Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Top 10 Movies of 1927

1. Metropolis
The influence of Fritz Lang's sci-fi epic can still be seen almost a century later in future-dystopia cyberpunk films like Blade Runner and The Matrix. It presents a future where technology outpaces social advances, and soulless machines threaten to overwhelm the human experience.

The irony is that the gee-whiz factor of hot robot babes, impossibly tall building and flying cars overshadows Lang's humanist social allegory. What gets lost is a surprisingly optimistic message that humans can overcome their tendency to react violently against oppression and peaceably reconcile their differences. In the Soviet films of the time, the class struggle would end in glorious revolution; instead, Lang subversively depicts the worker's revolution as benefiting the ruling class by providing a justification for violent retaliation.

2. Sunrise
In his Hollywood debut, F.W. Murnau doesn't abandon the style that he perfected in his German films. His films are more narrative photography than filmed plays. He tells stories through carefully composed shots with elaborate sets and precise lighting. He doesn't bog down his narratives with superfluous details (such as names for his characters) that would hinder his pacing or require more intrusive title cards.

The story is basic: a married man falls for another woman who suggests he murder his wife so they could be together. Despite (or perhaps because of) this simplicity, the plot is extremely tense.

3. The Love of Jeanne Ney
Set during the Russian Civil War, I expected more political intrigue. Instead, the politics are more or less wrapped up early in the first act and it becomes a suspenseful and twisty crime story that's a little bit Mr. Ripley and a little bit Blood Simple.

4. Chang
An exciting adventure story about surviving in an untamed jungle teeming with predators and other dangers - and that's just the making of. This is a DVD to watch with the commentary on as the story behind how the movie was made is more intriguing than the movie itself.

5. The Chess Player
An epic historical drama set in 18th century Poland under the rule of the Russian Empire. A young revolutionary is on the run after a failed coup attempt. His ally, an Austrian inventor who creates automatons, plans to smuggle him to safety inside his chess playing machine. Some stylish montage sequences keep the political storyline engaging, but it's the downright creepy automaton scenes that leave a lasting impression.

6. The General
Adapting a serious Civil War incident into a slapstick comedy is risky, especially considering the cost of sending an actual train off a cliff. Since the plots of many Buster Keaton movies just serve to tie together stunt sequences, this is easily his most ambitious movie. It works, but I wonder if it was all worth it; I still find the cheaper and less cohesive Sherlock Junior to be the most enjoyable of all Keaton's movies.

7. Berlin: Symphony Of A Great City
An inspired montage of images of Berlin edited together to capture the rhythms of the city over the course of a day. An invaluable historical document that permanently captures the mood of the day in the same way a newsreel might capture the events of the day.

8. The Lodger
A family begins to suspect that the quirky man they rent a room to might just be the serial killer that's been evading the police. Hitchcock's first suspense thriller doesn't sustain the tension as relentlessly as his subsequent work, but it has its moments of brilliance.

9. Bed And Sofa
A couple decides to share their small apartment with an old army buddy. The intimate quarters leads to strained relationships. The husband's tolerance of a developing affair between his wife and friend seems surprisingly open-minded, but tensions still mount over little things, particularly who gets to sleep in the bed and who has to sleep on the sofa. The story focuses on individuals which is a departure from typical Soviet film of the time which usually focused on communities. There was probably an allegory to communism in there somewhere, but it was lost on me. The sexual attitudes were remarkably progressive for any film of the time from any country.

10. The Gaucho
Not the typical Douglas Fairbanks movie where he plays the athletic hero who goes on chandelier swinging, sword fighting, horse riding adventures to save the beautiful woman. This time he plays an athletic bandit who goes on chandelier swinging, sword fighting, horse riding adventures to save the beautiful woman - and his soul.

MIA Movies:
These are some significant films that I was unable to see as they are not available on DVD (at least not on GreenCine or NetFlix):

The Jazz Singer
Seventh Heaven
The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg

Had I seen these, this list most probably would have been different.

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