The DVD Forums Top 100 Films 2007 Part 09: 20-11
It’s the final day of the poll results and we now know that extremely critically lauded films like Seven Samurai, Citizen Kane and Casablanca have not made it into the top 20 – and that somehow Donnie Darko has managed to beat all of them, which is a hefty reminder of the unpredictability of this list when it comes to the more contemporary titles. Still, at least it didn’t place higher than Rear Window and Vertigo, which see Hitchcock bowing out of the list in style.
Alien (1979, Ridley Scott)
Star Trek promised us a militarily precise vision of the future. Everyone knew their place on board the Enterprise. Commands were met with a cheery, "Yes Cap'n!" and where Spock, Kirk and McCoy trooped down to the surface of an alien planet, they would be accompanied by two redshirts whose job it was to stand in the line of fire. The Enterprise was so clean it almost gleaned while the human grumbles of salaries, getting the first and biggest portions in the canteen and of petty envies over how much sex everyone else is having were entirely absent.
The crew in Alien are, on the other hand, the Motorhead road crew of the late-seventies, taken out of their filthy old Transit van and off the motorways of the north of England and placed in the Nostromo, a spaceship light years away from Earth, trawling their cargo of mineral ore through space, a job so dreary that they can sleep through it. But that deep sleep is broken by a distress beacon from an alien planet and in a splash of viscera and the squish of flesh. Alien is Ridley Scott's film but it features HR Giger's monsters. Scott's typical visuals are in place - strobes, spotlights, smoke and lots of shadows for the monster to hide in - but so too are Giger's sculptures of sexual fetishism.
From the man who painted Penis Landscape came the melding together of biology and mechanics, from the Space Jockey that greets Dallas, Lambert and Kane to the egg into which John Hurt peers are seeing squishy movement within. All manner of sexual phobias are present, from the labia (major and minor) with which Giger originally decorated the egg, through rape and pregnancy to the vagina dentata of the alien itself, Giger revels in the moment, the slime dripping from his monster like ejaculate onto the crew of the Nostromo. Scott responds in kind, reappraising the gender specific roles in horror, placing Giger's over-sexualised creature in the shadows while Ripley undresses. This is a beauty who killed the beast but which lived on, the explicit sexuality of Giger's designs proving to be far too memorable to stay dead. – Eamonn McCusker
R1 DVD Review (Reko Nokkanen) | R2 DVD Review (Raphael Pour-Hashemi) | R2 Alien Quadrilogy DVD Review (Mike Sutton)
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968, Sergio Leone)
The story of Once Upon a Time in the West is very straightforward. Jill McBain, a whore from New Orleans, has secretly married a landowner named Brett McBain and travels to live with him at his ranch called ‘Sweetwater’, on the outskirts of a small Western town called Flagstone. However, on the day she arrives in Flagstone, Brett and his three children are killed by a mysterious assassin called Frank. Jill swears that she will avenge Brett’s death and all the signs seem to point to the culprit being Cheyenne, an itinerant bandit who travels with a rag-tag group of followers and hires himself as a gunman to anyone who pays well. But Cheyenne arrives at the ranch and protests his innocence and it soon becomes clear that the motive for the killing lies in the ever-advancing railroad and the valuable well that Red had discovered on his property. But where does Harmonica fit into all this and what is his connection to the cold-blooded Frank? Gradually, all becomes clear and the stage is set for one of the great confrontations of the Western genre.
Once Upon a Time in The West is an exciting and involving western. But it’s more than that. In an important sense, it’s a film about Westerns, devised by three men who loved the genre. The first stage of creating the film, according to Bernardo Bertolucci, came when himself, Leone and Dario Argento sat down and watched all their favourite American westerns. Leone seems to have been determined to reference the genre as much as possible in a manner which we might describe as post-modern. You might not, for example, understand why the opening is quite so funny and satisfying if you had never seen High Noon.
It’s very hard to be objective about Once Upon a Time In The West as it is the kind of film which either leaves you cold or makes you fall hopelessly in love with it. Everything about it has the hallmark of precise craftsmanship. The production design by Carlo Simi is especially impeccable; using hundreds of old photographs, Simi created a historically realistic look which had rarely been seen in a western. It’s one of the most beautifully composed movies ever made. Every single shot is carefully considered, making use of every single inch of the vast Techniscope frame. However, Leone’s use of it is quite unusual. Where some directors use 2.35:1 to make pretty pictures, Leone uses it to emphasise various different facets of his narrative. Sometimes, we simply take in the awesome empty spaces of the desert. More often, we see close-ups of certain faces to reveal character or to emphasise incident. Sometimes, we get a huge landscape on two-thirds of the frame and an extreme close-up taking up the other third. Characters are carefully positioned to indicate intent, emotion or status. Leone uses his mise-en-scene to affect our reactions and stir our emotions and he knows when to let landscape speak for itself. Once Upon a Time In The West is probably not the greatest Western ever made - I'd give pride of place to either The Wild Bunch or The Searchers - but I think it is the best of all the Italian Westerns. Operatic, surprisingly thoughtful and ultimately very poignant, it's the kind of filmmaking which makes you want to laugh out loud with joy. – Mike Sutton
R2 SCE DVD Review (Mike Sutton) | R2It DVD Review (Michael Brooke)
The Matrix (1999, Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski)
Hollywood directors have been drawing influences from Asian cinema for years, but it wasn't until Andy and Larry Wachowski created their magnum opus: The Matrix, that they got the Asian formula completely right. Drawing elements from Japanese and HK cinema - and of course from many sub genres like neo-noir, gothic fantasy, cyberpunk, and pretty much anything written by Philip K.Dick, The Matrix is set a couple of hundreds of years into the future, where mankind has become enslaved by Artificially Intelligent machines. Discovering that the human body provides all the electrical energy they need to operate, the machines are breeding humans in huge fields so they can be harvested as batteries. In order to keep the humans under control they hook them up to a Computer Generated Neurological Grid called: The Matrix, where everyone plays out their days in a society exactly like today's, blissfully unaware of what the machines have done to them. Keanu Reeves plays Thomas "Neo" Anderson, a disillusioned computer hacker who ends up being freed from The Matrix by Morpheus and his unit of human rebels. Morpheus believes Neo is the man prophesised to one day take control of The Matrix away from the machines, but he's got a lot of work to do on Neo before they can pose a credible threat to the evil Agents that police The Matrix.
What makes The Matrix so popular is that the Wachowski brothers take the story seriously enough to attempt to engage their viewers and goad them into considering more deeply the nature of reality. To sell these pretensions, they incorporated a number of action set pieces, and the central concept of rebel humans learning to control and bend the reality of various digitally created worlds allowed the directors to switch between genres and locations at will, thus affording them a tremendous amount of creativity with which to stage the action – and the Wachowski's make use of this freedom very effectively. So, while the script is littered with dime-store Zen Buddhist soundbites, there's certainly nothing cheesy or obvious about the action. In fact, so exhilarating and cleverly shot was the action in The Matrix, that pretty much every U.S action film since has at least one sequence that steals something from it. – Matt Shingleton
R1 DVD Review (Colin Polonowski) | R1 Ultimate Matrix Collection DVD Review (D.J. Nock)
Se7en (1995, David Fincher)
With Se7en, David Fincher made a huge impression on the motion-picture viewing public, following his so-so outing at the helm of Alien 3. Previously, a director of music videos, Fincher's second stab at feature film direction, starring Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt, marked him as one of Hollywood's best new directors. He has since moved on to other iconic outings including Fight Club and more recently, last year's Zodiac.
The premise is simple, a serial killer is using the 'Seven Deadly Sins' as a motive for his killing spree and it's down to Detectives Mills (Pitt) and Somerset (Freeman) to track him down and bring his murderous activities to an end. As a mood piece, Se7en is something of an achievement and cements Fincher's directorial style. The final twist of the film is both gut-wrenching and totally shocking. Coupled with better than usual performances by all of the principle cast, it's hard to find any flaws with the film, justifying it's placing in this poll.
If one was forced to be picky, it could be argued that there is a pretentiousness regarding the film and it is relentlessly downbeat making watching the film a challenging and exhausting experience. However Se7en is the obvious work of a true talent and any such criticisms are cursory at best. – Colin Polonowski
R1 DVD Review (Steve Wilkinson) | R2 DVD Review (Colin Polonowski)
The Big Lebowski (1998, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)
A stoned aging West Coast hippy who enjoys a game of bowling with his buddies, Jeff 'The Dude' Lebowski is a inventive interpretation of Chandler’s great detective Marlowe. Confused with a wealthy namesake, The Dude has his rug ruined by a gang of thugs who break into his house and becomes a reluctant world-weary crusader for justice, even if it is just seeking recompense for a rug that really held the room together. Some things have changed in this modern LA from Chandler’s time and some things haven’t. Los Angeles still seems to have its share of rich old men in wheelchairs with wayward wives or daughters. We also have eccentric artists, kidnappers, crazed nihilist gangs and porn stars, all trying to find ways of making a lot of money quickly. Sounds like an accurate portrayal of LA all right...
What makes The Big Lebowski funny beyond its setting, colourful characters, richly complex plot, perfect soundtrack and one of the funniest dream sequences ever filmed, is the Coen Bros hilariously profane script, brimming over with one-liners delivered with throwaway ease by a terrific cast. You might not necessarily agree that it is the funniest film of all time, but like, that’s just your opinion man... – Noel Megahey
R1 CE DVD Review (Mark Boydell) | R2 DVD Review (Mike Sutton)
Fight Club (1999, David Fincher)
"I want you to hit me as hard as you can" urges Tyler Durden to the unnamed narrator of this brilliant social drama-thriller. Fight Club tells the story of a depressed insomniac (commonly referred to by viewers as: The Narrator, because his true name is never explicitly stated) who becomes friends with flamboyant soap salesman Tyler Durden. Together they start Fight Club, a place where men get to cast off the shackles of an ever demanding capitalist and consumerist society and get back in touch with their base, primal masculinity – by hitting each other as hard as they can. Eventually the club gets so popular that it becomes an underground movement, and Tyler's plans start to expand outside of simple fighting, to a system of urban terrorism that threatens to spiral violently out of control.
Released in 1999 on an unsuspecting populace, Fight Club is an edgy, witty film that posits an insightful, salient commentary on today's society. Jim Uhl did a great job of adapting Chuck Palahniuk's wry, intelligent novel, and director David Fincher's dark, flashy style accompanied the script perfectly. The cherry on top came from the casting of Edward Norton and Brad Pitt in the central roles. At the time Norton was a very well respected character actor who took to the neurotic role of The Narrator like a duck to water, narrating the story with glee. Pitt did not inspire quite the same level of respect from film fans and critics, but his performance as Tyler Durden changed all that. Apart from having the right look for the part, he was edgy, funny, and above all very charismatic - and that's the power of Fight Club, it has a dark dystopian outlook but there are so many clever, insightful observations delivered with such verve that it is a truly exhilarating film. – Matt Shingleton
R1 SE DVD Review (Alexander Larman) | R2 SE DVD Review (Nat Tunbridge) | Fight Club Feature (Nat Tunbridge)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991, James Cameron)
This early 90's blockbuster remains one of the most interesting legacies of Dickian cyberpunk to the sci-fi-action movie mainstream. An example of a sequel that is at least as good as its predecessor - which comes lower down this list at Number 42 - it takes the concept into new ground, adding a number of salient twists. Firstly Arnie, the Terminator, has switched sides and is now the good guy, unleashing his destructive powers on a mission of protection. Secondly, and very much in keeping with the ways of our modern world, he has become technologically obsolete, superseded by a newer, flashier model of Terminator, the shape-shifting, liquid metal T-1000, superbly brought to life by Robert Patrick.
The CGI processes through which the T-1000 morphed from human to metal and back, changed shape, absorbed bullet wounds and exploded into pieces were absolutely state-of-the-art at the time and still look more convincing than a lot of contemporary CGI. Also the underlying design ideas have yet to date, as evinced by the Sandman in the recent Spiderman 3, who is no more than a pebbledashed retread of the T-1000. Add to this a thoughtful storyline in the 2001 tradition, exploring the dangers of cyber-technological implosion, and some marvellous extended chase sequences from the steady hand of James Cameron, second to none as an action director, and you have a movie that excels on the entertainment level whilst still providing food for the brain. – Roger Keen
R1 UE DVD Review (James Timothy) | R2 UE DVD Review (Phil Gardner) | UK HD-DVD Review (Colin Polonowski)
Goodfellas (1990, Martin Scorsese)
Wiseguy, the real life story of mobster Henry Hill, was a gift to Martin Scorsese, who rose to the top of his game to create an epic, the definitive post-Godfather gangster movie, which employed a high level of naturalism and the texture of the everyday in order to make its world of crime seem more familiar and plausible than in the standard genre fare. Using voice-over narration in an effective Billy Wilderesque way, it traces Hill's life from starry-eyed kid, hooked on the glamour of crime, through the phases of initiate, jail-bird, out-of-his-depth drug pusher and finally informant, forced to rat out his friends to save himself. It shows eloquently how tool-of-the-trade violence all too readily becomes uncontrollable, turning its force inwards and destroying the perpetrators as much their targets. And its ultimate message transcends the moral banality typical of the genre by revealing crime as a fix, an obsession, almost impossible to shake and far more destructive than any individual vice, in that it encompasses and masters the entire field of vice.
Scorsese is on great directing form here, and the pacing, tension and the integration of narration with action, using the adroit device of hitting the pause button through freeze frames where necessary, show a true auteur at work. He should have won the directing Oscar, but that year it went to Kevin Costner for Dances with Wolves. And Goodfellas is also notable for the quality of its acting. A fine Italian-American ensemble cast, including Paul Sorvino and Lorraine Bracco, support the three main players - Robert De Niro, brilliant as the coldly controlling and psychopathic Jimmy Conway, who is nonetheless eclipsed by Joe Pesci as the even more psychopathic Tommy DeVito - ' What do you mean funny, funny how?' - and finally Ray Liotta as Hill himself, who gives a breakthrough performance, dripping with star quality and making the film his own, but curiously failing to become a major A-lister on the back of its success. – Roger Keen
R2 DVD Review (Richard Breading)
Back to the Future (1985, Robert Zemeckis)
Bizarrely mating Huey Lewis with H.G Wells, Robert Zemeckis’ 1985 smash sci-fi adventure gave time travel a hip, contemporary spin. Michael J. Fox plays Marty McFly, a high school student flung 30 years into the past when his best friend Doc Brown’s time travel experiment meets with calamity. Stuck in his hometown in 1955, McFly unintentionally disrupts the course of true love between his parents, thus threatening to wipe out his very existence. Together with a younger Doc Brown, he has to steer his parents back onto cupid’s path, whilst figuring out a way to get his broken time machine working again.
Back to the Future is a wonderfully entertaining film made at a time when Hollywood still remembered how to make simple, joyful adventure films. It just wouldn’t get made today, they’d try to make it appeal to more demographics and slap a number of high-budget CGI sequences to turn it into an “event” film. They would also dwell more on the time travel aspect and bog the story down with needless exposition. It’s tragically ironic, because Back to the Future plays just as well today as it ever did. Zemeckis and Bob Gale’s script is witty and inventive, and the pacing is pitch-perfect. The action sequences are extremely brief and low-key by today’s standards, but they compliment and are driven by the narrative perfectly - and most of all, they’re fun! Perhaps most importantly of all, Zemeckis put together an extremely likeable cast in great roles. Michael J. Fox is infectious as Marty McFly, Christopher Lloyd is brilliantly wild and eccentric as Doc Brown, and Thomas F. Wilson is so amusingly over the top as town bully: Biff Tannen, you wonder why his acting career never really took off after this movie. – Matt Shingleton
R4 Trilogy Box Set DVD Review (Raphael Pour-Hashemi)
The Godfather: Part II (1974, Francis Ford Coppola)
The Godfather Part II is the greatest sequel ever made and an astonishing achievement whichever way you want to look at it. It's just as beautifully made as the original film but also broader in scope and thematically richer. The sense of rot which informs The Godfather is placed right upfront in the sequel as we watch the rise of Vito Corleone intercut with the descent of his son Michael into amoral and paranoid isolation. It's a sad and somewhat despairing film from a time when Hollywood was much more prepared than it is now to put up with the creative decisions of filmmakers, even if it meant no crowd pleasing happy endings. Coppola's film came out around the same time as Polanski's Chinatown and the two films have similarities in both visual style and overall tone.
The structuring of the film is very ambitious. Given total artistic control over the film, Coppola decided to run two plots in parallel. Both stories begin with a religious ceremony, as do the two other films, and both take the characters on an emotional journey, albeit in opposite directions. The first begins with the funeral of Vito's father while the second starts with the christening of Michael's son. The stories intertwine and the parallels between them are suggestive and involving, helped enormously by the acting from the two principals, Robert De Niro (suggesting rather than imitating Marlon Brando) and Al Pacino. Although Pacino and De Niro dominate the film, Coppola has again surrounded them with marvellous character actors. Robert Duvall deepens the character of Tom into an impotent advisor, seeing the way things are going but powerless to stop them. Talia Shire takes the non-character of Connie and begins the slow building of the woman into the awesome Lady Macbeth+ of Part III. There are wonderful things from Michael V.Gazzo as the replacement for Clemenza, Frankie Pentangelli, a small time hood playing at being a big shot, and from Lee Strasberg as the Machiavellian Hyman Roth, whose mild manners and gentle humour conceal a heart of ice. But the revelation of the movie is John Cazale as Fredo, the middle brother who has been passed over in favour of Michael. – Mike Sutton
R1 DVD Review (Alexander Larman) | R2 DVD Review (Mike Sutton)