Diary of a Lost Girl
G.W. Pabst

***

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The Man with a Movie Camera
Dziga Vertov

Pioneering avant-garde poetic documentary is one of the first examples of cinema-verite, self-reflective filmmaking, and a number of camera and editing techniques. Vertov scraps actors, sets, plot, and intertitles, relying completely on the camera and post-production process to evoke a day in a Soviet city. Several sequences in this energetic work contain more innovation than we see in a years worth of films. It's also a joyous celebration of the medium though among its many paradoxes at the same time it's exploring all the possibilities of the medium it's exposing the medium for what it is. ****

Full Movie Review

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Pandora's Box
G.W. Pabst

What's unique about Pabst's style is although he delves into the expressionism that was the in thing at the time, he mixes it with realism, naturalism, and fantasy. This is a far more subtle work than you'd expect from a silent, utilizing the power of the glance if not pure suggestion to greatly increase the tension. Though Pabst is among the most fatalistic, this is one of the most diverse mood pieces of the silent era. The expert photography and lighting convey the brutal and realistic, the sensual and seductive, and so on. Pandora's Box was a scandalous film when it was released because of it's sexual daring and the "unacceptable" characters that filled it's world. It took a while to attain it's reputation as a classic, but much of the reason it still plays so well is the modernness of it's lead, who asserts herself for better or in her case usually worse. Louise Brooks gives arguably the most erotic performance of the silent era as the flirtatious hedonistic seductress Lulu who accidentally hurts everyone around her. The ribless browless bore Dietrich wanted the role, but her calculation would have destroyed the film, she could never have pulled off playing an unknowing victim and victimizer with any credibility. The far more natural Brooks brings a certain spirit of freeness and innocence, an unconscious exuberant limberness to her movements, which the camera captures with equal energy. This is an extremely confident performance, but the brilliance is it's not particularly self conscious like you always get from those actresses who appear to put all their effort into manipulating their appearance. Despite the cabaret stars obvious sexual powers Lulu doesn't seem to know them herself, instead trying to succeed through sheer willpower. Sometimes she asserts her self and is wickedly manipulative, other times she is pathetically na´ve; her poor financial state has taught her to look out for herself as best she can. Brooks utilizes her whole body, and Pabst refuses to constantly shove the camera in her face to explain everything to us, which helps maintain some of the aforementioned enigma. As Pabst is a bleak one, the film never degenerates into sentimentality and the conclusion, though in a sense the only one possible, is not imaginable until the last few minutes (unless you've already heard what it is which unfortunately seems quite common). [10/24/05] ***1/2

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Queen Kelly
Erich von Stroheim

***

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Rain
Joris Ivens

Beautiful, intertitleless, lyrical poetic short of rain in the city somewhat in the vein of Dziga Vertov. It's one of those films that says everything or nothing depending on your perspective; it's plotless and in a way devoid of logic yet it's extremely evocative. It 's very slow (you are given time to reflect), but extremely fast (less than 15 minutes). The mastery of Ivens here is in creating a work where something as simple as rainfall can dictate the rhythm, tempo, pacing, and ultimately mood of the piece. The imaginative photography is exquisite, with so many perspectives achieved of the same thing (rain landing) that actually reveal quite different things because of what we see in (reflection) or through (window). [10/11/05] ***1/2

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