#4: rio bravo (howard hawks, 1959)

(This is the 47th of 50 pieces that originally appeared in a Facebook group devoted to three of us choosing our 50 favorite movies. I’ll present them un-edited except for typos or egregious errors. I’ll also add a post-script to each.)

You never know what will be considered a classic in the future. I first saw Rio Bravo on TV when I was a kid, and I loved it, as I have every time I have seen it since then. But it would never have occurred to me on that first viewing that I was watching a classic. Even later, Rio Bravo would have been a guilty pleasure if I believed in such things. Howard Hawks was an acclaimed Hollywood director (and over time, I came to realize he was one of my own very favorites), John Wayne the biggest of stars, but Rio Bravo wasn't thought of as their best work, alone or together. And the presence of actors like Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, and Angie Dickinson didn't exactly help (they are all wonderful in Rio Bravo ... well, Ricky is only OK ... but really, do you think a movie is a classic if all you know is that Dean Martin plays a drunk, Ricky Nelson plays a gunslinger named Colorado, Police Woman is a woman of mystery, and everything stops in the middle of the film so Dino and Ricky can sing a couple of songs with Walter Brennan accompanying them?)

The thing is, Rio Bravo is fun ... maybe that's one reason it wasn't always taken seriously.

This is my third and final Howard Hawks film. It contains the basic elements that I like in all his movies: witty banter, communities of men, and the ever-present “Hawksian Woman” who is always the equal of the men, largely because she is a lot like the men. In the Hawks movies I have chosen for this list, the women have gone from Rosalind Russell to Lauren Bacall to Angie Dickinson, the male leads from Cary Grant to Humphrey Bogart to John Wayne. One reason I rank Rio Bravo above the others is the way Hawks plays with the image of John Wayne. Grant and Bogart are not that different in His Girl Friday and The Big Sleep than they are in other movies. In a similar way, in Rio Bravo John Wayne plays “John Wayne.” But, while Russell and Bacall influence their co-stars, Dickinson’s effect on Wayne allows for a remarkable opening up of “John Wayne.” Grant and Bogart have a lot of love and admiration for the leading women in their movies, but Wayne in Rio Bravo is constantly unsettled by Dickinson, flustered, fumbling for words, never knowing quite what to do with her.

The relationship amongst the community surrounding Wayne also subverts any notion we might have that Wayne is the solitary man of action who needs no help. John T. Chance keeps saying he doesn’t need help (by which he means amateur help … he welcomes the help of professionals). But Chance only accomplishes his goals because his friends help him. The drunk, the cripple, the shady lady, the hotel owner, and the gunslinger (a professional, but as personified by the still-teenaged Ricky Nelson, an anomaly), all of them rise to the occasion. And Wayne welcomes their assistance.

As the community works together, Rio Bravo becomes a generous movie. Bonded by humor and common goals, the characters accept each other with all of their flaws, and we in the audience are welcomed into their company.


No one had a bad word to say about Rio Bravo in the extensive comments, but the real topic of discussion was “what will his final three choices be?” Funny thing is, when I was formatting this post for the blog, I realized I no longer remembered what my #3 was.

#5: the third man (carol reed, 1949)

(This is the 46th of 50 pieces that originally appeared in a Facebook group devoted to three of us choosing our 50 favorite movies. I’ll present them un-edited except for typos or egregious errors. I’ll also add a post-script to each.)

I’d like to say that The Third Man is a perfect movie. While the elements were always there, it wasn’t an easy path towards perfection. American producer David O. Selznick had his own ideas about how the movie should play, and he managed to create a version of the film for the U.S. market that had a revised introduction and ten minutes excised to make Joseph Cotten’s Holly Martins a more sympathetic character. Filming on location in Vienna wasn’t easy, so soon after the war. Director Carol Reed created what was essentially a British neo-realism, albeit with baroque camera angles. The film was perfectly cast, from Cotten as the clueless American, forcing his way into every situation, to Alida Valli as Harry Lime’s lover, to Trevor Howard as the stiff, intelligent British major. And Orson Welles, who takes up a large part of our memory of the film, even though he doesn’t make an appearance until the film is more than halfway finished, and even though his screen time is limited.

Graham Greene’s script was up to his usual high standards, and the cinematographer, Robert Krasker, won an Oscar for his contributions to the film’s unique look. Finally, there is the instantly identifiable zither music of Anton Karas, so entwined in the film and in our memories that to this day, when you hear a zither, you think of The Third Man.

Yes, I’d like to say it’s a perfect movie. But then there was the time somebody I follow on Twitter said that he’d finally seen The Third Man for the first time, and WHY DIDN’T ANYONE WARN HIM ABOUT THE ZITHER. Apparently, that was a deal breaker … for him, The Third Man was not perfect.

And so I’ll lower my praise just a touch, in honor of that zither-hating viewer. But near-perfection is a wonderful thing. The British Film Institute named The Third Man the best British film ever; it’s the highest-ranked British film on my own list. Its vision of post-war corruption is unsparing, the film’s style is noteworthy … I want to say that word “perfect” again.

Plus, I can’t quit talking about Orson Welles. Welles plays a character, Harry Lime, as lacking in ethics as any character you’ll come across. Little children die because of Lime’s actions. But Welles’ charisma in the role is such that a radio show, The Lives of Harry Lime, was created. This told the story of Lime in the years before The Third Man, and while Lime is a con artist in the series, he is nowhere close to the evil presence of the film.


In what I think is odd, considered how highly I rate this movie, the entire comments section is taken up with a discussion between Phil Dellio and I about Altman’s The Long Goodbye.

#6: the rules of the game (jean renoir, 1939)

(This is the 45th of 50 pieces that originally appeared in a Facebook group devoted to three of us choosing our 50 favorite movies. I’ll present them un-edited except for typos or egregious errors. I’ll also add a post-script to each.)

I first saw Renoir’s two classic films from the late 1930s, Grand Illusion and The Rules of the Game, around the same time in the early 70s. From that first viewing, I thought Grand Illusion was one of the greatest of all movies, and I haven’t changed my mind, even if for the purposes of this list I left it off so I could write about Rules (I have written about Grand Illusion in the past). But the first time I saw The Rules of the Game, I didn’t get what all the excitement was about.

Somewhere along the way, though, The Rules of the Game became my favorite Renoir movie. I wish I could explain why; I suspect one reason I haven’t written about it before is that I can’t put my finger on what makes it great. It’s not enough to just say “watch it and you’ll know what I mean,” especially since more than most movies, Rules of the Game rewards multiple viewings (and I don’t usually like movies that require you to see them more than once to appreciate them). I can tell you that Renoir’s use of deep focus is so complete and so subtle that you can watch the film over and over and get more out of it just by paying attention to what’s going on in the background. There are few better examples of how to make style work as substance than right here. Renoir isn’t showing off, he’s using unusual (for its time) techniques to give depth (no pun intended, but I wish I had intended it, it’s a good one) to his movie.

The Rules of the Game, hated so much when it was first shown to a French audience, is not as single-mindedly dismissive of the upper classes as you might have heard. There is a tendency when showing this film to modern audiences to explain the context of its production and subsequent negative reception: Renoir made the film as Hitler was preparing the moves that would lead to World War II, and the upper-class Frenchmen and women in the movie are so unconcerned with what is going on outside of their own world that Fascism is never mentioned. Renoir isn’t attacking Nazis here; rather, he is anticipating the French response to the near future and finding the French lacking. But Renoir has always been the cinema’s great humanist. So even the upper-class denizens of The Rules of the Game are allowed a depth of character that makes them, not exactly likable, but understandable. The tragedy of the film isn’t that these are evil people, but that they are ordinary people who exist at a remove from the rest of society, and thus don’t always understand the larger implications of their actions. Thus, the most quoted line in the film isn’t when Octave says that everyone lies, but when he says that “the awful thing about life is this: Everybody has their reasons.”


To be honest, I wish there had been more comments, since (obviously) I think this is a great film, and because I think I did a nice job writing about it. A couple of people agreed that it was great, and another said he would be watching it soon in a film class.

#7: citizen kane (orson welles, 1941)

(This is the 44th of 50 pieces that originally appeared in a Facebook group devoted to three of us choosing our 50 favorite movies. I’ll present them un-edited except for typos or egregious errors. I’ll also add a post-script to each.)

Just by making Citizen Kane #7 instead of #1, I’m making a statement that to some is untenable. For Citizen Kane must live with the burden of being “The Greatest Movie Ever Made.” Happily, the film can bear that burden.

Many of us wish the same could be said of Orson Welles. Welles was 25 when he made Citizen Kane, and while he had a lot of great work ahead of him (I had one of his films at #23, and his acting is also very much present in my list), it’s pretty hard to top The Greatest Movie Ever Made. In 1941, though, it seemed as if there was nothing Welles couldn’t do.

Citizen Kane is a group effort. The “authorship” of the movie has been a matter of heated debate for decades (it seems most accurate to say that Welles and screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz are co-authors, but that Welles-as-director had a much larger hand in the film that resulted from the script). Gregg Toland might even be more important than Mankiewicz. Toland, the film’s cinematographer, was such an integral part of Citizen Kane that his name appears at the same time as Welles’ in the credits. The look of the film is endlessly fascinating. It looks intriguing even as stills on a page, but to fully appreciate what Toland pulls off, you must see it “in action.”

I had a friend … at the time he seemed old to me because I was only 20 or so, but he was basically around the same age I am now. He once told me that his hope for old age was that he could be like Joseph Cotten in Citizen Kane. I particularly love the shtick of repeatedly asking for a cee-gar.

Perhaps my favorite moment in Citizen Kane comes when old Bernstein tells about the lady he saw many decades earlier. He caught sight of her once for a brief moment, she never saw him, and that was that. But, he says, a month hasn’t gone by in all the years since without him thinking of that lady. I think we all have such a lady in our memories, and I love the way Everett Sloane puts it across.

Welles said about Kane that he felt like he’d been given the best toy train a boy could ever want. Citizen Kane is great because of the talents of the assembled cast and crew. The miracle is that it was made at all. Welles was given complete control of the film. He got to choose the actors and crew, he got to develop the story as he saw fit, he got final cut … he got everything. He was 25 years old and he had never directed a movie. That’s a miracle.


This post got as many comments as any in my entire list of 50 films. Good ones, too … one person said it reminded him of a Lucinda Williams song, another added his voice to the praise for Everett Sloane.

#8: the wild bunch (sam peckinpah, 1969)

(This is the 43rd of 50 pieces that originally appeared in a Facebook group devoted to three of us choosing our 50 favorite movies. I’ll present them un-edited except for typos or egregious errors. I’ll also add a post-script to each.)

After The Wild Bunch, it was impossible to look at westerns the same way. It dealt with the end of an era, but there was nothing new in that; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, from the same period, trod similar ground. But the freeze-frame that concludes Butch Cassidy allows our nostalgia to survive. (“A freeze-frame!”, David Thomson wrote. “You can hear Peckinpah’s sneer. He might slow down the fatal frames, but that is only so we can see every bullet bursting in flesh and blood.”) The excessive violence at the end of The Wild Bunch rubs our noses in the era’s end; nothing seems to survive. After that, what else is possible? From that point on, if you made a western, you had to deal with the line The Wild Bunch drew between then and now.

Ironically, for a film that blasted away the past, The Wild Bunch is extremely nostalgic itself. The characters, and the film, pine for a time when a code mattered, and the characters, like the film, know that their time has passed. It is as if Peckinpah couldn’t bear the anguish of nostalgia; even as he felt it and expressed it on the screen, he was making sure the objects of our nostalgia would be destroyed.

Ultimately, The Wild Bunch is a confusing film. Kael claims that Peckinpah tried for so much, it overwhelmed him in the end, that what began as a realistic treatment became “an almost abstract fantasy about violence.” The bloody conclusion is orgasmic; these men love what they are doing, which may not have been Peckinpah’s intention, but then, he loved what he was doing, as well.

Peckinpah’s career was a mess. There were mediocre films, there were films where the studio interfered, there was the vile Straw Dogs. His attitude towards the women in his movies is bad enough that you wish there weren’t any female characters … absence would be better than misogyny. But at his best, and often at something less than his best, he was a great film maker, the antithesis of the efficient competence of Clint Eastwood.

Near the end, one of the Bunch has been captured by the “bad guys.” The gang has left him behind, because they are outnumbered 50-1, because to do anything else will result in certain death. But then, in a few minutes almost completely without dialogue, William Holden’s Pike Bishop knows what has to be done. Earlier in the film, he had famously said, “When you side with a man, you stay with him! And if you can't do that, you're like some animal, you're finished!” It was time to stay with their man. The exchange between Holden and Warren Oates is so simple, yet it tears at me every time I see it: “Let’s go.” “Why not?” The long walk was improvised on the set. As they walk, knowing what is to come … I’m not sure it has anything to do with “being a man,” but it has everything to do with the social construct that is “being a man.” Peckinpah romanticizes it, but nonetheless, it leads to their death.


There were more than a dozen comments on this post, although it was confined to three of us. Perhaps most noteworthy was my reminder that the group got its name from The Wild Bunch: “If They Move, Kill 'Em! Steven, Jeff & Phil Count Down Their Favorite Films.”

#9: a streetcar named desire (elia kazan, 1951)

(This is the 42nd of 50 pieces that originally appeared in a Facebook group devoted to three of us choosing our 50 favorite movies. I’ll present them un-edited except for typos or egregious errors. I’ll also add a post-script to each.)

Marlon Brando at his best is the greatest film actor I know. And his best acting is in A Streetcar Named Desire. It was only his second movie, and he was the only one of the four main actors in the film not to win an Oscar (he lost to Bogart in The African Queen). All four are excellent, especially Kim Hunter, and more especially Vivien Leigh. But Brando … well, this is where he set the template for generations of future actors. As Scorsese said, there’s Before Brando and After Brando. As good as the others are in Streetcar, it is Brando who is historic.

A Streetcar Named Desire is probably my favorite play. The filmed version is faithful enough to the original, especially since a few minutes were restored in the early 90s. Most writers would be proud to create one character over the course of their career that resonated with audiences beyond the moment. In A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams gave us two: Blanche DuBois and Stanley Kowalski. They play off of each other perfectly, one saying “I don’t want realism, I want magic!” while the other made his wife, Blanche’s sister Stella, happy when he “pulled you down off them columns, and you loved it.” Stella did love it, but all Stanley’s behavior does to Blanche is send her over the edge into madness.

Leigh’s flighty performance nails what we would now call the bipolar nature of Blanche. Coquettish as a means of protecting herself, Leigh gives us the frailty of the character, and allows us to understand her life so that when she is brutalized by Stanley, we feel how it crushes her. Leigh’s performance is crucial, because Brando has such magnetism that he threatens to take over the entire film, taking a play that centers on Blanche and making Stanley our primary object of focus. Leigh’s acting style is so different from Brando’s, and the effect so perfect, that she manages at times to wrest the film away from Brando via deflection and flirting and mystery.

A Streetcar Named Desire tells us things about ourselves we might not want to know. Stanley is a brute, but he also loves his wife. Stella sees what Stanley is, but she also loves him, perhaps in part because of what he is. Blanche’s tenuous connection to reality leads not just to an attempt to create magic, but also to her ability to destroy the lives of people like her late husband. Despite the fact that each character seems simple enough to fit into a stereotype (the brutish animal vs. the delicate gentle lady), they are all more complex than the surface suggests. It is hard to get comfortable with Streetcar, because our feel for the characters slips so easily between liking them and hating them.


Only a couple of comments for this one, from people who also liked the movie.

#10: performance (donald cammell and nicolas roeg, 1970)

(This is the 41st of 50 pieces that originally appeared in a Facebook group devoted to three of us choosing our 50 favorite movies. I’ll present them un-edited except for typos or egregious errors. I’ll also add a post-script to each.

(Jeff Pike, who was one of the three participants in the project, has begun counting down his own choices at his blog, and I highly recommend following him. His blog rules, anyway, so do it even if you don’t care about our lists. Meanwhile, Phil Dellio beat us all to the punch; you can read his 50 mini-essays here.)

When I first saw Performance in 1970 or ‘71, it set a light bulb off in my head, and when I went to college a couple of years later, I became a film major because I wanted to make movies like Nicolas Roeg.

Performance no longer seems like a very complicated movie. I showed it to a friend a few years ago who had never seen it, and he thought it was fairly straightforward. This is because the techniques of Performance, the things that made it seem so remarkable in 1970, are commonplace now. Fractured editing, uncertain chronologies, plots full of puzzles, these are all part of the standard bag of contemporary directors’ tricks.

What is interesting, in retrospect, is that I attached my devotion to co-director Nicolas Roeg, when at least two others were equally responsible for the style of the film. When Roeg went off to make his first solo-directing film, Walkabout, Donald Cammell was left to edit Performance into something acceptable for a recalcitrant studio. He worked with an editor named Frank Mazzola, who was uncredited. The two of them created the jagged style of the final product.

Performance caused many problems for Warner Brothers. That it was made at all seems impossible. Cammell and Roeg were left alone to go off to London and make a film with a rock star, a couple of little-known actresses, and James Fox. The resulting film was filled with casual sex, casual drug use, and lots of homoerotic violence. Rumor is that the wife of a Warners executive vomited during the preview showing, leading to the film being put on the shelf for two years (another rumor is that Warners tried to destroy the negative). When it was finally released, reviewers were largely unimpressed; Richard Schickel famously called it “the most completely worthless film I have seen.”

James Fox, who was a rising star in English cinema, didn’t make another movie for eight years. While Fox dismisses the idea that making Performance led to his subsequent nervous breakdown, he admits that the film “gave me doubts about my way of life.”

Fox plays a vicious gang enforcer, Chas, who gets out of line and goes on the lam; Jagger plays a semi-retired rock star named Turner who wonders what happened to his career and his life. The two characters get to know each other in the manner of Bergman’s Persona, and everything is somehow related to the work of Jorge Luis Borges.

And those critics? Performance is now listed at the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They site that collates critical opinion as being the 191st-best movie of all time. [Ed. note: the most recent update moves it to #165.]


The comments contained an interesting discussion of the work of Nicolas Roeg. In listing their favorites, no one made a case for any of his films past his first four (Performance, Walkabout, Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth).

#11: king kong (merian c. cooper and ernest b. schoedsack, 1933)

(This is the 40th of 50 pieces that originally appeared in a Facebook group devoted to three of us choosing our 50 favorite movies. I’ll present them un-edited except for typos or egregious errors. I’ll also add a post-script to each.)

Each generation, it seems, gets their own Kong. There is something elemental about the story that grabs our attention. People of my generation, who grew up watching the original on TV when we were kids, hated the 70s remake because it was not King Kong as it lived in our nostalgic remembrances. But later generations, sitting around watching TV, saw that remake much as we saw the original, as something that was on seemingly every couple of months. When Peter Jackson’s version came along, the audience compared it, not to 1933 and Fay Wray, but to the 1970s and Jessica Lange. We all got our own Kong, influenced by what had come before.

Kong may have lacked a penis (although he did have the Empire State Building), but it was always clear that even if he did have an appendage, it wasn’t going to do him a whole lot of good with Fay Wray. What wasn’t a joke was the effect the pre-Code Wray had on many young boys who saw the film on television in the 1960s (even though the version shown in those days was missing the scene where Kong peels off Wray’s clothes). Wray was indeed sexier than pretty much anything else on television at the time, but it was already a nostalgic sexiness, something that had taken place long ago, before most of those boys were born.

Race is complicated in King Kong. On the one hand, you have stereotypical representations of primitive natives. On the other hand, Kong is the baddest black man on the planet; his ultimate demise is a metaphor for the oppression of people of color. (The 1970s version makes this more explicit, including a sequence of the trip from the island to New York, which did not appear in the original. In that version, seeing Kong jailed at the bottom of the ship makes clear the connection between the story of Kong and the story of slavery.) In fact, the 1933 King Kong has it both ways: it reinforces both the white audience’s assumptions about race and sexuality, and the black audience’s assumptions about representations of race and sexuality in mainstream (i.e. “white”) culture. What gives this King Kong its potentially subversive subtext is that by the end of the film, the white audience has come to sympathize with Kong. He begins as whites’ worst nightmare, but with that sympathizing, the door is cracked open to give that audience a sense of what their assumptions mean to those who are stereotyped. The film gives no sign of “white guilt,” but the ending, and the identification of the white audience with Kong, introduces white guilt nonetheless.

When I place King Kong this high on my list, I am succumbing to my pre-teen self, the one who couldn’t imagine anything more sexy than pre-Code Fay Wray. I certainly never thought about any of the above in those days. But watching it today, I can barely think of anything else. Well, Fay Wray is still pretty damn sexy.


The comments section consisted of a bunch of us reminiscing about our favorite horror and monster movies from our youths.

#12: top hat (mark sandrich, 1935)

(This is the 39th of 50 pieces that originally appeared in a Facebook group devoted to three of us choosing our 50 favorite movies. I’ll present them un-edited except for typos or egregious errors. I’ll also add a post-script to each.)

One of the Astaire-Rogers movies was going to turn up here. I could have chosen Follow the Fleet for being the first one I saw, but it’s an atypical choice (no top hats, white ties, and tails, just sailor suits). I could have chosen Swing Time, which I guess is generally considered the best. But none of those have “Cheek to Cheek,” the best dance number in the entire Astaire-Rogers series, so Top Hat gets the nod.

The best book about the Astaire-Rogers movies is Arlene Croce’s The Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers Book. I doubt I have any original thoughts she didn’t already come up with. These movies were about romance and seduction, not necessarily sex, although there is the famous line about how Fred and Ginger were great partners because he gave her class and she gave him sex. The plot of Top Hat is exceedingly silly; the true story is told in the series of dances in the film. In the first, Fred offers a joyful solo tap dance that wakes up Ginger in another room in the hotel both are staying in (I could call them by their characters’ names, but why bother?); this leads to their first meeting, with Ginger cranky at Fred and Fred suffering from love at first sight (this happens in a lot of their movies together). Next, they dance together in “Isn’t It a Lovely Day” … Ginger hesitates to join in at first, but finally she makes her move, surprising and delighting Fred with her skills. The ice thaws. Fred does a show-stopping solo number (the title tune), and then, in the midst of that goofy plot about mistaken identities, the two of them fall in love to “Cheek to Cheek.” What’s happening in the non-dance parts of the film is irrelevant. What matters is getting Fred and Ginger to this point, where they will recognize their love for each other (or rather, Ginger recognizes … Fred is already there). “Cheek to Cheek” is one of the great romantic, exquisite moments in film.

There’s one more dance, a big production number, and the plot gets straightened out. There are some fun turns by the supporting cast, especially Erik Rhodes as dress designer Alberto Beddini (Rhodes, born in Oklahoma when it was still Indian Territory, played a similar Italian in The Gay Divorcee … Mussolini banned both films in Italy because he found Rhodes’ over-the-top characters to be offensive). Rhodes’ most famous line here is “Never again will I allow women to wear my dresses!”


Even the commenters who professed to knowing little about Astaire/Rogers films admitted to seeing a couple. And one commenter knew the movies better than I do, which was great fun!

#13: breathless (jean-luc godard, 1960)

(This is the 38th of 50 pieces that originally appeared in a Facebook group devoted to three of us choosing our 50 favorite movies. I’ll present them un-edited except for typos or egregious errors. I’ll also add a post-script to each.)

Many modern reviews of Jean-Luc Godard’s first feature discuss the impossibility of reclaiming the moment when Breathless first arrived on our screens. Its innovations, not just in technique but in attitude, were so influential that even now, in 2012, films and television shows and commercials exist in homage to Breathless. If you saw it for the first time today, it would be impossible to share the startled delight of those who first saw it in 1960. The technique and the attitude are now commonplace, and there is some question whether Breathless can still stand on its own as a great film.

Happily, I can sidestep the issue by falling back on the continuing theme of Favorite vs. Best. Breathless is one of my favorite movies, dating back to the first time I saw it. That was already the early-70s, but I was only just beginning my film education, and it didn’t occur to me at the time that something like Bonnie and Clyde owed a lot to Godard’s film. Which is to say that I was able to approximate the feeling of 1960, which is something, at least. I sat through the film, and I didn’t leave the theater … I watched it a second time, the only time I can recall ever doing that (outside of Yellow Submarine once when I was high).

I claim to be a substance-over-style guy, but making this list has shown me how shallow is my feeling for this. Directors like Welles, Hitchcock, and Ophüls, all of whom have turned up recently on my list, are certainly style-first directors, even if they are only “superficially superficial.” (Run Lola Run surely fits this, as well.) Breathless is definitely style-over-substance. The “plot” barely exists, and whatever “meaning” can be extracted from the film must always confront the ultimate playfulness with which Breathless was made.

In the middle of the film, Breathless stops for about 20 minutes while Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg talk in her apartment. (I use the actors’ names intentionally … Godard has said the film could be seen as a documentary about the two.) It’s like seeing Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in a prequel to the “Before” movies, if those two played amoral, self-absorbed icons instead of something resembling real people.

Breathless is also another movie that stands in for many others. Suffice to say that Jean-Luc Godard was going to make my list, and I could have placed half-a-dozen in my top 50 without stretching (off the top of my head, I’d add Vivre sa vie, Masculine Feminine, Weekend, Band of Outsiders, and Pierrot le fou). I don’t know which to recommend first for someone who has never seen any Godard; Band of Outsiders, which Tarantino loves, or Masculine Feminine, with the immortal self-description, “The Children of Marx and Coca-Cola.” But Breathless works for me.


What little commenting there was focused mostly on which Godard was the favorite of the commenter. Well, that’s a stretch … the first commenter said he thought I would have picked Masculine Feminine, I was the second commenter, and the third (and last) cast her vote for Breathless, as well.