5. The Wild Bunch
I think it’s safe to say that it’s mostly men who enjoy “The Wild Bunch.” It’s not hard to see why. It’s not just because it’s a western – it’s the spirit of the film. It’s about men out of time. Women don’t really matter in this film. They are barely represented. Sam Peckinpah himself does not have a good track record when it comes to strong female characters and was, by most conservative accounts, a sexist pig. If you need any evidence for this, just look at the portrayal of the main female character in Peckinpah’s notorious “Straw Dogs.”
This film is about love – the love between broken men. Love is not a word commonly associated with “The Wild Bunch,” a film that contains one of the most notorious shootouts in cinema history, but it’s there. It’s there in the countless bullets and gore. It’s there in four main characters’ final redemptive sacrifice at the end.
The members of the Wild Bunch are a dying breed. They are a group of gunslingers living on the last fringes of the Wild West. They yearn for their ultimate freedom. The type of freedom society cannot abide. They uphold a certain code, and it’s not one of nobility. As long as you don’t fuck with them, they won’t fuck with you. Even so, their criminal practices do cost the lives of numerous innocent casualties. They are not good people by any stretch of the imagination. Yet there’s humanity, too. It’s this very humanity that will be their downfall, but it’s exactly their downfall that gives their lives any meaning.
In the most base form, there’s a nihilistic appeal to the lifestyle of these men. You don’t need to answer to anyone, there are no attachments, you live on the rush of the moment. But it cannot last and the longer you live in such a world, the more damage it does to your soul. But even in the worst of worlds, you can accumulate a bond with someone deep enough that you are willing to die for it.
4. Rio Bravo
Well, the Duke had to be in here somewhere right? You can’t write about manly movies without mentioning the Duke once. Sure, the Duke seems like an unconventional movie star now. He ain’t got the muscles or the dashing looks and though he punched a lot of people on screen, it’s obvious that he wasn’t a great martial artist. But there was something about him. He has that something that many modern film stars lack now: that mysterious thing called charisma.
Like all the great movie stars, his persona is often parodied, being that its ingrained in our collective unconscious. Kurt Russell parodied him hilariously in “Big Trouble in Little China,” and Tarantino would use Russell’s stellar John Wayne impersonation for “The Hateful Eight” – which, by the way, has a lot of nods to “Rio Bravo.”
Now, there are too many great John Wayne films to choose from. The most obvious one was “The Searcher,” or his Oscar-winning turn in “True Grit.” There is also his haunting farewell turn in “The Shootist.” But I choose “Rio Bravo” above all of them, mostly because of the wonderful interaction between the main characters.
The film is as simple as it can get: Wayne plays Sheriff John T. Chance, who arrests a local gang member, knowing he could expect retaliation from his gang. He gets help from a local drunk and disgraced deputy (a wonderful Dean Martin), a crippled jabbermouth (Walter Brennan), and a up-and-coming gunslinger (Ricky Nelson). Everybody knows it’s only a matter of time before the inevitable showdown.
This would become Howard Hawk’s 41st film and it looks and feels like master craftsmanship. All of the elements work perfectly: from the palpable tension, the romantic tension between Wayne and Angie Dickinson, the comic relief ,and most of all, Dean Martin as Dude, who struggles with alcohol addiction while trying to remain clear-headed in clear and present danger.
It’s a perfect introduction to John Wayne’s oeuvre and one can’t call himself a manly men without having at least seen one of them.
3. The Last Boy Scout
You can’t write about manly movies without once mentioning Shane Black. This is the man that perfected the buddy-cop genre, starting with his screenplay for the infamous “Lethal Weapon,” the one that started it all. In “Lethal Weapon” we can already see the familiar conventions, one he would repeat in his directorial debut “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and his latest masterpiece “The Nice Guys.” We have two guys who can’t stand each other but who need each other to accomplish a certain goal and make things right. They express their dislike for each other in colorful dialog while shooting a lot of bad people in the process. They confide in each other in a poignant emotional moment.
It’s standard stuff but it becomes something special when Black writes the script, as he gives it an edge and humanity. For instance, the thing that makes “Lethal Weapon” special is not the action or even the dialog – it’s the bond between the two main characters. The redemption Martin Rigs receives through his friendship with Murtaugh. What matters most is the chemistry of the two main characters as well as the emotional connection the viewers have for these characters. The action sequences and the snappy dialog only makes it more fun. You revisit these films because you like the characters, not because you want to see mindless violence – though there’s nothing wrong with watching films for this particular reason.
All of Black’s directorial efforts could fit in this list, but his screenplay for “The Last Boy Scout” might be his funniest and most underrated of his career. It helps that it’s directed by the late great Tony Scott, who brought the chemistry between the two main characters from the script on screen and delivered on the extreme but oh-so entertaining violence.
The film also boasts one of the finest character introductions: with neighborhood kids finding our hero Joe Hallenbeck (Bruce Willis) asleep in his car, smelling of booze and god knows what. We are introduced to our second hero, Jimmy Dix (Damon Wayans) smoking a cigarette in a room, streaks of sunlight bursting in through the window blind. There’s regret in his eyes as he looks down on the woman he slept with the night before, knowing he’s got a devoted and beautiful woman waiting for him at home.
Both characters are washed-up has-beens. Joe used to be a Secret Service agent, who lost his job by one noble act of heroism: saving a woman from a savage beating by a corrupt senator. Jimmy is a disgraced football player who was expelled due to gambling charges and allegations of drug abuse. The bad habits might have always been there, but he let them consume him after the tragic death of his wife and child. It wasn’t just his penchant for hedonism that destroyed his career, it was grief. In one of the best scenes of the film, Jimmy talks about how his unborn child was dying in an incubator: ”He had time for one dream and then he died.”
They both lost the very thing that defined them and they have no more pride left. Both of them become embroiled in a conspiracy after someone close to them gets murdered – though in Joe’s case, it was his best friend Mike (Bruce McGill) who not only slept with his wife, but also tried to have him killed by giving a hugely dangerous assignment, but as Joe states casually in the film, ”Nobody’s perfect.” The conspiracy case is not only their chance for revenge, but also their chance for redemption.
Like all great action movies, the bad guys are wonderfully memorable, but just like “Lethal Weapon,” it’s the second bad guy that makes the most impact, which in this case is the effeminate psychopath Milo (Taylor Negron), who for some reason likes to give people names which starts with ‘J.’ But it’s also the host of low-level henchmen and assassins, who in most films barely receive any characterization, who get their chance to shine in their brief moments of screen time.
The most memorable are Jack Kehler as the appropriately titled Mr. Scrabble, an assassin with an extraordinary vocabulary; Kim Coates as Chet, who should have listened to Joe’s warning about touching him unwantedly; and Badja Djola, who shouldn’t have laughed so hard at Joe’s ”my wife is so fat” jokes. But of all the cast members, it’s Danielle Harris as the foul-mouthed 13-year-old daughter of Joe, who tags along in the third act, who steals the show in every scene she’s in. “The Last Boy Scout” is one of Tony Scott’s best films and one of the greatest action films of the 90s. It’s perfectly paced, hilarious, smartly constructed and brutally violent. It rates a 10 on my finger scale.
Before the release of “Baby Driver,” writer/director Edgar Wright released a list of his top 10 favorite car movie chases. It was filled with the cinema-goer’s usual suspects, such as as “Bullitt” and “The French Connection.” It wasn’t a bad list but there was one chase missing. Though I would never presume to know more about movies than Mr. Wright, I do think think he made a mistake of not mentioning the Paris chase in John Frankenheimer’s masterful “Ronin.”
If you loved the car chase as much as I did, it is highly recommended to watch the behind-the-scenes footage. You will see that in many of the shots, the stars were actually in the car, with the stunt drivers doing the actual driving. This becomes apparent in later viewings when you see how frightened Robert De Niro looks behind the wheel – his co-star Natascha McElhone in comparison looking much calmer.
The story is neatly simple: a group of mercenaries are hired to retrieve a suitcase (the grand MacGuffin) from some dangerous men, which leads to violence and betrayal. The cast of this film is simply perfect – no matter how small their screen time, each performer makes an impression. It’s hard to pick a favorite among the cast and for me, as it changes with every viewing.
Sometimes I find myself engrossed with De Niro’s focused performance as ex-CIA agent Sam, while other times it’s Jean Reno and the necessary warmth he brings to the film through his character’s growing friendship with Sam. Stellan Skarsgard nearly steals the show as the highly meticulous Gregor. Sean Bean, though his screen time is sadly limited, does a great job as a mercenary who’s way over his head. There’s also Jonathan Pryce as the vicious IRA terrorist Seamus. But it’s hard not to admire McElhone, whose experience was limited during filming but who holds her own amongst all these veteran actors.
Aside from the car chases, the rest of the action scenes are equally thrilling. This film is a reminder of how action movies should be, how much more thrilling it can be if not everything was made via a computer. The action is brutal, realistic and loud. The guns in this film sound like how guns are supposed to sound.
The characters feel like they lived and breathed this violent world. We know as much as we should know – the film doesn’t waste its time with pointless exposition. A great example is the simple scene where Sam and Vincent (Reno) share a cigarette. They talk about the madness of this mission, all this bloodshed for money. It establishes their friendship from the beginning. It helps that dialog was co-written by the great David Mamet.
“Ronin” does not only have one of the best car chases in cinema history, it’s also one of the finest action films ever made and deserves far more respect than it has.
Both John Carpenter’s “The Thing” and John McTiernan’s “Predator” have a similar opening: a mysterious spaceship orbiting earth. From the moment we see this, we know this is going to be a science fiction movie. I always thought the opening could have been cut as it would have given the film some more mystery, though I wouldn’t dare to tell either Carpenter and McTiernan how to do their job. Both these films are among my favorite films, and I know I’m not the only one.
In both films we have characters dealing with some sort of extra-terrestrial menace. In “The Thing” it’s a malevolent shape-shifter, and in “Predator” it’s a trophy hunter. Both these films are like “Ten Little Indians,” with characters getting killed off one by one. It’s the nature of the victims that truly differentiates these films: in “The Thing,” we are dealing with regular people, blue-collar workers and scientists; in “Predator,” we are dealing with an elite Special Forces team.
“The Thing” has a cast of superb character actors while “Predator” stars a cigar-chomping Arnold Schwarzenegger and a host of other body-building tough guys. Both are 80’s movies, but while “The Thing” has those 80’s practical effects, “Predator” has that unapologetic 80’s action movie vibe. Both films are perfect embodiments of the genre and its time, but it’s “Predator” that deserves, no, needs to be on this list.
“Predator” just reeks of masculinity. From the moment we meet Dutch (Schwarzenegger) and Dillon (Carl Weathers), we focus on their impressive sweaty biceps. We see that Dillon is struggling to hold his own against Dutch’s powerful grip. ”What’s the matter? CIA got you pushing too many pencils?” quips Dutch.
There are the action one-liners: Dutch throws a knife against an enemy and impales him, to which a smiling Dutch says, ”Stick around.” When Blain (Jesse Ventura) offers his chewing tobacco to the rest of his platoon and all of them shake their heads, Blain calls them a bunch of ”slack-jawed faggots” and proclaims that this stuff will make you a ”goddamn sexual tyrannosaurus” – it makes no fucking sense but it’s wonderful. After a wonderfully excessive shootout, Poncho (Richard Chaves) remarks to Blain that he’s bleeding, to which Blain immortal reply is ”I ain’t got time to bleed.”
The film is chock-full of memorable scenes, but it’s also got heart, such as in the scene where Mac (Bill Duke) mourns the loss of his best friend. You believe that these men went through all these missions together. It’s almost a shame that we will never to see a sequel with this platoon again.
“Predator” might not be for everybody, but it’s unapologetic fun. The score of Alan Silvestri works brilliantly, in both the emotional, suspenseful and action sequences. It would receive decent enough sequels (let’s just forget about the “Alien vs. Predator” films) but it has never gotten better than this. The great Shane Black, who also played Hawkins in the original, has penned and directed a new “Predator” sequel which is supposed to come out in March 2nd. Knowing Black’s track record, there hardly seems to be a better man for the job.
Author Bio: Chris van Dijk is a writer and a self-proclaimed cinematic-connoisseur who started his unhealthy obsession with film at a very young age. He’s famous for being an incredible slob, taking himself way too seriously and getting along brilliantly with anyone who agrees with him.