The DVD Forums Top 100 Films 2007 Part 06: 50-41

We’ve reached the halfway point now, and in the 60-51 bracket we had some fantastic films: Scarface, Chinatown, Once Upon a Time in America, The Wild Bunch, and some classic action-thrillers like Dirty Harry and Predator. Fellowship of the Ring, the opening act of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy also made an appearance, falling just shy of the lower half of the poll. It will be interesting to see if that will perform better in future polls. Now to commence with the lower-half of this poll:

Reservoir Dogs (1992, Quentin Tarantino)
In the years since Quentin Tarantino became the dictionary definition of the term "cool filmmaker" with this awesome 1992 debut, many HK film fans have lambasted the director for lifting the plot, scenario, action scenes, and ending from Ringo Lam's City on Fire. They're right about that, but to dismiss the film based on these grounds is to completely miss the real appeal of the film: The presentation and dialogue. Tarantino's script is extremely intelligent and full of wonderfully casual dialogue exchanges that invite the viewer directly into a world where a gang of hardened criminals converge on an abandoned wherehouse after taking part in a diamond heist that goes violently wrong. As Mr. White nurses the shot Mr. Orange, they are joined by the psychotic Mr. Blonde and shrewd Mr. Pink; who is convinced that one of them must be a rat…

Brash, stylish, tense, Tarantino takes a very simple premise and shakes the narrative up, presenting it in a non-linear fashion. The result is a sense of invention and urgency in the pacing that benefits the story immensely. As already mentioned the dialogue is wonderfully natural and free-flowing, revelling in the kind of group banter you'd expect from a bunch of intelligent thieves, but the really great thing is how entertaining and engaging the exposition is – and there is a LOT of exposition! The impact and influence of Reservoir Dogs on the American film scene in the 1990s is immeasurable, it kickstarted a glut of low-fi "cool" independent crime thrillers – some of which also appear in this top 100 - and made pop-culture references a staple element of modern cinema. – Matt Shingleton

R2 DVD Review (Richard Booth) | R2 DVD Review (Colin Polonowski) | R2 SE DVD Review (Mark Boydell)

Life of Brian (1979, Terry Jones)
It has to be remembered that this celebrated and much loved British comedy caused huge controversy on its release in 1979, with the dreaded word 'blasphemy' being uttered far and wide with absolutely no hint of irony! Coming as it did at the tail end of the great permissive era, just before Thatcherism dug its claws deep into the national psyche, it seemed there were still some barriers yet to be broken down. The legendary TV confrontation between John Cleese and Malcolm Muggeridge, a freewheeling intellectual who nonetheless felt his Christian beliefs under siege from the piece, showed the depth and breadth of the feeling involved.

Now, of course, we see it as one the great comedies, a crowning achievement of the Monty Python synergy, which perfectly combined their own intellectual seriousness with some of their best bits of knockabout lunacy. As Cleese himself said, the film doesn't seek to poke fun at religion itself, but at people who will follow, lemming-like, any crackpot ideas going in the name of religion. The elevation of the hapless Brian, a non-entity and mamma's boy, to the status of 'Messiah' brilliantly satirises so much of the real-life lunacy we see on a daily basis all around us. And if that wasn't enough, the film contains some of the best ever Python set pieces - 'What-did-the-Romans-do-for-us?', the graffiti Latin lesson and the Bigus Dickus routine, to name but three. Also it gave us the memorable Eric Idle song, 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life', which was once mistaken for the British National Anthem. Now that's comedy! – Roger Keen

R0US DVD Review (Raphael Pour-Hashemi) | R2 The Immaculate Edition DVD Review (Eamonn McCusker)

Memento (2000, Christopher Nolan)
Guy Pearce plays Leonard Shelby: a man who wakes up in his house and discovers he’s suffering from short term memory loss after a vicious attack in which his wife was raped and murdered. Leaving clues in the form of tattoos on his own body and using a camera to collect evidence, he endeavours to piece together the mystery of what happened, uncertain as to who he can really trust along the way.

Memento is one of the bravest and most imaginative films of recent years in that it completely eschews audience expectations by flipping the narrative into reverse, so the climactic shot becomes the opening one. It’s a gob-smacking blow to the senses, one which immediately grabs our attention and subsequently pulls us into a uniquely constructed tale of sorrowful revenge. Christopher Nolan’s directing is sublime as it meticulously ploughs through an unpredictable and Oscar-winning screenplay based upon his brother Jonathan‘s original short story; cunningly employing a mixture of B&W and colour sequences which signify the film‘s chronological changes. It leaves us permanently on tenterhooks as we’re none the wiser to figuring out where it’s all headed. Beautifully edited by Oscar winner Dody Dorn and featuring outstanding performances from Guy Pearce, Joe Pantoliano and Carrie-Ann Moss, Memento is perhaps the only modern thriller which I’d instantly term a classic in its field. It truly is up there amongst the best of them.
Kevin Gilvear

R2 Rental DVD Review (Alexander Larman) | R2 DVD Review (Raphael Pour-Hashemi) | R2 SE DVD Review (Bex)

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick)
Loved and loathed in roughly equal measure, Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the benchmarks of screen Science Fiction. Beginning at the dawn of time and concluding millenia into the future, it attempts to provide a rationale for the great leap forward in the evolution of man and suggest a possible future for the species.

The film is based on a story by Arthur C. Clarke and contains many of his characteristic themes - human technological development, alien intervention, future history - but the overall achievement firmly belongs to Stanley Kubrick who not only abstracts Clarke's theories into the realm of ambiguity but also, more importantly, adds his own brand of cold pessimism to Clarke's warm humanism. The resulting clash of sensibilities is completely unique and, arguably, the best work either man has ever produced. Kubrick abandons narrative for much of the film, producing a kind of symphony in sound and images - beginning in classical romantic mode, backed by Strauss, we move to modernism and Ligeti. The visuals are extraordinary, the product of groundbreaking special effects and careful, old-school cinematography, and when seen in a cinema, the emotional and visceral impact is unforgettable.

But there is tension and excitement here too - most memorably the battle with HAL-9000 - and a sneaky, wicked sense of humour. Finally, the film is a triumphant combination of both resignation and hope for the future. Very few movies can be said to live just as vitally as when they were made but in its intellectual rigour and visual splendour, 2001 is one of them. – Mike Sutton

R1 DVD Review (Michael Brooke) | R1 Remastered DVD Review (Steve Wilkinson) | R1 SE DVD Review (Mike Sutton) | R2 DVD Review (Colin Polonowski)

Ghostbusters (1984, Ivan Reitman)
"Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters!" Ray Parker Jr might well be considering phoning up the Ghostbusters right now, having spent most of the last twenty-something years hoping that his career could be resurrected by any means, supernatural or not. As played by three comedians, Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd and Harold Ramis, the Ghostbusters are slung out of their safe university-funded jobs in college and, having frittered away their lives on pointless psychic tests with cards, suddenly find themselves with the means to not only prove the existence of ghosts but to capture them with backpack-sized nuclear accelerators and to imprison them in an old fire station in New York. It all, in the manner of games involving children, Zippo lighters and paraffin, goes terribly wrong.

That, though, is the fun of Ghostbusters. When it's going right, it's great fun but when the top of the Ghostbusters HQ blows out over the streets of New York and every ghost they'd previously captured sets about enjoying their newfound freedom. With Rick Moranis and Sigourney Weaver as a couple of Mesopotamian demons, the Big Apple is the setting for a showdown between the Ghostbusters and Zuul, the bringer of destruction, whose instrument arrives in the shape of a giant Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. With great special effects, plenty of laughs and looking genuinely scary, it, along with Gremlins, suggested a funny, spooky and grisly 1984 that was made just for kids. – Eamonn McCusker

R2 15th Anniversary Edition DVD Review (C. Louise Smith) | R2 Collectors Gift Set DVD Review (Kevin Gilvear)

The Searchers (1956, John Ford)
John Ford's greatest work begins with a door opening onto a beautiful landscape of endless possibilities and ends with a door closing onto a man who, no matter what, can finally never open himself up to any of them. In the course of this progress, Ford raises issues about violence, racism and the potential for forgiveness and reconciliation and does so without ever becoming either preachy or embarrassingly sentimental. He also provides a platform for John Wayne's best ever performance. Not bad for a movie made by the guy whose behaviour on his last film had nearly wrecked his career.

Fundamentally, The Searchers is a chase movie in which John Wayne's Ethan Edwards searches for his niece Debbie who has been taken by an Indian warrior after a violent attack on her home. He is determined to find her and then kill her, considering that her contact with the Indians has fatally tainted her. Ethan is a complex man - brave and wise but also a vicious racist who refuses to admit doubt into his simple view of the world. During the film, he is forced to confront his own self and he doesn't like what he sees.

It seems to me that in this remarkable film, John Ford is looking deep into a terrifying abyss. What if, he seems to be thinking, what if behind all the cavalry songs, the Irish songs, the boozy camaraderie - what if, behind all these, there is actually nothing? Ethan Edwards embodies this horrifying possibility and by the end of the film, the answer which Ford comes up with, while not simplistic, is hardly comforting. – Mike Sutton

R1 DVD Review (Martin Dawber) | R2 SE DVD Review (Mike Sutton)

Clerks (1994, Kevin Smith)
Dante (Brian O'Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) are best friends who happen to work next door to each other. Employees of the “Quick Stop” and “RST-Video”, they spend every waking hour contemplating the finer points in life, such as porn and glaring movie plot holes, while their customers go by largely unnoticed and two losers named Jay and Silent Bob hang around the front selling drugs all day.

An hilarious study on life’s daily grinds, Clerks is simply a film about nothing. Like Jerry Seinfeld's famous sitcom it thrives on everyday conversations; often the most ludicrous of subjects and at other times the kind we all talk about with our friends. It’s film for every generation, not stuck in some time-warp from which it can never escape, but one which can continue to grow and have a mass appeal as the years move on. Clerks is one of those films that you could look at every 10 years and think "Boy, I hear what you guys are saying." It's a lifeline for every Joe out there who has ever been in a piss poor situation; who bemoan their place in life; who desire bigger things but never get off their ass to go out and achieve their goals. And I doubt the aspiring 24 year-old Smith realised at the time just how influential his debut - and still best - feature film would become. – Kevin Gilvear

R1 10th Anniversary Edition DVD Review (Kevin Gilvear) | R2 10th Anniversary Edition DVD Review (Bex)

Serenity (2005, Joss Whedon)
A TV show spin off, higher in the top 100 than Reservoir Dogs, The Searchers, Chinatown and countless other greats? Of all of the films in this poll, Serenity took me by surprise and I expect that if we were to run this again in a couple of years it may well not feature at all.

Serenity is based on the short-lived Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) sci-fi western TV series, Firefly. Despite early cancellation, the show built a strong enough following that Universal agreed to put the cash into a big-screen outing for Captain Malcom Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and co. The result is a surprisingly good standalone adventure that builds on the show's mythology without totally alienating newcomers. It's great fun and a fitting tribute to a quality TV series, but top 100 material it is not! Hell, I'm one of the show and films biggest fans, but would I rate this highly? No, I wouldn't.

Serenity is good at what it does and it soundly trounces the other big sci-fi film released that year (some George Lucas live-action cartoon) in every respect, it is visually exciting without suffering from CGI overload, the cast are perfect and transfer to the cinema well and the story successfully develops the themes of the parent show; as a starting point in a franchise this would be great. Unfortunately the box office take was disappointing and although the film hit the number 1 spot in the US for one week this didn't translate to enough money to justify any further outings.

I for one am eagerly waiting to see if Serenity makes it into next year's top 100... – Colin Polonowski

Cinema Review (Colin Polonowski) | R1 DVD Review (D.J. Nock) | UK HD-DVD Review (Michael Mackenzie) | USA HD-DVD Review (Michael Mackenzie)

The Terminator (1984, James Cameron)
Shot in 1984 on a very modest budget, The Terminator is a testament to James Cameron's ability to create strong visual set pieces and build suspense with only minimal dialogue and setting to work with. These skills are put to good use right from the opening act, as a bare-naked Arnold Schwarzenegger and Micheal Biehn materialise in the streets of L.A in a hail of lightning. Arnie plays The Terminator; an android from 2029 sent back in time to locate and terminate Sarah Connor before she gives birth to her son: John Connor, who is destined to become the leader of the human resistance forces in a future war where robots aim to eliminate all of humankind. Biehn is Kyle Reese, the resistance soldier sent back by John to protect Sarah at all costs.

Inventively combining elements of the monster movie and chase thriller with science fiction, The Terminator is an excellent, taut, action-thriller. Cameron makes the most out of his budget by creating inventive action set pieces that incorporated the gamut of special effects that were available at the time: scale models, state-of-the-art character models, and stop-motion animation, all effectively woven around live action work by clever editing. The visual effects may have dated over the years, but some of the action sequences still maintain their impact – in particular the sequence where The Terminator single-handedly decimates a police station, one of the greatest and most influential shoot outs of the 80s. What's more, the central premise: based around the idea that machines would one day gain such advanced A.I that they would see the human race as a threat and instigate a nuclear holocaust to wipe us out, effectively tapped into growing paranoia about the techno age as computers were getting more & more powerful. It was also the film that catapulted Schwarzenegger into the A-list in a role that was tailor made for him. So many moments in The Terminator have become so iconic over the years; it's easy to see why it is still regarded highly by film fans across the world. – Matt Shingleton

R2 SE DVD Review (Raphael Pour-Hashemi)

The Third Man (1949, Carol Reed)
An American writer, Holly Martins travels to post-war Vienna to visit his friend Harry Lime, only to arrive just in time for his funeral. Suspicious of the circumstances surrounding his friend’s death, he discovers the existence of an unidentified "third man" who was a witness to the accident that killed Harry and becomes embroiled in a murky underworld with a whole series of moral complications far beyond the simple black and white outlook of his cheap, pulp Westerns.

Robert Krasker’s constantly skewed angles reflect a post-war Vienna that has been knocked off-kilter, the cinematography matching the shadowy amoral dealings of the subject matter – the film’s closing scenes taking place somewhat appropriately in an underground sewer and a cemetery. Reed’s film is of course best remembered for its unique zither score by Anton Karas, and for the magnetic performance of Orson Welles who effectively dominates every scene in his few brief appearances, but Joseph Cotton is also marvellous here. Like Pyle in Greene’s The Quiet American, his Holly Martins is the blundering American finding himself hopelessly out of his depth with a naïve view of the complexities of foreign policy, expecting the world to conform to his simplistic and fatally flawed moral viewpoint. It's a subject that makes The Third Man no less relevant today. – Noel Megahey

R2 DVD Review (Raphael Pour-Hashemi)

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