Thrillers and Action Adventure
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
Honestly, who thought a film based on a popular Disney attraction was going to be any good? That said, it surprised moviegoers and the populace as a whole with a score of iconic swashbuckling and classic pirate clichés that ultimately paved the way for far too many sequels. The premise for the original blockbuster centers on one Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), a blacksmith who sets out alongside pirate Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) to rescue Keira Knightley from the crew of undead pirates that call the Black Pearl home. Most of the performances are so-so, yet Depp’s is so original and iconic that he makes Geoffrey Rush’s nutty portrayal as Captain Barbarossa seem tame. The constant slurring and borderline drunken behavior certainly add to the effect.
Jake Gyllenhaal has done exemplary work in the past — take Donnie Darko and Brokeback Mountain, for instance— but nothing quite compares to his eerie performance as TV stringer Louis “Lou” Bloom in Nightcrawler. The modern thriller, a resounding success for first-time director Dan Gilroy, follows an amateur journalist and former thief as he trolls the mean streets of Los Angeles looking for heinous accidents and crimes to capture on film. Gilroy’s script and vision is both dark and thought-provoking, however, it’s Gyllenhaal’s twisted charisma and his sordid actions as he navigates the unseemly business that truly bring the film to the forefront of recent neo-noir films.
The Usual Suspects
Noir films often play with perceptions, both the characters’ and the audience’s. This technique is taken to extremes in The Usual Suspects, a 1995 noir that opens with a massacre on a ship. Eager to find out what happened, customs agent Dave Kujan interrogates one of the two survivors, a frail con man named Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey), who narrates the whole ordeal in a series of extended flashbacks. Kint and four other criminals, after meeting in a police lineup, decide to team up for a for a heist. When they inadvertently steal from an enigmatic crime boss named Keyser Söze, they are forced into taking on a job for him. Naturally, it’s all downhill from there. Christopher McQuarrie’s screenplay is one of the most acclaimed of all time, both for the sharp dialogue and the film’s brilliant structure. An outstanding cast, including Gabriel Byrne, Benicio del Toro, and Spacey, brings the dialogue to life, and their crackling rapport is a treat.
Once Upon a Time in the West
Once Upon a Time in the West is the direct result of the late Sergio Leone trying to retire from the same genre that made him an international icon in the mid-’60s. It’s a spaghetti Western at heart, one pertaining to an unyielding gunslinger named Frank (Henry Fonda) and the Western expansion of the railroad, but it also represents a notable shift from Leone’s earlier work. Regardless, its profound influence on filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese cannot be overstated, nor can its subtle irony or the ample references to previous Westerns and literature.
One of the quintessential action films of the 1980s, Top Gun follows a young, cocksure pilot named “Maverick” (Tom Cruise), who enrolls in the Navy’s elite program for fighter pilots. Brash and reckless, Maverick quickly makes enemies of both his superiors and his classmates, particularly fellow ace pilot “Iceman” (Val Kilmer). In addition to some thrilling aerial fight scenes and plenty of 1980s machismo, Top Gun has an iconic soundtrack, with enough screaming guitars and synths to get any viewer’s adrenaline pumping.
Spike Lee should have never remade the South Korean Oldboy, especially with Josh Brolin in the lead role. The 2003 original — based on a manga and anchored in bloody, operatic anguish — is still a standout. In the film, Choi Min-sik plays a businessman who’s drugged, imprisoned, and tortured for 15 years before seeking revenge on his captors. It’s a statement, violent and maddening, with unforgettable scenes and a thought-provoking climax. There’s a reason Quentin Tarantino praised the film at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival.