Official Nominations: Bound For Glory. King Kong. Logan’s Run. Network. A Star Is Born.
It’s a strange category this year. I’m probably biased when I think of cinematography as my first thoughts always go to wide shots, long shots, stunning locations – the sorts of work you tend to see in epics, Westerns, David Lean films etc. Obviously I’m dumbing that waay down but that’s my bias though The Academy generally nominates along similar lines of thought. This year there is precious little of that, at least in the official nominees. Bound For Glory isn’t that interesting a film, patriotic and based on a story I’m not really invested in, but it works as another one of those ‘fight for your dreams’ sagas that people love, USA dudes in particular. It does look good though, has a good cast, and probably got the win for its Steadicam work.
King Kong is the big and brash remake of the perfect original. It’s campy and fun but pretty dated now, though the location work still holds up, New York’s drenched neon’s in stark contrast to Kong’s home. Logan’s Run is a film I’ve always enjoyed – more Jenny Agutter is always a good thing in my book, but it’s campy and fun too. It’s interesting that it ever got nominated, even in this category, but it does have its moments. Network I don’t think really needs to be here, while A Star Is Born doesn’t earn a spot in my view either.
My Winner: King Kong
My Nominations: Assault On Precinct 13. All The President’s Men. Kings Of The Road. The Man Who Fell To Earth. The Missouri Breaks. Rocky.
None of the official nominees make my list. We start out with Assault On Precinct 13 – a film which doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves, and this category would be a good place to start. As dirty, grim, and violent as the film is there are some gorgeous sunset shots and the change in styles from the scorching daylight to the hostile claustrophobic night should not go unrecognized. If you know me then you’ll know I love sunset or sunrise shots in movies – those seem to go hand in hand with a shift in tone or the film’s most poignant, thoughtful moments and the passing of day to night is something personal for me that I’ll always love.
Of all of the films I’ve selected, All The President’s Men seems like the most natural snub – the one which The Academy should have nominated. For a film set largely in one interior setting – not something which usually excites me from a cinematography perspective, Gordon Willis and Alan J Pakula give an intense fluorescent gleam to proceedings. The fact that they are able to overcome the inherent problems of this setting – the draw distance of the background office shots, the many glass and screen surfaces, the maze of floor space and cubicles to work around – is to their immense credit, but to do it with style and authentic voice is something else. Wim Wenders pops up with his nihilistic road movie Kings Of The Road – road movies are again a sub-genre which lends itself to interesting and captivating shots which strike me on a personal level. The Man Who Fell To Earth is one of those movies that you stumble upon late at night having no idea what it is, but get sucked in to and mesmerized by – the Cinematography has a large part in that.
Continuing the theme of personal stuff and bias, The Missouri Breaks offers a depiction of slow death – of a civilization, a place and time, a way of life crumbling away – you’ve guessed it, something which I’ve always had an interest in. Rocky is a bigger budget, bigger scale version of everything I love in Assault On Precinct 13, with the claustrophobia replaced by great in ring work. Taxi Driver you feel is the one film which was most glaringly overlooked in this category – the rain and neon soaked debauched mean streets of NYC never looking more poisonous.
In this new series of posts I’m going to list ten of my favourite films by some of my most loved directors and actors. While I may not have seen everything that they have done, I’ll catch up to them eventually. For some of the posts, I’ll be adding films I’m not as keen on to ensure a list of ten so be on the look out for your favourites. The ordering of most of these posts will not be strict and in most cases there will not be too much difference between my number 1 pick and my number 5 pick.
John Carpenter is my favourite director. A master of many a genre, he’s the director who’s films appear most regularly in my favourite films of all time, and while it’s clear to most movie fans that his best work was in the 70s and 80s, he has enjoyed a career spanning six decades. Incredibly influential, you only have to look at the number of remakes of his franchises which have been plaguing our screens for years, yet failing spectacularly to recapture the quality of his original vision.
Carpenter’s only full blown love story (sorry, Christine fans) is a well-acted heartwarming story about an alien coming to earth in the guise of a widow’s dead husband, while devious military and government types try to claim him for their own. As with most Carpenter films, this has an excellent score and main theme (although not written by Carpenter himself). Criminally, this is the only Carpenter film to receive an Oscar nomination – Jeff Bridges for best Actor.
9. The Ward.
I’m a fairly vocal defender of the more recent Carpenter films – this and Ghosts Of Mars had their issues, but they are still wildly entertaining movies, with The Ward offering a bit more in terms of plot. While in many ways this doesn’t feel like a Carpenter film it is chock full of jump-scares and good performances. It’s taut, crafted and executed strongly, and while the twist is hardly surprising, it is great nevertheless to see the great man on the director’s chair again.
8. In The Mouth Of Madness.
Like many of Carpenter’s films, this was overlooked by fans at critics at the time, and even now it isn’t well-known – we’re still waiting for a Region 2 DVD or Blu Ray release. It is a cult favourite though, and remains one of the finest, most accurate film depictions of Lovecraftian horror. It’s one of Carpenter’s most thickly layered films and each viewing uncovers new themes.
7. Escape From New York.
If Snake Plissken isn’t the single most cool character in movie history then I’ve clearly been watching the wrong movies. When this is eventually remade, you just know it;s going to be a shambles – no-one else but Russell and Carpenter could take a story like this, filled with characters like Plissken and not only make it work, but make it one of the quintessential action movies of the decade. With stellar action and effects, a blending of genres, an apocalyptic wit, and once again a superb score, this is Carpenter to the core.
6. The Fog
Unfairly seen as Halloween’s vastly inferior little brother, this should more accurately be described as Halloween as told to you by your creepy, drunk uncle. It’s the perfect campfire ghost story, with murderous vengeful pirates laying siege to a picturesque coastal town on the anniversary of their tragedy. Although the ending may be a cop-out, everything before hand is remarkably atmospheric, spooky, and the perfect movie for a dark evening alone.
5. Prince Of Darkness
I’d class this as Carpenter’s most underrated film, one with more scares than any of his other films, and arguably his most difficult film to describe or explain. Ostensibly, like most Carpenter movies it’s a siege movie, with a bunch of characters trapped with some powerful external force picking them off one by one. To make things more interesting, not only is there a horde of baddies outside the building which our heroes are trapped in, but the main evil is coming from within that very same building, and our heroes may have unleashed it. Throw in some time-travelling, parallel universe, God versus Satan, zombie, Alice Cooper mumbo jumbo, and we have a dense, terrifying film well worth watching.
4. Big Trouble In Little China
For a kid growing up in the 80s, this was the most awesome movie ever. It had over the top action and violence, guns, martial arts, Gods, monsters, mystery, comedy, and yet none of it was too graphic or scary so it was suitable to watch with our parents. Filled with epic one-liners and moments, this genre-bender is as timeless as it is 80s, and is a film you can’t imagine being made today.
The biggie, and the one that started it all, kicking off Carpenter’s career in earnest and launching one of the most revered horror franchises. As the name suggests, there is no better film for Halloween, not only is it set during the period, depicting a suburbia which many of us will be familiar with, it pits a group of shell-shocked kids against a seemingly unstoppable killer. It churns out scare after scare like a fairground attraction, making you jump and squeal in equal measure, but more than that it features excellent direction and some wonderful performances. And again, there’s an exquisite score.
2. Assault On Precinct 13
I think I first saw this when I was around 14, and even though I knew who John Carpenter was, this was around the time I was beginning to understand what being a director was, and that this guy just happened to have made all these other films I treasured. It’s the perfect ‘modern’ siege movie with a well-worn approach which hasn’t been bettered since. The stark low-budget feel gives an earnest, off-putting realism, and when coupled with the cast of unknowns and the largely faceless enemy there is a sense of this thing being all too possible. As with later Carpenter movies we get an awesome anti-hero, a strong leading lady, and a mashup of other multi-dimensional characters from opposing backgrounds thrown together in a fight for survival. There is also a brilliant sense of hopelessness as the sun begins to go down on this desolate, soon to be rubble part of town. With strong, straight-forward action, gripping tension, and one of the greatest shock moments in cinema history, this is an undoubted classic. And guess what – epic score.
1. The Thing.
Well, it couldn’t really be anything else, could it (sorry, They Live fans). Carpenter’s remake is more of a complete overhaul, and remains one of the finest horror films ever made. Most of you reading this should know it, and for anyone who hasn’t especially you young cubs, go watch it now. Some of the most jaw-dropping special effects, wiping the floor with today’s CGI, alongside a stellar all-male cast leads to paranoia, gore, fear, and a timeless ending. It’s a flawless movie in all departments, yet failed miserably at the box office. All the remake/prequel was a fine standalone film, it isn’t a patch on this beast, a film as vital now as it was upon release.
There we go, folks. Let us know in the comments what your favourite John Carpenter films are, and what you think of my selections above!
It’s back! The series that opens the manhole cover of my mind to let my most fanatical followers get a glimpse of my truest loves, has returned. Please enjoy these exclusives!
21. Jaws. (1975, Spielberg): Everyone’s favourite film about sharks eating children, Jaws is undoubtedly timeless. Everyone has their favourite moment, and everyone has their favourite piece of dialogue. For such a momentous film, the dialogue is not something which gets a lot of respect, aside from the famous ‘We’re gonna need a bigger boat’. Much of the dialogue is delivered in such a way that it doesn’t sound scripted, which may be reason enough for why there aren’t many memorable one-liners. My personal favourite then will likely be a favourite of others, and due to its length, I won’t re-post it here; Quint’s Indianapolis speech is flawless – stunningly delivered, powerfully written, and the most chilling moment in the film, all the more so as it doesn’t really have a lot to do with the plot.
22. Assault on Precinct 13. (1976, Carpenter): It took quite some time for this film to get the recognition it deserves. Even after the recent John Carpenter resurgence, thanks to a raft of remakes (including one for this), Carpenter’s second film is still something of a cult gem. Brimming with pulp dialogue, the focus is most definitely on cool, on making a memorable impact with each word. Each character is almost defined entirely by their one-liners meaning that the almost mute father character fades into the background, but opposingly, the voiceless bad guys lack of speech makes them all the more menacing. The main group each have their moments, but the best bits go to one of the greatest anti-heroes of them all – Napoleon Wilson. Even his simple refrain ‘Got a smoke?’ becomes gold, but I’m especially partial to his ‘I was born out of time’ line. For such a tense film, Wells provides some brilliant comedy moment, particularly with his save-ass plan: ‘I got this plan. It’s called “Save Ass”. And the way it works is this – I slip outta one of these windows and I run like a bastard!’
23. Big Trouble in Little China. (1986, Carpenter): From one Carpenter classic to another, and from one anti-hero to another. Jack Burton is the 80s Napoleon Wilson, born out of time, always in the wrong place at the wrong time, always ready with a bullet and a quip. This movie has more quips than a stand-up comedian forced to make a deaf, dumb, and blind man laugh or be killed, whatever that means, and the dialogue comes thick, fast, and hammy. It also has a guy with the best/worst sunglasses ever (insert pic) but then again, it also has this (insert freak monster pic). While Wilson was born out of time, Burton was ‘born ready’ and has plenty of inspirational sayings like ‘it’s all in the reflexes’, whatever that means, but it’s when he is panicking that the real gold bubbles to the surface: ‘Tall guy, weird clothes. First you see him, then you don’t.
24. Jurassic Park. (1993, Spielberg): You would think a film about dinosaurs wouldn’t have all that much dialogue in it betwixt all the ROOARRGGHHs and SKKKEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAARRKs and chewing of flesh, but you’d be wrong. Jurassic Park contains several hundred words, and an all-round dialogue filled script, although clearly the focus was on the thunder lizards at release. This was one of the last old-school Spielberg romps and as such we can expect a particular eye for detail and script flourishes. Much of the dialogue does not feel rehearsed, seeming improvised instead, and most of the best moments fall on Jeff Goldblum’s leather clad shoulders. Actually, now that I think about it, this movie would have been so much better if the dinosaurs had had all the lines. Just imagine it from their perspective – Violently ripped from the eternal peace of extinction, a collection of dinosaurs must face off against a horde or white Americans, Santa Claus, and Samuel L Jackson. Classic moments include a husband and wife tag team of raptors attempting to snare a meal of snivelling kids to stave off starvation; a single, sexually tormented T-Rex must resort to eating from a toilet in order to survive; a spittysaurus tries to make friends with an obese man but instead tries to romance him in the back of a jeep. As for dialogue, I find myself shouting ‘Hold onto your butts’ at inappropriate, non-dinosaur related social events.
25. Leon. (1994, Besson): Luc Besson is a French guy who looked at Hollywood and thought ‘Hmm, ze films are not bon anymore, ze need some le garlic, le baguette, and le Johavich’ and lo, Leon was born. Besson already had made a decent career back in gay Paris with a string of hits, including the excellent Subway (which tells of Christoper Lambert’s immortal quest to find the perfect sandwich) and the breakthrough smash Nikita. Leon is an almost perfect movie, with career best performances from all the main stars. Gary Oldman is a baddie, Jean Reno is a baddie too, but because he’s nice and cuddly we’ll forgive him for being a cold-blooeded killer, and Natalie Portman is a little girl whose hateful parents are blasted into oblivion. It’s a thinking man’s action movie, which is unfortunate as thinking men do not typically watch action movies. The film has rightly earned a following over the years, and will soon be remade as ‘Cody’ starring Bieber as the lovable rapist/killer Cody, Emma Whatersface as Natalie Portman, and Ben Kingsly as Baddie, the bad man who wants revenge on Bieber for being the little freak that he is. I’ll let young Miss Portman get the final say here, with a child’s apt view of revenge: ‘Forget? After I’ve seen the outline of my brother’s body on the floor, you expect me to forget? I wanna kill those sons of bitches, and blow their fucking heads off!’
26. Commando. (1985, Lester): Growing up in the 80s and 90s was a wonderful time for movie geeks and those who lurk in everyday water-cooler conversations, waiting for the perfect moment to inexplicably drop a one-liner from a movie no-one else involved in the conversation has seen. If you grew up in the 80s you are action an action movie fan, or a woman. And for action movie fans who love to mix up their mundane daily speech routines with some spicy zingers, you need look no further than any Arnie movie. Commando is probably the most genuine cult movie of his repertoire, as most of his other films from that era are no regarded as classics or worse than drunken sex in a toilet with what you assumed to be a superstar but turned out to be a mushed collection of soiled bog roll. Camp characters with names better than Biceps McTouchem and Napoleon Bonerhard, approximately 14 thousand on screens kills, (and a zinger for each), actors and actresses with either past or future soft-core porn careers, guns, knifes, bombs, and the single greatest ‘preparing for war’ moment in movie history, Commando could be a contender for best movie ever. Roll a few of these around your laughing gear – ‘I eat Green Beret’s for breakfast’, ‘He’s dead tired’, ‘I lied’, ‘Let off some steam, Bennett’, ‘Wrong!’, ‘I’m not going to shoot you between the eyes, I’m going to shoot you between the balls’, and my personal favourite – ‘Fuck you, asshole….Fuck YOU, asshole!’
27. Beauty And The Beast. (1991, Trousdale, Wise): I was an ugly child. I am an ugly man. It is no wonder that this is one of my favourite movies ever, as it speaks to the beautiful, tortured romantic inside me, and the hairy, fanged creature on the outside. Actually, that’s not true, I was a cute kid, and I’m currently sexier than Liz Vicious wrestling with Ivana Fukalot in a giant tub of Hoi Sin sauce (which needs to be a scene in the next Bond movie. Or else). I was, and still am to an extent, a socially awkward buffoon who resorted to fantasy, movies, books, games, music, writing, anything that would shatter the reality of me being a hopeless-with-women bloke. Like all kids I liked a good Disney animation, but it wasn’t until I saw Beauty And The Beast that I truly appreciated the art, and uncovered the truth and cliché that sometimes the underdog can find love – you just need to kidnap a woman and/or her father to get it. Unfortunately, ladies, countless rewatches has turned me into a weirdo as I hold Belle up as the most perfect figure of womanhood who ever had life breathed into her, and you just can’t live up to her. Contemplate that before sending me a sexy Private Message. As for lovely dialogue, hows about the one that most frequently slips from my lips as I hide outside toilets – ‘Zut Alors! She has emerged!’
28. Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s dead. (1991, Herek): If you know anything worth knowing (and the fact that you’re reading this tells me that, sadly, you don’t), you’ll know that 1991 messers Cobain,Grohl, and Novelisc made a wee album called Nevermind, which is named by man as single-handedly putting the 80s to bed, and gently placing a pillow over its face. Music was changed forever, almost overnight it now seems. Movies changed too, but at a more leisurely pace, and in 1991 we got one of the last great cheesy rock movies. The touch of Geffin is all over it, reeking of MTV, 80s cool, and a mix of heavy metal, cock, rock, and cheese. I loved this at the time, but it wasn’t until much later when I revisited it again, and realised what a great script it has, filled with unexpectedly strong humour, one-liners, and satirical twists on The American Dream. So, as much as I like to say ‘The dishes are DONE!’ after cleaning up, and shouting about the ‘buttcrack of dawn’ when I get up, and although Kenny gets the best lines, my favourite line, and joke, in the movie is ”No, I’ve never been to Santa Barbara’.
29. Night of the Living Dead. (1968, Romero): The original modern indie, made by a bunch of amateurs, friends, and family, and going on to being one of the most well-renowned horror movies ever made. The strength of the dialogue is in its realism – everyone is on guard, everyone is constantly in a panic, nobody trusts anyone, and the words coming out of mouths are exactly what I would expect people to say in such a dire situation. I love that it is so cold and, like this article, contains zero humour. Although there are few typical one-liners aside from the obvious ‘Hey Barbara, I’m gonna get ye!’ you would be hard pushed to find a stronger realistic script in the decade. We have to go to the Sheriff to get my favourite lines, classics such as ‘They’re dead, they’re all messed up’ and ‘Beat ’em or burn ’em, they go up pretty easy’.
30. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. (1984, Spielberg): Until Spielberg and Lucas decide to resurrect Dr Jones in the ill-fated ‘Indiana Jones and the Magical Fridge’ (alternative title – Indiana Jones and the load of shite), Temple Of Doom was the least liked in the series. Naturally, this means it has always been my favourite. Sure Raiders has melting Nazis and Crusade has….I can’t remember, but Doom has Short-Round, cliffhanging fights, rope-bridge stand-offs, booby traps, Donkey Kong inspiring races, lava pits, blood drinking, heart-ripping – everything that every kids movie should have. As someone who loved those type of Haggard/Doyle/Verne/Burroughs movies which always featured sinking sand, giant spiders, and always ended with a volcano erupting, this was the epitome. It was a fantasy, but set in a realistic world. It was just real enough to make me think that some wacky priest could crawl out of my toilet and whisk me away to some underground slave trade, but thanks to short-round made me think that I could probably beat my way through thousands of baddies and get home safe. My most quoted line – especially when I run out of ANYTHING? ‘No more parachutes!’
Please share your pearls of wise-assdom in the comments!
Carpenter’s revamp and resurrection of Rio Bravo and Night of the Living Dead is undoubtedly one of the best films of the last 30 years, and unfortunately one of the most overlooked. With the recent remake, (still haven’t seen) hopefully more people will see this and recognise it as a modern classic. Low budget, unknown actors, tense, shocking and exciting, witty dialogue, shady characters, Assault is everything you would expect from a classic Carpenter film.
A group of criminals are being transported to another prison by armoured truck when one of them becomes seriously ill. They decide to stop at the local Police Station to lock up the prisoners and see if they can help the man. However, the Station they stop at is closing down and there is only one cop and a couple of secretaries inside. The prisoners are locked up, including Napolean Wilson- a notorious murderer, while the cops decide what to do. The power has been cut off, but people will be coming in the morning to finally close the place. Night has just fallen. Meanwhile a man in a frantic state runs into the station but won’t say what has happened, falling into a comatose state. The Station suddenly comes under attack, and looking outside it seems that hundreds of gang members with guns have started a war with the those inside. With no help and only a few weapons, the survivors- cop, criminals, secretaries must work together to stay alive, and perhaps try to find a way out.
The two male leads of Stoker as the cop, and Joston as Napolean are both brilliant in the roles, unknown faces adding the the sense of uncertainty. Joston delivers his few lines with cool and even though he is a bad guy, he naturally becomes our favourite character. Stoker tries to hold everything together as the law, but realises this will not work. Zimmer is also strong as Leigh, delivering her lines almost passively or vacantly, almost as if she isn’t there, but we sense the chemistry between her and Napolean. Burton, West, Cyphers and Loomis also do well in smaller parts, and all the cast deserved to go on to bigger parts. Carpenter creates massive tension again, the faceless enemy always outside, innumerable and even though there are cars going past and houses nearby, the gang is silent and deadly in their pursuit, ensuring that help will come. The guns with silencers are used to good effect, with papers spurting up into the air quietly meaning the cops sometimes do not even know they are being shot at.
The dialogue is minimal, every character has little to say as they all seem annoyed with each other, having to work together, dealing with the situation with no time for pointless chatter which fills other movies. The lighting adds to the tone, everything is shaded, we can only catch glimpses of the gang outside and in, and the score by Carpenter is another modern classic along with his Halloween theme. The deaths are both quiet and shocking- we don’t see what happens to Loomis, while the ice cream van part would have taken great bravery to even dream of filming- there hasn’t really been anything like it since. Once again Carpenter makes a brilliant film, and while he would soon go on to make bigger box-office smashes, this one stands on its own as the benchmark of low-budget film-making. Many directors try to create tension and fear throughout their careers, Carpenter could do it seemingly without effort.
Unfortunately for such an important film, the extras are awful. This deserves a commentary and interviews with cast and crew. It’s unlikely we’ll get a better version though, and as it is such a good film you just get it regardless.
Feel free to share your thoughts on the movie- is it your favourite Carpenter film, or haven’t you seen it yet?
As a fan of the more extreme side of cinema, I ask you to join me, as I explore the history of Cinema's most extreme movies with all the sex, violence and symbolism intact. I'm here to reflect on the extreme movies that have come and gone to see what they mean, see what makes them so extreme, and of course, see if they're any good.