My Favorite Movies: 1930/1931
Ringedwithtile last edited by Ringedwithtile
Rules of my favorite movies blog:
- All entries must be one-hundred words or less in length
- Entries are to be ranked in a descending order.
- Every year, save for 1915-1919 must be a top 10.
- Honorable mentions may be included, but they must be less than or equal to fifty words in length.
A short disclaimer:
These lists aren't some be-all-end-all. There are obviously a lot of films that I've missed, but I have spent and continue to spend a good amount of effort seeing the really notable stuff from any given year if it is possible for me. These lists are just the opinions of someone who has spent a little too much time watching movies.
Honorable Mention: Under the Roofs of Paris (Clair)
A comedy with some hoodlum elements, Under the Roofs of Paris gets a mention if just for its titular song and its incredible opening shot. It's the story of a street singer, a woman, and a criminal, and it's pretty standard, though entirely enjoyable and charming.
Honorable Mention: The Blue Angel (Von Sternberg)
An iconic tale of an esteemed professor becoming humiliatingly obsessed with a cabaret dancer, The Blue Angel features two great lead performances from Dietrich and Jannings and Von Sternberg's usual visual rigor. It's seedy and Freudian in delightful ways.
Honorable Mention: The Big Trail (Walsh)
Fascinating and beautiful wagon train western shot in early, experimental widescreen! A young John Wayne leads the film, but it's far more of an ensemble voyage. It's beautifully shot with a strong feeling for group dynamics and man vs nature storytelling. It's blizzard sequence is a real sight.
10. Borderline (Macpherson)
A very curious film about two couples, one white and one black, that experience falling outs after an affair linking them occurs. Borderline is a surprisingly liberal and complex film given the time; while the setup seems like a setup for moralizing or flat out racist depictions, the health of these two relationships is really the focus. Macpherson's direction is crazy, not at all led by spacial coherence, but rather rapid editing and effective, gesture-based close-ups and inserts. Form and content don't mesh as well as they should, which sucks because they're both fascinating in their own way.
9. Westfront 1918 (Pabst)
Psychological expressionist G.W. Pabst never really hit home for me with his melodramas, but in the early 30's he told a couple of more pragmatic stories I really enjoyed. This, a WWI men in war picture is commendable for its commitment to capture the moment-to-moment experience of the war with its emphasis on the personal experience of the soldiers. Character work here is limited to express how different personalities face the horrors and traps of warfare; its an unsentimental approach, and one that works really well given the subject matter. A strong World War I picture of the era.
8. Her Man (Garnett)
A bawdy pre-code film filled to the brim with all the foolhardy debauchery that wouldn't be possible in Hollywood just a few years later. It's a Frankie and Johnny tale in Havana set primarily in a busy pub that's every bit as sweaty and crowded as it should be. Garnett's direction features several precisely coordinated tracking shots that don't just exhibit amazing technical prowess, but help to detail the bustle and liveliness of the film's environments. Its story progresses predictably, but its spirit and atmosphere make it a treasure that deserves to be sought out.
7. That Night's Wife (Ozu)
The first of many Ozu films that will pop up on these lists is also his least typical! It's the story of a thief being pursued through the night, and also his wife who takes a detective investigating their household hostage. It's far different from his heavily mannered family dramas that would become his fixation, with moody, shadowy lighting, a more mobile camera, and its pent-up, genre-focused narrative. Ozu's graciousness and sympathy towards his characters persists, which makes it amount to more than just a genre yarn. Fascinating regardless of the director's reputation.
6. The Story of the Fox (Starewicz)
An influential and mostly forgotten stop-motion feature film from one of the greatest earlier animators (watch The Cameraman's Revenge!) about a wily tyrant of a fox terrorizing all the other animals in his kingdom. The efforts of coexistence between these animals, and their government's plight (reigned over by a lion of course) frames the story as an anarchic expression, which I think works well with the wildness of the stop-motion. It might be possible that the fox is too big of an asshole---like if Wile-E Coyote was successful at every turn, but it's a fun and technically excellent animated film.
5. Salt For Svanetia (Kalatozov)
An eye-popping ethnographic documentary from future tracking-shot maestro Mikhail Kalatozov. It's about a mountainous region in Russia populated by the Svans, an isolated people distant from Soviet influence. The film is presented in a constructed, semi-dramatic way, with a mix of actuality footage and reenacted anecdotes and stories. The location, the resting home of the Svans is almost otherworldly, with old stone towers and barley fields on a slope that climb vertically, it's an incredible sight. It's a shame however, that in its last stretch it comes off as condescending towards the Svans. It should have been a masterpiece.
4. City Girl (Murnau)
Murnau's most straightforward film tells the story of a farmer who falls for a waitress when he travels alone to the city on business. He returns home with his new love just for her to be discriminated against by his family and friends. Murnau's mature depth of feeling is apparent, but what really enhances and defines this films drama is its sense of place. Large, open wheat fields are introduced in one of the greatest shots in film history (as the lovers run through them gleefully), and give the film a distinctive, expressionistic setting. Really lovely work.
3. Morocco (Von Sternberg)
A minor miracle of a film, Von Sternberg's Morocco is emblematic of what a great pre-code picture was: dangerous, beautiful, sexy, and a joy to watch. It's the story of a French legionnaire and a cabaret singer who fall for each other in the titular country. The conflicts of war, class and the seedy atmosphere complicate their ability to be together and express their feelings. Future mega-star Gary Cooper is quite good here, but Marlene Dietrich is incredible, famously cross-dressing and stealing a lesbian kiss from a patron during her act. Von Sternberg was never so tight and lucid.
2. All Quiet on the Western Front (Milestone)
A fantastic adaptation of one of my favorite novels, All Quiet presents the first World War in a startlingly personal and poetic fashion. Its battle sequences are appropriately thundering and the rest of the film sits in the novel's unique end-of-the-line melancholy and mourning. Milestone's visual interpretation is beautiful and intelligent and the otherwise unfilmable ending of the novel is excellently reinterpreted in visual terms. The Oscars frequently get it wrong, but this one stands as one of the best picks they've ever made.
1. Earth (Dovzhenko)
A masterpiece of Russian cinema, Earth is less of a story and more of a visual parable about nature and death. It moves like a song, beyond the limits of its simplistic propaganda (it's a tale about the virtues of collectivization) and into larger, more human truths in spite of its proposed concept. Faces and landscapes are rarely photographed with such beauty and reverence, and its unexpected and deliberate editing rhythms provide a distinctive, ethereal flow of bewitching images. It's obtuse, but it's one of the few films that feels truly spiritual. If it grabs you, it never lets go.
Honorable Mention: The Front Page (Milestone)
An adaptation of the stage comedy that would later be interpreted by Hawks and Wilder; there's still something very composed and enjoyable about the first attempt. Milestone's attention to ensemble, specifically visual arrangement, and the madcap comedy is presented very faithfully. Probably the second best adaptation of the play.
Honorable Mention: Marius (Korda)
A laid-back, very enjoyable adaptation of the Pagnol play, that prefers to focus on character and dialogue over visual experimentation. Characters are performed with charisma; conversations really sing and each provides their own pleasures while progressing the unassuming tragedy of the plot.
Honorable Mention: Waterloo Bridge (Whale)
A very solid wartime melodrama about a relationship between a soldier and woman he is unaware works as a prostitute. Whale's direction is really solid here; very emotionally led. The source material calls for some subtlety which isn't lost in this adaptation, which prefers melancholy and personal sadness over tragic dogma.
Honorable Mention: Flunky, Work Hard! (Naruse)
A great short from Japanese master Mikio Naruse about a salaryman father and his young, scrappy son, and how their separate societal attitudes influence one another. It's an elastic, charming film; entertaining, insightful, and somewhat out of step from Naruse given its male-focused narrative and comic tone.
Honorable Mention: City Streets (Mamoulian)
A sincere, naive love story between the daughter of a mobster and trick-shot, and their dealings with the father's business. Mamoulian's thoughtful, mobile camera makes the most out of the material, and Cooper and Sidney are convincing as the lovebirds. It's a strong, satisfying love & crime tale.
Honorable Mention: Safe in Hell (Wellman)
An atmospheric melodrama about a prostitute laying low on a (male) criminal infested tropical island. It's a sweaty, emotional battle of a pre-code charmer with a distinct setting and a great lead performance. It also has a hell of a payoff; easily one of the best endings of the year.
10. Limite (Piexoto)
What the heck is it? I'm still not sure, but this early Brazilian avant garde feature, that runs a complete two hours, is a freely associated dazzler. The setup is that there are three people afloat in the ocean, together on a (life?)boat. They recall their pasts, which unfold more as textured, environmental tableaux than they do as dramatic events. Piexoto's imagery feels completely liberated: framing, camera movement, cuts; they act in their own vacuum, and work off of the tropical surroundings, which are so rarely, truly photographed in this time. It's glacial and deliberately difficult, but I dig it.
9. Other Men's Women (Wellman)
A breezy and meandering drama about an alcoholic train engineer who rooms with a coworker and finds himself falling for his wife. Wellman's tough lyricism and his fascination with moral codes make this a pretty unique watch. Large portions of the film are shot on location (like the railyards and moving trains), and lends itself to a free, almost docudrama edge uncommon for the time. The film avoids casting stern judgements on its flawed characters, and its plot moves in an atypical, more laid-back fashion than its contemporaries. Unexpectedly poetic and among Wild Bill's best works.
8. From Saturday to Sunday (Machaty)
Two female coworkers, one reserved and the other more worldly, go out on a double date with wealthy suitors at a nightclub. Over the course of the night, the more introverted one learns of the debauchery of night life, and alternately, the joys of meeting someone special. Machaty, a Czech filmmaker who was known by this time for his dealing with sexuality, presents his subject matter with a graceful frankness. The film is completely sutured to the way a woman views the modern world, which allows for genuine insights to emerge more naturally than something more obviously determined.
7. Frankenstein (Whale)
One of the most famous and influential studio films of the era is also far more tender and melancholic than its reputation. Though still a film about a monster, this film isn't about probing an audience's innate fear, but rather illustrating that fear is often built upon misunderstandings. Frankenstein's monster is a symbol for his creator's god complex, but more notably he is a tragic figure; a hopelessly doomed member of society to no fault of his own. It's a visually dazzling film, with excellent production design and impressive soft-focus photography, but I love it for its thematic rigor.
6. Kameradschaft (Pabst)
A claustrophobic, stark drama about a real-life mining disaster on the French/German border shortly after the end of the first world war. Rescue teams from both nations worked cooperatively despite political and cultural resentments that are represented very strongly, and are made more potent given the impending second world war. The photography and set design of the underground sequences is astounding; a realistic depiction of a naturally expressionistic environment. Kameradschaft isn't a character piece, it's a tonal work, a formal experiment, and a political statement all at once. It's humanistic power is deeply apparent.
5. La Chienne (Renoir)
Renoir's first great work is this relaxed, melancholic noir about a weedy businessman who has an affair with a woman he isn't aware is a prostitute, and who continuously takes advantage of his disposition and modest talents. Its deeply cynical tone is balanced by Renoir's humanism, and smartly placed lighthearted touches. Michel Simon, one of the wildest, most physical French actors of the period, gives a singular, multifaceted performance as the lead sad-sack. La Chienne was the warning shot before a volley of excellent works from Renoir that I'll definitely be writing about in the next few blogs.
4. Le Million (Clair)
Rene Clair's greatest work, Le Million is a musical comedy about the elusive fate of a winning lottery ticket as it changes hands and continues to remain just out of the grasp of its rightful owner. It's spry; changing tone and shooting styles frequently. Its use of sound and image is really elastic, especially for the time in which it was made. Clair always had a soft, romantic outlook, and Le Million is the height of his artistic sensibilities. The opera house sequence is one of the great wistful and clever comic setpieces of the day.
3. The Congress Dances (Charrell)
An excellent operetta, and one of the most beautiful, assured early musicals, The Congress Dances is a historical, political comedy of manners set during the Congress of Vienna. The Austrian chancellor is trying to keep the Russian Tsar occupied with women, but is unaware that the Tsar has a double. Beguiling situational comedy that weaves in and out of small and large scale settings followed by an incredibly deft gliding camera. There aren't many straight musical numbers, but they delight with large casts and beautiful concept (the coach ride, dear god). Mostly unknown to English speakers, but a masterpiece.
2. City Lights (Chaplin)
The Tramp falls for a blind flower girl and befriends a rich black-out drunk. The sincerity and love of these relationships is tainted. The woman can not see him as a tramp, his friend can not remember him as more than a tramp. This is wonderfully human comedy that affords Chaplin his slapstick and sentimentality due to how deeply sad its happenings often are. It features several of his most brilliant setpieces (the boxing match!) and ends with one of the greatest, most emotionally affecting moments in cinema history. Chaplin, or Hollywood in general may not have ever done better.
1. M (Lang)
This top 3 could be reshuffled, but there's an immense staying power, a modernity to Fritz Lang's Weimar era serial killer picture that's unrivaled. An insurmountable Peter Lorre plays a deranged child murderer tormenting Berlin. The police begin to crack down on the criminal underworld, and the crooks, troubled by the intensified police presence, set about a manhunt on their own. Each of these forces is represented with fury and intelligence, as they surround each other and slowly converge. The early sound design is just as powerful as the shadowy, expressionistic photography, utilizing silence and dialogue masterfully. A must-see.
God dang it had been a while since my last entry! The early 30's are a very cool time, where experimentation wasn't just encouraged---it was necessary! Sound was a new frontier, and filmmakers were still finding ways to evolve visual language and tell new kinds of stories. I don't know if the early 30's will ever be considered 'great' years, but they're years that are full of a ton of hidden gems.
Any favorites you want to share or discuss; whatever's missing, included, or anything about films I'm open to discuss!
Glad to finally see another of these lists! almost been too long!
I find this "middlewar era" to be quite interesting in terms of film making. I feel though its almost as the russian film industry started to disappear in favour for the american industry to kinda boom, which can be kinda sad as the russians made a lot of interesting things.
My thoughts about the films: there are many here I have completely missed, but also some really nice gems.
The Story of the Fox: I got the pleassure of watching this one at university taking a course in animation and its history. I remember getting a few giggles from that fox, also I kept thinking what an amazing achievement this really is with the limitations in technology back then.
All quiet on the western front: I can't not mention this film. Just wow. This anit-war film really had me shocked when I watched it and I almost feel that it should be shown in all education at one point or another. It really shows the horror and pointlessness of war. I remember how this film really stuck with me long after and how tired I felt afterwards from all the impressions given to me. Watch it!
Earth: I feel like I need to rewatch this one! I do have a weak spot for the old russian films. I think I might of been a bit too young seeing this and therefore not fully grasping it, but by the sounds of it, the film seem truly special.
Frankenstein: On of the biggest classics ever? It has inspired so much work since and everyone have gotten in contact with it one way or another. Also Mel brooks parody are simply amazing and also worth a watch after. Frankenstein are a cult classic that stands out and the whole style of the film are really... heartwarming.
City Lights: I just have to say, I LOVE Chaplin. Such a great person with a body expression beyond many others. Ofcourse there are others as well that are really good, I just think that Chaplin have that little extra. His films always makes me laugh hard as well as get very emotional at times. I feel that his films got a bigger sense of depth and visual comedy which most of the time in todays film are missing. I do believe though, and this is just my opinion that sound added to film were kinda the start of Chaplins downfall. Even though this and the dictator are some of the best films ever made.
Inustar last edited by
I haven't watched many movies from 1930 or 1931, but I will say those all look great. Frankenstein is the only one I've seen, but it's a well deserved classic.
Otherwise, I love Animal Crackers. Not the Marx Brothers best, but I enjoy most of their movies anyway. It's perhaps been too long since I've seen it though, so it might be time for a rewatch.
@Inustar There are many awesome films on this list! I say give it a go! :)
Ringedwithtile last edited by
Yeah, the Russians started to devour themselves a bit in the sound era. The thing is, some of those early sound films (Vertov's Enthusiasim, Pudovkin's Deserter) are really cool in some ways; how they use non-naturalistic sound instead of sync sound. I don't know if they entirely work, but they're really interesting experiments. And America really exploded, but other European and Asian countries started to come up before WWII set everything back. Except for Hollywood, of course. Nothing stops Hollywood.
Animal Crackers is very funny! Agreed that it isn't the strongest Marx brothers film (perhaps I regretted to mention it because one of their films is likely to top a year in my next blog), but their goofy, anarchic humor always gets to me.
I'd definitely recommend checking out City Lights or M; those are fantastic, sumptuous films no matter your taste, and really cover your bases if you're feeling like something either light or dark. Some of the other stuff in my list might not connect, but I'm confident that if you like movies, you'll enjoy those two!
Oscillator last edited by
The Big Trail is a great example of how far some filmmakers would go back in the day. Giant sets, oodles of extras, literally dangerous stunts, attention to detail. Griffith, Keaton, and the Korda brothers are other great examples. Then stuff got relatively simplified, formulaic, and safe for a few decades until that going-the-extra-mile style made a comeback in the 80's with stuff like Ran, Fitzcarraldo, Brazil, Dune, and James Cameron.