Not even half way through, and up to the letter ‘J’. Choices are a little thinner on the ground here, but I have still found a few good ones to select, and my top choice is already definite.
Starting with a fantasy film from my youth, ‘Jason and The Argonauts’ (1963) was made before CGI had ever been imagined, and special effects had to be contrived using small models, and stop-motion animation. This ancient tale of a band of Greek warriors setting sail into the unknown in search of the legendary Golden Fleece, was brought to the screen with a solid cast, and the special talents of model maker Ray Harryhausen. Who can forget the ‘army of skeletons’, or the immense metal statue of ‘Talos’? This is an all-action film, beautifully made, that still holds up in the 21st century. Stirring stuff!
I have yet to see ‘The Revenant’, but the story of a fur trapper living in the wilderness of the old west has already been done long before, and very well too. In one of his best performances, Robert Redford gave life to ‘Jeremiah Johnson’, in Sidney Pollack’s 1972 film of that name. Filmed in stunning locations, with a small cast including Will Geer, and some wonderful native American actors, this just felt so authentic back then, and still does. The sense of isolation and occasional great danger are so well conveyed, you will feel as if you are there. And you are unlikely to ever forget the scenery either.
A quick spin thorough the World Cinema ‘J’ titles will give us ‘Jean de Florette’ (1986). This French film tells a heartbreaking period story with superb performances from Gerard Depardieu, Yves Montand, and Daniel Auteuil. From China, there is the visually stunning ‘Ju Dou’ (1990). Set in the early 1900s, this tragic tale of a love triangle has stayed in my mind. Wonderful location filming and eye-popping use of colour, complement powerful and emotional performances. And it has the talented Gong-Li in the lead role. Japanese horror films once dominated the market for that genre, and they don’t get any better than ‘Ju-On’ (2000). I am rarely frightened by a film, but this one really gave me the creeps. It is a cinematic definition of ‘less is more’, and never loses its grip on your attention. The last of my subtitled selections is ‘Johnny Mad Dog’ (2008). Set in a fictional country that we all know is Liberia, it highlights the shameful use of boy soldiers, in a brutal civil war. The young men in the cast deliver outstanding performances, dealing with the uneasy themes of murder, rape, and being forced into the army. I doubt you will ever forget it. I know I haven’t.
Whatever you think of the conspiracy theory surrounding the assassination of John Kennedy, you cannot fail to admire the sheer scope of Oliver Stone’s 1991 film, ‘JFK’. The cast list is a who’s-who of many great actors, and despite the considerable running time of three and a half hours, the film never loses its grip on the viewer. I loved it then, and still do. Gary Oldman is utterly convincing as Oswald, and Tommy Lee Jones puts in a memorable turn as Clay Shaw. Add the central performance from Kevin Kostner, and character roles for Jack Lemmon, John Candy, Joe Pesci, Donald Sutherland, and so many more I could name, and this film delivers in every way imaginable.
Sometimes it is nice just to sit back and enjoy a gripping thriller, even if you already know who the killer is, and can see through every hole in the plot. Even better if the cast is convincing, and the script and editing are top notch too. Jeff Bridges and Glenn Close are both very good actors. Put them together in one film, add some murders and mystery, and you have ‘Jagged Edge’ (1985). I watched this again recently on TV, and even knowing the twist, and the final scene, I still enjoyed it immensely. Great courtroom scenes, and support from the reliable Pete Coyote too. It’s a good one!
As I get to my top choice for ‘J’, I can sense that you are already thinking of all those good films that I missed. That’s OK, as it leaves plenty for discussion later. So, here we go.
The films of Quentin Tarantino have a habit of dividing film fans. Many adore everything he does, others criticise him for stealing too many themes and ideas from other films. I am firmly in the fan category where he is concerned, but not blindly, and not always. He has a tendency to silliness that can sometimes work, but not always. There is no silliness here. Not only today’s pick, but high on the list of my all-time films, ‘Jackie Brown’ (1997) is my favourite and most complete Tarantino film. From the opening long-shot, as Pam Grier walks through an airport to the soundtrack playing ‘Across 110th Street’, I sat in the cinema and instinctively knew that I was going to love this film. And I was right. I could write a post about how much I love this film. With the solid Robert Forster as the wonderfully-named bail bondsman Max Cherry, to Robert De Niro’s against-type shabby hoodlum, everything about this film just oozes quality. Good music, sharp dialogue, and sassy characters, the more I type this, the better I like the film.
You get Samuel L. Jackson as a drug-dealing, gun-running crook, A brilliantly air-headed Bridget Fonda as his unfaithful girlfriend, and Michael Keaton as the Federal Agent too. Pam Grier as the airline stewardess mixed up in crime as a courier dominates the film with her standout performance. Forster’s lovelorn bail bondsman perfectly pitches the world-weary man looking for something in life. The plot has enough murder, double-dealing, sufficient twists and turns, and great location filming to satisfy any viewer. It never flags, and just keeps getting better, as it goes on. I don’t often use the word ‘flawless’, but this is.