Weekly Top Five: The best 70mm films | Bleader

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Weekly Top Five: The best 70mm films

Posted By on 07.13.14 at 10:00 AM

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The Music Box's highly successful 70mm Film Festival is back for a second edition, and a few titles from last year's fest have returned for your viewing pleasure, including Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master and Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. (If you missed one of the sold-out screenings of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, here's your shot at redemption.) The slate of new titles includes Lawrence of Arabia, Tron, and another Kubrick offering, Spartacus. In an age when films are very rarely shot and screened on actual film, something like the 70mm Fest is a valuable asset for moviegoers who aren't ready to say goodbye to celluloid, the sad reality being events like these are all but certain to grow more scarce as time goes on. Best to enjoy it while we can. Below are my five favorite movies shot on 70mm film.

5. Exodus (dir. Otto Preminger, 1960) The ambitious scope of this star-studded drama fits the 70mm format like a glove. Preminger's film, an adaptation of Leon Uris's novel about the founding of the State of Israel, explores concepts of poetry and spiritualism within the expanses of history. The subtly ironic denouement is among his most stirring sequences, infuriating in its ambiguity but appropriate for the film's complex style.

4. My Fair Lady (dir. George Cukor, 1964) The musical seems an ideal genre for 70mm film, as evident in this masterful adaptation of the popular stage play. The film certainly has its lavish moments, but as Dave Kehr points out, part of its artfulness lies in its deliberately sparse atmosphere: "Cukor doesn't try to hide the stage origins of his material; rather, he celebrates the falseness of his sets, placing his characters in a perfectly designed artificial world," he writes.

3. The Master (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012) The most recent film to be shot on 70mm, The Master is a fascinating yet deeply puzzling look at the postwar American psyche, a stirring drama about two outsize personalities embroiled in mutual obsession and resentment. Anderson shot much of the film in closeup, a curious choice considering most directors prefer wide shots when using 70mm, but as many critics have pointed out, Anderson uses the format as a means to study and illustrate the facial expressions of his actors (the face becomes the canvas, so to speak), particularly those of his leads Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Pheonix, both of whom deliver career-defining performances

2. Cheyenne Autumn (dir. John Ford, 1964) Generally considered a minor work, Cheyenne Autumn is the ideal bookend to Ford's westerns. The film is usually written off as a half-baked mea culpa to the treatment of Native Americans in cinema and otherwise, and while the film certainly has an apologetic tone, it's also the sort of late-period self-reflexive meditation one finds in the oeuvre of many great artists. Everything from the wistful Monument Valley imagery—aided by the 70mm photography, naturally—to the satirical Dodge City sequence suggests Ford is looking back and reassessing his career to date. It's the closest he came to a self-portrait, one of the more uncharacteristically personal films of his career.

1. Playtime (dir. Jacques Tati, 1967) A truly one-of-a-kind film, Jacques Tati's look at the industrial age is among the most meticulously designed yet effortlessly enjoyable films ever made. The film's calculated, ridiculously thorough style miraculously produces a light and affable atmosphere, a testament to Tati's ability to approach serious, somber, and deeply philosophical subjects with grace and humor—a trait he shares with Charlie Chaplin and Wes Anderson. Tati uses the expansive frame to record multiple layers of comedic gestures and sequences, forming a hilarious and occasionally disarming mosaic of human behavior. Indeed, some of Tati's conclusions border on nightmarish—his treatment of industrial design and modern architecture as systemic barriers against human interactions borders on Orwellian—but the film isn't at all didactic, a testament to Tati's sensitivity as an artist.

Drew Hunt writes film-related top five lists every Sunday.

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