A Century of Film


Mysteries


The Genre

 

“What about Film Noir?” Veronica asked me as I was talking about this category.  But, as I explained to her, Film Noir itself isn’t a genre, but a style that moves across multiple genres, usually Crime, Mystery and Suspense.  Crime films are easier to pull out because, as I explained in the Crime post, they are films in which the main character is a criminal.  It is a lot more difficult to draw a line between Crime films and Suspense films and you could easily take all of Mystery and make it a sub-section of Suspense films.  But I will try.

Mystery films revolve around a mystery.  It’s as simple as that.  And, more importantly, something that is a mystery for both the characters and the audience.  That is the primary thing that separates some Hitchcock films into Mystery (like Rebecca) and most of them into Suspense.

Now, it doesn’t mean that there has to be a detective solving the mystery, although that is certainly such a prominent part of Mystery films that not only is there a Detective sub-genre listed below but there are several variations on it listed below.  But it could also be a Cop mystery (if the person solving it is a policeman as opposed to a private detective) or a Courtroom mystery (where the answer usually comes at the end of the trial and means an innocent verdict for a key character).

The genre dates well back to the Silent Era, of course.  In fact, the very first appearance of Sherlock Holmes on film was way back in 1900, in a thirty second short called Sherlock Holmes Baffled, so he’s been appearing on film since he was still being written about by Doyle.  Once we graduated to the Sound Era, we got Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler not only providing their novels for the screen but both writing for the screen as well.  Then, of course, with the birth of Film Noir, Mysteries really thrived (as did Crime and Suspense films).  The seventies were another golden era for Mysteries as will be seen in the awards section for each category with films like Sleuth, Chinatown, Murder on the Orient Express.  After a dearth in the 80’s and most of the 90’s, the success of L.A. Confidential and source materials from authors like James Ellroy and Dennis Lehane seem to have provided new life to the genre and this century has given us films like Mulholland Dr., Memento, Mystic River, The Constant Gardener, Gone Baby Gone, The Ghost Writer and Shutter Island.

Between various franchises (see the Detective sub-genres below) and lists online, this post got pushed back and between when I started writing it in May and now the number of films in this genre that I’ve seen grew by some 50%.

Sub-Genres

Comedy

  • Best Film:  Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe

With films like Who is Killing the Great Chefs or Charade or The Late Show, it’s hard to know what to categorize them as.  I have put them in Mystery because the Mystery is the heart of the story and the comedy usually works in conjunction with that rather than the comedy leading the way.  It was definitely a bit of a thing in the late 70’s because Charade is the only of the six films I categorize this way that wasn’t made between 1976 and 1978.  There are some films that could have been put here but I think the comedy is more emphasized than the mystery, thus the Pink Panther films, Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen, The Cheap Detective or Fletch.

Cop

  • Best Film:  Touch of Evil

Cop films are a sub-genre that cut across multiple genres.  That’s because if Cops are corrupt, it becomes a Crime film and if there’s no Mystery, it usually ends up in Action.  A lot of these are all about police detectives trying to solve a mystery (as opposed to non-police detectives, who are listed down below).  I put films here when it’s about a cop trying to solve a mystery, films like L.A. Confidential or In the Heat of the Night.  A decent sized sub-genre with 26 films on my list.

Courtroom

  • Best Film:  Anatomy of a Murder

There are two types of Courtroom films and most of them are Dramas, all about what will happen in the courtroom as opposed to figuring out what the answer is.  I only list five films here: Anatomy of a Murder, Witness for the Prosecution, Runaway Jury, The Paradine Case and The Jagged Edge.

Detective

  • Best Film:  Chinatown

This encompasses a couple of different things.  First of all, there are one-off Detective films (or sometimes two-off, like Chinatown and The Two Jakes) that aren’t a franchise.  But there are also Detective films that are part of a franchise in which I haven’t seen enough of the franchise for it to merit its own sub-genre.  Examples of that would be the Falcon films (I’ve seen three of 17), Perry Mason films (technically not a detective, but close enough) or the Ellery Queen films.

Detective (Chan)

  • Best Film:  The Black Camel

This wasn’t originally a separate thing but I’ve gone from seeing one Charlie Chan film (when I first started working on this post) to 32 (out of more than four dozen), covering all the Fox Chan films and a number of the Monogram ones.  The later you get in the series, the worse it gets.  There is a notable drop-off in quality after Warner Oland dies and another drop when the series left Fox and went to the much lower-budget Monogram.  Honestly, none of the films are great but Charlie Chan in Egypt, the second best, does have an early Rita Hayworth appearance (still billed as Rita Cansino).

Detective (Christie)

  • Best Film:  Murder on the Orient Express

This includes films that are based on Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple novels.  But what it doesn’t include is Christie adaptations without a detective such as Witness for the Prosecution or any film version of And Then There Were None.

Detective (Drummond)

  • Best Film:  Bulldog Drummond

Another detective I originally didn’t have singled out but now I’ve seen seven of the films mainly because the 50 movie pack of Mystery films from Mill Creek Entertainment (your local library might have it – mine did) has six of them.

Detective (Hammett)

  • Best Film:  The Maltese Falcon

Like with the Christie novels, this has exclusions, namely The Glass Key, which is based on a Hammett novel but which doesn’t have a detective.  This category mainly consists of the various film versions of The Maltese Falcon as well as all the Thin Man films.

Detective (Marlowe)

  • Best Film:  The Big Sleep

I could have done it as “Chandler” instead but they all happen to be Marlowe films.  There have been 10 Marlowe films but I haven’t seen the 1969 film Marlowe.

Detective (Moto)

  • Best Film:  Think Fast, Mr. Moto

Another Fox franchise, this one was better than Charlie Chan namely because it had Peter Lorre starring as the detective Moto eight times.  There is also a ninth film, made in the 60’s which is better left forgotten.

Detective (Nancy Drew)

  • Best Film:  Nancy Drew

There are only five films here, the four with Bonita Granville from the late 30’s which are decent and then the 2007 film with Emma Roberts as the most adorable Nancy humanly possible.

Detective (Salander)

  • Best Film:  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo  (2011)

Are there enough here to qualify?  Well, there are four films so far (three Swedish films and the English language re-make of the first film) and there are going to eventually be more coming, so yes.  The English version is considerably better (though there are people who argue for the originals) and the second and third Swedish films, in spite of Noomi Rapace’s solid performances, aren’t actually all that good.

Detective (Sherlock Holmes)

  • Best Film:  The Hound of the Baskervilles  (1959)

You can find lists that say there are over 100 Holmes films.  But, really, there are 39 feature films that star Sherlock Holmes and that are Mysteries (there are a few that are Comedies like Without a Clue).  I have seen 34 of them with the other five all very hard to get.  You can find a discussion of a number of them here.

Detective (Vance)

  • Best Film:  The Kennel Murder Case

I originally had only seen one Philo Vance film but they were easy to find on YouTube so I watched several more (I’ve now seen five out of 15).

Lit Adaptation

  • Best Film:  The Third Man

This really shouldn’t be listed because I only have four films that fall into this genre.  But I will continue to list this as a separate sub-genre in every genre that has at least one film listed here.  It’s a small sub-genre of course because most Mysteries aren’t really written to the level that they would classify as “Lit Adaptation”.  The first, of course, is from a Graham Greene novel, although it’s really a Greene original story for the screen.  The second and third are The Woman in White, the 1948 film based on the classic Wilkie Collins novel that is widely seen as kind of the original Detective novel and The Moonstone, the 1934 film also based on a Wilkie Collins novel.  The last one is Tom Sawyer, Detective, the 1938 adaptation of the Twain book.

Assorted

  • Best Film:  Mulholland Dr.  (Surreal)

Unlike Westerns, where pretty much all films that were in sub-genres ended up in a specific Western sub-genre, that doesn’t happen here.  So, aside from the sub-genres listed above, there is also Animated (The Castle of Cagliostro – Miyazaki’s first feature film), Heist (To Catch a Thief), Satire (Silver City), Spy – Le Carre (Tinker Tailor), True Crime (Mister 880) and Surreal (the three Lynch films listed just below and The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting).

The Directors

David Lynch

  • Films:  3
  • Years:  1986 – 2001
  • Average Film:  87.67
  • Best Film:  Mulholland Dr.
  • Worst Film:  Lost Highway

I only list three of Lynch’s films as being Mysteries but in some sense, really, all of his films are Mysteries.  Here is here as well because all three of his Mysteries make the Top 50 and two of them make the Top 20.

Alfred Hitchcock

  • Films:  5
  • Years:  1927 – 1976
  • Average Film:  77.80
  • Best Film:  Rebecca
  • Worst Film:  The Paradine Case

Hitchcock was greater with Suspense films but five of his films have ended up here with a greater emphasis on the mystery than on the suspense.  It includes two of his best films (Rebecca, To Catch a Thief) but also one of his real duds with The Paradine Case.

Norman Foster

  • Films:  10
  • Years:  1937  –  1943
  • Average Film:  63.00
  • Best Film:  Journey Into Fear
  • Worst Film:  Charlie Chan at Treasure Island

Norman Foster was a contract director at Fox.  They put him on the Moto films and he would direct six of them in just two years and then followed that up by directing three of the Charlie Chan films for the studio as well.  His best film, by far, was Journey Into Fear, a film that has long been rumored to be directed by star Orson Welles.

Roy William Neill

  • Films:  11
  • Years:  1942  –  1946
  • Average Film:  65.45
  • Best Film:  The House of Fear
  • Worst Film:  Pursuit to Algiers

Roy William Neill would take over the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films in 1942 with Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (one of the weakest in the series) and would direct all of the remaining 11 films in the series, including the two best, The House of Fear and The Scarlet Claw.

Best Mystery Director  (weighted points system)

  1. Alfred Hitchcock  (193)
  2. Roman Polanski  (150)
  3. David Lynch  (144)
  4. W.S. Van Dyke  (124)
  5. Orson Welles  (122)

Analysis:  This adds up points on a weighted scale (90-1) for placing in the Top 20 at the Nighthawk Awards for Best Director in any given year.


The Stars

Humphrey Bogart

Bogie wasn’t actually in a lot of Mysteries (I list four: The Maltese Falcon, All Through the Night, Dead Reckoning, The Big Sleep) but two of them are absolute classics and they helped establish Bogie as the quintessential detective because he played both Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe.
Essential Viewing:  The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep

Basil Rathbone

Rathbone was a good actor for a very long time in a lot of genres but he was most famous for the 14 times he grabbed the pipe and the hat and played Sherlock Holmes.  For many people, he is the best Sherlock Holmes and if none of the films are great, at least all of them are good.
Essential Viewing:  The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Dressed to Kill

William Powell and Myrna Loy

This fantastic couple teamed up for six Thin Man films.  Only the first one is great and only the second is even very good but none of them are bad and they are all enjoyable just for their interplay in all of them.
Essential Viewing:  The Thin Man, After the Thin Man, Another Thin Man

Orson Welles

Welles liked Mysteries and he liked starring in them.  Some of them he directed himself, including The Lady from Shanghai and Touch of Evil.  Sometimes he was just in a good Mystery and the rumor went around that he really directed it like The Third Man and Journey Into Fear.  He also directed and starred in Mr. Arkadin.
Essential Viewing:  Touch of Evil, The Third Man, The Lady from Shanghai

Peter Lorre

It’s entirely possible that more people have seen Peter Lorre as one of the crooks in The Maltese Falcon than in all of the eight Moto films that he made combined.  Either way, especially when you also in his role as a mystery writer in The Mask of Dimitrios, Lorre is a key figure in Mystery films and one of the best.
Essential Viewing:  The Maltese Falcon, The Mask of Dimitrios, Think Fast Mr. Moto

Denzel Washington

Denzel, in later years, has been in some real clunkers like The Pelican Brief and The Bone Collector.  But he is still a big star in Mystery films and several of his earlier films are very good, whether he is a detective (Devil in a Blue Dress), a cop (The Mighty Quinn) or a suspect (A Soldier’s Story).
Essential Viewing:  The Mighty Quinn, A Soldier’s Story, Devil in a Blue Dress

The Studios

There is no clear ruler of the Mystery genre among the various studios.  Warner Bros has the best films (4 of the Top 10 with The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, L.A. Confidential and Mystic River) but 20th Century-Fox has the most, namely because it has a good chunk of the Charlie Chan films, it has the Moto films and for good measure even has a couple of Marlowe films and the first two Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films.  But, for all the films it has (46), it only has one in the Top 35 (Sleuth).

Countries

Fourteen of the 43 Foreign Mysteries I have seen came from France.  The only other country with more than three is Italy with six.

Oscar Submissions

I have seen 12 Mysteries that were submitted to the Oscars for Best Foreign Film.  All 12 of them are from different countries and surprisingly France isn’t one of them.  Italy is though, and has one of the two that have actually earned nominations (Don’t Tell) while Argentina had the other one, which actually won the Oscar (The Secret in Their Eyes).

note:  For the next few lists, any links are to reviews I have written.  Some of them go to the Adapted Screenplay posts that discuss the film and the literary source but don’t actually review the film (but link to places where I had already reviewed the film).  There are a few that are not linked now but will be in the coming months as I get to more of the Adapted Screenplay posts.  The middle list deliberately includes any Crime films I have already reviewed as well as any Crime film I saw in the theater and some remakes of great films just to show the difference in quality.
note:  Please don’t try to make the following list match up with other lists I have made.  All my lists are fluid and they change.

The Top 50 Mystery Films

  1. Chinatown
  2. Touch of Evil
  3. The Maltese Falcon
  4. L.A. Confidential
  5. The Third Man
  6. Lone Star
  7. Mystic River
  8. Rebecca
  9. The Big Sleep
  10. Mulholland Dr.
  11. Memento
  12. Sleuth
  13. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  14. The Thin Man
  15. Blue Velvet
  16. In the Heat of the Night
  17. The Ghost Writer
  18. The Constant Gardener
  19. Gone Baby Gone
  20. Silver City
  21. To Catch a Thief
  22. Caché
  23. Anatomy of a Murder
  24. Witness for the Prosecution
  25. Shutter Island
  26. Bad Education
  27. Brick
  28. L’Avventura
  29. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo  (2011)
  30. In the Valley of Elah
  31. The Spiral Staircase
  32. Murder on the Orient Express  (1974)
  33. Walk on Water
  34. The Cat and the Canary  (1927)
  35. The Secret in Their Eyes  (2009)
  36. The Mighty Quinn
  37. The Glass Key
  38. The Lodger  (1926)
  39. Laura
  40. A Soldier’s Story
  41. And Then There Were None  (1945)
  42. Zero Effect
  43. After the Thin Man
  44. The Hound of the Baskervilles  (1959)
  45. The Vanishing  (1988)
  46. The Lady from Shanghai
  47. The Blue Dahlia
  48. Sneakers
  49. Lost Highway
  50. Devil in a Blue Dress

note:  The Top 27 films are all ****.  Films 28 to 43 are ***.5.  The rest are high ***.

Notable Mystery Films Not in the Top 50

  • Sherlock Holmes  (2009)  (#51)
  • Green for Danger  (#54)
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo  (2009)  (#59)
  • Blow Up  (#60)
  • Harper  (#63)
  • Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe  (#64)
  • Charade  (#66)
  • Gorky Park  (#71)
  • Inspector Maigret  (#79)
  • Kiss Me Deadly  (#80)
  • The Black Dahlia  (#82)
  • Night Moves  (#83)
  • The Big Steal  (#84)
  • The Seven-Per-Cent Solution  (#86)
  • Alphaville  (#89)
  • Farewell My Lovely  (1975)  (#93)
  • The House of Fear  (#96)
  • Death on the Nile  (1978)  (#97)
  • The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes  (#104)
  • The Russia House  (#108)
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles  (1939)  (#109)
  • Family Plot  (#110)
  • Nancy Drew (2007)  (#117)
  • The Name of the Rose  (#114)
  • The Da Vinci Code  (#119)
  • Basic Instinct  (#128)
  • Nancy Drew… Detective  (#131)
  • The Blue Gardenia  (#138)
  • Think Fast, Mr. Moto  (#149)
  • Murder by Death  (#156)
  • The Two Jakes  (#206)
  • Mr. Arkadin  (#207)
  • The Long Goodbye  (#208)
  • True Confessions  (#220)
  • Hound of the Baskervilles (1937)  (#225)
  • City Hall  (#231)
  • The Pelican Brief  (#242)
  • Made in U.S.A.  (#247)
  • Murder at the Baskervilles  (#248)
  • Murder My Sweet  (#253)
  • Hammett  (#254)
  • Ten Little Indians (1965)  (#261)
  • The Paradine Case  (#273)
  • The Thirty-Nine Steps (1978)  (#304)
  • The Jagged Edge  (#309)
  • Satan Met a Lady  (#319)
  • The Maltese Falcon  (1931)  (#323)
  • The Big Sleep  (1978)  (#325)
  • Bunny Lake is Missing  (#326)

The Bottom 10 Mystery Films, #330-339


(worst being #10, which is #339 overall)

  1. Death and the Compass
  2. Angels and Demons
  3. Jade
  4. The January Man
  5. Blue City
  6. The Million Dollar Hotel
  7. Her Alibi
  8. Basic Instinct 2
  9. The Adventures of Ford Fairlane
  10. The Wicker Man  (2006)

The 10 Most Underrated Mysteries

These are all films that I rate at **** or ***.5 that have never appeared in TSPDT’s Top 1000 (now 2000) or their Top 250 21st Century Films (now 1000) and were not on the AFI’s list of 50 films.

  1. Silver City
  2. In the Valley of Elah
  3. The Spiral Staircase
  4. Walk on Water
  5. The Glass Key
  6. The Mighty Quinn
  7. A Soldier’s Story
  8. And Then There Were None  (1945)
  9. After the Thin Man
  10. The Zero Effect

Best Mysteries By Decade

  • 1920’s:  The Lodger
  • 1930’s:  The Thin Man
  • 1940’s:  The Maltese Falcon
  • 1950’s:  Touch of Evil
  • 1960’s:  In the Heat of the Night
  • 1970’s:  Chinatown
  • 1980’s:  Blue Velvet
  • 1990’s:  L.A. Confidential
  • 2000’s:  Mystic River
  • 2010’s:  Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

The Most Over-Rated Mysteries

  1. The Long Goodbye
    Worshipped by many for some reason that I can’t fathom, Gould is a slow, boring Marlowe.
  2. Hammett
    Wenders tries to make a film about the writer.  Just a mess.
  3. Made in U.S.A.
    It’s obvious I’m not a Godard fan.
  4. The Girl who Played with Fire
    Actually, both Salander Swedish sequels are weak.
  5. Mr. Arkadin
    Even Orson Welles isn’t infallible.  I can’t understand why people think this film is good because it’s mediocre at best.

The Statistics

Total Films 1912-2011:  339  (11th)

Total Percentage of All Films 1912-2011:  3.23%

  • 1912-1929:  6  (9th)  – 0.84%
  • 1930-1939:  76  (4th)  –  1.83%
  • 1940-1949:  76  (4th)  –  5.34%
  • 1950-1959:  21  (11th)  –  4.24%
  • 1960-1969:  24  (13th)  –  3.15%
  • 1970-1979:  29  (12th)  –  2.52%
  • 1980-1989:  28  (13th)  –  3.47%
  • 1990-1999:  30  (11th)  –  3.96%
  • 2000-2011:  49  (12th)  –  2.51%

Biggest Years:

  • 15:  1939
  • 13:  1938
  • 11:  1946
  • 10:  1937, 1944, 1945

Biggest Years by Percentage of All Films:

  • 1939:  12.50%
  • 1938:  12.50%
  • 1946:  11.83%
  • 1944:  9.26%
  • 1937, 1945:  9.01%

Best Years:

  • 1946:  2 films in the Top 10, 3 films in the Top 20
  • 2001:  2 films in the Top 10

Eras:

  • 1936 to 1948:  Top 5 Most Films every year

The Top Films:

  • Nighthawk Winner:  1934, 1958, 1974, 1996, 1997
  • 2 Films in the Top 10:  1946, 2001
  • Top 10 Films:  30
  • First Year in the Top 10:  1928
  • Latest Year in the Top 10:  2011
  • Longest Streak with at least one Top 10 Film:  1940-42, 1957-59, 2003-05
  • Longest Streak without a Top 10 Film:  1975-85
  • Best Decade for Top 10 Films:  1940’s / 1950’s  (6)
  • Worst Decade for Top 10 Films:  1920’s / 1980’s  (1)
  • 3 Films in the Top 20:  1946
  • 2 Films in the Top 20:  seven times
  • Top 20 Films:  44
  • Longest Streak with at least one Top 20 Film:  1938-42, 2003-07
  • Longest Streak without a Top 20 Film:  1975-83, 1987-95
  • Best Decade for Top 20 Films:  1940’s / 2000’s  (9)
  • Worst Decade for Top 20 Films:  1920’s  (1)

Nighthawk Awards:

  • Number of Films That Have Earned Nominations:  44
  • Number of Films That Have Won Nighthawks:  18
  • Number of Films With Multiple Nominations:  35
  • Number of Films With Multiple Wins:  14
  • Best Picture Nominations:  10
  • Total Number of Nominations:  234
  • Total Number of Wins:  50
  • Category With the Most Nominations:  Editing  (23)
  • Director with Most Nighthawk Nominated Films:  David Lynch  (3)
  • Best Film with No Nighthawks:  Mystic River
  • Best Film with No Nighthawk Nominations:  Brick
  • Number of Films That Have Earned Drama Nominations:  36
  • Number of Films That Have Earned Comedy Nominations:  12
  • Number of Films That Have Won Drama Awards:  15
  • Number of Films That Have Won Comedy Awards:  2
  • Drama Picture Nominations:  22
  • Comedy Picture Nominations:  4
  • Total Number of Drama Nominations:  133
  • Total Number of Comedy Nominations:  30
  • Total Number of Drama Wins:  28
  • Total Number of Comedy Wins:  7
  • Category With the Most Nominations:  Director  (24 – Drama  /  4 – Comedy)
  • Best Drama Film With No Nominations:  Shutter Island
  • Best Comedy Film With No Nominations:  Zero Effect
  • Most 2nd Place Finishes:  The Maltese Falcon  /  The Third Man  (7)
  • Most 6th Place Finishes:  Rebecca  /  Laura  /  Anatomy of a Murder  /  The Hound of the Baskervilles  /  In the Heat of the Night  /  Gone Baby Gone  (2)
  • Most Top 10 Finishes:  Rebecca  (15)
  • Most Top 20 Finishes:  L.A. Confidential  (16)
  • Best Film Without a Top 10 Finish:  The Mighty Quinn
  • Best Film Without a Top 20 Finish:  Tell No One

Most Nighthawk Nominations:

  1. The Maltese Falcon  –  13
  2. Chinatown  –  13
  3. Rebecca  –  12
  4. L.A. Confidential  –  11
  5. The Big Sleep  /  Touch of Evil  /  Sleuth  –  10

Most Nighthawks:

  1. Chinatown  –  10
  2. Touch of Evil  –  7
  3. L.A. Confidential  –  7
  4. The Thin Man  –  5
  5. Lone Star  –  3

Most Nighthawk Points:

  1. Chinatown  –  700
  2. Touch of Evil  –  555
  3. L.A. Confidential  –  550
  4. The Thin Man  –  490
  5. The Maltese Falcon  –  460
  6. Rebecca  –  420
  7. Lone Star  –  355
  8. To Catch a Thief  –  350
  9. Sleuth  –  345
  10. The Third Man  –  325

Most Drama Nominations:

  1. The Maltese Falcon  –  8
  2. Rebecca  –  7
  3. six films with 6

Most Comedy Nominations:

  1. The Thin Man  –  5
  2. To Catch a Thief  –  5
  3. Silver City  –  5

Most Drama Wins:

  1. Chinatown  –  5
  2. Touch of Evil  –  4
  3. L.A. Confidential  –  4

Most Comedy Wins:

  1. The Thin Man  –  5
  2. To Catch a Thief  –  2

Most Drama Points:

  1. Chinatown  –  440
  2. Touch of Evil  –  370
  3. The Maltese Falcon  –  365
  4. L.A. Confidential  –  360
  5. Rebecca  –  330

Most Comedy Points:

  1. The Thin Man  –  410
  2. To Catch a Thief  –  285
  3. Silver City  –  200
  4. After the Thin Man  –  135
  5. Charade  –  110

Nighthawk Awards

note:  These are my all-time Top 5 in each category.  But in the Analysis section, I discuss not only how Mysteries have done in the Nighthawks but also in-depth discussions of how they have done in all the awards groups.  Films in red won the Oscar.  Films in blue were Oscar nominated.  There are a few lists here that aren’t in my usual Nighthawk Awards.

  • Best Picture
  1. Chinatown
  2. Touch of Evil
  3. The Maltese Falcon
  4. L.A. Confidential
  5. The Third Man

Analysis:  Of course, the Top 100 is the full ranking for this category.
Five films win the Nighthawk but Lone Star and The Thin Man win and The Maltese Falcon and The Third Man do not.  Another 15 films earn Nighthawk nominations while 8 more films beyond those make the Top 10 in their respective years.  The only year with two Mysteries in the Top 5 is 2001 (Memento, Mulholland Dr.) but Mysteries win in back-to-back years in 1996 and 1997.  In addition, four of those 8 Top 10 films earn a Globe nomination.  Overall, The Thin Man wins Comedy while three others earn nominations (After the Thin Man, To Catch a Thief, Silver City) while four Dramas win and 18 others earn nominations.
Two Mysteries have won the Oscar, with neither of them winning Director (Rebecca, In the Heat of the Night).  Eight more films have been nominated for Picture, usually one per decade (two in the fifties, none in the sixties).
Two films have won the Globe, both in Drama (In the Heat of the Night, Chinatown).  Nine more have been nominated, with only one of those in Comedy (Foul Play).  Eleven films have been nominated for the BAFTA although only three since 1974.  While none of them have won the BAFTA, three of them did win Best British Film (The Third Man, Sapphire, Tinker Tailor).  L.A. Confidential won the BFCA while five others have been nominated.  L.A. Confidential, Mystic River and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo were all PGA nominated.
L.A. Confidential swept all six critics awards, the first film to do so.  Mulholland Dr. won four of the awards.  Blue Velvet and Mystic River won two awards each while In the Heat of the Night won the NYFC.

  • Best Director
  1. Roman Polanski  (Chinatown)
  2. Orson Welles  (Touch of Evil)
  3. John Huston  (The Maltese Falcon)
  4. Curtis Hanson  (L.A. Confidential)
  5. Carol Reed  (The Third Man)

Analysis:  Polanski, Welles and Hanson win the Nighthawk as do W.S. Van Dyke (The Thin Man) and Hitchcock (To Catch a Thief).  Seventeen other directors earn Nighthawk nominations and another 13 make the Top 10.
No Mystery has ever won Best Director at the Oscars even though they are such strong directorial visions.  There have been 12 nominees over the years with David Lynch the only director managing it twice (Blue Velvet, Mulholland Dr.).  Polanski is the only director to win the Globe though eight others have been nominated.  There was a 23 year gap between Polanki’s win and Hanson’s nomination but Hanson was the first of four nominees in nine years.  Polanski is also the only director win the BAFTA and until Hanson earned a nomination in 1997 the only other nominee was Sidney Lumet (Murder on the Orient Express) and he lost to Polanski.  Two others have been nominated since Hanson, ironically both of them foreign directors adapting a Le Carre novel (Fernando Meirelles for The Constant Gardner, Tomas Alfredsson for Tinker Tailor).  Clint Eastwood (Mystic River) is the only BFCA nominee but that’s because in 1997 the BFCA only gave out awards with no nominees and even though L.A. Confidential won Picture and Screenplay, Titanic won Director.  No director has won the DGA for a mystery but there have been 11 nominees, spread well out (1950 to 2011, with at least one every decade).  Polanski and Lumet were the only Mystery directors to compete against each other.  Hanson swept the critics awards though and Lynch won three each for both his films (LA and Boston both times, NSFC for Blue Velvet, CFC for Mulholland) while Eastwood won the NSFC.

  • Best Adapted Screenplay:
  1. The Maltese Falcon
  2. Touch of Evil
  3. L.A. Confidential
  4. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  5. The Big Sleep

Analysis:  The top four films win the Nighthawk as does The Thin Man.  Another 16 films earn nominations and nine others land in the Top 10.
Two films win the Oscar (In the Heat of the Night, L.A. Confidential) while 12 others earn nominations.  Of those 12 films, five of them come from 1934 to 1944.  Then there’s a gap until 1959 another gap until 1974 and then a gap from 1984 to 2003.  The last three have all come in the last decade.  In the Golden Globes combined category, In the Heat of the Night is the only adapted script to win while three others have earned nominations (A Soldier’s Story, L.A. Confidential, Mystic River).  Tinker Tailor is the only adapted script to win the BAFTA.  Until 1997, Sleuth was the only nominee but since then, aside from Tinker’s win there have been four nominees.  L.A. Confidential won the BFCA while Mystic River was nominated.  L.A. Confidential also won the WGA while 13 other films have earned nominations.  L.A. Confidential won five critics awards (all but the NBR which wouldn’t start a Screenplay award until the next year) while Anatomy of a Murder would win the NYFC.

  • Best Novel Adapted into a Mystery:
  1. The Maltese Falcon
  2. The Big Sleep
  3. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  4. L.A. Confidential
  5. The Hound of the Baskervilles

Analysis:  The top novel is in my Top 100.  The other four are all in my Top 200.  Other novels that I personally recommend are Mystic River, The Thin Man, Gone Baby Gone, Shutter Island, Murder on the Orient Express, And Then There Were None, The Black Dahlia, Farewell My Lovely, Lady in the Lake and The Long Goodbye.
I should note that I have not yet read The Constant Gardner, Devil in a Blue Dress, The Russia House or The Ghost Writer, though many of them I will eventually because of my Adapted Screenplay project.
I heartily don’t recommend The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (didn’t read the others in the series).
Any other novel that was turned into a Mystery film I have seen either I haven’t read the book or I don’t feel strongly enough to recommend reading it or avoiding it.

  • Best Original Screenplay:
  1. Chinatown
  2. Lone Star
  3. Memento
  4. The Third Man
  5. Silver City

Analysis:  Chinatown and Lone Star both win the Nighthawk.  The other three earn nominations (all finishing in 2nd place) as do L’Avventura, Blue Velvet and Cache (finishing fourth, fifth and third, respectively).  Seven other films land in the Top 10.
Chinatown is the only Oscar winner with three films earning nominations in the Noir era (The Blue Dahlia, The Dark Mirror, Mystery Street) and then three much later (The Late Show, Lone Star, Memento).  Chinatown won the Globe while five others earn nominations.  Chinatown wins the BAFTA while four other earn nominations (but Lone Star is the only one after 1974).  Memento wins the BFCA.  Chinatown wins the WGA while only five others earn nominations, rather spread out (Berlin Express, Murder by Death, The Late Show, Blue Velvet, Lone Star) although I should note that Memento was ineligible.  Memento won three critics awards (LAFC, BSFC, CFC).  Though Chinatown amazingly didn’t win any critics awards (only two critics groups gave the award at the time and they both went to Scenes from a Marriage) it was only the second original script to sweep the Oscar, WGA, Globe and BAFTA and no original screenplay has won those four awards since.

  • Best Actor:
  1. Jack Nicholson  (Chinatown)
  2. Orson Welles  (Touch of Evil)
  3. Humphrey Bogart  (The Maltese Falcon)
  4. Michael Caine  (Sleuth)
  5. Laurence Olivier  (Sleuth)

Analysis:  Just outside the Top 5 is Oscar winner Sean Penn (Mystic River).  Nicholson, Welles, Caine and William Powell (The Thin Man) all win the Nighthawk while Bogie runs up against Orson Welles in Citizen Kane and obviously Olivier loses to Caine.  There are 12 more Nighthawk nominees including Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier, both for In the Heat of the Night.  Overall there are 49 performances that make the Top 20.  The same actors win at the Globes as does Penn.  Powell’s win is in Comedy.  There are 4 other Comedy nominees and a total of 20 Drama nominees including the winners.
Rod Steiger also won the Oscar which is impressive since his isn’t even the best leading performance in his own film.  There are 10 more Oscar nominees, obviously including Nicholson, Caine and Olivier.  The Oscars went almost three decades between nominations here, from the two in 1974 (Albert Finney was the other) until Penn.
Steiger, Nicholson and Penn won the Globe – Drama while Robert Downey (Sherlock Holmes) won in Comedy with a memorable speech (“First of all I would like to thank Susan Downey for telling me that Matt Damon was going to win so ‘don’t bother to prepare a speech’.”)  Olivier, Caine, Poitier and Charles Laughton (Witness for the Prosecution) were Drama nominated while Cary Grant (Charade) and Chevy Chase (Foul Play) were Comedy nominated.
Three BAFTAs have been won in this category: Steiger, Nicholson and Sean Connery (Name of the Rose).  Another 14 performances have been nominated with Connery and Kevin Spacey (L.A. Confidential) keeping there from being a large gap like at the Oscars.
Sean Penn is the only person even earn a BFCA nom but he won the award.  He is also the only SAG nominee though he didn’t win.  Penn did win the NBR while Art Carney (The Late Show) and Dustin Hoffman (Agatha, although also for Kramer vs Kramer, so probably more for that) won the LAFC and Jimmy Stewart (Anatomy of a Murder) and Olivier won the NYFC.  Steiger won both the NYFC and NSFC as did Nicholson.

  • Best Actress
  1. Faye Dunaway  (Chinatown)
  2. Naomi Watts  (Mulholland Dr.)
  3. Joan Fontaine  (Rebecca)
  4. Myrna Loy  (The Thin Man)
  5. Rooney Mara  (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)

Analysis:  Dunaway wins the Nighthawk and the other four are nominated as are Lauren Bacall (The Big Sleep), Grace Kelly (To Catch a Thief), Marlene Dietrich (Witness for the Prosecution) and Monica Vitti (L’Avventura).  There are another nine Top 10 performances and six more beyond that in the Top 20.  Fontaine and Dunaway win the Globe – Drama and Loy and Kelly win the Globe – Comedy.  There are eight other Drama nominees and two other Comedy nominees (Audrey Hepburn (Charade) and Emily Watson (Trixie)).
Mysteries do better at the Nighthawks than the Oscars where only three performances have ever earned an Oscar nom: Fontaine, Dunaway and Mara.  The Globes are better with six nominated for Drama and five for Comedy though none have ever won.  The Comedy Globes are a little odd with Audrey Hepburn in 1963 (Charade) and then the other four all coming in the late 70s: Barbara Harris (Family Plot), Lily Tomlin (The Late Show), Goldie Hawn (Foul Play) and Jacqueline Bisset (Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe).  Hepburn actually won the BAFTA and there have been seven other nominees, including two actresses who won the Oscar in supporting (Kim Basinger, Rachel Weisz).  Rooney Mara is the only BFCA nominee and there are no SAG nominees.  The only critics winner is Naomi Watts who won both the NSFC and CFC.

  • Best Supporting Actor:
  1. Sydney Greenstreet  (The Maltese Falcon)
  2. Dennis Hopper  (Blue Velvet)
  3. Kevin Spacey  (L.A. Confidential)
  4. Orson Welles  (The Third Man)
  5. George C. Scott  (Anatomy of a Murder)

Analysis:  Four actors have won the Nighthawk: Greenstreet, Spacey, Scott and Clifton Webb (Laura) while Hopper and Welles are two of the best second place finishers in the category’s history.  There have been eight other nominees including two for A Soldier’s Story (Denzel Washington, Adolph Caesar).  The Maltese Falcon is also one of the rare films in the category’s history to have a winner and an additional nominee (Peter Lorre).  There are another 13 performances that end up in the Top 20.
Tim Robbins (Mystic River) is the only Oscar winner.  Amazingly, as you can see above, Hopper, Spacey and Welles weren’t even nominated (partially because Hopper was nominated that year for Hoosiers instead to his own surprise).  There were seven other nominees including two from Anatomy of a Murder (Arthur O’Connell was the other).  In spite of Oscar success for Mysteries in the seventies there was a 25 year gap between nominees from 1959 to 1984 and Robbins is the only nominee since 1985.
There have been two Globe winners: Edmund Gwenn in 1950 for Mister 880 and then, 53 years later, Robbins.  There have been six other nominees, all between those and three of those came in the seventies.  John Gielgud won the BAFTA for Murder on the Orient Express and there have been three other nominees with an almost three decade gap between Michael Elphik for Gorky Park and Robbins.  Robbins is the only BFCA nominee (he won).  Robbins also won SAG but Don Cheadle (Devil in a Blue Dress) was also nominated.
The critics have returned to Mysteries time and again.  The LA Critics especially like them, awarding Hopper, Cheadle, Caesar, Spacey, Robert Morley (Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe) and Bill Murray (partially for Wild Things).  The NSFC has also gotten in on it, awarding Hopper, Morley and Cheadle as well.  Hoppe also took home the BSFC while Robbins won the CFC.

  • Best Supporting Actress:
  1. Judith Anderson  (Rebecca)
  2. Rachel Weisz  (The Constant Gardener)
  3. Elsa Lanchester  (Witness for the Prosecution)
  4. Gloria Grahame  (The Big Heat)
  5. Marcia Gay Harden  (Mystic River)

Analysis:  Anderson and Lanchester both win the Nighthawk while nine other earns Nighthawk nominations.  There are another 11 Top 10 finishes and three more Top 20 finishes.  There are actually 16 Drama nominees plus one more in Comedy (Lily Tomlin for The Late Show).
There have been three Oscar winners: Weisz, Ingrid Bergman (Murder on the Orient Express) and Kim Basinger (L.A. Confidential).  There have been seven other Oscar nominees.  Three actresses won the Globe (Lanchester, Basinger, Weisz) while there have been four other nominees including two for In the Heat of the Night (Lee Grant, Quentin Dean).  Bergman won the BAFTA as did Maggie Smith for Death on the Nile while Laura Linney was nominated for Mystic River.  Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone) won the BFCA while Marcia Gay Harden (Mystic River) and Weisz were nominated.  Basinger and Weisz won the SAG while Ryan was nominated.  Ryan won four critics awards (NYFC, LAFC, BSFC, NBR) while Maggie Smith won the NBR (also for California Suite) and Olivia Williams won the NSFC for The Ghost Writer.

  • Best Ensemble
  1. Mystic River
  2. The Maltese Falcon
  3. Rebecca
  4. Anatomy of a Murder
  5. L.A. Confidential

Analysis:  This is based on the total points for acting for all members of the cast.  What distinguishes Mystic River and leads it to an easy win is the multiple strong Supporting Actress performances.

  • Best Editing:
  1. Memento
  2. Lone Star
  3. Chinatown
  4. L.A. Confidential
  5. The Third Man

Analysis:  Mysteries do much better at the Nighthawks in Editing than with any other awards group.  The top four here all win the Nighthawk as do The Thin Man and Touch of Evil.  There are also 16 other Nighthawk nominees aside from The Third Man as well as 10 more Top 10 finishes and 17 more Top 20 finishes.
At the Oscars, there have been two winners (In the Heat of the Night, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) as well as nine nominees.  The BAFTAs have more winners than the Oscars (L.A. Confidential, Mulholland Dr., The Constant Gardener) but only three other nominees (Murder on the Orient Express, Chinatown, Tinker Tailor).  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo won the BFCA.  There have been six ACE nominees, all but one of them since 1997 (In the Heat of the Night was the one early one) but no winners.

  • Best Cinematography:
  1. The Third Man
  2. Touch of Evil
  3. Chinatown
  4. L.A. Confidential
  5. The Maltese Falcon

Analysis:  The only Tech category where I have more “perfect 9” scores than slots available which means that Mulholland Dr. got left out of the Top 5.  But The Maltese Falcon and Mulholland Dr. don’t win the Nighthawk while To Catch a Thief does.  Including the five winners there are 18 nominees, 30 films in the Top 10 and 49 that make the Top 20.
Mysteries won several Cinematography awards at the Oscars when there were still two categories (Rebecca, Laura, The Third Man, To Catch a Thief) and it’s notable that three of them were in black and white.  Of the other six nominees, all but one (Anatomy of a Murder) have been since the two categories were dropped.  No Mystery has won the BAFTA though there have been eight nominees including two in 1974 (Chinatown, Murder on the Orient Express) and 2011 (Tinker Tailor, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).  There have been four ASC nominees including two in 2011 (Tinker Tailor, Dragon Tattoo).  Blue Velvet won the NSFC and BSFC while the NSFC also went to In the Heat of the Night, The Long Goodbye and Devil in a Blue Dress while L.A. Confidential won the LAFC.

  • Best Original Score:
  1. The Da Vinci Code
  2. The Third Man
  3. Laura
  4. Chinatown
  5. L.A. Confidential

Analysis:  The Da Vinci Code, Laura and Chinatown all win the Nighthawk while 13 others earn a nomination.  Ten films have earned Oscar nominations though none have ever won the Oscar.  Likewise, six films have been nominated for the Globe but none have ever won that either.  Murder on the Orient Express did win the BAFTA but the other six Mysteries nominated there didn’t.  Four films have earned BFCA noms but again, no wins.  The Ghost Writer won the LAFC, the only winner of a critics award.
One quick note on the scene embedded below.  Kudos to Tom Hanks, Ron Howard, Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill (the editors), Salvatore Totino (the cinematographer) and most importantly, Hans Zimmer, for selling one of the most ridiculously implausible stupid things ever put on film in a remarkably effective and well-designed ending.  That music works so incredibly well in that scene and it is so well constructed that you completely forget how mind-bogglingly idiotic a notion is being presented there.

  • Best Sound:
  1. L.A. Confidential
  2. The Third Man
  3. Chinatown
  4. The Maltese Falcon
  5. Touch of Evil

Analysis:  The Third Man and Touch of Evil both win the Nighthawk while nine others earn nominations.  It’s the only major Tech award that Chinatown doesn’t win, losing out to The ConversationIn the Heat of the Night won the Oscar while five others have been nominated, all very spread out (not more than one in any decade).  L.A. Confidential won the BAFTA while Constant Gardener and Tinker Tailor earned noms.  L.A. Confidential and Shutter Island earned CAS noms.

  • Best Art Direction:
  1. Chinatown
  2. L.A. Confidential
  3. Mulholland Dr.
  4. Touch of Evil
  5. The Third Man

Analysis:  Mysteries do well here at the Nighthawks, with Rebecca, Chinatown and L.A. Confidential all winning the award, 13 other films earning nominations and a total of 40 films earning a Top 20 finish.  At the Oscars, no Mystery has won while only 8 have earned nominations, only three since 1955 (Chinatown, L.A. Confidential, Sherlock Holmes).  Six films have earned BAFTA noms but none have won.  Three films have won the ADG, two in Contemporary (Mystic River, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and one in Period (Sherlock Holmes) while five others have earned nominations.

  • Best Visual Effects
  1. Young Sherlock Holmes
  2. Shutter Island
  3. Rebecca
  4. Sherlock Holmes

Analysis:  That there isn’t even a top 5 says a lot about the use of Visual Effects in this genre.
Two films have earned Oscar nominations as you can see above.  Four recent films have earned VES nominations in the supporting Visual Effects categories with only Sherlock Holmes winning an award.

  • Best Sound Editing
  1. L.A. Confidential
  2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  3. Chinatown
  4. Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy
  5. Shutter Island

Analysis:  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and In the Heat of the Night are the only Oscar nominees.  There have been nine Mysteries that have been nominated by the MPSE but all of them have been since the late 90’s increase in categories and L.A. Confidential is the only one to win an award.

  • Best Costume Design:
  1. Chinatown
  2. L.A. Confidential
  3. Murder on the Orient Express
  4. Sherlock Holmes
  5. The Black Dahlia

Analysis:  Chinatown wins the Nighthawk while 10 other films earn nominations and seven more have Top 10 finishes.
Death on the Nile won the Oscar while five other films earned nominations, with only To Catch a Thief earning a nomination during the easier split years.  Death on the Nile also won the BAFTA while six films have earned nominations.  The only CDG winner is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo while Sherlock Holmes and Mulholland Dr. earned nominations.

  • Best Makeup
  1. Bad Education
  2. Mulholland Dr.
  3. L.A. Confidential
  4. Sleuth
  5. Blue Velvet

Analysis:  Four Mysteries have earned Nighthawk noms: Bad Education, Sleuth, The Big Heat and The Seven-Per-Cent Solution.  Six other films earned Top 10 finishes.
No Mystery has earned an Oscar nom.  The Name of the Rose won the BAFTA and L.A. Confidential was nominated.  Mulholland Dr. and The General’s Daughter both won MUASC awards and Goodbye Lover was nominated.

  • Best Technical Aspects
  1. L.A. Confidential
  2. Chinatown
  3. The Third Man
  4. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
  5. Lone Star

Analysis:  This is based on looking at the totals for all the technical categories, based on the individual film.

  • Best Original Song:
  1. “Dicholo”  (The Constant Gardener)
  2. “The Perfect Drug”  (Lost Highway)
  3. “Eye”  (Lost Highway)
  4. “The Madame’s Song”  (The Seven-Per-Cent Solution)
  5. “In the Heat of the Night”  (In the Heat of the Night)

Analysis:  First I should point out that I didn’t make “The Ground Beneath Her Feet”, the brilliant U2 song from The Million Dollar Hotel eligible because Salman Rushdie had already written the lyrics for the novel of the same name so it wasn’t a completely original song.  Otherwise it would have been #1 by a mile.  “The Madame’s Song” wins the Nighthawk in a very weak year.  “Eye” doesn’t earn a Nighthawk nom but the other three do.
Foul Play and Charade both earned Oscar noms.  Foul Play also earned a Globe nom.

  • Best Animated Film:
  1. n/a

Analysis:  There is one Animated Film I classify as a Mystery: The Castle of Cagliostro, the first feature length film from Hayao Miyazaki.

  • Best Foreign Film:
  1. Caché
  2. Bad Education
  3. L’Aventurra
  4. Walk on Water
  5. The Secret in Their Eyes

note:  These are the only five films that even make my list.  Caché, the easy winner, wins Foreign Film at the Nighthawks while the others earn nominations, except Walk on Water which finishes 10th in a strong year.
The Secret in Their Eyes won the Oscar while Don’t Tell was nominated.  Caché was submitted to the Oscars but disqualified under a rule that was summarily dropped not long after.  The Bride Wore Black and The Return were Globe nominated.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo won the BAFTA while Confidentially Yours, With a Friend Like Harry, Bad Education and The Secret in Their Eyes were nominated.  Inspector Maigret was nominated for Picture at a time when the Foreign Film award didn’t exist at the BAFTAs.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo won the BFCA while Caché was nominated.  Caché won the NYFC and CFC, The Sleeping Car Murders won the NBR and Bad Education won the NYFC.

  • Best Film (by my points system):
  1. L.A. Confidential
  2. Chinatown
  3. The Maltese Falcon
  4. Mystic River
  5. Lone Star

Analysis:  Great acting and technical work puts the top two quite a bit above everything else.  Just one point behind Lone Star is Rebecca and one point behind that is a tie between The Third Man, Touch of Evil and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

  • Best Film  (weighted points system)
  1. L.A. Confidential
  2. Chinatown
  3. The Maltese Falcon
  4. Mystic River
  5. Touch of Evil

Analysis:  Almost the same list as above because Lone Star is just one point behind Touch of Evil (with Rebecca just one point behind Lone Star).

Best Films With No Top 5 Finishes:

  • Mystic River
  • The Ghost Writer
  • Gone Baby Gone
  • To Catch a Thief

note:  Mystic River comes really close.  It’s the #7 film and is sixth in Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Penn), Supporting Actor (Robbins) and Supporting Actress (Harden).  It is listed, of course, a couple of time for non-traditional categories.

Worst Film with a Top 5 Finish:

  • The Da Vinci Code

Note:  All but six films that land Top 5 finishes are **** or ***.5  The Da Vinci Code is a mid *** but its Score is brilliant.

Nighthawk Notables

  • Best Film to Watch Over and Over:  The Maltese Falcon
  • Best Line  (comedic):  “You’re not very tall, are you?”  “Well, I, uh, I try to be.” (Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep)
  • Best Line  (dramatic):  “Old man, your future’s all used up.”  (Marlene Dietrich in Touch of Evil)
  • Best Opening:  Touch of Evil
  • Best Ending:  Chinatown
  • Ending Way Better Than the Rest of the Film:  The Da Vinci Code
  • Best Scene:  the opening of Touch of Evil
  • Most Gut-Wrenching Scene:  the ending of Chinatown
  • Most Heart-Wrenching Scene:  the ending of Shutter Island
  • Best Use of a Song:  “Blue Velvet”  (Blue Velvet)
  • Best Soundtrack:  The Million Dollar Hotel
  • Best Original Song from a Bad Film:  “Cradle of Love”  (The Adventures of Ford Fairlane)
  • Funniest Film:  Zero Effect
  • Worst Film I Saw in the Theater:  The Pelican Brief
  • Worst Sequel:  Basic Instinct 2
  • Worst Remake:  The Wicker Man
  • Worst Film by a Top 100 Director:  A Stranger Among Us  (Sidney Lumet)
  • Best Remake:  The Maltese Falcon
  • Best Sequel:  After the Thin Man
  • Watch the Film, SKIP the Book:  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo  (2011)
  • Read the Book, SKIP the Film:  The Big Sleep  (1978)
  • Performance to Fall in Love With:  Elizabeth Peña in Lone Star
  • Sexiest Performance:  Naomi Watts in Mulholland Dr.
  • Highest Attractiveness / Acting Ability Ratio:  Jennifer Connelly in Mulholland Falls
  • Best Sex Scene:  Mulholland Dr.
  • Most Surprisingly Good Performance in an Otherwise Terrible Film:  Robert Loggia in Jagged Edge
  • Coolest Performance:  Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon
  • Best Tagline:  “The world’s most private detective.”  (Zero Effect)
  • Best Cameo:  Roman Polanski in Chinatown
  • Sexiest Cameo:  Dorothy Malone in The Big Sleep
  • Funniest Cameo:  Brenda Bakke in L.A. Confidential

note:  It doesn’t include categories that are covered in some of the lists above like Worst Film, Most Over-rated Film, Best Ensemble, etc.

At the Theater

By the end of 2011, I had probably seen over 1000 films in the theater at some point or another.  I had certainly been to the movies well over 1000 times.  I had seen 11 Mysteries in the theater: The Two Jakes, Basic Instinct, The Pelican Brief, Lone Star, City Hall, Lost Highway, L.A. Confidential, Zero Effect, Mulholland Dr., Memento and Mystic River.  Clearly I liked seeing films about places where I’ve lived (especially if you count my stint in San Jose as living in the Bay Area).

Awards

Academy Awards

  • Number of Films That Have Earned Nominations:  49
  • Number of Films That Have Won Oscars:  13
  • Number of Films With Multiple Nominations:  23
  • Number of Films With Multiple Wins:  4
  • Best Picture Nominations:  10
  • Total Number of Nominations:  136
  • Total Number of Wins:  20
  • Category With the Most Nominations:  Adapted Screenplay  (14)
  • Number of Films with Nominations I Haven’t Seen:  0
  • Directors with Most Oscar Nominated Films:  Alfred Hitchcock  (3)
  • Best Film with No Oscar Nominations:  Touch of Evil

Oscar Oddities:

  • Only two Mysteries have won Best Picture and they both lost Director (Rebecca, In the Heat of the Night).
  • David Lynch has two Oscar nominated Mysteries and both of them received the same nomination: Best Director for Lynch.
  • Only two films won all of their Oscar nominations, both of them with one nomination: Death on the Nile (Costume Design) and The Secret in Their Eyes (Foreign Film).
  • The Maltese Falcon and A Soldier’s Story have the exact same Oscar pedigree: nominations for Picture, Adapted Screenplay and Supporting Actor.
  • Hitchcock is the only director to direct more than one Oscar winning Mystery: Rebecca (Picture, Cinematography) and To Catch a Thief (Cinematography).
  • The average Mystery Oscar nominee is quite good (80.96) while the average Oscar winning Mystery is fantastic (90.08).  Of the 13 Mysteries to win an Oscar only Death on the Nile is less than ***.5 and 8 of them are ****.

Most Oscar Nominations

  1. Rebecca  –  11
  2. Chinatown  –  11
  3. L.A. Confidential  –  9
  4. Anatomy of a Murder  –  7
  5. In the Heat of the Night  –  7

Most Oscar Wins:

  1. In the Heat of the Night  –  5
  2. Rebecca  –  2
  3. L.A. Confidential  –  2
  4. Mystic River  –  2
  5. nine films  –  1

Most Oscar Points:

  1. Rebecca  –  425
  2. In the Heat of the Night  –  405
  3. Chinatown  –  375
  4. L.A. Confidential  –  350
  5. Mystic River  –  295
  6. Anatomy of a Murder  –  235
  7. Witness for the Prosecution  –  205
  8. Murder on the Orient Express  –  200
  9. Laura  –  185
  10. The Thin Man  –  170

Critics Awards

  • Number of Films That Have Won Critics Awards:  22
  • Number of Films With Multiple Awards:  13
  • Best Picture Wins:  15
  • Total Number of Awards:  76
  • Category With the Most Awards:  Picture  (15)

Most Awards:

  1. L.A. Confidential  –  19
  2. Blue Velvet  –  10
  3. Mulholland Dr.  –  9
  4. Mystic River  –  5
  5. In the Heat of the Night  /  Gone Baby Gone  –  4

Most Points:

  1. L.A. Confidential  –  1525
  2. Mulholland Dr.  –  748
  3. Blue Velvet  –  690
  4. Mystic River  –  361
  5. In the Heat of the Night  –  278

note:  GoodFellas is #3 all-time and was #1 at the time.

Most Points by Critics Group:

  • NYFC:  L.A. Confidential  –  270
  • LAFC:  L.A. Confidential  –  320
  • NSFC:  Blue Velvet  –  300
  • BSFC:  L.A. Confidential  –  330
  • CFC:  L.A. Confidential  –  390
  • NBR:  L.A. Confidential  –  190

Golden Globes

  • Number of Films That Have Earned Nominations:  29
  • Number of Films That Have Won Globes:  8
  • Number of Films With Multiple Nominations:  16
  • Number of Films With Multiple Wins:  3
  • Best Picture Nominations:  11
  • Total Number of Nominations:  75
  • Total Number of Wins:  14
  • Category With the Most Nominations:  Picture  (11 – 1 in Comedy)  /  Actress  (11 – 5 in Comedy)
  • Best Film with No Globe Nominations:  Touch of Evil

Globe Oddities:

  • Half of the Globe wins are with two films: Chinatown and In the Heat of the Night.
  • Six Mysteries have been nominated in the one of the three Comedy categories but only Sherlock Holmes wasn’t nominated for Actress.  Foul Play was nominated in all three.

Most Globe Nominations:

  1. Chinatown  –  7
  2. In the Heat of the Night  –  7
  3. Foul Play  –  6
  4. Witness for the Prosecution  /  Mystic River  /  L.A. Confidential  –  5

Most Globes:

  1. Chinatown  –  4
  2. In the Heat of the Night  –  3
  3. Mystic River  –  2
  4. five films  –  1

Most Globe Points:

  1. Chinatown  –  430
  2. In the Heat of the Night  –  390
  3. Mystic River  –  265
  4. Witness for the Prosecution  –  225
  5. L.A. Confidential  –  220
  6. Foul Play  –  200
  7. Anatomy of a Murder  –  160
  8. Mulholland Dr.  –  160
  9. The Constant Gardener  –  155
  10. Sleuth  /  A Soldier’s Story  –  120

Guild Awards

  • Number of Films That Have Earned Nominations:  37
  • Number of Films That Have Won Guild Awards:  8
  • Number of Films With Multiple Nominations:  15
  • Number of Films With Multiple Wins:  4
  • Best Picture Nominations:  3
  • Total Number of Nominations:  88
  • Total Number of Wins:  12
  • Category With the Most Nominations:  Screenplay  (20)
  • Best Film with No Guild Nominations:  Touch of Evil

Most Guild Nominations:

  1. L.A. Confidential  –  12
  2. Mystic River  –  9
  3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo  –  9
  4. The Constant Gardener  –  6
  5. Sherlock Holmes  –  5

Most Guild Wins:

  1. L.A. Confidential  –  2
  2. Mystic River  –  2
  3. Sherlock Holmes  –  2
  4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo  –  2
  5. four films  –  1

Most Guild Points:

  1. L.A. Confidential  –  435
  2. Mystic River  –  365
  3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo  –  295
  4. The Constant Gardener  –  185
  5. Sherlock Holmes  –  135

note:  Chinatown has the second highest guild point percentage behind only L.A. Confidential because its 125 points was a bigger deal in 1974.

The BAFTAs

  • Number of Films That Have Earned Nominations:  32
  • Number of Films That Have Won BAFTAs:  13
  • Number of Films With Multiple Nominations:  21
  • Number of Films With Multiple Wins:  5
  • Best Picture Nominations:  11
  • Total Number of Nominations:  108
  • Total Number of Wins:  20
  • Category With the Most Nominations:  Actor  (16 films, 17 nominations)
  • Best Film with No BAFTA Nominations:  Touch of Evil

Notes:  No Mystery film has won Best Film but three of them have won Best British Film: The Third Man, Sapphire and Tinker Tailor.  Six of the 20 BAFTAs came in 1974 with just Chinatown and Murder on the Orient Express.

Most BAFTA Noms:

  1. L.A. Confidential  –  12
  2. Chinatown  –  11
  3. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy  –  11
  4. Murder on the Orient Express  –  10
  5. The Constant Gardener  –  10

note:  No other Mystery has earned more than 4 nominations.

Most BAFTA Wins:

  1. Chinatown  –  3
  2. Murder on the Orient Express  –  3
  3. The Name of the Rose  –  2
  4. L.A. Confidential  –  2
  5. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy  –  2

note:  The Name of the Rose won the only two awards it was nominated for (Actor, Makeup).

Most BAFTA Points:

  1. Chinatown  –  465
  2. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy  –  440
  3. L.A. Confidential  –  390
  4. Murder on the Orient Express  –  385
  5. The Constant Gardener  –  375
  6. Sapphire  –  225
  7. In the Heat of the Night  –  155
  8. The Third Man  –  150
  9. Mystic River  –  130
  10. Death on the Nile  –  125

Broadcast Film Critics Awards
(Critic’s Choice Awards)

  • Number of Films That Have Earned Nominations:  12
  • Number of Films That Have Won BFCA:  6
  • Number of Films With Multiple Nominations:  6
  • Number of Films With Multiple Wins:  2
  • Best Picture Nominations:  6
  • Total Number of Nominations:  23
  • Total Number of Wins:  8
  • Category With the Most Nominations:  Picture  (6)
  • Best Film with No BFCA Nominations:  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • Most Nominations:  Mystic River  (7)
  • Most Wins:  L.A. Confidential  /  Mystic River  (2)

BFCA Points:

  1. Mystic River  –  320
  2. L.A. Confidential  –  180
  3. Memento  –  130
  4. The Constant Gardener  –  80
  5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)  /  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)  –  75

note:  So, yes, both version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo earned 85 points by winning one award and earning another nomination.  But the 2009 Swedish version won Foreign Film and was nominated for Actress while the 2011 English language version won Editing and was nominated for Score.

All Awards

Most Nominations:

  1. L.A. Confidential  –  59
  2. Mystic River  –  36
  3. Chinatown  –  33
  4. The Constant Gardener  –  25
  5. In the Heat of the Night  –  24
  6. Mulholland Dr.  –  20
  7. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo  –  20
  8. Anatomy of a Murder  –  17
  9. Murder on the Orient Express  –  17
  10. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy  –  16

note:  L.A. Confidential and Chinatown lead their respective years.  L.A. Confidential set a new record and is still #2 all-time.

Most Awards:

  1. L.A. Confidential  –  28
  2. In the Heat of the Night  –  13
  3. Mystic River  –  13
  4. Chinatown  –  11
  5. Mulholland Dr.  –  11
  6. Blue Velvet  –  9
  7. Gone Baby Gone  –  6
  8. Murder on the Orient Express  –  4
  9. Memento  –  4
  10. The Constant Gardener  /  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo  –  4

note:  In the Heat of the Night and Chinatown both lead their respective years.

Total Awards Points

  1. L.A. Confidential  –  2977
  2. Mystic River  –  1588
  3. Chinatown  –  1430
  4. In the Heat of the Night  –  1249
  5. Mulholland Dr.  –  1077
  6. The Constant Gardener  –  880
  7. Blue Velvet  –  827
  8. Anatomy of a Murder  –  675
  9. Murder on the Orient Express  –  626
  10. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy  –  581

note:  L.A. Confidential, Chinatown and In the Heat of the Night are all #1 in their respective years.  L.A. Confidential was #2 all-time upon its release and is still #4 as of 2011.

Highest Awards Percentage:

  1. L.A. Confidential  –  19.73%
  2. Chinatown  –  13.77%
  3. In the Heat of the Night  –  13.27%
  4. Rebecca  –  8.15%
  5. Mystic River  –  8.14%
  6. The Thin Man  –  7.76%
  7. Blue Velvet  –  6.98%
  8. Anatomy of a Murder  –  6.78%
  9. Murder on the Orient Express  –  6.82%
  10. Mulholland Dr.  –  5.91%

note:  This is why I do the percentage, because it gives a historical perspective.

Lists

I won’t do a lot of lists, because that’s the whole point of TSPDT – they put a ridiculous amount of lists in the blender and come out with the “definitive” one.  Their lists includes lists by genre, so you can always go there and look at their source lists.

The TSPDT Top 25 Mysteries:

  1. Touch of Evil  (#30)
  2. L’Avventura  (#37)
  3. The Third Man  (#46)
  4. Chinatown  (#49)
  5. Mulholland Dr.  (#61)
  6. Blue Velvet  (#80)
  7. Blowup  (#98)
  8. Caché  (#201)
  9. The Maltese Falcon  (#279)
  10. The Big Sleep  (#281)
  11. Kiss Me Deadly  (#331)
  12. Lost Highway  (#339)
  13. Werckmaster Harmonies  (#344)
  14. Teorema  (#363)
  15. The Long Goodbye  (#425)
  16. The Lady from Shanghai  (#449)
  17. The Big Heat  (#513)
  18. Alphaville  (#523)
  19. Laura  (#544)
  20. Memento  (#596)
  21. Rebecca  (#597)
  22. L.A. Confidential  (#719)
  23. Anatomy of a Murder  (#810)
  24. La Nuit du carrefour  (#814)
  25. The Return  (#830)

note:  These are the current (2018) rankings from TSPDT.  Any previous list would have had Lone Star (#973) ranked higher than The Return.  Bizarrely, The Return is ranked lower on the 21st Century List (#142) than Mystic River (#81) though Mystic River is ranked #1222 overall.

AFI’s Top 10 Mysteries:

  1. Vertigo
  2. Chinatown
  3. Rear Window
  4. Laura
  5. The Third Man
  6. The Maltese Falcon
  7. North by Northwest
  8. Blue Velvet
  9. Dial M for Murder
  10. The Usual Suspects

note:  For the record, only five of these films are Mysteries to me (four are Suspense, one is a Crime film) and Dial M for Murder doesn’t belong within a mile of this list.  That they passed over L.A. Confidential, The Big Sleep, Rebecca, Memento and Mulholland Dr. to put Dial M for Murder on this list is absurd.  The Third Man, by the way, is a British film and was later voted by the BFI the #1 British Film of All-Time.

The IMDb Voters Top 10 Mysteries:

  1. Memento
  2. Witness for the Prosecution
  3. L.A Confidential
  4. The Third Man
  5. Chinatown
  6. The Secret in Their Eyes
  7. Shutter Island
  8. Rebecca
  9. The Maltese Falcon
  10. Touch of Evil

note:  This one was not easy as many of their “Mysteries” I don’t classify as such.  I also couldn’t believe that Witness for the Prosecution has such a reputation as to be ranked higher than Chinatown, The Maltese Falcon or Touch of Evil.  Hell, Witness wasn’t even on the AFI list of 50 films for their Top 10 Mystery list.

Top 10 U.S. Domestic Box Office  (1979-2011)

  1. The Da Vinci Code  –  $217.53 mil
  2. Sherlock Holmes  –  $209.02 mil
  3. Sherlock Homes: A Game of Shadows  –  $186.84 mil
  4. Angels & Demons  –  $133.37 mil
  5. Shutter Island  –  $128.01 mil
  6. Basic Instinct  –  $117.72 mil
  7. The General’s Daughter  –  $102.70 mil
  8. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo  –  $102.51 mil
  9. The Pelican Brief  –  $100.76 mil
  10. Mystic River  –  $90.13 mil

Mysteries aren’t big box office.  Of the first 100 films to make $100 million at the box office, Basic Instinct was the only one I classify as a Mystery and it was one of the last to make the list.  The Pelican Brief was the 105th to do it, a year and a half later.  But over a decade later, when The Da Vinci Code opened, there were 341 films that had made over $100 million and 66 films that had made over $200 million and Basic Instinct was sitting at #238 all-time at that point and was still the #1 Mystery All-Time.  Not only has nothing dethroned The Da Vinci Code since 2006, but only the two Downey Sherlock Holmes films have come anywhere close to it.

note:  So, apparently Box Office Mojo thinks “Dinosaurs”, “Toys Come to Life”, “Cooking” and “Dragons – Supporting Role” are Genres but neither Detective nor Mystery is.  So, they don’t have a list.  I had to find all of this on my own.

Top 10 U.S. Domestic Box Office (all-time, adjusted to August 2018)

  1. The Da Vinci Code  –  $307.87 mil
  2. Basic Instinct  –  $262.97 mil
  3. Sherlock Holmes  –  $249.06 mil
  4. The Pelican Brief  –  $224.50 mil
  5. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows  –  $220.17 mil
  6. The General’s Daughter  –  $187.41 mil
  7. In the Heat of the Night  –  $174.01 mil
  8. Angels & Demons  –  $165.73 mil
  9. Shutter Island  –  $149.37 mil
  10. Charade  –  $145.84 mil

note:  This only includes what Box Office Mojo has information on (and I had to put some of it together myself).  The Numbers provided the box office info for the two pre-1979 films and I used Box Office Mojo’s average ticket prices to adjust them.  Chinatown is just off this list ($144.75 million).

Books

note:  Like I said in the Suspense piece, Film Noir encompasses Crime, Suspense and Mysteries.  The books specifically on Noir below are just those that I hadn’t looked at in time to list in the Suspense piece but they could easily apply to all three genres.  There are a lot more I wasn’t able to get in time.  Look up Film Noir in your local library and you’ll find a treasure trove (unless your local library sucks).

Detectionary, ed. Otto Penzler, Chris Steinbrunner & Marvin Lachman, 1971

A much older book, obviously.  To give you a full idea of what it has in it, though, I will give you the full title: Detectionary: a biographical dictionary of leading characters in detective and mystery fiction, including famous and little-known sleuths, their helpers, rogues both heroic and sinister, and some of their most memorable adventures, as recounted in novels, short stories and films.  Yeah, that’s a mouthful.  But it’s a useful, though very outdated book.  It is an encyclopedia broken into the following sections: Detectives (most get a short paragraph, Holmes gets two pages), Rogues & Helpers (Watson gets most of a page), Cases, Movies (grouped by detective) and then a very good Index.

The Detective in Film, William K. Everson, 1972

Another older book, more of a coffee table type book though it has more text than you would expect from such.  It covers the history of Detective Films mostly chronologically with some thematic approaches as well (there’s a chapter called Comedy and Camp, for instance).

The Films of Sherlock Holmes, Chris Steinbrunner and Norman Michaels, 1978

A good recap of all the Sherlock Holmes films in a coffee-table book.  It is older, though, and so of course there is much that is missing, though not as much as you might think, as most of the Holmes since 1978 has been on television rather than on film.  It does include more esoteric works such as They Might Be Giants and Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother (neither of which is included here as I consider them Comedies).  It gives solid descriptions of every film and is very still-heavy which isn’t a bad thing in such a book.  It also includes separate pieces on both Arthur Wontner and Basil Rathbone and their times as Holmes.

Starring Sherlock Holmes, David Stuart Davies, 2007 (rev. ed.)

I can’t fault it for being published when it was and thus missing out on the spate of recent Sherlocks.  I definitely won’t fault it for the glossy look – it has full color stills and the book looks marvelous.  I can’t really fault it for spending so much time on television because it isn’t specifically a film book.  But for my purposes, it is less useful for having so much devoted to the television work in the last thirty years.  Almost half of this book covers the period since The Films of Sherlock Holmes was published so it devotes only 100 pages to what the first book took 250 pages to cover.  Still, it has a lot of useful looks at the Holmes films and the book itself looks great and it has a very useful appendix.

Film Noir FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About Hollywood’s Golden Age of Dames, Detectives and Danger, David J. Hogan, 2013

The book is useful, with “case files” on many prominent actors (male and female), directors, writers and other filmmakers who worked in film noir.  But there is no real good thematic styling to how the files are organized and the title itself is kind of dumb since none of this is presented as frequently asked questions.

Reviews

The Best Mystery I Haven’t Yet Reviewed

Caché  (2005, dir. Michael Haneke)

Do the choices we make haunt us forever?  Can we ever overcome them?  If we make a horrible choice as children, must that define us as adults?  And do the same questions apply, not just to people, but to People as well, to a country and what it does?  And does a mystery need to be solved?  These are all questions that come to the forefront of this film, a fascinating story that was adored by many critics, frustrating to some and was torpedoed by the Academy because of a rule that they would finally dump a few years later.  It’s also a film that reminds us of the quality of certain foreign language actors that never really seem to make much of an impact in America while others do get quite well-known.

A middle-aged couple have received a videotape that shows the front of their house.  At first we don’t realize it’s a videotape because it is so still and it is only when we see something moving in the foreground that we realize it.  Then we hear voices and we slowly start to clue in to the situation.  We don’t know who has sent them the tape but then again, neither do they.  In fact, while the husband will come to his own conclusions, it is never made quite clear who has been sending them the tapes (there will be more) or even why, though, if you pay careful enough attention and don’t get to impatient, you can get a pretty good idea.

The wife in the couple is played by Juliette Binoche.  Binoche became an international star in 1988 with The Unbearable Lightness of Being which, importantly for an American audience, proved that she could act in English, always a help in breaking through.  Less than a decade later, she would win an Oscar for The English Patient, firmly establishing herself to worldwide audiences.  Binoche has always been a great actress and here we can feel her deep pain when she realizes there are things that her husband has been keeping from her.  Her husband is played by Daniel Auteuil and if you aren’t familiar with him, you aren’t alone, at least outside of France.  Auteuil has been one of the best known actors in France for over 30 years, since his triumph in Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring but because he doesn’t act in English language films he is probably considerably less familiar to American audiences and that’s unfortunate because he’s a master actor.  He can move between the provincial (Jean de Florette), the royal (Queen Margot) and the intellectual (Caché) with ease.  Here he plays the host of a book show on television, a man who hosts intellectual dinner parties and charms his guests at home and work alike.  But this video dropped on his doorstep, along with various other clues that arrive later, make him wonder if he knows who is doing this, who is trying to make him feel uneasy in his own home.

What is at the heart of this film are two dark secrets from the past.  The first leads to the second and while the second is personal, the first is political.  In 1961, during the Algerian War, the government of France killed a number of Algerian protestors by drowning them in the Seine, something the government fervently denied for decades.  An orphan from that massacre came to Auteuil’s parents and he was suddenly forced to share his life in a way he was uncomfortable.  So he manipulated events so that the orphan was sent away.  He feels deeply ashamed over how he acted but he doesn’t feel that he should be terrorized over this and he reacts with pain and anger.

I was mostly unfamiliar with Haneke’s work when this film was first released.  I had only seen The Piano Teacher, a film that can only be rightfully described as seriously messed up.  A few years later, I would have seen all of Haneke’s work and it includes future great films like The White Ribbon and Amour but also nihilistic excesses like his two versions of Funny Games.  This is his best film and it works so well because Haneke focuses in on secrets without feeling the need to explain them.  Yet, he does it in such a way that the film itself is satisfying.  It doesn’t hurt, of course, that Binoche and Auteuil are so good.  Perhaps what is most interesting is the way that it takes Haneke, an Austrian, to get to the core of the French guilt over what was done in 1961.

The Worst Mystery I Haven’t Yet Reviewed

The Wicker Man  (2006, Neil LaBute)

Every country has its own films that they feel strongly about and it’s sometimes hard to get people from other countries to really react to them in the same way.  In particular, there are a few British films from the late 60’s and early 70’s that are thought of very highly in Britain but, while good films, don’t really rise to the level of great films, at least for me.  To be even more particular, there are three films that are loved far more by the Brits than by anyone else that were are all re-made, two of them disastrously and the third, fairly well.  So, there is Get Carter and The Italian Job.  Then there is The Wicker Man.  The original is a good and disturbing film but I don’t see it as anything more than that.  But I think we can all agree on the sequel.  It’s so overwhelmingly bad with writing and acting so abysmal that it’s a wonder that it ever got made at all.

Should I compare this film to the original to point all the ways in which it is absurdly stupid?  Or can it just exist on its own merits, which are nonexistent.  Edward Malus (a combination of man and phallus – truly subtle there) is a cop who is haunted by a bizarre and inexplicable death caused by his own stupidity as far as I can tell (standing in the middle of a road to pick up a bear a girl has thrown out of the car, an 18 wheeler swerves to not hit him and crushes the car, killing the girl and her mother).  He gets a note from his ex-fiancee that her daughter is missing (no points if you can figure out that he will turn out to be the father), so he journeys to a bizarre little island off the coast of Washington and finds a bizarre cult of women.  He tries to find out what happened to the girl and nobody wants to help and his ex-fiancee is actually there on the island.

Actually, I’m going to stop and go ahead and bring in the original film to compare it with.  In the original film, the cop was brought by an anonymous note and a key part of the film was his devout Christianity contrasted against the pagan rituals on the island.  It was informed by actual ideas over what a pagan ritual would entail, why a pagan community would exist and what they would believe.  In this film, it was apparently decided that this is an island of women and logic be damned.  The original is a suspenseful and at times, terrifying film.  There is nothing remotely scary about this film unless you are frightened by bees.

So that brings me to the key scene in the film, the one you have probably heard about even if you have never seen it.  A cage is placed over the cop’s head at the end of the film when he has been captured by the cult and is being readied for a sacrifice (if there’s a reason for the bees, I missed it) and Cage then gives the worst minute of acting possibly in the entire history of film and I have seen multiple films with Keanu Reeves.  What’s more, the scene doesn’t even have a real point since he appears to be fine afterwards and is still yelling and talking to them even though with those beestings, he really should have been dead (and if this cult really cares about their honey production, why would they waste their bees this way?).

Then there is the ending.  In the original theatrical version of the film, six months after the death of the cop (burned in the wicker man), we see one of the women from the cult trying to lure two more cops (again – in the original, they needed a cop for a good reason and they believe that the death of the cop will lead to a bountiful harvest and if things really did fail six months after and there was a need for another sacrifice, then the leader of the cult would have fallen from power like the cop predicted he would, so this ending is kind of stupid or just points out how stupid the film itself actually is), so the cycle is continuing.  In the DVD I got from the library to write this review, the cover says “includes shocking alternate ending not seen in theaters.”  That ending?  It just cuts that last scene with the cops.  How on earth can be it considered shocking to not include the final scene showing that this is still going on?  So the DVD is just part of the stupidity of the film.

Bonus Review

Zero Effect  (1998, dir. Jake Kasdan)

I am uncertain how I feel about Jake Kasdan.  I have a friend who worked at a movie theater with the son of a director to whom he described a plot about a detective with inept social skills who discovers things almost entirely through intuition.  That doesn’t mean that my friend gave Kasdan a plot that he then turned into a movie or that he was basically able to get into show business because his dad is an acclaimed writer and director but it makes me feel a little uneasy.  It also seems like he stalks me.  I only say that because, aside from this film (which I will explain more about below), there is also Orange County, supposedly set in the county where I grew up (and where that theater was) even though it wasn’t filmed there at all and it is filmed partially at “Stanford” but it’s really Caltech and I knew that because I recognized it because my brother went there.  There is also Sex Tape, which was filmed, literally, right around the corner from my desk at the Tisch Library at Tufts.  Why couldn’t he have followed me to film Jumanji if he was going to put Karen Gillan in that outfit?

So, let’s focus on this film.  I wrote a long paragraph about it in my Nighthawk Awards for 1998 because it was the first film I saw in 1998 and I was one of the few people who actually did see it in the theater.  In fact, as I mentioned in that piece, I saw it at the theater next door to the diner (Ford’s) where I went all the time in college and where a key scene was filmed.  I was really excited to see the film given where it had been filmed and that it would be a permanent record of one of my favorite places to eat and even the presence of Ryan O’Neal, who once beat up my dad or Ben Stiller, who had made that piece of smarmy shit Reality Bites couldn’t lower my excitement.  And it was being directed by a first time director, but that writer-director was the son of one of my favorite writer-directors, the man who had helped write both The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark and had directed The Big Chill and Silverado (and for that matter, Kevin Costner, who starred in Silverado, went to my high school).

Daryl Zero is a mess of a man.  If you think Sherlock has no social skills, you should see Zero.  He can’t figure out taxes (“No, that’s a W2,” he is told by his assistant.  “WWII was the Second World War”).  But he has a particular set of skills that work really well for him (“Now, a few words on looking for things. When you go looking for something specific, your chances of finding it are very bad. Because of all the things in the world, you’re only looking for one of them. When you go looking for anything at all, your chances of finding it are very good. Because of all the things in the world, you’re sure to find some of them.”).  But it isn’t just about Daryl Zero and how he manages to enter one mystery and then solves what turns out to be a totally unrelated one (“It’s good because the man has been looking for his keys for a year. And I’ve found them.”).  It’s about Bill Pullman.

That’s the real key to this film.  Yes, Kasdan does a good job with the dialogue and the story (mostly inspired by Doyle’s “A Scandal in Bohemia”) and I love the shots he gets of the dreary gray that is Portland (home for 13 years).  But with two actors I don’t particularly like and an actress who isn’t all that great (Kim Dickens), the film really narrows for me on Pullman and his performance.  I first learned who Pullman was when I watched Spaceballs all those times as a kid.  But then he had the most thankless role in Sleepless in Seattle, got to romance Sandra Bullock in While You Were Sleeping and was President Fighter Ace in Independence Day.  I longed for him to do something that he could sink into and that I could really enjoy.  Lost Highway didn’t cut it (although his line about not wanting to see videotapes because “I like to remember things my own way.  How I remembered them.  Not necessarily the way they happened.” kept going through my head when I was watching Caché for my review above).  Then this came out and I really thought he had found the right role.  He brings just the right inflection to every line, can perfectly balance the insanity with the pure deduction.  I can’t say it’s a great detective performance but it’s definitely one my favorite detective performances.  And, in some bizarre way, he and I will always have Ford’s.

Not Mysteries

Like I said at the beginning, I focus on films that have a mystery at their core.  They rely more on solving the mystery than creating an aura of suspense.  Many Hitchcock films (and other great Suspense films) are often classified as Mysteries and I could have easily filled a whole list with them.  Of the 50 films the AFI had on its initial Mystery list, 19 of them are listed as Suspense films in my spreadsheet.  But there are also other kind of films that I don’t classify as Mysteries and a few are below.

A Half Dozen Worthwhile Films I Don’t Classify as Mysteries

  1. The Usual Suspects  (Crime)
  2. The Big Lebowski  (Comedy)
  3. Gosford Park  (Comedy)
  4. In a Lonely Place  (Drama)
  5. A Shot in the Dark  (Comedy)
  6. The Pink Panther  (Comedy)

Post-2011

All-Time List:  Inherent Vice ends up around #18 and Wind River around #25.

Nighthawks:  The 2017 version of Murder in the Orient Express makes the Top 5 for Costume Design.

Awards:  Inherent Vice was nominated for Adapted Screenplay and Costume Design at the Oscars.  It won the NBR for Adapted Screenplay and the LAFC and BSFC awards for Score.  It was Globe nominated for Actor – Comedy, ACE, ADG and CDG nominated and earned BFCA noms for Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor, Art Direction and Costume Design.  The Girl on the Train was BAFTA and SAG nominated for Actress and Makeup.  The 2017 Murder on the Orient Express earned ADG and CDG nominations and a BFCA nomination for Costume Design.  I also heartily recommend reading Inherent Vice and don’t recommend The Girl on the Train.

Box Office:  Both Now You See Me ($117 million) and Murder on the Orient Express ($102 million) have managed to crawl onto the Top 10 Box Office list.  But $100 million films, while very common these days, still are rare for Mysteries.