Federico Fellini was a wonderfully distinctive voice in cinema. It’s easy for me to see why he was so beloved at the height of the art cinema era of the 50s and 60s because he’s honestly just a lot of fun. I obviously don’t love everything he did, but so much is carried by a light air. At the same time, though, he was a fiercely intelligent filmmaker who had something distinctive to say about the world he was in, the world he left, and the world he saw coming.
Alternatively bright and colorful while also dark and brooding, Fellini ended up with a term coined after his name, Felliniesque, to describe the carnivalesque nature of much of his work, especially his later films. Defined by strange sights of a particular aspect, Felliniesque ends up being only part of the appeal of Fellini as a whole. His best films contain some of these hallmarks but are far from defined by them.
On top of that, he was remarkably self-reflective and knowledgeable of his own faults, which he seemingly had little compulsion about exposing to the world. He saw himself as a deeply flawed man, and he showed the world deeply flawed male characters that were extension of himself.
I loved working my way through Fellini’s body of work. It was like a carnival in the best sense of the word. Here are all of his feature length films ranked best to worst, or worst to best. I dunno.
“The sights and sounds are truly great, but I saw it more like a long slideshow instead of a cohesive experience.”
“So, I think I better understand both those who praise the film and my own inability to do the same. It’s kind of impossible to look away as the movie unfolds as Fellini shows us so much that seems so alien to our own experience, but it ends up feeling more like a carnival than any other Fellini film. It’s sights and sounds with nothing to engage with the audience more than the grotesque. In terms of the word Felliniesque, I think it’s safe to call this the word’s purest manifestation.”
“The Voice of the Moon is the work of an artist too set in his ways to really break out of them, too enthralled to the same ideas that have dominated his work his whole career to say much new, and too talented to let that drag the whole affair down.”
“There’s a lot of joy and good feeling in this movie including a lot of treats for fans of Fellini. Its ending ends up missing an opportunity to bring everything together, especially the enjoyable tangent with Mastroianni and Ekberg, which drags the entire experience down a good bit for me.”
17. Variety Lights
“There’s certainly promise here, but there are also rough edges that needed sanding down.”
16. The White Sheik
“The movie is sweet and charming with a deeply satirical bent. I do wish it had a true opening scene to help better set the stage, but it’s a surprisingly intelligent little film with nice performances and an enjoyable sense of humor.”
15. I Clowns
“As it stands, I can’t believe any of the history told, feeling like the “narrator” is completely unreliable and that the whole show is a form of clowning with the audience as the joke. Still, if I’m to be the butt of this little joke, I’m okay with it. At least I laughed along the way.”
“It’s interesting that a man considered a lover of women would disdain another so much, but I think the core of that contrast is that Fellini felt like he actually loved the women he bedded but Casanova didn’t, that he loved no one but himself.”
“I do wish for a paring down of characters to provide a greater focus, but as it stands, the movie demonstrates Fellini’s thematic intelligence and command of the physical elements of production.”
12. Il Bidone
“As a transitional movie, it’s interesting. That party scene really does feel almost out of place with the rest of the movie that has a more grounded feel, but it’s still remarkably well handled. It’s easy to see who is doing what and who is talking to whom with constant action swirling around. The ending has a muted impact, but everything else in between is the very solid kind of character based storytelling that Fellini had developed.”
“It’s a surprisingly fun movie to watch and dig into, and it carries a savage intelligence about human nature.”
“The movie is rich and dense, firmly fitting into Fellini’s new moves stylistically. Embracing color, fantasy, memory, and affectation, Fellini paints a painful portrait of his wife’s pain that he doesn’t quite seem to understand but is compelling nonetheless. This may not be one of his greatest films, but it does show that his Felliniesque later films can contain worth anyway.”
“It’s a light, touching film, often quite funny, and impeccably made by a master of the craft.”
“I’m really unsure of how this would work with an audience not wading through Fellini’s work. So much of the ending seems to hinge on knowing Fellini’s films rather well, and a lot of the joy I felt was watching these iconic images gain new meaning. I’m hopelessly biased on this film.”
“His most experimental film, Fellini’s Roma can be a challenge for general audiences because of it’s total absence of plot and embrace of non-linear storytelling. It’s a heavily thematic and emotional film that rewards a certain type of viewing that most people aren’t used to, and that ends up being one of the reasons that I find it so appealing. There’s such warmth, sadness, and joy as Fellini shares his love of his adoptive home city that I end up getting swept up in it.”
6. 8 1/2
“This movie is so eminently watchable and feels like it’s going to fall apart for long stretches as you wonder how these disparate parts will fit together, and fit together they do. The final stretch of the film brings all of these assorted ideas and techniques together in a rather brilliant endgame that resolves a story about statis in the only way it can, with the character making no decision at all but one to get him out.”
5. I Vitelloni
“Fellini made something intensely personal and incredibly universal at the same time with I Vitelloni. There’s such a special feeling to it, and it marks the man’s first great film.”
“Full of specific and wonderfully drawn characters, all circling around each other with a central theme to tie it all together, the movie paints a specific portrait of a specific time and place that is incredibly inviting. It’s probably Fellini’s easiest to like film.”
3. La Strada
“This movie is great, perhaps even could be called a masterpiece. It’s tragically sad and affecting, pulling the audience in to the story of these two people with incredible skill.”
“Rubini could have made something great of himself, or he could have been happy with Anna. However, he ended up choosing pure frivolity, and he has nothing but a drunken stupor for it. Again, for a movie with a reputation of mad insanity and decadence, La Dolce Vita is shockingly focused and penetrative in theme.”
“Nights of Cabiria is a great film. It fits well in Fellini’s earlier period with grounded aesthetics built on real Roman locations including caves and street corners and also has touches of the elements that would later come to define his films, the carnivalesque atmosphere and parades, but they’re far more in the background and never really the point. The point is always Cabiria herself, her contradictions, and her spirit. I adore this film.”