Friday, May 16, 2008

Dust Forms Words 100 Must-See Movies: 61 to 70

61: The Exorcist (1973)
William Friedkin's adaptation of The Exorcist is one of the best and most significant horror movies ever filmed. The plot deals with the possession of 12-year-old Regan MacNeill by an evil force, the reaction to that event by her mother, and the subsequent attempted exorcism. The Exorcist is very much in the vein of Roman Polanski's earlier film Rosemary's Baby but where that movie was really more psychological thriller than horror film, The Exorcist is definitely out to shock and scare.

Linda Blair in the role of Regan is forcefully unsettling, and at release the film traumatised many audiences both with its confronting and arguably blasphemous content, and with its regular superimposition of demonic faces onto the screen at near-subliminal speeds. Two theatrical versions exist - the original cut, and an extended "version you've never seen". Personally I feel the latter is by far the better but some fans prefer the more concise original; watch them both and make up your own mind.

62: Bugsy Malone (1976)
A 1930s gangster musical with all the roles played by children? It sounds like a recipe for disaster but somehow became one of the most lovable movies ever produced for the big screen. An itsy-bitsy Scott Baio plays Bugsy, a two-bit boxing promoter who gets fast-talked into working for mob boss Fat Sam. When gang war breaks out between Fat Sam and Dandy Dan, Bugsy is caught in the middle, while at the same time he strives to win the affections of girl-next-door Blousey Brown.

The majority of the child cast is good, but 15-year-old Jodie Foster as the sultry Tallulah blows her co-stars out of the water. The musical score is catchy and poignantly delivered, and the script is sharp and peppered with well-honed jokes. Watch out for cameos from pint-sized versions of Press Gang's Dexter Fletcher and Doctor Who's Bonnie Langford.

63: Ocean's Eleven (2001)
With all due respect to Messrs. Sinatra, Martin and Davis, the 2001 remake of Ocean's Eleven is easily the better version. George Clooney plays Danny Ocean, who collects an ensemble cast in order to perform the heist of a lifetime by stealing from a legendary Vegas casino vault. Matt Damon and Brad Pitt co-star, and the rapport between the lead actors is the heart and soul of this first-class film.

Wrapped around the dynamic central cast is a genuinely clever heist plan, snappy dialogue, and a host of well-used cameos from Hollywood and Vegas notables. Considering that it's directed by Steven Soderbergh, the man who made the annoying Erin Brokovich and the interminable Solaris remake, it's all the more surprising that Ocean's Eleven is one of the most thoroughly fun films that America has to offer.

64: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Four movies later, it seems the original is still the best. A charismatic performance by Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones and an iconic musical score by John Williams are the backbone of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Shot on the relatively low budget of $20 million, the film re-invigorated Steven Spielberg's career after his poorly-received 1941 and ended up making back close to $350 million at the box office.

Themed on the pulp serials of the 30s and 40s, the success of Raiders is in its non-stop over-the-top adventure, the real humanity of Jones as a character, and in the presence that Harrison Ford invests the role with.

65: Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Stanley Kubrick's Vietnam War opus Full Metal Jacket initally suffered unfairly from comparison to Oliver Stone's Platoon, released around the same time. History seems to have largely come to the conclusion, though, that Full Metal Jacket is the superior film. The plot initially deals with the traumatising of awkward new recruit "Gomer Pyle" by his now-iconic drill sergeant, and then moves to Vietnam to follow an army reporter on a journey across the country towards a fateful confrontation with a Vietcong sniper in Hue City.

Full Metal Jacket starts with an impressive script adapted from Gustav Hasford's novel The Short Timers, and fleshes it out with strong performances, excellent directing, and one of the best uses of a licensed soundtrack in any movie ever. It's a war movie that manages to be simultaneously traumatic and a lot of a fun, and is well worth anyone's time.

66: Goldfinger (1964)
If there's one film that perfectly summarises everything that James Bond is about, it's Goldfinger. The magic starts with the Shirley Bassey theme song, and continues through a cast of unforgettable characters including the hat-throwing Oddjob, the absurdly named Pussy Galore, and head villain Auric Goldfinger himself.

While GoldenEye and Casino Royale both lay strong claims to being the greatest Bond movies ever made, Goldfinger is ultimately the movie that best captures the outrageous over-the-top charm that makes Bond so enjoyable.

67: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1990)
Sometimes an amazing script can drive a movie to greatness despite some distinctly sub-par directing, and that's the case with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. It has both the amazing luck to be written by Tom Stoppard, and the cruel misfortune to be directed by Tom Stoppard.

The story follows, unsurprisingly, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two minor characters from Shakespeare's Hamlet, as they attempt to live normal and fulfilling lives, despite being poorly-defined and ultimately ill-fated supporting characters in another person's play. Surpassingly strange and brilliantly written, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is highbrow British humour at its finest, despite being, as it turned out, filmed in Slovenia.

68: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
It's a matter of debate whether you can best describe the career of Tim Burton as "memorably average" or "on average, memorable". He keeps churning out these beautifully quirky stench-piles with names like Edward Scissorhands or Beetlejuice and the public just keeps nodding appreciatively and asking for more. I can't stand the things personally but a kind of deep-seated masochism makes me keep paying money to see them. In any case, it just wouldn't be a 100 Must-See Movies without mentioning Burton somewhere, so I'm throwing in the only one of his creations which I would actually recommend to people who I like.

Sweeney Todd is an adaptation of the similarly-named Stephen Sondheim stage musical, and follows the quest for revenge of one Benjamin Barker, a barber-slash-convict who turns out to be at least five beers short of a sixpack. After slouching his way through earlier Burton films, Johnny Depp apparently went away and learned how to act, and returns to inhabit the title role as if he was born for it. Helena Bonham Carter is so excellent as Mrs Lovett that you're almost tempted to forgive her the rest of her career. Stage musicals don't often work well on screen so when one is as uncompromisingly high-quality as this it's a rare and quite special treat.

69: Pulp Fiction (1994)
Quentin Tarantino's stylish crime adventure Pulp Fiction is not often compared to Citizen Kane, which is perhaps a shame. The genius of Kane was using a wide variety of cinematic techniques, none new, in concert to achieve a comprehensive, deliberate and powerful on-screen effect. Pulp Fiction pulls off much the same trick.

The narrative is presented non-sequentially, not just to aid in telling the story but as a deliberate challenge to audiences to pay attention and think about what's taking place. The soundtrack makes use of Tarantino's signature laid-back 70s surf rock to set a tone both evocative of spaghetti Westerns and often deliberately at odds with the action on screen. The pacing alternates low-key comedic dialogue with gruesome violence to dramatic effect. However, against everyting good in this film, it should be remembered that this is also the movie that brought John Travolta's career back to horrible, shambling, brain-devouring life.

70: Cube (1997)
Focused, bleak, and cerebral, Cube is one of the best science-fiction movies ever made, and is all the more amazing for having been made in Canada on a budget of less than half a million dollars. It concerns the plight of a group of apparently average people who wake to find themselves in a three-dimensional maze of cubical rooms interlaced with lethal traps.

The film moves quickly from the opening shots and doesn't stop to let the audience draw its breath, even when the plot starts to work in some reasonably complex mental mathematics. Part psychological thriller and part cabin-fever horrorshow, Cube is a movie that will stay with you long after its breathtaking final scenes.

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