Published a day early, as I am busy tomorrow.
Has it only been eight days, and up to the letter ‘H’? It feels like a life’s work already, and I have gained a new admiration for those bloggers who regularly take on such challenges. I note that views have reduced considerably over the weekend, so I hope that this long slog doesn’t become too tiresome for you all.
Nobody mentioned ‘Gandhi’ (1982) yesterday, one that I deliberately left off. Ben Kingsley gave an amazing performance in the title role, and that epic film won 8 Oscars, and 27 other international awards. Has it been forgotten, I wonder?
I am starting today with a great crime thriller from director David Cronenberg. Central performances of considerable strength take a well-worn theme up to a new level in ‘A History of Violence’ (2005).
It received an Oscar nomination, and it’s easy to see why. Ed Harris is convincing as ever as the disfigured villain, and Viggo Mortensen delivers yet another solid performance, as the former gangster trying his best to go straight. We may have seen it all before, but rarely done as good as this.
Two French films from the 90s come next. The delightful love story, ‘The Hairdresser’s Husband’, (1990) with a touching performance from the always expressive Jean Roquefort as the titular hero, alongside the gorgeous Anna Galiena as his hairdresser wife. Music from Michael Nyman is the icing on the cake too. Completely different, is the urban thriller ‘La Haine’ (1995), starring the wonderful Vincent Cassell as a disaffected teenager, in an immigrant community in the Paris suburbs. Set in a short time period of less than 24 hours, this film has style, pace, and undeniable flair.
I don’t often feature horror films in this series, but I have two British entries for ‘H’. In the overlooked ‘Hardware’ (1990), we have a post-apocalyptic vision of a world where robots repair themselves, before terrorising the remaining human population. You get Iggy Pop, as well as Dylan McDermott, and not many people have seen it. The first film from a series, ‘Hellraiser’ (1987) brings the fantasy books of Clive Barker to the screen, and does them complete justice. Memorable gore, and equally memorable characters, (who can forget ‘Pinhead’?) leave us with a nightmare vision of an all-too possible Hell that awaits us.
Michael Cimino’s ‘Heaven’s Gate’, (1980) is a sprawling western, based on real events during the 1890s, in the American West. It lost a fortune at the box office, and has divided critics ever since it was released. But I saw something in it at the cinema, and my opinion hasn’t changed. Kris Kristofferson, John Hurt, Christopher Walken, Jeff Bridges, and Isabelle Huppert are all in the wonderful cast. The sense of authenticity pervades throughout, and it is best described as a flawed masterpiece. Gillian Anderson is best known for ‘The X Files’ TV series, and latterly for appearing in British dramas, with a flawless accent. But her memorable turn as Lily Bart, in ‘The House of Mirth’ (1981) is a faithful adaptation of the Edith Wharton novel of the same name, and an exercise in mannered perfection.
Down under for the next selections. Long before he had ever seen a Hobbit, Peter Jackson brought us the simply sublime, ‘Heavenly Creatures’ (1994). This recreation of a real crime in 1950s New Zealand is an absolute treat. Immaculate period feel, starring the superb Melanie Lynskey, and supported by my first sight of Kate Winslet, he gives us a heartbreaking tale of confused teenagers, living in a fantasy world of their own creation. One that leads to tragedy and murder. Revenge thrillers just don’t get better than ‘The Horseman’ (2008). This unrelenting Australian film is a hard watch, with the obsessed father (Peter Marshall) exacting revenge on those responsible for involving his daughter in a real-life ‘Snuff’ film. Be warned, it is a difficult ride indeed, but compelling in the extreme.
Two modern American films are also on my list. One of them is an all-time favourite, the other also one of those ‘hard to watch’ films that stays in your mind. ‘Hard Eight’ (1996) is a modern ‘film noir’ set in the world of gambling and prostitution. Philip Baker Hall, one of my much-loved American actors, stars alongside the hapless John C. Reilly, in this tale of casino corruption, gambling cons, and eventual murder. You also get Samuel L. Jackson, and Gwyneth Paltrow, in a lamentably overlooked film that deserves wider recognition. It is always Hall’s film though. His finest hour.
The second choice is the disturbing ‘Hard Candy’ (2005). In this film, a 14 year-old girl takes revenge on a known paedophile, a man responsible for an assault on her best friend. This is more or less a two-hander, with the man and girl filmed in his house, and no other cast to speak of. Ellen Page gives a simply remarkable performance as the girl, with Patrick Wilson suitably sleazy as the photographer who preys on underage girls. I was overwhelmed by this film, and think that you might be too.
Apologies for a long post. I decided to leave out three other ‘H’ films, and cut to the chase. One of my favourite films, since I first watched it in 1987, David Mamet’s superb debut, ‘House Of Games’ still appears to me in dreams, and the complex con-man/crime thriller just gets better every time I see it. Starring the underrated and near-perfect Joe Mantegna, alongside the rarely seen Lindsay Crouse, this rather stagey and set bound thriller delivers twists and turns like no other film before or since. This is a film for the mind, as well as the eyes, and it will keep you guessing until the last moment. Not only that, but the intelligent writing and snappy script from Mamet is a real joy. Believe me when I say that it is simply wonderful.