Friday, May 16, 2008

Dust Forms Words 100 Must-See Movies: 41 to 50

41: The Wizard of Oz (1939)
One of the most well-loved films of all time, The Wizard of Oz is an excellently realised fantasy, made all the more amazing given its early place in the history of film. It's an unusual film in that, despite making a modest profit at the 1939 box office, its real success only began in the 1960s when its annual showing on American television became a cultural institution.

Memorable elements of the film include the Oscar-winning musical score, the transition from sepia to Technicolor, and the Wicked Witch of the West, who has become one of the most celebrated and iconic villains of cinema history.

42: William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet (1996)
This is Baz Luhrmann's second film, and it sits neatly between the low-budget charm of Strictly Ballroom and the over-the-top farce of Moulin Rouge. It's a film that excels on almost every level, starting with some of the most inspired editing ever seen on screen and extending to the first-class soundtrack, amazing set and costume design, and visionary adaptation of what in all fairness is some very difficult source material.

Taking Shakespeare's original language and setting it against a modern background is an often-attempted feat but rarely has it been carried off as cleverly and thoroughly as it is here. It's unfortunately the film that launched the careers of Leonardo di Caprio and Claire Danes, both of whom would take a good five to six years before they became remotely watchable, but nevertheless this is a film that transcends its origins to become something genuinely and unforgettably special.

43: Gojira (Godzilla) (1954)
Forget the rubber-suit shenanigans and ham-fisted westernisations that came afterwards. The original Japanese Godzilla is a cinematic icon for a reason. This isn't a film about giant dinosaurs - it's a movie about the Japanese experience of World War II. It's a film about an implacable, unstoppable, radioactive enemy that rises from the Pacific Ocean with a voice that sounds like air-raid sirens and systematically lays waste to entire Japanese cities.

It's science-fiction in a tradition often neglected in modern cinema, where the alien aggressor acts as an allegory for a real-world concept. Godzilla's attack serves as a centrepiece around which the characters discuss war and peace, duty and tradition, and the development of superweapons more deadly than the foe they defeat. An undeniably exceptional film that deserves your attention.

44: Fight Club (1999)
If I'd been ranking these hundred films in order there's a very good chance that I would have put Fight Club at the top. It's an almost perfect movie in every regard, exploring male identity after the death of the nuclear family, wrapped in the guise of a psychological action-thriller. It's an adaption of Chuck Palahniuk's disturbing novel, keeping much of the unique narrative voice intact while nevertheless rendering a visual experience that wrings every last drop of blood from the cinematic stone.

Edward Norton is great in every movie he touches, but this is still a stand-out role. He plays opposite Brad Pitt, who gives probably the best perfomance of his career. The editing is tight, the plot strikes just the right balance between subtlety and exposition, the dialogue is filled with great lines, and the whole thing is driven by a pounding industrial soundtrack by the Dust Brothers. The film slows down annoyingly in the third act after the reveal, but that's really the only criticism available of this stunning piece of cinema. Director David Finchner has never hit this height before or since.

45: Brazil (1985)
Terry Gilliam's directing career is a chequered thing. He's the man responsible for the terminally offensive Brothers Grimm and the average-at-best Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. But he's also the person who gave us 12 Monkeys and the excellent Brazil.

Brazil tells the dystopian tale of Sam Lowry, a man trapped in an totalitarian and monolithic bureaucracy, and his struggle to understand his life, his dreams and his reality. Terry Gilliam described it as "1984 for 1984". Like most Gilliam films, the quirky design aesthetic of the film will stay with you long after the film itself.

46: Amistad (1997)
In between Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg made "that other film". The film in question is Amistad, and it's one of his best works. It's a 19th century courtroom drama about a group of Africans aboard the slave ship Amistad who mutiny against their enslavers. What begins as a local legal battle eventually becomes a turning point for a nation on the brink of civil war.

Spielberg's genius in Amistad is in delivering a tight character drama focusing on Matthew McConaughey as the crusading defence lawyer and Morgan Freeman as his black translator, while simultaneously making the story part of something larger and enshrining it in its historical context. Fascinating subject matter based on real events combines with a strong delivery to make a first-class film.

47: The Breakfast Club (1985)
John Hughes' coming of age drama-comedy The Breakfast Club is one of the defining movies of the 80s. Centred on five teenagers sharing a Saturday morning detention, it takes an understated look at teen angst and individuality in the context of a fun and mostly lighthearted film.

The Breakfast Club is mostly made by its stars; Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy and Emilio Estevez all give signature performances as the teenagers. Much of the fondness with which those actors are remembered today originates in The Breakfast Club. The low-key catharthis on offer here is rarely attempted in today's market, and few imitators succeed as thoroughly as this movie.

48: Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright are screenwriting geniuses. Even before you get to their sense of humour, they excel at putting together a tightly structured story where every set-up has a well-timed payoff, and vice versa. The fact that they are also hilariously funny is just the icing on the cake.

The story focuses on Shaun Riley's attempts to reconcile with his girlfriend, relate to his parents, and help his annoying mate to finally grow up, all to the background of a zombie apocalypse. It's comedy which is smart, satisfying and very British, plus it's almost accidentally one of the best zombie movies ever made.

49: High Society (1956)
High Society is a musical adaptation of the also-excellent 1940 romantic comedy The Philadelphia Story. It stars Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, with soon-to-be-princess Grace Kelly ably stepping into the intimidating shoes of Katharine Hepburn.

The suave charm of Sinatra and Crosby is almost enough to sell the movie by itself, but when you add in a fantastic Cole Porter musical score and some hilariously outrageous dialogue, along with strong supporting performances by the likes of Louis Armstrong, this becomes a very special film indeed, and one not to be ignored.

50: The Matrix (1999)
The sequels may have been disappointing, but The Matrix is still an amazing film. It served to update and reinvigorate cyberpunk for a new audience, while simultaneously developing a range of innovative new special effects including the now terminally overused "bullet time".

Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus and Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith create two of the most iconic roles in science fiction, while the "digital rain" effect of Latin and Japanese characters scrolling vertically down the screen has become a staple of popular culture. The film also helped popularise Australia as a viable location for the filming of big-budget cinema,

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