Thursday, May 15, 2008

Dust Forms Words 100 Must-See Movies: 31 to 40

31: Gladiator (2000)
Ridley Scott is a director who requires patience. He doesn't do anything quickly, his films are often frustratingly methodical, and his endings only give you the barest skeleton of catharsis. On the other hand, though, his best work handsomely rewards careful examination and can continue surprising long after the first watching.

Gladiator is to my mind Scott's best film. The tale of the fall and rise of General Maximus Decimus Meridius, played by Russell Crowe, is an epic journey ripe with fantastic cinematography and well-conceived iconography. Watch for the symbolic use of colour throughout the movie.

32: Jurassic Park (1993)
Prior to Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg's last film had been the apallingly bad Hook. With Jurassic Park it's almost like he wanted to prove he could still make family-friendly adventure before spending most of the next decade creating films about intolerance and slaughter.

Adapted from Michael Crichton's tale of techno-cloneosaurus suspense, it was an incredible success, taking $915 million and becoming at that time the highest-grossing film in history, beating Spielberg's own 1982 record for E.T. Sam Neill's performance as Dr Alan Grant is one of his best and the excellent musical score by John Williams remains one of the most memorable in film history.

33: The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
The Hudsucker Proxy is the creation of Joel and Ethan Coen, and like all their movies it's an ultimately unsatisfying shaggy dog story of epic proportions. But though the ending disappoints, the fun is in the journey, and The Hudsucker Proxy is indeed a remarkably fun film.

Tim Robbins plays Norville Barnes, an inventor who by a chain of unlikely events becomes proxy president of megacorporation Hudsucker Industries. The story is co-written by Sam Raimi, and it shows, from a host of fast-talking characters down to a plot driven by an unending string of impossible coincidences. It's visually compelling, regularly funny, and ultimately one of the Coens' more entertaining and acessible movies.

34: Spellbound (1945)
Spellbound is another Alfred Hitchcock film but here it's not the director who sells the movie but rather its principal actors. Ingrid Bergman shines as psychoanalyst Dr Constance Petersen, and plays opposite Gregory Peck as Anthony Edwardes, a doctor with a mysterious and troubled past. The two leads are cinematic gold, and provide the dynamism that moves this psychological thriller inexorably forward through its engaging plot.

Spellbound notoriously features a striking dream sequence conceived by surrealist Salvador Dali. Originally much longer, this scene was cut at the request of producer David Selznick, and the removed Dali footage has since been lost to history. The film is also notable for an eerie score that relies heavily on the theremin, an instrument at that stage rarely used in cinema.

35: Labyrinth (1986)
So popular is Labyrinth that it needs practically no introduction. Every aspect of this film sparkles, from the iconic David Bowie soundtrack to the wonderful Brian Froud goblin designs. Bowie is excellent as the Goblin King, and while Jennifer Connolly's acting was never going to win any awards it perfect suits the film's fairy-tale logic.

The 80s was a decade blessed with excellent children's fantasy, and Labyrinth still stands strong even compared to contemporaries such as The Princess Bride and The Neverending Story. Its particular magic is one-of-a-kind and has never been repeated despite depressingly regular attempts.

36: The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The Blair Witch Project often takes some abuse for its fragmented storyline, irritating characters and unsatisfying ending, but to make these criticisms I think is to underappreciate just how unique and revolutionary the film really was. Set in and around the Maryland town of "Burkittsville, formerly Blair", The Blair Witch Project claims (falsely) to consist of real film footage taken by amateur filmmakers who subsequently vanished under mysterious circumstances. In reality the film is entirely fiction, was shot on a budget of $27,000 and went on to take $248 million worldwide.

The phenomenal success of the movie took everyone concerned by surprise; it appears that much of the film's publicity arose from a grass-roots internet campaign, a feat never really repeated despite many, many tries. This unconventional path to profit opened a lot of doors for other indie filmmakers, and the movie's cinema verite outlook and shot-on-handicam aesthetic have become iconic and regularly imitated techniques.

37: The Last Detail (1973)
The Last Detail is a powerful film by Hal Ashby, whose earlier work included cult hit Harold and Maude. Jack Nicholson and Otis Young are sailors assigned to escort a young sailor convicted of theft to Naval Prison. Knowing that their prisoner is going to lose his childhood in jail, the sailors take it upon themselves to see that his last days of freedom are eye-opening ones.

Nicholson as always delivers a fantastic performance. The film succeeds by regularly juxtaposing rousing comedy with the bleakness of the prisoner's situation, and the ending remains one of cinema's most powerful scenes.

38: Dr Strangelove, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964)
Stanley Kubrick was many things, but he was not often funny. It's like he saved up all his humour and used it on one film, that being his disturbingly hilarious Cold War satire Dr Strangelove. Starring Peter Sellers, George C Scott and Slim Pickens, it tells the tale of a potential nuclear holocaust set loose by an insane nuclear base commander.

It's a film of contradictions, combining bleak and apocalyptic scenarios with side-splittingly insightful one-liners. ("Gentlemen, you can't fight in here - this is the War Room!) Sellers plays multiple roles to great effect, acting as an embattled British Group Captain, the American President, and the titular ex-Nazi, Dr Strangelove.

39: V for Vendetta (2006)
Based on an Alan Moore comic and disavowed by Alan Moore himself, V for Vendetta remains a controversial film. The screenplay was written by the Wachowski Brothers, who also produced, but the actual directing was ably handled by James McTeigue.

Featuring a strong performance by Natalie Portman, the film defied the expectations of 2006 audiences by telling a story that was strongly pro-anarchic and advocated terrorism as a valid method of political expression. Controversy aside, it was undeniably an incredibly clever movie, combining much of Alan Moore's dramatic original concept with a strongly visual cinematic slant.

40: Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Quentin Tarantino's first film remains one of his best; Reservoir Dogs is a film that thinks it's a stageplay, with almost all the action collected on a handful of sets. The plot, which deals with the aftermath of a failed bank heist, is driven mostly by dialogue, with a short set of flashback vignettes underscoring the proceedings.

The performances by Tim Roth and Harvey Keitel are career highlights. The soundtrack, in keeping with Tarantino's subsequent movies, features mostly tracks from the 1970s, including memorable scenes set to Little Green Bag and Stuck In The Middle With You. The tightly-focused story makes for a relentless and attention-grabbing film that remains a high point in crime cinema.


David Cake said...

like all their movies it's an ultimately unsatisfying shaggy dog story of epic proportions

Surely some mistake? That description applies to several of their movies, sure, but I can't see how that description remotely fits, say, Blood Simple or Fargo.

Greg Tannahill said...

I'll confess to not having seen Blood Simple but in my opinion Fargo is the worst of the lot. Despite two viewings I still can't find whatever it is in that movie that other people enjoy; it's a rambling poorly-paced mishmash that fails to find either a theme or a plot to knit it together.

Grant said...

I can't stand Fargo, nor many recent Coen Bros films, but they get lots and lots of bonus points for Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink and O Brother.

Gladiator ain't got nothing on the director's cut of Kingdom of Heaven.

Greg Tannahill said...

O Brother is yet to come on my list.

"Ain't got nothing" in the sense of "is nowhere near as long winded as" or "is nowhere near as good as"?