This is part three of my 100 Favorite Movies. Counting down from 080-071.
Part One can be seen here: 100-091
Part Two can be seen here: 090-081
Ready for part 3? What you waiting for? Read on...
080 Iron Giant (1999) - A giant robot crashes to the Earth and befriends a small boy in this wonderful animated movie. Set during the Cold War, it's a deceptively simple tale with a powerful message and it works for both children and adults. The animation is old school hand drawn stuff, except for the Giant which was Computer Generated. Surprisingly, this mix of styles doesn't clash and actually helps make the Giant stand out and look different to the world he crashed into. Brad Bird directed and co-wrote the screenplay and it basically got him his gig with PIXAR, directing The Incredibles. This has allowed him to break out into working with real humans with his latest movie being the newest Mission Impossible. With Iron Giant he pitched it perfectly and it has to be said the voice actors are all excellent...in particular a surprising Vin Diesel. Fun, smart and moving, this is a movie for all the family. BEST SCENE: No SPOILERS but let me just say this: "Superman" and leave it at that. *sniff*
079 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) - Quite simply a masterpiece. No, I don't understand it all and yes, it's a little long-winded and slow in spots, but it represents a milestone in science fiction movies. It's a grand story played out against a grand backdrop but told with minimal of fuss. A mysterious monolith is discovered on the moon, obviously artificial in nature while scientists are sent to Jupiter to figure out the strange goings-on there. Kubrick's perfectionism has meant that the movie still stands up today. The effects, the soundtrack and acting are all timeless...in fact the only anachronism is the fact it's now 2012 and we haven't achieved half as much as writer Arthur C. Clarke had envisioned. Filled with iconic images: The Monolith, the spinning wheel Space Station, Hal 9000, the Space Baby all punctuated by incredible music and tense silences. A whole soundtrack was written for the movie and discarded for the tracks Kubrick had put in as placeholders: "Also Sprach Zarathustra" and "The Blue Danube" were meant to be cut and its hard to imagine anything else in their place. This is a movie that can be examined and talked about at great length, the themes are so heady and involving. The ending alone is cause for much serious debate. Douglas Rain provided the rational and unmistakable tone of the computer, HAL, who turns on the crew of the Discovery. Keir Dullea as Bowman is the only actor in the movie for a long stretch and carries it well. It's not a perfect movie but it's a must see movie. BEST SCENE: "Open the pod-bay doors Hal" - - Bowman tries to get back on board the Discovery but Hal isn't cooperating.
078 Zulu (1964) - This movie is based on the real "Battle of Rorke's Drift" which was a famous last stand between 150 British and Colonial soldiers against approximately 4000 Zulu Warriors sometime in the late 1800's. Notable nowadays for being Michael Caine's first starring role, the movie is still a very engaging story with lead actor Stanley Baker providing the flinty leadership as Lt. Chard of the Engineers who takes command (due to seniority) from Caine's Lt. Bromhead during the defense of the outpost. The story itself is very compelling although, as usual, some of the facts have been altered to create a more appealing visual movie. The build up takes a while but ultimately the movie is very enjoyable showing both the bravery of the soldiers and the cunning of their opponents. Zulu is not the best movie depicting a battle or a war but one I have enjoyed since I first saw it as a young boy. So it is on here in place of some more notable war films. GEEK TRIVIA: In real life, eleven Victoria Crosses (Britain's highest military decoration awarded for Valour) were awarded to soldiers after Rorke's Drift - the most ever received in a single action by one regiment.
077 Taxi Driver (1976) - Much smarter men than me have analyzed and poked and prodded this classic from the team of director Martin Scorsese and actor Robert De Niro. So I won't. I remember as a teenager wanting to broaden my movie knowledge and looking backwards at classic movies from the seventies. I found myself in stores like HMV and Virgin searching through the alaphabet like I was browsing for a book in a book store. I ended up with an enormous video collection. Normally I'm wary of movies that receive such high praise from critics because invariably what I look for in a movie and what they look for in a movie seem to be different. Taxi Driver was highly lauded by critics. I wasn't sure. However, what swayed me was De Niro. I had seen enough from him to know I wanted to see one of his earlier performances. And I wasn't disappointed. De Niro is electric as the titular Taxi Driver Travis Bickle. He's an outcast in a city of outcasts, a Vietnam veteran and a man of few words. We hear his words as he keeps a diary, hearing a disturbing anger swell within him as he makes his tours of the city. Bickle is lost but sees himself as a beacon of good in the cesspit around him. The violence that he wishes to inflict though makes it hard to tell him apart from those things which anger him so much. He's a loner who befriends an underage prostitute (a very young and brilliant Jodie Foster), sweetly trying to steer her clear of her dangerous life. He also tries to date a beautiful blonde he spies working in a political campaign office (a pretty Cybil Shepherd). Travis' persistence pays off but then he takes her to a seedy movie theater to watch a porn movie. Needless to say she's not impressed and we again see that Travis' worldview is skewed. De Niro's performance is revelatory. Travis is a dark and disturbed anti-hero, making it hard to empathize with him completely but also difficult to despise because it seems like his heart is in the right place, even if his brain isn't. Important to note are Scorsese's brilliant direction (and a small cameo as a nutty passenger), you can feel the grime and the oppressiveness of New York. Scorsese also embraced De Niro's method acting, allowing him time to ad-lib or riff on a scene. This lead to one of the most famous scenes in the history of cinema: the Mirror Scene, where an angry Travis challenges his reflection - "Are you talking to me?" De Niro famously created that from a single line in the script which read "Travis looks in the mirror." The acting is excellent all round. Harvey Keitel and Albert Brooks both shine in smaller roles and Jodie Foster is phenomenal as the teen prostitute. Finally, mention must be made of Bernard Herrman's score. It was the last he wrote before he died and is one of his best. Light years different from the frenetic strings of Psycho and Citizen Kane, this score is a mixture of relaxed jazz and then staccato bursts of low, strings and keyboards. The opening theme, tied with Scorsese's images signals to the audience that the movie is not going to be anything like they expect. At all.
076 Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) - This superior action/comedy was the part of Robert Downey Jr's return to the spotlight that a lot of people missed which I think is a shame. Iron Man put Downey back on the map in a big way but in this (much) smaller movie he shines as a thief pretending to be an actor involved in a murder mystery. Downey is a brilliant comedic actor and he is given free license to make good use of the wonderful script by Shane Black (Lethal Weapon) who also directs. Val Kilmer provides great support as Gay Perry, proving he too can sell a good line, his dry wit and constant barbs a nice counterpoint to Downey's fast talker. This movie surprised me since I heard very little about it when it was released but in truth Iron Man wasn't Downey Jr's return to the big time...it was this little movie...
075 The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996) - This place could have just as easily been given to The Last Boy Scout. Both movies written by Shane Black (remember him?) who's ability to write great buddy comedy stuff and exciting action means that his movies, while crazy are always entertaining. I picked this one because the characters are just a little more interesting. Geena Davis is Samantha a happily marrried housewife with amnesia who starts to get her memory back. Trouble is she may have been an assassin before she was a mommy. Samuel L. Jackson steals all his scenes as Mitch, a small-time, and possibly dodgy detective who ends up helping Samantha get the answers she needs. Hugely silly but very entertaining, the dialogue is fantastic and its well worth spending a Saturday night enjoying this one.
074 When Harry Met Sally (1989) - Easily the best romatic comedy of the last thirty years, it's the story of Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) who share a car ride and part, seemingly never to meet again. However, over the course of several years they continually bump into each other and a strong friendship grows between them. Eventually, the question arises: can a man and a woman just be friends or is it inevitable that sex will get in the way? What makes this movie rise above the usual "chick flick" is that both sides of the relationship are represented in a realistic and funny manner. The dialogue is sharp, propelled by a great a script and by Crystal's ability to ad-lib during scenes. Meg Ryan too gives as good as she gets, so to speak, owning the most famous scene where Sally simulates an orgasm in a restaurant. The slow transformation of the characters throughout the movie is handled impeccably. Both characters make a believable arc towards the movie's end which makes it all the more satisfying. By avoiding being overly sentimental or wishy-washy, the characters come across as believable and therefore their relationship does too. It doesn't seem forced or false and with both Crystal and Ryan in winning form, this movie still stands out as a classic of the romantic comedy genre. GEEK TRIVIA: Sadly the writer of the movie, Nora Ephron, died in June of this year from Leukaemia. She earned an Oscar nomination for When Harry Met Sally and two other nominations for the drama Silkwood (starring Meryl Streep) and for Sleepless in Seattle (another of the four movies she wrote that starred Meg Ryan)
073 The Right Stuff (1983) - Brilliant adaptation of Tom Wolfe's novel about the real life American Mercury Space Program. With a 3+ hours of running time and a cast of familiar faces, the movie switches effortlessly between the twin stories of the astronauts chosen to be the first Americans in space and the exploits of one of the most daring pilots who ever lived. The story is a fictionalized account of real events. The major plot points are accurate but some of the interactions between the characters have obviously been written to be more dramatic and interesting. The race to space against the Russians is what fueled the Mercury program, with Sputnik and then Gagarin forcing America to fast track a man into space. They tested the brashest and boldest of pilots, the "best they could get", finally selecting seven from which one would be chosen to be first American in space. Meanwhile, flying higher and faster than any of the Mercury pilots was Chuck Yeager, the legendary test pilot, and the story nicely swaps between the would-be heroes of the Space Program and the bonafide hero Yeager. However, despite the gentle mocking of the astronauts it's clear Yeager admires the Mercury program pilots and their bravery and it provides a nice counterpoint to a moment later when Mercury Astronaut Gordon Cooper is asked who the best pilot he ever saw was...he pauses, hinting that he will reveal that Yeager is the best he ever saw but then with a wide grin he soaks up the adulation by answering: Who was the best pilot I ever saw? Well, uh, you're lookin' at 'im.
The cast of this movie is excellent from top to bottom, featuring many well known faces like Ed Harris as the "Clean Marine" John Glenn, Dennis Quaid as Gordon Cooper, Scott Glenn as Alan Shepard (the 1st American in Space), and also starring Donald Moffat, Veronica Cartwright, Barbara Hershey, Lance Henriksen and Fred Ward. The star of the movie though is the laid back and laconic Sam Shepard playing Chuck Yeager. It's an unapologetic celebration of the men involved, although it's not afraid to show the ridiculous side of the rush into space: Monkeys, failed rocket launches and several bumps along the way. It's an amazing moment in history, beautifully captured in spirit (if not accuracy) and one which should be appreciated more in my opinion. BEST LINE: "No bucks, no Buck Rogers."
072 300 (2006) - The most famous "last stand" in history, boldy retold by Zack Snyder and based (almost shot for shot) on Frank Miller's graphic novel. A gloriously testosterone fueled recounting of the Battle of Thermopylae where King Leonidas and 299 of his closest Spartan friends fought off the gigantic army of the Persian Empire using a little bit of local knowledge (The Hot Gates was a good defensive position) and a whole lot of skull-smashing, spear-poking and limb removing. Gerard Butler plays Leonidas with great gusto (and a strong hint of Scottish accent), as he war cries his way through the film portraying Leonidas as one of the baddest mo-fos who ever lived. Ably supported by a cast of of manly men with washboard abs and grim expressions, there is never any fear that this movie was going to try to be something it wasn't. Instead it embraces its comic book roots with great visual style and plenty of fighting. Zack Snyder's use of super-slo-mo adds an extra dimension to the violence, both in brutality and in a way slowing down the action so that it's like you're almost watching a comic book come to life. A fantastic action movie with plenty of eye candy for the ladies and copious amounts of bone crunching for the dudes. BEST DIALOGUE: Persian dude before he gets killed: "The thousand nations of the Persian empire descend upon you. Our arrows will blot out the sun!" Stelios (Michael Fassbender): Then we shall fight in the shade.
071 Gattaca (1997) - Sci-fi at its best. Set in the near future, a young man who has been deemed genetically inferior wants to travel to space. The only way he can do that is to fake his genetic profile by borrowing from a genetically superior person. He finds such a man, a paraplegic after a car accident, and they embark on the lie to get him in the program. Then the program director is killed, bringing police to the crime scene with all their DNA testing and suddenly the young man's dreams are in jeopardy. Ethan Hawke plays Vincent, the genetically inferior young man, obviously smart and gifted but born with a heart murmur that would rule him out of the program. Jude Law plays the paraplegic who gives him specimens so that he can fool the urine and DNA tests. The film is written and directed by Andrew Niccol who also wrote the Truman Show and Lord of War, so it has an intelligence and operates on several levels, allowing you to enjoy the movie but also dig deeper if you so choose. The world of the near future is a mix of stark colors and cleanliness but the dress also implies another era, like the fifties, giving the movie an original look and feel. Don't be put off by the sci-fi tag, there's no laser pistols or aliens to see here. Instead, you're presented with an alternate future, one that may not be so far off as we think, where those of us born with a certain set of genetic features are regarded as superior to those of us who are not. Niccol touches on similar themes in his movie In Time. Gattaca is more cerebral than action but you become invested in Vincent's quest to reach the stars. And the tension builds nicely towards the end. GEEK TRIVIA: The title of the movie "GATTACA" is made up using only the letters of the four amino acid building blocks of DNA - Guanine, Cytosine, Adenine, Thymine.
...to be continued...