The 8 Ball 08.28.12: The Top 8 Tony Scott Films
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 08.28.2012
From Top Gun and Enemy of the State to Crimson Tide, True Romance and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 Tony Scott-directed 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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It's been about a week now since Tony Scott leapt to his death off a bridge in Los Angeles. The reason for Scott's suicide is not currently known (nor may it ever be), but we're not here to ruminate, speculate and argue about the details, circumstances and morality of his death, but rather to take a look at his life's work. I wanted to do this last week but it was reported late Sunday and I was already mostly done with that list, so instead I put it off to this week. Scott is a director who was largely underrated during the course of his life. Many people who remember Scott know him either as Ridley Scott's brother or for being a popcorn action filmmaker, a relative lightweight among the film community. With all due respect, I believe those people are selling him short. I thought this week would be a good opportunity to look at and honor some of Tony Scott's best films.
Caveat: I decided to focus only on films that Scott directed, as opposed to ones that he only acted as producer on. Other than that, the sky was the limit.
Just Missing The Cut
Deja Vu (2006) The Last Boy Scout (1991) Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)
#8: Enemy of the State (1998)
Some of Tony Scott's films were severely underrated because of their marketing as big-budget blockbusters. A perfect example of that is Enemy of the State, which stars Will Smith and Gene Hackman. At the time of its release, critics praised its action scenes but labeled it as another hollow Jerry Bruckheimer-produced action film. I think that's really unfair to this film, which does indeed have some great action sequences but also delivers more in the plot than people are willing to give it credit. Smith is believable and sympathetic as the attorney who gets sucked into uncovering a conspiracy regarding the killing of a Senator and gets his life turned upside down as a result, with the NSA hot on his trail. Jon Voight delivers his usual solid work, this time as the NSA director who is utilizing the full resources of the intelligence agency to cover up his crime but it is Hackman who really stands out, chewing a bit of scenery and having a hell of a lot of fun playing the (rightfully) paranoid former NSA agent Brill. The supporting cast, including Lisa Bonet and Jason Lee, are all very solid as well. Some of the action scenes get a bit silly and the plot doesn't completely hold up at the end, but it's very entertaining throughout and it also has more to say about government interference in our lives than a first watching would reveal. In the post-FBI wiretapping world, it's not such an implausible idea that someone like Brill has a lot of legitimate reasons to be paranoid.
#7: Unstoppable (2010)
Scott's last directorial effort, Unstoppable was one of those films that surprised me with how much I enjoyed it. Scott's previous film before this was the silly and rather pointless remake of The Taking of Pelham 123, and while that one had its moments it wasn't nearly as fun as it should have been. The idea of Scott and Denzel Washington jumping right back on a train-related action thriller left me skeptical; for right or wrong, the comparison was pretty much inevitable. The good news is that outside of Washington being in front of the camera and trains being the focus, Unstoppable has almost nothing in common with Pelham. Washington has rarely been as good as he is when he worked with Scott; the two worked together so often that Washington seemed firmly at ease with himself and his roles. Pairing a Hollywood A-Lister like Washington with the quickly-rising star of Chris Pine was an inspired choice and it paid off in spades here. Rosario Dawson delivers great work as Connie, the train yardmaster that helps Washington and Pine's engineer and conductor try to save Stanton and other cities in Pennsylvania from a runaway train carrying hazardous materials. Obviously story elements were heavily changed from the real-life incident that inspired it, but the changes don't particularly make the film seem less authentic or believable and Washington and Pine have a great dynamic between them that helps carry the film. This was one of the more pleasant surprises of 2010 for me.
#6: Crimson Tide (1995)
Like many of Tony Scott's films, Crimson Tide often doesn't get the respect it deserves. The film's biggest failing is that it came less than a decade after The Hunt for Red October pretty much set the bar for the modern submarine film; had it been made and released five years later I think it would be remembered better. However, even with its status as an underrated film it is still quite fondly remembered as a whole. The film, which is about the clash of personalities between the CO and executive officer of a nuclear sub that come to a head over a partial message that seems to order a nuclear launch, had uncredited work by Quentin Tarantino to the screenplay and you can see it in the heavily pop culture-laden dialogue. However while Tarantino's dialogue adds some zip, it is the work of Scott and the performances of Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman which really pushes the movie toward excellence. Scott's use of the claustrophobic setting is exceptional and really pushes the tension high while Hackman and Washington are mountains in the strength of will that they project into their characters. Once again the supporting cast is strong with James Gandolfini, Viggo Mortensen, Steve Zahn, and Ryan Phillippe all doing fantastic work. What makes it work so well though is the fact that neither Hackman's Ramsey nor Washington's Hunter is the clear villain or hero throughout the running time. The film also has a lot to say about following orders in war vs. exercising your own judgment and in a Hollywood rarity, it doesn't really take one side or the other. It is a much smarter and better film than many have given it credit for.
#5: Spy Game (2001)
Spy Game narrowly missed being on my Top 8 Spy Thrillers list back in December, but by no means should that be considered an indictment against it. The film was considered to be a box office disappointment when it was released, especially considering the star power of Brad Pitt combined with the pedigree of Robert Redford. People saw the idea of a spy thriller from Tony Scott and expected heavy action; instead they got a more cerebral film that took place in CIA offices far more than it did in the field. The fact that it doesn't come filled with explosions or gunfire every five minutes doesn't change the fact that it's a top-notch film about the difficult of loyalty and friendship within the intelligence community. Redford and Pitt are both spectacular while Scott coats the film in his trademark style. The flashback scenes to the various points of case officer Nathan (Redford) and operative Tom's (Pitt) personal and professional association are compelling and the character-driven nature of the film creates a better product than it otherwise would have been. Again Scott assembled a great supporting cast around his too leads and while the thoughtful, character-driven nature of the movie may have hurt the box office receipts, they enhance the quality to make a nice little espionage dramatic thriller.
#4: Top Gun (1986)
You can't discuss Tony Scott without talking about Top Gun, which is in many ways the seminal 1980s action film. The film made a star out of Scott as well as his cast, particularly of course Tom Cruise but also Val Kilmer, Meg Ryan, Kelly McGillis and Anthony Edwards. The movie is one that really epitomizes the action films of the eighties in its macho, balls to the wall attitude, testosterone-driven plot and MTV style. The script is simple and straight-forward, reflecting the sort of blatant and unapologetic patriotism that you don't see today but was pervasive during the Reagan era. The script is not the most complex one but the story of intense brotherhood and rivalry among the airmen in the "Top Gun" program is engaging and the action scenes are utterly fantastic, still holding up perfectly well today. As the planes shoot through the sky and target each other, there's an honest thrill to be watched, something that's tragically absent today in movies due to the prevalence of CGI. Cruise and Kilmer utterly exudes charisma and attitude, Tom Skerrit adds gravitas in his performance as Viper and Edwards gives perhaps the best performance in the film.
One of the most interesting things about revisiting this film is comparing how well it's held up over the past twenty-plus years. We live in an entirely different world than that of the Cold War bravado that America carried in the mid-eighties, and in watching the film, it's far more cartoonish then might have been realized upon its release. Whereas the American pilots are instantly recognizable in their cockpits by the open visors and the call signs on their individually-decorated helmets, the Soviet adversaries all wear uniform black, Vader-esque helmets that conceal their identities and fly silently through the night like spooks. However, in what would become a hallmark of his films, Scott wisely kept things very non-political and focused on the action and the pilots, not the policies that were throwing them against their Stormtrooper-like counterparts in the MiG's, and so it dates the film far less. It is one of the more memorable films of the 1980s and Michael Bay should pray to it daily for giving him a niche in which to make films (though often not as well).
#3: The Hunger (1983)
A lot of people don't think of The Hunger when they think of Tony Scott films. And that's understandable to a degree; when you compare it to the rest of his resume like Top Gun, Enemy of the State, Unstoppable, Last Action Hero and so on it's definitely the odd duck out. Where Scott was an innovator of the action genre, not many people would think to associate him with arthouse erotic horror. But indeed, that's what his second feature film was. The 1983 film is loosely adapted from the 1981 novel of the same name by Whitley Strieber about the love triangle between a vampire (Catherine Deneuve), her aging companion (David Bowie) and a research doctor (Susan Sarandon). A lot of people roll their eyes when they think of David Bowie as an actor, but those people haven't seen his work here which is exquisite. Deneuve and Sarandon are both excellent as well while Scott, with Stephen Goldblatt doing beautiful work behind the camera, makes this less a film about vampires and more a film about the travails of love and lust. While it wasn't the most financially successful film it is an artistic masterpiece and one wonders where Scott's career may have gone if this had been a hit and he hadn't moved on to action pics.
#2: True Romance (1993)
After Scott's death, a lot of people were commenting on their favorite Scott films and more often than not, this was the response. It's no surprise--the film was a match made in heaven with Scott's prowess and one of Quentin Tarantino's best scripts. Scott took the story--that of an outlaw couple on the run with a briefcase full of cocaine while mobsters and the DEA hunt them down--and proceeded to make what is undoubtedly the best film from a Tarantino script that wasn't actually directed by Tarantino himself. One thing that Scott and Tarantino had in common was great casting and you see that here with Christian Slater, Samuel L. Jackson, Patricia Arquette, Gary Oldman, James Gandolfini, Val Kilmer, Brad Pitt and more all shining in their roles. This has some of my favorite moments of dialogue from a Tarantino or a Scott film and what is likely the single best scene of all of Scott's film in the one between Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper. Scott actually changed the ending of the film, where Slater's Clarence is shot but survives; in Tarantino's original script he died. When asked, Scott said he made the call as opposed to the studio and said, "I just fell in love with these two characters and didn't want to see them die." Tarantino initially disliked the idea but said after he'd seen it that the ending was more appropriate to the way that Scott had lensed it. When Quentin Tarantino praises the way you changed one of his scripts, you know you've got something special and they did here.
#1: Man on Fire (2004)
I didn't see Man on Fire upon its initial release in 2004. With all due respect to Denzel Washington, the few years following his Best Actor win for Training Day were not kind to him and after having seen John Q and Out of Time, I was willing to give him a bit of a break. Thus, I didn't see this one until a couple years later on home video. Suffice it to say that I was blown away. Washington, as good of an actor as he is, has that thing about him where much like John Wayne, every role is more Denzel than it is a character. It's the difference between "Denzel Washington is Lincoln Rhyme in The Bone Collector" and "Denzel Washington portrays Lincoln Rhyme in The Bone Collector." There is a touch of that in Man of Fire, but by and large this is a different Denzel than you're used to seeing. He's a rawer, edgier person; he portrays ex-CIA man-turned-bodyguard John Creasy with more humanity that he had for several films. The emotional connection that Creasy makes with his young charge, Dakota Fanning's Pita Ramos, is very real and it brings the bodyguard out of the shell in which he has wrapped itself. Washington plays that perfectly and when Pita is kidnapped, we willingly go along on his rampage to find her. Critics accused the film of being overly violent and sadistic, but Scott never makes the film truly prurient that way. Yes, Creasy does terrible things but he doesn't particularly enjoy them. They are satisfying, and Scott's lensing of it makes it so, but it never revels in it. Creasy does what he has to do and Scott shows what he has to show, and then they move onto the next. It is a harsh and uncompromising film, but that makes it great. And in my book, it's undoubtedly the late director's best.
Note: Now that I am caught up to current, I have gone back to watch the episodes that have become available in the US since I started watching and thus were previously unavailable to me (thus why I have episodes remaining despite being caught up).
Current Series/Season:Season Three (1965 - 1966) Episodes Watched: 561 Last Serial Completed:The Ark - The Doctor, Steven and new companion Dodo arrive some ten million years into the future, on board a generation starship which is carrying the last of humanity away from an Earth that is about to fall into the Sun. However, the cold that Dodo has could prove devastating to these future humans and their servants, the Monoids, and more importantly could have unforeseen consequences for the Doctor and his companions. Surviving Episodes Remaining: 65
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.