The Last Emperor

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The Last Emperor

1987:

  • April: The Simpsons first appears as a series of shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show
  • August: Michael Jackson releases his album Bad
  • October: Hurricane-force winds hit much of South England, killing 23 people

Trivia:

The first western film to be made in and about China with full Chinese government cooperation since 1949.

Will:

The Last Emperor is a rich and complex film. It paints a portrait of a ruler who did not choose his position, and yet feels duty bound to hold it. It is therefore, at its heart, a film about an individual torn between what he wants and his perceived responsibility. Obviously, this is on a grand scale, and the grandeur is shown in the beauty of a film largely filmed around the Forbidden City and with 19,000 extras. This lavishness contrasts brilliantly with the diminutive figure Puyi presents in prison and after his release, but one who seemingly manages to finally reconcile his complicated and divided loyalties.

Rating: 9/10

Mark:

A very beautiful film, the early promise of which didn’t quite last until the end. I felt the film was really restricted in the way it skipped back and forth between Puyi’s earlier life and his time as a prisoner. The scenes of him as a child, growing up in the Forbidden City were absolutely compelling and the addition of Peter O’Toole as Reginald Johnstone helped to give a great warmth and humanity to a difficult subject. I found The Last Emperor a little too long and a lot of the content from both his time in Manchukuo and his time as a prisoner dragged on more than I would have cared for, but I thought the ending and his return to the Forbidden City was excellent. With a slightly better structure and more judicious editing, this could have been an absolute masterpiece.

Rating: 7/10

Combined rating: 8/10


Lawrence of Arabia

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Lawrence of Arabia

1962:

  • May: Twelve East Germans escape under the Berlin Wall via a tunnel
  • August: Marilyn Monroe is found dead from an overdose of sleeping pills and chloral hydrate
  • October: US spy planes take photos of Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba

Trivia:

Without any women in speaking roles, Lawrence of Arabia is reportedly the longest running film not to have any dialogue spoken by a woman.

Will:

Lawrence of Arabia is quite simply masterful. It presents a riveting portrait of a man who is full of complexity and flaws. Throughout though, it’s fabulously exciting. As a viewer I don’t doubt that TE Lawrence is swept up in the romance of the desert, because I am too. The beautiful cinematography and the famously rousing score wrapped me up and carried me euphorically through nearly four hours of film. Thankfully, the intermission – which we briefly observed – comes and the right moment, and is superbly used to separate two acts, both with distinct feels, but each marvellous in their own rights. Lawrence of Arabia may be long, but it is surprisingly a film of  economy. Every shot is thought through and feels essential, adding to the grandeur of a film that truly deserves to be described as epic. I can’t recommend Lawrence of Arabia highly enough.

Rating: 9.5/10

Mark:

Lawrence of Arabia was our August Bank Holiday Monday treat and it didn’t disappoint. Like the best ‘epic blockbuster’ films, Lawrence of Arabia is able to combine large and expansive scenes with very intimate moments; the brilliant battles and the first scene in the dessert, with the familiar theme music in the background, really stood out as key moments in cinema history. The most impressive element of the film was the tortured portrayal of Lawrence by Peter O’Toole; often best captured in smaller scenes and conversations. There are elements to Lawrence of Arabia that I didn’t enjoy: it is a bit too long; the second act is weaker than the first and I struggled a little bit with the geography of the film (mostly due to my own ignorance) but it really has stood the test of time.

Rating: 8.5/10

Combined rating: 9/10


Braveheart

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Braveheart

1995:

  • April: 168 people are killed when Timothy McVeigh sets off a bomb in Oklahoma City
  • September: the DVD media format is announced
  • October: OJ Simpson is found not guilty of two counts of murder

Trivia:

‘Braveheart’ was actually the nickname of Robert the Bruce, not William Wallace.

Will:

Braveheart was dull, overlong and full of indulgent battle scenes. It lost my interest from the outset, and never regained it.

Rating: 2/10

Mark:

I always assumed I’d hate Braveheart so it was a pleasant surprise to discover I was wrong and that it was in fact an action movie masquerading as an important historical film. Whilst the first forty minutes dragged massively and the film was a bit too long, I really enjoyed the brutal battle scenes (which helpfully avoided being unnecessarily epic for epic’s sake) and thought that, once the story got going, it was actually pretty enjoyable.

Rating: 6/10

Combined rating: 4/10


The French Connection

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The French Connection

1971:

  • January: Idi Amin stages a coup in Uganda and becomes president
  • July: the first e-book, a copy of the US Declaration of Independence is published on the University of Illinois mainframe, marking the start of Project Gutenberg
  • October: Walt Disney World opens in Orlando, Florida

Trivia:

The French Connection was the first R-rated film to win Best Picture.

Will:

The French Connection is not the kind of film I would expect to enjoy, so it wasn’t surprising to me when I didn’t. But it doesn’t even seem to contain the redeeming features I would expect of a supposed crime thriller. It was slow paced and dull. A scene where a character keeps getting on and off a subway train to lose the cop tailing him particularly comes to mind as an example of an overlong and exceedingly poorly paced scene. Suspense is – for me – normally a redeeming feature of the genre, but The French Connection was mostly lacking in this most basic of requirements for a thriller. I was thoroughly bored throughout.

Rating: 2/10

Mark:

I was really disappointed with The French Connection as it is the kind of film I like and it has Gene Hackman in it, who is awesome. I’d expected something much grittier and suspenseful, but most of it felt pretty throwaway and uninteresting. Obviously the car chase is brilliant, but this didn’t have the panache and excitement that many cop films have. I think the screen play could have benefited from being slightly tighter as often bits felt slightly tangential and/or accidental to the main story.

Rating: 3/10

Combined rating: 2.5/10


Ordinary People

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Ordinary People

1980:

  • January: Six United States diplomats, posing as Canadians, manage to escape from Tehran, Iran. The event is later made into the film Argo, which won Best Picture for 2012.
  • April: Six Iranian-born terrorists take over the Iranian embassy in London.
  • October: Margaret Thatcher declares that ‘the lady’s not for turning’.

Trivia:

Timothy Hutton was the youngest person to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, aged just 20 when Ordinary People was released.

Will:

Ordinary People is a compelling and forensic depiction of the breakdown of a family’s ability to relate to each other, as they are torn apart following the accidental death of the eldest son. The process as Conrad, younger brother and survivor of the accident, struggles to come to terms with his grief and the guilt he feels is moving and gripping in equal measure. The swirling mix of grief, frustration and anger is explosive and makes Ordinary People an exceptional film, without ever being overstated.

Rating: 7/10

Mark:

A very moving film that centres around Conrad Jarrett, a young teenager who has tried to kill himself and has only recently returned to ‘normal’ life. The film follows Conrad and his family as he – and they – try to readjust. Timothy Hutton gives an extraordinary performance as Conrad; he hits the right notes in every scene and provides a fascinating insight into a delicate mind. One particular scene with Conrad and Dr Berger (a brilliant turn from Judd Hirsch) is one of the best things I’ve seen on screen; a genuinely moving argument about how we relate to those who’ve left us. The strength of the film is in its challenge of the American idyll; the Jarrett’s are an affluent family who are well connected and enjoy many privileges. Ordinary People explores the lengths people are willing to go to to maintain their ‘normal’ life. A very good film.

Rating: 8/10

Combined rating: 7.5/10


Annie Hall

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Annie Hall

1977:

  • February: Fleetwood Mac release Rumours
  • June: Celebrations are held for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee
  • October: The last natural case of smallpox is discovered in Somalia, the disease is accordingly considered eradicated

Trivia:

Diane Keaton’s nickname is Annie; her maiden name is Hall.

Will:

I remember friends raving about Annie Hall when I was at university. Their ebullient enthusiasm made me wonder what the fuss was about; having seen Annie Hall, I’m now left with the same feeling. While not unfunny in parts, this is a frustrating film, particularly in the way it plays fast and loose with structure. Add to this the fact that Woody Allen is incessantly irritating, and you are left with a somewhat disappointing and severely over-hyped film.

Rating: 5/10

Mark:

It is difficult to write the review for Annie Hall as it is some time since we watched it and I can’t really remember anything that happened. I don’t remember disliking the film and I found bits of it pretty funny, but I also don’t remember any bits of it that I loved. It just felt a bit ‘meh’. I’ve subsequently read the Wikipedia plot summary and it hasn’t really triggered any emotions, which makes it very atypical of the other best pictures we’ve seen. I do remember it feeling a little dull and over-analytical for my taste; it was mildly funny but hardly a masterpiece.

Rating: 4/10

Combined rating: 4.5/10


The Bridge on the River Kwai

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The Bridge on the River Kwai

1957:

  • March: The Treaty of Rome establishes the European Economic Community, the precursor to the European Union
  • September: The Wolfenden report is published, recommending the decriminalisation of homosexuality
  • October: The Soviet Union launches Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth

Trivia:

Footage of the climactic (and unrepeatable) scene went missing, and turned up a week later on airport tarmac in Cairo, sat in the hot Egyptian sun. Miraculously, the film was undamaged by the heat, even though it should have been completely destroyed.

Will:

The Bridge on the River Kwai is a film of perfectly balanced tensions and divided loyalties. In these it divides our loyalties too; leading us to sympathise both with the Japanese and Allied Forces. We never for a moment question Lt. Colonel Nicholson’s motives, although we can see the consequences of his actions. Even so, the film’s famous climax is dramatic and shocking, revealing both Nicholson’s complicity and – as an audience – our own.

Rating: 8/10

Mark:

An absolutely superb war film that told the story of a railway bridge built by British prisoners of war. It is able to combine epic scenes with very intimate and personal moments with ease, and brilliantly demonstrates an unusual bout of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ with Lt Colonel Nicholson. There really wasn’t much to dislike about The Bridge on the River Kwai and I’d happily watch it again and again.

Rating: 9/10

Combined rating: 8.5/10