It’s because of this that we at HeyUGuys (and in this case, we, is myself and Gary) have decided to set ourselves a project. To watch and review all 250 movies on the list! We’ve frozen the list as of 1st January this year. It’s not as simple as it sounds, as we’ll be watching them in one year, 125 each.
This is our first update, a rundown of my first five movies watched for the project.
The golden age of magic is ripe for a movie about the genius of invention and application that startled it’s audience in a much more naive society than our own. This isn’t it. Instead, the backdrop of a rivalry between magicians is used to explore the jealousy, pettiness, and outright malice that mankind is all too capable of. The brilliance of the movie is predicated on the twists contained within, but that draws the question mark that hangs over all works of its type. Namely, does it hold up to second viewing?
Whilst the twists for the most part are fantastic, the fact is fifty percent of the audience spotted one of the main ones early on. When you watch The Prestige again, having been relieved of the burden of mystery, you can appreciate how well the film was made. You see, it’s really the performances, cinematography and set design that are the brilliance. The Prestige is visually stunning. Well shot, with wonderfully drained colour, you get a real sense of the period setting.
The true magic though is in the performances of Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman. Bale’s rough diamond Alfred Borden showcases how good an actor he is after disappointing performances in Public Enemies and Terminator: Salvation last year. Jackman excels as the polished showman Robert Angier, the actor’s experiences in musical theatre paying dividends. This is one of four Christopher Nolan films on the list, proving just how good a filmmaker he is. Come June, he may just add a fifth.
American Beauty was Mendes’ first feature, and set the tone for the themes his subsequent movies would explore. Fractured relationships and life changes feature heavily in Mendes’ work, never more so than they do here. We think mainly of Lester Burnham when we think of American Beauty, and whilst Kevin Spacey’s middle aged family man is the focal point of the story, there are several characters on a journey in this film.
Thora Birch’s Jane struggling to find her own identity, Annette Bening’s Carolyn exploring newfound passions. Chris Cooper’s Col. Frank seeking an outlet for his repressed sexual feelings. Other characters provide the catalysts for the changes that result. Wes Bentley as Ricky helps Jane find meaning, Buddy (Peter Gallagher) gives Carolyn’s sexuality a new lease of life. And Mena Suvari’s Angela sparks Lester’s quest to remould himself. Col. Frank mistakenly thinks he’s found HIS catalyst, but it isn’t to be, and an unbalance is caused.
The whole cast play well, but Spacey in his prime is note perfect as he re-examines his life, and goes about trying to recapture the feeling of living rather than existing. In many ways, Mendes first film is also his most accomplished, and he has struggled to make a similar impact since.
It’s not a new story. Boy meets girl, one falls in love with the other, the relationship peaks and then flatlines, and it all ends in tears. What IS unique is the presentation in new Spidey-helmer Marc Webb’s first feature. We are taken backwards and forwards in time, getting flashes of a relationship piecemeal, the full story not revealed until the mosaic is finally completed.
It’s not this gimmick that is the brilliance of (500) Days Of Summer however. Nor is it the performances of the two lead actors, though they are great. Zooey Deschanel as the titular Summer plays the part with just enough warmth combined with just enough distance that you can see why Joseph Gordon-Levitt is besotted, but you can also believe he subsequent choices. Levett as Tom has much to do, and carries the movie brilliantly. Convincingly ecstatic and miserable in all the right places, both cool and geeky in equal measure, all whilst displaying a talent for drunken singing and choreographed dance numbers.
What really makes this one of the greatest romantic movies of all time however is that it is one of the most accurate. If you don’t recognise several different situations, conversations and feelings then chances are you’ve never fallen in love. Imbued with warmth, humour and more than a little emotion, Webb’s movie easily deserves it’s place in the 250, though i can’t help feeling the writing is more responsible for its success than it’s direction. If the Spider-Man reboot isn’t similarly well scripted it’ll be interesting to see what Webb in fact does bring to the table.
Pixar were already well on their way to the top of the animation tree. Toy Story 1 and 2 set new standards in animated story telling. With a perfect combination of kid-friendly action and adult humour we were treated to a true family experience that everyone could enjoy. Subsequent movies like The Incredibles and Finding Nemo followed the same formula. With Wall*E, however, they went a step further. There are several classic styles at work in the story of the little robot that could. Silent movie-style physical comedy, endearing love story, sci-fi adventure, searing satire.
The opening third is almost an art piece, as the silent protagonist trundles the ruins of a deserted Earth, efficiently executing his clean-up mission single handedly. His loneliness is palpable, his yearning to hold the hand of a loved one almost heartbreaking. His world is turned upside down, he falls in love, and a new quest to return humanity to Earth is sparked. The love story at the heart of this masterpiece is genuinely touching. The fun poked at a wasteful, lazy consumerist society is both hilarious and frighteningly accurate.
What is most impressive is that so many styles have been combined into one coherent movie. The highest placed animated film in the 250, and 27 places above last year’s Up, The sophistication of Wall*E is sadly beyond the youngest of its target audience, but that ensures its endurability, because they will discover it’s multi-layered fabric as they grow up and re-visit a true classic.
Francis Ford Coppola obviously holds a powerful position in the 250 as the director of TWO movies in the top ten, three in the top 25. In a way it’s a surprise that The Conversation has made the list, overshadowed as it is by The Godfather movies, its cinematic release sandwiched between the two. It’s certainly a different story, though the main themes of paranoia and betrayal are certainly mirrored.
It begins with what at first seems a rather benign rendezvous, the ‘conversation’ of the title. Not much seems to be revealed, and Harry Caul’s (Gene Hackman) frustration is shared by the audience as he tries to piece it together. As the audience we learn no more or less than the character, which is simply that something just isn’t right. Hackman’s paranoia seems unwarranted at first, but events begin to spiral and Hackman’s insular existence unravels. The Conversation is less about the mystery, more a character study of a man unable to relate to the rest of the world, working as he does in a field based in secrecy and mistrust.
We’re used to seeing Hackman as intense, imposing characters like Popeye Doyle and Lex Luthor, which makes his portrayal of nervous, timid Harry all the more impressive. The seventies style photography only serves to heighten the feeling of suspense and claustrophobia of the situation. The final scene of Harry pushed over the limit is both horrifying and sad. Smaller in scale to Copolla’s other 250 entries Godfather I and II and Apocalypse, though comparable in stature, The Conversation’s inclusion in the IMDb250 is a welcome surprise.
Don’t forget, you can follow our progress on Twitter at www.twitter.com/baz_mann and http://twitter.com/gary_phillips_. Come back next Monday to see Gary’s first five films.