Aug 19, 2012

100 Favorite Movies (080-071)

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 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 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 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. be continued...

Aug 18, 2012

Character building

As a reader, there was nothing I hated more in a book than having a main character vomit their entire life history in an attempt to explain some previous reaction or inaction. It's a classic case of violating the SHOW don't TELL mantra that writers all chant to themselves in their darkened basements. It's also just sucky.

As a writer, it's important that your characters have some sort of history to make them three dimensional. It informs how the characters would react in a given situation and can allow you to leave a trail of breadcrumbs to entice the reader to follow.

Take a classic example from the movies: Darth Vader. Using a nice little bit of misdirection with Obi-Wan Kenobi - telling Luke his father died - the reveal in The Empire Strikes Back that Darth Vader was in fact Luke's father caused the world to choke on its popcorn.

From recent internationally best selling books you have the character of Severus Snape. Harry Potter spends almost the entire run of books hating Snape. Harry, being the likeable protagonist, has the sympathy of the readers so they in turn hate Snape. However, Rowling did a great job of teasing that there was so much more to the story that you weren't being shown. For example, Snape had Dumbledore's utmost respect and trust. This never made sense to Harry and less so when Snape killed Dumbledore.

Now, Lucas went back and showed the world what happened before Star Wars in three abysmal prequels. When watched in order now, you take away all the mystery of Darth Vader.

If Rowling had made Dumbledore explain to Harry in her first book why he trusted Snape, that would've ruined pretty much the rest of the entire story, since Snape was one of the most interesting characters.

So, it's important for a writer to know how their character is to be used in the story but not a good idea to explain it all to the reader in one paragraph. The beauty of good writing is being able to slowly peel the layers back, revealing another level to a character as the story progresses. And with each layer, you will lead the reader further on the trail of breadcrumbs until they are lost in the story.


Aug 15, 2012

Marvel Comics and Movies

Here's one for the geeks...Marvel Comics was so broke a in the late 80's and early 90's they sold the film and television rights of a host of their major characters to keep afloat. That's why SONY (Columbia Pictures) owns Spider-man and Ghost Rider, Fox owns X-Men/Wolverine, The Fantastic Four and Daredevil/Elektra, New Line (Warner Bros) owns Blade and Lionsgate had the Punisher. Now, after a time, if these film studios aren't producing something using the characters, the rights revert back to the owner...

Marvel got their own studio up and running off the back of one of their second tier franchises: Iron Man, which was a massive hit. This year The Avengers became the 3rd highest grossing movie of all time so Marvel Studios is now happily building their Universe on their terms.

Sony are not letting go of Spider-man...not yet at least. They just rebooted the Spidey isn't headed back to Marvel anytime soon. Fox have a Wolverine and X-Men movie in the works so they're not giving that up. Some of the others though are starting to reach their time limits.

Recent negotiations between Fox and Marvel over the rights of Daredevil, Silver Surfer and Galactus broke down so Fox is holding onto the Surfer and giving up Daredevil. The Man Without Fear headed back to Marvel is great news for fans.

The most baffling aspect of all these comic book/movie studio deals is that DC Comics finds it so difficult to get their projects up and running. DC is wholly owned by Time Warner Inc...which owns Warner Bros, New Line, HBO, The WB Network and the Cartoon Network. And really, except for Batman and Superman they've failed to really bring any of their characters to the big or small screen with any success. (Don't expect a Green Lantern sequel soon)

Coming soon for DC - A new Superman movie and a Green Arrow TV show. There's rumors of a Justice League movie, after Marvel's huge Avengers success but that's stalled out before and looks likely to stall again. The Wonder Woman TV show died at the pilot stage and despite constant rumors of an Aquaman's too interested in a character that speaks to fish...

Marvel meanwhile have a new Iron Man movie on the way. Then right behind it expect the sequels to Captain America and Thor. Ant-man is still in the process of being put together by the director of "Shaun of the Dead" and Marvel announced at Comic-con that they're going to produce a Guardians of the Galaxy movie...expanding their intergalactic Universe.

Oh and best of all, Marvel just signed up Joss Whedon to write and direct the sequel to Avengers! :0)


Aug 4, 2012

100 Favorite Movies (090-081)

This is the second part of my 100 Favorite Movies blog feature. Here I'm counting down from 090-081.

You can read part one here:

And now, the countdown continues:

090  Memento (2000) - Christopher Nolan's first appearance on this list but certainly not his last. Memento is a tricky movie about a man, who can't create new memories, searching for the killer of his wife.Guy Pearce plays the man, his body tattooed with notes he makes so that when he wakes up each morning he can continue on his hunt. The movie is smart, and devilishly clever, told basically in reverse, and the ending provides an intelligent little twist in the tale. That word will get bandied about a lot when I describe Nolan's films - intelligent. As a director, Nolan has a grasp for both the intimate details and the big picture. His biggest asset is that he handles everything with intelligence and never "talks down" to his audience. He is also involved as a screenwriter for many of his films so, his own intimate knowledge of his work allows a greater degree of depth in his directing. He might not provide all the answers you want, but he gives you the clues and the information to build your own picture. In Memento the tiny details are given particular attention and the audience is given clues, just like the main character, and forced to think as the movie unfolds. A mention should be made of Nolan's brother Jonathon whose idea Memento was borne from and who serves as a screenwriter for many of Nolan's movies. It is clear the brothers are blessed with considerable complex thoughts and intend to force their audience to think while they enjoy the movie. Look out for more Nolan on the list later.

089  The Fog (1980) - The John Carpenter original is creepy and atmospheric, unlike the more recent remake. Since Carpenter is used to working on a limited budget, he makes the most of what he's got. Like many of his movies, Carpenter scores the soundtrack with his own foreboding electronic music. It's simple and effective, creating an uncomfortable and dark ambience. Carpenter fills out his cast with honest, but cheap, actors. Usually those who are well known in the horror genre and particularly in Carpenter's other efforts. Jamie Lee Curtis, Adrienne Barbeau, Janet Leigh, Tom Atkins and Hal Holbrook round out a good cast in this particular creep-fest. The titular Fog provides Carpenter with cover to hide his surprises, those "horror movie" moments, but NOT like more brutal and gory modern fare. Most of the horror is suggested, sometimes by a sound or by an actor reaction but rarely is there anything stomach churning on the screen. And that's the beauty of this movie, it creeps into your head as the Fog creeps towards the shoreline of the sleepy small town of Antonio Bay. Father Malone (Holbrook) uncovers the secret and realizes, too late, what has cursed Antonio Bay. More reliant on atmosphere than almost all of today's horror spectacles, The Fog, and what lies within, is a genuine chiller...

088  Awakenings (1990) - Based on stunning true-life events, Awakenings is a wonderfully acted and moving story of a group of catatonic patients at a hospital being roused from their frozen state by a new drug and a hopeful young doctor. Robin Williams (wearing a beard so you know its serious Robin) plays Dr. Sayer, a studious, quiet and introverted man who uncovers the truth behind the statue-like patients he finds in a hospital. Robert De Niro plays one of the patients, Leonard, who after being woken after many years from his catatonic state, struggles with his new reality while trying to help Sayer find a permanent solution to the problem. The movie is heartbreaking but hopeful as the "Awakening" provides a small window for the patients to live their lives again. Penny Marshall directed and avoids too much sentimentality and cloying emotion. Instead she relies on the wonderful script, gorgeous music and the pitch perfect acting of her leads to convey the story with honesty and power. BEST SCENE: The movie is littered with good moments but one of the most powerful for me is when Leonard is suffering a setback, his body becoming rigid as he starts reverting back to his catatonic state. Dr. Sayer wants to help but he is is forcefully ordered by Leonard to keep filming him as he struggles and to "Learn, learn, learn." Powerful and brutal. Both men should've won Oscars for these roles.

087  The Prophecy (1995) - Christopher Walken as a pissed off Angel Gabriel? Sign me up. This movie was one of those fun finds from the video store. Gabriel needs to find a soul which will sway the War in Heaven in his favor. However, he's not going to get it all his own way. The movie is filled with cool imagery and interesting religious concepts like Gabriel's disharmony because God saw fit to show favor to the humans  and give them souls. Gabriel dismisses humanity as monkeys and seeks now to redress the balance in favor of the Angels, those who were once most favored by God. If the themes seem heavy and dark, the movie avoids preaching or offering anything more than a mythical angle on things, and is held together by the charismatic Walken, whose Gabriel moves like a dancer, has a sinister sense of humor and is single-minded of purpose. Walken is the star of the show but look out for Elias Koteas, Eric Stoltz, Virginia Madsen and Viggo Mortensen in one of his earliest roles. Well worth a watch. BEST SCENE: Gabriel explains why we humans have the cupid's bow on our top lip.

086  Dracula (1992) - Forget Keanu's terrible accent...and acting. He goes on to star in the Matrix and is perfectly good in it. Here, not so much. Forget about him. Concentrate instead on the beautiful visual style created by Coppola, the thunderous and ominous soundtrack by Kilar and the virtuoso performance by Gary Oldman. The cast is bolstered by Anthony Hopkins and Winona Ryder but there's no doubt this is Oldman's movie, playing the charismatic, dashing and monstrous Count Dracula. The visuals in this movie are suitably dark and soaked in red with Coppola employing many little tricks and techniques to give it a very stylized period look. To that end the effects, make-up and costumes are impressive and all earned Oscars. No doubt the film has its flaws but those are easy to overlook with such impressive visuals. And of course, whenever Oldman is on the screen the movie shines.

085  The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) - No, not the Keanu Reeves movie from the late 2000's but the old black and white effort with Michael Rennie. Simply, this is a movie about an alien who comes to Earth to warn humanity that it must find a way to live peacefully or be destroyed by the other inhabitants of the galaxy as a threat to their safety. Of course, humans being what they are, they shoot the guy (they didn't even ask his name...turns out he's called Klaatu) before he really gets the message out there. He's bundled off to hospital to be poked, prodded and interrogated but he's not content with being the punchline of some ironic Earth-humor so, he escapes. For a while he lives amongst the humans, learning about them and finally decides the only way to get the message through to them is by a demonstration of power. I won't give it all away but the title of the movie should give you a clue. Of course, the star of the show is Gort, the giant space robot, who spends most of the movie standing sentinel by the spaceship but who hides a powerful death-ray beneath his visor. The movie is nicely directed by Robert Wise, probably more famously known for The Sound of Music and West Side Story but who was never afraid to mix up genres. He has already directed another movie on my list: The Andromeda Strain. The whole thing is held together with the brilliant score by Bernard Herrmann which utilized the theremin for the otherworldly sounds. Classic science fiction! GEEK FACT: Like all good sci-fi stories, there is more to be seen here than simple aliens versus humans. It can be viewed as an allegory and that Klaatu represents Jesus (While living among the humans he chooses the name Carpenter and he is killed and resurrected) however, I first saw this when I was really young and all I know is it had a huge robot that could shoot lasers out of his face! Klaatu barada nikto Gort...

084  Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) - The original was a pure classic so it's little wonder the movie has been made and remade so many times. The paranoia and the great scares make it a perfect sci-fi/horror movie. However, I'm not picking the original, instead I'm going for the 1978 version with Donald Sutherland and Leonard Nimoy. Why? One simple reason: the scare factor. The original was creepy and played on the paranoia of the time. The '78 version just seemed to up the ante and make it a far more terrifying prospect to be body-snatched...or worse, one of the few left un-snatched! This version gets picked over the original for the pay-off: the ending is fantastically scary, or it was when I was a young lad. One other point to note is the solid direction by Philip Kaufman. He'll appear again later on the list for his directing abilities but its worth noting he's the dude who came up with the story for Raiders of the Lost Ark with George Lucas. Not too shabby.

083  The Sixth Sense (1999) - M. Night Shyamalan's crowning achievement and the possible reason his ego ran off the reservation. credit where credit is due though. If you were lucky enough to see this movie without anyone spoiling the twist for you, you walked out of the cinema chattering excitedly about it. That's how movies should be. There should be something to talk about, to be in awe of or a moment that just stole your breath away that you can't wait to talk about it. The Sixth Sense had one of those moments. It also brought the most overused sentence of the year with: "I see dead people." but that's okay too. Haley Joel Osment was superb as Cole, the young boy afflicted with visions of the dead. Bruce Willis played the somber and troubled psychologist tasked with helping the boy and managed to do so with nary a smirk. And mustn't forget Toni Collette, providing a wonderful turn as Cole's protective mother. Shyamalan proved an able storyteller, his script and directing wonderfully done. Filled with genuinely creepy moments and a great ending, its just a shame he spent the next dozen years trying to prove to everyone why he was so good. Sadly, he hasn't managed to reach these heights again. (He did take a good swing at it with Unbreakable though). BEST SCENE: That twist ending...

082  Edward Scissorhands (1990) - Johnny Depp was already every teen girls dream but this movie cemented him in place. Depp plays Edward, a sweet and sheltered young man who falls in love with a pretty girl from town. The big set back though is he has scissors for hands! Tim Burton's dark fairytale is brought to life with great visual flare, Edward's gothic castle in stark contrast to the colorful "Anytown, America" suburbs nearby. Edward is at first embraced by the community because of his natural gift with his scissorhands but of course, play with sharp instruments too long and something is bound to get cut. This is a super-sweet story without ever becoming saccharin. Depp is magnificent, proving to be a gifted actor with both dramatic and comedic talent. His movements for Edward, including the way he shuffle walks and his speech are brilliant. Winona Ryder provides the romantic interest and the cast is rounded out by a group of well known character actors: Vincent Price (his last role), Alan Arkin, Dianne Wiest and Kathy Baker. This is Burton's most visually arresting movie and one of composer Danny Elfman's top two film scores. A great film for all the family, especially if you like fairytales with a dark edge.

081  The Truman Show (1998) - What would you do if you discovered your entire life was just one big reality show? That's the question posed to Jim Carrey's character Truman Burbank as he slowly becomes aware that everything around him is not what it seems. Carrey was keen to prove his acting chops and be known for more than the mugging the made him famous and here he manages to show both skills off without ever getting too far out of control. Credit then to director Peter Weir (Master and Commander) for keeping a tight hold on his star. The story is brilliantly conceived (and becoming a more and more believable conceit in today's reality TV world) by Andrew Niccol who also wrote Gattaca, Lord of War and In Time. Carrey is backed up by a fine cast including the likes of Ed Harris, Laura Linney and Paul Giamatti. the movie is funny and touching. It's not afraid to have a jab at us, the viewer, but never gets mean about it. The best part though is how Truman comes to terms with what he's discovered and the decision he makes when the truth is known to him. Great film. BEST SCENE: Truman tests the will of "God" (Christof, played by Ed Harris)