By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor
[Editor’s Note: This is the First of a 2-Part Series]
Now I will admit I’m probably a more lenient critic than most because I know how much money goes into these movies. Even if a movie is god awful and terrible, if there was something in there that shows someone in the creative team cared enough about what they were doing, they’ll still get a rating. When I write the review I like to think of it as a film school critique- by the way it’s so hard to make a student film. But often times when a film is flawed it’s somewhere in its execution so my job and responsibility as a critic is trying to understand what this film was trying to do.
For a film not to get a zero ranking it has to pretty much look like no one was trying. On the flip side it is very hard for me to give a 10 star rating because a movie has to be darn near flawless, which is not easy to do, making it special and deserving of such high praise.
Films that are so bad they are good do not count because they would not earn either rating. Keep in mind these are only from the films I have seen (like The Shawshank Redemption, I will see it one day I promise) so I am not trying to intentionally snub a film in hopes of being pretentious.
So here we go… starting with my 10/10 stars. I’ll list these in chronological order. Sequels will be one listing in the event that multiple films in the same cinematic universe are eligible. And to preface a little bit of my general criteria, it breaks down into three main categories. On a technical aspect: framing, lighting, visuals, sound, and editing. Secondly, accessibility; is the story good, are the characters believable, is this something the casual movie goer and the film critic can both enjoy? The third basis is unique for each film; how the film relates to others within its genre, sometimes how it compares to the director’s other works, and anything else that could be counted as a standout factor. These will be relatively spoiler free, just some basic plot information given in act 1.
Broken Blossoms (1919, Griffith)
Now I know, D.W. Griffith fans, you expect the film he’s more known for, The Birth of a Nation. Here’s my issue with that film and it’s not the one you’re thinking. It’s nearly three hours long, which I know is not comfortable for most people to sit through. Also people don’t tend to realize that it’s the story of the civil war told through the loser’s perspective and get caught up in thinking it’s just all racism. This is what I like about Broken Blossoms. Sorry America, we’re terrible… in most early cinema the Asian was cast as a drunken, lecherous idiot. This film presents him as a hero, though it is done with yellow face, the message in the film is clear and it’s an apology from Griffith and it asks the audience for tolerance.
Sherlock Jr. (1924, Keaton)
Full disclosure, I like Keaton more than Chaplin. This is not to say Chaplin’s films are not worthy of 10 stars, I’ve just only seen maybe one or two of his films versus many of Keaton’s. I also really enjoy Steamboat Bill Jr as a close second and at the risk of having a dozen Keaton film’s I’m just going to include this one. One of the most impressive facts about Keaton though is he did all his own stunts, and this was before the days of advanced special effects.
Sunrise (1927, Murnau)
How can you compare the silent era to today’s films? Truth be told, the fact that they could do so much without spoken dialogue is in itself incredible. The story is simple. A farmer is unfaithful to his wife, his mistress tries to convince him to kill her, he then finds he’s really not happy with anyone but her and they fall in love again. I’m completely oversimplifying this and not doing it justice. Just trust me, it’s a great film.
Metropolis (1927, Lang)
Meanwhile in Germany… one of the greatest works of science fiction ever made was born. A film so innovative for its time it nearly bankrupted Germany’s film industry, it’s fantastic. Unfortunately we may never see it in its entirety since pieces have gone missing. If there’s only one flaw it’s that the two predominate females present in the film represent the laziest archetypes of the virgin and the whore… but at the time that was often the way it was.
The Wizard of Oz (1939, Fleming)
There’s a reason they play this film numerous times on television and back in the days before DVD and VHS when this film was played on television it was an event. Yes the story is simple but the message is such a reflection of the times; there really is no place like home. I believe this film will continue to enchant for generations to come.
Citizen Kane (1941, Welles)
To be honest I’m more afraid of a mob of film students showing up outside my house with pitch forks if I omit this film. Yes, it’s a great film but I don’t know if I can call it “the best film ever made.” The camera work, the fact that they used cheesecloth to create a ceiling in a shot, and all the other behind the scenes technical aspects are brilliant. The two issues I have with the film are essentially irrelevant to its brilliance. One being if Kane died alone in his bed, how did anyone hear his last words? The second being I completely missed “Rosebud” the first time around and at the end was like “Wait, where was that in the film?” If I needed the metaphor explained I imagine others did as well.
Double Indemnity (1944, Wilder)
Film Noir is one of those genres that is starting to re-emerge slowly into mainstream story telling. It’s a basic formula that can be cliché at times but when executed correctly can be absolutely brilliant. Of the film noirs I’ve viewed this is by far my favorite. With stars Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck directed by Billy Wilder, it’s a formula for success. What younger audiences might not be as keen to pick up on is the introduction to Stanwyck’s character, Phyllis. Without dialogue, we know she’s a bad girl and she’s out to get what she wants no matter what it takes, all through the use of a towel and Venetian blinds.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946, Capra)
We’ve all been at a dark point in our lives where we’ve pondered if the world would be better off without us. This film doesn’t shy away from answering that question and it’s beautifully wrapped up into a Christmas film. If you think about the juxtaposition, I don’t think you could have a more appropriate pairing considering the holidays are a time of depression for many. The message still holds up today because it’s another everyman type story- the world isn’t significantly different without him there, but the people who never met him don’t have the joy in their lives that he brought to it because he was never born. It shows us to appreciate what we have. Also it stars Jimmy Stewart who is possibly one of the best actors of all time.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952, Donen and Kelly)
I confess I have a soft spot for films about film. But this one is extra special because it presents cinema in a way that explains the transition into talkies in 103 minutes versus a semester of film history. The songs are good and you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Gene Kelly perform. There’s also something just so very special about Technicolor.
Rear Window (1954, Hitchcock)
I might be in a minority thinking this is superior to Vertigo. The film has a limited set compared to many other Hitchcock films, with all the action happening in a confined space. In this way we’re almost forced into the wheelchair of Jimmy Stewart as he watches his neighbors day by day until he witnesses something out of the ordinary, a murder committed in a neighboring window. The staging is great, the suspense palpable, a film that really puts you into the shoes of its protagonist.
Some like it Hot (1959, Wilder)
I’m sorry, I haven’t seen Sunset Boulevard which is why it hasn’t shown up here. But you want a classic director look no further than Billy Wilder. This is quite possibly the best comedy that has ever been made. It has three of the greatest stars who ever lived headlining it. Also it deals with subject matter that you have to stop and think was kind of risqué for the time, especially that closing line, “well, nobody’s perfect.”
Psycho (1960, Hitchcock)
I will say most Hitchcock films can be ranked incredibly high on my personal favorite list. There are just so many reasons this film deserves the love, first upon release it was completely snubbed by critics. Oh yeah and this was after Hitch gave up almost everything to get the film made. The studios thought the idea was too vulgar, a toilet shown on camera! Heaven forbid. So it was up to him to work with what he had to get it produced, to the point he almost lost his house. Did I mention this completely redefined the slasher genre? And it’s one of the few films that gives you a heroine to follow and then kills her off, forcing you to identify with Norman Bates… yeah creepy.
The Graduate (1967, Nichols –no relation)
A film that even today’s audience might be able to relate to. A disillusioned college graduate finds himself drifting through life. Maybe less relatable in the storyline about being seduced by an older woman but finds himself torn when he falls in love with her daughter. If you turn this into a metaphor of wanting to stick to what is older and more familiar with embarrassing new changes in life it might make a little more sense. Mrs. Robinson might be one of the more complex and sympathetic females (yes I said sympathetic) to ever grace the screen.
The Godfather Parts 1 and 2 (1972-1974, Coppola)
So fun fact, I’m half Italian and a distant cousin of mine was up against Al Pacino for the role of Michael Corleone; but that’s not why this film is special to me. First off, what an ensemble cast and everyone brings their A-game. Visually it’s candy for the eyes with brilliant choices in framing and lighting. But even if you’re not a cinephile there’s a great story to go with it that can captivate you for six hours and fifteen minutes (let’s face it, you’re going to watch both in one sitting). At its root part one is about a father who leads a life of crime and his sons, one of whom has evaded the streets, even becoming a war hero. Then slowly he’s pulled into the world of crime and the hero turns into a monster. The scene where Michael says “I’m with you now,” and Don Corleone (Marlon Brando) has a single tear fall, is all the audience needs to know that this is the beginning of the end. Some argue part two tops its predecessor because Coppola was given more artistic freedom, personally I don’t think you can have the second without the first but at the same time part two embellishes part one which is why both are works of perfection.
Tune in next week for more of Heather’s 10 Star Films as well as her 0 Star Films.