1943 is the weakest year of the early 40s, and a lot of that has to do with one thing and one thing only: World War II. A lot of the top directors in Hollywood (the ones with the highest percentage of great films) were off participating in the war. There’s a great book (and documentary) about it called Five Came Back. The big five are John Ford, John Huston, Frank Capra, George Stevens and William Wyler. Of the five, only one has a movie that came out this year, and that was because he was finishing his obligations before joining the war.
With those directors gone, it’s pretty slim pickings at the top. That’s not to say there aren’t really good films here, but there’s a marked difference between the overall quality of films in 1941 and 1942 vs. 1943. And it’s totally understandable. America is in the thick of the war effort and the industry doesn’t really have the time or the money to churn out the amount of films they had been.
The other thing I like about 1943 is the overall influx of Technicolor films. Still a primarily black-and-white top ten, but there’s definitely more color all around, and good use of color, too. (more…)
You’d think maybe there’d be a bit of a drop off, the year after Citizen Kane. But no, we come right back with Casablanca. And about five or six other really iconic and incredible movies. (I mean like, all-time iconic and not just regular iconic.)
The big thing to discuss for 1942 is that it’s the first year of World War II. The U.S. entered the war at the end of 1941, and this was the first year you start to see incredibly pro-war effort films start to come out there. That is really the main trend for the year.
Outside of that, the year is full of terrific biopics and classy dramas. And one film that is one of the most entertaining and underrated hidden gems out there, that almost nobody knows about today. (more…)
Don’t let anyone tell you the 30s and the 40s weren’t the greatest era for American film. Look at this. It’s year after year of just amazing stuff.
I guess what we need to talk about for 1941 is that the consensus greatest movie ever made was released this year. Or, I guess, for contrarians, the most influential film ever made. No matter how you slice it, Citizen Kane is on the Mount Rushmore of movies. And then you have a bunch of other really amazing stuff. The “official” beginning of the noir genre, with The Maltese Falcon. Classic comedies like The Lady Eve and Sullivan’s Travels. Cultural classics like Sergeant York. This year is just stacked with incredible films.
This is one of those years where I could swap out half the top ten for the 11-20 and it would still look like a formidable top ten list. That’s the 40s. They churned out incredible stuff on a consistent basis. (more…)
You’d be hard pressed to find a bad choice in 1940’s list. Straight up, nine of them are legitimately among the biggest classics in cinema history. And the other (if you’ve seen it) is just incredible.
I feel like there’s gonna be a lot of this coming up in the future. A lot of top ten lists with mostly classics that we all agree are great. The real interest is gonna come in all the hidden gems below the line. The 40s is a decade full of amazing films that aren’t as well known simply because not everything can be.
One thing I like about this year in particular is how it has a nice pairing of films. You’ll see several times where two films are akin, either because they share the same director and stars, or are similar in story. Or they’re two of the greatest animated films ever made. (more…)
There are two decades throughout film history that have very definitive tonal shifts in them. The 30s is one, and the 60s is the other. The 30s has the shift because at the start of it, the industry was getting used to telling stories with sound, and then they were getting used to what they could or could not portray up on the screen. And, by the end of the decade, they not only had everything down pat, but along the way color got introduced, and they managed to turn it all into a well-oiled machine that would continue up until the 60s, when it all came crumbling down.
Going into this list, I suspect it will skew much more heavily toward the end of the decade, with at least half the list coming from 1938 or 1939. Partly because there’s so few films from those early years that I truly love, and also because, as I said earlier, they got the hang of everything toward the end and the product just felt better. Not to mention, 1939 is one of the single greatest years in the history of cinema. Which also helps.
For methodology purposes, the way I compile these Top Tens of the Decade lists: I take my top ten for each year of the decade, throw them all together, and simply whittle it down until I find what I feel are my ten favorites from that decade. Not the best, my favorite. That’s really all it is. I feel like if I can figure out what my favorite films of all time are, then I can figure it out by specific decades. (more…)
There’s a reason 1939 is referred to as one of the greatest individual years in the history of cinema. Legitimately half this list is among the greatest films of the decade and all time. And it’s not just the choices on top. This year goes deep.
You have one of the greatest westerns ever made, perhaps Frank Capra’s finest achievement, and one of the most uplifting movies ever made, an all-time classic that is one of the most beloved films ever made and has become so iconic that it’s become part of the lexicon and a cultural touchstone for every single person. Oh, let’s not also forget the landmark achievement of 1939, what still may be the finest achievement in the history of American moviemaking.
The important thing about this year isn’t just to fete the classics, it’s to talk up all the other great stuff that got released alongside them. There’s gonna be some great stuff here you haven’t heard of. (more…)
1938 is the first year where Technicolor really burst off the screen. The first all-color film was in 1935. And for the next two years, Hollywood was still getting used to telling stories with a full palette. There’s a whole interesting lesson to be told about how it all worked, but the quick version is — for a while they felt that people might get overwhelmed if they put too much color out there, so they muted themselves for the first couple of years. You see a lot of the movies of 1936 and 1937, and all the colors are very subdued and made to look utterly realistic, to the point of falling into the background in a lot of cases.
But you get to 1938, and Hollywood just let loose. The color bursts out on the screen the way it was intended to. The colors are vibrant and pop off the screen in ways they never really would again. (Unless of course you were Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.) It’s a fun time. First they mute them, then they go all out, and then everything settles down into a balanced norm.
The other great thing about 1938 is that this is the era where the screwball comedy is firmly entrenched and they’re just churning them out. So there’s a bunch of great ones all over the late 30s. This year has what might be the greatest one ever made. (more…)
1937 is a peaks and valleys kind of year. There’s a lot of really solid stuff there, but the very top of the list has some really heavy hitters. Particularly the big one, which was a landmark in the history of cinema and still holds up as one of the greatest accomplishments ever put to the screen.
Otherwise, a lot of cool things here. Like 1936, I’m gonna be doing some talking up of a film that I don’t think gets its proper regard as one of the greatest films ever made. Besides those — some classic comedies, iconic screen stories and another film generally regarded as one of the 50 greatest films ever made.
Another fun fact: this top ten list features the first full Technicolor entry thus far. To this point, only two full color films have appeared as top ten films, and both were two-strip Technicolor. (more…)
1936 makes me happy. This is the first top ten list where I can honestly give a resounding thumbs up to all of the films. I look at this list and I feel actual excitement at the films that are on it.
The one thing that jumps out at me for this list in particular: William Powell. He’s in four films in this top ten. And Myrna Loy is in three of them too! Which, honestly… that pretty much sums me up as a film goer.
Otherwise — a lot of the standard stuff appears, both in terms of my taste and the classics. The big thing about this year in particular for me is that it contains one of the great hidden gems of all time, one of those films that I am constantly shouting about as one of the greatest films ever made that has never fully gotten its due. (more…)
There’s a marked overall increase in quality in 1935. I attribute it to Hollywood finally finding its footing in the Production Code era, finally figuring out how to perfect the motion picture and now getting the assembly line up and running. And they’re just cranking out product.
There’s not a whole lot to say about this except it’s got a cool set of choices with genres ranging all over the place. Romance, comedy (slapstick and screwball), horror, drama, musical.
There’s a couple of real hidden gems in this year, one in particular I think people should check out. (more…)
So now we’re firmly in the era of the Production Code, and the subject matter’s gotten a lot less fun. But that doesn’t mean anything, since it’s almost a good thing. Maybe it would have happened anyway, but the minute they put restrictions on, they busted out with some real classics.
For me, 1934 is always gonna be known for two things. First, it’s the year my favorite film of all time was made. And second, it’s the year where Hollywood established its “classic” formula. It Happened One Night is the benchmark film of the studio era. You could watch it and see the progression of just about any film made for the next thirty years.
Otherwise, a lot of other things began in this year: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Shirley Temple and William Powell and Myrna Loy. We’re hitting the ground running, and it’s only gonna get more fun from here. (more…)
1933 is the end of the party. Hollywood finally went too far and crossed too many lines. For the past few years, all the Pre-Code films had to pass through state censors in order to be shown in theaters. Certain films weren’t shown in certain states for various reasons. (If you ever go back and read all the different reasons states refused to screen certain movies, you’ll be very amused.) Finally, after the government threatened to step in, Hollywood got serious.
The Production Code was technically around since 1922. After the William Desmond Taylor murder and the Fatty Arbuckle scandal, the government was trying to clean up on the “immorality” of the town, and Hollywood, rather than have the hammer come down, self-policed. It’s like when colleges self-impose bans to keep the NCAA from dropping the hammer on them. But no one really took it seriously. Then in 1927, they put out a list of “Don’ts and Be Carefuls.” Which was basically a list of “Don’t show white slavery. Don’t show miscegenation, be careful how you use the flag.” Shit like that. Again, generally adhered to, but with anything, people start bending the rules after a while. (more…)