The history of the Muriel Awards stretches aaaalllll the way back to 2006, which means that this coming season will be a special anniversary, marking 10 years of observing the annual quality and achievement of the year in film. (If you don’t know about the Muriels, you can check up on that history here.) The voting group, of which I am a proud member, having participated since Year One, has also made its personal nod to film history by always having incorporated 10, 25 and 50-year anniversary awards, saluting what is agreed upon by ballot to be the best films from those anniversaries during each annual voting process.
But more recently, in 2013, Muriels founders Paul Clark and Steven Carlson decided to expand the Muriels purview and further acknowledge the great achievements in international film by instituting The Muriels Hall of Fame. Each year a new group of films of varying number would be voted upon and, based on the support each title received, chosen for admittance into the hall. In 2013, the inaugural group of Muriel Hall of Fame films were Casablanca, Citizen Kane, La Jetee, Lawrence of Arabia, M, Man With a Movie Camera, North by Northwest, The Passion of Joan of Arc, Psycho, Rear Window, The Rules of the Game, Sansho the Bailiff, The Seventh Seal, Sunrise, The Third Man, Vertigo and Yojimbo. (Alfred Hitchcock did very well for himself that first year.)
There have been three other voting years since, and in that period 37 other great films have been inducted. And now the 2017 group is ready for their close-up. There was a slight change in the voting this year, aimed at expanding the focus of the HoF a bit further beyond the realm of American, British and French films, which have been the countries most represented in the voters’ choices up till now. In years past, Muriels voters have nominated their favorite eligible movies (ones that haven’t already made it in) and then everyone simply picked from those nominees. “But this year, in the interest of diversity,” says Clark, “I decided to split up the ballot by region—the US, Western Europe, and the rest of the world.” The 2017 inductees have been being revealed two a day now for about a week, so by now we’ll have a stronger idea of whether Clark’s strategy of expanding the focus has worked.
But in any case, the Muriels Hall of Fame provides a strong opportunity not only to examine film history but to showcase some excellent, impassioned writing on that history, essays written about movies which might be thought to have been somewhat exhausted by the attention paid to them by critics and fans. Given the nature of the Hall of Fame, the choices aren’t always necessarily surprising, but the writing about them that Clark and Carlson gather together frequently is, which is what makes participating in the Muriels as a voter and critic consistent and challenging fun.
So, let’s see what made it in this year. Beginning on August 12, and leading up to today, August 19, here are your Muriels Hall of Fame inductees so far, along with the names of the writers and a taste of what they had to say (including my own contribution, which dropped yesterday).
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966; Sergio Leone) “How many hundreds of times have we heard Morricone’s iconic coyote-howl theme used to signify ‘this is a western’? It’s ironic that Leone’s deconstruction of the genre has become one of its benchmarks, its imagery and sounds as famous as anything it was meant to satirize. But then again, it makes perfect sense. Even severed of its original meaning by the passage of time, its power as a piece of filmmaking is undeniable. Few movies are as entertaining, as beautiful, as unabashedly cinematic.” (Vern)
Rashomon (1950; Akira Kurosawa) “Most modern works in which unreliable narrators reveal their motives and deceptive self-images by constructing competing narratives around the same event end up playing the discrepancies for laughs, or, worse, use it as a set-up before triumphantly revealing what ‘really’ happened. Rashomon leaves you uncertain about everything that happened… Now that the film is canonical, many people may overlook the fact that using a visual meeting that capitalizes on people’s inclination to believe whatever their eyes are telling them to convey this message is highly subversive.” (Phillip Dyess-Nugent)
Persona (1966; Ingmar Bergman) ““Any number of established classics are good, even great, films to watch and re-watch, but how many of them possess this ability to turn themselves and the viewer inside out every time? How many can show you something new, no matter how many times you come back to them?” (Cole Roulain)
Andrei Rublev (1966; Andrei Tartovsky)
“”No other filmmaker has ever rivaled Tarkovsky’s ability to make the dreariest of settings feel sublimely beautiful. Andrei Rublev is a testament to the power of the artist to transcend—and transform—the world around him.” (Ian Scott Todd)
Viridiana (1961; Luis Bunuel) ““Viridiana marked Luis Buñuel’s return to shooting films in his home country of Spain. His decision raised as many eyebrows as his Palme D’Or-winning film ultimately did. For biting the hand that thought it was feeding him, Buñuel had his most delicious provocation banned by the Catholic Church and Franco’s government of Spain.” (Odie Henderson)
Last Year at Marienbad (1961; Alain Resnais) “Representative of cinema as modern art, Last Year at Marienbad moved away from narrative and resists precise elucidation. The viewer must work to assign meaning in the film only to find the film evades any single interpretation… Marienbad points the way toward the postmodern.” (George Wu)
Blow Up (1966; Michelangelo Antonioni) “Like its cinematic cousins… Blow-Up uses the ‘sculpting in time’ element of film to shatter time itself. It’s at once a capsule of a place/culture/era and a living, breathing item that may or may not be completely different the next time we view it. Like those images the photographer pulls out of his negatives, the film reveals stranger and stranger layers the more we obsess over it.” (Philip Tatler IV)
Notorious (1946; Alfred Hitchcock) “It may be an espionage-fueled film noir, with Grant’s cynical G-man recruiting Bergman’s tormented daughter-of-a-Nazi-spy to infiltrate a Brazil-based crew of Nazis by getting close to one (Claude Rains), who just happens to be an old flame of hers. But no matter how suspenseful and intrigue-infested this movie gets, you’re always reminded that Notorious is about two people whose desire for each other is so palpable, so intense, so friggin’ sexy, they can’t hide it…!” (Craig D. Lindsey)
The Earrings of Madame de… (1953; Max Ophuls) “Someone once said of Max Ophüls that the mere mention of his name makes all cameras stand rigidly to attention. Never was it more evident than here in this wonderfully cynical yet romantic eulogy to the very idea of romance and, indeed, truth.”
High and Low (1963; Akira Kurosawa) “What follows is an exciting thriller-slash-police procedural, a real nail-biter of a yarn that’s all the more remarkable in light of Kurosawa’s meticulous planning, framing and choreography. High and Low is so heavily micromanaged that by all rights it should be dull and plodding, but Kurosawa is a master of cinematic control.” (Stacia Jones)
Only Angels Have Wings (1939; Howard Hawks) “”Only Angels Have Wings seems to me, each time I see it, to rank as the greatest movie Hollywood ever produced. It’s Hawks’ perfect, profound, entirely unfussy fusion of his love of adventure, his admiration of professional aptitude and passion, for simple (but not simplistic) skill, and even his own deftness with strains of melodrama and comic energy, the template for the sort of action experience that seems more and more out of the reach of modern filmmakers with each passing, terminally bloated and self-important season.” (Dennis Cozzalio)
Keep your eyes peeled and pointed toward the official Muriels website, Our Science is Too Tight, for additional Hall of Fame inductees which will announced during the coming week, and feel free to start making a list. The Muriels Hall of Fame is a great place to start filling in those gaps in your own movie-watching history.