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The Deer Hunter (1978)
"We gotta play with more bullets"
In cinema there is no more an immediate scene dealing in death than this one, the sight of Robert DeNiro and his army buddies John Savage and Christopher Walken having to play Russian Roulette with a loaded pistol to entertain their North Vietnamese captors truly harrowing. Each is plucked out of a cage in the snake and bug infested river like fresh lobster and forced to spin the barrel and then aim the pistol at their own heads and pull the trigger, slapped very hard by their guards if they didn't (the slapping in the film genuine for authenticity). But the winner doesn't go free but gets to do it again until all the prisoners are dead. Incredibly, during some of the Russian Roulette scenes, a live round was put into the gun to heighten the actors' tension. This was DeNiros suggestion. Obviously it was checked to make sure the bullet was not in the chamber before the trigger was pulled but explains the incredible tension in the seen. The rest of the movie is pretty flabby and over-rated but for that scene alone it earns classic status for many. Its visceral strength is the fact it was the first film on the Vietnam War that actually tackled the true horrors, opening the flood gates for many more movies on the same war only just playing out at the time.
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The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Head Bull Haig: Dufresne? Get your ass out here, boy! You're holding up the show! [no answer] Head Bull Haig: Don't make me come down there now! I'll thump your skull for you! [Still no answer. Glaring, Haig stalks down the tier, clipboard in hand. His men fall in behind] Head Bull Haig: Dufresne, dammit, you're putting me behind! You better be sick or dead in there, I sh*t you not! [They arrive at bars. Their faces go slack. Stunned. Softly] Head Bull Haig: Oh my Holy God.
This is pretty much everyone's favourite film and topping all the likewise lists out there, usurping the over-rated Godfather at the top of the IMDB 250, two of only three films to have nine-out-of-ten rankings in that list, and so many fabulous scenes in the movie. The one that stands out is that brilliant twist, one I certainly didn't see coming and skilfully won't be revealing here. I'm sure there are some young ones out there that have yet to see this almost perfect movie and so I won't be denying you that treat.
It's the moment when the prisons tough warden (Bob Gunton) goes in to Andy Dufrenses (Tim Robbins) cell and all that leads up to that moment. It finally clicks in that there's been meaning to all Dufrenses restrained and phlegmatic actions throughout the first 90 minutes of this beautiful and superbly written Darrabont screenplay (from Stephen Kings book) and the viewer is rewarded with the ending he waited patiently and longed for, a film all about hope and patience. Ok Robbins doesn't age much in those twenty years hard labour and keeps the same cell for all that time but why fault a masterpiece for a couple of bad brush strokes. You then rewind the film up until that point and it all fits nicely. But just as it was Robbins movie for that moment, the film for me was more about Morgan Freeman's startling performance, he, like the viewing audience, enjoying the same surprise at that moment in the film in the context of his character.
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It's obvious that the best scenes will come from the best movies and this is my all time favourite movie. Henry, Ray liottas astounding performance, if you consider what he's done since, is a character accepted by the mob but never really one of them, not insane enough if the truth be told. Tommy, played by the psycho Joe Pesci, reminds Henry just that in this scene as the guys enjoy a lavish meal in a swanky restaurant, no charge of course. Tommy taunts Henry about that friendship and subtly reminds him what will happen if he never forgets the dynamic of the group.
Henry Hill: You're a pistol, you're really funny. You're really funny. Tommy DeVito: What do you mean I'm funny? Henry Hill: It's funny, you know. It's a good story, it's funny, you're a funny guy. [laughs] Tommy DeVito: what do you mean; you mean the way I talk? What? Henry Hill: It's just, you know. You're just funny, it's... funny, the way you tell the story and everything. Tommy DeVito: [it becomes quiet] Funny how? What's funny about it? Anthony Stabile: Tommy no, you got it all wrong. Tommy DeVito: Oh, oh, Anthony. He's a big boy, he knows what he said. What did ya say? Funny how? Henry Hill: Jus... Tommy DeVito: What? Henry Hill: Just... ya know... you're funny. Tommy DeVito: You mean, let me understand this cause, ya know maybe it's me, I'm a little f**ked up maybe, but I'm funny how, I mean funny like I'm a clown, I amuse you? I make you
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laugh, I'm here to fu**in' amuse you? What do you mean funny, funny how? How am I funny? Henry Hill: Just... you know, how you tell the story, what? Tommy DeVito: No, no, I don't know, you said it. How do I know? You said I'm funny. How the f*ck am I funny, what the f*ck is so funny about me? Tell me, tell me what's funny! Henry Hill: [long pause] Get the f*ck out of here, Tommy!
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Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
"Come with me if you want to live"
As far as action movies go pretty much every scene in this movie is fabulous. Even though you know the threatened end of the world scenario won't happen in this franchise the foreboding is always there, especially when Arnie shows up. Here, of course, the familiar Terminator has been reprogrammed to help humans to stop the coming Armageddon, the same relentless Cyberdine Systems human killing machine from film one becoming cool and flipping sides, a brilliant twist around by director James Cameron.
The Cyborg once wanted to kill Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton) so she couldn't have little John Conner (Edward Furlong), who would grow up to be a resistance leader in the future against the robots. Sarah is locked up in a secure unit for repeating her story about the robot from the future, so when Arnie strolls into the mental facility fully armed and the doctors get to see the nightmare is real, that foreboding music pounding away, we then know the affect that will have on everyone concerned, including us the audience, brilliantly captured in the scene as he strides purposely down the pristine clean corridor in shades and leather jacket.
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Star Wars (1977)
'Imperial Star Cruiser'
I was lucky enough to go to the British Premier of George Lucas's groundbreaking sci-fi spectacular at Leicester Square (the cinema still as grotty today) in 1977, just a wee slip of a lad in a cute tuxedo with a bowtie near the front, apparently seated behind Leslie Crowther and Nicholas Parsons no less. The bit I recall most was sitting in great anticipation as those iconic credits cleared into the blackness and then the enormous mothership growled over our heads. It just encapsulated cinemas great shared escapist experience as everyone gasped as this extraordinary special effect from Lucas slid across the screen, his newly installed hi-tech sound system at the cinema adding to the pure size and vibration of it. I think this is where my love affair with films began, and, ironically, that affair nearly ended with the dreadful Phantom Menace, yours truly attending one of the very first showings in New York. All these idiots and students had queued up for three days with Darth Vader masks on all the way down Times Square and Broadway and British backpackers being British backpackers, we went around the back of the cinema and walked straight in through the kitchens for nothing by chatting up the waitress. Hilarious! As I say though she had the last laugh as the film was dire. The Stars Wars franchise would go on to make $4.3 million dollars and still rising, only Bond and Harry Potter making more money to date.
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Saving Private Ryan (1998)
I think the first half-hour of this movie was quite simply unwatchable because it was so frighteningly graphic and realistic. Spielberg's intent was only that and said it was a tribute to those brave troops on Omaha Beach who lost 2000 on the first day alone. Tom Hanks Captain Millers character has taken heavy losses in his platoon and is tied down at the beach head whilst the slaughters continue literally all around him, and as the crossfire is so intense there's few hiding places from the hail of bullets and aerial shelling. Although a movie it was really like that so say those who were there, probably worse, every angle seeing death coming at those young lads who gave everything to defend Britain. We should never forget what the Yanks did for us back then which makes the modern wars in Afghanistan all rather absurd and pointless.
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'You're going to need a bigger boat'
'Jaws' is a fab movie if just because of its roar clarity and the way its made on such beautifully simple premise, embracing nature and the open water ( when your toes cant tough the floor) against terrafirma. The shark is our greatest fear in the ocean, that we will agree, but what we don't realise is the shark fears us more, never the twain shall meet. But the Great White shark who holidays at Amity Island is aware of our fear and makes the most of it, munching his way through the holiday makers.
The best scene for me is the one when the no nonsense shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw) joins marine biologist Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and Chief Brody (Roy Schneider) on his boat, a tug that is clearly not up to the job on offer when they-and we-first glimpse the killer shark. They have already fired two barrels into it and its still diving deep with that extra ballast, which we later discover is the shark working out how to defeat the boat and Quints crew. Listening to Spielberg's audio commentary on the 25th anniversary disc it was clear this part of the movie where the shark surfaces and opens its jaws was the toughest part of the shoot to make it look as realistic as it was. Considering it's the 1970s this film looks fabulous and has a genuine horror element to it. The scene is at its most raw when the boat phobic Chief Brody is chucking buckets of blood and guts in the lazy ocean swell to tempt the shark over to the boat, which it gleefully does, rearing up and gulping it down, the chiefs face a picture, resulting in that wonderful line I'm quoting when Quint spots his enemy in his final battle. Remember Spielberg had only done one film before this-the Sugarland Express- and had to try and film for three days with a three ton mechanical shark in sizeable swells in the middle of the sea.
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Good Will Hunting (1997)
I would put this film in my top ten, not only because I love it but because it taught me some lessons in life. It didn't tell me I could well be a math genius, as is Mat Damon's character central here (still his best role yet), but sometimes being a little bit brighter than people around you can be intimidating. As Robin Williams professor character tells Damon near the end of the movie that you are cynical because you can see better than others what's going to happen five years down the road and so no wonder you don't give certain things and people time of day, perhaps something lots of dooyooers can relate to, Damon afraid to take that responsibility in the movie of the extreme intelligence he has be been born with.
There are so many great scenes in this film as Damon's, Boston janitor character in one of Americas top universities spends all day correcting math theorem the professors cant deal with, they knowing their careers are now stuffed because of this cocky blue-collar genius. I think my fave piece of dialogue is when his potential has been realised and the professors try to get him a top job, the CIA very interested in his possible code breaking skills, here woed by America's intelligence service. You really need to read this passage...
Will: Why shouldn't I work for the N.S.A.? That's a tough one, but I'll take a shot. Say I'm working at N.S.A. Somebody puts a code on my desk, something nobody else can break. Maybe I take a shot at it and maybe I break it. And I'm real happy with myself, 'cause I did my job well. But maybe that code was the location of some rebel army in North Africa or the Middle East. Once they have that location, they bomb the village where the rebels were hiding and fifteen hundred people I never met, never had no problem with, get killed. Now the politicians are sayin', "Oh, send in the Marines to secure the area" 'cause they don't give a shit. It won't be their kid over there, gettin' shot. Just like it wasn't them when their number got called, 'cause they were pullin' a tour in the National Guard. It'll be some kid from the rust belt takin' shrapnel in the ass. And he comes back to find that the plant he used to work at got exported to the country he just got back from. And the guy who put the shrapnel in his ass got his old job, 'cause he'll work for fifteen cents a day and no bathroom breaks. Meanwhile, he realizes the only reason he was over there in the first place was so we could install a government that would sell us oil at a good price. And, of course, the oil companies used the skirmish over there to scare up domestic oil prices. A cute little ancillary benefit for them, but it ain't helping my buddy at two-fifty a gallon. And they're takin' their sweet time bringin' the oil back, of course, and maybe even took the liberty of hiring an alcoholic skipper who likes to drink martinis and f*ckin' play slalom with the icebergs, and it ain't too long 'til he hits one, spills the oil and kills all the sea life in the North Atlantic. So now my buddy's out of work and he can't afford to drive, so he's got to walk to the fu**in' job interviews, which sucks 'cause the shrapnel in his ass. And meanwhile he's starving', 'cause every time he tries to get a bite to eat, the only blue plate special they're servin' is North Atlantic scrod with Quaker State. So what did I think? I'm holdin' out for somethin' better. I figure f*ck it, while I'm at it why not just shoot my buddy, take his job, give it to his sworn enemy, hike up gas prices, bomb a village, club a baby seal, hit the hash pipe and join the National Guard? I could be elected president!
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Paul Haggis, he of the Bourne Movies, directs what he calls a 'passion piece', a movie finally attempting to tackle modern America's racial tensions from all sides with intelligence and structure. The opening scene really throws you off balance where Anthony, played by rapper Ludicrous, and Peter (Laurenz Tate), black friends from childhood, are walking through a rich area of Los Angeles full of white people. A punchy narration to camera by the two young guys suggest we, the predominately white audience, have already made up our minds they are muggers, which confirms our closet racism. But low and behold they car jack someone, resorting to their stereotype, the audience nodding their heads with a told you so but amazed this scene is in an American movie. Haggis does cop out a little by making it a professional black couple they rob but that is for latter narrative reasons.
This, for me, was the first film to dare to deal with the reality that most muggers are now not white in America and most cops are racist because of that tension of dealing with ethnic Americans all day long in their jobs. Middle-class black Americans will cry racism when the cops shake them down in their nice cars thinking they have stolen them, as they do in the movie, but yet the same black Americans will be the ones that will steal those cars and mug them at the cash point. The film takes that extra step to say white people's paranoia may even be justified because the likeable and articulate black criminal pairing in the film openly admit to not robbing black folks. When I saw that scene I thought finally some balance on the subject of ethnic crime, and the three Oscars this bagged suggested it was a relief for the predominantly white Academy too.
Anthony seems very vocal about the racist and stereotypical views others hold to blacks but conforms to these stereotypes throughout, perhaps hinting that he feels comfortable in those stereotypes, as does Matt Dillons racist white cop to grow 'team spirit'. We have all seen the films that tackle white specific crime and the audience are in full agreement, white or black, as they are castigated on screen. But we had never really seen anything as confessional and honest as this on both sides of the coin.
'Put him down Rock!'
To be a world champ in most sports in the 70s you worked all week in your normal job and then trained before and after work, no elite Olympic funding for Rock. Balboa was up at 5 am, fed the turtles (which were his in real life, as was his dog 'Budkiss'), gulped down the roar eggs and then out for a five mile job in his tatty old grey tracker around Philadelphia. The winning formula of 'Rocky' is not only the superb streetwise 'Philli' script (which Stallone wrote) and Slys likeable dumb bell boxing bum but the music in their too, all three coming together as he heads out for that jog the week before the big fight, finishing up with that iconic run up the city hall steps that lead to the Liberty Bell building, the birthplace of America. Its just so right for the film and what the city means that they eventually built a statue of Rocky at the top of the steps doing his little dance of victory there. It's ironic that a city known for its freedom and justice is now known more for the boxing movie that plays tribute to that.
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Life of Brian (1979)
Life of Brian is the funniest film of all time because the timing of it was so perfect. No one had ridiculed religion with such intelligence before in a movie. I bet in this insane politically correct world this wouldn't have been made today. It doesn't ever disrespect religion but highlights the absurdity of the followers, who will do as their profit tells them, come what may, except any preposterous reason why things are because a book says so, just to increase control of its subjects.
Of a film stuffed with genius the scene where the profit eulogises from the top of the hill so some people are too far away to hear what the profit is saying, so misinterpreted it some, sums up religion. It can mean anything to anyone. And there lies the problem with religious scripture, it can be interpreted buy charismatic mortal men to feeble minds as and how he wants it to be. But for me the best scene is the simplest, the women going to the stoning dressed as men to see someone stoned to death for merely speaking the profits name, Jehovah, which the mob duly do, and anyone else who says Jehovah, which is pretty much everyone there, and so also stoned to death. The absurdity of religion is summed up there and then, the films only point.
Matthias: Look, I don't think it should be a sin, just for saying "Jehovah". [Everyone gasps] Jewish Official: You're only making it worse for yourself! Matthias: Making it worse? How can it be worse? Jehovah! Jehovah! Jehovah! Jewish Official: I'm warning you! If you say "Jehovah" one more time (gets hit with rock) RIGHT! Who did that? Come on, who did it? Stoners: She did! She did! (suddenly speaking as men) He! He did! He! Jewish Official: Was it you? Stoner: Yes. Jewish Official: Right... Stoner: Well you did say "Jehovah." [Crowd throws rocks at the stoner] Jewish Official: STOP IT! STOP IT! STOP IT RIGHT NOW! STOP IT! All right, no one is to stone anyone until I blow this whistle. Even... and I want to make this absolutely clear... even if they do say, "Jehovah." [Crowd stones the Jewish Official to death]
Summary: The escapism of the movies...
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