Friday, May 16, 2008

Dust Forms Words 100 Must-See Movies: 51 to 60

51: Seven (1995)
Seven is simultaneously a disturbing serial-killer mystery and a classic buddy film. It contains frequent homages to its source genres, including an extensive opening sequence that parallels the start of Lethal Weapon, but it ultimately oustrips its origins to rise as one of the best movies of its kind ever made.

Morgan Freeman plays a methodical and intellectual police officer on the edge of a lonely retirement, while Brad Pitt is the cocky and impatient new guy brought in to replace him. Over the course of Freeman's last seven days on the force, the pair investigate a series of ritualistic murders themed around the seven deadly sins. Director David Finchner skilfully creates not only the film's key characters, but also the grimly gothic city which they police. With the aid of fantastic performances from the leads as well as supporting actors Kevin Spacey and Gwyneth Paltrow, the movie builds beautifully and powerfully towards an uncompromisingly bleak finale.

52: Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)
Mike Myers has made a massive one-man contribution to popular culture over the course of his film career, but his best movie remains the first of his Austin Powers titles. His satirical look at a Bond-esque super-spy taken out of his 1960s context and placed in today's globalised world is still amusing more than ten years after its release.

The film's moments of spot-on hilarity overcome its occasional descents into painfulness, something that unfortunately can't be said as easily for the sequels. Highlights include Myers' portrayal of mad genius Dr Evil, Seth Green in the role of Evil's disaffected son Scott, and the memorable Austin Powers theme tune.

53: Sympathy for Mr Vengeance (2002)
The first film in Park Chan-wook's loosely connected Vengeance Trilogy, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance is an unrelentingly miserable and forcefully gripping tale of a kidnapping gone terribly wrong. Each and every character evokes the audience's pity and commands their respect, before going on to their horrible, horrible fates.

This is an unremittingly depressing film, but so mesmerisingly well told that you won't be able to look away for a second. Park Chan-wook uses unique and beautiful wide-angle cinematography to frame the action, which makes the non-stop tragedy all the more poignant.

54: Strange Days (1995)
Kathryn Bigelow's cyberpunk thriller Strange Days is a kind of Crash-meets-Johnny Mnemonic. Set in the closing days of the 20th century, the film follows a dealer of "recorded memories" who comes into possession of snuff tapes recorded from the perspective of the killer. As he investigates the origin of these tapes he finds himself drawn into escalating Los Angeles race tensions and the murder of a prominent black recording artist by the LA police.

Ralph Fiennes plays the lead role in a story by James Cameron. The film never becomes B-grade yet refuses to conform to the expectations of a Hollywood blockbuster. The science-fiction is almost completely incidental to the plot; the whole film could have been placed in a contemporary setting with only minor changes. Strange Days is an odd yet memorable film and one of those few titles that does cyberpunk well.

55: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001 - 2003)
It's impossible to not take these films as a single narrative unit. They're the best fantasy feature films of all time; they're the best book adapatations; they elevate special effects, costume design and artistic vision to new heights; and they're damn entertaining to watch.

These are the films that raised the bar for genre cinema. Director Peter Jackson deftly interweaves action, drama, and comedy to create a satisfying epic to please all audiences. The trilogy is visually appealing from beginning to end and manages to maintain an enjoyable pace despite the regularly rambling nature of the books it was drawn from. This is how big-budget fantasy should be made.

56: Wild Things (1998)
This is a movie that would perhaps not have made it to a list of the 100 Greatest Movies Of All Time; but if we're talking must-see then it easily earns its spot. Wild Things starts out as a sexually-charged but nevertheless fairly mundane thriller. Gratuitous bisexuality involving female leads Denise Richards and Neve Campbell keeps the plot moving forward but for most of its running time the film appears to be strictly B-grade.

It's in the third act that Wild Things justifies itself. Revelation after revelation starts to come forward, and in amongst the frantically unravelling plot twists the audience is reminded that Neve Campbell, is, in fact, a rather good actor. A stunning ending caps the proceedings. Wild Things is one of the best movies that nobody saw.

57: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Eternal Sunshine is from director Michel Gondry, who no one much cares about, but more importantly is scripted by Charlie Kaufman, the genius who wrote Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. It tells the tale of a revolutionary new technology which can erase memories. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett play two lovers; after a bad break-up, Winslett has her memory erased to no longer remember Carrey or her relationship with him. Distraught, Carrey requests the same procedure, but as his memories begin to vanish he changes his mind and must fight to hold on to his cherished experiences.

The film is remarkably transcendental; Kaufman approaches the issues in the story with a clarity and lack of self-doubt that his earlier scripts lack. Carrey and Winslett both deliver strong performances, and the supporting cast do well enough, but the real star is the writing, which sparkles from beginning to fantastic end.

58: Paths of Glory (1957)
Another of Stanley Kubrick's early films, Paths of Glory is a World War I courtroom drama starrinng Kirk Douglas. Douglas plays Colonel Dax, officer and lawyer. When men under his command refuse to obey an order to commit a suicidal charge, they face court-martial and execution. Dax attempts their defence with every odd stacked against him.

Grim, moving, and powerfully anti-war, Paths of Glory is an excellent film that gives Kirk Douglas a fertile setting in which to show off his acting skills. Less aggressively quirky than many of Kubrick's later films, it is easy to recommend regardless of your other experiences with this director.

59: Empire Records (1995)
If there is any director who has managed to capture and repeat the magic of John Hughes' teen movies, it is Allan Moyle. After his success with Pump Up The Volume, Moyle went on to make what is essentially a "film about nothing" with Empire Records. Equal parts The Breakfast Club and Clerks, the film follows the lives and loves of young employees at Empire Records over the last 24 hours before the store sells out to a major chain.

Driven by an amusingly mid-90s soundtrack and scene-stealing parts by Renee Zellweger, Liv Tyler, and Rory Cochrane, Empire Records did poorly at the box office but enjoys a continuing cult fandom today.

60: O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000)
O Brother Where Art Thou? is yet another shaggy-dog story from the Coen Brothers, which once again balances an antclimactic ending against a thoroughly amusing lead-up. Set in the 1930s, the film follows the journey of three escapees from a chain-gang as they try to make their way home and uncover a buried treasure. The plot loosely follows that of Homer's Odyssey.

George Clooney takes the lead role as Ulysses Everett McGill and provides most of the film's life and spark. The 1930s setting is reinforced by constant Depression-era folk music, and a sepia tinge on the visuals which results from the colour-correction of the entire film. Some beautiful set-pieces including a meeting with a blind prophet, a baptism, and an encounter with sirens.


1minutefilmreview said...

Nice selection of films Greg!

Phrancq said...

Ah, Kaufman. I applaud your ability to write some of the worst movies of all time. I do admit that all films written by him are must see, in the same way that it's good for people to see horrible things.

Greg Tannahill said...

You're only saying that because you have brain weevils. Brain weevils with bad taste. The man is one of the best scriptwriters living today.