Time Out Melbourne

It's the Top 20, and we're getting all doom-laden and existential: Tom Hanks resents having to shoot people in Road to Perdition, Raymond Briggs is giving us all radiation poisoning in When the Wind Blows, Eric Bana's embracing his dark side in Hulk and there's one mightily pissed off octopus in Oldboy. Thank God Heath Ledger and Brian Blessed still know how to have a good time...

20. Road to Perdition (2002)

Oscar-nabbing luvvie theatre director goes graphic novel? The Nicest Man In Hollywood as an implacable Mob hitman? Jude Law miscast again? It might not have worked on paper (excuse the 'pun'), but the classiest of all comic-book adaptations went like gangbusters up on the silver screen. Wonderful photography, a richly detailed yet mercifully restrained Depression-era setting, a sterling cast (apart from Law, and even he, to be fair, gives it a fair shake) and a mean streak a mile wide meant that Max Allen Collins and Richard Piers Rayner's original, hardbitten vision (itself a homage to the manga mainstay Lone Wolf and Cub, which was already the basis for several films, including Shogun Assassin) was in no way leavened or softened for the mainstream and immediately set about clearing a place for itself at the very top table of all-time gangster films. ALD

19. Watchmen (2009)

Given that this adaptation of Alan Moore's subversive superhero epic had perhaps the most painful gestation in modern movie history, going through countless drafts and a fistful of directors, among them Terry Gilliam and Paul Greengrass, and also given that the lucky helmer ultimately hired had, at this point, released one shaky horror remake and one near-unwatchable puce-coloured gay-porn sword-and sandal effort, no one in their right mind would have bet on Watchmen being any good. But Zack Snyder had one guiding instinct when it came to Watchmen, and it saves the film. In sticking as close to the source as he could (barring a slightly improved ending), Snyder all but took himself out of the equation, creating a film which takes not just its narrative and dialogue but its visual style, its colour palette, its soundtrack, even its editing from Moore's masterpiece. Snyder doesn't come close to capturing the emotional intensity and raw political fury of the novel, but his film nonetheless remains awe-inspiringly grand, entrancingly bleak and utterly enthralling. TH

18. When the Wind Blows (1986)

Ah, the '80s. Deely boppers, legwarmers, Kajagoogoo, the kids from Fame and the impending, inevitable nuclear holocaust. Halcyon days. Cartoonist Raymond Briggs was a cosy cultural icon by this point: his Father Christmas and The Snowman had brought a certain salty English charm to the festive season, while Fungus the Bogeyman was a book both dads and five-year-old boys could totally get behind. Then he went all political. When the Wind Blows capitalised on Briggs's post-Snowman popularity to present a realistic portrait of nuclear war, a mile away from the duck-and-cover bullshit. His book took the archetypal all-English couple – ageing, fusty, conservative, affectionate and slightly confused – and subjected them to all the disease, despair and degradation that surviving the holocaust would inevitably entail. The film version – directed by the man who brought us Battle Beyond the Stars, for some reason – was scripted by Briggs himself, and is a faithful, beautiful and completely devastating adaptation. TH

17. Blade II (2002)

The hero is half man, half vampire, the Daywalker, samurai-sword-wielding bane of all Satan's minions. The director is one of the most revered fantasists in modern cinema. The sidekick is a country-singing legend with a voice that could strip a sideboard. The villain is... one half of Bros? Yes, the one thing everyone remembers about Blade 2, apart from the fact that it's about 100 times better than it had any right to be, is that Luke Goss made his big comeback in the role of Nomak, the mutant king of the sub-vampire Reaper sect, whose creepy three-way jowls and unbreakable anti-stake breastplate made them Blade's trickiest adversaries to date. So shocked were we, in fact, that we almost overlooked the fact that the Cat from Red Dwarf, Danny John-Jules, was in it, too, getting all acrobatic and appropriately toothy. Goss would return as some kind of sad fairy prince in Del Toro's next sequel, Hellboy 2. Wesley Snipes and Kris Kristofferson would be back for deeply underwhelming third and final outing Blade: Trinity. The Cat would be back on Dave. TH

16. Persepolis (2007)

At a time when computer-aided graphics are reaching unimagined levels of reality, Persepolis could strike one as crude or heavy-handed. Instead it proves itself to be the perfect adaptation of Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel autobiography. These images are unique in their ability to convey the hilarious highs and soul-crushing lows of Satrapi's early life in Tehran and Vienna, while also giving a memorable and shocking account of the Iranian revolution. Coming-of-age tales are commonplace in modern cinema, but Persepolis tells its simple story with a grace and visual intricacy that would be unthinkable in live action. Entertaining, tear-jerking and never preachy. BR

15. The Dark Knight

OK, cool your jets, people! Yes, despite all the box-office lucre, gale-force fanboy dementia and undeniable cinematic quality, The Dark Knight didn’t quite make it into our top ten. Perhaps it’s that while it’s a very easy film to like and hugely impressive in every way, it’s ultimately a somewhat difficult movie to love. There’s absolutely no faulting the breadth of its imagination, the commitment of its makers or the undeniable grandeur that haunts every frame, but there eventually comes a point where it all gets a little too insistent, a shade too oppressive for its own good. That’s not to say it’s not thumping good entertainment. From the initial bank heist to the Caped Crusader’s headlong burn into third-act redemption, The Dark Knight brings home the bacon and fries it in the pan. Building on the excellent Batman Begins, Nolan constructs a wonderfully layered film that works as everything from a thunderous action movie to a mystery worthy of the World’s Greatest Detective to a treatise on the War on Terror. And while it might be nice to read just one review of the film that doesn’t gush over Heath Ledger’s showing as the Joker, it would be remiss not to mention the startling performance that gives proceedings more edge and bite than a hundred Ra’s al Ghuls. ALD

14. X-Men 2 (2003)

Yet another example of the age-old superhero-sequel-beats-original axiom, X2 shrugged off the heavy-handed civil-rights symbolism (and terrible Joss Whedon punnery) of its predecessor, kept the superb top-line cast, added a few new mutants to please the fanboys (Alan Cumming's Nightcrawler is particularly welcome) and opted for a breezier, more direct and considerably more action-packed romp. Which isn't to say there's no subtext here, it's just more intelligently handled, dropping in a little Bush-era Patriot Act antics here, a touch of sympathetic coming-out trauma here ("Have you tried not being a mutant?"), but never letting any of this overwhelm what is, at heart, just a cracking good adventure. A disappointment, then, that Singer opted to step back and let Brett Rush Hour Ratner take the reins on the enjoyable but underwhelming third instalment, and an even bigger disappointment that Wolverine got made at all... TH

13. Flash Gordon (1980)

If you’ve never had the pleasure of seeing Mike Hodges’s glorious kitsch folly – recently lionised in Seth MacFarlane's Ted – try to imagine a Star Wars movie filmed through a wall of Vaseline the breadth of the Hoover Dam, directed by Kenneth Anger and on sets built by Ken Adam on a bad 'shrooms super trip. This, sir, is 100% pure concentrated camp, and all the better for it. Based on American cartoonist Alexander Raymond’s comic strip started in 1933 as a rival to the intergalactic imperialist likes of Buck Rogers, this version of Flash Gordon saw actor Sam J Jones (unfairly) nominated for a Golden Raspberry for his take on the eponymous Aryan fancy boy who blasts off in to space to save Earth from the death ray of Max von Sydow’s Ming the Merciless. Shout outs go to ’70s TV fave Peter Duncan who gamely gets stung by a Treebeast before being roughly speared by Timothy Dalton; Manimal regular Melody Anderson as Flash’s yapping, scantily-clad gal; Topol, who brings some much-needed chutzpah to the proceedings as exposition-spouting scientist Hans Zarkov; and who could forget Brian Blessed as all-flying, all-bellowing, all-barking Wagnerian cliché, Prince Vultan. And then there’s that theme song…DJ

12. Hulk (2003)

There's a scene in Ang Lee's strange, metaphysical, Oedipal reading of the Hulk myth that perfectly sums the whole loopy enterprise. About halfway through a typically outrageous action scene in which the green machine has just shitcanned a few tanks and is bounding through the desert in an attempt to outrun a couple of Comanche attack helicopters, he stops, has a little sit down and catches his breath while staring long and hard at a small green patch of moss. Yes, folks, moss – the stuff in your garden that blocks the drains. Fully refreshed, he gets back up and continues his way to San Francisco to fight his own father who transforms himself into, first, a radioactive thundercloud and eventually a frozen lake. And yet, for all the lunacy that comes both before and after it, the strangest part of the film remains that little bit of business with the moss. The 2008 Edward Norton version contained no moss whatsoever as far as we recall, and that was bobbins, so... ALD

11. Oldboy (2003)

Few know that the Cannes Grand Prix-winning central instalment in Park's Vengeance trilogy was in fact inspired by a manga by Garon Tsuchiya, though by all accounts the adaptation was very loose. Both works involve a man locked away for 15 years for no reason he can understand, before being unleashed to wreak havoc on his captors. The film version has become famous for two things: an extraordinary single-shot side-view battle scene in which our hero batters a corridor full of thugs with a hammer and his fists, and the scene where he bites a chunk out of a live octopus. Yes, animals were harmed in the making of this movie, though apparently that's not such a big deal in Korea, where according to Wikipedia they eat live octopi all the time. Either way, the film was a smash, an international directing star was born, and rumours of a Hollywood remake (though probably not the one directed by Spielberg and starring Will Smith) continue to circulate. TH

1-10 | 11-20 | 21-30 | 31-40 | 41-50

First published on . Updated on .

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