Director: Oliver Stone
Screenplay: Oliver Stone
Stars: Charlie Sheen, Willem DaFoe, Tom Berringer
Original Release Date: 06 Feb 1987
Oscars: 4 (Picture, Director, Editing, Sound), 4 other nominations.
Critics and Users
Rotten Tomatoes: 88% Berardinelli: 4.0 stars (Top 100 #48)
Metacritic: n/a Ebert: 4.0 stars (#1 Movie of 1986)
IMDB Top 250: #167
The winner of Best Picture in 1986, Oliver Stone’s Platoon changed the way we watch war movies. There is nothing cool or inviting about war in this film. There is no story arch or character development. Instead, Stone set out to make a film about his memories, what it was like to be in the war.
In Platoon, there are no battle lines drawn. The viewer is chucked into battle the same way the soldiers are. The enemies are never clearly seen. They are shadows, footsteps, rustles and anticipated, gripping fear.
Each soldier has his own way of dealing with things. From the drug-addled Elias (Willem Dafoe) to the tough as nails Barnes (Tom Beringer) who is a homicidal nutcase. Bunny, brilliantly played by Kevin Dillon, masks his fear in toughness and bloodlust.
With Platoon, the audience experiences the chaos and uncertainty of the Vietnam and Cambodian jungles. A bullet could just as easily hit friend as a foe. A wrong turn could mean death. Its gory and visceral and amongst the best war films ever made.
Barnes: “Do it.”
(You will know why I love this line when you see the film)
Oliver Stone wrote the first draft of this script in 1971 and wanted to make the movie starring Jim Morrison. Morrison had a copy of the script with him at the time of his death.
Director: Joel Cohen
Screenplay: Joel Cohen and Ethan Cohen
Stars: Frances McDormand, William H. Macy
Original Release Date: 050 April 1996
Oscars: 2 (Actress – Frances McDormand, Original Screenplay), 5 other nominations.
Critics and Users
Rotten Tomatoes: 94% Berardinelli: 3.0 stars
Metacritic: 85% Ebert: 4.0 stars (Top 10 of the 90s)
IMDB Top 250: #151
During the critics screening of Fargo in Chicago, Gene Siskel climbed over a couple of seats to sit beside Roger Ebert and said “this is why I love going to the movies”. Fargo was both their picks for the #1 film of 1996 and has endured as an American Classic.
The Cohen Brothers are sometimes quirky for quirky’s sake, but not here. If Fargo, they have created real characters and a setting familiar and comfortable, but filled with edge and despair.
Frances McDormand won an Oscar here for Best Actress and deservedly so. But it is William H Macy as the pathetic Jerry Lundegard that will go down in legend. Jerry’s life is caving in around him. He has created a scheme to get his wife kidnapped, extort ransom money out of his grumpy father-in-law and split it with the kidnappers. Everything that could go wrong, does.
Fargo is a half comedy, half murder mystery. It is a movie that takes enormous risks, all of which work. It has a brilliant screenplay and cinematography so beautiful and compelling and sadly underrated.
It not just about the murder, its about the people’s lives involved in the case. It wraps up with one of the most genuine and brilliant closing scenes I have ever seen. Fargo keeps getting better as it progresses and its an infinitely watchable movie.
Marge Gunderson: I’m not sure I agree 100% with your police work there Lou.
Almost every word and every mumble and stumble by William H. Macy’s character Jerry was scripted. Contrary to popular belief, he did almost no ad-libbing.
Director: Orson Welles
Screenplay: Orson Welles & Herman J. Mankiewicz
Stars: Joseph Cotton & Orson Welles
Original Release Date: 05 Sep 1941
Oscars: 1 (Screenplay), 7 other nominations.
Critics and Users
Rotten Tomatoes: 100% Berardinelli: 4.0 stars (Top 100, #11)
Metacritic: n/a Ebert: 4.0 stars (Top 10 of all time)
IMDB Top 250: #64
It almost seems cliché to put Citizen Kane in your Top 100. It has so many accolades and so much praise and has been parodied so many times that it often forgotten how great it is.
Like my previous entry, Fargo, it is a movie that takes tremendous risks, all of which work. It was a staggering technical accomplishment at the time but it is more than anything, a truly compelling story.
Citizen Kane chronicles the life of Charles Foster Kane (played by Welles, based on William Randolph Hearst). It is told in a non-chronological manner, starting with his death and his enigmatic final word, “Rosebud”. The film shows clips of Kane’s life and interviews with those who knew him, trying to piece together who he was, what drove him and ultimately, what was Rosebud.
Citizen Kane is a technical masterpiece. Edited by Robert Wise (who went on to direct West Side Story) and filmed by Greg Toland, there are deep and rich images in this movie that have still yet to be rivaled. The famous hall of mirrors shot and some of the earliest and best uses of Deep Focus.
What is most amazing about this film is that it was almost never made. Its open mockery of Hearst and his mistress of the time meant that the film saw great resistance. Indeed, Hearst smeared Welles in his own papers, accusing him of being a communist. Citizen Kane was the establishment and ruin of Welles directing career at the same time.
Citizen Kane as stood the test of time better than almost any film ever made largely because it has seen more challenges. It is the great American tragedy both on and off the screen.
Charles Foster Kane: You’re right, I did lose a million dollars last year. I expect to lose a million dollars this year. I expect to lose a million dollars *next* year. You know, Mr. Thatcher, at the rate of a million dollars a year, I’ll have to close this place in… 60 years.
The film, while critically praised on its release, was a box office flop. William Randolf Hearst forbade any reviews in his newspapers and openly accused Welles of being a communist. During the 1941 Oscars, the movie was booed when mentioned for every nomination.
“Raiders of the Lost Ark”
Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: Lawrence Kasden
Stars: Harrison Ford, Nancy Allen
Original Release Date: 1983
Oscars: 4 (Sound, Editing, Special Effects, Art Direction), 4 other nominations
Critics and Users
Rotten Tomatoes: 96% Berardinelli: 4.0 stars (Top 100 #8)
Metacritic: n/a Ebert: 4.0 stars (#6 of the 80’s)
IMDB Top 250: #30
With Raider’s, Steven Spielberg’s goal was to make a B-movie, popcorn flick, just do it better. He succeeded in spades. Indiana Jones, with Harrison Ford’s signature cool detachment, has become a movie icon and although bad sequels water down this film, it is in and of itself, a classic.
The plot is pretty simple. Indiana Jones is an archeology professor who for reasons that are never clearly explained, also seems to possess super-hero levels of power and killing skills. He is on a quest to find the Ark of the Convenant, the last know resting place of the tablets of the 10 commandments. His race is against a squad of sadistic Nazi’s who are trying to find this great prize for their Furher.
The film takes us on a thrill ride of snakes, fights, blood, death traps and seemingly inescapable peril. It the true tradition of its predecessors, Jones is relentlessly good, tireless and never loses his hat.
Raider’s does not try to teach, preach or be sentimental. It exists purely to entertain. With all of its relentless adventure, its surprisingly funny too. That what may set it above its ilk and make it a classic.
Indiana Jones: It’s not the years honey. It’s the mileage.
The above quote was ad-libbed.
Also, Harrison Ford was only cast three weeks before shooting started. The list of actors considered for the role were Steve Martin, Bill Murray, Tom Sellick (first choice), Nick Nolte and even Chevy Chase.
“This is Spinal Tap”
Director: Rob Reiner
Stars: Harry Shearer, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Rob Reiner
Original Release Date: 1983
Critics and Users
Rotten Tomatoes: 95% Berardinelli: 4.0 stars
Metacritic: n/a Ebert: 4.0 stars
IMDB Top 250: n/a
With This is Spinal Tap, Rob Reiner gave us the birth of the “mockumentary” and one of the funniest films ever made. Any musician reading this has seen this film, loved it and seen it over and over again. This film is a fictitious account of a Documentary Filmmaker Marty, following the mythical band, Spinal Tap as they launch a US tour well past their prime. Spinal Tap is a great throw back to the days of arena rock. As they tour and they realize that the interest in their misogynistic over the top glam rock is waning, we feel for these once world famous rockers. We follow then back stage, to kick off parties, to Elvis’ grave, to the painful experience of them hearing one of their early hits on the radio. Their album names are things of legend (“Shark Sandwich”, “Smell the Glove”, “Inter-Venus di Milo”, “And God Created Spinal Tap”). Their songs are sophomoric frat boy loudness (“Big Bottom”, “Lick my Love Pump”). Their drummers die the worst deaths. (Spontaneous combustion. Choked on someone else’s vomit. A bizarre gardening accident that the police said was best left unsolved).
McKean is David St Hubbens. St Hubbens, he explains, is the patron saint of quality footwear. He is the creative force behind the band, the lead singer, and songwriter. Guest is Nigel Tufnel the band’s diva lead guitarist whose overly long, incredibly self-indulgent solos are fabled. Shearer (better known today as C. Montgomery Burns) is Derek Smalls , the laid back bass player with a killer stash and stuffed pants.
The three stars played and sang for real. The movie is a hysterical, sentimental valentine to an era gone by and to all of us who are past our prime and not yet ready to admit it.
And for those reading this who have seen the film, the irony just dawned on me that I have this movie in spot #11. Seriously.
Nigel Tufnel: Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You’re on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you’re on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?
Guitarist “The Edge” from U2 said of this movie, “I didn’t laugh, I wept. Its so close to the truth.”
All the main actors in this film play their own instruments and do their own singing.