IF ONE COULD ONLY CONVEY the strangeness of this world. A world without color and sound. Everything here - the earth, water, and air, the trees, the people - everything is made of a monotone gray. Gray rays of sunlight in a gray sky, gray eyes in a gray face, leaves as gray as cinder. Not life, but the shadow of life. Not life's movement but a sort of mute spectre. Here I must try to explain myself before the reader thinks I have gone mad or become too indulgent toward symbolism. I was at Aumont's restaurant and I saw the Lumiere Cinematographe, the moving pictures. This spectacle creates an impression so complex that I doubt I am able to describe all its nuances...
- Novelist Maksim Gorky
WALL OF MAGIC: From that first day. December 28, 1895 - the first public presentation of the invention of the Cinematographe by the brothers Auguste and Louis Lumiere - when that first crowd looked up to that portal of many pictures to December 31, 1999 you and I and our world have been captivated by that wall of magic , film.
Film, cinema, the silent screen - pushed to the rafters with melodrama, slapstick, historic documentaries, propaganda, teary-eyed romances, music and dancing, heart felt tragedy, news and cartoons. It's all up there, just about anything humans can imagine is up there. And with film arguably the predominant art form of the 2oth century, it's time to look back from the viewpoint of this new century and make our choices for the best films of all time - from then to now.
These are my choices. I've tried to include all the generally accepted masterpieces, those classic films I feel have been neglected by other critics, and groundbreaking films that were important to the history of the cinema. Those were easy choices. The more difficult choices were those films that were flawed masterpieces that were great only in parts. Then there is that gray area where movie critics have many solid 2nd level films to choose from - too many - and to whittle the list down to a manageable size they choose personal favorites. That's what I did.
Is the list beyond question? Hardly! I have strong prejudices that likely will not fit yours in few, some, or many cases (nobody agrees on the details). I am prejudice FOR: early classics, slapstick, screwball comedies, romances, adventure stories, animation, sci-fi, and films that try to be innovative or groundbreaking. I am prejudiced AGAINST: epic films (too looooong) melodramas, soap operas, films that make absolutely no sense even to the filmmaker, format films (file them away) and Hollywood films from the 70's - 90's (too much Corporate Art art).
So here's the list of the very best films listed in chronological order, year by year. But I didn't stop there. A list by itself is boring, so I've included notes throughout. By reading them you'll have a short, fun history of filmdom. (And if you like skip over the listings and just read the notes.) Then too I've included a list of the best directors - It's a directors art, says I. Plus many surprises.
Musea encourages you to save all these movie issues. You'll have a free, handy guide to the movies. Or if you miss an issue , the complete listing will be on our website, or send $5 to Musea and we'll send you the complete movie guide.
Read, Discuss, and Enjoy film lovers!
The first Kinascope Parlour opens in New York April 14. The single person machines show moving pictures.
December 28, the first public showing of cinematographe by the Lumiere Brothers. The oncoming train film panics the audience. From 1895-1907 the brothers shoot 1424 "views", short films of any and everything.
The May Irwin-John C Rice Kiss - is a Thomas Edison, Vitascope short film of the couple kissing - the first screen kiss. 1902
Trip to the Moon.(Fr.) This fantasy by George Melies is best known by the image of the rocket landing in the eye socket of the Moon.
DIRECTOR: George Melies will make 500 plus fantasy films with eye-popping special effects from 1896-1913.
Certainly cinemas first real director personality.
The Great Train Robbery. First western, directed by Edwin S. Porter.
The Life Of Christ. (Fr.) the boss leaves the directing to his secretary and she, Alice Gay makes 200 + films from 1896-1906 and becomes the worlds first female director. Her Biblical epic requires 300 actors and 25 sets.
Ranch Life In The Great Southwest. Tom Mix's first film. The western legend, along with his horse Tony, would continue his prolific career until the talkies brought an end to it. During the 20s he was known as the King of the Cowboys.
Gertie The Dinosaur. Cartoonist Winsor Mckay (Nemo in Wonderland) may well have been the inventor of the cartoon. In the film, he draws Gertie on his easel and she comes to life, does some tricks and eats everything in site.
The Tramp. Charlie Chaplin introduces his comic character creation and the world falls in love with him.
DIRECTOR: Charles Chaplin was the most recognizable star of the century, arguably its best comic, and too little credited as one of the greatest directors of all time. But that timing and those routines don't fall down from the sky. Chaplin crafts his movies carefully and every one he directs is pure gold with his marvelous mix of laughs and pathos.
Birth of a Nation. D.W. Griffith's Civil War epic, with the KKK as the good guys! Great & controversial film.
DIRECTOR: D.W. Griffith is the master of the epic silent film dramas and does one landmark film after another. His favorite female lead is waif Lillian Gish
Intolerance.* D.W. directs these 4 tales from Babylonian times on, showing man's intolerance. Editor's note: if a film has a '*' after the title, Musea considers it one of the all time best films ever made.
Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Magician has hypnotic power! German Expressionist film was shot on the slant with most surreal sets in a silent.
Broken Blossoms. DW. Directs Gish as the innocent who becomes the broken blossom
The Kid. Chaplin and a kid and mischief.
The Sheik. Campy melodrama of the desert made women swoon for Rudolf Valentino.
Nanook of the North. First great silent documentary about the lives of the Eskimo.
Nosferatu (Ger.) Director F.W. Murnau tells Dracula tale with straw thin ghoul, actor Max Schreck. Eerie!!!
DIRECTOR: F.W. Murnau films are silents answer to film noir - poetically dark masterpieces.
Our Hospitality.* Buster Keaton, love, & an inheritance.< br> DIRECTOR: Without Chaplin to vie with, Keaton would have been a name on everyones lips. His gymnastic comedy is still not to be believed even when you see it with your own eyes. In an age that should be remembered as world history's Golden Age of Comedy. Keaton was one of cinema's and comedy's all time best.
Sherlock Jr.* Projectionist Keaton walks into the movie screen and a mystery.
Last Laugh. F.W. Murnau tale of fired doorman
Thief of Bagdad. Exotic tale with flying carpets and remarkable sets by designer Cameron Menzies.
Editor's note: When a year has stars after it, that year was an annus mirabilis, a wonderful miracle year in film
In this case the first flowering of silent film flickering!
Potemkin.* (Rus.) Director Eisenstein. Mutiny abord Russian ship Potemkin. Odessa steppe sequence one of the most famous scenes in all film.
DIRECTOR: Sergei Eisenstein directs his Russian silent epics with cuts and montages that heighten the drama like no other. Maker of well crafted big stories during a turbulent time in Russia.
Greed.* The 2 hours left from this originally 7 hour film tell the Frank Norris classic about a dentist whose life is controlled by his greed. Ending is amazing.
DIRECTOR: Eric von Stroheim (director of Greed) was the master of the offbeat. Very multi-talented and even played the protective manservant in Sunset Boulevard!
Phantom of the Opera. Masked phantom haunts the Opera House until love sings! Lon Chaney stars.
The Gold Rush.* Charlie Chaplin surviving in the Yukon. Does the "Dance of the Rolls". Pure classic.
Seven Chances. Buster Keaton Marry and inherit $$$$.
The Freshman.* Harold Lloyd goes to college and gets in the big football game. Lloyd is the silent comedic genius with the round glasses that I always picture as hanging by the arm of that clock on the building.
Merry Widow. Stroheim directs this operetta about prince wooing American widow.
Lost World. Best monsters before King Kong in this version of the A. Conan Doyle fantasy
Tumbleweeds. William S. Hart in best western before sound. Note the landrush scene.
Tramp Tramp, Tramp. Feature debut of Harry Langdon who, with Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd make up the 4 greats of comedy's silent era. (All of their films are recommended). Harry's like a big dumb kid and the laughs are understated and hilarious.
For Heaven's Sake.* Story of young millionaire who falls in love is one of Harold Lloyds best.
Another miraculous year hot on the heels of '25!
Napoleon.* (Fr.) Abel Ganz' bio of Emperor from snowball fight to reign of terror. The multi screen shots are amazing.
DIRECTOR Abel Ganz probably invented more innovations in film than any other filmmaker AND did quick cuts so fast they'd shame today's film editors.
Metropolis.* (Ger.) Future city where workers revolt. The best sci-fi silent with one-of-a-kind sets. Directed by Fritz Lang
Sunrise.* F.W. Murnau directs. Married farmer - lover- murder!
October. Eisenstein directs this tale of the Russian Revolution.
The General.* Buster Keaton in tale of stolen train in Civil War times.
College. Buster goes to school.
The Jazz Singer.* Warner Brothers bet the farm on this first Talkie that changed the industry. Al Jolson sings a few songs in this otherwise silent film about jazz versus religion.
Wings. First Oscar winner for best picture has some great combat flying scenes - WW1 It. Clara Bow, the flapper actress with 'it', a gold digger here, becomes the screen sex goddess of the Roaring 20's.
The Passion Of Joan Of Arc.* (Fr.) Bio, based on the historical record, is all close ups! Director Carl Dreyer.
The Crowd.* King Vidor directs this hard luck melodrama of a married couple.
The Wind. Lillian Gish battling a dust storm (and villians) in a film that precludes the dust bowl 30's.
The Wedding March. Will prince marry for love or money? Eric von Stroheim directs and stars with Fay Wray.
Steamboat Bill Jr.* Keaton antics on a steamboat.
Steamboat Willie.* Walt Disney introduces Mickey.
Un Chien Andalou.* Luis Bunuel and Surreal artist Salvador Dali begin this 17 minute film by slashing a woman's eye with a razor! Then dada like montage follows.
DIRECTOR: Spain's Luis Bunuel will astound and confuse the world with an amazing bunch of unpredictable film classics from Spain then Mexico then Spain again. Always controversial and rebellious.
Pandora's Box.* G.W. Pabst directs Louise Brooks as a flower girl who marries up. Sexual drama.
Queen Kelly. Unfinished silent by Eric von Stroheim stars Gloria Swanson as convent girl falling from grace.
The Cocoanuts.* The Marx Brothers run a hotel with triple the laughs.
Broadway Melody of 1929. Musical of stage struck sisters is first musical to win Best Picture Oscar.
Blue Angel.* (Ger.) Marlene Dietrich sings "Falling In Love Again" and professor goes mad for her.
All Quiet On The Western Front.* Erich Maria Remarque's tale of the horrors of WWI and all wars.
L'age d'Or (Fr.) More sureallism and dada antics with Dali and director Luis Bunuel. Banned for being anti-church.
Animal Crackers.* Marx Brothers with Groucho singing "Hooray for Captain Spaulding"
. Editor's Note: This year the gangster film Little Caesar starts a Hollywood trend for rough, mean, bad guy films.
Little Caesar. Hood Edgar G. Robinson shoots his way to the top of the mob
The Big House. Prison drama with tough and mean Wallace Beery.
The King Of Jazz. What a musical medley: Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, Walter Lantz animation, and crooner Bing Crosby.
City Lights.* Charlie Chaplin helps a blind girl see and the ending is the most touching in all film!
M.* Fritz Lang directs Peter Lorre at his creepy best as a child murderer.
Public Enemy. James Cagney is so mean he smashes a grapefruit in his moll's face in this gangster classic.
Frankenstein.* Colin Clive as the mad scientist, Boris Karloff as the monster. James Whale directs the Mary Shelley surgical classic.
Dracula. Bela Lugosi as the definitive neck biter.
Freaks.* Real freaks as actors first repel then touch the heart in this classic one-of-a-kind horror film of travelling side show. Todd Browning, directs.
Love Me Tonight.* Musical love story with Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald singing Rogers & Hart: "Mimi", "Isn't it Romantic?".
Trouble In Paradise.* Jewel thieves fall in love. Ernst Lubitsch directs.
DIRECTOR Ernst Lubitsch, with Preston Sturges, were the directors of sophisticated comedies (Lubitsch had more of a continental flavor). I don't think he made a film that wasn't a comic delight. See them all.
Grand Hotel. Packed with stars this melodrama tells the story of the guests at the ritzy hotel: Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, ...
Scarface. Paul Muni is Scarface the mob boss with an obsession (?) for his sister.
I am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang. Another hoodlum genre classic with innocent Muni on the chain gang.
The Mummy. Boris Karloff is wrapped up in his work in this horror classic of Egyptian zombies!
Horsefeathers. Marx Brothers at college.
Tarzan The Ape Man. First film of the series based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs classic, with the definitive Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller and his signature yell.
THREE STOOGES. It's Moe, Larry, and Curly (1932-47) then Shemp (47-56) as the best line ups of the 3 Stooges, and nobody does moron better in short comedies than these four. I say there are 2 kinds of people in the world. Those who like the 3 Stooges and ... whatever!
King Kong.* Gorilla falls in love with Fay Wray. Her and the Empire State Building are his downfall. Special effects still effective.
Duck Soup.* Marx Brothes in Freedonia!
Lady For A Day.* Damon Runyan tale about an apple vendor transformed into a Lady in this Frank Capra classic.
DIRECTOR Frank Capra was the epitome of the American director with classic film after classic film about usually poor to average Americans trying to make sense of their world. Note his great use of crowd scenes for emotional impact!
Forty Second Street.* Big backstage musical has the works: Harry Warren-Al Dubin song "Shuffle Off To Buffalo", Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell singing and dancing , Busby Berkeley production numbers, etc.
BUSBY BERKELEY - His production numbers are mind boggling in their size and scope and originality. Hundreds of costumed extras fill the screen with extraordinary dance sequences. A true original.
Footlight Parade. James Cagney as the stage director. Ends with 3 Berkeley numbers.
Queen Christina. Greta Garbo as 17th Century Swedish queen smitten with love for John Gilbert.
Little Women..* Alcott's childrens classic about 3 sisters stars Katherine Hepburn.
ACTRESS KATHERINE HEPBURN was THE female actress in more classics than any other. A safe bet for a classic movie is one with Hepburn in it.
Invisible Man.. Horror clasic with best acting!
International House. Stars come to the International House: W.C. Fields, Burns & Allen, Rudy Vallee, etc. and laughs follow.
Sons of the Desert. Laurel & Hardy ditch their wives for convention partying.
She Done Him Wrong. Mae West in western spoof arouses Cary Grant to "Come up and see me sometime."
ACTOR CARY GRANT was THE male actor in more classic films than any other. A safe bet for a classic movie is one with Grant in it. Strange that both best actors, male & female came on the scene at about the same time!
1934 (a very romantic year in film)
It Happened One Night.* Capra directs the perfect romantic comedy of reporter Clark Gable and runaway heiress Claudette Colbert. Do not miss this one.
L'Atalante.* (Fr.) Real and surreal romance classic of couple sailing down the Seine. Director Jean Vigo.
The Gay Divorcee.* Fred & Ginger sing "Night and Day".
Twentieth Century.* Cat and mouse screwball comedy with Broadway producer John Barrymore feuding with his star Carol Lombard on the stage and the train by the title name.
Of Human Bondage.* Somerset Maugham's S & M tale of Leslie Howard's obsession with waitress Bette Davis.
The Thin Man.* First film of a very sophisticated series of Thin Man mysteries starring the married couple Nick (William Powell) and Nora (Myrna Loy) Charles. A class act.
Tarzan And His Mate. Maureen O'Sullivan as "You, Jane".
It's A Gift.* W.C. Fields takes family west. One of the master's best.
Babes In Toyland.* Laurel & Hardy versus the evil mortgage holding Barnaby and the Bogeymen. Victor Herbert operetta score provides the music.
Party. Jimmy Durante throws a party. First a great opening number then the guests show up: Laurel & Hardy, Lupe Velez, Three Stooges, and many more.
Triumph of Will. Nazi propaganda film of the '34 Nuremberg rallies, directed by Leni Riefenstahl.
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