Monday, 29 November 2010

RECAP - 20 TO GO

As we enter the top 20, here is a recap of the 62 films that didn't quite make it.

Be interesting to hear any views or predictions...

:-)

82. FORREST GUMP - 1994
81. AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS - 1956
80. CIMARRON - 1931
79. CRASH - 2005
78. BRAVEHEART - 1995
77. ROCKY - 1976
76. TOM JONES - 1963
75. THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH - 1952
74. THE BROADWAY MELODY - 1929
73. TERMS OF ENDEARMENT - 1983
72. GOING MY WAY - 1944
71. GANDHI - 1982

70. DRIVING MISS DAISY - 1989
69. CAVALCADE - 1933
68. CHARIOTS OF FIRE - 1981
67. DANCES WITH WOLVES - 1990
66. OLIVER! - 1968
65. THE DEER HUNTER - 1978
64. A BEAUTIFUL MIND - 2001
63. ANNIE HALL - 1977
62. GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT - 1947
61. OUT OF AFRICA - 1985

60. SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE - 1998
59. A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS - 1966
58. MRS MINIVER - 1942
57. HURT LOCKER - 2009
56. HAMLET - 1948
55. THE LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING - 2003
54. PLATOON - 1986
53. THE LIFE OF EMILE ZOLA - 1937
52. GIGI - 1958
51. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST

50. GLADIATOR - 2000
49. ORDINARY PEOPLE - 1980
48. THE DEPARTED - 2006
47. HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY - 1941
46. IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT - 1967
45. ALL THE KING'S MEN - 1949
44. BEN-HUR - 1959
43. MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY - 1935
42. RAIN MAN - 1988
41. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE - 2008

40. PATTON - 1970
39. MARTY - 1955
38. THE GREAT ZIEGFELD - 1936
37. TITANIC - 1997
36. GRAND HOTEL - 1932
35. CHICAGO - 2002
34. MIDNIGHT COWBOY - 1969
33. MILLION DOLLAR BABY - 2004
32. THE LAST EMPEROR - 1987
31. KRAMER VS KRAMER - 1979

30. THE APARTMENT - 1960
29. YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU - 1938
28. SCHINDLER'S LIST - 1993
27. THE FRENCH CONNECTION - 1971
26. THE STING - 1973
25. WEST SIDE STORY - 1961
24. ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT - 1930
23. UNFORGIVEN - 1992
22. THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI - 1957
21. THE ENGLISH PATIENT - 1996

STILL TO COME - THE TOP 20 BEST PICTURE WINNERS

1928 - WINGS
1934 - IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT
1939 - GONE WITH THE WIND
1940 - REBECCA
1943 - CASABLANCA
1945 - THE LOST WEEKEND
1946 - THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES
1950 - ALL ABOUT EVE
1951 - AN AMERICAN IN PARIS
1953 - FROM HERE TO ETERNITY

1954 - ON THE WATERFRONT
1962 - LAWRENCE OF ARABIA
1964 - MY FAIR LADY
1965 - THE SOUND OF MUSIC
1972 - THE GODFATHER
1974 - THE GODFATHER II
1984 - AMADEUS
1991 - THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
1999 - AMERICAN BEAUTY
2007 - NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

21. THE ENGLISH PATIENT - 1996

Very few films have been made in the past twenty years to rival the scale of ‘The English Patient’. The genre was seen as dead and antiquated, and I think that ‘The English Patient’ got quite a lot of undeserved criticism because of it.

The source of this was a novel by Ondaatje and tells the story of Count Almasy (Ralph Fiennes). The film is in flashback, with one half showing the burned and dying Fiennes known as the English patient (although he is in fact Hungarian) being cared for in Italy in the last years of the Second World War by a Canadian nurse, Hanna, played by the joyous Juliette Binoche. He had a poor memory of his life, but can remember more recent events, and recounts his obsession and love after with an English married woman, played by Kristin Scott Thomas, whom he met in the early years of the war in North Africa. His memory is helped by the arrival of David Caravaggio (Willem Dafoe), a spy who remembers the role that the Count played a during this period.

If there is one word that I would use to describe this film, it is lavish. The cinematography is stunning: sweeping desert scenery, the wild Italian house where the Count is nursed, the bustling and exotic cities, and then conversely the suspense filled intense love scenes, most beautifully between Binoche and her love interest Kip (Naveen Andrews) when he takes her flying around a church. Coupled with the excellent story, the film was always going to have potential.

The acting is excellent. Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas, him as the mysterious brooding offhand male and her as the proper English lady who has a deep passion, have wonderful chemistry when on screen together, but for me, the film belongs to Binoche. A less glamorous and more challenging role than her co-stars, she is simply delightful as the caring nurse, and the screen just lights up whenever she is on it.

The film draws on themes of love, war, trust but perhaps most importantly identity, as all characters struggle to find out who they are, how they should behave and what they want in this changing war time period.

Admittedly the film is not fast paced and not full of action, but for those who give it the time and want to get lost in a celluloid world of pure old-fashioned romance and stunning vistas, then they will be firmly rewarded. In years to come, this will be heralded as a romantic epic to content with ‘Doctor Zhivago’ and ‘Gone with the Wind’.

One final word on the contest this year between ‘The English Patient’ and ‘Fargo’. I am torn, and I think that this would have been one of the hardest years to choose a winner as both films are excellent but entirely different, but if forced to make a choice, I would select ‘Fargo’ for best picture and ‘The English Patient’ for Minghella’s direction.

22. THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI - 1957

There are few directors that have made such an impact in the world of cinema than David Lean. ‘Brief Encounter’ is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, romance films ever made, and then he churned out three fantastic epics: ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’, ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and the stunning ‘Doctor Zhivago’ amongst over great works. Whereas ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ is the adventure epic and ‘Doctor Zhivago’ the romantic epic, ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ is the intellectual epic.

In World War II in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp on the banks of the River Kwai, the British prisoners are instructed to build a bridge as a strategic move for the Japanese forces. Initially, the British soldiers are rebellious, and do all in their capabilities to undermine attempts to build the bridge. The most senior member of the British Army in the camp, Colonel Nicholson, in an award winning turn from Alex Guinness, is horrified by the lack of discipline from the men and orders them to build the bridge properly as it will give them structural and a sense of purpose whilst in the camp, whilst showing the enemy the superiority of the British.

Initially the soldiers are horrified that they should be helping the enemy, but eventually follow their leader and construct a bridge. Meanwhile, three soldiers, including Shears, a US Navy Commander (William Holden) escape (although they are believed to have been shot and killed) and are recruited into a plot to blow up the bridge in an effort to help the British and American forces, and the film is left with a situation where one side of the war are fighting for two very different things.

What is so clever about this film is that the audience are left understanding both sides of the argument: should the British soldiers be helping the Japanese in order to keep their own morale high? And do we, after siding with the Colonel, feel a sense of anger that these escapees are trying to sabotage the bridge. This leads to a nail-biting ending where we are torn in our hopes and expectations.

Like in all of Lean’s films, the filming is complemented by excellent acting, and this is headed by a Lean favourite, Alec Guinness, in a challenging and memorable role. There are few examples of a Best Actor Oscar being more deservedly won. Holden, a favourite of Hollywood at the time is also excellent, and the list continues with Jack Hawkins and Sessue Hayakawa. What makes this film work so well is the different views that each actor manages to put across and although it is filmed like a sumptuous epic, the actually theme is much smaller and personal.

I defy anyone not to be fascinated by this film. It is so interesting, so though-provoking and so beautiful, and really does have one of the most brilliant endings in the history of film. A timeless, must see classic.

23. UNFORGIVEN - 1992

Brilliant westerns, and there have been more than a few in the history of modern film making, have never really done well at the Academy Awards. ‘Cimarron’ won in 1931, but it is more an epic set in the west, and ‘Dances with Wolves’ is more a romance/war film than a proper western, in my eyes. Yes. ‘Unforgiven’ is the only western to win the most coveted award in film.

Like all westerns, the basic story is simple and but what is right and wrong is not straightforward. In Big Whiskey, Wyoming, a whore is cut up by a couple of drunken cowboys, and the sheriff, Little Bill (Gene Hackman) takes little action to punish the perpetrators. The prostitutes are unhappy and decide to take matters into their own hand by putting a bounty on the heads of these men. Three men are attracted to this: the retired widower Bill Munny (Clint Eastwood, who also directed), his former partner in crime, Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), and the young opportunistic Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett), and they set off to avenge the young girl.

I think that this is one of Eastwood’s greatest performances. He is restrained and commanding, but as always is never over the top: the role does not command that, and Eastwood has never been an over the top type of actor. Morgan Freeman is, as ever, reliable. He is one of those actors who is steady and secure, and whilst I am rarely blown away by his performance, I am always happy to have him on my screen. For me, the standout roles are from Woolvett, who is na├»ve and foolish and a total irritant for the older men, but is a great role for the audience, who displays all the excitement for the life of a gunslinger as a real fan of westerns does, and also from Hackman who is absolutely superb as the brutal sheriff: it is a wonderfully rich part and a performance that you can tell Hackman enjoyed playing as much as I enjoyed watching it.

The basic premise may be simple, but the issues are less so. The main issue of right and wrong is explored in great detail through the character of Munny. His wife made him give up his violent ways, but now he is returning for one last time: is it right to kill people who have committed awful crimes for the reason of receiving money to support his impoverished family, and can he justify it to himself?

‘Unforgiven’ is one of the greatest westerns ever made and also the last great true western that will be made. I have no doubt about that. For ‘Unforgiven’ whilst a great film in its own right, is also a tribute to the genre, closing the book on the making of westerns, and from the shots of the graves, to the idea of coming out of retirement one final time, Eastwood clearly knew that this would be the last western.
It is a brilliant film: wonderfully scripted, expertly directed, beautifully filmed and acted with understanding and obvious commitment, it can not only be described as the last western, but also one of the greatest, a film for those who love the west.

24. ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT - 1930

Perhaps one of the most well known of the earliest Best Picture winners was the ultimate anti-war film, ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’. Based on the German novel, the film follows a group of young German soldiers who are encouraged to enlist in the army by their teacher during the First World War. The film is American, but sticks to the original nationality of the characters. Despite this: this film is not about right or wrong, about Germans or Americans, or about heroism of any type, but about the utter futility of war.

The world had not seen a war like this and the film brings to life the realism of what encouraged young men to enlist, what they experienced, and how those at home reacted when they gave honest accounts of what the reality of war was like.

The first scene is particularly memorable: a teacher through clever speech encourages the young men to enlist. Forgetting the benefit of hindsight, this film shows exactly how war must have appealed to these students: the excitement, the national pride, the camaraderie. It also shows what a much larger place the world was in 1914 as this was the only chance that these men would have to see the world.
Of course, the realities are different, and the experiences of the war are shown through a series of scenes in which the hardships and brutal experiences are exhibited. From the training camp to the actual front, the war is not what the soldiers expected. The reality of war is most evident in a wonderful scene between the protagonist, Paul (the excellent Lew Ayers) and a Frenchman who he shoots and then tries to save when they are trapped together. There are no sides in this most humane of scenes, just the inevitability of death.

Death, of course, happens to several of the young group, and this understandably has a profound effect on Paul. The opening scene is contrasted beautifully, when he goes back to his former school and talks about the war. The new students and the former teacher are horrified, not by his tales, but by his attitude which is not patriotic.

The film, however, never becomes preachy. The facts of war are obvious, and Milestone shows experiences, but does not hammer home the point, and from that point, it is a very intelligent film, never underestimating the audience and never stopping to bask in its own self-importance. In many ways it is a very simple film: there is no complex storyline, but it still manages to deal with complex issues, and that is what makes this film such a success, and so timeless.

It is, in my mind, the third greatest Best Picture winner from the 1930s (with still ‘It Happened One Night’ and ‘Gone with the Wind’ to come), but I think it feels in many ways, the least dated. The structure is similar to ‘The Hurt Locker’ in that a series of episodes paint a picture rather than provide a narrative, and the theme is timeless: whereas the methods have combat have changed since this film was made, the greater issues are the same, and that is what makes the film so watchable and so relevant.