Cluny Brown (1946): Some master filmmakers go out with a bang; others a whimper. Others still simply putter along as usual. Ernst Lubitsch certainly thought there’d be more Lubitsches after this typically refined rom-com starring Jennifer Jones and Charles Boyer. He died eight days into filming its successor, The Lady in Ermine, which was completed by Otto Preminger. The final Lubitsch is not one of his best—certainly no Heaven Can Wait, made three years prior—but still very, very good. Which is fine.
The Trouble With Angels (1966): In addition to acting, Ida Lupino was one of the few female directors getting Hollywood work in the ‘40s and ‘50s. After 1953’s The Bigamist, the well dried. Not only did it take 13 years for her next film, but it was a Hayley Mills vehicle. She made it the best one.
Trafic (1971): No one went to see Jacques Tati’s mega-opus Play Time, leaving him devastated, financially and emotionally. He still had some juice left in him, though, enough that his last theatrical effort—produced at a fraction of the size—is still thoroughly wonderful. (There was one more Tati feature, Parade, shot on video for TV.)
Family Plot (1974): Alfred Hitchcock’s swan song was not meant to be one: Failing health forced him to abandon the spy thriller The Short Night in the preliminary stage. But while it’s neither as accomplished nor vital as the R-rated Frenzy, it’s still the kind of light and playful work only one of cinema’s greatest could have concocted.
Confidentially Yours (1983): You could name François Truffaut’s last after his famous interview book: Hitchcock/Truffaut. A Hitchcockian thriller perfectly fused with Truffaut’s sensibility, it, like Family Plot, was an inadvertently unassuming end to a great career. Truffaut was diagnosed with brain cancer and died the next year at just 52.
Side Effects (2013): Steven Soderbergh threatened he would retire (from theatrical films, at least) by 50, and he apparently meant it. On the surface, his final genre experiment—a twisty pharmaceutical thriller—doesn’t seem like a final thought. But look beyond the narrative silliness, and there’s a corroded worldview, where the shifting audience identification underlines a bleak look at humanity in the spirit, at least, of another cinematic goodbye: Robert Bresson’s masterful L’Argent.
Matt Damon delivers in "The Martian"