Celebrating Great Films

Monday, February 09, 2009

Snapshot afterthoughts

I found a breakdown of the IMDb Top 250 movies by genre here (as of October 2008).

And it occured to me that you can see historical lists of IMDb's Top 250 films using the Internet Archive (also try this link). Back in 1996, IMDb users rated Star Wars as the number one film, and Trainspotting as number two...

Snapshot of IMDb's Top 250 films - Feb 2009

I don't know why I didn't think of this before, but wouldn't it be interesting to see how the Top 250 changes over time?

Below is a snapshot of how it looks today. Since I blogged about them:

7 films have gone up in the ranking (including The Prestige, which gained an impressive 104 places).

6 have stayed the same (including Little Miss Sunshine, dammit!).

And the rest have gone down - including five films that have disappeared from the Top 250 altogether (Walk the Line, Star Wars III, Pirates I, Hero and - I'm particularly disappointed about this one - Almost Famous).

My mission is about 14% complete...

IMDb Top 250 films as of 09 February 2009:

1.9.1The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
2.9.1The Godfather (1972)
3.9.0The Godfather: Part II (1974)
4.8.9Buono, il brutto, il cattivo., Il (1966)
5.8.9The Dark Knight (2008)Yes
6.8.9Pulp Fiction (1994)
7.8.8Schindler's List (1993)
8.8.8One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
9.8.812 Angry Men (1957)
10.8.8Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
11.8.8Casablanca (1942)Yes
12.8.8Star Wars (1977)
13.8.8Shichinin no samurai (1954)Yes
14.8.8The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
15.8.7Goodfellas (1990)
16.8.7Rear Window (1954)Yes
17.8.7Cidade de Deus (2002)
18.8.7Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
19.8.7C'era una volta il West (1968)
20.8.7The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
21.8.7The Usual Suspects (1994)
22.8.7Fight Club (1999)Yes
23.8.7Psycho (1960)
24.8.6The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
25.8.6Sunset Blvd. (1950)
26.8.6Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
27.8.6Memento (2000)Yes
28.8.6North by Northwest (1959)
29.8.6Citizen Kane (1941)
30.8.6The Matrix (1999)
31.8.6It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
32.8.6The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
33.8.6Se7en (1995)
34.8.6Slumdog Millionaire (2008)Yes
35.8.5Léon (1994)
36.8.5Apocalypse Now (1979)
37.8.5American Beauty (1999)
38.8.5Taxi Driver (1976)Yes
39.8.5Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
40.8.5WALL·E (2008)Yes
41.8.5American History X (1998)
42.8.5Vertigo (1958)
43.8.5Paths of Glory (1957)
44.8.5Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain, Le (2001)
45.8.5Forrest Gump (1994)
46.8.5M (1931)
47.8.5The Wrestler (2008)Yes
48.8.5Double Indemnity (1944)
49.8.5To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
50.8.5The Departed (2006)Yes
51.8.5Alien (1979)
52.8.5A Clockwork Orange (1971)
53.8.5The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
54.8.5Das Leben der Anderen (2006)
55.8.5The Third Man (1949)
56.8.4The Shining (1980)
57.8.4Chinatown (1974)Yes
58.8.4The Pianist (2002)
59.8.4Saving Private Ryan (1998)
60.8.4Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)Yes
61.8.4Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi (2001)
62.8.4Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
63.8.4Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
64.8.4Aliens (1986)
65.8.4L.A. Confidential (1997)
66.8.4Requiem for a Dream (2000)Yes
67.8.4Das Boot (1981)
68.8.4The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
69.8.4Laberinto del fauno, El (2006)
70.8.4Reservoir Dogs (1992)
71.8.4City Lights (1931)
72.8.4Rashômon (1950)Yes
73.8.4The Maltese Falcon (1941)
74.8.4Raging Bull (1980)
75.8.4All About Eve (1950)
76.8.3Metropolis (1927)
77.8.3Modern Times (1936)
78.8.3Der Untergang (2004)
79.8.3Singin' in the Rain (1952)
80.8.3Rebecca (1940)
81.8.3Gran Torino (2008)
82.8.3Some Like It Hot (1959)
83.8.3The Prestige (2006)Yes
84.8.3Amadeus (1984)
85.8.32001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
86.8.3The Elephant Man (1980)
87.8.3Vita è bella, La (1997)
88.8.3The Apartment (1960)
89.8.3Nuovo cinema Paradiso (1988)
90.8.3The Great Escape (1963)
91.8.3Sin City (2005)Yes
92.8.3Full Metal Jacket (1987)Yes
93.8.3Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
94.8.3Touch of Evil (1958)
95.8.3The Sting (1973)
96.8.3The Great Dictator (1940)
97.8.3No Country for Old Men (2007)
98.8.3Hotel Rwanda (2004)Yes
99.8.3Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
100.8.3Sjunde inseglet, Det (1957)
101.8.3On the Waterfront (1954)
102.8.3Ladri di biciclette (1948)
103.8.3Back to the Future (1985)
104.8.3Braveheart (1995)
105.8.3Batman Begins (2005)Yes
106.8.3The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
107.8.3Jaws (1975)
108.8.3Strangers on a Train (1951)
109.8.3Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
110.8.3Blade Runner (1982)
111.8.3Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983)
112.8.2The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
113.8.2Unforgiven (1992)
114.8.2There Will Be Blood (2007)
115.8.2Notorious (1946)
116.8.2The Green Mile (1999)
117.8.2High Noon (1952)
118.8.2The Big Sleep (1946)
119.8.2Fargo (1996)
120.8.2Oldboy (2003)
121.8.2Gladiator (2000)
122.8.2Cool Hand Luke (1967)
123.8.2Per qualche dollaro in più (1965)
124.8.2The Wizard of Oz (1939)Yes
125.8.2Die Hard (1988)
126.8.2Mononoke-hime (1997)
127.8.2Yojimbo (1961)
128.8.2Donnie Darko (2001)
129.8.2Ran (1985)
130.8.2The General (1927)
131.8.2Annie Hall (1977)
132.8.2Smultronstället (1957)
133.8.2Salaire de la peur, Le (1953)
134.8.2Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
135.8.2Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
136.8.2It Happened One Night (1934)
137.8.2Heat (1995)
138.8.2Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)Yes
139.8.2The Deer Hunter (1978)
140.8.2The Sixth Sense (1999)
141.8.2Ben-Hur (1959)
142.8.2Platoon (1986)
143.8.2Into the Wild (2007)
144.8.2Million Dollar Baby (2004)
145.8.1The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
146.8.1Notti di Cabiria, Le (1957)
147.8.1Life of Brian (1979)
148.8.1Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
149.8.1Diaboliques, Les (1955)
150.8.1Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
151.8.1 (1963)
152.8.1Ratatouille (2007)
153.8.1The Big Lebowski (1998)
154.8.1The Killing (1956)
155.8.1Amores perros (2000)
156.8.1The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
157.8.1Finding Nemo (2003)Yes
158.8.1The Graduate (1967)
159.8.1Snatch. (2000)
160.8.1The Night of the Hunter (1955)
161.8.1Brief Encounter (1945)Yes
162.8.1Stand by Me (1986)
163.8.1Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
164.8.1Gandhi (1982)
165.8.1The Wild Bunch (1969)
166.8.1The Gold Rush (1925)
167.8.1Gone with the Wind (1939)
168.8.1Trainspotting (1996)
169.8.1V for Vendetta (2005)Yes
170.8.1The Princess Bride (1987)
171.8.1Scarface (1983)
172.8.1The Thing (1982)Yes
173.8.1The Incredibles (2004)Yes
174.8.1The Lion King (1994)
175.8.1Groundhog Day (1993)
176.8.1Harvey (1950)
177.8.1Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
178.8.1Battaglia di Algeri, La (1966)
179.8.1Toy Story (1995)
180.8.1Children of Men (2006)
181.8.1Sleuth (1972)
182.8.1The Terminator (1984)
183.8.1The Hustler (1961)
184.8.1Umberto D. (1952)
185.8.0The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)
186.8.0Twelve Monkeys (1995)
187.8.0The African Queen (1951)Yes
188.8.0Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)Yes
189.8.0Låt den rätte komma in (2008)
190.8.0Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
191.8.0Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
192.8.0Duck Soup (1933)Yes
193.8.0The Conversation (1974)
194.8.0The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
195.8.0The Lady Vanishes (1938)
196.8.0The Kid (1921)
197.8.0Stalag 17 (1953)
198.8.0The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
199.8.0Casino (1995)
200.8.0Hotaru no haka (1988)
201.8.0King Kong (1933)
202.8.0Scaphandre et le papillon, Le (2007)
203.8.0Crash (2004/I)
204.8.0Dial M for Murder (1954)Yes
205.8.0Ed Wood (1994)
206.8.0The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
207.8.0The Exorcist (1973)
208.8.0All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
209.8.0In Bruges (2008)
210.8.0The Lost Weekend (1945)
211.8.0Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
212.8.0Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)Yes
213.8.0A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
214.8.0Rope (1948)
215.8.0Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
216.8.0Patton (1970)
217.8.0Rosemary's Baby (1968)
218.8.0Wo hu cang long (2000)
219.8.0Frankenstein (1931)
220.8.0Glory (1989)
221.8.0Little Miss Sunshine (2006)Yes
222.8.0Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922)
223.8.0His Girl Friday (1940)
224.8.0Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
225.8.0Magnolia (1999)
226.8.0Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
227.8.0Strada, La (1954)
228.8.0Safety Last! (1923)
229.8.0Belle et la bête, La (1946)
230.8.0Network (1976)
231.8.0Spartacus (1960)
232.8.0The Philadelphia Story (1940)
233.8.0Manhattan (1979)
234.8.0Big Fish (2003)
235.8.0In the Heat of the Night (1967)
236.8.0Great Expectations (1946)
237.8.0Roman Holiday (1953)
238.8.0Mystic River (2003)
239.8.0Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
240.8.0Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
241.8.0Rocky (1976)
242.8.0Dolce vita, La (1960)
243.8.0Frost/Nixon (2008)Yes
244.8.0The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
245.8.0Laura (1944)
246.8.0Planet of the Apes (1968)
247.8.0Changeling (2008)
248.8.0Harold and Maude (1971)
249.8.0Eskiya (1996)
250.8.0The Message (1976)

Sunday, February 08, 2009


Frost/Nixon#243 at time of writing.

Ron Howard's competent film adaptation of Peter Morgan's play dramatises the famous interviews between David Frost and recently-resigned Richard Nixon from 1977.

The story remains reasonably faithful to the facts; the occasional edit or flourish adds to the drama without undermining the truth (cf Pearl Harbour and the like). You might say the film captures what the collective consciousness remembers of the Frost/Nixon interviews, rather than exactly what happened.

Frank Langella plays Nixon brilliantly, as a fallen man desperate for an act of contrition but still in too deep with his old trickery and slick ways. The film leaves us feeling satisfied that America got its confession from the dastardly Nixon, but it also leaves us feeling sympathy for the man.

Fascinating, but not really a must-watch film. It'll be off the Top 250 in a week.


Saturday, February 07, 2009


Memento#27 at time of writing.

After watching Memento at the cinema I left with my head spinning... I love films that do that. If you like twists, this is the twistiest.

Leonard (Guy Pearce) is determined to find his wife’s killer. However, the attack left him suffering from a type of amnesia whereby he can no longer store new memories. He can remember events before the attack, but not what happened fifteen minutes ago. Therefore, he relies on a system of notes, photos and tattoos on his body to record information about himself and others. This unique thriller unfolds in two separate narratives, one in chronological order and one in reverse, so the audience experiences the same disorientation as Leonard.

I have heard it argued that this backwards storytelling is a gimmick that could have been applied to any film (and indeed there are other films that use reverse chronology - see Betrayal and Irréversible). Certainly, this kind of storytelling could come easily to a director who is used to filming things out of sequence. Perhaps that's true, but Memento transcends gimmickry. The story could not have been told better any other way.

With this and the Batman films under his belt, director Chris Nolan is shaping up to be an all-time great, even if he does look uncannily like Harry Enfield.

Friday, February 06, 2009

London’s most famous tube station

AldwychAldwych tube station, formerly known as Strand, was built in 1907 as an offshoot of the Piccadilly Line. Because the branch is entirely self-contained, and was always closed at weekends, it has long been a popular location for film and television companies wanting to film on the Underground.

The station closed to the public in 1994, but it has been reasonably well-preserved, and for £1000 an hour (not including the use of a train) you can bring in your own film crew.

AldwychThanks to Transport for London’s Film Office, I recently had a look around. We were shown the defunct lift shafts that spelled the station’s doom when their repair bill was deemed uneconomical, and then we descended the winding spiral staircase.

Aldwych’s remaining platform is used to test mock-up designs for new signage, tilework and advertising systems. The walls feature replicas of posters from decades gone by. The trackwork and infrastructure remains in good condition, and a train of ex-Northern Line 1972 tube stock is permanently stabled on the branch, which can be driven up and down the branch for filming and to keep the trackwork in good repair.

We walked through the train used in V for Vendetta; we peered into the tunnel used for The Prodigy’s Firestarter music video; and we imagined the wave of water through the corridor as depicted in Atonement (where Aldwych stood in for Balham station). That water, we were told, was CGI; film crews are expected to leave the station as they found it. Which isn’t always easy – goodness knows how the film crew for Creep cleared up after releasing hundreds of real rats into the empty lift shafts!


Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Dark Knight

#5 at time of writing.

I've seen The Dark Knight twice - once at the UK premiere, and once at the excellent Roxy Bar and Screen on Borough High Street. Both times, I was on the edge of my seat with anxiety for the full two and a half hours. This is no mere superhero movie – it is an epic crime drama of remarkable complexity and substance, tackling sweeping themes of retribution and sacrifice.

Whether this film deserves to be scored as the fifth best film of all time - or even the #1 film as it was for a few weeks on IMDb - is moot, but it's hard to deny that it is an incredibly powerful cinematic experience. (It came out the same week as Wall·E - what a week that was for the silver screen!)

The Dark Knight

Heath Ledger’s untimely death in January 2008 ensured that the Hollywood hype machine would be in overdrive, but incredibly his performance - and the whole film - lives up to even the most excessive expectations.

Heath Ledger's apocalyptic performance is certainly Oscar-worthy. Compare the Joker to Ennis Del Mar from Brokeback Mountain and it's very hard to believe that they are the same person.

It’s not flawless. It's long, Bale’s Batman voice is sometimes over-the-top, and, well, it’s not Batman Begins. But the scale, tension and sheer dark depths of the characters will leave you in awe.

(A far cry from my opinion of Batman & Robin...)

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


Wall·E#39 at time of writing.

The teasers for Wall·E had me salivating for more since Ratatouille graced our screens. With that much anticipation, it’s almost impossible not to be let down. But the truth is even more unlikely: My colossal expectations were not only met, but exceeded – with room to spare.

This fairytale of a robot who falls in love boasts a host of superlatives. It's the highest rated animated feature on IMDb. It's the most expensive animation ever made (it cost more than Waterworld). And it's the probably the movie with the least dialogue to ever be nominated for an Oscar for best original screenplay.

Director Andrew Stanton and the Pixar team watched one Charlie Chaplin and one Buster Keaton film every day for almost a year, to give them confidence in how a full range of emotions could be portrayed silently.

All that research paid off in spades. Sumptuous animation, endearing characters, the most romantic robots you've ever seen - this tongue-in-cheek cautionary tale is an instant classic.

Surely it can’t be THAT wonderful, I hear you say. Well, it's a bit preachy, linear, and has a couple of cheesy lines. But everyone knows there are only two kinds of Pixar films: great ones and perfect ones – and Wall·E is Pixar on top form.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Films for Free at a Monitor Near You

Internet Archive Movie ArchiveThere are 1000 megabytes in a gigabyte. There are 1000 gigabytes in a terabyte. And there are 1000 terabytes in a petabyte. The Internet Archive has been archiving the entire Internet since 1996, and now contains nearly two petabytes of information – more than even the world’s largest library.

Among that ocean of information is a huge archive of copyright-free and copyright-expired movies. Last week, I browsed the Moving Image Archive and treated myself to a string of films from the dawn of cinema.

Internet Archive Movie ArchiveI started with Le voyage dans la lune, a short film created in 1902 by Georges Méliès. Méliès created a number of special effects that are still used today, and is credited as the first person to use celluloid to tell self-contained stories.

With my appetite whetted, I spent the next few hours downloading and absorbing Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Fritz Lang, The Man With a Movie Camera, Battleship Potemkin, Nosferatu – and a few Merrie Melodies along the way.

These golden oldies are a pleasure to experience on two levels. First, because they are oddly familiar. The styles and stories, the idioms and issues that characterize the range of cinematic possibility as we perceive it today, were nearly all present from the very beginning. And secondly, never mind the historical interest, they are just wonderful films on their own terms – a great joy to watch.

Monday, February 02, 2009

The Thing

The Thing#174 at time of writing.

John Carpenter’s sci-fi horror movie about a shape-shifting alien is as chilling now as it was when I first saw it almost a decade ago, inducing an unshakeable sense of paranoia.

This remake of 1951 film The Thing from Another World somehow manages to make the lonely ice sheets of the Antarctic feel breathtakingly claustrophobic. Much of it was filmed high in the mountains near Stewart in British Columbia.

In August 2003 a couple of hard-core fans, Todd Cameron and Steve Crawford, ventured to the remote filming location and, after 21 years, found remains of the Outpost #31 set and the Norwegian helicopter. The rotor blade from the chopper now belongs to Todd and rests in his collection of memorabilia from the film.

The special effects - which have dated somewhat, but are still unsettlingly creepy - were considered a new high-water mark at the time this film was released, all the more impressive when you discover that effects designer Rob Bottin was only 22 when he started the project.

Comically, There is a character name "Mac" and another named "Windows"; since the film was made in 1982, this is purely coincidental.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Letters from Iwo Jima

Letters from Iwo Jima#187 at time of writing.

It could have been seen as a gimmick when Clint Eastwood decided to film the story of the Battle of Iwo Jima from both the American perspective (Flags of Our Fathers) and the Japanese perspective (Letters from Iwo Jima). But it is not a gimmick.

This film is remarkably brave, honest and non-Hollywood. It portrays the Japanese soldiers as ordinary people forced by circumstance to battle for a lost cause, abandoned by the mainland and doomed by an insane cultural fear of losing face. It's visceral in scope and personal in tone, and there's always an assured hand in dealing with the performances and characters.

There are some desperately moving scenes as the soldiers and General Kuribayashi gradually realise the hopelessness of their situation. One of the most affecting aspects of the film is the tension between those soldiers that think it treasonous not to commit suicide in the face of failure, and those soldiers - the General included - who doubt the wisdom of such sacrifice.

As you watch the events unfold, you feel fear, loss, anger, and a mixture of sadness and admiration for the courage and persistent humanity of these ill-fated people.

This film is a significant, fascinating achievement.