This next pick probably illustrates, as much as any year, my distinction on this list of "favorites" versus "best". I personally like the distinction, as some of the "best films" haven't always moved me, and some of my favorite films aren't necessarily considered the best. This Hitchcock is considered by no one I've ever read as his best. And, I'll admit that it's not near as depthful and artful as some of his later work. However, it is, along with Rear Window, Suspicion, Shadow of a Doubt, and Marnie, one of my favorites by the director.
Hitchcock has always had a playful streak, and it's in full bloom here. The 39 Steps is sexy, full of twists and turns, and just a purely fun romp. I'll admit, I usually need my mind engaged to fully embrace a film. But, for some reason, I find this one so well-directed, the story so well-told, that I'm satisfied shutting off my brain and just letting one of the masters entertain me.
5/1/10 I watched James Whale's Bride of Frankenstein. I know that I'm in the minority on this one, but I definitely much preferred Whale's original Frankenstein film. I found the original's direction to be more powerful and overall there seemed to be a little more heart in the first film. But, the scene between Frankenstein and the blind man is a classic and fully felt.
6/6/10 I watched Howard Hawks' Ceiling Zero. A tremendous performance by Cagney and one of the most incredible scenes of sustained tension I have ever seen as Texas navigates the skies. Tough to find but so glad I finally got to see it. Absolutely top tier Hawks.
6/10/10 I watched Richard Boleslawski's Les Miserables. Though probably the type of film the Turks of the New Wave would have rejected, as it does perhaps lack a little personality, it is extremely well-made. March and Laughton are fantastic, and it doesn't hurt that they have the great Gregg Toland along for the ride.
6/21/10 I watched John Ford's The Informer. The older I get, the more I realize how much depth the "masters" were able to achieve in some of their work. I saw it recently when I watched Yasujiro Ozu's I Was Born, But..., and it certainly is evident in Ford's thematic treatment of Jippo's betrayal of Frankie. Ford is able to achieve such universality with such simplicity. And there's a sophistication to his concerns and characters that elevates him among most of his peers.
6/25/10 I watched Michael Curtiz's Captain Blood. I can't say I'm a natural fan of the swashbuckler genre or of Curtiz's campy style (I struggled even a little with his version of Robin Hood.) But the charm and appeal of Flynn is hard to resist here, and he makes a very convincing hero. Enjoyable although at times hard to take it for any more than that.
7/9/10 I watched George Cukor's Sylvia Scarlett. It's a real offbeat film for the time and didn't always hold together for me. But when it's great, in the first few scenes between Hepburn and the painter, and the deliberation between the two on the train near the end, it's downright classic. An awesome location, in the painter's home, and a few very fine Hepburn moments.
3/1/12 I watched Henry Hathaway's Peter Ibbetson. An unusually esoteric film that starts out normal enough but devolves into something far more elusive. I'm not sure exactly what Hathaway is up to - it is unique but so strange as to lose interest for me by a certain point.
8/5/13 I watched Leo McCarey's Ruggles of Red Gap. The Hollywood happy ending has become an almost absolute, an artificial emotional high that a filmmaker must provide the audience before turning the lights back on. It is troubling and says as much about the American psyche as McDonald's or Hummers. But what if there was a time when it is was not obligatory, when instead it was the optimal way to bring a story to a close. I have seen my fair share of movies, and most of my favorites tend to eschew the happy ending for something else altogether. Rarely, if ever, have I seen a movie like Ruggles, that without its happy ending, would simply lose everything, its reason for being, its internal logic, and its deeply lasting effect. Of all I have seen, I put this one up as the quintessential happy ending. If Hollywood were only taking its lessons from Ruggles, we may still be at the center of the most important and profound artistic medium of the last 150 years.
9/22/13 I watched Mark Cousins' The Story of Film: An Odyssey: 1918-1935: The Great Rebel Filmmakers Around the World. Highlights for me included the parts on Gance, Ozu, and China's cinema at this time that is entirely unknown to me. I look forward to seeing La Roue, The Goddess, and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
1/11/17 I rewatched Mark Sandrich's Top Hat. I think I haven't seen it since I saw it for the first time in '94-'95 and it quickly became my favorite musical. It is a little more corny than I remember and a little more loose but Astaire's elegance and grace are a sight to behold and the music (courtesy of Berlin and Steiner) is catchy and moving.