The DVD Forums Top 100 Films 2007 Part 08: 30-21

The top 20 beckons and we have now hit the gravy train of quality titles; It’s a Wonderful Life, North by Northwest, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly are already gone, so the standard is set for this next batch of titles:

Seven Samurai (1954, Akira Kurosawa)
Samurai held a particular fascination for Akira Kurosawa as symbols of the changes wrought to Japanese life with the onset of economic development and westernization. The Seven Samurai deals with the efforts of a village of farmers to protect itself from the bandits whose raids leave them every year on the edge of starvation. With little ability to fight, the village seeks to recruit Ronin and has little to offer them other than a home from their wanderings. The men who come to their aid are led by the ageing Takashi Shimura and are misfits from many types of social rejection - retainers of disgraced lords, fired because of financial hardship and those unable to find work or recognition. They work with the villagers to defend themselves and prepare for the great battle with the bandits, a superbly orchestrated war of the elements and desperation. Their job done, the Samurai find themselves rejected again and condemned to their own redundancy.

Whilst the overall tale is one of men out of time, there is a parallel to be drawn between those Japanese who fought for the Emperor only to be discarded after the second world war. Kurosawa mourns the loss of his Samurai's virtues whilst showing the truth of the dreadful battle and their great sacrifice for the civilian farmers, only to eventually be rejected again when war is over - situations which must have had some resonance for those ex-soldiers scraping a living in post war Japan. There are few such lengthy action films which are this affecting on a human level and that possess such rich characterisation, and that means that the three hours plus you spend with Seven Samurai entertains, informs and moves you. It also contains a great physical performance from Mifune and an elegant turn from Shimura, but this is the work of a director interested in who and what the world leaves behind whenever it moves forward. Kurosawa's masterpiece celebrates the lost Ronin and notes the changing morality of the world that forgot them. – John White

R1 DVD Review (Mike Sutton) | R2 DVD Review (Anthony Nield)

Citizen Kane (1941, Orson Welles)
How can one sum up this work, which has been most consistently and universally acknowledged as The Greatest Film of All Time and yet is actively disparaged by many as an unsatisfactory viewing experience? It was the first foray into film by a twenty-six year old Orson Welles, who'd already built a formidable reputation in the theatre and radio, and in total disregard for almost every established convention of cinema, produced a masterpiece that changed the course of the medium and became the most talked-about and written-about film ever.

Of course one of Welles' many talents was to use other people, and he was well supported here by Herman Mankiewicz's layered screenplay, moving back and forth in time and deploying multiple viewpoints to underpin that fragmented, montage effect so beloved of the modernist sensibility; and also Gregg Toland's deep focus, wide angle cinematography, which still appears modern and draws us into Kane's own bloated view of reality so readily. The bare bones of the story of the rise and fall of a newspaper magnate, who died unhappily, clinging onto a lost childhood reverie, don't add up to great profundity in their own right; but what does set the final seal of greatness on this film is Welles' own performance as Kane, ageing fifty years with the help of prosthetics and makeup, and in some uncanny, almost supernatural way, predicting his own life story as the genius who peaked too early and then gradually sank into profligacy and ruination. Kane is a film to be watched not for entertainment but for education, and after many many viewings it really does hit the spot. – Roger Keen

R1 DVD Review (Raphael Pour-Hashemi) | R2 DVD Review (Michael Brooke)

Taxi Driver (1976, Martin Scorsese)
Travis Bickle (De Niro), suffering from chronic insomnia, takes up cab driving to while away the endless nights alone. Becoming obsessed by the filth and sleaze of New York City, he tries to find some kind of panacea for his disgust. First, he tries love, in the form of Betsy (Shepherd), a beautiful campaign worker for presidential candidate Charles Palantine (Harris). When this relationship immediately fails during the first date, when he takes her to a pornographic movie, he looks for another cure for his misanthropy, and when he meets a 13 year old prostitute, Iris (Foster), he decides to become her saviour in whatever way he can. This leads to a sickeningly violent conclusion, and one of the most chillingly ambiguous final scenes in film history.

Taxi Driver is an immensely important and influential film - the visual style has been copied in numerous films, and the graphic violence which was unusual at the time has now become commonplace, although few other directors know how to film violence so it is actually disturbing rather than merely window-dressing. The actual on-screen bloodletting is crammed into a very short section of the film and what disturbs is Travis’ potential for explosive violence at any point; it’s like watching a pressure cooker. Look at any film by Abel Ferrara or Schrader himself, and the shadow of Taxi Driver looms over them. But few other great films are this entertaining or as rewarding to come back to time and time again. If you haven't seen it, what the hell have you been doing with your time ? If you've ever wondered why Robert De Niro is so highly regarded as an actor, following so much duff recent work, then this is your answer. Even if it can’t quite overcome Mean Streets as my favourite Scorsese film, it is, without a doubt, one of the finest films of the seventies. – Mike Sutton

R2 SE DVD Review (Mike Sutton)

Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz)
Whether it’s our cynicism about love working out or our self-pity encouraging us to believe that fate is always against us, love stories which end up with the lovers eternally parted are always more appealing than those with happy endings. "Casablanca" is Hollywood's finest love story because it’s as much about the things which keep us apart as the things which bind us together - honour, chance, and the love which is so great that it extends to letting go of the person because that's what is best for them. Humphrey Bogart's cynical, uncommitted cafe owner Rick has pretended for so long that he doesn't care about anyone or anything that he almost believes it to be true but the arrival in Casablanca of Ilse - Ingrid Bergman at her most radiant - reaffirms his faith in the world because it shows to him that there is something he cares about after all. When Rick sends Ilse off with Victor Laszlo at the end of "Casablanca", it's because it's not only the right thing to do but because it's the only thing to do. What redeems this, one of the greatest moments in Hollywood cinema, from being crushingly sad is that Rick remembers that the love one feels doesn't go away simply because the loved one is no longer there but it lives on, the memory of the past forever lighting up the darkness of the present. As he says to her, "We'll always have Paris". Then, just to tease, us, the film ends with a joyous affirmation of the love we can feel through platonic comradeship as Rick says to Claude Raines' corrupt police captain, "You know Louis, this could be the start of a beautiful friendship".

"Casablanca" is one of the most quotable of all films - even if most people get the quotes wrong - and its so full of the magic that the Golden Age of Hollywood could pour into every project it cared about that there's some justification to Umberto Eco's assertion that "Casablanca isn't just a movie. Casablanca is the movies". Brilliantly directed, written with just enough wit to cover some of the stickier bits of preachifying, it's the perfect Hollywood movie and Bogart, in his prime, is coolness personified. – Mike Sutton

R2 DVD Review (Mike Sutton) | R2 SE DVD Review (Mike Sutton)

A Clockwork Orange (1971, Stanley Kubrick)
How does one best write a novel in teenage slang whilst ensuring that it, unlike the normal passage of street talk, does not date? To Anthony Burgess, whose mind burned bright with literary sleight of hands, puns, linguistic gags and the shaping principles of mathematics, the answer was simple: invent one of his own. Nadsat was his language, based somewhat on English but with a Russian influence. Amidst many examples, for 'good' Burgess used the Russian 'khorosho', turning it into 'horrorshow' for his novel. To shape his novel, he gave it twenty-one chapters, twenty-one being the age at which men traditionally mature.

Turning to adapt A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick took the American version of the book, from which Burgess' final chapter and his redemption of Alex the Droog was missing. Burgess' careful shaping of his novel was lost. The film of A Clockwork Orange never recovered. In place of the timeless Nadsat, Kubrick let his film be influenced by awful British sitcoms as much as his own eye for detail. Scored to the William Tell Overture, the speeded-up orgy would be better served by Yakety Sax. Leaden jokes romp through the film and no one, least of all Kubrick, appears to be enjoying it.

Following the release of the film, Kubrick retreated to his mansion leaving Burgess to publicise the film alone, taking most of the brunt for the ultraviolence. In The Clockwork Testament, Burgess' hero Enderby gives an American film director the idea of adapting Gerard Manley Hopkins' The Wreck Of The Deutschland. The orgy of violence, Nazism and nun-raping sickens society and Enderby is blamed as the father of this pornography. Like Enderby, Burgess grew to hate A Clockwork Orange. In adapting his novel for the theatre, Burgess cast a character who resembled Kubrick and had him beaten up early in the piece. Earthly Powers features a scheming director named Zabrick. Alex was not the only one who could land a punch. This film, regardless of the controversy, does not. – Eamonn McCusker

R1 DVD Review (Steve Wilkinson) | US HD-DVD Review (John White)

Donnie Darko (2001, Richard Kelly)
28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, 12 seconds. That is how long Frank tells Donnie Darko there is until the end of the world. Donnie is a fiercely intelligent teenager stuck in the conservative middle-class Virginian town of Middlesex with an unstated psychological condition. Frank is an inter-dimensional time traveller dressed up in a Bunny Suit who speaks to Donnie in his dreams. In these visions, Donnie sees himself committing various acts of vandalism around his town, and when he wakes up the next day, he discovers they actually happened. As Donnie tries to come to terms with these incidents and the ominous prophecy of the world's doom, the adults of Middlesex seem locked in a clash of ideals about the teaching curriculum of the local high school.

Set during the 1988 presidential battle between George Bush and Michael Dukakis, Donnie Darko is a challenging, thought-provoking psychological drama that blurs the lines between fact and fantasy - and also between the genres of drama, horror, and science fiction. Is Donnie just a confused paranoid schizophrenic, or is he really stuck inside a time-loop paradox which will decide the fate of the community around him? These are the questions that constantly entice viewers as we are introduced to the town of Miiddlesex and the various issues surrounding Donnie. Forming a microcosm of America's socio-political divide, Richard Kelly deftly uses the clash between the liberal teachers and parents of Donnie Darko as they struggle to express their ideas in an over-bearingly conservative town, as a pressure cooker to drive his central character through issues that generations of adolescents have no doubt felt strongly at some point in their life. Donnie's search for the meaning behind his existence and the foreboding sense that his life is building up to something destructive provides the perfect template for contemporary audiences to muse about the world around them. So, while Donnie Darko works perfectly well purely as a sci-fi thriller, there's so much more to the film than its simple genre-trappings. That's why it's placed higher than any other film from the 21st century in our Top100. – Matt Shingleton

Cinema Review (Mike Sutton) | Director’s Cut Film Review (Matt Day) | R1 DVD Review (Tiffany Bradford) | R1 DC DVD Review (D.J. Nock) | R2 DC DVD Review (Kevin Gilvear)

Rear Window (1954, Alfred Hitchcock)
A helpless, wheelchair-bound photographer can’t help spying on his neighbours after weeks of being confined to his New York City apartment. Rear Window is a cracking suspense film, up there with Hitchcock’s (and thus anyone else’s) best, but the really interesting parts are Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal of L.B. Jefferies, his relationship with Grace Kelly’s character, and, of course, the voyeuristic element. Writers tend to psychoanalyse Stewart’s Vertigo character ad nauseam, but Jefferies here becomes equally unravelled. Even though his suspicions ultimately prove accurate in Rear Window, his methods are still unhealthy, intrusive and creepy at best, disturbing at worst. Also, notice how little Stewart pays attention to Kelly and how their relationship suddenly becomes warmer when he tells her he thinks one of the neighbours he’s been spying on has killed his wife. The multiple levels of watching (Stewart on his neighbours, the viewer on Stewart, and, in a sense, Hitchcock on everyone) really showcase a master director at the very top of his game. I think my favourite scene is when Stewart is looking through his lens at Raymond Burr while Kelly is being escorted from Burr’s apartment by the police and suddenly Burr turns to look at Stewart, the camera, and the audience. It always makes me feel quite uncomfortable, like I’ve been caught watching something I shouldn’t have been. – clydefro jones

R1 CE DVD Review (Alexander Larman) | R1 Hitchcock Collection DVD Review (Mike Sutton)

Vertigo (1958, Alfred Hitchcock)
Vertigo is the masterwork of a great director at the very peak of his talent. If I could come up with any more superlatives then I would shower them upon this film because it’s one of the most beautiful, moving, provocative and emotionally insightful works that the cinema has ever produced. Needless to say, it flopped on release and then vanished from sight for the best part of twenty five years, leading some to claim that its reputation was based more upon its unavailability than any superior intrinsic quality. That this is not the case as has become clear since its re-release in 1983 and is even more obvious now that the film has been painstakingly restored to its original visual splendour. When he made it, Alfred Hitchcock was 59 years old and everything he had learned about cinema in his 38 years in the business is poured into Vertigo with a painful emotional intensity and visual passion that is unlike anything else he ever directed.

The film begins in relatively conventional fashion with Jimmy Stewart’s haunted private detective Scotty taking on a sympathy job offered by his rich friend Gavin Ellster, who asks him to follow his wife; she has been making mysterious trips away from home. Ellster claims that his wife is possessed by a dead person. Scottie doesn't really believe Ellster, but agrees to follow her. Madeleine Ellster (Novak) is stunningly beautiful, and Scottie, a bachelor with a pining old flame constantly on hand, falls instantly and passionately in love with her. Following her, he discovers that she seems to be obsessed by a nineteenth century woman named Carlotta Valdes who drowned herself in San Francisco bay. Ellster feels that his wife may be intent on following Carlotta's doomed footsteps unless Scottie can do something to prevent history repeating itself. Scottie, completely obsessed with Madeline, sees this as his opportunity to remake himself as a knight in shining armour - but he doesn't realise that forces beyond his control are beginning to involve him in events he doesn't understand.

As in his previous two films with Stewart, Hitchcock deliberately subverts the actor’s image and this final collaboration takes the process to its logical conclusion. Stewart portrays, with subtle insight, the agonies of a man whose conventional life is suddenly thrown into chaos through the discovery of his true, hopelessly human and inadequate self. Vertigo is an intense and passionate meditation on an eternal subject – the cruel mystery of love. And in this portrait of a sad, blind passion leading up endless dead-ends, I think we find a breathtakingly frank self-portrait of Alfred Hitchcock. Unlike Scotty, Hitchcock had the good fortune to be with a wife, Alma, who loved him and was willing to put up with his infatuations in the knowledge that he would always come back to her. But it seems to me that the feelings of unrequited love and the sense of being on the verge of losing control to a form of self-destructive obsession are so much a part of Hitchcock’s personality that it’s only in his art that they find full expression.

In devising a film which took emotional narrative about as far as it will go, Hitchcock required immense technical skill. He was used to storyboarding of course and the opening set-piece – a nail-biting mini-chase – is a model of economy. It also utilises the technical advance which was so necessary to evoke the sensation of vertigo – the reverse zoom which was later used to memorable effect by Steven Spielberg in Jaws. Vertigo, as a work of film art, is just about perfect. – Mike Sutton

R1 CE DVD Review (Mike Sutton) | R1 Hitchcock Collection DVD Review (Mike Sutton) | R2 DVD Review (Michael Brooke)

Heat (1995, Michael Mann)
Heat may be comparably overrated in the Michael Mann oeuvre, but it remains an epic accomplishment. You can almost place a marker on the film's 1995 release as the last time its stars Al Pacino and Robert De Niro took a role seriously. Pacino has dwindled into "she's got a great ass" histrionics and De Niro seems to have lost it completely, but their lone scene here is decidedly intense. If Mann's film is the harbinger of overacting and the filmic point where two legendary actors stop caring then so be it. The story of a cop and a crook locked into a fateful duel has been told both before and after what we see in Heat, but seldom with this star power and such sheer commitment. Michael Mann has established himself as the supreme auteur of 21st century crime drama and Heat stlll plays as an essential component in his legacy. – clydefro jones

R0Kr DVD Review (Raphael Pour-Hashemi) | R1 DVD Review (Reko Nokkanen) | R1 SE DVD Review (Nat Tunbridge) | R2 DVD Review (James Timothy)

The Usual Suspects (1995, Bryan Singer)
As The Usual Suspects opens, an unknown man named Keyser Soze puts the finishing touches to a brutal hijack on a ship in the San Pedro harbour that leaves behind 15 dead bodies, one comatose Hungarian, and a cripple named "Verbal" Kint without a single scratch on him. Verbal quickly cuts a deal for his eye-witness account with the D.A in exchange for only minor charges, but U.S Customs agent Dave Kujan pulls a few strings and gets a one-on-one sit down with the only witness to the crime. Together they sit down and Verbal starts the story….

Coming out in the same year as Se7en and Heat, you'd expect a tiny budgeted neo-noir from a relatively inexperienced writer-director team would have passed well under cinemagoers radar, but The Usual Suspects' class shined bright from the outset. The main reason for this is the wonderfully developed and unpredictable narrative, as Verbal expounds the story of how five talented thieves are brought together in a police line up, and end up forming a criminal unit that's led down the path to self-destruction when they get involved with mythical crime lord: Keyser Söze. But the truth is; it's not just the narrative - everything about The Usual Suspects is first rate: Christopher McQuarrie's superb script, Bryan Singer's assured direction, and a cast that includes actors of the calibre of Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, Chazz Palminteri, Benicio Del Toro, and Pete Postlethwaite. It also features a twist ending that has become one of the most famous double-bluffs of all time. – Matt Shingleton

R2 SE DVD Review (Alexander Larman)

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