1000 Movies to Own #4: Only Lovers Left Alive

In a modern era of film making drowning in vampire stories, there are a very few standouts. Pieces of creative fiction that not only play to the genre’s longstanding tropes and symbolism, but that enhance those ideas and tell their own story with imagination. Only Lovers Left Alive is one of those films.

It’s not a movie for horror buffs or even one that’s particularly accessible, as it frames itself more as ‘slice of life’ than any meaningful narrative. However, once you accept that that Adam and Eve – played by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton respectively – are going to be drifting through the movie as it weaves in and out of their night life, rather than trying to invest you in any single overwhelming core conflict (there are several minor ones), the whole experience becomes a beautifully relaxing neo-gothic romance.

Directed by Jim Jarmusch – of Dead Man and Down by Law fame, among others – (and adapted by Marion Bessay) the 2013 film, while carried easily by Swinton and Hiddleston, also features John Hurt & Anton Yelchin in strong supporting roles. Mia Wasikowska rounds out a cast that seems to really enjoy inhabiting the world Jarmusch has created for them. And that’s what this movie is for. It’s a film made for tone and trappings. Watching a bunch of good actors build a picture of the modern, urban vampire.

Further Watching:
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
Thirst (2009)
Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
Let the Right One In (2008)


1000 Movies to Own #3: The Hit

It’s tough to even know where to begin with 1984’s the Hit. One part classic British gangster film, one part road trip, with a splash of philosophical probing thrown across it. All of which swirl together to create a film that stands far apart in an overcrowded field of crime dramas. The narrative focuses on small-time gangster Willie Parker, played by Terence Stamp, living under witness protection in Spain, after providing key testimony against his mob bosses back in England. 10 years after sending his brothers-in-crime up the river, he finds himself facing a pair of hit men sent to even the score.

But Parker isn’t particularly disturbed by the idea of meeting his maker, especially since he assumes he’ll get one last chance to face the men he ratted on (now holed up in France). And what ensues is a strangely serene road trip through the Spanish countryside, punctuated by violence, and dogged by the footsteps of the Spanish police force.

The second theater-released feature film of noted British director Stephen Frears – most famous for the Queen, High Fidelity, and Dangerous Liaisons – the Hit is a near-perfect marriage of style and substance. Written by novelist Peter Prince, it not only features Stamp, but the great – and sadly recently deceased – John Hurt, just ahead of his role in 1984. Tim Roth makes his feature debut, heading toward what became a highly successful Hollywood career. Add in veteran Spanish actor Fernando Rey and the beautiful Laura del Sol in supporting roles and it’s an outstandingly strong small cast.

More than anything, the Hit is about one man attempting to come to grips with his death, and the very specific world view and philosophy he builds in order to do so. It’s not always the most sensible crime thriller, opportunities for escape come and go, the hit men’s mission moves from crystal clear to cloudy. But the performances, the setting, and the style are something that shouldn’t be missed.

Further Watching:
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)
One False Move (1992)
Mona Lisa (1986)
Road Games (1981)
The Grifters (1990)

1000 Movies to Own #2: Elevator to the Gallows

I’m not always the biggest fan of French New Wave cinema, especially when it gets into its more avant garde machinations. But, films like 1958’s Elevator to the Gallows are a standing reminder that for every bit of artsy, formless film-making, there are really meaty flicks to sink your teeth into. The plot centers around Maurice Ronet – just a couple years before his role in Purple Noon – as Julien Tavernier, a former special forces soldier, turned oil company man who hatches a plot to kill his boss and run off with the boss’ wife. Simples.

Everything goes to plan until, through an unfortunate set of circumstances, Tavernier becomes trapped in his office building’s elevator, between floors, overnight. At the same time, his newly widowed mistress is out searching for him, and a pair of restless teenagers decide to steal his car for their own evening of fun. As the police investigate and the noose tightens, questions mount: Will Tavernier be caught and charged? For which crime? Or can he escape altogether?

The film – based on the Noël Calef novel of the same name – marks the feature debut of famed French filmmaker Louis Malle, who would go on to make notable American pictures like My Dinner with Andre and Atlantic City, as well as critically beloved films like Lacombe, Lucien and Au Revoir Les Enfants. The movie also helped cement the stardom of its leading actress, Jeanne Moreau, who would become a staple of New Wave cinema as well as a long standing French cinematic icon.

Between Moreau and Ronet – and helped greatly by Lino Ventura in a supporting role – the film features a fantastic cast that adds great depth to twisty crime thriller. The camerawork and sets vary between relatively uninteresting and fantastically moody, but are bolstered across the board by a wonderful jazz score from Miles Davis. The combination of all of this is a fantastic film filled with twists and turns about a relatively simple murder gone entirely haywire.

Purple Noon (1960)
Bob the Gambler (1956)
Shoot the Piano Player (1960)
Le Samourai (1967)
Rififi (1955)

1000 Movies to Own #1: The Lineup

The Lineup debuted in 1958 and stars Eli Wallach (Dancer) alongside Robert Keith (Julian) as a hitman duo sent to San Francisco to retrieve packages of heroin stuffed inside ornamental dolls – brought into the country by unsuspecting tourists returning from vacation in China. Dancer and Julian dispatch their unknowing drug mules, but things go awry when a little girl finds one of the packages in her doll and accidentally destroys it before they can find her. The missing dope throws everyone’s plans off, putting their shipment short and putting them on the outs with their unsympathetic mafia bosses.

The movie is directed by Don Siegel of Dirty Harry fame – as well as 1964s the Killers and a number of other notable Clint Eastwood vehicles. The screenplay was written by Sterling Silliphant, who got his most notable screen credit for his treatment of In the Heat of the Night along with a wide variety of other film and television writing work.

Apparently the Lineup was intended as a spin-off from a 1950s police procedural TV show of the same name, but Siegel’s interest in focusing on the hitmen as the principal characters and the casting of Eli Wallach really make what could be seen as a routine cat & mouse thriller something much more engaging. The film marked Wallach’s second cinematic role of his long career, after working principally in television.

It’s not notable for any awards it won or great place it holds in cinematic history, but at just an hour and twenty six minutes, it’s a tight little crime movie that neither wastes time nor momentum as tension mounts on all sides of its central characters.

Blast of Silence (1961)
The Killers (1964)
Murder by Contract (1958)
Charley Varrick (1973)
Nightfall (1956)