The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is one of those rare films that can be quite simply described as a masterpiece. Visually stunning, it is a genre film that both understands and redefines its genre. Slow, yet powerful, Dominik’s film follows celebrity, madness and betrayal with elegance, with a quiet beauty not often seen in film. The film is quite obviously a Western, as the deceptively clever title suggests. Yet it is one of few Westerns to understand the appeal of the genre; the glamour and mystique of the outlaw. It does not shirk from violence.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford as a title is fascinating. Although criticised for being clumsy, I find it brilliant. It states one simple, well-known fact – Jesse James was assassinated by Robert Ford. Yet the one adjective and opinion, the two-syllabled “coward”, is carefully cushioned within the fact, making it seem equally true. My praise for the words doesn’t stop at the title though – the script is beautifully written, both restrained yet charged with emotion.
The performances are stunning. Brad Pitt, an actor who I’ll continue to defend, gives quite possibly his finest performance as Jesse James. A cold, calculating, but paranoid man, Pitt plays him to perfection. Also, as a side note, casting one of the most famous men in the world as Jesse was a brilliant idea. The supporting cast are all superb, with Sam Rockwell as Charlie Ford being a key standout. But the film belongs to the eponymous coward, played by Casey Affleck, who gives one of the performances of the last decade. He is a pathetic, obsessive, awkward and angry man; one who’s uncomfortable to watch, but whose self-destruction is hypnotic. Ultimately, the tragedy does not lie with James’ death, but in Ford as a person; the final five minutes are heart-breaking.
Visually, the film is sublime. Melancholic, and desperately beautiful. You can’t say anything else really – just watch it and see how stunning it is. It’s gorgeous. The score is also perfect. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis create a score that understands the film completely. It is haunting, drenched in sadness but completely beautiful.
Early 1960s rural Ireland and problem child Francie is living against the backdrop of a broken home, parental instability and a wash of cultural anxieties and fears. His solace lies in his relationship with best friend Joe, which like many childhood friendships is on the cusp of transition as people and times more on.
At the heart of The Butcher Boy is an amazingly affecting story thanks to Patrick McCabe's powerful. yet difficult source text, one that explores a range of often uncomfortable issues - everything from the A bomb, Communism, mental health problems, abuse and a tendency towards violence, is on display and all seen through the eyes of the young and highly impressionable. There's a very Irish tradition of romance and realism exposed, in almost an evolution of Joycean terms, the romance of what is in our imagination and our idealised intentions is brutally decimated by what we are actually capable of in real life. It's a credit to the joint efforts of McCabe and Jordan that they were able to produce such a confident adaptation, and in direction terms Jordan deals with the aforementioned issues like a pro. Rather than take a dogmatic approach, the film is fused with hectic TV and film interludes and references to heroes, villains and comics abound, all underpinned with a wry sense of black humour. Be it Sinead O'Conor's cameo as the Holy Virgin or the matter of fact, slightly smart alec Francie voice over provided by his older self, there's painful laughs to be had that don't detract too much from the seriousness of where the film is going.
There's also a particularly strong performance from Eammon Owens in the lead role, handling a character that could so easily have been played out as a whiny little brat or nasty little shit, as someone who evokes sympathy. And despite the inevitability of his situation from the very beginning, you really do find yourself siding with the young anti-hero. Owen is well supported by the likes of Stephen Rea and Fiona Shaw, as father and nemesis respectively, who equally contribute to the taxing and pressurised isolation of the young, while depicting almost polar opposites of the provincial society they all inhabit. It all makes for an incredibly accomplished film that will hopefully stay with you for some time.
In an obvious attempt to solidify a reputation as a vote whore, I nominate one of my all-time favorites, Casablanca.
I don't know where to start with this one. I love this movie so much. It was another of the movies that got me into cinema. I kind of feel like if I nominate this few movies that really changed my life, I could give something back to them. I know it's silly, but that's really why I nominated it.
But there is also the fact that Casablanca has the greatest script ever written. So many quotable lines that you probably already know by heart. And with Humphrey Bogart delivering them, you can't go wrong.
Do I really have to type anything else? You have already seen Casablanca, and I am giving you a reason to watch it again. If you would like, you could nominate me for a spot somewhere on some hall of fame because of this. You're welcome.
Somewhat confusingly the first time I saw this I thought the whole thing centred on a mad gunman holding up a commuter bus. And while it does, in a way, the incident itself – random and frightening – is over very quickly with the gunman dead and few. Unable to handle the trauma one disappears and others lose their family, collateral damage from the event. A series of murders of young women begins shortly after Makoto returns. Fallout from the suspicion pushes him out of the family home and he moves in with the teenagers who've more or less disassociated themselves from the world around them. Later joined by their cousin, the group head out on a road trip by bus, starting from the point when their lives stopped and keep on going till they can kickstart them again.
Shot in sepia tones and 3 and a half hours long what you wouldn't expect is how funny the film often is, and quite charming. I've never been less than completely absorbed every time I watch it – the abrupt violence happened so quickly at the start you're completely captured by the story and the characters and, by the time Makoto returns, already fully engaged. To a great extent the main themes about the film are dealing with trauma and its effects – and one reason Makoto is a suspect is the honest belief of the cop in charge that an incident like that can't help but completely change you and he expected to see Makoto in front of him again. But Makoto understands more than he thinks. More positively, though, the film is about rediscovering life – I don't think it is for nothing that the world is dull and sepia even before the hijack – none of them were properly living then. But the journey, once he first persuades Kozue to go, is an affecting road movie.
Other aspects fortuitously combine to make a great film. It looks amazing, not just the colouring but there is some stunning camerawork up and down the backroads of Japan. Aoyama benefits from four wonderful lead performances. Saito as Akihiko is the source of much of the humour – sent by the family to check on his cousins it's clear he's thwarting their attempt to take the teenager's insurance money. Stuck out front with his golf clubs he goes along for the ride but remains the outsider. The teenagers (who may actually be brother and sister, I've never been sure) spend most of the film almost numb making their breakout moments all the more affecting. Yakusho gives one of his best performances of the decade – dedicating his time to the teenagers while finding a form of redemption for himself, his time away seems to have, to some extent, brought him to terms with what happened, even understanding the police concern. It's a powerful and determined piece of character work.
Aoyama's meditation on trauma, grief and life crosses more genres than you would expect, that mix and match ensuring you simply don't notice the time passing. It's a wonderfully life affirming piece of cinema and well worth a couple of hours of anyone's time.
Impressionable young boy Phillipe is the son of a foreign diplomat and idolises the butler Baines and his stories of adventure, though he hates and fears his cold wife. When she falls to her death the boy believes that Baines is responsible and tries in his childlike way to protect one of the few positives in his life, only to plunge Baines further into suspicion.
My personal favourite films are The Third Man (Reed, 1949) and Odd Man Out (Reed, 1947), The Fallen Idol is wedged in between these two films and I can understand why Idol may have been overlooked through the years however it’s just as easy for me to understand why many would prefer The Fallen Idol because it too is a stunning piece of cinema.
The Fallen Idol appears on the surface to be a film largely about Class which for a British production made during the forties isn’t exactly revelatory. Class and the separations between various groups are ingrained in many audience members’ minds but the brilliance of Idol is that this time the divisions are seen through the eyes of a child and not our own. The film expertly explores social hierarchy but alongside this the relationship between a working class butler and an upper class child is also used to consider how a childhood can have its innocence shattered by adult manipulation, betrayal, deceit, white lies and misplaced affection.
The film is an ingenious thriller that has some extraordinarily exhilarating and suspenseful moments as well as a macabre farcical streak that doesn’t derail the tension and in fact ratchets it up. The script is economical, clean and one that has some wonderful dialogue, though this will come as no surprise to anyone who has read Graham Greene or seen either The Third Man or Our Man in Havana the other two films on which he and director Carol Reed collaborated. It is to my mind unbelievable that the man responsible for the sprawling mess and sentimental tosh of Oliver is the same director, here Reed captures everything that makes Greene’s script work, direction is crisp and clear there’s no waste and he stunningly plunges us into a child’s eye view of the world which as the film progresses and events occur we are slowly moved out from, this alters ours and more significantly the boys perception and further increases his confusion and terror.
What really makes Idol a worthy entrant to the Hallowed Hall of Fame are the two central performances. On one hand we have the renowned Ralph Richardson an actor easily capable of excellence and as Baines he excels, it’s a harrowing yet unassuming turn as a complex mix of faithful servant, unhappy husband, dreaming lover and a lonely child’s hero. Then there is young Bobby Henrey as the child who can’t even remember who his mother is or what she looks like. There are few child performances in the history of cinema that don’t come across as cloying or stage school managed, to the cynical they can ruin a potentially decent film and I think by nominating Idol I risk the wrath of those who like me aren’t all that fond of children. As Phillipe, Henrey is outstanding.
This is a wonderful film which charts the relations of women from the Irish Midlands with the men in their lives, be it their sons, husbands or fathers. The film is edited so that it each girl and woman is older than the previous one. This has the effect of the film feeling like the narrative of one woman’s life from childhood to old age. It also adds a great emotional punch when it comes near the end and the women are discussing their husbands that have died
The film is made entirely within the confines of the various houses which complement the stories being told, as it helps make the viewer feel at ease almost as if they are a guest in the person’s home and we have just dropped by for a friendly chat. That we do not feel like we are intruding is mainly down to the likeability of the women, Wadrop’s skill as an interviewer that he can make them feel so relaxed. As a result, this is one of the best films to come out of Ireland in the last couple of years. Sadly, it is also probably the least seen.
Has might be more known for his surreal period drama set in the Napoleonic Wars, The Saragossa Manuscript, a film beloved by such filmmakers like Bunuel to Coppola and Scorsese, but my favorite film of his and the closest to my heart has to be The Hourglass Sanitarium. Based on a book by Schulz (who also influenced the Quay Brothers' Street of Crocodiles) The films deals with a Jewish man man called Jan who visits his father in a derelict sanitarium where time and space don't function as they should. He relieves past memories, dreams and thoughts. Any sort of objective reality is lost within the building and laws seems to operate on Jan's subjective thoughts. Also within it are lots of references to birds, history and Jewish culture. It's like something Gilliam would do were he a Polish Jew and had full studio back-up. It's ambitious and looks stunning, with a Gothic tone both in the stunning settings and the lavish décor. There's not much I can say about, it's an experience, an occasionally very funny one and also a very sad one, beautiful and yet sinister and grotesque and it demands your attention and votes this HOF. if you don't vote for it then you are the bastard child of Stalin and Hitler.
One of the first films I saw when I was looking into the whole Japanese pinky genre, Moju aka Blind Beast, is a suspense filled psycho-sexual drama mixed with a touch of horror, and is an exploration the power struggle between the sexes.
I won't give too much away; either in terms of story (blind artist kidnaps model) or about the visuals, which really are the highlight and essential in creating the necessary atmosphere (though you will come across some wonderfully strange backdrops). What I will stress is that Moju is a film moving feverishly towards its end game, the spiral of an already fragile emotional set up between the limited number of characters, mixed with a decent into a very particular type of madness makes this an interesting and kooky story with seriously dark undertones. Definitely a niche genre and taste, I think this deserves a place in the HOF for what it achieves, but also to ensure further exposure and champion the film and influence it has had on the modern day Asian horror scene.
And I'll say this, nobody does a love story like the Japanese.
Peter Watkins is one of Britain’s greatest filmmakers, and one who continues to be ignored by mainstream cinema. Perhaps best known for The War Game – the drama commissioned by the BBC in the 1960s which portrayed a stark and disturbing look at what would happen in the UK both during and after a nuclear war. The film was deemed so strong that it was banned by the Government on account of it creating panic. In the days of “Duck and Cover”, The War Game showed the utter pointlessness of rescue plans under the shadow of thermo-nuclear destruction.
His other BBC film, Culloden, remains one of the most realistic portrays of what warfare in the 18th Century was like. Made with a handful of extras it still packs a powerful punch and shows the battle for what it was – a human waste, spurred on by semi-slave owners.
What made these two pieces striking was that they were presented as news reports, or documentaries. Watkins himself narrates the films with a dispassionate voice. As people burn, or are shot by cannon, he keeps his distance, the typical BBC news man, looking into the face of madness.
Watkins can be said to be one of the first to create the so-called “found footage” genre, and indeed, people like Eli Roth (producer of The Last Exorcism) have name checked him. With his next three films he could also be seen as a big influence on the naturalistic science fiction movement currently coming to the fore (District 9, Monsters, Another Earth etc)
Privilege, is a film set in the future and which looked at how the Government manufactured a pop sensation to control the young masses, is Watkins at his most playful. As before he provides narration at points, but more often than not, took a step back.
He followed this up with the Gladiators, another science fiction film where the nations of the Earth stop fighting each other, and instead settle their differences with small scale combat teams in a tournament.
Punishment Park is without a doubt Watkins’s masterpiece, and his only film set in America. We are thrown into an alternative universe where President Nixon has passed a law allowing the arrest and execution of people deemed to be anti-establishment. The method of execution is through the “Punishment Park” – a vast desert area where large groups of the undesirables are herded by soldiers who are tasked with hunting them down. At the other end of the Park an American flat stands. If the prisoners can survive and get to the flag they will be freed.
Watkins intercuts the struggle of the hippies and other members of 60s and 70s subculture through the desert with others who are still at the camp standing trial. There is no judge, but rather a committee of what could be best described as Middle America.
Unlike his other films, Watkins does not speak as a dispassionate narrator, but as a (unseen) character whose news team is in America to make a documentary on the Park. He engages with characters, and actually has moments of emotion that are a stark contrast to his previous work.
It is not a subtle film, but it is a powerful one. The actors, all from amateur backgrounds embed the film with a realism that complements the camera work.
In this age of Occupy movements and uprisings, the message of Punishment Park is perhaps even stronger today than when it was made.
At a Devon mental institution, the villagers gather to play a game of cricket against the patients. Robert Graves (Tim Curry), author of the short story that inspired the film, is written into the film as a character in this wrap-around story. He arrives to act as scorer for the game and is introduced to his opposite number from the asylum, Crossley (Alan Bates). The asylum's doctor (Robert Stephens) tells Graves that Crossley is the most brilliant mind in the place, but that he's far from normal. Within minutes, Crossley has singled out a player on the field (John Hurt) and offers to tell Graves a story about him, a story that he swears is true.
Most of the rest of the film is made up of this story within a story. Hurt is Anthony Fielding, a composer and church organ player in a small village, married to Rachel (Susannah York), but cheating with a girl from the village. Crossley invites himself into the Fieldings' life and tells them tales of his travels, claiming to have lived with the Aborigines in Australia and been taught supernatural powers by them. One such power is the titular shout, a black magic yell that can kill all who hear it. Crossley is soon manipulating the Fieldings, playing games with Anthony's sanity and luring Rachel into his bed.
British horror often gets reduced to merely being the output of Hammer, and then that is dismissed as all tits and fangs. While that in itself is an unfair view of their output, that description also completely ignores the intelligent, subtle and ambiguous work that came out of the country in the sixties and seventies. One of the most interesting areas of British cinema over those decades was the work of some European directors who came to the country and created work that absolutely nailed some aspect of the British psyche. From the likes of Polanski with Repulsion through Jose Larraz with Symptoms and Skolimowski with films like The Shout and Deep End. These films view their characters and their environment from a distance, yet still feel psychologically penetrating.
It's a powerful film, a masterpiece of mood and atmosphere, helped in no small part by some incredible sound work. The normal and the supernatural are merged to startling effect, especially during the first demonstration of Crossley's shout. Skolimowski makes simple things like some sand dunes or a cricket match feel like they're part of an alien landscape. But there's also a human connection, we care about these characters, largely thanks to the incredible performances of Bates, Hurt and York. It's a slow-burn of a film, and one that can take several viewings to fully appreciate, but it's a film that deserves to be seen, and deserves its place in the Hall of Fame.
Two of Britain’s finest actors help to make this post-war drama one of the finest films of the 60s. Alec Guinness plays Major Jock Sinclair, the C.O of a barracks in the Scottish highlands, and is due to be replaced by Lieutenant Colonel Basil Barrow, played by John Mills. The men of the camp are loyal to Sinclair, a hero of the African campaigns, and the by-the-books Barrow isn’t happy with the way aspects of the barracks are run. The clash between the two men is the central to Tunes Of Glory, and fuels the psychological drama of the tale.
Between them both Mills and Guinness appeared in many classics and consistently delivered spellbinding performances but rarely, if ever, were either better than in this film. Both men were Bafta nominated and Mills won the Best Actor award at the Venice film festival, an award that was very much deserved. The vastly underrated Ronald Neame directs, perfectly capturing the traditions of the regiment and the atmosphere of this all-male society. Dennis Price, Gordon Jackson and Duncan MacRae are just a few of the recognisable faces that support the two leads, and help the film in becoming more than just a two-handed battle of wits, and the script from James Kennaway (adapted from his own novel. Read it!) excels. It’s a sad, moving, tense and morally complex drama that all too often seems to get overlooked these days.
Shizuku Tsukishima is half way through middle school, reaching a cross roads in her life. She has reached the point where the things she is interested in outside of school (reading mainly) are starting to interfere with her work and her family life, and she is someone who is clearly looking for more adventure from what is a safe and stable situation. While at the library checking out some books, Shizuku notices that a name keeps appearing on the checking cards of all of the books. The name is Seiji Amasawa. Finding this a curious coincidence, Shizuku makes it her mission to find out who this Seiji is.
By the time Ghibli had got around to making Whisper of the Heart, the company was also at a cross roads. Ghibli had been formed in 1985 by directors Hayao Miyazaki who had already had some success with Lupin 3rd and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, and Isao Takahata who had created what is generally regarded as the first modern anime (The Little Norse Prince), a couple of Panda go Panda films, Goshu the Cellist and had worked on quite a lot of tv series. By 1995, the company was starting to find itself with a little problem. While they had already released 7 theatrical films, none of them had been directed by anyone aside from Miyazaki or Takahata.
Whisper of the Heart marked a change in company ethos. Yoshifumi Kondo, an understudy of Miyazaki's was allowed to take the helm for a film. The master would guide him through, but this was a real experiment for the company.
The film itself is a much lower key affair than the likes made by Takahata & Miyazaki. There is less of the visual flair, grand adventures of dangerous situations the protagonist normally finds themselves in. Whisper instead is a tender piece, sombre, and one which is able to take its time to develop a relationship. The arc allowed to breath as the essence of a childhood romance is captured.
The animation is at times not as crisp as the Ghibli masters works, but Whisper manages to break through the shackles of the lower budget within the characters created. Shizuku is a wonderfully rounded character, one who starts with absolutely no idea of what she wants, other than to be allowed to do the things she enjoys doing. There are the awkward childhood moments (Shizuku trying to set two friends up only to find out she is the object of her male friends affection), difficult family relationships stretched to the limit, and a very restricting school system, yet Shizuku is able to break out of this and do the thing she truly loves, to write.
It is within the writing that the more standard Ghibli film starts to come out. The creation of the Baron is very much in the mould of a Miyazaki character, and here we get to fully immerse ourselves within the relationship of the two leads as they try to both achieve their personal goals to impress each other. Shizuku is also a character not entirely removed from Miyazaki. She is a character with determination, who will strive to achieve her goals. There is still the essence of a girl with an eye for adventure, but instead it is someone who has the romantic eye for adventure rather than willing to take the risk.