100 FURIOUS FILM CLASSICS: Volume Two
Welcome to the second part of our Furious 100 (read through Part One HERE), the continuation of a look at the many films of all genres that have impacted us and that we feel are special works of cinema from different decades.
We hope after reading our list you find some of your own new favorites but, above all, that you continue to explore and enjoy all that cinema (in its many styles, forms) has to offer!
Pulp Fiction (1994) – Two years after his directorial debut, Writer-Director Quentin Tarantino unleashed a film phenomenon with this bombastic, non linear gangster-comedy which inspired a whole generation of kids to want to work at a video store. Taking concepts from the French New Wave, cheap dime store novels and classic B-film anthologies, QT’s pop culture filled film puzzle was a fresh, exciting experience for audiences across the world.
Lust For Life (1956) – Kirk Douglas gave one of the most intense performances in film as the tortured soul/genius painter Vincent Van Gogh. This movie deeply affected me when I first saw it as it dealt with the life of struggling artists. It was profound to me in expressing what it’s like to create for a living and far more important than anything a critic could express just with words.
Face/Off (1997) – Many Asian action cinema fans consider John Woo’s Hong Kong gun operas to be the apex of his ouvre, but I have to disagree. For me his Hollywood movies are even better (ok, maybe not MI: 2) and more well rounded as pure entertainment. This film which has John Travolta and Nicolas Cage switching faces/personalities has a raucously funny, clever concept and is one of Woos very best executed works.
The Big Lebowski (1998) – The Coen Brothers delivered another offbeat adventure this time about an ex-surfer turned bowling fanatic named Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) who finds himself in a strange situation involving a wealthy goldbricker (who he shares the same name with) his kidnapped wife and his stolen rug (which really tied The Dude’s room together). A trippy comedic version of an old school Philip Marlowe detective yarn that went on to become a modern cult classic.
Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) – There are films that are complete masterpieces based on their technical creativity and incredible acting. This film is not of that type, yet what it does prove is that deeply loving cinema can still turn your ideas into something special. Ed Wood’s bizarre little 50s sci-fi thriller is as low budget as it gets but amazingly it is a highly enjoyable oddity that stands out from the films of it’s time.
Rushmore (1998) – A neer do well private school student named Max excels at extra-curricular activities but not his classes in this Wes Anderson gem. Stars Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray are equally dynamic as unlikely friends that fall for the same woman who is a teacher at Max’s school. This movie is so fun because of the various oddball characters that inhabit its world. The soundtrack is also especially eclectic and groovy.
Blow Up (1966) – Michaelangelo Antonioni’s swinging 60s mystery about a freewheeling fashion photographer (David Hemmings) who unknowingly captures a murder on film is a visually intricate masterpiece with a counter-culture edge. The film’s plot inspired several film re-inventions which came later including The Conversation and Blow Out.
Chinatown (1974) – Jack Nicholson plays a 1940s era LA gumshoe named J.J. Gittes, who has been hired to keep tabs on a water & power executive, only this easy assignment leads him into a deeper mystery of corruption and lies. A seedy, smoky neo noir masterpiece by Roman Polanski.
Switchblade Sisters (1975) – In the world of 70s Exploitation cinema, Jack Hill was one of the greatest of autuers. With every film he brought an integrity, style and wit. This Shakesperean drama about betrayal within a tough female gang is set in a kind of comic book-esque universe that gives the film its one of a kind quality. The acting is over the top but it fits in perfectly with the atmosphere.
There Will Be Blood (2007) – With each new film Paul Thomas Anderson has gone even further with his craft. One specific detail I like about him is he isn’t a director who went to a film school. Like Quentin Tarantino, he’s purely self taught and he always tries to do his thing outside the system. Of course when you are able to make great cinema, Hollywood usually comes to you. Set during the early 20th century oil boom in California, it features a truly outstanding performance by Daniel Day Lewis as a ruthless prospector who has an engaging personality. The dusty, oil stained soul of his character and his work searching for the black gold are captured with through a magnificent vision by Anderson.
Tombstone (1993) – George P. Cosmatos was credited as director of this fantastic mythological western based on the legend of lawman Wyatt Earp during his time living in a Southwestern silver town but many people don’t know that star Kurt Russell was actually the one who set up the shots for the camera. The screenplay by Kevin Jarre is also one of my favorites, the dialogue is memorable and the lines are the kind you can quote with ease. Co-starring Val Kilmer who stands out as the ailing yet deadly eccentric pistoleer Doc Holliday.
Vanishing Point (1971) – An existential road movie about a rebel named Kowalski (Barry Newman) who makes a bet that he can deliver a muscle car from Colorado to California in a weekend. The speedy trip (that also informs us about his past) as he races across the highways and bi-ways of the Western states turns out to be a final swansong for his free spirit that refuses to be contained by anyone.
Easy Rider (1969) – Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda were both veterans of the biker movie genre but with this story they decided to break out of that box and find something more meaningful and important to explore. They play two hippies that are on a motorcycle trip to Mardi Gras but that is just what is on the surface. At its core, the movie is a counterculture, rock and roll driven journey about the idea of what freedom really means.
The Conversation (1974) – This reinvention of Antonioni’s Blow Up is set within the world of surveillance experts. Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) is hired to wire tap a young couple for a mysterious client. Soon his own obsessions, paranoia and conscience begin to affect his assignment and he becomes caught up in desperate attempt to find out the truth behind what he’s doing.
American Graffiti (1973) – George Lucas’ semi-autobiographical tale about the final summer night of a group of high school graduates before they go their separate ways is a blast from the past and gives us a look at what it was like to be a teen in the early 60s. The cruising and screwball antics are complimented by a classic rock n roll soundtrack that acts as a Greek chorus to the adventures the kids go on throughout the night.
Magnificent Obsession (1954) – When Douglas Sirk made several of his 50s melodramas, critics were not hip to them but later on French critics like Godard, Truffaut & Co rediscovered his work and championed him as a master autuer. I became aware of him thanks to Quentin Tarantino who paid homage to the German filmmaker in Pulp Fiction with a steak named after him. Personally, Sirk is a director that I could completely get into, even moreso than the French New Wavers who praised him. I just loved Sirk’s colorful, audacious way of telling a story in the classic Hollywood style. This movie along with Written on The Wind and Imitation of Life are all spectacular to me.
Heat (1995) – Michael Mann has made films I really like (such as Thief, Manhunter, Collateral and The Insider) but also several others I’m not a fan of at all. This movie is one of his very best, although I honestly feel the script and extremely well cast actors are the real reason it’s such a solid crime thriller.
The Sting (1973) – After making Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid together, George Roy Hill, Redford and Newman did this crackerjack crime film about a pair of grifters who seek revenge on a mobster for killing their good friend. The movie is a high falutin, flim flam scam filled with plenty of trickery, double crosses and colorful characters. The score by Marvin Hamlisch covers ragtime classics by Scott Joplin and is a real pip to listen to.
The Deer Hunter (1978) – An epic story of smalltown steelworkers who join the war in Vietnam is beautifully realized cinematic tragedy. Michael Cimino went on to make the massive western production Heaven’s Gate as a follow up but this film ultimately remains his best work to date.
Rio Bravo (1959) – Howard Hawks moved through a variety of film genres (comedy, noir, musicals, war films) and with Rio Bravo he made a timeless Western masterpiece. One of the reasons it holds up so well for me is because It’s such an easy film to get into. The subject of comraderie is right at the center and its also a study about how loyalty and honor can get you through the toughest of times. Hawks mixed equal amounts of humor, action and romance perfectly.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) – John Ford is a filmmaker who I’ve seen a number of films by, but this Western about a small town lawyer (Jimmy Stewart) who is the target of an violent outlaw/bully (Lee Marvin) is one of his most exciting films. I love the characters in the town (what an amazing supporting cast!) and the way the story is told through flashbacks and tense confrontations. It really captures the wild atmosphere of what it must’ve been like back in those days. There’s a violence and trepidation that hangs over the scenes because of Marvin’s Valance who even when hes not on screen remains a dangerous presence. Everything in this movie seems bigger than life, even the steaks served at the local restaraunt/saloon!
Showgirls (1995) – This movie is generally looked down on because of its sexploitative content, but I honestly think its a very entertaining modern melodrama regardless of its critical reputation. Not everything in film has to be politically correct and serious to be great fun. The script by Joe Ezsterhaus is unapologetically over the top and the direction by Paul Verhoeven matches that with its flamboyance to fit in with the world of Las Vegas where its set.
Charley Varrick (1973) – Don Siegel started his career making crime movies like Private Hell 36 and The Big Steal but it wasn’t until the late 60s and 70s where he made his best entries in the genre. This movie which was originally going to star his friend Clint Eastwood, instead featured Walter Matthau who did an exceptional job playing a crop duster and part time bank robber who accidentally steals a load of cash from the mafia. It’s such a crackerjack picture with solid performances, thrills and humor. Look for Joe Don Baker who makes a memorable cameo as an eccentric hitman named Molly.
Death Wish (1974) – The late 1960s really opened up Hollywood to a more rebellious brand of cinema which this film was born out of. The story focuses on a kind hearted architect (Charles Bronson) who becomes a vengeful vigilante after his wife and daughter are attacked by street scum. It is a prime example of pulp crime cinema boiled down to its raw essence.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) – Some goofy teens go on a trip to an old house where a couple of them grew up and discover a family of cannibals living next door. Nothing strange about that! You can almost smell this movie when you watch it. The broiling Texas country heat, cows, headcheese and smoky BBQ come right through the screen. What I love most about it is the fact it’s called ‘Massacre’ yet there is practically NO blood shown other than the Hitchhiker’s hand and on Franklin’s arm. It’s known as a horror film but in actuality it is extremely funny and off the wall.
Raiders of The Lost Ark (1981) – In 1981 George Lucas and Steven Spielberg took all the ideas they loved from the multi-part movie serials they watched as kids and condensed them into a new yet old character named Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford). Set in the 1930s, the story follows Henry Jones, a college professor/adventurer who goes on a quest to find The Lost Ark of The Covenant. Indy must also battle and evade a group of underworld baddies working for the Nazis who are following him to steal it. This film kicked off a series that gained a huge fanbase.
Medium Cool (1969) – A powerful experimental film by DP/director Haskell Wexler that mixed cinema verite and fictional drama together causing a unique outcome. Robert Forster plays a TV news cameraman who becomes disallusioned after discovering his company is providing the FBI with information taken from different journalists. The most memorable scenes were filmed during a real riot during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago which was set within the story.
Phantom of The Paradise (1974) – When I first saw this movie I was really taken in by its outrageous style and tone. It was a strange hybrid of Phantom of the Opera, Faust, and The Picture of Dorian Gray set it in the world of glam/horror rock. Brian DePalma made this a year before The Rocky Horror Picture Show which is sort of its cinematic cousin, yet it didnt do as well critically or financially. After being rediscovered by film fans years later it is now a beloved cult classic (with a massive fanbase in Canada).
The French Connection (1971) – Two tough NY cops (Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider) set out to break up a drug smuggling operation in this fast paced, hardboiled urban crime classic. It features one of the most intense, wreckless car chases on film.
Paper Moon (1973) – Ryan O’Neal stars as a fast talking shyster who is forced to take his estranged, illegitimate daughter (Tatum O’Neal) on the road with him so she can get to her new home after her mother dies. A very funny and charming road movie set in the 1930s that was shot in black and white. The O’Neal’s father-daughter electric chemistry is really what makes this film so special.
Do The Right Thing (1989) – An explosive, controversial look at relations in a multi-cultural New York City neighborhood during the hottest day of the summer. Spike Lee painted a vivid, honest and often humorous portrait of what it’s like to live in the city while uncovering the emotions and feelings people of different backgrounds have toward each other.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)– Stanley Kubrick’s existential sci-fi epic was a benchmark for its technical innovation and storytelling methods. It is definitely a film that is best experienced on the big screen in all its visual splendor although a hi-definition Blu Ray on a big TV screen should work for home viewing.
Rolling Thunder (1977) – After writing Taxi Driver, Paul Schrader and co-writer Heywood Gould scripted this story about another Vietnam vet/POW named Maj. Charles Rane (William Devane) who returns home from the war to find his wife has fallen for another man. To makes things even worse, he is attacked in his home (his wife and son killed, his hand torn off) by some lowlife thugs who want a collection of coins he was presented as a gift from his town upon his return. Rane sets off to get brutal revenge along with his friend/fellow soldier (Tommy Lee Jones). A powerful character study and thrilling story that builds to a very explosive climax.
Foxy Brown (1974) – Not only is this a cult blaxploitation-revenge classic starring “The Godmother of Them All” Pam Grier, it’s one of the most rewatchable films I’ve honestly ever seen. I think its perfectly paced with solid acting, direction and a funky score from Willie Hutch.
Casino (1995) – Martin Scorsese’s third film about the world of the mob (based on another true story) is set in the flashy backdrop of Las Vegas where a professional gambling expert (Robert DeNiro) turned casino boss must contend with his old friend Nicky (Joe Pesci), a psychotic gangster who puts their lives at risk and his beautiful but unsavory wife (Sharon Stone) who doesn’t really love him. An extravangant work of crime cinema that is beautifully directed, photographed, acted.
The Straight Story (1996) – David Lynch took a break from his trademark weirdness with this film about an old man named Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth) who hits the road on his lawnmower to visit his estranged brother (Harry Dean Stanton) who lives far away. A tender little road movie that pulls your heartstrings. I love the country style instrumental music by Angelo Badalamenti. Based on a true story.
Highlander (1986) – After making several popular 80s music videos, Russell Mulcahy directed this science fi-action film that mixes past and present. Christopher Lambert plays Conor McLeod, a Scottish warrior who discovers he is immortal. While the story is very outlandish, it really has a unique style and execution that makes it very entertaining. Look for a memorable performance by Clancy Brown as an off-kilter, brutish villain.
Once Upon a Time in America (1984) – Sergio Leone’s last film was also one of his very best. He had moved on from the spaghetti western genre to make this Jewish American gangster epic set during the Prohibition era. It was a long gestated dream project Leone had worked on for years and fortunately realized with a cinematic grandeur. NOTE: The film is currently being re-edited/restored back to his original vision. We can’t wait to see it!
The Streetfighter (1974) – Sonny Chiba is Terry Tsurugi, karate master and ruthless assassin in this Japanese exploitation action classic. The graphic violence is so extreme it borders on cartoonish, but that’s just one of the reasons it’s so entertaining. Once you see this movie, you won’t forget it! The first film rated X for Violence in America!
Serpico (1973) – Sidney Lumet directed this film based on a true story of a NYC policeman who refused to give in to the corruption spreading throughout the precincts in the 60s. Al Pacino is extremely intense in his portrayal of Serpico, a tortured yet deeply dedicated man who had to endure a dangerous, paranoia filled lifestyle because of his strict code of ethics which he refused to give up.
Misery (1990) – Rob Reiner directed this exceptional adaptation based on the book by Stephen King. The acting by Kathy Bates as a psychotic fan who keeps her favorite author (James Caan) captive in her home after rescuing him from death is both frightening and very funny.
Straight Time (1978) – Dustin Hoffman gives one of his greatest performances in this overlooked crime film (based on book by Eddie Bunker) as Max Dembo a career criminal who, after leaving prison, tries to re-enter society, only to be harassed by a sadistic parole officer (M. Emmett Walsh) who causes him to go right back to a life of stealing. The film is a character study which shows the obsessive-compulsive nature of Dembo and how he seems to almost look to get caught through his wreckless personality.
The Apartment (1960) – Billy Wilder’s romantic comedy about an insurance company worker named C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) who rents out his bachelor pad to office supervisors for their weekly flings is a true gem of its time. Baxter begins to fall in love with Ms. Kubilik (Shirley MacLaine) a cute elevator operator that is secretly trying to leave her past relationship with a womanizing CEO (Fred McMurray) (who is also Baxter’s boss) behind.
Rear Window (1954) – Alfred Hitchcock used the subject of voyeurism in this mystery thriller masterpiece starring Jimmy Stewart as a disabled photographer living in an apartment complex who thinks he’s witnessed a murder. Meanwhile, his beautiful girlfriend (Grace Kelly) is trying to get him to settle down which adds another layer of drama to the story. This is one of my most favorite Hitchcock films.
Kill Bill (2003-04) – Quentin Tarantino’s grand exploitation film opus about an ex-assassin who seeks revenge on her estranged lover/boss and his deadly organization is a cinematic celebration. What made it go above and beyond its limits was how it condensed so many B-movie aesthetics and ideas into one multi-layered, heightened alternate universe with a beauty, precision and detail.
Fight Club (1996) – David Fincher’s pitch black comedy (based on the book by Chuck Pahluniuk) about a businessman (Edward Norton) with a bad case of insomnia…and split personality disorder is simply one of the most intense and hysterical modern works of cinema. The film pulses with an anarchic energy and the performances from stars Brad Pitt, Norton, Helena Bonham Carter & Co are just superbly badass.
Master of The Flying Guillotine (1975) – Jimmy Wang Yu’s offbeat revenge tale about a blind assassin who carries a strange bladed contraption that can lop off his victims melons is one of the most inventive and exciting films to come out of the 70s martial arts film craze. The creative special FX and stunts are incredibly fun to witness, not to mention the gangs of eclectic fighters that are featured.
The Blues Brothers (1980) – After making the wild and crazy college frat comedy Animal House (1978), John Landis jumped into another outlandishly funny cinematic adventure based on John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd’s singing, dancing characters from Saturday Night Live. This movie is a constant barrage of big laughs, bigger destruction and hip shaking soul music.
Mission Impossible (1996) – Director Brian DePalma’s technical expertise and knack for designing elaborate action sequences combined with the espionage genre seemed to work perfectly as was shown with this big screen adaptation of the popular 60s TV series. A dynamic spy thriller that, in my opinion, hasn’t been topped by any of the sequels so far.
Dr Strangelove (1964) – All of Stanley Kubrick’s films set around war (Paths of Glory, Full Metal Jacket) seemed to share common threads: the equally nihilistic and downright idiotic attitudes that are present by many of those in charge. This hilarious black comedy focuses on the unfunny topic of nuclear war and the buffoons that hold the lives of millions in their hands. Legendary comic actor Peter Sellers plays several different offbeat characters, all of whom are some of the zaniest he’s ever created besides his iconic clod Inspector Clouseau.
Alien (1979) – A futuristic sci-fi-horror film about a group of commercial space travelers who land on a distant planet where one of the crew (John Hurt) is attacked by a xenomorph. Unfortunately, they take him back on the ship where the alien creature attached to his face gives birth to a baby that grows into a very deadly monster which stalks them on their large freighter ship. Ridley Scott’s original film of the series is a suspenseful, claustrophobic Hitchcockian journey into terror.