151. Sexy Beast (GB 2001)

 

Reformed/retired criminal is coerced into accepting another job.

Terrible title for an excellent film. Ray Winston has to settle for the unflashy role of Gal, a former bank robber living a life contentment in his Spanish villa with ex-porn actress Dee-Dee (an under used Amanda Redman).

Gal's domestic bliss is ruined by the arrival of Don (Ben Kingsley), a psychotic criminal  who has come to Spain to recruit him for a safety deposit box robbery. Kingsley plays the role of a lifetime (I bet he'd rather be remembered for this than Gandhi). Any number of actors have played nutters, serial killers and psychopaths, but few are as believable as Kingsley.

Anyone whose spent any time in the company of a sociopath will recognise the 'truth' (and I don't want to get all Stanislavsky, here) of this superior acting performance. Kingsley himself has said that he's still trying to shed the character from his everyday thoughts.  James Fox experienced similar (but far worse) problems after Performance, and ironically, Fox has a cameo role in 'Sexy Beast'.

Credit also, to a good script (look out for the "NoNoNoNoNoNo" speech), clever direction from Jonathan Glazer and an uncharacteristically believable and sinister performance from Ian McShane (never thought I'd say that in my lifetime-especially after watching him as a fat George Bestalike in Jackie Collins's cinema verité classic 'Yesterday's Hero'.

 

152. Stalag 17 (US 1950)

 

A cocky  American prisoner of war is accused of betraying his hut's secrets to the Germans.

 Much of this film doesn't bear too close an examination: Billy Wilder turns a prisoner of war hut into a prototype 1950s Animal House (even down to having a character called, er, Animal), and some of the star 'turns' (impressions of popular actors of the day) are risible to say the least.

 

 The two elements of the film which keep it (more than) watchable are the slow unravelling of the mystery behind the real traitor, and William Holden's performance as 'little bit woooh, little bit weeerrr' prison camp trader Sefton.

Holden's acting style is both naturalistic and very modern, creating a real character for a new age and eschewing the embarrassing histrionics of Brando and Dean.

Stalag 17, being a Billy Wilder film, contains numerous references to illicit sex and suggestions of prison camp homosexuality.  

You don't get that in The Wooden Horse (unless that's a big gay euphemism that I just don't understand)

 

153. Heartbeat (US 1981)

 

The lives of Jack Kerouac and Neil Cassady from the viewpoint of Cassady's wife.

 It's twenty years since I last saw this so it may be rubbish, but a good cast (Sissy Spacek, Nick Nolte and John Heard) and a different view of a once overrated author. Nolte steals the show with the best line of the film when he's caught in a menage a trois with Heard and some woman. Spacek views him with disgust: Nolte's make-light-of-the-situation reply is: "Look! My best gal! .......And my best pal!"

You had to be there, I suppose. Watching the film, that is.

John Heard had two shots at stardom: Heartbeat and Cutter's Way. It just wasn't to be. Some people are cut out to be moderately interesting character actors. Heard is one of them.

 

Difficult (now) to think of this film without thinking of born-to-be-a star, charismatic cutting edge actor Nick Berry and his very shite Sunday night nostalgia fest for ageing Daily Mail readers .

 Mind you, the Notorious B.I.G.'s vitriolic version of Berry's 'Every Loser Wins' is a blast:

 "Every loser wins, motherfucka!

( Hu ha ha ha),

 Even Chris Bi-ggins,

 (Uhh, hu hu ha ha!")

 

154. La Haine (France 1994)

 

Multi-ethnic group of friends find death on the streets of Paris. 

A film with urban British sensibilities rather than that which is normally associated with French cinema. Good acting all round but a stand out performance from Matthew Kassovitz (who subsequently went on to make some very terrible films indeed).

There just aren't enough French skinhead films for my liking, but there's probably one too many for most people.

 

155. The Last Days of Disco (US 1996)

 

The lives and loves of a group of twenty something Manhattanites.

Whit Stilman's previous film Barcelona is just terrible. Pretentious, over verbose and with about as much charm as an unflushed lavatory. I wasn't looking forward to 'TLDOD'. However, it's a splendid film: clever, funny, sad and like with a good book, I didn't want to lose contact with Stilman's characters forever when it was over.

I'm not too sure about the recreation of the 'disco' era, and any club that keeps the music at a nice quiet level which allows people to ruminate at length at conversational level only exists in the world of film and tv. All* clubs are screamy cop off hellholes for the genitally herpid.

Acting honours go to the somewhat jolie-laide Chloe Sevigny, although Kate 'son of Godber/Alan' is quite obviously a star in the making. 

*The 'She', Victoria Street, Liverpool; 'Shaggers', Newton-le-Willows; 'Felchers', Buntingford, NE Hertfordshire.

 

156. Casino (US 1995)

 

The rise and fall of a casino floor manager.

Admittedly, there's too much voice over in this (almost) top drawer Scorsese (and the clothes are all wrong), but a great film nevertheless. Every performance is superb starting from DeNiro at the top working down through Joe Pesci's even more mental than Goodfellas act, Sharon Stone's manipulative and amoral Ginger, James Woods's return to form low-life (and inexplicable) love of Stone's life and various others including Don Rickles' sweaty casino floor walker.

Mind you, someone should tell Scorsese (and many film critics) that the use of music in his films is shit.

'Layla' should never be played anywhere, never mind as background or counterpoint to a visually dramatic piece of action.

 

157. Angels With Dirty Faces (US 1938)

 

The divergent paths taken by two teenagers lead one to the priesthood and the other to gangsterdom and death. 

Too much story, too sentimental and paradoxically immoral due to its pat (o'brien) sense of accepted morality, but Cagney is his usual talented self and the ambiguous ending is the perfect introduction to the enigmatic nature of perceived truth for any intelligent child. 

Much better than Sham 69's rubbish minor hit of 1978 at any rate.

  

158. Rosemary’s Baby (US 1967)

 

Newly wed bride becomes the unwitting recipient of the Devil's child.

 The best of all 'satanic' films and certainly the most intelligent. Polanski creates a growing sense of unease, as ingenue Mia Farrow is slowly assimilated into a modern day coven. (Husband John Cassavetes joins with a little more 'gusto'. Whatever that is).

 The impregnation scene is horrible but better (?) still is Farrow's acceptance and growing love for her scaly, cloven footed child.

 Farrow's androgyny prompted Ava Gardner to postulate that she was "a fag with a pussy", presumably to further antagonise and humiliate her ex-partner 'big' Frank Sinatra.

   

159. Jackie Brown (US 1997)

 

Drug courier tries to go straight

 Lots of people were disappointed with this, but taken away from its context (the weight of expectations and the unusual narrative structures of Tarantino's previous films), this is a clever, well written and well acted crime film in the same vein as many of the great heist/ crime films of the seventies.

 

A great soundtrack (especially Minnie Riperton and Bloodstone) and fine performance from Robert De Niro as an ageing, rag arse crim on the periphery of the major action. His utilitarian, standy up, "let's get it over with, I've got egg and chips on the table there", sex scene with Bridget Fonda almost put me off my dinner.

  

160. L’Annee Derniere á Marienbad (France 1960)

 

Man meets woman in luxurious hotel. He may have had an affair with her. Last year. In Marienbad.

Enigmatic beyond belief, and not overburdened with narrative, Last Year should be savoured in small portions rather than.....sorry, I'm bored with this piss poor metaphor. Anyway, don't watch it all in one go or you'll go mad. Or something.