1922 Ten Best Movies

nosferatuF.W. Murnau scores three films in this year’s list, which says something about A) how many 1922 movies are available to be seen, and B) how deep this filmmaker’s talent was. The Number One is Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens, Murnau’s unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Most silent films have vanished because of indifference and the vagaries of film preservation; Nosferatu was supposed to be destroyed because of legal proceedings from the Stoker estate. Fortunately, a few rogue prints survived, and Murnau’s utterly eerie film – indeed a symphony of horrors – still lives.

The other two films display, to a lesser but still evocative degree, the ability of Murnau to deepen the field of the movie frame, to create a world that extends out through the back of the screen. Forget the flat proscenium of the live theater; Murnau blows that out.

The second-best film is also from Germany: Fritz Lang’s crime epic, Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler, a stupendously intricate portrait of a society under the spell of a master string-puller. Of all the sinister messages emanating from 1920s Germany, none delivers the dire prognosis quite as completely as this one. Next to these top two titles, the other films look positively relaxed. With the proviso that there are undoubtedly films of this year that deserve to be mentioned that are outside the reach of see-ability right now, here are the best of 1922:

1. Nosferatu (F.W. Murnau)

2. Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler (Fritz Lang)

3. Cops (Buster Keaton, Edward F. Cline)

4. Foolish Wives (Erich von Stroheim)

5. Nanook of the North (Robert Flaherty)

6. Grandma’s Boy (Fred C. Newmeyer)

7. Phantom (F.W. Murnau)

8. Pay Day (Charlie Chaplin)

9. The Burning Soil (F.W. Murnau)

10. Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Benjamin Christensen)

The three big comedians are all represented with classic stuff (Grandma’s Boy is a Harold Lloyd picture), to the exclusion of star vehicles for Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford – but sorry, that’s how I roll. Nanook, Flaherty’s famed film of Inuit life, still has shivery moments, and a way of seeing the world that is just as strong as Erich von Stroheim’s orchestrated decadence. Not that there’s anything wrong with orchestrated decadence.

Movie Diary 2/9/2009

Nosferatu (F.W. Murnau, 1922). Caligari gets historical pride of place, but this is the film that brought supernatural invasion into a recognizably real world. Plus, those shots of the ship.

Sex and the Single Girl (Richard Quine, 1964). Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood in the He’s Just Not That Into You of its day, adapted from an advice best-seller and everything. A handful of good sight gags amidst a great deal of leering.

roadhouse2Road House (Jean Negulesco, 1948). Re-visiting this noir after many years, it still seems handsome-looking, marginally perverse in its sado-masochistic relationship between Richard Widmark (great) and Cornel Wilde, and fundamentally rather dull.

The Smallest Show on Earth (Basil Dearden, 1957). Cheerful couple (Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers) inherit a fleapit movie house, make it run. Peter Sellers has a few great moments in one of his wig-and-funny-voice character things.

Fail-Safe (Sidney Lumet, 1964). Neglected in the shadow of Strangelove, this is still a very effective movie — one of the best nuclear-nightmare scenarios ever made.

Friday the 13th (Marcus Nispel, 2009). Jason with a budget. Also an icepick, bow and arrow, machete, bear trap, wood chipper… I hope I’m not spoiling it. (full review 2/13, duh)