Friday, December 27, 2013

Movie Review: "The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty" (2013)

I don’t normally get excited for new film releases. I rarely see a movie trailer and immediately say, “I must see this movie. It looks like the best film I’ve ever seen.”

The last work I did that for was “WALL-E” because of its unique and captivating premise and the fact it was made by Pixar, whose films I’m always excited to see. Not only did the film meet my expectations, but it immensely surpassed them and became a gem of filmmaking. 

Since that point, I’ve tried to find films that get me interested like “WALL-E” did, but that has yet to happen. Until the initial trailer of “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty” came out.

It may seem odd, especially since this film came out around the same time as a new David O. Russell and Martin Scorcese movie, but “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty” was the film that I was most excited to see in 2013. The trailer did its job of bringing me in without even really trying. There was very little dialogue and presented the basic premise of the film through visuals alone. Not to mention its main character, who seemed to leap out of the trailer, with a personality that felt all too relatable. 

It made it clear that the film would be about a guy with an overactive imagination. Simple, direct, quick to the point and can lead to many creative situations. I was sold on “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty.”

Unfortunately, the film tends to stray from its unique premise and quickly enters the realm of mundane and average. 

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller), a normal-every day kind of guy with a normal-every day job of “negative asset manager” at Life Magazine, is given the task of finding the perfect picture for the cover of Life’s final issue. He is given a slate of photo negatives from a Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), an adventurous photographer and one of the best in the business, but can’t seem to find the “quintessence of life” photograph that Sean spoke of. 

Walter contemplates going to see Sean in person, but realizes that he is halfway around the world. After his imagination runs wild and a discussion with a woman that he’s interested in (played by Kristen Wiig), Walter is persuaded to go out into the world and let life guide him, instead of his imagination. 

There were multiple aspects to the film that worked, mostly revolving around the scenes done in Walter’s imagination and the cinematography. The film makes it rather clear when we are in Walter’s imagination, but not by a specific filter or emitting a certain noise, but by seeing the reactions of those around him. 

Those scenes also convey a wide range of emotions, from the touching moment of Wiig’s character singing “Ground Control to Major Tom,” to an action-packed scene between Walter and his boss (Adam Scott) fighting over his Stretch-Armstrong, to the hilarious sequence of Walter contracting the same disease as Benjamin Button and growing old with Wiig. 

The cinematography never fails to impress, with a wide range of distinct locations. Walter travels from the busy city of New York to the almost alien looking Greenland and Iceland. These scenes are made all the more beautiful when the audience gets the time to notice them through Walter’s eyes. We know that Walter wanted to be travel the world someday but had to put that plan on the back-burner so that he could get a job. These quiet scenes of Walter gazing upon the giant valleys of Iceland speak more than any other scenes.

However, the problem with “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty” lies in its execution of the imaginative scenes. Notice that, in my plot description, I don’t mention Walter’s imagination until the end. The driving force of the film and what sets it apart from any other movie I’ve seen plays a small and insignificant role in the story. You could literally cut out the majority of these scenes and the plot would be unaffected. 

We hardly even get a reason for why Walter acts this way. There is a backstory involving his father and having to work everyday of his life since he was 17, but it hardly connects with his imagination. We don’t really hear about any of Walter’s big dreams as a kid or if he had always dreamed big, so there are many unanswered questions.

The saddest part of “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty” is that, while the moments in Walter’s head are imaginative and cover the gambit of emotions, everything else feels so lifeless. The story is forgettable, Mitty’s boss as the villain is two-dimensional and just a bully, Wiig’s character has no real charm or wit and even Walter as a character doesn’t have any definable characteristics other than his daydreams.

I feel like the problem is that there is just too much going on. There are so many plot threads that feel so arbitrary, such as Walter’s eHarmony profile or that Wiig’s character has a kid who is interested in skateboarding. These are not just plot points that add little to the film, but they take away from the more impressive and awe-inspiring scenes. 

Couldn’t this have just been a film about a guy with an overactive imagination?

Overall, “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty” left a bad taste in my mouth. There was so much potential for greatness and the film even had a few wonderful moments with its cinematography and daydreams. But it seems like the film got bogged down in being more complicated and sophisticated than it needed to be and along the way the film lost its vision and direction.

If you want to see some beautiful shots and sequences in far-off places like Iceland, the Himalayas and Greenland and see some interesting dream sequences along the way, then give “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty” a shot. If you’re looking for a story about a man overcoming his fears and realizing his passion for life, don’t expect to find it here. 

Final Grade: C

Monday, December 23, 2013

Movie Review: "Saving Mr. Banks" (2013)

Disney has a certain charm to their movies that is often imitated but never fully duplicated. 

A childlike whimsy that appeals to the young and old, where you easily get swept up in the emotional moments. You laugh with the film, your heart breaks with the film. All of this done so effortlessly. Disney is the leader in making films that embrace your inner child. 

This is due in large part to Walt Disney himself, who always took found imagination and fantasy in everything he produced. The man was nothing more than a large child with dreams of sharing that feeling with the world, and we love and appreciate him for always doing that.

Such is the strength of “Saving Mr. Banks,” the newest production out of Disney and the story of how one of the company’s finest works, “Mary Poppins” was created. The movie embraces the whimsical nature of Disney by turning in wonderful performances and a never-ending atmosphere of creativity that will bring a smile to your face.

World renowned publisher, Pamela Travers (Emma Thompson) has finally decided to hand over the rights to her Mary Poppins to Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) so that he can make the film he has always dreamed of. The problem is that Ms. Travers is very selective of what happens to her character and doesn’t want her to be tarnished. This leads her to fly from London to Los Angeles and to oversee the preproduction of the film, only to question every decision made by the creators. 

As always, Tom Hanks is wonderful in this role, even more so than usual due to him playing such an iconic figure. Hanks is lost in this role, to the point where you feel like this is Walt Disney. He speaks passionately about pleasing not only his daughters, but every adult and child who goes to a movie theater, and you believe every word he says.

Emma Thompson plays Pamela Travers as a snob who has lived a difficult life, especially during her childhood. We learn through flashbacks about her relationship with her father (Colin Ferrell) and there is more than enough love, but also lies and hiding the pain. Ms. Travers attitude with the world of Disney is understandable for someone who has shunned childish behavior. 

This is the driving force between Hanks and Thompson. A man who has always embraced being a child and a woman who wishes to forget about being a child. Neither of them are wrong in their pursuits and attitude but they’re both people who wish to dominate and to have everything go their way. 

From the first scene these two share, they both try best one another. From something as simple as what they should call one another (Pamela always wants to called “Ms. Travers” while Walt is always on a first-name basis) to whether there will be animation in the film, which of course Mr. Travers opposes. Scenes like these feel natural, given their characters, but also lend themselves to some of the best dialogue in the film. 

Overall, “Saving Mr. Banks” makes me very happy and leaves a warm feeling in the pit of my stomach. Its a film that manages to capture the essence of Disney and what it means to anyone who has ever gone to Disney Land or watched movies like “Fantasia” and “Bambi.” They don’t try to emulate “Mary Poppins” but instead offer up a companion piece that captures many of the same emotions. 

Whether you’ve never seen “Mary Poppins” or haven’t seen it in a long time, like I have, “Saving Mr. Banks” is one that needs to be seen, if only to watch Tom Hanks disappear into the role of Walt Disney.

Final Grade: B+

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Hopper #6

“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (2013)

A have a confession to make: Novels, as a medium, don’t particularly interest me. When it comes to reading fictional stories, imagination is a key component to recognizing what takes place over the narrative. While I can visualize ideas in my head, attempting to do so with an entire story can get me sidetracked rather quickly. I’m much more adapted to a visual medium, where the images are played out right in front of me. 

As such, I have not read many great novels or books. This includes all the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and his work with “The Lord Of The Rings” and “The Hobbit.” I’m not opposed to the idea of ever reading such fantastic stories, just that I’m hesitant to do so. 

My only exposure to the world of Middle Earth has been through Peter Jackson’s ongoing film series, and only recently at that. Over this last summer did I finally sit down to watch “The Lord Of The Rings” trilogy, and it immediately impressed me with its scale and scope of story, hooking me through opening narration alone. 

“The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey” was the first film in Peter Jackson’s newest trilogy and attempt to bring Tolkien’s other well-known work to life. My complaint with the film is there are many elements that go nowhere and don’t add much of anything to the film, such as every scene with Radagast. Jackson did a wonderful job trimming the unnecessary parts of “The Lord Of The Rings” novels, such as anything dealing with Tom Bombadil. The same cannot be said for his newest film series. 

The next part in that trilogy, “The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug” is more of the same as the first film: A grand sense of adventure, filled with many diverse characters as they face a perilous journey across an unforgiving land where they will face down a foe that all men fear, the mighty dragon, Smaug. 

What I enjoyed more about the second film than its predecessor was how it gave more the cast of twelve dwarves their own character. In the first film, many of the dwarves were interchangeable and by the end of the film I had forgotten nearly all of their names, let alone their personalities. While in this film, they take the time to develop certain dwarves, showing off their strengths and the reasons why they were brought on this journey. 

Kili (Aidan Turner) shows his strength through his determination to completing the mission even after taking a poisonous arrow to the leg, while his brother Fili (Dean O’Gorman) demonstrates his devotion and love towards his family by giving up such a marvelous adventure to protect his sick kin. The elder of the group, Balin (Ken Scott) seems wise beyond his years and would rather remain peaceful, preferring to resolve matters through words. 

But Orcs don’t take kindly to anything that doesn’t involve putting heads on pikes, so he decides to be crafty instead.

Moments like these really make the characters stand out amongst others and really makes you appreciate the film slowing down to develop them and to make us care about their journey. 

However, much like the first film, Jackson seems to indulge himself way too much in his craft and puts in parts that don’t serve any purpose in the story. These types of scenes would work great in an extended cut for the DVD/Blu-Ray release, but not for a theatrical release. 

For example, many of the scenes involving the elves just serve as a distraction from the journey of the dwarves. Ask yourself: What do these scenes accomplish? What do they tell us that don’t already know? Honestly, it is a hard question to answer. 

Does this mean I feel most of the elf scenes should have been cut? Yeah. They not only exist for their own sake, but are merely fan-service. In particular, moments with Legolas (Orlando Bloom). I don’t know about you, but Legolas was my least favorite character in the original trilogy, because he is so perfect and infallible that he becomes boring. You know that he’ll walk out of any situation without so much as one hair out of place that it removes all tension and drama from the sequence.

Nearly all scenes containing Legolas in this film are about him kicking copious amounts of Orc carcass. It may be exciting to watch a CGI-Orlando Bloom flail around the screen, but when you know that he’ll make it without even breaking a sweat, what’s the point?

This isn’t the case for all action sequences in the film though. In a later scene, the team of dwarves are floating down a river in barrels and being shot at by Orcs. There is little that the dwarves can do, and you really feel their helplessness and will to survive. They devise creative ways to handle their opponents and this makes for one of the best sequences in the whole film. 

That is “The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug” in a nutshell: While it may feel like an extended cut filled with fan-service, there are moments of great creativity and brilliance, especially when it focuses on the character moments of the dwarves. 

If you liked the first film, then you’ll certainly like this one. If you didn’t care for “The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey” then this one will not change your mind on the series. 

Final Grade: B-

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (2013)

One of the most talked about movies from last year was “The Hunger Games” for its unique story, diverse world and the performance of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen.

I didn’t care for the film at all. While some praised it for the story, I knew I had seen this a dozen times before and done so much better in films like “Battle Royale” which prided itself on developing every one of the children involved by showing just what each of them would do to survive this game.

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” on the other hand does not tread the same path as its predecessor. It takes the time to develop its unique and divided world, showing how one act of survival can change an entire nation. While it does eventually get to the titled game itself, the film truly shines when its not focusing on competition, but survival. 

After the events of the first film, Katniss (Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) are now traveling around the twelve districts of their nation as the winners of the most recent Hunger Games. Some of the districts have taken Katniss’ final actions in the games as an act of defiance, while others an act of rebellion, causing riots and anarchy to run rampant. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has not taken kindly to this and plans to tarnish Katniss’ image as a symbol of hope by whatever means necessary, including putting her into the next Hunger Games.

One thing I’ll give the film is that President Snow and his associate, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) are quite intelligent at the ways of bringing down Katniss. Through their actions of increasing public executions and media focus on her, they’re making her look as if she’s siding with them rather than with the rebels. They’re not influencing her decisions or hurting those near her. They are simply exploiting her weakness towards helping the helpless.

Lawrence again turns in a stellar performance as Katniss. She makes it clear early on that she only sees herself as “stubborn and good with a bow” but as the movie develops there is clearly more to her than that. In a scene where she meets the other contestants in the games, she takes the time to help out many of them and get to know them, something she despised doing in the first film. Katniss is now a caring person who just wants what is right for the world. 

But the strength of film comes from its moral center, especially compared to the first film. In that, Katniss choose to offered as a contestant to protect her sister, with everything else being an act of survival. To make it back to her sister. 

Now those actions have been twisted. Selflessness has turned to defiance, which cannot be tolerated. Even her sister has begun to think that Katniss’ actions were not to protect her, but so that she could fight and give purpose to her own life.

Now it’s a game of survival, but of a different kind. Katniss’ mentor, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) summed it up very nicely when he said that there are no winners in the Hunger Games. Only survivors. Now those survivors must continue to do what they can in an unforgiving and brutal world.

Final Grade: B-

“Nebraska” (2013)

If films like “The Big Chill” and “(500) Days Of Summer” are any indication, capturing the full effect of regular life is a difficult task to pull of in cinema. When a story and goals are essentially removed from the picture and the filmmakers focus on just random events that seem to go nowhere but give the film a certain atmosphere, that can be both a good and bad thing. 

“Nebraska” is another film that can be added to that category, as it spends the majority of its time on rural life in the heartland of America, mostly Montana and Nebraska. While there is a story with some soft-spoken yet deeply motivated characters, most of the film is spent on quieter moments with family members around a TV or at a bar sharing a beer. 

Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is a senile and forgetful old man living in Billings, who gets a letter in the mail that he can win one million dollars. The problem is that he has to ship the letter back to Lincoln, Nebraska and he doesn’t trust the postal service with his million dollars. He also can’t drive. So he’ll walk.

This doesn’t bode well with his son, David (Will Forte) and he reluctantly decides to drive his father to Nebraska. Along the way, they stop at his home town, where he meets up with many people from his past. Word spreads fast in the little rural city that Woody is a millionaire and everyone starts clamoring for his attention and money, including old enemies.

While I’m sure that many people will be talking about Bruce Dern’s performance as Woody Grant, its Will Forte as David that stands out to me. Forte is a mostly comedic actor, but doesn’t get many opportunities to be funny in this role. He makes David a sympathetic yet relatable character by giving his father one last chance to go on an adventure and do something with his life. 

Dern certainly plays the role just fine, but not a whole lot stands out. He mostly just stares vacantly at everything and most of his lines are one or two sentences. This makes sense for his character being a man of few words and forgetful, but this just means he doesn’t have a lot to work with. Meaning his performance is just good, but not great.

If there’s something I had against “Nebraska” it would be how incredibly slow it starts out. It takes quite a while before the film gets up to speed and this is around when most of the townspeople become aware that Woody might be a millionaire. Before that point, scenes will just come and go without much happening in them. 

The problem is that there are some scenes later in the film that do something similar but leave an impact on the audience. For example, at one point Woody and his children visit the house that he grew up in and we learn about how his father built this house and that he remembers his brother dying when he was two years old. 

This scene, while ultimately pointless to the story, gives so much breath and emotion to Woody and the respect that David has for him. While scenes with his family sitting around the television talking about how their feet hurt not only go nowhere but leaves no impact on the audience. 

That’s the problem with “Nebraska.” Not only does it take quite a while before anything interesting happens, but there’s a strange mix of scenes that want to be lifelike with some working and others failing. Once the story gets going though, these scenes are far fewer but they are a major part of the film. They may be an attempt at atmosphere and depth, but there has to be more to a scene than just building the tone and attitude. 

Final Grade: C+

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Movie Review: "The Thin Man" (1934)

There are many different types of effective mysteries. From the straightforward detective mystery like “The Maltese Falcon” to the dark and disturbing thriller mysteries such as “Seven” and even film noirs like “Double Indemnity” that meet these two somewhere in the middle.

One of the more unappreciated and often overlooked types of mystery is the comedic mystery. Intriguing and thought-provoking films that will often make you laugh as much as they thrill you. Ones filled with characters that are often far different from the normal crowd of detectives and crooks. Mysteries that aren’t so much about solving the crime as much as they are about having a good and memorable time. 

One of the crowning achievements of this genre is “The Thin Man.” While the setup of finding out the truth of a man being accused of a string of murders is compelling in its own right, the film truly shines when it follows its lead characters, the sleuth-hunter couple of Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy). Remove these two from the film and all the charm and grace of this film is gone.

The film follows Nick Charles (Powell), a retired detective who now spends his days being a socialite, spending his wife’s money and enjoying a good martini. But when an old friend is convicted of murder and everyone on the police force begs Nick to take the case, as he is the one best suited to crack the code, he contemplates aiding the issue but no further. It isn’t until Nora (Loy) steps in, excited at the prospect of something different in life, and persuades Nick to found out the truth about this thin man. 

To be honest, the detective work and actual mystery is rather forgetful. Many clues and hints are lost due to all the comedic moments and character development. That is where the film also draws its strength. I can’t think of many mysteries where the characters feel like regular people instead of emotionless detectives or blabbering culprits. 

The interplay between Nick and Nora, as well as the other characters, is what make drives the film. From the first moment they share together on screen, where Nick is drunk and badgers Nora to join him, you can tell they have a long history together. That they care for one another but still poke fun at each other, such as Nick’s need to continue his detective work and Nora’s want for more out of life. 

This relationship grows even deeper when more characters are thrown into the mix and they are given a chance to shine. There’s a scene about halfway through the film, where the couple are throwing a party and the family of the suspected murderer come to visit them individually, unaware that the other family members are also at the party. Nick has to keep juggling back and forth between the grieving daughter, the greedy ex-wife and the murder-obsessed son, while also maintaining the party. It is handled just the right way, without being too over-the-top or silly yet still funny. 

The crowning moment of “The Thin Man” comes at the end, where they throw the classic dinner party with all the suspects attending, in an attempt to find out who the murderer is. This scene may seem cliche nowadays, but it works for this film because of the friendly environment and Nicks’ social manner. Made even more enjoyable by the waiters of the party being cops in disguise. Watching these guys serve food as if they’re doing a good cop-bad cop routine is so amusing. 

Overall, “The Thin Man” is a much different kind of mystery than you’d expect. If you want a thought-provoking and intriguing mystery with many clues and red herrings, then this isn’t it. If you want a good time with likable and interesting characters who aren’t afraid to make a joke occasionally and have a bit of mystery thrown in as well, then you’ll certainly enjoy “The Thin Man.”

Final Grade: B+

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Movie Review: "Peeping Tom" (1960)

Film is often a gateway to other worlds, but can also be reflections of our own world just as often. So what happens when a movie dissects the world of cinema? You often get some of the most imaginative and insightful films of their time.

“Sunset Boulevard” is not only the story of an aging film star who wants one last chance to reclaim what she lost, but is also documenting the tragedy of the ever evolving art of film and what happens to those who get left behind. It paints a picture of cinema that makes it grand and supernatural, but also bleak and unforgiving. 

While other works, such as “Rear Window” don’t directly address filmmaking, but do make more than one allusion to cinema. For example, the act of voyeurism, spying of the lives of other people without knowing it, is essentially what every movies does. The audience takes an inactive part in the story as we watch events unfold, while the characters remain non-the-wiser, much like the main character in the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock classic. 

“Peeping Tom” seems to find a middle ground somewhere between these two works of cinema-reflection. It takes the time to discuss the dangers of voyeurism and its relation to movies, while also analyzing the psychological affect that filmmaking has on a tortured soul. It is what makes “Peeping Tom” standout above any other movie I’ve seen.

Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) seems like any other guy, as he works for a British film studio as an assistant cameraman. He lives in a comfortable apartment complex, which belonged to his deceased father, surrounded by charming roommates. He spends most of his free time working on a film, which he claims is a documentary that is nearly finished. 

Yet under the surface of that character lies a man so dedicated to his craft that he will go to whatever lengths necessary to complete his work. Even if it means taking the lives of a few unsuspecting women. 

What immediately comes to mind about “Peeping Tom” is how it feels so much like an Alfred Hitchcock movie, taking elements from several of the master of suspenses’ best known works, like the normal-looking but psychologically tortured man from “Psycho” to how voyeurism can become more than just a hobby and turn into an obsession from “Rear Window.”

However, it doesn’t come off like the filmmakers are doing this deliberately and make it their own thing. This is done mostly through the actions of the protagonist. Mark may seem like a madman, and he even admits it at one point, but there is a method to the madness. He knows that what he does is wrong, and even hates to do it, but has a strong compulsion to continue doing it anyway.

Without giving too much away, let’s just say there is a strong similarity between Mark and the mother obsessed Norman Bates, except that Mark feels his accomplishments are a benefit to society. 

While I feel rather silly comparing “Peeping Tom” to “Psycho” since they both came out in the same year, the two works just have so much in common. However, I will concede that both movies go about their horrific ideals in wildly different manners. What drives “Psycho” is the unnerving and relentless atmosphere, how unsettling the Bates Motel can really be, and is driven home by continuous plot-twists to intrigued the audience further. While the focus of “Peeping Tom” lies squarely on Mark’s shoulders and his journey to complete a task that he has spent most of his life working on.

For this reason, “Peeping Tom” is very much a character study. How does film affect children? Would it change who they are and who they grow up to be? Would they even be able to tell the difference between reality and cinema? Or would they want to bring more of cinema qualities into reality? 

These are just some of the questions raised during “Peeping Tom” which turns it into an intense psychological horror film unlike anything I’ve seen. As Mark gets closer and closer to his goal, you almost want to root for him and can even understand him, even if he is committing terrible crimes. It works at giving the audience a character who is relatable yet off-putting, while presenting some unique ideas of what film should or shouldn’t do. 

Final Grade: A-

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Greatest Films - 1920s

Film is a medium that has multiple interpretations and meanings, which is one element that makes it so interesting. I tend to see cinema is a mirror of our reality. As a way for us to convey our deepest emotions and inner thoughts through images and celluloid. Like life itself, a film can be exciting, poignant, bleak, thrilling, horrifying or anywhere in between. 

Of course, some movies use this bridge to describe reality better than others. Some don’t even try to blur the line, while others just aren’t made well at all. This is why there is a significant difference between good movies and bad ones. It is also why people keep track of the greatest films of all time. 

Now I will attempt to throw my hat into the ring by creating my list for the greatest movies ever made. I’ve racked my brain and resources, thinking of every movie that I considered great in one way or another, which made it stood out from other works of cinema. In the end, I was able to come up with 225 films, all from a different range of eras and countries, made by a wide assortment of filmmakers.

There are a few things which should be known on what I’m about to present. First of all, I will be presenting these by decade, along with a few thoughts on each interval of time. Along with that, there will be clips to accompany each film that I can find.

Second, these are what I consider the greatest works of film. I will give a brief description for each film, explaining why it belongs here. As such, there will be films that others may adore and cherish but just don’t make it on my list. 

Third, this is an incomplete list. I have not watched every film ever made, nor have I even watched every well-received movie ever made. One of my policies on film criticism is to not talk about a movie that I’ve never watched. To save criticisms and judgment for after a film is finished.

So if you feel I missed a particular film, it’s most likely because I either haven’t seen it or feel that it isn’t all that special. I will do my best to remain objective with this, but I’ve always believed that it’s impossible to be completely objective with cinema. Like telling a joke, if a film doesn’t work, it doesn’t work for that particular person and there is little that can be done about it. So please, if you have reservations with me or what I have to say, know that this is merely my opinion.

Greatest Films of the 1920s:

Watching films from the 1920s is an incredibly interesting process nowadays. This is due to the majority of well-known films from this era being silent, relying entirely upon images and the emotions on the actors faces to tell the story. This is part of the draw of silent cinema, as this opens up a world of possibilities for ways to tell the story.

It can also be a hinderance, because filmmakers back then did not hold the same moral and filmic values that we do. Some movies just don’t translate well, while others are timeless classics that show they don’t need sound to tell a good story. It’s really about how they use their lack of noise and their presentation. For example, every film listed below is an excellent example of not only silent cinema, but moviemaking. There are a diverse range of stories, each with a unique way of telling their tale, while others have cinematography or techniques that are still impressive to watch. Such is the power of silent films.

"The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari" (1920)

This is the height of the German Expressionist era, where reality seems warped and dark, as well as the characters. In a story where a mad doctor uses hypnotism to get others to commit crimes for him, the setting of a small German town works wonders, especially when you’re unsure of what is real or not. Effectively using color filters to add atmosphere, it also works as a thriller when the main character is dubious of his own actions and what really lies in the doctor’s cabinet.

“The Kid” (1921)

Ah, Charlie Chaplin. Always finding that perfect ground between comedy and drama to convey a multitude of just the right emotions. This is one of Chaplin’s first attempts at a full-length feature film, rather than his usual shorts, and it is one of his best, where his classic persona, The Tramp, takes it upon himself to raise an abandoned child. This works so well because of a very young Jackie Coogan, who plays the kid, and his relationship with Chaplin. He’ll mimic the Tramp but still laugh at his crazy antics, all with the most innocent of looks. The film hits all the right notes and remains a great example of Chaplin’s work.

“Nosferatu” (1922)

The first film attempt at telling the story of Dracula, without ever mentioning the word “vampire.” This film works so well because of atmosphere alone. Because of the lack of sound, the film relies on its striking cinematography and landscape of Nosferatu’s castle. Just his stance and shadow alone is enough to give me nightmares. And because of the lack of vampire, the film keeps you guessing what Nosferatu really is. Is he a bloodsucking creature of the night? Or is he an eccentric pale-faced weirdo who loves to kill? 

“The Battleship Potemkin” (1925)

I’ll freely admit that I don’t exactly care for this one, as the story is nothing groundbreaking and I can’t remember anything about the characters. This one makes the list because of how it revolutionized the way in which films were shot and edited. Sergei Eisenstein, the film’s director, always pushed the boundaries of what a film could do. Before this film, most filmmakers would shoot with the actors in the center of the frame and end the shot when it had served its purpose. Eisenstein would focus on the specific body parts, like the head or hands, and make many quick cuts to signify a characters’ thought patterns. This may seem like nothing now, but we owe many filming techniques to this film, whether we know it or not.

“The Gold Rush” (1925)

Another Chaplin piece, this one being a bit more ambitious than “The Kid.” This time, the Tramp travels to Alaska in the hopes to strike it big by finding gold deep in the wilderness. What is most memorable about this one are the set pieces and the large variety of gags that come from it, including scenes where the Tramp must eat his own shoe and does a wonderful dance with two pieces of bread. Though this may not be as touching as “The Kid” or as funny as other Chaplin works, this one is certainly memorable for defining just who the Tramp is.

“Faust” (1926)

Wow, this film looks amazing. Right from the opening scene with the devil’s wings closing around an enormous city, only to be saved by the light of a gigantic angel, I can’t help but be impressed. Not to mention, the story of an angel and demon fighting over a man’s soul is simplistic yet right at the core of the human struggle between good and evil. Faust, the man whom the deities are fighting over, wants to do the right thing with the power given to him, but is overcome by his own greed and pride. The film works with both its story and cinematography to make for an experience that won’t be forgotten.

“The General” (1926)

Buster Keaton is one of the greatest entertainers of all time. The man perfected silent comedy, with his stone faced approach to any situation and an athletic ability that might only be matched by Jackie Chan. “The General” is his best work, because not only does it have a plethora of excellent comedy, but also has an intriguing story of reclaiming lost love during the Civil War. Plus, Buster Keaton taking down an entire fleet with just his train. But let’s be honest, we all know he would have won the war anyway. 

“Sunrise” (1927)

This film does something that I thought was impossible. It tells a compelling and heartfelt love story, without ever saying a word. I don’t mean because its silent, but because there are large breaks in the film where the two romantic leads never say anything to one another. These two, who had drifted apart and the husband attempting to kill his spouse for another woman, merely spend time together and relearn why they fell in love through each other’s company. Shots were the two smile at one another go a long way in this innovatively shot romance.

“Metropolis” (1927)

Other than a film that we’ll look at in the 1930s, I consider “Metropolis” the greatest silent film and is certainly one of the crowning achievements of science-fiction filmmaking. Nearly every shot of this film is impressive and breathtaking. You really get an understanding of the landscape and scope of this futuristic world, whether the future means improvement or deterioration. “Metropolis” is able to find the best of both silent worlds, by doing what “Faust” did with its cinematography and the thrill and suspense of “The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari.” Furthermore its emotional core and message still speaks true nearly 90 years later, making the film even more powerful than Fritz Lang intended. 

As I said, the 1920s can be an interesting watch these days, since silent cinema can really shine through and surprise you, or it can leave you unimpressed and wanting more. This is mostly due to being around so many great films that differ from the ones that stand out in 1920 and growing up with a different set of values. Still, there are plenty of films that have stuck around and still continue to entertain audiences to this day, for one reason or another.