The 8 Ball 06.05.12: The Top 8 Ridley Scott Films
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 06.05.2012
From Gladiator and Alien to Black Hawk Down, American Gangster and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 Ridley Scott films of all time!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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You may or may not realize this, but Prometheus is coming out this week. If you've missed this fact, you may want to upgrade your home, because it is probably underneath a rock. The film is highly anticipated by many among we, the fanboys of the world. Ridley Scott's return to the sci-fi horror franchise is something that has been long hoped-for, and the film, which takes place in the Alien universe and is a prequel (but not direct prequel?) to that franchise, has had fans frothing with each trailer, TV spot and viral video. This week I thought I would take a look at Scott's filmography and separate the wheat from the chaff--or the Gladiator from the 1492, if you prefer--to take a look at his best movies.
Caveat: Did Ridley Scott direct it? Then it's eligble. Pretty cut and dry.
Just Missing The Cut
G.I. Jane (1997) Legend (1985) Thelma & Louise (1991)
#8: Kingdom of Heaven: Director's Cut (2005)
You want to play a mean trick on them? Ask them if they're up for a Ridley Scott ancient war epic and when they say yes, put this in instead of Gladiator. Yes, I realize that it appears as if I just slammed my #8 choice here, but that's not the case. Kingdom of Heaven's biggest problems are two-fold: its reputation and studio meddling. This film about a French village blacksmith (Orlando Bloom) who goes to aid Jerusalem against the attack of Saladin during the Crusades is actually a very well-done historical epic that examines religious conflict. However, 20th Century Fox decided, in their infinite wisdom, that it would work better as an action-adventure picture along the lines of Gladiator and studio head Tom Rothman ordered the film to be trimmed down to only two hours, believe that modern audience would not go to see a 194 minute movie. What he failed to realize is that they also would not go to see a 120 minute movie that had many important subplots gutted. It wasn't until Scott released the directors cut on DVD at the end of the year that his true vision of the film was seen, and that vision is fantastic. Bloom is very good as Balian and while being in a period war epic doesn't help him break out of the Lord of the Rings stigma, this role was certainly heads and tails in terms of performance to that of Legolas. The rest of the supporting cast is great including Eva Green, Jeremy Irons, Liam Neeson, and more while the battle scenes are breathtaking and the reintroduced plot threats enhance the film so it no longer feels...well, incomplete. If you have only seen the two-hour version, I submit that you are absolutely missing something by not checking out the director's cut.
#7: Robin Hood (2010)
Here we have another unfairly-maligned Scott period film. Where Kingdom of Heaven's biggest problem was studio tinkering, Robin Hood's problem was two-fold: bad press and high expectations. Robin Hood initially began as a project where Russell Crowe would play the Sheriff of Nottingham and went through several iterations before it turned into what it ultimately is, an origin story for the legendary hero. During filming, it was widely reported that Crowe was incredibly overweight and that there were battles over the script; this seemed like a movie that people were hoping would fail. And yet when it came out, people were slamming it because it didn't hold up to the lofty standards of Gladiator. This Crowe/Scott collaboration isn't quite as good as that other one, but if that's the bar for success than there are a lot more failures in Hollywood than we realize. The rumors about Crowe being out of shape were also clearly bogus or were dealt with swiftly, for the actor looks fit and handles the action scenes well and his work as Robin is more layered and impressive than people give him credit for. He is a character that starts out relatively simple but matures and becomes a better man throughout the course of the film. Oscar Issaac gleefully chews scenery as King John and Cate Blanchett is one of the few Marians in movie history who is not just a damsel in distress or an empowered feminist before her time, but instead a far more realistic combination of both. Scott takes the 140 minutes he has with this film and allows his tale to unfold in a well-paced manner, with solid action scenes to boot. Another of the films from Scott that deserves more credit than it gets.
#6: Black Hawk Down (2001)
Last week some people called me out for not including Black Hawk Down in my Top 8 War Films. (It did make Honorable Mention, to be fair.) I make the argument that BHD's lack of making the top 8 was not a failing of the film's, but rather a testament to the strength of the eight films above it. Scott's adaptation of the bookabout by Mark Bowden about the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu is a harrowing and well-made war film. It is rare that a film about war manages to treat the subject neutrally. Let's face it; war is a very emotional subject and no one just shrugs it off, and Hollywood is full of very opinionated people who have a lot to say. However, Scott makes Black Hawk Down as a film that is not an indictment on war, nor is it a propaganda film. Instead it simply uses war and the real-life tale to focus on the soldiers in the line of fire, and he does so in a way that is thoroughly engrossing. The enormous cast for this all acquit themselves well without exception and despite the large cast, there is never a problem keeping track of who is who. I may not think that this is one of the top eight war films ever made, but it is certainly an excellent one and there's no indictment to "only" being in the top nine.
#5: Body of Lies (2008)
And the parade of underrated Scott films continues. Audiences didn't quite connect with Body of Lies when it was released in 2008, though I don't think it is a problem with the film itself. Rather, I think it is simply an issue of it coming around at the wrong time. By the time Lies was released, films about America's war on terror had a bad name. Movies like Lions to Lambs, Rendition and many others had flopped at the box office and audiences, sick of the war in general, didn't want to go to the movie theater to see more of it. Even The Hurt Locker, released in 2009 and critically-loved, only grossed $16 million in the US. Body of Lies was probably one of the more successful ones in that it brought in $110 million worldwide but it was still considered a failure against the $70 million budget plus marketing costs. That's unfortunate because the film is another excellent look at how Scott can tell a convincing and engaging action thriller better than most people in the business. Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe are great as the field agent and CIA handler on the hunt for a fictional jihadist terrorist, and their conflict over the differences in their approach makes for a great plot. Mark Strong gives one of his better performances to date as Hani Salaam, the head of the Jordanian General Intelligence Department. Interestingly, the film is almost like a spiritual successor to Kingdom of Heaven in that it tackles the same themes, now in the context of modern intelligence operations and terrorism. It's a surprisingly thoughtful film for an action-thriller and one of my favorite in the genre.
#4: American Gangster (2007)
Russell Crowe + Ridley Scott = Magic. That's all there is to it (unless we're talking about A Good Year, but I digress). Add Denzel Washington into that mix and you have something even greater. American Gangster isn't a maligned film like some of the ones on this list, but I still don't feel it always gets the credit it deserves. The based-on-reality tale of drug kingpin Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) and Richie Roberts (Crowe), the police officer who brought him down, stretches a bit too long for some. But it needs every second of that time; it's actually quite the economical movie if you think about it. No scene in the film can be cut without making it a worse film, and every scene is interesting and well-filmed. This is actually probably my least favorite of Crowe's performances under Scott, but Washington picks up the slack with ease and their dynamic together, even if we don't often see them interacting, is electric. Scott's attention to detail does the film huge favors as it feels very much appropriate to its era and Harris Savides' cinematography is impressive to boot. This is a film that is destined to become a true classic as time passes, not that it isn't already a deservedly-loved film.
#3: Gladiator (2000)
In all honest, Gladiator was a film that I wasn't all that enthused about leading up to its release. My thought at the time was "Yeah, I already saw Spartacus, I don't need to see it again." That shows you how much attention I paid to this one. And it's another one I was happily surprised to be blown away by when I saw it. This is a film that takes revenge and test is on an epic scale. Some of my favorite films of all-time are revenge films or have strong elements of revenge in them...The Crow, Inglourious Basterds, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and V For Vendetta just to name a few. There is something incredibly cathartic about seeing someone right the wrongs perpetrated against him and the people that he loves in bloody, unforgiving fashion. I'm as much about "turn the other cheek" as the next guy, but I'm human and there are times I wish I could just cut a swath through a few legions of people. Russell Crowe makes us want to cheer him on. He has an almost animal-like ferocity in this as he heads down his collision course toward Commodus (also brilliantly portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix), but there is a nobility to him as well. He's a lion in a world full of wolves and he makes the film's narrative drive toward the end captivating and thrilling. Phoenix's career deservedly reached new heights after this, Connie Nielson and Djimon Hounsou became stars and Ridley Scott found himself back on top of the world after a series of commercial failures. This was one of the first movies I ever bought on DVD and I still love pulling it out to watch every now and then.
#2: Blade Runner (1982)
As great as Ridley Scott is with war, to be he will always be sci-fi first and foremost. One of my father's favorite films of all-time is Blade Runner and that was a huge influence on me as a sci-fi fan growing up. Consider this: Scott's 1982 film is so beloved that even with him being the primary force involved and even with him riding a high wave thanks to positive buzz and anticipation for Prometheus, people are not happy about a potential sequel. That's because Scott made a film that was so perfect for a science fiction film of the time that you simply can't help but imagine that anything else will be a failure. What can you say about this film that hasn't been said? Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Darryl Hannah, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos...all fantastic. The world of the film is exquisitely detailed and the tech noir feel of the film is executed brilliantly. If not for my love of horror, this may have just been Scott's crowning acheivement to date in my book.
#1: Alien (1979)
People might think I'm just this high on Alien due to anticipation for Prometheus, but that's not the case. Ridley Scott made what is for many people the quintessential melding of science fiction and horror. Later films were more action-oriented than horror but no one can deny that this was anything but a scare film in space. To start off with, you have H.R. Giger designing what is one of the great horror monsters in history. The Xenomorphs are one of the most terrifying creatures in film history. They are perfect killing machines that have absolutely no conscience because they aren't human in any way. Many space features like to humanize their monsters, and even Species (which made honorable mention) gave its villain a human shape. The Xenomorphs are animals fulfilling their life cycle, pure and simple. It's just unfortunate for us that their life cycle involves dead bipedals. Scott also uses the Nostromo's environment to great effect; it feels very claustrophobic, particularly when Dallas gets down in the tubes to flush it out. In fact, the Nostromo almost feels like more of a Xenomorph home than a place for humans, with its hiding places, dark places and lost of tubes and hoses hanging down. It's a film where technology seems to turn against the heroes and even the android is a threat. You have a great "final girl" as well in Ripley, who created the template of female action stars in the sequel. It's a brilliant film and still creepy to this day.
Current Series/Season:Series 5 (2010) Episodes Watched: 536 Last Serial Completed:The Vampires of Venice - Determined to get Amy and Rory back on the right path with each other, The Doctor takes them to on a romantic getaway to 1580 Venice. But when they run across Rosanna Calvierri and her son, who appear to be turning the young women of the city into vampires, they spring into action to get to the bottom of it. Surviving Episodes Remaining: 90
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.