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Five Great Films by Billy Wilder

June 7, 2012

After years of somewhat patchy DVD coverage, the films of Billy Wilder are finally getting the DVD releases they deserve. In celebration of this fact, I have written a piece for FilmJuice listing my five favourite Wilder movies. The list includes — in no particular order — The Lost Weekend, Sunset Boulevard, Double Indemnity, Some Like it Hot and Murder Mills.

My take on Wilder is that many of his films feature a tension between brutal cynicism and crowd-pleasing optimism that sometimes cuts very close to the winds of mushy sentiment. Had Wilder been anything less than a great director, this tension would most likely have resulted in some spectacularly dishonest filmmaking. However, each of the films I explore in the article work because they are all heart-felt journeys out of cynicism and into the light. In each case, you can follow the path and see Wilder talking himself down off the edge:

Billy Wilder is the most sentimental filmmaker to ever acquire a reputation for cynicism.

As I worked my way back through Wilder’s films (including some of the decidedly less interesting works produced late in his career) I couldn’t help but wonder about the tension between cynicism and romanticism. Indeed, if Wilder’s films are to be understood as the product of a mind endlessly seeking reasons to be cheerful, what does this say about the wider relationship between cynicism and romanticism? Are all cynics disappointed romantics? Are all romantics naive cynics? Wilder’s films certainly suggest some form of connection between the two dispositions.

One Comment
  1. ericmvan permalink
    December 30, 2012 7:37 pm

    One Wilder film that leaps right off the ledge is Ace in the Hole. And I’m pretty sure that he called it the best film he ever made, which given your take on him is very interesting indeed. Personally, I like it better than Double Indemnity or (blasphemy!) Some Like it Hot, and I like it better than A Face in the Crowd or Sweet Smell of Success, two thematically similar films that came along six years later and acquired bigger reputations.

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