Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Dust Forms Words 100 Must-See Movies: 91 to 100

91: Star Wars (1977)
The original Star Wars by all rights should never have been a huge sucess. A pulp space-opera that placed a cast of largely unknown actors in a universe replete with jargon and loose ends, on face value it appeared to be identical to a range of mediocre B-grade titles that preceded it.

The genius, of course, is in the execution. The main cast has a wonderful presence and chemistry, the special effects are revolutionary, the signature John Williams score is amazing, and a host of creative energy is visible in every aspect of the production from its alien designs through to its special effects.

92: 28 Days Later (2002)
28 Days Later is Danny Boyle's great revival of the zombie horror genre. Cillian Murphy plays a man who awakens from a coma to discover that while he slept a terrible plague has ravaged Britain, turning its victims into violent madmen.

Like all the best zombie films, 28 Days Later is less about the zombies than it is about the survivors; the film explores a range of individual reactions to the disaster and the real danger eventually turns out to be not the zombies but the un-infected. The movie is particularly memorable for striking cinematography depicting an abandoned London. This is a landmark in genre cinema which will continue to attract audiences for a great many years.

93: Sneakers (1992)
The formula for a good caper movie is simple to grasp yet difficult to execute; it requires a strong ensemble cast, a range of clever cons, and a well-paced script to tie them together. Sneakers is a good example of getting it right.

Robert Redford plays the head of a "tiger team", taking money from companies to test their security via attempted penenetration. However, his criminal past catches up with him when the CIA blackmail him into using his team to steal a revolutionary cryptographic device. The range of supporting stars includes Dan Akroyd, Sidney Poitier, River Phoenix and Mary McDonnell, who together make for a highly entertaining film.

94: Saw (2004)
Saw is the movie that kick-started the sub-genre of "torture porn", also known as torture horror, which along with the influence of Japan has been one of the driving forces behind horror cinema in the 21st century. It's a movement that has been perhaps justly criticised for its gratuitous and disturbing content, but it's important to remember that a good film is a good film regardless of its genre.

Saw is a good film. It tells the tale of the Jigsaw Killer, who places each of his victims inside a gruesome but escapable deathtrap designed to make them reflect on their life. It's clever, it's well-filmed, and it justifies each of its nightmarish set-pieces in the context of a suspenseful and gripping plot. Regardless of your opinions or apprehensions about torture horror, don't make the mistake of lumping Saw with its contemporaries, and take the chance to check it out. Possibly in a well-lit room in the company of friends.

95: Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
A big-budget pirate movie was never likely to be totally awful, but Pirates of the Caribbean turned out to be something enduringly special, becoming a blockbuster adventure that captured the spirit of classics such as Indiana Jones and Star Wars.

Certainly Gore Verbinski's directing played a large part in the film's success, but the centrepiece of Pirates is unquestionably Johnny Depp's outrageous portrayal of the antiheroic Captain Jack Sparrow. The usual array of ancillary excellence is on show around the edges: a scintillating score, captivating visual design, and supporting performances from Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, and the scene-stealing Geoffrey Rush.

96: Scent Of A Woman (1992)
Al Pacino is a fantastic actor, and it's rarely as obvious as in Scent of a Woman, a remake of Dino Risi's 1974 Profumo di donna. Pacino plays a retired lieutenant colonel suffering from blindness; he bullies a local school student (Chris O'Donnell) into acting as his aide on an unannounced visit to New York. It soon becomes clear that the lieutenant colonel plans to make this his last journey; after completing his final days in New York he intends to commit suicide.

What makes the film work is the way it introduces you to Pacino's character. What initially seems like a loud, crass, domineering soldier eventually turns out to be... well, a loud, crass, complex soldier. It's a plot arc that could only work with a truly magical performance in the lead role, and Pacino delivers in style.

97: Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Roman Polanski's adaptation of Ira Levin's novel Rosemary's Baby is a landmark horror thriller often overlooked in favour of later creations such as The Exorcist. Mia Farrow plays the titular Rosemary, who falls pregnant after moving into a new apartment with her husband. The pregnancy seems anything but normal, though, and soon Rosemary becomes convinced that she is the target of a Satanic conspiracy.

One of the great things about this film is how it starts out as a romantic comedy and becomes a creepy psychological horror almost by stealth. Another strong aspect is its exploration of societal attitudes towards pregnancy; Rosemary's concerns are dismissed as the delusions of "typical female hysteria", and to be fair she is irrational and hysterical, although for apparently good reason. On a historical note, Rosemary's Baby was the last movie Polanski made before his pregnant wife Sharon Tate was murdered by members of Charlie Manson's cult.

98: No Country For Old Men (2007)
Once again the Coen Brothers deliver an offensively anticlimactic ending, but it's at the end of a film so intensely well made that you can't help but forgive them after poisoning only two or three of their pets. Josh Brolin plays a Texas redneck who stumbles across a fortune in drug money; Javier Bardem is the sociopathic killer hired to track him from Texas to Mexico and recover the money.

This is another of the Coens' "regional" films; here the region in question is Texas and the dialogue is filled with drawling accents and charming idiom. Brolin and Bardem are both fantastic, as is Tommy Lee Jones as a sherriff who never quite becomes important to the plot despite taking up a surprisingly large amount of screen time. This is the most technically accomplished film in the Coens' repertoire and its lasting beauty will remain with you long after your violent anger at the ending has passed.

99: Schindler's List (1993)
Steven Spielberg's 1993 film Schindler's List was a radical shift in style for the prominent director. Where previously he'd been an industry icon known for churning out family-friendly adventure laced with cutting special effects, in Schindler's List he delivered a miserable black and white drama dealing largely with the Nazi extermination of Jews.

The movie tells the real-life story of Oskar Schindler, businessman and Nazi collaborator, who ended up saving hundreds of Jews from German death camps in the closing days of World War II. This is easily Spielberg's best film, powerfully mixing audience expectations with the real stories of Holocaust survivors to create a compelling and heart-wrenching cinematic experience.

100: Citizen Kane (1941)
Citizen Kane has a kind of legendary status in the world of film, frequently listed as the greatest movie ever made. It's not the greatest movie ever made. It's unfocused and poorly paced, and the famous "Rosebud" angle creates an artificial narrative drive that conceals the weakness of the central plot.

But it is good. I'd go so far as to say it's very good. And it's tremendously historically significant. If the 1920s are the birth of cinema, then Citizen Kane is its coming of age. Orson Welles brings together a range of technical and artistic devices, none of them original, and uses them together to achieve a deliberate effect in the mood and perception of the viewer. It's the point at which film went from being merely an extension of photography or theatre and became a complex and unique medium in its own right. Even if only to dislike it for your own unique reasons, this is a film that you absolutely need to see.

1 comment:

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