Best of the 1930s

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

Inspired by a patriotic teacher, Paul Baumer enlists in the first World War, but quickly finds the reality of the fighting much less glamorous than he was promised.

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Look at those funny faces!

Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1906)

Anticipating the later anarchic work of Max Fleischer and Warner Brothers by at least twenty years, this early animated film by James Stuart Blackton highlights cinema’s early obsession with its own artificiality.

It’s not particularly sophisticated, but possesses an inventive playfulness.

The 400 Tricks of the Devil succeeded this as my favorite film released in 1906.

A Royal Resume

Despite her retirement from Hollywood at age 26 to become the Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly was ranked the 13th greatest female film star by the American Film Institute.

Because she retired so young, her public image was frozen as a young, beautiful woman and her marriage into royalty created a unique mystique among American celebrities. Add a tragic and unexpected death, and you have a recipe for a legendary career.

This is my ranked list of her films.

High Society (1956)7) High Society (1956)

Successful jazz musician C.K. Dexter Haven (Bing Crosby) remains enamored with his ex-wife, socialite Tracy Lord (Grace Kelly), but she is about to marry George Kittredge. To complicate things even further, she develops feelings for Mike Connor (Frank Sinatra) a tabloid newspaper reporter covering her wedding.

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Open wide!

The Big Swallow (1901)

Annoyed by a photographer, a man walks towards the camera and swallows the cameraman.

Directed by James Williamson, this absurd film reminds us there was a time when simple camera tricks were cutting edge.

The film’s final shots, featuring the offending cameraman falling into a black hole and the unknown man backing away as he smugly eats his antagonist, turn an extreme close up into a coherent narrative.

Contemporary audiences can make logical connections between film images because people like James Williamson did the hard work of establishing those expectations, laying the groundwork for a cinematic language.

The Magician and the Human Pump (1901)

One of my favorite quotes about Shakespeare, “He has no equal, nor second.” I feel the same way about Georges Méliès.

His use of elaborate, hand painted sets and props makes his films look like elaborate paintings and they often revolve around a trick shot, a subterfuge of audience expectations, but his imagination and creative energy towers over other filmmakers of the era and makes their films feel dull and plodding.


Annie Hall (1977)

Annie Hall (1977)

After two failed marriages, Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) meets Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) while playing tennis and, after an awkward beginning, the two begin seeing each other. They fall in love and move in together, but, for no discernible reason, they drift apart and their relationship deteriorates.

The six movies Woody Allen directed before Annie Hall are among the zaniest, silliest, and funniest movies of all time, but didn’t prepare audiences for this brilliant fusion of Allen’s comic persona with a heart-felt reflection on the ups and downs of a relationship.

The amazing cast of supporting players includes Paul Simon, Shelley Duvall, Carol Kane, Christopher Walken, and famed theorist Marshall McLuhan.

Allen has spent forty years trying to recapture the magic of this film. He’s never quite achieved the same pinnacle again, but the movie launched an unparalleled fifteen year streak of excellent movies, only broken by the bitterness of his relationship with Mia Farrow.

This was succeeded as my favorite film released in 1977 by MacArthur.