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Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #72: 12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men (1957) is another example of how you can make one hell of a movie with a small cast, an enclosed space and a director who knows how to work his cameras. Jury duty is something most people try to avoid, but as directed by Sydney Lumet it becomes a fascinating morality tale as twelve strangers debate the life of a young man accused of murder. Almost entirely shot within one room and with a brisk 96-minute running time it is a timeless classic.
My first viewing was on a DVD rental, so obviously this was a couple of years before Netflix. The DVD extras are definitely worth it for a retrospective on the cast of twelve actors, the film’s legacy, and the opinion of legal scholars. Like all movies it has its flaws, and apparently the most glaring was the judge’s blasé attitude given the fact this is a murder trial. That flaw aside, this is definitely a movie worth seeing with someone else because unlike many movies that come out today it makes you think while you are it and a long…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #412: Heathers

Heathers is a movie that deals with school shootings, bullying, homophobia and teen suicides. Sadly it was not made this year, but in 1988 and remains relevant today. Fortunately it is also a dark comedy with a hints of hope buried amongst the many dead bodies. Also noteworthy, it was a critical hit for stars Christian Slater and Winona Ryder before their careers went off the rails but then got back on track thanks to lead roles in hit TV shows. Clearly some things change and some things stay the same.
Seeing it the first time I was struck by the tone balanced by director Michael Lehmann and writer Daniel Waters, and thought there is no way this could be made today. A lot of bad things have happened in schools in North America between 1988 and today, chief among them mass shootings. Bullying is ever present thanks to social media, and suicide is such a hot-button issue in schools that some organizations were afraid the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why might encourage teens to take their own…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #73: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) has a clever idea for a plot that is executed by a rather oddball crew of artists. In the director’s chair you have Michel Gondry, a French filmmaker whose creativity is always recognisable no matter the project. On writing duties you have Charlie Kaufman, known for writing screenplays that seem to take on a life of their own. Then in front of the camera you have Jim Carrey in serious mode, which doesn’t always work, but the results are always interesting.
When the movie came out I was still used to the idea of Jim Carrey as a manic comedian since I grew up watching him in movies like Ace Ventura and The Mask. When he is in a drama you almost always expect him to eventually burst out and talk out of his butt. That might be why Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is not one of his biggest box-office successes, but even 13 years ago I could see this is a very smart movie dealing with deep ideas. Its characters are all convinced that in order…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #452: Unbreakable

Unbreakable (2000) is a movie that is becoming more and more relevant as time goes by. For one thing it is one of the last good movies M. Night Shyamalan made before his career took a pretty steep nose-dive. For another it deals with the idea of super heroes and villains in a world where none of those exist and yet and approaches these concepts while steeped in realism. Nowadays there are at least five super hero movies that come out every year, but Unbreakable still feels fresh and original despite the fact two of its actors are now part of the Marvel and DC movie universe.
Early on in his career Shyamalan became known for the twist endings in his movies, and Unbreakable is no exception. Unfortunately it took me 15 years to finally see the whole thing on Netflix and by then the ending had been spoiled just like with The Sixth Sense. Then the same thing happened again this year when Shyamalan released Split in which SPOILER ALERT, Bruce Willis has a cameo at the end. When the next sequ…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #76: Manhattan

Woody Allen: a filmmaker many of us have mixed feelings about. I feel that’s how most of my reviews about his films are going to start. He has written and directed very funny movies, he certainly knows how to shoot in New York City, and apparently he’s a pretty good jazz player. He is also a guy who married the adopted daughter of his ex-wife, has been accused of sexual molestation, and in his movies he often plays a character who dates women who are much younger than he is. All of the good and the bad traits of Allen are on display in Manhattan (1979), one of his most acclaimed movies.
I liked many things about this movie when I first saw it. I enjoyed the use of black and white cinematography, the opening montage in which Allen lauds his home turf of NYC, the use of jazz music, and the cast of characters. However I was also uncomfortable with the fact that Isaac Mortimer Davis, the 40-year-old TV writer played by Allen, is in a relationship with Tracy (Mariel Hemmingway) a 17-year-ol…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #455: Top Gun

Top Gun (1986) is pure 1980s American gun-ho patriotism as well as an unofficial recruitment ad for that country’s air force. It features Tom Cruise in the nascent stages of his career as the world’s biggest movie star, U.S pilots flipping off those pesky Russians in the air, and the chart-topping single by Kenny Loggins, Danger Zone. Many aspects of this movie are now dated, but on first viewing it is hard not to be pulled in by the adrenaline-pumping ride.
For many people this movie was a defining moment in pop culture, leading viewers to either adopt the nickname “Goose” or “Maverick,” or go a step further and actually join the air force. That was not the case for me since I was born the same year Top Gun came out, and I don’t think I was ever its specific target audience anyway. When I think of Anthony Edwards I don’t think of him flying fighter jets, I think of him operating on patients as Doctor Greene on E.R. However over the years I kept seeing the cultural influence of Top Gun

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #77: Spartacus

Spartacus (1960) is an interesting movie in Stanley Kubrick's filmography because it doesn’t really feel like a Stanley Kubrick movie. I don’t exactly know why, but his signature style doesn’t seem to be present unlike in classics such as The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, or Dr. Strangelove. It does however feel like one of those big sword-and-sandals epics in which you have British thespians acting as Roman politicians with the occasional big battle sequence. In that respect it is spectacular and features Kirk Douglas at his best as the titular hero.
The story of the rebel slave Spartacus has inspired a bloody and sexy TV series (so far unseen by me, but I hear it’s great) and the story behind how it was made is one of those cases of life imitating art. The Bryan Cranston film Trumbo tells how screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted in Hollywood during the 1950s for his communist beliefs and had to rebel against the system by writing screenplays for cheap movies under a fake nam…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #78: Rosemary's Baby

Rosemary’s Baby (1968) is that special kind of horror film that can get under your skin while spilling very little blood. It has no masked killer that jumps out of a corner, no monster chasing characters down dark corridors, and no armies of zombies lumbering the streets. Yet it is profoundly unsettling, not only because it deals with a satanic cult, but because the story’s protagonist and her unborn child are unwilling participants in that cult’s scheme.
Watching the film on Halloween two years ago it occurred to me this story is probably twice as scary for women. Having children is already a nerve-wracking prospect, but being tricked into having the devil’s spawn against your will: that is nightmarish on a whole other level. However director Roman Polanski takes his time in revealing the full extent of this nightmare, at times even suggesting all of the protagonist’s fears might just be paranoia. It takes a while for the full extent of the horror to be revealed, but it is worth the …

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #79: The Thin Red Line

I once saw an interview in which Christopher Plummer said that what Terrence Malick needs is a writer. He was referring to his experience shooting The New World, which saw his role considerably reduced. The same happened to a much greater extent with Malick’s war movie The Thin Red Line (1998), which saw the screen time of many movie stars reduced to mere minutes amid a 170-minute running time. However you have to hand it to the guy: he knows how to make anything look beautiful, including the carnage of war.
Malick’s movie came out the same year as Saving Private Ryan, so I think that year I had my fill of ultra violent war films and was no too interested in seeing it. Sixteen years later I finally caught up to it on Netflix, but in hindsight the big screen might have been a better option since this is a very visual story. The plot is pretty loose, following one American soldier and sometimes some of his brothers in arms as they make their way through World War II in the Pacific theat…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #81: Batman Begins

It took the storytelling skills of British director Christopher Nolan to finally get Batman right. The 1960s TV show, starring the late great Adam West, had a lot of action, but was overly campy. The Tim Burton films felt very much like comic books come to life, but the villains stole the spotlight. Then there was Joel Schumacher who nearly killed the franchise by turning it into a live-action cartoon and by putting nipples on the suit. However with Batman Begins (2005) the spotlight was firmly placed on the character of Bruce Wayne as he becomes a vigilante, the villains were much less campy, and the action sequences seemed to be set in our world.
Like many people my expectations for Batman Begins were pretty low for what would be chronologically the fifth theatrical Batman movie. I had watched Batman Forever many times on VHS, but Batman & Robin, the last Schumacher entry, had left a very bad taste in my mouth. Going into theatres in Quebec City in the summer of 2005 all I knew w…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #82: The Great Escape

I love movies in which a team of talented individuals get together to achieve a common goal. Such examples include thieves trying to rob a casino, black ops soldiers trying to destroy enemy weapons, or Tom Cruise and company trying to break into CIA headquarters during an impossible mission. John Sturges’ The Great Escape (1963) stands out in this category because here the group in question is not trying to break into a place, but break out. Specifically they are a group of POWs trying to escape a massive Nazi prison camp in order to distract German troops while the Allies are getting ready to invade. The film may have its share of historical inaccuracies, but it is a historical piece of filmmaking since its cast is made up of some of the biggest names in Hollywood at the time.
Although it was released in the early 1960s The Great Escape has endured the test of time, first by becoming many grandfathers’ favourite movie, and then by influencing many filmmakers to come. Quentin Tarantin…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #83: Brazil

Dystopian movies from the 1980s are a funny thing since we now live in the future of those movies and if you look at the news for more than five minutes it will feel as though we are one bad day away from being into a dystopia. On the plus side, if it ends up looking like the dystopia portrayed in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985) at least we will have lovely architecture to look at while the government is busy telling us how to think. This might not be a movie that will cheer you up, but the production design is amazing, the performances are great throughout, and you get to see Robert DeNiro play a maintenance man/freedom fighter.
I first saw Brazil as a Terry Gilliam double feature at the Université de Sherbrooke’s movie club paired along with 12 Monkeys around ten years ago. Those two films are similar in that they both feature a rather dour future and, as with most Gilliam movies, incredibly intricate sets. However the dystopian future in Brazil is somewhat scarier than the disease-ra…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #84: L.A Confidential

Gangster films have many things in common, but gangster films set in sunny Los Angeles have a special flavour of their own. It doesn’t matter if the main characters are gun-totting criminals or crooked cops, if the setting is Tinseltown then celebrity culture will be a factor. In the Curtis Hanson directed L.A Confidential (1997) a cop moonlights as an advisor for a popular TV show about cops, a publisher of a tabloid magazine sets up celebrity arrests, and a pimp has a group of prostitutes surgically altered to look like Hollywood actresses. Throw in a femme fatale into the mix and you have one delicious piece of film noir.
If I recall well this was a movie I saw on HBO with my parents a few years after it came out while we were living in South America. The content matter was somewhat mature for my age at the time, but if anything I had more trouble following the storyline since this is an over two-hour movie with lots of characters, plot twists, and betrayals. Like The Dude said, the…