Movies To See Before You Die
Dont Look Now (1973)
Nicholas Roegs Don’t Look Now has the groundbreaking suspense of a Hitchcock movie and the satanically terrifying atmosphere of a Polanski film. The editing is cutting edge, going backward and forward in time, which had hardly been done when this was made.
The plot follows a couple (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) who have lost their daughter. It is when they arrive in Venice that strange things start to happen. Small unsettling things occur at first but then suspense mounts up and so does an otherworldly dread. Things then spiral nightmarishly out of control.
Roegs direction is masterly and the performances first class. Venetian setting adds to a mise-en-scene that is already marvellous and we have a masterpiece that has, and will, continue to redefine the genres of the thriller and the horror flick. Note, when you watch this, the colour Red.
Four Weddings And A Funeral (1993)
Four weddings And A Funeral follows a single man called Charlie (Hugh Grant) and his experiences of love at four weddings and then a funeral. Charlie is a womaniser until he meets the girl of his dreams (Andie Macdowell). Sadly, it turns out she is taken but she realises she loves him. There is a lesson here to follow your heart and not to copromise whatever the cost (See the very funny final wedding scene where this point is taken to an extreme that rings bravely true).The film also paints the relationships of his friends and ex lovers wonderfuly.
The movies greatness lies in its honesty towards human relationships and love. So many romantic films seem shallow and pathetic. This is the opposite. It shows and expresses so much more than meets the eye. One of the best films about love ever made.
Pat Garret And Billy The Kid (1973)
Sam Peckinpah’s visionary western is arguably the best western ever made. The only other westerns that rival it are The Wild Bunch and Once Upon A Time In The West. Peckinpah’s original directors cut was severed by MGM so that all that was left was the gunfights with a little exposition. The poetic qualities of the film Peckinpah wanted to be remembered by were lost. The film has recently been re-edited and re-released, as Peckinpah wanted it to be.
Pat Garret (James Coburn) and Billy The Kid (Kris Kristofferson) were once friends. Over time they went their separate ways. Garret became a sheriff and Billy stayed an outlaw.
Garret, as the law, feels it is his duty to hunt down his once friend, and send him to the gallows.
So, the film is about the hunter and the hunted. Garret is a symbol of the civilised man who must kill Billy (The wild man) to rid himself of the wild man within himself. Something the old west had to eradicate from its own psyche.
Bob Dylan does the soundtrack and has a role in the film as one of Billy’s men. It is great to witness him in a film even if it is a minor role. The soundtrack is superb. Dylan wrote Knocking On Heavens Door Especially for this. When two artists such as Dylan and Peckinpah come together, it is inevitable that the sparks of creativity shall fly.
Pat Garret And Billy The Kid is a poem for all westerns, an odyssey of the old west that that is as powerful as it is mournful.
Fistful Of Dynamite (1971)
Sergio Leone’s revolutionary spaghetti western is a spectacularly original movie about two men caught up in the Mexican revolution.
One of the two men is an Irish terrorist, strapped to the hilt with a superb array of explosives. The other is a Mexican bandit with seven sons all armed to the teeth. The two friends end up as the unlikely leaders of the revolution.
The characters are wonderful, the photography dynamic. The film has the authentic feel of a Stienbeck novel. It is one of a kind and makes for magnificent entertainment.
American Psycho (2000)
This film is a blend of jet black comedy and highly effective horror. The violence is in the editing, which is nice to see, as so many horror films now days are totally tasteless in their showing of gratuitous torture and gore.
The film is about the lifestyle of Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale). Bateman works on Wall Street. He is an incredibly narcissistic psychopath. He has no moral sense of guilt and that is perhaps why no one believes him when he confesses he’s killed people.
The film is strangely hilarious at times. Like when a friend walks past him on the street as he is loading a bag into his car with a body inside. The friend comments that the bag is designer and extremely cool.
There is also a scene when Bateman is about to strangle a colleague but stops himself. The colleague is a homosexual and mistakes Bateman’s attempt for an expression of sexual longing.
Bateman has pretty bad taste as I expect most psychos do. He does however, have a kind of razor sharp charm, an electric charisma, thanks to Christian Bales marvellously unsettling performance.
Barton Fink (1991)
The Coen brother’s comedy/thriller Barton Fink is an edgy surrealist film brimming over with humour that is both dark and bizarre.
Barton Fink is a playwright who has just made it big in New York. A movie production company in Los Angeles invites him to come and write a script for them. Barton agrees but when he arrives in LA he finds out it is to be a wrestling picture. This does not interest or inspire him whatsoever.
Barton is a strange loser, with a great heart. He is consistently let down by those around him and is extremely lonely.
The characters he meets throughout the film range from alcoholic writers, inspirational secretaries and a very kind hearted psychopath.
The film is largely about writers block (Something which Joel and Ethan Coen have had some experience with) and what it is like to be a writer. The film is like nothing you will have ever seen. It is a superbly original film about creativity and the pain that comes with it.
After watching the alien sequels before the original I was particularly sceptical of the first one. When I watched it, however, I was pleasantly surprised. It is basically the usual horror idea of a group of people who get stalked by a killer and killed off one by one. Only, in this movie the killer is a terrifying giant alien.
The film is science fiction at it’s best. We see the crew of the ship going about their daily routine and Ridley Scott (The director of this film) builds atmosphere and tension masterfully by cutting in scenes of the huge spaceship flying through space. These people are, we realise, very alone.
The Performances are brilliant and the characters never end up being the usual horror stereotypes. The cast includes Sigourney Weaver (At her best), Tom Skerritt (The irresponsible captain of the spaceship),Ian Holm, Harry Dean Stanton and last but not least John Hurt.
With Alien and Bladerunner in his cannon and Prometheus coming out in 2012 Ridley Scott is, arguably, the greatest science fiction director living.
The Crying Game (1992)
Neil Jordan’s film The Crying Game is a thriller about the redeeming power of love. The IRA kidnap a man (Forest Whitaker in one of his first major roles). They hold him for ransom but it is not paid so they end up having to kill him. The twist is that a kidnapper called Jimmy makes friends with the kidnapped man.
The victim asks a favour of his friend that after he is killed that Jimmy will go and see his girlfriend and see that she is okay. Jimmy goes, and falls in love with her, but there is another twist that changes everything.The film touches on many subjects such as redemption and homosexuality. It is also about how love can heal almost any situation.
The Crying Game is many things, funny, sad, scary, brutal, beautiful and all these add up to make this a terrific thriller.
True Grit (2011)
The Coen brothers western is a truly gritty adventure that is directed and scripted in their usual characteristically oddball style. In this film they show a great maturity as filmmakers. Many of their other movies never reached this kind of seriousness. This is their masterpiece.
The story follows a young girl called Mattie Ross (Hailee Stienfeld) whose father has been killed. She is out to find the meanest gun for hire, which brings her to the drunken roughneck Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges in his best role since The Big Lebowski). We realise Mattie is quite obstinate and perhaps used to getting her own way when she will not take no for an answer from the weather beaten old gunslinger. He does however agree to help her hunt down the killer. The two become three when another bounty hunter called La Boeuf (Matt Damon) throws in with them.
Their adventure takes them across the vast American wilderness that has not looked so great in a western since the films of John Ford. Scenes in the film echo and pay homage to other western classics. The scene in the beginning of the film when Mattie steps off the train and the camera pans up to show the old west town echoes the scene where Claudia Cardinal’s character does the same In Once Upon A Time In The West. The scenes when Rooster and Mattie are riding through the woods as it snows echoes and pays homage to The Searchers.
True Grit has two great montage sequences that give the viewer a wonderful opportunity to lap up the beauty of the American landscapes. The set pieces are stunning, the shootouts superb.
Hailee Steinfeld plays Mattie in a performance that is a masterpiece in itself. She was just thirteen when she played the part. Her role in the film is a true reminder that children can often be much more clever than adults.
Sexy Beast (2000)
Forget The Godfather films, Goodfellas and Scarface. This is a totally different breed of gangster film. It is also British and shows up Guy Ritchie’s takes on the genre no end.
Sexy Beast is a deeply serious yet highly hilarious movie that pulses with tremendous energy and style.
Gal (Ray Winstone) is a retired criminal living the high life in Costa Del Sol with his wife and two friends. The weather is splendid. His wife is gorgeous. His villa is beautiful; in fact it is almost paradise until the beastly Don Logan (Ben Kingsley) turns up. Don wants Gal to do one more job. Gal is not keen on the idea to say the least but Don is not someone you say no to. He is an evil beast of a man. A monster. He insults anyone and everyone and is prone to violent fits of rage. Tension mounts and things come to an ultra-violent head. Kingsley plays Don Logan superbly. His roles in Sexy Beast and Gandhi could not be more different. It might be fun to watch both films in a row, simply to contemplate acting and drama in its highest forms.
The first two thirds of the movie are pure excellence. There is nothing like it. The final third is very good but lacks much of the intensity of before. Overall, a potent acting showcase for Kingsley that is a highly dangerous masterpiece.
Before Sunrise (1995)
Before sunrise is a well made romantic film with a brain. Jessie (Ethan Hawke) is on the train when he meets a girl (Julie Delpy), they start talking and end up spending a day together. They fall in love and then perhaps stupidly decide to never see each other again.
What makes the film such a joy to watch is the performances and direction. Richard Linklater (Slacker and A Scanner Darkly) directed it. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy acted it and wonderfully. The playful philosophical conversations they have together as they wonder around Paris are great to watch and thought provoking. The romance always seems authentic and engaging. Ultimately it is a film for love lost and love found. A film for all romantics.
Blue Velvet (1986)
Blue Velvet is a first class Freudian nightmare. A young man called Jeffrey(Kyle Maclachlan), who still lives with his parents, finds a severed human ear. He is seduced by the idea of being an amateur detective. So he starts to find out what happened. Then he is swept into a dark nightmarish otherworld of blackmail, murder and masochistic violence.
The film was made on a small budget and is far more atmospheric and original than anything that comes out of film industries these days.
Many found director David Lynch’s vision of dysfunctional relationships and rape too horrifying to take. It is a disturbing movie but then if you cannot take disturbing there are just too many great films you are going to miss out on.
It is a simple story but the quality of the film lays in the artistic way in which it is produced and directed. Also the performances are brilliant, Sandy (Laura Dern) as the love interest and particularly Dennis Hopper’s Frank, arguably the most convincing portrayal of human evil ever to be captured on film.
The Long Goodbye (1973)
The Long Goodbye is a fantastic controversial detective movie from the legendary director Robert Altman. Altman also directed Mash, Short Cuts and The Player.
He based the film on the book written by Raymond Chandler. Chandler set the book in the 40’s but Altman chose to move the plot forward to the 70’s.
Private detective Philip Marlowe (Eliot Gould), arguably the coolest loser to ever appear in a film, is thrown into a world of murder, femme fatales, blackmail and L.A sleaze. Nothing is as it seems. No one can be trusted. It is a dark vision but the charismatic coolness of the protagonist keeps things in the balance.
This is an amazing film and a must see. The film boasts a brilliant jazzy soundtrack and a catchy theme tune by John Williams.
The first half of vertigo is about someone being taken for a ride, but the viewer does not realise that until half way through. Really, the spiritual madness that possesses the first half of the film is what makes it such a monumental achievement.
A detective (James Stewart) almost dies and a fellow cop falls to his death from a high building. The detective stops work, as he suffers from vertigo. He is then approached for a private job from an old friend. He is hired to follow his friend’s wife (Kim Novak) who is perhaps possessed by someone who is dead.
The way Hitchcock stages each set piece as the mentally unhinged ex-cop follows the mysterious women is as dazzlingly surreal, as it is beautiful. Things take a much more noir turn in the second half of the film. When we realise that the film is about how people get used and exploited by others in relationships. Themes that are ever more present in society today. I believe Alfred Hitchcock was far ahead of his time as a filmmaker. This is a nightmare-dreamscape movie, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. A masterpiece. The Bernard Hermann soundtrack is his best apart for what he did for Taxi Driver and Psycho.
The Player (1992)
This film is one of the best satires on Hollywood ever made. Only Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard beats it.
Tim Robbin's is a movie executive who screenwriters come to get there scripts made into films. When he starts receiving death threats from a screenwriter he turned down in the past his life takes a dramatic turn for the worst.
The thriller plot is great but conversations about films overheard in the background of the movie are partly what make this a very interesting film to watch again and again. The main character murders someone in cold blood. Only a truly great filmmaker could make us care for him and take his side throughout. This film is a marvellously devilish satire.
Wild At Heart (1990)
Wild At Heart is as David Lynch describes it, a road romance movie that takes you on a journey along a twisted highway in the modern world.
If I had to describe wild at heart in three words I would say powerful, wild and romantic.
It is very different to any other lynch films as it largely makes sense and has a lighter feeling to it as well as a few very disturbing scenes.
The cast is star studded and excellent. Nicolas Cage, Laura Dern and Willem Dafoe are captivating. Diane Lad’s performance as the mother who is cracking up is deeply satisfying. It is perhaps the icing on the cake.
The soundtrack is flawless and uplifting with a mixture of rock originating from Elvis Presley and Angelo Badalamenti.
Rear Window (1954)
Rear window is among Alfred Hitchcock’s best work. Photographer Jeff’s leg is broken and he is stuck in his flat with nothing to but watch the neighbours obsessively.
James Stewart plays the character to a t. Grace Kelly is the love interest, looking as if she has just come straight from a vogue photo shoot.
Stewart’s character thinks the man who lives in the apartment opposite him has committed murder; suspense mounts and things spiral out of control. The reason the film is such a masterpiece is that it is essentially about what its like to watch a film and not being able to participate in events observed. The many small stories of the neighbour’s lives are memorable and serve as brilliant short films within the whole. It is a masterpiece from the master of suspense.