Top 10 Movie Villains

Men (and a woman) behaving badly

Colin and James take us through their picks (five apiece) of the worst-best bad guys (and one gal) to have ever (dis)graced the silver screen. Do let us know your own choices, won’t you?

Colin’s choices

Ben Kingsley as Don Logan in Sexy Beast (2000)

The very best thing about Kingsley’s genuinely disturbing outing as a movie bad guy is that it’s hard to shake the image of him as Gandhi. Once you do – and it can take a little while – you realize just how fine an actor Kingsley is to be able to drop what is probably the most popular role he will ever play and get you to believe him as a gangster. Surrounded by hard men like Ray Winstone and Ian McShane, he makes them all look like primary school teachers in comparison. A real force of nature, manipulative, crass and prone to explosive outbursts and spectacular cruelty. Watching tough-guy Winstone cower before him is really a joy to behold.

Click here.

Ralph Fiennes as Harry in In Bruges (2008)

Lovely, lovely Ralph ‘Raif’ Fiennes. Famous for being, let’s face it, a bit of a pussy. His ever-so-worthy roles in films such as The English Patient (1996), Schindler’s List (1993) and The Reader (2008) have made him the man your mum/wife/SO would go all mushy over, next to Colin Firth, of course. As with Kingsley above, the real draw here is to watch the upper-middle-class softy turn into a shouty sweary monster of a man. He has arguably some of the best dialogue in the script, too – my favourite part alluding gently to his reputation. This is Harry, talking about the hitman-in-hiding, Ray (Colin Farrell):

Harry: So he’s having a really nice time?
Ken: Well, I’m having a really nice time. I’m not sure it’s really his cup of tea.
Harry: …What?
Ken: You know, I’m not sure it’s really his thing.
Harry: What do you mean it’s not really his thing? What’s that supposed to mean? It’s not really his thing. What the fuck is that supposed to mean?
Ken: Nothing, Harry.
Harry: It’s a fairytale town, isn’t it? How’s a fairytale town not somebody’s fucking thing?


Click here.

Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes in Misery (1990)

Bates is very often good value but none more so than in this part, for which she (deservedly) picked up an Oscar. Annie Wilkes rescues novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) after a car accident, and it appears she is nursing him back to health. After all, as she tells him, she is his ‘number one fan’. However, when she finds out he’s killed off her heroine Misery Chastain in his latest book, things go from bad to psycho very quickly. Murder, torture and mayhem ensue – but without swearing, because Annie doesn’t approve of bad words.

Click here.

Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street (1987)

The son of Spartacus, he isn’t. For me, one of Douglas’s better parts (aside from his delightful turn as ‘D-Fens’ in Falling Down (1993)). Douglas plays Gordon Gekko, the very epitome of everything that was wrong with the 1980s. A manipulative and truly unpleasant man, he sneers, wheedles, connives and back-stabs his way through the movie with an expression that could tun milk sour.

With such charming philosphies as ‘Greed captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit’ and ‘If you want a friend, get a dog’, he sets himself up as a ruthless, cunning demon of a man who worships at the temple of greed. An utter, unrepentant bastard throughout.

Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight (2008)

Of course I was going to pick him. What did you expect? He not only single-handedly re-invented the public perception of The Joker – particularly for those who have never so much as picked up a comic book or graphic novel – but also brought his true character to life. Forget Cesar Romero, forget Nicholson, this was the real Joker. The mannerisms, the half-smile and the hint of malevolence, even in times of apparent calm, alluded to the torrent of insanity going on behind the mask. There will never be a Joker better than Ledger’s – and you can quote me on that.

Click here.

James’s choices

Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber in Die Hard (1988)

There’s no doubt about it, cinema villainy changed forever following Rickman’s inspired and chillingly evil take on big-time burglar Hans Gruber who, as everyone must surely know by now, leads his expert team on a mission to liberate $640 million from the Nakatomi Corporation building in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve and, as we also are all by now aware, he hadn’t counted on NYPD cop John McClane (Bruce Willis).

John McTiernan’s film is simply a machine of a thriller, and that is also the best way to describe Rickman as Gruber – a sophisticated, educated and merciless monster, as he demonstrates to McClane (who’s watching in hiding) when Nakatomi CEO Joseph Takagi (James Shigeta) refuses to hand over the password to the vaults, and has his head blown off by Gruber.

Holly Gennero McClane: After all your posturing, all your little speeches, you’re nothing but a common thief.
Hans Gruber: I am an exceptional thief, Mrs. McClane. And since I’m moving up to kidnapping, you should be more polite.

Click here.

Rutger Hauer as John Ryder in The Hitcher (1986)

Please, please, just forget Sean Bean in the same role in Dave Myers’ really rather bad 2007 remake – concentrate instead on just how good Hauer is as the titular force of nature in Robert Harmon’s superb original.

Choosing to ignore his mother’s advice that he shouldn’t pick up hitchhikers, young Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell) picks up John Ryder in the middlev of a storm en route to California. Bemused at first by Ryder’s seeming unwillingness to talk or tell him where he wants to go, things get terrifying very quickly as Ryder reveals himself to be a murderous psychopath who has already killed his previous lift and now fully intends to do the same to Halsey. But he wants to torment and torture him first…

Neither Halsey nor we ever find out what Ryder’s motivations are and, given that he seems to be very hard to kill, a la Michael Myers in Halloween (1978), there is the suggestion that he may be something ‘more’ than human.

Jim Halsey: [despairing] Why are you doing this?
John Ryder: [takes two pennies, places them on Halsey’s closed eyes] You’re a smart kid. You’ll work it out.


Click here.

Alan Arkin as Harry Roat Jr. from Scarsdale in Wait Until Dark (1967)

I think this is my own contendor for best villain ever – as the unwitting mule for a doll stuffed with heroin, recently blinded Suzy Hendrix (a quite superb Audrey Hepburn) is targeted and terrorized by a trio of crooks, led by Roat, who are desperate to get their hands on the stash. The other two are merely largely harmless, muddling mugs, but Roat is a merciless killer, who will allow nothing, not even a seemingly defenceless blind girl, to stand in his way. And, although Terence Young’s film was not allowed to reveal Roat’s complete intentions towards Hendrix, she is a very attractive woman, and the subtext is quite clear.

Susy Hendrix: [trembling] All right, all right you can have it… you can have the doll! I’ll give it to you…if you’ll…if you’ll just go and…and…
Roat: Yes, Susy?
Susy Hendrix: Not hurt me.
Roat: Say please.
Susy Hendrix: Please.
Roat: No, that’s not quite it. Say: ‘Please may I give you the doll?’
Susy Hendrix: Please may I give you the doll?
Roat: You may.

Seriously, you’ll never look at ‘lovable’ Alan Arkin in quite the same way ever again.

Click here.

Robert Helpmann as The Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)

In a family film? What were they thinking? Seriously, I don’t think I am alone in having being seriously damaged by my first viewings of this at my Grandma’s house over Christmas in the 1970s – Helpmann’s utterly vulpine face and truly scary entreaties (‘Lollipops…come along my little ones, lollipops’) would fool no-one, you would think, but Jemima Potts (Heather Ripley) and Jeremy Potts (Adrian Hall) fall into his clutches, at which point cinema’s most terrifying villain *ever* reveals his true intentions. Brrrrr.

Click here.

Carl Boehm as Mark Lewis in Peeping Tom (1960)

And a little sympathy for the devil, to finish – released the same year as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) Michael Powell’s disturbing and heartbreaking take on the voyeur in us all has Carl Boehm at its centre as lonely young man Mark Lewis who can only get his kicks while murdering young women on film, to capture their dying expressions. He got that way as a result of sadistic experiments on him conducted by his father (played by Powell in the film) when he was a young boy into the nature of fear and, as he shows at the film’s tragic end, he is willing to die for his art. A unique combination of fear and loathing – Boehm is just superb.

Click here.

The 5 Most Over-Rated Actors

I kicked off a while back with my picks of the five most under-rated (yes, I hyphenate it, get over it) actors. I did so chiefly because ripping people to shreds is easy and so many people seem to make a(n) (un)healthy living doing it. This, then, is a balance piece. There are actors whom I love and those I dislike quite a bit for reasons I shall describe below. I’m not going to pick on the ‘middle of the road’ set, of which there are many – those whose career swings from wow! to whoa! in two movies, no, I’m going to clear the decks and get off my chest those five who bug me the most. I won’t include Angelina Jolie because, well, that’s a given, isn’t it?

Catherine Zeta-Jones: Good looks and an ample bosom do not a good actress make. They may help on the casting couch but that’s not a rumour I’m about to start around CZJ. Famous for her starring role in ‘The Wedding of Michael Douglas to a Woman Quite Frankly Out of His League’ and also as the feisty foil to Antonio Banderas in the The Mask of Zorro (1998), Ms Jones has all the acting talent of a roll-top desk. I can’t comment about her Oscar-winning showing in Chicago (2002) as I have (as regular readers will know) a deep loathing of musicals. I fail to see how one with CZJ in it could do much to shift my position on this. Unfailingly wooden, she creaks her way through a number of unmemorable films, capping it off with probably the most unwatchable film of 2004, The Terminal.

Hugh Grant: Hugh’s the kind of guy I’d really like to be able to like. I mean, there’s not much about his personality I don’t actually find amusing, from his ability to laugh at himself to his somewhat eclectic choice of partners for the game of ‘hide the sausage’. He is, however, a bit of a nuisance as an actor. He hit on the bumbling charmer routine pretty early in his career and – with the exception of maybe Love, Actually (2003) and Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) – has relentlessly pursued the perfection of the character ever since. Rather than list the films in which he has played his creation, I shall end this by saying I really, really hope he can redeem himself in the upcoming The Pirates! Band of Misfits, much as Eddie Murphy redeemed several years of poor choices with his Donkey shtick in the Shrek franchise.

Burt Reynolds: Yes, you read that right. As with Mr Grant above, I’m sure he’s a perfectly charming guy and a thoroughly good companion for scotch and cigars but boy, do the majority of his movies suck. Seriously – aside from his sterling performance in John Boorman’s classic Deliverance (1972) and his expert portrayal of the sleazy Jack Horner in Boogie Nights (1997) – he has had his feet on the handlebars and coasted through his career. From the Smokey and the Bandit efforts to The Cannonball Run (1981), he has stuck to playing a good ol’ boy trying to outsmart the bumbling hick cops in the American south. Hell, even Clint Eastwood made a better fist of it. From dubious appearances in the Flipper TV series to career lows like Universal Soldier III: Unfinished Business (1999) I just keep thinking he looked at the pay cheque and not the scripts. A man’s got to eat but there is a limit.

Jack Black: Yeah, I’ve finished with the Brits, and I’m taking on the US now. Come get some! Black, for me, consistently fails to deliver anything other than some slightly overweight guy overacting things he’s cast in. Tropic Thunder (2008) is a superb case in point. An awful, awful, comedy – less funny than Pineapple Express (2008) even – was dragged down further by Black’s inability to do what he was paid for – to make with the funny. 2008 was not a particularly good year for comedy. Films are either written around or by him in order to exploit his frankly baffling popularity as a ‘comic actor’. Kung Fu Panda (2008) is OK.

Jennifer Aniston: Where to begin? She seemingly does everything possible to provide the complete antithesis to what an actor should be. While not being blessed with the curves of Catherine Zeta Jones (I now realize I may be giving too much of myself away here) she provides the very model of what a female actor should not do as she simpers and twitters her way through a seemingly endless production line of utterly shit movies. I’m surprised the US feminist movement isn’t at her door with pitchforks and portable gallows. Name me one film she’s been in that’s been anything more than watchable by virtue of the fact there’s nothing on the telly.  Go on. See? She tried to shed her sweetness-and-light image playing a dentist sexually harassing her hygienist in the stultifying Horrible Bosses (2011) but I reckon people had stopped caring by then. I know I had.

The 5 Most Under-Rated Actors

Acting up

OK, more like four under-rated and one just plain old unfortunate. You’ll see why. For every Steve Guttenberg, Scarlett Johansson and Jason Statham, who seem to get regular work despite having little to no discernible talent for the job they’re paid obscene amounts of cash to do, there is a veritable legion of actors who plough through auditions and bit parts until they reach the point where they star in films and people still say ‘who’? There will be an article along soon pillorying talentless and pointless Hollywood wasters but for now, here’s to the heroes. No particular order, except the last.

Harry Dean Stanton: An actor so good, I named a cat after him. No, really. Although the feline Harry Dean has sadly departed this world, the human one is still knocking around, I am very happy to be able to report. Although he himself admits he may have been a little slack – “I’ve been rather like a cat. I’m finicky and I’ve done a lot of things, and made career choices, missed meetings and so forth that would have made me a much bigger actor, I think.” – there are actors out there who could attend all the meetings in the world and still be crap. If it wasn’t for directors like Wim Wenders who cast Stanton in the utterly beautiful Paris, Texas (1984) and Alex Cox coaxing an enigmatic and comic turn from him in Repo Man (1984), he may have stayed in obscurity. Anyone remember Stanton in Cool Hand Luke (1967) or Kelly’s Heroes (1970)? Thought not.

Pete Postlethwaite: Sadly no longer with us, Postlethwaite was a consummate actor who specialized in playing gruff, abrupt characters, many of whom hid unexpected quirks or kindness. He worked on TV and stage for many years before he received his first Oscar nomination (Best Supporting Actor) for his role as Giuseppe Conlon in In the Name of the Father (1993) – before the Oscars became the pointless circle-jerk it is now. A star of the British acting scene, Hollywood recognised him quite late in the day but he did solid work throughout his career. My only disappointment is that he took a part in Baz Luhrmann’s god-awful Romeo + Juliet (1996).

Franke Potente: ‘That one with the red hair in Run Lola Run (1998)’ is probably not the best way to go through life, particularly if you are a convincing and accomplished actor. Potente always puts in a solid performance – anyone who has seen Run… will see what she was capable of even back then. Tom Tykwer’s follow-up was a haunting and beautiful love story Der Krieger und die Kaiserin (2000), and brought another fine showing by Potente. Apart from being cast in two of the Bourne movies – one of which she has more screen time in than the other – she seems to be ignored by the big studios. Even in films that could be so much better (Creep (2004)), she works hard to shine through the dross. I find her incredibly sexy too. Sue me.

Juliette Lewis: I can kind-of see why she gets passed over a lot. (1) The expression ‘mad as a box of frogs’ leaps to mind. Whenever she’s interviewed, you’re just waiting for her to do something odd. Not in the oh-so-lame ‘controversial’ style of many rock stars, she’s the real deal – but still a fine actor. (2) She wants to be a rock star (hmm, maybe there is something in the controversy thing after all).  Scorsese knew she was good, casting her alongside De Niro in his creepy and brutal remake of the Mitchum classic, Cape Fear (1991). She’s worked with and for some of the best in the business, and yet Keira Knightley still gets work. Doesn’t make any sense to me. Lewis is currently getting back into the movie business, and I for one would like to see her do more.

What’s-his-name: You know, the creepy one who put people in drains in that Clint Eastwood film. That one. Andrew Robinson – yes, evil has a name, and his name is Andy – is the one you’re thinking of. Famous or infamous for his portrayal of Scorpio, the killer in Dirty Harry (1971) he found himself typecast as a psycho, which I have to say, I found pretty convincing. Aside from getting the lead role in Hellraiser (1987), he seems to have been cursed by his greatness. No director alive would be casting him as a kindly uncle any time soon. Luckily for Robinson, he landed a regular role in the 1990s series Deep Space 9. This saved him from typecast obscurity and he now runs a theatre company in Los Angeles.  There have been no reports of him actually killing anyone.

10 Best Movie Songs

Sing when you’re winning…

A Happy New Year to all Picturenose readers! Following Colin’s splendid picks of his favourite music documentaries, and once again in association with I thought it only fair to pitch in with my take on the top ‘toons’ to have graced the silver screen. There is no particular order, but you will not find Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On or Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes’s (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life *anywhere* on the list, I promise…

Reservoir Dogs (1992)
George Baker Selection: Little Green Bag

Monsieur Quentin Tarantino is set to do very well with my choices, and why should it be otherwise? Along with revolutionising cinema from his astounding signature dish Reservoir Dogs onwards, he also, for perhaps the first time since cinema’s silent era, reinforced the role that music should play in the movies. And this, an entirely catchy number that’s completely in keeping with …Dogs‘ K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies, the radio station that’s the listening choice of the doomed posse of jewellery thieves in the film, is just terrific, and it’s the first of two that I’m choosing from the movie. Click here.

Stealers Wheel: Stuck in the Middle With You

And yes, it’s that scene – there’s no doubt that, if you want to torture someone, this ‘Dylan-esque pop ditty’ is undoubtedly the best background music. Not unlike the on-screen action, this is downright cool and decidely nasty. Click here.

Pulp Fiction (1994)
Dusty Springfield: Son of a Preacher Man

And QT’s back – Pulp Fiction is a contender for best soundtrack of all time, and here’s a moment of quiet cool as hit-man Vincent Vega (John Travolta), brother of one Vic Vega, aka Mr. Blonde in Reservoir Dogs pours himself a good whisky while waiting for Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman), the wife of his boss Marcellus (Ving Rhames), to get ready so he can take her out for dinner. But it is definitely not a date, you hear? Click here.

The Bodyguard (1992)
Whitney Houston: I Will Always Love You

Now, I am probably going to get in a bit of trouble with this choice, but I can’t help it – like the film that it adorns, this song was seemingly enjoyed by nobody except audiences and, while Whitney Houston cannot match the brittle, heartbreaking Dolly Parton original, her version is nevertheless a rousing, hair-raising experience. There, I have said it and, by the way, I liked Mick Jackson’s film as wellClick here.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
Audrey Hepburn: Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer’s Moon River

…but, on the other hand, I actually didn’t like Blake Edwards’ overrated, insincere and kitsch mush-fest very much, despite its inexplicable elevation to all-time classic status. Having said that, Audrey Hepburn as New York socialite Holly Golightly is charm itself, and never more so than when crooning this song, which *is* a classic, no question. Click here.

The Way We Were (1973)
Barbara Streisand: The Way We Were

Another choice with which the film and music snobs may not concur – pooh-pooh to them. Granted, Sydney Pollack’s Streisand-Redford romance has not aged particularly well, and Streisand’s singing is not to everyone’s taste, but your reviewer simply adores the tear-jerking theme song, so there. I won’t give you a clip from the film – instead, check out the BBC’s seminal and tear-jerking snooker nostalgia trip, to which this was an unforgettable soundtrack. Click here.

Casablanca (1942)
Dooley Wilson: As Time Goes By

Surely, though, no-one can have any complaints with this choice, can they? Dooley Wilson sings Herman Hupfeld’s song not once, but twice to heartbreaking effect: ‘If she can stand it, I can! Play it!’ No further words needed. Click here.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Louis Armstrong: We Have All the Time in the World

Again, a tune that’s used twice to heartbreaking effect – James Bond 007 (George Lazenby) is all set for happy married life with Teresa (Diana Rigg), but we all know what happens next, don’t we? It’s simple, really – Peter Hunt’s film is the best Bond with the best ending and the best song. Click here.

The Italian Job (1969)

Matt Munro: On Days Like These

And, to conclude, two more from just the one film, namely Peter Collinson’s sublime (and timeless) comedy caper, with Michael Caine (‘Hang on lads; I’ve got a great idea‘) as Charlie Croker, who is the mastermind behind the heist to end all heists and the traffic jam to end all traffic jams. I am handing you over to Colin for the film’s first toon, as he describes it far better than I could:

Even before we’re introduced to the cast, which at best could be called eclectic, or the back-story with its wide-boy charm and classic capers, we are treated to an opening-scene-cum-title-sequence par excellence. (Top Gear mode on) A beautiful Lamborghini Miura sweeps and growls around some of the best driving roads in the world, nestled high in the Italian Alps, the driver in a polo-neck and shades, smoking and enjoying the curves (Top Gear mode off). Legendary crooner Matt Munro oozes his way through Don Black’s On Days Like These as the car guns through hairpin after hairpin in the steely Italian sunshine. Even for non-drivers or closet Jeremy Clarkson fans, this is what driving is all about. The car rounds a corner, heads into a tunnel and – BAM!  Click here.

Quincy Jones: Get a Bloomin’ Move On

They’re driving that lorry a little recklessly, dontcha think? One of the finest endings ever is preceded by Don Black’s marvellous number sung by Quincy Jones – ‘We’re in the Self-Preservation Society!’ Just magic. Click here.

So, these are my choices – do feel free to chip in with your own, won’t you?

10 Best Music Documentaries

The music’s all that matters

In association with, Picturenose’s Colin presents his take on the finest films on music to grace the silver screen.

Buena Vista Social Club (1999)
Ry Cooder, who has played just about everything with just about everyone goes back to the roots of music for this wonderful outing to Cuba, where he showcases the talents of a bunch of hitherto unknown, ageing jazz musicians – many of whom are now household names. At least, they are in my household. Bulging with infectious Latin rhythms and some interesting insights into pre-Castro Cuban culture – and almost impossible to think it was made 12 years ago. Click here.

Anvil (2008)
Slash from Guns ‘n’ Roses appears early in the movie, telling us that Anvil were in the same league as Metallica and Anthrax – Canadian power-metal gods. While this may have been true, the two mainstays of the band, Robb and Lips, have to resort to menial jobs to keep the tattered dream of rock and roll alive. Their final push for world stardom comes from an eastern European woman one of the band met online, who informs them she has organized a big European tour. Disastrous, funny, touching and surprising, you’ll end up loving the guys, if not their music. All the more funny because it’s true. Click here.

This is Spinal Tap (1984)
Without a doubt, the best ‘rockumentary’ never made. If you have ever been in any kind of band for more than ten minutes, a lot of the gags may be painfully familiar to you. In fact, it’s probably easier to watch if you haven’t. A wonderful spoof about an ageing rock band attempting a US comeback tour, made difficult by the fact that they all appear to be terminally narcissistic or just plain stupid. A true cult classic and one that contains some of the most quotable lines in contemporary cinema. Many rock stars are unhappy with this, as many of them think it’s based on them. Which may or may not be true. It’s a pity I only had ten slots to fill, because this film goes to 11. Click here.

The Last Waltz (1978)
Put simply, if you ain’t seen The Last Waltz, you probably don’t know your rock from your roll. Having been on the road and in the studio since 1960 – and quite a few of those years backing Bob Dylan – The Band put on a final show on Thanksgiving Day in 1976. You’re doing something right if the biggest names of the day turn out to help you say goodbye. There’s Clapton, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, Dylan, Van Morrison and a list of others longer than a Leonard Cohen song. It was the first gig shot in 35mm film, and who better to direct the action than Martin Scorsese? The interviews are all very well but the passion for the music pervades and drives the film at a heady pace. Click here.

The Kids are Alright (1979)
Although they seem resigned to be recognized for their contribution to the theme songs for CSI: Wherever, The Who remain a class act, and one that defies imitation. Roger Daltrey, before he was considering acting or a career farming fish, was the frontman of this seminal English band. The Kids are Alright is actually a bit messy in its execution, which is fitting because The Who were indeed a bit messy in their approach to music. They existed as individuals, only becoming The Who we know and love on stage. The movie mostly captures this, jerking violently between timelines and situation but leaving us with one of the best rock docs ever made. Anything featuring Keith Moon’s swansong(s), Baba O’Riley and Won’t Get Fooled Again can’t be all that bad. Includes footage of Pete Townshend busting up guitars, naturally. Click here.

Notes from a Jazz Survivor (1982)
Art Pepper is the eponymous survivor. Jazz musicians are often held up as those who suffer for their art but very few suffer both for it and because of it. A member of the elite West Coast Jazz set in California, alongside such luminaries as Gerry Mulligan, Dave Brubeck, Stan Getz and Shorty Rogers, Pepper sadly became embroiled in the drug culture surrounding him and his art. He talks frankly in this all-too-short documentary about the years of addiction, prison and failed marriages that became the backdrop for his sax-playing career. Interestingly, the film hardly ever touches on his life before or during prison, only on his time thereafter. It all sounds a bit dreary but he is upbeat and philosophical and the film is often surprisingly comical – and boy, can he play. Click here.

Elvis (1979)
I guess many of us would associate the partnership of John Carpenter and Kurt Russell with such enjoyable sci-fi nonsense as Escape from New York (1981) the Big Trouble in Little China (1986) romp or, of course, The Thing (1982). What would probably not spring to mind is their collaboration on Elvis (1979). This biopic was put on ice for many years after its 1979 release following a music-rights dispute. A shame because looking at Russell’s performance under the careful hand of the craftsman Carpenter, you’ll need to go and rinse your contact lenses to be sure it’s not the real Elvis Aaron Presley before your eyes. No, really – it’s just that good. Helpfully edited from three hours down to two for those with ADD, it’s only been available since last year. Click here.

Stop Making Sense (1984)
Shot over three nights by Jonathan Demme (of Silence of the Lambs (1991) fame), this documents dates on a tour undertaken by Talking Heads to promote their Speaking in Tongues album. The only thing remarkable about the film as a whole is its stark minimalism. The sets are non-existent and the colours bland. The show opens with David Byrne walking on stage, placing a cassette deck (remember those?) on the floor and pressing the button. The ticking of the beat box introduces Psycho Killer and the show – literally – builds from there, with new band members and equipment appearing all the time. Highlights are the big suit (it’s really big) and Byrne’s mad gyrations during Once in a Lifetime, like some kind of acid-head priest. Some call it pretentious and dated but hey, it’s a better show than many that seem to try too hard. Click here.

Walk the Line (2005)
Say what you like about the ‘method’ school of acting but there’s a lot to be said for studying your character so deeply that when you get in front of the cameras, you are him. Joaquin Phoenix did exactly this in his role as Johnny Cash in this biopic of the singer’s trials, tribulations and subsequent status as legend. The sheer effort put in by Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon as his wife June Carter shines through not only in their uncanny portrayals of the people themselves but in their imitation of the stars’ voices. Near-flawless performances left lifelong Cash fans speechless and introduced a new generation to Cash’s catalogue of love, God and murder. Highly recommended for fans and JC virgins alike. Click here.

Shine (1996)
Before Geoffrey Rush reached the pinnacle of his career as Barbossa in Pirates of the Caribbean (yep, that was sarcasm), he played concert pianist David Helfgott in this quirky and controversial study of the performer’s formative years. Despite the inaccuracies that are claimed to exist by Helfgott’s sister, and the fact that the film suggests his schizoaffective disorder was caused due to attempting to master Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 (which seems highly suspect), it remains something of a gem. All biographical pictures (and some books) embellish facts to push their point and Shine is no exception. Rush is brilliant and the film is great if you enjoy laughing and crying at the same time. Sad, funny and utterly watchable. Click here.

10 Best Movie Openings

Starting something?

James and Colin team up, once again, to offer their favourite five openings of all time. Do feel free to share your faves with us too, won’t you?

James’s Top Five

5. Jaws (1975) Dir. Steven Spielberg

The movie that changed summer cinema for ever – there is so much to talk about in Spielberg’s thrilling, amazing adventure, and he certainly knew how to start with a bang. John Williams’ mournful, scary theme precedes the ‘she was the first’ moment, as the film’s original tagline put it – Amity resident Chrissie (Susan Backlinie) fancies a midnight dip with a new-found friend who, fortunately for him, is too drunk to even take his clothes off. Unfortunately for Chrissie, there’s something else in the water with her, and we all know what, don’t we? A la Psycho (1960), the first audiences must have been left reeling. Click here.

4. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) Dir. Steven Spielberg
Another one from Mr Spielberg – yes, I know, this was probably the least of the three Indy movies (and I’m not including Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) in my considerations, because that doesn’t strictly speaking qualify as being a film), but it was still uproarious fun, and the opening, harking back as it does to screwball comedies of the 1930s (though with a decidedly darker tone), is quite simply a belter. I mean to say, just how much action can be crammed into ten minutes? Well, see for yourself, and if it’s your first view, I envy you. Click here.

3. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Dir. Stanley Kubrick
Magisterial doesn’t even come close. The late, truly great Stanley Kubrick, who was quite probably the 20th century’s greatest director, has a little go here at ‘The Dawn of Man’ in his prologue to the ‘ultimate trip’ journey into mankind’s potential future that 2001: A Space Odyssey goes on to be. Seriously, the scene where a proto-human, who, along with his tribe is starving in the wilderness despite being surrounded by acres of porcine flesh, puts two and two together with a femur, thanks to the intervention of ‘The Monolith’, is one of the most hair-raising moments in cinema, period, with Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra as its backdrop. Simply jaw-dropping. Click here.

2. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) Dir. James Foley
‘Put. That coffee. Down….Coffee is for closers only.’ Blake (Alec Baldwin) is explaining the new sales competition to the harried, over-worked inhabitants of a Chicago real-estate office:

Blake: We’re adding a little something to this month’s sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anybody want to see second prize?
[Holds up prize]
Blake: Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired.

Blake: These are the new leads. These are the Glengarry leads. And to you they’re gold, and you don’t get them. Why? Because to give them to you would be throwing them away. They’re for closers.

He’s only on-screen for around ten minutes, and he ever-so nearly won an Oscar – Baldwin’s merciless destruction and humiliation of salesmen Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris and Alan Arkin (Al Pacino is also involved, but not in this scene) is one of the most wincingly cool rants you will ever see – it’s a tough world out there. Click here.

And James’s winner is…

1. Get Carter (1971) Dir. Mike Hodges
And thus, from my favourite gangster movie of all time comes my favourite opening – it’s almost as if Jack Carter (Michael Caine) is already in heaven, as we pan into the somehow ‘elevated’ pad of which he is looking out the window; then, of course, it’s curtains for Carter (geddit?) as we join the hitman, his employers and gangster’s moll Britt Ekland in a place that is in fact very far from paradise. Carter wants to go up North to Newcastle, to investigate the mysterious death of his brother Frank – Jack never really liked him much, screwed his wife behind his back and may even be the father of Frank’s daughter, Doreen (Petra Markham). But this is different. This, as they say, is family. Then, we have Roy Budd’s singularly haunting refrain, a sense of real menace that begins very early, and the little train trip that Carter decides to take, despite his boss’s orders. A pity for him, but nothing short of marvellous for us. Click here. 

Colin’s Top Five

5. Paris, Texas (1984) Dir. Wim Wenders
Wim Wenders could never be accused of pandering to the explosions and car chases cinema demographic – and the opening sequence to what is, for my money, his best non-documentary movie, is all the proof you’d ever need. Opening with a lingering aerial shot of the parched Texas landscape, very slowly zooming in on the hero – if you want to call him thus – Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) wandering around the barely inhabited landscape dressed somewhat incongruously in sneakers, a suit and tie and a bright red baseball cap.

The camera slowly pans in as he takes the last sip of water out of his plastic jug, tosses it aside and continues walking to who-knows-where, as the camera follows his unsteady march, almost to vanishing point. The arid landscape, the beautiful camera work and an unforgettably spartan soundtrack from Ry Cooder all combine to set the tone for this gorgeous slow burn of a movie. Those who can’t get past this and enjoy a wonderful, if heartbreaking, story may want to check out the Steven Seagal back catalogue. Click here.

4. Goodfellas (1990) Dir. Martin Scorsese
Damn it, even the titles are subtle. The names of the director and stars sliding on and off screen, white on black, in time with the whooshing doppler-effect noise of passing cars. Smash cut into a big 1970s car speeding along the freeway with three wiseguys inside. These particular wiseguys are played by what I guess would be Mafia royalty in film star circles (and maybe outside too, but don’t quote me on that) Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. Henry (Liotta) enquires in a vigorous manner as to the nature of the suspicious thumping noise coming from the boot (trunk for our US chums) of the car.

Henry opens the boot and is confronted by something poorly-swathed that is clearly supposed to be a dead body. The victim’s status is still very much ‘not dead’ – a situation that is hastily amended by Tommy and Jimmy (Pesci and De Niro) who mercilessly and repeatedly stab and shoot him. Henry steps back and the voiceover, in his words, begins: “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster…”. Cue the big band sound of Tony Bennett and a few more zooming titles. Marvellous. Click here.

3. The Italian Job (1965) Dir. Peter Collinson
Even before we’re introduced to the cast, which at best could be called eclectic, or the back-story with its wide-boy charm and classic capers, we are treated to an opening-scene-cum-title-sequence par excellence. (Top Gear mode on) A beautiful Lamborghini Miura sweeps and growls around some of the best driving roads in the world, nestled high in the Italian Alps, the driver in a polo-neck and shades, smoking and enjoying the curves (Top Gear mode off). Legendary crooner Matt Munro oozes his way through On Days Like These as the car guns through hairpin after hairpin in the steely Italian sunshine. Even for non-drivers or closet Jeremy Clarkson fans, this is what driving is all about. The car rounds a corner, heads into a tunnel and – BAM! Click here.

2. The Dark Knight (2008) Dir. Christopher Nolan
Regular readers of Picturenose will no doubt be reassured by the fact I have been able to shoehorn this movie into a list at last. I do like TDK more than a little bit but I’ll beg your indulgence while I explain just why this is a great opener. I would venture that this is such a strong opening scene that many other film makers would be happy to have this as a denouement. They’d probably also use the budget to make five other films, but that’s by the by.

A tight-ish zoom into the middle of a glass skyscraper where a window gently pops out. A couple of goons wearing clown masks zipline to the roof of the bank opposite and begin to take out the alarm systems. Three more masked men enter the main building of the bank and begin what I believe in financial terms is called a hostile takeover of the place. What five out of six of these masked intruders don’t know is that they have all individually been given orders to ‘dispense with’ their accomplices once their role is over in order to increase their share in the proceeds. Down to two men left, one pulls a gun on the other and mockingly says: “I’m bettin’ the Joker told you to kill me, soon as we loaded the cash”. “No, no” says the other guy “I kill the bus driver.” Bus driver? What bus driver?

The bus smashes through the front wall of the bank, killing the would-be killer. The bus driver is duly dispatched, leaving one lone bank robber. Challenged by the wounded bank manager, he pulls off his mask to reveal – another mask. All this in the first six minutes of film. Click here.

And Colin’s winner is…

1. Un Chien Andalou (1929) Dir. Luis Buñuel
Anybody who grew up in the eighties would know about Pixies – the painfully hip band that you simply had to like if you were anyone at all. It turns out they were actually pretty good. I digress a little. One of their more famous musical outings was a number called Debaser, which begins with the unlikely couplet “got me a movie, oh ho ho ho/slicing up eyeballs, oh ho ho ho”. Unlikely, that is, unless you’ve seen the opening sequence from the quite deliciously bizarre Un Chien Andalou.

Written and devised by Buñuel himself and Salvador Dalí, it’s not a film for the squeamish or the easily unsettled. The imagery is, shall we say, ‘thought-provoking’ and the entire 16 minutes seem to fly past like a bad dream. What always sticks in people’s heads is the entirely unpleasant opening scene. A man strops a cut-throat razor on a leather belt, a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. Still smoking he wanders into the next room where he pulls open the eye of a passive, seated female and draws the blade across it, the scene cut with a sliver of cloud going across the face of the moon. Cut back to the eye and the vitreous humor is seeping out. It does get considerably more bizarre from there, with dead donkeys, pianos, sailors and a soundtrack by Wagner, but that’s the bit that lodges in the mind. A real audience-grabber. Click here.

Beyond The Cringe: 10 Most Embarrassing Movie Moments

Our ’10 Best’ lists, be they about horror, sci-fi or final bows, have proved very popular with Picturenose visitors of late – whether this one will live up to expectations is another matter entirely, however, as Colin and James present their ‘bottom’ five movie moments, namely key sections of certain films that make you turn your eyes away and place a fist as far into your mouth as it will go. We have a feeling that this selection will generate some excellent discussion and, where possible, we have even provided links to the ‘magic moments’ in question – come on chaps, this should be just the beginning. We need your cinematic nadirs, and we need them now!

Colin’s Choices

Special mention: Kiera Knightley

It doesn’t really matter what she’s in. From Bend it Like Beckham (2002) to any of the Pirates… movies, the formula is the same. I can only imagine that English is not her first language. If a director was to say to me “look sexy”, I would give it my best shot (hardly need to do anything, right ladies?) were I being paid thousands of whatever an hour.

For our Keira, however, it is magically translated into: “Stand with your legs slightly akimbo, pull back your shoulders and stick out your chest so you look like a photo-finish in a fried egg race.” And for God’s sake, woman – shut your mouth occasionally.

5. Anything Sean Connery ‘shaysh’ in Highlander (1986) Dir. Russell Mulcahy

I’m not going to start disrespectin’ big Sean. He’s done a lot of good things and – if I am honest – I didn’t dislike Highlander. It’s a jolly romp with little to worry about and a lot of people get their heads chopped off – what’s not to like?

The big stumbling block for me is Connery’s accent. His co-star, Christophe Lambert, plays Connor MacLeod who is meant to be a Scot (he is, of course, French) and sounds like an eastern European who learned his language from wolves. In his defence, he hadn’t been speaking English for more than a year or so. Connery, however, had been speaking an approximation of English for knocking on 50 years at that point. The only real Scot among the main characters, he was charged with playing an Egyptian called – somewhat bizarrely – Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez. OK, so, Egyptian and over 2,000 years old, with a distinctly Spanish name, you could be forgiven for expecting a flamboyant and idiosyncratic accent. Well, the second part is true, because he “shpeaksh every shentenshe jusht like Shean Connery” would.

We can all forgive the likes of Connery and Michael Caine the occasional duff role. Hey, those castles and private jets don’t pay for themselves – but Connery also went on to do Highlander 2 (1991), which is listed by several human-rights organizations as a crime against humanity.

4. The final showdown with the shark in Jaws (1975) Dir. Steven Spielberg

Now don’t get me wrong here, Jaws was a great movie in many ways and pretty much set the bar for other 70s movies to aspire to, but the big showdown between the remaining heroes and the Great White was marred only slightly by the fact that the shark looked like it was made out of styrofoam by not particularly gifted kids.

I really feel bad about this, as when I was a boy, the thing was über-scary – such stuff as nightmares are made of. Of course, the old Ray Harryhausen models were a bit dodgy too, in retrospect, but they seem to retain a sort of old-world charm. The shark (‘Bruce’) in Jaws – when it leaps out of the water on to the boat to eat Brody (Roy Scheider) has all the menace of a blancmange and reminds me of the sad spectacle of Bela Lugosi thrashing around with a rubberized tentacle or two to make the audience believe he’s wrestling a Kraken.

We all know nostalgia and SFX are poor bedfellows at times but trust me and watch it again. Two hours of suspense, a fine story and some top set-pieces all rubbed out by one vulcanized fish. In its defence, the animatronics were new and needed some work but there can be no excuse for the model-making in the inevitable sequels, in which an intern shaking a dead halibut by the tail would have been scarier. James doesn ‘t agree with Colin on this one – bite me. 🙂

3. The ‘still raining’ scene from Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) Dir. Mike Newell

Written by Richard Curtis who, at the time, could do no wrong, Four Weddings… is actually a lot of fun. Hell, I would go so far as to say I really enjoyed most of it. Good characterizations, some genuinely funny gags and a whole bunch of big names combined to make something I never expected – a watchable rom-com.

Watchable, that is, until that scene. Right at the end, when one could reasonably expect the guy (Hugh Grant, foppishly burbling) and the gal (Andie MacDowell, playing herself as usual) would get together, resolve their issues and ride off into a rose-tinted sunset. Well, that all happens, but in the big reconciliation scene, Grant mumbles and stutters something about it raining and MacDowell manages to make the schmaltziest bit of script ever written that little bit more sick-making by deadpanning her line: “Is it still raining? I hadn’t noticed.” Utterly wrong, poorly delivered and genuinely made me say “seriously?” out loud to nobody in particular. Just plain bloody awful. Click here, if you absolutely must.

2. The impossible interface from Independence Day (1996) Dir. Roland Emmerich

To all those regulars who seem to have a problem with my deep hatred of this film, here’s a warning; yep, I’m going to whine on about it again. To be fair, this is not about the usual nauseating, puffy-breasted braggadocio I particularly despise but the ‘technology’. As a techie of many years’ standing, this really stands out as cringeworthy so badly it makes CSI: Miami look accurate.

Simply, Jeff Goldblum goes to the alien ship, uploads a virus and – as our American cousins so succinctly put it – shit blows up. First, he used an Apple Powerbook. Apple don’t like to interface with anyone but Apple and can make it difficult to do so. Hell, if you don’t pony up $99 for the operating system ‘upgrade’ it likely won’t talk to another Mac either. To get a virus into the alien system, you’d need to be able to get to the ship. For me, the only reason the ships were near the Earth is so that Jeff and the boys could get to them. They clearly have the technology to wipe out the entire population from several galaxies away, but no – they hover over America saying “you can’t catch us – nyah nyah”.

“But, but – they had an alien ship at Roswell for years,” I hear you bleat. “They could have studied it.” Nope. These ships were apparently designed for use by many generations of aliens on very long-haul flights. Look at the progress of computing in the past 40 years and tell me you could interface between an old valve-based computer and your Xbox360 with only a cable and a bit of software based on outdated tech. I would say it ruined the film for me, but by that point I was already considering sticking fountain pens into my eyes to make it stop.

And Colin’s ‘Winner’ Is…

1. The whole damn thing that is Batman & Robin (1997) Dir. Joel Schumacher

My number-one choice and, as I can’t pick a specific scene in what appears to be an ocean of mistimed, badly cast and poorly acted dross, I’m going to go right ahead and nominate the whole thing. Why? If you’d ever seen it, you would never need to ask that question. For those of you who haven’t – and I urge you to keep this situation unchanged – here’s a few pointers.

Schumacher has done some really quite good work including the sublime and often underrated Falling Down (1993) and the creepy and well-paced 8mm (1999), but his handling of Batman & Robin would have made the legendary Ed Wood rethink his career. Wood at least knew he wasn’t very good, but I think Schumacher had a bad day and woke up thinking he could improve on Batman Forever (1995). The fact that he couldn’t even pull this off is testament to just how piss-poor B&R really is.

Overacted by everyone, including George Clooney, the movie stumbles from wooden set piece to wooden set piece, looks like it was directed by one of those dancing traffic cops in the Philippines (albeit with none of the flair) and contains enough stomach-churning dialogue as to make you regret buying the popcorn. The villains are risible, and those clichés pulled off so well by Adam West in the original TV series suck something fierce. Sample dialogue? OK, but only one in case my own hands try to choke me as I type:

Robin: I want a car, chicks dig the car.
Batman: This is why Superman works alone.

Three words for anyone wanting to see this film – even if it’s to find out why it’s bad; avoid, avoid, avoid.

James’s Choices

5. Sir Alec Guinness as Godbole in A Passage to India (1984) Dir. David Lean

What, in the name of all that is holy, inspired one of the greatest actors of his generation to ‘black up’ (well, very nearly), for this hugely overrated ‘masterpiece’ by David Lean? Too many cringeworthy parts to mention – a pity that Guinness didn’t try out for a revival of The Black and White Minstrel Show, don’t you think?

4. The ending of Pretty Woman (1990) Dir. Garry Marshall

‘She rescues him right back.’ Pleeease. Don’t get me wrong, even I managed to enjoy most of Garry Marshall’s mega chick-flick with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, but this mush-fest that passes for a denouement made me nauseous, pure and simple. ‘Enjoy’ it here.

3. Sir Roger Moore’s Barbara Woodhouse impression in Octopussy (1983) Dir. John Glen

Not the nadir of James Bond, but certainly Moore’s lowest point in playing him – Sir Roger, how *could* you?

2. We Got Annie in Annie (1982) Dir. John Huston

Now, anyone who knows me will tell you that (i) I do like a good musical and (ii) I am definitely not gay. However, this number from Huston’s execrable mess is without doubt the most irritating and silly song-and-dance routine ever committed to film. Particular joys are the conspiratorial tones adopted by the (admittedly very graceful) lead as she prances around, confiding to anyone who cares that, ahem, ‘We got Annie’, and the unbelievably stupid and irritating dance that the ‘wallah’ performs when he too hears the good news. Here it is for your delectation and, for this reviewer, it is topped only by one ‘magic moment’ in the movies.

And James’s Winner Is…

1. ‘That’ bit at the end of Dirty Dancing (1987) Dir. Emile Ardolino

Even Picturenose’s Emma, when she has finished swooning over Swayze, agrees with me that this is simply the most cringeworthy ending in movie history, from ‘Nobody puts Baby in the corner’ to, well, the most jaw-droppingly awful dancing you have ever seen. Nothing more to be said, really – watch it again here, and I look forward immensely to reading the ‘defences’ with which we will doubtless soon be innundated. Are you out there, the Divine C? 😉

10 Best Movie Endings

All good things…

As we all bid farewell to summer (gee, wasn’t it great?), James and Colin each offer their definitive top five favourite finales of all time. Do let us know whether you agree, won’t you?

James’s Choice

5. Some Like It Hot (1959) Dir. Billy Wilder
I thought that I would start with a classic ‘funny’ ending, before I move into somewhat darker territory with most of the rest of my list. Seriously, though, is this not the wittiest last line in movie history? And it ends one of the most dazzlingly witty films of all time, too, in which two loser jazz musicians (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) unwittingly witness the St Valentine’s Day massacre and flee in drag to Miami, where they meet up with ravishing singer Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe) and her all-girl jazz band. A classic treat, and camp millionaire Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown) adamantly refusing to take no for an answer from Lemmon is just the cherry on the cake. Click here.

4. Don’t Look Now (1973) Dir. Nicolas Roeg
A sublimely moving and frightening meditation on grief, relationships and the beyond, with Laura Baxter (Julie Christie) and her husband John (Donald Sutherland) spending time in a gloriously beautiful (and creepy) out-of-season Venice, there to forget the death by drowning of their little daughter. But two elderly sisters, one of whom is blind and apparently psychic, tell them that their daughter is still very much with them and, sure enough, there is a diminutive figure dressed in a little red coat wandering the streets. John needs to know more. Oh. My. God. Click here.

3. Casablanca (1942) Dir. Michael Curtiz
You must remember this… Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), the owner of Rick’s Café Américain, is a bitter US expat in Casablanca in early December 1941. To his ‘mixed’ clientele, Rick claims to be neutral in all matters, that is, until the reason for Rick’s bitterness comes back into his life, namely his Norwegian former lover Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), who walks into his establishment and asks the house pianist Sam (Dooley Wilson) to play As Time Goes By…and the rest, as they say is history. You don’t have a heart beating if you don’t cry at Rick’s final sacrifice for the woman he loves more than life itself. “Here’s looking at you, kid.” Click here.

2. The Usual Suspects (1995) Dir. Bryan Singer
Perhaps the best crime movie of all time finishes with maybe the best ending ever, one that few, if any, saw coming – poor, put-upon cripple Verbal Quint (Kevin Spacey) is among the very few survivors of a drug heist on a boat that went terribly wrong, and US Customs ‘tec Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) wants to find out what went down, but most of all, he wants to be convinced that career criminal Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne) is dead. Unfortunately, he’s about to enter the orbit of Keyser Soze, a mythical crime lord who may just be the Devil himself, as Verbal tells his tale. “And like that…he’s gone.” Click here.

And James’s winner is:

1. Citizen Kane (1941) Dir. Orson Welles
Sorry to go all ‘film school’ on you, but I genuinely do believe this to be the finest denouement ever committed to film. A newsreel reporter, in trying to solve the mystery as to what newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) may have meant by his dying word, “Rosebud”, discovers, as do we, the story of one man’s life, and how it moved from social idealism into the pursuit of power at any cost. And, does he find out what ‘Rosebud’ means? No. But we do. Click here.

Colin’s Choice

5. Trading Places (1983) Dir. John Landis
Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) is a likeable rogue, just for a change, in this film about greed and morality. It’s not going to win any philosophy prizes but it is a lot of fun, and is a candidate for ‘Best Christmas Feel-Good Movie of All Time’. Two wealthy brokers (the Mortimers – Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy) bet one dollar that one of them can’t take a homeless bum, strategically shave and wash him, and turn him into a better stock-exchange trader than their current golden boy, Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd). After the rise of Valentine and the fall of Winthorpe, the two get wind of the bet and plan their revenge. Aided and abetted by the hooker with a heart of gold Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis), the comeuppance of the Mortimers is swift, complete and makes you want to stand on your seat and whoop. Sorry if I spoiled the ending there, just a bit ahead of time.

4. Brighton Rock (1947) Dir. John Boulting
Even though the UK censors insisted on a softening of the gut-wrenching dénouement to Graham Greene’s classic tale of Faustian evil, Christian good and redemption, there’s still a lot to be said for making you choose your own ending. Pregnant, bereft and at her lowest ebb, unwitting gangster’s pawn Rose (Carol Marsh) plays the recording made by her dead husband. Her dead husband was Pinkie (Richard Attenborough), a gang leader, who married her to keep her off the scent of a murder he ordered. She wants to hear him say “I love you” one last time. As she hears these words of solace, the camera pans to a crucifix on the wall, signifying Pinkie’s redemption. Or not. Click here.

3. Midnight Cowboy (1969) Dir. John Schlesinger
Probably as well known for the title track (Everybody’s Talkin’) as the story, Midnight Cowboy (1969) is a simple tale of what happens when a small-town boy (Joe Buck, played by Jon Voight) thinks he can go to the bright lights of the big city and make his fortune on looks alone. Except it isn’t, not really. The story is really about what happens when that small town boy fails repeatedly and is forced to hook up with a streetwise yet sickly survivor, Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), in order to survive. Their friendship is uncomfortable at times – neither tolerant nor loving but they both seem to have what it takes to stop New York from swallowing them whole. They plan one day to escape the city and move to Florida in the hope of a better life, but tragedy is just a bus ride away – and it’s a testament to the strength of the characterisations that you care so much about what happens to the pair. Click here.

2. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) Dir. Milos Forman
Sometimes, you sit and wonder just why a film won an Oscar (or five). In this case, though, you could be forgiven for thinking that there could be no accolade high enough for a film that has touched and moved so many people. When Randle Patrick McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) pleads insanity to assault charges hoping for an easy sentence in a psychiatric hospital, he gets not only his wish but a lot more into the bargain. An allegorical story of captivity, freedom, oppression and rebellion, this is a film that will captivate, surprise and uplift you, often all at once. If you don’t find the ending heart-breaking – not just for the main character, but for all the downtrodden, beaten and abused – check your pulse. You may have died already. Click here (first part) and here (second part).

And Colin’s winner is:

1. DOA (1950) Dir. Rudolph Maté
Do not confuse this with the inferior 1988 remake with Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan. You have been warned! When small-time accountant Frank Bigelow (a great outing here for Edmond O’Brien) notarizes a simple shipping document, he unwittingly makes powerful and dangerous enemies. The film opens with the ending, in a way, as Bigelow staggers into a police station in San Francisco to report a homicide. “Who was murdered?” asks a cop. Bigelow replies simply: “I was.” For my money, the best film noir ever – the pace is ramped up until Bigelow’s showdown with his soon-to-be killer. Although it begins at the end, I love the understated ‘not with a bang but a whimper’ feel to the climax. The whole film is public domain now, so you can see it on the Internet Archive for free – enjoy. Click here.

2010: Ten Best Films

Here’s the only top ten that really matters, then, as Picturenose’s owners, Colin and James, offer their respective five best films.

Over to Colin first:

5. TRON: Legacy (2011)
Yes, yes – I know it’s not officially a 2010 release this side of the pond, but I’m just so gosh-darn excited about the release, I can’t help but mention it. It’s been so long coming, it could have feasibly been titled ‘28 Years Later’ and with budget running at an eye-watering $300 million, it had better be unrelentingly awesome. In the original TRON of 1982, hacker Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), in an attempt to prove that his company stole his ideas, breaks in to their corporate system and – to cut a long story short – gets sucked in to the system and forced to compete for his life in gladiatorial games. Fast forward to 2010 and his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund), investigating his father’s mysterious disappearance, does exactly the same thing. Father and son must escape the clutches of the computer holding them prisoner, and this is essentially all TRON: Legacy is about. I frankly don’t care if it’s light on story – the original was a joy, and I’ve waited so long for the sequel I’m going to like it even if it’s utter hogwash. So there.

4. The Expendables
I secretly hoped that this would not be very good, just so I could sit back with a smug expression, twisting my moustache and saying: “I told you it would be rubbish”. It wasn’t. Sure, it’s not going to win awards for story complexity or character depth but I don’t think for a moment that was ever up for discussion. Sly Stallone, Jet Li, Jason Statham and Dolph Lundgren and many other movie tough guys – including a short appearance from a certain California governor – are a guns-for-hire band of men who do other people’s dirty work for them, usually with explosive consequences. Throw into the mix a pair of foxy ladies (Giselle Itié and Charisma Carpenter) and you’re pretty much guaranteed a box office return. I won’t insult your intelligence by outlining the story, but you know what to expect. If that’s your thing, you’ll love The Expendables. If not, don’t bother – simple.

3. Kick-Ass
Quite apart from the novelty of seeing Nicolas Cage finally make a decent movie, this is a well-made romp in good old comic book style. Modelled on the Marvel Comics character and including the now-obligatory cameo appearance by Marvel supremo Stan Lee, this story follows the elevation of an ordinary schoolboy Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) from nobody to renowned super-hero. Unlike Defendor (see my number-one choice), Kick-Ass plays purely for laughs and action. Kick-Ass – by dint of the fact that he’s really not very good at the whole superhero thing, picks up a partner in crime-fighting, Hit Girl (Chloë Moretz) and her father, Big Daddy (Cage), who have more than a few tricks up their sleeve. A good, solid comedy action flick with its tongue firmly in its cheek.

2. Inception
I suppose no roundup of 2010 would be complete without giving Inception a mention – even if it’s only because it’s directed by Christopher Nolan, and there’s no new Batman film to get all excited about. A positively stellar cast (Pete Postlethwaite, Michael Caine, Marion Cottilard and many more) do a first-rate job of bending reality in this story set in a dream within a dream. A confusing premise, but expertly handled by all, managing to be intelligent without being too clever and delivering some fast-paced thrills and spills. It really doesn’t make a lot of sense halfway in, but you’re rewarded at the end with a quite marvellous denouement. 

1. Defendor
Practically nobody saw this film, which for me constitutes an utter tragedy. The only big name on the credit sheet is Woody Harrelson, who delivers what is for me one of his finest roles to date. Harrelson plays Arthur Poppington, the archetypal mild-mannered man who has a secret identity as the champion of the unfortunate and the nemesis of criminals – Defendor. It is essentially a comedy, but the sheer heart that Harrelson puts into his role, and some solid support from the likes of Kat Dennings and Sandra Oh raises this movie way above expectations. Burlesque, often dark and sometimes moving, this debut by Canadian writer/director Peter Stebbings really is a must-see. The holiday season is upon us, so put it on your gift list.

And now James:

5. The A-Team
This is my fun choice, OK? Fun, fun, fun, because it’s great to see a remake come together. Director Joe Carnahan (Smokin’ Aces (2006)) first-time writer (Brian Bloom) and an ensemble cast led by Liam Neeson as Hannibal Smith combine to offer an action flick that engages guts, brains and funny bone.

4. Let Me In
And a horror remake, praise the Lord, that more than does justice to the original, Tomas Alfredson’s Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In) (2008), itself a brilliant riff on the vampire genre – Cloverfield (2008) director Matt Reeves delivers a tale of puppy love with real bite that’s subtle, scary and tender.

3. Green Zone
Ahead of the number one film, another that had no problem pointing the finger at those in power, and quite right too – Matt Damon delivers his most adult performance to date as Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, who’s in the field following the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, looking for the much-touted ‘weapons of mass destruction’, whose purported existence provided President George W. Bush with the only excuse he and Tony Blair needed for US and UK involvement. But, after a third raid on a target that’s cited as being a WMD ‘hot’ spot turns up nothing, Miller starts to do his own research, and finds that turning over stones can be very risky. Director Paul Greengrass manages the rare feat of combining exciting action-film sensibilities with docu-drama intensity, and the result is a refreshingly honest and intelligent examination of the heights and depths of corruption.

2. Toy Story 3
And this so nearly took top spot – nobody really believed that Pixar could extend their most succesful franchise’s charm for a third episode, but that’s exactly what they did, with this hilarious and deeply moving account of what happens when the toys finally get put away for good, from Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 2 (1999)), along with writers Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine (2006)) and John Lasseter (Cars (2006)) If you don’t cry at the end, you’re not human.

1. The Ghost Writer
Roman Polanski’s back, and he’s not taking any prisoners, political or otherwise. This was a trenchant and remarkably powerful study of just how dangerous things can get behind the scenes in the corridors of power – Ewan McGregor is ‘The Ghost’ of Robert Harris’s adaptation of his own novel, who’s assigned to knock the memoirs of former ‘craze’ prime minster Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) into shape and who quickly realizes that a great deal more than his reputation may be at stake. It lifted six major-category gongs at the 2010 European Film Awards, and your ‘pundit par excellence’ would hazard a guess that it won’t do too bad come Oscar time, either. Not sure whether Roman will thank me for that prediction, but I am certainly grateful to him for what was easily the year’s best film.

Ten Best Christmas Movie Moments

Just a little something to keep you warm while the festive season gets into full swing – it’s another list, of course, this time the ten moments that I consider to be the most, well, ‘Christmassy’, and I would love to hear about what you consider to be the notable omissions.

10. Billy Ray: [posing as ‘Nenge Mboko,’ an exchange student from Cameroon] Merry New Year!
Beeks: That’s ‘happy’. In this country we say ‘Happy New Year’.
Billy Ray: Oh, ho, ho, thank you for correcting my English which stinks!
Trading Places (1983) Dir. John Landis

Officially the last great film that John Landis made before officially losing the plot, and this was a diamond moment from it. Another gem of a scene has a drunken Billy Ray (Dan Aykroyd) dressed as a grubby Santa Claus eating a whole salmon…through the dirty beard.

9. The Snowman (1982) Dir. Dianne Jackson, Jimmy T. Murakami

There’s no dialogue to quote, but there is a still-beautiful song by one Aled Jones to cherish, as a young boy and his snowy friend discover the magic. All together now…’We’re walking in the air…’

8. ‘Mummy, mummy, it’s Father Christmas! I let him in!’ Tales from the Crypt (1972) – Dir. Freddie Francis

It’s interesting that Christmas has always been associated with the macabre as well as with joy to all men, and this scary vignette from the best of the Amicus compendium horrors is still very creepy. Joan Collins has been a very naughty girl on Christmas Eve, but there is an unexpected avenger just waiting to come down the chimney…

7. The Killer: [On the phone]: ‘I’m going to kill you.’ Black Christmas (1974) – Dir. Bob Clark

And Bob Clark, who has the honour of two places on this list, was responsible for the very first film of its kind, namely the stalk-and-slash/slice-and-dice horror, which were to be repeated ad infinitum (and largely ad nauseum) during the late 1970s and 1980s (John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) being the other quality exception). Difference is, Clark’s film is tight, very suspenseful and really rather scary, with its unseen, quasi-supernatural killer menacing US fraternity sisters. Brrrrr!

6. Cindy Lou Who: ‘Santa, what’s the real meaning of Christmas?
The Grinch: [bursts through the Christmas tree] ‘VENGEANCE! Er, I mean… presents, I suppose. The Grinch (2000) – Dir. Ron Howard

One of the all-time Christmas-related belly laughs, from Howard’s genuinely warm and amusing adaptation of the Dr Seuss classic. Also one of the last films to see Jim Carrey mugging big-style before the cameras, and there was nothing wrong with that.

5. ‘Now, I have a machine gun. Ho, ho, ho.’ Die Hard (1988) – Dir. John McTiernan

Still an all-time classic moment – Alan Rickman, who’s brilliant as uber-criminal Hans Gruber, begins to realise that he may well have a fight on his hands and that his plans for a ‘Happy Christmas’, courtesy of $600 million of the Nakatomi Corporation’s funds, may be thwarted by NYPD cop John McLane (Bruce Willis), who sends him a little ‘present’ down in the lift…

4. Ralphie: [Ralphie is shoved down the slide, but he stops himself and climbs back up to Santa Claus] ‘No! No! I want an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!’
Santa Claus: ‘You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.’ A Christmas Story (1983) – Dir. Bob Clark
It’s the ultimate betrayal – all that Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) wants for Christmas is the above-mentioned ‘firearm’, but he is to be told, again and again and again, that he’ll ‘shoot his eye out’. Now, even Santa would appear to be against him – what’s a boy to do? Clark (who directed the previously cited Black Christmas (1974)) serves up a warm, witty and wonderful festive treat that’s not only one of the best cinematic evocations of Christmas, but of childhood too.

3. Ebenezer: ‘Bob, I haven’t taken leave of my senses. I’ve come to them.’ Scrooge (1951) – Dir. Brian Desmond Hurst
Still the best version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, by a country mile, Hurst’s film is elevated to all-time classic status by Alistair Sims as the curmudgeonly Ebeneezer Scrooge who realises, in a simply delightful denouement, just how much life is still worth living. Ahhhhh.

2. Bob Wallace: [sings] ‘I’m dreaming, of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know…’ White Christmas (1954) – Dir. Michael Curtiz

It’s only just beaten to the top spot – Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) perhaps takes the celluloid record for bringing audiences to blubbers the fastest, with his wonderfully timeless performance of Irving Berlin’s song. Simply beautiful.

1. Harry Bailey: ‘A toast to my big brother George: The richest man in town!’ It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) – Dir. Frank Capra

And how could this not be number one? Now as much a part of Yuletide as seeing loved ones again, George Bailey (James Stewart) realizing that he really has had a wonderful life, with his friends only too willing to show him how wonderful, is cinema’s most joyously moving moment, bar none. And, if you’ll forgive me, it’s exactly what I am going to watch right now.

Thanks very much to all the readers who have kept it with Picturenose and our reviews on Expatica during 2010, and a very Happy Christmas to all.

10 Best Westerns

Once Upon a Time in the Western…

To complete the trilogy begun by James with horror and sci-fi, and ahead of the holiday season, when they will all doubtless be shown *somewhere* on the glass teat, our man Cillian offers his very own rootin’, tootin’ top ten.

The Western is something of a maligned genre these days, figured as a kind of cinematic relic from a bygone era, just Cowboys and Indians malarkey. There is some truth in this, as anyone who has had to sit through one of the endless parade of Red-menace-and-cavalry-charge oaters that Hollywood churned out since the early days of the silents.

But the genre – maybe the one, true, American genre – can be and has been about much more than simple Boys Own adventure yarns providing, through simple, recurring plots, not just shootouts and cattle stampedes, but occasional moralizing and a glimpse into contemporary America through its attitudes to such thing as the Native Americans (or ‘Injuns’, as they were habitually called in John Ford films) because, as with other genres, the western has changed dramatically over the years. From the early ‘Cowboys and Indians’ antics of the 1930s and 40s, to the tougher, more psychological films of the 1950s and early 60s, to the late 60s and into the 70s, where the Europeans added their own spin on the genre, and US directors like Sam Peckinpah and Arthur Penn took it apart so that it never really recovered, the Western has had a long, evolving role as cinema’s prime storytelling form.

Here, then, is my own top ten, from the traditional to the deconstructionist – in no particular order, apart from chronological.

Stagecoach (1939)
Although Cimarron had won the Best Picture Oscar in 1931, the Western never really gained respectability until John Ford, aided by members of his stock company John Carradine, Thomas Mitchell, Andy Devine and a little-known B-movie actor called John Wayne. They took on this taught, simple tale of a group of passengers, including a hooker, inebriate doctor and wanted outlaw, taking a trip through inhospitable Monument Valley and facing the ever-present threat of Indian hordes, which is somewhat off-putting for modern sensibilities. The performances, pace and direction make it one of the early standouts of the genre, and it made a star out of Wayne, who is sensationally introduced in one of the Western’s most iconic moments.

My Darling Clementine (1946)
Of all the versions of the famed gunfight at the OK Corral, this is probably the least accurate, but easily the most enjoyable. When the director, John Ford, was working in silents, Wyatt Earp was prone to turning up on movie sets, getting drunk with the extras and spinning a few yarns, all of which were gobbled up by Mr ‘Print The Legend’, who used them as the basis for this classic, which stars Henry Fonda as Earp, the lawman forced out of retirement to rid Tombstone of the grip of the malicious Clanton clan. The acting is superb, from Fonda to Walter Brennan as the Clanton patriarch, a role he would later parody in Support Your Local Sheriff (1969), but both have their thunder stolen by Victor Mature, hitherto not known as a great actor, as the consumptive Doc Holliday.

The Gunfighter (1950)
A miscast Gregory Peck stars as Jimmy Ringo, a man famed as the best gunfighter around but who, when he rides into town, just wants to win back the love of his life and settle down. The only problem is, everyone wants to be the one to can lay claim to being the “man who shot Jimmy Ringo”, and the legendary status that comes with it. Simple, yet gripping.

High Noon (1952)
High Noon is really a film about Hollywood or, more specifically, the Blacklist. Gary Cooper stars as newly married Sheriff Will Kane, who decides to stand tall against notorious outlaw Ben Miller, riding into town on the noon train. Abandoned by the townspeople, Kane must face the threat alone. A bitter film, which portrays society as rotten from top to bottom – screenwriter Carl Foreman, perhaps unsurprisingly, saw himself persecuted by the House of UnAmerican Activities Committee soon after. Interestingly, Cooper later attributed his stoic, heroically solid performance to a bout of piles.

Shane (1953)
Like Jimmy Ringo in The Gunfighter, the eponymous hero just wants to settle down. As retired gunfighter Shane, Alan Ladd gives his most iconic performance, as the man who stirs sexual tension between the couple who charitably take the itinerant stranger into their home. But when trouble breaks out between the settlers (or ‘sodbusters’) and local big cattle ranchers, Shane must pick up the guns once more. The finale, in which Shane rides out of town to the bewilderment of the couple’s young son, is one of the Western’s most heartbreaking moments.

The Searchers (1956)
When Comanches kidnap young Debbie Edwards her uncle Ethan, burdened with a pathological hatred of Indians and his nephew martin, himself part-Indian, spend years scouring the land to find her. But tensions between the two emerge when Ethan’s true motive is revealed; to him, after being deflowered by a Comanche, she is better off dead. If in Stagecoach John Ford gave John Wayne his most iconic entrance, here he gives him his (and the genre’s) most memorable exits – simply one of the greatest shots in all cinema.

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
Although having a long association with the genre, Henry Fonda played only one Western baddie, in this, Sergio Leone’s epic, operatic masterpiece. As cold, blue-eyed killer Frank, Fonda excels as the rail magnate who comes into conflict with widow Claudia Cardinale, gunfighter Jason Robards and mysterious harmonica-playing Charles Bronson, who go up against the robber-barons in this examination of the capitalistic underbelly of the ‘civilization’ of the American west.

The Wild Bunch (1969)
Set in 1913 and, like the same year’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, this is all about ‘them days is over’, as William Holden’s gang of outlaws try and stay one ride ahead of the posse, now featuring one of their old crew. Holden is magnificent, playing the archetypal Sam Peckinpah hero, Pike Bishop, the man who slowly comes to realize that his life has been a betrayal of his firmly held principals, and who leads the Bunch to a symbolic death in a hail of Mexican gunfire.

Bad Company (1972)
Screenwriters Robert Benton and David Newman followed up Bonnie and Clyde (1967) with the Western curio There Was a Crooked Man (1970), starring Kirk Douglas and Henry Fonda, which sought to undermine a few narrative conventions. Perhaps owing to the ham-fisted direction of Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Benton himself took the reigns for the pair’s second stab at the Western. Like Robert Aldrich’s Ulzana’s Raid, made the same year, Bad Company is infused with contemporary attitudes and politics, most notably towards the draft, but can be seen as a riff on Oliver Twist, as innocent Barry Brown falls in with a young gang of thieves and vagabonds led by Jeff Bridges. The standout scene, the shootout in the woods, captures all the fear and confusion of the occasion, and stands as an antidote to all those ‘this town ain’t big enough for the both of us’ confrontations that usually occur in the genre.

The Shootist (1976)
John Wayne was dying when he made this film, the tale of a terminally ill, retired gunfighter who, rather than face a drawn-out and painful death, goads an old enemy into a final, fatal shootout. Don Siegel’s film, the credit sequence of which features a montage of old Wayne gunplay, is filled with an overwhelming sense of vanishing time, heightened by the appearances of stars (James Stewart, Lauren Bacall, John Carradine), whose own time seemed to be gone also as Hollywood changed, and the Western with it.