Monday, March 30, 2009

Adventure Film Festival

by Julia Buckley
Everyone would have a different list if I asked this question: what are the best suspense or adventure films of the last fifty or so years? The fun, though, is in compiling that list and remembering some truly fantastic films.

I was watching The Fugitive today with my sons and thinking what a well made, suspenseful flick it was, not to mention what great performances Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones delivered to ratchet up that suspense. I thought, if I had the time, that I would love to just sponsor my own mini-film festival for friends and family and show them the movies I think are great. Here's a list of what I think are the best, in order of release:

REBECCA (1940): It will surprise no one that my first four selections were all directed by Alfred Hitchcock. He dominated film and suspense in this time period, and Rebecca is still thrilling as the suspenseful tale of the woman who feels haunted by her husband's first wife. Joan Fontaine is fantastic and vulnerable as the new Mrs. DeWinter, and of course this is based on the novel by Daphne DuMaurier.

DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954): I was always a huge Grace Kelly fan (she appears in two movies in this list) and I never quite understood how Ray Milland, her husband in this movie, could plot to kill her when she is so obviously out of his league. :) But what fantastic suspense in this flick, directed by the great Alfred Hitchcock and backed by a score that has you squirming in your seat.

REAR WINDOW (1954): Is it possible that TWO men would ignore Grace Kelly? But in this classic Hitchcock suspense film (based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich), Jimmy Stewart's L.B. Jeffries has more on his mind than the flirtations of Lisa Fremont (Kelly), namely the murder the wheelchair-bound Jeffries thinks he witnessed across the street. Several homages have been made to this classic movie, the most recent of which is Disturbia.

NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959): Even if you've never seen the movie, you must have seen the legendary clip of Cary Grant running from the crop dusting plane in the middle of Midwestern nowhere. This movie is fun from start to finish, and Cary (whom my father for some reason always despised) was charming and sexy to me until the very end of us career (he only made six films after this one). This, too, is a Hitchcock film.

DIRTY HARRY (1971): This is in many ways still a shocking film, but it solidified Clint Eastwood's place in the echelon of action stars, and it's worth renting the flick just to see Harry Callahan take on a bank robber while eating a hot dog. And of course he says the now-famous words, "Do you feel lucky?"

THE STING (1973): This funny and stylish suspense film is set in 1930's Chicago, where two con men take on a mobster to avenge a mutual friend. Paul Newman and Robert Redford are fantastic here, and I love them even better as Hooker and Gondorf than I do as Butch and Sundance. The Sting is full of plot twists, and the first time I saw it I think my mouth was hanging open for most of the movie. (In amazement, that is).

ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (1976): Considering that much of the action never leaves the 1970s-era newsroom, this is still a surprisingly suspenseful and well-acted drama in which Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffmann play Woodward and Bernstein in the time that they were investigating Watergate and the mysterious dealings of CREEP members (the Committee to Re-Elect the President, that is). Nixon was re-elected, but he didn't last long before Woodward and Bernstein's investigation blew the case wide open and even Nixon's right-hand men couldn't protect him.

STAR WARS (1977): Nothing can duplicate the experience of seeing this in the theater for the first time, and as one who was a kid in 1977, I can attest that no dramatic experience has ever really blown me away to the extent that this space adventure did back then. I can never totally duplicate it, since videos and DVDs today have been altered by George Lucas, and I actually far prefer the original. But it still wears well, and my sons grew up watching Luke, Leia and Han battle the evil Lord Vader.

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981): This, too, I saw debut in theaters, and I think I held my breath through this whole amazing Spielberg movie. Harrison Ford is in three of the movies on this list, and he really does deserve the title of adventure movie king. It's hard to imagine, now, that anyone else could have played Indiana Jones, and Spielberg has a gift for never stopping the action--not for a moment.

THE FUGITIVE (1993): See above.

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (2002): I've watched this movie several times since it came out, and it's still a pleasure. Leonardo DeCaprio was a surprise in this demanding role, playing real-life con man Jack Abagnale,Jr. who led FBI agents on a wild goose chase all over the world and writing bad checks all the way. Tom Hanks is loveable in his role as Agent Carl Hanratty, who never gives up, even when his colleagues have given up on him.

THE INCREDIBLES (2004): This computer-animated gem is surprisingly suspenseful and visually beautiful. Directed by Brad Bird, it is fun, funny, scary and breathtaking. The voice talent helps a lot, led by the great Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter. It's not just for kids, and if you haven't seen it you are in for a huge treat.

THE BOURNE SERIES (2002-2007): Matt Damon became the new action star with this fantastic series of movies based loosely on the Robert Ludlum novels. They are stylish nailbiters with a hero who is loveable despite his robotic persona. He starts out as The Terminator but ends up as fragile and human as everyone else. The final movie left a chance for a fourth . . . let's hope.

Okay--that was a long list, but of course I've missed some great movies--I mean, we're looking at a seventy-year span here. So tell me: what are the great suspense films I haven't listed? Or which of the ones on this list are your favorites, too?


Paul Lamb said...

Sorcerer with Roy Scheider. Not a fantasy at all, but a nail biter all the way through, even to the last frame.

Julia Buckley said...

I've never heard of that film, Paul! Although I briefly considered putting JAWS on the list. What's SORCERER about?

Susan D said...

Wait Until Dark. Blind Woman finds a corpse in her apartment. And then the killer comes back....

Sandra Parshall said...

I'm not much of a fan of adventure films, but these favorite suspense movies come immediately to mind:

Wait Until Dark
Rear Window

I love just about everything Hitchcock ever produced.

Lonnie Cruse said...

I love Hitchcock's films too, the later color ones. I particularly love hunting for his cameo appearances. His really early black and white films aren't nearly as interesting, at least to me.

Julia Buckley said...

I did really love WAIT UNTIL DARK, Susan and Sandra. Audrey Hepburn was so vulnerable in that role and yet so strong.

Yes, Hitchcock almost created a genre of his own--how much film-making owes to him!

Paul Lamd said...

Sorcerer is about a group of hard luck men in some unnamed South American country who take a dangerous job of driving some very unstable dynamite 200 miles to an oil well fire. Extremely well done. Directed by William Freidkin (of Excorcist fame).

Julia Buckley said...

Sounds tense, Paul! I have to look it up. I do like Roy Scheider.