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Paul Jensen

Silver Winners: 81-90

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Just when things run the risk of becoming tiresome in the Bond series, they throw us a curve ball with this highly unconventional entry. The STORY elevates this film above almost all the other Bond films. They sure don't make things easy for Bond in this entry. Despite Lazenby being the worst of the 007 actors, great character development is given to James Bond. It's also evident that Peter Hunt's direction was influenced by the French New Wave's jump-cutting and the insanely fast-paced editing, especially during the intense action/suspense scenes. (The car chase was nuts for the time.) One odd plot hole though is that Blofeld doesn't recognize Bond. Yet, they met in the previous one. Strange. Also, during the second act things get very weird and at times don't even feel like a Bond film. However, much is forgiven thanks to the breathtaking ski sequences (the free fall off the cliff!) and thrilling Bobsled chase. Also, Diana Rigg has to be my all-time favorite Bond girl. So much of the film is dedicated to her (so refreshing!) and at times she even overshadows Bond. The ending is also the darkest and bravest hour in the Bond franchise. Unforgettably tragic.


Genre: Action
Director: Peter Hunt


THE GODFATHER PART III (1990) 4.5 stars

Part III often gets a bad wrap but I think this is clearly unfair. True, it is not as good as the first two, but it remains a great and worthy film nonetheless. Pacino is remarkably sad and world weary. (This is where the King Lear influence is most pronounced.) Repentance is the theme here. From Michael's confession, to his son's stage debut, from the church's dealings with the Godfather, to the disguised and lethal assassin, everything is intertwined with religion. The film is both operatic and sweepingly tragic with Coppola making his most personal mark in this final entry. It's interesting how Michael Corleone's and Coppola's sacrifice are slightly mirrored. In both cases, Sofia Coppola is the price that's paid. Ultimately, the first two entries help elevate this film, with the saga reaching its satisfying conclusion. Simply put: the Godfather trilogy remains among the top five finest trilogies ever made.


Genre: Crime
Director: Francis Ford Coppola


HOWARD'S END (1992) 4.5 stars

Merchant/Ivory's masterpiece is bold, elegant, sophisticated and brilliantly moving with a cast that astonishes. In particular, Redgrave and Thompson are both in peak form; watching them perform together is like seeing two pro's in all their glory. The writing is pitch-perfect.  Ruth Prawer Jhabvala has proven that she is the finest screenwriter for adaptation. The complexity and subtlety within each scene makes the film a riveting experience. There's so much subtext in each line and the glorious cast each play their parts to perfection. Like with A Room with a View, Merchant and Ivory prove that they can take a simple setting (a window or house) and create a complex tableau of class struggle, wrenching heartache and intense character relations. All done with such elegance.


Genre: Drama
Director: James Ivory


FANTASTIC MR. FOX (2009) 4.5 stars

A rare children's animated film that may please adults more than the kids. The subtext about letting go of your inner wild spirit is a re-occurring theme throughout Anderson's career - his characters resist growing up. The Fox finally bids farewell to his animal instincts during the poetic and surprisingly touching wolf sighting. Also, society's encroaching domestication of nature is darkly and comedically addressed during the final moments where the animals live in sewers and embrace a supermarket. It seems it all comes down to survival. I dare say it might be my favorite Anderson film. The stellar dialogue is matched by the first-rate cast. Visually, the film is a stunner and it moves at breakneck speed. It is all so brilliantly funny and the minute it finishes, you're dying to see it again.


Genre: Animation
Director: Wes Anderson


TOY STORY 3 (2010) 4.5

This is the Return of the King of the Toy Story series. The most emotional, epic and finest of the trilogy. More than anything, it's a text book example of constant progressive complications. The story never lets up and the writers consistently throw twists at us from all angles. During the volcanic climax, the seriousness with which the filmmakers treat the characters, is matched by the emotional weight we feel for them. I found myself asking, why do I care so much about a group of silly animated toys? Then it hit me, they are as real to audiences as toys are to kids. Kids' imaginations bring life to their toys and the team at Pixar have honored that and done the same. It's actually absurd what a track record Pixar has. Again and again they deliver the goods. After three astonishingly great films, the Toy Story series reaches its natural conclusion; suffice it to say, I was an emotional wreck by the end.


Genre: Animation
Director: Lee Unkrich


BARAKA (1992) 4.5 stars

Fricke was influenced by Reggio's trilogy (which in turn was influenced by Man with a Movie Camera) but in some regards, Fricke surpasses his mentor by making such a visually rich and brilliant documentary. This mystical visual odyssey remains as rich and profound as it was twenty years ago. It manages to capture city life, nature and spirituality perfectly, all without saying a word. It's existential without being preachy. It also happens to be one of the finest transfers in DVD history. Check out the Blu-ray - it's astonishing.


Genre: Documentary
Director: Ron Fricke


THUNDERBALL (1965) 4.5 stars

The best of the Connery films and lets face it, Connery still remains the best Bond. This was the first in the series to use cinemascope and surround sound and Young has a blast creating such havoc, especially underwater. The climactic boat chase scene is as hysterical and thrilling as Bond gets. Gotta love the fast-motion fighting. Classic! Technically speaking, Thunderball remains a marvel. The water sequences were cutting edge at the time and they still hold up. Connery is ultra-cool with some of his best one-liners ever - "I think he got the point." The death scenes are gritty and the villain rapes and tortures Bond's girl - brutal. Very bold for '65. The opening credits were risque as well and this is the movie that started the 24 hr marathon madness. Also, Nolan borrows the finale for The Dark Knight.


Genre: Action
Director: Guy Hamilton


LET ME IN (2010) 4.5 stars

I couldn't believe how perfect this film is. It's the best vampire film in thirty years. Astonishingly well-made. The imagery, perfect score and mood are exceptional and restrained. This is a minimalist horror film. Don't expect anything terribly scary, instead they deliver characters that you truly care about and enough mystery to keep you hooked. Granted, they owe everything to the Swedish original and it's pretty strange that they remade it so quickly but like Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the American remake may in fact be a little better. Reeves fine-tuned it to perfection. A shame the astonishing climax is lifted straight from the Swedish original. That said, on its own merits, this film is a masterpiece. The actors playing the young lovers are so incredibly well cast that they had me moved to tears. It may be a remake, but like The Thing and The Fly, it's a worthy addition to the pantheon of great horror films.


Genre: Horror
Director: Matt Reeves


THE KID WITH A BIKE (2011) 4.5 stars

I've never seen a more natural and honest coming-of-age story. The "kid" starts out so desperate and flawed and his slow maturity always feels organic and real. The Beethoven music comes in almost like chapter headings, breaking apart each difficult stage of our protagonist's growth. The Dardenne Bros. never offer easy solutions, instead they let events unfold effortlessly, watching painful moments gradually increase. As expected, the performances are impeccable. They may have won the Palm d'or twice but Kid with a Bike is my favorite of their films.


Genre: Foreign
Director: Dardenne Brothers



Sophisticated and old-fashioned storytelling. David Lean would have been proud. Peter Weir has created his most epic masterpiece. Rich, elegant and exciting. The authenticity and authority in which Weir explores the sailing sequences is remarkable. The sound design alone is all-encompassing.  It also explored class conflict in the same manner and sophistication of a Jane Austen novel.


Genre: Action
Director: Peter Weir 


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