40. Casino Royale (2006)
Directed by Martin Campbell
Starring Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Judi Dench

“I give him 00 status and he celebrates by shooting up an embassy. Is he deranged? And where the hell is he? In the old days if an agent did something that embarrassing he’d have the good sense to defect. Christ, I miss the Cold War.”

Daniel Craig is a fantastic Bond, the best since Connery. The franchise had been flagging for a very long time under the stewardship of Wrinkleface Brosnan, the point of no return being the awful CGI sequence in which Bond outsurfs an ice cliff being melted by a laser satellite and parachutes to safety with the drag chute of his car. Or something. God damn it, I got angry just trying to remember that.

Casino Royale hauled the series to safety out of this era of gadget-driven camp with an audacious reboot and a rugged, blue-eyed new Bond. I’m straight – I’ve slept with women and everything! – but, damn. Daniel Craig. Daniel Craig.

Casino Royale has a lot of spectacular action sequences (including that memorable parkour chase in Madagascar), some classic Bond tuxedo card games, and the most absolutely gorgeous Bond girl in the form of Eva Green. (Ha! See, I’m not gay). It’s a shame it was followed up by the atrociously named, written and directed Quantum of Solace, but hopefully the third installment will see this promising reboot back in shape.

39. Cloverfield (2008)
Directed by Matt Reeves
Starring Michael Stahl-David, T.J. Miller, Lizzy Caplan

“Maybe you should have left town a bit earlier, man.”

Cloverfield is (like Avatar) one of those movies you simply have to see in the cinema to enjoy. It is not a film you watch but a film you experience, a film that loses most of its grandeur and majesty when it loses the big screen and surround sound.

An unconvential monster movie, Cloverfield relates the tale of a monster attack on Manhattan through the eyes of a group of twenty-somethings who begin the night at a going-away party and end it, bleeding and decimated, in Central Park shortly before a nuclear strike. A mockumentary in Blair Witch style, shown entirely through a camcorder, the film follows this group of friends and absolutely nobody and nothing else. We see no military leaders, no tense scenes in the White House, no scientists explaining the monster and no vignettes featuring ancillary characters. We never learn about the origins of the monster at all. We know as much as we would if we were right there alongside the characters. I like movies that tell stories in this way, encouraging the viewer to use their imagination and intelligence rather than spoonfeeding them exposition, and would respect Cloverfield for breaking formula even if it were not a good movie.

But it is, fortunately, a fantastic movie, boasting some of the most tense and stunning scenes in the history of the genre. If I owned an indie cinema that played old movies all the time, Cloverfield would be showing at least once a month.

38. Avatar (2009)
Directed by James Cameron
Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver

“You are not in Kansas anymore!”

The story of Avatar is a maddeningly frustrating political allegory of the lowest common denominator, a one-size-fits-all anti-war, anti-coporate piece of environmental propaganda. The basic gist is that a human mining corporation backed by U.S. Marines has landed on an alien planet and is raping and pillaging to its heart’s content with not a thought for the indigenous inhabitants. I’m anti-war, anti-coporation, anti-genocide and pro-environment, but this movie pissed me off the same way Michael Moore does. If you want to attack ideological positions in an allegorical film, you represent them (and your own) fairly. You don’t create a legion of fucking straw men, the worst offenders being the sneering, arrogant corporate suit played by Giovanni Ribisi, the HOO-RAH FUCK ‘EM UP Marine colonel played by Stephen Lang, or the noble savages who live ~Perfectly In Balance With Nature~ played by the CGI division of Lightstorm Entertainment.

So I would have been rolling my eyes the entire movie if they weren’t too busy GETTING THEIR SOCKS ROCKED BY THE MOST MIND-BLOWING CINEMATIC EXPERIENCE CURRENTLY AVAILABLE TO MAN. This was the first movie that existed outside a previously established franchise that actually got me excited, because there were strong (and correct) implications it would be an unforgettable film purely on a visual level. It’s the first movie I ever saw in 3D, and I’m glad. The screenshot above makes it look like concept art for Halo, but when you’re actually in the cinema watching it in 3D, it looks real. Avatar is an exhilarating dragon-ride across an alien planet brimming with beautiful, bizarre plants and animals, with stunning action sequences and near-perfect computer imagery. It is the biggest technological step forward in cinema in my lifetime. It’s because of this unbelievably gorgeous visual feast that I was able to overlook the one-dimensional characters, the ham-fisted moralising and the crummy screenplay. Avatar’s staggeringly colourful visual world allows us to overlook its black and white ideological world, and for that it earns a place on the list.

37. The Bourne Identity (2002)
Directed by Doug Liman
Starring Matt Damon, Franka Potente

“I can tell you the license plate numbers of all six cars outside. I can tell you that our waitress is left-handed and the guy sitting up at the counter weighs two hundred and fifteen pounds and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab of the grey truck outside, and, at this altitude, I can run flat out for half a mile before my hands start shaking. Now why would I know that? How can I know that and not know who I am?”

Before he was turned into a cash cow franchise and an example of the worst possible cinematography known to man, Jason Bourne was the star of a very tight, very cool story. I am a male aged between 13 and 25 years. It is impossible for me not to love a well-crafted film featuring a man waking up in the Mediterranean with no memory, but the keys to a safety deposit box in Switzerland containing fake passports, thousands of dollars in various currencies and a gun. I don’t give a flying fuck about Jason Bourne himself or his German lover, but I am quite happy to watch him chase and kill people all over frosty Europe to uncover a CIA plot. The Bourne Identity is a spy thriller of the highest quality. Just ignore the subsequent sequels in which Paul Greengrass buries every camera lens in somebody’s shoulderblade and ensures that no shot lasts longer than 1.5 seconds.

36. Serenity (2005)
Directed by Joss Whedon
Starring Nathan Fillion, Summer Glau, Chiwetel Ejiofor

“This is the captain. We have a little problem with our entry sequence, so we may experience some slight turbulence and then explode.”

Firefly was a science fiction TV series in 2003 that was cancelled by FOX after only 13 episodes and later achieved cult status on DVD. I heard about it and bought the one and only season based on its good press, and was disappointed by the first few episodes. I hated it. Low budget and stupid concept. An unsuccessful Western version of Cowboy Bebop.

I watched the rest of the series anyway, because I’d already bought it, and by the final episode I fucking loved it. I don’t think I’ve ever had a more rapid change of opinion. Once you accept that Firefly is a low-budget show with an incongruous Western theme, you realise that the characters are hilarious and charming, and you love it. Joss Whedon may be subpar at things like pacing and plotting, but he’s absolutely brilliant at dialogue and characterisation, and it was the strength of the ensemble cast that made Firefly a success.

Serenity is essentially everything fans wanted in a movie: it follows the further adventures of the ship’s crew in a feature-length film, while also advancing (and somewhat resolving) the nature of Simon and River, two of the most intriguing characters upon whom much of the series’ story arc was built. Nathan Fillion is at his wisecracking best and Chiwetel Ejiofor provides a satisfyingly cultured villain – although what is it with Americans always casting British antagonists in films? They’re not still sore about the Revolutionary War, are they? You won, guys.

35. Monsters Inc (2001)
Directed by Peter Docter
Starring Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi

“Pssst, Fungus, you like cars? Because I got a really nice car. You let me go, I’ll give you… a ride… in the car.”

When it comes to popular comedy franchises, I always have a different favourite to prevailing popular opinion (for example, the best Judd Apatow flick is by far Forgetting Sarah Marshall). Monsters Inc stands out as my preferred Pixar films for reasons not entirely clear to me. I think it’s because it’s the only one that’s not overly sentimental, it’s the only one that’s a buddy movie, and its characters are just plain charming. I wish Billy Crystal was my uncle.

34. Gladiator (2000)
Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Djimon Hounsou, Oliver Reed

“Are you not entertained?”

In the pre-Lord of the Rings world, Gladiator was quite an ambitious task: a sprawling epic of a film in the classic swords-and-sandals subgenre. Now we have a whole slew of rubbishy big-budget clones like Alexander and Troy and Kingdom of Heaven and Clash of the Titans and, oh God, the sweaty homoerotic high-five-fest that was 300.

But Gladiator was that rare breed, that mix of big-budget battles and huge set pieces with, good God, complex characters and an actual storyline! It’s no Citizen Kane, but for a blockbuster movie whose highest priority is to give us awesome sword fights and chariot battles, it’s head and shoulders above the rest. Yes, Maximus, we are entertained.

33. The Mist (2007)
Directed by Frank Darabont
Starring Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Hayden, Toby Jones

“People are basically good, decent. My God, David, we’re a civilised society!”
“Sure, as long as the machines are working and you can dial 911. But you take those things away, you throw people in the dark, you scare the shit out of them, no more rules. You’ll see how primitive they can get.”

The Mist is the best thing Stephen King has ever written – better than the Stand and better than any book in the Dark Tower series (well, so far, I’m halfway through it). Stephen King also has a track record of having his decent books turned into terrible movies. So it didn’t look promising. Fortunately, it was filmed by the same director who made the Shawshank Redemption – not only the best King film ever, but widely regarded as one of the best films ever made.

The Mist is a standard horror film, in which a group of small towners are stranded in a supermarket when a huge storm sends the bizarre Mist their way, cutting out electricity, dampening sound, and forcing them into a state of siege as horrific creatures prowl outside. There’s little original about that, but the way King wrote the story was perfect, creating a palpable boiler-room atmosphere as the survivors gradually lose their shit and turn on each other.

Darabont does a good job of translating these elements into the film, assisted by an able cast. But what really makes this film one of the best of the decade is the ending. Darabont has taken King’s typically weak cop-out ending and transformed it into the most shocking and horrifying moment not just in this film, but in any film – in a way that, ironically, has nothing to do with either the monsters or the hostile survivors in the supermarket.

32. Michael Clayton (2007)
Directed by Tony Gilroy
Starring George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton

“I’m not the guy you kill! I’m the guy you buy! Are you so fucking blind that you don’t see what I am? I sold out Arthur for eighty grand. I’m your easiest problem and you’re gonna kill me!?”

This is a brilliantly written and acted film about a powerful law firm’s fixer, the titular Michael Clayton, a man in a suit who makes problems go away. He cleans up messes; he’s a “janitor”; he’s somebody that the firm needs but prefers not to think about. Clayton realises this, and hates it. When the firm comes close to a merger, he confesses his fear of “standing in a room full of people trying to explain what it is I do around here.”

Michael Clayton is a perfectly cast thriller in the legal/business subgenre. I don’t think it has much of a legacy – it does nothing new, but is rather the culmination of a genre – but it is, quite simply, an excellent film. And I will always love it for the epic burn delivered to Tilda Swinton in the final scenes, the aftermath of which is pictured above.

31. The Departed (2006)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson

“Two pills? Great. Why don’t you just give me a bottle of scotch and a handgun to blow my fucking head off?”

The Departed is a typical Scorsese crime film, and one of the prerequisites for a typical Scorsese crime film is excellence. (I think I’m using the words “brilliant” and “excellent” way too much in this post, but I’m tired and behind schedule.) A remake of the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs, The Departed is about a cop going undercover in the mafia, and a mafioso going undercover in the police force, and the tangled web this weaves. It’s a fascinating idea, but honestly, the most memorable thing about this film is simply that it’s excellent. (Arrrgh!) Read Roger Ebert’s full review if you want to see him explore it more deeply (drawing fascinating allusions to Catholicism) and namedrop about how long he’s personally known Scorsese.

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