Monday, November 29, 2010

Thrillers That Thrill (and Those That Don’t)

“When I came home there was a man in my house.  You FIND THAT MAN!”  (Harrison Ford, The Fugitive)

          From the last spine-tingling moment of Vertigo to the crap acting/plot of Law Abiding Citizen, thrillers have thrilled and bored audiences far and wide.

AFI (The American Film Institute for all you non-fanac’s) puts out best 100 lists for pretty much every genre.  I cheated and read some of their stuff to jog my memory, but here are my own picks on thrillers (and since I’m such a feel good person I added a second list): those that rock and those that suck.  Ass!

The GREATS (in no real order)

·         The Fugitive.  You just can’t get any better than that.  Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones in his Oscar role, killer story (no pun intended), and kick-ass heart-stopping direction.  A classic.  Must-see-it!

Air Force One does NOT make this list because though Ford rocks the plane, it’s still cardboard round the edges.

·         The Conversation: under-rated and much better than Hackman’s more famous French Connection, which also gets cut from my top picks.  The fact that Harrison Ford pokes his head in has almost nothing to do with it!  I was on the edge for most the movie.  The drama is excellent, the suspense – real pins and needles stuff.  Enter a world you’ve never seen before and will never see again as only Hackman (who otherwise always annoys me) and Coppola (that Godfather guy) can take you to.

·         The Sixth Sense: should be on every movie all-time-greats list, truly paramount (who made that again?).  Shyamalan has not even come close to this level since and neither has anybody else ever.

·         Okay, AFI put Raiders of the Lost Ark (my favorite movie, yeah laugh it up) on their top thriller list and it’s on mine as action/adventure.  Just couldn’t leave that out and create unnecessary confusion.  Right.  Moving on…

·         The Third Man: classic Orson Wells (acting), from the Greene novel adapted also by him.  Yeah it’s black and white, get over it.  Some of the best films are, including (99% of) Spielberg’s 1993 Schindler’s List3M is comparatively slow but gripping and resolves fantastically in Eastern European grandeur that became a landmark for future film.

·         The Silence of the Lambs: psycho-thriller but still the very best of that genre!  All it’s sequels and prequels failed, but the Anthony Hopkins/Jodie Foster duo lashes out at the audience (pun intended).  I mean, when a film wins Best Actor, Actress, Picture, Director, and Screenplay – it’s time to see it!  If you dare.

     Spy Game.  Very good, but it doesn’t make the list.  Besides, what genre is that anyway?  Spy?  James Bond and all that.

      I also like what Guy Ritchie did for the modern attention span with Sherlock Holmes, but no go either.  Deal with it.

          And a note on genres.  Thrillers are not to be confused with action flicks, though many are very close and perhaps there’s an overlap somewhere (let me know).  Lethal Weapon and Die Hard (both 1-4!) are action – purposefully unbelievable and fun, and sometimes funny.  LW1 is great here.  Another blog post for another time.

The thrillers that SUCK!

          Many of these are because of overused special effects (as opposed to story), cliché, or just way too over the top.  I immediately add 88 Minutes in the spur of the moment because that was way too contrived.  Like pulling a rabbit out of a hat with a covered rabbit cage.  We are not impressed.

·         The DaVinci Code and Angel’s and Demons: not just because it’s bullshit (and fiction but hell, would you want someone to write fiction about your Mom?  I love that guy, dammit!).  Both SUCK just as films.  Okay, we can tell Ron Howard (great director) had a hand, the actors are top notch, there’s money behind this, but damn – just watch it for yourself: was not on the edge of my seat at all and the resolution in A&D was like, what’s the opposite of Deus ex machina so as not to offend the atheist Dan Brown?  Leave a comment.

·         I love Sam Jackson in the right movies and Kevin Spacey is AMAZING in The Usual Suspects (get that off this list, it’s great) and also his perfect role in American Beauty – both of which got him Oscars; but The Negotiator sucks man (/woman).  Just kept going when it never turned me on, movie wise.  Dumb, flat thriller.

·         Enemy of the State: everything The Conversation wasn’t: over-hyped, terrible.  Why I usually don’t like Gene Hackman (that and The Voyage of the Posieden) and why Will Smith sometimes looks like a poser.  But he is talented (Ali, MiB, Pursuit of Happyness!!!).

·         The Rock.  Shoot me.  I don’t like it.  Plastic, they insult the Marines, Nicholas Cage sucks.  It’s on the top lists of many guys.  I don’t really know why.  There’s a lot of guy stuff in it but it could have been great as a movie.  I said “could have been.”

·         Face-Off: I couldn’t even finish it.  I have a new respect for John Travolta thanks to Pulp Fiction and Quentin Tarantino, but I hate Nicholas Cage (his acting: that know-it-all put-me-to-sleep eye crap).  He is great in Adaptation (and I mean GREAT!) and I want to see his Oscar win Leaving Las Vegas because of Adapt.  Maybe I will shoot myself afterwards.  But Face-Off sucked!  I couldn’t finish it, and I always finish movies.

·         The Island: more sci-fi, and I love Ewan McGregor, but a tanker.  Interesting concept.  I fell asleep, not because I was tired either.

·         Firewall: Harrison Ford is in it.  Yeah, that’s how much it sucked.  I – the biggest HF fan condemn an HF movie.  He rocked, but it sucked.  Enough said.

Unfortunately, I believe there are more bad films than good ones and when I say “bad” I mean artistically.  Morally is another story.  If the point is to push a moral, usually it’s cheap and incredibly stupid.  I gave it a number once: like 90% of films that come out suck.  Maybe that’s a little overstated.

There are many films missing on both lists but these are picks not all-inclusive, AFI organized.  Somebody send me a million dollars and I’ll give you one of those.

Enjoy the movies!



  1. I think that Spy Game is a pretty good thriller. Spy thriller, yes, but thriller none the less. Another good thriller is Three Days of the Condor.

    I like Air Force One because Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, and guns is one good time, but I can think of other thrillers that I like more. And I agree that Raiders of the Lost Ark would be Adventure.

    I think that Face/Off would be more of an action film. I liked it, but I watched for John's Woo's gun play, not Cage. But it is definitely not as good as Woo's Hong Kong films: A Better Tomorrow I &II, Bullet in the Head, The Killer, Hard Boiled, and Red Cliff. The above 6 films I recommend.

    Just my comments. Have fun!

  2. District 9 is missing from your 5-star list.

  3. @ Andrew: thank you for reminding me: I HAVE to watch 3Days of the C like yesterday.

    AF1 is NOT on my great thrills list b/c it's a plastic movie alltogether, but Ford rocks the house/plane for sure.

    F/O is def-ly poor as films go. Nuf said.

    Got to put those others on my list.

    And thanks for commenting.

  4. @Rob: District 9 is purposefully not on my 5 list b/c it gets a 4 max in my book. Spec effs were great, the new actor dude did a good job, the story was pretty good (could tear up at the end there), but it just didn't lend itself to being "must be on the great" list. -Ish. If you know what I mean.

    "Clockwork Orange" doesn't make itself be loved but it lends itself to every artist's great list, naturally, I think.

    My 3 cents.

    After all, it is MY list. You wanna make your own, do it. And I mean that.

  5. Finally, more pple that comment. Thanks u guys!