Monday, 22 August 2011

5 films that should have won the Best Picture Oscar

1.  Brokeback Mountain  (2005)

To think that Brokeback is just a gay cowboy film is beyond stupid.  To say that it is a beautifully tragic bi-sexual love story is probably more like it.  It's a gripping film with powerful performances that take you to the heights and depths of human emotion.  And the film that beat it to the top gong?  Crash is unrealistic and (despite trying so hard to be clever) told its audience nothing about its central topic of racism.

What won instead?  Crash

2.  Goodfellas  (1990)

Goodfellas shows us the rise and eventual fall of gangster Henry Hill.  Superbly directed by Martin Scorsese and containing phenomenal performances from Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci, this is my number one gangster film. However, it wasn't good enough to win the Best Picture as Kevin Costner's reasonable but extremely soppy Dances With Wolves took the gong.

What won instead?  Dances With Wolves

3.  Saving Private Ryan  (1998)

This is probably the most realistic war movie that you're likely to see.  It makes you truly realise how terrifying it must have been to be involved and how horrifying the whole process of war really is.  Spielberg's directing is at an all-time high and the performance of all the cast is perfect.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed Shakespeare in Love but how the hell did it beat this giant of a film?!

What won instead?  Shakespeare in Love


4.  The Last Picture Show  (1971)

This is one of the best coming-of-age dramas that has ever been made.  Despite being in black-and-white, it is still a beautiful picture that focuses around the lives of teenagers in a small Texan town.  As for the film that beat it, The French Connection has a paper-thin plot and is only famous for its pretty impressive car chase.

What won instead?  The French Connection


5.  Pulp Fiction  (1994)

It hurts me to type this because Forrest Gump is my favourite film of all time!  However, the editing, the music, and the directing of Pulp Fiction were well ahead of the game and really it should have won.  

What won instead?  Forrest Gump

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Bride of Frankenstein (1935) - The List Hero Review

The sequel to James Whale's 1931 film is superior to its predecessor in many ways.  The key ingredient for me here is the development of characters (which I will get onto later).  I began watching the film with a degree of doubt after believing the monster to be dead at the end of the first movie... however, the way that this is dealt with in the opening sequence of the movie is a credit to its makers.  Onto the plot and we have a major conflict of interests as Henry Frankenstein, again played by Colin Clive, is approached by the wonderfully evil Doctor Septimus Pretorius, portrayed brilliantly by Ernest Thesiger, in order to create a mate for his monster and toasts to a new world "of Gods and Monsters!"  Frankenstein does not want a repeat of his previous mistake and we finally get a sense of how this central character (who we know so little about from the original film) is actually feeling.

Meanwhile, the monster is making its way through the woods when it stumbles upon a friendly blind man.  Here, we see more character development and feel that the monster doesn't really want to hurt anyone but doesn't know how to communicate his feelings.  Again, the movie is giving me an understanding of the character and now I can begin to feel for him... something that was severely lacking in the first film.  As a result, the blind man teaches him how to speak.  The plot then takes a few more twists and turns, making it a much more interesting flick than the previous film.

However, despite its major improvements, the film still has problems;  the monster goes from being to say "drink" and "good" in one scene, to being able to hold a full conversation in the following scene...  highly unlikely!  There is the annoying cockney "comedy" servant who is intended (I'm assuming) to offer some light relief but just comes across as silly.  Plus, there is still a major lack of creepy horror that modern cinema-goers would expect - the scene when the monster kidnaps Elizabeth is a great chance to build a bit of haunting tension... but never does so.

On the whole, a major improvement from the first but modern audiences will still find it lacking in some areas.
Rating: a respectable 3 out of 5.

Frankenstein (1931) - The List Hero Review

Despite its status as a horror classic, James Whale's 1931 adaptation of the Mary Shelley book was a massive disappointment for me.  Although the film is technically very efficient for a 1931 movie, this so-called "horror" film simply refuses to be scary in any way whatsoever; there's no tension and no haunting music to build any tension.  However, the biggest problem for me here is the lack of character development; the fact that I barely know a thing about any of the characters means that come the end of the movie I don't really care about Doctor Frankenstein (played by Colin Clive), I'm not really interested in the feelings of the villagers (the death of the young girl barely moved me), and I'm just not sure how I feel about the monster (played by the legendary Boris Karloff).  Should it be sadness at his final situation?  Joy?  Relief?  Horror?  Well, it's actually none of these as I'm left feeling rather empty. 

Sorry, but it's a... 1 out 5.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The List Hero's Top 10 Courtroom Movies

As a nod to 2011's excellent The Lincoln Lawyer, I've put together a list of 10 good courtroom films.  Maybe some of your favourites are missing, or maybe they should be higher up the list.  Please feel free to let me know!

Here goes:

10.  A Few Good Men (1992)

Despite a great script and cast, I have to admit that I mainly enjoyed the moments when Jack Nicholson was on the screen.... "You want the truth?  You can't handle the truth!"  
Oh Yeah!

9.  The Lincoln Lawyer  (2011)

People will scream me down for putting this above A Few Good Men, but I don't care.  Matthew McConaughey's performance is better than Tom Cruise's, the movie is much slicker, and I was far more entertained!  So there!  For more about the film, see my recent review (August 2011).

8.  The Devil's Advocate  (1997)

Keanu Reeves stars as a top defence attorney who is offered a large salary by a big law firm owned by Al Pacino.  As it turns out, Pacino's character John Milton isn't quite who he says he is and the film takes some very interesting turns... some of which are a little bit head-spinning.

7.  The People vs Larry Flynt  (1996)

Woody Harrelson stars as the owner of a controversial porn magazine that is being sued by the holiest of men.  Harrelson, Edward Norton, and, in particular, Courtney Love are all excellent in another quality Milos Forman flick.

6.  Sleepers  (1996)

An all-star cast appear in Barry Levinson's emotional revenge film.

5.  My Cousin Vinny  (1992)

Who said that courtroom movies have to be serious all the time?  My Cousin Vinny, starring Joe Pesci, is not only a laugh-a-minute but also a great film.  It even earned Marisa Tomei an Academy Award.

4.  Erin Brockovich  (2000)

Julia Roberts gives a top draw performance in the title role of this Steve Soderbergh flick.  She plays a single mother who takes on a gas company for compensation.  Gripping stuff!

3.  And Justice For All   (1979)

A bit of a morality tale here as Al Pacino stars as Arthur Kirkland, a hotheaded lawyer trying to take on the system.  Famous for the final scene, in which Pacino screams "You're out of order! The whole trial is out of order!", this film received two Oscar nominations.

2.  12 Angry Men  (1957)

Sidney Lumet, who went on to direct a number of top films (Dog Day Afternoon, Network, The Verdict), received an Oscar nomination for his directing of 12 Angry Men.  The film is set in just one scene with a collection of jurors deciding on the fate of a teenage slum boy.  The setting is a hot, sweaty day and the jurors are quite happy to condemn the boy guilty as charged without barely discussing the details.  That is apart from one (played by Henry Fonda), who shows the rest the opposite side of the story.  As the story unfolds, the acting is superb and the movie is absorbing.  12 Angry Men was also nominated for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay (as well as Lumet's directing nomination) but lost all three to Bridge on the River Kwai.

1.  Philadelphia  (1993)

This was one of the first big-budget movies to tackle the seemingly taboo topic of AIDS.  Directed by Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs), it starred a superb turn from Tom Hanks as a homosexual man, Andrew Beckett, who is HIV positive and then immediately fired by his law firm.  Hanks performance was so engaging, so real, and just so damn good that it earned him his first Academy Award.  Beckett turns to personal injury lawyer Joe Miller, portrayed with another fantastic performance from Denzel Washington.  For me, this is the most gripping of courtroom dramas, with the tension between Washington and Hanks superb at times.  The film also stars Antonio Banderas as Hanks' gay lover and was nominated for 3 Academy Awards (winning two).

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The Lincoln Lawyer (2011) - The List Hero Review

Cocky, arrogant, but ultimately excellent at his job.  Brad Furman's film adaptation of The Lincoln Lawyer takes us into the ultra-confident world of criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller (played here by Matthew McConaughey).  The film has sharp directing and a smooth soundtrack, leaving the overall effect of a movie almost as slick as the lawyer himself.  The story, originally written by author Michael Connelly, sees Haller take on a case involving spoilt rich boy Louis Roulet (played by spoilt rich boy Ryan Phillipe).  Haller believes that Roulet is innocent but there are a few twists along the way that prove the case to be his biggest test yet.

Whilst there are no "major stars" here, the casting is pretty spot on with talented actors giving great performances;  McConaughey gives his best performance for years, and is supported by Phillipe, William H Macy and Marisa Tomei.  Some viewers may be put off by cocky characteristics given off by McConaughey's protagonist but for me this only made the challenges he faces more interesting; we suddenly see the clouds of doubt gathering above Haller's head, and again this is a credit to McConaughey for showing the audience this without ever being over-the-top or obviously doing so.

There's nothing ground-breaking about this film, and I have only seen a limited amount of the films released in 2011, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable ride and is the best I've seen this year (although this is bound to change once the "award season" begins).

Rating: 4 out of 5

Monday, 8 August 2011

Around the World in 80 Days (1956) - The List Hero Review

A gritty, edge-of-your-seat drama.  If that's what you're after, you're in the wrong place.  Michael Anderson's film adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days is light-hearted, beautifully shot, and - to a modern-day viewer - absolutely hilarious.  To say that this is the most British film I've ever seen would be an understatement.  The movie, like Jules Verne's novel, follows protagonist Phileas Fogg (played as an aristocratic perfectionist by David Niven) and his sidekick Passepartout (a role given to famous Mexican comic Cantinflas) as they shoot around the world in order to win a huge bet with Fogg's Reform Club associates.  

The film is as easy on the eye as it is to follow the plot, but what is it that makes it so funny?  Well, whether they done intentionally or not, there are a number of extremely humorous elements to this film, which - if not taken too seriously - are a laugh-a-minute.  Firstly, there are the ridiculously out-dated stereotypes of Empire (remember that the book was first published in 1873), like the savage natives of the Indian jungle attempting to burn their dead leader's widow (played by Shirley MacLaine, who is about as Indian as myself) alive.  

The point about MacLaine's lack of Indian blood also leads me nicely on to the scene in Bombay in which a number of "blacked up" white actors are performing the usual Indian activities... like snake charming.  How could you not laugh at such a ridiculous scene?!  To be honest, a lot of my personal laughs did come from the out-dated British attitudes; "no crisis should get in the way of afternoon tea" says one cog in the work of the Empire.  Don't get me wrong, I don't think that the colonisation of other countries is funny.  Quite the opposite in fact and it's films like this that show just how ridiculous it was for the British (and other nations) to think that they could just own everything.  As the chords to "Rule Britannia" fade in and out of our sub-conscience throughout the adventure, it simply further emphasises the laughs.

However, the constant references to tea and Empire aren't the only laughs available here.  There are also a number of ridiculous situations that arise; Passepartout fights a bull, Passepartout saves Princess Aouda from those pesky natives, and my particular favourite is when Fogg prizes together a wonderful sail-powered train that actually overtakes the steam engine as they race through the barely-windy American desert.  Brilliant!

Around the World in 80 Days won a number of Academy Awards, including Best Picture (beating The King and I and The Ten Commandments).  Did it deserve such recognition?  I'm not sure, but it is a very good looking movie that's a fantastic viewing on a lazy afternoon.

Rating:  a very jolly 4 out of 5

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) - The List Hero Review

Having won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1952 (beating off stiff competition from Fred Zinnemann's classic western High Noon and John Ford's The Quiet Man) and being put together by the extremely revered director Cecil B DeMille, a movie about a struggling circus seemed like a more-than appealing way to pass a couple of hours on a Monday afternoon.  However, The Greatest Show on Earth did not live up to my expectations.  The particularly ropey plot, which occurs in small bursts between over-extensive shots of circus performances, revolves around a selection of mostly dislikeable characters travelling across America with the Ringling Brothers Circus.  These dislikeable protagonists are portrayed on screen by some very weak acting; the ever-melodramatic Charlton Heston and the incredibly annoying Betty Hutton are particular culprits.  

Although this award winning flick does have the occasional highlight; a fairly convincing train crash, the sight of a trapeze artist falling to the ground, and plenty of clips of genuinely talented circus folk, the film fails by never really focusing in on its potentially interesting side-plot.  As previously stated, I never really warmed the central protagonists, whether it be because of the acting or the characters inability to be loyal or kind the those closest to them... however, the site of James Stewart on screen is always a pleasure and it is also the case here.  His warm-hearted (and enormously under-used) character, Bubbles the clown, is hiding a dark secret that is eventually revealed - leading to a criminal investigation.  This storyline is kept on the fringes, much to my disappointment, and the movie plunders on with Hutton's character Holly (a female trapeze artist) falling in and out of love like it's going out of fashion.

And so, my Monday afternoon viewing was plagued by a number of disappointments.  Had DeMille focused on the Bubbles plot, cut out some of the circus scenes, and given Heston and Hutton the boot, we may just have had a good film on our hands... and not a movie that was voted the third worst Best Picture of all time by Empire magazine.

Rating:  a fairly generous 2 out of 5