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 23rd update, my next five films watched for the project. You can find last week’s update here.
Letters From Iwo Jima (2006) – 8.0 No. 197
I’m really not a fan of Clint Eastwood’s work, despite the fact he is a darling of the academy, and has several films in this list. I enjoyed Unforgiven, the only Eastwood movie i’ve watched for the project so far, but only to a point. Letters was another of his Oscar contenders, but is it any better than his other work?
Letters follows several soldiers of different rank, including Ken Watanabe as General Kuribayashi, and Kazunari Ninomiya as Private Saigo, as they prepare for the inevitable Allied attack on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima. Conditions are poor, and the lower ranked soldiers are treated cruelly, until General Kuribayashi turns up, and tries to reorganise the sad looking army.
We all know what happened at Iwo Jima, but we certainly don’t know the fashion in which it occurred. We think of Japan as the enemy, and they were. That doesn’t make their soldiers evil however, and this is Eastwood’s attempt to show that.
And it works. You can’t help but feel for the Japanese soldiers, forced to leave their families to defend the indefensible, in the face of impossible odds. The outpost on the island of Iwo Jima was hung out to dry, despite being a valuable base of operation. Japan really should have done their utmost to defend the island, to stop the allied forces from being able to use it as a launching point. It was a huge tactical mistake.
It was also an inexcusable sacrifice of life. The soldiers charged with defending the island are left hungry, ill, and with no chance for victory. Eastwood’s film does a fantastic job of displaying this, with a genuinely sympathetic look at the final days of the Japanese soldiers. Where his flip-side movie Flags of our Fathers was saccharine and tedious, Letters from Iwo Jimo is touching and subtle. With beautiful cinematography, and measured acting performances, it is, for me, his best movie.
I have been surprised by how many of Eastwood’s movies are in the IMDb250, but for once i have been surprised in a good way. Letters From Iwo Jima is possibly his only movie that belongs in this list, and it was an absolute pleasure to watch. I hope to see more of Eastwood’s work constructed in such a compelling and stylish way.
Sunset Boulevard (1950) – 8.6 No. 32
The first of two movies in this update that deal with women who aren’t quite living in the real world, Sunset Boulevard is written and directed by Billy Wilder.
William Holden is Joe Gillis, a Hollywood writer in crisis. Once successful, with numerous credits to his name, he has become a hack. Knocking out screenplays in a desperate attempt to make some money, he is failing miserably. He is broke, and his car is about to be repossessed. It is whilst attempting to escape the repo men that he stumbles upon a big house. It is the home of Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). She was once a big star in the silent movie era, but now talkies have come along, and her star has fallen. She has written a screenplay, her attempt at resurrecting her own career. She presses Gillis into redrafting it for her, working with her in her home. With no other options on the horizon, he reluctantly agrees to it, but finds he is forced deeper and deeper into compromise, until he finds himself a kept man press-ganged into a romantic relationship with the aging starlet.
As he learns more about her past, and her fragile emotional state, he looks for a way out, and sets to work on another script secretly. As he falls for another woman, he finds he has no option but to bring his shambolic new life into the open, in order to escape his misery. This pushes the fragile Desmond over the edge however, and the doomed partnership ends in tragedy.
Sunset Boulevard is a fascinating insight into forties Hollywood, the studio system, and what happens to stars when their careers come to a standstill. After so many years in the limelight, beloved by millions, Desmond finds it impossible to let go. Enabled by her faithful servant Max, she has been allowed to retain delusions of superstar status, and uses her money and Holden’s desperation to try to cling on to a Hollywood dream.
Though the story is told from the point of view of Holden’s Gillis, this is Swanson’s movie. She is brilliant as the increasingly deranged Desmond, losing her dignity in the act of trying to retain it. Holden does a good job as the reluctant writer gradually dragged in to an unhealthy relationship, and his confusion over the choice between being Desmond’s plaything, or a returning to his struggles is well played out. He is shown to be somewhat of a coward in the end, only really taking steps to end the situation when he finds their are prospects for him after all, both romantically and in his career.
Sunset Boulevard is fantastic. Great characters, with frighteningly real traits and flaws, watching Desmond’s descent is like watching a car wreck. You don’t know whether to be repulsed by her, or feel sorry for her. With an absolutely chilling final scene, Sunset Boulevard is easily one of the best movies based around the industry, and thanks to some great writing and a wonderful performance by Swanson, it is deserving of its position in the list, and its reputation in general.
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) – 8.0 No. 203
Another movie about a woman with a fragile emotional state, A Streetcar Named Desire stars Viven Leigh as ex-prostitute Blanche DuBois, Kim Hunter as her sister Stella, and Marlon Brando as her cruel brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski.
Blanche timidly enters a New Orleans bowling alley, and the life of her sister and her husband. Blanche acts like a southern lady, with airs and graces and a trunk of fine furs. Her personality and fraudulent aura of elegance clash immediately with the brutish Stanley, who resents her presence in his home from day one.
As Blanche’s time at her sister’s home lengthens, the cracks begin to appear in her facade. With a mysterious past, an obsession with her appearance, over-reliance on alcohol and desperation to find a man, her behaviour starts to grate on the nerves of her brother-in-law, and inevitably this causes problems between himself and wife Stella.
Eventually Blanche’s chequered past comes to light, and her emotional state starts to deteriorate quickly. With her chances at marriage dashed, and the relentless taunts from her brother-in-law turning into physical abuse driving her over the edge, Blanche eventually has to be carted off, resulting in the end of Stella and Stanley’s damaged relationship.
A Streetcar Named Desire is very atmospheric. Despite only taking place in a couple of different locations, the hot, grimy feel of New Orleans is palpable, as is the simmering temper and hatred of Stanley towards Blanche. Leigh is believably batty, as her grandiose act even in the beginning only weakly papers over her obvious emotional problems. The more she attempts to put on airs, the more desperate she looks. Brando is also brilliant, and you genuinely believe his malicious intent as he tries to drive the nail into the heart of his sister in law.
You can’t help but feel for Blanche, and worry for her emotional state, as every tic and character flaw is fully out on display. She is a genuinely troubled character, and Leigh portrays it brilliantly. At times difficult to watch, but brilliantly constructed, A Streetcar Named Desire can be accused of a plodding pace at times. It is however a very well written and acted picture, and though it will never be a personal favourite, i can appreciate why it is present in the list.
Sleuth (1972) – 8.0 No. 208
Yet another film based on a play this week, along with A Steetcar Named Desire. Starring two fantastic British actors in Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier, it is a wonder that i only really heard about Sleuth this year. I saw it on the list when we began the project, and in the last few months a couple of people have recommended it, so i was looking forward to watching it for the first time.
Olivier is well off crime writer Andrew Wyke, who invites the younger Milo Tindle, an Anglo-Italian hair dresser played by Caine to his country home. It seems that Tindle has been seeing Wyke’s wife Marguerite, and he has been summoned to hear a proposition. If he steals some of Wyke’s valuables, he can sell them and keep the profits, and Wyke’s wife, whilst he collects the insurance money.
Tindle is made to disguise himself and stage the burglary, but it turns out to be a trick, so that Wyke can take revenge on him. Wyke shoots Tindle, and disposes of the body. Two days later, a policeman arrives to question Wyke. Tindle is missing, and the trail leads here. After several attempts at cover up, Wyke finally relents, and admits Tindle was there. He claims, however, that it was a fake murder, and that Tindleis in fact alive. The evidence suggests otherwise however, and what started out as a cruel game starts to look like it may have some dire consequences.
Sleuth is all set in one location, performed by just two actors. Why, then, is it so brilliant? The storyline is deceptively simple. A deadly game of one-upmanship, the tricks employed, and the resulting twists aren’t necessarily groundbreaking. Really, it is the performances from two great actors that make Sleuth such a fantastically enjoyable watch. Both characters start off seemingly in fairly jovial moods, but as the tricks escalate so do tensions. Caine goes from being a fairly naive, timid man to a volcano of emotion by the end of the film. Olivier in turn is initially a larger than life, theatrical being. Slowly, as he is worn down and sees his ingenious plan come back to bite him, he grows more panicked, and thrown out of his bravado, until finally his spirit is crushed.
A fascinating look at mind games, and how cruel jokes can turn incredibly sour, Sleuth is a very watchable, and at times very compelling story. Whether it is one of the greatest movies of al time is open to debate, but i certainly would watch Sleuth again over many of the movies i have seen so far on the list.
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) – 8.0 No. 191
I have seen one silent movie so far for the project, that being the brilliant Metropolis. A high bar set then, and one that Sunrise would struggle to leap.
A man, his wife and their young son live in a small village. Their life is far from idyllic however. a glamorous woman from the city is vacationing there, and has begun a tumultuous affair with the man. Whenever his wife’s attention is diverted, he takes the opportunity to slip away and spend time with his lover. His wife is understandably miserable, but worse is yet to come. The lover convinces the man that they could move to the city together, but that he must dispose of his wife first, by drowning her.
The man is unable to bring himself to do it, however, but she senses his intentions. In a state of shock, she tries to run away, and as he pursues her they end up in the city together themselves. With their relationship at rock bottom, woman miserable, man beside himself with remorse, they have the opportunity to start their life together again, and to fall in love for the second time.
Sunrise is a masterful example of silent film. The actions of the characters, the simplicity of the story, and the brilliant camera work and editing combine to tell a tale that leaves mere words redundant. In fact, the captions that are used are completely unnecessary, though they are admittedly few and far between. The lover looks suitably dangerous and seductive. The man suitably sullen and sheepish, and his wife genuinely looks miserable, at her wits end.
By use of good editing, flashbacks and imagined sequences, we can tell exactly what is happening, and what each character is feeling at any given moment. Though the man’s actions are reprehensible, your full sympathy is with his wife, and you can’t help but pull for them throughout. The events of the day depicted match perfectly the way their life has unfolded, and in both cases a terrible end is threatened. Sunrise is a fantastic example of both beautiful storytelling, and brilliant technical filmmaking. A worthy match for Metropolis, and a true pleasure to watch.
Come back next Monday for update 24. You can follow our progress at www.twitter.com/baz_mann and www.twitter.com/gary_phillips_