best movie

2022 in Review: Every Movie I Watched, Ranked

Over the last near-decade, this site has been a place for me to talk about movies as I watch “the canon,” whatever that means, and 2022 was the first time since I started doing this that we got a release of the Sight and Sound list of director and critic top films of the decade. I’ve seen most of the list and I’ll try to see the rest in 2023. We’ll go over the relevant ones here, probably.

Last year I said I’d write a lot more in 2022 and I didn’t. Let’s try again. What more can you do? The only post here in 2022 was my annual review of the Best Picture winner, which this year was Coda. I thought it was fine. It’s probably in the middle of the pack, which hits strangely because the majority of recent choices were so strong. This year, who knows? We’ll review it when it happens, in addition to probably some other Oscar stuff when we get closer to it.

I saw 48 movies for the first time this year (some are new, some are just new to me). I didn’t write about most of these, so this is as much as I have to say, for now. Some of these will make the Oscar nominations, so we’ll revisit some then, as well as some of them in the context of the Sight and Sound list. For now, some brief thoughts.

As is tradition, here they are, ranked:

1The Worst Person in the World

This movie lost the two Oscars it was nominated for to Drive My Car and Belfast and I think, for my money, it’s significantly better than both of them. I also think that’s not going to be most people’s experience and I don’t think it’s really fair, but it is what I feel. When I walked out of Lady Bird five years ago I felt the same way I did after The Worst Person in the World. This is a story that’s not about my experience and a character whose background doesn’t look all that much like my background, but there are human, undeniable elements that I’ve never seen told this way. I don’t know if everyone who sees it will love it or identify with it or admire it or anything else you need to do in order to rank a movie like this as the best film of the year, but there’s nothing on this list I loved more.
2Everything Everywhere All at Once

This will be most people’s top film of the year and I think it deserves it. I don’t have anything to add that you don’t already know. It’s great, but statistically, you already know that. Not all of the slapstick worked for me, but the structure and the tone really make that a minor complaint, and a personal one. What will be interesting is to see if it makes waves at the Oscars. I couldn’t tell you, but I’ll be curious to see if the hype can carry a strange film through our most resistant-to-strange critics. That said, a few years ago they gave Best Picture to a movie about a fish monster love story, so who knows?
3Decision to Leave

I saw this with three people who disliked it. I don’t think “divisive” is the right word, but more “alienating.” There’s not a lot happening in Decision to Leave and the motivations of the characters, specifically, can be frustrating. People don’t act like this in real life, but they also aren’t homicide detectives, usually, so their personal stakes are lower. I think what I love about Decision to Leave is it shows the people around the two central characters and how they frustrated, lost, left to their own conclusions, about two people who become fixated on what they see as how the world works. What’s on the screen in Decision to Leave might be too sparse to be a truly great film for everyone, but I took away something I really liked.
4Nightmare Alley

I struggle to explain why I liked Nightmare Alley so much. It lost all four Oscars it was nominated for, flopped at the box office, and seems to be mostly forgotten already, but I thought it was such a fantastic noir. Maybe I’m a sucker for the genre, but even once you see the ending coming, the knot it leaves in your stomach feels so well-earned. It’s too long, but it feels like that could be said about a lot of movies, and it’s not for everybody, but that definitely feels like it could be said for everything now. If you want something haunting with some strong performances, this is it.
5The Asphalt Jungle

Sterling Hayden is my favorite actor and John Huston is one of my favorite directors, but I’d somehow never seen the classic The Asphalt Jungle until this summer. It’s just a perfect film about a heist gone wrong. There are a half-dozen of these on the list of top films, depending on your list, but this is one of the best and it works just as well today.
6The Wonder

I would rank The Wonder in the top half of my list regardless, but it makes my top ten because of a device I don’t really want to spoil. It’s the story of a religious “wonder” who doesn’t need to eat because of faith and a community that wants to believe versus a world that wants to debunk. The story is worth your time, but it turns over in my head because of a structural choice that I want to leave undescribed. You can’t miss it. Why tell your story that way? And do you believe the simple answer, or is that something more?
7Drive My Car

Drive My Car starts with an incredible opening hour that, over time, becomes a satisfying, but less interesting, conclusion. I loved it, obviously, but I can’t immediately think of another movie with an arc like that. It’s worth seeing and I don’t mean to damn it with faint praise, but it’s really, really fascinating, it’s just slow.
8Do the Right Thing

This is too low on this list for a timeless masterpiece, but that’s why this isn’t an objective list. There are probably only one or two movies on this list that rival this for “importance” and if you see one thing here you haven’t seen, it ought to be this one. I don’t know why I’d never sat down to watch the whole thing and I’m glad I took a Tuesday night and just did it.
9The Thin Man

The origin of the Nick and Nora that give their names to the famous cocktail glasses, The Thin Man is a screwball detective story that’s still funny almost a century after release. I really encourage people to check this out, as it’s breezy and funny and silly and it will really surprise you.
10Sweet Smell of Success

This is one of those movies that’s on every list of essential films and I’d always thought I’d seen it, but I hadn’t. It’s a story about the press and celebrity, but it’s mostly a masterclass in dialogue. It’s snappy and funny but it doesn’t require the caveat a lot of pre-60s “snappy” films do in that you’ll follow it with today’s sensibilities. This is the quintessential version of the form for “biting” dialogue and Burt Lancaster gives an unforgettable performance.
11Blue Velvet

I love Twin Peaks more than I love David Lynch’s film work, so I drug my feet on watching Blue Velvet. I’m sorry I did, because I think it’s really something, as dumb as that is to say in 2022 about one of the best-loved “horror-adjacent” films of our time. Why are people like this, you’ll be forced to ask, but more than that, what could possibly happen next?
12The Power of the Dog

It’s a shame that most of the discussion of The Power of the Dog is wrapped up in a dumb culture war discussion, because I think there’s a more interesting discussion to be had about it. It’s another tortured, understandable, but frustrating protagonist who offers us a glimpse into darkness. There’s something to be learned from why we seek stories like that.
13The Northman

Speaking of the above, The Northman is a similar story with a shocking twist. The visuals and the brutality of The Northman will get all the play, but that twist is worth admission twice over. See it, if you can handle the blood, and see it cold.
14The French Dispatch

Your interest in and your patience for Wes Anderson will determine how much you like this. I think that’s overstated, usually, as most of them have a more universal appeal than the style suggests, but this one is definitely extreme. I liked it and I recommend it, but it will try your patience if you struggle with Anderson’s whole deal in the slightest.
15Putney Swope

I was inspired to watch Putney Swope by the comparisons to one of the final episodes of Atlanta that aired this year and to the excellent Sorry to Bother You. It’s obviously inspirational to both, but it’s also fascinating to watch it for what it was at the time. It’s breezy — honestly, a little exhausting to watch, it clips along so quickly — and it’s worth your time, especially if you don’t know what it is.

I don’t know why I hadn’t seen it yet. It’s cute! I know! Get off my back!

I liked Belfast, charming, wistful, brutal, hard, and all. I found I didn’t have anything else to say about it, immediately as it ended, but I think it nails what it aims to do, which is a huge accomplishment for any movie.
18Blade Runner 2049

I love Blade Runner, the original, but I have learned over time that it’s less important to me than it is to other people who like movies I like. I really, truly love it, but I don’t find myself coming back to it or obsessing over the universe. I think that leaves the door open for me to enjoy this sequel more than the average person. It’s flawed and I think someone hating it has room to do so, obviously, but I enjoyed it for what it is.
19La Jetée

La Jetée is twenty-eight minutes long. Go watch it. Don’t read a thing about it. I think this is realistically too low and in the future, this will only go higher on my list. I can’t stop thinking about it.
20The Bob’s Burgers Movie

Bob’s Burgers is the only non-serialized show that I still watch on regular television. I love the world and I thought this movie did a good job with it. There’s really not much more to say than that.
21Bullet Train

I struggle sometimes with movies like Bullet Train. I saw Logan Lucky a few years ago and genuinely felt like it might have been the best movie of the year. It’s obviously not, with shaggy elements that take away from the heist, but it made me feel the same way Bullet Train did. The parts that work end up working so well that it hides all the mess. I realize this isn’t a very good movie, really, but it’s an effective one, which is important for a genre flick.
22West Side Story

I don’t know that we needed a remake of West Side Story, but it’s a fine one.
23The Tragedy of Macbeth

I didn’t intend for this to be the middle point or so, but it feels right. There’s enough here that it’s an interesting version that feels classic and modern at the same time, but I can’t imagine ever watching this again or wanting anything else out of it.

There is much to be learned from Godard’s sci-fi-nightmare-world of Alphaville and it’s a classic piece of the genre’s history, but at times it feels more like a piece of history than a film to watch today. I suggest everyone see it, but it falls into a category with films like Playtime to me, where the lessons of the originals have been somewhat usurped by the generations that came after it if you see them first.
25A Woman Under the Influence

Fans almost always list A Woman Under the Influence as the best Cassavetes film, but I don’t think so. I think it shows the worst of the director (overlong scenes that accomplish the same thing again and again, improvised-or-hopefully-improvised inane small talk) as well as the best (two central performances that drive the whole thing, strange-but-memorable side characters). Peter Falk and Gena Rowlands are excellent, but this is so, so long, and critics at the time thought it was a lot. Over time the tone on Cassavetes has settled on “genius” and I do think his films are worth a watch, you will feel the weight of the cruft that people tend to explain away.
26The Rules of the Game

This is frequently listed as one of the best, if not the best, movies of all time. That urges one to put a movie very high on a personal list, but at the risk of sounding dim, I found it a little slow for a modern audience. You have to step outside of your current world and you have to view a movie like this for what it was when it came out, but realistically it’s a much more interesting movie to study and to learn from than it is to watch.

This is the only one I wrote about at length this year, which you can read above. As I’ve said before, and with some distance now, it’s a fine film. It still feels “safe” to me, which is not really a fair criticism, and you could do significantly worse.
28See How They Run

A forgettable, but funny, little mystery we watched on a whim one weeknight. It’s fun, but you don’t need to see it.

Ali came out the same year as Training Day, so Will Smith was never going to win his Oscar for this one, but it’s also interesting to see the choices made around Smith’s performance. Roger Ebert said this film lacks what made the real Ali so fascinating and maybe that’s true. Ultimately I think there’s too little of the best parts of Smith’s performance here, but it’s not a bad biopic.
30Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

I’ve always wanted to see this one because the premise is so weird. At the end of the day, too many people have to say “Ghost Dog” with sincerity for it to not feel a little silly and most of the supporting performances are distractingly bad. There’s an incredible character and performance at the center, however.
31Hour of the Wolf

A lot of the reviews of Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf sum up how I feel about it: difficult, stark, and a regression. It’s very scary and very weird, but I don’t think it accomplishes in me what it sets out to, which may be a personal problem, but doesn’t seem to be based on the response.
32Parallel Mothers

I can’t really justify putting this as low as I have. It’s a fine film. I need to see more Almodóvar films.
33Licorice Pizza

I don’t think Licorice Pizza ever accomplishes getting you to forget the premise and it needs to in order to feel charming. I liked parts of it but it just feels very weird all the way through.

I know it’s a classic and it’s a sin to put this below many of the movies above it, but you don’t get points for influence on this list. It’s a fine watch in 2022.
35Night on Earth

The thing about a movie that’s made up of vignettes is you have to like all of them. The Helsinki segment of Night on Earth was one of my favorite things I saw this year and the Rome one was one of my least favorite. The average here isn’t as high as the high points, which leaves the film feeling uneven to me.

I liked a lot about this one, especially Andrew Garfield’s performance, but I found a lot of this really exhausting to watch.
37The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Most people seem to be on the same page about The Eyes of Tammy Faye, and I agree that the central performance is interesting and the movie is not.
38Being the Ricardos

Some of the absolute worst Aaron Sorkin moments you’ll ever see are in Being the Ricardos, including a number of scenes where characters talk to each other in ways people do not talk to each other, again. I think I have a higher tolerance for this than most people but even I was just overwhelmed by this one. I think the performances are fine, and J.K. Simmons is incredible, even for him, but it’s just not enough to make this one worth overcoming the frustrating script.
39King Richard

It is not worth going into again, but the choice to tell this larger story about this character was always going to be a hard hurdle to clear, and I don’t think this movie clears it.

There’s a scene in the middle of Spencer where two characters explain themselves to each other and I found it exhausting and on-the-nose. I love the visuals and the weird, Rebecca-esque haunted nature of Spencer, but I don’t think it makes good use of screen time.
41The Dead

John Huston’s last movie views largely as a filmed play about a holiday dinner party on a snowy night. The shocking reveal and final moments are the emotional core of the story and I have to say they don’t hit me as hard as they seem to hit other viewers. I think there’s a lot of little set pieces here I liked, but I walked away a little unsatisfied.

I have watched almost all of Cassavetes’ films for this website at this point and I think Faces is the true test of if you like his work or not. I loved a few scenes but struggled during moments like a lengthy song where Seymour Cassel sings various lines about meat. A lot of Faces reminded me of Husbands, which also feels indulgent and long, but I’d compare this more directly to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? There’s a key difference, but they’re both stories about strife in the home and where it leads on a single night.
43Sans Soleil

Sans Soleil is frequently cited as one of the best films of all time. I found it tremendously boring and repetitive and I cannot come up with something nice to say. I’ll have to see it again, given the legacy, but I bounced off this almost entirely.
44The Matrix: Resurrection

A bold choice up top that never really pays off. If the point is that making more Matrix movies for an audience that wants a very specific Matrix movie is a fool’s errand, what’s the possible justification for the second half? Even if it’s a joke within a joke, which I choose to think it is, watching that joke is not worth your time.

Cassavetes’ first film is only for the truly devoted. There’s an interesting story about race, but it’s a tough watch compared to his later works.
46Don’t Look Up

A lot of people really hated Don’t Look Up. It feels like a continuation of Vice to me, where there’s a political message that is muddied by some intense “choices” and some sanctimony that makes it hard to take the thing seriously as a work of art.
47The Lost Daughter

I struggle to explain why I rank this so low. I found it so joyless, so odious, so negative, but I also understand those aren’t really criticisms of the movie. It’s a bit like saying you don’t like all the war in Saving Private Ryan. I think it requires a second watch at some point because I feel like I’m grasping at straws somewhat, but I just was so defeated by my first viewing that I cannot recommend anyone spend time with this.
48Revolutionary Girl Utena: Adolescence of Utena

I’m mostly a lapsed anime fan from my teenage years. There are a few “foundational” shows from my youth that I always meant to make time for and this year that was Utena, a groundbreaking work and a beautiful, complex story about growing up and sexuality. The movie is a bizarre disaster, nearly unwatchable and unfollowable. The show is a sprawling story with a million things to unpack and explore, but the movie is just so supremely strange and divorced from what makes the show worth your time that I have to put it dead last. There are people who feel it’s essential, but it left a sour taste with me after a show I really got a lot out of.

2021 in Review: Every Movie I Watched, Ranked

Welcome to my review of 2021, where I have ranked all 53 movies I watched for the first time this year. This excludes about two dozen movies I rewatched, which feels like cheating, in some way. The Third Man is still my favorite movie of all time and I watched Kiki’s Delivery Service twice this year. Both are great, but I’ve seen them lots of times. This is about movies, new and old, that I experienced for the very first time in 2021.

For those I wrote about as part of my series where I look for the Best Movie of All Time or, in the case of Nomadland, as part of my series about comparing every single Best Picture Oscar winner to Crash, I have linked to the corresponding post. For all of them I have provided some reasoning for their placement.

1Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time

The conclusion to Neon Genesis Evangelion has been in production for so long that it felt like the end would never actually happen. The fact that the critical and fan response was almost universally positive to the final piece of a revered cornerstone of a strange subculture is a marvel in itself, especially when you consider how often the reverse happens. It’s become expected that the ending to anything will disappoint, to the degree that even if this was just okay, that might be enough.

It’s far better than okay, though I couldn’t recommend it to anyone that doesn’t already know what I’m talking about. If you’ve ever been even mildly curious as to what Evangelion is, this final part of a four-part film remake of the original show is absolutely worth your time. If not, this is too weird for me to suggest you start here. That said, I could not have dared to believe the ending would deliver the way this one does. I’ve come back to it four times this year and I find something new every time. When placed against “normal” cinema, it’s hard to say what to make of this, but as a singular thing it is almost remarkable beyond description.

Still sticks with me. One of the greatest movies ever made. I also can’t imagine enduring it again right now, for what that’s worth. Whew.

This one’s grown on me. I loved it, obviously, but I like it even more when I think about it offhandedly. I really recommend this one but I also get that it may not be for everyone.
4In the Mood for Love

The sequel is much, much lower on this list.

One of the only new movies I saw this year, somehow. Excellent, though it really will depend ultimately on how part two works out.
6Weathering With You

I need to watch this again. It’s forever tied to Your Name, one of the single most successful animated movies of all time, and I think that comparison puts it in weird space. I watched Your Name again this year and it’s certainly a better movie, and an all-time film, but I love the charm of this one.

Still agree this was the right call for Best Picture and it’s rare that the feeling persists through the year.
8Starship Troopers

Almost hard to watch this during the Trump years and what’s come after, but worth the experience. Do you want to know more?
9Mystery Train

I want to watch more Jim Jarmusch films in 2022. What’s your favorite?
10Another Round

It’s rare that you just know you’ll never watch a movie again and still love it. The experience of this one is too trying to revisit it, but one time through I think it’s really worth anyone’s time.
11Le Samourai

I recommended this one to a few people and I watched it twice this year, which is not common for me. Maybe the most approachable movie on this list, which feels weird to say but may be true.
12The Father

Will forever be remembered for the dumb Oscars ceremony this year, but should be remembered for a haunting performance by Anthony Hopkins.
13Solaris (1972)

I prefer Stalker, by the same director with similar themes, but the ending here will knock you out.
14Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets

I never hear anyone talking about this one, but the experience of being in a weird bar with weird people, especially as we spend time at home and lose this sort of strange experience, feels very novel now.
15Dick Johnson is Dead

I don’t agree with some of the approach of this movie but I love what they made. You don’t have to 100% love everything about a movie to respect it and to marvel at it.
16Sound of Metal

I read Drew Magary’s book about having a traumatic brain injury this month and it made me appreciate this movie even more. Highly recommend both.
17No Sudden Move

I watched this again on a whim. Loved it even more the second time. There’s not really all that much to it, it’s just a great watch. Matt Damon’s performance here deserves more love, too.
18Uncut Gems

I could never watch this again, but what an experience to do once.
19Johnny Guitar

I do love Sterling Hayden, but this is already fading from my memory. That first 30 minutes is great, though.
20First Cow

Feels even more slight now than it did when I finished it. The perfect example of a fine film but not one that’s going to set anyone on fire. I think that’s fine, though, right?
21Opening Night

I watched several interviews about the ending to this one. I really recommend it just to see where it goes.

I’m really glad Youn Yuh-jung won the Oscar for this one. It would have been a tough year for it to win anything beyond that, but that’s still something.
23Bande à part

I don’t even know if I recommend this one, but this feels like the right spot on the list. This isn’t the actual middle, but there’s a big difference above and below this line.
24Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

I stand by my review of this as a film. There’s much more going on here than in the first one. It feels crazy to say that, but I really believe it.
25Promising Young Woman

I don’t think I nailed this review. This is a daring movie about a daring subject and it’s really fantastic. I think as a man in America, this one’s important not just to see, but to consider deeply. The surface is obvious, but there’s even more than that.
26Vivre sa Vie

I love the parts I love, and this one’s a classic, but the chunk towards the end is emblematic of how people feel when you say “well, it’s a French classic, and…”
27Judas and the Black Messiah

This is a great example of asking you to go deeper on what you think you know about a real story. The performances are great, but I especially love LaKeith Stanfield. I think this is his best role other than Sorry to Bother You, which is a masterpiece.

I’d never seen it and watched it on a whim. Even better than I expected. Tilda Swinton is something else.
29The Death of Stalin

I loved it, but not as much as In the Loop. I think In the Loop is one of the five best comedies ever made. This one’s much darker and almost as funny, but I couldn’t help comparing the two.
30The Seventh Seal

A classic for a reason. Better than you’d expect, especially if you’re worried it’ll feel detached and snooty.

Another one I’d somehow never seen all the way through. I watched this because of how much I loved Starship Troopers. This feels equally relevant now, which is not a new take on my part, but it isn’t quite as interesting to me personally.
32Once Upon a Time in the West

A classic western with some classic performances, but it drags a lot and it’s hard to not view the problems with it through a modern lens. This is too low objectively, but it’s the right spot for me personally.
33Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

This is probably controversial and it’s not intended as a slight, I just had my expectations set wrong for this one. It’s a pretty perfect piece of filmmaking and it deserves the reputation it has. Some element of every person’s rankings is personal preference and I’d still say everyone, regardless of who they are, should see this.
34After Hours

Uncut Gems for another generation. Exhausting, but intentionally. Makes me tired just to think of it.

I do not like Blowup as much as other people. I’m fine with that.

I think the first segment of PlayTime is a true marvel. It’s pretty shaggy, though, and it makes the same point over and over. I get why it’s a masterpiece, but watching it now the enjoyment graph goes in the wrong direction: I loved it, then I thought it was fine, then I liked it.
37Licorice Pizza

The newest film on this list. I think there’s a lot to like here, but I never really got over the central conceit. It’s going to be interesting to rewatch this and to see what people think when it goes into wider release.
38Across the Pacific

A racist movie from a racist period. Some pretty good Bogart stuff. You can probably skip it.
39The Trial of the Chicago 7

Sorkin at his most Sorkin.
40Minnie and Moskowitz

Someday I picture myself being cornered in a conversation by someone explaining to me why the love story in this one is actually magical. I’d welcome that conversation, sorta, because I love little pieces of this one but I really just do not like the love story. I get it that problem is part of what you’re supposed to want, but no thanks.

I said all I’ve got to say in my review, but the core is that this is not the story of Citizen Kane, even if it’s pretty interesting to watch one man fall apart.
42Bringing Up Baby

One of the 100 greatest movies ever made on almost every list, but just doesn’t hit me right. I need to see it again and will, eventually.
43Wonder Woman 1984

I also watched the first one again this year and loved it, again. I just don’t think the sequel works, largely for the reasons everyone else does.

The sci-fi pieces of this one are unwatchable, both boring and off-putting. I really, really love the other segments, but the thing doesn’t stich together for me.
45 Un chien andalou

I don’t even know where to put this. It’s central to film history but it’s also exactly what it is. It feels like a cheat to put it anywhere. It’s either the best or worst movie ever, I guess, though I do think you should watch it if you haven’t.
46The United States vs. Billie Holiday

The central performance is excellent, but that’s it. The story is a mess and it’s not very interesting to watch. The reviews were negative. It’s just not a very good movie, as simple as that.
47I’m Thinking of Ending Things

I am more interested in this movie than almost anything down here at the bottom of the list. Jesse Plemons was on WTF with Marc Maron recently and admitted that the whole cast had to ask, during filming, what the movie was about. All of them, not just a few, had no idea what the purpose of what they were making was or what to make of the ideas. I really do not like the final product, but how interesting is that? There’s a lot in here that is worth getting out of it, which is why it’s usually better to make a weird failure than it is to make a boring success, but I really just get a sour taste in my mouth when I think about it.

This is going to win a million more awards this year and maybe it should. It’s not terrible, but I really feel like there is an Emperor’s New Clothes element to this. It is possible to not like something strange for reasons beyond not getting it.
49The Nowhere Inn

I love everyone involved here, but this would work better as a short than it does as a movie.
50Solaris (2002)

The remake robs the original of everything that makes it worth seeing. Not even worth watching this, even if you love or hate the original.
51Last Year at Marienbad

The ultimate Emperor’s New Clothes movie, to borrow the line from above. Some reviewers seem to think anyone who loves this is kidding and I can see that. It’s possible to read even the positive reviews as negative, given the way they have to talk about the sparseness and ambiguity. It’s an interesting movie, but I hated it.
52RahXephon: Pluralitas Concentio

I watched all of the anime RahXephon this year because people compare it to other things I like. It is terrible and the movie connected to it is even worse. It is barely possible to parse this as a story. I would not recommend this to anyone, for any reason.
53Hillbilly Elegy

The worst movie I saw this year and worse than anything I can remember in recent years. A strong contender for the worst film I’ve ever seen. A dark, terrible message delivered poorly. It is a negative force in the world that this exists, which makes it worse than movies that are constructed more poorly. Meandering, internally conflicting, and intentionally dishonest, with a brutal, cruel ending. I would recommend you watch any other movie, no matter what, twice, instead of this once.

In 2022 we’ll be doing some different stuff around here, likely some larger discussions of film with fewer Best Movie reviews. We’ll watch the Oscar nominees when they come around, as we always do. We may try some new stuff, too.

Hope to see you in the new year!

Is Touch of Evil the Best Movie of All Time?

This is Best Movie of All Time, an eternal search for the greatest film ever. Read the full archives here.

If there is a through line for this project, it is that I was surprised how many movies on the Sight & Sound list of the greatest movies ever made I had not seen. There are a few that I’d never heard of, but mostly I thought it was as good as any other list to serve as a checklist for movies to watch. I’ve come to find that most people seem to agree, though it is interesting the deeper you go into people’s opinions on opinions. The snakes eats the tail quickly, with discussions of merit for some of the more out there stuff and the rankings within it.

One of my favorite movies of all time is The Third Man, which comes in at #73 on the most recent version of that list. Persona, our current best movie of all time holder for the list we’re building, is tied with Seven Samurai at #17. It’s the nature of lists like this that you have to question some of it. Are there really 80+ movies better than Casablanca? I love Stanley Kubrick as much as the next person, but is 2001: A Space Odyssey one of the ten best movies ever? If you get lost in the minutia and the specifics you lose the beauty of these exercises. The point is, similar to the Oscars but with much more care, to offer an attempt at a list of things worth your time.

When I saw Touch of Evil on this list (#57) I was surprised. I like Touch of Evil, but it’s a little messy, even for an Orson Welles movie and even for the genre, and to see it ahead of Sunset Blvd. is hard to defend. I’m a pretty fervent defender of Welles the actor even beyond Welles the director, but I knew I had to revisit it to see if I still felt like that ranking was wrong.

Touch of Evil is the first movie I’ve seen in a movie theater in just under a year and a half. I’m fortunate to live near the Music Box Theatre in Chicago, where I was able to revisit this 1958 noir with a bunch of other folks who wanted to experience a very strange story about morality in policing. There’s a lot to unpack in how Touch of Evil reads in 2021. Primarily, Welles’ police captain Hank Quinlan was an undeniable villain at the time but now really challenges the viewer with the idea of “one bad apple” as a criminal in the police force. The structure around him backs him at every turn and his subordinates who are clearly less evil still support him, even when they can tell they shouldn’t. This was probably something contemporary viewers would pick up on, but it screams much louder in today’s world.

Welles played the villain as often as he did the hero. That distinction can get complicated at times, but Welles wasn’t necessarily interested in complex characters in that way. Hank Quinlan is huge, physically and metaphorically, and the only complexity we get for him is that he used to drink and that his wife passed away. There is a world where these elements, plus the decades on the job in a border town trying to keep a tentative peace, make us feel for Quinlan and at least understand how he got in this state, if not outright agree with his methods. Another director might lead the audience down that path, but it’s enough for Welles to just tilt at it. Quinlan “runs this town” as so many crooked cops do, but he doesn’t do it to further his own success or to grab power. He does it out of a compulsion and a misguided idea that putting away “bad guys” is the right move, even if they didn’t do this specific thing or you can’t pin it on them successfully.

You can’t feel bad for Quinlan, which gives Welles the space to mumble menacingly and to really command the screen even from a position of supposed weakness. Quinlan uses a cane and is drastically overweight, which serves to contrast him with Charlton Heston’s Miguel Vargas. This detail is hard to get past and I don’t want to handwave it away by saying this was 1958, but casting Charlton Heston as a Mexican cop is truly strange. Welles was originally just supposed to play Quinlan, but Heston suggested he direct as well. This led to him rewriting the script to change the hero into a Mexican character, but this all happened after Heston had signed on. I can’t find much about the choice to not recast the role, but this is just the reality of Hollywood at the time. There’s a true critique to lay on Touch of Evil that the only unquestionable hero of the film is a white guy playing a Mexican character. I think the reason this doesn’t get discussed more in the legacy of the film is that the only reason it exists at all is that Welles wanted to make a statement about the difficulty of relations between America and Mexico. It’s reaching to call this progressive, but it’s interesting. Heston’s legacy is also so muddled with how he spent the last decades of his life elevating monstrous beliefs and positions that unpacking this choice and how he must have felt about it would take us more time than we have here.

I love Welles’ performance here, but I ultimately don’t think some elements of Touch of Evil hold up as well under multiple viewings. Janet Leigh plays Susan Vargas, the new bride to Heston’s Vargas, and doesn’t really get anything to do except scream and fret. She plays the role well, especially shining in a conversation where she gets cornered by the remaining members of the crime family that her husband is prosecuting. Marlene Dietrich has the more interesting female role as Tanya, the fortune teller who knew Quinlan before much of what would lead to the sad state he’s in by the events of Touch of Evil. There’s a lot said by what’s not said in the scenes Dietrich and Welles share.

I still like Touch of Evil, but it is undeniably messy. The climactic scene where Vargas tries to get Quinlan to admit to planting evidence is thrilling but the twists and turns are a little harder to endure than other contemporary noir. Welles is the standout performer here, but much of what you’ll read about Touch of Evil focuses on his filmmaking. The film opens with a famous “tracking shot” that’s an extended zoom out of the opening car bomb that sets the plot in motion. The pacing suffers for modern viewings, but you will still find a lot to marvel at in how it’s all shot. It’s a marvel in many ways but also a product of when it was made. Where it goes beyond the time is why it is on so many lists of tremendous achievements, but you need to set your expectations correctly and your ability to love it completely with depend on your feelings about Welles and Heston, to some degree.

Is it better than the last movie we looked at? I do think it’s better than The Seventh Seal, which is probably blasphemy. Heston as a Mexican character is pretty ridiculous, especially knowing what you know about Heston as a political figure, but I really am amazed with Welles’ choices and his personal performance. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone hated this one and I think there’s enough in here to turn off a lot of people, but I think it’s one of the better Welles productions. And that’s saying something.

Is it the best movie of all time? No, I will keep Persona in this spot this week. If you like Orson Welles or noir at all, you should check this out. I feel like I’m waffling a little bit on this one even though I really enjoyed it and I think it’s worth your time. There are people out there who can’t stand Orson Welles as a performer, especially when he goes for it to this degree, but I’m on the record as a huge fan. The choice to have him talk over anyone he deems unnecessary and to bluster around but also act performatively confused when it suits him all constructs such a fully realized character. To do that for the villain that you’ll hate and grow to hate even more is what sets Welles apart.

You can watch Touch of Evil on Amazon Prime ($3.99) or YouTube ($3.99). You can recommend a movie to me for this series through email at readingatrecess @ or on Twitter @alexbad and I will watch it, no matter what. Try to pick something good.

Worst Best Picture: Is Midnight Cowboy Better or Worse Than Crash?


Alex Russell

In “Worst Best Picture” we search every single Best Picture Oscar winner of all time from 1927 to present to uncover the worst of them all. Conventional wisdom says that 2005’s winner Crash is the worst winner in history. We won’t stop until we’ve tested every last one. Read the the first, our review of Crash, here. Posts will be relatively spoiler free, but there may be some details revealed. Today’s installment is the 1969 winner Midnight Cowboy. Is it better than Crash?

Midnight Cowboy has the distinction of being the only movie rated X to ever win the Oscar for Best Picture. The story of the rating system in American film history is a little absurd. I talked about that a little bit with regards to Terms of Endearment, a really brutal movie with frequent sex scenes and more frequent “adult situations,” getting a PG rating in the early 80s. Still, “X” jumps right off the page. It makes you wonder just how raw Midnight Cowboy could be.

We’re definitely in a different world in 2014. This isn’t an “X” movie, but damn it’s a tough one. Midnight Cowboy is the tale of Joe Buck’s (Jon Voight) plan to leave Texas and be a male prostitute in New York City. He’s a hayseed of the highest order, but his character really shines because he has the depressing trait of “assumed street smarts.” Joe thinks he’s figured out all the angles in every situation, and that’s the worst thing to think when you haven’t at all.

He hooks up with Rico “Ratso” Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman, who is excellent), a conman who lives in a condemned building. Joe tries to convince people to have sex with him for money and Ratso tries to convince Joe that he’s more than he seems. Joe is immediately unsuccessful and “moves in” to Ratso’s hole-in-the-wall.

It’s a story about hope and image. Both men think they have the tools to make it in the world, they just need the shot. Ratso needs a guy like Joe that he can “manage” and Joe just needs “customers.” Ratso won’t stoop to shining shoes like his old man and Joe won’t go back to washing dishes like he did in Texas. They want more for themselves, reality be damned.

We all want a little more for ourselves, and you’ll be missing the forest if you pay too much attention to the sex in Midnight Cowboy. It’s certainly a movie about sex, but the sex doesn’t matter. The main thing going on in Midnight Cowboy happens when two people shiver and get sick in an old tenement house because they can’t swallow their pride. The main thing is that we all know that guy who could get it together “if he could just make it to Florida.”

You don’t need to go to Florida. You need something else.

The Best Part: The sadness of the lead characters is extremely hard to handle. In one scene during the “hopeful” part of the movie, Jon Voight’s character has to ask a woman for crackers that he can put ketchup on to not starve to death. It takes a dip towards the depressing after that, but it’s still on the upswing, then! I list this in the “best” because the movie isn’t a direct arc, which is interesting. It’s a risky way to tell a story, but it’s like an actual life with highs and lows rather than one constant line up or down.

The Worst Part: As much as I want to make this about a downright stupid Andy Warhol storyline (sigh), it has to be the entire handling of homosexuality. This movie is from 1969, and that’s a definitive year in gay history in America. Midnight Cowboy came out a month before Stonewall, and it’s a movie about a guy from Texas being scared of being gay. It’s tough to discuss without spoiling it, but Joe frequently finds that he can make a living in NYC as a prostitute, but he’ll have to sleep with men. He’s not willing to – which is not the problem – but the anger and the weirdness of the way they deal with it in the most explosive year in gay history in America is very strange. I can’t fully condemn a movie from more than four decades ago for not handling gay issues head-on. I can be weirded out by hearing Dustin Hoffman say a gay slur about twelve times in a row.

Is It Better or Worse than Crash? We’re across the country in Midnight Cowboy, but we’ve got the same kind of “gritty city” story. The NYC of Midnight Cowboy is a sad, angry, lonely place. It’s not dissimilar to the LA that Crash wants to talk about, but this is 1969 New York City. It’s the city before they took all the porn out of Times Square. It’s the bad old days, the days talked about in really good and really bad literature. It’s a piece locked in a time that doesn’t exist anymore, and the grit is there to explain what “1969” is to the audience. Crash, as I’ve said before, exists in a mythical 2005. Racism is extremely real, but as the story of anywhere real in 2005, Crash is a bad destination movie.

Worst Best Picture Archives: Crash | Terms of Endearment | Forrest Gump | All About Eve | The Apartment | No Country for Old Men | Gentleman’s Agreement |12 Years a SlaveThe Last Emperor | The Silence of the Lambs | The Artist | A Man for All Seasons | Platoon | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King | The King’s Speech | Rain Man | The Departed | The Bridge on the River Kwai | Marty | Gigi | It Happened One Night | Driving Miss Daisy | Shakespeare in Love | Wings

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at or on Twitter at @alexbad.

Worst Best Picture: Is Wings Better or Worse Than Crash?


Alex Russell

In “Worst Best Picture” we search every single Best Picture Oscar winner of all time from 1927 to present to uncover the worst of them all. Conventional wisdom says that 2005’s winner Crash is the worst winner in history. We won’t stop until we’ve tested every last one. Read the the first, our review of Crash, here. Posts will be relatively spoiler free, but there may be some details revealed. Today’s installment is the 1927 and 1928 winner Wings. Is it better than Crash?

The story of movie history isn’t the story of how we got to 12 Years a Slave any more than it is how we started with Wings, the first Best Picture winner. Different movies achieve immortality for different reasons. Wings was the first Oscar winner, back before they even called them that, but is it anything more than that?

It’s surreal to watch Wings in 2014. I try to keep the time period a movie is from in my mind when I watch it, but that’s not the challenge here. Rain Man is a fantastic movie that someone spilled 80s all over; Wings is pure 1927. It’s the only true silent movie to win (The Artist doesn’t count and should be ignored), for starters. A two-and-a-half hour silent movie seems like it would be a tough sell in 2014, but it’s worth exploring the first Best Picture.

Wings is the story of two boys who love the same gal, Sylvia. They both want to date her, but she only likes one back. The other guy’s cute friend is into him, but he’s only got eyes for Sylvia. I had to look up Sylvia’s name because she’s in about sixteen seconds of this movie. The boys go off to World War I, plucky female friend goes off to drive an ambulance in the war, and Sylvia presumably dies of Spanish flu, or something. Everyone kinda forgets her. It’s weird. The movie is unbelievably long, but that’s the end of that plotline, let’s go to war.

If Wings has a claim to fame beyond the first Best Picture Oscar, it’s two million dollars worth of plane combat effects. They’re impressive (to a degree, don’t expect much) considering what they had to work with in 1927. The conventions of silent film mean that you’re going to watch a lot of flying time, so at least it’s well done.

The main characters — Jack and David — are completely nondescript. They both love America, flying, this possibly dead woman, and just about nothing else. Wings is a patriotic movie before it is anything else, and it too often is willing to forego any interesting characterization to sell that patriotism. Of particular interest is a German-American character played to be incompetent and useless. He consistently mucks up simple tasks and has to demonstrate that he belongs in the war because he has an American flag tattoo. The creators of Wings knew that people wouldn’t buy him any other way.  The third or fourth time that happens, though, you start to wonder if this might have even been too long for people in 1927.

Clara Bow got top billing on Wings. She was a movie star of the highest order, and her portrayal of the rough-and-tumble “best friend/love interest” for Jack is as close as the movie gets to “interesting characterization.” It never quite gets all the way there, but she at least gets to drive an ambulance around and tell Jack that he’s brave and strong. Hoo-boy, that sentence really tells you where 1927 was at, doesn’t it?

The Best Part: Wings is not especially worth your time in 2014, but if you decide to watch it you’ll end up with a compelling movie. It’s way, way too long (largely because it feels totally unedited) but it eventually turns out an interesting climax that is somewhat surprising.

The Worst Part: Jack and David get some leave from the military and go to Paris to get drunk on champagne. They’re called back to provide needed air support, but Jack is too drunk to remember what the military is. Internet tells me that Charles “Buddy” Rogers, the guy that plays Jack, had never been drunk before the scene. To create a realistic portrayal, they just got him drunk in real life. It comes through like that, and it’s as hard to watch as any real-life drunk. Clara Bow eventually shows up to try to get him to go back to war, which helps, but the scene ends with Jack seeing “bubbles” everywhere. The mixture of a real drunk person on screen and some terrible bubble special effects creates a really, really bad scene.

Is It Better or Worse than CrashThe discussion of race in Wings is one of “real” Americans. The German-American is hated because he is not “authentic.” The women are hated because they are not men. Men are hated because they are not “real soldiers.” The world of Wings has no room for diversity, and it’s roughly as interested in a positive message about diversity as Crash is. But there’s 78 years between Crash and Wings, and honestly, I felt like Wings was a little more progressive. The only message of Wings is “be a man, fly a plane!” Crash would be improved by being just about that.

Worst Best Picture Archives: Crash | Terms of Endearment | Forrest Gump | All About Eve | The Apartment | No Country for Old Men | Gentleman’s Agreement |12 Years a SlaveThe Last Emperor | The Silence of the Lambs | The Artist | A Man for All Seasons | Platoon | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King | The King’s Speech | Rain Man | The Departed | The Bridge on the River Kwai | Marty | Gigi | It Happened One Night | Driving Miss Daisy | Shakespeare in Love

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at or on Twitter at @alexbad.

Worst Best Picture: Is Shakespeare in Love Better or Worse Than Crash?


Alex Russell

In “Worst Best Picture” we search every single Best Picture Oscar winner of all time from 1927 to present to uncover the worst of them all. Conventional wisdom says that 2005’s winner Crash is the worst winner in history. We won’t stop until we’ve tested every last one. Read the the first, our review of Crash, here. Posts will be relatively spoiler free, but there may be some details revealed. Today’s installment is the 1998 winner Shakespeare in Love. Is it better than Crash?

While most Western storytelling owes an indirect debt to Shakespeare, there are two Best Picture winners that are directly Shakespearean: 1948’s Hamlet and 1998’s Shakespeare in LoveHamlet will have to wait.

The whole point of watching all 86 Best Picture winners is to gain an appreciation for nearly a century of film history. I wanted to see where film had come from and to watch that transformation through the films that the Academy had deemed “the best” every year. It’s not a perfect science for a number of reasons — taste chief among them — but it’s as good as guide as any.

hated Crash when I saw it. I hated it so much that I thought that it couldn’t possibly be as bad as I remembered it and I bought it to watch it again. It was worse — much, much worse — and thus this began. This is the 25% mark. We’re 23 down, 63 to go. Shakespeare in Love, a movie often called romantic but forgettable, seems as good as any for a benchmark.

Shakespeare in Love is the story of young Shakespeare trying to write what would eventually become Romeo and Juliet. He struggles, he falls in love with a woman who is promised to a man she does not love, and he finds his muse through a secret love affair. It’s a fine movie, the same way that waffles without butter and syrup are still fine.

There is absolutely nothing in Shakespeare and Love that is challenging or interesting. It’s just a series of events, well told and well acted, but not one that really engages. I didn’t get into The Artist, but I saw how someone could. I’m not entirely sure how someone could be swept away by Shakespeare in Love. It’s a film without challenges.

I’m loathe to invoke the odious “chick flick” as a term, and I won’t, but this movie feels like it’s just attempting “heart.” It feels like someone telling you to feel “warm” rather than making you feel warm. I was a sucker for the warmth of It Happened One Night, so I’ve got red blood in my veins. You don’t have to have Clark Gable to make me care about a love story, but man, this one just feels hollow. It certainly isn’t bad, but then again, it isn’t much of anything.

The Best Part: The acting is all over the map in this one, but Judi Dench is phenomenal as Elizabeth I. She gets in most of the movie’s best lines, which is good, because it would be a shame to waste her. I also like Gwyneth Paltrow’s portrayal of the female lead, and I haven’t really liked her in anything other than The Royal Tenenbaums.

The Worst Part: A movie about Shakespeare is obviously going to have to use some Shakespearean plot devices, but the scene where a man must portray a female servant to gain knowledge of someone’s plans is as subtle as an aircraft carrier. Gender swapping is a crucial part of the movie, and that’s fine, but still… eh. The whole movie just seems to have this lack of effort surrounding it, but I may be heavily influenced by the weirdness of Ben Affleck in the whole deal.

Is It Better or Worse than CrashForgettable is better than horrible. I cannot imagine what would cause Shakespeare in Love to be someone’s favorite movie, but I would want to know. If Crash is anyone’s favorite movie, that’s an entirely different story. That needs to inspire some kind of quarantine area situation.

Worst Best Picture Archives: Crash | Terms of Endearment | Forrest Gump | All About Eve | The Apartment | No Country for Old Men | Gentleman’s Agreement |12 Years a SlaveThe Last Emperor | The Silence of the Lambs | The Artist | A Man for All Seasons | Platoon | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King | The King’s Speech | Rain Man | The Departed | The Bridge on the River Kwai | Marty | Gigi | It Happened One Night | Driving Miss Daisy |

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at or on Twitter at @alexbad.

Worst Best Picture: Is Driving Miss Daisy Better or Worse Than Crash?


Alex Russell

In “Worst Best Picture” we search every single Best Picture Oscar winner of all time from 1927 to present to uncover the worst of them all. Conventional wisdom says that 2005’s winner Crash is the worst winner in history. We won’t stop until we’ve tested every last one. Read the the first, our review of Crash, here. Posts will be relatively spoiler free, but there may be some details revealed. Today’s installment is the 1989 winner Driving Miss Daisy. Is it better than Crash?

I was a history major in college. In every good discussion of race through American history, someone always mentioned that context was king. It’s easy to say “times were different and people were worse,” but you have to be able to put yourselves in some historical shoes to really get it. It’s not just about America’s troubling past, it’s about why people believe what they believe and act like they act.

A movie like Driving Miss Daisy does a lot of “what” without a lot of “why.” It’s a story you probably know to some degree: Morgan Freeman drives an old white lady around. That’s basically it. The old white lady (Jessica Tandy) in question is also Jewish, which I wasn’t aware of going in, but most of the “otherness” of the movie is all in white vs. black.

I gave it away in the intro, but if you had to guess what year a movie about an older black man driving an older white woman around as they learn about cultural differences and how to overcome them came out, would you have said 1989? The year the Berlin Wall reopened? That’s the craziest part, to me. The movie spans a few decades around the 50s and 60s, which helps to complicate the “should I feel this gross watching this?” element of it all.

It’s not a racist movie. The duo talks about MLK. They experience racial violence and are disgusted. They get stopped by racist cops. They share experiences over most of the twilight of their lives. It’s not racist, but it’s… awkward.

There’s just not a lot going on here. The lesson seems to be that if you’re already not racist in Georgia, you won’t be extra racist to Morgan Freeman. It just feels so unnecessary and so hokey outside of a few genuinely touching moments. It’s not quite sunny enough to feel as surreal as Gigi but it certainly is on-the-nose enough about race to feel at home on the shelf with Gentleman’s Agreement. The journey isn’t “mean racist lady” to “nice old lady,” it’s “mean old lady who hates Morgan Freeman” to “somewhat less mean old lady who loves Morgan Freeman.”

Watching this in 2014 is weird, but not for the same reason a lot of these are weird. With this one you just start to wonder what people will think about 1989 that people then needed this movie. It’s a well done buddy movie with an interesting pairing — James Earl Jones and Angela Lansbury are playing the duo now, and man, what? — but it ends up feeling pretty slight compared to some movies on this list.

The Best Part: The near-universal love for Morgan Freeman is deserved. He’s pretty spectacular in this role. He’s warm and hopeful, but he’s also a complete character. He’s loyal to the characters he’s sided himself with, but he’s not above making a play for a raise through leverage. He’s fascinating, and he’s what saves this from being a full-on weird relic.

The Worst Part: Dan Aykroyd was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as the son who hires Morgan Freeman. I’ll admit I’m sour on Aykroyd a little now because he’s become somewhat of a professional weirdo and hasn’t been in a good movie for a very long time, but he’s still downright bizarre in this movie. His Southern accent involves lots of “o” sounds, and he’s given the unfortunate task of violating “show don’t tell” to remind the audience they’re watching a movie set in Georgia. He keeps walking on screen and announcing things like, “You sound like Governor Talmadge!”

Is It Better or Worse than Crash? The character of Miss Daisy is Sandra Bullock’s character from Crash, but with some sort of a lesson. I talk about this part of Crash a lot. If you’re curious, most of her part of the movie is actually on YouTubeCrash is all built on people going from bad to worse in one way or another, but only poor Sandy goes from worse to… no change at all. They don’t redeem her or punish her. She’s just left as a constant device. Miss Daisy’s character doesn’t have much of an arc, either, but at least her relationship with her chauffeur does. Once again, the world of Crash is a meaner place than a movie where two cops call Morgan Freeman “boy.”

Worst Best Picture Archives: Crash | Terms of Endearment | Forrest Gump | All About Eve | The Apartment | No Country for Old Men | Gentleman’s Agreement |12 Years a SlaveThe Last Emperor | The Silence of the Lambs | The Artist | A Man for All Seasons | Platoon | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King | The King’s Speech | Rain Man | The Departed | The Bridge on the River Kwai | Marty | Gigi | It Happened One Night |

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at or on Twitter at @alexbad.

Worst Best Picture: Is It Happened One Night Better or Worse Than Crash?


Alex Russell

In “Worst Best Picture” we search every single Best Picture Oscar winner of all time from 1927 to present to uncover the worst of them all. Conventional wisdom says that 2005’s winner Crash is the worst winner in history. We won’t stop until we’ve tested every last one. Read the the first, our review of Crash, here. This is intended to be mostly spoiler-free, but there may be minor details mentioned. Today’s installment is the 1934 winner It Happened One Night. Is it better than Crash?

It’s very strange to consider what has become the “canon” of romantic films. Movies like CasablancaRoman Holiday, and Annie Hall are the standards by which every portrayal of romance is judged. It Happened One Night escaped my radar for the most part, but it’s definitely a movie that is in that list of ideal films.

As I watch every Best Picture Oscar winner I am struck by how few of these I’ve actually seen. There are a ton of movies — How Green Was My Valley comes to mind whenever I look at the full list — that I am vaguely aware of, but mostly they just don’t exist in my mental database. I don’t claim to be a qualified judge of all of film history, but I do appreciate a good movie. It Happened One Night is a good movie.

Clark Gable is a down-on-his-luck reporter, and he stumbles across the biggest news story in the country when Claudette Colbert enters his life. She’s on the run from her rich father and on the way to New York to be with her new husband. There’s a reward for her return, and Gable plans to either collect or to cash in by telling her story. He’s just gotta not fall in love along the way, d’awww!

I won’t pretend I walked into a movie from 1934 expecting something genuinely sweet and funny. There are an insane number of cuts — one extremely important scene in a bedroom cuts three times in as many minutes — and some of the wackier stuff doesn’t really work. In the opening scene, Claudette Colbert jumps off of a boat to swim to Florida. A man runs into a swamp because he’s afraid. Another man is tied to a tree and left to die, and that story is just abandoned. A guy lands a helicopter at a wedding. There’s some wild madness going on in the background, but the leading couple carries the load of it well. They both give superhuman performances; they’re both interesting, memorable, and sincerely funny even by modern standards.

Some classics are “important” and some are good. I can’t speak to how crucial It Happened One Night is to the rom-com as a genre, but it’s a movie from eight decades ago that wouldn’t need much updating to be released this summer. It’s worth your time, even if you aren’t watching all 86 of these.

The Best Part: On their first night alone together the couple is forced to pretend to be married to avoid suspicion. It’s a very sweet scene, and it’s played with a mix of playfulness and restraint. Paired with a scene in the morning where they throw a fake fight/screaming match to convince the cops they’re actually married, it’s damned excellent. It would need zero updating to work in 2014.

The Worst Part: On the way to New York the couple hitchhikes with a guy who sings everything he says. He is completely unexplained. I cannot tell you why this man sings his sentences. At one point someone flies an “autogyro” into a wedding, and I can explain that more than this man.

Is It Better or Worse than CrashIt’s a Clark Gable romantic comedy from the 1930s. You don’t need me to write this to know it’s “a good movie.” It’s the kind of movie that makes this whole thing silly. Is it better than Crash? It has Clark Damn Gable in it. The point of this project is to explore the idea that awards and praise don’t necessarily mean a movie is “great,” but of course this one is. Above all else it’s fascinating how timeless much of it is. Some plot elements — a woman runs away and is front page news for weeks in a row — are absurd now, but the jokes all still work. It’s actually funny even in 2014. Crash was instantly dated and will get more so as time advances. This, so long as people can forget some of their cynicism for a second, will endure.

Worst Best Picture Archives: Crash | Terms of Endearment | Forrest Gump | All About Eve | The Apartment | No Country for Old Men | Gentleman’s Agreement |12 Years a SlaveThe Last Emperor | The Silence of the Lambs | The Artist | A Man for All Seasons | Platoon | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King | The King’s Speech | Rain Man | The Departed | The Bridge on the River Kwai | Marty | Gigi |

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at or on Twitter at @alexbad.

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Worst Best Picture: Is Gigi Better or Worse Than Crash?

Gigi Still #1

Alex Russell

In “Worst Best Picture” we search every single Best Picture Oscar winner of all time from 1927 to present to uncover the worst of them all. Conventional wisdom says that 2005’s winner Crash is the worst winner in history. We won’t stop until we’ve tested every last one. Read the the first, our review of Crash, here. All posts should be considered to have a blanket “spoiler alert” on them. Today’s installment is the 1958 winner Gigi. Is it better than Crash?

I don’t read a lot (any?) BuzzFeed, but when they put together a ranking of all of the movies that had won the Oscar for Best Picture, Gigi came in dead last. Since the stated goal of this whole thing is to find a worse movie than Crash that has earned the award, I figured the musical from 1958 deserved some immediate attention.

Leslie Caron plays the title character, a (very) young French woman in the process of learning to be a courtesan. Her older friend Gaston (yep) is famous for being rich, or something, and the two are star-crossed if for no other reason than they seem to be the only two people they’ve each ever met that aren’t immediate blood relatives.

They never say Gigi’s exact age, but she’s absolutely supposed to be a young teenager. She spends the entire first hour of the musical in ridiculously infantilizing clothing as her aunt teaches her the finer points of accepting jewelry and living to serve a man who owns her. I point this out to say that, yeah, it’s definitely a movie about some weird sexual politics, but it’s also completely divorced from “romance.” It’s about transactions.

BuzzFeed’s wrong on this one; I’m only 20 movies into the entire 86-film roster at this point and I know this one’s not the worst. That said, it’s assuredly strange six decades years later. There’s no place in modernity for a two-hour explanation of why you don’t have to put on the red light, and if there is, there isn’t a place for it to pretend that it’s one of history’s great romances.

The Best Part: Maurice Chevalier plays a ridiculous perpetual bachelor who spends the entire movie telling everyone how awesome it is to be old and not in love. He shares a song about it with an old lover and though I’m no big musical buff, I couldn’t help but smile at “I Remember It Well.” It’s “funny for a musical” but it’s very close to “actually funny.” It’s a big improvement over the supremely strange “Thanks Heaven for Little Girls.”

The Worst Part: Poor Eva Gabor shows up for about five minutes as the “cheating mistress.” She’s sleeping with another guy — note this is “another guy” on top of someone who treats her as property — and when she is discovered it gets put in the newspaper. This in the first 20 minutes of the film, so I can say this without a spoiler: Everyone then has a bunch of literal laughs about Eva Gabor’s character’s supposed attempted suicide. The movie explains this away as just part of being a bought woman in 1900, but this movie pairs well with The Apartment as tone-deaf with suicide jokes. How many more movies with suicide jokes could there be?

Is It Better or Worse than CrashGigi is a musical, so your milage may vary based on how much you can stand a movie with 15 songs in it. Both movies certainly have roughly the same message about women: Only miraculous ones can escape the social ties that bind their respective times. They differ in that Gigi is a kind of loud, proud class warfare movie about how awful it is to be low status, and Crash thinks that status doesn’t matter at all. Everyone in Crash is awful, and that’s sorta the whole point of the world it sets up. They’re both “mean” messages, but Gigi‘s is delivered in an oblivious song with bright costumery. There is an argument that a big dumb musical about how love doesn’t matter as much as being rich is a bad movie, but it feels more like a historical oddity than the death-march against social change that is Crash.

Worst Best Picture Archives: Crash | Terms of Endearment | Forrest Gump | All About Eve | The Apartment | No Country for Old Men | Gentleman’s Agreement |12 Years a SlaveThe Last Emperor | The Silence of the Lambs | The Artist | A Man for All Seasons | Platoon | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King | The King’s Speech | Rain Man | The Departed | The Bridge on the River Kwai | Marty |

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at or on Twitter at @alexbad.

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Worst Best Picture: Is Marty Better or Worse Than Crash?


Alex Russell

In “Worst Best Picture” we search every single Best Picture Oscar winner of all time from 1927 to present to uncover the worst of them all. Conventional wisdom says that 2005’s winner Crash is the worst winner in history. We won’t stop until we’ve tested every last one. Read the the first, our review of Crash, here. All posts should be considered to have a blanket “spoiler alert” on them. Today’s installment is the 1955 winner Marty. Is it better than Crash?

Clara (Betsy Blair) meets Marty (Ernest Borgnine) after being left on the dance floor by her terrible date. The two see themselves as similar and hit it off. It’s a date movie! Love is in the air! Kinda.

Marty is a fat — I mention the “fat” because he does a lot — butcher and the last single person in his family. His ma is ready to be rid of him, so she sends him down to the dance hall to meet a nice Italian girl. He meets Clara, a “dog” of a woman — I use that term only because every single character does even more than you can imagine for real it is crazy — who also has the audacity to be a schoolteacher. There’s a lot of 50s mores going on in this movie: Marty is obsessed with talking about how being a butcher makes him no good, everyone is worried about dying alone in their 20s, one character has to be talked down from saying every man should be 20 years older than their wives, etc.

The world of the 50s explains a lot of what’s going on, but it doesn’t explain Clara’s personality. Nathan Rabin invented the term “manic pixie dream girl” to describe a specific character archetype in film: poorly written female characters that exist solely to further the emotional development of sad, lonely men. Marty is plenty sad — he talks about suicide on his first date with Clara — but Clara isn’t even enough to be considered the shell of a personality that the manic pixie occupies. Clara is nothing; she almost never even speaks. She’s upsetting in a 2014 sense because she struggles in a world that can’t accept her, but she’s ridiculous even in a 1955 sense because she just seems so damn bored in her world.

The Best Part: Marty is a great character, even if the rest of his world is pretty damned mean-spirited. The movie goes pretty far to establish his happy-go-lucky attitude by raining emotional garbage on him from every direction, but it’s a testament to the performance that Ernest Borgnine still seems to be playing a real, unfortunate person.

The Worst Part: It seems like my “worst part” is “the female characters aren’t developed” fairly often, but in a movie like Marty it becomes really impossible to ignore. Everyone in the world of Marty is fairly simple and awful — aside from Marty, of course — but his blushing would-be bride is full-on tabula rasa. She gets no dialogue outside of some short responses and one monologue full of information Marty tells her to say. Betsy Blair does as much as there is to do, but damn there’s not much to do.

Is It Better or Worse than CrashLet us consider a part of Crash we have not considered thus far: Could it be seen as a love story? It’s an absurd way to view a movie that is best summed up as “a defense of racism as the only justifiable ethos,” but it is the way we must view it to compare it to Marty. Both films have essentially only one married couple. In Marty it’s the main character’s miserable brother and his new bride. In Crash it’s a black television director and his wife. Both sets of couples are miserable, but only in Marty is it treated as a sad situation. In Crash, like all the other awfulness, marriage is treated as a sad, unavoidable result of living in the miserable world that Crash creates. In this way, yet again, Marty is a better movie because even a film about loneliness and almost giving up is more hopeful than a boot stomping on the face of joy forever.

Worst Best Picture Archives: Crash | Terms of Endearment | Forrest Gump | All About Eve | The Apartment | No Country for Old Men | Gentleman’s Agreement |12 Years a SlaveThe Last Emperor | The Silence of the Lambs | The Artist | A Man for All Seasons | Platoon | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King | The King’s Speech | Rain Man | The Departed | The Bridge on the River Kwai |

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at or on Twitter at @alexbad.

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