On the ‘home straight’ now, and up to the letter ‘N’. I have an idea for my top pick, so let’s see if it stays the course today. There is not a huge number of film titles beginning with ‘N’, yet many of those are very good indeed. I will be leaving out some of the obvious classics, and some modern films for you to mention. As always, I much appreciate all the comments, and continued involvement.
To start, two black and white classics, with very different themes. ‘Jules Dassin set ‘Night and The City’ (1950) in post-war London. Suitably dark, for the film noir style, Richard Widmark stars as the hustler on the edge of the criminal underworld, with Gene Tierney as the requisite girl in danger, and Herbert Lom suitably villainous as the betting fixer. Perhaps not as good as its reputation, the film nonetheless has pace, and it is beautifully filmed too, in locations that have changed greatly since.
The first, and arguably still the best mainstream zombie film, Romero’s original ‘Night of The Living Dead’ (1968) managed to scare the pants off me as a teenager. With all the zombie films that have followed, many from Romero himself, we have seen more gore, and great improvements in special effects. But his 60s scarer still has power, and the claustrophobic feel never goes away.
One of my favourite modern epics, and an historical saga of life in rural Italy, ‘Novecento’ (1976) covers a group of characters during the turbulent years of Italian history, from 1900 to 1945. It’s all there; peasant farmers, cruel landlords, the rise of Communism and Fascism, and two world wars. Bernardo Bertolucci delivers the sweeping vistas and wonderful set pieces he is known for, and despite the running time of over five hours in the original cut, (reduced to four hours for the one-film edit) this never gets tiring to watch. As well as the Italian actors, many famous faces grace the cast. They are dubbed into Italian, and very well done it is too. Donald Sutherland, Robert De Niro, Gerard Depardieu, Burt Lancaster, and many, many more. This might be the best film you have never seen.
I like smart and snappy con-man films, and they have rarely been done better than in the Argentinian film, ‘Nine Queens’ (2000). Starring the excellent Ricardo Darin, and set in an unfamiliar Buenos Aires, this is a superb film about the mishaps that befall a couple of fruadsters who live a life of crime. Full of twists and turns, and with great pacing too, it really is one to see. It has been remade, but I suggest you give that version a wide berth, and stick with the original.
Ray Liotta has had a mixed career. Despite his standout performance in ‘Goodfellas’, he often takes roles in poor films, and sells his talents cheaply. However, one starring role was just made for him, and he grabbed it with both hands. Almost overlooked, the gritty and bleak thriller, ‘Narc’ (2002) sees him as corrupt cop Henry Oak, being investigated by undercover officer Nick Tellis, (Jason Patric) a man with his own past demons to overcome. Liotta has a real presence in the film, and despite the nasty character of Henry, I couldn’t help but like his portrayal of a man who is not all what he seems to be.
In case you were wondering, I am not leaving out ‘Network’ (1976). Sidney Lumet’s satirical drama is as relevant now as it has ever been. Peter Finch is just wonderful as TV anchorman Howard Beale, and delivers his descent into madness with flair. Faye Dunaway has one of her finest Oscar-winning hours as the head of the programme, alongside a reliable turn from William Holden, as the sympathetic president of the network. There is Robert Duvall too, as the cynical TV man who agrees to exploit Beale’s madness for ratings. Four Oscars, all well deserved. You will never feel the same about watching TV again.
My choice for today is another foreign language film. No surprise there. The original version of ‘Nikita’ (1990), from Luc Besson, is still one of my favourite French films. Stylish, original, and with a great cast, this is a thriller to enjoy over and over again. The lovely Anne Parillaud is rarely seen, and that makes her starring role in this intriguing assassin-thriller all the better. The rest of the cast step up to the plate, delivering similarly memorable performances. With the legendary Jeanne Moreau, and the brilliant Tcheky Karo, this is modern French film making at its exciting best. And Jean Reno is in it too!
(This trailer is in French, but the film has subtitles.)