(Just a single rule: mix-tape-style, no more than one film per director. You know, because otherwise the whole thing would be pointless.)
(#26) The Apartment
Comedy • dir. Billy Wilder • 1960 • USA
When it gets right down to it, there is exactly one thing I want to be in life: what Jack Lemmon becomes at the end of The Apartment. But, wait, hold that thought for now. What about the film itself? Well, Some Like It Hot usually ranks higher in ‘Greatest Movie’ polls, and Double Indemnity is pretty special, and so is Sunset Blvd., but The Apartment simply has to be my pick for the best Billy Wilder film. Maybe it’s the understated jazz score, which breathes life into the film like whispers of wind during a slow summer stroll. Maybe it’s the black and white cinematography that’s not afraid to go heavy on the ‘black,’ allowing faces in the city night to peep through dark alleyways and corners to become, while so many legion windows and sidewalks are cold, touches of warmth. Or maybe it’s just the way Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine first hurry out the office together: two distracted souls cheerfully diverted, each glad to encounter someone who apparently promises not to let ebullience deflate.
Then again, it could be The Apartment’s peerless combination of sweet and sour, its unapologetic intermingling of cynicism and a giddy kind of hopefulness (reflective, apparently, of co-writer I.A.L. Diamond’s ‘sweet’ leavening Wilder’s more characteristic ‘sour’). There is no shortage of romantics in film, full of longing and forever gazing wistfully at nothing in particular, but Lemmon’s Baxter is another beast altogether – his romantic conception of the world roughly eight parts disappointment to two parts boundless belief in better things ahead. His put-upon world-weariness is genuine, alright, but you get the sense it could never take him over completely, optimism stubbornly keeping it in check. That, and various concessions a cynic is savvy enough to make: that the moral high-ground doesn’t always get you very far, and, every now and then, “that’s the way it crumbles cookie-wise.” (Adds MacLaine: “When you’re in love with a married man, you shouldn’t wear mascara… Some people take, some people get took.”) And, finally, that having the key to the “executive washroom” doesn’t make you – that thing I want to be – a mensch.