Some of the best films ever made

If you don’t like the stereotypical approach to biopic film making, watch this film. If you’re into flawless acting performances, watch this film. If you’ve heard about ‘Watergate’, but are too young to know what it’s all about, watch this film. If you think you know anything about Richard Nixon, the man who put the word impeach on the lips of the American public, long before that of Lewinsky or Weapons of Mass Distraction, watch this film.

Oliver Stone directs Anthony Hopkins in the lead role, as one of the most misunderstood presidents of America. After ending a war he didn’t start and fighting for the job he felt he was born to do, Nixon’s image was one of a Quisling; a war monger, who lied to cover his back by deliberately destroying evidence he was an anti-Semite and a racist. Stone paints a more generous picture, without guiding the viewer by the nose towards an obvious conclusion to these questions, with excellent supporting roles from James Woods and Joan Allen and Mary Steenburgen as Nixon’s abusive mother.

Buy Nixon on Amazon

michaelclayton.pngMichael Clayton.
The first of the new releases on this list, George Clooney plays a smouldering (surprise surprise) inside-his-own-thoughts lawyer, tasked with bringing his wayward colleague into line, after a nervous break-down sends him over the edge, just when his law firm can least afford it.

In a world where “gripping thriller” is tagged onto every-other made for TV banal morality play, you’d be forgiven for thinking the only thing which saves this movie from the clichéd plot, which so many before it have done to death, is the who’s-who cast list. Nothing of the sort is true of this constantly surprising tale, which holds your attention to well rounded characters and gripping true to life story-line.

The one criticism I have of this film, is that it is one in a long line of features in recent years which stretch the jump-cut, show and tell time skip technique of film editing a little too far. You do have to focus great attention on every little piece of dialogue to keep up with the plot and, as is de rigueur with the lower budgets studio’s increasingly give over to projects these days, even despite their big name cast list, a tight production timetable is often hurried along by excessive use of Michael Mann style hand-held dodge and blur, short focal length camera work, which gets in the way and becomes extremely annoying in scenes where a locked off, steady view of the actors performance would relay far more emotion, if only allowed to breath.

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The conspiracy theories around September 11th attract both entirely unsubstantiated guess-work and shocking intrigue in almost equal measure. Zeitgeist is no-less than an ambitious and occasionally long winded attempt to sort the wheat from the chaff.

The central tenet of the film stems from the fact that billions of people around the world think that a magic man was sent down to Earth by the creator of the universe, 2000 years ago, to be slain for our as yet uncommitted sins and that we’re told to trust that this is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth entirely on the dubious authority of the people who control 99% of the world’s total tax-free wealth.

By piecing together news items and documentaries, Zeitgeist deftly leads the viewer through the generally accepted facts of 9/11 and compares them to the contradictory evidence of fire crews and first responders on the ground, who were never allowed to give testimony to the 9/11 commission.

More than being simply just another 9/11 conspiracy theory propaganda tale, however, Zeitgeist is on a larger mission, to reveal the big picture of how attacks on America, both real and fictitious, have been used in the past to turn public opinion in favour of wars on foreign soil and how the new world order directly profits from the sale of arms to both sides of the fight.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Zeitgeist, is that it is an open movie. Freely available on-line for anyone to watch, either on Google video or to download via BitTorrent. – The recently updated Web site by the filmmaker now includes interactive transcripts of all the evidence used in its making, which has also been recently updated into a more completed version than previously available.

broadway_danny_rose1.jpgBroadway Danny Rose.
Woody Allen should be all I need say about why you’ll love this film. Unfortunately, whenever I think of Woody’s films, I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a beautiful and sexy woman I once met who just didn’t get “it”. She had legs that wouldn’t quit and a chest I’m assured men have literally drawn swords over. But all her glittering intellect and well read charm, couldn’t take away from the fact that she hated Woody Allen.

“Where’s the point?”, I did wonder almost out-loud, as we began sitting closer and closer to each other on the bench of the public house in which we did meet. The scene in this film, where Woody discovers that the henchmen have an axe and decides that this is the point, more than any previous attempts on his life, that he must pretend to have a choice about leaving, is pure roll on the floor gasping for air comedy. No woman who fails to see the majesty of that, is ever going to fart in bed, or for that matter leave me in bed for days on end, to read books, without worrying that it’s really because she’s getting fat, rather than because I simply want to read.

I digress, hugely I admit – but this is my blog as well as a recommended watching list of films, so quiet yourself.

Suffice to say, like just about every film he’s ever made, Broadway Danny Rose is a masterpiece of comedy timing, script writing and performance. Rose is a Broadway theatrical agent, representing a bog roll of artistes no other agent would touch. Balloon folders who can’t fold balloons. Singers who can’t sing. Jugglers who can’t see.

The amazing thing about the Woody Allen formula, which so many people sight as reason to dislike his films, is that it is the unpredictability of (insert beautiful woman actress of the day) playing opposite Allen as a love interest, which is the real genius of Woody’s semi-biographical style of story telling. The willing suspension of disbelief required to put a bespectacled, fuzzy haired, balding 40 something in a love scene with Mia Farrow, is of such high demand, that the comedy is both sublimely visual and slapstick and challenging of stereotypes all in one beautifully crafted ball of irony and occasionally heartbreaking tragedy.

Buy Broadway Danny Rose on Amazon

withnail-and-i.pngWithnail and I.
You have to go a long way to find someone who doesn’t agree that this is one of the best British films ever made. Predating the ‘Four Weddings and Funeral’ effect, which saw British Cinema climb back on-top of the US box-office on a soppy, Rom-Com ticket, Withnail and I takes you back to the dole days of the early 90’s. Grotty bed-sits and pot smoking acquaintances who only hang around each other because it’s better than being stoned on your own.

Let me back-up. This is not a “ain’t drugs brilliant” slapstick comedy, but it is hilarious. You’ll find yourself quoting from it during those random moments in an ordinary day, even if there’s no-one around to hear you. It’s the movie which gave the world Richard E. Grant, in his role as the tortured failing actor, desperately looking for an interesting personality at the bottom of as many wine bottles as he can drink.

‘And I’ is Withnail’s androdynous, ever suffering friend, who becomes the pursuit of Withnail’s extremely homosexual uncle Monty (Richard Griffiths) on a trip to a cottage in the countryside.

there-will-be-blood.pngThere will be blood.
We always had a sneaking suspicion, that the men who built modern America, weren’t exactly the jovial characters as depicted in John Wayne westerns. Daniel Day-Lewis’s Academy Award winning portrayal of a well spoken but brutally ambitious frontiersman, hand-digging for oil in the early nineteen-hundreds, dispels the Technicolor myths of yore once and for all.

This was a monochrome world of death, filth and brutal one-upmanship, where whatever it took to survive was less about being a quick on the draw caricature and all about defending property claims and the sort of big-business dealings we take for granted as being a modern phenomena of commerce and capitalism.

It’s always controversial in any “greatest of all time” lists to include a new film. It’s almost as if we afford greater reverence to feature films made in the 1970s simply because of the passage of time. But I believe this movie will be being talked about in the same hushed tones normally reserved for those of Stanley Kubrick, if only for the fact that Day-Lewis’s incredible performance supplants with a single facial expression all the special effects and motion capture technology, which has come along since the so-called golden era, with good old fashioned character involvement and a densely detailed back-story.

Pre-order There Will Be Blood on Amazon

2001_a_space_odyssey.gif2001: A Space Odyssey.
For some mysterious reason, some people hate this film. Yes, there are long sequences when only the sound of breathing apparatus can be heard, as slowly moving figures do nothing but walk along a corridor, or float out in space. And yes, it has a confusing plot – if, that is, you’re used to the kind of modern films where explosions, fast choppy cuts shot on never-steady hand-held cameras and dazzling CGI special effects pass for excitement. But if you want to bask in the imagination of Arthur C. Clark and Stanley Kubrick, who set themselves no-less a task than to prepare the public for the possible future of human space exploration, this masterpiece of film-craft and photography can not be beaten.

Every single shot in this movie is an unsurpassed masterpiece of cinema photography. Kubrick’s fastidious attention to detail make the lighting alone a guaranteed tear jerker for those of us nerdy enough to admit to having cried at ‘Titanic’, not for the story line – but the breakthrough in visual effects, which ‘2001’ directly inspired, from which that film learned so much.

While James Cameron had banks of the latest in computer technology to aid his production of the film which gave the world Céline Dion’s ‘I will always go on’, Kubrick had only film cameras, master set builders and his breathtaking eye for photographic composition. This alone stands as compelling evidence that he is the greatest filmmakers of all time.

But, more than all of the giant technical hurdles which this film effortlessly strides over, it is the straight cut from the scene showing our simian ancestor, angrily throwing the bones of his dead adversary in the air, which with jaw dropping simplicity shows the finger-snap in time which it took for our genetic selves to evolve the technology which would launch us to the moon and beyond, that makes ‘2001’ the single most powerful statement in the history of human story telling.

75-cover.jpgOnce upon a time in America.
I watched this film twice in a row when I first came across it almost 5 years ago. Sergio Leone directing James Woods and Robert De Niro should be reason enough to convince you, if you haven’t already seen it, to rush out immediately and buy it on DVD.

But more than its ability to reduce a grown man to floods of tears. More than it having a gritty realism which leaves you feeling personally involved with each of the characters and their gripping back-story. More than its atmosphere, which transports you to a time in the history of America where the connections which remain to this day between organised crime and politics were first forged. More than any of this, it plays host to the greatest actor of all time, giving his best acting performance to date.

It takes a master craftsman years of detailed study to become a filmmaker with the talent enough to stretch the audience’s attention to 2 hours. That when those two hours are up you won’t be able to get the second disc into the player quick enough, to watch the remaining two hours, is proof enough that I can offer you as a guarantee that you will know, in the end, that you have just watched the greatest movie ever made.

2001 is available now in high definition Blu-Ray


6 comments on “Some of the best films ever made

  1. I’m with you on three of those. I saw 2001 when it came out, and bless my older brother for taking me to see it at a huge screen old style Broadway movie house.It was the closest thing to tripping on acid I’ve ever seen on screen. Broadway Danny Rose is priceless*. The scene where they’re lost in New Jersey AND squeaky voiced from helium still makes me fall down and laugh myself sick.
    And Withnail and I, well….really one of the best ever.

    *The last time I saw it, something struck me. You know how Danny tries to fancy up his Noo Yawk accent when he wants to impress people? Like calling his singer “Ly-oo”, instead of a New York “LOOOO”…I realized that’s just like Madonna’s new fake British accent. Check it out.

  2. Love the new look, by the way. Seems like you’re shaking off the funk and perking up. Spring is on the way..

  3. Hey, you’re forgetting one of the best of all – Easy Rider! Fantastic Bikes and Rock music road movie. I’d seen it seven times before I left Uni, and would watch it anytime it came on the box even now. It’s just got so much class on so many levels. On all levels. Superb music from Steppenwolf (Born to be Wild), The Byrds and some great ballads from Roger McGough, superb cameo from a young Jack Nicholson, a powerful Dennis Hopper before Hollywood banned him as a real rebel, and Peter Fonda before the drugs took him over completely. Great story, great clash of cultures, and one of those gut wrenching endings that Hollywood is usually too scared to include anymore. A really transcendental movie.

  4. Maybe you’re just too “establishment” then? It’s primarily a young rebel’s film – I saw it first at the Sixth Form Film Club when I was 16 and loved it. Granted, I was into bikes at the time… It came out in 1969, one year after 2001: A Space Odyssey was released, so they are contemporaries of each other. It could never get made these days though.

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