Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989) – written as well as produced by the filmmaker, and starring Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, John Turturro, Samuel L. Jackson, and Lee himself – is one of the greatest films of all time, according to Far Out Magazine. Regardless, the racially charged release was only nominated in two categories at that year’s Academy Awards (Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Screenplay), winning neither. Some critics said the movie could “incite black audiences to riot,” to which Lee responded, “I don’t remember people saying people were going to come out of theatres killing people after they watched Arnold Schwarzenegger films.”
Between the programming on Turner Classic Movies, the Columbia Noir series currently streaming on the Criterion Channel, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, film noir has found itself part of the contemporary critical conversation again, according to The New York Times. It is difficult, if not impossible, to define noir, if for no other reason than that it transcends genre, but critic Ben Kenigsberg says Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place (1950), which is streaming on Criterion’s Columbia Noir series, is a “place for getting a handle on what noir is.” Kenigsberg writes, “It has elements of murder mystery, melodrama and Hollywood insider scoop.”
James Parrott’s The Music Box (1932), a half-hour Laurel and Hardy short, premiered April 16, 1932, according to The Post-Standard. In the slapstick duo’s masterpiece, Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel play a couple of bumbling furniture movers who deliver a player-piano to a wealthy man’s house (Professor Theodore von Schwartzenhoffen, M.D., A.D., D.D.S., F.L.D., F-F-F-and-F (Billy Gilbert)). The film earned Stan and Ollie their first Academy Award, and it debuted almost thirty-two years to the day when a pair of Syracuse deliverymen brought down a chimney with the weight of their pulleys while delivering a piano on April 22, 1900.
With the passing of Anna Karina earlier this month, her inevitable immortalization as Jean-Luc Godard’s cinematic muse ignores her other screen credits, her music, her theatre, her filmmaking, her writing, and that she often elevated Godard’s work, according to The Guardian. François Truffaut once said of Catherine Deneuve, “I wouldn’t compare her to a flower or a bouquet, since there is a certain neutrality in her that leads me to compare her to the vase in which all the flowers are placed,” which summarizes the dynamic between auteurs and muses. As female filmmakers like Joanna Hogg collaborate with men like Tom Hiddleston, one cannot help but wonder if the male muse will be the next filmic trend, or if female authorship will be more egalitarian.
Phillips Smalley and Lois Weber’s The Jew’s Christmas (1913), a half-hourlong, three-reel picture written by Weber, is the first American film with a rabbi as a character, but represents its Jewish cast as intolerant of Christians and in need of assimilation, according to The Forward. Smalley himself plays Rabbi Isaac, but husband-and-wife filmmaking team Smalley and Weber were both Gentiles, and Carl Laemmle, the president of Universal Pictures at the time who greenlit the production, was Jewish. Weber would go on to become the first woman to direct a feature-length movie, The Merchant of Venice (1914), in the United States.
When BBC Culture polled the greatest films directed by women, only nine of the top twenty-five were released before 1990, and a fifth of the top one hundred are dated 1999, 2008, 2014, or 2017, which seems to be symptomatic of a new filmmaking golden age, according to BBC News. Australian critic and Hollywood-based presenter Alicia Malone says the rise of independent film in the 1990s democratized moviemaking, as newer, smaller studios allocated more risk-averse budgets and high-definition consumer video cameras to previously unheard of artists. Tricia Tuttle, the artistic director of the BFI London Film Festival, says it’s still too soon to know whether we’re in a golden age or not, but with four out of the five female nominees for the Best Director Academy Award being nominated after 1990, change is here.
Cahiers du Cinéma, the oldest French-language film magazine in the world as well as one of the most prestigious movie publications in any tongue, has named David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return (2017) as the greatest film of the 2010s, according to IndieWire. Lynch is the only American filmmaker to appear on their end-of-the-decade top-ten list, but it has ignited a debate over whether Twin Peaks: The Return, which was written as a single feature script, should be counted as film or television, since it aired on Showtime over eighteen episodes. André Bazin, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, and Joseph-Marie Lo Duca founded Cahiers du Cinéma in 1951, and writers Jacques Rivette, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, and François Truffaut would go on to mold the French New Wave, with Éric Rohmer serving as editor in 1957.