Saturday, 24 December 2011

CRAIG'S TOP 100 FILMS - 20-11

20#. HOOSIERS (1986)

Director: David ANSPAUGH
Starring: Gene HACKMAN, Dennis HOPPER, Barbara HERSHEY

WHY?: Basketball films don't often have an impression on non-American audiences but to me it was one of those little gems which had the struggles, the emotion and the inspiration to place itself this high on my list (not bad seeing that I first watched it last year!). In the 1950s, naval captain Norman Dale (Hackman) turns up to a local Indiana town to take charge of the professional basketball team but struggles to win them over at first especially with their star player ruling himself out of contention to play. His shrewd tactics cause disharmony amongst the townspeople and when results don't go the team's way, they call for his sacking. But the star player's decision to play for the team again leads to a change of opinion and soon a flurry of successful results leads to the team going the distance as they seek glory on their way towards the National Championship finals. Though regarded as an American classic, the sentimentality of the film reaches out towards the teams from small communities who seek some inspiration and they get that here thanks to an effortless performance from Hackman with Hopper showing subtly in his supporting role. The basketball scenes are flowing and energetic to watch and the ending of the film leaves you very satisfied which is what you come to expect, especially with that charming musical score by Jerry Goldsmith which raises a smile everytime I hear it.

BEST MOMENT: The final ten minutes which crams so much sporting desire into it from Norman's emotional speech to his players (you forget this is a sports film after his final quote) to the frantic game itself held in a large arena with fantastic support. One of those classic finishes to a film where you want your heroes to succeed and by 'eck do they do that!

19#. GOODFELLAS (1990)

Director: Martin SCORSESE
Starring: Ray LIOTTA, Robert DE NIRO, Joe PESCI, Lorraine BRACCO

WHY?: Within the first couple of minutes of this film, Henry Hill's iconic quote "I always wanted to be a gangster" invites everyone in as they become seduced by the intimidating power of life as a crooked man. Based on a true story, gangster Hill (Liotta) recalls his times with the mafia from his uprising in the early 50's as a keen young man looking to make his way in the world, before focusing on his many run-ins and triumphs with the mob including his two companions Jimmy Conway (De Niro) and Tommy DeVito (Pesci); including successful bank robberies, drug-related crimes, marriage, etc, over a course of three decades. Regarded as one of Scorsese's masterpieces, the influential story-telling (which The Sopranos took a lot of detail from along with several of its actors) lets us know about what life in the mafia was like with constant violence and dark humour mixed in to create a memorable experience for many viewers. Liotta carries the film well with De Niro and the frightening Pesci on top form too but it's an all round effort in the production department. The immaculate editing by the always reliable Thelma Schoonmaker serves a treat (the tracking shot of Henry and Karen in the restaurant is special stuff) and an energetic soundtrack with songs from Tony Bennett, Dean Martin and the Rolling Stones adding to its popularity. How it failed to win against Dances With Wolves at the Oscars I'll never know....

BEST SCENE: One of the most intense yet humourous scenes in film as Henry takes great pleasure in laughing at Tommy's jokes in the restaurant only for Tommy to be somewhat offended by his friend finding him hilarious. A lot of suspense is created by this moment as it looks like Tommy will blow, but fortunately it all becomes a bit of messing around between the pair. Ray Liotta's laugh is genius!


Director: Frank DARABONT

WHY?: Loved by many in recent years, The Shawshank Redemption started off as a critical box-office failure back in 1994 but when more and more people watched in on VHS, its respectability as a celebrated film all came down to audience opinion and it gained a lot of followers in the years since then. Bank manager Andy DuFresne (Robbins) gets (wrongfully) accused of murdering his wife and her lover and is sentenced to life in the rough and brutal Shawshank prison. Over the next two decades, he becomes involved in different predicaments like befriending fellow prisoner Red (Freeman), getting attacked by guards and homosexual inmates and building a library to make the place more respectable. But during that time, hope is what keeps him going as he soon plots his escape from the place leading to surprise results. This astonishing film inspired many with the complex friendship between Andy and Red beautifully acted out by Robbins and Freeman, as we support our hero's desire to be free from this prison which appals and shocks us with the way people are treated. Darabont didn't get the credit he deserved but everything here was all down to him with a powerful script, lauded characters and memorable scenes showing why it is regarded as a modern classic. The people on IMDB seem to agree about that anyway!

BEST MOMENT: From the moment Andy doesn't come out of his cell, the audience get their satisfaction out of seeing the Warden and his guards discover that Andy has escaped. His carefully layed out plan saw him climb through a hole in the wall of his cell before showing his getaway through the pipes and eventually climaxing with the iconic shot of him out in the rain with his arms out signalling his freedom. Sublime and an iconic moment in cinema.

 17#. THE KING'S SPEECH (2010)

Director: Tom HOOPER
Starring: Colin FIRTH, Geoffrey RUSH, Helena BONHAM CARTER, Guy PEARCE

WHY?: An Oscar-winning film from earlier this year, the royal drama was lauded by many critics and audiences for its inspiring true story of one of Britain's greatest kings. Royal monarch George VII (Firth) struggles to cope with a stammer which complicates his speeches but is supported by his devoted wife Elizabeth (Bonham Carter). She seeks the help of Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue (Rush) to try and help her husband though his roguish personality causes amicable tension. However the pair work together well with George gaining more confidence with his speaking, but his responsibilities as a leader become a reality when his brother (Pearce) resigns as King leaving George with the tough objective of taking over and giving assurance to his people his about the upcoming Second World War via a crucial speech. Though I only saw this film at the start of the year, I was captivated by the celebrated story of a monarch's struggle and that was a formality when it attracted large audiences; young and old as Hooper's second directional feat won the hearts of many with its glorious depiction of England before the war and its light-hearted story which gives drama off so beautifully but also has its laughs too. Firth and Rush produce excellent chemistry with their on-screen partnership with the former giving a heartbreaking and sensible portrayal while the rest of the ensemble also excel in this b-b-b-brilliant work of art!
BEST MOMENT: The key scene of the film towards the end as our stuttering king faces the almighty task of addressing the nation via microphone to give them calmness before the storm. For three minutes we hold out for George to keep calm himself as he carefully gives his speech with several shots showing the British public reacting to this important speech that could make or break their lives. All this with Beethoven's haunting Speaking Unto Nations being played during the scene, one of the best uses of music in film, to show the crucial aspect of what it all means for England.

 16#. THE LION KING (1994)

Director: Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff
Starring: Matthew BRODERICK, Jeremy IRONS, Nathan LANE, Rowan ATKINSON, James EARL JONES

WHY?: One of my favourite animated films showcased its legacy when it was re-released this summer and continued to attract audiences young and old to it, all thanks to the magical entertainment it gives from start to finish. In Africa, a young lion cub named Simba is presented to the wildlife species as the heir to Pride Rock, but his jealous uncle Scar (deceitfully voiced by Irons) yearns to be king and tries to stop Simba from getting his chance. He sets Simba up to be killed by wildebeest but his father Mufasa (Earl Jones) saves him only for Scar to cruelly let his brother go from the top of a cliff. Simba blaming himself for the tragedy, goes on the run and with the help of a warthog and a meerkat (plus being a lot older), he awaits his destiny and returns to his home to confront his uncle; Hamlet-style! With a Shakespearean theme to it, Lion King has an enchanting story with one of the best beginnings to a film and made even more memorable by its joyous songs like Circle of Life, Hakuna Mutata and Can You Feel the Love Tonight. The quirky (and sinister characters) all have their supporters with some great voice actors while the stunning visual imagery of Africa only adds to the adventure for audiences. Although I respect Hunchback, Mulan and Tarzan, nothing could surpass Lion King as Disney's last great masterpiece, probably for the rest of its days!

BEST MOMENT: As said before, the opening five minutes is big-screen magic to captivate its audience straight away as the scorching song The Circle of Life plays into the whole scene. We see meerkats, giraffes, elephants and zebras strolling across the plain and once the banging chorus comes into it, the sing-along begins properly before we watch Simba being held aloft by Rafiki. Once the title appears, the timeless opening ends, what a beginning!


Director: Steven SPIELBERG

WHY?: Sir Steven Spielberg continues to impact on this list with perhaps his most beloved classic which enchanted audiences and even reduced grown-up men to tears. When an alien is accidentally left behind by its spaceship whilst on Earth, it flees to a Californian neighbourhood where it is taken in by a young boy called Elliot (Thomas) who decides to look after it. Naming him E.T, he becomes amazed by what he can do and with the help of his brother and sister, tries to help him contact his ship so that he can return home. But when a team of Scientists turn up on Elliot's doorstep to study E.T, he hatches a plan to save his extra-terrestrial friend and get him back to his ship and return home. Though my favourite director has always been a fan of sentimentality in his films, there is no denying that without it here, the film would be nowhere near the classic it is now. We laugh (E.T wearing the female clothing), we cry (you know which scene), we celebrate (Elliot letting the frogs escape) and we are wowed (the bike flying past the moon), as E.T's stay on Earth proves entertaining for the audience. But alongside John Williams's delightful score, it is also emotionally strong thanks to the friendship between E.T and Elliot as young Thomas gave one of the best child performances on screen and though his career never got going after that, he still had the define honour of being part of this historical phenomenon.

BEST MOMENT: Remember when I said this film made grown men cry? When E.T 'dies', our young human hero weeps for his friend's death and after giving his emotional goodbye, we fear that all is lost. But when E.T's heart starts to shine again, we go from depression to ecstasy within seconds and so the frantic chase scenes begin as E.T heads nearer to home....

 14#. SHREK 2 (2004)

Director: Andrew ADAMSON
Starring: Mike MYERS, Eddie MURPHY, Cameron DIAZ, Antonio BANDERAS, John CLEESE, Julie ANDREWS, Jennifer SAUNDERS, Rupert EVERETT

WHY?: While everyone adores the first film, the second one to me was far more entertaining and funny and yes I regard it as one of the best sequels though it's a shame the later ones never reached the standard of the original two. After returning from their honeymoon, ogres Shrek (Myers) and Fiona (Diaz) receive an invite to see her parents in the Land of Far, Far, Away and are once again accompanied by noble steed Donkey (Murphy). But her father King Harold (Cleese) disapproves of Shrek and with the help of the Fairy Godmother (Saunders), hires feline assassin Puss In Boots (Banderas) to confront him but they eventually team up to stop the Godmother's son Prince Charming (Everett) from trying to secretly marry Fiona. After the wacky, cleverness of the original, number two delves into a far more extended world from the fairytale perspective with quirky new characters particularly Banderas's Puss (whose eyes are simply too cute to ignore) standing out just as well though seeing the likes of Shrek and Donkey back on the big screen is welcoming too. The voice cast is much stronger and the jokes are more funnier too with cultural references (from a picture of Justin Timberlake to song tributes to Bonnie Tyler and Ricky Martin) added in to keep its mixed audiences satisfied. Animation and satire really do work together and that is what this and the original Shrek succeeded with.

BEST MOMENT: The dinner face-off scene has a lot of tension and humour to it, as Shrek and Harold square off much to the disappointment of their loved ones, with all that delicious food quickly eaten to show their dominance. Add in Donkey's witty one-liners, and you have a carefully detailed scene with so much going on all played for laughs....Donkey!

 13#. THE GODFATHER (1972)

Starring: Marlon BRANDO, Al PACINO, James CAAN, Robert DUVALL, Diane KEATON

WHY?: Chilling and masterful, Coppola's gangster masterpiece was another film that changed the industry with its epic focus on a Mafia family, told with much more subtly yet nastiness than Goodfellas and was the landmark for all things gangster. Don Vito Corleone (Brando) shows his power as a mob boss by agreeing to killings and crimes even on his own daughter's wedding day. But later on when he is almost assassinated by a rival family, his fiery son Sonny (Caan) vows revenge and looks to keep the family steady while his pa recovers. But he gets his younger and maturer brother Michael (Pacino) to take out a couple of people responsible for the attack which then leads to him fleeing to Italy. But after tragedy strikes his family again, he returns a lot more ruthless and determined to tackle the other gangs with abrupt force. The darkness of the film leaves us astounded as we somehow support this family despite some of them either being corrupted or murderous and we idolise them because of it. The sublime performances from Brando, Caan and a brooding Pacino carry the film entirely but it's Coppola's adaptation of the Mario Puzo novels which stands out, as this grand epic (homaged by many others films and TV shows) inserts shocking violence and twists to showcase the manipulative side of crime through one family's legacy. The sequels carry on the bluntness of the film's theme but didn't quite reach the heights of the original. It was a film that no one could refuse....

BEST MOMENT: The video clip above is lauded by many and slickly edited as Michael gives his religious vows at his nephew's baptism. But as renounces the 'sins', his henchmen one-by-one bump off the heads of each rival family showing no mercy as Michael's turn towards the dark side finally comes full circle. The death of Moe Green is still disturbing which is why you don't mess with gangsters!

12#. AIRPLANE! (1980)

Director: David ZUCKER
Starring: Robert HAYS, Julie HAGERTY, Leslie NIELSEN, Lloyd BRIDGES, Peter GRAVES

WHY?: The beginning of spoof films came from Zucker's hilarious farce which poked fun at disaster films particularly the Airport franchise which dominated the 1970s. Pilot turned taxi-driver Ted Striker (Hays) tries to stop his stewardess girlfriend Lorraine (Hagerty) from flying to Chicago and ends up getting on her flight. But when all the cabin crew and some passengers get food-poisoning from eating fish, Striker faces the difficult task of using his war flying skills to land the plane safely and gets help from Lorraine, a firm doctor (Nielsen in his comedy-making debut) and the hard-working yet hopeless control team led by Bridges. Screwball comedy was never as funny than with this comedic gem that remains one of the funniest films of all time (my second favourite comedy in fact). Though some spoof films have been rather silly (aside from Scary Movie 3 and the Naked Gun franchise), Airplane! does its parodies crisply skitting the likes of Jaws and Saturday Night Fever but it also shocked with some of its deadpan humour such as Capt. Oveur's pedophilliac dialogue with youngster Joey. The hilarious ensemble cope well with the vulgar script with the likes of Hays and Nielsen signalling their comedic roots with seriousness in amongst the hilarity, with the latter going on to greater things. Easily quotable too, though don't call it Shirley!

BEST MOMENT: So many to choose from including the video clip but in the end I went with Ted and Lorraine's dance scene which spoofed Saturday Night Fever. It's completely unoriginal with its opposing look at how a man and woman should dance, with the Bee Gee's Stayin' Alive speeded up for fun. Parody at its very best!

 11#. THE DEPARTED (2006)

Director: Martin SCORSESE
Starring: Leonardo DI-CAPRIO, Matt DAMON, Jack NICHOLSON, Mark WAHLBERG

WHY?: Though The Godfather remains the elite gangster film, Scorsese's excellent The Departed IS the elite crime film and for me is Scorsese's elite film from beginning to end though it just misses out on the Top Ten. In Boston, rookie cop Billy Costigan (Di-Caprio) is asked by his superiors to go undercover to find out information about tyrannical mob boss Frank Costello (Nicholson). But it turns out that another cop named Colin Sullivan (Damon) is working undercover FOR Costello and trying to find out what the police are up to during the case as both men realise the consequences that could happen if either one of them is found out. Watching this at the cinema was a worthwhile experience especially with the clinical story crisply adapted from the original Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs (2002). Scorsese has all his auteur trademarks here including the continued use of Rolling Stone's Gimme Shelter, the complex editing from Thelma Schoonmaker and the focus on police brutality, corruption and crime. Di-Caprio and Damon's characters both square off with great intensity though it's Nicholson and Wahlberg who steal the film with their intimidating presence whenever they appear. Remarkably made, it's a bold statement to call this better than Taxi Driver, Raging Bull or Goodfellas as Marty's best film but watching this on the big screen made the experience more engaging and it gets better with each viewing. As Costello says; what's the difference?

BEST MOMENT: Probably one of my best moments in a cinema (actually one my favourite film moments full stop) which left me and the audience completely stunned as Billy arrests Colin towards the film's end, and as the pair hitch a ride in a lift, it would seem that justice is about to be served, the villain will go to prison and our hero will walk away safe but once those lift doors open....bang!


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