Fantasy Films – Top Ten List

As this is the end of the year, it seems the time for Top 10 lists. I’ll be doing Top 10 lists of films currently available on instant Netflix. I’ve disqualified all the films that show as expiring on or before 1/1/10. Today is my list of Top 10 fantasy films on instant Netflix (in no particular order though I’ll start with traditional fantasy).

Clash of the Titans

WATCH: Clash of the Titans (1981) – Rated PG.

Okay I admit this list is going to be dominated by Ray Harryhausen. The Clash of the Titans remake is slated to be released early next year and looks to be a lot of fun. Right now though you can watch the original for free. It’s worth it just for the Medusa.

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad

WATCH: The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) – Rated G

Harryhausen’s first color feature is an absolute masterpiece. This is my 2nd favorite Harryhausen movie behind only Jason and the Argonauts. The villain is nefarious, the damsel is alluring and in distress, and the hero is not as wooden as the next two Sinbads.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad

WATCH: The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974) – Rated G.

While Tom Baker (Doctor Who) is a hoot as the villain and the Kali fight is a wonderful highlight, I did not like this one as much as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (it is still excellent though).

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger

WATCH: Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) – Rated G

Harryhausen’s final Sinbad film stars Patrick Wayne (son of John), Taryn Power (daughter of Tyrone), Patrick Troughton, and the lovely Jane Seymour. The wondrous Harryhausen creations include skeleton creatures, a baboon, a troglodyte, a tiger and more.

Conan the Barbarian

WATCH: Conan the Barbarian (1982) – Rated R

This is one of the roles Arnold was born to play (or perhaps sculpted would be a better term). Conan is grand and bloody as befits Robert E. Howard’s source material. The film is flawed but it is so darned manly.

Excalibur

WATCH: Excalibur (1981) – Rated R.

Excalibur features incredible scene-stealing performances from Nicol Williamson as Merlin and Helen Mirren as Morgana. It also features mounted armored combat in rich lush forests. John Boorman’s compositions are wonderful and there are early roles from Patrick Stewart, Gabriel Byrne, and Liam Neeson.

The Princess Bride

WATCH: The Princess Bride (1987) – Rated PG for adult language and violence.

The Princess Bride is quite simply one of the best, most heartfelt movies ever made. The next time your loved one asks for something, simply reply “As you wish”.

Krull

WATCH: Krull (1983) – Rated PG for violence.

This film is all over the place. It is definitely a fantasy but the enemy are space aliens. It aims for an adult audience but there is a child protagonist and lots of cute animals for the kids. The leads are a little wooden but Freddie Jones, Francesca Annis, and Bernard Bresslaw are wonderful in secondary roles. Look for Liam Neeson in another early role.

Ghost

WATCH: Ghost (1990) – Rated PG-13.

Alrighty, plot-wise this is supernatural and not fantasy but thematically this is definitely a fantasy. It is also a romance and to maintain my standing as a man, I’m not having a Top Ten Romance list. Unlike The Princess Bride, do not try telling your loved one “ditto” after watching this film. Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg are all magnificent in this movie

Groundhog Day

WATCH: Groundhog Day (1993) – Rated PG.

Here is another film that is thematically fantasy romance while being a comedy plot-wise. Bill Murray is hysterical but also oddly vulnerable as a cynical weatherman. Andie McDowell is wonderful as his producer and Chris Elliott is quite funny as the cameraman.

Science Fiction – Top Ten List

As this is the end of the year, it seems the time for Top 10 lists. I’ll be doing Top 10 lists of films currently available on instant Netflix. I’ve disqualified all the films that show as expiring on or before 1/1/10. Today is my list of Top 10 Science Fiction films – these are in no particular order.

Wall-E

WATCH: Wall-E (2008) – Rated G

Pixar has a can’t miss record so far. Even so this is a particularly haunting film. There is almost no dialogue in the first act and it’s still riveting. The film is absolutely gorgeous in so many ways.

Time After Time

WATCH: Time After Time (1979) – Rated PG

Malcolm McDowell and David Warner give the performances of their careers as H.G. Wells and Jack the Ripper respectively. Jack the Ripper steals the Time Machine and travels to the future to escape justice. This is a superb blending of science fiction, action and romance.

Silent Running

WATCH: Silent Running (1971) – Rated G

Silent Running is a precursor to Wall-E’s environmental premise. Bruce Dern always plays people who are off or crazy but here he fits perfectly as an off-kilter botanist trying to protect the last forest. Also like Wall-E, Director Douglas Trumbull imbues three androids with almost human personalities.

Body Snatchers

WATCH: Body Snatchers (1993) – Rated R

While this is the third and third-best of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers adaptations, it is still highly entertaining. It is also the only one available on instant Netflix.

Terminator 2

WATCH: Terminator 2 Judgment Day (1991) – Rated R

This is the film where James Cameron raised the bar for special effects (and budgets). Like Pixar, all of James Cameron’s movies are good and some are classics. This one is a classic with some of the most fantastic action set pieces ever made.

Starship Troopers

WATCH: Starship Troopers (1997) – Rated R for graphic science-fiction violence and gore and for some language and nudity.

This is my guilty pleasure of the list. Starship Troopers is not an especially good film but it has very well designed creatures, lots of ironic humor and ample gore. The battle scenes are grand and frantic. This is a great check-your-brain at the door thrill ride. Whatever you do, don’t expect the complexities of Heinlein’s novel.

Men in Black

WATCH: Men in Black (1997) – Rated PG-13 for language and science fiction violence.

Is Will Smith ever not likable? The key to a good buddy comedy is having opposites that are both fun and have chemistry. Crotchety Tommy Lee Jones + good-natured Will Smith + science fiction = box office gold. Look for an early scene-stealing role from Monk’s Tony Shalhoub.

Planet of the Apes

WATCH: Planet of the Apes (1968) – Rated G.

This is the most classic film on the list. The climactic scene is one of the greatest reveals in cinema history. Sadly it has become so iconic that it isn’t really a surprise even if you haven’t seen the film (heck just look at the photo). If you are under 40, try watching this film while remembering that it was filmed in the 60s and is about race relations (among other things).

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

WATCH: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) – Rated PG for sequences of stylized science fiction violence and brief mild language.

The special effects on this film are incredible. One of the first films to replace everything with green screen, this is a wonderful throwback to the Flash Gordon serials of yore. Not everything makes logical sense and the acting ranges from good down to what you would expect from the old serials. The real reason to watch this is the cinematography and Deco art design.

Serenity

WATCH: Serenity (2005) – Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense violence and action and some sexual references.

While I did not order the list in any way, this one is my personal favorite. It is amazing that a TV series (Firefly) that was canceled after only 14 episodes (only 11 of which aired) was so popular on DVD that a theatrical release sequel was made. Joss Whedon is a wonderful wordsmith and the dialogue in this movie is crisp and wonderful as are the relationships between the characters. All of the cast are excellent as always but Chiwetel Ejiofor is absolutely amazing as a government operative on their trail.

Sisters – Brian De Palma week

This is Brian De Palma week. Sisters is currently available on instant Netflix.

Sisters

WATCH: Sisters (1973) – Rated R

“Reporter Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt) sees model Danielle Breton (Margot Kidder) commit murder in the apartment across the way and promptly alerts the police — who find no corpse or other evidence of the crime. Left to her own devices, Grace teams with private eye Joseph Larch (Charles Durning) to crack the case, with the trail leading to Danielle’s once-conjoined twin and a creepy mental asylum in director Brian De Palma’s disturbing shocker.”

“Did you know that the germs can come through the wires? I never call and I never answer. It’s a good way to get sick – very, very sick. That’s how I got so sick! Someone called me on the telephone!”

Brian De Palma both wrote and directed Sisters. He also cast two of his friends, Jennifer Salt and Margot Kidder as the leads. This is an early film of his and is a bit rough around the edges. He uses his split-screen a bit here (then a new technique) three years before his iconic use of it in Carrie.

Again De Palma is in Hitchcock mode here. He uses odd camera angles and tracking shots a la his role model. Bernard Herrmann, a frequent Hitchcock composer, provides a good score here.

Acting is a little uneven. Jennifer Salt underplays her role as the intrepid reporter allowing the other cast members to dominate the film. Margot Kidder is quite good as the mysterious Danielle. The show is stolen by the delightful Charles Durning as an investigator.

Obsession, yesterday’s film, is clearly the stronger mystery but Sisters certainly has its rough charms.  I recommend watching this because it is entertaining but not very highly because the twist is easy to guess and some of the third act shenanigans don’t make much logical sense.

People Watch: Look for Olympia Dukakis as Bakery Shop employee #2.

Obsession – Brian De Palma week

Okay here are some very late postings from last week due to the holidays. This is Brian De Palma week. Obsession is currently available on instant Netflix.

Obsession

WATCH: Obsession (1973) – Rated PG

“While vacationing in Italy, Michael Courtland (Cliff Robinson) spots a mysterious woman (Genevive Bujold) bearing an eerie resemblance to his late wife — who, along with his daughter, was killed 15 years earlier. Blinded by grief, Michael pursues the beautiful doppelganger, but winning her heart turns out to be a dubious prize. Brian De Palma helmed this unabashed homage to director Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller Vertigo.”

Up until he made Scarface in 1983, almost all of Brian De Palma’s movies come off as homages to or extensions of Alfred Hitchcock’s work. Obsession is certainly no exception. It bears more than a passing resemblance to Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

In addition to directing, De Palma also wrote the story with Paul Schrader who wrote the screenplay. Strangely, Schrader eschews his usual focus on the seedy side of life for an old-fashioned if somewhat creepy mystery.

The story does build slowly but the payoff is quite worth it. An odd casting decision late in the film (to explain would be a spoiler) actually works quite well. A lot of De Palma’s camera angles and shot compositions are quite impressive.

Oddly Netflix did not spell either actors name correctly in their description. It is Cliff Robertson, not Robinson, who capably plays the male lead. That is Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben to those of you that don’t watch older movies. Genevieve Bujold wonderfully plays dual roles here as wife and mystery woman.

For the music, Brian De Palma wisely turned to Hitchcock veteran Bernard Herrmann. Obsession was nominated for an Oscar for Herrmann’s score. While not Herrmann’s best, it is quite haunting and lyrical as befits the tone of this film.

This is a very good mystery but is slow to get going despite starting with a kidnapping. The third act is wonderful and I highly recommend this film. One caveat: For some bizarre reason, instant Netflix’s transfer of this film ends abruptly with no credits so one is left wondering if that is really where the film ended.

People Watch: Watch for a much younger and blond (?!) John Lithgow as Michael Courtland’s southern-fried friend LaSalle.

Brittany Murphy – 1977-2009

Today I would like to depart from my usual review format to mourn the passing of Brittany Murphy. Passing away this past Sunday at the young age of 32, she left behind an impressive body of work.

While we first noticed her in “Clueless”, our most memorable impression of her was in “Dont Say a Word”. We saw endless previews of that movie (on HBO? – not sure) and we often joked that “Ill never tell” in that sing-song voice she used. My favorite role that she played was of the abused waitress Shellie in Sin City.

Many of her films are currently available on instant Netflix.

Clueless

WATCH: Clueless (1995) – Rated PG-13 for sex related dialogue and some teen use of alcohol and drugs.

“Director Amy Heckerlings fresh adaptation of Jane Austens novel Emma follows the misadventures of meddlesome Beverly Hills high schooler Cher (Alicia Silverstone), who gets more than she bargained for when she gives a fashion-challenged student (Brittany Murphy) a makeover. Stacey Dash co-stars as Chers oh-so-stylish best friend in this witty — and charming — send-up of the 90210 lifestyle.”

Emma 90210. Long before Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, there was Clueless. If you watch one Brittany Murphy film on instant Netflix, this is the one to watch.

Megafault

AVOID: Megafault (2009) – Not rated (presumably because this was a made for Syfy channel movie)

“How do you stop an earthquake? You do not — normally. But things are anything but normal in this adventure that finds a seismologist and a miner teaming up to prevent an earthquake of epic proportions that threatens to rip the planet in half. Brittany Murphy, Eriq La Salle, Bruce Davison and Justin Hartley star in this David Michael Latt-directed nail-biter that features spectacular special effects.”

Earthquake 90210. Long after the disaster genre died, there was Megafault. If you avoid one Brittany Murphy film on instant Netflix, this is the one to avoid. From the bargain basement effects to the headache-inducing “science” to the unbelievably ridiculous situations, this is a train wreck of a movie.

OTHER Brittany Murphy movies on instant Netflix

Family Prayers (1993) – “As he tries to prepare for his upcoming bar mitzvah, young Andrew Jacobs (Tzvi Ratner-Stauber) finds himself preoccupied with the drama swirling around his gambling-addicted father, Martin (Joe Mantegna), and his distraught mother, Rita (Anne Archer). As the parents turn to Ritas sister, Nan (Patti LuPone), for help, Andrew attempts to shelter his own sister, Fay (Julianne Michelle), from the familys troubles. Scott M. Rosenfelt directs.”

Brittany Murphy is listed way down in the credits so my assumption is that she doesn””””t have much of a role in this film.

Bongwater (1997) – “Luke Wilson stars as David, a pot-smoking artist whos desperately in love with sensual Serena. Sadly, the two have a misunderstanding and — just as Davids house burns to the ground — Serena dumps him in favor of junkie Tommy (Jamie Kennedy). Davids motley crew of weed-breathing buddies will have to suffice as the stoned artist figures out how to forget his ladylove and his scorched home, while Serena attempts to find herself in New York.”

Love and Other Disasters (2006) – “Director Alek Keshishian unspools a charming tale that finds a young American (Brittany Murphy) attempting to play matchmaker for friends and co-workers — with mixed results — while interning at a major British fashion magazine. Problem is, she is so busy hooking up everyone else that she cannot see her ideal match right under her nose. The supporting cast of characters includes Matthew Rhys, Santiago Cabrera and Catherine Tate.”

The Ramen Girl (2008) – “When her boyfriend leaves her high and dry in Tokyo, spoiled American tourist Abby (Brittany Murphy) finds solace in a neighborhood ramen noodle house run by a cantankerous old chef (Toshiyuki Nishida), who agrees to take her on as an apprentice cook. But will the dirty grunt work and endless criticism drive Abby away before she discovers the serene beauty in the perfect bowl of soup — and in herself? Robert Allan Ackerman directs this comedy.”

Deadline (2009) – “When Alice (Brittany Murphy), a fragile scribe, seeks peace so she can complete her screenplay before a deadline, she moves to a remote, deserted country house. Soon, baffling noises ignite her imagination and pursuit to discover the force behind the mind games. Will she meet her deadline or end up dead? Sean McConville writes and directs this psychological thriller while Thora Birch, Tammy Blanchard and Marc Blucas co-star.”

Body Double – Brian De Palma week

This is Brian De Palma week. Body Double is currently available on instant Netflix.

Body Double

PASS: Body Double (1984) – Rated R

“In a nasty double-whammy, struggling actor Jake Sculley (Craig Wasson) loses his girlfriend and then witnesses a brutal murder in a neighbor’s apartment. When a young porn actress (Melanie Griffith) befriends Jack, the two join forces to find the killer. Feeding his seemingly unquenchable appetite for gore and violence, Brian De Palma directed this Hitchcock-inspired thriller, which earned Griffith a Golden Globe nomination.”

I remember really enjoying this film when it came out. It is very stylish (as all of De Palma’s films are). The use of odd camera angles, the mastery of widescreen real estate, and the lesser underlying theme of police suspicion all point to De Palma being Hitchcock’s successor.

Watching this film now the setup is just unbelievably stupid as is the main character Jake. The rather obvious villain’s plot hinges on coincidence as well as Jake being essentially clueless.

De Palma wanted to make three films here – a Hitchcockian thriller, a comedy poking fun at the film business, and a story about the adult film industry. Unfortunately he didn’t invest enough in any of them to make them work feature length.

The scene where Jake acts in a porn film is very well staged. There is a marvelous moment where a mirror is closed and you can see the camera crew at work. The whole scene is set to the tune of “Relax”. There is another scene that is marvelously played out over the end credits as well.

I can’t recommend this because of the large gaps in logic. If you are willing to overlook those, this can be a very entertaining film but not one of De Palma’s best.

People Watch: Brian De Palma originally cast 70s/80s porn queen Annette Haven as the female lead, Holly. He had also planned to include unsimulated sex scenes. Naturally Hollywood said ‘No way!’ Annette Haven was a consultant on the film and imdb lists her as an uncredited actress though I couldn’t spot her. The ‘don’ts’ speech Holly gives is based on Annette Haven as well.

Carlito’s Way – Brian De Palma week

Please accept my apologies for not updating over the past few days but we were part of the East Coast Blizzard. While 8-12 inches of snow won’t seem like much to Northerners, the Carolinas certainly aren’t prepared for it. There wasn’t any drama but my wife and I were trapped in house for three and a half days.

This is Brian De Palma week. Carlito’s Way is currently available on instant Netflix.

Carlito's Way

WATCH: Carlito’s Way (1993) – Rated R for strong violence, drug content, sexuality and language.

“Sprung from prison on a technicality, Carlito Brigante (Al Pacino) vows to use his unexpected second chance to his best advantage. But every time he tries to get out of the rackets, the bad guys pull him back in. Director Brian De Palma stamps his signature electric visual style onto this searing drama about the challenges of trying to go straight in a crooked world. Sean Penn, Viggo Mortensen and John Leguizamo co-star.”

“A favor gonna kill you faster than a bullet”

Brian De Palma starts this film off wonderfully. The opening sequence is shot in black & white except for a color poster offering an Escape to Paradise, the treasure chest at the end of the rainbow throughout this film. The nightclub featured in the film is El Paraiso. There are many other touches of paradise being just out of reach for everyone.

De Palma is a wonderfully visual director. Watch all the wonderful touches as a simple drug deal early in the film starts to fall apart – a door is slightly ajar, some people’s reactions are just slightly off, the music on the jukebox is turned up a little louder. The suspense is palpable – most other directors would have played it as a sudden act of violence but De Palma lets you watch it unravel.

Al Pacino gives a wonderful performance here as Carlito Brigante. He manages to be almost as magnetic as he was in Scarface and yet is also restrained – something that Tony Montana could never be accused of. He also does a voice-over through much of the film that works quite well as a narrative trick.

Most of the other actors are a little over the top, especially Sean Penn, but it works for this film as De Palma draws in broad strokes. John Leguizamo is his usual flamboyant self. The usually solid Luis Guzman is the big surprise here. He wisely underplays to everyone and comes out in the end as the best of the supporting actors. If all you know of Viggo Mortensen is that he played Aragorn, you’ll be in for a shock when you see him in this film.

This is a very stylish gangster film. As with most modern gangster films, there is quite a bit of language. The F bomb is dropped 139 times according to IMDB. Violence is strong but not actually pervasive. I highly recommend this film as long as language does not offend you.

People Watch: Marc Antony aka Mr. Jennifer Lopez has a role in the Latin Band. Also Adrain Pasdar (Nathan Petrelli on Heroes) has a small role late in the film as Frankie.

Cruising – Al Pacino week

This is Al Pacino week. Cruising is currently available on Netflix instant play.

Cruising

AVOID: Cruising (1980) – Rated R

“After a serial killer brutally murders several gay men in New York’s S&M and leather districts, cop Steve Burns (Al Pacino) goes undercover on the streets, where he must learn the complex rules of the underground gay subculture if he’s to catch the psycho. Karen Allen co-stars as Burns’s girlfriend in this gritty 1980 thriller, which sparked protests from gay rights groups at the time of its release but has since developed a minor cult status.”

“Hips or lips?”

Wow! The minor cult status mentioned at the end of the Netflix description must be the sort that is accorded Showgirls. The film begins with a caveat that it is not representative of homosexuality in general (Duh!). The notice detracts somewhat from the campy vibe this movie gives out.

It is hard to believe that William Friedkin wrote and directed this film. He won a Best Director Oscar for The French Connection in 1972 and was nominated again for The Exorcist in 1974. He specializes in and has an affinity for gritty material. That would seem to make this right up his alley.

It appears as though he wanted to direct an exploitation movie. Sadly it doesn’t revel in the exploitative portions of this topic – at least that could have been entertaining. Either William Friedkin showed a lot of restraint or the film was heavily trimmed to get its ‘R’ rating. The police portions of the movie are given short shrift as well. This has to be the most boring undercover movie ever.

There is no life in any of the performances. All the actors including Al Pacino appear to be on Ritalin. Even the victims as they are being killed seem somewhat bored. For a film that should have been about lust and passion, there sure isn’t any shown on the screen. Al Pacino’s undercover cop starts having problems at home and both parties react with ‘meh’.

Unfortunately I can’t recommend this even on a campy level. Once I realized that it was going to be awful, my hope was that it would be so awful that it was fun to watch. Sadly this was not the case.

Pacino’s movies are strangely polarizing. So far they seem to be either classics or total garbage. Here’s hoping tomorrow’s movie is one of the former.

People Watch: Look for Powers Boothe as, not kidding, ‘Hankie Salesman’. His very brief role is probably the highlight of the movie.

…And Justice for All – Al Pacino week

This is Al Pacino week. …And Justice for All is currently available on instant Netflix.

And Justice for All

WATCH: …And Justice for All (1979) – Rated R

“America’s justice system comes under indictment in director Norman Jewison’s trenchant film starring Al Pacino as upstanding attorney Arthur Kirkland. A hard-line — and tainted — judge (John Forsythe) stands accused of rape, and Kirkland (Al Pacino) has to defend him. Kirkland has a history with the judge, who jailed one of the lawyer’s clients on a technicality. When the judge confesses his guilt, Kirkland faces an ethical and legal quandary.”

“I have a client in jail for a busted tail light and I can’t get him out.”

The above quote sums up much of the movie. Norman Jewison made this stinging indictment of the legal system in 1979 but it plays pretty fresh today. It is much like a Catch-22 for the courts. There are a number of travesties of justice across several cases before Pacino’s oft-quoted Network-style rant.

While it is somewhat heavy-handed, the miscarriages are quite believable. I’m glad the story was about how the legal system is a game instead of how it is slanted liberal or conservative. There are innocent people here who are punished as well as guilty ones that are not punished.

Valerie Curtin and Barry Levinson’s script was nominated for Best Screenplay. It’s gratifying and disconcerting how they are able to keep a somewhat light tone even with all the dreadful things occurring in this film. I mentioned Catch-22 and Network earlier but the film this most reminds me of is George C. Scott’s The Hospital.

Al Pacino is wonderful again in this and was nominated for an Oscar. I’m glad to have a chance to go back and look at some of his early roles this week. His most recent work is simply awful (88 Minutes and Righteous Kill). His histrionics in his early work (Dog Day Afternoon, And Justice for All) comes off as intensity. Later (the aforementioned 88 Minutes and Righteous Kill) it comes off as self-caricature.

There are some scenes that if replaced would have made this a much stronger film (the helicopter sequence, any part of the unconvincing and unnecessary romance). The themes are nice but there are so many individual cases that none of them are given enough depth to make this a drama. I think this and a need to balance out the bleak outcomes is why they went with a more lighthearted tone.

I recommend this film though yesterday’s Dog Day Afternoon is better.

People Watch: Look for a young ‘Coach’, Craig T. Nelson, as Frank Bowers and Method acting coach Lee Strasberg as Kirkland’s grandfather.

Dog Day Afternoon – Al Pacino week

This is Al Pacino week. Dog Day Afternoon is currently available on instant Netflix.

Dog Day Afternoon

WATCH: Dog Day Afternoon (1975) – Rated R

“To get money for his gay lover’s sex-change operation, Sonny (Al Pacino) — who’s married with kids — teams up with Sal (John Cazale) to rob a New York bank on a scorching-hot summer day. The stickup goes awry when the press gets wind of the circus sideshow-esque story. Chris Sarandon, Charles Durning and James Broderick co-star in this classic Sidney Lumet-directed film based on an actual event from the 1970s.”

As with all Sidney Lumet films, this is more of a character study than an action or crime film. As mentioned at the opening of the film, this is based on an actual event that occurred on August 22, 1972. The plot follows the incident fairly closely with the major exception that the real bank haul was $213,000.

Lumet does a fantastic job of staging the movie in a naturalistic fashion. He eschews the use of a musical score. There is almost no makeup apart from omnipresent sweat. You can see lots of people eating in the background as the siege drags on. There are no flashy camera tricks, stunts or special effects and extremely little gunfire.

The acting is wonderful – Lumet really knows how to get performances from his actors. Al Pacino is incredible and was nominated for Best Actor. While the vast majority of screen time belongs to Pacino, three of the supporting actors give riveting performances. Chris Sarandon does not smirk at all during the film (a later trademark of his) and gives his best ever performance. He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. John Cazale is just as good and deserved a nomination as well. Charles Durning is great but his character arc doesn’t have enough meat to be as good as Sarandon and Cazale.

In a terrible moment of irony, Sal (John Cazale) mentions that the one thing he is afraid of is cancer. John Cazale died three years later of bone cancer at the age of 42. He only made 5 films in his career – most notably assaying the role of Fredo in The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II. All 5 films that he starred in were nominated for Best Picture Oscars. At the time of his death, he was engaged to be married to the divine Meryl Streep.

I very highly recommend this film. The first few minutes, you’ll be thinking “what a bunch of idiots” and not think much of the film. As the situation degenerates, the film quickly ratchets up in intensity. This is definitely one of Al Pacino’s best performances even if Michael Corleone and Tony Montana are more iconic.

People Watch: Look for a young Lance Henriksen briefly as Murphy.