Thursday, 24 November 2011

CRAIG'S TOP 100 FILMS - 60-51


Director: Frank CAPRA
Starring: James STEWART, Donna REED, Lionel BARRYMORE

WHY?: Possibly the most popular Christmas film ever, It's A Wonderful Life proved to be one of the divine family films with a charming and at times emotional story about family, wealth and dreams. Ambitious George Bailey (Stewart) wants to make a living of his life by moving on from his sleeper town Bedford Falls, but love and tragedy get in the way and he is left having to keep the town safe from cruel businessman Mr Potter (Barrymore). As he contemplates how his life would have turned out had he never been born, he is visited by a guardian angel who takes him to a crooked alternative universe making him realise how lucky he really is. Voted as the AFI's most cheerful film (mostly down to THAT ending), it is worthy of its reputation as a holiday classic and without doubt one of James Stewart's finest hours as an actor.

BEST SCENE: The final five minutes which truly ensure this film's status as uplifting when George returns home to his family and just when he faces arrest, is rescued by the townspeople who rally together to save him by giving him lots of money as thanks for his devotion to them over the years, all whilst singing "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing", a pinnacle Hollywood ending!

 59#. THE EXORCIST (1973)

Director: William FRIEDKIN
Starring: Max VON SYDOW, Ellen BURSTYN, Jason MILLER, Lee J. COBB, Linda BLAIR

WHY?: Though some may sneer at its sometimes laughable effects, The Exorcist still scares and repulses people to this very day as youngster Reagan O'Neill (Blair) finds herself being possessed by a mysterious demon presence much to the frantic concern of her mother (Burstyn). Upset about her daughter's physical deterioration, she enlists the help of two experienced priests (Von Sydow and Miller) to try and rid of the demon before it is too late. Once we see Reagan act strangely, the film becomes suspenseful throughout the middle act and eventually edge-of-your-seat in the final ten minutes whilst at the same time, some of the most shocking moments in film enter your mind (masturbating with a crucifix anyone?). Still renowned as one of the great horror films, it can still intimidate people now and again even if some of you do laugh at it.

BEST MOMENT: The showdown between Reagan and the two priests which deserves to be regarded as an edge-of-your-seat moment as they both face a mental duel with the demon which involves plenty of pea soup sick and a floating stunt double. Sounds funny but it's gripping stuff!

 58#. OLDBOY (2003)

Director: Chan-wook PARK
Starring: Min-sik CHOI, Ji-tae Yu, Hye-jeong KANG

WHY?: Just as gripping is the devastating and deceitful Asian classic Oldboy which left audiences with a raw taste in their mouths over the twisted story and characters before them. Businessman Dae-su Oh (Choi in real bad-ass mode) gets kidnapped and is entombed in a chamber for 15 years without any reason for why he was taken. Once he gets out, he manages to track down the man responsible (Kang) who gives Dae-su a few days to uncover the truth about his kidnap leading to horrifying consequences. Though I'm not particularly keen on foreign films, Oldboy really captivated me with its violent moments tied together with the story of vengeance and revenge which ends in such messed-up circumstances that you're thinking what has just happened? It's no wonder Hollywood are so keen to remake the film!

BEST MOMENT: That twist towards the film's ending as Dae-su confronts his nemesis but is presented with a photo album containing images of Dae-su and his family. But as we see pictures of his daughter getting older, the sickening reality for Dae-su kicks leaving us just as horrified as he is! Messed up indeed!

57#. APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)

Director: Francis Ford COPPOLA
Starring: Martin SHEEN, Marlon BRANDO, Robert DUVALL, Dennis HOPPER

WHY?: A true war epic (which suffered turmoil of its own during the making) which starts off well with a cool beginning that sets up a long, unwinding journey for the audience who are riveted by it from beginning to end. Disillusioned soldier Captain Willard (Sheen) is ordered by his superiors to take a team of troops into the Vietnamese jungle to track down a corrupted war colonel Kurtz (Brando), but after overcoming various opposition, they arrive in Kurtz's village leading to a psychological battle between Willard and the colonel; who will crack first? From the swinging opening credits to the helicopter attack to the final showdown; Apocalypse Now is a quest of a film to watch but its memorable scenes make it a worthwhile experience with an excellent cast (also including Laurence Fishburne and Harrison Ford) and some of the best quotes in film history.

BEST MOMENT: Quite a few for a film ranked low on here but probably the inferior opening montage which sets the tone of the film as we see and hear those helicopters floating around the jungle with bombs going off to the soulful tune of The End from The Doors while poor Willard's madness becomes clear at the same time. What a beginning!

 56#. GLADIATOR (2000)

Director: Ridley SCOTT
Starring: Russell CROWE, Joaquin PHOENIX, Connie NIELSEN, Oliver REED

WHY?: This impressive sword-sandals flick brought the 'epic' genre back into focus over 40 years after the last great epic; the multi-Oscar winning success of Ben-Hur. Roman general Maximus (Crowe) is wrongfully accused of killing the emperor by his evil son Commodus (Phoenix) but manages to escape execution only to find that his wife and child have been murdered. Going into slavery, Maximus vows vengeance on Commodus by taking part in various tournaments as a gladiator who fights his way to the Coliseum to confront his nemesis in a battle of revenge and honour. Impressively made by Scott, from its costumes and setting to its characters, the film did well with audiences as we cheer for Maximus with the often controversial Crowe making us support his thirst for vengeance while Phoenix plays such a cold-hearted human being who gets his just-deserts at the end!

BEST MOMENT: Probably the first fight sequence in the Coliseum as Maximus and his comrades battle it out with chariots archers in bloody fashion, much to Commodus's delight before Maximus unveils his identity to the new emperor and officially vows his revenge.

 55#. TAXI DRIVER (1976)

Director: Martin SCORSESE
Starring: Robert DE NIRO, Jodie FOSTER, Albert BROOKS, Harvey KIETEL, Cybill SHEPHERD

WHY?: Haunting and fascinating, Scorsese's gritty drama Taxi Driver remains one of the key films of its time in its bitterness towards society as portrayed on screen. Taxi driver Travis Bickle (De Niro) spends his nights riding through the streets of New York wishing that somebody could wash away the scum, but his own secluded mind causes compromise for him when he tries to pursue stunning Betsy (Shepherd). He eventually switches his attention to saving young prostitute Iris (Foster) but only after his violent mind overloads into a frenzied showdown inside a brothel. We can't really sympathise with Bickle though De Niro plays him as a fascinating character with one of his best performances featuring THAT infamous "talkin' to me?" speech. No but we are talking about you Travis you walking contradiction!

BEST MOMENT: Travis finally loses the plot after his failed assassination attempt on the candidate and armed with some guns (and a cool mohawk), decides to head down to the brothel to tackle pimp Sport (Keitel). What follows is one of cinema's most violent sequences with plenty of blood and deaths to show for it. Badass De Niro!

 54#. REAR WINDOW (1954)

Director: Alfred HITCHCOCK
Starring: James STEWART, Grace KELLY

WHY?: One of Hitchcock's classics (and hilariously spoofed by The Simpsons), this clincial thriller from the 50s certainly proved why spying on your neighbours isn't necessarily as bad thing. Photographer Jeff (Stewart) is left housebound after breaking his leg but despite the loving support of his devoted fiancée Lisa (the gorgeous Kelly), he decides to pass the time by using his telescope to look out into his neighbourhood and see what his neighbours are up to. However his fascination turns into concern as he begins to suspect that a man across the courtyard may have murdered his wife. Another terrific film from the master with edgy suspense but also dark humoured dialogue with Stewart on top of his game again though Kelly steals the film with her seductive aura, a time when classic Hollywood women never looked better on the big screen.

BEST MOMENT: Jeff watching on as Lisa sneaks into Thorwald's apartment with sharp camera work giving the audience their perspective and leaving us worried about whether she'll get caught or not. A different view from what you'd get with other films of this genre....

53#. THE LAST SAMURAI (2003)

Director: Edward ZWICK
Starring: Tom CRUISE, Ken WATANABE, Timothy SPALL, Tony GOLDWYN

WHY?: A director whose made some consistent (and at times underrated films), Zwick kept me entertained with this glorious war epic which sadly came out in the same year as a certain climactic fantasy film. Cavalry soldier Nathan Algren (Cruise) is hired by the US Army to help the Japanese army destroy the Samurai but during an ambush he is taken back to the Samurai's village where he soon learns to embrace their culture and eventually agrees to help fight with them against their enemies. Sweeping and delicately made with its production settings, this is probably my favourite Tom Cruise film as he leads it with precision though Japanese actor Watanabe provides able support. It all sounds a bit Avatarish but the Samurai culture suffer for their beliefs which is why we cheer them on during the climatic battle....

BEST MOMENT: The final charge from the Samurai led by Algren who without fear and possible sacrifice head towards the Japanese army now armed with tommy-guns who unleash fire, leading to many Samurai deaths but showing the courage to not be stopped as they keep going and going until they are almost wiped out.

 52#. SCHINDLER'S LIST (1993)

Director: Steven SPIELBERG
Starring: Liam NEESON, Ben KINGSLEY, Ralph FIENNES

WHY?: An important History lesson for many, many people who watch one of the most critically acclaimed films of all time though it just falls short of the top 50. Based on the uplifting life story, it focused on the German businessman Oskar Schindler (Neeson) who became an unlikely humanitarian amid the barbaric Nazi reign when he decided to save the lives of over a thousand Jews by turning his factory into a refuge for them. Universally admired by everyone, List is a harrowing but sublime masterpiece directed with such commitment by Spielberg and featuring a majestic leading performance from Neeson and a vicious and evil portrayal of the sadistic Nazi general Amon Goeth by Fiennes. Shot gorgeously in black and white, it benefits from its tough depiction of one of life's most despicable periods and makes even a grown man cry with such harshness in its story.

BEST MOMENT: Schindler's speech to the Jewish people in the film's climax as he is left touched by their gratefulness to his help but he breaks down too, realising he could have saved more of them. Such sadness and regret is seen in his eyes and during his speech which is why we celebrate Schindler as a hero in all cultures.


Director: Norman JEWISON
Starring: Sidney POITIER, Rod STEIGER

WHY?: A landmark film which changed Hollywood's major stance on the way African-Americans were portrayed in film. After the death of a businessman in a small southern town, visiting black Northern cop Virgil Tibbs (Poitier) is at first accused of the crime because of his skin colour but after turning out he is a cop, he reluctantly joins forces with bigoted sheriff Gillespie (Steiger) to try and find the real culprit in a racially, corrupted society. Still celebrated to this day, the actual investigation is somewhat overshadowed by the way Tibbs is treated as he uses his intelligence to solve the case but the eventual support of Gillespie proves significant in the way whites and blacks could get along. Both leading men work hard to make their characters likeable with several moments in the film pinpointing the change towards the way certain races are seen on screen.

BEST MOMENT: The moment that proves that philosophy in the greenhouse scene where Tibbs's interrogation of Endicott ends with the businessman slapping Tibbs across the face only for him to strike back straight away. A real life-changing moment in film proving that black power was on the rise!


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