My 100 Favorite Films: 70–61
This is an ongoing piece where I rank my 100 favorite films of all time.
Welcome to the on-going countdown of my 100 favorite films! This is for 70 through 61. If you are looking for previous posts, just click on the grouping you would want to see: 100 to 91, 90 to 81, and 80 to 71.
70. You Only Live Once (1937)
With M and Metropolis already under his belt, Vienna born director Fritz Lang came Hollywood. Even if he had died making those two aforementioned flicks, Lang would be considered a master by film scholars. However, once crossing the pond to the United States, Lang, thankfully, continued to make films. While his earlier work gets a ton of attention, Lang’s later Hollywood work is just as entertaining.
My favorite of the American films of Fritz Lang is You Only Live Once — his second film made in the United States. Starring Henry Fonda and Sylvia Sidney, the film is an early dramatization of the Bonnie and Clyde story. While not directly about the infamous crime couple (that’s coming later), You Only Live Once details the lives of a couple in love and on the run from law enforcement.
The film is considered an early film noir, a genre of film typically consisting of crime stories with cynical characters and visual style of light and shadows. Holding it up to what one expects in a film noir, You Only Live Once is one the best I’ve seen. Its characters are seedy (not typically a Fonda role) and Lang masterfully plays with light and darkness. Midway through the film consists one of the best prison escapes, filled with tension and visual mystery. The British Film Institute, rightfully so, declared Fritz Lang “the master of darkness”. You Only Live Once is a prime example on why he deserves that title.
69. Belle de Jour (1967)
Three years after singing her way through a relationship, Catherine Deneuve found herself becoming a “Belle de Jour”. The French film, directed by Luis Buñuel, also stars Jean Sorel and Michel Piccoli. It unravels the internal struggle of Deneuve desires and societies standards. Séverine (Deneuve) loves her husbands, but does not share a physical relationship with him. Her sexual life is confined to dreams and wishes. With the pressure from a friend, Séverine finds work at a high-class brothel to fulfill her daydreams.
The title is a play on words. In French, a “belle de nuit” translates to “lady of the night” — or prostitute. Séverine, however, works during the day, aka a “belle de jour”. For me, Deneuve is sensational. Her trepidation of this line of work interfering with what society deems “normal” — but also fulfilling dreams she can’t have in reality — is a fascinating internal struggle. But, life throws curveballs. Once caught up in brothel life, her physical relationship with her husbands changes for the better. However, she’s in an area of a point of no return.
Buñuel blends the two worlds together, while also showcasing her dreams that do not upset the flow of the film. They offer tremendous insight inside the mind of Séverine. It’s a film filled with subtle characters turns and twists and worth the watch.
68. Rebel Without A Cause (1955)
Being a teenager is cool.
While films like The Outsiders show a rougher life for the American teenager, Rebel Without A Cause makes being a teen cool and fun. It helps when a film has the dynamics and chemistry of its three stars: James Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo. The film depicts Jim (Dean) and his slow acceptance in the teenage community of a California community. Slowly but surely Jim develops friends and relationships that blossom and help him understand that his angry antics are hurtful and ugly. Rebel Without A Cause consists dark turns and important themes of acceptance and friendship.
Most notably are the performances of the three teens. Sadly, because of Dean’s death, this film exists are one of the few examples we get at Dean’s true stardom. He absolutely shines as Jim. Mineo and Wood equal the bigger-than-life on screen presence of Dean. They form a trio worthy of be-friending — even if it is for a couple hours.
They also ushered in the “birth” of the modern teenager, which I detail here.
67. Richard III (1955)
I follow one 1955 film with another.
Shakespeare is a hard sell to people today, whether to watch a performance or read a play. With that said, I have seen no one perform Shakespeare with as much force and talent than Laurence Olivier. Whether it was on stage or on screen, when Olivier starred in a Shakespeare adaption, the world paid attention. For me, Richard III is the best of his film works. (He also acted and directed Henry V and Hamlet).
Olivier stars as Richard III, a devious, cunning and witty character. The play is based on the historical events surrounding Richard III taking the throne from his brother King Edward IV. Surprisingly, Richard III is the least acclaimed of Olivier’s Shakespeare films. For me, Richard III is the most interesting of the characters Olivier played, not to mention his best performance. The words of Shakespeare seemingly are created by Olivier and delivered with skill.
Olivier’s Richard III takes Shakespeare out of the dusty, old books and into a living, exciting world. For a more in-depth take, I wrote about my thoughts on Richard III a couple years ago.
66. Manchester by the Sea (2016)
Remember with Doubt how I said each year there’s a film that, acting wise, blows everything out of the water? Manchester by the Sea is 2016’s version of that concept.
Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, the film stars Casey Affleck (Oscar winner for this role), Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler. The films follows Lee (Affleck) after his brother’s (Chandler) death, who leaves behind a son (Hedges). Manchester is a deep film, tackling emotionally devastating themes such as loss, grief, depression and loneliness. The genius of the script, direction and acting handle these topics with care and insight not usually seen in a film. It truly felt as if I was watching real life happen before my eyes. On top of honestly dealing with harsh themes, Manchester has its comedic moments that act as a stress reliever — challenging the viewer to laugh during depressing situations.
The acting is the star of the film. Manchester by the Sea has two or three scenes that will burn in your mind, leaving an emotional memory that, hopefully, you will never forget. My heart breaks just thinking about them. Once is a major spoiler, but the other consists of Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and a street corner. Oh my word.
65. Ace in the Hole (1951)
In 2017, the Library of Congress chose Ace in the Hole as one of the films to add to the National Film Registry — which will preserve the film for future generations. It is an awesome honor for a film to be added to that last. Ace in the Hole deserves that honor.
Written and produced by Billy Widler, the film depicts a sleazy, cynical reporter, played by Kirk Douglas, taking advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime story for the fame and glory it will bring him. As a journalism junkie, the film examines how the news operates and how its relationship with the public. Filled with sharp, witting dialogue and a powerful performance from Douglas, there is an uglier side to journalism that is brought to center of attention in Ace in the Hole.
I included Ace in the Hole as part of my look at journalism in film.
64. Island of Lost Souls (1932)
Island of Lost Souls is based on the H.G. Wells book The Island of Dr. Moreau and is a pre-code horror classic. Starring Charles Laughton as Dr. Monreau and Bela Lugosi as “Sayer of the Law”, the film depicts a mad scientist experimenting on animals on a remote island.
The performances are over-the-top yet effective in capturing the horrific tone of the film. They are memorable, especially Laughton’s. Moreau is smooth and generous to its guests, but, to his experiments, the mad scientist is cruel and hurtful. At a brisk 71 minutes, the film flies through its story, but remembers to effective utilize the ghoulish nature of the island. The film acts as a perfect October viewing, though its most notably a pre-cursor to the more infamous Marlon Brando adaption of the 1990's.
Watch this one instead.
63. Clerks (1994)
The writer and director of Clerks is one of the most influential filmmakers of the past 30 years. The independent movement of the 1990's stem from the success of Clerks, a hilarious look onto the mundane life of store clerks. Starring Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith, the film is really about nothing. It is a bunch of conversations between friends who work in a convenience store.
What works about Clerks is the humor is funny and relatable. Tons of people can relate to high school or college jobs where it felt more like hanging out then actual work. The job may have been demeaning to your skillset, but the friends at work made the day go by quicker and with more enjoyment. Smith also captures how this generation thought and talked: pop-culture references galore peppered in with curse words.
Clerks is a remarkably fresh take on the “buddy film”, and the perfect film that gives a viewer today insight to life in the 90's.
62. I Walked With A Zombie (1943)
Influential horror film producer Val Lewton’s second film, I Walked With A Zombie, is chilling and down right spooky. Directed by Jacques Tourneur, and starring James Ellison, Frances Dee and Tom Conway, the film follows a nurse (Dee) and her care for the wife of a sugar plantation owner (Conway). Through her work on the Caribbean island, she encounters a way of life she is not used and a culture completely new to her. Once on the island she deals head on with slavery and its evils.
The film nails the Caribbean vibe. I actually felt as if I was on the island with the characters, trying to avoid the shadows at night. I Walked With A Zombie argues that there are things out in the world that humans can’t explain, with one of them being the dead coming back to life. The film makes a case that slavery is a human sin and the humans must pay back for their sins. They are attacked and stalked by zombies that die from the horror of living in bondage. I Walked With A Zombie is a horror film with a smart, important message.
The film also introduced me to Sir Lancelot’s music. It is in the top 100 for that alone.
61. The Station Agent (2003)
Directed and written by Tom McCarthy, The Station Agent stars Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Cannavale. (Being a Boardwalk Empire fan, I immediately tracked down Cannavale’s filmography after season 3 of Empire). The film tells the story of Finbar (Dinklage) as he seeks seclusion and inner peace at an abandoned train station in New Jersey. However, he soon befriends Joe (Cannavale) and Olivia (Clarkson) and sees the importance of having people to care about.
The ebb and flow of friendship is a rough ride. It’s an even rougher ride when you’re willing want to be closed off from others. Dinklage shines in his performance as someone looking for happiness in his life. Stubborn and cold, Joe and and Olivia offer the perfect warmth and positive nature Fin needs in his life. Another character driven film, The Station Agent is as strong as its performances — which is very strong — and writing.
It’s an indie drama worth seeking out.