A quiet Sunday in Beetley, and time for the letter G. There are not as many ‘G’ films as you might expect, but many of them are so good, choosing a selection is as hard as ever. Don’t forget to add your own selections in the comments. I have deliberately omitted some well-known ones, just as a test!
‘G’ starts off with two modern gangster films that are among the best films ever made, in my opinion.
‘The Godfather'(1972) (and its two sequels) changed all the rules of the genre, bringing us a sweeping saga of the life of organised crime families, from the early 1900s, right up to the 1960s. A huge cast, perfect locations, and atmospheric detail beyond compare, place these three films firmly in the list of the greatest films ever made. Like them or not, the quality is breathtaking. Almost twenty years later, Scorsese’s ‘Goodfellas’ (1990) added even more to the mix, and delivered a one-off film that is memorable for so many reasons. One that is firmly in my top ten of all time.
Some films can be worth watching for the imagery alone. If the story seems superfluous, and you find yourself looking at the scenes like paintings on a wall, rather than following the action, then just let it happen without complaint. Two fine examples of this can be found in ‘G’. ‘Goya’s Ghosts’ (2006) deals with the life of the famous artist (Stellan Skarsgard) like an historical soap opera in some respects. Yet watching the film is a complete delight, and it becomes easy to forget just how well the cast, including Natalie Portman and Javier Bardem, are doing their jobs. An homage to Dutch Master paintings, and a story imagined rather than taken from history, ‘Girl With A Pearl Earring’ (2003) plays like a series of wonderful paintings coming to life before your eyes. Despite authentic performances from Scarlett Johannson and Colin Firth, this is a film to look at, instead of a story to follow.
Too many ‘G’ films to deal with in detail, but so many not to leave out. The original version of the crime thriller, ‘The Getaway’ (1972) with Steve McQueen on top form, and Peter Weir’s tragic yet beautifully filmed WW1 story, ‘Gallipoli’. The powerful American drama, ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ (1992), with the wonderful Jack Lemmon, ably assisted by Kevin Spacey, Al Pacino, and Alec Baldwin. That was an acting masterclass. Disturbingly accurate in many ways, ‘The Grey Zone’ (2001) was a claustrophobic take on the horrors of concentration camps, during WW2. From World Cinema we have the delightful German comedy, ‘Goodbye Lenin’ (2003), showing an East German family dealing with the confusion following the fall of the Berlin Wall.
No look at the letter ‘G’ would be complete without the superb British crime thriller, ‘Get Carter’ (1971). With a later American sequel best ignored, this was a great 1970s film, with Michael Caine on top form as the London criminal travelling to North East England to avenge his brother. Add a cast of great British character actors, and you have arguably the best film of its type ever made here in the UK. Once again, I had a clear idea which film would be my final choice for this letter of the alphabet. However, the runner-up is still one of my favourite modern films, even though so many people have never seen it, and it hardly gets a mention anywhere. Seen by some as a coming of age teen drama, and by others as an interesting Indie experiment, ‘Ghost World’ (2001) brought us a stand-out performance from Thora Birch in the lead role, as well as allowing a young Scarlett Johansson to be noticed, for her break into the world of mainstream films. Add a reliable Steve Buscemi, and you are left with a touching film that deserves a lot more attention.
In 1990, I went to the cinema to watch an American crime thriller, directed by Stephen Frears. Described as a ‘film noir in colour’, the concept interested me, as did the cast. I thought it might be good, and it was. In fact, it wasn’t just good, it was truly great. This sleazy tale of small-time con artists coming up against organised crime had me enthralled from the start. Angelica Huston was a revelation in the role of Lilly, and a fresh-faced John Cusack convinced totally, as her estranged son, Roy. Everything about this film just screams quality. The colours, the editing, the snappy script, and a taught story, adapted from the novel of the same name. Then you get Annette Bening in one of her best roles, alongside a supporting cast that includes J.T. Walsh, Stephen Tobolowski, and Pat Hingle.
They really don’t get much better than this.