Monday, 4 June 2007

Craig Milne reviews his ten favourite films, Part 1

Apocalypse Now
USA 1979
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Screenwriters: John Milius, Francis Ford Coppola
Runtime: 153 mns
Certificate: 18
DVD Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Francis Ford Coppola’s absurdist epic treatment of the Vietnam War has to be the first film on my top ten. It has an enormous personal significance for me as it inspired me to write my undergraduate thesis on the role of Hollywood in culturally, socially and historically defining the Vietnam War. Having watched it countless times, it never loses its impact. The sheer power of the imagery, the horrific realism of the cinematography and the ingenious performances ensure Coppola’s masterpiece (yeah, that’s right, bollocks to The Godfather) outshines any other movie I’ve seen.

Dispensing with the simplistic, black vs. white combat genre, Coppola took Joseph Conrad’s novel The Heart of Darkness as the basis for his plot and incorporated elements of Chandleresque noir detective and classic journey/quest narratives into a warped, frenzied vision of a war fought without restraint, without order. From the opening scenes of napalm enveloping the jungle, to the closing psychedelic madness, it is a phantasmagorical journey through the heart of a nation’s darkest military endeavour.

The harrowing experience of actually making the movie makes it even more worthy of praise and respect. The personal cost to Coppola stretched into the millions of dollars after the project became dangerously over-budget, he had several nervous breakdowns and threatened suicide numerous times when on location. Martin Sheen (Captain Benjamin L. Willard) suffered a near fatal heart attack after shooting, originally intended to last six weeks, continued for sixteen months. In several scenes, Sheen was completely inebriated, and many of the cast, especially Sam Bottoms (Corporal Lance Johnson), were under the influence of marijuana, LSD and speed. In the final weeks of shooting, Marlon Brando (Colonel Walter E. Kurtz) arrived on location massively overweight, without having read the script, or Conrad’s novel, and stubbornly refused to work with the existing screenplay. In many ways Apocalypse Now truly captures the insanity and brutality of the Vietnam War because of the insanity and brutality of its creation. Quite simply, no other film comes close to matching the perfect balance of beauty, repulsiveness, realism, surrealism, politics and irony that exists in Coppola’s masterpiece.

The Usual Suspects
USA/Germany 1995
Director: Bryan Singer
Screenwriter: Christopher McQuarrie
Runtime: 106 mns
Certificate: 18
DVD Distributor: PolyGram Home Video

Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects comes in strangely high in my list, considering that at first I could find no other reason to include it than the finale. But what an ending! Words cannot come close to describing the ingenuity of the final reveal in this sinister crime thriller.

Almost a supernatural ghost story, the tale told by Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint (Kevin Spacey) of a mismatched group of crooks united by a mysterious criminal overlord sucks you in with its constant twists and turns. By the time you sit back and think ‘I get it’ (don’t try to deny it, you thought you had it all figured out), the hard fast bitch-slap of a twist hits you square in the jaw, leaving you awestruck, bemused and overwhelmingly impressed.

The most suspense-filled, thrilling film I have ever seen, the impact of the movie is not lost on repeated viewing; it still sends shivers up my spine every time. The final scene is, for me, the all time greatest movie scene ever, I always grin and shake like an excitable child when it is all over. The soundtrack, stark and jarringly composed by John Ottman, is arguably the best soundtrack ever if you take Bernard Hermann out the picture. Kevin Spacey puts in the performance of his career as the nervous but canny fraudster, Kint, and the supporting cast, with the exception of Stephen Baldwin, are all outstanding. Basically, this film is the reason why I love cinema, it’s dark, dirty, implausible and superficial, but it is never anything but truly and utterly gripping.

Read Part 2 tomorrow!

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