5. Inglourious Basterds (2009, Quentin Tarantino)
There was bound to be at least one Tarantino film on this list and there’s no better showcase of the filmmaker’s talents than his historical fiction / dark comedy; “Inglourious Basterds”.
In a decade oversaturated with movies that focused on the war on terror, Tarantino decided to go old school and conceived an entertaining, satirical and kinetic “What if?” World War 2 flick that doubles as a tribute to the old “Men on a mission” films of the 60s’ and 70s’ such as “The Dirty Dozen” and “Kelly’s Heroes” that had an influence during his youth.
A perfect balance of style and substance, the film has Tarantino’s fingerprints all over it with his trademark dialogue and humour and is perhaps the high point of his career, matching the standard he established years earlier with “Pulp Fiction”.
Brad Pitt is wonderful as the barbaric southern leader of a troupe of Jewish-American soldiers who set out to eliminate as many Nazi war criminals as possible and to eventually work their way up to Adolf Hitler. His accent is consistent throughout and never drops – even during the scene where he attempts to pass himself off as a fluent Italian – now that takes skill.
Mélanie Laurent’s thread which runs concurrently is also quite enjoyable. The French actress fully realizes the weight behind her character’s past and brings a strong level of conviction to the role, making you fully believe that the lengths her character goes to in bringing her revenge to fruition are authentic.
The highlight of the film though is the portrayal of the ruthless S.S officer, Hans Landa by German actor Christoph Waltz. An indelible performance that is cold and ruthless on one hand yet very charming and infectious on the other. There’s an inexplicable charisma to the character, one that makes you feel a little guilty at times for liking him since he is a Nazi after all. Waltz is clearly relishes the role and really makes the most of it, never failing to convey an effective villain.
All-in-all, it is an entertaining showcase of Tarantino’s signature storytelling that we’ve all come to know and love.
4. The Thing (1982, John Carpenter)
John Carpenter is best remembered today for his ability to stretch a budget to its utmost limit and managed to create some of the most beloved cult hits of all time; “Christine” “They Live”, “Big Trouble in Little China” and “The Fog” – just to name a few. However… back in 1978, Carpenter wrote and directed the horror landmark; “Halloween” – a film which cemented the arrival of the slasher genre and it proved to be a massive hit by grossing over 60 million dollars at the box office versus a miniscule budget of a mere $300, 000.
This success eventually enabled him to direct bigger projects and in 1982, he landed his first and sadly last studio film with an adaptation of the novella; “Who Goes There?” and the end result is one of the most chilling, gut-wrenching, unbelievably tense and nihilistic horror films of all time… John Carpenter’s sci-fi horror classic; “The Thing”.
Rob Bottin’s practical effects hold up superbly and haven’t aged a bit. Every rendition of the creature is unique and rightfully horrifying.
A lot also has to be said about the film’s atmosphere, which is enhanced significantly by Ennio Morricone’s ominous score which perfectly captures the mood of the story and never feels out of place at any point.
There is a strong lingering sense of dread throughout and the themes of paranoia, isolation and mistrust run rampant through the characters. Cult icon Kurt Russell takes the helm in a career-defining role as R.J MacReady and leads a cast that is surprisingly realistic with how they deal with the extra-terrestrial threat and manage to avoid falling into the realm of cliché. They’re all in this dire situation and just deal with it.
What makes The Thing so entertaining is its relentless suspense that puts you on the edge of your seat. Everyone’s a suspect and the Thing could pounce at any second. Sure, it’s loaded with existential dread but it’s one of the few horror flicks that never fails to terrify on repeat on repeat viewings and that’s what makes it so entertaining.
3. Goldfinger (1964, Guy Hamilton)
If you were to stop somebody on the street and ask them who played the best Bond, most people would say Sean Connery. He was the original 007 and established the groundwork for the character, a blueprint which each actor who portrayed the character since has borrowed from in some aspect. It was the role he was born to play and it has been strongly associated with him throughout his career.
Now… if you were to ask somebody which Bond film was the best, just as many people would probably say; “Goldfinger” and with good reason, it has everything that makes the character so recognisable and memorable: A great opening credits’ sequence and song, an intelligent villain with a grand scheme, an iconic henchman with a lethal bowler hat, a glamorous femme fatale of sorts, a healthy supply of gadgets and of course, Connery as Bond. It also gave birth to the famous line: “Martini. Shaken, not stirred.”
Goldfinger is a stylish spy thriller that showcases the fashion of its time from its costumes to its set design and remains a landmark of cinema, which few franchises have matched since.
2. The Big Lebowski (1998, Joel and Ethan Coen)
The Coens’ films are known to exhibit two things. 1. Elements of film-noir and 2. Quirky humour. Their debut feature; “Blood Simple” was a stern Hitchcockian crime thriller that was filled to the brim with the staples of noir, which is a habit that remains prominent in their work to this day. Their next film, “Raising Arizona” was another crime-gone-wrong story but was extremely distant in tone to Blood Simple. It was a whacky, off-the-wall comedy. Equally great films but for very different reasons, it was an unexpected shift for the sibling filmmakers.
They continued to borrow from both styles throughout their careers but the film that completely blurs the line is “The Big Lebowski”. Joel and Ethan used their signature humour to attack the tropes of film-noir to create an outrageous story about mistaken identity and a missing girl who may or may not have had her toe cut off… and at the heart of it all? A guy who doesn’t care, he wants nothing more than to see the restoration of his defiled rug.
Jeff Bridges plays “The Dude”. A loveable loser who likes to go bowling despite the fact that we never actually see him bowl, sip white Russians and smoke a bit of marijuana from time to time. He strides for a peaceful existence and is caught up in an extremely complex series of circumstances.
What makes the film so entertaining is Bridges’ performance. It’s so chill and laid back, he never tries to unravel the mystery that he’s caught up in and his character is a slap in the face to all of those private detectives that Humphrey Bogart made a living by playing.
In all of those old-timey black and white mysteries, we’d look at our main character when they got in a fix and think; “Oh boy. How will he get out of this one?” But in The Big Lebowski, we look at our protagonist and think; “How the f**k did he even get into this situation? All he wanted was a new rug!!”
Like legendary film critic Roger Ebert said in his review of the film: “The Big Lebowski is about an attitude, not a story.”
1. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Steven Spielberg)
Spielberg had proved to be both a talented storyteller and a lucky charm at the box office in the 1970s with hits such as “Jaws” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” under his belt and he entered the 1980s with a great level of confidence, as well as ambitions to make a Bond film. He told his good friend, George Lucas about this and he offered him something “Even better” project.
That project was of course, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” – the quintessential adventure flick which has proven to be a timeless piece of escapism since its original release and has spawned many imitators and led to three sequels with a fourth allegedly in the works.
Tom Selleck was strongly considered for the role of Indiana Jones but the only actor who could ever bring the character to life was and always will be Harrison Ford. Say what you might about his lack of versatility but no one can deny Ford’s unique star power. He had a screen presence similar to Steve McQueen, they were both handsome and had a rugged characteristics. These are two qualities which proved perfect for the role of Indy.
A cinematic icon was created using props as simple as a fedora, a satchel and a bullwhip. These three things are universally associated with the character and are instantly recognisable.
What makes Raiders such a fun watch is that the film never takes itself too seriously while paying tribute to the serials of the 30s’ and 40s’ that inspired its story.
Whether you’re a child at the time of reading this or you were a child at the time of the film’s release, it’s almost a guarantee that this is one of your favourite films, or at least, one you’ve seen many times.
Author Bio: Tommy Daly is a London-born Irish theatrical producer / director, filmmaker and occasional actor but above all, he is a lover of cinema and will pounce at any opportunity to discuss film. Some of his favourite films include; “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, “12 Angry Men” and “Taxi Driver”.