Who doesn’t like a great movie death? Well, people who abhor violence and gore on the screen. But I am not one of those people. Thus, if done right in terms of combining emotional context and cinematic imagination, there’s nothing I like more than revelling or lamenting a character’s end in fine bloody fashion. Lastly, I hear you ask why no Zahler, Scorsese, Cronenberg, Miike, Peckinpah, Jackson, Fulci, Roth, Romero, Argento etc. on this list? So much death and only six make it, so please suggest any of the thousands I have missed off in the comments.
*** CONTAINS SPOILERS ***
ALIEN (1979) – “Do these eggs taste off?”
I think it may have been something Kane (John Hurt) ate or maybe something that ate him? Anyway, one of the most spectacularly surprising scenes ever still holds amazing power to this very day.
THE FURY (1978) – Separated at death!
This under-rated tele-kinetic thriller is a spiritual sequel to Carrie (1976). Adding a spy conspiracy plot to Amy Irving’s rites of passage character arc, it has a whip-cracking-pace and classic DePalma set-pieces. None more so than the explosive end of the baddie-in-black.
PSYCHO (1960) – Take a bath next time!
What more can be written about one of the most shockingly original scenes in cinema history? Not only did Hitchcock break all narrative rules killing off the main protagonist halfway through, he did it with one of the most ingenious uses of montage, music and murder ever.
PULP FICTION (1994) – The original “face-off!”
Marvin never saw it coming. But let’s face it – none of us did!
ROBOCOP (1987) – Toxic Wasted!
Whoever designed this action scene, no doubt Paul Verhoeven had much to say, delivered one of the most excessive demises in 1980’s cinema. The vehicle crash, the toxic waste, the melting bad guy, the steam coming off his body and the final disintegration are just cinematic perfection.
WILD AT HEART (1990) – Bobby Peru loses his mind!
David Lynch’s vibrant adaptation of Barry Gifford’s romantic thriller contains many colourful characters. Willem Dafoe’s Bobby Peru is a particularly nasty piece of work and he gets his comeuppance in an incredibly visceral and disturbing way!
Way back in September 2015 I wrote an article listing some great ensemble film casts. Please feel free to read it here at this link.
If you can’t be bothered to read it the list of films are as follows:
12 ANGRY MEN (1957) AVENGERS ASSEMBLE (2012) GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014) INCEPTION (2010) LA CONFIDENTIAL (1997) THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960) MAGNOLIA (1999) MEANTIME (1984) THE OUTSIDERS (1983) PULP FICTION (1994) SHORT CUTS (1993) TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY (2011)
Never one to worry about originality, I have decided to follow up this article with another list of great ensemble film casts.
The challenge second time round though is to EXCLUDE the films of directors or franchises ALREADY LISTED.
For those who may have lazy-read this I WILL REPEAT!!!
NO DIRECTOR’S OR FRANCHISE WORK FROM LIST ONE WILL BE ON LIST TWO!!!
It would be so easy to include all of Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino’s or the Marvel films. So I am not going to do that. Anyway, here are another TEN films with great ensemble casts (in alphabetical order).
While we all love a good proper feature film containing one continuous narrative, the anthology or portmanteau film has thrown up some fine cinematic entertainment over the years. Generally, an anthology film can be described as a collection of works with a linked theme, genre, style and author etc.
Thus, in my occasional Six of the Best series I have decided to pick some favourite ones. To make it more interesting I have chosen them from different genres. Otherwise, I would have just chosen all horror films. So, here are six of the film anthology films worth watching.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (2018) – WESTERN
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a mischievous alchemy of stories. Here, the Coen Brothers reach into their cinematic bag of tricks to deliver an entertaining and memorable collection of characters, songs, bloody death, jokes, pathos, landscapes, snappy dialogue, dark humour and action. Coen’s films often improve with each viewing as their work is so full of stylish depth and this is no different. Quite often, you’re laughing so much you miss the philosophical happenstance which is occurring in many of these fine stories.
DEAD OF NIGHT (1945) – HORROR
It seems sacrilege not to include the likes of George Romero’s Creepshow (1982) or one of Amicus’ unhinged collections such as Dr Terror’s House of Horror (1965). But, having watched this classic recently I can certainly say it has some brilliant and scary stories which stand the test of time. Full to the brim with the cream of British acting, writing and directing talent, the standout tale is Michael Redgrave’s troubled ventriloquist, although the whole film is a nightmarish treat for horror fans.
FANTASIA (1940) – ANIMATION
With the current trend for Disney to remake their back catalogue as “live” action films in mind, I very much doubt they will doing this with Fantasia. Conceived as a short to re-invigorate the slowing career of Mickey Mouse, the film is unlike any other Disney have made. It consists of experimental, non-narrative and hallucinogenic vignettes mainly set to wondrous classical music. A masterpiece of hand-drawn animation, style, colour and design, it’s certainly not just for kids. I recall many images giving me nightmares when saw it as a child and it remains a powerful cinematic work to this day.
NIGHT ON EARTH (1991) – COMEDY
I was going to choose Woody Allen’s erotic sketch film, Everything You Wanted to Ask About Sex but were Afraid to Ask (1972), for the comedy section. However, I decided to select a more deadpan and character oriented film. What better then, than a Jim Jarmusch curiosity. I love the concept of the film as Jarmusch sets several themes and parameters in place. There are five slice-of-life vignettes set on the same night in the cities of Helsinki, New York, Rome, Paris and Los Angeles, all starring some of Jarmusch’s favourite actors. Relationships and quirky interactions between cab driver and passenger are explored in the filmmakers’ inimitable style.
PULP FICTION (1994) – CRIME
Quentin Tarantino’s second feature film remains a fresh masterpiece of colliding gangsters, uber-cool hitmen, fixers, boxers, sexual deviants, femme fatales, drug addicts and general criminal types. With an over-lapping timeline that kind of does a figure of eight, we get stories ranging from a couple robbing a diner; a boxer double-crossing a crime boss; and an employee almost killing his boss’s wife. Tarantino breathes life into the crime genre and the stock pulp characters with one of the greatest screenplays ever written; full of incredible dialogue, startling twists and a brilliant ensemble cast.
WILD TALES (2014) – DRAMA
Damián Szifron conjures up a delectable and devilish set of stories mostly based around the themes of obsession and revenge. It opens with a breath-taking little prologue featuring a horrific incident on a plane and culminates in arguably the wildest tale when the Bride goes on the rampage at her wedding. Everyone’s favourite Argentinian actor Ricardo Darin pops up in the middle as an explosives expert who enacts revenge on City Parking fascists. I love the whole thing as the film delivers a full deck of twists that master of the macabre Roald Dahl would be proud of.
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, Chris Hemsworth
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cinematography: Seamus McGarvey
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Expectations are a fascinating thing. Based on the prior screenwriting work of Drew Goddard and his amazing debut feature film, the genre-bending horror film, Cabin in the Woods, I was really looking forward to this crime thriller. With a terrific cast of actors in place and an intriguing setting of a hotel split between the United States of Nevada and California there promised to be cinematic fireworks. There were indeed fireworks but, like fireworks, the film paints bright and pretty colours and bangs loudly in the sky yet somehow felt hollow afterwards. This comes from those darned expectations, I guess.
There are seven main characters in the film; all of whom have secrets to keep. They range from: John Hamm’s vacuum-cleaner salesman; Lewis Pullman’s hotel employee; Dakota Johnson’s mysterious femme fatale; Jeff Bridges’ shady priest; plus a couple of other devils who enliven proceedings later in the film. All the characters are seemingly unconnected but soon fate and fortune take hold as Goddard weaves his screenwriting magic. Before you know they are all at each other’s throats jousting verbally and physically; double and triple crossing, resorting often to extreme violence. What Goddard does superbly well is place these various characters in a form of narrative hell or purgatory. He looks into the heart of humanity and finds blood and darkness at every turn.
Bad Times at the El Royale main strengths are the brilliant script, skilled cast and a wondrous production design. Indeed, the rich neon colours and lighting glow amidst with the foreboding darkness surrounding the hotel. In terms of performance, Jeff Bridges is just great; in everything! Dakota Johnson and Cynthia Erivo also excel and breathe emotion into their archetypal characterisations. John Hamm is ever the solid player; but Chris Hemsworth’s grand entrance in the second act, almost steals the show with his messianic “Jim Morrison” grandstanding. All told the ensemble has a scream within the clever pyrotechnics of the screenplay.
Overall, Drew Goddard deserves praise for delivering a very sharp script. Structurally, we cleverly move back in time to fill in back-stories. Events are also from multiple perspectives heightening the twisting nature of the narrative. While mainly style over substance the film still manages to critique the racism of the late 1960s setting; satirises celebrity scandals, and also has a dig at religious cults. So, ultimately this is a satisfying B-movie-pulp-fiction-violent-extravaganza with twists and turns galore, that provides an entertaining blast in the noir night sky.
TELLING STORIES WITH STYLE: THE TROPES OF TARANTINO
**CONTAINS MOVIE SPOILERS**
Quentin Tarantino is a powerhouse of cinema. He has proved consistently, since his debut film Reservoir Dogs (1992) right up to his most recent film The Hateful Eight (2015), a filmmaker of incredible invention. His works are well known for their references to pop culture, TV shows, music, fashion, and quoting in general from an array of cinematic influences. Indeed, his films are always firmly planted in genre, from: war films to Martial Arts to Western to crime and B-movie pictures. However, despite utilising other genres as a springboard for his writing, Tarantino instils his own style within his work. This creates a paradoxical form of originality, making him what I would call a postmodern auteur. The postmodern auteur not only quotes, borrows and steals from other influences but they are able to present them in a fashion so as to make them feel fresh and somehow original.
It would be easy to write an essay of Tarantino-style bingo pointing out which films and genres he has used and stolen or quoted from, thus, as an alternative, I would like examine the narrative tropes he employs to tell his screen stories. Tarantino isn’t simply a cultural magpie throwing in arbitrary pop references but he has a magic box of narrative tricks gained from cinema, stage, literature and music. In this essay I would like to explore some of these methods and how he diverts from the linear narrative style represented by the classical Hollywood norm. I will also examine his work in general and scenes from his films to show how he has created some fascinating means of telling stories.
Tarantino differentiates his films from the classical narrative style in a legion of ways. Such tropes include: “Chapter Headings”; non-linear timelines; unreliable narrators; and what I have termed “the long game” scene or sequence. Along with his perpetual references to various genres, specific films and the use of soundtracks from other movies, such devices work brilliantly to propel the narratives of his films. It may seem quite a simplistic device to use, but “Chapter Headings” are a very effective story device. It’s obvious to say Tarantino has borrowed from literature in order to structure his films this way, but the ‘Chapter’ introductions establish the nature of storytelling and literally inform the audience of a change in scene, time, place and character.
While classical Hollywood works to immerse us in the invisibility of filmmaking, Tarantino calls attention to the form with “Chapter Headings.” He does this not as a Brechtian distanciation device but rather as a means to include us in the story intellectually. The “Chapter Headings” also create humour, mystery and suspense. For example in Kill Bill: Volume 2, one chapter is called The Lonely Grave of Paula Schultz, which immediately conjures a mysterious and eerie story to come. It turns out to be just that as Beatrice ends up buried alive as the segment further reveals more of her fascinating back-story. In an ingenious aside in Tarantino’s “Universe”, Paula Schultz is in fact the wife of King Schultz from his own Western Django Unchained (2012).
“Chapter Headings” also seek to cement and bind another of Tarantino’s tropes: the non-linear or fractured timeline structure. Here, fractured events are portrayed out of chronological order and do not follow the direct causality pattern of the events in the standard narrative model. Non-causality is as old as the hills with Homer’s The Iliad in the 8th century BC being one of the first examples of such a narrative device. Indeed, it’s easier to pick out a Tarantino film that doesn’t follow a non-linear structure than not. However, even his most linear film Jackie Brown (1997), which follows the eponymous protagonist’s attempts to stay out of jail and alive, finds the narrative splintering into a triptych of varying perspectives during the final act.
Often non-linearity is used to show dreams, flashbacks, time-travel and explore splintered identities or point-of-view; nonetheless, the non-linear narratives of, for example, Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994), Kill Bill (2003/2004) and Inglorious Basterds (2009) contain fractured timelines from mainly a creative and aesthetic choice. But they are not just style for style’s sake as they create a dazzling intellectual response and activate the viewer to piece the stories together like a jigsaw. Reservoir Dogs (1992) is especially ingenious in breaking the rules of genre as it’s one of the only films I’ve seen about a robbery which shows us everything aside from the actual crime. It is important, however, to say that while Tarantino knows the rules of linearity he chooses to break them, on the whole, to enhance the cinematic experience. Interestingly, in my opinion, his most satisfying films are those which are his most linear. Tony Scott proved this when he re-wrote and re-ordered Tarantino’s script of True Romance (1989), while Django Unchained (2012), aside from a few brief illusory dream sequences and momentary flashbacks, builds powerful emotions as Django hunts down his slave captors and wreaks revenge in order to be reunited with his wife.
A narrative off-shoot of fractured timelines is Tarantino’s use of stories within stories and unreliable narrators. The device of the unreliable narrator is another means in which Tarantino differentiates his narratives from classic storytelling. In 1981, William Riggan, created a study of various unreliable types, including: The Picaro, The Madman, The Clown, The Naif and The Liar. The Picaro will typically be a bragger, similar to the Liar but not as heinous. The Madman or Mad Woman, however, will be more sinister but The Clown and The Naif will either be playing for laughs or in the latter’s case, telling their story from a naïve position. Tarantino takes great joy with narrators, unreliable or otherwise, telling lies; something seen brilliantly in both Reservoir Dogs (1992) and his most recent film The Hateful Eight (2015).
In Reservoir Dogs (1992), Tim Roth’s “Mr Orange” is revealed to be an undercover Police officer. “Orange’s” cop superior actively tells him to invent a story – because you “gotta have a story,” – to inveigle his way into the Joe Cabot’s gang. Thus, he invents a shaggy dog tale about the time he almost got bust by cops in a toilet. Tarantino presents a dishonest character delivering a story in a false reality providing both suspense and entertainment from a wholly unreliable basis. More ambiguous and vile is the story Samuel L. Jackson’s Major Marquis Warren tells to Bruce Dern’s irascible Confederate, General Sandy Smithers, in The Hateful Eight (2015). Sworn enemies while occupying opposing sides during the American Civil War, Warren, raises the dramatic stakes by regaling the story of how he strips, sexually humiliates and then kills Smithers’ own son. We flash-back to this incident and must consider if this is actually real or invented in order for Warren to provoke Smithers to grab a gun; thus allowing the Major to shoot him self-defence. These devices are tremendously effective narrative tools for creating shifting emotional responses to characters and again mark Tarantino’s work outside the classical norm.
The Hateful Eight (2015), given it is virtually set in one location, is very theatrical in feel. Marrying the influences of the Western genre in such television shows as Bonanza with Agatha Christie’s novel And Then There Were None (1939), the film also evokes principles of the “Shaggy Dog” story and Chekhov’s gun theory where every element of a narrative has cause effect irreplaceability. Consequently, the whole film feels like one long sequence of scenes and event with a massive and particularly violent payoff at the end. Indeed, this narrative conceit is a major styling of Tarantino. While most basic screenwriting books will tell you to get in and out of a scene as quickly as possible to move the narrative along, Tarantino disregards this rule throughout his oeuvre. This, I call the “Long Game” scene where lengthy dialogue gives way to a spectacular punchline at the end.
A perfect example of the “Long Game” scene is the beginning of wartime epic, Inglourious Basterds (2009). We open with the “Chapter Heading”: Once Upon a Time in Nazi Occupied France and are introduced to Christophe Waltz’ SS Office Hans Landa. At first Landa is amiable and charming in his inquisition of a French farmer. Indeed the scene moves slowly and not without humour as the German takes out his over-sized pipe and drinks the farmer’s delicious milk. But, as this is Tarantino we know suspense is building to a slow but startling crescendo. When the reveal of the hidden Jewish family below the timbers is shown, we realise that Landa is not the affable German he acts but a devious murderer and the nemesis within the narrative. With machine guns firing and splintering wood in slow motion, the soundtrack swells operatically as the scene ends with Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) sprinting away, her family butchered by the Nazis. Such “Long Game” scenes are one of Tarantino’s memorable tropes and he achieves this through his brilliant handling of conflict, dialogue and expert use of cinematic form and content.
Overall, Tarantino has had an exceptional film career by using established means of telling stories, both inside and outside the rules of standard narratives. He uses devices like those discussed to invigorate and entertain the audience. There is also much pleasure to be had from experiencing the tropes such as: “Chapter Headings”; unreliable narrators; non-linear structure and the “Long Game” scenes. Thus, using theatrical, literary, cinematic and musical narrative influences Tarantino proves himself a master of storytelling as demonstrated in his impressive body of work.
Movie stars are usually the Kings and Queens of a film! They propel the narrative and guarantee bums on seats when a film opens. They also create expectation and word of mouth buzz thus studios have invested heavily over the decades in icons such as: Al Pacino, Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Marilyn Monroe, Meryl Streep, Sylvester Stallone, James Cagney, Mel Gibson to name but a few.
I love movie star driven cinema, however, I’m also a big fan of the ensemble casts seen in genre films such as: comic book epics, crime thrillers, war films and Westerns. What an ensemble cast offers is a diverse set of characters and actors bouncing off one another to powerful effect. Most recently the mountain disaster film Everest (2015) had fine actors including: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Michael Kelly, Emily Watson, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes and more. Thus, just for the hell of it I’ve picked out some of my favourite films which contained not just one big star but lots of fine actors who all combined to make a fantastic movie experience.
12 ANGRY MEN (1957)
Bona fide classic movie adapted from the TV play by Reginald Rose and directed by the legendary filmmaker Sidney Lumet. The claustrophobic nature of a jury arguing over a murder case is brought to the boil by a superlative Henry Fonda and sterling character actors such as: Jack Klugman, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam and Robert Webber. It’s a real festival of acting full of sweat, anger, conscience, guilt and doubt.
AVENGERS ASSEMBLE (2012)
Joss Whedon’s Marvel behemoth broke all kinds of box office records across the world! It’s a humdinger of a movie with a cracking cast that included: Robert Downey Jnr, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston and many more! In fact, I’m surprised the set didn’t collapse under the weight of all the egos in front of camera.
GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014)
It’s cameo cast central in Wes Anderson’s fast-paced eccentric comedy with Ralph Fiennes leading the line-up with a terrific central performance. Also, tagging along for the quirky and colourful ride are such acting luminaries as: F. Murray Abraham, Willem Defoe, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Jude Law, Edward Norton, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Tom Wilkinson and Owen Wilson. Blink and you’ll probably miss some of them!
Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending heist thriller features a dream cast. Or does it! Yes – it does! It’s a Hollywood pot-pourri of movie stars such as Leonard DiCaprio, Oscar winner Marion Cotillard, star-in-the-making Tom Hardy, veteran character actors like Tom Berenger and Michael Caine and feisty starlet Ellen Page.
LA CONFIDENTIAL (1997)
While the careers of Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce and Kevin Spacey have gone up and down in various measures recently this brilliant crime film found them on the rise up the Hollywood ladder. Here they play a trio of very different detectives investigating movie lookalikes, murder and police corruption in Los Angeles. Throw in the likes of Kim Basinger, James Cromwell and Danny Devito and you have a cast to literally die for.
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960)
The cast of this classic Seven Samurai remake is remarkable as in, aside from Yul Brynner, they were all pretty much unknown at time of filming. So, kudos to the casting team who recruited such a charismatic troupe including: Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn; who would all become stars in their own right.
Not a large ensemble cast but a brilliant one nonetheless. In Mike Leigh’s quintessentially British council estate film we get three young British stars in Gary Oldman, Tim Roth and Phil Daniels plus Alfred Molina and Pam Ferris too. Each character drowns in depression, awash in concrete, unemployment and the stench of piss-stinking lifts and cigarette-stained wallpaper. This is a sad, funny, low-budget 1980s kitchen-sink classic.
Tarantino, of course, is not only about the cracking dialogue and violence and homages to other movie styles and genre but he also knows how to cast a movie. He rarely has a big film star at the helm of his films but rather relies on a mixture of known stars in supporting roles, character actors, plus fading or B-movie journeymen. Often, actors are cast on ability and suitability rather than saleability such as Pam Grier and Christophe Waltz. His keen casting eye gave us a wonderful Samuel L. Jackson – up until then limited to mainly supporting roles – and also relaunched John Travolta’s flagging career in the imperious ensemble crime film Pulp Fiction.
This spy thriller contains a “Who’s-Who” of British acting talent. We have Commissioner Gordon, Bane, Sherlock Holmes, King George VI, Doctor Who, Truman Capote and even Trigger from Only Fools and Horses acting in between the shadows of murky British Intelligence espionage. It’s a tricky watch as the director goes for atmosphere over exposition but the sheer style and quality of the performances ensure espionage has never been so intriguing.
Cinema, historically, is seen as a visual medium telling its’ stories via wonderful imagery and sequences spliced together to traverse the collective vision of an omnipotent director. And there have been some incredible filmmakers who have created fantastic visual landscapes to be marvelled at such as: Stanley Kubrik, David Lean, Ridley Scott, David Fincher, Andrei Tarkovsky and er. . . Michael Bay. Yet, as much as I love the films of such ‘epic’ filmmakers you just can’t beat a brilliantly written piece of dialogue created by a screenwriter and delivered by an actor committed to the character and performance.
Bad dialogue will be on-the-nose, telling us the story specifically and reveal half-baked emotions from paper-thin characters; while great dialogue will tell us about character, theme, and subtext as well as make the audience laugh, cry and most importantly feel emotion. I love dialogue which is both funny and dramatic and reveals the nature and dynamics of characters’ relationships; especially scenes where characters verbally abuse each other or have gone into meltdown mode.
So, here’s a random list of some of my favourite dialogue scenes and why I like them so much. But, of course, the dialogue would probably be nothing without some fine performances too. I’m certain there’s many, many more scenes or monologues I’ve left out but as Osgood says to Jerry in SOME LIKE IT HOT – in one of the greatest final lines of any movie – “Nobody’s Perfect!”
(SPOILER ALERT and assumptions you have seen these films. If not, why not!?)
SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959)
Voted one of, if not the best comedy ever by the American Film Institute this scene is a gimme. It is genuinely the funniest ending to a great comedy. The dialogue is both hilarious and nails the characters’ personas right to the end. Cool heartthrob Joe (Tony Curtis) gets the ultimate blonde bombshell, Sugar (Marilyn Monroe) while hapless loser Jerry’s (Jack Lemmon) plan to marry for a big settlement backfires splendidly. Lemmon was one of the greatest screen actors ever as he was able to do comedy, pathos and drama with wonderful timing and he shows that in this highly witty scene.
RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)
“Why Am I Mr Pink?”
I love Tarantino’s dialogue. For me he’s the closest you’ll get to a 20th Century Shakespeare. All his films – apart from Death Proof (2007) which I hate – have wonderful characters, casting and set-pieces. Most of his scripts tend to be a tad overlong e.g. Kill Bill (2004) could and should have been one film. Therefore, because of its’ economy, muscular writing and fast pacing, Reservoir Dogs (1992), remains a major favourite of his ouevre. I love the temporally jigsawed order, testosteronic cast and above all else, the hard-boiled dialogue. It’s lean, bruised and biting; spat out by unreconstructed men who are destined to die a violent, painful death.
The Mr Pink (Steve Buscemi) ‘I don’t tip’ scene deserves to be on this list but the one where they all get their names from big Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) is a diamond in a cluster of sparkling rough. Industrial language crackles from the screen and the hilarious argument that ensues further sums up Mr Pink’s petty-minded character. Interestingly, this scene was not in the original screenplay and was added to the film during shooting.
MILLER’S CROSSING (1990)
“If you can’t trust a fix. What can you trust?”
The opening scene of Miller’s Crossing – like the whole movie – perfectly encapsulates the 1920s/1930s language of America as represented by, not actuality, but the works of noir novelists Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. The Coens’ postmodern vision creates a world of violence, dames, sluggers, double-crosses and prohibition-led organized crime. The scene begins with a speech by Italian gang-leader Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito) who espouses his “ethical” modus operandi on fight-fixing to soon-to-be-rival Leo (Albert Finney). While the dialogue crackles and pops; the scene also foregrounds all the key characters on screen at the time and those to appear later in the movie – notably John Turturro’s slimy bookie Bernie Birnbaum. You could probably do a Top 100 of great dialogue scenes from Coen Brothers’ movies and this is certainly up there with the best of them.
Johnny Caspar: I’m talkin’ about friendship. I’m talkin’ about character. I’m talkin’ about – hell. Leo, I ain’t embarrassed to use the word – I’m talkin’ about ethics. It’s gettin’ so a businessman can’t expect no return from a fixed fight. Now, if you can’t trust a fix, what can you trust? For a good return, you gotta go bettin’ on chance – and then you’re back with anarchy, right back in the jungle.
“He didn’t get out of the cockadoodie car!!”
Kathy Bates deservedly won an Oscar for her barnstorming performance as Annie Wilkes. Stephen King’s Wilkes’ is a charismatic lunatic who takes the ‘I’m your number one fan’ maxim to the extreme. This scene reveals more, in some ways, than the memorably gruesome ‘hobbling’ scene. It shows Wilkes’ skewed understanding of narrative by revealing her disgust at ‘cheating’ cliffhangers of Saturday morning serials. While her language is funny, the delivery and anger in Bates’ performance is very unnerving as demonstrated by Caan’s stunned reaction when he realises he is in the company of a very disturbed individual. Lastly, I actually agree with her! They always cheated in those TV shows!
WITHNAIL & I (1986)
“What’s your name – Mcfuck?!”
Definitely in my top-ten-line-for-line-best-dialogue-ever-movies, WITHNAIL & I simply bursts with memorable spats, insults, one-liners and speeches. I recall being incredibly drunk following a birthday party and watching this scene over and over again and almost choking on my own laughter. It’s still quite early in the film but the relationship between permanently inebriated cowardly ‘thespian’ Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and the eponymous ‘I’ (Paul McGann) is perfectly crystallized in their exchanges with the dangerously lubricated Irish barfly.
Withnail not only reveals his ineptitude in facing physical confrontation but is more than happy to stitch his companion up in a scene which is later mirrored during their run-in with a randy bull. Moreover, the scene slyly sets up the character of Monty (Richard Griffiths) and the disastrous trip to the country, demonstrating great writing in burying such exposition within the comical encounter. Bruce Robinson, arguably, never reached the heights of Withnail and I again unfortunately. But his screenplay is one of the greatest ever written; conversely making it one of the funniest and tragic films of all time.
ANNIE HALL (1977)
“I have to go Duane – I’m due back on Planet Earth.”
Arguably the most brilliant and prolific screenwriter/directors ever, Woody Allen’s movies – especially his ‘early, funny films’ – are jammed with gags, slapstick and cracking one-liners. Allen’s cinematic art would mature and his hilarious romantic comedy Annie Hall forms a creative bridge between the joke-driven all-out comedies and the more dramatic works featured in Allen’s oeuvre. Annie Hall is obviously still of full of punchline-led scenes as it tells a classic boy-meets-girl-boy-breaks-up-with-girl-boy-analyses-where-it-all-went-wrong tale, only Allen could pull off.
I could’ve picked any number of great scenes from Annie Hall but one I always remember features the majestically intense – even as a youngster – Christopher Walken. It’s his only scene but he still stands out as Annie’s brother, Duane: a psychotic loner with suicidal tendencies. His short but very dramatic monologue is perfectly delivered as Duane confesses a desire to kill himself in an automobile accident. Comedy arrives by virtue of Allen’s squirming reactions in the car with Duane and the final pay-off is an absolute treat.
“I feel bad for your face!”
I love this scene because it really sums up Kristen Wiig’s unhappy-go-lucky-loser-status in the film. Wiig’s Annie suffers a severe case of arrested development throughout and in the squabble with the young girl she should really be mature and know better. Annie’s in negative equity romantically and forever in the shadow of other more successful women and just as things cannot get any worse she enters into a ping-pong argument with this brattish teenager that escalates WAY out of control. It culminates in a wonderfully rude topper of a punchline that left me laughing my head off. There’s also an element of wish fulfilment in there too as I would love to have let rip in a similar fashion during my time in customer service.
GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS – (1992)
“Fuck you! That’s my name!”
In Glengarry Glen Ross, Alec Baldwin plays the character Blake, almost earning the silver-tongued raconteur an Oscar for the role. He’s in ONE scene. ONE scene, yet because of David Mamet’s mercurial speech he steals the whole film. This is no mean feat given the cast contains an annual Oscar Best Actor nominee list: Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin and Jonathan Pryce. Blake’s speech is a rallying call for the sales team to raise their game, full of acronymic inspiration and cursing and flat-track bullying. It quickly turns to a litany of threats, abuse and monetary grandstanding as the sales guys just don’t respond to Blake’s aggressive personality. I fucking hate sales jobs and they suck because of guys like Blake who do not care about the customer – just the dough! Although having said that if I’d heard Mamet’s speech delivered by Baldwin I’d be ready to sell snow to the Eskimos. He’s that good!