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NUMBER 5

Project A

Director: Jackie Chan

Starring: Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao

Year: 1983

IMDB Rating 7.5/10

This entry is a massive cop out. Even though I’ve titled the article with the name of the 1983 film, it’s just an excuse for me to talk about one of my favourite performers, the daredevil legend that is Jackie Chan.

Chinese cinema is a different animal compared to the films from our side of the globe and in the late 1960s and early 1970s, one particular Chinese actor managed to engage western audiences; his name was Bruce Lee. Very quickly, movie producers in both America and China were trying to emulate Bruce Lee’s success, especially after the man died in 1973. A young stunt man called Chan Kong-sang, who actually worked alongside Lee, decided he wasn’t going to try and be the next Bruce Lee, but rather become a martial artist film star that incorporated more comedy in his performance.

Now I won’t go into Jackie Chan’s life story (there is a book available for that), but once I eventually saw him in a film, I was eager to watch his earlier work. While Jackie Chan had made it big in the 1990s and early 2000s with American-made films like Rumble in the Bronx, Rush Hour and Shanghai Noon, his filmography from the 1980s always proved to be an entertaining watch. These films are always pure Jackie Chan and how he’s meant to be seen. The fight scenes are always bigger, the stunts are more daring, and the stories are usually more entertaining than the generic action films Hollywood tends to put him in.

Jackie Chan grew up in a performing arts school alongside other martial artists who he would occasionally work with throughout his career. Project A is one of the films that happens to feature Jackie Chan alongside two of his school buddies (above). The film is set in the 1800s in Old Hong Kong and tells the story of pirates and the law enforcers trying to suppress them. Inspired by the work of classic comedy actors such Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, the film features a stunt where Chan free falls 60 feet from a clock tower before landing on his head (he did three takes); funnily enough this isn’t the stunt that nearly killed him.

Project A represents my love for the action movie genre, which now relies heavily on guns, explosions and quick editing. Project A doesn’t feature much if any of those aspects; it’s pure entertaining action from start to finish. Project A also represents my love for Chan’s films; a genre in its own right. At the age of 61, Chan still performs his own stunts and choreographs fight scenes, although he has claimed that he’s going to be performing fewer stunts and being more careful in as his twilight years approach. So in a way Jackie Chan is my number five, but since a man can’t be a film, Project A takes this entry.

Watch the famous clock tower fall (three individual takes!):

Watch Jackie Chan wield a bike like a baseball bat:

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NUMBER 6

Carlitio’s Way

Director: Brian De Palma

Starring: Al Pacino, Sean Penn, Penelope Ann Miller, John Leguizamo

Year: 1993

IMDB Rating: 7.9/10

There are few actors as stellar as Al Pacino. From Tony Montana to Michael Corleone, the guy is able to perform convincingly. Regardless of the characters he plays, most of whom are flawed anti-heroes or downright villains, he manages to persuade the audience to root for him, and a great example of that can be found in Carlito’s Way.

Set in New York, the film is a crime drama with elements of a Greek tragedy and aspects of film noir cinema. Pacino plays Carlito Brigante, a Puerto Rican who is released from prison after serving only five years of a 30 year sentence thanks to his cunning and slimy lawyer, Dave Klienfeld (Sean Penn). Carlito returns to his old neighbourhood, determined to save enough money to retire to the Caribbean, and he wants to do this legitimately. He’s convinced that he’s done with crime and the “rules of the street”, but the past is a gaping whole, the more you try and run from it, the bigger it gets. Suffice to say, Carlito’s good intentions quickly spiral into chaos and he struggles to choose between being what he wants and what he is.

From the get go, you know that things aren’t going to end well for the titular character, but that’s what makes the film so interesting. Knowing the outcome, but seeing how it plays out reinforces the idea that it’s very much the journey that matters and not the ending. Carlito’s choices and the company he keeps greatly symbolise his inner conflict; Penn’s Klienfeld character represents the corruption of greed and power, while Carltio’s relationship with Gail (Penelope Ann Miller) represents the fragility of life and how difficult it is to change who we are.

Carlito’s Way is an evocative crime drama and represents my love for the genre. I didn’t discover this film until my early twenties when I watched several Al Pacino films back to back. These included: The Godfather trilogy, Scarface, Serpico, Donnie Brasco and Heat, but it was Carlito’s Way that proved to be my favourite and I believe it fairly represents my admiration for who I consider to be one of the world’s coolest performers.

The Infamous Tense Snooker Scene:

Viggo Mortensen crops up for one scene. How far has Aragorn fallen?

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NUMBER 7

The Last Samurai

Director: Edward Zwick

Starring: Tom Cruise, Ken Watanabe, Koyuki, Timothy Spall

Year: 2003

IMDB Rating: 7.7/10

In 1999 a videogame was released for the Sega Dreamcast called Shenmue (you’ll start to notice a connection now between my love for films and videogames). The game was set in 20th century Japan and told the story of Ryo Hazuki, a martial artist out to avenge the death of his father. My love for all things Japanese was instigated by this game and what followed was a healthy interest in manga and anime, along with other videogames set in Japan – particularly the feudal era. I started to collect Japanese trinkets and even had CDs of traditional Japanese music. When I was 15 I made a pact with one of my best friends that we would one day go to Japan – a promise we are yet to fulfil.

However, despite my love for all things Japanese, when I first heard of The Last Samurai I wasn’t interested. I can’t remember if it was my reluctance to watch anything featuring Tom Cruise or my stubbornness of not being the first one of my friends to discover it. My friends were badgering me to see it, claiming I would love it; citing my interest in Japan and love for another film that they felt shared similarities with The Last Samurai. I refused to see it while it was out at the cinema. It wasn’t until a year later that my aforementioned best friend sat me down and demanded that I watch it. My first viewing of this film blew me away and subsequent viewings all yield the same result

The Last Samurai is an epic war film that depicts the Westernisation of 19th century Japan. In a bid to economise on Japan’s new interest, the US government sends distinguished Civil War heroes to Japan to train the Imperial Japanese Army in exchange for an exclusive arms deal. One of these veterans is Tom Cruise’s character, Nathan Algren, who is now an alcoholic and traumatised by his part in the atrocities of the American Indian Wars. A penitent man, Algren is tasked with suppressing a samurai rebellion, but is given little time to train the army. He is quickly captured by the men he was sent to defeat and is surprised to discover a civilisation that is both humble and disciplined, and that they are not the savages he was led to believe. Say what you want about Tom Cruise as a person, but the guy acts with conviction.

The story is written with an American audience in mind, and I’m sure you could find countless tropes in the plot that have appeared before and since this movie. The Last Samurai isn’t a great depiction of Japanese culture, however it’s one of my favourite films as it manages to capture a particular majesty of feudal Japan, as if Japan is a fairy land in a storybook. Add in one of Hans Zimmer’s greatest soundtracks, and you’ve got my seventh favourite film. I suppose I should be thankful to that friend of mine who demanded I watch it.

Trailer for The Last Samurai:

One of the great scenes from the movie:

Helen said that the above scene reminded her of the following scene from Kung Fu Hustle:

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(source: wikipedia.com)

Number 8

Django Unchained

Director: Quentin Tarentino

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Kerry Washington, Leonardo Dicaprio

Year: 2012

IMDB Rating: 8.5/10

This is the youngest film to appear in my top ten, and for those of you who read my disclaimer are probably thinking: “How on earth can a film this new have played a significant role in developing your character?” Unfortunately, there’s no short answer.

When I was a young kid my dad would often tell me about some of his favourite films, regardless of the age rating they came with. One film he would often tell me about was Pulp Fiction. Released in 1994, Pulp Fiction is a black comedy crime film that tells a non linear story featuring an ensemble cast. The film is known for its eclectic dialogue and highly stylised direction. My dad would often tell me the story of the accidental shooting of Marvin. Despite the gruesomeness of the anecdote I was always intrigued why my dad found it so funny. It wasn’t until I was much older when I watched the film that I finally understood why that particular scene always made my dad chuckle.This Tarantino fella had a way of turning violence into comedy.

(source: mentalfloss.com)

While Pulp Fiction wasn’t Tarantino’s first film, it is no doubt his most famous and influential movie. It was such a hit, that subsequent Tarantino movies are often judge against Pulp Fiction’s success. The film stayed with me, and I’ve re-watched it several times – once forcing Helen to watch it – and while I can appreciate its cultural significance, I never considered it one of my favourite films of all time.

(source: solidsmack.com)

Fast forward a decade to Kill Bill, a two part martial art film written and directed by Taratino and starring Uma Thurman. I fell in love with both films for many reasons, but what I liked the most was the Western themes that Tarantino littered throughout. Kill Bill isn’t Tarantino’s strongest work, but it is certainly memorable. I remember watching David Carradine walk those final five steps while Ennio Morricone’s Navajo Joe theme played on and thinking “Tarantino should make a cowboy film.”

(source: 4thletter.net)

Fast forward almost another decade and we come to my Number 8, Django Unchained. Inspired by Spaghetti Westerns, Django Unchained tells the story of an African-American slave who teams up with a German bounty hunter in order to rescue the former’s wife. The film doesn’t shy away from America’s past with slavery, and there are one or two scenes that are difficult to watch. It’s a fantastic journey, with the usual Tarantino tropes along the way. Like Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained is entertainingly irresponsible and ethically serious at the same time. Incidentally, two years before the film’s release, I played a videogame called Red Dead Redemption, which was a Western action-adventure. I fell in love with the game and then Django and Dr. Schultz came along and I immediately connected the game experience with the film.

(source: gamesradar.com)

Upon its release I joined my dad and sister in watching the Django Unchained at our local cinema. This was the first time I had actually got to watch a Tarantino film with my dad, which was a huge improvement from him telling an adolescent me about people getting shot in the face.


Trailer for Django Unchained:

Trailer for Red Dead Redemption:

Freedom by Andy Hamilton and Elayna Boynton (this song should have won the Oscar for Original Song, unfortunately that accolade went to Adele for her abysmal Skyfall song).

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(source: scifiportal.eu)

(source: scifiportal.eu)

NUMBER 9

Sunshine

Director: Danny Boyle

Starring: Cillian Murphy, Michelle Yeoh, Troy Garity.

Composer: John Murphy

Year: 2007

IMDB Rating: 7.3/10

I like the odd bit of science fiction, from sci-fi fantasy like the original Star Wars to sci-fi thrillers like Alien. The possibilities with the genre are endless. However, I do disengage with sci-fi films that are too action-orientated, for instance Armageddon and the two Matrix sequels; I don’t like mixing my sci-fi with over the top action. It’s like when I’m eating Spag-Bol, the ratio between pasta and sauce needs to be just right (less pasta/action than the sauce/sci-fi). A messy analogy.

Sunshine is an intelligent film without being too nerdy (if that’s possible). The premise is simple: the Sun is burning out and Earth is freezing over. In a desperate attempt, humanity bands together to send a small crew into space to reignite the Sun. I know what you’re thinking: “Isn’t that similar to the plot of that Michael Bay film you’ve just said you didn’t like?” Sure, they are not dissimilar, but there’s no Aerosmith, hammy acting, overly used CGI action sequences or ridiculous immediacy; Sunshine is a slow burner.

(source: worldofspaceships.com)

The film is a technical masterpiece. The acting from Cillian Murphy, Mark Strong, Michelle Yeoh and Cliff Curtis is superb, the cinematography is gorgeous and the music – oh man the music – augments the drama. John Murphy’s soundtrack is so powerful I’m getting chills thinking about it.

Sunshine is a tragic tale, but the journey is worth the distress. It resonates with me on so many levels: the setting; the desperation and moral extremities of humanity, the majesty of science and the allure and destructive force of the Sun.

(source: giphy.com)
There are obvious connections to films that came before Danny Boyle’s British made sci-fi epic. Many people compare Sunshine to Event Horizon, while others refer to Solaris and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sunshine is often misunderstood by wider audiences and considered one of Boyle’s more underrated films by critics. I love other films from Boyle, with 28 Days Later and Slumdog Millionaire being memorable films from the 2000s, but it is Sunshine that takes the accolade of being my ninth favourite film.

(source: giphy.com)

This piece of music from the film’s soundtrack is absolutely amazing (you may have heard it in Kick-Ass and The Walking Dead: Season One):

Trailer:

Discussion on Sunshine with Danny Boyle, film critic Mark Kermode and physicist Brian Cox:

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