Inspired by Dave Hicks’ excellent blog, I have decided to write about my favorite film for each year from 1926-2008.
1946: The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler)
This might have to go down as the most stellar year in the history of cinema. So how offensive of me to put William Wyler, the somewhat unrecognized auteur, at the top of the list. Please, I promise my intention is not to offend, only to represent my favorite film of the year.
Wyler made a slew of films in his career, and I’ve probably seen less than 20% of them, certainly not yet enough to determine whether he’s been undervalued by film history. I feel comfortable saying this, though: Wyler sat in the backseat of most of his films. He preferred an invisible style rather than something more evident for the auteurists to latch onto and recognize.
What I think I respond to most in The Best Years of Our Lives is the honesty of the storytelling and a certain realism that it strives for thematically, emotionally and formally. There’s also a special fluidness to the way Wyler allows all of it to unfold. It’s fairly epic (at 172 minutes), but everyone is so well-drawn, and the story so well-written, that it all goes down quite easily for me.
This film is one of these ultra-rare, incredibly well-balanced works where everything is there–heaviness/lightness, exploration/entertainment, universal/personal, reality/escape. I watch it and can’t help but feel that it doesn’t get much better than this.
What moviemakers can learn: The auteur theory is a great way to begin an education of the art movie. However, some of my favorite moviemakers (including William Wyler) were not wholly supported by the auteurists. So make sure to take the time to seek out movies by non-auteurs, too.
Other contenders for 1946: What a year this was! There aren’t that many major titles I’ve yet to see, but two are Kenji Mizoguchi’s Five Women Around Utamaro and Ernst Lubitsch’s Cluny Brown. Then there is a special section of films from this year that I have seen but need to revisit at some point, as none of them had as great an impact as I would have expected. These are: Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious, Roberto Rossellini’s Paisan, Vittorio De Sica’s Shoeshine and Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. This year I also have more runners-up than any other year so far. It’s definitely not top-tier for him, but I really like Orson Welles’ The Stranger. Also not among my absolute favorites for each director but ones I really enjoy are Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep and Jean Renoir’s The Diary of a Chambermaid. Additionally, I really like David Lean’s Great Expectations, Jean Cocteau’s La belle et la bête (Beauty and the Beast), Powell and Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death and Lewis Milestone’s The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. My Darling Clementine is one of my favorite John Ford films, and Charles Vidor’s Gilda is among my favorite film noirs. And Robert Siodmak had a banner year, directing my two closest runners-up: The Spiral Staircase and The Killers.
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.