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Before you grab your pitchforks and light your torches, I want to clarify that some of these selections are not, in my opinion, bad films. To be overrated is not to be terrible by any means. I just can’t bring myself to qualify them in the very high regard that so many other critics and filmaholics have bestowed upon them.
This compilation (not in any order) will, no doubt, frustrate some that hold these films very dear to their hearts. That’s fine. I am not out to please anyone else but yours truly. Moreover, I should make a very conscious effort to emphasize that my picks here are based on a few criteria: a) Films that were critically lauded, but were works that I did not feverishly revere and/or b) Films that seemed collectively precious and respected by filmgoers (and are highly rated on IMDB), but ones that I did not find so awe-inspiring and resoundingly triumphant.
So hold on to the urge of using your pitchforks and read on...!
In reality, however, it is the directors who use their supreme powers as master storytellers, to draw the audiences into the cinema halls and provide them the joyous escapism they have always yearned for.
Below is my definitive list of 25 directors (with 5 honorary mentions towards the end) who have provided cinema lovers much reason to rejoice, over and over again. Go Feast!!!
So, here's presenting my personal favorite silver screen troikas!
Note: I am yet to watch the 'Mad-Max' series and The Star Wars prequels, so they have not been included in the rankings.
Of the scores of movies I have seen over the years, listed below are 75 scenes that I believe are some of the greatest ever. Enjoy!
If, however, you are in any doubt of the utter brilliance of world cinema, then take your time to read the list below, and pick a few to watch that interest you. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. My only ground rules:
1) No silent films 2) No movies from Britain, Australia or other English-speaking countries.
I am bound to have forgotten a raft of classics—how could I not, with a whole globe to choose from? Please chime in.
Though the artistic greatness of films (and other works of art) can never be rated or quantified, I have tried to compile a list of my personal favorites for you. This is what I go to the movies for! Listed below are the movies (in order of liking) that I have rated a perfect ten as also the ones that came close to being rated a 10 on 10.
Let me know your views on the same. Go Feast!!!
A truly gifted actor is amazing to see in action. They have the ability to make you forget where you are and what you’re doing by drawing you in and convincing you you’re in a different place seeing a drama unfold before your eyes. They take on the essence of different characters seemingly at will. Actors are a dime a dozen. Good actors are hard to find. Great actors are extremely rare, and when you find one, you enjoy their work as much as you can.
The list below is a compilation (ranked in order of liking) of some of the greatest actors in the movie business, who wow audiences with awe-inspiring performances in lead roles even today. To make it to this list, the actor must still be actively making movies and must have peaked as an actor sometime in the last 20 years (hence the omission of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson etc).
With a subject as vast as this, someone significant is bound to fall through the compilation cracks. Read on and enjoy!
What I have compiled here is a list of such great characters that still continue to mesmerize us, thanks to the way these character were written, and also because of their amazing portrayal on screen by the respective actors. Read on....
Les diaboliques (1955)
Clouzot's Murder-Gone-Ghastly Thriller is A Diabolical Masterpiece!
In Diabolique, character and circumstance come together in a twisted concoction more sulphurous than anything ever crafted. The movie is a skillful marriage of ingredients that tread dangerously close to the edge of reasoning while still absorbing them in impeccable artistic standards.
The Delasalle Boarding School is one of those provincial French boarding schools where the children of the rich get packed off for months of unenthusiastic instruction, sketchy and arbitrarily stern discipline, and even sketchier meals. Running the place is headmaster Michel (Paul Meurisse), a foul, mean-spirited, cold-eyed bastard of a fellow who cares for his put-upon, mousy wife Christina (Vera Clouzot) even less than the students unfortunate enough to be left to his care. Christina is a sickly, quiet presence who seems to live only to be tormented by Michel. Given that he sees himself as the absolute master of this small realm, Michel thinks nothing of the fact that he's openly carrying on an affair with one of the teachers Nicole (Simone Signoret). Although Nicole suffers Michel's advances and occasional beatings at night, she is also Christina's only support and solace as they commiserate about Michel's animalistic nature and near-constant put-downs. Everything seems to be set up for one of those ghastly little psychological tales, when - Bing! -the mischief begins.
First off, the wife and the mistress conspire to dispose of their mutual male, on the thoroughly acceptable conclusion that he is fit for nothing else but to be killed. And, in the coziest, clammiest fashion, they go about it, by first drugging the brute with tampered whiskey, then soaking him in a bathtub, and later dumping his soggy body in the school swimming pool. The wife's qualms and the mistress' tenacity add to the sport and the suspense. At first, the plan appears to have gone off without a fault. But when Michel's body doesn't turn up when the pool is drained the next morning, the tension ratchets up to dizzying heights!
On the surface, Diabolique is a crackerjack horror-thriller, woven by intricate performances and a chilling narrative filled with twists and turns. But upon closer inspection, you realize that it is instead a character study, forcing its two sympathetic, but morally compromised protagonists beneath the cinematic microscope and watching them squirm and collapse. Henri-Georges Clouzot tracks the proceedings from a dispassionate distance, with a dramatic use of dark shadow that highlights the asymmetric nature of the characters' tangled and triangulated passions. What he does so seamlessly is take a humdrum domestic crime scenario and envelop it with the kind of cool, glassy dread, plunging us into a pool of blood-chilling mystifications and asphyxiating dreads and then lead us into its rug-yanking climax.
Diabolique still has the power to scare the heebie-jeebies out of audiences. It is a diabolical masterpiece that is meant to entertain, albeit with a certain spiritual shiver.
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
Kathryn Bigelow Adapts Modern History's Greatest Manhunt Into A Crackerjack Thriller!
Never before has the war-on-terror been shot with such a cold dose of reality. As entertainment, Kathryn Bigelow's engrossing and symbolically astute Zero Dark Thirty is a great accomplishment - a somber, black-winged benediction for what we might count as a lost decade. It depicts the long-lasting struggle of terrorism with immense veracity - the greatest manhunt in modern history playing catalyst to a gripping tale of obsession both dark and dangerous.
With Zero Dark Thirty, director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal present a different kind of espionage environment - one that follows a fictionalized CIA operative Maya (Jessica Chastain) recruited specifically to ferret out the architect of the 9/11 attacks Osama Bin Laden. It's one filled with paper work, meetings, and sifting through a never ending stream of intelligence. But it's also one where the stakes are always high, danger is found at every turn, where a hunch can lead to a breakthrough and misinformation can lead to wasted years of chasing ghosts. Through Maya we share the successes and frustrations of tracking down the head of a snake so twisted and slippery it's of no wonder that it took over a decade to get a strangle hold on him. Yet Maya represents more than the CIA, she is America herself: wounded, driven and in conflict on how to move on after killing the bogeyman that haunted their nightmares for too long.
Kathryn Bigelow takes the procedural model and brushes away every unnecessary detail - rarely glorifying and never dumbing down or 'Hollywoodizing' important tidbits of the plot to get a rise out of the audience leaving behind a potent film that never feels bogged down by its own complexity. Even though the outcome is common public knowledge, we are enthralled by the way the story is spooled out. Even at a runtime of three hours, Bigelow displays an uncanny sense of pacing and rhythm, tightly cutting back and forth between Maya's exhausting hunt for bin Laden and her constant inner-struggle to never give up, even when faced with a complete dead end that promises her nothing. All this leads up to the film's most audacious set-piece, an almost unbearably tense, moment by-moment re-creation of the raid on bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. But Bigelow is careful not to exploit the cathartic potential of the raid, and the movie ends on a note that's wonderfully dissonant with the expectations of an action movie crowd.
Maya is a tough cookie, but by casting the pale, red-haired, rather waifish Jessica Chastain, the director makes the unstressed point that strong women sometimes come in deceptively frail packages. She plays Maya with stone-cold intensity, fuelled by anger directed towards a target so elusive that he is more a phantom than a terrorist leader. Zero Dark Thirty rests on Chastain's shoulders, but she's always interacting with strong talent and that only helps to keep the film level and never without a pulse.
Zero Dark Thirty remains an immaculately put together work of art that deserves all the attention it was given.
Sin City (2005)
Sin City is One Guilty Pleasure Trip!
In 2005, Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller joined forces in an audacious synthesis - a triptych of film noir adapted from a series of graphic novels to bring us a world where the villains are ineffably evil, the heroes are compromised, and the city is filled with corruption while mayhem and mischief run amok. The plot, having the direct-action vividness suitable for a video game, is ingeniously constructed in three labeled chapters 'The Hard Goodbye', 'The Big Fat Kill' and 'That Yellow Bastard'. It takes us into the heart of the dark, grimy Basin City, where crime and depravity are a way of life, through three stories about heroes battling overwhelming odds that circle around each other, amplify each other, and ultimately intersect.
Sin City is a world of shadows, captured in beautiful arctic-white and inkblot-black visuals, where the sun never seems to rise. The makers send their heroes into such labyrinthine hells that it would have been depressing if it weren't so much fun. Frank Miller's potent black humor translates easily to the screen and lifts the often grim subject matter, keeping the film entertaining through the darkest of landscapes. Into this frenzied mix, Robert Rodriguez brings his own chromatic talents. He borrows Miller's panels in lighting and composition, but adds his own sense of timing and bits of color strategically disrupting the pristine black-and-white gloom. But what makes Sin City a gleefully gory gem is that the relentlessly dark story is balanced by visceral joy of pure noir storytelling. And, make no mistake, this is a dark movie. Aside from being black-and-white, it also features nothing but characters scraped off the underbelly of society - ex-cons, hookers, corrupt cops, general low-lives. Rodriguez drenches it in his usual monsoon of ironic, macho macabre, with his camera salivating over curves and cleavage of tough-dame females. But the strength of Mr. Miller's writing has always been his ability to give these bottom-feeders soul thanks to which Sin City exists precisely on the edge between exploitation and artistic statement, ultimately saving itself from toppling over with the sincerity of its tone, the beauty of its images, and the honor of its heroes.
In a film that reaches for the pulpy heights that Sin City does, a lesser cast would be lost, even invisible. But here surprisingly, the cast is neither a distraction nor an aberration. Everyone involved in Sin City not only understands this lurid universe but has a grand time playing in it, especially Mickey Rourke, who captures Marv's subterranean humanity beneath his snarling brutality, using his hungry, manic eyes that peek from behind his freakish disfigurement and Elijah Wood who is the definition of creepy as the mute cannibal Kevin.
Sin City is a gleaming pop revelation an extremely stylish piece of crime drama that is relentlessly entertaining. For those with a penchant for pulp, Sin City is one guilty pleasure.
Tsubaki Sanjûrô (1962)
A Swashbuckling Toshiro Mifune Makes Sanjuro Absolutely Enthralling!
In Akira Kurosawa's highly underrated sequel to the much revered Yojimbo, Toshiro Mifune reprises his role as the titular master-less samurai, this time having the arduous task of cleaning up the mess created by the younger generation of a ruling clan, whose misplaced trust leaves them vulnerable to the clan's true enemy.
Set in 19th century Japan, a gruff, disheveled, footloose samurai turns up in a deserted shrine where a cabal of nine young progressives is plotting to overthrow a corrupt regime. Boldly and brashly he appears among them while they have been fumbling for a plan and haughtily takes over the ticklish task of directing them. Consistently decrying the fledgling samurai as "idiots," expert strategist Sanjuro seemingly can't help himself from getting involved with the fallout of their political meddling, as the hapless bunch is desperately in need of saving. Starting with his chivalrous rescue of the chamberlain's wife and daughter from the corrupt warlord, Sanjuro leads the army of warriors on a wild goose chase so the nine inept samurais can free the chamberlain. All the action soon leads us to a dark, rug-yanking conclusion, as our eponymous samurai waves goodbye to those he helped and walks off into the sunset heroic and alone.
The fact that Sanjuro is played by none other than the grunting, swashbuckling Toshiro Mifune makes the movie thoroughly enjoyable from beginning to end. The movie largely gyrates around the marvelously eccentric mannerisms of Mifune's performance, who swaggers through the entire film with a bemused expression - grimacing, scratching, yawning, and stretching in an ironic counterpoint to his character's phenomenal skill as a swordsman. The film's humor arises from Sanjuro's weary irritation and the contrast between his slovenly behavior and the phony ceremonial propriety of others. But while Mifune's satiric portrayal is a delight, Akira Kurosawa sets it in a more recognizably Japanese milieu, with a complicated plot involving political and historical intrigue. Kurosawa applies the full force of his cinematic genius, with brilliant widescreen composition that tells the story in visual terms as clear as the verbal ones. He guides the narrative mostly for laughs, but when the action kicks in the sword fighting is brutal and memorable.
Sanjuro may not be Akira Kurosawa's most celebrated work, but you will find his witty paw prints all over the snappy dialogue, unique characters and intriguing plot an effort that I personally rank higher than Yojimbo!
Gone Girl (2014)
Marriages are Made in Heaven? Not in David Fincher's Universe!
The problem with Gone Girl, David Fincher's first rate adaptation of Gillian Flynn's novel, is that there's relatively little one can say about the film's gnarly plot without giving away the twists. So I'll step lightly over the plot synopsis.
On the day of his fifth wedding anniversary to Amy (Pike), Nick Dunne (Affleck) returns to their small-town Missouri home to find signs of a violent struggle and his wife missing. The police arrive on the "bit-too-arranged" crime scene to find specks of her blood, as the search fast gains national attention, with the media circus rolling into town in a frenzy of crass curiosity. The more the cops investigate, the worse it looks for Nick as his responses are unfairly interpreted as too cold to be genuine outpourings of grief. The noose is slowly tightening around Nick, who it turns out is harboring a few secrets of his own. Despite his best efforts to appear sympathetic in front of the cops, the cameras and the court of public opinion, Nick can't help coming off as insincere and smug. But a mid-film twist turns the movie from complex whodunit into a psychological thriller. The shift doesn't come entirely out of nowhere and in spite of the tonal shift, everything feels naturally derived, taking us from sympathy to revulsion and back again to sympathy for the central protagonist.
Gone Girl bounces back and forth seamlessly from the investigation and the attendant media circus to the horrific dissolution of a fairy tale union. The audience is always kept one step ahead of the characters thanks to extracts from Amy's diaries and a series of flashbacks, which show that a once-idyllic marriage founded on sizzling mutual attraction has begun to flounder on acidic mutual disdain. The storyline itself is pure pulp a twisting, lurid crime tale with uncannily familiar elements. But in the hands of an immaculate craftsman like Fincher, Gone Girl is a sleek work of art that polishes its literary source, leaving all of the story's vitriol and venom intact. The black humor of the film consistently bites as it spews bile all over the sanctity of marriage. Fincher orchestrates the drama beautifully, providing the film with a steady, unhurried pace that proves perversely effective as it starts to shred the audience's abraded nerves.
The lead actors have a palpable chemistry that helps construct the narrative of two loving individuals crumbling under the weight of marital infidelity. Ben Affleck's self-conscious presence translates into an indispensable part of his character, imbuing Nick with an ambivalence that leaves us uncertain about whether we should be cheering or booing him, even when the narrative is ready to throw him to the wolves. Rosamund Pike leaves nothing behind, delving full throttle into an iconic performance as Amy. She uses her cool exterior to mask a seething lump of volatility - an intoxicating blend of slow burn and volcanic flash that makes her an overwhelming presence. The supporting cast also delivers wonderfully realized performances.
David Fincher's graceful cynicism proves to be the perfect channel for this comedic tale of moral decay that remains one of cinema's most supremely cynical statements about the institution of marriage.
Indiana Jones' Last Crusade is Pure Escapist Entertainment!
Justifiably one of the most indelible adventure films in cinematic history, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is pure escapist entertainment of the highest caliber. In his third adventure, whip- smart archaeologist Indiana Jones has to rescue his dad rather than a damsel in enduring distress, a cunning ploy that deserves a tip of the fedora to those shrewd storytellers a certain Mr. Steven Spielberg and Mr. George Lucas.
Opening with a fantastic prologue revolving around one of Indy's early escapades, the movie immediately takes us to 1938, when Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) discovers that his curmudgeonly father Henry Jones (Sean Connery) has disappeared while tracking the Holy Grail - the cup that legend holds Jesus used at the Last Supper and now contains his blood. But as we soon find out, he is not alone in his quest. He has company in American millionaire Walter Donovan, who believes that a drink from the cup will confer immortality and a slew of Nazis who will kill anyone to win the prize. Soon we find Indy travel halfway around the world to swash-buckle his way through a company of Nazi brutes, to unite with his tweedy, mildly befuddled father. The duo teams up to begin Indiana's last crusade, as they endlessly elude the Nazis in race to capture the Holy Grail. Can the father-son duo save one of the world's most precious relics from Hitler's minions?
Steven Spielberg has the truest instincts for keeping an audience visually engaged and at his natural command of the simple mechanics of storytelling, it enables him to evoke a kind of pop transcendence that comes close to the effect of the higher, classical arts. Here, he delivers the action with breathless enthusiasm in a movie bursting with thrilling action set-pieces - Indy discovers catacombs, sways through rat-infested tunnels, finds himself right beside the Fuhrer and even manages to reach the coveted Holy Grail, making the pursuit wonderfully perilous.
But it's not the relentless action that you eventually prize in this lavishly executed entertainment. It is the amazing chemistry between its two lead actors that makes it so thoroughly entertaining, never allowing the film to lose sight of the contentious but charming relationship between Indiana and his father. As soon as Connery's Henry welcomes his son's first rescue attempt by addressing him as Junior and they discover they have bedded the same gorgeous Nazi spy, the right note of cantankerousness and grudging affection on both sides is struck. Connery playing against type as a book-wormy professor is solid-gold as Indy's crotchety father. He also brings out the very best in Ford, who is at his charming best as the rugged, macho Indy. The snappy by-play between them adds a wonderful facet to the adventure and together, their timing is impeccable.
When Steven Spielberg takes off his serious hat and channels his inner-child, there's no one better at making sheer entertainment. And that is what Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is - pure entertainment!
La vita è bella (1997)
In Robert Benigni's Classic, Life is Indeed Beautiful, Regardless of Where It is Lived!
In his heartrending Holocaust dramedy, Roberto Benigni brilliantly plays Guido, a die-hard romantic in fascist WWII Italy, who falls in love with his idealized incarnation of femininity - Dora (Nicoletta Braschi) - through a series of coincidental and surreptitiously intentional meetings. While Fascist forces grow in power around them, he woos her with magical imagination; so shamelessly sincere in his earthly motivations that at times he seems to levitate while expressing himself. He even rides a horse into her engagement party to rescue her from a loveless union with a hulking fascist bureaucrat, as we witness his romantic honesty transcend every spastic goof he involuntarily makes. In a flash Guido's wish comes true. Guido's marriage to Dora introduces the couple's jovial five- year-old son Joshua (an endearing Giorgio Cantarini) into their 'beautiful life'.
But soon the film takes a fearsome turn. Guido, who is Jewish, and his little boy are arrested by the Nazis and the gentile Dora insists on climbing aboard the same train, bound for a concentration camp. From the moment they are arrested, Guido turns his charm and imagination to the desperate task of shielding his son from the truth of their horrific reality. He constructs an elaborate fantasy, convincing the boy that everything is indeed fine and that they are playing a great game, and that all their hardships will earn points that will add up to the ultimate prize a real tank. Regardless of how much Joshua comes to doubt his father's idyllic framing of the horrors that surround them, Guido never lets down the pretense. In his constant battle to hold his son's imagination, he seems like a knight defending a castle. Humor is the only tool he has to deflect death, torture and the threat of discovery.
And that's how Robert Benigni is able to maintain what would seem an improbable balance: the film wins heartfelt laughs through his gentle buffoonery and quick-witted fibs while never once downplaying the inhumane horror of the concentration camp situation. Each laugh comes with the lingering threat of death, which Benigni vividly yet fairly subtly depicts, brilliantly combining slapstick comedy with nuanced social commentary about the Holocaust. He effectively creates a situation in which comedy is courage. And he draws from this an unpretentious, enormously likable film that plays with history both seriously and mischievously.
But what makes Life is Beautiful memorable is not its laughs or sense of reality, but its huge heart - a simple, timeless, uplifting tale of the indomitability of humanity even in the midst of inhumanity. Life Is Beautiful manages to walk the extremely thin line between humor, fantasy, and tragedy with astounding grace.
Come, Join the Witch-Hunt in Vinterberg's Kafkaesque Nightmare!
The Hunt is a nerve-shattering drama that provides brutal, thought- provoking answers to the tough questions it asks - an extremely riveting, skillfully put together psychological thriller, whose only tools are human character traits.
The film centers on Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), a genial kindergarten teacher in a small Danish community who has recently been through a bitter divorce. Rather than seek greener pastures, he remains in his provincial hometown, hunting and carousing with his lifelong buddies while negotiating the custody of his teenage son. While there is some speculation about why he lives alone, he's valued for his affectionate relationships with the children in his care. Disaster strikes when one of his pupils, a five-year-old girl, unwittingly makes a startling accusation against him that of sexual misconduct. Everyone chooses to believe the child and the community flies into a frenzy of self-righteousness, without holding a shred of evidence against him. He suddenly finds himself ostracized by people he believed were his friends. As the lie spreads and becomes accepted as truth, despite his protests, everything Lucas values is thrown into jeopardy, from his friendships to his relationship with his son to his very life. His life soon spirals into a Kafkaesque labyrinth of misunderstanding and suspicion right up to the climax, where the movie ends on an unresolved note - a clanging minor key chord of doubt that hangs frozen in the air.
The Hunt starts out slow, introducing a peaceful small town but all the while quietly building a sinister tension that pervades every frame. At first, the sense of impending doom is dismissible, but the genius of Thomas Vinterberg's gentle direction and the film's perfectly paced script is that the dread creeps over you, slowly but surely, until you feel as petrified and powerless as the film's protagonist. The script doesn't peddle in one-dimensional characters or plot contrivances: nothing's forced, and nothing's ever less than frighteningly plausible. But it has an insinuating pull that takes us into the dark realms of the human psyche. Vinterberg re-affirms his stand as a director with brooding power and ruthless precision, a fluid storyteller and a shocking choreographer of violence by using a sharp cinematic knife to cut to the core of the matter: that the human heart can never be entirely civilized.
The acting on all fronts is outstanding, with Mads Mikkelsen at the center of the hysteria delivering a sublime performance. Inflecting every line of dialogue with excruciating pain, frustration and confusion, he creates a brilliantly flawed protagonist. Initially, his inert reaction to the indictments are baffling and infuriating, but as the film progresses, Mikkelsen lets us inside Lucas and allows us to discover the reasons for ourselves.
You leave The Hunt unsettled in the best sense. Its images and implications are likely to stay in your head a long time!
The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Will Smith's Pursuit of Happ'y'ness will make Your Cockles Feel Plenty Warm!
Directed by Gabriele Muccino, the intentionally misspelt The Pursuit of Happiness opens in 1981 as we meet Chris Gardner (Will Smith) barely holding on to normal life as a husband, father and seller of bone-density scanners that few doctors need and fewer can afford. We see from the get-go his devotion to his son Christopher (Jaden Smith) and his shoe-leather perseverance with the scanners; we also see his nit-picking, wife Linda (Thandie Newton), who hangs around just long enough to abandon him for a better life back East. Chris copes as best he can: trying to make the rent, failing to make the rent, moving into a motel, trying and failing to make the rent there.
A glimpse of hotshot stockbrokers driving hotshot wheels sparks dreams of capitalist glory that Chris pursues despite every conceivable setback. He schmoozes the suits at Dean Witter with his forthrightness and flair for Rubik's Cube. Chris finally wangles himself a six- month internship as a stockbroker, with a long-shot chance for a job at the end. The catch is that there's no pay. Now he's a solo parent, and his son misses mom and the apartment Chris couldn't pay for, and none of the chirpy suits at Dean Witter realize that brisk, affable Chris is scraping by on nerve and small change. We see him rear his son with a nurturing, steadfast love that sustains them both when they've hit bottom on a bed of toilet paper, even enlisting his son's ingenuous imagination to patch their spirits together. Chris is acting on all fronts - cheerfully boosting his son's morale, while pretending nonchalance with his colleagues.
In its outlines, it's nothing like the usual success story, in which, after a reasonable interval of disappointment, success arrives wrapped in a ribbon and a bow. Instead, this success story chronicles a series of soul-sickening failures and defeats and missed opportunities, all of which are accompanied by a concomitant accretion of barely perceptible victories that gradually amount to something. The film is tied together by director Gabriele Muccino's adept direction, which keeps proceedings substantial but never melodramatic as he juggles the disparate story elements with more than enough dexterity. Will Smith gives a selfless performance as Chris Gardner, as he conveys the gradual erosion of a man's self- worth. An actor with almost quantifiable likability, he relinquishes his 'actor-ly' vanity and creates a real, complicated and not always sympathetic figure. He plays Gardener with such wry, resigned matter-of-factness that you can't help but root for him. Unsurprisingly, he has a natural on-screen rapport with Jaden, who is himself absolutely endearing in his role, and their powerful father- son bond is genuinely moving.
The Pursuit of Happiness is a go-for-the-gold heart-warmer affirming that anyone can pull himself up by the bootstraps and make something of himself. It's an earnest, modest, heartfelt little ode to paternal love that will warm the cockles of our hearts, and even a recalcitrant Scrooge may sniff back a few salty droplets.
Roman Polanski's Caustic Neo-Noir is So Compelling that "You Can't Forget It"!
It's Los Angeles, 1937. Jack Nicholson's private detective Jake J. Gittes is not a primal masculine archetype, but rather a complicated protagonist. Far from cool and collected, he is simply self- possessed, with a sense of control that's highly illusory and much of the film pivots on undercutting his misplaced self-confidence. The film immediately establishes his less-than-ideal persona via his work snapping pictures of adulterous spouses, a lowbrow form of detective work that is typically beneath the more admirable private eyes. He's looked down on by the law and treated as something of a sordid but necessary evil by his clients, but Jake realizes that's just how the game is played. Soon enough, though, one of those clients, a mysterious woman named Mrs. Evelyn Mulwray finds a way to use Jake's scurrilous reputation to set him up for a fall. His ensuing attempts to clear his name put him on the trail of a case that's bigger, more complex and wide-ranging than anything he's used to, coming up with more rot than he bargained for. One that goes, as they say, all the way to the top!
A convoluted mystery that begins with a visit from a femme-fatale, an ironclad cynical detective with a code of honor, and a spider- like villain weaving a web at the center of the story are all familiar elements of a hard-boiled detective film. But trust Roman Polanski to make disillusionment seductive and resurrect the almost dead format! What he does so brilliantly in Chinatown is import the soul-sick paranoia of 1930s Los Angeles into its depiction: the eponymous Chinatown is less of a physical presence than a state of mind - it's a lurid fantasy, an idea that hovers constantly around the fringes of the movie making it an ultimately intangible maelstrom of deceit, regret and confusion in which the only thing you can be sure of is that everything you know is - to one degree or another - wrong. Robert Towne's labyrinthine script keeps the proceedings thrilling, humorous and disturbing at the same time, pepped up greatly by the crackling dialogues.
The film also boasts career best turns from its star-cast led by Jack Nicholson, who is absolutely charismatic as Jake Gittes, as we find ourselves solve the mystery alongside him as he follows lead after lead through a labyrinth of sticky situations. His Gittes is a layered character and Nicholson makes his depth visible to the audience. Faye Dunaway's vulnerability constantly tempts us with the notion that she is the victim, rather than the villain, in a performance that still has the power to shock. Outright villainy is instead embodied by Noah Cross, an incredibly vile portrayal by John Huston. He gives Noah a false air of courtly manners that, if anything, only adds to the character's sense of debauchery.
Notoriously bleak, yet utterly compelling, Chinatown remains a magnificent dissection of corruption right up to its enigmatic finale. The brute force of its ugly truth is the heart of the film's artistry, and it sticks with us. And it might be just a state of mind, but Chinatown still retains the power to bruise and scar to this day.