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 January 1st of this year. It’s not as simple as it sounds, we are watching them all in one year, 125 each.
This is our 21st update, my next five films watched for the project. You can find last week’s update here.
Gladiator (2000) – 8.3 No. 105
In my last update, i looked at the film that brought a young Russell Crowe to Hollywood’s attention. Fitting then that this time around, particularly with the release of Robin Hood a few weeks ago, i look at the movie that made him a household name, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator.
Crowe is Maximus Decimus Meridius, a supreme General in the Roman army, and close friend to the Emperor. So close, in fact, that the Emperor reveals to his son Commodus that he plans to name Merdius instead of him as his successor. His ambitious progeny however does not take this news well, and following the death of his father, he arranges for Meridius to be accused of the Emperor’s murder, and for him and his family to be executed.
As the young Commodus begins his reign, the former General finds himself badly wounded, and sold into life as a Gladiator, a warrior forced to fight to the death for entertainment. His battle prowess and experience prove invaluable as he battles his way through arenas and back into Rome. Once there, he obtains power to rival that of the young ruler by winning the support of the baying crowd. Simultaneously winning support within the Senate, a plan is afoot to usurp the young Emperor. Commodus becomes suspicious however, and puts into action a plan to silence the fearsome warrior once and for all.
Opening with a dramatic battle scene, and mixing personal and political drama with excellent cinematography and well chorographed fight sequences, it is easy to see why Gladiator made such a big splash upon its release, winning several Oscars. Crowe is excellent in the part, handling both the physical and emotional elements of the role well, giving probably a much more well rounded performance than he managed in LA Confidential.
Gladiator has that truly epic feel, but at times, the swelling music, the grandiosity, and the slimy performance of Joaquin Phoenix veer frighteningly close to cheesiness. It is a hard balance to maintain, and it does work, but with repeated viewing the great doesn’t work so well, and you notice more of the not so great. The political story is shoehorned in, and you can’t help but feel it slows the plot down a little too much.
I can see why Gladiator is in the top 250 list, and it is a thrilling and occasionally affecting film. But i think one watch a decade is enough for me, having not seen it since its release, and i think it may be some time before i feel compelled to watch it again.
The African Queen (1951) – 8.0 No. 210
This is one of the few Humphrey Bogart films i had seen before the project started, having watched it for a previous top movies project. I didn’t enjoy it all that much the first time, but the problem with watching movies in this way is that you are apt to feel somewhat rushed, not always watching a movie under the right circumstances.
Based on the novel of the same name, The African Queen is directed by John Huston. Bogart plays Charlie Allnut, the Captain of The African Queen, a mail boat delivering along the Congo river. Whilst stopping at a particular outpost, he discusses the current war going on in Europe with a British lady and gentleman, who are brother and sister missionaries. Living in such a remote location, they haven’t heard about the events of World War I, but the realities are brought home to them when the German army show up and burn down the village. The gentleman is killed, and Bogart aides the lady, Rose Sayer, using his boat to attempt to take her to safety.
The rough and ready boat captain, and his regal and ladylike passenger are chalk and cheese at first, but when she draws up a plan to use the small boat to destroy the German’s warship, fear and mutual respect bring the two comrades closer together.
As they struggle to survive their journey along the river, facing rapids and alligators, and the boat becomes more damaged and unreliable from the difficulties they face, they are forced to work together to keep the boat running, and reach safety in one piece. When it appears they may finally be safe, they come within sight of the German gunship. Can they escape? Or is their blossoming relationship doomed to a sticky end?
Having only seen Bogart playing suave and confident private detectives, to see him as the dishevelled postman is refreshing. It is refreshing not because it plays more to his general appearance, but because it actually gives him a chance to act. The part requires range, and a much more natural of humanity than in his earlier films. He really delivers, showing a surprising amount of acting ability, winning an Academy Award in the process. Katherine Hepburn as the English lady is equally wonderful, and the blossoming relationship between them works beautifully. It does not feel overly contrived, and the manner in which it is built, upon mutual respect as well as extraordinary circumstances, give it a truly authentic feel.
The plot is well constructed, the pace is calm, though never drags. Ultimately, The African Queen is a touching story of opposites attracting, and ordinary people prevailing in the most extreme of circumstances. The end is perhaps a little silly, but aside from that, a worthy entry in my opinion.
Psycho (1960) – 8.7 No. 22
The first of a Hitchcock double bill in this update, Psycho is the title probably most synonymous with the master of suspense. But is it deserving of its infamy?
A young secretary’s greed is triggered when her boss asks her to deposit a large amount of a customer’s money into the bank. Marion Crane takes the chance to steal it, and buying a new car, goes off on the run. Checking in to a small, run down motel, she doesn’t realise the fate that is about to befall her. She talks to the young man running the motel for a while, then retires to her room to show. The young man, Norman Bates, is clearly attracted by the young lady. This upsets his domineering mother, however, who reacts angrily and violently.
A private detective turns up looking for the lady, on the search for the stolen cash. He asks a few too many questions, however, and promptly disappears too. The young lady’s sister and boyfriend team up to search for her, but are unprepared for what they will find at the remote Bates Motel.
The popular story around Psycho is that its biggest star, Janet Leigh, is only in it for a short period of time, which came as a big surprise to audiences. The opening of the film, where she steals the money and goes on the run, is a fantastic Macguffin, and the sudden shift from heist to horror throws you off balance for the rest of the movie. All bets are off, and it’s very effective.
The sort sharp shock of the violence, quite graphic for the time, are a jarring interruption to the slow, measured pace of the suspenseful moments. You are led to believe that Bates is a pervert, spying on his guests, but the truth is so much more complex. The big reveal at the end is stunning, but the reallly compelling scene is the final one. As Bates sits in his jail cell, his thoughts not his own, you get a glimpse of a genuinely disturbed mind, and can’t help but feel that you want to see more. A film that delves deep into this diseased psyche seems even more interesting than the inventive horror movie you’ve just experienced, and leaves you the way it should, wanting more.
Psycho is a true classic, in my opinion the best of Hitchcock’s work that i have seen so far, and despite its deceptively simple nature, it holds the most complex of ideas. A must watch, and easily a top 100 film.
Anatomy of a Murder (1959) – 7.9 No. 243
A film i have never heard of, let alone seen, Anatomy of a Murder stars James Stewart and Lee Remick, and is directed by Otto Preminger.
Stewart plays Paul Biegler, a small town lawyer called upon to defend a soldier accused of murder. His guilt isn’t in question, the case for his defence instead rests upon proving him unaccountable for his actions. The man who stands accused, Frederick Manion was in a fit of rage when he shot a bar owner, Barney Quill, at a holiday camp, having been told by his wife of a rape ordeal at the barman’s hands.
The case is made difficult by the appearance and demeanor of his wife Laura, who is presumed to be promiscuous based on her flirty behaviour and revealing outfits. Biegler advises her to refine her appearance and behaviour for the duration of the trial, after finding her out having too much fun.
The court case then proceeds. There are lots of swings during the trial, with sympathy and suspicion for the defendant alternating in equal measure. Several plot devices are used, as new evidence and witnesses are produced, and the momentum in the case is exchanged several times.
The pace of Anatomy of a Murder starts off leisurely, and continues that way into the courtroom scenes. Despite the slow unravelling, however, every moment is somehow thrilling. The performance by Stewart is masterful, and the evidence and testimony are well constructed, leading to a beautifully written trial. This stands to reason, as it was adapted from a novel, written by a Supreme Court Justice, and based on a real case. You are fully aware that what the defendant did was wrong, but Stewart’s charm and courtroom theatrics almost convince you otherwise.
The final verdict is somehow both inevitable and unpredictable. Without being lightning fast or extremely intense, the trial is brilliant and compelling. One of the best courtroom films i’ve seen, Anatomy of a Murder unexpectedly manages to enthrall you as a viewer, and quietly justifies its inclusion in the top 250 list.
Shadow of a Doubt (1943) – 8.0 No. 199
The second Hitchcock film of this update, and the 6th i have seen overall. It has been a somewhat mixed bag of Hitchcock’s work so far for me, but Shadow of a Doubt brings his work back to the style i enjoyed in week one’s Rebecca.
We meet an ‘ordianry’ family, as they are quietly living their lives, until Uncle Charlie comes to stay. He has been travelling around for many years, and they haven’t seen him for quite some time. He has apparently been very successful, and says he is looking to maybe settle down, and build a domestic life somewhere. Uncle Carlie is rather mysterious, however, and it soon becomes apparent to the viewer, and then his teenage niece Charlotte that he is trying to hide something.
At first his motivations just appear to be rather mysterious, but soon become rather sinister. As Charlotte pieces the clues together, and gets closer to the truth, he becomes ever more evasive, and then threatening. Charlotte dare not raise her suspicions to the rest of her family, and begs her Uncle just to leave. Once she learns the full truth, however, she becomes terrified, both for her family and her own well being.
The brilliance of Shadow of a Doubt is the slow burn nature of the storyline. It is apparent fairly quickly that something isn’t right with the secretive visitor. Sweetness and light on the outside, it is obvious he is hiding something, but you have no idea just what. As the movie progresses, the horrifying thought of someone close to you, living in your own house, with malicious intent becomes ever more frightening. You genuinely worry for the young girl, and what might happen to your family. Joseph Coteen as the Uncle is incredibly impressive. His charm and charisma are clear on screen, but when he lets his facade drop in front of his niece it is truly chilling.
It was always going to be difficult to end this type of story effectively, as it was in Rebecca. The quick shock of the unexpected conclusion, and your uncertainty in the lead up, just about manage to pay off what has come before. A very well paced thriller, it is one of the best of the Hitchcock films i have seen to date.
Come back next Monday for update 22. You can follow our progress at www.twitter.com/baz_mann and www.twitter.com/gary_phillips_