The Good (75 – 79)

The Good (75 – 79)

Title Director, Genre, Year

Rating

Gone in 60 Seconds
”The original not that Angelia Jolie bullsh%&t!” Stuntman extraordinaire H.B. Halicki wrote, directed, and starred in this supercharged action masterclass about an insurance investigator who moonlights as a master car thief who is given the task of stealing 48 luxury cars in 24 hours. When he and his team have secured all but one, a 1974 Ford Mustang (codenamed Eleanor), he enters into a state wide pursuit in order to bring her in. It’s impossible to properly explain how good this film is with words because its genius lies in the way it viscerally connects with the audience. It’s not about production values so don’t be put off by the sound and picture quality of the earlier scenes. On the contrary, savour it because it feeds into the overall project seamlessly. Gone in 60 Seconds is the ultimate in guerrilla film-making and damn near the best car-chase movie ever made. Give it time because it starts slow but once it gets goin – hold on!
Halicky, Action, 1974

79.9

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JFK
Oliver Stone’s sprawling account of New Orleans’s DA Jim Garrison’s investigation into the assassination of JFK is a remarkable piece of work. Coming in at three hours long and replete with dialogue heavy scenes and very little action, this film shouldn’t have worked. However, Stone employed a documentary style full of flash backs and hypothetical re-enactments laced together with quick paced explanatory dialogue which was for the time a revolutionary approach to making a feature. He also populated the expansive story with a seemingly endless array of big name actors which itself was a masterstroke as it allowed the audience to easily remember the various personalities who popped in and out of the narrative. Kevin Costner is terrific as Garrison and carries almost the entire film as he features in nearly every scene. The rest of the cast are excellent while John Williams throws in with a nice little score. However, in the final analysis, this film is ultimately about the Stone’s direction, his and Zachary Sklar’s screenplay, and Joe Hutshing’s and Pietro Scalia’s peerless editing.
Stone, Mystery, 1991

79.8

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Bound
An ex-con (Gina Gershon) gets a job as a plumber/handy-woman in an apartment building and attracts the attention of a mobster’s girlfriend (Jennifer Tilly). When they work out a clever scheme to take two million dollars of the mob’s money from him things naturally go sideways pretty quickly. The Wachowski brothers tell a masterful story of sexually-charged suspense, full of twists and turns in much the same way that another famous pair of brother directors did in their debut. Though as intelligent as the Coen Brother’s Blood Simple, the latter was made back in the days when the budgets of independent films were truly shoestring. Bound is a much slicker production shot in the same starkly contrasting colours as the Wachowski bothers’ later film The Matrix (kudos to cinematographer Bill Pope). Although, Bound is shot mostly using staged interiors, the directors switch between wide and long lenses and high and low angles at ease to create an incredibly tense atmosphere and keep the audience hooked throughout. The dialogue is perfectly weighted to the pace of the film and the acting from all three of the leads is outstanding particularly in the case of Joe Pantoliano as the mobster the two girls are trying to swindle.
Wachowski, Crime, 1996

79.8

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American Graffiti
For those who (somewhat understandably) used the most recent Star Wars films as reason to doubt George Lucas’ talent as a director, this is one of two films they should watch that will assuage any such doubts (the other being THX 1138). An ode to the 1950’s cruising generation, the film follows a group of friends the night before two of them are due to head off for college. Lucas knits each of the scenes together with a medley of era-specific rock and roll hits which are intermittently punctuated by local radio pirate Wolfman Jack and he quite brilliantly uses the radios of passing cars, restaurants, gas stations, etc to ensure the soundtrack is a constant feature of the background. The fun of the evening’s adventures are had in a series of cracking set pieces most of which involve souped up cars. The actors all acquit themselves admirably with Richard Dreyfus and Paul Le Mat scoring particularly well.
Lucas, Drama, 1973

79.8

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Klute
Alan J. Pakula’s first instalment in his seminal 1970’s paranoia trilogy is a mesmerising exploration of power and control in the seedy underbelly of New York. Donald Sutherland plays Klute, one of cinema’s more ambiguous characters who is charged with locating a friend and wealthy corporate executive who has disappeared without a trace save some lurid letters that he may or may not have written to a New York prostitute. Jane Fonda is incredibly good as that same high class prostitute who avoids her insecurities by adopting her professional persona which is expertly adept at manipulating her clients. This is a very dark movie which feels more like a European film from that time in how it’s structured and shot. Full of hard to make out images and psyche tapping sounds and music, Pakula scintillates us from reel one until the close. There are few answers and it is very much left up to ourselves to decide where the characters end up and that is its true strength.
Pakula, Mystery, 1971

79.8

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Duel
Steven Spielberg’s second feature is a blistering psychological action thriller starring Dennis Weaver as an everyday motorist who, whilst driving through the desert to a business meeting, is targeted by a faceless maniac in a menacing truck. Adapted from a Richard Matheson short story, this movie is first and foremost about the action but it touches on the constructs of fear and manliness in a delicate and insightful manner. Weaver puts in a brave and compelling performance in that he gives us a lead who is weak and even somewhat dislikable. The film is also an interesting opportunity to catch Spielberg during his formative years and while the film is speckled with some basic errors, that immense talent for building suspense is evidenced throughout. The action scenes are handled with aplomb resulting in some excellent driving sequences but it’s the mental turmoil that contributes most to this film’s dramatic quotient.
Spielberg, Thriller, 1971

79.7

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The King of Comedy
Robert De Niro turned his head to comedy in Martin Scorsese’s pitch perfect satire of society’s fixation with fame. De Niro plays Rupert Pupkin, an eccentric wannabe stand-up comedian who has an unhealthy obsession with celebrities in general and talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) in particular. When it becomes apparent that Langford isn’t going to help Pupkin with his career, he and fellow stalker (Sandra Bernhard) devise a ridiculous scheme to get what each of them want out of life. Directed with the usual visionary panache of Scorsese and with a less familiar De Niro in fine form this film remains an original, funny, and thought provoking satire. There are echoes of Network here especially in how the movie closes but ultimately The King of Comedy is a much lighter film. The eccentricities are more explicitly rammed home and its not as broad in scope. That said, The King of Comedy cuts far deeper than most modern satires and like Network, it has only become more relevant with passing years.
Scorsese, Satire, 1983

79.7

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The Impossible
Profoundly touching and heartfelt with a level of honesty not often achieved from big budget films, The Impossible recounts the true life ordeal that two parents and their three kids endured when the tsunami hit their Thai holiday resort on 26th December 2004. Although the disaster affected millions of people from all nationalities (but mainly the natives of the surrounding islands and coastlines), Sergio G. Sánchez and María Belón’s screenplay focuses on this one family as they are initially separated into two groups and their efforts to locate each other in the devastation left behind. It’s emotionally grueling stuff and the writers and director J.A. Bayona pull no punches in their depiction of the damage, bodily or subjective, incurred by the protagonists. Despite such an unflinching account, The Impossible becomes and invigorating and deeply uplifting movie going experience thanks largely to its meditative and soulful extrapolation of context that strikes a balance between the primal form of Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock and the natural form of Malick’s work. At all times the emotional drama takes precedence even, and most impressively, during the tsunami sequence. As we watch the destruction take place, Bayona shoots it through the perspectives of the mother (Naomi Watts) and her son (Tom Holland) as they’re repeatedly thrown together and ripped apart all the while grappling with the implications of what this disaster is going to do their lives even if they survive. As is crucial, the inner turmoil is complemented by the tsunami sequence itself for, as was surely the case with the actual tsunami, little will prepare you for the visceral impact of this film’s depiction of it. It’s a ferociously immersive tempest of sound and visuals steeped in as much physical authenticity as emotional.
Bayona, Drama, 2012

79.7

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Marathon Man
Terrific adaptation of William Goldman’s novel that sees grad student/marathoner Dustin Hoffman get involved in a conspiracy that involves his brother (played by Roy Scheider in outstanding form), diamond smuggling, and an ex-Nazi with a penchant for dentistry (Lawrence Olivier). As with all the great 70’s thrillers this film is defined by a heightened sense of paranoia thanks largely to Michael Small’s memorable score and the top class acting on show. Olivier and Hoffman got all the plaudits but one mustn’t overlook the contribution of Roy Scheider who carries the opening act on his shoulders. Rumour has it, there is a whole sequence of scenes missing where Scheider tears through Paris wreaking vengeance on those who attempted to kill him before returning to New York and that these scenes were removed because of their violence. Judging by how good he is in the cut version it would be a treat to see these scenes restored.
Schlesenger, Thriller, 1976

79.7

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After Hours
Griffin Dunne is Paul Hackett, a young man we assume is stuck in a bit of a rut. One night as he sits in a coffee shop reading Tropic of Cancer, he meets and obtains the phone number of an interesting young woman (played by Rosanna Arquette). When he gets home he calls her up and accepts an invitation to go over to the loft she is staying in despite the late hour. From there on, the night slowly descends into the type of free-form chaos that seemed so overtly missing from his life. The only problem is he cannot escape it. Martin Scorsese was delving into somewhat new territory here but as it turned out, his unique and brave style was the perfect match for Joseph Minion fascinating script and together they crafted a lovely, easy-going minor philosophical adventure. The many and varied characters Hackett bumps into while out that night are all utterly fascinating in a very narrow sort of way and some are outright hilarious. The scenarios that emerge, outrageous though they may be, seem to grow so organically from the story that here the unusual truly does become the usual. And that is Scorsese’s great achievement, to make the outrageous seem so humdrum, the lunatics so normal, and ultimately the most normal of people (in this case Hackett) so strange. After Hours is a monument to the strange little world we all inhabit and it is an eminently enjoyable film-going experience. It mightn’t sound like your type of thing, but give it a go and you might just find yourself going back to it again and again.
Scorsese, Comedy, 1985

79.7

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The Parallax View
Alan J. Pakula’s film is the perfect case of form following function. A series of seemingly unrelated deaths gives a lone journalist (Warren Beatty) reason to believe he has uncovered the existence of a shadowy organisation of specialist contract killers. An American film about political assassinations set in the paranoid years of the early 70’s was always going to be dark and uncomfortable but Pakula takes it to the extreme here but not in any overtly obvious way. Ending many scenes with either an abrupt sense of closure or an ambiguous one, Beatty’s character drifts through the film as though he was never in command of his own destiny. There are lighter moments but they come off as slightly forced and out of pace with the rest of the film such as the bar-fight or the slightly ludicrous car chase. However, any such weaknesses are offset by some terrific sequences such as the famous Parallax assessment scene or that marvellous opening to the film. Michael Small’s music is timeless and was a definite influence on his later even more emphatic Marathon Man score. Overall, this is a fine story from a vintage of film-making that has never been matched in terms of the unsettled sense its representatives could instil in us.
Pakula, Thriller, 1974

79.5

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Straw Dogs
An American mathematician and his English wife find themselves targeted in different ways by some begrudging locals as they spend his sabbatical in the English countryside. This is as daring and ambiguous a film as you’re likely to see and while difficult to watch, it makes for some compelling viewing. Dustin Hoffman’s smouldering performance as the fish-out-water becomes a lesson in acting as he transforms slowly before our eyes from timid victim to something far more primal. Sam Peckinpah does as much behind the camera to make this the seminal exploration of manhood and its implications that it became. Suzanne George is perfect as the flirtatious and immature wife who embodies the confusion that lies at the heart of this film. As controversial as it is ferocious, this film will live long in memory and command repeated viewings.
Peckinpah, Thriller, 1971

79.3

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The Driver
For those who laud the more recent Drive starring Ryan Gosling, they might want to check this one out as the former’s concept (ice cool driver who freelances as a getaway driver for crooks in need of such a service) is completely lifted from the latter. In this original version, the main protagonist also known only as “The Driver” is played by Ryan (the only co-incidence) O’Neal but the more convincing story centres around the attempts of an obsessed cop (Bruce Dern) to catch the driver at any cost. Although Drive at least attempted to tell a different story, The Driver is by far the more complete film. O’Neal doesn’t say much but then again he doesn’t put himself in situations where he has to. This avoids any uncomfortable long drawn out silences that might be labelled pretentious (as was the case in Drive). Being a Walter Hill film, there is also the appropriate level of action that you’d expect from a film about a guy who drives getaway, with two extended and outright blistering chase sequences. The nighttime cityscapes (also seen in Drive) which the action is set against are captured wonderfully by Hill and the stunts and driving are first rate. The Driver is a unique film for any era not only because of its underlying concept but because of the way it keeps the actions of all the characters ambiguous while completely removing the line between criminals and police. Interestingly, as well as inspiring the aforementioned Drive, Hill’s interest in two men pushing each other to the limits in personal contest and the slick manner in which he shot such a story can be interpreted as being a strong influence on the career of one Michael Mann. Not surprisingly, therefore, The Driver stands alongside Thief and Heat as the one of the most interesting explorations into obsession and criminality.
Hill, W., Crime, 1978

79.2

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Christmas Vacation
The Griswold’s finest hour is guaranteed to get you in the Christmas spirit as Clark attempts to create the perfect Christmas for his extended family. Of course, nothing goes as planned particularly as it appears that he isn’t going to get the Christmas bonus he’s depended on. Throw a few house fires, explosions, electrocutions, and his layabout cousin Eddie into the mix and you get one of the all time funniest Christmas movies. Chevy Chase and Beverly DiAngelo are as good as ever while Randy Quaid’s cousin Eddie is the icing on the cake.
Chechik, Comedy, 1989

79.2

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The Big Heat
Fritz Lang’s detective story was fairly hardcore for its time. Glenn Ford plays David Bannion a straight shooting detective whose wife is killed by a car bomb meant for him when he goes against his superiors’ orders and investigates a mob boss with political connections. This is a dark film where the bad guys torture and disfigure women and the good guys are pushed to the limit in their quest for revenge. That such a film was made in the early 50’s is a testament to the bravery of all concerned. Ford is magnificent as the brooding detective, Jocelyn Brando is excellent as his strong willed wife, and Gloria Grahame puts in a good turn as the gutsy victim of Lee Marvin’s nasty Vince Stone.
Lang, Film-Noir, 1953

79.1

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A Better Tomorrow (Ying Hung Boon Sik)
A balletic masterpiece of action cinema. Two triad members and best friends hit rock bottom after one (Ho) is set up and sent to jail and the other (Mark) is crippled exacting revenge. To make matters worse the policeman brother of Ho will not believe he has gone straight when he’s released three years later, partly because the triads want Ho back. John Woo’s Hong Kong sensation is a raw and uncompromising feast of ingenuity. It’s low budget but aside from a few minor sound production errors you wouldn’t know it. Ti Lung and Chow Yun-Fat are superb in the lead roles and combined with the frenetic visuals, sounds, and action choreography they make this an unforgettable experience. Some of the nighttime shots are truly spellbinding and parts of the score will sound familiar to fans of Jan de Bon’s later action masterpiece Speed.
Woo, Action, 1986

79

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The Last Seduction
Smokey, sultry, and 24 carat bitch, Linda Fiorentino takes the femme fatale concept to a whole other level in this outstanding made-for-tv John Dahl feature. She stars as a devious manipulator on the run from her slightly deranged husband (Bill Pulman’s finest performance) who flees to a small town outside Buffulo. Peter Berg is the small town guy with big city aspirations who is enchanted by Fiorentino’s sophisticated grittiness and ultimately becomes the central pawn in her attempt to rid herself of all her problems at once. Everyone involved acts their pants off (in many cases that’s a literal truth) and Steve Barancik’s script sizzles as the likes of Fiorentino, Pullman, and the late great J.T. Walsh revel in its delivery. Berg plays the perfect rube throughout managing to be even less savvy than William Hurt in the not dissimilar Body Heat. Dahl and Joeseph Vitarelli’s cheeky score tie this modern noir gem into such a nice little package that you’ll find yourself revisiting this one time and time again.
Dahl, Film-Noir, 1994

78.9

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Napoleon Dynamite
Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder) is an awkward high schooler determined to find his niche. That finally becomes possible when he meets Pedro (Efren Ramirez) and Deb (Tina Majorino) and their own respective adolescent crises intersect. At a time when so many comedies are defined by a sense of forced quirkiness or quirkiness-by-numbers, it’s a genuine pleasure to experience the real thing. In fact, given that so many struggle to get there it’s remarkable how effortlessly quirky Napoleon dynamite appears to be. However, what’s more remarkable is how substantially writer/director Jared Hess uses this quirkiness. This isn’t weird for the sake of weird. On the contrary, the conceptual, visual, and auditory background to Napoleon’s story is so off-kilter that it emphasizes the realness of the emotional trials the main characters are experiencing all the more. And of course that’s exactly the point.
Hess, Comedy, 2004

78.9

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Speed
Perhaps the last great Hollywood action movie of that genre’s greatest era had its most legendary cinematographer Jan DeBont sitting in the director’s chair to produce the ultimate white knuckle experience. Keanu Reeves and the always underrated Jeff Daniels play two LA (SWAT) cops who after foiling a terrorist’s (Dennis Hopper) original attempt to ransom the city must save the passengers of a bus that must stay above 50mph or else it will explode. The scenario is nuts but Hopper’s terrorist is just mad enough to make it seem perfectly reasonable. What is certain though is that the execution is flawless as DeBont treats us to a seemingly endless series of highly original nail-biting road-stunts. As you would expect from the DP behind Die Hard and the Hunt for Red October, the action co-ordination is spectacular and you will feel as though you have been transported into the bus as it crashes through downtown LA. Reeves excels as the cocky but capable cop, Daniels is strong in support, while Hopper hams it up to an appropriate level as the villain. In addition, Sandra Bullock deservedly made her name by playing the plucky passenger who takes charge of driving the bus during all the bedlam. Speed isn’t perfect as the ending drags on a bit too long while also getting repetitive but, these small quibbles aside, the film remains an outstanding piece of action cinema from a time when action film were made by guys with “big, round, hairy cojones”.
De Bont, Action, 1994

78.9

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Twelve Monkeys
Bruce Willis stars as a prisoner sent back in time from a post-apocalyptic world to help future scientists learn the secrets of the virus that wiped out five billion people in the late 20th century. There are few directors who are so suited to depicting the unfathomable qualities of dystopian futures as Terry Gilliam is. As he did in the masterful Brazil, Gilliam gives us a world which, unlike the spartan imagination-deprived Hollywood notions of the future, is just plain inaccessible. Yet, so visually creative is it, that despite this inaccessibility we stay connected. That’s filmmaking. Thankfully, for the sake of being able to fully engage with the film, most of the story plays out in the present tense where Willis’ slightly deranged character (no immediate acclimatisation to a different time-frame here) and the psychiatrist who is inevitably charged with his care (Madeline Stowe) attempt to piece together the clues to what happened in the days before the virus’ release. Willis is terrific and this must surely go down as one of his better roles and performances. He’s exactly what a fish out of water (scarred by the trauma of his horrific world) should be – naive, innocent, violent, immature, and unhinged. Stowe is excellent also as his slightly incredulous caretaker while Brad Pitt is on hand to slightly over-egg the pudding as the crazy inmate of the asylum Willis initially finds himself in. David Webb Peoples (Blade Runner) & Janet Peoples’ script is a delight and while helping to set the darker tones is balanced out with some neat humour. Ultimately, Twelve Monkeys is one of the most striking, creative, and original films to emerge in the 90’s. It’s a tour de force for Gilliam and Willis and will stay with you for a long time.
Gilliam, Sci-Fi, 1995

78.9

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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
With Zodiac and particularly The Social Network, David Fincher was proving that he was maturing beyond the edgy young talent who created Fight Club and Seven to a genuinely masterful and commanding director. Thus, when news broke that he was going to remake Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo only two years after the Swedish adaptation, one could be forgiven for assuming he had a dramatic reinterpretation in mind. After all, the book was hardly literary perfection and the Swedish film had already and very recently presented a faithful adaptation. Add to that Fincher’s own claim that this movie would be his “Chinatown” and there was reason to be very excited indeed. Of course, Fincher was never a writer but he does take liberties in his structuring and he’s demonstrated on numerous occasions he should have the sensibilities to spot the weaker elements to the Larrson story. Unfortunately, none of this really happens and all we get is an ultra slick, cinematically competent version of the original adaptation which itself was only slightly better than TV movie standard. The three main plots, Lisbeth Salander’s ordeal with her new guardian, Blomkvist’s search for Harriet Vagner, and his quest to prove his innocence in the liable case, are all present and run in parallel to each other linked through only the most overt manoeuvres. At no time do any of them converge naturally, bringing all the strands of the story together in one or two revelatory moments. This is a big disappointment because if anyone was suited to rectifying these source problems one would have guessed it was Fincher. Thus, we have the same ‘false’ final act (including the bizarre shift in gears towards popcorn serial killer movie mode) which made the original adaptation so jading and only then do we move into the actual final act where the most interesting plot conclusion which is wrapped up in a mere 15 minutes. By taking more artistic licence in the adaptation, surely Fincher and co. could’ve rearranged the plots in a much more satisfying fashion, perhaps reducing the importance of the Vagner plot (which is really quite pedestrian by today’s standards) and placing greater emphasis on by far the movie’s greatest asset: Lisbeth Salander. The fact that Fincher and co. didn’t do this is made all the more frustrating by the fact that Rooney Mara’s portrayal of the disturbed young woman is electric. Like her character is to the story, she is by far the most interesting actor in the cast and the fact that she’s irrelevant to at least half of the film really makes no sense – least of all when you take the movie’s title into account. All this is not to say that The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a bad movie, it’s just an ordinary one from the point of view of its writing. The film looks great thanks to Fincher’s sophisticated eye, Jeff Cronenweth’s luscious cinematography, and Donald Graham Burt’s rich yet stark production design. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score is softly energetic and Kirk Baxter’s and Angus Wall’s editing ties the various subplots together commendably so that Fincher’s steady and unerring momentum is maintained. The acting is generally first class with Daniel Craig’s Blomkvist being a fine counterpoint to Mara’s lethally focused Salander. These strong points make the film actually quite enjoyable to watch even if it does run past two and half hours. But for all this production quality, the fact remains that the story is almost identical to the flawed story of the book and original adaptation, so the question must be asked: is it enough to justify a remake so quickly?
Fincher, Thriller, 2011

78.9

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Gravity
Rarely do critically acclaimed big budget blockbusters live up to their dual billings but Alfonso Cuarón’s story of an astronaut attempting to get back to earth after being slung into free orbit on a disastrous space walk really does seem to do just that. As immersive and visually spellbinding a film as there has ever been, Gravity is a truly singular cinematic experience and one that needs to be seen to be believed. Sandra Bullock plays the astronaut in question (actually she’s an engineer on a technical mission) whose shuttle is destroyed by debris from a nearby satellite leaving only her and George Clooney’s veteran astronaut to traverse the vacuum of space to the international station in order to procure a way home. Without giving too much away, suffice to say, Bullock ends up largely fending for herself and relying on her minimal experience and training to get her through in once piece. Bullock is excellent in a role that required a lot of depth but also presence not to mention an ability to act with nothing but one’s face and voice. She forms an essential bond with her audience so that every breath she takes raises the tension. Clooney is very much in the Clooney-mode of his earlier films. That is to say, he’s really just playing an astronaut version of himself. But all that comes with a priceless charisma and against the blackness of space, the film needed him to bring it during his handful of scenes. One might suppose the premise of a woman drifting through space would lend itself to a rather monotonous story but surprisingly the drama is non stop. In fact, so relentless are the trials she has to overcome while hurtling around the planet, the tagline to this film could’ve read “whatever can go wrong in space, will go wrong!”. Everything from oxygen depletion, fuel depletion, random collisions with flying debris, to space station fires conspire to thwart her desperate attempts to get home. However, a series of intermittent pauses for some moments of less than subtle symbolism (and cinematic reference) revolving around the central theme of rebirth ensure the film has a serene quality to complement the many tense moments. There’s no two ways about it, Gravity is just a well directed film. Constructing action sequences with an elegant grace yet tangible terror isn’t easy but setting them against a contemplative silence (this is one film that respects the ‘no sound in space rule’) is even more complicated. But Cuarón does it with an apparent effortlessness. Of course, the jaw dropping visual effects and cinematography make this a little easier for when the endless black and immaculate stillness of space is repeatedly contrasted with the emphatic blue of the earth as impeccably as it is here, both the physical senses and intellect are honed all the more. Almost impressive as the visual artistry is the level of detail that defines practically every single shot. The zero gravity environments of the various stations and shuttles are brought to visceral life with an endless series floating objects such as tools, trinkets, cutlery, and even liquids providing for one of the most realistic depictions of weightlessness out there. This of course is heightened by the 3D experience but even in 2D, it’s breathtaking. For technical boffins, the realism largely ends there and while not a valid criticism of a fictional film, many will (and have) balk at the technical and physical liberties the story takes. On the subject of writing, it’s important to point out that Gravity isn’t the Citizen Kane of space movies. There’s a story here but it’s nothing mind blowing. This is primarily an action adventure film with a modest level of subjective drama underpinning it. Rather than the writing, it’s the (Oscar winning) direction that elevates the latter as Cuarón pushes all the right buttons to raise the goosebumps and stir the soul into feeling that we’ve followed something more substantial than we actually have. Simply put, he crafts this movie with so much class and focused energy that you’ll either forgive the cliches and heavy-handedness or just straight up not notice them. In fact, the direction becomes the defining feature of the film. And given the scale of the visual effects, that’s no mean feat.
Cuarón, Science Fiction, 2013

78.9

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RoboCop 2014
An audacious and laudable remake that takes the opportunity to look at a central concept of the original film from a fresh perspective. In other words, it does exactly what a remake should! Whereas most modern remakes simply use the name recognition of the original as a basis for spewing out a series of CGI action sequences and nothing more, this one takes the most fascinating ideas underlying the original RoboCop and teases them out one by one. And that it does so on a level that would put many academics on the subject to shame is even more impressive. The scenario is only roughly similar to the 1987 movie. An America of the future where OmniCorp (who are restricted to non-domestic military applications like the ED209) are eager to overcome a congressional bill by getting the American public to accept robot law enforcers on their streets. Their villainous CEO (a brilliant Michael Keaton with a performance so utterly untouched by cliche that we spend most of the movie liking him) comes up with the idea of putting a man in a machine. Unfortunately, an immediate conflict between the robotic components and his free will raises financial, political, and philosophical implications that place pressure on the scientists to separate the two when in reality they may share a much more dynamic and inseparable relationship. What tips this remake into the net is the movie’s intellectual ambitions. Fascinatingly and indeed admirably informed debates regarding the nature and constituency of human consciousness and self-determination lie at the centre of the story and even the plot so that the film coheres like almost no other modern blockbuster. That it’s cohering around the most complex of subject matters is fairly impressive when practically every other tentpole movie can’t even balance the most trite themes of the human condition. Contrary to movies like Inception which have absolutely no bearing on the reality of human psychology, RoboCop 2014 is framed around cutting edge considerations in the science from the neuropsychological basis of free will to its fundamental interdependence with unconscious action. Similarly sophisticated is its glancing swipe at the role of the right wing media in the politics of fear through reduction, simplistic disingenuousness, childish anger, and naked hypocrisy. Where the movie undoubtedly runs flat, however, is in its action sequences. Here, Jose Padilha’s direction (which by some accounts was beset with studio interference) needed a little more elegance and much more punch. The set pieces smack of tokenism and an overuse of the Call of Duty PoV attenuates their cinematic quality. That the original scored as high in this department as it did on its satire places it firmly above this remake. But then again, action is not what this remake is about. The ultimate twist here is that RoboCop 2014 isn’t an action sci-fi at all but a cerebral sci-fi with just a little action sprinkled on top.
Padilha, Science Fiction, 2014

78.8

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Fist of the White Lotus
The film that gave us one of the great kung-fu villains, Bak Mei or “White Eyebrows” (a character whose resurgence in Kill Bill Vol. 2 as “Pai Mei” was one of that film’s high points) and some of the best training sequences in the history of this illustrious genre is a wholly engaging yet intelligent fight fest from start to finish. The movie begins with Gordon Lui and his brother battling Bai Mei (Bak’s twin) in a fascinating duel wherein they find that their orthodox skills are unable to penetrate his unusual abilities that allow him to withstand punches and levitate. This is Lui’s first introduction to the White Lotus’ technique and later in the film he must adapt his own style with the help of his “Auntie” so that he can counteract the even more powerful Bak Mei. This film is a must for martial arts fans with an interest in the principles underlying Kung Fu but action fans in general will adore the choreography of the fighting and training sequences – which counts amongst the best from any era. There is much humour in the way those sequences unfold which adds another dimension to this richly layered film. Interestingly Gordon Lui went on to play Pai Mei in Tarantino’s later film.
Lieh, Martial Arts, 1980

78.8

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Blade
Ultra cool vampire flick with Wesley Snipes in the form of his life as the eponymous day-walking vampire who suppresses his darker appetites in favouring of beating 10 bells out of every other vampire he comes across. Director Stephen Norrington gives the film a sensationally foreboding look (check out those scenes where Blade is driving through the city) and crafts action sequence after action sequence that will blow your socks off (so much so that the Matrix may have even borrowed an idea or two). Kris Kristofferson excels as Blade’s gnarly old right-hand man and mentor while Stephen Dorff revels in the role of the nasty Deacon Frost. This film is as slick and original as it gets and it’s is easily one of the best comic-book adaptations and/or vampire films out there.
Norrington, Horror, 1998

78.8

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Big Trouble in Little China
You have to admire films where the rule book is thrown clear through the window. John Carpenter’s cult classic is a martial arts fantasy set in San Francisco and follows the fortunes of all-American truck driver Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) who gets mixed up in kidnapping, Chinese mysticism, human rights lawyers, and warring triads. Everything about this film is counter-conventional. The leading man is a loveable doofus who means well but ends up needing saving as much as he saves others. The action is straight out of the Chinese flying films that had only really begun to gain popularity in the East by the time Carpenter’s movie was being made. Throw in a few sorcerers, lots of neon lighting, a throne room with a real no-foolin escalator, and Carpenter’s sensational electric-guitar soundtrack and you’re left with one totally unpredictable kick ass martial arts romp. The fight scenes are terrific fun, the chemistry between all the principles is spot on perfect, and the pace of the film never lets up for a second.
Carpenter, Fantasy, 1986

78.7

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Captain Phillips
Paul Greengrass channels his high energy ultra real style of direction into the true story of the Maersk Alabama under the command of Captain Richard Phillips and its hijacking by Somalian pirates in 2009. After a sturdy but efficient introduction to Hanks’ Captain Phillips before he leaves the US for Africa, the film begins switching back and forth between the Somalian pirates as they prepare for their next mission and the Maersk Alabama as its captain and crew set sail. Through these sequences we get to know the two main players: Phillips, the serious-minded but decent company man and Muse, the deceptively diminutive and equally no-nonsense leader of the pirates, played with real electricity by Barkhad Abdi. The stage is set for a tense battle of wills and from the moment the pirates are sighted approaching the ship to the close, Phillips and Muse make for a fascinating pair of adversaries. Hanks for his part is simply terrific and he is pushed all the way by the nascent talent of Abdi who announces himself on the screen with astonishing composure. There’s no doubt that Greengrass is in his element here as he weaves this central dynamic with a series of spell binding set pieces. There’s an impressive scope to these sequences too ranging from the pirates’ daring attempts to commandeer the ship (and the equally valiant attempts of the crew to stop them) to a scintillating SEAL operation at the apex of the film. There’s an awesome quality to this story that centres on bravery, expertise, and desperation and with the help of Barry Ackroyd’s luscious cinematography and Christopher Rouse’s pulsating editing, Greengrass teases it out with a series of immense images such the SEAL team parachuting towards their objective in near total darkness or the Alabama zigging and zagging in an effort to avoid the pirate skiff. It adds an energy to the film that few movies can equal and combined with the authenticity of everything from the ships to the actions of the various crews, it gives the film a real sense of weight.
Greengrass, Thriller, 2013

78.7

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The Roaring Twenties
Prohibition era gangster drama starring James Cagney as an initially honest Joe who returns from The Great War to find no job waiting for him, a lack of tolerance for veterans, and a city ripe for the plucking. It’s not long before his plucky attitude, feisty determination, and very hard edge see him rise to the top of the bootlegging world, a position that attracts as many enemies as it does friends. Throw in a case of unrequited love and the stage is set for some dramatic showdowns. The Roaring Twenties is one of those era-defining crime dramas immortalised by the competing presences of Cagney and a cusp-of-stardom Humphrey Bogart as his untrustworthy partner with a murderous streak. Cagney has been better but not often as he shows us a warmer version of his more famous gangster incarnations but with all the grit. Bogart makes for a fantastic villain which is unsurprising given how well he walked the line in his more heroic roles later on. Priscilla Lane is only fair in the role of the love interest but her character is a nicely original take on typical female roles in films from that era. Penned by, among others Robert Rossen, the script is luscious to say the least and full of that perceptive quality which the best films from the 30’s & 40’s are unmatched for. On the directing front, Raoul Walsh brings his composed touch to the film balancing war sequences, restaurant shoot outs, liquor heists, boat hijackings, nightclub drama, and good old fashioned heart-on-sleeve drama with an assured ease. The film looks wonderful too, capturing all the glitz and glamour of the period while never being consumed by it. The Roaring Twenties is exactly what we’ve come to expect from the 1930’s prohibition retrospectives but replete with a class that would flatter any project. Not least, it’s also a rare opportunity to see two of that cinematic generation’s greatest actors go head to head in vintage style.
Walsh, Gangster, 1939

78.7

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La Femme Nikita
Luc Besson’s wildly original thriller burst onto the screen after one hell of an opening shot and never let’s up. It tells the intelligent yet playful story of a troubled and violent young woman who after been sentenced to life in prison is given a second chance – so long as she agreed to become an assassin for the government. Whilst training her more subtle skills of manipulation her more human side to emerges which begins to regale against the tasks she’s asked to carry out. the action sequences are perfectly controlled and made more tense through Besson’s innovations. Besson’s script is also outstanding and his edgy dialogue is at its coolest. Anne Parillaud is excellent in the title role while the supporting characters are colourful and unique with Jean Reno’s ‘cleaner’ being a particular treat to watch.
Besson, Thriller, 1990

78.7

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Witness
Peter Weir’s thriller is a case of a standard enough plot elevated by superb direction and strong central performances. Harrison Ford plays John Book, a Philadelphia detective investigating the murder of a police officer where his only witness is a young Amish boy. When that boy identifies another policeman as the murderer Book is injured in a shoot-out with him and is forced to flee with the child and his mother to their Pennsylvanian community until he recuperates. Witness is an original film that offers a subtle meditation on the wonder of the unknown and Weir captures it flawlessly. The tempered pace at which he develops the characters combined with Maurice Jarre’s gorgeous score and John Seale’s majestic cinematography results in an enchanting movie experience. He balances the explosive action sequences with the explorative dramatic scenes perfectly so that each complements the other. Ford gives us a thoroughly interesting performance as the gritty city cop and he is matched by Kelly McGillis who is quite exceptional as the recently widowed Amish mother of the young witness. She brings just the right amount of innocence and undiscovered strength to the part which more than anything else sets the tone of the romantic relationship that develops. Lukas Haas does very well as the boy while Danny Glover and Josef Sommer are great as the nasty bad guys.
Weir, Thriller, 1985

78.7

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Shadow of a Doubt
Alfred Hitchcock’s slow-burning thriller about a young woman Charlie, who’s delight at the visit of her favourite uncle takes a dark turn when she begins to suspect he may be on the run for a serious crime. This one really shouldn’t work that well. Many of the clues are sign posted early on to the extent that it comes off less as a mystery. However, Hitchcock plays wonderfully with the audiences’ ambiguity by channeling our perceptions through the initially idealising eyes of the bright and insightful Charlie. Thus, we sway to and fro with her as she waivers between suspicion and denial that her loving uncle could be so evil. Teresa Wright is excellent as the young Charlie and Joseph Cotton is hugely impressive as the complicated Uncle Charlie. Proper Sunday afternoon fare.
Hitchcock, Film-Noir, 1943

78.7

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Assault on Precinct 13
John Carpenter’s second outing as director is a tour de force in atmosphere generation as he gives the story of a recently decommissioned police station which is under siege by a marauding gang an almost apocalyptic tone. By not giving the gang members any lines and by focusing the action on the co-operating occupants of the police station (prisoners and police alike), Carpenter quite ingeniously imbued the former with a zombie-like quality which makes them all the scarier. This Carpenter film more than any other reveals the great director’s influences from Hawk’s Rio Bravo to Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and the good news is that Assault on Precinct 13 is easily worthy of being mentioned alongside these two classics. There are no big names on show just some solid acting talent whose quirky and fleshed out performances are as important to the movie’s success as anything else. Austin Stoker makes for an enjoyable lead as the officer in charge of the deserted precinct and Laurie Zimmer scores well as the tough female lead typical to other Carpenter films. As good as they are, however, everyone takes a back seat to Darwin Joston’s Napoleon Wilson who eats up Carpenter’s bad-ass dialogue and spits it in the face of authority with a care-free smile. He more than anyone else embodies the hypnotic grittiness of the movie as he presents us with what surely must be one of the most iconic anti-heroes. Assault on Precinct 13 is a triumph of independent cinema and defined by that foreboding sense of momentum which Carpenter sews so seamlessly into all his movies. From the opening credits when yet another legendary Carpenter score begins to resonate with whatever recesses of the mind its composer seems to have a direct line to, you’ll know you’re in for something different.
Carpenter, Action, 1976

78.6

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The Truman Show
Peter Weir somehow manages to turn what could’ve been just another mundane concept piece into a deeply touching tale of lonliness, celebrity, and ambition in this story about a guy called Truman who is the unwitting star of a reality TV show about his life. Ed Harris is excellent as the guru-like producer of the Truman Show while Jim Carey turns in one of his best and most straight-laced performances as the star himself.
Weir, Satire, 1998

78.6

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Elmer Gantry
”Tell me. How is it so many people can only find hate in the bible?” Richard Brooks’ highly complex tale of the emergence of revivalism during the prohibition era bible belt is a stunningly mature and impartial examination of manipulation, faith, truth, and redemption. Burt Lancaster is magnetic as the eponymous silver tongued charlatan who finds he has a knack for rousing people into religious fervour through guilt and moralistic soundbite. Jean Simmons matches him as the self-proclaimed “Sister Sharon”, leader of a travelling roadshow who preaches damnation and forgiveness through the embracing of Jesus and her message. Brooks’ adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’ novel is superb and whether it be the top of the voice preaching, the more veiled rhetoric, or the quiet and more honest interactions of the principals, it captures the power of that discourse with amazing precision. Through his direction, he brings an easy flow to the movie and he adapts the tone seamlessly as the film repeatedly transitions between big prayer meetings and the smaller more intimate one-on-ones. However, it’s the clarity of focus and motivation which defines the movie so well and it’s astonishing to note how relevant Elmer Gantry is to modern day as it was to the 1960’s when it was made and the 1920’s when it was set. It takes no sides and in doing so, through all the smoke and mirrors, it zeros in on the essential point like few other investigations into the subject have.
Brooks, Drama, 1960

78.5

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Notorious
Terrific Hitchcock spy-movie starring Ingrid Bergman as the daughter of a convicted traitor who is asked by government agent Cary Grant to spy on her father’s German associates living in Rio de Janeiro. There’s lots of layers to the inevitable relationship that emerges between the two and it’s all handled as deftly by Hitchcock as it was by the two stars. This is really Bergman’s film and she’s utterly superb but Grant adds to the story brilliantly when given the chance.
Hitchcock, Thriller, 1946

78.5

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No Way Out
From the opening credits as Maurice Jarre’s tense score accompanies an ariel shot of Washington DC this film exudes intrigue. Roger Donaldson’s film is a smartly written taut political thriller steeped in that great 80’s style. It stars Kevin Costner as a naval officer assigned to the Pentagon who together with Sean Young (his girfriend), and Gene Hackman (his boss and Secretary for Defence) are involved in a dangerous love triangle that ends up in murder, a cover-up, and a manhunt through the Pentagon. Costner is at the height of his powers, Young gives a memorable performance, while Hackman steals every scene he features in. Will Patton is also excellent as Hackman’s obsessed right-hand man. There are some minor plot-holes but the fast pace and great performances paint over any such shortcomings.
Donaldson, Thriller, 1987

78.5

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Ulzana’s Raid
Burt Lancaster stars in this excellent western, which approaches a staple story line (soldiers vs Indians) from a much more complex and therefore rewarding angle than typically seen. Lancaster is terrific as the ageing Indian hunter McIntosh, who is called into track and stop an Apache war party which is raiding and pillaging the local territories. Initially, the young lieutenant in charge of his troop isn’t too impressed with McIntosh’s Indian strategies, sensibilities, and even sensitivities but he comes to respect him and his Indian scout (Jorge Luke) as they get them ever closer to their quarry. This is as intelligent a western as you’ll see in terms of how the action unfolds. As McIntosh and his scout forensically follow every clue and devise one unorthodox strategy after another, the audience is slowly exposed to the real point of the film. The battle scenes are expertly conceived and a joy to watch. It’s a gritty film but most of the darkness is implied. Ultimately, the film doesn’t pull any punches and while ostensibly it looks like just another anti native-American film (and it could’ve been just that) it ultimately becomes much more.
Aldrich, Western, 1972

78.5

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The Believer
For those who’ve admired Ryan Gosling’s more recent performances, check out this tour de force turn (from the then 21 year old!) as a Jewish neo-nazi, who is caught between his loathing for what he perceives as his people’s weakness and his deep compassion for their traditions of spirit and intellect. This is a powerful and deeply insightful film that captures the essence of religious faith and belief like few films before it. The writing and dialogue are provocative but always remain real regardless of whether it’s the monosyllabic horseplay of the neo-nazis, the insidious pretensions of the right-wing upperclass, or the friendly and sometimes unfriendly argumentativeness of the various Jewish characters. Ultimately, however, this film is driven by Gosling’s incendiary powerhouse performance that is as good as anything that De Niro or Pachino were doing at that age.
Bean, Drama, 2001

78.4

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The Silence of the Lambs
One of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful thrillers, The Silence of the Lambs scooped all five top Academy Awards and gave us arguably the most celebrated villain in movie history. Starring Jodie Foster as FBI recruit Clarice Starling and Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, Jonathan Demme’s film focuses on the attempts of the talented but inexperienced young agent to tap the mind of the brilliant but deranged psychiatrist in order to aid the bureau’s pursuit of a terrifying serial killer who skins his victims. Though The Silence of the Lambs is perhaps best remembered for its acting and writing, it’s Demme’s directing that sets it apart from the majority of thrillers by intricately setting and maintaining the right tone and mood throughout, an achievement that ultimately elevates the aforementioned acting and writing.
Demme, Thriller, 1991

78.4

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Margin Call
There have been a few attempts to depict the types of wheeling and dealings that underlay the catastrophic financial meltdown of 2008. Some have missed the mark such as Oliver Stone’s Money Never Sleeps while some have got closer like Curtis Hanson’s TV movie Too Big to Fail. However, all fall in the wake of J.C. Chandor’s elegant Margin Call. It won’t take long to guess the real life investment bank that the story focuses on even though it’s never named and the film plays carefully on the audience’s still raw nerves to augment the sense of impending doom. However, despite being fully of where this is going, Chandor nonetheless keeps us on tenterhooks. He also prevents this film from becoming a finger pointing exercise, thereby distracting from the overarching issue, the inherent fault within the system. There are no unequivocally bad guys here. They’re all human beings just trying to make the best of their situations. Yes, some are more ruthless than others within those parameters and all are guilty of looking after themselves and not even considering anyone else but there’s nothing that would reflect typical evil archetypes.
Chandor, Drama, 2011

78.4

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Argo
Director and star Ben Affleck hits three for three with a pitch perfect account of how a CIA agent extracted six American citizens trapped in Iran after the 1980 revolution with the “best bad idea” that he could come up with. Based on actual events, Argo does something that not many films get to do. It gives us the real (-ish) scoop on a well known yet relatively recent moment in history by telling a story so inherently dramatic and daft that we’d scarcely believe it was possible if told as outright fiction. Yes, it takes some liberties here and there but the essential story of US citizens being “exphiltrated” from Iran disguised as a Canadian film crew who were ostensibly there to shoot a science fiction epic is entirely true. In fact, this story would almost write itself if allowed but the end result would probably be nothing more ambitious than a wacky comedy. Thankfully Affleck and writer Chris Terrio don’t let it and they instead look deep into the people and events of the time to find the genuine heroism, intelligence, and downright bravery that in reality defines a tale like this.
Affleck, Thriller, 2012

78.4

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Unforgiven
Clint Eastwood’s undisputed directorial and acting masterpiece is one of the great revisionist westerns driven by one of the best western screenplays courtesy of David Webb Peoples (Blade Runner). Eastwood stars as a former murderous and feared outlaw, William Munny, who changed his ways due to his wife’s staunch influence. When hard times hit upon him and his children, he reluctantly accepts an offer to track and gun down two men who disfigured a prostitute. The dark journey he undertakes sees him slowly transform back into the man he once was building up to one of the grittiest showdowns in western history as he and the sheriff, Gene Hackman’s nasty Little Bill, eventually come face to face. The film quite ingeniously plays on a mythological level despite its simultaneous forensic deconstruction of the western mythology. The story is replete with salty outlaws each one more formidable than the last all going head to head in various memorable encounters. There are some real heavy hitters on the acting front with Morgan Freeman and Richard Harris significantly adding to the presence Eastwood and Hackman provide. Hackman was given the third best role of his career and Eastwood gave his finest ever performance. The direction is inspired (not something one could always say about Eastwood’s movies) and in those moments when camera and dialogue come together seamlessly (such as the moment when Munny turns) there are few western scenes that can compete.
Eastwood, Western, 1992

78.4

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Beetlejuice
Tim Burton’s imaginative and authentically quirky tale of a young married couple (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) who after dying in a car crash become trapped for an eternity as ghosts in their own home. When a somewhat unwholesome family (led by the always excellent Catherine O’Hara) move into the dead couple’s house, the two ghosts hire a professional exterminator of the living called Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton) to get rid of them. Burton’s magical eye helped create one of the most distinctive looking films of the 1980′s and as a work of pure fantasy, it is arguably his most well-rounded work. Initially, the movie depicts two very incompatible worlds (mirroring the confusion of the young couple): the near-incomprehensible world of the afterlife set against the more familiar and comfortably framed world of the living. The real feat of genius, however, lies in how he subtly transforms the latter into the former as the film progresses only to rapidly invert that process at the end. If Burton is making magic happen behind the camera well then he is matched every inch of the way by what Keaton is doing in front of it. Keaton is simple astounding as the “ghost with the most” as his timing, delivery, and improvisation collide to form a whirlwind of comedy-horror and one of cinema’s most memorable characters. “You’re working with a professional here!”. You better believe it!
Burton, Fantasy, 1988

78.4

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Death Proof
Death Proof really is a visionary masterpiece of action comedy. A film that defies its grainy perspectives, low-budget cast and sets and becomes more slick and pulse-thumping than most big budget actioneers. Tarantino took on the DP duties and in some ways, this is visually his most impressive film. Many of those visuals are also brilliantly humorous such as the deep staging of the bobble head shot, the subsequent running-to-the-bathroom tracking shot, or the later black-&-white-to-colour transition. The dialogue is both utterly compelling and sharply real and despite the majority of it revolving around typically female conversational topics it’s no less gripping if you’re a male. Of course, the movie’s appeal to males is helped by the presence of the perennial man’s man Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike who spends his nights targeting groups of young girls and mowing them down in his reinforced stunt car. Russell is tremendous as the disturbingly charming yet cowardly psychopath and it’s him who links both halves of the movie by being the only character to feature in both.
Tarantino, Action, 2007

78.3

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A Most Violent Year
The rise and further rise of writer-director J.C. Chandor continues with this bleak morality play about a resolute family man (Oscar Isaac) attempting to build an honest company in the crooked world of home oil delivery. When his trucks are repeatedly hijacked, he must resist pressure from both his mob-daughter wife (Jessica Chastain) and his desperate business partner (Al Brooks) to adopt the violent practices of the business while simultaneously trying to save the biggest deal of his life. The story plays out in 1981 New York, a historical high point in the city’s crime statistics and against this backdrop, his determined decency seems at odds with everything around him and the plot hinges entirely on his ability to maintain an even keel. Chandor approaches this one as stoically as he did All is Lost, a 106 minute long film about a man alone on a sinking boat, and that’s saying something given the multitude of characters that we encounter here. However, because he approaches them consistently from the perspective of Isaac’s self-made man and because he is a lone island in troubled waters, the film evokes a heavy loneliness from the middle of the first act onwards. Shot in the flat lighting of the gritty 1970’s and 80’s New York crime thrillers, Chandor seamlessly conflates his film’s moody aesthetic with its central theme and then simply drops Isaac smack in the middle. The director clearly knew he had an actor who was up to the task. It’s a calm but powerful turn that maintains a razor sharp edge despite his character’s inherent inability to intimidate. That edge is no doubt tempered by Chastain’s spiky performance as the increasingly impatient other half who may take matters into her own hands at any minute and, to be fair, she supports the film substantially despite her character’s necessary marginalisation. Brooks puts in solid shift too and a host of lesser know actors fill out the rest of the cast with varying degrees of pathos and personality.
Chandor, Drama, 2014

78.3

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Town Without Pity
From the opening scene, we know we’re in for something special here as four inebriated and aggravated GI’s leave a bar to walk back to their base in the summer heat and Dmitri Tiomkin’s arresting title song (sung by Gene Pitney) erupts to fill every corner of our consciousness. In Town Without Pity, Kirk Douglas stars as a compassionate but tenacious defence council assigned to represent those same GIs as they’re tried for the rape of a sixteen year old girl which they committed on their way home that day. What unfolds is a mature, considered, and essential analysis of a cold hearted legal system which puts the victim of rape on trial in order to bring her “justice” and the veiled viciousness of the small townsfolk who use the trial to satiate their petty grievances. There’s no two ways about it, this film is damning and it needs to be. Every film which tackles this subject needs to be but few are. Douglas continues to chose his roles with intelligence and social conscience and he embodies the moral dillema which burns at the centre of such legal drama.
Rheinhardt, Drama, 1961

78.3

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The Fighter
The Fighter is a one of a kind film that shifts seamlessly between touching personal drama, wilful farce, exhilarating sporting action, and hysterical comedy and all the while remaining true to the rich characterisations at its core. Mark Walhberg stars as Micky Ward, the younger brother of a briefly famous Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale in sensational form), whose past exploits against Sugar Ray Robinson have become the stuff of local legend and the defining moment in the now crack addicted and failed pugilist’s career. Now Micky’s trainer, he’s quick to point out that the two brothers were very different in the ring and, as the playfully elegant documentary-like opening sequence demonstrates, they are very different outside it too. Despite their differences, there’s a deep bond that Dicky instinctively exploits along with their overbearing mother (Melissa Leo) as they mismanage Micky into one bad fight after another. That is until the younger brother’s new girlfriend (a typically strong Amy Adams) encourages him to stand up for himself. There’s so much going on here that it’s a testament to all involved the the movie glides so cohesively forward from one differently toned scene to another. An air of sharp comedy hangs over the film through the various characters’ combustible interactions but because of its perceptive portrayal of ordinary people there is, at its core, an honesty reminiscent of the best and most insightful dramas. Furthermore, much like that most untouchable of TV shows, The Sopranos, the realness of the characters and their dialogue acts as a tangible basis that allows their extraordinary experiences to thrill all the more especially during the boxing sequences. Combined with the assured energy of Russell’s direction, the film takes on a real verve and electricity from the viscerally shot fights to the soft and graceful subjective interactions. But while Russell gives this film its momentum, it’s the cast who gives it its substance. Being the very definition of an actor who can shine in the right role or bomb in the wrong one, Mark Walhberg is beaming here like never before. It’s not a soul scouring piece of acting like Bale’s but it’s a triumphantly weighted ‘roll with punches… until’ performance that parallels Micky’s outside and inside the ring personas in endearing manner. This is a protagonist who we care about. Bale does his not unusual piece of dramatic weight loss to play the “squirrelly” larger than life junkie but it’s his ability to expose the essence of the human being beneath in all manner of interesting and charming ways that grabs the attention here. He deservedly nabbed the Best Supporting Oscar for the turn but it’s his young De Niro-like energy that impresses most. Leo also scooped the Best Supporting gong for her fiery portrayal of the shrewd yet loving matriarch. It’s her and her motley crew of battle axe daughters that allow Russell to generate a fair bit of farcical relief and while the antics of the Ward/Eklund women can sometimes feel a little forced, they are terrifically funny when they get going. The real Dicky Eklund felt it wasn’t an accurate reflection of his mother and sisters and one suspects Leo and Co. added many more claws for comic as well as dramatic effect. If so, job done!
Russell, Drama, 2010

78.3

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Tootsie
Producer: “I’d like to make her a little more attractive. How far can you pull back?”, Cameraman: “How do you feel about Cleveland?”. Great comedy fare that hasn’t aged a day in terms of its humor. Dustin Hoffman stars as an out of work actor who in desperation for a job dresses up as a middle-aged woman and auditions for a part on a day-time soap, General Hospital. Hoffman is excellent as both the struggling actor and disguised woman and he’s surrounded by top pros such as Jessica Lange, Geena Davis, Charles Durning, and of course Bill Murray (in a rare minor role). Sydney Pollack proves a dab hand at the comedy and his timing and framing of the funnier moments is spot on. It all builds up to a cracking ending which has lost none of its comic punch over the years. “That is one nutty hospital”.
Pollack, Comedy, 1982

78.3

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Highlander
Great fantasy films are usually grounded in gripping concepts, the different elements of which usually drive the key scenes along the way. Highlander is case in point. The story is based on the idea of immortals living secretly among humans for centuries who battle each other through the ages until there is only one remaining. Christopher Lambert plays the 400 year old Highlander who becomes the subject of a police investigation after a man’s body is found decapitated. Gregory Widen’s script quite cleverly uses the progression of that investigation to present us with the uniqueness of the central premise and it is through the eyes of its forensic investigator, Brenda (Roxanne Hart), that we are tied into the story. To say that Russell Mulcachy’s direction is superb is to completely understate the case. The level of innovation he demonstrates in sewing this story together and the sense of pacing he shows in balancing the savage momentum of the battle sequences with the more pensive emotional scenes are the hallmarks of a truly great director and one is left wondering how he didn’t rise to the lofty heights this effort promised. Coming from the music video business, it’s no surprise that he builds the film around its sound and when that sound is largely provided by Michael Kamen and Queen that’s no bad thing. In fact, when combined with its excellent sound production, Highlander is not just one of the most uniquely looking films of the 80’s but also one of the most uniquely sounding films. Despite the muddling of who had what accent, the acting is first class with Lambert in top form and Sean Connery stealing the show as his ancient mentor. Clancy Brown is thoroughly menacing as one of the nastiest of all screen bad guys. The action is phenomenal and thanks to Mulcahy’s seminal direction is head and shoulders above anything delivered today. In fact, the training sequence would put most martial arts films to shame, such is its power and grace. There are too many highlights to mention but one to look out for is the scene where Brenda learns the truth about Lambert’s character. No “Oh, so he’s immortal then”. Just a dull refusal to accept and a seriously annoyed computer technician who (we are left to infer) thinks he’s the subject of a joke or doesn’t like what she has made him face. Immortal? Definitely!
Mulcachy, Fantasy, 1986

78.3

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A Fistful of Dollars
”You see my mule don’t like people laughin’. He gets the crazy idea that they’re laughin’ at him”. A Fistful of Dollars counts as the biggest breath of fresh air ever breathed into a film genre. At the time, the western had been dominant for so long and so many were carbon copies of each other that there had been a sense of overload. Sergio Leone’s film was nothing like these forerunners. For a starters it was more of a Western-Noir in that it focused on the darker characters of the wild west and served up a hero that whilst good in the relative sense was out for his own gain. On top of that, Leone’s use of wide close-ups and deep staging, the piercing sound of gunfire, and Ennio Morricone’s audacious score gave the film a defining sense of masculine grace. This first outing as the man with no name was closely based on Kurosawa’s masterpiece Yojimbo (which was itself inspired by John Ford’s westerns), and replaces the wandering samurai with the wandering gun-slinger who happens upon a small town run by two warring families and quickly begins to play both sides against the middle. Eastwood is electric as the quietly dangerous stranger and over the course of the film, he single-handedly defined the modern Hollywood hero and created an icon as he did so. Morricone’s score is fantastically unique although he was to outdo this score three more times in the western genre. Leone’s direction is utterly sublime and at the time, it was the most exciting thing the world had ever seen on screen. So impressive in fact, that it not only became the seed for the next generation of film-makers but it’s continuing to influence each new generation as it it emerges.
Leone, Western, 1964

78.2

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Across 110th Street
When three hoods rip off the Mafia in Harlem, the mob need to make an example of them so that they maintain their stranglehold on the borough and stop the local mobsters sensing weakness and moving in on them. At the same time, the police place a young black lieutenant in charge of the case and put the tough, seasoned, and cynical Captain Matelli’s nose out of joint by telling him to follow the younger man’s orders. To say the story is textured is to seriously understate the case. The three men who stage the heist are each sharply defined with their own personalities. Paul Benjamin is the intelligent mastermind who suffers from epilepsy and has taken all he can take from a life of poverty while the always lively Antonio Fargas is the self-styled player who is too loud to lie low. The mob enforcer sent to hunt them down is drawn around a fantastic conceit and he is played electrically by Anthony Franciosa. Plagued by self doubt and insecurity which is linked with a recent professional failure, he’s given one last chance to prove his worth because he happens to be the son-in-law of the don. This gives him a massive point to prove and he doesn’t hold back one bit when it comes to dealing with the Harlem mobsters who use every opportunity to challenge his fragile moxy. The more powerfully constructed subplot is undoubtedly Yaphet Kotto and Anthony Quinn’s combustible partnership as the young lieutenant and older captain. It’s a mature and sensitive thread to the story which sees Quinn turn in one of his finest and most touching performances. As the straight shooting cop with no tolerance for brutality or corruption, Kotto still manages to give his man real edge which allows the audience to believe all the more that he can swim these shark infested waters. As with most films in the exploitation bracket, Across 110th Street makes the most of its license to shock but it’s never in a hurry to get to the violence. Furthermore, in an impressive act of discipline and understanding, director Barry Shear obscures the audience’s direct view of the violence through one potent device or another and with no shortage of style either.
Shear, Crime, 1972

78.2

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Once Upon a Time in China
Epic martial arts adventure starring Jet Li as the famous warrior Wong Fei-Hung who becomes embroiled in the intrigue of foreign powers and local corruption as he attempts to protect his homeland and traditions from their destructive influence. The outright strength of this magnificent piece of cinema is the tapestry of plots and stories it weaves into the central narrative not to mention the chorus of martial artists that intermittently set the screen alight. The result is a sprawling extravaganza of martial art drama.
Hark, Martial Arts, 1991

78.2

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The Fog
Classic ghost story about a town which, on its hundred year anniversary, is visited by the spectre of a ship and its crew who were murdered by the town’s founders a century earlier. Carpenter’s perfectly paced chiller has yet to be matched in the sense of sinister momentum it generates from the first reel. The scares are actually basic enough but with Carpenter’s unorthodox and unsettling style and a variety of interesting characters on show the movie really does take on a life of its own and as such it’s compelling stuff. Jamie Lee Curtis does a good job alongside a host of Carpenter’s regulars and the very first “scream queen”, her mother Janet Leigh.
Carpenter, Horror, 1980

78.2

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Catch-22
One of the great anti-war statements, Mike Nichols film adaption of Joseph Heller’s acerbic and outlandish satire is a tour de force in every respect. Alan Arkin couldn’t have been better as bombardier Capt. Yossarian, whose attempts to avoid duty due to insanity runs afoul of a strange clause in airforce regulations. This film isn’t about story but rather the experience is creates and it how it touches on the reality of war in both heartfelt and hilarious ways. The performances are sterling and there is an array of talent on show as nearly every big name from that era features to excellent effect.
Nichols, Satire, 1970

78.2

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A Bridge Too Far
Richard Attenborough’s WWII epic gives a sprawling account of Montgomery’s overambitious Operation Market Garden. The film moves forward at a beautiful pace taking its time to develop each of the several main characters. The film eases between the various divisions and units that are responsible for leading the different elements of the attack and it’s a testament to Attenborough’s direction and William Goldman’s screenplay that it never loses the audience’s attention. The cast are too numerous to account for but like any good military campaign they all do their bit. The action scenes are sensational and on a scale rarely seen in even the biggest and most modern of films. In fact, in many ways this is a case of art imitating life as the logistics involved in the production of this film must have rivalled those that went into the actual battles themselves.
Attenborough, War, 1977

78.1

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Snatch
Take your average Coen Brother’s film with all its twists, turns, and overlapping story lines, make every character a stone cold hardshaw, and shoot it full of steroids. You get Snatch. Guy Richie’s follow up to Lock Stock about illegal boxing rackets, gypsies, stolen diamonds, and unkillable ex-KGB agents is a frenetic powerhouse of a film defined by charismatic performances (Pitt, Statham, Farina, and Alan Ford are particularly brilliant), a sensational soundtrack and score (kudos to that maestro John Murphy), supercool direction, tremendous sound production, and a razor sharp script that will keep you laughing throughout. The “greedy as a pig” speech in particular will have you on the floor.
Ritchie, G, Crime, 2000

78.1

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Prince of Darkness
Wildly original sci-fi horror from the master of atmosphere John Carpenter, this film approaches the subject of good vs evil from a scientific point of view. The result is a breath of fresh air for a tired genre and another opportunity for Carpenter to revisit the apocalyptic theme (this being the second of his trilogy on that theme). The cast are relatively unknown (though fans of the director will recognise many of his regulars) but they handle their parts well with nobody letting the side down. The special effects hold their own to this day and though some have questioned the use of a florescent green substance to represent the essence of evil it does tie in with the sci-fi angle that the film engages. There are some problems but in a low-budget film as ambitious as this where Carpenter is attempting to explore the philosophical overlap between religion and science yet also tell a scary story that was somewhat inevitable. Thus, in order to move the action along, the scientists were perhaps too quick to accept the supernatural explanation when they were there to offer an objective analysis in the first place. Furthermore, the characters were left relatively undeveloped and instead of seeing each of them behave differently to the threat (like in Carpenter’s The Thing) they all behaved rather robotically. Those issues aside, this film is a fresh take on an old story and combined with Carpenter’s talent for creating a skewed sense of reality the end result is a terrifically atmospheric horror vehicle.
Carpenter, Horror, 1987

78.1

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The Graduate
Mike Nichols’ iconic film is one of those rare gems that perfectly blends humour with serious character study. Whereas most comedies corrupt reality to generate laughs, the Graduate embraces it and in doing so exposes its inherent contradictions and natural absurdities. Dustin Hoffman plays the title character Benjamin, who becomes trapped in a malaise after graduation and instead of moving forward as everyone expects, he begins to regress. Ann Bancroft plays the infamous Mrs. Robinson who, drawn to his youth, takes advantage of his confusion for her own selfish purposes. However, Benjamin’s life is suddenly snapped into perspective with the arrival of Robinson’s daughter (Katherine Ross) and as the two of them grow closer, Mrs. Robinson’s desperation turns malevolent. Hoffman is brilliant in the lead role but his performance is complemented wonderfully by Bancroft’s. Ross scores well also with her comparatively smaller role. Nichols’ film is a totally original comedy that is flushed with symbolism and technical innovation. Despite the genuinely funny moments, it’s a very dark film that mocks the eternal search to fill life’s empty voids. Mirroring the inertia of Benjamin, it moves forward at a hypnotic pace thanks largely to Simon and Garfunkle’s seminal soundtrack which more than anything else captures the irony of this timeless masterpiece.
Nichols, Comedy, 1967

78

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True Romance
Tony Scott’s finest hour came when he purchased a young video store clerk’s script and executed it with much of the panache and dry wit that the same clerk would soon become renowned for. It tells the story of a geek-come-wild boy Christian Slater who falls in love with prostitute Patricia Arquette, kills her slightly deranged pimp, accidentally steals his cocaine, and then attempts to sell it to some rich Hollywood producer before the coke’s real owner, mob boss Christopher Walken, tracks him down with prejudice. True Romance quickly became a cult classic because it cut across genres with the same audacity as Reservoir Dogs did. Colourful characters posing hip monologues, an unlikely romance at the center that flavours the entire movie with an essential unreal vibe, and more fists and guns action than you can shake a stick at ensures that the entire caper is bags of unpredictable fun and looks a treat too. With the verve that Scott’s movies were always reaching for coming pre-loaded with Quentin Tarantino’s white hot script, the former commercial director softens his touch and lets the dialogue do the talking. Free from intrusive editing and over the top score, his consistently outstanding scene composition is finally given the room to breathe and the time to be appreciated. Smokey slats of light grace everything with a cosy noir-esque ambiance, perfectly backdropping the lyricism of Tarantino’s words and the enthusiastic performances that bring them to life.
Scott, T, Crime, 1993

78

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Arbitrage
Richard Gere stars as Robert Miller, the head of a family owned financial empire that is in the process of being acquired by a larger corporation. A delay in the signing of the contracts at the beginning of the film generates an early sense of unease even though there seems, at least outwardly, no cause for concern. As Miller goes about his business, the veil is slowly drawn back on a financial overextension which places him and the deal on a complicated timetable. It’s at this point that writer-director Nicholas Jarecki turns the screw and plunges Miller into a nightmare of compounded pressures. An auto accident involving him and his mistress, prompts him to flee the scene and leave the dead art dealer behind in the wreck. As the pressure for him to finalise the acquisition escalates, so does the inevitable criminal investigation which Miller is simply trying to stay ahead of. Loyalties are tested, contracts both financial and emotional are made and broken, and the perfect image of him and his family tarnishes. Critically for a purely dramatic thriller, Arbitrage establishes a series of layered tensions early on so the film has a low-key but rock solid momentum. The writing in these early stages is impeccably levelled so that the personal and business angles play off each other intuitively and not a scene is wasted. Gere reminds us what an accomplished lead he has always been. The good guy/self-server dichotomy that most find difficult to pull off has always been a staple of Gere’s and he continues to use it masterfully with every glance and half-smile. He is surrounded by a seriously impressive cast too. When it hits the fan, Jarecki doesn’t miss a beat either, and he keeps a steady hand on the proceedings. As such, the tension in Arbitrage feels very organic and brilliantly contained.
Jarecki, Thriller, 2012

78

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Blow Out
John Travolta stars as a B-movie sound man who while out one night recording stock sounds, ends up recording a car accident from which he rescues a young woman (Nancy Allen). When he tells the police that the accident sounded like it was preceded by a gun shot he gets told to keep it quiet and when he tries to go about proving it with his recording he inadvertently puts the girl’s life in danger. Blow Out opens with a delicious film-within-a-film bit as Travolta and his on-screen director are watching the dailies of their latest slasher film – which is so well lit and staged that you wouldn’t mind seeing the full feature. This sets a tone to the movie that persists throughout as Travolta uses the tools of movie making to elucidate the crime De Palma’s movie is built around. This gives the entire movie a kind of through-the-looking-glass feel as everything seems overtly cinematic and otherworldly. The lighting and production design are vividly captured and De Palma’s striking use of staging even in the quieter, more insignificant moments seems conspicuously relevant to the movie’s vibe. The characters too, in particular Allen’s ditsy female lead and John Lithgow’s creepy assassin, feel purposefully overblown. As is typical with De Palma, there are a host of dazzling set pieces (arguably more here than in any of his other movies) the best of which surely being that ingeniously crafted night-time sound recording scene.
De Palma, Thriller, 1981

78

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Night Moves
A solid and at times truly excellent thriller starring Gene Hackman as a struggling private detective who after finding out his wife is having an affair, takes on the job of tracking down and bringing home a rich woman’s runaway daughter (a young Melanie Griffith). Arthur Penn’s film tells a very low key yet thoroughly engaging story and he keeps just the right distance between the audience and main characters to subtly reel the former in. The plot is reasonably dramatic but the more interesting drama lies in between the lines and everyone from the director, to the writer Alan Sharp, to the outstanding cast do their bit to ensure it remains murky and ambiguous throughout. Penn’s brave decision to let this one play itself out was very much in keeping with that goal and the result is an unorthodox film-noir with a very unique feel. In many respects, there are two stories being told here and Sharp’s clever screenplay and Penn’s unwavering hand do well to keep them intertwined. The attempt to resolve both stories together may come across as a little rushed but the abrupt acceleration and deceleration of pace really grabs the attention and so Night Moves closes in memorable style.
Penn, Film-Noir, 1975

78

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Halloween
The teen slasher movie which (along with the earlier Black Christmas) defined the genre, sees Jamie Lee Curtis fleeing for her life against knife-wielding maniac Michael Myers. Donald Pleasence scores well as the psychiatrist who takes it upon himself to track down the escaped mental patient who he believes is an incarnation of pure evil. In this film, Carpenter expands on what Black Christmas gave us to establish the formula for most (if not all) of the 80’s slasher films but in reality those imitations never came close to the quality of this film. Carpenter was also intelligent enough than to give the horror a tint of the supernatural with the resulting ambiguity heightening the sense of terror. And not content with creating one of the all time great horror stories, he then also gave us one of the best and most distinctive scores of the genre.
Carpenter, Horror, 1978

77.9

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Juggernaut
When a terrorist calling himself “Juggernaut” threatens to blow up a luxurious ocean liner in the middle of a transatlantic journey, Scotland Yard and the ministry of defence mobilise a crack navy bomb disposal unit led by the indomitable Richard Harris. However, stormy seas makes their job difficult at every turn from their dangerous parachute landing to their touch and go efforts to disarm the multiple bombs hidden throughout the ship. Everything in this thriller is spot on the money. A generous amount of time is dedicated to the set up of the scenario with all sorts of interesting characters being introduced and embellished upon. When the ball starts rolling, it does so in seductive style as the arch villain’s phoned-in instructions are overlapped with images of the on-board efforts of the crew to follow and/or defeat them. The softly sinister voice of Juggernaut (and the procedural reactions it prompts within those on the other end of the line) establishes a wonderfully drawn out rhythm to the action that runs the course of the film right up until the climactic moment.
Lester, M., Thriller, 1974

77.9

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The Dam Busters
The Dam Busters gives us a dramatic account of the genesis and implementation of one of WWII’s more significant operations: the RAF’s destruction of Germany’s three most important dams upon which two thirds of their entire war machine relied. Such a premise would on its own be sufficiently dramatic to build a movie around but given the ingenuity in both engineering and flying that the mission required, its downright spine tingling. Michael Redgrave stars as the idiosyncratic scientist Barnes Wallis who believes he has come up with a means to circumventing the dams’ substantial defences by inventing a bouncing bomb. However, before he can hand it over to wing commander Guy Gibson (Richard Todd), who will have to train a squadron in a whole new kind of flying in order up drop it with the necessary precision, there are just the small matters of building the thing, working out the mathematics, and convincing the air ministry he’s not absolutely barking mad. With a midpoint shift from the Wallis’ ingenious efforts at the developmental stage to Gibson’s hair-raising attempts to specially train his elite squadron, to the wonderfully constructed and edited bombing mission at the climax, The Dam Busters stimulates on a range of levels. It’s therefore all the more remarkable how contained and modest this film feels. If only the dog had a different name (seriously)!
Anderson, War, 1955

77.9

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The Hidden Blade
Powerful feudal drama from a true master of modern cinema, Yôji Yamada. It follows Katagiri, a low ranked samurai as he balances his duty with the corrupt motives of his lord and his status as a samurai with his secret love for a lower caste woman. There’s always been a silent power to Yamada’s films (much as there was with Mizoguchi and Ozu’s work) and for obvious reasons this style seems a function of the Japanese way of life where the most stirring drama happens in the background. The technical qualities to this movie are particularly special. Isao Tomita’s score complements the tone of each scene in mesmerising fashion and though the film is not in any way a chambara built around sword-fights, there are two extended fight scenes and one lighting quick demonstration of skill that are as originally conceived as they are breathtaking. These sequences happen at just the right time and add tremendous emphasis to the emotional momentum of the story. Masatoshi Nagase is outstanding in the central role and is well supported by Takako Matsu as the love interest. They seem completely in tune with what Yamada is doing and add the final touch of class to this minor gem.
Yamada, Jidaigeki, 2004

77.9

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Frenzy
Hitchcock uncut is an interesting premise but such was the power of his earlier more censor friendly film’s that even with the added violence and nudity Frenzy is no more powerful than Psycho or Rope. That said Frenzy is up there with the aforementioned as being one of Hitchcock’s most disturbingly affecting. As usual it’s also populated with fascinating characters with a host of top English actors from the time playing them. Jon Finch heads the cast as a quick-tempered bar man who finds himself the police’s chief suspect in a series of grizzly crimes. Barry Foster is terrific as the wide boy self-labelled ladies man and Alec McGowan adds a comic touch as the detective in charge of the investigation. Frenzy is a tremendous psychological thriller that places a cold eye on killer and his motives but even without that added element it’s still a cracking popcorn thriller.
Hitchcock, Thriller, 1972

77.9

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Cruising
William Friedkin’s deeply psychological thriller about an undercover cop attempting to draw out a serial killer who operates in an underground homosexual sub-culture of S&M/leather is a bold piece of cinema and an enthralling watch. Al Pacino stars as the cop in question who spends his days and nights attempting to understand and infiltrate the closed community so that he can figure out who in this world of exhibitionism and hyper liberation he is looking for. The well timed yet fleeting interleaving of Paul Sorvino as his boss and Karen Allen as his girlfriend do enough to keep him grounded in his former life but each time he goes back undercover, he loses a bit of himself.
Friedkin, Thriller, 1980

77.8

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Warlock
Terrific western about the scared townsfolk of Warlock who unofficially hire a feared gunman and his disturbingly protective assistant to marshal a gang of cut throats. However, when a outlaw turned hero is formally instated as sheriff, the question of who’s in charge becomes a defining feature of the town’s battle with the outlaws. Some films work simply on the basis of their writing and there’s little doubt that the intriguing characterisation and dialogue on display here would probably make a success out of Warlock even if it didn’t possess a truly outstanding cast, all of whom, act their chaps off.
Dmytryk, Western, 1959

77.8

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To Live and Die in LA
William Peterson plays Chance, a risk-taking secret service agent who’ll stop at nothing to bring a master counterfeiter who killed his partner to justice, even if that means breaking the law himself. Willem Dafoe plays the counterfeiter in question and as usual he makes the character his own and in doing so gives us one of the more memorable movie villains from that era. Despite its glossy exterior, this is a gritty film that through both anti-hero and villain explores the darker side to crime, punishment, sex, and ego. The action scenes are hugely impressive with Friedkin almost outdoing his French Connection car chase with an even more reckless and equally well acted chase through the LA freeways. The film exudes a self-destructive vibe like few others and that scene is the focal point for such tension. The acting is brilliant with Peterson putting in his second best ever performance after Manhunter (some may argue his outright best). Of course, he is helped by a brilliant supporting cast including the likes of Dean Stockwell, John Turturro, and John Pankow as Chance’s nervous colleague.
Friedkin, Crime, 1985

77.8

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The Offence
Sidney Lumet is not a man you’d expect to direct a dark, psychological drama set in the north of England but the Offence is in many ways one his most brilliant films. Sean Connnery plays a hard case veteran detective whose most recent case has finally pushed him past his breaking point. This is a dark and disturbing exploration of a scarred and tormented psyche. Connery is superb in a role that shoulders most of the drama and together with Lumet’s gritty direction they slowly reel the audience into that psyche resulting in a fascinating yet deeply uncomfortable experience.
Lumet, Crime, 1972

77.8

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Animal House
John Landis’ genre defining screwball comedy about a good-for-nothing frat house that puts itself at odds with rival fraternities and their crusty old dean is 90 minutes of deranged fun. Whether it’s the horse in the dean’s office, Donald Sutherland’s brilliant cameo as the apathetic pot smoking professor or Bluto doing the human zit, the memorable characters and incidents of Animal House will leave you howling with laugher. Landis handles the whole thing with just the right amount of irreverence and none involved shy away from the more controversial aspects to the humour. Written by Harold Ramis (Second City TV) and starring the golden boy of Saturday Night Live John Belushi this one was never going to miss the mark. However, nobody could have foreseen what a phenomenon it became. If you’ve seen it before, see it again. If you’ve never seen it and you’re into carefree comedy that knows no bounds, don’t let another day go by without seeing it.
Landis, Comedy, 1978

77.8

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The Lost Boys
The film that redefined the vampire genre by blending the traditional mythology with the swagger and verve of Generation X. Two brothers move to Santa Carlo with their mother to make a fresh start only to fall afoul of a group of troublemaking bikers who have a penchant for sleeping upside down and drinking blood. Although it’s over twenty years old now, the Lost Boys has lost none of its coolness thanks chiefly to its terrific soundtrack. The actors were a who’s who of up-and-comers at that time and armed with the witty script they give the movie a refreshing vibe. Jason Patric and Corey Haim are great together as the brothers, Diane Wiest is (as always) excellent as the mother, while Keifer Sutherland chews the scenery as the charismatic leader of the vampire gang.
Schumacher, Horror, 1987

77.8

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Sudden Fear
This elegantly sculpted film-noir begins with successful playwright Joan Crawford being seduced by an unusually charismatic young actor in the form of Jack Palance. It’s not long before their courtship blossoms into a seemingly perfect marriage and in the process, transforming Crawford’s once uptight and stifled spinster into a love-struck romantic. That is until a fast and loose blond bombshell shows up from her husband’s past and in the midst of the inevitable and sultry affair, the two former lovers plot to kill the wealthy bride so they can claim her estate. Sudden Fear is classic noir territory. The film is full to the brim with psychological and emotional suspense as director David Miller sends the audience in all directions from early points in the film right up until the end. Crawford is in commanding form while playing a complicated lead. Palance is terrific and while his character is not as overtly tough as those he built his reputation on, his gold-digging manipulations are thick with menace. His devious partner is played with typical zeal by Gloria Grahame who fleshes out her own little sub-plot so well that she ably manages to hold her own with Crawford and Palance.
Miller, D, Film-Noir, 1952

77.8

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Heathers
Winona Ryder stars as a recent addition to the most popular school clique, who grows ever weary at the inane conventions of her new friends who are led by three preppy girls all named Heather. In steps Christian Slater, a proactive cynic whose extreme reactions to the superiority complexes of the chosen few are the source of the most shockingly funny moments in the history of the genre as well as the most interesting points Daniel Waters’ story has to make. Like all great black comedy and unlike so many recently failed attempts, the darkness in Heathers is effortless and so the comedy is visciously hilarious. Daniel Waters’ delicious script is driven by a playful yet unyielding focus that slices fantastically at the indulgence of the highschool movie genre and indeed society’s broader indulgence of the precious order that its middle class teenagers had so mercilessly forged in the 1980’s in particular.
Lehmann, Satire, 1988

77.7

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In the Line of Fire
Superb thriller in which an ageing secret service agent and former bodyguard to JFK is taunted by a skilled but unhinged assassin as he puts into practice his plan to kill the current President. Several factors contribute to the success of this movie, from the quality of its cast to the tense set pieces. However, chief among them is Jeff Maguire’s taut, often witty screenplay and Clint Eastwood’s central turn. Typically better in quieter roles, Eastwood shines her as the strict old pro with a wicked sense of humour. In fact, outside of Unforgiven (made only a year earlier), In the Line of Fire is arguably his strongest overall performance across his career. Full of smart ass charm and gnarly wiles, he sets the stage for a great showdown with nasty John Malkovich who revels in the role of the aggrieved assassin. A game of mental chess ensues, played out over the telephone wires and the trail of clues the latter intentionally and unintentionally leaves behind. Renne Russo as a bemused female agent and inevitable love interest and John Mahoney as the Director of the Secret Service bolster this central dynamic and several high tension sequences interspersed throughout offer balance to the verbal drama.
Petersen, Thriller, 1993

77.7

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Hotel Rwanda
A solid film but an utterly imperative synopsis of one of the most despicable atrocities in modern world history. The film tells the story through the actions of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who sheltered over a thousand Tutsi and Hutu refugees from the Hutu sanctioned genocide that decimated the Tutsi Rwandans in 1994. Hotel Rwanda is a stirring film that plays on the brain as much as the heart. Rusesabagina’s ability to curry favour with the bloated generals and officials of the corrupt regime, his intelligence in his day to day “handling” of those around him, and his all round dignity in the face of horror continually belie the disdain that the west has for his people. And it’s this disdain as much as the willful hatred rippling through his country that becomes the target of the film. Don Cheadle gives his character all the inner strength and sense that such a role required because, after all, he was playing a people more than a man. As the murderous fervour is whipped up through radio propaganda and political ineptitude, we witness his struggle to balance his fear for his family with his concern for his guests and his own personal terror. It’s a performance full of compassion and great discipline and it centres the entire picture. The background to the story is of course more complex than a two hour synopsis can do justice and there’s no doubt the invasion of Paul Kagame’s well oiled Tutsi resistance army gave the hate mongers a platform to whip up fear and resentment in the Hutu majority. However, Terry George’s film rightly aims it’s cross-hairs on the two guiltiest parties.
George, War, 2004

77.7

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Wild at Heart
Laura Dern plays a new age Dorothy named Lula who together with her recently paroled boyfriend Sailor Ripley heads out west and down their own yellow brick road where the madness and depravity of the adult world (powerfully embodied in her mother’s obsession with them) threatens to engulf them at every turn. Dern is sensationally good as the bright-eyed yet wounded heroine while Nicolas Cage is electric as the dualistic Sailor. Diane Ladd turns in an extraordinary Wicked Witch performance as Lula’s mother and Harry Dean Stanton is the usual safe pair of hands as her devoted servant. Wild at Heart is very much about duality. It’s complex yet simple, pessimistic yet optimistic, disturbing yet elating. The characters themselves are all either teetering on the brink of the two worlds or firmly implanted in one (usually the darker world). As is typical for Lynch’s films there are a host of weird and terrifying characters on show that keep everything off-kilter and they are played with relish by a host of scene-stealers.
Lynch, Romance, 1990

77.7

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Coherence
When a group of friends meet in one of their homes for a dinner party, a passing comet causes a power-cut which sets in motion a disturbing unravelling of their reality. Though further revealing of the plot will detract from the experience, suffice to say that loyalties are tested, relationships realigned, and soon everyone finds themselves doing things they never thought they were capable of – precisely because they are worried that they might be! If that doesn’t twist your melon enough, then sit down to the full 90 minutes and you’ll be suitably dizzy by the end. Made over five nights and on a shoestring budget, writer director James Ward Byrkit and his crew nonetheless manufacture an eerie psychological thriller, shot, cut, and produced to a rather plush standard. To that end, restricting the drama largely to the house in question was a crafty decision but, by generating a sense of claustrophobia, it also ends up augmenting the power of the movie’s premise.
Byrkit, Sci-Fi, 2013

77.6

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The Player
Lovely self-referential satire about a Hollywood executive (Tim Robbins) who accidentally murders a disgruntled writer who he believes is threatening his life. The movie references come thick and fast and the cast is a who’s who of 90’s Hollywood (with many playing themselves). The film is shot beautifully and indeed opens with a tasty tracking shot that is accompanied by the great Fred Ward talking about Welles’ opening to Touch of Evil. The Player is director Robert Altman’s not so subtle critique of an industry that has become more about test-screenings and political in-fighting than writing and integrity and the story he intricately weaves is perhaps the cleverest examination of that problem.
Altman, Satire, 1992

77.6

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Detective Story
Kirk Douglas puts in a tour de force performance as a morally conflicted detective who allows his near fanatical dedication to bringing criminals to justice to excuse his hard edged and even violent treatment of anyone even suspected of misdeeds. This wasn’t an easy role to pull off but Douglas handles it with ease as he keeps the audience both rooting for him and appalled at him in equal measure throughout. The assorted characters who make their way into his precinct during the course of the single day in which the drama is set are each fascinating in their own right and played perfectly by the ensemble cast. Robert Wyler and Philip Yordan’s screenplay is a treat while director William Wyler allows the tension to build up softly in the background giving the drama an increasingly taught feel which peaks right at the end.
Wyler, Crime, 1951

77.6

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The Dark Knight
Clocking in at almost two and a half hours, this film starts out at a reasonable pace and gets steadily faster never letting up for a second. The set pieces are bigger and better than Batman Begins, the script is tighter and the story is the most ambitious yet for any of the Batman films. In the previous films, Batman skirts the line that separates his good and dark sides. In this film he walks it as The Dark Knight attempts to shine a light on the concept of Batman. The result is an enthralling action thriller.
Nolan, Fantasy, 2008

77.5

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The Killing Fields
The Killing Fields tells the true story of Sydney Schanberg and Dith Pran’s reporting of the Khmer Rouge’s abominable “Year Zero”, when, under the leadership of tyrant Pol Pot, they attempted to purge Cambodia of its “decadent ideology” and stamp a political submissiveness into the consciousness of its population. They achieved this primarily by taking children from their parents, moulding them into vicious shock troops, and often placing them in charge of older more corrupted officers. The resulting brutal murder of two million civilians gave rise to the eponymous paddy fields where the bodies were discarded. The story naturally guarantees a level of power and captivation that few can rival but the starkness of Roland Joffé’s direction and the delicate manner in which he persistently contrasts the beauty of Cambodia’s countryside and people with the death and perverted ideologies of the Khmer Rouge is striking. Thanks to an interesting screenplay from Bruce Robinson, Sam Waterston is allowed flourish in a complex role and he hits just the right balance between righteous, self righteous, selfish and selfless. Dr. Haing S. Ngor, a real life survivor of the Khmer Rouge, is remarkable in his Oscar winning role of Pran, Schanberg’s loyal interpreter, who was sentenced to the death camps after he failed to escape with his western colleagues. The film feels extraordinarily authentic with the majority of it being shot in neighbouring Thailand but with the help of Mike Oldfield’s foreboding score, which pulses through the two hours and twenty minutes like a portend, Joffé still manages to phase much of the horror onto an otherworldly plane at crucial times.
Joffe, War, 1984

77.5

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Black Christmas
A sorority house is terrorised by an unseen maniac who escalates his strange and deeply disturbing phone calls to a series of gruesome murders. Director Bob Clark brings a heavy atmosphere to the movie and fashions some truly frightening sequences each more original than the next. Roy Moore’s mature script gives each of the characters just the right pitch and Olivia Hussey as the most serious of the young women and Margot Kidder as the most free-spirited do an excellent job in bringing the different moods to the script to life. Kier Dullea as the intense music scholar and John Saxon as the sheriff provide strong and interesting support and even though this is a darker and sterner slasher movie than the Halloween and post-Halloween species, there are some genuine moments of humour. That said, Black Christmas has been best remembered for its chill factor and in that respect it’s often (and with good reason) regarded as the very best of the genre.
Clark, Horror, 1974

77.5

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Appaloosa
Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen are the hired guns Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch, brought into the town of Appaloosa to offer protection from Jeremy Irons’ ruthless rancher Randall Bragg, who killed the last sheriff when the latter attempted to arrest two of his men for rape. Recalling the rich and intriguing relationship of Fonda and Quinn in 1959’s Warlock, Harris and his faithful companion are a thoughtful yet hardened pair of lawmen who live by the gun and wield it like it comes naturally. The film’s broader comprehension of life on the frontier is reflected at a personal level within their dynamic, the edges and corners of which being exposed only when Rene Zwellweger’s woman of questionable motives enters the fray and attempts to destabilise it. Plot comes to the fore here in wonderfully unobtrusive manner and it offers a circuitous and totally understated testing of marrow and allegiances alike. Gnarly old Lance Henriksen pops up as a notorious colleague from Cole’s past and matters come to a head in blistering showdown that ups the ante on where the Unforgiven left off.
Harris, Western, 1954

77.5

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Crime Wave
Another top class crime thriller from the annals noir, this one coming courtesy of maverick director André de Toth, who fought tooth and nail with Jack Warner so that Sterling Hayden could take on the role the latter wanted for a certain Humphrey Bogart. Hayden stars as the cynical detective on the tail of two escaped prisoners who are forcing an ex-con gone straight and his wife to help them in a bank robbery. Ted de Corsia is the brains of the nasty outfit, a young Charles Bronson is the volatile brawn and a host of other gnarly faces of the time (including an even spacier than usual Timothy Carey) provide the backup. Needless to say, Hayden chews the scenery about as much as does the toothpick sticking out his mouth in place of the cigarettes the doctor has banned. There’s rarely been a more grizzled character actor so well suited to gritty street noir but he tempers that nicely here with a veiled compassion for the two victims at the centre of the tale. Relatively unknown at the time, Gene Nelson and Phyllis Kirk are genuinely excellent as that couple and provide the perfect platform to connect both sides of the law. Crane Wilbur’s hard bitten screenplay simply oozes class and funnelled as it is through de Toth’s focused momentum, it gives the movie a palpable energy.
de Toth, Film-Noir, 1954

77.5

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The Big Clock
Ray Milland stars as George Stroud, an investigative journalist who specialises in tracking down felons who even the police can’t catch. He does this for Newsways magazine, the jewel in the crown of a news empire owned and ruled with an iron fist by Charles Laughton’s effete, cruel, and clock obsessed Earl Janoth. When Janoth learns his mistress has spent the night on the town with another man (whom unbeknownst to him is Stroud), he kills her in a fit of rage and with the help of his cold and clinical stooge (George Macready), begins a manhunt for the mystery man whom they intend to hang the murder on. And wouldn’t you know it, Stroud is the man they turn to lead the investigation. It’s undeniably a thrilling premise and director John Farrow and his charges know exactly how to get the best out of it. Writer Jonathan Latimer and Farrow tick the well balanced drama and action over briskly yet at all times intelligibly so that the audience finds themselves hanging on every revelation. This nervous tension permeates the film but never to the extent that we’re prevented from savouring the clever and meticulous actions of both the good and bad characters alike.
Farrow, Thriller, 1948

77.5

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Killer’s Kiss
An early Kubrick offering which is worth watching more for the way in which it was shot than for the story itself which is standard enough. Frank Silvera stars as a less than successful prize-fighter who comes to the rescue of his neighbour after she is attacked by her gangster boyfriend. Romance soon blossoms but danger too as the jealous gangster decides to get heavy handed. The story is noting we haven’t seen before (even for 1955, it had already been visited once or twice). However, Kubrick’s imaginative shooting of the film is remarkable considering it was only his second feature. The influence of Welles’ on Kubrick’s early career is clearly present in his use of shadow, wide lenses, and acute camera angles. The final 20 minutes make this one worth the watch alone as we see all the signs that this young director was going to become something very special.
Kubrick, Film-Noir, 1955

77.5

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Dirty Harry
As with many films that spawn an extended list of sequels, one might be tempted to conflates one’s opinion of Dirty Harry with one’s opinion of its sequels. Don Siegel most certainly aimed to make an entertaining thriller first and foremost but such was his power that he didn’t have to pull his punches while doing so. As such, we are treated to a much darker detective story that perhaps any other mainstream Hollywood film before or since. Clint Eastwood’s iconic hard-boiled Inspector Callaghan is not simply a tough guy with a mean temper. There’s genuine concern for the victims of the crimes he investigates but there’s also firm belief in natural justice that is at odds with the duties of his job. This sets the context for some truly suspenseful drama which peaks in two central scenes. One of them involves a school bus full of children. The other an empty football stadium and an ariel pull-back shot that combined with the grisliness of Eastwood at that moment represents one of the bravest and darkest scenes in any mainstream detective movie. Hats off to Siegel and Eastwood both.
Siegel, Crime, 1971

77.5

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Wolfen
Albert Finney is an uncompromising but intelligent New York detective who is charged with swiftly solving a high profile and savage murder of a wealthy property developer and his wife. However, the more he investigates, the weirder the case becomes and the more he suspects that wolves might actually be the culprit. Without giving too much away, it’s important to point out that this is not a werewolf film. Instead we are introduced to a rather fascinating concept of wolf-like animals which is tied up nicely with Native American folklore. The best part of the movie is undoubtedly the progression of Finney’s investigation and the entertaining rapport he shares with psychologist Diane Venora and coroner Gregory Hines. However, the sequences involving the wolves particularly the finale are genuinely impressive and somewhat gruesome.
Wadleigh, Horror, 1981

77.5

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Killer Joe
Emile Hirsch plays a small time white trash drug dealer who along with his layabout father Thomas Haden Church plots to do away with his mother so they can collect the insurance money. Included in the plan are his unusual sister (Juno Temple), his step mother (Gina Gershon), and the disturbing hitman they hire to do the job:- a moonlighting cop by the name of Killer Joe (Mathew McConaughey). The plot is both bizarre and intricate, a compelling combination to be sure, and with some delicious dialogue and a cast bang on song to breathe life into it, one might expect it to drive the film in typical noir fashion. But surprisingly, Friedkin chooses to use the plot as a mere background to the strange character dynamics and the sardonic tone that they set.
Friedkin, Crime, 2012

77.4

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French Connection II
”I’d rather be a lamp post in New York than the president of France”. One might have expected a sequel to perhaps the best ever crime thriller to be a substandard money spinner but John Frankenheimer’s taut crime movie is a worthy effort with much of the grittiness of the first film. It’s also more of a vehicle for Gene Hackman’s acting as the film centres much more on him and he is responsible for much of the English dialogue. It picks up some time after the first ended with Popeye Doyle arriving in Marseilles on the trail of Fernando Rey’s “Frog 1” and immediately begins butting heads with the local police. Watching the hard-edged Doyle trying to adapt to the local culture is entertaining and Hackman as usual gives everything he’s got but he outdoes himself in the darker scenes involving forced drug use and cold turkey. Frankenheimer was already an accomplished director and so he was well up to the task of Friedkin’s successor and he manages to evoke those same dark tones that the latter did in the first film. Don Ellis’ return as composer also helps matters here. Rey has less to do in this film and loses some of his mystique because on his home turf he’s just another crook but Bernard Fresson is excellent as the local detective whose job it is to shepherd Doyle during his stay.
Frankenheimer, Crime, 1975

77.4

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The Enforcer
The Enforcer opens as Humphrey Bogart’s district attorney is holding up with his federally protected witness on the eve of a big trial against a peculiar incarnation of the modern crime world. When the witness’ fear for his life escalates to panic, the unfortunate consequences force Bogart to go back to square one and retrace the investigation from the first day. As the first of many nesting doll flashbacks dissolves into frame, we pick up with a young hoodlum surrendering himself to the police for the murder of his girlfriend. As he recounts the incident, he slowly lifts the lid on a gruesomely methodical enterprise which had hitherto been incomprehensible to the early 1950’s law enforcement. A carefully orchestrated system of murder-for-hire run by a shadowy figure of the underworld who hands his orders out over the phone to his trusted lieutenant, Rico (Ted de Corsia). As we observe this system operate, we gain an intimate insight into everything from the disturbing manner in which they recruit more killers and assign the various jobs (the more recent sci-fi thriller Looper most certainly borrowed a few ideas here) to their chilling use of traditional business terminology such as “contracts”, “troops”, and “hits” to disguise their dirty work. It may be second nature to use these terms nowadays but hearing them used for “the first time” and listening to Rico explain their logic and derivation to his minions of hit-men is chilling business.
Walsh, Film-Noir, 1952

77.4

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Breach
The real life case of former FBI agent Robert Hanson who in the 1980’s and 90’s committed the most damaging acts of treason in American history on behalf of the Soviet Union. Breach is a pensively weighted thriller that offers a mature and unromantic angle on the subject of espionage. Delving equally into Hanson’s private and professional life as a means to laying the infrastructure of an explanation for his actions, the film offers a bleak examination of one disturbed man’s psyche and the toll it places on the young agent whom the bureau charges with reporting on his daily movements. Shot with a predominance of greys, blacks, and dark blues, director Billy Ray seems to go out of his way not only to capture the bleakness of the script but to also set as realistic and subjective a tone as possible. The drama is moved forward in an eminently patient manner so that the actors are entrusted with more responsibility than most dramatic thrillers. And when two of those actors are Chris Cooper and Laura Linney, that’s a safe bet. As one of the most talented actors of the last thirty years, Cooper produces a darkly textured performance on which the entire film hangs. Everything from the pacing to the set design seems to feed off the meticulous paranoia which he breathes into his character. He gets to the core of this complex personality by striking a believable balance between Hanson’s overt religiousness, his deep ridden insecurities, his hypocrisy, and his bitter contempt for what he sees as a lack of recognition in his career. Ryan Phillippe gives yet another impressive turn as the inexperienced and conflicted agent sent to spy on his movements while Linney helps to round off the central cast with her usual timing, insight, and overall professionalism. For an almost wholly dialogue driven film, Ray and Adam Mazer’s script is impressively lean. There’s little in the way of superfluous dialogue nor are there any token moments of action crowbarred into the story. At times, this integrity places too much of a drag on the film’s momentum but the acting always comes to the rescue. For this reason, Breach is not to be misinterpreted as a traditional spy thriller and those looking for as much will probably be disappointed. But for those looking for an affecting drama with the edge of espionage and Cold War machinations, then Breach makes for compelling viewing.
Ray, Thriller, 2007

77.4

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The Grifters
The Grifters is a darkly spun story about three confidence artists that borders on black comedy. John Cusack and Anjelica Huston play son and mother respectively who are both on the grift and both estranged from one another. Their paths cross when she is sent to Los Angeles to work one of the local tracks. This gives Cusack’s lady friend Annette Bening, herself a grifter, some ideas on running a scam of her own. The film is shot in traditional noir style with Stephen Frears directing and Martin Scorsese (who was originally down to direct) as producer. The dialogue is as sharp as you’d expect from a modern noir with shades of David Mamet’s style in places. Being a long-time fan of Jim Thompson’s novel, John Cusack is in fine form as the young con-man who is caught between two titans of the art who both use their experience and feminine wiles to pull him this way and that. Huston and Bening are utterly superb as said titans and Pat Hingle puts in a nasty turn as the overtly ridiculous Bobo Justus.
Frears, Film-Noir, 1990

77.4

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Blue Ruin
”No speeches, no talkin. You point the gun, you shoot the gun.” From simple ideas, great stories come and when in the hands of disciplined film makers, they can thrive on screen. With its spartan screenplay, understated performances, and strong direction, Blue Ruin is a case in point. Macon Blair puts in a strangely magnetic turn as a man left traumatised and homeless by the murder of his parents who returns to his hometown to exact revenge on their killer. Once done, he gets sucked into a war with the killer’s siblings which reveals an unconventional aptitude for (or at least commitment to) murder. A low profile support cast admirably fills out the rest of the movie but this one is all about Blair’s sympathetic lost soul performance and the stirring originality of the central premise – a man with nothing to lose who gives as good as he gets. There’s nothing very original about the plot but through Jeremy Saulnier slow-roll direction and his spare but thoughtful script, it plays out in remarkably authentic manner. Never dragging and laced with genuinely shocking moments, Blue Ruin grabs hold of its audience in much the same manner that Blood Simple did. Like that movie, it suffers on the sound production front but, again, as with Blood Simple, the unprocessed vibe that comes with such indie film-making seems to champion the film’s aversion to any romantic notions of vengeance. In its place, we get that rarest of flowers, a revenge movie that delivers on what it promises but with the balancing forces of compassion, maturity, and social commentary. It’s raw, it’s gritty, it’s powerful and it’s just so damn fresh that Blue Ruin becomes the type of satisfying experience that every now and then pops up to reinvigorate the medium.
Saulnier, Crime, 2013

77.4

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Nightmare Alley
A deeply fascinating examination of one man’s psychological descent amid twists of fate and self-fulfilling prophecies of doom. Stan (Tyrone Power) is a carnie with ambitions of setting up his own mind-reading act and making it big on the night club circuit. Before he can do this however, he must discoverer the secrets of the art from the woman he works for Zeena (Joan Blondell) and her alcoholic husband who have been running a sophisticated act for years. Despite him tantalising Zeena with the thoughts of making it big again, she ultimately refuses because she feels compelled to look after her spiraling husband. However, things take a drastic turn when Stan takes matters in to his own hands and although he eventually gets far more success than he originally thought possible, the consequences of how he got it ultimately begin to eat away at his mind. Nightmare Alley is a seductive and ultimately disturbing film that holds character study over the traditional need for plot. This makes it unpredictable and all the more refreshing. Power is perfect in the role of the intelligent but barely scrupulous Stan, while Blondell and Coleen Gray in the role of his wife are equally terrific. Jules Furthman’s adapted screenplay is intelligent and William Lindsay Greshem’s novel was clearly well researched in the art of the short con. However, the most impressive feature of Nightmare Alley is how, similar to Fritz Lang did in the earlier Scarlet Street, director Edmond Goulding forensically constructs Stan’s fall from grace with a sudden and brutal power. The result is a film not easily forgotten.
Goulding, Film-Noir, 1947

77.3

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Escape From Alcatraz
A far more pensive drama than one might expect from the Dirty Harry team of Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood. The film dramatises the real life events leading up to and including Frank Morris’ escape from the notorious prison. Siegel keeps a tight reign on every aspect of the film. The plot develops in a patient manner so that the sense of monotony and routine are sewn excellently into the background of the story. The dialogue is economical and even the fight scenes come across as routine and nothing more than mere happenstance. As the stern warden (a well cast Patrick McGoohan) points out: inmates of Akcatraz have nothing but time. Siegel is helped wonderfully in this exercise by Jerry Fielding’s subtle yet sinister score and of course the quieter films also suit Eastwood perfectly. He excels as the highly intelligent Morris who sees everything and never misses an opportunity to quietly get what he wants. The supporting cast are all in top form including the always excellent Fred Ward.
Siegel, Crime, 1979

77.3

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District 9
Neil Blomkamp’s surprise blockbuster makes strategic use of his home country’s recent history to construct an intelligent sci-fi with a modest political conscience. Beginning in documentary style, we are introduced to a Johannesburg that has for two decades been home to a million alien refugees who arrived in a mother ship that parked itself over the city on their arrival but has since remained stationary and unmovable. The “documentary” tells us that the “prawns”, as the native South Africans derogatorily call them, are considered to be a social menace and have been herded into a gigantic slum called “District 9”. It then introduces us to a beurocratic representative of an international company named Wikus, played by Sharlto Copley, who is heading up a massive government contracted operation to evict and move the aliens to a new site. The film stays in documentary format for a good 20 minutes before shifting to a more standard narrative which builds around Wikus’ exposure to an alien fluid and his subsequent metamorphosis into a human alien hybrid. Naturally, this makes him an attractive quantity to the shady company who hunt him down in an effort to develop their bio weapons programme and, in order to escape them, he flees to none other than District 9. Though a South African/New Zealand production, District 9 is very much a blockbuster of Hollywood proportions. That is to say – it is heavy on the action and special effects and places only a minor emphasis on the social message. But thankfully, its execution sets it apart from its Hollywood counterparts in that there’s far less slow motion action, tight angles, lightning editing, nor over the top scoring that plagues the latter kind of movies. The story too unfolds in atypical style and around a central character that is as far removed from a Hollywood hero as one could be. A meek low level management type with a discernibly racist attitude towards the “prawns” who gets around to the self sacrifice thing much later in the movie than usual. And Copley plays him well refusing to shy away from his weaker characteristics and keeping a lid on any redeemable qualities until absolutely necessary. That he carries the film in that manner is therefore fairly impressive. The only significant supporting characters are entirely CGI generated aliens who Wikus aligns himself with when hiding in the slums. That said, this father and son duo are colourfully fleshed out with enough endearing characteristics to successfully solicit the audience’s concern. The bad guys similarly are largely nondescript with the exception of David James’ nasty security chief. James is solid in the role though and he gives his army of mercenary types enough of a face to represent them. By some accounts, producer Peter Jackson gave Blomkamp $30 million to do whatever he wanted and given this was his first feature length film, it was a brave move. But it paid off as the South African belies his inexperience by maintaining tight control over what is an extraordinarily high concept movie.
Blomkamp, Science Fiction, 2009

77.3

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Miami Blues
”Now, I want you to sew my eyebrow back on.” George Armitage’s deeply quirky crime comedy stars Alec Baldwin as a recently released convict, Junior whose behaviour and personality borders between the enigmatic and the downright eccentric. Landing in Miami, he steals a suitcase full of clothes, kills a Hare Krishna, hooks up with a call girl (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to whom he is trying to hock the stolen clothes, and sets out on a campaign of mugging and armed robbery. However, it’s not long before a local homicide detective (the always brilliant Fred Ward) picks up his trail and the two enter into a compelling and completely unpredictable game of cat and mouse with each other. Miami Blues is one of the most difficult movies to pigeon-hole into one particular genre or another and that’s exactly what’s so damn refreshing about it. There’s some drama, there’s lots of crime, and there’s lots and lots of dark quirky comedy. Plot is almost entirely replaced by characterisation but it’s deeply intense characterisation. Junior’s bizarre personality seems to steer him unerringly from one insane encounter to another and Armitage makes no judgment one way or the other. The relationship which he strikes up with the call girl is wonderfully realised and Leigh sparkles in the role. Ward is utterly outstanding as the bewildered and highly sympathetic good guy and is as important to the film’s progression as Baldwin. That said, Baldwin is a force of nature in his role as he unleashes all his skewed and electric charisma. It’s a completely unique portrayal of a sociopath, that has rarely been equalled in its charm and indeed, its empathy for the character being played (as the final 20 minutes will attest to). It’s also a genuinely hilarious portrayal and the Tony Montana/Scarface scene alone with leave you howling with laughter. Miami Blues is a gutsy triumph of out-of-the-box writing, extremely sensible direction, and thunderously inspired acting. It has to seen to be believed or understood but once seen, you may find yourself going back for more.
Armitage, Crime, 1990

77.3

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Attack
Eddie Albert stars as a captain of a National Guard Infantry company ordered to take and hold a strategically important town from a regiment of SS. However, as he is only there to impress his powerful and overbearing father and has no stomach for battle, he has on numerous occasions let his men die by failing to move in and support besieged front line platoons which he sends in ahead of himself. Jack Palance is the caring but tough as steel Lieutenant Costa who decides he has had enough of his captain’s cowardice and promises to kill the captain if he fails to support his troops again. The premise is truly gripping as the tension is softly tightened with every passing skirmish, battle, and personal confrontation between the officers. Albert who himself was a decorated war hero showed an astonishing amount of bravery by throwing everything into his detestable character while also managing to reveal the damaged person underneath all his Captain Cooney’s pretense. It’s a wholly commendable performance that probably could only have been delivered by someone who had nothing left to prove in real life. Palance too was rarely better in an equally substantial and multifaceted performance. Lee Marvin offers some interesting and uncharacteristic support as the ambitious superior of both Costa and Albert whose politically motivated yet reckless promotion of the latter is what’s ultimately to blame for the decimation of the company.
Aldrich, War, 1956

77.3

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Scarlet Street
Edward G Robinson stars as the timid henpecked husband of a domineering wife who falls for a sultry Joan Bennett who together with her mean tempered boyfriend manipulate him into stealing money for her. This is a typically dark Fritz Lang film full of morally corrupt individuals but he really turns it on in that final sequence showing us all of the innovation that made Lang one of the greats.
Lang, Film-Noir, 1945

77.3

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Into the Night
Jeff Goldblum stars as an aerospace engineer suffering from insomnia, marital discord, and a general malaise. Michelle Pfeiifer is the confident and plucky damsel in distress who jumps into his car on lonely sleepless night only to see them both pursued by a peculiar group of foreign gangsters led by the director himself. Ron Koslow may have written this wonderfully off-kilter comedy thriller but make no mistake, it’s Landis’ world we are thrown into where the ride is as enjoyable as it is unique. The variety of peripheral and support characters is a treat to behold as are their various realisations at the hands of a brilliantly counter-intuitive cast of actors (David Bowie’s bizarre hit-man alone makes this one worth the watch). But paramount among the movie’s virtues is the foundation in which the plot is rooted.
Landis, Thriller, 1985

77.2

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Tremors
Kevin Bacon and the great Fred Ward play two down on their luck handy-men who yearn to escape the confines of the small desert town Perfection only to find their way blocked by some nasty giant underground worms who seem to lock in on the vibrations of anything that moves above the ground and then eat it. The creature effects are fantastic and like Carpenter’s The Thing they rely on innovative methods more than big budget technology. However, the major strength of any film where the threat goes mostly unseen must be in the chemistry between those actors we do see and this is where Tremors is a runaway success. The characters are all playfully drawn out and watching them zing off each other for the entire 90 mins is a hoot. Bacon and Ward are terrific together and form one of the better on-screen partnerships while Michael Gross and Finn Carter are just two of the excellent support players who do their bit.
Underwood, Horror, 1990

77.2

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Sixteen Candles
Effortlessly wacky comedy focusing on a high school teenager (Molly Ringwald) who turns 16 the day before her sister is getting married. However, the premise is really just a backdrop for a series of wild characters to crash parties and cars, and spout one immortal line after another. The scene set ups are utterly deranged and will live long in memory. Scenes such as the school bus journey, or where the heavily inebriated “geek” (Anthony Michael Hall in superb scene-stealing form) stops to put on his headgear before he passes out in the Rolls Royce he just crashed, or where Long Duk Dong jumps out of a tree shouting “Oohh, sexy girlfriend!”. This is Hughes’ finest hour and in the modern era when directors-for-hire are cynically trying to simulate quirkiness in order to project a false sense of freshness, Hughes’ film serves as a lesson from the past in authentic quirkiness. “You’re in a parking lot opposite my church”, “You own a church?”.
Hughes, Comedy, 1984

77.2

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Brute Force
Burt Lancaster’s brooding performance as a convict determined to escape a brutal prison is one his best. Brute Force is not your typical prison movie as it’s a far darker and grittier examination of the inner turmoil of the hard timer. Jules Dassin captures the oppressive feel of the prison environment wonderfully and there are some sumptuous shots littered throughout. Richard Brook’s screenplay is also a treat for the ears and along with Dassin’s ingenuity, it ties the back stories of the different characters together nicely. It all builds up to a real bang at the end which will have you on the edge of your seat. The cast are great one and all and in addition to Lancaster, Hume Cronyn’s against type turn as the sadistic prison screw deserves special mention. However, this film is really about the big man who yet again manages to effortlessly let every inch of his massive frame fill whatever room he’s in with a sense of explosive danger.
Dassin, Film-Noir, 1947

77.2

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Dune
David Lynch’s much maligned adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal novel has been criticised by lovers of the book (which, let’s face it, were never going to be easy to please) and those who seem to have a mind about as open as the vault door at Fort Knox. The epic story is one of political intrigue 8,000 years in the future between powerful houses fighting over a planet which holds the key to the most valuable natural resource in the universe. Kyle MacLachlan plays the prince of one of these houses who must realise his destiny on this strange planet and he is surrounded by a host of quirky performers. This film is unlike anything you have ever seen and the sheer breadth of its unfamiliarity will leave you disorientated and deeply uncomfortable. And of course, for a film set so far in the future that’s exactly the point. The one major criticism that is not levelled often enough against sci-fi films is their failure to give the viewer the impression that what they’re looking at is alien. Dune is a raging triumph of alienation and disorientation. Once you acclimatise to it, however, the film becomes a rather fascinating experience and while cheesy in places (often due to MacLachlan’s bright eyed naivety being dialled a tad high) for the most part, it plays out as extremely sophisticated sci-fi. Not for the feint willed, but if you’re a student of sci-fi in particular and film in general, Lynch’s Dune is a must see.
Lynch, Sci-Fi, 1984

77.1

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Red Rock West
It may have been forgotten over the years but John Dahl’s moody thriller is about as good as it gets. Back when he was one of the most interesting actors on the scene, Nicolas Cage took the lead role in this neo noir as a former marine drifting through the town of Red Rock when he gets mistaken for a hitman by a bar owner (J.T. Walsh) who wants to do away with his wife. (Laura Flynn Boyle). Broke and out of gas, he takes the money with the intention of warning the wife and leaving town but it’s not long before the real hitman shows up in the form of the not surprisingly unhinged Dennis Hopper. In a town straight out of a Coen Bros. film, Cage soon finds himself up to his neck in double crosses and murder to the point that you won’t know where he’s going to end up. Dahl’s soft atmospheric lighting sets an intuitive backdrop for all those unravelling plans and slippery loyalties. Cage is an outstanding rube with just enough about him to stay one step ahead of them while Flynn Boyle was born to play an out and out femme fatale. Walsh does what he always did so well though his nastiness is nicely tempered by a doubt and trepidation that his other villains were not often afforded. Of course, Hopper owns the screen when he’s sharing it but he doesn’t give us an undiluted lunatic. Like everyone else in Red Rock, he’s motivated by money and quite rational about how he’s going to get it. Sure, if he gets the squeeze his trigger all the better! There’s a luscious script beating at the heart of all the action infused with the outlaw romance of the west as Dahl and his brother Rick reveal a keen ear for the way people talk when in trouble. Red Rock West is what you get when all the ambitions are in the right place and everyone is clear on their role and tailor-made for the job. A thriller pure of focus and rich in theme.
Dahl, Thriller, 1993

77.1

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Miracle Mile
Obscure thriller from the vault of hidden gems that follows a love struck young musician on a frantic chase through LA after he gets an anonymous tipoff about an imminent nuclear attack. As he tracks down the girl of his dreams in order to evacuate her, he encounters one curious character after another under a series of hectic circumstances. Anthony Edwards is the everyman at the centre of things and he’s a ball of nervous energy and dorky charm. As he whisks us through a succession of bizarre episodes like wheeling his unconscious girlfriend in a trolley down the streets of nighttime LA, his unassuming presence keeps the madcap hijinks grounded in a kind of tilted reality. Steve De Jarnatt and DP Theo van de Sande are to be commended for bathing the entire aesthetic in a soft blue neon glow. LA looks every bit the fantasy world the story demands and it’s rather pleasing to behold too. Several other factors work towards a successful movie experience but none more effectively than Tangerine Dream’s intense electronic harmonies. It’s what we came to expect from them back in the day and like Sorcerer or Near Dark, they catch the movie in a current of unabated tension. There’s no doubting that Miracle Mile is a weird ride, kind of like John Landis’ Into the Night on mushrooms, but it’s also uniquely affecting and brimming with warped fun.
De Jarnatt, Sci-Fi, 1988

77.1

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Roger Dodger
”You drink that drink. Alcohol has been a social lubricant for thousands of years. What’d you think, you’re going to sit here tonight and reinvent the wheel?” Writer/director Dylan Kidd’s incisive indie drama about a cynical advertising executive who agrees to teach his young naive nephew to pick up women in the midst of his own personal crisis. The film opens with Roger dominating a conversation with his friends and colleagues by waxing lyrical about man’s encroaching obsolescence, a concern which quickly comes to symbolise his own perceived loss of utility. Roger is a self-motivated manipulator of people and while he talks a good game and is quick to point out other people’s failings he is simply recognising his own insecurities and weaknesses in those he targets. Campbell Scott gives a searing performance as the articulate, cruel, but not altogether heartless uncle. Jesse Eisenberg shows early on how good he is by simply managing to hold his own alongside Scott’s tour de force. Kidd’s script is intelligent and quietly cutting as it reveals a personality that is all too real. His hand-held camera and quick editing style gives the audience the sense that they’re peering in on the strange dynamic. However, the standout strengths are the clever script and in particular the acting which combine to make this a very unique and fascinating film.
Kidd, Drama, 2002

77

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Scrooged
Richard Donner’s take on the old Dickens’ fable is one of the great Christmas comedies and has Bill Murray is in blistering form as the cynical and uncaring TV executive Frank Cross who gets visited by three ghosts….well you know the rest. Typically, Murray’s roles are a lot less restrictive in terms of personality requirements allowing the comedy maestro to have a field day with improvisation. Although, a modern day Scrooge was always going to be a more proscriptive role, Murray still manages to improvise a whole raft of playful mannerisms and idiosyncratic personality dimensions that remain perfectly in line with the bad-ass Frank Cross. There isn’t a facial expression or eye-movement on Murray’s part that’s unintentional and the film is much the richer for it. The ghosts of Christmas past (David Johansen) and present (Carol Kane) are a riot while Karen Allen is great value as Cross’ old squeeze. This is one of the few comedies that doesn’t fade as it heads towards the end. Instead, it changes tac and becomes really quite uplifting – especially if you watch it on Christmas Eve.
Donner, Comedy, 1988

77

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Office Space
Mike Judge’s outstanding and totally original comedy stars Ron Livingston as an initially uptight office worker who is hypnotised into becoming an über-relaxed and happy-go-lucky individual, oblivious to his over-bearing girlfriend or ridiculous boss (played by a hysterical Gary Cole). Judge’s quirky sense of humour and style define the feel of this movie making it very enjoyable to watch. The way in which he captures the easy inertia of Livingston’s stress-free life is particularly funny and actually quite impressive as it really nails a state of mind many of us would deem ideal. Many of the set pieces have long since ascended into cult legend but the movie is mainly about the well written characters and the actors who play them. Livingston is superb in the lead role combining his innate likability with an insightful reading of the script. Jennifer Anniston is equally endearing as his ditsy love interest while David Herman is a hoot as the Michael Bolton hating guy named Michael Bolton (his stuck in traffic scene alone makes the film worth watching). Best of all though is Cole in a truly hilarious performance as the coffee mug carrying boss.
Judge, Comedy, 1999

77

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2010: The Year We Made Contact
Though on paper this counts as a sequel to Kubrick’s masterpiece, the film is better served if the audience treats it as a stand alone straight-shooting sci-fi. As the latter, this film stands up quite well compared to most space-based science-fiction. It tells a compelling story of a joint US-Soviet mission to Jupiter to investigate a strange mysterious monolith orbiting one of the planet’s moons that may or may not have caused a previous mission to fail and leave the derelict ship adrift. The fact that the new mission is taking place against a backdrop of political instability between the two super-powers strains diplomatic relations between the on-board astronauts and scientists resulting in a climate of distrust. Veteran sci-fi director Peter Hyams (he who gave us the excellent Outland) does a beautiful job with the look of the film (he also took on DP duties) and the special effects are striking even to this day. The acting is first rate with the always great Roy Scheider providing a strong lead and John Lithgow, Bob Balaban, and Helen Mirren all doing well in support. However, operating in the shadow of 2001 was never going to be easy and while Hyams is technically adept he (like everyone else) was never going to be able to match Kubrick in terms of his vision. His only real mistake was that he gave it a go and as a result we get a pretty ham-fisted message-laden ending which the film could’ve done without. Minus that ending, however, and this is an excellent film.
Hyams, Sci-Fi, 1984

77

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Lock, Stock, & Two Smokin Barrels
”No money, no weed. It’s all been replaced by a pile of corpses.” This thoroughly entertaining ‘geezer’ movie from debutant Gut Richie is an intricately woven tale of everything and anything that can go wrong when a collection of streetwise thieves, card-sharks, loan sharks, drug dealers, guys who knock off drug dealers, pub landlords, and butchers all cross paths with axes (literally) to grind. The direction is bold and innovative, the hysterical cockney dialogue is like gritty poetry, the story completely original, and the acting is uniformly excellent. Just remember “guns for show, knives for a pro”.
Ritchie, G, Crime, 1998

76.9

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Monsters
Writer director Gareth Edwards announced himself as a filmmaker of note with this subjective approach to the monster movie. Whereas most movies of this type sacrifice the personal drama at the expense of big budget monster carnage, his laudable independent feature takes entirely the opposite approach by making a highly personal drama about two lost souls who are thrown together in a near future Mexico which has been overrun with giant creatures from outer space (don’t worry, it works!). Scoot McNairy is a photographer who has made a living shooting the disaster left in the path of the creatures and Whitney Able is the daughter of his rich boss who, for her own reasons, has been hiding away in Mexico but now, at her father’s request, must return to the states under the care of his initially begrudging employee. But as the airports and ports close due to the encroaching monsters, the pair end up having to make their way through the infected zone and over the border. The monsters are kept very much on the periphery of the drama and there are no action set pieces in the traditional sense as Edwards chooses instead to use the unusual context to contrast and therefore accentuate the authenticity of the relationship that develops between the two characters. And in truth, he brings us remarkably close to them and keeps us intimately engaged with their struggle. Real life couple, McNairy and Able share a palpable chemistry but are excellent in all other respects too and, of course, this was crucial because we are only too happy to leave the monsters in the background and focus on the couple as they work out their own problems amidst their burgeoning friendship. The movie glides forward thanks to smoothness of their acting, Edwards equally intimate photography (he was DP too), and Jon Hopkins serenely cool score. The threat of the monsters helps ratchet the tension when needed but if the movie has a failing its that the danger never really materialises in the manner we are waiting for.
Edwards, Si-Fi, 2010

76.9

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Missing
Costa-Gavras’ gem of a film chronicles the true story of a political writer (played by John Shea) based in Chile during the revolutionary turmoil of the 1970’s who disappears after he is taken away by the military. The story follows the attempts of his wife (the wonderful Sissy Spacek) and his father (a sterling turn by Jack Lemmon) to find out where he is and what happened to him. Shea is fine if a little wooden but he is only really a support player as this movie is all about Lemmon and Spacek’s considerable performances and on-screen dynamic. Costa-Gavras structures the film superbly and bookends the film in a profoundly clever manner. All in all, Missing is a glowing testament to the quiet power of cinema and not to be missed if you like slow-burning political thrillers.
Costa-Gavras, Drama, 1982

76.9

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Unbreakable
M. Night Shyamalan’s next outing after the hugely successful The Sixth Sense caught many people off guard but a film that focused on the real life possibility that a superhero might exist proved an interesting project (this of course was a decade before cinemas were inundated with such films). The fact that he chose to tell only the first act of the typical superhero story (where the hero discovers he has super powers) proved even more interesting and it set the tone for some rather compelling drama. Shyamalan shoots many of the scenes as if they were straight out of a comic book and his use of mirrors and upside down shots to reflect the slightly skewed perspective on the world nicely complements the premise. He moves things forward quite slowly and the minimalistic dialogue would perhaps begin to grate if James Newton Howard’s beautiful score wasn’t tailored so perfectly to the pace of the film. Willis’s performance as the hero is hugely understated but fitting to the character he plays and Samuel L. Jackson is terrific as the mysterious comic aficionado. However, the acting is let down somewhat by Spencer Treat Clark as the really quite annoying son. This is a slow burner but the pay-off is fantastic as Shyamalan treats us to easily one of the most innovative and fascinating showdown scenes in the history of the superhero genre followed by a subtly interpretative ending.
Shyamalan, Fantasy, 2000

76.9

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Weird Science
”Not having a good time? Well, do you think they’re having a good time being catatonic in the closet?” “Weird” is not the word to describe this behemoth of movie madness. John Hughes’ seminal teen comedy is as purely and authentically eccentric as we’ve seen on screen and so it’s a testament to the genius behind it that so many moviegoers of all ages have still found it so irresistibly funny. Hughes regular Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith star as two dorky teenagers who program their computer to create the perfect woman (don’t ask) who once alive and kicking, promptly begins to give them a wild and madcap series of life lessons. There are too many standout moments to speak of but those involving Bill Paxton as Mitchell-Smith’s older brother are particularly memorable. Funny as Hall and Mitchell-Smith are, the star of the show is undoubtedly Kelly LeBrock as the mysterious woman who can bend reality to her will. She carries the barely graspable concept on her shoulders with a charming ease and improves every scene she’s in. Watch out too for a young Robert Downey Jr making a decent contribution to the comedy quotient.
Hughes, Comedy, 1985

76.9

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The China Syndrome
One of the great 70’s thrillers, the China Syndrome tells the story of a female reporter Kimberley Wells (Jane Fonda) struggling to gain the credit she deserves in a male dominated profession and who comes to believe that a local nuclear power plant is unsafe. Jack Lemmon (in an excellent performance) plays the nuclear engineer who himself is struggling to convince the bean-counters upstairs to shut the plant down until a costly inspection can be completed. Michael Douglas (who also produced the film) puts in a strong and charismatic supporting turn as Wells’ cameraman. The China Syndrome has all the paranoid intrigue of the great thrillers from its era and combined with a taut script and fine performances from all concerned, it remains to this day a fascinating and compelling watch. Director James Bridges also manages to use the proceedings to make some clever observations about the gender divide in the television industry of the time which may still have some relevance to this day. Interestingly, the film was released three weeks before the disaster at Three-Mile Island.
Bridges, Thriller, 1979

76.8

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