19. City Lights
directed by Charles Chaplin
Perfectionism rarely felt so loose. Charles Chaplin, who came up in a rigorous production system, churning out a two-reel film every four weeks, spent nearly a year writing – and more than a year filming – what would become arguably his greatest film. He lost, along the way, nothing of the looseness and improvisatory spirit that fueled those earlier works, shambling through the feature as his famous Little Tramp character, befriending millionaires and blind girls, offering the ultimate cumulation of the archetypal silent film love story – boy meets girl, boy is separated from girl, boy is reunited with girl. The heart truly leads this film, but hardly sacrifices laughs in so doing. Even the basic conceits are funny. There’s a millionaire who only remembers the Tramp when drunk; a boxer who ropes the Tramp into a fixed fight, only to leave him high, dry, and stuck with a more determined opponent. Chaplin does not mock the fruitlessness of his character’s pursuits, however – by the end, he acknowledges that he succeeded at what matters most.