Top Ten… Westerns

image5

Westerns have been a constant presence in cinemas since the dawn of celluloid. Their enduring appeal is easy to understand, transporting audiences to a lawless time unrecognisable from our own, where the fate of every individual was in their own hands. The vast prairies, mountain ranges, and dense forests of the American Old West are always a sumptuous backdrop for cinematic adventures, even if they are often filmed in a Spanish desert or an Italian studio. Indeed, despite the thoroughly North American setting, westerns have been made across the world and taken innumerable forms. To limit my scope for this list, I’ve adopted a fairly strict definition of “western” – that is, films set during the time of the Old West and featuring gunslingers. That leaves out neo-westerns like the Coens’ No Country For Old Men (2007), space westerns like Star Wars (1977) and Outland (1981), or period dramas with a western setting, like Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood (2007).

The final form of my top ten still may not satisfy purists, and I’ve even surprised myself in places. While Italian spaghetti western pioneer Sergio Leone makes four appearances on the list and Australian auteur Andrew Dominik enters the top five, American masters John Ford and Howard Hawks failed to make the grade at all. As such, I’d like to give honourable mentions to Ford’s The Searchers (1956) and Hawks’ Rio Bravo (1959), both classic westerns which helped to shape the Hollywood golden age of the genre.

As Eli Wallach’s Tuco says in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, “When you have to shoot, shoot, don’t talk.” In the spirit of being quick on the draw, here are my top ten western films:

10) High Noon (1952)

high noon
Dir. Fred  Zimerman

Often interpreted as a leftist parable on the injustices of the Hollywood blacklist, High Noon is a timeless story of singular moral courage in the face of popular cowardice. The archetypal tough guy of classic Hollywood, Gary Cooper, delivers an Oscar-winning performance as Marshal Will Kane, a small-town sheriff shunned by his community and forced to stand alone against a marauding gang of gunslingers. This story is given a deeper resonance by the fact that the film’s screenwriter, Carl Foreman, was subsequently chased from the United States and blacklisted by the House Un-American Affairs Committee for prior membership of the Communist Party. And yet, the redoubtable Marshal Kane has often been quoted as a hero by reactionary and conservative figures, from Ronald Reagan to Tony Soprano. Perhaps therein lies the secret to the High Noon‘s enduring appeal. Whether Communist or Republican, all of us like to imagine ourselves with Kane’s fortitude, standing for what’s right against all the odds and the sneers of lesser men.

9) The Wild Bunch (1969)

wild bunch
Dir. Sam Peckinpah

Hollywood’s answer to the spaghetti westerns of Italian cinema, The Wild Bunch is a blood-drenched odyssey through the dying days of the Wild West. Morally ambiguous and shockingly violent, Sam Peckinpah’s revisionist western was perfectly pitched for the counter-culture generation. It stands alongside Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Easy Rider (1969) as a film which heralded a new era in American film-making, eschewing the moralistic conventions and sanitised bloodshed of classic westerns. It’s influence would be felt far outside the western genre, as Peckinpah’s radical use of slow-motion and montage editing techniques had a pervasive impact on action cinema.

8) Unforgiven (1992)

unforgiven
Dir. Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood’s swansong to the genre which made him a star, Unforgiven is a melancholy story of a faded gunslinger and the violent past which haunts him. David Webb Peoples’ haunting screenplay deconstructs the glamorous ideal of the gunslinger, delving into the physical and mental scars wrought by a life of violence. It depicts a ruthless Old West totally divorced from the glories of John Ford pictures and Lone Ranger comics, where survival has more to do with luck than the speed of your draw and outlaws are executed ingloriously in an outhouse rather than in a blaze of glory. As Eastwood’s William Munny tells a young bandit, “It’s a hell of a thing killing a man. You take away all he’s got, and all he’s ever gonna have.”

7) Duck, You Sucker! (1971)

image1
Dir. Sergio Leone

Also known as A Fistful of Dynamite, this was the final western from maverick Italian director Sergio Leone, and I have already explained at length why it is his most cruelly overlooked masterpiece. The film follows an uncouth bandito Juan (Rod Steiger) and exiled Irish revolutionary John (James Coburn) as they are thrown together during the bloody days of Mexico’s Revolution. Shot with Leone’s trademark verve and accompanied by a zippy score from maestro Ennio Morricone, the film is a cynical and often brutal study of popular revolution and its consequences. More than this, however, it is a reflection on the director’s own career and the violent revolution he had inflicted upon the western genre.

6) Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

butch cassidy
Dir. George Roy Hill

In the same year that Sam Peckinpah was deconstructing the myths of Old West with The Wild Bunch, director George Roy Hill reminded audiences why those myths had proved so persistent. Based loosely on fact, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a classic tale of two lovable outlaws on the run from the law after a botched train job. William Goldman’s sharp screenplay, his debut effort, won a well-deserved Oscar and made the young writer one of the most sought after in Hollywood. Goldman was lucky, however, that his two leading parts fell to actors with such irresistible chemistry. As the eponymous Butch and Sundance, Paul Newman and Robert Redford assumed a place among cinema’s most scintillating double acts. They would be reunited with George Roy Hill for the glorious 1973 crime caper, The Sting.

5) For a Few Dollars More (1965)

dollars
Dir. Sergio Leone

Film critic Roger Ebert once said that a film is only as good as its villain, and For a Few Dollars More is an excellent demonstration of this principle. Gian Maria Volonté’s performance as the psychopathic gang leader El Indio makes for one of the most enthralling antagonists in any western. He is a repulsive yet charismatic presence, and the perfect quarry for Clint Eastwood’s enigmatic bounty hunter, Manco. Eastwood is joined by Lee Van Cleef as Colonel Douglas Mortimer, another bounty hunter with a hidden personal agenda in the pursuit of El Indio. The film is full of brilliantly staged shootouts, bank robberies, and prison breaks, each one outstripping the last until culminating with a fantastically tense duel in the final reel.

4) Shane (1953)

shane
Dir. George Stevens

The mysterious gunfighter with a fast draw and a heart of gold is a well-worn trope of western movies, but no film interrogates this notion like George Stevens’ Shane. The eponymous gunman, played with career-best subtlety by Alan Ladd, is a drifting frontiersman who stumbles into a conflict between besieged homesteads and a greedy cattle baron. For much of the film, events are witnessed from the perspective of Joe, a young boy he befriends, and there are mere hints of Shane’s skill with a pistol and history of violence. It is only during the inevitable, bloody climax that he is forced to draw his six-shooter, but Stevens is careful not to frame the bloodshed as cathartic or exciting. Rather, it is a spoke in a sad cycle of death from which escape seems impossible. Using a child’s-eye-view, the film dismantles the masculine ideal of the cowboy and the violent legend of the Wild West. As Shane tells Joe during the film’s heartbreaking denouement, “There’s no living with a killing.”

3) The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

jesse james
Dir. Andrew Dominik

The only western from this side of the millennium to make the list, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford could have earned a place on the brilliance of its title alone. But this is a stunning film by any metric; a complex rumination on celebrity, hero worship, and the deceptive power of legacy. Brad Pitt and and Casey Affleck have never been better, breathing a deep sense of humanity into the well-worn historical figures of Jesse James and Robert Ford respectively. Roger Deakins’ sumptuous cinematography is some of the best work is his peerless career, while a jangly soundtrack from Australian rock geniuses Nick Cave and Warren Ellis provides a portentous atmosphere. The film’s troubled post-production and failure at the box office led film critic Mark Kermode to call it “one of the most wrongly neglected masterpieces of its era,” and it’s difficult to argue with that assessment.

2) Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

once upon in the west
Dir. Sergio Leone

The fairy-tale reference in the title of Once Upon a Time in the West is an appropriate one. After all, what is the Old West if not the American equivalent of the enchanted kingdom, and the gunfighter its Fairy Godmother? With a story that hinges on the construction of the trans-continental railroad, Once Upon a Time in the West tells the making of the modern United States; the remorseless tide of civilisation which swept a continent, and the brutally violent men who made it possible. It’s grandiose and ambitious storytelling, carried by a peerless ensemble cast and punctuated with achingly tense episodes of violence. As Sergio Leone’s first western without his muse, Clint Eastwood, the film signalled a clear shift in tone from the director’s earlier spaghetti westerns. Slower and more deliberately plotted, the script places a greater emphasis on human drama than stylish gunfights and elaborate action sequences. It also gave Leone the opportunity to work with his favourite actor, the legendary Henry Fonda, who is cast chillingly against type as the villainous mercenary Frank.

1) The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

eastwood
Dir. Sergio Leone

Not just the best western on this list, but probably the greatest film ever made. Having cut his teeth on the low-budget escapades of A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, Sergio Leone was finally given the chance to stretch his legs into genuinely epic territory. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a sprawling story of three gunslingers on the hunt for buried gold during the American Civil War. Clint Eastwood is an effortlessly cool presence in his third and final turn as The Man With No Name, but it is Eli Wallach’s Tuco, the ugly of the film’s title, who shines as one of cinema’s most fascinating anti-heroes. Wallach’s electric performance imbues an otherwise repugnant and amoral figure with a deep sense of tragedy, placing a complex character study at the film’s emotional core. On a technical level, it is impossible to name a more exquisitely made picture. Leone’s customarily gorgeous cinematography pays equally loving attention to the the craggy terrain of the Spanish desert and the sun-charred crevices of Clint Eastwood’s face. The action on screen unfolds at an overwhelming scale, with thousands of extras and colossal sets provided courtesy of the Spanish Army, but Leone never loses his grip on the palpable, sweaty intimacy which pulls his audience into the rugged world of the film. And, of course, there’s Ennio Morricone’s musical score; a sweeping, utterly singular symphony which evokes both the splendid grandeur and fearsome barbarity of the Old West.

Top Ten.. War Films

War films have always been a huge part of why I love cinema. I spent a large portion of my childhood watching old war movies with my Grandad, and that probably explains why I came to be so fascinated by both history and film. Next month sees the release of Christopher Nolan’s new war epic, Dunkirk, and to celebrate I thought it would be appropriate to assemble a list of my top ten favourite war films.  I’ve loosely and arbitrarily defined the genre as “films which are about war”, rather than films which happen to have a bit of war in them or use war as a setting (so Dr Zhivago, Casablanca, and Barry Lyndon, for example, did not qualify). I also can’t claim to have been in any way objective or comprehensive – this is an entirely subjective collection of the war films which I enjoy the most. My honourable mentions go to The Great Escape, Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, and The Thin Red Line, which just failed to make the cut.

10. Das Boot (1981)

dasboot

No film has ever established a sense of claustrophobia as effectively as Das Boot. Taking place almost entirely within the confines of a German U-Boat in the Second World War, the film examines the psychological toll of intense confinement at sea, and strikingly captures the excitement and terror of naval combat. It’s the distant nature of submarine warfare which gives Das Boot its unique character, as glimpses of the enemy are fleeting. Instead, the camera remains trapped within the oppressive metal hull of the U-Boat, forced to exist intimately alongside the crew just as they live and work alongside each other. It’s a heady and immersive atmosphere which benefits from authentic set design and ingenious use of sound, bringing the audience constantly closer to the actors on screen; tension becomes suffocating while brief moments of relief are jubilant. Director Wolfgang Petersen has gone on to helm a number of American action films, including Air Force One and Troy, but none have come close to this maritime triumph.

9. Zulu (1964)

zulu

Zulu is the quintessential film about a siege, a classic tale of outnumbered heroes desperately defending themselves against overwhelming odds. The film avoids the jingoistic trappings which could so easily have defined it, and the bloody consequences of battle are never shied away from. The result is a three dimensional and often melancholic tale of heroism, punctuated by rousing battle scenes and superlative performances. Michael Caine is a revelation in his first major role as Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead, an upper-class officer whose preconceptions about his enemy and the very nature of war are rapidly challenged. Meanwhile the South African locations are vividly captured in bold technicolour photography as John Barry’s iconic soundtrack swells underneath. Zulu adopts an unrelenting pace almost immediately, and the first act is a masterclass in building tension. The taut structure unsurprisingly served as the inspiration for, among others, the Battle of Ramelle in Saving Private Ryan and the Battle for Helm’s Deep in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. An undisputed classic of British cinema, Zulu remains a touchstone within the war genre.

8. Land and Freedom (1995)

landandfreedom

Land and Freedom is an atypical film from Ken Loach, a name usually associated with kitchen-sink dramas about tragedy in the North of England. This story focuses on the tumult and tragedy of the Spanish Civil War, told through the experiences of a Liverpudlian, David Carr, after he volunteers to fight in late 1936. Although historical accuracy is occasionally sacrificed for the sake of drama or the director’s political leanings, it’s one of the few English-language films to address the Civil War in Spain, and isn’t afraid to confront its political complexities. Indeed, the film’s central characters spend more time debating land collectivisation than they do fighting fascists, but Loach never loses sight of the humanity at the heart of his story. Thus, with Land and Freedom, a human perspective is given to a conflict which is often confusing and opaque, and the result is an emotionally affecting and heart-wrenching experience.

7. A Bridge Too Far (1977)

bridgetoofar

The last of the truly epic war films, it would be impossible to make a movie like this today. Chronicling the last major allied defeat of the Second World War, Operation Market Garden, A Bridge Too Far plays out with a mind boggling scope. The screen is decorated with unquantifiable numbers of aircraft, troops, and ground vehicles, while the credits are the stuff of fantasy; Sean Connery, Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins, Robert Redford, Gene Hackman, Ryan O’Neal, Liv Ullman, Hardy Kruger, Elliot Gould – the list goes on and on. The film undeniably creaks under its own weight at times, and Robert Redford’s late-70s hairdo is one of many anachronisms, but the immense scale of A Bridge Too Far remains an impressive achievement. Above all, it demonstrates the potential of film to transport audiences to another time and place, communicating history as a living, palpable reality.

6. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

privateryan

It is difficult to overstate the influence of Saving Private Ryan on the war genre, or even cinema as a whole. Steven Spielberg’s visceral style captured the brutal sights and sounds of battle with a greater verisimilitude than had ever been seen before, and in doing so reinvented the popular understanding of the Second World War. Bookended by two combat sequences which remain as shocking today as they were almost twenty years ago, Saving Private Ryan exposed war for the hell that it is; an unrelenting and confusing frenzy of gore, death, and destruction. However, to define the film by its moments of violence is to do it a disservice. At its core, Saving Private Ryan is the story of men at war, and how they are able to come to terms with, if not justify, their actions whilst remaining in touch with their own humanity. The film’s most effecting moments are not firefights, but conversations, a fact which been largely missed by its many imitators. An overdose of Spielbergian sentimentality undeniably creeps in at times, but the movie remains a mature reflection on the corrupting and dehumanising influence of war. The pervasive influence of Saving Private Ryan may be observed as recently as last year’s Hacksaw Ridge, but Spielberg’s anti-war epic remains unmatched.

5. Where Eagles Dare (1968)

eagles

Not every war film can be a profound, anti-war lecture on man’s inhumanity to man. Sometimes, watching people pretend to kill each other can actually be a lot of fun, and this is never truer than in Brian G Hutton’s Second World War thriller, Where Eagles Dare. In 1944, an allied commando team is parachuted into the Austrian Alps in order to rescue a captured American general, but it quickly becomes clear that all is not as it seems. Twists and double-crosses ensue as a complex and rewarding plot unfolds, which goes far beyond the usual expectations of escapist entertainment. More importantly, Where Eagles Dare combines an infinitely hummable soundtrack with an array of superbly executed action set pieces, whilst Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood offer effortlessly charismatic lead performances.  The ultimate “blokes-on-a-mission” movie, this is the best example of a genre which includes classics like The Guns of Navarone, The Dirty Dozen, and Inglourious Basterds – a perfect accompaniment to a lazy bank holiday or Sunday afternoon.

4. Apocalypse Now (1979)

screenshot-lrg-34

Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now often feels more like an ordeal than a movie. Adapted from Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novel Heart of Darkness, this film is the definitive cinematic treatise on the Vietnam war; a bloody, surreal, and darkly comic odyssey down the Nung River. At every turn, Coppola fills the frame with iconic images, from the opening shot of a jungle doused in napalm to a swarm of helicopter gunships descending on a beachside village. The eclectic soundtrack relies as much on The Doors as it does Richard Wagner, providing a perfectly intoxicating backdrop for the increasingly hellish events on screen. By the time of the climactic montage of death, it’s difficult to argue with Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz as he whispers his final words; “The horror. The horror.” Perhaps more impressive than the film itself is the story of how it was made, an astounding tale which is excellently chronicled in the 1991 documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse.

3. Paths of Glory (1957)

pathsofglory

Stanley Kubrick’s First World War drama spends most of its time in a picturesque chateau far behind the front lines, but still provides a powerful commentary on the inhumanity and callousness which guided the so-called Great War. The first act of Paths of Glory contains one of the most visceral sequences of trench warfare put to film, showcasing Kubrick’s rarely observed talent as a director of action. Kirk Douglas has never been better than in this dominating performance as Colonel Dax, a French officer who defends his three of his men against trumped-up charges of cowardice. The emptiness of death hangs over the film like an unbearable stench, serving as a constant reminder of the utter hopelessness and terror of war. Despite its cynicism, however, the film’s final moments are a plea to the essential goodness of the human spirit – a much needed tribute to humanity within an atmosphere of oppressive inhumanity.

2. Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

riverkwai

Set in a Japanese forced labour camp in Burma during the Second World War, Bridge on the River Kwai serves as a powerful testament to the madness and futility of war. What the film lacks in historical accuracy it more than compensates for in drama, as the perilous construction of the eponymous bridge is contrasted against the allied commando unit who are despatched to destroy it. Alec Guinness stars in an Oscar-winning turn as Colonel Nicholson, a British commanding officer who’s pride and upper-class fortitude lead him to unwittingly collaborate with his Japanese captors. It’s a brave and complex story for a film made so shortly after the war’s end, and was not without controversy upon its release. Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson’s script deals in weighty and existentialist themes, but they’re packaged within an exciting World War Two adventure and complemented by David Lean’s characteristically stunning cinematography.

1. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Lawrence

David Lean’s finest cinematic achievement and probably the most beautiful film ever made, it feels like a disservice to call Lawrence of Arabia a “war movie”. Of course, this First World War drama deals heavily and effectively in epic battle sequences and sweeping desert panoramas, but these serve as an accompaniment to the nuanced character study which forms the centre of the film. Peter O’Toole’s performance as the enigmatic and controversial TE Lawrence is rightfully iconic, masterfully moving between charisma, melancholy, and madness, while the camera lingers lovingly over his absurdly striking features. Over the nearly four-hour runtime, Lawrence remains a frustrating and impenetrable figure, a perfect cipher for the confusion of war and what it does to the human soul. In its final act, Lawrence of Arabia moves beyond the personal to cast a cynical eye over the political machinations which control and manipulate conflict for their own benefit. It’s a multi-layered experience which reveals more upon every viewing, and should be seen on the largest screen possible.

Top Ten… Movie Endings

We are living in an age of lists, so I thought it was only appropriate that I threw my hat into the ring. Below you’ll find my top ten film endings of all time. I don’t intend for it to be exhaustive; I’m only human and I haven’t seen everything, but I hope you’ll enjoy this selection of the movie finales that I have found most impressive, or the ones that have left the greatest impact upon me. Selecting just ten was more difficult than I imagined, and there are an awful lot of brilliant conclusions that I had to leave out. A few honourable mentions include; Citizen Kane (1941), The Godfather (1972), The Shining (1980), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1969), The Wicker Man (1973), The Searchers (1957), The Italian Job (1969), and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969).

Beware, spoilers below!

  1. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

raiders-lost-ark-movie-screencaps.com-13268

You might think I’m talking about the opening of the Ark scene, when a bunch of Nazis have their faces melted off by the might of God. But no, I’m talking about the last thirty seconds of the film, and that shot. Having been recovered by Indiana Jones, the Ark of the Covenant is sealed away and buried within a vast government facility, never to be seen or opened again. The effect is accomplished through an ingenious matte painting, and it manages to brilliantly conjure a sense of both intrigue and humour. Its mystery may have been diminished somewhat by the misjudged opening of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but it remains a powerful and thought provoking end to an excellent film.

  1. Roman Holiday (1953)

Roman-Holiday-roman-holiday-4327319-720-480

Roman Holiday is arguably the definitive bitter-sweet ending. As much as we may wish that Princess Ann and Joe Bradley could give two fingers to the world, run from the palace, and be together forever, their separation was always inevitable. As she goes back to being a princess, and he a reporter, they are left with nothing but a few candid photos and cherished memories. In a film full of celebrated images and scenes, none is so lasting as the sight of Gregory Peck strolling towards the camera, an ironic smirk on his face, as he leaves the princess behind forever.

  1. Casablanca (1942)

casablanca-1280ajpg-294a1a_1280w

Drama, romance, suspense – the ending of Casablanca has it all. It’s a scene that has become almost laughably iconic, a symbol for tragic love itself. The brilliance of this ending is that it’s exactly the opposite of what the audience wants to happen; it’s a harsh, realist picture of love in a time of adversity, an ending that says, sometimes, love can’t conquer all. Painful to watch, it exists as a testament to the unmatched chemistry between Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart. Director Michael Curtiz shot this iconic ending without a finished script and unsure of how he even wanted it to end. Watching Rick and Louis walk into the mist, I think you’ll agree that he made the right choice.

  1. Raging Bull (1980)

raging-bull

An aged and overweight Jake LaMotta stares at himself in the mirror, quoting On the Waterfront as he prepares for his next stage show. He psyches himself up, straightens his bow tie, and steps out of the dressing room. Once the screen has cut to black, Raging Bull closes with a quote from a biblical passage, specifically John IX, 24-26, followed by a tribute to Martin Scorsese’s mentor, Haig R Manoogian. An extract reads “ ‘Whether or not he is a sinner, I do not know.’ / the man replied. / ‘All I know is this: / once I was blind and now I can see.’ ” It’s an ending that has stuck with me profoundly, ever since my first viewing. Having just seen the sum of this man’s life, we are forced to ask if it is really our place to judge. Indeed, seeing LaMotta backstage is a reminder that he is, above all, a man, as complex as he is formidable. And that’s entertainment.

  1. Bicycle Thieves (1948)

hh1nbgW

Bicycle Thieves is a relatively low-key film; the tale of a man, Antonio Ricci, and his young son desperately searching for his stolen bicycle in post-war Rome, in which bursts of emotion are rare and potent. In the film’s final moments, Antonio’s exasperation boils over as he attempts to steal an unattended bike, only to be caught and condemned as a thief himself. When his son’s pleading causes the mob to let Antonio go, the pair disappear into the crowd, holding hands and unsure of their future. It’s a forlorn picture of life in Italy’s war-torn capital, giving a captivating and very sympathetic face to what was mass human suffering.

  1. Planet of the Apes (1968)

planet-of-the-apes-ending

It is difficult to consider the original Planet of the Apes now without thinking about the ending. It’s shock factor has largely worn off, as the final shot has become probably the most iconic image from the film – parodied in The Simpsons and showcased on the cover of the DVD. Nevertheless, the final, shocking discovery of the film – that the planet in question is, in fact, a post-apocalyptic Earth – is an excellent and unexpected twist. Playing on contemporary fears of nuclear annihilation, the closing image of a destroyed Statue of Liberty and Charlton Heston’s infamous cry of “Damn you! God damn you all to hell!” still resonates powerfully today.

  1. The Godfather Part II (1974)

big_1417476146_image

It was difficult choosing between the endings of the first two Godfather films, but the second entry just tops the first upon repeat viewings. With all of Michael Corleone’s enemies lying dead, including his brother, Fredo, the film flashes back several years to the morning of 9 December 1941, the day of the attack upon Pearl Harbour, and Don Vito Corleone’s birthday. The younger Michael’s patriotic dedication, and resentment of his family, draws a powerful contrast against his later, tragic descent into a murderous and patriarchal figure. However, the flashback also highlights Michael’s continued isolation; in 1941, his idealism had left him shunned, sitting alone at the dinner table. Years later, Michael remains a solitary figure, despite all his efforts in the name of family. Now greying at the temples, he continues to exist as an outsider to all those who loved him. A powerful and inspired juxtaposition.

  1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

On-Her-Majestys-Secret-Service-1243

The only appearance of a Bond film on the list, the ending of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was not only a break from the series’ tradition, but a genuinely risky move for a franchise so steeped in convention. 007 had defeated the villain, destroyed a mountain-top base, and fallen in love. But this isn’t where the story ends; as Bond and his new wife, Tracy, drive off into the sunset, a botched assassination attempt leaves Tracy with a bullet in her skull. Instead of pursuing the villain, a tearful Bond cradles his dead wife and tells a passing policeman “It’s quite alright… We have all the time in the world.” Although now an iconic moment, it must be remembered how genuinely shocking such an ending would have been in 1969, depriving audiences of the triumphant conclusion that had become standard. It remains a travesty that subsequent Bond films would abandon this gritty approach for years to come.

  1. The Third Man (1949)

thirdman

The closing shot of The Third Man lasts for around two minutes, neither moving an inch nor cutting a frame as our hero, Holly Martins, stands waiting at the roadside for the heartbroken Anna to emerge from the horizon. As she walks past Holly and out of his life without so much as a glance, the camera lingers excruciatingly, forcing us to share in his pain and solitude. Although a desperately sad conclusion, there’s a wry humour in Holly’s resignation, as he lights himself a cigarette and tosses away the match. Anton Karas’ melancholy music perfectly complements Graham Green’s gorgeous photography, providing for a profound and lasting image.

  1. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966)

TGTBTU Ending

The final sequence of The Good, the Bad and The Ugly is not only one of the greatest endings of all time, but one of the best examples of film making – ever. It plays out with almost operatic grace, a perfect blend of music, cinematography, acting, and direction. This concluding chapter begins as Tuco desperately bounds across a graveyard, searching for a buried hoard of gold, while Ennio Morricone’s Ecstasy of Gold swells in the background. It ends as three title cards contrast the fates of the titular gunslingers; one dead, one alive, and another on horseback with four bags of treasure. Sergio Leone weaves a scene that is both beautiful and unbearably tense, perfecting the western as only he could.