The Top 150 continued
We march ahead with the Populist Art House Top 150 Films of All Time, this time with the letter B.
With one of the greatest director debuts ever, Terrence Malick began his illustrious if not prolific career with this quietly disturbing study of the banality of evil. Based on the Charles Starkweather killings of the 1950s, it’s the sense of detachment and emptiness, both in the characters and in the beautifully stark landscape in which they commit their crimes, that is most unsettling.
A singular aesthetic triumph by any standard, Stanley Kubrick’s period drama may turn some off with its extremely measured pacing. But the film is a treasure trove of historical drama and period detail, squeezing the best from its actors and never straying into predictability. The visual splendor of Kubrick’s 18th century world is enough by itself to land the film on this list.
The Battle of Algiers
As provocative today as it was 40 years ago (perhaps more so in some circles), this searing reportage of Algeria’s battle for independence is a brilliant exercise in blunt-force realism. Drenched in a revolutionary mentality that makes America’s 60s furor seem almost quaint, the film is also memorable for its grey-shaded presentation of terrorism, which sparks heated debate to this day.
The Battleship Potemkin
Packed with more first-wave cinema theory than any dozen offerings from its contemporaries, Soviet auteur Sergei Eisenstein used advanced editing techniques and shot composition to hit the gas and never let up, shaking the senses of audiences as hadn’t been done before. The Odessa Steps sequence has been mimicked so many times that it’s hard not to view the original as a parody of itself.
Beauty and the Beast
Perhaps the most skillfully constructed drama in Disney’s entire oeuvre, and without a doubt the best in terms of its musical components. The songs of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman are not wonderfully enjoyable pieces, they also advance the story in ways that illustrate the greatness musicals are capable of. Gorgeous animation and a uniquely strong-willed Disney heroine don’t hurt, either.
We make special connections in life, if we’re lucky, but time has a way of carrying them away through the years, leaving us reaching for the ghosts that haunt our memory. Richard Linklater’s follow-up to his beautifully sincere Before Sunrise somehow manages to bolster dreams of love while also lamenting the forces of circumstance, maturation, and missed opportunity than can let it slip away. It’d be mislabeling to call it the greatest romance film ever made, but it might be the greatest film about romance.
The Bicycle Thief
The calling card for Italian neo-realism, Vittorio DeSica’s masterpiece deftly delivers grand tragedy as he paints an almost optimistic picture of the warmth of strength of family bonds amid the inherent cosmic cruelty of everyday life. European post-war culture has never been captured more effectively, and DeSica inspired many filmmakers around the world to explore cinematic alternatives to typical Hollywood grandeur.
Novelist Philip K. Dick sadly didn’t live to see his literary masterpiece realized as a cinematic one. Ridley Scott hasn’t made anything as good since, and his measured pace and unerring focus bring the story’s intimidating science fiction themes to rain-drenched life. The line between humanity and artificiality certainly is a distressing line to tread, and here it is soaked in a palpable melancholy rarely achieved in science fiction.
How do you tackle weighty issues like racism and religion? Make fun of everything you possibly can, as fast as you can, and Mel Brooks does just that in this brazen and hilarious effort that still defines the genre of modern parody. It’s been over three decades since it was released, but the one-liners and vignettes still stand against anything current comedies try to offer.
No one can find the common ground between fantasy and nightmare quite like David Lynch. The myth of American pastiche is lifted up to reveal all the ugliness crawling beneath the surface, and Lynch uses a deceptively tight and methodical approach to illustrate the despair that follows when the American Dream evades us. Chilling and enthralling, with a legendarily creepy performance from Dennis Hopper.
Bride of Frankenstein
In the age of endless Saw films, it’s easy to forget that horror sequels are capable of real wit and heart. Characterized more by sharp dialogue and appealing characters than traditional frights, this is the most ambitious of John Whale’s run of horror films in the 1930s, showcasing both a criticism of and a respect for the conventions that made the decade’s horror so enduring.
Bridge on the River Kwai
Alec Guinness gives one of the most complex and enigmatic performances in the history of war movies, and David Lean’s lush cinematography serves to accentuate and not hide the dark heart of this scathing treatise on the absurdity of war. The film ends, appropriately, with no easy answers, offering only a simple yet astute observation. “Madness…madness.”
Unfortunately known to many as “that gay cowboy movie,” this film is so much more. Just as concerned with the dangers of emotional insulation as the sexual orientation of his characters, Ang Lee has never used his meditative style to better effect. The Dark Knight would make Heath Ledger a legend, but it was here that we first saw the depths that his talent was capable of.