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Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #195: It's a Wonderful Life

As I am writing this it is early in the Christmas season of 2014 so what better time to look back at Frank Capra’s Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life? Whenever a Christmas movie becomes mildly successful you can be sure it will be playing a few times on TV in December, so considering Capra’s movie came out in 1946 and has been airing over the airways ever since on a yearly basis it can easily claim to be the king of Christmas movies. That being said I still prefer Die Hard. Yes, that is a Christmas movie.
Given how many of the movies on Empire magazine’s greatest movies list came out decades before I was born, I have seen many of them either on DVD or while they were playing on TV one night. With It’s a Wonderful Life seeing it on TV was just a matter of sitting down on the couch during the holiday season three years ago and wait because eventually it was going to play on a channel somewhere. At this point this movie is like winter: it keeps coming back. Of course since it came ou…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #196: Amélie

All cinema lovers should have a special place in their hearts for films that are unashamedly optimistic and whimsical. There is a lot of darkness in this world, but the world inhabited by the protagonist of Amélie (1999) is one where a happy ending is just about guaranteed if you work for it. Directed by French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet it is set in a version of Paris that Jeunet himself has admitted is much cleaner than the real one. No matter. Sometimes you go to the movies for hope, not reality.
I can indeed confirm the French capital is not as rosy as portrayed in Amélie having been lucky enough to go there a few times for vacation/work. I saw the movie on TV just a month prior to going on an internship at radio station in northern France in 2011, and on my days off I would sometimes take the train to go walk the streets of Paris. On my last day I had the chance to see the Eiffel Tower at night, which I believe is the sort of imagery Jeunet was aiming for when making his movie. T…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #197: Point Break

Kathryn Bigelow is a director who did not so much break the glass ceiling as shoot her way through it. Her filmography rivals the manliest of action directors in Hollywood and in some cases surpasses them in terms of quality and style. Point Break (1991) her most commercially successful film to date, features amazing stunts, shootouts, and plenty of shots of young people at the beach. Having Gary Busey as a scenery (and meatball sandwich) chewing FBI agent certainly did not hurt either.
Since Point Break came out in at the beginning of the 1990s I did not go see it because at the time I was the target audience for Aladdin. However Bigelow’s film was not only a commercial hit, but it also gained a cult audience over the years and was eventually considered one of the best action movies of that decade. Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost certainly thought so, which is why their action-movie homage Hot Fuzz has two characters watch Point Break and also recreate one of its most famous…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #198: Fargo

The world of Joel and Ethan Coen is sometimes filled with otherworldly characters stuck in bizarre situations, but sometimes it is populated by truly realistic people dealing with real horrors. The Coen’s Oscar winning film Fargo (1996) features ordinary people getting into a heap of trouble over money in the states of Minneapolis and North Dakota during a frigid winter in 1987. The person who sorts out the mess as the bodies start piling up is not a super cop armed to the teeth, but a very polite and very pregnant police officer who is baffled by the concept of greed. This is not one of the Coen Brothers’ funniest movies, but it is one of their best in a standout filmography.
I bought the special edition DVD of Fargo a few years ago while living in Quebec City during some after Christmas shopping and was eager to see it as I had heard very good things and my brother and I are very big fans of The Big Lebowski. Tonally this is very different from their cult movie featuring The Dude, al…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #202: The Killer

The 1980s and 1990s were a golden age for Hollywood action movies, back when Stallone, Willis, and Schwarzenegger were in their prime. Meanwhile in Asia, you had Hong Kong director John Woo and actor Chow Yun-fat shooting their way into cinematic greatness with action films that would end up influencing directors in the west. The Killer (1989)was not their first collaboration, but it heralded Woo’s arrival with its over the top and at times beautiful violence. Here was an action movie with great acting, depth, and more bullets fired than in most video games.
Like most foreign directors John Woo lost a bit of his spark when he made the move to Hollywood. By the time I was old enough to watch his movies he was making Face/Off, Mission Impossible: II, and Paycheck. Those first two are solid action movies in their own right, but for pure undiluted John Woo you have to go back to the early days, something I had learned through my reading of various movie articles. While browsing at HMV back…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #203: Life of Bryan

Many filmmakers have been bold enough to make controversial movies featuring characters from the Bible: Martin Scorsese, Mel Gibson, Darren Aronofsky, and Sir Ridley Scott. However only a select few have been ballsy enough to make a mockery about biblical concepts and that select few is of course Monty Python’s Flying Circus. But to be clear, the character in Life of Brian is not the Messiah: he’s a very naughty boy.
My dad is a big fan of British comedy so as he introduced my brother and I to the Mr. Bean, Black Adder, Fawlty Towers and of course the great works of Mrs. John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, and Terry Jones. Monty Python and the Holy Grail was the first of their films we saw, which showed me this British troupe of comedians is the funniest troupe of comedians in the world. I got the DVD of Life of Bryan a few Christmases ago, and although I did not think it was as funny as Holy Grail there were still plenty of laughs, not to mention a fe…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #204: The Bride of Frankenstein

The horror genre is full of iconic figures, yet only one of them is female and she is not much of a monster in the first place. The Bride in James Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is not a blood thirsty ghoul terrorizing the villagers or even a murderer, but a creature brought to life to be a companion for the Monster from the first movie who doesn’t want to be alone in his existence. Their time together is very brief, yet The Bride’s look is so iconic it has had an impact on pop culture decades after the movie was released. You can see her influence in everything from Marge Simpson’s hairstyle to, more obviously, lesser horror films like Bride of Chucky, which actually features footage from Whale’s film.
Appropriately enough I saw this classic a few days before Halloween 2013 when it became available on Netflix. Given the film’s notoriety I was a little surprised by some of its more humorous aspects and its more melodramatic moments. It has aged for sure given it was released …

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #206: The Exorcist

How about that? It is almost Halloween, I am working my way up the list of Greatest Movies, and next up is William Friedkin’ The Exorcist (1973), also known as one of the scariest movies of all time. I couldn’t possibly have planned this.
I did not plan on watching it last year, but the uncut version became available on iTunes for 99 cents just a few days after Halloween so now I was out of excuses. Here is a movie that has been terrorizing audiences and influencing other horror movies for decades, so I might have had a smidge of apprehension. When the uncut version was released in 2000 I was living in Peru and the trailers were talking about it like it was a major movie event for this thing to be back on the big screen. I knew it had to be scary, because my dad strongly advised against seeing it. The closest I came to seeing it at a young age was when seeing Scary Movie 2 in 2001. You know, the scene where James Wood, Andy Richter and Natasha Lyonne are target vomiting at each other? …

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #208: The Departed

The Departed will go down in history as the movie that finally gave Martin Scorsese an Academy Award for best director. Many could argue it was a career award as there are plenty of other movies he made that could have earned him the prize decades earlier. Goodfellas and Raging Bull come to mind, but The Departed easily earns its place among them. Scorsese had tackled stories about organized crime before, however this one has a particular Irish feel not to mention one hell of a story about criminals, cops, and the choices they make.
The film was released in the fall of 2006, right in time for awards season. A smart move since it ended winning the Oscar for best picture. That fall I was spending my first semester at the University of Sherbrooke and couldn’t wait to see it after seeing the superbly edited trailer featuring not just The Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter (of course), but also I’m Shipping Up to Boston by The Dropkick Murphys and a cover of Comfortably Numb by Van Morrison. Lik…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #210: Platoon

The phrase “like father like son” applies really well to Martin and Charlie Sheen. In 1979 Martin Sheen starred in Apocalypse Now, an intense Vietnam War movie that puts its actors through hell. Not to be outdone in 1986 Charlie Sheen was put through an actual boot camp training for Oliver Stone’s Platoon. Sadly nowadays the younger Sheen is better known for starring in sitcoms and behaving wildly offscreen, but Platoon shows there is a great actor buried beneath the tabloid fodder.
Platoon can definitely be described as a guy film in the sense that it features a mostly all-male cast that spends most of its time doing very violent things. A romantic comedy this is not. So obviously I watched it when I was in my late teens with my brother. I am pretty sure we had already seen Apocalypse Now, but even so there are scenes of violence in Platoon that will rattle your cage the first time around. Oliver Stone based the film on his own experiences in Vietnam to give an accurate portrayal of …

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #211: Moulin Rouge!

Part 3 in Baz Luhrmann’s Red Curtain Trilogy, the 2001 musical Moulin Rouge! is the one that fits best in that thematic series since that is literally what the title means in French. There are indeed a lot of red curtains at the Moulin Rouge cabaret in Paris, but in Luhrmann’s version in addition to curtains there is a giant elephant, hundreds of dancing extras, and very anachronistic pop songs given the fact the film is set at the very beginning of the 20th century. This Moulin Rouge with an exclamation mark after all. The story is a tragic love story, but it is still a heck of a show.
I will be honest, I don’t have that vivid a memory of seeing the actual movie so much as seeing the music video with Pink, Christina Aguilera, Lil’Kim and Mya where they all dress in lingerie singing Lady Marmalade. I was around 15 years old at the time, so lets just say it made quite an impression especially given what the lyrics of that song mean. But it’s not just me; the video won a Grammy and has g…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #215: Jackie Brown

Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown (1997) is somewhat of an anomaly in the director's repertoire. The only one of his films to be based on a novel, it is relatively low on action, and it is not one of his most financial successful endeavours. Some saw it as a step down after he took the world by storm with Pulp Fiction while others rightfully believe it showcases some of his best work. It shows QT doesn’t need buckets of blood to make good entertainment. Sometimes it can be all about the story.
I first saw Jackie Brown sometime after Kill Bill had come out, which in contrast goes full-tilt boogie in terms of violence. By then I was hooked on his filmmaking and was very enticed every time I would see the cover for the Special Edition DVD at HMV. I wasn’t too familiar with Pam Grier since she rose to fame in the 1970s, but if I see Robert De Niro, Samuel L. Jackson, and Michael Keaton on a poster I take at a sign this is something good. Watching it for the first time I was surprised by…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #217: The Magnificent Seven

If there is one thing better than a western about a hero riding into town to save the day and fight the bad guy, it’s seven heroes riding into town to fight a whole army of bad guys. It was a genius idea for Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and it worked equally well for American audiences in 1960 when John Sturges remade the movie as The Magnificent Seven with seven gunslingers instead of samurais. As a western it is somewhat dated by today’s standards, but it did achieve history by having some of the biggest stars of the time riding together into adventure.
This film was made before Sergio Leone changed the game for Westerns with his Man with No Name trilogy and also with Once Upon a Time in the West. I enjoyed those movies immensely years before watching The Magnificent Seven on Netflix last March so by comparison John Sturges’ movie seems a bit tame in terms of the violence and themes. However I certainly know who Yul Brenner and Steve McQueen are so seeing them together in the same …