Top 200 Movies...Ever!

STAND BY FOR ACTION

It's never been something I looked forward to compiling, but of course something made it inevitable. That ultimate best ever list, where everything is boiled down into a silly page of numbers. It's no easy task and the nature of it all means that things are constantly moving up and down; never quite resulting in a wholly satisfying order. While the top 10 or so are unlikely to change without some dramatic last minute entry, the whole thing isn't as simple as it first looks and certain titles always end up getting the axe while others move up and down. It's hard to look at it rationally, after all these should be all be great movies. What exactly places them in the top 50 or top 100? Are apples better than oranges? The current list isn't something that changes often but new additions are usually discovered a few times per year.


But here it is. As it goes along I have added comments on a few choice entries or links to past articles, and at the end it all leads into a write up of the best movie ever made...
On the way to the top there will be a lot of classic epics, 80s science fiction and fantasy kitsch, horror, action, animation and martial arts. This mix of random stuff and nonsense kind of sums up what I like if there was ever a broad picture to be painted, though I hope a few might be notably different or unexpected. Remakes and movies of a similar title will be marked with which year they came from unless it's an original. Some entries will be for multiple films in a series when I feel they are of equal quality and can be grouped together, which is kind of cheating but seems fair. Here goes nothing...



Top 200 to 151


Top 150 to 101


Top 100 to 51


Top 50 to 1

Weekend Retrospective - This Time It's War

ALIENS (1986)

"These people are DEAD Burke! Don't you have any idea what you have done here?!! Well, I'm gonna make sure they nail you right to the wall for this! You're not gonna sleaze your way out of this one!! Right to the wall!"

The story behind Aliens being made sounds like hell. The British crew clashing with the American and Canadian film makers over schedules and tea breaks while filming in England sounds like the sort of thing that should never happen, but the culture difference and lack of respect for people set on doing a sequel to our Ridley's 1979 classic created a lot of problems. People refused to bend or even watch a private screening of The Terminator to see they weren't being pushed around by some nobody hack. On top of that there are stories about the friction between Jims Cameron and Horner trying to get the music finished as deadlines approached. They even fired the original DOP because he couldn't light the set the way the director envisioned. Is this a story of art through adversity? Perhaps. Lucky for them all the stress paid off. As with the Terminator films, I have often had trouble deciding which is the better of the two - horror or horror and action? Ultimately this an easier decision and I find this to be a more watchable film, although again both are fantastic.

A lot of what the movie does right comes down to the creative process - somehow they set out some 6 or 7 years late to do a horror sequel and chose not to rehash the original. It's something that never happens. A lot of what the third installment does wrong comes down to a cheap resetting of the score to allow Ripley to be back as the lone survivor in another hunter and hunted style film which didn't ever need to happen; instead of looking at the next film as an opportunity to do something fresh. With Aliens they took a far more intelligence approach, and by thinking of a real direction for the character to grow in the result is by far one of the best sequels of all time. It would still be creepy but also be all about kicking ass; a cathartic journey. Despite several repeat moments like the airlock showdown they have been considered carefully to be bigger and louder or chosen to subvert audience expectation like the opening nightmare which gets the alien birth over with so people are not waiting for it. Instead of recycling the horror staple of one creature versus an unarmed and vulnerable supporting cast, they thought outside the box and brought in so many new and interesting elements that everyone would remember as iconic moments. Just as Alien could have been a cheap monster movie called Starbeast, this could have been a brainless rip off called Alien 2. The results are just as impressive.



Setting the film 57 years later might seem like a strange idea but the lone survivor plot would probably been less of a worthwhile starting point if Ripley had come home to a warm welcome. You also have the fact that this is nearly 6 decades of development in terms of science fiction technology. It's something I feel that gets forgotten a lot of the time: the creatures here get dropped by machine guns and smashed by moving vehicles. But this is a brand new era, times have changed since Ash described the perfect organism. This also lets them threw out any concerns that the drop ship and loaders might be stretching the believability too far. Subsequent stories set within this universe often ignore all this and have every day 21st century people surviving against the unstoppable horrors from LV-426. It's an idea that allows for the film to look different from the original in many places as well as have a different tone.

On the subject of tone of course there has to be something said for the character writing. Ripley herself is still one of the best protagonists in cinema, moving from being the officer bashing heads with Dallas and Ash in the first film to the one who will pull everyone together when things inevitably go awry in part two. The maternal side also allows for an interesting duality with the aliens themselves as she goes toe to toe against the "queen" in the finale. It helps that the supporting cast are all very good. There are those who find them irritating, in particular the more obnoxious members of the Marine Corps and child-in-peril Newt. Personally I never had a problem, even if the latter has that awkward accent at times as a result of growing up in England with an American father. The jar heads are a lot of fun despite having no depth, from the all mouth and no trousers Hudson, trigger happy Vasquez, spineless Gorman and strong and silent Hicks. I like that they have the red herring of Bishop too, another part that plays against expectations. I even like slimy corporate loser Burke who gets all the best parts of Ripley's wrath later on. Perhaps the dialogue isn't exactly ground breaking at times but it's nearly all memorable, and with a cast this size that's what really matters.



All this good stuff is packaged in with a fine structure with some of the best set pieces in action and sci-fi there are. The score may have a lot of borrowed cues from The Wrath of Khan (or even 2001) but it's a great mix of brassy, bombastic themes and atmosphere building moments. Rounding off the deal is all of the work from the master Stan Winston and his effects team who brought some amazing extrapolations of H.R. Giger's original designs to life. And wow, do they deliver. The clash between the loader and the Alien Queen is high point for practical design and puppeteering, the set design and art direction make a small number of drone costumes feel like a limitless number of killers, and my personal favourite - the face huggers being released in the lab is just a master class in nail biting cinema as well as an impressive look at how to edit together a sequence that uses the most basic creature models. The impact this film has had on popular culture is still being felt in countless films and videogames, but I feel the craft on show here is overlooked when people remember the more explosive guns blazing sequences. That isn't to say the film doesn't have those suspense scenes - the exploration of the colony and Ripley's venture into the Atmosphere Processor show some perfect examples of building that tension up. The later release of a director's cut would extend the running time a little and lose a little momentum, but when it comes to choosing a disc to watch I often go with the longer version. I want too much of a good thing.

James Cameron would go on to work on other greats such as The Abyss and Terminator 2 which retain many of the themes here, including no nonsense female leads and the dangers of technological advancement to humanity. I often feel sad that this mix of of intelligent ideas and out there special effects moments has never been revisited. Next to these the likes of True Lies and Avatar are deeply mediocre and don't show the kind of creativity and passion. Will Avatar 2, 3 and 4 ever bring us back to the visceral thrill ride through Hadley's Hope? I think at this stage it's unlikely, but I can dream.

Review Roundup - Who cares if it worked or not?

ROBOCOP (2014)

There's been a lot of drama surrounding this one, it's the usual noise you get from the fans of classic films being recycled by the bad Hollywood ideas factory. The 1987 film is still personally unmatched in many ways, so as one of those fans I didn't expect anything from this, especially as Darren Aronosfky had left pre-production. While it is sad that they could have spent the money used creating some interesting robot visual effects on an original project, at the same time the reason they got the kind of budget involved is probably thanks to brand awareness. Corporate decision making in place of actual creativity again. It's down to the writers and the guys behind the camera to utilise that money effectively, and here the short story is they haven't. So taking this for what it is I'm not going to be irritated about the rating or the differences with the original, as the amount of blood isn't what makes a good film. There is in fact no need to draw any comparisons or talk about why this doesn't work as a reinvention of a known property. I don't need to do any of this because it's simply a bad film on many levels all by itself.


Let's start with the big problem - characters. Alex Murphy is left dead after getting too close to solving his case. But this isn't the opening of the movie so we don't focus on him. Instead there's an odd Middle East sequence with a lot of special effects. It vaguely alludes to American foreign policy but like the rest of the film never tries to be satirical or offer real subtext for the story as a whole, which is odd considering the setting. Back in Detroit, there are scenes with Murphy working undercover that feel like a different film. Straight off there's something wrong with all of this, and it never improves - besides the shift in tone a lot of it is how wooden the guy is. Scenes are random, characters are introduced here and there, and no real arc is ever created for the hero. There's no real theme considering this is a science fiction story. It has no commentary, it has nothing to say.

There are hints of real ideas every so often but they are never explored. Without going into the whole thing about using a human being as a product or running a business for shady military deals, it's just a dull thriller. The likes of Gary Oldman and Michael Keaton phone it in throughout so even the supporting cast are flat and lifeless. There are never any engaging elements introduced considering how easy it would be to add some ideas about man versus machine or the negative aspects of surveillance and technology. On top of this there's a flimsy plot thread about Murphy's wife and child but it has no real purpose and as an emotional hook it never feels realistic. I found it surprising that with all the technology involved they didn't try and build a prosthetic body that looked human to allow domestic integration, especially when it's shown they are making replacement arms for people. Can someone live like this? Are we being dehumanised by technology? Should I care? All these things pile up during the story and nothing gets a satisfying pay off.

There are a few different set pieces involving robots and underworld goons - but none are designed to include anything memorable or use Robocop's super fast cybernetic body in an interesting way. They're just shootouts in interchangeable locations. Even as a throwaway action movie for some cheap thrills it never works when it's so unimaginative. It doesn't help that the choice of music is so strange in a lot of sequences. An early test of Murphy's skills has a really distracting pop song played over it, I have to assume for laughs - and even the scenes of corporate suits scheming have some strange rom-com type music in the background. The 1987 movie's theme get's used in the opening title but is never brought back later as a device to introduce the character or as cue for the heroic moments. The soundtrack like everything else left me scratching my head. This is without even getting to the problems in the writing by people who add plot devices early on but then drop them or bend the rules for the convenience of ending a scene. This is just another forgettable action movie, a sci-fi plot without depth and an all round tedious experience.

1/5

BONUS REVIEW
RUSH (2013)


Ron Howard's Formula One drama is a likeable story of two rival drivers who clash egos during their battle to become Grand Prix champions in the 1970s. The characters are a little cartoon like at times, with James Hunt as the all drinking all libido Brit and Niki Lauder the unlikable by-the-book Austrian, but the whole thing is always entertaining. The race commentary can be very distracting at times as they seem to have dumbed it down for general audiences but I can't say too much knowing zero about the sport or the real life events it's based on - I was surprised by how well the casting works seeing the real footage included. For me this also added a lot of tension during the race sequences which are gripping and at times horrifying as the realities of traveling at such speed in a "bomb on wheels" becomes apparent. The digital over saturated look detracts from the period setting, but there are enough big hairdos and loud shirts to make up for it. In the end it's good fun if a little melodramatic, with a few edge of seat moments along the way.

3/5

Review Roundup - Survival Tactics

CATCHING FIRE (2013)

The second of what has now become a trilogy in four parts, Katniss Everdeen is back for another round of what is ultimately a bland and very derivative feeling teen dystopia thriller. By now everyone gets the idea, this is a mix of regurgitated ideas that have been done before in the likes of Battle Royale, Lord of the Flies, Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Running Man. But it's not entirely hideous despite some problems that really should have been ironed out coming back for a second go. There are a few new flaws and merits which contribute to whether this story comes out fighting or just trips itself over on more jungle deathtraps. 


[Daft Punk joke here]

Now while it's true that the whole thing is very po-faced and lacking a general sort of charisma, it isn't a totally boring setup, as the victors from the previous film are paraded in front of the masses to subdue the revolutionary stirrings and in return enjoy their winnings. Unfortunately they don't do a good enough job and end up being forced back into the arena as part of the scheme being cooked up by those in power to destroy the hope of the people. The problem is the running time needs to do all of this and then repeat all of the first story's training and battle chapters, and it takes way too long getting there. Despite some interesting moments it drags a lot during the first act and the action beats during the later parts don't quite manage to pull things together, even if the set pieces are fun (Killer fog! Killer apes! Killer whirlpool!). By the end the chase sequences just add a lack of clarity of who is doing what and why as the final reveal gets rushed in for a sequel bait cliff hanger.

It's a definite shot in the arm when they finally get to the advertised deathmatch though, especially when some characters that feel alive come into the plot; chiefly the angry Johanna and the seedy Finnick. They don't have a of depth but at least they're memorable, maybe they'd have been better cast as the leads. Most of the others are faceless cannon fodder or gimmicks like the pair with teeth filed to a point - they don't get enough screen time to make a real impact. It's just a shame the central characters are so dull, particularly the romantic interests which come across as being forced when both guys are so flat and wooden. Katniss herself gets some PTSD drama and plenty of frowning and/or shouting to do but it's not the most engaging stuff. The best roles of the President and the Games Maker are really underused, their plotting behind the scenes is so much more interesting than the tedious love triangle and even some of the survival sequences. Even some of the smaller roles in the Capital are good; they should have a real life show hosted by Stanley Tucci and his horrifying teeth. If only these were the main characters, maybe a film about excessive partying and scheming villains would be more fun. 

3/5

BONUS REVIEW
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013)




Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) gives the finger to doctors saying he's got 30 days to live after being diagnosed with HIV. In fact he gives the finger to a lot of people, but mostly the FDA. After a lot of drinking, substance abuse and praying to God in strip clubs, he slowly learns that he doesn't have to be such a jerk all of the time and builds some real relationships as a result of starting a buyers club - where the sick can pay for a membership to slide around the legal problems of directly purchasing unapproved medical supplies. It's an engaging look at a man realising he's going to lose it all even before getting evicted and ostracized, as well as a touching if mildly clichéd portrait of someone coming to terms with being on the edge and having to fight for something that has a meaning in life. 

There are great supporting characters too with Jared Leto's Rayon providing a foil to his negative attitudes and Jennifer Garner as a more functional but effective role as the doctor providing an outlet for Ron's feelings and a way for us to see the workings of the hospital drugs program he's battling against. They are both composites put together for the screenplay from real life accounts but it doesn't diminish the fact this is a strong character piece.

4/5

Review Roundup - Spy Games

 JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (2014)

While it's a current trend to reboot and remake every salable brand the Hollywood machine can think of, dusting off Tom Clancy's espionage series is a less obvious choice. Clearly aiming for the younger audience, here the character from The Hunt for Red October is swapped out for a younger model, with Chris Pine from the newest Star Trek films taking over as a fresh faced version of Jack Ryan. The casting is not the only obvious tactic they have employed to draw in viewers - this has the distinct feeling of the still influential Jason Bourne series, right down to the poster art. One scene is even a direct lift from the opening to Casino Royale, a distracting moment for anyone that remembers Daniel Craig's first kill. But does this offer anything noteworthy on it's own merit? And more importantly does it manage to put together some decent spy game material when the central character is not an action hero?


Pine himself does a decent job with the material, and has some good moments of chemistry with both Keira Knightly as his fiancé and Kenneth Branagh; who doubles as the villain and the director. An evil Russian tycoon may be trite, but it's not overdone. The real character moments are where the film shows it's strengths; and there are a few good exchanges of dialogue be it between the central couple or those typically pointed conversations movie heroes and villains have together. The problem is that the target audience probably isn't here for drawn out discussions on classic literature - so ultimately you have to include all the standard ticking clock clichés and chase sequences. Unfortunately there are a couple of issues with the story which mean including them isn't that simple - Jack Ryan is repeatedly stated as being an analyst, not a killer (despite some time in the Marines, which he never finishes) and the fact that this is another of those fashionable stories about contemporary plot devices; in this case financial terrorism. Yes it's nice to see him out of his element when an assassin strikes, but nobody is going to be gripped by lengthy scenes of him typing, watching computer screens, or doing data searches. Casino Royale was about stock market manipulation but there wasn't a lengthy scene involving the days trading at the exchange in the finale, it was all muscle. This just seems like a badly balanced compromise.

It's a shame that they had some interesting ideas to work with don't seem able to execute them in a satisfying way. Yes there's a bike chase, a fight in the hotel room and a nasty part involving a lightbulb in someone's mouth... but there's never any real tension building. There might have been a good character piece here if they'd have given more time to those moments; this just isn't the spy movie that Branagh talked about making, even with the scenes of people meeting on park benches or passing envelopes in a darkened cinema. The focus is lost with all these elements - a decision should have been made to do a serious thriller or a full on action movie. It never gets to the visceral thrills of the Bourne series, even if the music is trying to emulate it - this is just uninvolving. 

2/5

BONUS REVIEW
BLUE JASMINE (2013)


Cate Blanchett does a terrific job as the once wealthy title character in this Woody Allen feature, which shows her arrive at a less than inviting sister's home after losing it all. As things progress it's clear that not only has she done some of this to herself and caused big problems for her family along the way, but her financial state may be just one of the problems she is dealing with. Drinking becomes frequent and flashbacks are not only being shown to tell the story but to show her mind wandering into a concerning state of decay. There are echoes of A Streetcar Named Desire with this setup, although the supporting cast have their own subplots which intertwine with Jasmine's own downward spiral. The end results are a bit predictable, but this is a watchable and involving drama - just not the laugh out loud comedy certain poster quotes will have you believe, though you might chuckle awkwardly along the way.

3/5

Martial Arts Mix - A Man of Determination

JET LI MOVIES (1982 onwards)

"If you want to kill somebody use a gun. Martial arts is about maximising your body's energy"


Is it blasphemy to consider that Jet Li's Fist of Legend is a better film than Fist of Fury? As remakes go it's got to be amongst the better ones. It certainly has some more progressive attitudes, and presents a more educated central character. This is probably still my favourite from the Wushu champions back catalogue, though other high points include the likes of Tai Chi Master and Once Upon a Time in China, the latter I will get to in a moment. At any rate the story presented does shed a more balanced light on the Japanese characters; both heroes and villains are shown being in their camp including the love interest. Even the guy doing the poisoning for the murder kicks off the story has a more sympathetic cause for doing so rather than it being simply race related. Okay so it helps that the set pieces are also really good too - I always liked the showdown with General Fujita and how he was able to do those kicks in that stiff military outfit, and the great improvised belt-come-nunchaku that gets used at the end is great. It's just a film that grows on me more each time I see it.


During this small marathon I also happened to pick up the first three "Once Upon a Time..." movies and also the comedy spin off Last Hero In China. The latter has the great alternate title Iron Rooster vs Centipede, which I think just about sums up what you can expect. Though it has the same central character and his students (Freddy... sorry Fei-hung - also the hero in Drunken Master) the tone is a lot more camp and the style of the movie utilises far more wire work. Plus it has the the whole centipede thing... honestly I can't tell you what's going on there, just watch a clip or something. Typical lion dance it is not. The main trilogy itself starts strong - I couldn't quite remember seeing the first part and perhaps had only seen the second, but it struck me how intricate the production design here is, and it comes off as having a larger budget than the usual Hong Kong action fare. There's a fairly standard plot about street gangs and foreign invaders, but the action is inventive and the comic relief elements are a lot lighter than many films in this genre which gives everything a bit more gravity.


Unfortunately the quality drops with part two which has a less well planned storyline, and goes it overboard in the finale with a silly evil cult showdown which feels out of place. Donnie Yen makes an appearance as a shady official but it feels like his involvement is a plot thread that could have been lost with more focus elsewhere. By the time you get to part three though things lose their way even more - half the movie seems to be taken up by huge lion dance sequences that look as though they were filmed just to have a lot of extras and props all on screen together. The lion heads fly about as do the performers, and the action is lost in the madness as they compete. It does tie up a few romantic plot lines with Rosamund Kwan (even if they can't decide her characters name - the subtitles change in every film) but ultimately it's a simple case of diminishing returns. Later they would replace Li with another main actor but I have yet to see any further entries in this series.

After this trilogy was done I also had time for some other viewings which I will quickly summarise. One that is only worth a foot note unfortunately was Black Mask. They try a few comic book masked vigilante ideas but doesn't go anywhere with a mix of half baked science fiction ideas and a drug dealing plot, and it really needed to include some more worthwhile action beats. I also revisited Hero which still remains a beautiful looking Wuxia epic with some nice characterisation, even if everyone's motivations become a little unclear by the time the final twist comes around. Still, it's a high point for the genre in anyones book - the later efforts by director Zhang Yimou never felt the same to me - both House of Flying Daggers and Curse of the Golden Flower failed to satisfy me; the latter more so. As for Mr Li himself, there's plenty of great stuff here, personally I look forward to films I haven't seen yet and taking another look at Fearless and Unleashed in the near future as well as the Shaolin Temple series.

Weekend Retrospective - Back in Black

TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY (1991)

It's a big cliché but it is really hard to imagine now a time when computer effects were so primitive. What I mean is a time when someone would have an idea they wanted on screen, and more than one approach could be considered. After all, even Jurassic Park was planned as a feature using a mix of puppetry, practical effects and stop motion. It could have been the swan song of Ray Harryhausen's era of movie monsters or even boosted the popularity of those techniques. Growing up with the release of shows like Insektors and ReBoot, computer animation was definitely gaining speed even before Pixar broke new ground with Toy Story; so in a way it seems to have always been around for me.

Terminator 2 had that big new idea - an indestructible liquid killing machine. Looking at all of the visual effects used, in places I can imagine some of those effects being done differently with the practical effects Stan Winston already provided or even standard animation and camera tricks. The T-1000 remains a ground breaking creation of course but it's interesting to consider each shot using that iconic morphing effect and think how they might have done it just 5 years earlier - though it seems like a logical choice after the work done creating the water tendril for The Abyss.

Much like Alien and Aliens, we could be here all day discussing whether the sequel was a better movie. In a back and forth Smeagol type debate I have often considered this, and while Sigourney Weaver's ass kicking return edges it for me, the original Terminator just about equals the film making calibre of T2 despite it almost losing out on the number of bad hairdos alone. I like them both a great deal but won't go into Kyle and Sarah's extended chase sequence here; I'll give them joint status as classics and leave discussion of the first film for another day.

 

As well as representing new and amazing amazing effects and high standards in production values, T2 has also become a product of another era in cinema which has long been avoided since The Matrix lobby shootout in a post 9/11 world. The light hearted aspects of it's (at times) family road trip style journey are extremely contrasted next to the downbeat nuclear weapons and techno fear themes running throughout the movie; after all the Cold War had only come to an end a few short years before it's release. It's got a mean spirited anti authority aspect to many of the characters and settings - John and Sarah are anti-heroes living outside of the law, the villain abuses the position given by the uniform it wears, and state authorities are shown in a negative light with hospital orderlies and police officers soley there to provide antagonists. They are never sympathetic even on the receiving end of broom handles, tear gas canisters or knives and stabbing weapons. The idea these figures are foolishly bringing about the end of the world by stopping our heroes at every turn adds an interesting layer to a story that could have been a simple action fest in the wrong hands. It forces you to consider that perhaps cold, calculating machines ruling everything isn't such a big change.

Ignoring the technology used to create the film's effects for a moment, it's a classic for many other reasons. Strong capable female lead? Ethnically diverse computer genius? A child actor that isn't horrible? (Okay the exception being that "she's gonna blow him away" line) All of these great elements because of writing and performance. Even the ham and cheese moments that come along when there's some comic relief never ruins the idea this is a serious storyline with real stakes despite some goofball Arnold lines. Robert Patrick provides an unnervingly friendly approach to the big bad instead of reducing him to a computer generated villain, and tonally it works even with his finger wagging moments. After all, where else would you see the horrific results of a nuclear blast in the same movie as all those robotic fish out of water moments? It provides some real nightmare fuel while at the same time keeping you watching as these characters go through their development.




Of course it helps that everything is so well made. The unnatural percussion in Brad Fidel's score works perfectly. Even the look of the film does the whole teal and orange thing in a way that actually has meaning - the difference between the T-1000's arrival or the early Cyberdyne lab scene against the sunshine of John's foster home creates a visual cue showing the harsh divide of man and machine, and an instant atmosphere is given to places where people are treated inhumanely at Pescadaro next to the warmth of scenes showing Sarah's allies and their family. All the set pieces are incredibly well crafted too - even the little touches. The helicopter chase is amazing, but noticing things like the T-1000 growing an extra hand to shoot and pilot at the same time just makes it better. It never feels unsatisfying even down to the ways the liquid metal is treated - it gets burnt, blown up, frozen, sliced, riddled with bullets; I think they got everything you could think of in there.

This is probably one of the more universally liked films I've ever discussed here so in a way something that's unnecessary to talk about; but I found that thinking about just why all of this works so well raised some interesting points. After all blockbusters should have brains and not just be a hollow and dumb spectacle, somehow it's fitting that a film about artificial intelligence has been built to last.