Alfred Hitchcock Ranked: 52-27 The all-time most renowned director? It’s probably a toss-up with the Beard, although really, the latter’s nothing but a small-fry pretender who went off the boil quite early on. Hitch’s zenith may vary according to your tastes – anywhere from the mid-1930s to about 1960 makes for an entirely reasonable pick – but he offers so much choice, there’s more than likely something for everyone in there. The following, since I’m relatively youthful and/or don’t have a top-secret archive of rare and lost features, does not include his second film, 1926’s The Mountain Eagle , but everything else finds a placing. With the majority of the silent era, I was discovering them for the first time, and I’m unable to report there were any revelations during that period of his finding his feet and stylistic personality. Surprises elsewhere? I dare say there are a few, albeit more so for those I don’t rate highly than those I do. So sit back, enjoy, and maybe have a glass o
Too Many Crooks (1959) (SPOILERS) The sixth of seven collaborations between producer-director Mario Zampi and writer Michael Pertwee, Too Many Crooks scores with a premise later utilised to big box-office effect in Ruthless People (1986). A gang of inept thieves kidnap the wife of absolute cad and bounder Billy Gordon (Terry-Thomas). Unfortunately for them, Gordon, being an absolute cad and bounder, sees it as a golden opportunity, rather enjoying his extra-marital carry ons and keeping all his cash from her, so he refuses to pay up. At which point Lucy Gordon (Brenda De Banzie) takes charge of the criminal crew and turns the tables.
Frozen II (2019) (SPOILERS) I watch this and I get Shrek 2 syndrome. You know, the way a movie that makes heaps more off the back of the first one leaves a lingering, underwhelming feeling of why exactly was it necessary? Frozen II is the classic wrong move that comes from fashioning a perfect – well, relatively – one-off and bean counting that another one would be not only be creatively valid, but also essential.
Oscar Winners 2021 Because a photo of Amanda Seyfried on the red carpet was about the most fun you’d have from this year’s ceremony (you can also find one of her with matching mask, should you need an extra chuckle).
The Blood on Satan’s Claw aka Satan’s Skin (1971) (SPOILERS) One of the era’s great lurid horror titles – its unhinged company also includes Blood Beast Terror , Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter and the astonishing Zoltan, Hound of Dracula – The Blood on Satan’s Claw , perhaps surprisingly, stands the test of time better than many of its stablemates. It relies less on by-then-established Hammer-esque staples than it on an atmospheric exploration of a community disintegrating from within, not a million miles from The Crucible in malignancy. Rather different in approach, however. Here, the surface is ripped away to reveal an unnerving patch of hairy skin beneath.
Heaven’s Prisoners (1996) (SPOILERS) At the time, it seemed Alec Baldwin was struggling desperately to find suitable star vehicles, and the public were having none of it. Such that, come 1997, he was playing second fiddle to Anthony Hopkins and Bruce Willis, and in no time at all had segued to the beefy supporting player we now know so well from numerous indistinguishable roles. That, and inane SNL appearances. But there was a window, post- being replaced by Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan, when he still had sufficient cachet to secure a series of bids for bona fide leading man status. Heaven’s Prisoners is the final such and probably the most interesting, even if it’s somewhat hobbled by having too much, rather than too little, story.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) (SPOILERS) I wasn’t completely down on Joss Whedon’s Justice League (I had to check to remind myself Snyder retained the director credit), which may be partly why I’m not completely high on Zack Snyder’s. This gargantuan four-hour re-envisioning of Snyder’s original vision is aesthetically of a piece, which means its mercifully absent the jarring clash of Whedon’s sensibility with the Snyderverse’s grimdark. But it also means it doubles down on much that makes Snyder such an acquired taste, particularly when he has story input. The positive here is that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell. The negative here is also that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell (with some extra sprinkles on top). This is not a Watchmen , where the unexpurgated version was for the most part a feast.
Prediction 2021 Oscars Producer Stacy Sher not wanting snark is more the pity, as that’s surely how any discerning person will respond to this year’s ceremony. Firstly, it must contend with the nullifying impact of an Oscars so woke that any pretence at merit has gone out the window (it has, after all, always been loaded in favour of virtue signalling or self-congratulatory revelling in Hollywood’s titanic capacities for excess, sometimes simultaneously for the same film, and that’s only since it stopped habitually buying nominations). More damagingly, this year’s awards show looks as if it will have jettisoned any lingering, vestigial opportunities for fun.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020) (SPOILERS) I wasn’t going to watch globalist stooge Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan . I’m not a fan of sub- Beadle’s About comedy cruelty generally, however “justified” the recipients are, and I was even less keen to see another incarnation of this “public service” format where Cohen valiantly exerts every propagandising tool in the book to shame those who aren’t on the same page. Not square with the liberal Hollywood bubble/MSM spin on the world? Dare to speculate about conspiracy theories? Sacha will set you straight. So why did I change my mind and give Borat 2 a look? Well, I figured, since the new-improved woke Oscars were giving it some attention – Baron Cohen is fully aboard the woke train, obviously, by satirical inversion, right down to the hate-based intolerance (that justified comedy cruelty again) – I’d investigate what he’d
The United States vs. Billie Holiday (2020) (SPOILERS) Well, full marks to Andra Day for that biopic rarity, a performance of a historical figure that feels naturalistic rather than studied or mannered (step forward, Rami Malek). Unfortunately, that doesn’t make the rest of Lee Daniel’s Billie Holiday biopic less than rambling biographical sludge. You’d have thought there was more than enough story to tell here – and the title The United States vs. Billie Holiday frames the proceedings with apparent intent – to avoid a simultaneously ludicrous and banal made-up love story, yet it forms the preponderance of the picture. Was this movie supposed to be about Holiday, or was it really about federal agent Jimmy Fletcher?
The White Tiger (2021) (SPOILERS) The White Tiger begins so confidently, with such an abundance of wit and smarts both verbal and visual, that it can’t be other than a disappointment when its second half deteriorates into much more generic territory. We’ve been set up for great things. A journey with the narrator that will be at least as smartly plotted, devised and self-aware as he is. Take that first half on its own, and you’ve got not only a deserved Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nominee but also a winner. Even with the second half, the script remains superior to at least several other nominees in that category. Ultimately, however, The White Tiger ’s early flair is rather defeated.
Minari (2020) (SPOILERS) Minari is one of this year’s better Best Picture Oscar nominees. Which is rather damning it with faint praise, but there you go. A tale of noble immigrants (are there any other kind?) facing a hard time of it in rural Arkansas, Lee Isaac Chung’s film boasts the commendable virtue of modesty. It avoids leading the way with any announcement of its own importance, and in its own low-key way, it offers a degree of authenticity the other contenders largely lack. It doesn’t hurt matters either that it’s so perceptively performed.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984) (SPOILERS) Maybe you had to see The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension at the time to appreciate its charms fully. And maybe you needed to be appropriately fuelled to boot. I didn’t catch it until years later, and while I could readily appreciate its cult status was earned, it resisted, and still resists, revealing itself to me as an unjustly neglected classic. It’s difficult to put a finger on why, but if pushed, I’d suggest WD Richter lacks an nth of the creative energy as a director that Earl Mac Rauch has as a writer.
Promising Young Woman (2020) (SPOILERS) I’ve been having little luck finding commendable Oscar-nominated fare this season, and Promising Young Woman is no exception. Heralded as a satire, Emerald Fennell’s movie would be better labelled a polemic, one with all the subtlety of the pillow used to smother protagonist Cassie halfway through the third act.
Damien: Omen II (1978) (SPOILERS) There’s an undercurrent of unfulfilled potential with the Omen series, an opportunity to explore the machinations of the Antichrist and his minions largely ignored in favour of Final Destination deaths every twenty minutes or so. Of the exploration there is, however, the better part is found in Damien: Omen II , where we’re privy to the parallel efforts of a twelve or thirteen-year-old Damien at military school and those of Thorn Industries. The natural home of the diabolical is, after all, big business. Consequently, while this sequel is much less slick than the original, it is also more engaging dramatically.
Judas and the Black Messiah (2021) (SPOILERS) Several movies in contention for this year’s Oscars concern individuals or groups of individuals targeted by the intolerant or outright diabolical State. It’s an area guaranteed to stir passions and engender indignation – the Woke Oscars have to do their globalist bit – which makes it all the stranger how lacking in urgency these offerings are. The Trial of the Chicago 7 , for all its sugar-coated Aaron Sorkin gloss, knows how to push the necessary buttons, but both The United States vs. Billie Holiday and Judas and the Black Messiah are left stranded, dramatic beached whales oblivious to the incendiary events they’re depicting.
Slaughterhouse-Five (1972) (SPOILERS) It’s little surprise this adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s science-fiction classic has drifted into obscurity. As director George Roy Hill’s follow up to his breakout hit Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid , and preceding the even bigger success of The Sting , it might be seen as occupying similar territory to, say, Peter Jackson misfiring with The Lovely Bones between Tolkiens (give or take a Kong ). The Slaughterhouse-Five novel was only three years old when the movie came out, and if the audience reception was muted, it nevertheless garnered the Jury Prize at Cannes (so it was certainly better received than Jackson’s unloved effort). Vonnegut was profusive in his praise (“ … a flawless translation… it is so harmonious with what I felt when I wrote the book ”). But as Stephen King has proved repeatedly, literary credentials don’t necessarily foster cinematic discernment. Slaughterhouse-Five feels a little too literal minded, lacking the point of
Doctor Who The Silurians No, I’m not going to refer to The Silurians as Doctor Who and the Silurians . I’m going to refer to it as Doctor Who and the Eocenes . The Silurians plays a blinder. Because both this and Inferno know the secret of an extended – some might say overlong – story is to keep the plot moving, they barely drag at all and are consequently much fleeter of foot than many a four parter. Unlike Malcolm Hulke’s sequel The Sea Devils , The Silurians has more than enough plot and deals it out judiciously (the plague, when it comes, kicks the story up a gear at the precarious burn-out stage of a typical four-plus parter). What’s most notable, though, is how engaging those first four episodes are, building the story slowly but absorbingly and with persuasive confidence.
Double Bunk (1961) (SPOILERS) In casting terms, Double Bunk could be a sequel to the previous year’s magnificent School for Scoundrels . This time, Ian Carmichael and Janette Scott (he still almost twice her age) are wedded, and the former continues to make dumb choices. Despite being an unlikely mechanic, Carmichael allows himself to be sold a lemon of a houseboat; last time it was the Nifty Nine. And Dennis Price is once again on hand, trying to fleece him in various ways. Indeed, the screenplay might not be a patch on School for Scoundrels , but with Sid James and the fabulous Liz Fraser also on board, the casting can’t be faulted.
Sound of Metal (2020) (SPOILERS) Trial, tribulation and trauma movies are the awards season’s bread-and-butter. Triumphs over adversity – or occasionally not, if you’re Hillary Swank – are a guarantee to attract attention and even honours. They rely on empathy, often cheaply obtained, and offer an actor the chance to show just how versatile they can be, while the audience may, if they’re lucky – or not, if Hillary Swank is starring – be put through the emotional mill, only to emerge with a comfortingly cathartic residue. In truth, this is much of a muchness, whether you’re pulling your manoeuvres on the crassly commercial end of the spectrum ( The Theory of Everything ) or the “uncompromisingly” indie. One will garner the plaudits for authenticity, but the distinctions involved are frequently little more than gradations on the scale from swaddling-wrapped to faux-rawness. In some respects, the latter can be the more aggravating experience, however, prone as it can be to dishing up a hi
Palm Springs (2020) (SPOILERS) How hard must it be to screw up a time-loop movie? Maybe it’s simply that I’ve limited myself to the superior ones, by and large, but the concept does seem to bring out the best in those running with it, even as they’re often – inevitably – following through variations of the same riffs, be they tragic or comic or a blend of the two. Palm Springs has drawn more overt comparisons with Groundhog Day than some of the purer SF takes because it is more demonstrably in the comedic realm, and also because its makers have invoked the Bill Murray-starrer through referencing the ways in which they’re departing from that template. This onus to be distinctive ultimately softens Palm Springs ’ philosophical/thematic impact, but it also results in a more successful balancing act between its (ultimately) romantic leads.
Pieces of a Woman (2020) (SPOILERS) Convincing suffering is a tried-and-tested way to win Oscar attention, if not necessarily to win the Oscar. You have to be careful not to overdo it. Don’t seem too eager for that statuette, or perform too shamelessly en route. Pieces of a Woman had Oscar portents in its favour owing to a half-hour opening section that sets a mood of virtuous realism and honesty in its treatment of expectation for and subsequent loss of a child, so providing the necessary “authentic” backbone once the more Hollywood flourishes, those really designed to grab the voters’ votes, set in.
The Wrong Arm of the Law (1963) (SPOILERS) The signs were arguably there with the acclaim he received for his performance as Quilty in the previous year’s Lolita , but we’re right on the cusp of the second phase of Peter Sellers’ movie career here, just before The Pink Panther and Dr. Strangelove sent his star into the stratosphere. One might even trace this germ back to The Mouse That Roared (1959), his first significant US success and a spark for his more troublesome tendencies. Coming at the end of Sellers’ post-war British comedy period, The Wrong Arm of the Law is in some respects relatively run of the mill in its “cops and robbers with a twist” trappings, replete with a range of recognisable faces; it could quite easily have been made a decade earlier.
Narrow Margin (1990) (SPOILERS) A lean, efficient little thriller, as you might expect from consummate journeyman Peter Hyams. As you might also expect from Hyams, Narrow Margin is unable to make that extra bound into the arena of a truly great lean, efficient little thriller. Nevertheless, this is quality B-material, with Gene Hackman doing his marvellously meat-and-potatoes darnedest to save a witness from hitmen on a train to Vancouver.
The X-Files 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask The Erlenmeyer Flask makes for a fast-paced, tense and eventful ride, but does it make any sense? That less than mattered at the time, but revisiting the mythology arc (for probably the fourth or fifth time) reveals increasingly tenuous internal coherence as the various conspiracy elements begin to pile up and the situations become ever-more convoluted. This will become the Chris Carter’s signature: don’t examine the details too closely, go with the flow. Trust Chris implicitly.
Over the Moon (2020) (SPOILERS) What the hell is this turgid piffle? The type that somehow musters Oscar nominations for Best Animated Feature, it seems. Here we find Netflix with one eye on the future, nursing dreams of further – yes, further! – avarice. Because this is a Chinese co-production. You know, Netflix which isn’t available there. Likely because the maker of Cuties is rightly regarded as a corrupting influence. Or because China took a look at their output and decided (rightly again) they aren’t missing out. Besides, with a transhumanist communist utopia on the horizon, why even bother? Soon all the world will be following their example. Over the Moon did earn a cinema release in China, however. And like Mulan , only more so, it made bugger all .
Barnaby and Me (1979) (SPOILERS) A comedy showcasing one of Australia’s greatest national treasures. No, not Paul Hogan: the koala bear. This curiosity came from a writer and a director with long Hollywood careers, and was one of six pictures made by Transatlantic Enterprises and ABC with a view to expanding their international markets. Following the example set by the UK, this formula involved transplanting American stars to local productions, hence one Sid Caesar appearing opposite Barnaby. Let’s face it, though, the real star of Barnaby and Me is Daws Butler.
Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) (SPOILERS) I’d like to report I had a blast with Godzilla vs. Kong . It’s lighter on its oversized, city-stomping feet than its slog of a MonsterVerse predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters , and there are flashes of visual inspiration along with several engaging core ideas (which, to be fair, the series had already laid the seeds for). But this sequel still stumbles in its chief task: assembling an engaging, lively story that successfully integrates both tiny humans and towering titans.
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) (SPOILERS) One might suggestive the connective tissue between this and director Stanley Kramer’s other, conspicuously non-comedic fare, is the thunderingly obvious. By which I mean, whether he’s delivering painfully self-righteous social justice or broad slapstick, subtlety simply isn’t on his radar. I hadn’t revisited It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in a least three decades – so this is the first time I’ve actually bother to count the “ Mad ”s; there are less than I assumed – but it’s good, bad and incredibly distended are nevertheless etched on my memory, and little has changed with regard to my takeaway. Which is predominately that Terry-Thomas’ gap-toothed majesty towers, as might be expected, luminously over his co-stars.
A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) (SPOILERS) One might reasonably suggest the recourse of the ailing or desperate franchise is to resort, seemingly out of nowhere, to space aliens. Even Police Academy didn’t go that far (to Moscow, yes, but not to space). Perhaps animators think kids have no skills of discernment and will swallow any old sugar-coated crap. Perhaps they don’t, and they will. Ice Age had been enjoying absurd success until Collision Course sent Scrat spinning into the cosmos and grosses tumbled. Shaun the Sheep has been around for a quarter of a century, but this is only his second movie outing and already he’s pulling an E.T. on us. Of course, this may all be part of the grand scheme, and Nick Park is simply doing his bit to familiarise the tots in time for Project Blue Beam.
Waterworld (1995) (SPOILERS) The production and budgetary woes of “ Kevin’s Gate ” will forever overshadow the movie’s content (and while it may have been the most expensive movie ever to that point – adjusted for inflation, it seems only Cleopatra came close – it has since turned a profit). However, should you somehow manage to avoid the distraction of those legendary problems, the real qualitative concerns are sure to come sailing over the cognitive horizon eventually; Waterworld is just so damned derivative. It’s a seafaring Mad Max. Peter Rader, who first came up with the idea in 1986, admitted as much. David Twohy, who later came aboard, also cited Mad Max 2 ; that kind of rip-off aspect – Jaws birthing Piranha – makes it unsurprising Waterworld was once under consideration by Roger Corman (he couldn’t cost it cheaply enough). Ultimately, there’s never a sufficient sense the movie has managed to become its own thing. Which is a bummer, because it’s frequently quite good fun.
The Dig (2021) (SPOILERS) An account of the greatest archaeological find Britain would know until Professor Horner opened the barrow at Devil’s End. And should you scoff at such “ fiction ”, that’s nothing on this adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel concerning the Sutton Hoo excavations of the late 1930s. The Dig , as is the onus of any compelling fictional account, takes liberties with the source material, but the erring from the straight and narrow in this case is less an issue than the shift in focus from characters and elements successfully established during the first hour.
The Night My Number Came Up (1955) (SPOILERS) A blinder of a premonitory suspense yarn from the Ealing stable. Indeed, The Night My Number Came Up was so well received, it garnered a BAFTA nomination for Best British Film (along with fellow airborne contender The Dam Busters ; Richard III took the laurels). Michael Hordern’s naval commander recounts an unnerving dream to Michael Redgrave’s air marshal over dinner, only for the chilling realisation to dawn on the latter that it’s coming true exactly as described.