The Complete IMDB Top 250, Part One

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The Complete IMDB Top 250, Part One

Postby Luhks on Tue Oct 13, 2009 5:56 am

Please click the link. The blog version looks infinitely better.

The IMDB Top 250 is probably the most well-known movie list in the world, composed by aggregating the votes of thousands of normal moviegoers. In January 2009, I set out on a quest to watch, rate, and review the entire collection. My quest is nearing completion, and I present, in chronological order, the first group of films.

The Kid (1921)

“A picture with a smile – and perhaps, a tear.”

This simple title card description summarizes Chaplin’s modus operandi quite well. The Kid teeters back and forth between pathos and slapstick. Unlike other Chaplin classics, though, the tears invoked by the melodrama actually might outnumber the smiles. A desperate unwed mother abandons her newborn child, hoping to give him a more fortunate upbringing. Instead, the boy ends up being raised by a man equally poor man, as the mother quickly ascends to the upper class. The touching relationship between son and his accidental father carries the majority of this film. In poverty, both the Tramp and the Kid still lead rich lives, as long as the other is present.

Luhks Rating: *****

Safety Last! (1923)

”Will you climb the Bolton Building - twelve floors – for five hundred dollars? / Say, for five hundred dollars, I’d climb to Heaven and hang by my heels from the pearly gates.”

Harold Lloyd is remembered (or, perhaps more accurately, has been forgotten) as the third genius of silent comedy behind Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Safety Last, his most famous feature, is built from the same components: the unnamed protagonist of humble origins, devoted to a single love interest, as he stumbles his way from one sight gag to the next. Lloyd’s bespectacled screen persona displays neither Chaplin’s comic charm nor Keaton’s impeccable physical timing. Nevertheless, Safety Last still forges its own legacy with one unforgettable set piece. Lloyd the actor compensates for his shortcomings by putting his own life and limb at risk to please his audience. At the same time, his character does precisely the same thing to impress his girl. Unable to climb the proverbial corporate ladder, Lloyd's only option is to climb a 12-story department store with his bare hands. The stunt work impresses, even when the humor and storytelling do not.

Luhks Rating: *****

Sherlock, Jr. (1924)

”By the next day the master mind had completely solved the mystery – with the exception of locating the pearls and finding the thief.”

At only 44 minutes long, Sherlock Jr. could be classified as either a short or a feature film. Despite running short in minutes, this Buster Keaton feature runs long with imagination. Keaton plays a downtrodden movie projectionist, hoping to win a girl's heart heart, while also training to become a detective. When his luck in his waking life takes a downturn, he reinvents himself in a dream. From this point, Sherlock Jr. achieves more than one instance of movie magic, in a literal sense. Keaton approaches surrealism with one expertly crafted illusion after another. When the dreaming projectionist walks through the screen into the movie universe, Keaton seems to express his own desire that his films might cross directly over the barrier between the eyes and the human imagination.

Luhks Rating: *****

The Gold Rush (1925)

Say, there, that’s no stowaway. That’s Big Jim’s partner, the multi-millionaire!”

Strangely, a plot summary of this silent comedy might sound terribly depressing. A lone prospector travels to the frozen Klondike in search of gold. He battles against the elements, and such severe starvation that he must eat his own shoe to stave off hunger. At a nearby dance hall, he faces constant cruelty from a woman he adores, her group of friends, and her bully of a boyfriend. He also faces life-threatening dangers from a homicidal miner, a ferocious black bear, and his own mad companion who nearly resorts to cannibalism. The film somehow manages to remain an extremely light-hearted comedy throughout all of these morbid events, because, in essence, Chaplin's films are live-action cartoons. Perhaps a more accurate statement would be: many cartoons are essentially hand-drawn imitations of Chaplin. The Gold Rush features Chaplin at his most cartoonish, in the most complimentary sense of the word.

Luhks Rating: *****

The General (1926)

”There were two loves in his life: his engine and his sweetheart, Annabelle Lee.”

Buster Keaton’s signature film The General might be the greatest of all silent comedies, because the film refuses to sacrifice character or story for the sake of laughs. Make no mistake, it still offers some of the most clever visual gags ever devised. Keaton’s character Johnny Gray, a deadly serious man on a mission, never plays the clown. At the same time, The General also might be the greatest action movie ever made, with an awe-inspiring collection of stunts and lengthy chase scenes of relentless intensity. The pacing makes it difficult to recall many individual scenes, but it is impossible to forget the overall experience. The viewer never laughs at the character, or even with the character, but instead finds humor in the elegant symphony of chaos of his universe. Perhaps because the story was based on the record of a true incident, The General does not suffer from the disjointed episodic feel of its contemporaries. Each moment forms part a seamless whole, a story that gathers more momentum than a multi-ton locomotive.

Luhks Rating: *****

Metropolis (1927)

”There can be no understanding between the hand and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator.”

When people today talk about Fritz Lang’s science fiction masterpiece Metropolis, many will mention that the visual effects are amazing, for its time period. The qualifier is unnecessary. The visuals of Metropolis would be an amazing achievement in any era. The images alone are so inspired and beautiful that they need no added justification. This tale of a stratified urban society is rich with religious allusions, as well as an overt political allegory. The most thought-provoking element of the film is the way in which it blurs the distinctions between the organic and the artificial. The dehumanized workers have become extensions of their instruments. The inventor Rotwag, himself conceived as half mechanical, creates a robotic woman (with a remarkable performance from Brigitte Helm) who behaves in some ways more human than her living prototype. Lang portrays the metropolis itself both as an intricate piece of machinery and as a massive organism. Today, the film still stands tall as a work of art as monumental as the fictional city it portrays.

Luhks Rating: *****

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

“The song of a Man and his Wife is of no place and every place; you might hear it anywhere, at any time. For wherever the sun rises and sets, in the city’s turmoil or under the open sky on the farm, life is much the same: sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet.”

As its title suggests, F. W. Murnau composed this silent masterpiece more like music than like fiction. Sunrise creates a progression of emotions almost exclusively through the power of its images. Not one frame of film goes to waste. The visual effects, cinematography, editing, lighting, set design, and of course the actors’ faces tell a fairy tale that transcends words in a script. Even the rare title cards often contain an inspired degree of visual expressiveness. The Two Humans together explore the many dualities of life: man and woman, city and country, love and hate, night and day, sadness and joy, loneliness and unity. The story strive to be broad, in order to become universal. Like a true song, Murnau’s film can speak volumes to people of all tongues, without saying a single word.

Luhks Rating: *****

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

“You think it’s beautiful to die for your country? The first bombardment taught us better. When it comes to dying for your country, it’s better not to die at all. There are millions out there dying for their countries, and what good is it?”

Most of the power of Lewis Milestone’s Best Picture winner derives from its literary source material. Most of the power of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel derives from its real-world source material. Young soldiers fight for their lives against all of the dangers of World War I trench warfare: nationalist hysteria, commanding officers, shells, bullets, bayonets, dirt, disease, vermin, hunger, loneliness, guilt, fear, insanity, and the ignorance of society. The characters are technically German, the actors speak English, but they just as easily could be French or any other nationality. Although it was produced in the early days of sound, the production values still impress alongside any other war epic made since.

Luhks Rating: *****

M (1931)

”All of which seems to me you could just as easily give up if you learned something useful or if you had jobs, if you weren’t such lazy pigs. But me … I can’t help myself. I have no control over this, this evil thing inside me, the fire, the voices, the torment!”

Working in Germany during the 1930s, Fritz Lang did not make this film during what could be called the height of free expression. Both the director and his star Peter Lorre fled from persecution within two years of its release, and the Nazis banned the movie a year later. Regardless, Lang managed to bury his social commentary beneath the surface of his film, for future generations to uncover. M uses the story of serial child killer to expose the ugliness of the larger culture. The film progresses through a series of ironies: the playfully whistled tune "In the Hall of the Mountain King" becomes a sinister death march, a blind man makes the only reliable eye-witness, criminals run a better investigation than the police, and the violent mob proves to be as monstrous as the killer. The expressionist aesthetic creates a pervasive mood that will shadow the viewer long after the final frames.

Luhks Rating: *****

City Lights (1931)

”Tomorrow the birds will sing.”

In 1931, Hollywood had transitioned to all-sound pictures, and the United States found itself mired in the Great Depression. The great filmmaker Charles Chaplin responded to these challenges precisely the way his Little Tramp character reacts his own: with a shrug and a smile. On the technical side, he retained the essence of his physical silent humor, but complemented it with a remarkable musical score and sound effects (literally, a few bells and whistles). On the creative side, his story subverted notions of wealth and poverty. The Tramp enters the film jobless, homeless, and friendless, the subject of public ridicule. However, the blind girl who sells flowers on the street believes him to be a handsome millionaire. The actual millionaire is a suicidal drunkard, but in his intoxicated stupor, he treats the Tramp as his closest friend. The same core idea underlies both relationships: this penniless man does indeed possess extraordinary worth. Another inspired sequence replaces the financial metaphor with a physical one: love empowers him to hold his ground in a boxing match against a man twice his size. Ultimately, though, this man not by the size of his wallet or his muscles, but by the size of his heart.

Luhks Rating: *****
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Re: The Complete IMDB Top 250, Part One

Postby Finli Otego on Tue Oct 13, 2009 6:15 am

That's quite a mission, Luhks! Thanks for sharing. I'll be following the blog. :thumbup:
(I've only seen M and Metropolis, both of which I thought were great.)

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Re: The Complete IMDB Top 250, Part One

Postby dr mum on Tue Oct 13, 2009 7:05 am

My mum would have seen all of these ...she was quite a film buff.
Hard to get ones head round how it was all in it's infancy then.
Also Quite bizarre to think that Charlie Chaplin was a celeb figure....
People collected autographs way back then... a practice, somehow more well mannered
and less intrusive on the stars private life..than todays celeb 'culture"
I think Buster Keaton is way better than Chaplin myself... funny without the smaltz
and kinda edgy aswell. O.o

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Re: The Complete IMDB Top 250, Part One

Postby G-Man on Tue Oct 13, 2009 1:30 pm

I am shocked by your rating of City Lights. I love that movie. It's so beautiful and it was the first silent film I ever watched. It made me a fan of silent films. :thumbup:

But, to each his own.
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Re: The Complete IMDB Top 250, Part One

Postby zeek on Tue Oct 13, 2009 8:06 pm

I've seen three of them: Metropolis, All Quiet on the Western Front and M. They're all great films :thumbup: Couldn't have described Metropolis better.

I'll be following your quest to see all 250 movies. Look forward to reading your thoughts!
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