HOW WOULD YOU DO THE OSCARS?

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It was February 2005 when I watched the 77th Academy Awards hosted by Chris Rock. That’s the last great Oscars telecast I remember. It was a gradual thing Jon Stewart took over the following year and it wasn’t as good but that was alright because Steve Martin and Whoopi Goldberg hadn’t been as good as Billy Crystal right? As time dragged on though, and more ceremonies occurred I couldn’t shake the feeling that the Oscars just didn’t measure up the same away anymore. If I look back over the past few years there’s always bits and pieces I love from all of them but always something lacking. The host sucks, the host was the only good thing, not enough skits, the skits sucked, the speeches were boring, the people accepting were played off by the orchestra before they could start. I would not be surprised either if I popped in a tape of a show that I remember as praiseworthy from the 1990s to find its no worse or better than the ones we see today. The thing I can’t shake though is that at some point the Oscars got scared, it rushed itself not allowing time for individual moments to breathe and organically occur and it worried about getting viewers in rather than celebrating its own community. It would be too easy to pick apart the high pressure work performed by dozens of professionals on a grand stage in front of a worldwide audience. Therefore I thought it would be interesting to put forward some ideas of my own and inevitably celebrate that which has worked in the past.

The Host

Bob Hope, Johnny Carson and Billy Crystal are the Kings of Oscar hosting. This year the television networks have allocated their respective late night hosts to the Awards Show they’re broadcasting, CBS gave James Corden the Grammys, NBC slotted in Jimmy Fallon for the Golden Globes and so ABC have given Jimmy Kimmel the Oscars. Kimmel is edgy, very LA and approaching gravitas that comes with long term tenure. There’s a hope he will shake up things but there was a similar hope when Seth McFarlane was named to host and we know how that turned out. Choosing a late night talk show host makes sense given Carson’s reign at the gig but Carson was lightning in a bottle, Image result for the academy awards johnny carsona superb comic performer, movie star good looking with average folks appeal in his Nebraskan sensibility. Jon Stewart did this twice with only middling success, my favourite David Letterman bombed big time with his snark going over like a lead balloon with the celebrities on their night of nights, Fallon the current king of late night looked intimidated at the Globes earlier this year leaving basically day time host Ellen DeGeneres as the best since Carson – and her Emmy Hosting gigs were far superior to her Oscar ones. I’d love to see Samantha Bee and Jon Oliver tear the place down and I think James Corden actually could do a real good job but I would be looking at a stand-up comic more than a talk show personality to be named host.

A few big hitters include Jerry Seinfeld (he’s so big and established he wouldn’t be afraid to push people around but maybe is too much of an outsider), Louis C.K. (same thing but again outsider) Aziz Ansari (too TV maybe go with Emmys or Golden Globes for him first) and Amy Schumer.Image result for AMY schumer award shows Schumer is hip and cool, not an old white guy, has a hit movie and would take aim and fire at some of the absurdities of Hollywood. Would be more than happy to see her have a go but I can’t help but think that a funny Hollywood comic superstar would be a good choice. Crystal, Steve Martin, Whoopi Goldberg have all had their go. You know who never did? Who has the gravitas, the comic chops and was king of the box office for a bit. Eddie Murphy. Now I know Eddie hasn’t been a big deal in a while but a few years ago he was announced to host with Brett Ratner producing, then Brett said dumb shit and had to pull out and Eddie stood by his friend and withdrew too. Related imageBut Eddie can deliver if he has a good writing team behind him because I believe this sincerely, people would like to see a comeback from that kid who did Delirious. The monologue should be solid, few have been bad in the past few years (Franco and Hathaway I’m looking at you) and as a former stand- up he should be able to spot opportunities when they come up. My favourite hosts of the past decade are easily Tina Fey and Amy Poehler doing the Golden Globes three years in a row but they don’t seem interested and others like Will Ferrell, Steve Carrell and Kristen Wiig only seem interested in doing presentation skits in awards shows rather than the whole thing. By the way look for Key and Peele to host Oscars soon, they’re good comedians and solid actors in their own right and I find it hard to believe the Academy hasn’t already asked them at least once.

The Opening

In 1996 a landmark occurred when Billy Crystal returned after Letterman bombed. It had been a couple of years since he hosted and he was missed. He was inserted into old movies as himself and that year’s nominees. Letterman even showed he was a good sport and showed up in it to mock his failure from the previous year. It feels more played out these days but when done well it never really gets old. Hell even Anne Hathaway and James Franco had some good bits in one such skit. Last year there was an amazing opening montage, easily the best from the past decade that Oscar has done. It displayed moments from the nominees, blockbusters and everything in between; themed around personal perseverance in a day it brought tears to my eyes with its empathy and hopefulness. It does mean however that if the AMPAS want to they can go big this year, one year they had Cirque du Soleil perform up in the rafters. Maybe it’s time to go big again Academy. Imagine Eddie or Amy inserted in Hacksaw Ridge, La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight, Hidden Figures, Fences or Arrival.

The Presentations

If you look back over the years there are always at least a couple of good presentations. Some from really good actors being given funny lines and some from some of the funniest people we have working in Hollywood.

Ben Stiller, the aforementioned Wigg, Ferrel, Fey, Poehler, Steve Martin, and it would be great to see them all back doing their thing. It probably doesn’t get more moving than Christopher Reeve in his wheelchair after the riding accident. Sometimes there can be real quirkiness in the choices, one year a sound effects choir introduced those categories. R2D2, C3PO and BB-8 came out last year. However not everybody has to have a bit, some can wax lyrical about cinematography “The camera allows us to see ourselves like we’ve seen ourselves before – looking like Ryan Gosling.” or something like that and then get off the stage. It would be nice if before presenting the nominees for technical awards like sound editing, sound effects editing to remind the nominees that there’s five of you and nobody gives a shit about your arse cause you ain’t famous so you know you got five seconds each. Thank your wife and then let your buddies thank their wives. Because if you want to get laid tonight you better thank your wife if you win. If there are any female nominees in the technical categories don’t worry, your husband will not hold out having sex with you if you don’t thank him. You get back to the hotel room and he’d be like I can’t believe it, I gave you twenty two years of my life, supported you in your career, helped raise the kids and you couldn’t remember my name in front of a billion people. I am so upset, I’m not having sex with you tonight…..oh you’re wearing those stockings. Never mind. And this is why you really are running the world. But seriously male or female nominees either nominate one person or let everybody thank everybody real quick. If one person in your group is shy or boring, they’re out. There can be no room for weak links. You have got 30 seconds. Actually that’s not true, Harvey Weinstein has 30 seconds, and a special effects supervisor has 12 seconds. If you’re ugly you got 10! So that’s two seconds for each of you!

Sketch Bits

In the old days this might have been a montage of animal performers before Mike Myers hurriedly grabbed the envelope off a grumpy Bart the Bear. These days it will have Neil Patrick Harris re-enact Birdman’s famous scene in his tighty whities or have Ellen DeGeneres get pizza for the stars in their million dollar frocks.

Nothing wrong with that, it’s the growing trendy of daggy celebrities done so well by Fallon. I believe the host should remain present throughout the rest of the evening but more of less reacting to what’s going on. I got a long night planned anyway.

Montages

Hollywood used to do the best montages and then a few years ago the kids on YouTube started doing it better. The day after a tribute to James Bond was done at the Oscars, better online contributions went viral. Jon Stewart even joked one year that the whole show was montages. Yet done well they elevate the whole thing, one year they brought performers on stage to perform a raft of best songs from previous decades and it linked you to previous generations. This year I would suggest two major montages. One saluting women of cinema, given the range of strong female performances this year it would be neat and also relevant given current cultural dialogue about gender politics. Hidden Figures for example taps into this in a big way. Imagine iconic moments from Audrey Hepburn, Katherine Hepburn, Deborah Kerr, Bette Davis, Jane Russell, Marilyn Monroe, Liv Ullman, Mary Tyler Moore, Lilly Tomlin, Noomi Rapace, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Sally Field, Whoopi Goldberg, Hattie McDaniel, Ginger Rogers, Lauren Bacall, Nicole Kidman, Natalie Portman, Kate Winslet, Susan Sarandon, Julia Roberts, Jodie Foster, Jane Fonda, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone, Jessica Chastain, Sigourney Weaver, Emma Thompson, Cher, Charlize Theron, Winona Ryder, Claire Danes, Amy Adams, Felicity Jones, Cate Blanchett, etc.

The second would be long overdue, the work of stunt performers. There’s been a push for at least the past decade for them to get their own Oscar category and maybe this would be a step in the right direction of proper recognition. Sure practical stunts are being replaced by CGI since the heyday of the 70s and 80s but there is still plenty of stunt work being performed and a montage could show the classic stunts we all know and love with behind the scenes footage giving these men and women their day in the sun. There are plenty of stories too. Rick Sylvester’s Union Jack Parachute Ski Jump from The Spy Who Loved Me, Image result for movie stunts Jophery Brown’s bus jump from Speed “ If I’d been directly in the driver’s suit it probably would have broken my back”, Image result for movie stuntsBud Elkins driving that motorcycle over the border fence in The Great Escape, Zoe Bell on the hood of that Dodge Challenger in Death Proof, Related imageVic Armstrong’s work as Indiana Jones, Heidi Moneymaker’s work as Black Widow, Bill Hickman stunt driving in The French Connection, stuntwoman Lila Finn who doubled for Vivien Leigh and Donna Reed right through to doing work on Robocop 2, Yakima Canutt who pulled off that famous stunt in Stagecoach. Image result for yakima canuttAnyway the list goes on. The montage could include personal anecdotes about their injuries, close calls, relationship with stars they double for or love of the job. Perhaps mention of some stuntmen and stuntwomen who died doing what they loved. To introduce this montage get an actor who is noted for doing some of their own stunts, Burt Reynolds, Keanu Reeves, Tom Cruise if you believe the hype, and Johansson who trains phenomenally hard in her role as Black Widow often doing more interesting stunt work than her male co-stars in The Avengers movies. Maybe the most perfect choice would be Jackie Chan.

Song Performances

Most song performances have been strong over the years, something as intimate as Dolly Parton singing Travelin’ Thru, to Beyoncé and Idina Menzel giving sterling performances right through to moving pieces as Lady Gaga was joined on stage by real sexual assault survivors performing Til It Happens To You. The energy of Everything is Awesome to the power of Glory. As a template, you could see the potential from this year’s best song nominees. Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the Feeling is idiotic but kind of catchy. Hopefully they’ll avoid trying to get the crowd involved with a bunch of middle aged actors looking uncomfortable although it would be worth it if Harrison Ford ended up punching Timberlake in the face – hey we can dream. Still it is an up-tempo number and if you put a bunch of kids there on stage enjoying it my cold heart will melt.

Superstar Sting showing up to sing Empty Chair with the lights dimmed and a montage of reporters lost in the field would be particularly moving. Don’t even say the clip was of all reporters lost doing their job until after the clip too. Not everybody is going to know it’s from the critically lauded documentary Jim about the sadly deceased correspondent James Foley. Audition (The Fools Who Dream) needs a big performance from a big star, Beyoncé, Gaga, somebody of that calibre. Maybe a Broadway star the film community doesn’t know. Think Idina or Kristen Chenoweth before everybody knew who they were. The big production number should go to How I’ll Go from Moana and come early in the piece in case any kids are still up. Lots of lights, moving props and dancers with Auli’i Cravalho singing her heart out.

Which leaves us with City of Stars; this should be sung by Emma Stone and Gosling at piano with their innate chemistry while dancers recreate scenes from the film in the background. The power of the ending should be recreated in this on stage performance. Think Eugene Levy’s wonderful touching of Catherine O’Hara’s cheek at the end of performing A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow in character or the heartfelt singing of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova doing Falling Slowly.

Speeches

Look there’s no denying we want to hear Emma Stone more than who won Best Film Editing speak and so she’ll be given more time. That is fair enough, but give the editor 30 seconds and if it looks like they’re wrapping up soon let it go. They might be about to tell you that their parent recently fought cancer. This can’t be stated enough, some of the most heartfelt and best moments of Oscars past are the speeches that were allowed to just happen in the moment. Don’t terrify people; let them tell their story at a moment of personal triumph. If after 30 seconds they’re bombing jokes or boring us nobody is going to have a problem if the music starts to kick in a little. Hell the recipient will probably thank you even. But stop apologising for the length of the telecast, this is your community you’re celebrating and the people tuning in aren’t just interested in the next blockbuster to pack their kids away in air conditioning for two hours, they’re cinephiles and they’re digging this as much as footy fans dig the halftime commentary.

Honorary Oscars

I know this is never going to happen, The Governors ball allows AMPAS to honour at least 3 recipients a year, focuses an evening more on just a few awardees and takes away the pressure of a live television audience but we’ve lost something with not handing out these Oscars on Oscar night.

Peter O’Toole, Sidney Lumet, Blake Edwards, Robert Altman, Clint Eastwood, Kirk Douglas, Deborah Kerr, Ennio Morricone, Michelangelo Antonioni. These were some of the lifetime achievement awards handed out in the years I started watching. Films like Bronco Billy and Honkytonk Man got on my radar because of Eastwood’s montage for the Irving G. Thalberg award. Who amongst us didn’t have tears in our eyes when Kirk Douglas made a speech having prepared endlessly for it following a stroke.

Michael standing with his brothers in the stands just a proud son. Deborah Kerr years after retiring flown over from the other side of the Atlantic who simply said “I’m amongst friends.” Anybody know who Michelangelo Antonioni is? He’s an Italian film director who I doubt I have seen the films of but I also doubt I have not seen the films influenced by his work. Oscars always echoed the ghosts of the past, gave a sense of community amongst this sea of celebrity that these rich pricks really just wanted to tell good stories and that the past was never forgotten. As a film buff my first awareness of so many classics came from Oscar ceremonies that remembered and championed work from the past as well as the present. A good choice for a foreign director of lauded classics now would be Wim Wenders who has influenced a whole generation of filmmakers. After ruining the perfect symmetry of Sly Stallone winning the Oscar for Creed last year it’s probably time to give him an Honourary Oscar but maybe some kids out there know who he is. They won’t know who Gene Hackman is; imagine a montage of his work on Oscar night followed by him making his first public appearance in close to a decade. The crowd would go ballistic!Image result for gene hackman oscarAl Pacino, Warren Beatty, Robert Duvall, Dustin Hoffman, Clint Eastwood, Kevin Costner, Frances McDormand are all potential presenters. Traditionally Honourary Oscars go to those who haven’t won in competition but to see Gene I’d just about do anything and if some young film buff out there notices his work and is inspired to watch The Conversation or Missippi Burning the way I was to watch Bronco Billy or Serpico then that’s a goal scored.

Well they’re just some thoughts, any pet peeves or treasured moments you have from previous Oscars or any things you would suggest for the broadcast. Whatever happens next Monday, I’ll be tuning in, judging the fashion with my wife and mother, texting my best friend during the ad breaks in another part of the country long into the evening about who won and who missed out. Maybe the ceremonies since 2004 haven’t been that bad, maybe the ones before weren’t that great. It doesn’t matter; it’s Hollywood’s night of nights and mine too.

-Lloyd Marken

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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.

RANKINGS OF 24 BONDS and COUNTING PART ONE: 24 to 18

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Inspired by the upcoming release of Spectre and far better lists done by others I’ve decided to rank the Bond movies according to me in terms of quality. Please note there is a lot of short hand and spoilers below, the list assumes that everyone has watched the films in the series.

24. A View to a Kill

I’ve got no issues with Roger Moore playing Bond at 58 even if it makes the age gap between co-stars is a little ridiculous but you’re setting a pattern already when you remark about the youth and inexperience of a 36 year old Daniel Craig and cast him with a 26 year old Eva Green. Moore is as fit and healthy here as he ever was and even a decade earlier he left most stunts to the stuntmen so why should it matter now? This was one of the last Bond films from before my time that I got around to seeing. 80s car stunts, Paris, a climax on the Golden Gate Bridge, Grace Jones and Christopher Walken…it’s fair to say I was looking forward to it but the film never really delivers. All the components are here, Patrick MacNee shows up and causes some emotional heartbreak with his death but that’s mostly due sentimentality for his portrayal of John Steed. Thirty years later Grace Jones remains an original force of nature, she’s physically formidable, 1 of only 3 possible black lovers the series has had and the ONLY! henchwoman ever who ,also rare, turns good and she also boasts impressive fashion sense. Christopher Walken one of the most distinctive charismatic personas of cinema has a great little death scene too. And yet…neither is terribly memorable here, Jones essentially playing the persona she had established for herself and Walken having not quite developed the freedom to go all out like he would in just a few short years. The idea of them being both being genetically engineered is not made much use of unfortunately either. Tanya Roberts as Stacey Sutton is way too weak as the main love interest to make for compelling storytelling even if she brings out a nicely protective side in Bond.  Notable for being Lois Maxwell’s last film, she played Moneypenny from 1962 to 1985. The stunts remain good but I can’t recall any killer lines or kick ass Bondian moments. It’s sad to see Moore and Maxwell go out this way but at least we’ve got a killer tune in the title track and this awesome little Youtube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXixbmHSpE8

23. The Man with the Golden Gun

This was the last Bond co-produced by Harry Saltzman and was Moore’s second outing in the role. It’s dated badly to our politically correct times. Moore roughs up Maud Adams (a villain but still) and cuckqueans Britt Ekland’s fellow agent Mary Goodnight. The kind of stuff that makes us awkward at liking Sean Connery’s films is still present in Moore’s era. For some actually this is Moore’s best. It’s got a terrific car stunt (undiminished by that slide whistle), gorgeous Thailand, Britt Ekland walking around in a bikini throughout the third act and the great Sir Christopher Lee as the villain of the piece. For many it’s Lee who makes it and the idea of the ultimate assassin against the ultimate spy is a neat idea. The best scene has to be Scaramanga telling Bond in no uncertain times he could have killed him at any point but wants a contest. Sadly that is the highlight of such a tantalising premise. For me the film fails to fire for most of its run time.

22. Octopussy

Surely Sir Christopher Lee has this 1983 entry beat and maybe he should but as a child of the 80s Octopussy has the stunts – cars taking to railway tracks, planes flying through hangars, roof top fights on steam trains and airborne airplanes!. There is also Bond avenging a fellow agent, 009’s flight to the British embassy is both surreal and haunting with his clown make-up but obvious distress played well by stunt man Andy Bradford. Maud Adams returns to the franchise as the strongly layered female villain and love interest Octopussy although an awkward love scene exists here too – this girl can’t catch a break. Everybody loves Q and he gets a neat moment in the field here. Plus I like that Faberge egg, can I have one? Moore appears to not be doing the running like he did two years earlier in For Your Eyes Only and they actually screen tested James Brolin. Connery was doing Never Say Never Again though and so producer Albert R. ‘Cubby’ Brocolli doubled down on his reigning Bond star. No idea what led to Moore returning for A View to a Kill. This has the wit lacking in Moore’s final film. A personal favourite is when henchman Gobinda played by Kabir Bedi is told to climb out on to the roof of a flying plane to get Bond off the roof. “Out there?” he checks incredulously.

21. Thunderball

How could I? It’s Sean Connery for fuck’s sake. Bahamas, a Tom Jones title track, a fascinating love triangle and a great looking Vulcan bomber. This is the big money earner that gave the filmmakers so much money and good will that they’ve turned it into a 50 years and counting franchise. No doubt if I watch it tomorrow it might shoot up the list, it is actually incredible to realise how consistent the quality of these films are and how tough it is to rank them definitively but in my memory the damn thing is…it’s just too boring. Note this could be an early example of a box office hit running off the prestige off its immediate predecessor. In this case Goldfinger.

20. The World Is Not Enough

This is a film I wanted to love so much. I couldn’t wait to see Begbie face off against Bond and the premise was strong with a villain who can’t feel any pain. Bond gets played here by a woman, Elektra King, and that’s a great idea for a Bond film especially since she manipulates his protective instincts and Brosnan was already the warmer passionate Bond. He never smacks bitches around like the other actors or yells at them for no real reason. All the more devastating then, that final scene where he shoots her without hesitation and then displays a great deal of remorse. Sophie Marceau is great too in her performance as Elektra; I love how her eyes flash when she says “My father was nothing. His kingdom he stole from my mother, the kingdom I will rightly take back.” For me this is a terribly frustrating film for what it could have been and what it gets right. The death of Elektra is fantastic, one of the best in the series. The kidnapping of M is brilliant too which makes it a little disappointing that she doesn’t get to do more in her escape. The fight at the end should pay off the novelty of a villain who can’t feel physical pain and be emotionally cathartic for both men who have lost much with Elektra’s death and would blame the other. See the fight in GoldenEye for a hint of what could have been. Still Brosnan delivers with the concluding line “She’s waiting for you.” Robbie Coltrane returning as Valentin Zukovsky from GoldenEye makes a nice return and permanent exit. People like to pick on Denise Richards as Dr. Christmas Jones, but she has to sell that line “But the world’s greatest terrorist running around with 6 kilos of weapons-grade plutonium can’t be good. I have to get it back. Or somebody’s gonna have my ass.” Otherwise Pierce’s wonderful punch line doesn’t work. She’s eye candy I grant you and I don’t know how many nuclear physicists wear that outfield but she’s not a weak link here. This is Desmond Llewellyn’s last go as Q and as always he delivers. The filmmakers took time to write a nice exit scene for him. I’ve only realised with age that the line “Never let them see you bleed.” is as good as admitting your heart is breaking. Wonderfully English and restrained yet heartfelt. Desmond Llewelyn served with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in France during World War II where he was captured and spent five years as a POW – a genuine hero. The opening ski boat chase on the Thames is one of the best of a series that has always prided itself on great openings and the first time that London took centre stage in a Bond film. I was pumped after watching it but sadly the action scenes that follow are rather average and the plot itself moves rather sluggishly. This really could have been great but it’s not. Still some stellar ideas. Whenever I’ve seen Bond in a theatre there is always a chortle of disbelief and approval from a middle aged man in the audience. His moment here was when Bond dives the ski boat underneath the water and straightens his tie. These are the moments that make Bond.

19. Live and Let Die

Roger Moore in his first Bond at 43 looks practically like a baby, good genes Sir Moore, so it’s no surprise they got a long run out of him. Interestingly the very English Moore’s debut is a film influenced by Blaxploitation but obviously not a Blaxploitation film. How cool would that be? Maybe a black Bond who would take out some oppressive white motherfuckers in Whitehall after uncovering a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top. Instead Moore’s Bond kills a black gangster and his voodoo thugs while bedding a white girl slave that one of them was keeping and hoping to deflower in good time. It’s the reverse of certain dated cliché white man fears. The majority of African-Americans in the film are villains but they’re competent complex individuals played by strong actors led by the great Yaphet Kotto. What’s fascinating about Live and Let Die in our modern times is not so much how things have changed but how things have remained. How many black villains have we had in the franchise since Live and Let Die? 1 or 2 black henchmen? 1 or 2 black love interests? The movie is 42 years old. 42 fucking years old! I’m supportive of different voices being heard and celebrated in media even if sometimes I find it discomforting to think about it in terms of quotas. For example I like Naomie Harris as Moneypenny and Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter. I am happy they were cast because of how good they are as actors but I also believe if a by-product of that is more black faces are on screen in the Bond franchise then that is a good thing. Just putting it out there. I think Idris Elba would be great as Bond but I would like Daniel Craig to stay on too for at least one more. Decisions. I got off on a tangent here. The novelty of running motor boats over ground is still neat today the double decker bus makes a nice change from a supercar. Jane Seymour is one of the most insanely beautiful women in the world but lines such as “Now I feel like a complete woman.” After losing her virginity to Bond just make me snigger. It’s not a great Bond film but it’s not a bad one either. The crocodile stunt is suitably bad ass and best song of the series has to be either Live and Let Die or Goldfinger although I really enjoy Chris Cornell’s You Know My Name.

18. For Your Eyes Only

You’ve got to hand it to Eon Productions. You’ve just made more money at the box office than any previous Bond film with Moonraker. Critics might have sniggered you just re-made The Spy Who Loved Me and put it in space to cash in on Star Wars but you know what? It worked. So what do you do? You go back to basics. That takes wisdom and that takes courage. It’s such a shame then that the film is at times boring. As a kid it was really boring. I couldn’t stand the film, as an adult I’ve come to appreciate it a lot more. The opening is a great source of contention as Moore’s Bond references Tracey Bond by visiting her gravesite and then encountering Blofeld who is summarily dispatched. The scene has in its favour great helicopter stunts and Bond putting to rest Tracey’s killer without the ambivalence of his fate in Diamonds Are Forever. Against it, Moore being funny again and showing no grim satisfaction when dispatching his long time nemesis and due to legal reasons Blofeld is neither named nor really shown. An iconic villain is dispatched quite quickly and easily with no real payoff reflecting the producers’ intention to make a point of saying they didn’t need him anymore but disrespecting the history of the character with the audience. I’m not as pissed as some but I can certainly see the missed opportunity here. The rest of the film plays better. We go to snowy Alps, Mediterranean ports and cliff top monasteries. Cassandra Harris as Countess Lisl is playful and beautiful in her scenes as a love interest. Later she is run down by henchman Loque played by Michael Gothard. Bond shoots at his car but misses failing to save her from death. In a later scene when he faces Loque down on foot while the bad guy drives a vehicle at him he doesn’t miss and there is a great satisfaction in that. I love that they made Bond miss in the earlier scene! The scene concludes with Bond kicking Loque’s precariously perched car off a cliff. Moore ever the gentleman did not want to do that scene noting that it was a Bond thing to do but not his Bond. When you think about the Countess though it makes you glad Moore eventually agreed. In our harder harsher times this is the moment that modern audiences embrace Moore for. He’s been vindictively cruel, impressively unbowed before Mr. Big and Scaramanga, tensely focused in Moonraker’s closer but here in this scene he’s just plain old bad ass. Moore really could act you know? With more than those impressively talented eyebrows. Carolina Bouquet as the main love interest was 24 while Roger Moore was 54 creating the largest age difference between Moore and any of his Bond girls. Thankfully Moore looks good and tanned and plays it more paternal than lecherous. It doesn’t hurt that Bouquet is a strong character played by an actress who already had a great deal of presence and maturity. Right before the keelhauling scene Bond says “We’re not dead yet.” to comfort Melina, a throw away moment that I love. Moore is at the height of his powers here playing Bond older and calm-confident and relaxed in the role he now owned. Julian Glover with that great dinner scene as an ally, turns villain and becomes far less enthralling but he’s good just not great. You know who’s great? Fuckin Fiddler on the Roof himself Topol as Milos Columbo with his pistachio nuts and gregarious nature. There’s a lot to love here including the great mountain fall stunt by Rick Sylvester but once you’ve seen it there’s not enough to propel you through the slow bits again for a while.