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I Found It At the Movies: 1939—The Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir)

I Found It At the Movies: 1939—The Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir)

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Inspired by Dave Hicks’ excellent blog, I have decided to write about my favorite film for each year from 1926-2008.

1939: The Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir)

Here’s a film that will probably forever be mentioned among the greats. It always seems to find its way to the top of those “best ever” lists, and I don’t really ever see that changing.

It’s a film that I greatly admire. I’m even in awe of it, but it’s also the kind of film that makes me want to put together my own “favorites” list. What I mean by this is that if all I ever saw were “the greats”, films with as much universal support as this one, I’m not sure I’d have the same passion about film.

Many of my favorites are more flawed, but they affect me more personally. When I first started being a cinephile, circa 1994, I wanted to like all the “best films”, the ones the critics I respected loved the most. But then something happened. I found that I adamantly disagreed for the first time with Pauline Kael, one of the critics I most admired. It was probably either with Michael Mann’s Thief or Michael Cimino’s Year of the Dragon. Kael hated it, I loved it. And then I began to start questioning some of her other picks. Soon I decided that it was important to see “the greats”, but it was even more important for me to determine my own set of classics, my own favorites, regardless of whether anyone else had championed them or not.

Tony Dayoub over at the excellent blog Cinema Viewfinder posted a similar discussion late last week. I thought Tony, as well as Sam Juliano (of another excellent blog Wonders in the Dark), made some fantastic points, and articulated this issue as well as anyone I’ve ever seen.

All this is to say I can’t help but include The Rules of the Game (La regle du jeu) on this list. It doesn’t affect me personally as much as some films from other years or even some other Renoir films. But the direction is as graceful as any I’ve ever seen, and the performances are all magnificent. It’s probably as perfect a film as I can think of, but in my very humble opinion, perfect and favorite are not, and don’t have to be, the same.

What moviemakers can learn: Take time to see the so-called classics. But at the end of the day, develop your own taste, and value that above the opinions of critics or peers.

Other contenders for 1939: I still have some films to see from this year. They include: Kenji Mizoguchi’s The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums and William Wyler’s Wuthering Heights. From this year, I really like Leo McCarey’s Love Affair and Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings. And I have three main runners-up. I find John Ford’s Stagecoach to be one of the most entertaining westerns ever made. Raoul Walsh’s The Roaring Twenties echoes many of the themes of another favorite of mine, Once Upon a Time in America, and is an absolutely fantastic crime film. Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz still affects me as one of the most beautiful and magical films the cinema has ever produced. In the end I went with the Renoir as I admire it (maybe even love it), for it feels in some sense the most like real life—complex, chaotic and vital, yet still harmonious and maintaining some kind of balance.

After living in Los Angeles for seven years, Jeffrey Goodman returned to his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana to direct The Last Lullaby. Co-written by the creator of Road to Perdition, and starring Tom Sizemore and Sasha Alexander, The Last Lullaby was filmed entirely in and around Shreveport and financed by 48 local investors. Goodman is now at work, raising money for his next feature, Peril.

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