GET READY TO BE DISAPPOINTED LIKE IT’S 1999 OR…

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This is it in another 24 hours Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be playing across cinemas in my local cinema and the world. This is the last day I will know as little as I do. The last day I won’t know the answer to a million questions like did Han and Leia stay together all those years since we last saw them? Why not? What has Luke been doing? Are the new characters related to any of the old characters and who out of them will be Force sensitive? It is the last day anybody will really discuss the quality of the trailers because afterwards it will only matter if the film was good. Perhaps most importantly it is the last day to be this excited about a new Star Wars movie. There is something about the thrill of the unknown and the advertised but not yet consumed product. Tomorrow you might see a movie which you love dearly and go back to see 2 or 3 times. You’ll never be this excited about it again.

Disney have played this well. That last trailer has to be the best trailer of the year but it works mostly if you’re a fan. Recent trailers for blockbusters this past month have been shoddy when compared to the marketing for this movie. They’ve put the new characters Rey, Finn, Poe and Kylo Ren front and centre because they are where the franchise is heading and these films have to speak to a demographic that at best grew up on the prequels. Rey says she’s no one but we know she is going to prove to everybody she is someone. She dreams of adventure and seeing beyond where she grew up. A young man once looked out at two suns and thought similar thoughts. Finn does not know his purpose anymore or even who he is. We know he will find out both in this story. These are questions all of us ask of ourselves at different points of our lives but most keenly when we are young. Audiences could relate to Luke Skywalker in his dreams for adventure in the original Star Wars. Rey and Finn will do this for another generation.

Speaking of generations the trailers suggest Han Solo and Chewbacca will be guides for Rey and Finn throughout this universe and keepers of past stories much like millions of parents will be as they take their kids to see this space opera which is kind of like Guardians of the Galaxy only less funny sweetie. “A Jedi. The Dark Side. It’s true, all of it.” Han says in the trailer and these are the kind of words you would tell a child when telling Star Wars as a bed time story.

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For my generation they’ve handed out nostalgia hits with John Williams score and money shots of the Millennium Falcon which paradoxically may not hold much appeal for Millennials. But make no mistake this is the ultimate 4 quadrant hit. When the Falcon moved into hyper drive and the score kicked in I felt goose bumps all over. At the end when Lupita Nyongo told me “The Force it’s calling to you…just let it in.” the Meta was strong with me. A million fans who felt burned by the prequels would’ve all felt the same way – she’s talking to me directly and I do want to let it in. I don’t think it’s unnatural to feel directly addressed by a trailer and yet share that feel with millions. These are films after all that make fans feel a tremendous sense of ownership. Look at the furore over Greedo shot first and the insistence that is it Star Wars not Episode 4: A New Hope!

Disappointment over J.J. Abrahams last film Star Trek: Into Darkness has tempered some expectations but his Super 8 felt so much like a movie from the 1980s made for kids that I believe Abrahams will nail the feel of the original trilogy’s world. I’ll make a prediction here and now and it’s the safest bet. It will be good, it won’t be terrible and it’s won’t be great. It can’t be 1977 again. The freshness is gone. I suppose Mad Max: Fury Road, Creed and Skyfall felt like films of their franchise but reinvented for a new modern age and as good as anything that came before. Maybe Star Wars could do that too and I hope it does but that is a hell of a thing to pull off and even then can it possibly meet the expectations set by that final trailer?

Part of what has me nervous is how excited I was when The Phantom Menace trailer dropped back in the day. It’s fascinating to look back now and see bits of scenes that were awful in it. Look Obi Wan is shaking Jake Lloyd’s hand but that’s the kid that says “Now this is pod racing.” All that CGI which at the time was exciting because we’d never seen anything like it and the scale was so impressive. We couldn’t tell how fake it was all going to look. There’s Jar Jar Binks getting zapped by the engines but we didn’t know how maligned his character would be. Jar Jar, Watto, battle droids these were impressively rendered CGI aliens who opened up the scope of the universe like the aliens in the original had. Lots of space battles. None of that suggested the endless boring political subplot. Ewan McGregor sounded so much like Obi-Wan I wondered if he’d been dubbed by Sir Alec Guinness who was still alive at the time. Yoda my favourite character was back and his dialogue was good and Samuel L. Jackson was going to be a motherfucking Jedi!!! It’s pretty fashionable these days to hate the prequels and my sentiments are with the original trilogy but I’ve got to say I don’t hate them. There are things I find in all of them worthwhile. In The Phantom Menace I really like Qui-Gon Jinn as a character and I think Darth Maul was suitably awesome as someone who made two Jedis look brave for going up against him. The Pod Race was fantastic and meeting Anakin as a slave’s child on Tatooine was a really interesting choice. But I digress. I went to a midnight screening with two friends from high school. I was 18 and about to leave uni in my first year. We caught a cab into the city afterwards just to walk through it in the middle of the night. Desperate for freedom and to see the world, like a certain young Skywalker I guess. Dissecting everything, discussing where to go in the sequels we liked it but things nagged at us. The biggest thing for me was the flow of the film, the dialogue often seemed stilted and the scenes rushed quickly by but paradoxically dragged as well. To me the story settled down best on Tatooine but the beginning I had found very jolting.

If anything makes me real nervous it is that we haven’t seen any scenes from the film yet. I don’t know if the dialogue will not flow any better than a prequel at this point in time but JJ and Lawrence Kasdan haven’t written bad dialogue in the past so I remain hopeful. I’ll be honest as a teenager back in 1994 I read George Lucas was going to make new Star Wars movies and I got really excited. The original trilogy had alluded to such a rich history and vast universe that my head spun with the possibilities. Yet even as a teenager I sat and wondered if Lucas could still make good movies. Radioland Murders, Tucker, Howard the Duck and Willow were in the rear view mirror at that point. I was right to be worried then. I hope I am right to be optimistic now. One more day and we’ll know. May the Force Be With You.

-Lloyd Marken

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SPECTRE LIVES UP TO ITS TITLE IF NOT ITS PREDECESSOR

Casino Royale and Live and Let Die. The two Ian Fleming novels I read a few years back, they were light weight and I scarcely remember much about them but I do remember a great sense of physicality to the character. Bond could get out of and back into shape, got hurt in them and bad ways to die were ever present. My father who read them very young before Sean Connery became a movie star told me that the more you read of the books the more filled out the character of James Bond becomes. Daniel Craig has brought both of these attributes to the series. If you look back, George Lazenby in his one movie has more character growth than the other actors over their whole run. Except Craig. Daniel Craig’s James Bond remembers and ages and in a train cart in North Africa he arrives at a crossroads. Imprisoned, on a personal vendetta, married, returning home; these series of films have been electrifying when they’ve done something new with James and the ending of Spectre sees Bond in a very different place. It’s difficult to speak about the film without revealing spoilers but unlike some professional critics I will at least try. I’m looking at you Matt Zoller Seitz and I’m a fan! Let me just say that Spectre’s whole finale felt contrived and yet that last shot I both really enjoyed and dreaded. It could be a curtain call for Craig and that’s fine. If not well then, as M once said, my advice to Eon productions is “Don’t muck it up.”

We open in Mexico City during the Day of the Dead celebrations with an uninterrupted tracking shot that takes us from crowded streets to deserted rooftops. This could be the best bit of the film. Bond in disguise, anonymous in a crowd, a female companion both part of the disguise and granting him access, their bodies heady with the promise of sex that is not to come before the spy…actually well spies on someone. The dramatic action that follows (augmented by CGI) is not nearly as interesting but there are tongue in cheek moments and great use of the crowd, location and two crazy stuntmen hanging off a helicopter. The opening credits and song showcase beautiful but unsettling imagery of two lovers threatened by the spectre of death. Notable for two things, first Craig who has always featured heavily in his credits is here bare chested and objectified like the women and second an early shot looks like a threesome involving an Octopus.  No I’m not joking and no that’s not my idea of a fun Friday night.

Returning to London the secret agent finds an intelligence community under threat from government bureaucracy and an M under pressure. Bond doesn’t trust him like his predecessor despite the courtroom shootout from Skyfall. So Bond has to go rogue again, you might think that’s a trope but he’s only really done it two or three times previously. Fortunately for Bond he does trust the people he needs support from in Q and Moneypenny and with their help he sets off to Rome next. Snowy Alps and Tangiers will follow and he will eventually track down the mysterious Mr White who is the physical embodiment of links to Spectre from the Quantum of earlier films. There is a lot of call back to previous personalities lost which I was happy to see although perhaps due to the critical reaction of Quantum I don’t recall any mention of dear old Mathis. Silva from Skyfall really had an agenda of his own so retconning him into Spectre’s organisation feels a little shoehorned but it’ll pass. The film is grand in scale but going for a moody dreamy feel, most locations are at night and deserted. It’s epic including a spectacular explosion late in the piece but drained of colour to a palette of yellows, grey, browns and whites it’s ghoulish rather than pretty. The dead are alive the opening proclaims and in more ways than one. This is all about Bond putting his ghosts to rest, White, Vesper Lynd, M and new villain Franz Oberhauser played by Christoph Waltz. A perfect film then to finally have a boogeyman come for him and Mr. Hinx played by Dave Bautista fits the role well. A graphic killing for his introduction and that train fight with his hulking frame moving at speed after the now leaner Craig is fantastic.

That fight scene is without doubt the highpoint of the action in this Bond film which is disappointing although I enjoyed the effort put into a pursuit where an airborne Bond goes after bad guys in cars for a change. The car chase in Rome feels like a mixed bag of intentions that never quite comes together. I kind of liked Moneypenny getting yoghurt out of the fridge in London while talking to Bond via phone in Rome. The chase is even an afterthought almost for Bond as Hinx shows up beside him almost as if to remind him that he’s being chased. There is no real sense of speed or jeopardy in it though and I’m sorry but you know what the new Ashton Martin-not that pretty. Fuck it we’ll be in driverless cars in two years licking iPads so who cares. Still Vanishing Point children, that’s a car chase.

A lot of excitement was created by Monica Bellucci at 50 becoming a Bond girl and as someone who can appreciate a woman whom appreciates garters I was very excited to see where this led. Sadly garters are the high point. She’s cast off fairly early in proceedings for you guessed it – a younger woman.

Fortunate then that Lea Seydoux saddled with a great deal builds an awful lot in a very short time frame. As Dr Madeline Swann she is the daughter of Mr White whose work came to his house one day when he wasn’t there but she was. Usually when a character hates a lead and resists the narrative I can get impatient but she has very genuine reasons to resent Bond who is basically bringing a world she has successfully hidden from back into her life. There’s an age gag to be sure but love is love and their relationship feels pretty well matched to me. There’s a bit more to her than meets the eye, Bond recognises a kindred spirit as Duncan Casey pointed out and her relative youth offers a sense of renewal for Bond if he is prepared to risk it alllllllll because the writing is on the wall.

The opening credits for Casino Royale sported a lot of bodies falling to the ground and the film that followed made the deaths count even if they racked up considerably fast. Craig’s Bond has always inhabited this world of killers with a sense that one day the bullet could come for him. Skyfall in fact showed the character possibly getting shot for the first time ever-twice! Spectre really asks is Bond more than just a trigger? Swann is at the heart of that question and she may just be one of the best Bond girls ever. And I haven’t even mentioned that dress.

Spectre is not a perfect Bond outing. The personal stakes were higher with M and Vesper, Casino Royale more real and Skyfall more fun. Those who complained about the plot holes in Silva’s plan will be driven crazy here by the decisions both Bond and Oberhauser make in tracking and trying to kill their opponents. That might feel a bit rich given the history of the series but after the reality of Casino Royale I did find it off putting. Christoph Waltz sits in the back of a helicopter in the finale kind of looking bored. A great actor diminished in a role that should be crackling, he’s playing a Bond villain for crying out loud.

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I don’t want to say he is what is wrong with the film, the projection of power in a shadowy board room scene early on is sublime but the handling of his character and the pointless backstory given to him is muted at best. On a bad day Spectre falls in line with the lesser Bonds, serious with good intentions but lacking polish, wit and excitement. Today though is a good day and Spectre is a good Bond entry with a strong love interest, epic if downbeat cinematography, a scary henchman, an ambitious theme of love’s triumph over death and Daniel Craig once more in the role he has made his own. Enjoy him here, James Bond will return but Daniel Craig may not.

-Lloyd Marken

For those who have ready my previous rankings of the Bond film series you may be wondering where Spectre falls into it. As I mused throughout the rankings can change on any given day. Already I’m questioning Die Another Day, Thunderball, From Russia With Love and The Man with the Golden Gun but I’ll leave it as is for the moment. Spectre on a bad day could easily fall behind For Your Eyes Only which I believe was a little bit more fun than this latest film. Yet I keep thinking about the ambition of this film, telling a real emotional story for Bond and really considering the guts of the character and his future. The film plays like a nightmare and accordingly can be a bit of a slog but the performances are excellent, there’s an epic quality to the world and I really enjoy that Bond’s relationships matter here.

So without further ado here is how I rank the now 25 James Bond films.

25. A View to a Kill

24. The Man with the Golden Gun                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

23. Octopussy 

22. Thunderball

21. The World Is Not Enough

20. Live and Let Die

19. For Your Eyes Only

18. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

17. Quantum of Solace                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

16. Moonraker

15. From Russia With Love                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

14. Never Say Never Again                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

13. Spectre 

12. Tomorrow Never Dies

11. Diamonds Are Forever

10. Die Another Day                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

9. Dr. No                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

8. You Only Live Twice                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

7. The Living Daylights   

6. License To Kill                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

5. The Spy Who Loved Me                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

4. GoldenEye

3. Skyfall 

2. Casino Royale                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

1. Goldfinger

RANKINGS OF 24 BONDS and COUNTING PART FOUR: 05 to 01

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5. The Spy Who Loved Me

If there are some surprising low ranked entries on this list this one won’t come as a surprise for being Moore’s best. For Your Eyes Only might be more serious and contemporary but if there is one consistent theme throughout this list it is that however noble your intentions if the film gets boring it goes down the ladder. The Spy Who Loved Me is not serious with noble aspirations of character development or plot twists but it is never ever boring and it is the high watermark of Moore’s tenure. The fun Bond in his most fun Bond movie.

Barbara Bach is stunning in a way exceptional even for the beautiful Bond girls but more importantly one gun barrel sequence from Agent Goodnight we have a woman in Agent XXX who is Bond’s equal in every way. Yes she has to be rescued in the end but that only makes it personal for Bond and the audience. We like her and he does too. She kicks ass and even beats Bond at one point. Bach may not be the greatest actress of the Bond series but The Spy Who Loved Me she doesn’t have to be and she performs well being more than eye candy.

The Henchman is Jaws in this one. Think of the icons the Bond series has given us over the years. Blofeld, gold painted Shirley Eaton, the Ashton Martin DB5, Blofeld as played by Donald Pleasance. Jaws is right up there and tellingly a decade on from those images. There’s a few fans that wished he’d died in Egypt, he gradually becomes less terrifying after he drops that stone on his foot in the ruins but there is a reason why the audience cheered when he was seen alive at the end of this film. Introduced as a monster here and often compared to Frankenstein, it is fitting then he gets a girl and turns good in Moonraker. Frankenstein after all just wanted to be loved and understood. Jaws used for his strength and size is recognised for his feelings by 007 in his final film. In The Spy Who Loved Me, though Jaws is a force of nature, in a fairly light hearted film he creates a definite physical threat. Both extremes are all Richard Kiel and I can’t help but feel that while Jaws remains a villain in this film the audience recognised some of Kiel’s heart in the performance and just responded to the big guy with affection. Either way he adds something to the rogues gallery and fits right in with the rest of the film which is BIG in terms of production design, action set pieces, laughs and Barbara Bach’s wardrobe.

Speaking of icons, that Union Jack parachute does not make sense for a secret agent but it doesn’t matter because it looks so cool. Rick Sylvester skiing off that mountain and then his parachute almost not inflating as it is struck by the discarded skis is definitely in the top 5 of stunts that this series has pulled off. Rick gets two with that fall For Your Eyes Only. Thank you for being a mad man Mr Sylvester.

Curd Jurgens plays the villian Karl Stromberg…Hardly a Blofeld and I’m a bit of a sucker for Drax actually but you have got to love his casual request to cancel a money transaction after blowing a helicopter out of the sky with the intended recipients inside.

Moore also appears in Naval uniform at Faslane or somewhere pretending to be Faslane. C’mon Craig get your kit on. Here is Moore in the British Army.

A special note, HMS Fearless an amphibious assault ship features heavily at the end of the film. In 1982 she played an important role in the Falklands Islands War.

After building such an impressive set (a giant tanker swallows up nuclear submarines) they had to have a pitched battle in it, the first since OHMSS. For all the spectacle though even here they take time to show young men dying and making it matter.

Every now and then there are make or break Bonds that ensure the survival of the series. Goldfinger created the formula and is the classic that kick started everything. GoldenEye re-introduced Bond for a new era and re-invigorated his box office prowess. Daniel Craig continues to make us more excited about Bond than we ever have been. In 1977 the series had been coasting for a while still making money and Moore was settled in the role after Connery had left and come back and left again. But The Spy Who Loved Me essentially proved Bond could live on beyond those 60s classics without having to steal cultural influences. In a lot of ways it’s a mix of Thunderball and You Only Live Twice and it doesn’t matter.

I’m going to say it again, the key here is fun. This is just so much fun and a bit of luck. Moonraker proves that. The follow up is fun, has great set pieces, a witty villain, Jaws and…it is not nearly as good. There is a time and a place and everything here just works. Roger Moore is on fire here whether sternly cutting short discussion of his wife, dropping fish out of cars that should not be in them just for a sight gag, facing down Jaws and then saying “Later.” before going on to have sex and it all starts with that magnificent “So does England.”

The car chase with the Lotus reflects both the work ethic of everybody involved and perhaps why the film works so well. We start off with a bike chasing 007 in a car, then a car and then a helicopter ending with the Lotus driving off a pier and becoming a submarine. It’s escalation of force until the movie tops itself by doing something unexpected and original. To make that effect work took work, experimentation and first and foremost a fun imagination. It’s what the Bond series can do at its best.

Bond is a broad Church as the saying goes. If you look at my Top 6 there is a Bond from every decade with every actor who played him minus Lazenby. Part of what makes it work as a franchise is it moves with the times and constantly re-invents. It actually makes a great deal of sense that they’re movies you watch with your Dad since they’re something that your Dad grew up on and his love of the older films is something he can share with you as you take ownership of the current ones which are still familiar enough to him. I’d argue The Spy Who Loved Me made this possible. It’s when the franchise made something new and iconic for a new age and was rewarded with enormous success as a result. Roger Moore maybe the funny Bond but the franchise doubled in age and output during his era and that’s on him largely. This was his pinnacle.

4. GoldenEye

One of the last times my father took me to a movie was on Boxing Day with my sister and brother to see GoldenEye. I was 15, soon after I was seeing movies with my mates. As a kid I enjoyed The Living Daylights, Moonraker, You Only Live Twice, Goldfinger, The Spy Who Loved Me, and Octopussy. If Licence to Kill failed to compete against Ghostbusters 2, Lethal Weapon 2 and BatmanGoldenEye made Bond feel like event cinema again. That 720 foot bungee jump off the Verzasca Dam in Switzerland made the film something that had to be seen on the big screen and Brosnan looked the part in a ridiculously good looking way. Glamour was back. Gadgets were back. Stunts were back. Interestingly to note, the first post cold war Bond made Russians the bad guys albeit all renegades but it’s not like they really re-invented the wheel first time out and this is from a series that had actually avoided making the Soviets the bad guys for the most part. If The Living Daylights is 80s Bond and The Spy Who Loved Me is 70s Bond then GoldenEye is the 90s Bond.

We really got the whole package in Pierce Brosnan a desire to go dark, one of the most ridiculously good looking men ever, prepared to get physical but also not taking any work away from the stuntmen, that silky Irish voice pronouncing the Queen’s English, comfortable with puns or passionate with wounded hurt over lost loves and traitorous adversaries. What more could you want? Well a good script would have been nice but I digress. I’ve got something positive to say about every Bond actor there has been but sooner or later you have to admit who your Bond is. Connery maybe my favourite but I don’t feel a sense of ownership over him. He’s my father’s Bond. Pierce Brosnan is my Bond and I couldn’t be happier.

Famke Janssen as Xenia Onatopp was delightfully over the top mixing sex with death in the way that the Bond series always has. Looking back over the series I don’t see any obvious inspirations for her except for Barbara Carerra in the rogue Connery production. Her performance is one of a kind and is still celebrated. Izabella Scorupco might seem to suffer as a result but she’s one of the best Bond girls actually. Smart, capable and with a good sense of meta humour. “You’re like boys with toys.” She admonishes at one stage. In the hallowed history of the series sexual imaginings are set up but not shown. That sarong fluttering in the breeze around her bikini is perfection in almost revealing but not quite. Hey I told you I was 15. Sean Bean could have played Bond and is enjoyably here a Double 00 Agent Alec Trevelyan gone bad. A special note for Special Effects Designer Derek Meddings. Derek Meddings worked with model effects and worked on Thunderbirds, various Bond films, and the original Superman and Batman film. The man who led the team that created the Krypton of my childhood last worked on GoldenEye with his sons. In post-production he died from colorectal cancer and GoldenEye is dedicated to his memory. Goldeneye is one of the last films to use models on a large scale with stunt work and developing CGI.

The middle aged guy was in the audience for this one too. When Bond drives the bike off the cliff and free-falls into the plane that is when I heard the chortle this time. There is so much to love here. That opening. The scene with Q. The first time we meet Judi Dench in the role of M. That tank chase is pure Bond, over the top and epic showing us something that has never been done before. In a lot of ways the big finale lacks the energy of the first half. What makes it work is the taunting of the character for the first time in the franchise and the fact that we’ve been saving up for a fight between Alec and Bond all movie and when it arrives it doesn’t disappoint. Sure a lot gets blown up but GoldenEye remembers that when there is something personal going on with the characters we as an audience are way more invested. Too bad they didn’t do anything cool with the Z3 Roadster but all the more reason I defend Die Another Day. For the first time Bond grossed $100 million at the U.S. Box Office and the Broccolis were back in business. The below photo sums up my feelings about the wasted potential of the Brosnan Bonds that followed.

3. Skyfall

Nothing like success to breed criticism. First Bond to gross a Billion worldwide, critically lauded, a hit song and search the internet and you’ll find a lot who don’t understand why everybody raves about this. They’ve got a point. Bond fails in his mission, there’s plot holes galore, and is he having sex with a former child prostitute uninvited and Bond’s injuries get forgotten as the story moves along plus why has the DB5 got all the gadgets? None of that matters though. Bond here is wounded, vulnerable, and older and we finally delve into his backstory if only a little bit. “You know the answer to that. You know the whole story.” “Orphans always make the best recruits.” “When he did come out, he wasn’t a boy anymore.” Like sex, the Broccolis know, just enough to get our imagination going is far more satisfying than any elaborate exposition. If I have a nit-pick it is I would have preferred if M was a better shot. I waited for her to mix it up ever since that kidnapping in The World is Not Enough and along with Eve’s resignation from the field I can’t help but feel the women get the short end of the action stick here for no good reason. Connery as Kincade would have been stunt casting and Albert Finney is wonderful but admit it-I’d watch that movie and so would you. Connery hadn’t done an onscreen role in 9 years at this point. It would’ve been the perfect way to retire and wipe that League of Extraordinary Gentleman crap away but not to be. A special note for DP Roger Deakins, this is a glorious looking digital movie and he’s done stellar work on this year’s Sicario. Spectre by comparison looks gloomy and muted in the trailers but let’s wait and see.

The pay off with the setup of Moneypenny and M and Q feels right. The band is back and we’ve come full circle. Where that leads in Spectre or in 10 years’ time is anyone’s guess but Bond remains. After 53 years and 24 films we’re still looking forward to the next one. Skyfall keeps that love alive. I find it telling my mother likes Pierce Brosnan the best (I sense his persona rather than his interpretation of Bond informs this most) and my father likes Sean Connery the most, so the other night I asked them both what was their favourite Bond film and without hesitation they both answered Skyfall. Jarvier Bardem as SIlva is menacing and camp all at the same time, gloriously selling a larger than life character with little subtle choices in his performance. Hired most likely due to the success of his Anton Chigurh this is a very different type of villainous portrayal and just as great.

It’s always hard for me to decide whether I like Skyfall more than Casino Royale. Something that I always think about is that Casino Royale has the love story with Eva Greene as Vesper Lynd and then I think yeah but Skyfall has the love story with Dame Judi Dench as M. If you look back at the Brosnan films she has a hard ruthless edge in those films film too even if they don’t necessarily play it up as much as they do in the Daniel Craig era but she’s great here. Sassy, weathered but determined. Under attack but not ready to throw in the towel. There’s so many facets to her character, a late husband mentioned (remember we saw a man in her bed in Casino Royale), a trust in Bond to get the job done even if he’s damaged, no hesitation early on to have Bond shot or have another agent bleed out and yet look at the satisfaction on her face when she looks Bond in the eye with her dying breath and says “I did get one thing right.” You got a lot right M.

2. Casino Royale

We spend a lot of time in that casino. We do have that incredible fight scene in the stair well but this is if you like the bottle episode of the Bond franchise and paradoxically it opens up the possibilities of the franchise like never before relying on character interactions, battle of wits and superb dialogue to get us through. It’s Bond in a way we’ve never had him and it leaves an impression. So much so that we forget maybe that massive parkour chase and set piece at Miami airport that plays like a more regular Bond picture. Even in those scenes here the exciting things are relatively low key. A particular highlight is the knife wrestle in a crowded public place. One of my favourite scenes in the whole movie is Bond going back to his room to dress his wounds, scowling in pain and downing whiskey before joining Vesper who is in shock. What’s neat is that by showing Bond himself hurting first it makes it less about him comforting her and more about them sharing their survival. Eva Green as Vesper Lynd ten years younger than Craig none the less has great chemistry with him and their love affair feels very genuine. This is a film that takes time to breathe like for example From Russia With Love but unlike that film I remember this as being more exciting. I knew from my Dad having read the books that Bond got tortured in a particular way in the original novel. I mused with him before seeing the film whether they would modify that torture to be more palatable for modern audiences but no they went ahead and did it. Again you have to hand it to the Broccolis. It’s safer to hand Pierce a truckload of money and do another Bond epic. Each Brosnan film made more money than the last. Instead they reinvented the franchise yet again with an unknown star that at one point seemed to only have their support and together they proved everybody wrong. I would have loved one more Pierce Bond and I would have been interested to see him do that Casino Royale with Quentin Tarantino but not a day goes by that I don’t love this movie. The ending hurts just like that one from 1969 albeit I think that is still by far more emotionally wrenching. I’m kinda hoping Vesper is mentioned in Spectre. She should be remembered. That death should carry weight even now. When Craig retires from the role it may not hurt to call Martin Campbell again either.

1. Goldfinger

David Letterman once said of all American chat show hosts “We’re all trying to be a little bit like Johnny Carson.” And every Bond film sans the last entry (maybe!) is trying to be Goldfinger. A lot of the formula is present in Dr No but it solidifies in Goldfinger and they’ve been remaking it ever since with various degrees of success and intertwined with modern influences. They’ve made some great ones, I think at least one that epitomises the decade and the Bond of that era but Goldfinger is timeless and beats them all. Plot holes, third acts that lose steam, inconsistent tone, too serious, too silly. None of this matters with Goldfinger it’s perfect from beginning to end. Throughout this list each film has almost inevitably touched upon a shopping list of things to tick off or comment on. Song, Henchman, Villain, Car, Female Lead. Here they are not just series highlights but highlights of cinema itself. The song sung by Shirley Bassey. The Henchman Oddjob. The Villain Auric Goldfinger. The car Ashton Martin DB5. The Female Lead Pussy Galore played by Honor Blackman. Finally it has at the heights of his powers The Bond. Look at the photo below. Now isn’t that just the coolest motherfucker there ever was. From a boy pulling milk around with a cart in the tenements of Edinburgh to twenty five years later being James Bond. What an incredible journey it was for Connery to come from humble beginnings and become James Bond. It was no accident, Connery oozes old movie star charisma in this film but always the hint of something real and post modern in his approach. Nothing I can say about this film hasn’t already been said. Watching it recently I was amazed by how endlessly quotable and known the dialogue has become, how the stunts held up and how the era had transformed from something dated to something ageless as the cool 1960s have become. A final note my journey with Bond starts here. One night when I’m very young my Dad tells me there is a good movie on tonight, (yes it was Channel 10) and we sit down to watch it. It’s about a spy and it’s an action film. Some guy comes out of the water in a ski suit and takes it off to reveal a dinner jacket underneath. There’s a fight, not long after, there’s a car with gadgets like K.I.T.T. I don’t fall asleep or get bored and go in the other room. I like the movie and after that whenever I get told it’s a Bond movie whether it has Roger Moore or Sean Connery or Timothy Dalton I want to see it and I think of it as a Bond movie. There is something consistent in the brand if not the tone or tastes or even success and that is to be applauded. The journey continues but I can’t help but feel very fortunate Goldfinger was my first. I think it will always be No.1 for most because it is timeless. What I admire most about Eon productions is I think they know Goldfinger will always be the best too and yet every Bond movie they make, even A View to A Kill, they set out to finally make one better than it. I admire that and who knows maybe one day they will.