The eighties; a decade much remembered for its cheesy action films, but often revered entries with John Rambo, Robocop, Indiana Jones all becoming beloved action heroes throughout. The decade truly represented a great time for action as it found its footing on a more consistent level, providing us with explosive and technically strong films each with their own iconic stars.
John McTiernan’s Die Hard, thought of at the time as just another entry, is arguably in fact one of the finest films of its time. John McClane is our protagonist; a police officer on vacation, dropped into action and tasked with the mission of protecting innocent employees inside the mammoth Nakatomi Plaza building, as it is taken hostage by a group of European terrorists. Bruce Willis, who portrays McClane, is honestly a revelation. This early in his career, it was a gamble by McTiernan to cast Willis, but I cannot think of a man better suited to the role than him. Bruce Willis takes the character with both hands and makes him his own man, utilising every skill he has to provide us with the quintessential action movie saviour of the 1980’s.
Willis’ portrayal of McClane without a doubt is the standout element of Die Hard, but in the opposing corner Alan Rickman does some incredible work. Rickman’s thick accent, matched with his intimidating presence make him one of the most destructive antagonists in action history. The two stars of Die Hard are impeccably cast and whether they’re conversing over a CB radio or face-to-face, there’s something truly cinematic about how greatly the dialogue is incorporated. Despite the serious nature of the situation they find themselves in and the dramatic differences between the two, Rickman and Willis always allow their characters freedom to breath, and it’s easily the greatest usage of talent in any action film made before or after 1988.
Die Hard is a true great of the action genre and whose sharp, quick-witted dialogue has such a wonderful replay ability about it. Bruce Willis has never been better. As an extra note, it makes sad to be writing this on the day that the fifth entry in the seemingly never-ending franchise A Good Day to Die Hard currently sits on a Rotten Tomatoes score of 12%.
The action genre is a genre rich with thrilling atmosphere, explosive storylines and a seemingly never ending line of never-say-die character. The genre, one that has been around for many years has been host to classics such as McTiernan’s Die Hard, Cameron’s Aliens and Kotcheff’s First Blood. Three films that portray the genre in its greatest way, but to me, and a surprisingly low amount of people, Verhoeven’s 1987 Robocop is a film that has somewhat been left at the bottom of a great bunch of films.
Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop is a greater piece of art to me than the aforementioned three for one reason specifically; the portrayal of its character is dramatic, powerful and downright exciting. Robocop, a machine built from the ground up after the death of promising young police officer Alex Murphy, is made by the power seeking OCP; an organisation hell bent on creating the ultimate police officer; an officer who requires no food, drink, sleep and more importantly will stop at nothing for justice. Made only three years after James Cameron’s hell-fire The Terminator, the inspirations are clear in not only the mental presentation of a character, but also the physical transformation from a dead officer to the unstoppable force of Robocop ala The Terminator itself.
Robocop is a film rich with all the great elements of any action film, but matched with sci-fi, it is one of the starkest, most brutal portrayals of an authority figure from the 80’s. Without a doubt, a product of its time, but there is nothing about Robocop that I don’t love or admire; it is the quintessential action film of its decade. Peter Weller incorporates his acting talents greatly to portray a character that for the majority of its duration is covered by metal in the most glorious way. We connect with the character, and the outcome at the end of Robocop is one of the most colossal and immense entries in the action genre.
I’m glad I resurrected my own love for Robocop and all its mammoth implication because it quite simply is one of the greatest action films of all-time. A mountain of steel, a classic.
Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 thriller The Conversation is a film rich absorbing photography, one of the finest screenplays of the decade and the earth-shattering force of Gene Hackman’s portrayal of sociopathic investigator Harry Caul. The film, underrated within Coppola’s other classics and film in general, I personally believe it to be the greatest examination of a character I have ever bared witness to in cinema.
Political thrillers noted and reliant on their exciting, tense, unique portrayals of a world changed through the paranoia of authority are, in my opinion, some of the grandest pieces of cinema you’re ever likely to see. They are films, when handled correctly which transcend negative and terrifying situations into a kaleidoscope of attachment and detachment. Unfortunately, the genre is an extremely challenging one to succeed in. Films like Three Days of the Condor or The Ghost Writer are two of my favourite entries, they are two films that analyse and interpret the ways of their worlds, address the situation and add some exhilarating excitement just for good measure. I had struggled to find many more that work so flawlessly (I haven’t seen The Manchurian Candiate, however) until The Lives of Others.
1984 East Berlin is the backdrop for Florian Henckel von Donnersmark’s remarkable debut thriller The Lives of Others. Gerd Wiesler, played by the silent force of Ulrich Muhe, is hired by the Stasi to infiltrate and assess the life of famous playwright George Dreyman, due to the Stasi’s paranoiac feelings about his suspicious activities. Throughout the film we witness Wiesler willingly performing the task he is set, but as the film progresses and Wiesler begins to unravel certain activities, he realises something; he doesn’t want to do it anymore. The premise, although labelled with complexity, is actually a film with a simple vision and elementary ideas. It’s admirable to play out such a profound narrative is such an easy to understand approach.
The Lives of Others is a grand, mature, entertaining piece of cinema and one of the finest releases of 2006. A true spectacle of German cinema.
Billy Wilder has long been considered one of the finest screenwriters in all history, alongside Woody Allen. Wilder’s films are ones of immense beauty and precision. They are filmed loaded with emotion and genius and from the work I’ve seen from the great work, they are films with endless power and comedy gold. Sunset Boulevard and Double Indemnity are two of the most remarkable film noirs about, but his work in films like The Seven Year Itch and Some Like It Hot is what I truly admire about him.
The Apartment, released in 1960, just one year after Some Like It Hot, is arguably his most precious and imaginative piece of work. Jack Lemmon is our protagonist: a bachelor, whose apartment plays host to continuous rendezvous between business executives trying to escape the boredom of their wives. Lemmon, portraying C.C. Baxter, is quite simply a revelation. His performance is one of constant wit, charm and love. Fortunately for us, Lemmon’s performance is balanced with the beauty of Shirley MacLaine and the force that is Fred MacMurray.
At the time of its release, The Apartment was probably labelled as just another romantic comedy. Many people unfamiliar with Wilder may have expected a throw-away love story with a few laughs here and there, but The Apartment is so much more that. It’s a brutally honest and revealing look at the lives of several lovable characters and some not so love-able ones, matched by irresistible charm and some of the finest comedy writing you’re ever likely to see on screen. The Apartment is a true classic of American cinema, and Billy Wilder’s best film.
I’ve never really been a fan of musicals, to be honest. In my eyes, they tend to be glossy, self-exposed and too ‘cutesy’ to work as a full length feature film. About a year ago, I gave Saturday Night Fever a shot due to a recommendation from a friend. Surprisingly to me, I loved it. I found it to be as entertaining and dark as it was catchy and well-choreographed. Saturday Night Fever, unlike many of the musicals I had exposed myself to previously had a premise that always kept me involved and at the centre of things. It was a dark exploration of a young soul just trying to get by.
All That Jazz is a film that I’ve always known about. Often revered for its stylistic presentation and familiar to me for its awards recognition, it’s a film that after I saw Saturday Night Fever I knew I’d love. All That Jazz, much like the John Travolta led Saturday Night Fever, focuses on a tortured soul. Roy Scheider is that particular soul. Scheider’s work here is truly incredible. His presentation of this chain-smoking, alcoholic, sexist animal is one of the finest performances of all-time. Scheider is a force of power and strength, he symbolises everything we’ve seen in movies about producers and directors, but it’s all the better for it. He’s at the heart of everything that’s great about All That Jazz, bringing a deft touch to ever soul crushing scene he appears in.
As a whole, All That Jazz is an outrageously brilliant film. Fosse’s writing is as mature and dark as it’s ever been, and his work is cultured and handled greatly by every actor attached. All That Jazz is a tour-de-force of dance, love, alcohol, family and one of the grandest spectacles of 1970’s cinema I’ve seen. Musicals are better when they’re this devastating and intelligent.
Crime is a genre of film that I’ve always had a great fondness for, and my love for it is only bettered by the force of horror. Crime films are extraordinary pieces of film-making; they excel on their creative premises, edge-of-your-seat intensity and usually feature a suave, slick blend of cinematography and a wonderful use of sound. Films like Hitchcock’s Rope, Scorsese’s The King of Comedy and Mann’s Thief are three prime examples of films that manage and cater for all aspects of a crime films, but all in their own unique style.
1996’s Bound features Violet, played by the seductress Jennifer Tilly, who unites with ex-con Corky, depicted by Gina Gershon. The two, after a series of “steamy” scenes plot to sabotage the plans of Violet’s boyfriend Caesar and take his cash. Without the presentation of our two characters as females, Bound almost plays out as a sort of updated version of the classic Double Indemnity. There’s nothing wrong with that, though. It’s the mature, exciting way that the premise and the differences between the two are handled, which is just excellent.
Double Indemnity is the finest neo-noir film there is, and you’ll likely never see anything like it again, but the Wachowski’s Bound is honestly a breath of fresh air in a genre that needed one at the time. In recent years, the two have become known for their groundbreaking work in the sci-fi genre, but I can’t think of a film on this side of its century that feels so fresh and exciting. It is a film laced with smooth dialogue, dynamic scene execution and some truly supreme work from its actors. Joe Pantoliano, notably, is a force in the second and third acts of the film.
A technical marvel from each angle and one of the most underrated films of any genre I’ve seen.
Westerns; notable for their countless duels, gritty cinematography and masterful soundtracks, they were truly one of the most intriguing and challenging film genres all those years ago. Films like A Fistful of Dollars and The Wild Bunch were arguably two of the most popular, revered of the genre. Despite my mixed opinions on The Wild Bunch, those two were significant and hugely iconic films, but arguably, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid topples the lot as the most delightful and entertaining of all.
George Roy Hill’s 1969 Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid follows a simple premise: our two titular characters are train robbers, and we follow their trials and triumphs throughout the most successful period of their life. Taking on the roles are Paul Newman and Robert Redford respectively, and I struggle to think of a duo with more chemistry than these two have here. Paul Newman, one of the greatest actors of his generation puts on one of his finest performances, and his fierce and witty performance is only matched by the handsome and highly talented Robert Redford at his side. Cassidy and Sundance are two characters dissimilar to the other, but through their explosive performances and some intelligent writing on William Goldman’s part, they make it work incredibly well. Their chemistry doesn’t feel artificial even for a second, and that’s what you get when you hire great talented like George Roy Hill did.
Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid is one of the most riveting, witty and exhilarating movies of the 60’s and one of the most influential Western films ever made. This is not a movie without its faults, however. I found myself struggling at first to get involved with the plot and that largely goes down to the pacing, but once it finds its footing, it turns into one of the most exciting movies of its decade, all the way up to its electrifying finale.