In time for October viewing, Boston.com has compiled a list of the top 50 scariest movies of all time. The whole list of 50 is presented here so you don’t have to click through 50 pages — Yep, that’s right one movie per page. The plot outlines are from IMDb, the comments are ours.
Chris Healy over at Cookie Magazine lists their top 25 favorite family films. Here’s the list (the comments are ours):
“By dulling the blade of tyranny, I reconciled Rome to the monarchy.”
Runtime: 10 hours, 50 min (13-part miniseries)
Genre: Drama, History
MPAA Rating: N/A
Starring: Derek Jacobi, Siân Phillips, Brian Blessed, George Baker, John Hurt, Margaret Tyzack, Ian Ogilvy, Frances White, John Paul
Amazon Link: I, Claudius
SYNOPSIS: Do you think history is boring? I, Claudius is proof that history can be popular and entertaining as any soap opera. The 1977 mini-series, starring many well-known theatrical performers of the day, I, Claudius is one of, if not the, greatest productions proving that the lofty and the sordid were not mutually exclusive. The miniseries offers a politically astute version of history that reveals what happened when the togas came off.
This popular 13-episode BBC mini-series makes for irresistible viewing whether you have any interest in the early history of the Roman Empire or not. Covering the period from the later years of Augustus’s rule (27BC – 14AD) as the first emperor of Rome to the death of Emperor Claudius (October 13, 54AD), I, Claudius peers at the social and political underpinnings and developments of the Roman Empire through the eyes of Claudius, an often-overlooked member of the emperor’s family.
Historically, his family, the Julio-Claudians, kept Claudius out of public life until his sudden elevation to emperor at the age of 49. A young male connected to the family line of Emperor Augustus, Claudius suffers from a stammer, a limp, and various nervous tics, which made him appear mentally deficient (currently believed to be Cerebral Palsy or Tourette Syndrome). However, Claudius maintained a keen intellect, and observed the events around him with meticulous precision.
Based on two novels (I, Claudius and Claudius the God) by historian Robert Graves, I, Claudius delves into conspiracies, ruthless murders and cover-ups, betrayal, seduction and madness; where scheming men wore togas and struggled for power while the women got married and stayed in the background – sometimes in the best position of all when it came to moving their chess pieces around.
Claudius, (Derek Jacobi) who twitches his head and stammers over every other word, watches his friends and relations die off, one by one, poisoned by the ruthless and destructive Livia (Sian Phillips) as she grooms her son Tiberius (George Baker) to become the second emperor of Rome.
First, however, Livia must deal with the mercurial first emperor, Augustus (Brian Blessed), loved by all. This vital, vibrant figure is desperate to find an heir whom he can bestow the Imperial legacy: He is not particularly fond of Tiberius. It becomes almost comic as Augustus chooses new favorites, and one by one, Livia poisons or frames them for crimes they did not commit.
Young Claudius learns quickly to play the fool. He does a fine job avoiding Livia’s deadly notice, since the series cuts back and forth between Claudius the younger and his last days as an old, wizened, wise emperor in 54 A.D., poring over his biography and fretting over the fate of his maniacal son, Nero (Christopher Biggins).
There aren’t many things wrong with this series. In spite of its length, it rarely drags, and the story is so complex that it would not have been possible to do it in a shorter space of time. The main advantage in adapting the novels is that they contain very little actual dialogue, so the writer, Jack Pulman, was able to make the characters talk in a style that is comfortable for modern viewer. One could complain that it should have been shot on film rather than videotape, but at least the performances are uniformly excellent regardless of the format. The murders, double-crossings, and various affairs seem to be drawn from a fictional paperback found on drugstore shelves – not in the pages of a history book. Nevertheless, I Claudius stays true to the written accounts of Roman Emperor Claudius.
With superb theatrical performances by the entire cast, I, Claudius is an engrossing storyline about the true-to-life people and events that shaped the history of ancient Rome. Like popular prime-time soap operas, viewers are captivated by the intrigue surrounding the various characters without even realizing they’re learning history in the process. Given its historical accuracy, brilliant dialogue, and ingenious performances, I, Claudius is compulsive entertainment that moves at a breakneck pace.
“Poetry doesn’t belong to those who write it; it belongs to those who need it”
Runtime: 1 hour, 48 min
Genre: Drama, Romance
Language: Italian/Spanish, English subtitles
MPAA Rating: PG
Starring: Philippe Noiret, Massimo Troisi, Maria Grazia Cucinotta, Renato Scarpa, Linda Moretti
Amazon Link: Il Postino
SYNOPSIS: Seeking refuge from an arrest warrant on this small Italian island, the exiled Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda (Philippe Noiret) helps a simple man, Mario Ruoppolo (Massimo Troisi), find new purpose and joy through the beauty of poetry. Mario is simple man, resigned to the monotony of life on a quiet Italian island. All that changes with the arrival of Neruda, who suddenly becomes the island’s resident celebrity.
Based on the novel “Burning Patience” by Antonio Skarmeta, the movie details the life of Mario Ruoppolo who yearns for more than a fisherman’s life and dreams of better things.
Life in the simple fishing community takes on new meaning for Mario when he accepts a job as a postman for a single address, that of the famous Pablo Neruda. Everyone else on the island, we are told, is illiterate. Mario must bicycle to see Neruda at a remote hilltop outpost the writer shares with his wife, whom he treats grandly and addresses as “Amor.”
At first, Mario’s expeditions to see Neruda are cautious and polite, with Mario engaged in amusing rehearsals for each brush with greatness. Then the postman begins to grow bold. He’d like a better autograph than the “Regards, Pablo Neruda” that his first request elicits.
Touched by the younger man’s guilelessness, the poet is moved to show Mario that life on the island doesn’t need the services of a visiting poet: It already has a poetry of its own.
There’s a romantic subplot about Mario’s insistence that poetry have some practical application beyond the expression of one’s soul: For Mario intends to use poetry to win himself the beautiful Beatrice (Maria Grazia Cucinotta), who’s not much of a reader but likes being compared to a butterfly. In the process of winning her over, Mario uses a few of the Neruda’s lines to great success.
Eventually, Mario marries Beatrice and all seems to have ended happily. Unfortunately, the movie then proceeds through a series of tragic events culminating in Mario aligning himself with the Italian communists and participating in a fatal protest rally.
“The Postman” would be sickeningly sentimental if it hammered home its message too insistently. But in fact, the story is expressed with gentle grace, and it is tempered by the nuances of simple friendship between two people who both revere its own grace.
Note: There is a hint of Cyrano de Bergerac to this story, in that Mario relies on his friend’s words to seduce his love until he gains confidence in his own voice.
1995 Academy Awards Nominations
Best Picture of the Year
Best leading role actor – Massimo Troisi
Best Director – Michael Radford
Best Original Score – Luis Bacalov
Best screenplay based on previously published media – Anna Pavignano, Michael Radford, Furio Scarpelli, Giacomo Scarpelli, Massimo Troisi
Goozlepipe Rating:Really Liked It
“Society doesn’t want free men. They talk ‘freedom,’ ‘democracy,’ anything you want, but they don’t want free men. Society wants conditioned men, men who march in step.“
Runtime: 2 hours, 30 min
Genre: Drama, Adventure, Biography
MPAA Rating: PG
Starring: Steve McQueen, Dustin Hoffman, Victor Jory, Don Gordon, Anthony Zerbe
Amazon Link: Papillon
SYNOPSIS: Papillon is the story of petty criminal Henri “Papillon” Charriere (Steve McQueen), who has been framed and convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Along with an assorted bunch of criminals, including famed counterfeiter Louis Dega (Dustin Hoffman), he is transported to the French penal colony of French Guiana. Dega, an outcast among criminals, strikes a deal with Papillon to protect him in exchange for funding his escape attempts. Life is harsh in the colony, and escape is discouraged: first escape attempt is punished by two years in solitary confinement, a second offence being punished by five years of solitary. Regardless, Papillon never loses the desire to escape, resulting in plenty of time in solitary. Both Dega and Papillon are eventually transferred to the hell of all hells – Devil’s Island. There are no bars in this jail as the strong currents and voracious sharks ensure enough of an escape deterrent – or at least so the authorities believe.
Based upon the book by Henri Charrière, this is the story of a man who endured the unendurable, suffered the insufferable, and escaped from the inescapable. Because the film revolves around just two characters, Papillon (which is French for ‘butterfly’ – the character even sports a large tattoo of a butterfly) and Dega, the whole film lives or dies upon the work of the two leads. McQueen and Hoffman are right at home in their roles. Papillon is a man of action, a safecracker, a physical presence, and McQueen delivers his signature brand of sullen machismo, always leaping into the heart of conflict, with a perpetual squint. This is arguably the greatest performance from Steve McQueen: covering the gamut of as a captive, from naive yardbird to nearly insane inmate in solitary. Hoffman, meanwhile, plays Dega as a frail, but cunning intellectual with coke-bottle glasses thrust into a violent world. He shambles around the prison colony trying to keep his nose clean and his glasses intact.
In the penal colony, they come face to face with the worst that man and nature have to offer. Death and despair surround them at every turn, and Papillon’s first escape attempt is foiled, gaining him an extended stay at the island of St. Joseph’s reclusion camp.
Then, as Papillon, Dega, and another prisoner set out on a harrowing escape, it becomes clear that the story has been working its way toward this sequence, the grand finale. The directorial style suddenly shifts into frenetic gear and McQueen and Hoffman rise to the challenge. In what is surely one of the greatest prison escapes ever put on film, Papillon and Dega dodge bullets, traverse jungles, sail across the ocean, and brave encounters with a leper colony, a bounty hunter, an indigenous tribe and the Honduran army.
The only problem is, the movie doesn’t end there. Papillon just keeps right on going… Every time it seems like it is about to end, it doesn’t. It’s like riding in a car with someone who keeps missing turns. Without ruining the conclusion, which does eventually come, Papillon and Dega are separated and then reunited for one last fateful decision.
Whilst the story really is good, the quality of the cinematography and the performances elevate this film into the status of a classic. As an indictment of the French penal system, it serves its purpose well indeed. Whilst this is certainly not going to be to everyone’s taste, this is a fine example of an epic from the early 1970s and as some have argued an early predecessor of the action blockbusters of today.
Papillon should be noted for its achievement as one of the better escape adventures yet captured on film (others would include the equally effective The Great Escape and Escape from Alcatraz).
Academy Award nomination: Best Music, Original Dramatic Score – Jerry Goldsmith
Golden Globe nomination: Best Motion Picture Actor, Drama – Steve McQueen
Goozlepipe Rating:Really Liked It