We’re halfway through our countdown celebrating the 100 greatest films ever made and to catch up on the list in the most convenient manner possible I have copied and pasted the first fifty entries into this one big mega-post. Enjoy!
by Brek the David
Aliens (1986) – Dir: James Cameron Screenplay: James Cameron Cast and Crew: Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Paul Reiser. Oscar Count (2) – Sound Effects Editing and Visual Effects
“Ripley: I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.
Hudson: Fuckin’ A…”
One of the better sequels of all time, Aliens is one of the few James Cameron films I can stomach. Actually, I adore this film. Part sci-fi, part thriller, part horror, part action flick, Aliens takes us on a wild roller coaster that ends with the greatest cat fight of all time.
Haunted by the memories of barely surviving her first encounter with the xenomorph that wiped out her crew, Ridley joins a military expedition to find out what happened to a mining colony in deep space. Quickly we’re introduced to the space marines and endeared to their various personalities. That’s a big part of why Aliens works so well, the unforgettable characters. Unfortunately, since they’re fighting Aliens, more than half the cast is killed within the first thirty minutes or so. It’s necessary of course because we need to be shown just how deadly the Aliens are. And there have not been many deadlier antagonists in the history of film.
Suspenseful, exciting, often frightening, with just enough comic relief, Aliens is about as perfect a thriller as can be.
STANDOUT PERFORMANCE: Sigourney Weaver is almost always solid, and she’s great as Ridley, but Bill Paxton steals the show as Hudson, a wise cracking, scared shitless space marine. He’s no coward though despite the things he says. When shit hits the fan, you want Hudson getting your back.
DID YOU KNOW? He may have taken some knocks for his capabilities as a writer for the screen but Sigourney Weaver was so impressed by Cameron’s screenplay for Aliens that she agreed to reprise her role despite stating multiple times that she never wanted to take part in a sequel.
99. MONSTERS INC
by Laurent Kelly
Monsters Inc (2001) – Director: Pete Docter and David Silverman Screenplay: Andrew Stanton and Daniel Gerson Starring: John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Mary Tibbs, Steve Buscemi, James Cobum, Jennifer Tilly Oscar Count: (1) – Best Song (Randy Newman – “If I didn’t have you”)
Henry J Waternoose: “Kids these days. They just don’t get scared like they used to.”
SYNOPSIS: The monster’s city power is generated by scaring children although the monsters themselves live in fear of contamination. Hence when one enters the world of Montropolis all hell starts to break loose.
I consider Monsters Inc to be a pretty flawless kids movie. It establishes a wildly imaginative and unique arena filled with lovely endearing details that absorb you into the heart of the story. The concept is clever and original and the story whacky whilst always grounded in a heart-filled emotional journey.
The film relies on numerous set-pieces all of which are fascinating in their construction and admirably creative. This is helped by a set of distinct and brilliantly realised characters that are brought to life through the voices of a very talented cast who help to maintain the film’s tremendous energy levels throughout. What really prevails in Monsters Inc is the sense of fun which just radiates from the screen and makes for such a warm and engaging cinematic experience.
I am slightly dissapointed to learn that a sequel is in the works as I am very fond of the film’s subtlely crafted, ambigious ending.
DID YOU KNOW? There was a leaked news story in 2001 that Monsters Inc would feature the trailer for the dullathon that was Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. As a result the film benefited from hundreds of Star Wars fans who paid the admission charge just to see the trailer.
by Daniel Suddes
Goodfellas (1990) – Director: Martin Scorsese Screenplay: Martin Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi Starring: Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci Oscar Count (1) – Best Supporting Actor: Joe Pesci.
“As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster”
This is the opening line of narration, the film sets up the traditional Hollywood view of gangster life – one of glamor and wealth. This is immediately subverted by the fact that, immediately preceding this, a scene of drastic violence and desperate violence was shown.
So defines Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, a film that utterly destroys the classic gangster film and rebuilds it from the ground up. Every single crime film that came after (including Tarantino’s oeuvre) owes a deep debt to this film. Goodfellas was Scorsese not only trying to come to terms with the depiction of crime on film (which, at the time, had quite abandoned its Hays Code descriptions but had come very close to doing so) but with his own career. After Raging Bull, Scorsese struggled artistically to rediscover his muse. In doing so, he directed some excellent films (including The King of Comedy and The Last Temptation of Christ) but nothing that had the raw energy of his earlier works. With Goodfellas, he returned to his roots (the underbelly of city life) and revitalised himself artistically. The film was as much as Scorsese trying to save himself as it was about Henry destroying his.
Certainly, such a personal film that was made with the studio system is an extraordinary accomplishment.
You probably alreadyknow the film. Henry Hill (Ray Liotta, who has never been able to surpass this role) becomes a gangster as a teenager. He befriends a variety of people in his profession, including Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) and the fowl tempered Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci). At first, life is good. Hill even manages to find a wife inKaren (Lorraine Bracco) and raise children. But his life comes crashing around him when he becomes involved in the drug business. It ends when Hill, broken, having to say goodbye to his life that would have killed him. Yet he still longs for the days when he was somebody.
There are many different ideals to talk about in the film. Obviously, most remember the performances, particularly Pesci’s. This is understandable. I have always enjoyed the one by Lorraine Bracco. She plays the only character who is really an outsider in this world.
There is a constant state of desperation throughout the film. Everything (from the camera to the editing to the performances) is quick and direct. There are so many tracking shots (including a famous one of Hill being led through the back door of a nightclub) to show Hill’s sense of the world. Due to his position, he could have anything he wanted. There were no barriers in this world.
Except, of course, for the ones that Hill creates himself. The final act of the film no longer possesses that open view. It is stilted, fragmented, and shows Henry’s train of thought. This is actually some of the most creative uses of editing and cinemtography since the French New Wave – and no one ever seems to notice. Maybe because people are too focused on the things that this work conveys – it still affects him.
This is all exemplified in the classic “Do I amuse you” scene. Everyone knows it – it is when Tommy supposedly threatens Henry after Henry refers to him ad a funny guy. Yet it is not the dialogue that that makes the scene. It is what remains unsaid. The camera rapidly cuts from the crowd, to Tommy, and back. Suddenly, everything goes quiet – the calm before the storm. The payoff, of course, is that nothing happens. But that sense of danger is what makes Henry Hill’s life. There are moments of glory, and moments of fear and dread. After a while not even Henry could tell the difference.
People all seem to emphathise with the plight of Henry Hill. It is not that everyone knows this lifestyle. It is that everyone goes through the stages of life that Goodfellas depicts. The vigor of youth gives way to the exhaustion of middle age. This is the power of the film. It is not just a gangster film (although it does embrace the violent aesthetic), it is a film about life and work. These are, after all, just “blue collar guys”.
I have explained why the film is great, but why is it among the greatest films of all time?
Because it is one of the greatest filmmakers in history being honest to his audience for the first time in a long time. Filmmakers are at their peak whenever they look inward to see what motivates them. Scorsese had almost lost his way. If anyone had needed an introspective look into their psyche, it was him. Luckily, he found it.
Goodfellas, with its impressive credits and its deep, personal examination, had no right to come out of Hollywood. But it did, and we should all be very thankful.
DID YOU KNOW? The word ‘fuck’ is used an average of two times per minute of footage. Most of the time it comes from the mouth of Joe Pesci.
97.) GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS
by Brek the David
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) Director: James Foley Screenplay: David Mamet Starring: Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey OSCAR COUNT (0) – Al Pacino was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in the same year he won for Scent of a Woman.
I’ve never seen a film that takes place on what amount to three sets, an office, a restaurant, and briefly inside a car and be sheer greatness like Glengarry Glen Ross. Of course it makes sense since David Mamet bases it off his play of the same name. Of course it helps when you have a cast like this:
Jack Lemmon, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Jonathan Pryce, and Alec Baldwin
David Mamet’s screenplay is quite brilliant as it is only dialogue that advances the plot. Of course this isn’t a unique ability, but Mamet’s proficiency with conversation ranks among the best in the world, and Glengarry Glen Ross is his greatest work that I’ve seen. As for the performances, Jack Lemmon absolutely owns every scene he’s in, and Shelly Levine might be his best performance ever. That’s saying a lot considering the great Mr. Lemmon’s resume. Everyone is great in this ensemble cast, and it might be the greatest overall performance of an ensemble cast in the history of film. Everyone is at the top of his game, even a young Alec Baldwin, who at the time wasn’t as good as he is now. Really Baldwin would steal the show if Lemmon wasn’t so fascinatingly acting his ass off in every scene. Baldwin’s now classic “motivational” speech to the deadbeat real estate agents is the stuff of legend.
DID YOU KNOW? – On set the cast referred to the film as “Death of a Fuckin’ Salesman”
by Laurent Kelly
Badlands (1973) – Director: Terrence Malick Screenplay: Terrence Malick Starring: Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, Warren Oates OSCAR COUNT (0)
“He wanted to die with me and I dreamed of being lost forever in his arms.”
SYNOPSIS: A surreal dramatization of a killing spree that took place in the Starkweather-Fugate region in the fifties in which a teenage girl and her much older boyfriend killed members of her family and many others in the Dakota Badlands.
Holly would like for her life to be more like the celebrity gossip articles she devotes her time to – a life filled with twists and turns and adventure, romance and glamour. Ignored by her widowed father she falls for a handsome, aloof and as it turns out completely unstable and psychotic young man named Kit whose company she treasures for the simple reason that he is the only personwho has ever paid her any attention.
In reality the killing spree they embark upon is about as savage and gritty as one would imagine but the film’s stroke of brilliance is that we see these events transpire through the eyes of a naive young woman who coats a romantic edge around a distinctly unromantic chain of events.
In her mind she is on an epic journey of freedom with a man who “looks like James Dean”, and everything is made to look and sound beautiful despite all the death and destruction that takes place around her. This wonderful juxtaposition is emphasised through a superb use of the often unnecesarry and lazy voicoever device in which Holly narrates her story in a manner reminiscent of the celebrity stories she reads.
The cracks begin to show however and it is to Holly’s dismay that Kit turns out not to be the hero that she had anticipated but that she was drawn to him more for the fact that he demonstrated towards her a fondness and affection that had never been made available from her own father. As the reality kicks in what we see and hear becomes a lot more bleak and mundane and it becomes apparent that Holly is suddenly aware of what Kit really is and the consequences of what they have been through together.
Badlands prevails as a spare and beautiful looking film with a cold, disturbing darkness under the surface. This very much represents Holly’s mindset and this exploration of her psyche is masterfully crafted and developed throughout the film.
DID YOU KNOW? Sissy Spacek met future husband Jon Fisk on the set of this film.
95. MODERN TIMES
by Daniel Suddes
Modern Times (1936) – Director: Charles Chaplin Screenplay: Charles Chaplin Starring: Charles Chaplin, Paulette Godard, Henry Bergman OSCAR COUNT (0)
Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times was, nominally, the last film featuring the “Little Tramp” character – the first film hero to become a cultural phenomenon. Chaplin knew that the tramp’s relevancy was coming to an end (indeed, it was already beyond brave to release this silent film in the time when talking films had become what audiences wanted) so he wanted to go out with a bang. In doing so, Chaplin created the perfect comedy –one accessible to the masses due to its slapstick mentality, but also quite deep and subversive. Like the greatest of satirists, Chaplin takes no sides and merely endeavors to point out the absurdity of the entire situation.
It is a feat that has never been repeated – that is why Modern Times still remains one of the greatest films of all time.
The film starts by saying that it will be a story of humanity and the “pursuit of happiness” before cutting to a shot that has become clichéd, but still feels fresh here – a herd of sheep superimposed on workers leaving the subway. This time, the Tramp is a factory worker who undergoes a variety of indignities – from being the guinea pig on an experimental eating machine to suffering a nervous breakdown. In time, he is jailed, released, finds new jobs, and takes a young orphan (Paulette Goddard) girl under his wing, all in a quest to find true happiness.
Of course, Chaplin had frequently tried to empathize with the common man seeking to live the American Dream. Chaplin’s obsession is certainly understandable – like that other great British writer, Charles Dickens, Chaplin had come from a background of poverty. He was never even formally educated. When fame and success was thrust upon him, he barely knew what to do. It was on screen that Chaplin was always the most comfortable. The Tramp was not just a character – it was Chaplin, trying to come to terms with his background.
That is certainly the case in Modern Times. Yes, most of the set pieces were Chaplin’s particular brand of mime – from his infamous walk to the physical pratfalls. But there is a great sense of pathos still present in the tramp. Modern Times was released when the tramp’s philosophy: “Smile, you’ll get by” had a more universal meaning than ever before. Unlike, say, The Gold Rush, many of the audience had experienced what the Tramp had gone through – from poor working conditions to desperate poverty. Chaplin’s power was that he could make them laugh at their own plight.
Every single scene is memorable – and do not share any particular link. This is a film that can be analyzed scene by scene, with no knowledge needed of what happened previously. Almost everyone recalls the scene of Chaplin stuck in the gears of the giant machine (as industry slowly crushes the human spirit, I suppose) and the nonsense song at the end, in which the Tramp’s voice is heard on screen for the first time. I have always favored the segments in which Chaplin and Goddard find their run down shack and attempt to live in it. “It’s paradise” Goddard proclaims, right before Chaplin is hit on the head by a cross bead. A Broom props up the roof; there are numerous holes in the floor. Yet so happy are the two to at least mime the good life that they overlook these flaws to a degree that borders on surrealism. It is a wonderful comedy of the sort of living conditions people had –and were lucky to have. After all, the falling roof over their head was better than no roof at all.
Modern Times has gone on to influence countless works – from novels, to music, to other films. In fact, other people are often given credit for Chaplin’s advances. Whereas Orwell is usually the one who has gained recognition for the use of television as a surveillance tool, Chaplin beat him to it be over a decade. The working class sensibilities of Arlo Guthrie and Bruce Springsteen were also pioneered by Chaplin. Brazil’s aesthetic was heavily borrowed from the factory scenes in this film. Michael Moore wishes his documentaries were half as poignant as Modern Times.
Yet each of these works makes one fatal flaw – they take a side. That is why Modern Times still stands out. Chaplin was an avowed leftist (to the point where he once said that Stalin had “no faults”) but he found blame in both sides of the political spectrum. Strikes are presented in a negative light in the film, as are workers’ uprisings. The Tramp is jailed for supposedly leading one – not exactly the best way to advance one’s goals. Of course, it is the struggles in the factory that everyone remembers. Overall, Modern Times is about how there could be no easy solution for the problems of the times. No one belief is to blame – everyone (even the Tramp) has their own responsibilities. At the end of the day, the most anyone can do to improve their situation is, you guessed it, smile.
Pretty sound advice, I say.
DID YOU KNOW? Chaplin initially wrote a full dialogue script intending for the film to be a regular talking picture. He even filmed a scene in this style before deciding against the idea and making the dialogue in the film play only a partial role.
94.) CITY OF GOD
by Laurent Kelly
City of God (2002) – Director: Fernando Meirelles Screenplay: Braulio Mantovani Starring: Alexandre Rodrigues, Matheus Nachtergeale, Leandro Firmino OSCAR COUNT (0) – Meirelles and Braulio were nominated in the director and adapted screenplay categories.
“A kid? I smoke, I snort. I’ve killed and robbed. I’m a man.”
Praise just grew and grew for City of God throughout 2002 and by the end of the year it had been hailed as the Brazilian Goodfellas. Certainly in regards to style the comparisons were quite apt. Much like Goodfellas took the volume of the mafia and turned it up to 11, City of God used similar techniques to portray the fast moving and harsh world of the Brazilian slums. A comparison could also be made in regards to the film’s frantic storylines and striking, larger than life characters. Whereas Scorsese took us into the heart of the mob through the eyes of Henry Hill (and then very cleverly switched back and forth to reflect his wife’s POV) Meirelles guides his journey of the cutthroat ganglands of Brazil through the kind hearted and good natured lead character Rocket and the longer we spend with him in this environment the more desperate we are for him to fuel his dreams of becoming a photographer and leave this harsh world behind.
Although the film is a little too gun-ho and over-stylised in places, for the most part we are reminded of the sour consequences of slumlife in which small children find their way into gangs and innocent people die. The film’s ending in which a group of youngsters are inspired by the bloodshed and make plans to take over the land is an excellent comment about the nature of violence and how people fail to learn from history. All the kids know is death and destruction and have no idea about how to live any other way.
The film’s excellently structured mixture of tense, set-pieces and harrowing truths surrounding the gang culture paint a brilliant portrait of a world most comfortably viewed from a distance. Luckily for protagnist Rocket the camera lens becomes the key to making this distance certain. Most of all however City of God is so impressive because in the midst of all the chaos and high drama it prevails as a poignant character study that shows people for who they truly are.
DID YOU KNOW? – All of the actors were recruited from various slums in and around the Rio de Janiero area.
93.) TWELVE MONKEYS
by Brek the David
12 Monkeys (1995) – Director: Terry Gilliam Screenplay: David Webb Peoples Starring: Bruce Willis, Madeline Stowe, Brad Pitt OSCAR COUNT (0) Brad Pitt was nominated for best supporting Actor which remains his only Oscar nomination.
“James Cole: I’m here about some monkeys.
Jeffrey Goines: Monkeys?
James Cole: Monkeys. Yes. Twelve of them”
I might be overrating 12 Monkeys, but I’ll gladly admit that I adore Terry Gilliam and could be overly biased here. I think the man is beyond brilliant, and so is his 12 Monkeys. In the future, we’ve almost killed ourselves with some terrible catastrophe supposedly perpetrated by the Army of the 12 Monkeys. Mankind is forced underground, and a convict played by Bruce Willis is sent back in time to find out as much information as he can so the future can attempt to learn from the past.
12 Monkeys masterfully perpetuates a sense of dread and foreboding. It’s also masterfully layered, filled with symbolism and allegory. This was the first film in which I truly could not deny Brad Pitt’s acting ability. I never thought he was bad, but he impressed the hell out of me here in 12 Monkeys. And that’s another aspect of greatness with 12 Monkeys, yes it’s brilliantly written, shot, and directed, but it’s also perfectly cast and the actors turn in some of their best performances of their careers. Gilliam gets greatness from Willis and a solid portrayal from Madeleine Stowe, an actress of average ability, and of course Brad Pitt with his manic and wild Jeffrey Goines.
Besides the mindfuck ending, a touching, poignant moment occurs when Cole hears Blueberry Hill on the radio, reminding him that everything mankind (and he) had is now gone, and what we (he) had was a great thing we took for granted. It was this moment in the film that I realized I was watching greatness the first time I saw 12 Monkeys, and it remains my favorite scene of the film to this day.
92.) ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Director: Michael Gondry Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Elijah Wood, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Ruffalo OSCAR COUNT (1) – Winner of Best Original Screenplay
“If it can be written, or thought, it can be filmed.” – Stanley Kubrick
Kubrick’s belief has only recently become a reality. And even then, it took several years for truly philosophical films about the way the mind works to find any sort of emotional center. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind did it. It was the most original film of the last decade, and one that is already being used as the source of inspiration for newer films.
How else would Inception exist without Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?
Everyone has had the desires that Lacuna fulfills – to eliminate a bad memory for our conscious. Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) undergoes the procedure after finding that his girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet) breaks up with him and then erases the memory of their relationship from his mind. Audiences then see their relationship in reverse – as does Barish, who realizes that the time he had with Clementine was still important.
Now, the most important part of the film is not the script (there have been many films that explore relationships…that part is nothing new) but how the story is told. There is a rough sense of chronological order, but it is almost impossible to remember what comes next – or what came before it. The film depends on visually striking moments (as when the world slowly goes dark as the memories disappear, certain moments literally drift apart) that make the experience believable. That is what makes Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind unique. The film is not trying to engage in a lecture about memory (although that does come into play). It is trying to establish a relationship between people and their memories, allowing people to engage with the film at their own leisure.
By the end, the film is all about how we feel. That is, also, what makes memories more important to in the first place. Before Eternal Sunshine, any film that wanted to discuss memories and identity ended up becoming rather cold and sterile (as, say Vanilla Sky demonstrated). There are some who will defend this approach (was it Goddard who said that emotions in film are impossible as “you can’t kiss a film?”) but director Michel Gondry and screenwriter Charlie Kaufmann found a way to give this film an emotional core. Perhaps that is the reason that I declare this one of the greatest films of all time.
Of course, so much is dependent on the performances. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet have never been better. Both come across as world weary, but intelligent. Yet the standout is Winslet. She is a rather striking figure – in many ways, she is an invention of Joel’s psyche, as though there would be no other woman that he could end up with. I believe this film created the archetype of the free spirited woman that comes to rescue a man from his weariness. At the very least, it popularized it. It takes a special performer to create such a role that everyone strives for but no one can master.
The best scene, for me, will always be the one in which Joel takes Clementine to an earlier childhood memory. Clementine takes the place of a caretaker, whilst Joel reverts to his four year old self. Using every technical trick in the book to make the scene believable (forced perspective is used to make Jim Carrey appear half the size of Kate Winslet), it also offers a bit of whimsy to what had been a series of serious moments. Besides, as does the rest of the film, it opens a “can of metaphysical worms.” Did Joel fall in love with Clementine because she reminded him of this moment in childhood? Is that memory still present? The entire film is filled with moments that become more thought provoking the more times you view it, but work wonderfully on the surface to engage everybody.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind ended up topping quite a few “best of the decade lists” last year. Maybe that is a sign that the film will only grow in stature as time progresses. I certainly hope that is the case – it stands as a testament to the power of memory and the sense of warmth that human beings give even their most dreaded experiences.
Did you know? The memory-erasing company, Lacuna Inc., takes its name from the Latin word meaning a cavity, hollow, or dip, especially a pool or pond. Considering the tasks they perform, this name makes perfect sense.
91.) STRANGERS ON A TRAIN
by Laurent Kelly
Strangers on a train (1951) – Director: Alfred Hitchcock Screenplay: Raymond Chandler, Czenzi Ormonde Starring: Farley Granger, Robert Walker, Leo.G.Carroll, Ruth Roman, Patricia Hitchcock OSCAR COUNT (0)
Alfred Hitchcock was a master at not only creating suspense and horror in the most minimal fashion but also in developing gripping stories which arise from seemingly harmless incidents. Such is the case when two strangers meet on a train. One is a tennis star undergoing a nasty divorce. The other is a charming but unstable gentleman who has a bitter hatred for his father. These two stories become interlinked just through a simple sarcastic agreement to a deadly plan.
The plotting in this film is perhaps Hitchcock’s finest as he is able to arouse intrigue and terror whilst never making a moment of his audacious story feel too contrived or far-fetched. Characters react and act as one would expect and the film makes a solid effort to make you empathise with the film’s antagonist as opposed to just creating a one dimensional world of good and evil. Robert Walker puts in a spellbinding performance as the film’s psychopath who has a ruthless viciousness hidden inside a calm and exciteable exterior. His outgoing facade makes his character all the more unsettling and as such his presence more sinister and threatening as a result.
Strangers on a train also excels in its execution of set-pieces with locations brilliantly utilised to heighten the tension and excitement of key turning points in the film. Whilst time has not been kind to the film’s frantic finale at the carousel, the rest of the film stands up extremely well as an engaging and character driven thriller.
DID YOU KNOW? Raymond Chandler received top billing for writing credits despite the fact that second billed author Czenzi Ormonde did the majority of the work. I’m sure many writers around the country can empathise with this feeling….
90.) BLUE VELVET
by Daniel Suddes
Blue Velvet (1986) – Director: David Lynch Screenplay: David Lynch Starring: Kyle Machlachan, Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern. OSCAR COUNT: (0)
Blue Velvet is the mythical “greatest film Alfred Hitchcock never made.”
Hitchcock actually had quite a few bizarre sensibilities that few commentators seem to care about. Hitchcock was obsessed with subdued sexual desires, mental illness, and small town, simple living. Lynch was at least honest about his material. As a result, it is easy to be caught up in the emotional energy of the film (which the film delivers in spades). But it is easy to overlook everything that is happening in the film, from the satirical edge Lynch gives the material to the layered performance by Hopper (most assume he is just bombastic and direct. Watch it again and pay attention.)
The story takes place in Lumberton USA (there IS a Lumberton in North Carolina, I believe, but I doubt this is meant to be that town). Jeffrey Beaumont comes home from school after his father becomes gravely ill. While there, he tries to play detective by hiding out in Dorothy Vallen’s apartment, where he uncovers an underground web of drugs and violent sex, most of it caused by the evil Frank Booth.
The film, much like Back to the Future, was released at a time when Reagan’s America felt utterly nostalgic for the 1950s. Yet while Back to the Future openly embraced that mentality, Blue Velvet deliberately shied away from it, and even laughed at it. After all most people only remember the portions preserved in media or what is half faded in their mind. Did anyone actually think that family dynamics resembled those presented by the Cleaver family? The violence and sex in Blue Velvet is not more horrific than present in other films – it just seems more horrific because it does not resemble the world that Lumberton so desperately wants to be.
And that is where Frank Booth comes from. One scene has Jeffrey wondering aloud “why are there people like Frank?” Only later does he get his answer, in the form of a jealous boyfriend. One can surmise how Frank was created; I have always imagined that he was a very week youngster who was consistently abused by his peers. Of course he turns into a psychopath. That was the only option present to him.
Of course, this is never suggested. That is a unique element of the film. Most films (especially newer blockbusters) hold one’s hand during the entire running time. Blue Velvet plays more like a dream – you get a sense of who everyone is, but not a complete picture of their personalities. I am not sure who Frank is, or who Dorothy is, or her son Johnny.
Of course the standout performance in the film belongs to Hopper (his is probably the only character anyone seems to remember) but picking a favorite sequence becomes much more difficult. In fact, there are very few scenes that stand alone – it is all meant to be part of a larger whole. Besides, most of the best details are subtle (watch the introduction of Sandy Williams, and how it harkens back to the noirs of old) I have always enjoyed the infamous “In Dreams” segments, in which Roy Orbison actually sounds threatening. Yes, here, the narrative stops and more questions than answers are raised (for one, when exactly does the film take place? That is a very real cassette that Booth holds). But it is also Lynch at his rawest and can really explain what the entire film is about. All of Lynch’s work shows an obsession with small town America, music, and surrealism. Each of those obsession are combined here to create a sequence that has never been repeated in any film. Also, this sequence acts as a sort of response to the modern era’s fascination with pop music. Is it just me, or is the shot framed in the same way that Tom Cruise’s dance in Risky Business is framed? The sequences are dense and remain enigmatic no matter how many times one sees them.
The entire film must be seen multiple times in order to be understood. I am not entirely sure that I understand it all. But unlike Lynch’s other work, which becomes quite obtuse at times, Blue Velvet finds that perfect level of accessibility and depth. Lynch’s obsessions are not always easy to decipher, but here, he used them to find something magic.
Did You Know? The original cut was four hours long. Lynch was contractually obligated to make a two hour film, and thus was forced to trim it down. The lost footage has, as of this writing, never been recovered.
89.) TOY STORY
by Daniel Suddes
Toy Story (1995) – Director: John Lasseter Screenplay: Joss Whedon, Andrew Stanton, Joel Cohen, Alec Sokolow Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, R.Lee Erney, Laurie Metcalf
One has to wonder what the creators of Toy Story ultimately intended. Did they know that they were ushering in a new era when they released the film? I am not sure. I know that the objective in making the film was not to revolutionize the world. Usually, such films fail, as they are too caught up in their own gimmick.
Ultimately, Toy Story’s strength is not solely in its visuals. It is also in its embrace of the medium. Animation is meant to create world that could never exist, but still feels familiar. Toy Story is one of the most original animated films ever created. Even after only 15 years, the influence of Toy Story is far and wide.
Now, I could talk about the animation. If time has been unkind to any part of Toy Story, it is this part. Every single animated film is now animated on computers, even when it is not necessary. Toy Story started a revolution, and I am not sure it even knew it was doing so.
This has become one of those films that everyone knows. The catchphrase “Too Infinity and Beyond” entered the common lexicon for a time in the mid-nineties. Besides, the film was clever enough to incorporate real toys into the film. Normally, I would call this shallow product placement, but here I find it a nice touch. There is a reason for this (as I will describe below) but right now a problem has become apparent with the film. Namely, no one gives it as much credit as they used to. Toy Story now looks like every other animated film. In that regard, no one views the animation as particularly special.
But then, Toy Story does something with its animation that a film like Shrek does not. It makes sure that there is a point. Toy Story is meant to take place in our reality, but with items that cannot happen. The 3D was entirely necessary, as it gives a connection to our world. In addition, the toys actually look like children’s toys, rather than facsimiles of the toys. It makes the world seem more…realistic would be the wrong word, but it does feel that way.
But what is incredible is how dedicated the film is to the world it has created. Most of the tension in the film, of course, evolves from the typical feelings of jealousy when someone new outshines your accomplishments. But the toys never forget they are toys. That is important. If the toys had treated each other as, say, people, then the film may have failed. Audiences are constantly reminded that the characters are all made of plastic, and the characters all act in that manner. Buzz Lightyear, for example, does not think of himself as human. He thinks of himself as a generic space ranger. Woody knows what his role is, and seems happy with it.
Those are the greatest scenes in the film – Buzz and Woody arguing with each other about their nature. It is here that the script shines, that the animation allows for the creation of emotional beings – it is all something very special.
That is why the film is one of the greatest of all time. Not only is it one of the most influential films of all time, it is a film that stays convicted to the world that it has created. I know of few films that were willing to be this brave. Star Wars is one. The Wizard of Oz is another. Other Pixar films come close, but never quite get there. Take Monster’s Inc. Again, the world has the potential to exist on its own terms. But it does not go far enough with the premise – we know that the film is trying to exist with our world, and any rational person can recognize the fact that these people do not exist. Toy Story manages to be self-contained, and thus becomes more believable.
What Toy Story managed to do was unbelievable. It managed to help move western animation forward. Of course, it remains to be seen whether or not another great leap like this can happen again. The fact that every single film is copying Toy Story is a problem. But then, maybe that means the time is right for another revolution.
Did You Know: The film is based on Pixar’s earlier short film Tin Toy. During the “staff meeting” scene, a book behind Woody reads Tin Toy a reference to the short.
88.) NIGHT AND FOG
by Laurent Kelly
Night and Fog – Director: Alan Resnais Screenplay: Jean Carol Starring: Michael Bouquet (narrator) Archive footage of Reinard Heyrich, Heinrich Himmler, Adolf Hitler and Julius Streicher
Night and Fog is a remarkable documentary for adopting a rare subtle approach to the Holocaust subject matter. This isn’t about a child crying two inches away from the camera or providing melodramatic images from the concentration camps. Rather it is a film which makes us think about a complex subject which requires deep thought.
A series of images and video clips are accompanied by a narrator who tells us the story of the Holocaust and it is the manner in which the story is told which is so impressive. Rather than attempting the impossible task of trying to encapsulate the entire horrible experience the documentary instead acknowledges the difficutly of this task by asking questions as opposed to trying to answer them. The camera trails through the places where the horror happened as the narrator struggles to imagine the terror that
took place there. Poetic language is used to try and sum up the thoughts of those who endured the horror but whenever it feels as if we are being given a representation of the event the documentary returns to the present and reestablishes the fact that the true nature of the Holocaust is impossible to comprehend.
The documentary also does a fantastic job of making the victims feel three-dimensional in a bid to show us see how families much like our own were so suddenly subjected to such torment. It is the sensitivty at the heart of the film and the awareness of the topic that makes Night and Fog such an incredible achivement.
DID YOU KNOW? The word Jew is barely used in the film. This is because Resnais wanted the documenary to reflect the inhumane nature of all wars and in particular to reflect on the French intervention in Algeria which was taking place at the time of the film’s release.
by Laurent Kelly
Fargo (1996) – Director: Joel Coen Screenplay: Joel and Ethan Coen Starring: Frances Mcdormand, William H Macy, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stomare OSCAR COUNT (2) Wins for Best Original Screenplay and Best Lead Actress
SYNOPSIS: A man in need of desperate cash comes up with a poorly thought out plan to have his wife kidnapped and pocket the ransom money from her father. The chaos escalates from there….
Fargo is a deceptively mature film in spite of the whacky nature of the plot. It expertly shows how weak minded people make stupid decisions and the senseless nature of violence which can never lead anywhere positive. In the end we see that the simple life with all its kind virtues appears to be the key foundations to happiness and that it is possible to not be polluted by the corrupt nature of the planet.
This theme is explored through the actions of heroine Marge Gunderson who is able to balance her life as a loving wife with her role as a police officer. She does what she has to do at work in solving grisly cases but when she returns home she is able to live a good and simple lifestyle with her husband. This is best exemplified when after solving a highly intense, adrenalin pumping case she is still able to express genuine joy over her husband Norman whose wildlife work has been selected for use on a postage stamp.
In regards to the actual plot itself, the sequences are sharp and superb with some Vintage Coen Brothers black humour peppered in every scene. The dialogue in particular is a delight to behold especially in the scenes between loudmouth Carl Showalter and mute Gaer Grimsud as the mismatched and idiotic crime duo.
Plot and story work in perfect unison as we are taken on a weird and wild journey and then shown at the end how it could have all been dealt with differently were it not for the rash and panicky instincts of man.
DID YOU KNOW? None of the scenes are actually filmed in Fargo.
86.) THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY
by Daniel Suddes
Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003) Director: Peter Jackson Screenplay: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson Starring: Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis, Ian Mckellen, Vigo Mortessen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett OSCAR COUNT (17 in total)
Maybe I am cheating by including all of the films in one category. If it helps, Return of the King is the best of the three. But I don’t think that the individual parts were meant to stand alone. It was all just a portion of a greater whole.
The fact of the matter is, each of these films is special. They feel like the end of a long journey. Many filmmakers and celebrities (including Stanley Kubrick and The Beatles) had tried to film these books. Ralph Bakshi even managed to get one released. Whether or not it was a good adaptation, I shall leave to audiences. But Peter Jackson’s take will become not just the definitive version, but is already the great screen events of the ‘naughts’ and is something that others are hopelessly trying to replicate.
In many ways, Peter Jackson was both the best choice and the most bizarre choice for the project. His earlier B-movies showed an enormous amount of skill in blending special effects with life action. His debut, Bad Taste, was not only cheesy but hilarious and entirely convincing. I came out of that film believing in the spectacle Jackson had created for audiences.
It was that approach that made Lord of the Rings work to begin with. I know many who consider Tolkein’s work to be cheesy and light – and in many ways, they are correct. As Bakshi demonstrated, it would be very easy to turn it into an unintentional comedy. But then, Jackson treated the work with a certain amount of reverence. He believed that doing so would expose the traditional mythologies, the examination of the hero’s journey, and even religious themes.
Now, it would be ridiculous to talk about these films without talking about the significant strides in special effects they made. The films still look quite good – armies numbering in the hundreds of thousands have been created from scratch, and creatures that never could exist come to haunt everyone, and actors are turned into computer enhanced characters that could not exist otherwise. I am not sure why I still feel that this film is more effective than others with its special effects. After all, since the release of this film, many others have managed to replicate the effects Lord of the Rings pioneered. But the film still feels more convincing than its imitators.
Maybe it’s because the effects feel necessary rather than gimmicky. It would be very difficult to get sufficient visuals necessary to tell the story. Besides, usually, the film manages incorporate live actors with the effects. In other films, it looks stiff an awkward. But here it looks not only fantastic, but downright necessary. I cannot imagine, say, Gollum being done in using any other method.
And yes, that is why the film is great. In case you cannot notice a theme, films that are solely built on their special effects rarely last. They are nothing more than technical exercises. Lord of the Rings is certainly manages to surpass those. It is exactly the old sort of epic that David Lean may have constructed. It is long because it allows people to truly understand the characters. And yet many moments are still understated.
Which brings me to one of my many favorite scenes in the trilogy. Forget all of the epic battles, forget the noble deaths, forget the multiple endings. There is a moment during the journey to Mount Doom in which Frodo and Sam are eating. They are careful to ration. “I have just enough left.” “For what?” replies Frodo. “For the return journey.” “I don’t think there will be a return journey.” The scene works because of all that is not being said. It is all about the emotion that the two characters are showing. They know that it is very likely that they will die. But they do not wish to discuss this. They simply want to savor the moment that they are sharing – it may be the last.
Each part of the trilogy is filled with moments like this. Modern audiences will probably like the film for the effects. But there are so many moments that recall the great epics of the past. The film, like the books, wants to take the old mythologies and redress them for a new era. The films are also phenomenally successful in their goals. I just wonder how long it will before another moment like this come again to theaters.
Did You Know? This film has one of the most debated goofs of all time. When the film was released in theaters, many claimed that a car could be seen in the background during the scene in which Sam exclaims that he is now further away from home than ever before. Debates ensued – until Jackson confessed to the error and corrected it for the DVD release.
85.) THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE
by Laurent Kelly
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) – Director: Tobe Hooper Starring: Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal, Allen Danzinger Screenplay: Tim Henkel and Tobe Hooper OSCAR COUNT (0)
This masterpiece of terror was made on a shoestring budget and yet its visuals remain alarming, its unrelenting dark atmosphere equalled by few if any from it genre. What makes the film so striking is its spine chilling bluntness in regards to its depiction of horror. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre doesn’t raise your heartbeat but rather it almost makes your heart stop short. Look at the scene where Kirk walks into the isolated house and one fall later has been bludgeoned in the head and locked in an enigmatic room where further torture awaits. This happens in a matter of seconds and yet its spareness is what makes the scene so unforgettable. In a genre where we have become so used to long and suspenseful tracking shots and teasing, Hooper’s film stands tall to this day because it subverts these expectations with its direct and gritty tone.
Hooper proves himself a master in this film of maximising the camera to its full potential to scare perfectly exemplfied in the scene where we see the female protagonist trapped in the chair surrounded by the twisted family members of Leatherface. Whereas most horror films focus only on the violence, Texas Chainsaw instead uses this moment to build audience empathy as we see close up the anguished, blooshot eyes of the poor victim and her rough tear stained sweat and bloody wounds and breathing. Seeing the impact the horror has had on her proves to be much scarier than the horror itself and in these moments where she finds herself completely trapped the movie becomes very hard to watch as the camera has made the pain and torment feel far too close for comfort.
It is not just the content that is clever but also the structure of the film. For the first half hour the use of dramatic foreshadowing brilliantly builds up the required tension before the horror is released like a caged animal and doesn’t relent until the final moment of footage. The eery soundtrack and isolated arena first help to establish the foreboding violence and then the violence itself takes centre stage and when it arrives the lack of respite makes the film almost an exercise just to watch as there is no room to escape, no light relief to try and catch a breath from the authentic and skillfully crafted violence.
Texas Chainsaw is and will remain a horror classic because it never allows its violence to become a gimmick. Through frantic editing, clever dramatic technique and character driven terror we are taken on a dark and honest vision of a bleak and relentless horror which scares through implication, atmosphere and a dreaded feeling of helplessness. When the film miraculously gifts us a survivor we feel for a moment as if we have survived the experience ourselves.
DID YOU KNOW? Unusually the film was actually shot in chronological order.
84.) SIN CITY
by Brek the David
Sin City (2005) – Director: Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez Screenplay: Frank Miller Starring: Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Benicio Del Toro, Michael Clarke Duncan, Josh Hartnett, Michael Madsen, Brittany Murphy, Clive Owen, Elijah Wood OSCAR COUNT (0)
Dwight: The Valkyrie at my side is shouting and laughing with the pure, hateful, bloodthirsty joy of the slaughter… and so am I
John Hartigan: I take away his weapon.
[shoots Junior’s hand]
John Hartigan: [pauses] Both of them.
[shoots Junior’s groin]
Marv: I love hitmen. No matter what you do to them, you don’t feel bad.
Of all the comic book adaptations that have been made in the past twenty or thirty years none of them come close capturing and adapting the comic book medium to film like Sin City. Now there is no question that the actual plots and characters and themes compare to other films on this countdown, but the execution of this film is an impressive achievement and stands far and away as Robert Rodriguez’s best work. For anyone who is a fan of comic books, Sin City should rank at the top for transferring what’s on the pages to film. Of course Sin City is far easier to adapt than complex works like Watchmen. It’s that simplicity though that makes Sin City so damn good.
Now Frank Miller, the creator, writer, and illustrator of Sin City won’t ever be confused with Tolstoy or Steinbeck, hell, he isn’t even among the elite writers of comics. With Sin City, however, he hit the ball out of the park. Sin City is homage to film noir and pulp novels of days gone by. It’s a world filled to the brim with seedy and shady characters. There are no good guys, just bad guys, worse guys, and the worst guys. There’s booze, broads, and bullets, and all three assault and caress you from the opening shot. This world is fueled on violence and sex, and often those two are inextricably bound as one. It’s almost misogynistic in its portrayal of women, but then it’s not too keen on men either. As I said, these stories exude immorality and debauchery. That’s the whole point. Sin City is humanity at its worst, a place where only death is redemption.
In Rodriguez’s Sin City we follow Marv, John Hartigan, and Dwight through the wicked streets of Basin City. All three men have their own codes and their glimpses of righteousness, but all this is tainted with extreme violence, sometimes justified. Mickey Rourke owns this film as Marv, a hulking, simple-minded brute, seemingly invincible, a veritable war machine. Bruce Willis works well as the old cop that falls in love with a much younger woman, and it’s this love and devotion that brings about his downfall, as he makes the ultimate sacrifice for Nancy. And then there’s Dwight, played by Clive Owen. This is the weakest part of the movie as Clive Owen just can’t match the presence of Rourke and Willis. To be fair though, Dwight’s story isn’t as compelling as The Hard Goodbye (Marv) or That Yellow Bastard (Hartigan).
Now, the acting is good to great and the stories intriguing and often exciting, but it’s the visual aspect of Sin City that is most impressive. Shot with the now prevalent “green screen”, Sin City evokes the black and white contrast of the pages of Miller’s Sin City like no other comic book movie before or since. Color is splashed here and there making the images even more provocative. The action is stylized in comic fashion in its unrealistic execution. Impossible things happen on screen letting you know that this is some dream world, a twisted dark reflection of reality. And since that was Miller’s vision, it too is Rodriquez’s and what a fantastic vision it is. Seriously, if you can make Elijah Wood the creepiest character in Sin City, which would put him in the running for creepiest character of all time, then you’ve succeeded with flying colors.
DID YOU KNOW? Adrien Brody auditioned for the Jackie Boy character.
83.) SOME LIKE IT HOT
by Daniel Suddes
Some Like it Hot (1948) Director: Billy Wilder Screenplay: Billy Wilder and L.A.L. Diamond Starring: Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe OSCAR COUNT (1) – Best Costume Design
It is impossible to measure the film’s initial impact. The film and Marilyn Monroe have become such an accepted part of culture that seeing them is almost like seeing a famous painting. It is recognized as important, people will feel pleased that they saw it, but I am sure many will wonder what the point is.
Yet this remains one of the best films ever made. Many films today barely understand what it means to be a comedy or a drama. This film creates a situation that could never exist outside of a comedy. The whole idea cross dressing is barely believable – Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are both very ugly women, but no one ever seems to notice. I doubt that this would get past the pitch meeting today. The whole idea is hard to take seriously.
But it all is executed so well that it is easy to see why it was tried. Each of the leads (Curtis, Lemmon, Monroe as well as Joe E. Brown) give the best performances of their careers. They invite audiences to laugh and share in their situation.
Unlike most comedies, this film is not really a satire. It is not aimed at any sort of part of a culture (unless cross dressing was some sort of 50s fad that I am unaware of) and does not seek to score points against any particular figure. Its aim is simpler – it only seeks to make audiences laugh. That is a rarity today. Most comedies think they need to take aim at something in order to be funny. Not Some Like It Hot. It does not need such invitations to make people laugh.
There is some subtle references in the film. On the surface, the film is about organized crime. However, it is nothing but a deep sex comedy – about marriage and attraction. Monroe is described as a “Jello mold on springs” and the whole idea is that men are going crazy over Jack Lemmon (in drag). One old tycoon even proposes to him (leading to one of the all-time great scenes, in which Lemmon describes the proposal, pausing to shake his maracas). What, exactly, does he see in her? No one knows – they merely see his sincerity. It helps define one of the maxims of comedy –acting dumb in a serious situation is never funny. Acting serious in a dumb situation – now that will always be funny.
In it is impossible to talk about the film without describing the myth of Monroe. She remains one of Hollywood’s biggest treasures – but some people are still hard pressed as to why that is. She could really only play one role. However, she sold that role in a way that has never been emulated. I don’t know how many actresses have subsequently tried to play the role of the ditzy seductress. I know how many of those performances are as memorable – zero. Monroe managed to sell herself in a way that was exactly what audiences wanted and worked with a director who was able to utilize her skills better than any other.
What of the rest? It’s mostly Marx Brothers territory. It’s not so much about the plot, the performances, or the direction as it is just trying to create a jumble of screen anarchy. This is actually quite revolutionary – everyone from Monty Python to South Park has poked fun at gender bending and cross dressing in the same manner as this film. John Waters pretty much built his own career on the territory initially staked out by Billy Wilder. This film has actually been copied multiple times. Yet it never seems to register with people, because this film is very hard to copy.
The strength of the film can be seen throughout, but the final scene is the best at exemplifying the film’s strength. Brown and Lemmon are riding in a speed boat together, while Lemmon argues about their upcoming marriage. Specifically, he tries to call it off, listing various flaws, only to have Brown dismiss them (ie. “I can’t have children.” “We can adopt some.”) The payoff of this sequence is one of the finest punch lines ever. The line is famous, but the set-up is so meticulously done that it can be seen again and again and will always be funny. Just as the film will always be funny.
Did You Know? Marilyn Monroe required almost forty takes to complete some of her more basic scenes. At one point, the script called for Monroe to say a line while opening a drawer. She kept forgetting it, so Wilder had the line pasted in every drawer in case Monroe opened the wrong one.
82.) FULL METAL JACKET
by Brek the David
Full Metal Jacket (1987) Director: Stanley Kubrick Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr, Gustov Hasford. Starring: Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, R.Lee Ermey OSCAR COUNT (0)
Private Joker: I wanted to see exotic Vietnam… the crown jewel of Southeast Asia. I wanted to meet interesting and stimulating people of an ancient culture… and kill them. I wanted to be the first kid on my block to get a confirmed kill!
A film of two contrasting parts, Full Metal Jacket is not Stanley Kubrick’s best film, but it can hold its own with those not named 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, and Dr. Strangelove. Full Metal Jacket is an unflinching, uncompromising, yet unbiased look at the Vietnam War (and war in general). I suppose bias is all about perspective, and I don’t know about Kubrick’s thoughts on his own film, but it definitely seemed to me that he strove hard to be as realistic and true to the era and conflict as he could. For me I think people can watch Full Metal Jacket and different people will take away different things. This is the mark of a master filmmaker. I know people that are appalled by it, and I know people that are inspired by it. I don’t really trust those inspired by it, but it’s their prerogative. And while Full Metal Jacket is appalling, that is the point. It’s an examination of the human psyche under the stress and rigors of war. War is appalling so humans will do appalling things.
Nothing is glorified here. There are no false heroics and no propaganda to show American soldiers as the paragon of humanity. On the contrary, the American soldiers depicted are just like everyone else, and they do terrible things. It’s not to say they’re terrible people though. The US drafted from the population to wage this unnecessary war. Almost all of these men were there against their will. Also, the Marines train their soldiers to be killers. That’s what soldiers do; they kill their enemies. To get into the mind of a killer the first part of the film is about training for the war, and the brainwashing, or acclimating the mind to violence, that goes on in boot camp. I use brainwashing for this era because, again, most of these men were here against their will.
Full Metal Jacket opens to shots of the draftees, soon to be soldiers, getting their heads shaved. Not knowing much about military protocol, this seems to be done to take away the individuality of the man. From that point forward he is part of a greater whole, a unit that must fight together as one. Fighting as one is much stronger than fighting as individuals, and it also makes the individual harder to kill. Dead soldiers can’t fight after all.
Then we get introduced to Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, a hard ass drill instructor that will put these men through the gauntlet, break them down, and re-forge them into killers. In what is one of the most memorable performances of all time, R. Lee Ermy, who plays Hartman to perfection, owns the screen every second he’s there. Hartman exudes authority and his is absolute; to these men he is God, and he will create them in the Corps’ image. Also introduced are Private Joker, Private Cowboy, and Private Pyle. It’s immediately clear that Pyle is just not cut out for this, and unfortunately it destroys him. Watching him descend into madness is frightening and tragic to watch, but again, nothing good comes from war.
Full Metal Jacket, like all Kubrick films, is shot with the eye of brilliance. Shots are framed such that they seem to convey as much as the actor’s performance. Something as austere as Marine Corps barracks adds incredible weight to the atmosphere as Hartman breaths fire on these men. These scenes are tense and uncomfortable to begin, but we the audience becomes used to it just like the soldiers until that unforgettable final showdown between Pyle, Joker, and Hartman.
After boot camp, the location turns to Vietnam sometime before/during the Tet Offensive. We’re shown the Marines now as full-fledged killers, and many are even psychopathic, like the fierce Animal Mother. However, you want psychopaths like Animal Mother getting your back if you’re in war; there is no question. Private Joker turns out to be a journalist, writing for a propaganda newspaper. Joker is an interesting character and a better actor would be more suited to play him than Matthew Modine, but Modine puts forth a decent effort. Here in Vietnam we see the horrors that Hartman was getting these men prepared for. The urban warfare depicted is brutal and sometimes hard to watch as the film closes with an intense sniper standoff sequence that will haunt you long after the movie is over. I get a sick feeling in my gut every time I see this portion of the film, as it’s a very visceral and harrowing experience. Powerful, sickening, but always fascinating, Full Metal Jacket looks into the depths of ourselves when we’re at our worst. Collectively, since war still exists, we’re all struggling with our Shadows, a perpetual conflict that we must overcome before it consumes us.
DID YOU KNOW?: The majority of R.Lee Erney’s famous speech was improvised.
81.) THE ROAD WARRIOR
by Brek the David
The Road Warrior (1981) Director: George Miller Screenplay: George Miller, Terry Hayes and Brian Hannant Starring: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Michael Preston, Max Phipps OSCAR COUNT (0)
The first thing that stands out while watching The Road Warrior is its harsh realism. What’s sold, and sold expertly by my reckoning, is a post apocalyptic wasteland told as a Western. Max is the epitome of the reluctant hero, a man battered by the world, but regains his humanity by helping out those in dire need of aid, sacrificing himself so that they may live on. But let’s not get ahead ourselves…
A sure fire cult classic, The Road Warrior immerses us in a scary, dismal vision of the future. The film opens to narration, explaining how civilization has collapsed under its own weight, the aftermath then exploding into a “war between two great tribes”. The implication here is that the US and Soviet Union’s Cold War turned hot, and we all know if that had happened the world would be a very bad place in which to live. After the War, humanity tried to continue on with the old way, but the damage had been done. The post-apocalypse was reality.
The Road Warrior is the sequel to Mad Max, a tale about a highway patrolman whose family is brutally murdered by a biker gang. Losing everything, just like the world had lost all due to the apocalypse, Max ventures into the wastes driving his “last of the V-8s”. Armed with guns that have quickly vanishing ammunition, his only companion his dog; a desperate man in a desperate world. Soon after Max dispatches some thugs, he comes across the Gyro Captain, an odd, emaciated shadow of a WWI fighter ace. He seems like a coward but time and time again he proves to be one of the most courageous heroes of the film.
So the Gyro Captain tells Max about the refinery and they “team” up (he’s basically Max’s prisoner) and scout it out. Enter Lord Humungous. Powerfully muscled and wearing a hockey mask like some radioactive Jason, Humungous oddly enough is a level headed, cunning, charismatic, articulate man. He looks like a brute, but acts like a diplomat as he promises the survivors fortified in the refinery safe passage through the wastes if they give him the precious oil. He really plans to kill them all. At some point we’re also introduced to Max’s mirror image nemesis, Wez, a psychopathic loose cannon who also loses someone he loves, or in Wez’s case, since he’s a dark Mad Max, he loses someone he lusts. Wez maniacally counters Max every stop of the way until the end…his end.
The Road Warrior is told in true Western fashion, with the drifter, the town, and the bandits. The drifter reluctantly protects the town against the bandits, ultimately saving them from certain death at the hands of the bandits which allows the town to settle elsewhere. It also looks somewhat like the old spaghetti Westerns, though the score with ominous strings, heroic horns, and powerful drums helps create the fury of the dynamic unforgettable action sequences. And there is some unforgettable action in The Road Warrior, some of the best ever filmed, from the frenetic assaults on the compound, to the thrilling iconic tanker chase. The cinematography is impressive, especially during that climatic chase. Matched by the aforementioned perfectly crafted score, The Road Warrior remains a fantastic film to experience. The minimal dialogue works to perfection, the characters are defined far more by their actions than what they say. The cast is just good enough to keep us engaged in this bleak futurescape. No one here is stellar, but they were good enough for us to keep Max, Gyro Captain, Humungous, and Wez emblazoned in our memory. George Miller, cast, and crew pulled off an amazing film for its day…and any day, creating one of the best films of all time.
DID YOU KNOW? Apparently the budget for this sequel was ten times that of the original making it the most expensive Australian film ever up to that point.
80.) THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL
by Daniel Suddes
The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) – Director: Steven Spielberg Screenplay: Melissa Mathison Starring: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote OSCAR COUNT (4) – Best Effects – Sound Effects Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Music – Original Score, Best Sound
Steven Spielberg is the most positive minded filmmaker working. I have never really known him to not try to find hope in the bleakest sources. Sometimes it doesn’t work. Minority Report’s ending feels mawkish, as does the ending to A.I. But here is a film that actually gives a sense of hope and wonder to the populace. Since its release in 1982 (where it received one of the longest, if not the longest, standing ovations at the Cannes Film Festival) it has never left the public conscious. I gave up trying to count how many times people have quoted the “E.T., phone home” line to me, or how many times I have seen the bicycle scene redone. But those segments have never lost their luster, and neither has the film.
Why is that? The film’s tone is not really original – it reminds me of the sort of children’s science fiction stories from the 1950s. I imagine Ray Bradbury could have written something similar earlier in his career. But then, it WAS not done before E.T. By the time it was released, the story was so obvious that the brilliance was in the fact that Spielberg was finally able to articulate it properly.
Many people have tried to interpret the film in many different ways. Some see a Christ allegory in the titular alien (an unusual interpretation, given that director Steven Spielberg is overtly Jewish) and some rave about the ingenious use of POV shots. My personal favorite aspect of the film is how little the adults play into the world of E.T. Everything is about what the children think and what they believe in. I have always felt that E.T. was merely a child himself. The way he conducts himself resembles a frightened little boy (even though E.T. doesn’t have a gender) who has been separated from his parents in the mall.
This actually helps build more of a sense of wonder about the whole thing. We know what adults would do (and did in the film) to new life forms. The children actually treat E.T. with respect – and considering that E.T. is one of the few aliens that represent no threat whatsoever to people. In fact, considering his gifts, he may be one of the best aliens ever depicted. But he is different, and therefore a threat.
Children, as a general rule, exist outside of politics. They do not possess the prejudices that supposedly more sophisticated adults do. Philosophers would call it the “tabula rasa” but that is just taking away from what is special about it. E.T. is one of the best reminders of this trait in children. Maybe that is why people still come back to it repeatedly. It is a reminder of a trait that more people wished society had (the desire to actually try new things) but one that they have lost.
That is why, to me, the best scene is one in which E.T. and Elliot are separated, but still possess and influence over each other. The scene involves Elliot being required to dissect a frog for a class while E.T. is simultaneously watching TV. Elliot eventually releases all the frogs, creating chaos, while E.T.’s mind gives Elliot images of a television show he is watching, which Elliot then acts out with classmates. It is wonderfully executed from a technical standpoint (the jump cuts and cinematography are excellent) but there is also quite a lot of depth to the film in showing Elliot’s passions and his connection with E.T. Lesser films would have tried to explain it (by having Elliot speculate about his psychic connections out loud) but by showing what is happening – that is much stronger. The film is full of moments like this one, but this one may be the culmination in what Spielberg was trying to accomplish.
Did You Know: Apparently, Michael Jackson owned one of the many puppets used in the film. Another original was used in a series of commercials for Progressive Auto Insurance aired during the 1999 Super Bowl. By that time, most of the rubber used on the puppet had disintegrated.
79.) LAWRENCE OF ARABIA
by Daniel Suddes
Lawrence of Arabia (1962) Director: David Lean Screenplay: Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson Starring: Peter O Toole. Alec Guiness, Anthony Quinn, Omar Shariff OSCAR COUNT (7) – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound, Best Art Direction Best Music – Original Score
Lawrence of Arabia is the most unlikely success story in history. A biopic about a historical figure very few know about, featuring no star power (this was Peter O’Toole’s first major role) with a running time that usually makes everyone run for the bathroom. But it is still among the most compelling films of all time about a war that has become among the most significant of the 20th century.
But a film like this would not last just for trying to show a relatively unknown part of history that helps educate people. It is also what has come to define what an epic film can be. It can recreate a world long since gone, but still make that world feel truly alive.
I must confess – epic films tend to be among my least favorite Hollywood films. In technical terms, they are great – they truly recreate the worlds that they mean too. The problem is that these technical credits often overshadow the rest of the film. Does anyone actually remember the script and dialogue of Ben Hur? If you said yes, you are lying. Everyone remembers set pieces like the famous chariot race.
What do people remember about Lawrence of Arabia? What they remember is the strong performances of Peter O’Toole and his assimilation into the Arabian culture. That is why the film is among the greatest ever made. It manages to not only recreate a world that is long (well, not really THAT long) gone and make it still feel alive. The heat of the desert resonates off of the film constantly, and eventually, so does the characters.
Now, the film is about the time in which many European nations still had many colonies in the Middle East. The modern film would try to condemn the Europeans. Lean does so in a few scenes, but that does not seem to be the point of the film. Rather, he merely wishes to examine T.E. Lawrence and his motivations. Why would he relate to the plight of the Arabic people? Who is he? What are his goals? Most of who he is remains mysterious during the running time. It makes the film far more fascinating.
Additionally, the film is about something that few films try to discuss – modernization. Think of a film like Dances With Wolves and how it glorified the lifestyle of the Native Americans. Lawrence of Arabia does not try to say that any one side is better than the other. Rather, it seeks to examine the faults of both societies. After all, the Arabic people, at the time, still depended on a tribal lifestyle. Uniting them was not an easy thing to do (as we still see today). Lawrence’s ultimate failure is not on the battlefield, but in his inability to help the people survive after the war is over.And let’s not talk about how much imperialism and nationalism created problems that still survive to this day.
That is actually a very poignant message that almost everyone has forgotten. Lawrence of Arabia ultimately becomes about our own political world. I am not sure how many times throughout the twentieth century that different nations have tried to improve nations by replicate what has worked for their society. Sometimes, this works (for example, Japan). Other times, it turns into a flat out disaster. Looking at, say, the modern Iraq War, Lawrence of Arabia almost seems prescient.
This brings me to my favorite scene in the film, which I actually managed to find. It is the scene in which Lawrence takes one of his friends into an officer’s bar. Now, again, this is the moment in which most films would enter into a long speech about equality and the rights of all men. Lawrence does not; he barely speaks at all, because what he says gets the point across. He ignores pleas to not allow his friend to enter the bar, simply saying that they are both “thirsty” and that “he likes your lemonade.” The strongest part of this film is not what is said, but what is not said. O’Toole comes across as a man who does not want to make a point with words – he wants his actions to speak for him. And it is one of the few times that such a thing has come across.
Did You Know: This film has no female speaking parts. At almost four hours long, this may very well be the longest film to accomplish this feat.
78.) THE BLACK SWAN
by Laurent Kelly
The Black Swan (2010) – Director: Darren Aronofsky Screenplay: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, John L. Mcloughin Starring: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassell, Milna Kulnis, Winona Ryder, Barbara Hershey
Black Swan is a riveting, psychological drama driven to greatness by Natalie Portman’s astounding lead performance. As Nina, she captures the intense frailty of her life as a ballerina and through her inner turmoil the film asks its first question as to whether or not the glamurous lifestyle is really worthwhile. After all underneath the beautiful facade of her movements on stage there is a damaged, underconfident and paranoid woman who has a past of self-harm and definite emotional issues. In spite of her talent we see her as an unhappy individual and a true object of sympathy and it is credit to the film that the intense nature of showbusiness and performance seems genuine and not cliched.
When Nina earns the lead role in an important stage production in Mark Tachovsky’s The Black Swan we anticipate that the pressure will only escalate and intensify and sure enough the second half of the film becomes a dark, convincing melodrama as Nina struggles to cope with the demands and significance of her role. What begins to take place is a young woman’s dark transformation which guides her towards an ultimately tragic quest for perfectionism.
The most impressive quality about Aronofsky’s film is that is is able to maintain a stylistic elaborateness whilst never forgetting that cinema is a character driven medium and unlike a number of films of a similar vein The Black Swan never degenerates into self-indulgence or becomes too dramatically overbearing.
Instead the film expertly introduces and explores the ballet arena absorbing the audience into the cut-throat pressures of stage life before allowing its lead character to carry the weight of this conflict. This requires a great performance from the lead actress and thankfully Portman is more than up to the task as she eventually lives up to the promise that she showed all the way back in the mid nineties with her astonishingly mature performance in the film Leon. She demonstrates the type of detailed and empathic, emotional depth which truly makes us care about her character’s fate and in a film of this nature that is quite a rare treat indeed.
Overall The Black Swan is an emotional roller-coaster ride – thrilling, artistic, stylistic, scary, sad and most importantly of all; convincing and layered throughout.
DID YOU KNOW? The script took ten years to make it to the screen.
by Laurent Kelly
Fitzcarraldo (1982) – Director: Werner Herzog Screenplay: Werner Herzog Starring: Klaus Kinski, Claudia Cardindale, Jose Lewgoy OSCAR COUNT (0)
SYNOPSIS: An obsessed opera lover has a dream to build an opera in the jungle. His mad adventure to fulfill this ambition requires him to attempt to make money in the rubber business and to accomplish this goal he must somehow haul an enormous river boat over an intensely steep mountain with the assistance of some unlucky Indians.
Fitzcarraldo is a film where the term suspension of disbelief needs no introduction. The film’s protagonist is a man chasing a seemingly impossible dream who is driven to madness in the process. Similarly Fitzcarraldo was a film which on paper seemed impossible to make and which almost drew everyone on set to insanity as they tried to complete it. The most striking similarity between director and the lead character is that they never lose hope no matter how dire the circumstances may appear. This similarity presents the film’s enduring charm as we watch a character achieve set-back after set-back on his epic, boat journey whilst never losing the drive to succeed with his dreams carrying him forward at all costs.
The most staggering aspect of the film is its authenticity which gives each set-piece an almost documentary-like sense of fascination and heightens our connection with the characters. When we see everyone struggling in vain to lift a boat over a mountain we can appreciate every inch of willpower because we know it is basically real emotional and physical struggle on display. It is also thanks to Kinski’s mad, enigmatic lead performance which adds great credibility to such an intense and gripping journey.
This is no-nonsense, intense, bravado film-making with a rawness to the sets, sound, performances and cinematography which lends the film a pulse that is rarely matched in more mainstream offerings.
DID YOU KNOW? Herzog initially cast and shot footage with the lead pairing of Oscar Winner Jason Robards and Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger.
76.) THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY
by Daniel Suddes
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966) – Director: Sergio Leone Screenplay: Sergio Leone, Angenore Incroni, Furio Scarpelli, Luciano Vincenzoni, Starring: Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, Leo Van Cleef OSCAR COUNT (0)
From the opening coyote yelps on the soundtrack (which are just as famous as Halloween’s opening piano notes and the Star Wars theme) to the most dramatic shoot out in history, this is the best western ever made.
Why is that? There are two reasons. The first is that it was one of the ones that managed to demystify the genre. For the longest time, the western still was stuck in the Hays Code ideals of morality. The bad guys would always receive their punishments, and the good guys were held by the moral code of everyone. This film utterly destroyed that notion. The “Good” (Clint Eastwood) is as morally ambiguous figure as the Bad (Lee Van Cleef) and the Ugly (Eli Wallach). Each man is out for money, and each man is capable of doing terrible things to each other. It is the sort of vision that made the genre more relatable to the time it was released (in which the supposed “good” guys of the world were using morally ambiguous tactics to accomplish their goals) and created an attitude that carried over to many other works.
The second reason is that director Sergio Leone managed to put into the film managed to put in just as much symbolism as any other film. I would name El Topoas the most symbolic western, but that film (despite its brilliance) is not subtle at all. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly has many layers that have to be stripped away to understand what is happening. The film has quite a bit of religious symbolism involved (The Good may very well be God, the Ugly may very well be humanity) and quite a lot of attention to the supporting characters. Anyone else think that “Shorty,” the bar patron with no legs, stepped out of a Fellini film? It helps create a tapestry of a real, living world, one that is entirely self-contained in the film. If John Ford has only one flaw, it is that he tries to make his westerns ingrained into the real world. Leone does not try, but his worlds still seem more real.
Of course, there are a lot of the basics to like as well. Clint Eastwood created one of the most iconic heroes in history by doing practically nothing. He barely talks, but when he does, he possesses a gravity that few actors do. Eli Wallach has never been more energetic as the mischievous Tucco, who manages to always talk himself in and out of trouble. It’s a supporting character that has been placed into many westerns since that time. Everything else, from the majesty of the landscape to the memorable prison sequences, triggers that emotional response. Luckily, the film has enough philosophical points to allow audiences to learn something new from it every time.
The best scene is the climatic shoot out near the end. I would not watch the scene below if you have not seen the film, but those who have do not remember the power it holds. On its basic level, the scene is one of the most suspenseful ever put to film. None of the characters move or speak (as would be a requirement today) – the film focuses solely on their body motions and their eyes. By the time the shot is fired, the tension has reached breaking point. People remember it as far more dramatic than it probably is. But on a symbolic level, the scene works even better. Some have interpreted the scene as a religious allegory (God and the Devil fighting for the soul of man) and others have tried to interpret it as a microcosm of the Civil War (The North and South Fighting with civilians caught in the middle). I think all of these interpretations are correct.
The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly has become the western that all other westerns try to emulate. Good thing too – the genre is far better because of it.
Did You Know? There is no dialogue for the first ten and a half minutes of the film. The first of the three to speak is “The Bad.”
by Laurent Kelly
Cube (1997) – Director: Vincenzo Natali Screenplay: Vincenzo Natali, Andre Bijelic, Graeme Manson Starring: David Hewlett, Nicole De Boer, Nicky Gaudagni, Andrew Miller, Maurice Dean Wint OSCAR COUNT (0)
Vincenzo Natali’s film presents us with seven strangers who have been locked in a complex, cube structure. They have no idea how they got there and neither do the audience. Rather than relying on the usual generic doses of flashbacks, voice-overs and elaborate plot reveals Cube takes the rare and unhollywood minimal approach by keeping the audience guessing throughout. The genius of this approach is that it gives the power to the viewer who are able to interpret the film as they see fit. Is for example the Cube the gateway between heaven and hell? Is the entire film a metaphor for the meaning of life where we try and find answers but never truly know what we are looking for? Or perhaps everything is taking place inside the mind of a stressed, schizophrenic mind? The film doesn’t pose these questions but through its development of character behaviour we see signs that lend weight to these various theories and it makes for an engrossing, intriguing and unpredictable journey throughout.
Cube is also an excellent film about the nature of character under pressure and how easily prone humans are to violence and aggression when things aren’t going their way. In expert fashion we see that when people are trapped in the wild so to speak that some are no less vicious than the creatures which inhibit the animal kingdom. Indeed in one truly disturbing act of evil we see the fragile nature of morality when humans are placed in a situation where there are no longer any rules to follow.
The visuals in Cube are not the most versatile and if the film has a flaw then I think it is that more imagination could have gone into each room that the film presents. Obviously however this would threaten to turn the film into a gimmick much like a bigger budget did for the film’s sequel Hypercube and in a way the stagier impact of Cube’s set does have a certain, visually arresting charm.
Overall, however this Canadian film deserves great credit for having the balls to remain so enigmatic in a medium that so often neglects the intelligent capabilities of its audience.
DID YOU KNOW? The film was shot in just one room which was made to look like many different rooms through the use of colour panelling.
74.) ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST
by Daniel Suddes
One Flew over the cuckoo’s Nest (1975) – Director: Milos Forman Screenplay: Laurence Hauban and Bo Goldman
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, Brad Douriff OSCAR COUNT (5) – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Leading Actor – Nicholson, Best Leading Actress – Fletcher, Best Adapted Screenplay – One of only three films in history to win all big five prizes at the Academy Awards.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, today, seems like the last gasp of the Baby Boomers trying to change society. Maybe that is why it still so beloved. Many of those “changes” that were advocated in the sixties never got anywhere, but those who promoted them use the same sort of language McMurphy does: “Well, I tried, dammit. I tried.”
That statement, more than any other in the film, resonates the most with me. McMurphy is a character who is constantly winning – at cards, at schemes, at anything he sets his mind to. The one thing he was unable to do, by himself, was escape from the situation he had created. But he was not going down without a fight. He was going to try, even if he could not succeed.
Maybe that is why the film continues to be a sort of source of inspiration. At a glance, a film about patients in a mental hospital, some of whom will stay that forever, is not one that will give confidence to people. But those mental patients, each of whom have been abused by the system, finds some brief comfort in rebellion. There were many negative portrayals of the counterculture movement of the sixties. Most of them raise many good points. However, there was still the sense of believing in something. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest managed to capture it.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest does many things right. Yet the best thing the film did was casting Jack Nicholson as McMurphy. Some actors are just born to play certain roles. Nicholson was born to play this character, as he demonstrated in films like Five Easy Pieces. Some of the dialogue was improvised, but it is hard to say what, exactly. Nicholson gives each line and each movement the same deliberate energy. He ceases to become Jack Nicholson and becomes McMurphy while the film is playing. It is one of the great characters and great performances in American film.
Every great character needs a foil, and Nurse Ratched provides that in spades. While McMurphy is a free spirited, Ratched seems to be Nixon in a nurse’s garb. She is not evil or even particularly malicious. She is merely as obsessed with order as McMurphy is with spontaneity. As such, the two cannot co-exist together. Their battle of wits never really lets up – they are both equally committed. That makes the film almost an exploration of human nature. In any debate, I have rarely known anyone to give up deep seated beliefs. That same stubbornness is the cornerstone of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
The rest is basically filler for this parable of rigid order versus freedom. But it is incredibly well done. The supporting characters are well defined (even the Chief, who narrated the novel and has a lot of exposition cut out, still comes off as strong). They transcend their supporting roles – in fact, at some points they even manage to draw attention away from McMurphy. It is easy to see why McMurphy comes to care about them. They come across as actual people with histories and desires, rather than characters as a part of a whole. That is what helps the film enormously. It is so well acted that you can find something new in each performance every time you see it.
My favorite scene in the film is the one above, the one in which the patients rebel against the nurse. They all try to become McMurphy, and, in some cases, they succeed. In some ways, nothing is accomplished. Ratched does not budge. The people who participate in it are punished. Even McMurphy tires of it, smashing his hand through the glass. But I always get the sense that the patients did not really care. They are just wishing to participate in some sort of rebellion. And, at least one part of it was accomplished; a window broke. But like the rest of the film, so much of it depends on what the actors and the way that the camera focuses on their reactions. That is what turns a good film into a great film. The way the camera is positioned in a way that the audience feels a part of the crowd. They share the isolation of the patients. That makes the scene that much better.
DID YOU KNOW? Even though the movie is highly lauded, one notable person who disliked it was Ken Kesey, author of the original novel. He claimed that he had never seen the completed film and even sued the film’s producers.
73.) COME AND SEE
by Laurent Kelly
Come and See (1985) – Director: Elem Klimov Screenplay: Elem Klomov and Ales Adamovich Starring: Aleskey Kravchenko, Olga Mironova OSCAR COUNT (0)
Florya Gaishun’s face features a smile a mile wide as he prepares to help his country battle Germany in the war. In his beady eyed enthusiasm we see the tragic innocence that led so many young men to an early grave and the anticipation of the boy learning the true horrors of war ties knots in the stomach.
For of course Gaishun soon comes face to face with the reality of what he is facing in the form of a grim mixture of blood, sweat and tears. An intoxicating and surreal plethora of pale faces, wounded souls and a string of dead bodies. Gradually Gaishun’s patriotic tendencies fade as he undergoes an emotional journey that sees him transform from being happy to confused, ,panicked,, sorrowful and finally angry and resentful.
Two astonishingly poignant moments in the film deserve mention. The first occurs when Gaishun returns home to visit his mother. He walks inside to the horrid sound of flies as stale food lies on the table. Like the boy we start to sense an inevitably tragic conclusion but the scene is played slow to make the dramatic reveal agonising in its build-up. What Gaishun knows he doesn’t want to see and as he sprints out of the house and across his garden we see a wreck of dead bodies piled by the side of the home. This is the moment when Giashun realises the true consequences of war and his ideal of the battleground as a dream event very quickly descends into a living nightmare.
The second jaw dropping sequence is when the protagonist stumbles upon an abandoned portrait of Hitler in a murky lake. His face takes in the sight, his eyes staring daggers through the man responsible for such unimaginable pain and suffering. Without hesitation he shoots at the frame. Then in one of cinema’s most imaginative and visually audacious sequences we begin to go back in time seeing all the hardship undone, torn buidlings come back to life, death-defying signatures never take place, Hitler’s rousing speeches never occur, soldiers march back from where they came, children are no longer brainwashed. We see Adolf become progressively younger, he is a soldier and then a schoolboy in a class photo and then finally a young baby in his mother’s arms.
In between all this Gaishun has been shooting venomously at the picture as he imagines all these images but as the thought of the baby appears in his head his anguished, unforgettable facials change tact. His gun wavers, his mouth quivers and his entire face shakes. In this moment the film performs something extraordinary as it asks the audience to consider whether or not they could go through with the act of killing something that was once so innocent even if it meant saving millions of lives in the process. As Gaishun discovers this decision is no easy matters and he is unable to fire at such an image.
Of course you could argue that the point is moot because a Nazi uprising could well have happened without Adolf’s assistance but it it doesn’t stop this sequence from being one of the most visually stunning and morally compelling cinematic moments ever crafted.
72.) THE EXORCIST
by Brek the David
The Exorcist (1973) – Director: William Friedkin Screenplay: William Peter Blatty Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, Linda Blair OSCAR COUNT (2) – Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound
Demon: What an excellent day for an exorcism.
Father Damien Karras: You would like that?
Father Damien Karras: But wouldn’t that drive you out of Regan?
Demon: It would bring us together.
Father Damien Karras: You and Regan?
Demon: You and us.
I think possibly what frightens me most are the implications in The Exorcist rather than the overt shocking scenes. Sure Regan’s head spinning around and Regan spider walking downstairs is unsettling, but it’s more the fact that demons exist and there is no way to counter their power. We’d like for the exorcism to work and the demon be driven away by the power of Christ and righteousness, but this is not the case. The exorcism ultimately fails and one man’s sacrifice saves a little girl’s life. This is one of those rare films where evil triumphs undeniably, and there is no good to combat its power. There is nothing but death and destruction in the wake of the demon.
Now I don’t believe in the supernatural nor divine, but I do believe in our concepts of good and evil, righteous and wicked. I have to suspend disbelief for the demon and exorcism, hell even the belief in God. Interestingly enough, God has no power in The Exorcist, no matter the priests attempt to compel the demon. So this film implies there is either no God, or His servants are impotent. There are, however, dark, immensely powerful forces that will crush the souls of men with wanton aggression, and these vile powers do so with impunity. The implication here in The Exorcist also is that this entity predates Christianity and operates apart from it. Within the Christian mythos, demons exist, and the power of Christ is absolute over them. The demon here in this film did not get that memo.
The most interesting implication for me is that Father Merrin, played by Max von Sydow, has tangled with this demon before. In the beginning of the film we see him at an archeological site, coming face to face with a bizarre statue, an ancient abomination of long forgotten lore. Later when Father Merrin arrives at the house, the demon screams out his name, possibly relishing in their ongoing and inevitable combat. When face to face, it’s clear the demon enjoys tormenting and taunting Merrin. It also preys on the fears and self perceived weaknesses of those around it, including goading Father Karras into making the ultimate sacrifice.
From the opening sequence with Merrin and the statue, there is a sense of dread and foreboding. From that scene out in the desert of Iraq, The Exorcist begins a slow, but inexorable building of tension. The Exorcist goes out of its way to establish normality, creating a seemingly normal day to day family life. The seeds of impending doom are planted once Regan, played by Linda Blair, informs her mother, played by Ellen Burstyn, that she’s been playing with a Oujia board talking to something named Captain Howdy. Strange things begin to happen as the normality unravels until chaos reigns supreme and this innocent East Coast family is firmly in the clutches of something definitely diabolical and decidedly evil. The dichotomy of the mundane and the profane is what makes The Exorcist such a powerful and disturbing film.
71.) IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT
by Brek the David
Director: Frank Capra Screenplay: Robert Riskin Starring: Clark Gable, Claudette Golbert, Walter Connolly OSCAR COUNT (5) Best Picture, Best Director, Best Lead Actor, Best Lead Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay – first film in history to win the big five at the Academy.
Let’s face it, It Happened One Night is the formula for pretty much every romantic comedy that’s ever come after it. This isn’t a bad thing though, as this film is kind of a modern retelling as Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. This formula works and it’s basically like printing money. I’m not a big fan of romantic comedies, but I do appreciate them when they’re well done. Since I’m not a big fan, I haven’t seen every romantic comedy under the sun, but I can’t see how they’d be able to match It Happened One Night. Well there is The Graduate, but that film seems more a deconstruction of the romantic comedy.
Obviously, for a romantic comedy to work there has to be chemistry between the leading lady and the leading man. Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert have this in spades. For those that haven’t seen this film, Colbert plays a rich spoiled heiress that runs away from her arranged marriage. Gable is a down on his luck reporter that’s just been fired. On a bus to wherever, the destination not being important, the two meet and it is not love at first sight. He sees her as a naïve awkward woman, and she sees him as a rude, overbearing man. Once he finds out who she is though, he’s stuck to her like glue. It Happened One Night shines the most when the two are locked in a verbal duel. It’s a game she can’t win since she’s been sheltered her whole life, but she often gives as good as she gets. It’s quite fascinating, not to mention entertaining (both humorous and touching), as both begin to see each other’s good qualities that endear them to one another, until they finally realize they love one another.
While dated with the music, clothes, and speech of the day, It Happened One Night is still timeless with its themes. Like It’s a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra had the uncanny knack for making films that stand the test of time. The film still looks great to this day and remains just as fun and light hearted as it was then. As mentioned earlier, films have been trying to match the frivolity of It Happened One Night for decades. Almost all have to fallen short. Also, It Happened One Night was the first film to win Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay (Robert Riskin), Best Actor, and Best Actress at the Academy Awards. This feat has only ever been duplicated twice with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Silence of the Lambs.
While nothing is revolutionary here in this film, it does what it’s supposed to do to near perfection. Its only flaw in my opinion is that Gable and Colbert are so good together; the scenes they aren’t involved in lose steam quickly. It’s not that the scenes are poorly done; it’s just that Gable and Colbert are so damn good together. So the film’s biggest strength is indirectly its biggest weakness and it’s no one’s fault. That’s a pretty good flaw to be “marred” by though for sure. The best thing about the film is that it shows when you’re down and out, when the deck has dealt you a bad hand, things can turn around in a hurry. That ace is coming.
70.) 12 ANGRY MEN
by Laurent Kelly
12 Angry Men (1957) Director: Sidney Lumet Screenplay: Reginald Rose (story) Starring: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Jack Warden, Ed Begley OSCAR COUNT (0) – Nominated for Best Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay
“It’s always difficult to keep personal prejudice out of a thing like this. And wherever you run into it, prejudice always obscures the truth. I don’t really know what the truth is. I don’t suppose anybody will ever really know. Nine of us now seem to feel that the defendant is innocent, but we’re just gambling on probabilities – we may be wrong. We may be trying to let a guilty man go free, I don’t know. Nobody really can. But we have a reasonable doubt, and that’s something that’s very valuable in our system. No jury can declare a man guilty unless it’s SURE. We nine can’t understand how you three are still so sure. Maybe you can tell us.”
The case seems crystal clear to the majority of the men in the room. The young Spanish-American murdered his father. Alright, let’s go home. Luckily our heroic protagonist simply known as Juror 8 and played expertly by actor Henry Fonda is not so close minded and easily convinced.Gradually he starts to unravel not just the evidence but also the prejudices of the other men in the room who clearly want the young boy locked up for reasons that havenothing to do with the case itself.
From a character persepctive 12 Angry Men is quite simply flawless as it highlights the personality traits that exist in the company of men. You have the passive aggressive know it all, the followers who support his words without an original thought of their own, the simple minded who haven’t considered the case from any other persepctive and then the rare, exceptional man in society who is not afraid to stand for what he believes in and go against the crowd.
Even though the film takes place in a single room, every second of this excellently written and directed film is deeply engrossing.The tension escalates in admiring fashion as we see Fonda gradually turn the case on its head and win people on his side and the ferociousclose-ups on the fists, sweat and beady eyes capture the claustraphobia of the situation and foreshadow the impending violence.
The film is also clever for manipulating the audience and challenging our own assumptions about the case. Through the twelve different viewpoints it makes us think about our own perspective on the situation and thus try and imagine how we would deal with such a scenario. Would we able to see the case as Fonda does and if so would we have the guts to say anything? The tragedy is that whilst this film concludes with a happy ending we realise the struggle that it takes just to make individuals think outside the box and we know that this has been an exceptional one-off victory. If a man like Fonda hadn’t have been in the room the most likely innocent young man would have been sent to the chair without a second thought. As long as prejudices and irrational hatred cloud our society this film will remain hauntingly relevant.
DID YOU KNOW? Rose’s TV play script was virtually identical to the feature film version.
An excellent fan-made trailer:
by Brek the David
Halloween (1978) – Director: John Carpenter Screenplay: John Carpenter, Debra Hill Starring: Donald Pleasence. Jamie Lee Curtis, Kyle Richards, Tony Moran OSCAR COUNT (0)
Lindsey Wallace: I’m scared!
Laurie: There’s nothing to be scared of.
Tommy Doyle: Are you sure?
Tommy Doyle: How?
Laurie: I killed him…
Tommy Doyle: [shouts] But you can’t kill the boogie man!
There are different types of horror. That’s possibly why I love the genre so much. I relish all the various flavors save the trash like Hostel and other gore fests. Now gore itself isn’t bad, it’s the context of the gore that matters. Still, most of the time, I prefer most graphic violence to occur off screen where our imaginations take over. Hitchcock was masterful at this, but so was John Carpenter in Halloween.
What might not be known or realized by today’s youth is that Michael Myers is the first unstoppable killer. Myers spawned countless copycats, some good, some mediocre, but most awful. Myers, like Jason after him, is more force of nature than man. He’s the uncaring, unstoppable personification of death, and death comes to us all in time. Beyond this, while Myers does brutally murder much of the cast, his grisly deeds are never shown in detail. For instance when he kills a boyfriend of one of the female characters, all we see is the reflection of scant light on the knife that does the job. Seconds later we see Myers has pinned the poor bastard to the wall with the knife, but the actual stabbing is never seen. Minutes later Myers shows up shrouded in a sheet, wearing his previous victim’s glasses, giving the girlfriend the worst and last “trick” she’ll ever endure.
As for the women of Halloween, they’re funny, interesting, and the main characters. Female protagonists were a rarity in those days…and still are today really. The first part of the movie establishes their friendship and the normality of their young lives. This is crucial in horror. Everything needs to seem normal before it all goes pear shaped. Also, the protagonists need to be sympathetic and the audience needs to be able to relate to them. When shit hits the fan, we need to be able to care for the characters that die, because it’s a given that heads will roll in horror films. Halloween does this expertly despite the less than stellar acting. Halloween really helped establish the now cliché female protagonist of countless horror films. Even though it is cliché, it’s a brilliant motif. Women are incorrectly seen as fragile and weak, yet in horror movies they are the survivors. They are the empowered strong that triumphs over the evils they face. John Carpenter loved and admired the ladies.
While Halloween is quite a simple story, it’s the simplicity that is one of its strengths. It has a very low budget and it does show. However, it’s astounding at the same time what was achieved here, a great film all things considered. It’s the minimalism that makes it scarier since it sticks to the characters and plot to tell a horrific story. Probably the best and most powerful aspect of the film, is John Carpenter’s score. What an amazing work this is. Halloween is a slow build of tension and the music does amazing things to the mind throughout the duration of the film. The music comes at you in layers, repeating the same tunes in wave after wave, relentlessly and inexorably assaulting you, just as Myers does the same to his victims. The main instrumental theme is profoundly haunting. Nowhere is it more effective and chilling than the ending sequence where Loomis stands on the second story after unloading his .38 revolver into Myers, looking down to find Myers is gone. The last images we see are the houses of the neighborhood. Michael Myers still lurks in the shadows of our minds, haunting the neighborhoods of our very being.
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT THIS FILM: The masked Michael Myers is referred to as The Shape in the credits due to another actor getting credit for playing unmasked Myers. Also it is said that the mask worn is of the face of none other than William Shatner.
68.) KING KONG
by Daniel Suddes
King Kong (1933) – Directors: Merian C.Cooper and Ernest B. Shoedsack Screenplay: James Ashmore Creelman, Ruth Rose Starring: Fay Wray, Bruce Cabot, Frank Reicher OSCAR COUNT (0)
King Kong virtually created the template that all modern Hollywood Blockbusters follow.
It depends on the effects (breathtaking at the time, and for all time) and the ability to transport audiences into new worlds. A world like the one in King Kongcould not exist. But then, film these days depends on exactly that – making the impossible a reality. King Kong was really the first film in sound to truly utilize and build these techniques.
But there is a reason for its enduring appeal. That is a central mystery of the film – why has it lasted for almost eighty years? Its appeal to a younger audience may be a part of it, but I know all types of people who enjoy it. I think there are two reasons for this. One is that the effects still strangely affect everyone who watches it due to their dream like quality. The second is that the film’s theme of man versus nature is a theme that has never really gone away. King Kong is a sort of revenge fantasy, in a way. King Kong, a natural wonder, wreaks havoc against man’s greatest creations and most triumphant achievements. He is nature trying to show civilization how easily it can be destroyed by the things man has spent centuries trying to tame.
Many would say that the stop motion effects look tame by today’s standards. It is true that Peter Jackson’s film looks far more realistic than this one. But I prefer the fantasy look that the more “primitive” effects in this film. It helps Skull Island actually feel like a fantasy world. Obviously dinosaurs and giant gorillas never got into fist fights (unless some paleontologists have been holding out on us) and Jackson’s version seemed to want to change that fact. The original does not bother with that illusion – it is like watching a magician on stage. I know that it is all just a trick, but it is one that becomes fascinating the more you watch it. It presents the idea of a land that time has forgotten – which is more honest than trying to make it real.
I can’t really talk about the performances, because they are not really that good. Fay Wray exists to scream and have her clothes peeled off by a giant ape, while the rest just exist to stop the ape. I didn’t really learn much about them beyond their base needs, but then again, the film IS called King Kong. These actors do fit nicely into the illusion of the world that has been created. Fay Wray being kidnapped by Kong was plenty effective, and the fact that the man who puts the expedition together is a filmmaker was a clever touch, to help create the fantasy world that the film depends upon.
Whenever anyone makes a film like this, they are following in Kong’s giant footsteps. The Godzilla franchise would not exist without King Kong (something that they are only too happy to discuss), and neither would Jurassic Park, Alien, the Lord of the Rings films, the career of Tim Burton, or any number of Roger Corman films. Kong was the most successful film at the time, and it is a success that every blockbuster is trying to emulate. Most cannot, because they are unwilling to admit the spectacle they have created. They are trying to be real. King Kong feels like a dream, and feels more like a film because of it.
What discussion of Kong is complete without looking at the infamous climb on the Empire State Building? That image seems to be just as famous as La Pieta, and has been emulated many times. It also acts as the culmination in the film’s themes. New York City, seen as the greatest accomplishment of man, is still just a jungle to Kong. To us, it is almost an insult the way Kong desecrates it. But what we see as a marvel, Kong sees as nothing more than his environment. Man had tried to claim Kong for themselves (why else refer to him as the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” when the other seven were man made creations?) and Kong retaliated against that role. This was his ultimate rebellion, and teaches everyone a valuable lesson – nature is cruel, and despite your best efforts, you can never hope to conquer it.
DID YOU KNOW? The film was the first ever to receive an audio commentary on its video release. It is also the second film that The Criterion Collection ever released on laserdisc.
67.) REAR WINDOW
by Laurent Kelly
Rear Window (1954) – Director: Alfred Hitchcock Starring: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr Adapted Screenplay: John Michael Hayes OSCAR COUNT (0) – Nominated for Direction and Screenplay
This is Alfred Hitchcock’s second entry in this countdown. To view his previous entry see below:
Rear Window is centred around an ingenious premise which I’m sure many writers which they had considered themselves namely what would happen if you grew increasingly suspicious about the behaviour of a neighbour across the road. Its a simple but perfect idea expertly handled by Alfred Hitchcock. There is a reason why he was given the monikker of the master of suspense and this film is further proof of his delightful cinematic gifts.
The most admirable element of Rear Window is its patient plotting as the potentially whacky scenario thankfully never descends into an elaborate, overblown gimmick. Like the protagonist Jeffrie we begin to gradually piece together the clues and become caught up in the adventure of trying to solve the case. As the characters become immersed deeper into the puzzle some thrilling moments are wonderfully staged such as Grace Kelly’s character Lisa Carol who investigates the killers apartment only for the man himself to return whilst she is blissfully roams around in his home. Jeffrie is helpless, bound in his wheelchair much like we as an audience become completely helpless and can do nothing but watch as it appears as if she will be caught. The use of dramatic irony in this sequence is brilliantly utilised, bringing the audience into the story and heightening the emotional appeal towards her character.
Similarly the ending sequence is an exhilarating piece of cinema as the killer makes his way over to Jeffrie’s apartment. Jeffrie turns off the lights and we are quite literally left in the dark during a prolonged and agonising wait for the film’s antagonist. Each footstep makes the heart beat pound a little faster and it becomes almost unbearably tense not knowing when he might suddenly appear. It takes real guts to leave the audience in the lurch in such a manner and yet this minimalistic, stagey approach is far scarier than the impact of frenetic editing and action. Writing this now the scene reminds me of the terrifying moment in the Coen Brothers film No Country for Old Men where Llewyn waits for Chigurgh to make his way inside the room – a nailbiting sequence for much the same reason.
Another clever trick of the film of course is its exploration of voyeurism and indeed the film’s comment on the voyeuristic nature of cinema. Jeffrie uses his binoculars to spy on his neighbours and like him we become intrigued by life behind closed doors. The film forces us to acknowledge the fact that we are essentially very fascinated by others people’s lives which is indeed one of the great appeals of cinema itself.
The actual shots of various people in their homes was the result of a stunning piece of direction as all the various actors has to perfectly synchronise their movements so that we see what Jeffrie sees as he gazes outside his window. In spite of this challenging piece of choreography all of the action looks entirely naturalistic and this is credit once again to the mastermind behind the camera.
Hitchcock made more emotionally satisfying pictures but I think that Rear Window sits alongside North by Northwest as two of his most thrilling.
DID YOU KNOW? Hitchcock worked only in Jeffrie’s apartment throughout the entire shoot relaying information for the other shots through a series of ear-pieces.
Iconic Moment: Grace Kelly’s entrance as Lisa Carol Fremont:
66.) TAXI DRIVER
by Daniel Suddes
Taxi Driver (1976) – Dir: Martin Scorsese Original Screenplay: Paul Schrader Starring: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Sybill Shepherd, Harvey Keitel, Albert Brooks, Peter Boyle OSCAR COUNT (0) – Nominated for Best Picture, Leading Actor and Supporting Actress
This is Martin Scorsese’s second entrant in this countdown. To view his other entry see below:
The best art is the art that holds a giant mirror up to society. No film captures the American spirit, crushed by the Vietnam War and Watergate, more than Taxi Driver. The main character Travis Bickle is the embodiment of American weariness and doubt. Throughout the film, he tries to do what is right. However, no one seems to recognize his intentions and shun him. Is it any surprise that Bickle was a Vietnam War veteran? It should not be. Travis Bickle is the American attitude at the bicentennial. It is this attitude that makes it one of the greatest films of all time.
Like Travis’ mind, the film flows frequently into non sequiturs. Taxi Driver does not have a plot in any conventional sense (Scorsese joked that the only film of his with a plot was The Departed). It is meant to be more of a character study. Bickle is an insomniac who takes a job as a taxi driver to keep his mind occupied. He starts dating a woman named Betsy, becomes involved a presidential campaign, and then tries to save a young prostitute. That’s basically it – but the film is not held together by what happens to Travis. It is held together by how Travis interprets what is going on. He sees himself as the sort of hero that people such as the Unabomber thought they were. He talks about how much he wants to clean up the city, but is just as much a part of the filth as what he criticizes. He is racist, misogynistic, socially awkward, under educated, and unstable. Bickle is not meant to be any sort of role model.
That is why it is strange that many still point to Bickle as some sort of way of life. So effective an anti hero his he that many believe him to be a hero. His final thoughts are about an act of heroism. He does destroy some clearly bad people, but the ending is not a happy one – frankly, I do believe that the coda occurs only in Travis’ mind (one reason is that it is probably the only scene he is not personally witnessing). Yet I know many who say Bickle is their favorite character. Maybe it is because people are able to understand why he feels the way he feels. Even if he is bizarre, he is among the most three dimensional characters ever in film. That is certainly an accomplishment to create any character that causes that sort of reaction.
What does this say about the American spirit? Bickle, like America, was quite confused. Bickle felt that the New York was filled with “filth and scum” and felt himself as a hero for pointing it out. To Travis, New York City is his world. But America felt the same way about the entire world. It was “polluted” and it was up to someone to clean it. Of course, the more Bickle (and the U.S.) tried to change it, the worse the situation became. The film ends with Travis on the brink. No one is even sure of his ultimate fate (Scorsese says that it is meant to be symbolic) but one thing is certain – it will be very difficult for him to return to any sort of normalcy. “You’re only as healthy as you feel” Bickle keeps saying. If that is the case, then Travis and the nation he lived in were both very sick.
Scorsese, in his other works, would often talk about America’s past and values. But this was one of the few times that he truly managed to reflect an attitude about a very confused time in the best way possible. The goal of any artist is to show society what it is becoming and then try to change it for the better. I hope that people are still listening to his message.
There are many great scenes in Taxi Driver, but everyone remembers the famous “you talkin to me” scene. Why is this? I think it’s because the scene perfectly captures Bickle’s character. Many would not notice, but Bickle is actually quite meek. He tries to be as polite as possible to whoever is in his car and whoever he meets in public (such as a clerk at a movie theater who turns him away). In this scene, he tries to assert whatever of his masculinity is left. That is why he starts by aiming his gun (which is not really a gun) at his old self. Of course, this scene is one of the many about Bickle’s descent into madness that leads to great violence. But for now, it’s all about the build up.
65.) THE SHINING
by Brek the David
The Shining (1980) – Director: Stanley Kubrick Adapted Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Joe Turkel OSCAR COUNT (0)
“Dick Hallorann: Some places are like people: some shine and some don’t.”
The Overlook Hotel is one of the places that shine. Of all the evil characters among all horror films ever made, the Overlook Hotel might just be the most sinister. First off for the uninitiated, “to shine” alludes to the supernatural. It’s a vague description both in the film and King’s novel. For people, the shining manifests as ESP, telepathy, and vivid premonitions. For places, the term “haunted” might be more appropriate. The Overlook Hotel, is most certainly haunted; it shines to its very core, emanating malevolence, always waiting patiently for its next victims like some ancient enormous vile predator hiding in plain sight.
Now how can a building be so ominous and foreboding? There have been uneasy feelings in certain places experienced by people all over the world, as if some unseen eyes are watching. This is what Stanley Kubrick achieved. Kubrick manifested all of those uneasy fears by crafting the greatest haunted house film of all time. That’s what The Shining is at its essence, a film about a haunted house. The Overlook Hotel doesn’t just want to kill you, it wants to corrupt your mind, shatter your sanity, and strip you of your will, enslaving you to become one of its minions for all time (or what you perceive to be “all time”). What other horror villain is so diabolical? And there is little clue as to why the Overlook Hotel is haunted in the first place. There is little clue as to why the shining is so dark and twisted here. These unknowns add to the horror as we watch in despair, as a loving, caring father becomes a psychopathic murderer.
Jack and Wendy Torrence haven’t had the perfect life, but then few married couples do. They’re a pretty typical husband and wife with their son Danny. Danny however, is not your typical little boy. Danny shines. So with the family down on their luck, Jack takes a job as caretaker for the Overlook Hotel, a grand old hotel that dates back to around the 1900s nestled in the remote Rocky Mountains in Colorado. From the opening shots as they drive to the Overlook, the tension and unease begin, the camera following the car as it winds its way through the bleak and desolate but majestic terrain of the Rockies. While the cinematography is breathtaking, it’s the music played over these images that creates the queasy feeling in the gut.
That’s what makes the Overlook come alive. The brilliant synthesis of the cinematography: the lighting, colors, and framing, and the sounds: music and dialogue, create this real sense that this hotel is indeed alive and wants its occupants to meet grisly ends. From Danny’s big wheel rides to the walks in the hedge maze, to simply moving about the hotel, the camera seems to sweep at the same speed, as if the hotel is always watching, always waiting for the right moment to strike. But then, the Overlook isn’t about dealing swift killing blows. No, the Overlook watches and finds weaknesses to exploit, then uses psychological tricks to ensnare its prey. Once the trap is sprung, its prey becomes the avatar of the hotel, and all hell breaks loose. Jack was the Overlook’s prey, and to put it mildly, it’s quite disturbing watching him loose grip on his sanity. For me, perhaps the most chilling image is the end as we slowly and deliberately dolly into a photo of Jack that he most definitely should not be in. The date on the photo is July 4th, 1921, Jack’s face wears a maniacal grin, a certain devilish twinkle in his eyes, the Overlook Hotel triumphant.
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT THE FILM: Stanley Kubrick was nominated for worst Director at the Razzies for his work on The Shining – I’m guessing Stephen King rigged the votes.
64.) RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
by Brek the David
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) – Director: Steven Spielberg Original Screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan Starring: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, John Rhys-Davies, Alfred Molina OSCAR COUNT (4) – Best Film Editing, Best Sound, Best Art/Sound Direction, Best Visual Effects
That’s how Indy seems to do everything, by the seat of his pants hitting the ground running. In 1981, Spielberg and Lucas brought us one of the most revered and unforgettable characters in the history of film: Indiana Jones. It’s too bad, however, that Lawrence Kasdan doesn’t quite get the credit he deserves. He was the screenwriter for Raiders of the Lost Ark. He also gave other Lucas characters like Han Solo their voice and personality as he wrote Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi as well. Without Kasdan, I’m not sure Indiana is as quirky and comically flawed as he is. This isn’t to take anything away from Harrison Ford. Ford plays a great roguish reluctant hero. He’s one of the best at this archetype. He has just the right amount of charm mixed with comic timing to pull this off to near perfection. Perhaps it’s all he’s good at, but there’s nothing wrong with being a one trick pony if your trick is being Indiana Jones.
Raiders of the Lost Ark was made to hearken back to those old serials and pulp stories of the early to mid 20th Century. The adventurer was kind of a lost breed for a while as the Western had all but died off by 1981. Plus, film had gotten rather serious in the 70s. Raiders of the Lost Ark triumphantly brought back the hero to the forefront. Mythology and magic were rekindled. From the opening moments of Raiders of the Lost Ark we’re transported through time and space as we go along with Indy on his adventures to try to keep the past sacred while still educating as many as he can about the secrets of our ancestors. In effect, Indiana Jones himself is a part of mythology, while he, within the confines of the narrative, tries to preserve the very mythology he belongs to. It’s actually a very brilliant concept that is probably taken for granted by the vast majority of people who watch. Lucas, for all his faults, was a student of Joseph Campbell after all.
There have been, however, many great concepts that are ruined by becoming reality. Raiders of the Lost Ark did not suffer such a fate. In the more than capable hands of Steven Spielberg, Lawrence Kasdan, and Harrison Ford, a sure fire classic was born. With Nazis as the villains, and the Ark of the Covenant as the ancient relic in contention, what transpires on the screen is pure cinematic gold. Now this isn’t some high-brow intellectual piece of art like 2001: A Space Odyssey of course, but it’s a damn good time. Funny, light hearted, with thrilling action, but serious enough when it needs to be, Raiders of the Lost has all the elements that Hollywood has tried to emulate for decades.
Filled with great scene after great scene from the tomb raiding opening, to the shooting of the swordsman, to a fist fight on a hangar, and the climatic opening of the Ark, Raiders of the Lost Ark truly brings to life the pages of those old pulp comics and short stories. Every actor involved puts forth solid performances, giving a bit of weight to the film. Karen Allen’s Marian is the only Indy girl worth remembering really. And who doesn’t love seeing Nazis receiving cosmic justice? Few films are just plain old-fashioned fun to the degree that Raiders of the Lost Ark is. Films that provoke thought and use symbolism and metaphors are great. I love such films. But the ones that are lighter in subject matter and just bring a damn good time to the table are also worth consideration. Few films offer this as well as Raiders of the Lost Ark, and that’s why it’s one of the best films ever made.
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT THIS FILM: Originally intended as a low budget adventure Raiders of the Lost Ark went on to become the highest grossing film of 1981.
63.) DUCK SOUP
by Laurent Kelly
Duck Soup (1933) – Director: Leo McCarey Screenplay: Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby (Story), Arthur Sheekman, Nat Perrin (Additional Dialogue) – a number of the sequences are improvised by the performers Starring: Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo Marx, Margaret Dumont, Louis Calhern, Charles Middleton OSCAR COUNT (0)
“Rufus T. Firefly: Not that I care, but where is your husband?
Mrs. Teasdale: Why, he’s dead.
Rufus T. Firefly: I bet he’s just using that as an excuse.
Mrs. Teasdale: I was with him to the very end.
Rufus T. Firefly: No wonder he passed away.
Mrs. Teasdale: I held him in my arms and kissed him.
Rufus T. Firefly: Oh, I see, then it was murder. Will you marry me? Did he leave you any money? Answer the second question first.”
The Marx Brothers were representative of a golden period of Hollywood comedy where performers were able to do more than just read amusing lines. Along with Buster Keaton, Charles Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy, the brothers Marx were super talented performers who appeared almost superhuman in their ability to entertain. Years of stage practice honed their impeccable sense of vocal timing and magical stage-like movements and it gifted audiences with the type of off the charts showmanship that has really never been bettered since.
Duck Soup is the best of their many efforts and is quite simply 65 minutes of non stop entertainment. Innovative and patiently delivered set-pieces, exhaustively witty dialogue and a tremendous energy just emnates from the screen resulting in what is truly an irresistible and timeless comic masterpiece.
There are some films that time is incredibly kind to and Duck Soup is one of them. The odd reference aside, all the jokes still work, the content still fresh,and the chemistry still admirable. Even today I watch with amazement at the sheer craftmanship on display with the hours that have gone into preparing such detailed and immaculate gags.
The film is also a cunning satire on the fickle nature of war with characters announcing the need for battle over trivial name-calling and then switching sides when they discover that the opposition serve better food.
Soldiers killing each other for the sake of their leaders egos resonates strongly today even though the film has no interest in pushing this point down audiences throats. Its purpose is to merely entertain within a war background and it does so flawlessly.
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT THIS FILM: Duck Soup was banned in Italy by dictator Benito Mussolini who thought the film was a direct attack on him.
62.) A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE
by Brek the David
A Streetcar named Desire (1951) – Director: Elia Kazan Adapted Screenplay: Oscar Saul Starring: Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh, Kim Hunter, Karl Malden OSCAR COUNT (4) – Best Leading Actress (Vivien Leigh), Best Supporting Actor (Karl Malden), Best Supporting Actress (Kim Hunter), Best Art/Set Decoration
“Blanche DuBois: Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
Some of the subject matter involved is controversial even by today’s standards, much less the late 40s/early 50s. The topics of insanity, homosexuality, and rape will most likely be controversial for years to come. Surely we can get over homosexuality at some point and have made great strides, but this subject matter was so taboo it was cut from the conversion from play to film in the original release in 1951. It’s interesting and kind of disgusting that the rape stayed but mentioning someone was gay was too much for audiences. Of course the rape is the climax of the film and it’s too important to the narrative to be cut. There just isn’t the same impact without it. Still, Blanche’s ex-husband was gay and it’s far more effective for her to reveal this, even if it’s implied.
Being based on a masterpiece play, A Streetcar Named Desire is all about the actors giving life to Williams’s words. This film delivers four of the most memorable performances in movie history. Three of the four main players received Oscars for their work with only then newcomer Marlon Brando not winning. Had he been more established, he would’ve surely won because his Stanley Kowalski is sickening and despicable, yet fascinating in his primal nature. Few characters have ever been as fragile and confused as Vivian Leigh’s Blanche DuBois, and her portrayal of Blanche is legendary. Add in Kim Hunter as Stella, and Karl Malden as Mitch and we get a tangled web of intertwined characters which all come crashing together by the film’s end.
What drives the film is the contrast and stark differences between Stanley and Blanche. Blanche is a pretentious aging woman who alters events of her past in her mind to the point where she believes them to be true. Stanley is an abusive, no nonsense brute of a man. No two people could be more different. Blanche is the sister of Stella, who is married to Stanley. Blanche comes to stay with them, despite Stella knowing that her sister and husband won’t get along. Her lies and pretense begin immediately, but Stanley sees right through it, but has no proof to back up his intuition. Along the way, Mitch, a co-worker and “friend” of Stanley’s, falls for Blanche, as he’s caught up in her net of deceit. Stanley finally gets his proof that Blanche mixes fantasy with reality, and confronts her while Stella is at the hospital due to her pregnancy. What ensues is a harrowing scene as Blanche’s world comes crashing down and Stanley ultimately does the unthinkable.
This is a classic tragedy in that the two main characters’ flaws lead to their downfall. Blanche, with her illusions and trust that a “good man” will save her, and Stanley with his impulsiveness and disgust of deception lead them into that final confrontation. Of course, all the blame is on Stanley’s doorstep. There is no reason for him to do what he does in the end. There is nothing wrong with confronting a troubled person and trying to help get their life straight, but of course, Stanley takes it much too far. His horrible actions lead to not just four lives forever altered, but five when Stanley and Stella’s child is factored into the equation. It’s the tragic events, and the incredible performances that stand up incredibly well to modern cinema that makes A Streetcar Named Desire a great film.
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT THIS FILM: One of only two films to win three academy awards for acting, the other being Network.
61.) FANNY AND ALEXANDER
by Daniel Suddes
Fanny and Alexander (1982) – Director: Ingmar Bergman Original Screenplay: Ingmar Bergman Starring Pernillia Allwin, Bertil Guve Oscar Count (4) – Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Foreign Language Film.
In his penultimate film, Ingmar Bergman uses his youngest characters in order to examine his broadest themes. Most of Bergman’s films have a fantastical element, with characters facing the literal embodiment of death and eternity. Fanny and Alexander is a different work because it is the most human of all of Bergman’s film.
The film is an autobiographical look at Bergman’s childhood, in which the titular children and their mother move in with an ultraconservative bishop, after the sudden death of the childrens’ father. The man is psychologically cruel, and tries to prevent the children from enjoying their lives. They are kept as virtual prisoners in a dilapidated home, while the bishop attempts to break their wills. Yes, it comes across as a fairy tale, with Alexander acting as a sort of male Cinderella. But, more importantly, it was a chance for Bergman to finally reflect on his own muse. Bergman grew up in the sort of environment that Alexander does, in which he was punished for wetting the bed by being locked in a closet. He was surrounded by religious icons and punishment, and constantly told that these were all that was good in the world. His only retreat, which he discovered at a young age, was art. But surely, those childhood questions nagged him until his death. After all, how could something considered to be the savior of mankind lead people to act so bizarrely?
Bergman has attempted to find an answer with all of his films. Yet he is the most frank about his search in this film. By the end, I am not sure if Fanny and especially Alexander (who is pretty much the Bergmann stand in – Fanny is not introduced for almost an hour into the film’s running time in the theatrical version) have found the answers they seek. In fact, the ending is somewhat negative, as Alexander must deal with the fact that he will also have the negative experiences in his past following him. But then, that is what makes us human – how we come to terms with such experiences.
To match the seemingly limitless expanses of Alexander’s imagination, the Ekdahl estate was designed to almost be a living organism. Rooms open on to other rooms, hallways seem to go on forever, rooms grow and shrink at random. It matches the state of Alexander’s mind – frightened, confused, but also hopeful. He believes that the world around him is open. Naturally, the environment he creates (yes, I do think that most of what happens in the film happens only in Alexander’s mind – he is an unreliable narrator) must reflect that. Bergman has used the mise en scene exactly as it should be used – to externalize what the characters are thinking and feeling. The estate may be the greatest character in the film.
There are many great moments in the film. One involves Alexander thinking he is speaking with God. Some involve the elaborate Christmas celebrations at the beginning. The opening scene of the television version (in which Alexander walks through the house, calling out the names of his family members) comes highly recommended. But my favorite scene in the film does not feature any of the usual fantastical elements, any ghosts, or even the shots of the house. It is the speech right at the beginning of this clip, in which the theater director Oscar Ekdahl explains his muse. The tight close up, the teary face, and the words of escapism and love, culminate in the single best monologue in a Bergman film. As with the rest of Fanny and Alexander, it is Bergman being as honest as he possibly can be with his audience. His films are, ultimately, just films. They may not be able to help Bergman find his answers. But they can at least help him escape from his troubling past.
Ingmar Bergman is among the finest directors ever in the history of the medium. His observations on life, death, and God have influenced countless other artists who are at a metaphysical crossroads. Fanny and Alexander is among his best films. It is certainly the most human and probably his most visually appealing. Yet the film also may be the most accessible to the general public. Everyone, as a child, ponders the enormous questions that Alexander ponders in the film. It is very rare that anyone receives the answers they seek. This frustration, and quest, is visible inFanny and Alexander more than any other film.
Did You Know?: Two versions of the film exist. The first, released in theaters, is about three hours long. The other is about five hours long and originally played as a miniseries on Swedish television.
60.) IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE
by Daniel Suddes
It’s a Wonderful Life (1933) – Director: Frank Capra Original Screenplay: Frank Capra, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett Starring: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore OSCAR COUNT (0) – 5 nominations including Best Picture
It’s a Wonderful Life has become a quintessential piece of American art. Like Washington Crosses the Delaware, it is widely recognized, but seems to be examined less as time goes on. It’s a classic, the mindset seems to go – any further mindset is beyond the point.
But people do forget that the film took decades to find its audience. When it came out, immediately after the end of World War II, people did not embrace the pessimism of small town American life. People wanted optimism – It’s A Wonderful Life, with discussions of suicide and trauma, is rather downbeat.
But the film also contains hope in what was a very downbeat time. It is not as though, immediately following World War II, that the U.S. became a sort of utopia. There were still many residual effects, not only from the War, but also from the Great Depression. There were (and still are) plenty of Mr. Potters and George Baileys in existence today, even though each is always trying to claim to be the other. It’s also amazing how we pretty much are living in the world that had been previously outlined in this film – where individual existence is not seen as important on the surface and where people are re-evaluating their own priorities based on their loss of money.
Maybe that is why the film has survived – its message is timeless. It is at our most desperate when we realize how much we may matter. It’s A Wonderful Lifedemonstrates that. It is not the excellent script that is my favorite element of the film. Rather, it is the wonderful supporting characters that make the film work. Each one appears like an actual person – one with a history. Take Uncle Billy, for example. Lesser films would merely portray him as a one note buffoon.It’s A Wonderful Life shows why Uncle Billy works for George, their history together, the moments they’ve shared…it makes the tragedy of his loss (and his shortcomings) that much more pronounced. Even ancillary characters like Bert and Ernie feel neighbors in any American suburb. When they all come together at the end to thank George, it is not
I have always found it funny that many interpret the film as a sort of anti-capitalist/pro-humanist sort of work (see the “did you know” fact). Yes, Mr. Potter is undeniably malicious and George caring about his friends over the money he could be making. But both men are involved in the same business and do the same tasks. George is not trying to tear down Mr. Potter – he is trying to build himself up. And while the film certainly depends on the triumph of the human spirit, well…it opens with most of the major characters reciting prayers. The religious elements in the film would never work if the film were made today. The film would either be too preachy or too nervous to openly discuss an afterlife. It’s a Wonderful Life finds the right balance in both themes. Yes, some capitalists are terrible – but it is not a widespread phenomenon. Yes, the human spirit will be triumphant – but a belief in a higher being is not necessarily a complete hindrance to that triumph. I suppose that appeal is just another reason that the film works – it speaks to people of different philosophical beliefs.
So, why is it one of the greatest films of all time? Sure, it is among the most copied films, to the point that every single sitcom has an episode that follows this plot. But the real reason is that the film perfectly defines the time and place that it was made. This film and The Best Years of Our Lives (released the same year) capture the post war zeitgeist. But It’s a Wonderful Life speaks to every American. Frank Capra is one of those who understood a fundamental part of the national attitude that has always been present. Ultimately, the American dream may not be dependent upon how much money one makes but the legacy that is left behind.
The entire sequence remains a favorite of mine (only a portion of it is shown in the above video), in which future husband and wife leave from a dance. Now, it is certainly not as fantastical as the third act, nor is it as poignant. I think the reason enjoy it is because that one scene perfectly capture the essence of George and Mary Bailey. George is forever the big dreamer. He believes that this is the key to happiness, even though it never provides him with anything. I think that he wants to impress Mary so badly that he fails to see that he has already accomplished this task. The same holds true for his entire life. So small are George’s actions that he fails to see the big consequences. And that, of course, is what the film is all about. George is finally happy when he realizes just how important he really is.
Did You Know: This was one of the few, if not the only, Hollywood film originally allowed in the Soviet Union.
59.) THE DEER HUNTER
by Laurent Kelly
The Deer Hunter (1978) – Director: Michael Cimino Original Screenplay: Deric Washburn Starring: Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep, John Savage, John Cazale OSCAR COUNT (5) – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Christopher Walken), Best Film Editing, Best Sound
The Deer Hunter is a compelling character study about the changing nature of relationships before and after the Vietnam war. In the first hour we are painted a portrait of a closely knit community with friends who work, drink and socialise together. It is brave for a film to spend such a significant amount of time building up its characters and whilst it may be a little indulgent in places it helps to demonstrate some key mirroring incidents that occur later. The key one is of course is of the hunting of deer. Protagonist Michael has no problem with his rifle before Vietnam but when he comes back post-war on a hunting trip he is reminded of his exploits in Vietnam and develops a guilty conscience. The deer is prey as were his victims and as was his closest friend who he realises he has to go back and rescue.
Some of the smaller moments are the most rewarding such as Michael returning home to a hotel and feeling utterly deflated as he leans back against the wall. He has been through emotional and physical toil and just wants to crawl up into a ball and forget that it all ever happened. What is impressive about the film is that the characters are authentically portrayed within their inability to verbalize their true emotions. This is arguably De Niro’s greatest strength as a character actor and in this film his eyes are allowed to tell the majority of the story. There is pain reflected in them as he returns to a town which is trying to pretend that everything is still okay even though there are severe cracks under the surface. Scenes also effectively highlight the disorientated mindset of someone who has been through the hell of a war surrounded by old friends who have an appreciation but can’t really understand what this must feel like. This is best demonstrated in the following sequence at the bowling alley where Jon Cazale’s character tries to engage him in lively banter when asking for his advice about a woman. Michael responds to him warmly but there is a sadness in his face which speaks volumes. The sort of comical situations that would have been the highlight of weekend nights have now been clouded by visions of pain and sorrow:
Of course the longer the film goes on the more tense things become. Michael visits his friend in a wheelchair and is reminded about the prolonging impact of war with an injury that has caused deep stress amongst a marriage. Talk is tense and relations fragile. Michael is desperate to get things back to the way they were and so he goes off in pursuit of Nick who has become heavily involved in a sadistic, russian roulette circus. Nick has lost his soul in the battleground and he has no intention of being saved. The scene of Michael trying desperately to win him around and Nick’s tragic answer is one of the most powerfully acted pieces of cinema ever crafted.
So too is the harrowing ending in which the characters gather around the dinner table after Nick’s funeral. Their expressions are helpless, their faces trying hard to disguise their hurt. Although they are trying to keep it together we know that things are only going to get worse for these characters in the years that follow. This is why it surprises me that people consider the ending of The Deer Hunter to be patriotic. I think this is a gross misunderstanding. The ending of the film to me feels deeply ironic as the characters half-heartedly sing God Bless America in an attempt to try and stay strong and disguise their true, hurtful feelings towards a country that has been largely responsible for so much suffering in this particular war. These are characters that desperately need something to hold onto and so patriotism is their answer. This however does not make the film patriotic, it shows that the alternative for these characters would be having to come to face with the fact that their situation is utterly helpless and who the hell wants to feel like that?
As a poignant character study, Deer Hunter is tremendously effective although I will admit that the film is flawed. Though powerful some scenes do linger too heavily and the infamous Russian Roulette scene where the friends are captured seems very one sided in its portrayal of Americans as the victims to the stereotypically nasty Viatnamese guards. There were definite signs in The Deer Hunter that Michael Cimino could let his indulgent tendencies get the better of him (see Heaven’s Gate) though thankfully in this film he manages to largely keep the emotions and story in control.
DID YOU KNOW?: The spit that Walken launches into De Niro’s face was completely improvised by Walken and almost caused the famous method actor to leave the set in outrage. Walken was annoyed by tactics that De Niro had used in previous scenes such as secretly requesting that the actors playing the Viatnamese guards to slap the main stars hard across the face. Walken simply gave De Niro a taste of his own medicine.
by Daniel Suddes
Metropolis (1927) – Director: Fritz Lang Adapted Screenplay: Thea Von Harbou and Fritz Lang Starring: Briggette Helm, Alfred Abel, Gustav Frohlich OSCAR COUNT (0)
There are many silent films that are still looked upon as important without actually being relevant to society. To many, Metropolis is seen as one such film. Being the official “first science fiction film” lends it the air of respectability. But most view those old films as just that – antiquated pieces that are of no interest to anyone except those stodgy professor types that go on and on about how the death of silent film meant the death of cinema itself. This is unfair toMetropolis. In many ways, this film is just as relevant now as the day it premiered. It does not look at the late 1920s Germany that spawned it. Metropolisexamines all of human history in its running time, showing us exactly what has happened (and what will still happen) as our civilization grows. It is one of those films that will still be remembered hundreds of years from now.
The story has become relatively simple (in a nutshell: the working class lives in the slums, the upper class lives in the highest echelons of the skyscrapers, the son of a wealthy industrialist becomes infatuated with a revolutionary lower class girl, and a mad scientist is hired to quell a potential uprising using a robotic double of the same revolutionary). However, it is told so profoundly that it reaches the level of a myth. Think about your favorite painting. Many of them are easy to describe. However, those paintings affect us based on the layers that they have created and the ultimate message they convey. Metropolis is one of the few films that operates in the same manner. It wants to explore its themes by gradually revealing to the audience what it has to say, rather than taking the modern approach of explaining everything repeatedly. Metropolis is dedicated to treating itself like a traditional work of art rather than a film (which was still in its infancy at the time) and is incredible because it succeeded so well.
It is impossible to discuss this film at any length without discussing the city itself. That is what many think of when they hear about the film. WithoutMetropolis, Batman’s Gotham City would not exist, and the world (even if it comes to a radically different conclusion than the Communist revolutionaries of the time did). The city is designed to physically separate them as they felt neither would Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, Alex Proyas’ Dark City, Dean Motter’s Radiant City, or the Los Angeles of Blade Runner. But the city does not just exist for the sake of being an impressive effect. Rather. It is a perfect externalization of the film’s themes. Metropolis is meant to be a discussion of the class conflict that was occurring all over they socially were in reality. Such a simple trick demonstrates the power of all cinema – to make abstract ideas appear as real. It is little wonder that so many films wish to copy the look of the city – it works so well thematically.
Yet the film goes so much deeper than its design. If it is the first science fiction film, then it is strange that most modern science fiction films do not try to learn from it. Today, science fiction films have an obsession with reality and feel that being as close to it as possible is the key to success. I believe that Ray Bradbury outlined this characterization (I’m paraphrasing here): “Science fiction describes what can happen. Fantasy describes what cannot.” Metropolis does not subscribe to this belief and is a better film for it. The film tries to resemble a dream as much as possible. Metropolis is not meant to describe what the future will look like. Rather, Metropolis is meant to look like the idea of a city that may exist at some point, but also the city of today turned into a caricature of itself. Besides from preventing the film from ever becoming dated, this idea turns the film into a true work of art. When one watches, say, Steven Spielberg’s remake of War of the Worlds, one finds suspending disbelief to be a daunting task (aliens hiding massive structures for millions of years?) while watching Metropolisencourages such a logical leap. It allows the focus to be placed on the themes of struggle, hardship, and cooperation. The film did not need the giant city to succeed – the acting and the score help just as much, and the climax is still a nail biting one. A film as old as Metropolis that still manages to be as exciting and interesting is certainly one that can be considered among the greatest of all time. Metropolis set a standard for science fiction that only a handful of science fiction films have managed to match.
It is hard to think of a favorite moment in the film. The entire piece blends together so seamlessly that it is difficult to separate the work into individual scenes. However, the creation of Maria has become so iconic that it is impossible to ignore. Why is this? Yes, Maria may be the first cyborg ever used in film (she may even be the first cyborg ever in fiction) so that fact alone accounts for some of it. However, I believe that the transformation ultimately says more about what happens to many revolutionaries than anyone has cared to admit. Every single person inspired to produce “change” becomes a mechanized version of themselves, caught in a system that will not allow them to accomplish anything. The film is a wonderfully symbolic example of what actually has happened throughout history to people like Maria – they attempt to do good for the world but end up bringing ruin. Additionally, the scene contains the same sort of dreamlike effects that the rest of the film relies on. This actually makes the symbolism deeper. If the film had, say, used a Terminator sort of assembly line, it would not have worked as well. The film would be removed from its fable-like story. This scene tells one what they need to know about the storytelling utilized in Metropolis.
DID YOU KNOW?: This film was reportedly among Adolf Hitler’s favorites. It is for this reason that he wished Fritz Lang directed films for the Nazis. However, Lang refused and fled to Hollywood.
by Laurent Kelly
Psycho (1960) – Director: Alfred Hitchcock Adapted Screenplay: Joseph Stefano Starring: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles OSCAR COUNT (0) – 4 Nominations – Best Director, Best Supporting Actress (Janet Leigh), Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction.
There is something very admirable about Hitchcock’s unwillingness to conform to traditional movie narratives. He set films in single rooms, thought up unusual camera techniques, turned histrailers into mini stories and subvertedaudience expectations as he pleased. Because of his unique vision, a lot of his films possess a certain cool edge lacking in a number of other golden oldies. His pictures are still striking and vital for their daring and innovative approach to handling drama.
Psycho is perhaps the prime example of Hitchcock as a cinematic rebel. Here the great man did something unthinkable and killed off the lead protagonist not even halfway through the picture. Just killing her off at all would have taken balls but Hitchcock didn’t even let her see the second hour. This is still remarkable by today’s standards. I mean can you imagine following Nicole Kidman on what appears to be a road movie only to see her brutally murdered out of nowhere. With this analogy in place it is easy to see why the famous shower sequence had so many tongues waggling.
The shower sequence is of course the film’s and indeed perhaps cinema’s most iconic scene used on countless covers for books exploring film techniques and history. And the praise is justly warranted as the scene makes an art form out of direction, cinematography, editing, sound effects, music (from the genius Bernard Herrmann), and acting with Janet Leigh’s shocked, intense expression of pain culminating in a final and deeply unsettling shot of her fear-stricken eyes. The scene is an asault on the senses, an unrelenting piece of violence which leaves no room for the audience to breathe and which still comes to mind almost every time I head to the bathroom.
It would be easy for any film to lose the plot after such an audacious and mind blowing piece of footage but it is to Hitchcock’s credit that he doesn’t attempt to outdo the scene but rather focuses more on the psychological stance of the film’s new lead character Norman Bates.
Perkins actually gave a stronger, more emphatic performance in the film’s underrated sequel but here he is still utterly compelling as a shy young man with serious emotional issues. In the film’s exploration of a seemingly normal individual who turns out to be the killer, Psycho did something that no other horror film had done before and that was to face the mirror onto society and show that the real monsters are actually among us and not the aliens, zombies and wild beasts that the genre had become largely accustomed to. Psycho was so important for the genre because it showed that horror could be both scary and psychologically capivating and that a minimalistic approach could actually provide deeper, more impactful scares than attempts to be elaborate and demonstrative.
Look at how for example we never actually see the killer in the flesh until the reveal at the end. In the two killing sequences the camera just shows us a hand wielding a knife arousing deep intrigue over Norman’s mother right up until the terrifying moment when we see the chair spin around and her skeleton appear.
Psycho features masterfully controlled plotting and set-pieces, solid acting, incredible cinematic flair and technique but most importantly it keeps you thinking long after the film has finished. What is most disturbing is not the act of violence itself but the idea of this seemingly fragile and caring young man who is so deeply unhinged and violent. Psycho stands out in the horror genre because it is just as concerned with getting under the skin of the characters as opposed to just targeting the skin itself.
DID YOU KNOW? Once he had earned the rights to the source material Hitchcock brought as many copies of the book as possible so that the ending would not be spoiled.
56.) THE THING
by Brek the David
The Thing (1982) – Director: John Carpenter Screenplay: Bill Lancaster Starring: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David OSCAR COUNT (0)
MacReady: I know I’m human. And if you were all these things, then you’d just attack me right now, so some of you are still human. This thing doesn’t want to show itself, it wants to hide inside an imitation. It’ll fight if it has to, but it’s vulnerable out in the open. If it takes us over, then it has no more enemies, nobody left to kill it. And then it’s won.
As pure horror goes, nothing beats John Carpenter’s The Thing. It might not be the best horror film ever made (if it’s not it’s top 3-5), but the situation is the stuff of nightmares, a lethal Catch-22 where it seems impossible that anyone will get out alive. Not only is there a strange “Thing” duplicating people, but there is also the Antartic to contend with. YOu can’t flee from The Thing because you can’t leave the shelter. You can’t kill The Thing because it multiplies. Fighting The Thing only makes it stronger. Freezing The Thing seems to be the only way to contend with it. At that point, if you force everyone outside, you might be committing murder, as is it likely that not everyone has been “infected”. This is what is great about this film. There are terrifying themes bubbling beneath the surface of what is an odd, frightening thrill ride as a handful of men deal with situations we all hope would never happen to us.
Probably the biggest strength of The Thing is the unknown. Like the men going through this bizarre ordeal on the screen, we have no clue what the hell is going on. We know The Thing is from outer space, but that’s all we know. The characters don’t even get this information. The film basically opens to one group of men chasing a dog through the snow. They clearly want this animal dead. The chasing group comes upon the group of main characters guns blazing. Our main characters think they’re under attack. Who chases a dog, shooting at in the Antarctic? So our main characters wind up killing the men chasing the dog. And, of course, the dog is really The Thing. It also didn’t help that the men in pursuit were Norwegian so they couldn’t communicate with the English speaking Americans.
Naturally this new dog is put in the kennels with the rest of the dogs kept by the Americans. This leads to the first disturbing scene that opens an incredible string of disturbing scenes. We watch, not really knowing what’s going on, as the Thing dog moves cautiously into the kennel. What follows really just needs to be seen to be believed. No description will do it justice. It’s that well done. Suffice to say chaos erupts and it’s now only a matter of time before The Thing kills and replicates everything around it. We have little clue how The Thing does what it does as well. We just know that these men think it happens on the cellular level. It’s like some conscious virus that may or may not need to replicate matter to survive. It’s entirely possible that The Thing is just trying to survive. Since it’s met with hostility, it fights back. But how can one reason with what could be a virus?
While Carpenter is a master of suspense and horror, The Thing being his masterpiece, he often used music of his own. In the The Thing, he used music composed by the great Ennio Morricone. What we get is an absolute perfect synthesis of music and images. The Thing would be a lesser film without Morricone. His score is subdued, perhaps even minimalistic, yet haunting, especially as it plays over the final images of the film. Perhaps the most unfortunate thing for The Thing is that it was released the same year as ET. ET was far more successful, and these two films could not be more different. It’s taken this long for people to realize the greatness of The Thing, and some still don’t realize its greatness. As a horror film, it’s among the greatest ever made, but even compared to all films ever made, it stands up to any of them.
55.) THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
by Brek the David
The Silence of the Lambs (1991) – Director: Jonathan Demme Adapted Screenplay: Ted Tally Starring: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn OSCAR COUNT (5) – Best Picture, Best Director (Demme), Best Leading Actor (Hopkins), Best Leading Actress (Foster), Best Adapted Screenplay (Tally) – One of only three films to have won all big five Oscar awards.
Hannibal Lecter: First principles, Clarice. Simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself? What is its nature? What does he do, this man you seek?
Clarice Starling: He kills women…
Hannibal Lecter: No. That is incidental. What is the first and principal thing he does? What needs does he serve by killing?
Clarice Starling: Anger, um, social acceptance, and, huh, sexual frustrations, sir…
Hannibal Lecter: No! He covets. That is his nature. And how do we begin to covet, Clarice? Do we seek out things to covet? Make an effort to answer now.
Clarice Starling: No. We just…
Hannibal Lecter: No. We begin by coveting what we see every day. Don’t you feel eyes moving over your body, Clarice? And don’t your eyes seek out the things you want?
The Silence of the Lambs is more than just a horror/thriller. It delves into the dark places of the human psyche. What’s dug up is disturbing yet fascinating. On the one hand there is Hannibal, a brilliant genius, yet his genius is horrifically diabolical. Yet he has his own strange sense of morality, a morality that is utterly alien. On the other is the bizarre Buffalo Bill, a tormented man whose mind still firmly clutches to the beast within us all, a predator who wears the skins of his prey. Bill would be better suited as some ancient priest of a long lost culture. In modern society, he is out of place, terrible to even contemplate, and needs to be brought to justice. Buffalo Bill’s actions probably sound and look familiar. That’s because like Norman Bates and Leatherface, he’s partially based on real life monster Ed Gein.
I’m not sure who is creepier Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter or Ted Levine as Buffalo Bill. One thing is for sure, Jodie Foster was never better as Clarice Starling. The performances are among the best of all time and both Hopkins and Foster both won Academy Awards. In fact, The Silence of the Lambs is one of the few films that won Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay, and Best Director. It’s an amazing achievement by everyone involved when a person as wicked as Hannibal Lecter almost gets sympathy and empathy from the audience. The man is a murderer, a cannibal, a manipulator, but his code of honor with people he deems worthy of it almost…almost now…almost redeems him. Hopkins puts forth the performance of his lifetime, and there is no question he drives the action of this film. Every scene with he and Foster is incredible to behold.
While the subject matter is incredibly enthralling and the pace of the film builds tension well, The Silence of the Lambs is flawed. There are a few shots in which one wonders why they were kept. Some of the shots look like they were made for an 80s made for TV movie. They seem so out of place since at other times you get an amazing shot of Starling with Lecter’s reflection in the glass over her shoulder. Almost all films never have the actors look directly as the camera, but Silence sometimes has parts of the conversations with the actors looking directly into the camera, as if the characters are looking into one another’s eyes. In possibly any other film this would be laughable, but here it works and fits amazingly well. The good here by far trumps the few odd poorly shot scenes. The last few minutes of the film are some of the most tense and chilling ever filmed. Ultimately though, once again it is the scenes with Lecter and Starling that drive The Silence of the Lambs and catapult into the realm of timeless classic, one of the greatest films ever made.
54.) SEVEN SAMURAI
by Daniel Suddes
Shichinin no samurai (Seven Samurai) 1954 Director: Akira Kurosawa Original Screenplay: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni Starring: Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Seiji Miyaguchi OSCAR COUNT: 0 (Nominated for two; Best Costume Design and Best Art Direction).
Seven Samurai is the film that recreated the epic for the screen. It is also a film whose plot has been borrowed numerous times in numerous films, and whose technique revolutionized the action film. But is this film more than a technical achievement, or something that every other film in existence has been desperate to borrow from?
Absolutely. The film is also among the most effective analysis of class warfare in cinematic history. The core of the film is not the samurai battles or the heroic sacrifices. It is the drama between the peasants and the samurai – both sides detest the other. Yet the villagers must set aside their dislike of the upper class samurai so that their town may survive. And the samurai? They are compelled to help them by their sense of duty, even though accepting the assignment is a sign of how far they have fallen.
Normally, this sort of film would end with a cliché about how every member of society needs to get along. Not so in this film. The films constantly depends on the tension it creates. Kikuchiyo identifies with the villagers, and one of the samurai falls in love with a farmer’s daughter (despite the fact that the film is careful to explain how such love can never work). Ye the villagers are wary of the samurai and what they represent. It was a conflict that was certainly present at the time it takes place. But this film has just as much to say about 19th century and 20th century Japan. There is a victory after the final battle, but it is not the victory for the samurai, as they themselves state. Many think that this is to acknowledge that the peasants had the power to defeat the bandits all along. I don’t believe this is true. What it is was a prediction of Japan’s future. The samurai and the feudal system would not be victorious. After all, the samurai (for the most part) would go back to acting like they had for hundreds of years and eventually fade away. The peasants became the true innovators who helped modernize Japan. Even if they needed the help of the traditions, they would soon outgrow them.
Now, this discussion is how the film found its humanity. In an epic, that is a rare enough accomplishment and deserves praise. But the film would have succeeded on the terms of a Hollywood epic. Each of the scenes are meticulously shot and choreographed, showing off Kurosawa’s talent. My personal favorite action scene involves the initial sword fight between the samurai Kyuzo and a villager who becomes angry when Kyuzo does not concede defeat. One must watch it to fully understand why, but the basic reason is that the death of the loser is granted some meaning. Most action films treat death as a statistic, but strangely to present violence as realistically as possible. Seven Samurai uses its technique to accomplish two goals to do the exact opposite thing. The film plays like the sort of epic that influenced Kurosawa, and each death is given special meaning to each death. There is a sense of tragedy in the film – something that the action films that have copied it never seem to understand. These are humans fighting a battle that, strangely, has kept going into our society.
Seven Samurai is one of the most influential films of all time. It is also among the greatest because of its focus on the human characters and its willingness to confront very deep issues directly without trying to solve them. I put it slightly lower than others have because it is not my favorite Kurosawa film. But what he accomplished with this film officially cemented Kurosawa as Japan’s greatest director.
The best scenes in the film involve Mifune’s character Kikuchiyo. He is the most enigmatic character in the work – a man who wants so desperately to be a samurai, and ends up accomplishing that goal more than the actual elite warriors. But before then, the character is on such a sensory overload that he cannot believe what is happening. The scene above is one such moment. But there is an even greater moment in the film. At one moment, Kikuchiyo comes out dressed as a samurai and offering the others armor. The others chastise him for doing so. Kikuchiyo then gives the most impassioned speech in the film, calling farmers liars and cheats. Only as time goes on do we realize that this is not his actual opinion, but rather a reaction to the life that he is so desperately trying to leave. This speech is one of the finest examples of Mifune’s range as an actor. He is full of rage one minute, full of sadness the next. His character is where the film finds its strength.
Did You Know: The simultaneous production of this film and another Toho Company property almost forced the company to declare bankruptcy. The other film? Gojira, known to audiences around the world as Godzilla.
53.) THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD
by Laurent Kelly
The Assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford (2005) – Director: Andrew Dominik Adapted Screenplay: Andrew Dominik Starring: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell, Mary Louise-Parker, Jeremy Renner, Sam Shepard, Paul Schneider OSCAR COUNT (0) – Nominated for Cinematography and Supporting Actor (Affleck)
“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
– The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
I have included this quote from the above film because it perfectly highlights the thematic drive of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Andrew Dominik’s picture expertly shows the thin line between truth and fiction as Jesse James, hero of countless gun-ho stories is exposed as a psychopathic, ruthless killer who is relentless in his pursuit of maintaining power and paranoid about losing it all.
Robert Ford has grown up reading about this heroic figure but comes to see that Jesse is not quite the man who he expected him to be. This loss of innocence is played brilliantly by Casey Affleck who brings to the role a peculiar mixture of child-like wonder and pent up aggression. The stories of Jesse have helped him to find an escape from his downtrodden path in life and when he gets to ride in his gang he clearly has visions of riding into the sun with a neverending smile. Instead however he comes to hate a man who takes great pleasure in teasing him and who Ford discovers is just as cold, distant and effected as the rest of the outside world.
When Ford shoots Jesse he is of course killing the child inside of him and his own attempts to become a legend backfire miserably. Lacking Jesse’s charisma and cool, Ford becomes labelled as a coward despite the fact that he has essentially ridded the world of a dangerous criminal. This comment on the fickle nature of society is excellently portrayed throughout the film as we see Ford go on a character journey from childlike naivety to bitter resentfulness.
Everything else about the film is superb too. Brad Pitt gives not just his lifetime best performance but also one of the finest cinematic performances ever committed to celluloid in his role as Jesse James. Everything from his unnerving eye movements to his quick flashes of aggression help to create an unsettling and quietly terrifying character who is as captivating to watch in the moments when he is completely still as when he is caught in a moment of panicked anger.
He is supported along the way by a plethora of great performances from the likes of Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell, Mary Louise-Parker and Paul Schneider. All these performances also owe a great debt to some of the best dialogue ever written for a western film. Cackling with depth and authenticity, the most refreshing aspect of the words is the pauses between various lines. Short and nervy back and forth passages help to add rewarding layers to the tension in a film which takes extra care of making sure that each piece of dialogue feels as if coming straight from the character’s conflicted mindset.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the achingly beautiful cinematography from the legendary Roger Deakins (still no Oscar!) who brings to life a series of visually arresting sequences that help to highlight the age old but increasingly relevant motif of nature being marred by the natural violence of man.
One of the very best films made in the last decade.
52.) DOUBLE INDEMNITY
by Daniel Suddes
Director: Billy Wilder Adapted Screenplay: Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler (based on the novel by James M.Cain) Starring: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G.Robinson OSCAR COUNT (0) – 7 nominations including Best Picture and Best Director
Most people, when they hear the words “film noir” used, think of hard boiled detectives with a bottle of liquor in their desks, beautiful women who serve as MacGuffins to the plot, and vast conspiracies that show how corrupt society is. Those people are incorrect. Film noir is not about good versus evil, and the women are not meant to be plot points. Noir, which did not really become a viable genre until World War II, was about how good men were slowly becoming evil as they tried to make sense of a world gone wrong. Femme Fatales represented their own frustrated perception of their gender roles, and the best films had protagonists who were just as much a part of the conspiracy the antagonists were planning. These themes have stayed with cinema since, and can be seen in practically every postmodern protagonist.
Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity defines the noir more than any other classic. It doesn’t even need to do so with detectives. No, it is not about the mystery – there is none to be solved. The main character, Walter Neff, is an insurance salesman, and the antagonist. He admits to his crimes at the beginning of the film. Audiences know the ending – but the film still manages to convey a sense of suspense. It also manages to shoot to the top of a genre that has many classics (The Maltese Falcon, Touch of Evil) but has never quite been equaled.
The film’s strength is not in its plot. Compared to the Gordian knot of a narrative that makes up, say, L.A. Confidential, the scam is remarkably straight forward. Neff is an insurance salesman, Dietrichson has a rich husband. The two scheme to sell Dietrichson’s husband a life insurance policy (with a double indemnity clause, essentially granting the husband more money in the case of his death) then scheme to murder him, make it appear like an accident, and collect. The ending, as I said, is revealed right up front (the story is framed as Neff’s full confession that he records into a Dictaphone while bleeding profusely) and it should not seem like suspense is created.
But there are two ways that it does. Early noir was not dependent upon the story. To describe them is a little beside the point. What matters is the construction of the story and how it plays out. There had been noirs before this one (including the Thin Man films) that helped establish the archetypes that every noir uses. But Double Indemnity established the mise en scene. Every set in the film is covered in shadow. But it goes deeper than that. Every single building and room is more like a representation than an actual place. Every place has a pall of decay (the office that Neff works at is strewn with papers and quite cramped). It is a commentary on the “decay” of society that allowed people like Neff to exist. What caused it? Wilder does not say. But that is what makes the film’s themes so fascinating – it allows audiences to make up their own minds.
What really stands out, however, is how the characters are defined. No one in the film is really good or evil. They can be aloof or malicious, but each have moments in which they do act heroically. Neff does seem to be a kind person to Barton Keyes. He is merely caught up in the excitement of his own plan. And Dietrichson at least does seem to care about Neff, even if he blows her off. And no, I do not believe that Neff is under Dietrichson’s spell. He insults her quite a bit and, at the time of his confession, does not blame her. She may be an instigator, but I do not believe that this was some sort of commentary on the weakening male role in society. No, it is about the hidden darkness that exists in the hearts of everyone. All noirs talk about that. But Double Indemnity is one of the few that explores its characters and attempts to understand how they arrived there. That is the quality that makes the film stand out.
What really stands out, however, is how the characters are defined. No one in the film is really good or evil. They can be aloof or malicious, but each have moments in which they do act heroically. Neff does seem to be a kind person to Barton Keyes. He is merely caught up in the excitement of his own plan. And Dietrichson at least does seem to care about Neff, even if he blows her off. And no, I do not believe that Neff is under Dietrichson’s spell. He insults her quite a bit and, at the time of his confession, does not blame her. She may be an instigator, but I do not believe that this was some sort of commentary on the weakening male role in society. No, it is about the hidden darkness that exists in the hearts of everyone. All noirs talk about that. But Double Indemnity is one of the few that explores its characters and attempts to understand how they arrived there. That is the quality that makes the film stand out.
The best moments in the film involve any scene with Walter Neff and Phyllis Dietrichson. The scene above is just one of many, but it exemplifies the roles that both characters must play. But honestly, the best scene in the film involve the first meeting of these two characters. The dialogue in this film is razor sharp (“he’ll be home when he gets here, if that’s any help” chides a maid) and each and every line has almost one hundred different meanings. It is like if William Shakespeare decided to make some extra money by writing crime serials. It is also interesting to watch Barbara Stanwyck’s performance and how she knows about the power she has (observe the moment with the anklet). It is one of the best introductions in all of film, and one that propels the film to another level.
Did You Know?: An alternate ending of the film had Walter Neff going to the gas chamber. Wilder decided against this ending, as he thought the current one was superior.
51.) THE GRADUATE
by Brek the David
The Graduate (1967) – Director: Mike Nichols Adapted Screenplay: Calder Willingham and Buck Henry Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross OSCAR COUNT (1) – Best Director (Nichols)
“Benjamin: Mrs. Robinson, if you don’t mind my saying so, this conversation is getting a little strange.”
If the Graduate counts as a romantic comedy, then it is by far the greatest romantic comedy of all time. It Happened One Night is certainly the gold standard of romantic comedies, but The Graduate flips the concept. I’m also not so sure The Graduate fits into the pretty little picture that romantic comedies paint. Not to give away the ending, but there is an uncertainty that all will end happily ever after. At the very least the closing moments of the film are ambiguous. Mixed with elements of great drama, and filled with amusing awkward situations, The Graduate takes a look at fledgling adulthood in a realistic light, a light that casts stark shadow.
Benjamin Braddock has just finished college and it’s time to join the world. This is an unsure time in most American’s lives, as the transition from adolescent to adult is a strange time in one’s life. Of course, these are problems many would prefer to have over much more dire decisions, but to the unitiated, the young folk going through the trials, it can be hardest time of their lives. Ben’s got it pretty easy. He’s a member of a wealthy family. He’s gone to college, in the foothills of a successful career most likely. Yet something just isn’t quite right with Benjamin. Something is keeping him from soaring. It’s a cliché, but behind great men, there is a great woman.
Enter Mrs. Robinson, the wife of his father’s business partner. She too is a lonely woman, past her prime. She’s entered that time in a person’s life where they have in all likelihood lived more years than they have left. While Ben’s adult life is just beginning, Mrs. Robinson has entered her twilight. So one night after a party, the classic “seduction” scene occurs that leads to an affair between the two. In the 1960s this was a taboo subject for sure. It’s much more acceptable today, but in the 1960s this was a shocking turn of events.
This is another great thing about this film. The subject matter symbolically parallels what was going in America at that time. The late 60s were a revolution of the mind for the United States. We were transitioning from an odd false facade of pristine clarity to a society that no longer took much at face value. This unmasking and deconstruction on a social level is what is going on in The Graduate. Mrs. Robinson represents the old guard and she is shown to be nothing like Mrs. Cleaver when reality’s light illuminates her. In fact she’s literally stripped naked, seducing a man who could be her son to metaphorically show that the old times were a sham. Complicating matters, Ben develops what he thinks is true affection for Mrs. Robinson’s daughter Elaine. Ben is torn between the young and the old.
Pervasive throughout The Graduate is Simon and Garfunkel’s incredible music. Some of Simon’s best is here, Scarborough Fair, The Sound of Silence, and of course, Mrs. Robinson. While the music is great and adds much weight and substance to the images, it’s really the performances of Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft that make The Graduate such a classic. Both are great actors, and The Graduate is among their best work. Of course, they had a great script to work with as well. Calder Willingham and Buck Henry crafted one of the best screenplays of all time, a diamond that no erosion of time can affect. While The Graduate is dated in the 60s, the themes are timeless, etched in the history and constant present of the human condition. If you’ve never seen The Graduate, you’ve missed out on one of the best films ever made. Get to it.
DID YOU KNOW? Burt Ward had to turn down the iconic lead of Benjamin Braddock because of his role as Robin on the 60s TV show Batman. I wonder if there is some alternate reality where Ward and Hoffman switch places, and Hoffman is only remembered as Batman’s goofy sidekick. This would be a bizarre world, one mirroring the absurdity of the 60s Batman TV show.
50.) THE INNOCENTS
by Laurent Kelly
The Innocents (1961) – Director: Jack Clayton Adapted Screenplay: William Archibald, Truman Capote and John Mortimer Starring: Deborah Kerr, Megs Jenkins, Michael Redgrave, Martin Stephens, Pamela Franklin OSCAR COUNT (0)
Implication and intrigue is becoming a lost art in the horror genre. There are still some very good horror films being made but the power of manipulating audiences with subtle doses of thought provoking psychology is losing out to the demands of the instant gratification generation. Particularly in the last decade we have seen the arrival of the torture porn generation with violence being put ahead of characterisation and storytelling and this is really not what horror is about.
The Innocents features no violence, bloodshed or big, overblown scares but yet it is still quietly terrifying; a beautifully constructed blending of Victorian melodrama with stagy, theatrical scares. As I said before implication is the key to the film’s greatness and in particular its ability to keep asking questions as opposed to hurriedly trying to answer them.
To begin with we are made aware that the film’s protagonist Miss Giddens is going to be looking after a couple of orphaned children in a large mansion out in the country. Giddens is an impeccably polite but somewhat unhinged young woman whose professed love for children feels a little overpowering. We are immediately painted a picture of a very sensitive individual who carries herself as if she has been through some past turmoil.
At the house she is delighted to meet the children and the housemaid and sets about her business schooling the children and indulging their hobbies and talents. She becomes slightly unnerved however by repeated visions of ghostly figures who she discovers once used to live in the house, one of them being the children’s former governess and the other her valet who she took for her lover. According to the maid Mrs Grose the two of them brought quite a nasty element to the household and as Giddens observes the children’s increasingly suspect behaviour she begins to wonder whether or not they are being possessed by the home’s former inhabitants.
As the plot thickens, the relationship between Giddens and the children starts to detoriate, Giddens becomes increasingly stressed and the ghostly apparitions become more sinister. At this point the film still admirably refuses to reveal a truth and we are left to ponder over three dramatically intriguing certainties. The most popular theory is that Giddens is psychologically ill and that she is imagining things that aren’t really there and becoming paranoid about the children when there is actually very little to worry about. The second theory is the literal interpretation that the children really are in danger of being possessed and that Giddens is trying vainly to save them. The third, perhaps most terrifying theory is that Mrs Grose and the children are secretly winding up this poor woman and getting a kick out of watching her squirm. This latter interpretation is backed up by the fact that the children are rather unnervingly confident and self-centred and seem to enjoy the worried attention that Mrs Giddens gives them . Of course the truth could actually be a blending of all three theories. The point is that it doesn’t matter, the film is so layered and well crafted that numerous different arguments can be made either for or against each one and in the end the power is left for the audience to decide on a suitable conclusion for themselves.
Of course a lot is required from the actors to heighten the drama and make all the action seem plausible and it is full credit to Deborah Kerr, Megs Jenkins, Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin that they each bring well rounded performances to the table assisted of course by some wonderful writing and direction.
The film is also technically majestic in its ability to absorb you into its haunted house arena in which darkly lit rooms, faces in the candelight, small claustraphobic spaces, obscured objects and the wide open country is able to inspire feelings of panic, dread and psychological suffocation. The film perfectly executes a less is more effect and in particular the visual effects tie in brilliantly with the story. For example when Giddens sees the various apparitions it all happens rather fleetingly and we are able to see that whilst they look and seem real they could also be the imaginings of a woman suffering from a heightened sense of fear.
Certainly as a film which works as both a compelling character study and an outright terrifying piece of cinema The Innocents sits in good company alongside the usually incomparable horror masterpiece The Shining. In regards to both storytelling and atmosphere The Innocents was also clearly a massive influence on the 2001 horror hit The Others led by Nicole Kidman.
DID YOU KNOW? Director Jack Clayton is one of the few men to have actually turned down Hollywood megastar Cary Grant when the actor apparently offered to play the brief but pivotal role of the uncle.