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Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #137: Dances with Wolves

Westerns traditionally portray Native Americans as either vicious antagonists or sidekicks for the hero. Even though it stars a white Hollywood movie star in the lead role Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves (1990) must be credited for being one of the few films in which Native Americans are portrayed as a group of people with their own culture and customs. When a technologically advanced civilization encounters a less advanced culture, the less advanced one always ends up being absorbed by the more advanced civilization, but if there is only one member of that advanced civilization facing the less advanced one then that one member must either fight them and lose, or actually learn about them and adapt.
Seeing the movie for the first time it really plunges you into the old American west. With a 180 minute running time it may come off as slow moving at first, but that is actually the point. When Costner’s character is isolated on the American plains he has no one to talk to so the arriva…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #140: As Good As It Gets

If a movie is going to have a complete dick as a protagonist, said dick better be played by one charming movie star like say, Jack Nicholson. Hence the success of As Good As It Gets (1997) James L. Brooks’ comedy-drama in which Nicholson plays reclusive New York City author Melvin Udall for whom good manners is a foreign concept. Melvin does many bad things throughout the story, the first one being throwing a small dog down a garbage chute. Luckily for him and the audience, Helen Hunt is his favourite waitress and she does end up melting his icy heart revealing a more or less kind man. It’s cheesy, but it works and it is often hilarious.
This was one of my first Jack Nicholson films and it came out right around the time I was living in Santiago, Chile, because of my dad’s job. As transplanted Canadians living in a Spanish-speaking country we of course had to learn to speak the local language and luckily for us the American movies came out in English with Spanish subtitles. So when Nich…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #141: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs

Odds are you know the story of Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs by heart, and the odds are greater still that the first you became familiar with the story was when you saw the 1937 Walt Disney animated musical, directed by David Hand. The Brothers Grimm were the ones who first popularized fairy tales in the 19th century, but it was the creator of Mickey Mouse who created the versions we all know in the 20th and 21st century. Comparing the work of the Brothers Grimm with the cheerful films of Uncle Walt is like comparing Game of Thrones to Frozen: they both feature princesses and elements of fantasy, but one has a lot more blood and murder.
Of course by removing the more mature parts of the Grim fairy tales and using colourful animation as well catchy tunes to tell the story, Walt Disney pictures managed to reach millions of viewers and cemented their movie as the definitive version of the fairy tale. Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs was Hollywood’s first full-length animated feature and …

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #142: Almost Famous

Despite being a commercial failure when it was first released, Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous (2000) is the kind of movie that can easily please every audience member with its humour and performances. That being said you might find a lot more to enjoy or indentify with if you are either a fan of rock music or have an interest in journalism because the movie focuses on a young reporter imbedded with an up-and-coming rock band in the early 1970s. Since the movie is based on Crowe’s own experiences touring with big name bands in his youth it gives a very accurate behind the scenes look at that unique, entertaining, and sometimes damaging world.
The first time I tried to watch the movie was during movie night when I was still living in my mom’s place and it was my older brother’s turn to pick the movie. Unfortunately this was still the days of renting DVDs and some nimrod had scratched the disc so about ten minutes into the movie we gave up because the image kept screwing up. Fast forward …

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #144: There Will Be Blood

There is a lot of drama to be pumped out of the oil rush, pardon the pun, but add in the direction of P.T Anderson and the usual method performance of Daniel Day-Lewis and you’ve got yourself a winner. There Will Be Blood (2007) is somewhat of an odd beast, with razor sharp music by Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead, scenery chewing performances, and themes about greed and religion. On paper the story and historical setting might seem a tad dull for some people, but the end result is surprisingly entertaining in large part thanks to Anderson’s screenplay that provides one of the best quotes of the last ten years: “I drink your milkshake!”
This was actually one of my first Daniel Day-Lewis movies, despite the fact he has delivered plenty of award-winning performances throughout his career. Upon hearing one of his many great monologues in the trailer I was immediately hooked. Who was this guy and how was he speaking like that? He came off part psychopath, part businessman. How odd how that t…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #145: Sophie's Choice

Given that throughout her career Meryl Streep has been nominated for an Oscar 19 times, it would be a tall order to narrow down her best performances. However it would not be too much of a challenge to see the three films for which she has actually won. Her second win in her career was for Sophie’s Choice (1982), a searing drama whose title has become synonymous with making an impossible decision. Also noteworthy, it is the cinematic debut of Kevin Kline who delivers an equally powerful, but much more energetic performance.
For years I had heard the expression “Sophie’s Choice” in pop culture as a way to express a decision with no good outcome without fully understanding the reference. Last January the movie became available on Netflix and the answer to the question “what is Sophie’s Choice?” was revealed to me towards the end of Pakula’s and it is a choice that only truly evil people could give. If by any chance you have not yet seen the movie or read the book on which it is based on …

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #147: Notorious

Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946) has many of the master director’s signature elements: spies, lies, a handsome leading man, a domineering mother, and of course a MacGuffin. As it is set after World War II the villains are logically former Nazis, but the plot is so tense in many scenes that it remains an effective thriller to this day. It also bears a huge influence on John Woo’s Mission Impossible 2, which retains plot elements and similar dialogue, but of course has more explosions than all of Hitchcock’s films put together.
Notorious is so well-made it can be studies in film classes, which is exactly what I did while taking a course on Hollywood Cinema 1930-1960 during the summer of 2009 at the University of British Columbia. As this is Hitchcock we are talking about here, there are subtler things to analyze than explosions in Notorious, no offense to the skills of Mr. John Woo. Famously there is a kissing scene between stars Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman that seemingly lasts two…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #150: The French Connection

For a realistic look at police work in the United States nowadays you should look no further than HBO’s The Wire. In the 1970’s TV was not what it is today and movies was where directors like William Friedkin got to show the state of the never-ending war on drugs. In The French Connection (1971) Friedkin illustrates what life is for two hard working narcotics detective trying to take down a major drug operation that reaches all the way to southern France. It offers a realistic look at a very difficult investigation, but it also has one hell of a car chase.

The car chase was major reason why I decide to add The French Connection to my ever-growing collection of movies when I spotted it at HMV about ten years ago. Plus, it was one of those two for $20 deals so why not get a classic? Having grown up in the 90s my idea of a cop movie was the Lethal Weapon series in which for every interrogation there are five shootouts and as many car chases. Consequently I found Friedkin’s movie to be a b…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #151: Gladiator

The words “a Ridley Scott film” can mean a lot of things: a science-fiction film, a thriller, or a straight-up drama. One genre in which he seems to be quite at ease is the swords and sandals epic, and his most successful entry in that genre has been his Oscar-winning Gladiator (2000) with his frequent collaborator Russell Crowe. The story is filled with representations of corruption in politics, how entertainment can be used to distract or win the masses, but mostly it is remembered for the fights on the sand of the arena. This is best encompassed by the hero’s signature scream to the audience: “Are you not entertained?”
Most people watching this movie for the first time might probably link it to other similar epics, but the first thing that popped into my mind and the mind of my parents and brother when we first watched it was, “this sounds an awful lot like the French comic book Astérix.” The opening describes how at this point in history the Roman Empire has vanquished all of its e…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #156: Saving Private Ryan

War movies make for great entertainment, but war in real life is horrible. Other than maybe David Ayer’s Fury, no movie proves this point better than Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998), which portrayed the horror of World War II so accurately veterans walked out of the theatres because they felt it was too realistic. Prior to this movie Hollywood had made tales of that war filled heroism, humour, and a moderate level of violence. Spielberg’s film may somewhat overdo it with the American heroism, but it certainly doesn’t avoid the violence, and the laughs are very rare.
Spielberg has often been the king of summer movies, and Saving Private Ryan was another major hit for him in the summer of 1998. I went to see it in theatres with my parents during a vacation in Quebec City even though this was clearly not a family movie. I believe I was around 12 years old at the time, so there are plenty of images that became seared in my brain, particularly the early carnage of Omaha Beach.…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #157: True Romance

True Romance (1993) is probably as close as we are ever going to get to a comic book movie from Quentin Tarantino. Directed by the late great Tony Scott and based on the first script Tarantino wrote for a major motion picture, it is set in the real world with real human beings, but everything they do and accomplish seems to be straight out of comic book panels. The protagonist starts off as an ordinary young man with a love of Elvis Presley and martial arts movies, and ends up being the hero of his own blood-soaked tale of improbable romance, drug deals, and greed in Hollywood. Also, the movie is pretty damn romantic in its own way.
Oddly enough I sort of read this movie before actually seeing it. Back in 2005 I went on a school trip from Quebec City to New York City by bus and while in the Big Apple I of course got a few souvenirs. Some people buy postcards or snowglobes, I bought a book called Quintessential Tarantino by Edwin Page, which chronicles Tarantino’s work from his early d…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #158: Unforgiven

Clint Eastwood redefined the western genre so it is only fitting that his final film in which he proverbially rides into the sunset would end up deconstructing the genre piece by piece. In Unforgiven (1992)there is no noble hero, no villains in black hats, and killing a man is something that has a lasting impact. The film earned Eastwood two Oscars, for Best Picture and Best Director, but it is Gene Hackman who won in the performance category for his role as one of the most violent men he has ever played. He also happens to play the sheriff.
The first time I started watching Unforgiven was when it was playing on TV when I was living in South America in the late 90s. Unfortunately it was playing in Spanish and it was already halfway started, and when it got to the more violent scenes I think I might have been a tad too young for them. A few years later, I am living in Quebec and I do the old fashion thing of renting the DVD so I can finally watch it from beginning to end. DVD bonus: it …

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #159: The Royal Tenenbaums

I suppose it would be possible to run into a character from Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) in real life, but the odds of running into that entire family seems next to impossible. The unique filmmaker’s third film ups the ante from his previous film Rushmore, so of course things become quirkier as he further advances towards his current masterpiece The Grand Budapest Hotel.
The Royal Tenenbaums has all of his usual visual styles, musical preferences, and of course two of his usual collaborators, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson. The story is very “Wes Anderson,” so if it is your first time watching one of his films you may be caught by surprise, as I was when I first watched it in 2002. The film was nominated for many awards and is described as a comedy-drama, but there not many moments when you will be laughing out loud. As the film open with Alec Baldwin narrating the various exploits of the Tenenbaum children you have to wonder if the whole thing is not some long elaborate jo…