Saturday, 27 November 2010

The 500 Greatest Films of All Time: 50 to 26

It's time to get down to the nitty gritty. The next two instalments of this article will take on the form of the previous "100 Worst Films of All Time"; longer explanations, and a poster.

50. Memento (2000)
Dir: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Guy Pearce, Joe Pantoliano, Carrie-Anne Moss, Mark Boone Junior, Jorja Fox, Stephen Tobolowsky.
Genre: Crime/Drama/Mystery/Thriller
Christopher Nolan is certainly turning out to be the Alfred Hitchcock of modern cinema; every film he's ever made is featured somewhere on this list, and this film is reason he is so highly regarded. It wasn't a financial success, but it proved to be a wonderfully unique discussion of non-linear storytelling, as well as discussing perfectly the themes of memory, perception, revenge, self-deception and grief. It is a perfectly tailored motion picture and deserves to be watched again and again.

49. Casino Royale (2006)
Dir: Martin Campbell
Cast: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini, Jesper Christensen, Caterina Murino.
Genre: Action/Adventure/Thriller
Following the disaster of "Die Another Day," the Bond franchise was in desperate need of saving, and it was left to Martin Campbell, the director of "GoldenEye" to help rescue the sinking ship. By rebooting the series, and essentially ignoring everything that had happened in the 20 films prior, this restart to the franchise offered a grittier, more grounded James Bond, as well as some of the best acting, best set-pieces and best moments of the entire franchise to date.

48. Return of the Jedi (1983)
Dir: Richard Marquand
Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse, Ian McDiarmid.
Genre: Action/Adventure/Fantasy/Science Fiction
The original Star Wars trilogy ended on an immensely high note. Though far weaker than it's predecessors, it managed to incorporate new characters into the mythology, increase the tension and severity of the threat throughout, and combine this to turn in an epic finale to a franchise built upon the idea of being epic. Yes, the Ewoks are in this one, but they carry a certain charm with them that helps balance the rest of the film, which is just as dark as it's direct predecessor, albeit with a happier ending.

47. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Dir: Frank Capra
Cast: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Henry Travers, Thomas Mitchell.
Genre: Drama/Fantasy/Romance
There's not much that can be said about this film that hasn't been said by every film critic in the business over the last sixty-four years. It is the ultimate feel-good film, and yet, it doesn't present itself as such until the closing moments; the hopelessness and emotion that comes from witnessing the life of our protagonist from his youth to the day he decides to kill himself, is a powerful one, and the ultimate result of the film is to have an incredibly heartwarming finale that makes this a true cinematic classic.

46. Iron Man (2008)
Dir: Jon Favreau
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Terence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, Shaun Toub, Faran Tahir, Paul Bettany, Leslie Bibb, Clark Gregg, Samuel L. Jackson.
Genre: Action/Adventure/Science Fiction/Thriller
This is, almost certainly, the most surprising film on this entire list. It should not have worked in any way. To take a superhero character that nobody had heard of, adapt him perfectly from the source material, and give him a big screen makeover, should have been an absolute flop, regardless of quality. But this is the exception to the rule. It made money. Lots of it. And it's absolutely fantastic; from the performance by Robert Downey Jr, as a swaggering billionaire, hiding his superhero secret, to the action sequences. This is a raw, powerful, brilliant film.

45. The Searchers (1956)
Dir: John Ford
Cast: John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, Ward Bond, Natalie Wood, Olive Carey.
Genre: Adventure/Drama/Western
John Wayne is hit-and-miss with a lot of people; there are entire sections of society who refuse to acknowledge him in any way as a competent actor. But the truth is, when the role calls for it, he can be perfect throughout. This is his calling; to be in this film, alongside this cast, and to face these challenges. It is a cultural phenomenon; one of the most powerful Westerns ever filmed, and it looks glorious throughout thanks to the glorious power of VistaVision. There is no other Western quite like it, and certainly none that are as significant in terms of historical value and critical acclaim.

44. No Country for Old Men (2007)
Dir: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Kelly Macdonald, Woody Harrelson.
Genre: Crime/Drama/Thriller
Based on the masterpiece by Cormac McCarthy, this film is an example of the Coen Brothers at their best. It's masterfully adapted for the screen, and so artfully done it's almost frightening to behold; the lack of a score adds an eerie layer to the proceedings, while basing itself solely in the style of a cat-and-mouse chase. There is no humour, a strange thing for a Coen movie, but the themes of fate and circumstance used throughout are hallmarks of their career and their filmography. This is a perfect motion picture.

43. Alien (1979)
Dir: Ridley Scott
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto, Harry Dean Stanton, Veronica Cartwright, Tom Skerritt.
Genre: Horror/Science Fiction
Constantly overshadowed by the more family friendly style of the "Star Wars" films, this is the only other space-centred science fiction film worth a look; it's a slow-paced, methodical and wonderfully gripping piece of cinema. The characters are the priority; our appreciation of them is paramount, and when they are killed off, we feel it on a personal level. It's memorable not just for the characters, however, but also the effects - the titular monster looks real and is constantly the source of terror, while the chest-buster sequence and the destruction of an android, serve as special effects masterpieces.

42. Inception (2010)
Dir: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Michael Caine.
Genre: Action/Mystery/Science Fiction/Thriller
This is a film that splits opinion in one of those weird and wonderful ways that only a film can. It is a multi-layered, complex and engaging thriller that takes multiple viewings to truly appreciate or, indeed, understand on an entertainment level. The characters are fleshed out in a perfectly organic manner, and the special effects are fantastic to behold. Dealing with the concepts of dreams and dream manifestation, the film crosses over into territory that seems similar to "The Matrix," but is far more constructive and engaging than that film's interpretation of reality and place.

41. The Usual Suspects (1995)
Dir: Bryan Singer
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, Benicio del Toro, Kevin Pollak, Stephen Baldwin, Chazz Palminteri, Suzy Amis.
Genre: Crime/Mystery/Thriller
Another film centred around complex and intricate ideas, this serves as Bryan Singer's best work; an examination of our interpretation of the truth, and the justification of lies. The characters are all fleshed out wonderfully, while Kevin Spacey gives an intense performance as the narrator, as others try to unravel the mystery of the film's events. The twist ending comes fast and furiously and makes sense of everything within, prompting necessary re-viewings to appreciate the power of the reveal.

40. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
Dir: Milos Forman
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Brad Dourif, William Redfield, Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, Will Sampson.
Genre: Drama
There are few films that have achieved as much as this; it is one of only three films to win all five major Academy Awards, and as a piece of filmmaking it is a flawless masterpiece. The acting is notoriously fantastic, while the script is tailor-made for it's cast. Nothing feels out of place or rushed, everything is fluid, realistic and powerful. The scenes featuring Nicholson and Fletcher's vicious rivalry and wrestle for control are some of the greatest in cinema history and the direction of these, and other scenes, are an example of the talent involved in producing the picture.

39. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Dir: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi, Chris Penn, Michael Madsen, Lawrence Tierney, Quentin Tarantino, Eddie Bunker.
Genre: Crime/Mystery/Thriller
Quentin Tarantino has made quite a few films since his fascinatingly bleak debut; and each one has shown some incredible facate of the director's immense imagination. Yet, none has come close to matching the majesty of this, his first picture. It's the film that established him as a master filmmaker; the violence is realistic and harsh, the dialogue is littered with pop culture references and profanity, and the storyline is broken up into segments and shuffled to create the sensation of erratic realism so often used by Tarantino. It is, without a doubt, a masterpiece.

38. Raging Bull (1980)
Dir: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Robert De Niro, Cathy Moriarty, Joe Pesci, Nicholas Colasanto, Theresa Saldana, Frank Vincent.
Genre: Biography/Drama/Sport
Certainly, this film marks the moment that Martin Scorsese presented himself to Hollywood as the most talented director of his generation. Not centred on violence and crime, this was an ambitious piece of filmmaking, a presentation of the downfall of an individual through hard times. The combination of Scorsese's passionate directing and Robert De Niro's flawless performance as a sportsman throughout his troubled career, transform the film from standard fare into a disturbing examination of the human psyche and the limits of passion and self-preservation.

37. Clerks (1994)
Dir: Kevin Smith
Cast: Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Marilyn Ghigliotti, Lisa Spoonhauer, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Walt Flanagan, Scott Mosier.
Genre: Comedy
Making controversial films has always been one of Kevin Smith's favourite pastimes, and this, his debut, is one of the more seriously controversial. The jokes are vulgar throughout, the characters are likeable enough, but we're given reason enough to despise them, maybe because they remind us of ourselves. The style is standard; average in Hollywood, but nothing short of phenomenal for a rookie. It is the ultimate amateur film, and with a combination of inexperienced cast and first-time director, this has proved itself to be one of the most important comedy films of the last twenty years.

36. Se7en (1995)
Dir: David Fincher
Cast: Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, Gwyneth Paltrow, R. Lee Emrey.
Genre: Crime/Drama/Mystery/Thriller
Sickening and powerful crime thriller using the Seven Deadly Sins as a modus operandi for a deranged serial killer. It's the quiet performance by Morgan Freeman that steals every scene, however; he's past his prime, but manages to capture the viewer's imagination in every single frame. He's a calculating individual and his desire for justice is as strong as the antagonist's for murder. The ending is one of the most controversial in film history, and serves as the catalyst for many parodies and copies; but the original is the best, the most perfect and the most poetic.

35. American Beauty (1999)
Dir: Sam Mendes
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, Mena Suvari, Chris Cooper, Allison Janney.
Genre: Drama
Arguably one of the most under-appreciated filmmakers in Hollywood, Sam Mendes' films are often powerful pieces of character study and development, calling back to his history as a stage director. This is his masterpiece; a theatrical study of Middle America, the concepts of humanity, love, desire and beauty as well as a controversial exploration of sexuality, self-expression, freedom and happiness. Kevin Spacey gives the performance of his career as the disgruntled family man trying to find his own sense of purpose in a world that he doesn't feel a part of. It is a truly remarkable and thought-provoking piece of filmmaking.

34. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)
Dir: Wolfgang Reitherman and John Lounsbery
Cast: Sterling Holloway, Paul Winchell, John Fiedler, Junius Matthews, Howard Morris, Ralph Wright.
Genre: Animation/Family/Musical
The final theatrical film release to feature input from Walt Disney, this was a combination of previously released animated shorts, and new linking pieces which increased the drama and emotion of the proceedings. As a package film, it works wonderfully, while each individual segment offers it's own unique blend of humour, charm and drama. As an adaptation of the books, it looks and feels uniquely promising, while divergences in story and character are necessary to create an overall engaging experience.

33. The Shining (1980)
Dir: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson.
Genre: Horror/Mystery/Thriller
Classic, slow-moving piece of horror cinema from Stanley Kubrick, adapting the behemoth Stephen King novel. It's a jumpy, hypnotic piece of film, which challenges viewer perceptions of reality and fantasy, and whether we can trust those around us in times of crisis. The divergences from the source material are necessary and wonderful, but do add a certain ambiguity to events, rather than providing the concrete explanations and answers of the book. Regardless, Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall put on an outstanding display, with Nicholson's fiery menace and unhinged sadism coming through even before the dramatic character shift.

32. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Dir: Peter Jackson
Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Liv Tyler, John Rhys-Davies, Orlando Bloom, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Ian Holm, Sean Bean.
Genre: Action/Adventure/Drama/Fantasy
Universally acclaimed, the first instalment in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy was an absolutely staggering achievement. Translating J. R. R. Tolkien's dense novel into a three-hour epic piece of cinema was a towering accomplishment, with a cast of dozens providing talent and emotion for each character, and the storyline converging on a linear path, with less necessary changes from the source. The special effects are absolutely astounding throughout, and the latter half, as the titular Fellowship begins to drastically shatter from within, adds an unbelievable amount of tension to the film as a whole.

31. Unforgiven (1992)
Dir: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris, Frances Fisher.
Genre: Crime/Drama/Western
Clint Eastwood has proved throughout his career that he is not only a talented actor, but also that he is a keen storyteller with a wonderful sense of visual accomplishment and scale. This film combines the classic Western tale with a more noir sensibility, making for a unique and engaging tale. There's a sense that this is a true deconstruction of Western movies, and as such it draws the viewer in further with every subsequent viewing. Even the flaws are easy enough to overlook, particularly the role of Richard Harris, whose character never interacts with the protagonists, but who serves an integral purpose nonetheless.

30. Fight Club (1999)
Dir: David Fincher
Cast: Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bonham Carter, Jared Leto, Meat Loaf.
Genre: Drama/Mystery/Thriller
An adaptation of a fantastically engaging and thrilling novel, this film by David Fincher is a polarizing, controversial piece of cinema. The violence serves as an artistic demonstration of the frustration of youth and formality. There's also a wonderful twist ending, which is unexpected in that the film constantly averts attention away from the obvious, making the film feel even smarter. It is, honestly, a portrait of the male psyche and the desire to lash out at oppression to the point where it almost feels nihilistic, but regardless, it is powerful and justified.

29. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Dir: Alfonso Cuaron
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Gary Oldman, David Thewlis, Timothy Spall, Emma Thompson.
Genre: Adventure/Family/Fantasy/Mystery
The first Harry Potter film to diverge from the source material in any significant way, this third instalment in the franchise is a dazzling spectacle of modern filmmaking. There is constant humour, action and stunning visual effects, which when combined offer up a fantastically engaging film. The style and tone of the film is drastically different from anything the franchise had attempted before, or since, and asserts itself as a delightfully sophisticated tale, with twists and turns and some magnificent performances from both the best of Britain's actors, and the up-and-coming protagonists. Undoubtedly one of the greatest fantasy movies of all time.

28. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Dir: Robert Mulligan
Cast: Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Phillip Alford, Robert Duvall, John Megna, Brock Peters.
Genre: Crime/Drama/Mystery
Gregory Peck stands tall as one of the greatest actors in the history of cinema, and this film paints the perfect portrait of why that is. Just to follow Peck's performance is a thing of majesty, without mentioning the plot of a black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman, and his subsequent trial. The after effects of the centre-piece serve only to increase the drama throughout; the child characters are likeable and engaging, while the brief appearance by Robert Duvall conveys more through silence than the majority of dialogue in most films would.

27. Rear Window (1954)
Dir: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, Wendell Corey, Raymond Burr.
Genre: Crime/Mystery/Romance/Thriller
Alfred Hitchcock is the undisputed master of cinema, and this is perhaps his most famous masterpiece; a tale of voyeurism and feminism within a murder-mystery scenario, where the protagonist has little-to-no contact with the outside world. It's significance as a piece of fiction is only rivalled by the rest of Hitchcock's filmography, of which this is one of the most highly regarded. The performances by James Stewart and Grace Kelly are some of the best of their respective careers, and the suspense generated as the film moves towards it's finale is indescribably perfect.

26. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
Dir: Edgar Wright
Cast: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Ellen Wong, Alison Pill, Anna Kendrick, Brie Larson, Brandon Routh, Chris Evans, Jason Schwartzman, Mae Whitman, Aubrey Plaza.
Genre: Action/Adventure/Comedy/Fantasy/Romance
Spellbinding and wonderfully comedic offering from Edgar Wright, the man who has been synonymous with bringing back British comedy on the big screen. His first American piece adapts a beloved graphic novel series into one bitesize action-comedy where the characters constantly evoke video game archetypes, confront one another in visually engaging battles of wit and strength, and crack jokes constantly. It is a genuine assault of comedy, with the best moments and lines coming from Kieran Culkin as a cynical gay room mate to the titular character.

Next Time: The Top 25

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