The Pendragon Society

The Pendragon Society’s 1000 Greatest Films (2018) 800-781


800. Rain Man (1988) Dir. Barry Levinson, 133 mins.

Levinson’s road movie tells the story of an abrasive, self-centred young wheeler-dealer, Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise). When informed of his estranged father’s death he is shocked to find that all he’s inherited of the multi-million dollar estate is his dad’s prize roses and a 1949 Buick Roadmaster.  The rest of the $3 million-dollar estate has been bequeathed to an identified party who it turns out is another son, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman), an autistic savant, of whose existence Charlie was unaware. Impressive direction and strong lead performances help make Rain Man an effective tale of two isolated people who find understanding and eventually brotherly love.

799. Tale of Tales (1979) Dir. Yuriy Norshteyn, 29 mins.

Named as the greatest animation of all time by a large international jury in 1984, Tale of Tales, like Tarkovsky’s Mirror, attempts to structure itself like a human memory. The film follows a little wolf of Russian folklore who reflects the animator’s burden of keeping the past alive. A masterpiece of cinematic poetry, the graceful and expressive sequences recall Pushkin, the World Wars and childhood loss of innocence.

798. Eastern Promises (2007) Dir. David Cronenberg, 100 mins.

An exploration of violence and identity, Cronenberg’s gripping gangster thriller tells the story of a Russian-British midwife, Anna (Naomi Watts), who delivers the baby of a drug-addicted 14-year old Russian prostitute who dies in childbirth. After Anna learns that the teen was lured into prostitution by the Russian Mafia in London, the Russian gangsters threaten the baby’s life to keep Anna from telling the police about their sex trafficking ring. Soon she herself is under threat from the temperamental mobster (Vincent Cassel) and his driver (the excellent Viggo Mortensen). Particularly notable for the atmospheric cinematography and the visceral fight scene in a Turkish baths.

797. Tootsie (1982) Dir. Sydney Pollack, 119 mins.

Pollack’s comedy drama tells the story of a talented but volatile actor (Dustin Hoffman) whose reputation for being difficult forces him to adopt a new identity as a woman in order to land a job. With a pertinent look at the role of women in the industry, and society in general, and an amusing parody of US soaps, the film is much more than just Hoffman’s clever performance.

796. The Palm Beach Story (1942) Dir. Preston Sturges, 88 mins.

Writer/director Sturges’s satirical comedy follows a couple, Tom Jeffers (Joel McCrea) and Gerry Jeffers (Claudette Colbert). After five years of marriage, Tom hasn’t raised a dime with his lacking inventions and Gerry decides, rather absurdly, that the only way to help her poverty stricken husband is to divorce him, marry a wealthy man, and use the second husband’s money to finance Tom’s schemes. With Colbert’s witty deliveries and some inspired direction from Sturges, The Palm Beach Story is a hugely entertaining romantic comedy.

795. Yol (1982) Dir. Serif Goren, Yilmaz Guney, 114 mins.

With political views against the ruling Turkish military, filmmaker Yilmaz Guney was in prison when he wrote the script for Yol. Directed for him by longtime assistant Serif Goren (with explicit instructions from Guney), the film follows five prisoners given a week’s home leave during the aftermath of the military’s 1980 coup d’état. Probably the most internationally acclaimed and influential Turkish director, Guney was able to edit the film himself having begun exile in Switzerland. A powerful expose of oppression, it won the top prize at the Cannes film festival.

794. Days of Being Wild (1990) Dir. Wong Kar-Wai, 94 mins.

Although a box office flop domestically, Wong Kar-Wai’s second feature maintained his reputation as one of the best up and coming art house directors on the international scene. Set in 1960, the stylish drama centres on the young, boyishly handsome rebel, Yuddy (Leslie Cheung), who learns from the drunken ex-prostitute who raised him that she is not his real mother. Deciding to trace the Filipino who gave birth to him, he leaves behind, with heartless disregard, two woman (Maggie Cheung and Carina Lau) who have fallen for him. With an intricately structured narrative and striking cinematography by Christopher Doyle, Days of Being Wild is probably Wong’s most underrated film.

793. The Fire Within (1963) Dir. Louis Malle, 108 mins.

Widely regarded as one of Malle’s best, the film follows an alcoholic writer, Alain Leroy (Maurice Ronet), who is on the verge of suicide (his character is based on writer Jacques Rigaut, who killed himself in 1929). Having betrayed his wife with a recent liaison with Lydia (Lena Skerla) he visits his bourgeois friends in Paris searching for a reason to live. Stylishly made and enhanced by the outstanding and sympathetic Ronet, The Fire Within is an affecting study of self-realisation.

792. Limelight (1952) Dir. Charles Chaplin, 141 mins.

Something of personal indulgence from Chaplin, the film is set in the theatrical London of his childhood and deals with the difficulties of making comedy and the fickle nature of the audience. Chaplin plays a washed-up drunken comedian who saves a suicidal dancer (Claire Bloom) from killing herself and nurses her to success. The film appears to be both a reflection on Chaplin’s damaged reputation (thanks to an FBI smear campaign) and a retreat into the past. Its nostalgia is never more evident than when Buster Keaton appears in a brilliant cameo. (He’d been largely forgotten by the public at that time).

791. Star Trek (2009) Dir. J.J. Abrams, 127 mins.

Managing to revitalize the Star Trek franchise, J J Abrams’s visually strong reboot follows James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) aboard the USS Enterprise as they combat Nero (Eric Bana), a Romulan from their future who threatens the United Federation of Planets. The story takes place in an alternate reality because of time travel by both Nero and the original Spock (Leonard Nimoy). Using big budget digital effects and the clever narrative, Abrams entertains enough to ensnare a new audience but also finds the right amount of nostalgia, particularly the presence of Nimoy, to please existing fans.

790. Memories of Underdevelopment (1968) Dir. Tomas Gutierrez Alea, 97 mins.

With international revolutionary fervour at its height, Alea made this subtle and complex political drama that looks at the alienation of a bourgeois intellectual within the revolution. It follows the indecisive Sergio (Sergio Correri) who even though he refuses to flee Cuba in the wake of the Bay of Pigs invasion, is seemingly happy to see his wife, parents and friends leave for Miami. He is sceptical of the ability of the Revolution to make a real change to Cuban life, observing that it is only the latest passion for an ever-changing society. Teeming with originality, Memories of Underdevelopment intelligently portrays the end of an old Cuba and the struggle to bring in a new one.

789. Ju Dou (1990) Dir. Fengliang Yang, Yimou Zhang, 95 mins.

Notable as the first Chinese production nominated for best foreign language film at the Academy Awards (although it was made with Japanese funding), this visually splendid tragedy focuses on a beautiful young woman (dynamically played by Gong Li) who has been sold as a wife to Jinshan (Li Wei), an old cloth dyer sometime in the 1920s. With assured direction and a superb use of colour it’s not hard to see why Zhang’s tale of illicit passion is considered by many to be his masterpiece.

788. Hedgehog in the Fog (1975) Dir. Yuriy Norshteyn, 11 mins.

Norshteyn’s classic animation short follows a little hedgehog (voiced by Maria Vinogradova), who, while on the way to visit his friend the bear cub, gets lost in thick fog, where horses, dogs and even falling leaves take on a terrifying new aspect. A visually dazzling and poetic interpretation of a Russian folk tale.

787. The Fountain (2006) Dir. Darren Aronofsky, 96 mins.

Deemed a pretentious failure by many, Aronofsky’s startlingly original film stars Hugh Jackman as a man on a 1000 year odyssey to try and save his beloved (Rachel Weisz). The film follows the couple through three storylines where they play different sets of characters, a modern-day scientist and his cancer-stricken wife, a conquistador and his queen, and a space traveller who hallucinates his lost love. Putting to one side Aronofsky’s often perplexing philosophical musings, the film should at least been seen for its feast of stunning visuals and the strong performances.

786. Detour (1945) Dir. Edgar G. Ulmer, 67 mins.

A B picture that has become a film noir classic, Detour was made in just 6 days and follows Al Roberts (Tom Neal) a piano player in a sleazy New York nightclub who is trying to hitch a ride to Hollywood to find his girlfriend who earlier headed there in search of stardom. Al gets a lift with a talkative, drug-addicted businessman who mysteriously dies during the trip. Frightened that he will be blamed for the death, Al hides the body in a ditch and assumes the businessman’s identity. Needing company, he picks up Vera (Ann Savage), a fellow hitchhiker who knows of Al’s deception. Most notable for its strong use of genre traits, Detour is stuck somewhere between atmospheric thriller and heightened melodrama.

785. Elizabeth (1998) Dir. Shekhar Kapur, 124 mins.

Kapur’s visually exciting political thriller sees a young Elizabeth Tudor (Cate Blanchett) elevated to the throne of a divided England on the death of her half-sister Mary I, who had imprisoned her. Elizabeth’s reign over the bankrupt realm is perceived as weak and under threat of invasion by France or Spain. For the future stability and security of the crown she is urged by adviser William Cecil (Richard Attenborough) to marry a foreign prince, but she prefers the company of the charming Lord Dudley (Joseph Fiennes). It’s a vivid recreation of Elizabethan England, intelligently written and with a star making turn from Australian Blanchett. Geoffrey Rush is the best of an interesting supporting cast as spymaster Francis Walsingham.

784. Shine (1996) Dir. Scott Hicks, 105 mins.

A visually inventive and occasionally harrowing Australian biographical film based on the life of gifted pianist David Helfgott (Geoffrey Rush), who suffered a mental breakdown and spent years in institutions. Rush, only then known as a stage star, gives an extraordinary Oscar winning performance while Hicks steers clear of melodrama and delivers an ultimately uplifting film.

783. Breaker Morant (1980) Dir. Bruce Beresford, 107 mins.

While maybe lacking in sublety, Bruce Beresford’s film touches a nationalist nerve by portraying Australian positivity against the pompous arrogance, conniving and incompetence of the British, who needing scapegoats for war crimes committed during the Second Anglo-Boer War, court martial three Australian Lieutenants Harry Morant (Edward Woodward), Peter Handcock (Bryan Brown) and George Witton. Set in 1902 and based on one of the first war crime prosecutions in British military history, the film offers historical insight from a time when Australia’s nationhood was being formed and still resonates with contemporary audiences thanks to its powerful sense of injustice.

782. Out 1, noli me tangere (1971) Dir. Jacques Rivette, Suzanne Schiffman, 773 mins.

Being mainly improvised (there was no script) and running for a taxing 773 minutes, the long version of Rivette’s experimental Out 1 was always going to be too daunting for mainstream consumption. It’s a uniquely ambitious cinema verite mix of fiction and documentary that looks at two underground theatre troupes both workshopping Aeschylus using different methods. Then there’s the nonsensical parts of the film that look at street people. Most will find it frustrating and exhausting while others may feel a deeply satisfying sense of achievement by reaching the end.

781. Dallas Buyers Club (2013) Dir. Jean-Marc Vallee, 117 mins.

Vallee’s fact-based and refreshingly unsentimental film tells the story of fast living Texas redneck Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), who is diagnosed with AIDS in the mid 1980s when HIV/AIDS treatments were under-researched and the disease was misunderstood and highly stigmatised. As part of the experimental treatment movement, he smuggled unapproved pharmaceutical drugs into Texas for treating his symptoms, and distributed them to fellow people with AIDS by establishing the “Dallas Buyers Club” while facing opposition from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Vallee approaches the subject with intelligence and subtlety but it’s the brilliant central performance of McConaughy that provides the plausibility for Woodroof’s transformation from obnoxious bigot to noble crusader for the rights of his fellow sufferers.