Movies

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The Last Victorian: John Buchan and the Hannay Quartet

But, even more importantly, he also struck the first modern note in the evolution of the genre with respect to the degree of personal doubt and insecurity that over-shadows the mission – the same note, albeit greatly amplified, that is found in the novels of such well-known successors as Eric Ambler, Graham Greene, and John Le Carré, whose spy stories may be correctly seen, in part at least, as a continuance of John Buchan and the Hannay Quartet.

Fahrenheit 451: Avatar of the New Man

Francois Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 begins with a striking narration of the film’s credits. The premise is simple: talk becomes the natural medium in an illiterate state. When the firemen, that is, the book burners, arrive at a high rise with orders to burn books we are immediately struck by the stark and vulgar aesthetics of the buildings that are so typical in totalitarian countries – globs of spiritless, unimaginative, state-commissioned modernism.

The Death of Conscience in The Onion Field

The stifling, frightening conclusion that we appear to be presented with in The Onion Field is that such a dream really is only a dream, that human beings may, in fact, have no inbuilt or inherent moral conscience, and that they can carry out the most self-evidently horrifying of crimes against one another with no checks, no trepidations, and no regrets.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: The Godfather, #1

The Godfather made careers, most notably those of Francis Ford Coppola and Al Pacino, despite the fact that both of them were almost fired during production. All these years later, it’s still thrilling to watch Pacino as Michael, the Don’s youngest son, evolve from an innocent outsider among his own family into a stone-hearted killer. Watch Pacino’s eyes deaden over the course of the 175-minute film as he becomes the man his father never wanted him to be. It’s why The Godfather is, ultimately, a tragedy.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: The Godfather: Part II, #2

Al Pacino reprises his role as Michael and offers us an Ivy League Machiavelli. He has his father’s cunning and guile, but somewhere along the way lost his compassion. How else do you explain his decision to have his own brother, Fredo (John Cazale), killed long after any damage Fredo has done to the family has been repaired?

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Goodfellas, #3

There is no romance here. No looking out for one’s people. No myth of a moral code. Instead, GoodFellas is about psychopaths who steal, kill and ultimately betray each other. It’s two-and-a-half hours of blood, depravity and—that most American of vices—greed. Director Martin Scorsese summed up his subjects’ wiseguy lifestyle in three words: “Want. Take. Simple.” Oh, and by the way, it’s a brilliant movie packed with dozens of colorful characters.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Pulp Fiction, #5

Part of the joy is not always knowing who the good guys are. Tarantino shot Pulp Fiction as a time-twisting weave of stories where villains can become heroes, or a guy peppered with bullets in one scene comes back from the dead, so to speak, in the next. Behind it all is a hipness in everything from the wardrobe to the set design to the beat-heavy soundtrack that kicks off with Dick Dale’s guitar classic “Misirlou” in the opening credits.