40. The Hidden Fortress
If you appreciate the impact of Kurosawa’s films but think they could have done with more yuks, The Hidden Fortress is the movie for you! I know Seven Samurai is credited with revitalizing or even inventing the epic, Rashomon is so seminal that when a TV show does an episode shown from multiple perspectives we call it the “Rashomon episode,” and Yojimbo indirectly popularized the spaghetti western when it was remade into A Fistful of Dollars. The Hidden Fortress has a nice little feather in its cap too, its lead characters were the inspiration for C-3PO and R2-D2, but outside of that fun fact it’s not always placed among Kurosawa’s masterpieces. Even so, it’s the one I enjoy watching the most.
This is a samurai movie that manages to simultaneously send up and participate in the action-adventure genre. You might say The Hidden Fortress was the Kingsman of its day. You might say that if you’re a fan of coming up with really weird sentences, as I am.
This movie’s great innovation is to tell the story from the perspective of a pair of crooks who wind up witnessing great deeds even as they avoid participating in them as much as possible. So you get a dashing samurai hero, a princess who shouts every other line, battles, one on one showdowns, chases, acts of honour, and treasure hunts. All seen through the MST3K like filter of these two cowardly greedy assholes, both of whom hilariously resist anything that even resembles redemption. They’re never really along on the adventure for anything other than reward, and the more valorous characters never do much more than tolerate them.
If you love these kind of films then The Hidden Fortress is an affectionate, fresh spin on a lot of familiar tropes. And if you don’t, The Hidden Fortress takes the wind out of the genre’s sails a bit. Either way, it’s a really fun watch.
Anxiety (Suspense): N/A
Affection (Emotional Impact): N/A
Applicability (Real World Resonance): HIGH. Explores some class disparities when the Princess gets involved, specific to Feudal Japan but has applicability in many countries in many times.
Appreciation (Construction): HIGH. Rooting the POV in the two peasants and then bringing in the more usual Kurosawa type characters makes for a fresh, fun story.
Awe (Visual Impact): HIGH. I don’t ever want to see the VHS fullscreen version of The Hidden Fortress, you don’t see a 1950s movie use the frame this well.
Adrenaline (Excitement): HIGH. Great action scenes, including a one-on-one battle late in the movie that’s shot simply but is excitingly staged.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): HIGH. ”Get away from me! You stink of dead bodies!”
39. Sleuth (1972)
Like with Purple Noon, if you told me going in that this was a missing peak-era Alfred Hitchcock movie, I’d have believed you. In terms of look, sensibility, tone, and the level of playful suspense, put Sleuth alongside [future spoiler] and [future spoiler].
Though I’ve got to be careful talking about this one. It would be criminal to spoil anything specific about this movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it. Even telling you how many characters appear could give things away. All I can say is that it starts off with Laurence Olivier inviting Michael Caine over to his funhouse of a mansion for a friendly chat, which over the course of two hours escalates into a deadly game of cat and mouse.
The verbal interplay is beautiful, the stakes and danger level creeps up masterfully, the acting is appropriately theatrical, and it’s one of the purest, most potent dramatizations of the UK social class system. The twists are incredible, the story doesn’t go where you expect it’s going, and that’s all I’ll say.
Ok, ok. One thing.
There are multiple twists that depend on Michael Caine NOT having one of the most recognizable voices in screen history. There’s one supposedly big surprise you’d have likely seen coming in 1972, never mind today. But it hardly matters. It’s not the first big surprise of the film and it’s by no means the last.
Adrenaline (Excitement): N/A
Awe (Visual Impact): MODERATE. Set Ken Adam to work and he’s going to production design the hell out of your movie, even if it’s only set in one location.
Affection (Emotional Impact): MODERATE. Milo’s seething resentment for Andrew is fuelled by the sobbing humiliation he’s been put through.
Applicability (Real World Resonance): HIGH. The characters embody the clash of the classes in the UK in one of the most interesting possible ways.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): HIGH. There’s plenty of time for verbal sniping in between the more dangerous moments.
Anxiety (Suspense): HIGH. True edge of your seat filmmaking.
Appreciation (Construction): HIGH. Even if it’s only a bloody game, it’s set up pretty damn well.
“A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…”
38. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
This is not only my favourite Star Wars movie, it’s the only one to date I truly love.
The look on some of your faces right now!
This is one I’m absolutely going do an in depth review on. But before that happy day arrives, I’ll just say this; Star Wars overall just isn’t really for me. I’d always liked Empire Strikes Back, though never truly loved it in the way I’m supposed to. Parts of Revenge of the Sith actually really work for me, I’m convinced you could recut it into a really amazing movie that has no dialogue. That’s pretty much it. The only reason I had any real interest in Episode 8 was leftover goodwill from Rian Johnson’s “Ozymandias” episode of Breaking Bad. It wasn’t even a movie I was going to see theatrically, but I got roped in by some friends.
I didn’t expect to love The Last Jedi. I didn’t know how relentless and exhilarating I would find it. I didn’t expect it to be this visually beautiful. I didn’t expect to find it so thematically resonant. I didn’t expect the many twists and turns the story took. I didn’t expect to leave the theatre absolutely exalting that I’d finally seen “my” Star Wars movie. Later I went on the Internet expecting everybody to be as excited as me. And whoo boy.
I realize there are a contingent of Star Wars fans who believe that anyone who praises The Last Jedi is not worth taking seriously on anything film related. There’s not much I can do about that, but if you are one of those fans, I sincerely hope you keep an eye out for my upcoming, more in depth look at Episode 8. I can’t wait to tell you why I love this movie so much.
*FULL REVIEW COMING SOON*
Amusement (Humour/Elation): MODERATE. Look, I’d like more of the Star Wars movies if they took themselves less seriously, this one having some solid laughs is an upside for me.
Affection (Emotional Impact): MODERATE. There’s a huge price in every encounter with the New Order, it has impact even seeing minor characters go at a certain point.
Adrenaline (Excitement): HIGH. The fight in Snoke’s throne room and on the salt planet pump me the fuck up.
Appreciation (Construction): HIGH. I don’t disagree with the consensus that the casino planet was a sidestep, but the thing with Snoke two thirds in makes the story something special for me.
Applicability (Real World Resonance): HIGH. Some themes aren’t perfectly landed, but overall the message that evil is worth standing up to, greatness can come from nothing, and the new must eventually supplant the old were new and refreshing.
Anxiety (Suspense): HIGH. The Last Jedi is far and away the most intense and exhausting Star Wars if you’re asking me.
Awe (Visual Impact): EXTRAORDINARY. The tactile look of the originals combined with the visual flair of the prequel settings makes for one of the best looking movies I’ve ever seen.
37. City Lights
I was once a part of this online screenwriting forum… weird brag… and we were all having this discussion about whether or not film is too young a medium to be considered capital A “Art” just yet. The range of opinions in the thread were as diverse and subjective as the definition of art itself, but I remember one poster saying this: “The only truly artistic moment in all of cinema is the final scene of City Lights.” I don’t know if I agree, but it was such a strong assertion that it’s always stuck with me.
Indeed the end of the movie is so heartfelt and overwhelming, it’s easy for me to forget that there’s a lot of great humour in City Lights. You guys, Charlie Chaplin makes great comedy! More at 11. I sincerely laugh out loud at so much of this stuff. Things like the Tramp swallowing a whistle and being followed around by dogs, or a man accidentally eating soap and bellowing angrily as bubbles spew from his mouth are premises you’ve seen before, but they’re timed and framed so exquisitely, you laugh at them like they’re brand new. Plus there’s the Tramp’s famous dance with an open grate, and his disastrous boxing match late in the film.
Side note, we’re only a couple of years after Al Jolson’s blackface in the The Jazz Singer, City Lights has a real live black guy in it, and his race isn’t any kind of deal at all. Plenty of later great movies (including many on this list I admit) can’t make that claim. Wait to go, 1931 film.
There’s plenty of great comedy sequences, but a lot of the main story is played for drama. City Lights alternatively revolves around the Tramp’s interactions with two characters who, for different reasons, don’t recognize him for what he really is. One, a millionaire who merrily welcomes The Tramp into his life but only when he’s drunk. Two, a pure-of-soul blind flower girl who’s been misled into thinking the Tramp is wealthy. These storylines have the capacity to break your heart. Or make it soar.
Again, that ending, man. If it’s not art, what is?
Anxiety (Suspense): N/A
Awe (Visual Impact): N/A
Adrenaline (Excitement): N/A
Applicability (Real World Resonance): N/A
Amusement (Humour/Elation): HIGH. Not dazzling like Buster Keaton’s work, but more laugh out loud funny.
Appreciation (Construction): EXTRAORDINARY. The best work from one of the all time legends of cinema.
Affection (Emotional Impact): EXTRAORDINARY. “You?”
36. V For Vendetta
I had a knock against V For Vendetta once; I thought its satire was too broad. The original novel was more nuanced, and the adaptation too cleanly organized its characters into heroes and villains. This film I felt made its right wing politicians and media pundits too cartoonish. Its warnings of a declining, isolated England were too exaggerated. Its depiction of a population easily controlled by nakedly transparent fear mongering and demagoguery was too cynical.
Anyway I don’t think that anymore. I forget why.
You can dislike the movie’s politics. You can dislike it as an adaptation of the original graphic novel. You can dislike the glorification of Guy Fawkes, and you can dislike that it’s been reappropriated by Anonymous since the film’s release. You can dislike Natalie Portman’s accent. Jesus, you can dislike a lot if you want to. But V For Vendetta is a goddamn FILM. It is kinetic, thought provoking, densely packed, moving, fun, and exciting. It’s everything I hope for when I see a movie.
The story largely centres on a young woman who gets caught up in the wake of a masked anti-hero intent on liberated a dystopian England. At the start of the film he declares that the following November 5th will be a night of mayhem, and in the lead up to that, he commits a series of deeply stylish murders in order to dismantle the status quo, and perhaps settle some old scores. The movie is pretty much just a parade of unforgettable moments one after the other. And, following V’s lead, I promise we’re going to break down all of these sequences at a most appropriate time; March the 17th.
What? That makes no kind of sense. Nah, we’ll talk about V For Vendetta next November the 5th.
*FULL REVIEW COMING SOON*
Appreciation (Construction): LOW. Movie is at its best when its indulging in its style, the more expository scenes with the two detectives aren’t as good as the rest.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): MODERATE. Even with what happens to him later, Stephen Fry is a pure delight in this movie.
Adrenaline (Excitement): MODERATE. Really just in the finale again Mr. Creedy’s men, but put that one scene up against anything in The Matrix.
Anxiety (Suspense): MODERATE. Evey’s predicament midway through the film.
Awe (Visual Impact): HIGH. So much visual flair, and all without going for that Blade Runner/Dark City production design I’m a sucker for.
Applicability (Real World Resonance): HIGH. We ought to have taken this movie more seriously.
Affection (Emotional Impact): EXTRAORDINARY. The story of Valerie Page, and what happens to Evey following that is an incredible sequence.