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Top 100 Films #43 – Inglourious Basterds (2009)

 

Film Title: INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS#43. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Christoph Waltz, Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger, Melanie Laurent, Eli Roth, Daniel Bruhl, Til Schweiger

I still remember my first viewing of Inglourious Basterds like it was yesterday, everything about the theatrical experience was just so perfect.  To this day I still feel that same feeling everytime I see, read about, or think about Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 film.  The World War II epic sees a plot to assassinate a theatre full of Nazi leaders – including Adolf Hitler – by an elite group of Jewish-American soldiers led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt).  Unbeknownst to them, the theatre owner Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) has plans for her own revenge against the Nazi officials, creating the perfect storm of violence and vengeance. Inglourious Basterds is without a doubt my favorite Quentin Tarantino film, simply because it’s everything I love about the director in one highly entertaining movie.  It’s violent, features an ensemble cast loaded with great actors in roles outside of their usual comfort zone, and deadly serious with great emotional weight in moments.  Basterds is something only a bold, proven filmmaker the likes of Tarantino would be able to see through to the end – it’s bizarre, revisionist, violent, and confrontational in the way that many of his films are. Tarantino’s portrait of Nazi-occupied Paris is incredible in its tone and atmosphere – SS patrols, guards, resistance fighters, and spies are on the mind of viewers at all times.  The tone creates a suspenseful and intriguing atmosphere that sticks with the film to the very end.  In classic Tarantino fashion, the writer-director infuses the film with a very upfront sense of humor and self-awareness, especially with elements like Eli Roth’s “Bear Jew”, Christoph Waltz’s “That’s a BINGO” moment, and the use of modern songs like David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)”.  The fact that Basterds earned universal critical acclaim and awards recognition is a testament to the talents of the writer-director, as well as to its cast.  Speaking of its cast, Inglourious Basterds introduced American audiences to the talent of Austrian actor Christoph Waltz, whose Colonel Hans Landa was one of the most intelligent and sinister villains in modern film history. Waltz picked up a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance, and would team up again with Tarantino in 2012’s Django Unchained.  Brad Pitt’s Lt. Aldo Raine is another highlight of Inglourious Basterds, serving as the film’s central protagonist but also as its occasional comedic relief.  Raine’s atrocious Italian accent is one of my favorite moments in the movie, perfectly displaying Pitt’s penchant for absurd comedy.  The third acting highlight in Basterds is the performance of Shosanna by Melanie Laurent, who transforms from a terrified young girl living in fear of persecution, to a strong, independent, vengeful force looking to single-handedly take down the Nazi regime. While Inglourious Basterds may not be for everybody due to its length, revisionist historical approach, use of multiple languages, or simply due to its tone, there’s no denying the craft at work here. The film is one of the most suspenseful, atmospheric, entertaining, and rewarding movie experiences I’ve ever had, and may very well be Quentin Tarantino’s very best work.  

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Top 100 Films #73 – Ben-Hur (1959)

 

ben-hur_6783571#73. Ben-Hur (1959)
Directed by: William Wyler
Written by: Karl Tunberg (based on Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by General Lew Wallace)
Starring: Charlton Heston, Jack Hawkins, Haya Harareet, Stephen Boyd, Hugh Griffith, Martha Scott, Cathy O’Donnell, Sam Jaffe

William Wyler’s biblical epic Ben-Hur is the movie that served as my introduction to classic films, creating a lifelong obsession with the silver screen in the process. I saw it as part of my grade 7 religion class all the way back in 2003-2004, and was captivated by every minute of the 3 ½ hour film.  Ben-Hur tells the classic story of Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston), a wealthy prince living in Jerusalem with his mother (Martha Scott) and sister (Cathy O’Donnell).  His best friend is a man named Messala (Stephen Boyd), who after some time away from Jerusalem, returns to the city as a commander of the Roman garrison.  After an accident nearly costs the life of the governor of Judea, Ben-Hur is sent to the galleys by his once best friend, and his family imprisoned.  What follows is an adventure the scale of which had rarely been seen on screen before 1959.  The film spans several years, and sees the rise and subsequent fall of Jesus Christ, who plays a prominent figure in the film.  Wyler’s Ben-Hur is mostly remembered by the public for its incredible chariot race scene, which is still just as thrilling and visceral today as it was more than fifty years ago.  The film’s few action scenes feature a sense of realism and brutality that is not often seen in film’s of this era, and adds to Ben-Hur’s unique nature.  It’s never exploitative in this way, but instead uses its visceral nature to further the story along, and convey the weight of the situations faced by Judah Ben-Hur and those around him.  Charlton Heston’s performance as the titular character is tremendous, bringing an undeniable charm and charisma to the role that has proven to be unmatched in subsequent retellings of the story.  While Ben-Hur is more than 3 ½ hours long, it never feels slow or bogged down by its run-time, mainly due to its incredible writing and pacing.  Every scene feels meticulously crafted and has a sense of purpose, and major milestone moments are evenly spaced out throughout the film.  An example of the film’s excellent sense of pacing comes in its final act – even after the chariot race is done, the film manages to keep its hold on viewers with a rigorous journey to the leper colony, where we finally get some much needed emotional payoff.  Ben-Hur would go on to win 11 Academy Awards in 1960, including Best Picture, Best Director (William Wyler), Best Actor (Charlton Heston), Best Supporting Actor (Hugh Griffith), and Best Cinematography – only losing in one category.  Every minute of Ben-Hur is captivating and finely crafted – there’s no wonder why it was so well-received by a 12-year old me.

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Top 100 Films #74 – The Fighter (2010)

Christian_Bale_The_Fighter_movie_image_Mark_Wahlberg#74. The Fighter (2010)
Directed by: David O. Russell
Written by: Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, Scott Silver (story by Keith Dorrington, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson)
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Jack McGee

The Fighter is – in my opinion – David O. Russell’s finest moment, combining everything that made him a great voice in the independent scene in the 90’s and early 2000’s into one perfect little film.  The controversial Russell directs four actors (Wahlberg, Bale, Adams, Leo) through some of the finest performances in their careers – all of them playing wildly different characters in the same film. The Fighter is about brothers Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), both of whom were professional boxers fighting out of Lowell, Massachusetts.  Dicky had a brief period of fame for knocking down Sugar Ray Leonard in the late 1970’s, but has since become addicted to crack cocaine.  He is in the process of training his younger brother Micky for an upcoming undercard fight in the middleweight division – unfortunately for both parties, roadblocks in the form of family, friends, and mental illness will severely complicate things. The Fighter had been in production since 2003, with Wahlberg shopping the film to numerous industry professionals for years.  The film ended up changing directors and stars multiple times until the team David O. Russell, Mark Wahlberg, and Christian Bale were set in stone.  What followed was a truly unique film, combining aspects of a prestige boxing picture with the tone and attitude of a classic David O. Russell film.  The Fighter features an incredible dramatic performance by Christian Bale, who heavily researched the real life Dicky Eklund, picked up a believable Boston accent, and even dropped a great deal of weight for the role.  His turn as Dicky Eklund is both hilarious and heartbreaking, a role that most other actors would not have been able to deliver on. Bale would win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the role, joining the great Melissa Leo (who won Best Supporting Actress for her role as Alice Eklund-Ward) as the film’s only award winners.  The amazing Amy Adams was also nominated for her role as Charlene Fleming (Micky Ward’s girlfriend), giving a much more raw performance than we had ever seen from her before. Aside from some terrific performances – which has become a David O. Russell trademark at this point – The Fighter excels in its writing and tone.  It feels true to life, which in my opinion is a must have for a film “based on a true story”, but also feels like a work of pure fiction.  As the saying goes, sometimes life truly is stranger than fiction.  The Fighter is a film that can be seen and appreciated by any audience, because it really does have a little bit of everything – humor, drama, action, great performances, great writing, and a very unique setting.

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Top 100 Films #77 – No Country for Old Men (2007)

 

nocountry_004#77. No Country for Old Men (2007)
Directed by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Written by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen (based on No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy)
Starring: Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson, Kelly Macdonald

Widely regarded as the best movie of the 2000’s, the Coen Brothers’ adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel No Country for Old Men is an undeniably powerful project.  It’s a story about circumstance, destiny, greed, and taking unnecessary risks – and is full of morally ambiguous characters and situations.  The film introduced the world to Javier Bardem’s terrifying Anton Chigurh, perhaps one of the most frightening villains of the modern era.   No Country for Old Men took home Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director(s), Best Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem), and Best Adapted Screenplay, beating out one hell of a stiff competitor in the same year’s There Will Be Blood.  The plot of the movie is simple – Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) finds two million in cash at the site of a drug deal gone bad.  Moss is pursued by a dangerous and emotionless hitman named Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), hired to get the money back, and by Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), a nearly-retired sheriff in pursuit of both men. What follows is a bloody, suspenseful, challenging thrill ride matched by few films before it, and one whose influence can be seen in many films that have followed it.  The screenplay by the Coen Brothers is perfectly paced, gripping the audience from start to finish.  It never panders to its viewing audience by imitating popular thrillers, but is instead more than happy to take its time in telling an intelligent, and at times frightening story.  Javier Bardem is unpredictable as Anton Chigurh, bringing an unrivaled sense of dread to the film. While Bardem is far and away the highlight of No Country, we also get impressive turns from Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, and Woody Harrelson, all of whom do their best to match Bardem’s iconic performance.  The awards and praise earned by No Country for Old Men are all deserved, as is its status as one of the great films of the 2000’s.  It’s just that damn good.

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