Liam Neeson, Samuel Jackson and other 'Star Wars' stars examine the misguided backlash two decades later.
In 2017, Peter Serafinowicz, the British comedian who voiced Darth Maul in the infamous Star Wars prequel Episode I: The Phantom Menace, sat down for a tell-all interview delving into the film’s creation. Naturally, everything he said was a lie. “It was meant to be a musical,” he said, deadpanning for 45 minutes about a Phantom Menace that never was. The script was originally packed with ghosts, he told the hosts of the Blank Check podcast, hence the movie’s title. To prepare for the role, Serafinowicz said, he moved to Tunisia and opened a shoe-repair shop, before coming to blows with director George Lucas on several occasions when filming began. The feud eventually boiled over into a violent medieval jousting match that culminated in the death of two elephants.Serafinowicz’s account of Phantom Menace was outlandish, but honestly, not that much more so than the real Phantom Menace, which turns 20 today (19 May). This was, after all, a children’s film about taxes, trade disputes and a racist space frog almost played by Michael Jackson. The year was 1999. Sixteen years after Return of the Jedi brought to a close the most influential and highest grossing film trilogy of all time, Lucas was reviving the Star Wars saga and all that went with it. Jedi knights! The Force! Lightsaber duels and dynasties torn between good and evil! The Phantom Menace had those things. But it also had lengthy sections set in science fiction’s answer to PMQs, scenes that exploded in seconds everything fans loved about the previous trilogy (midichlorians, anyone?) and characters who, even by 1999’s standards, were acknowledged as deeply problematic.Where did it all go wrong? It’s a question fans and critics have been trying to unpack for 20 years now. The Phantom Menace was the biggest event in film history, the long-awaited continuation of a series that changed the face of cinema. The original Star Wars trilogy recalibrated almost every element of American movie-making. It ushered in new ages of special effects, marketing, merchandising and hero’s-journey storytelling. It was a phenomenon that amassed more than $1bn at the box office across three films, and billions more in toy sales and commercial deals. Following it up, every exec in Hollywood assumed, would be like shooting womp rats in a barrel.Instead, The Phantom Menace confused audiences. Confusion led to disappointment, disappointment led to anger, anger led to hate and now, two decades later, The Phantom Menace remains ridiculed: a symbol of Hollywood hubris and the uneasy intersection between creativity and commerce (Lucas reportedly financed the film not through a Hollywood studio, but using a $100m cheque from toy company Hasbro, leading to suspicions that entire characters were devised because they’d make good action figures). How did the most anticipated movie of all time end up on the dark side of fans and critics? Was it really that bad? And how did its failure set up the success of Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe and the new series of Star Wars movies? The story doesn’t involve musical numbers, kung-fu fighting Beatles or dead elephants – but it’s every bit as bizarre.The Phantom Menace was announced in 1993. In the years since Return of the Jedi, Star Wars fever had remained, thanks to a steady stream of toys, comics, expanded universe novels and so on. Lucas, who’d previously cancelled plans for further Star Wars sequels due to burnout, had found his urge to return to his galaxy far, far away reignited by advances in technology – namely CGI. He wrote outlines for three prequel films plotting the rise of Darth Vader, the Sith villain who’d terrorised A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard were approached to direct, but both told Lucas this was his story to tell.It didn’t take long for hysteria to take hold. The film’s impending release dominated every inch of the US media. “George Lucas’s [new] instalment of his deified space opera has so fully infiltrated every nook and cranny of the American experience, you’d think that Obi-Wan Kenobi is expected to blurt out a secret cure for cancer when the movie opens,” wrote CNN as fans camped outside cinemas for the movie’s teaser trailer – not even the actual film. Airlines reported a spike in flights to the US booked for the week of The Phantom Menace’s release by British fans who refused to wait for the film’s arrival in UK cinemas two months later (16 July). Cinema chains were forced to bring in measures to combat ticket touts buying up first-week tickets and selling them on for extortionate prices. As its 19 May release neared, fans began once again camping outside cinemas ensure their seats. “There’s no way this is going to be a disappointment!” one such fan assured a TV crew from behind a Darth Vader mask.No one, in other words, had a bad feeling about this. But Lucas’s reported deal with Hasbro had put him in the strange position of having no studio to answer to; no one to interfere with his vision or reign in his ambitions. As a result, he was free to make a blockbuster that broke from Hollywood storytelling tradition, ripping up the rulebook on what usually makes movies tick. Who was the film’s protagonist? The Phantom Menace was not Anakin Skywalker’s (Jake Lloyd) story – he doesn’t enter till halfway through. Was it a tale about Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) – a Forrest Gump-like story about an absurd, simple character who keeps accidentally finding himself in situations of grand importance? Lucas described it as the story of Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) told through the lens of the Jedi helping her: Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his patient tutor, Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson). But that didn’t check out either (protagonists usually have, you know, personalities).The film’s lack of clear direction was also unconventional – a problem not lost on Lucas. “It’s bold in terms of jerking people around,” he admitted in the film’s making-of documentary. “I may have gone too far in a few places.” The plot unfolded at the pace of a Hutt on a hangover, crawling from planet to planet as the Jedi sought to resolve a trade dispute between a small planet, Naboo, and the evil Trade Federation – a mission that, across its 133 minute runtime, sees them encounter a young child slave with unprecedented force powers, and a clumsy amphibian who quickly became the most controversial character in Star Wars history.“Jar Jar Binks makes the Ewoks look like f**king Shaft!” raged Simon Pegg’s character in the Noughties sitcom Spaced. Jar Jar wore flared bell-bottom trousers and spoke in heavy Caribbean patois (“Dissen gonna be bery messy! Me no watchin!”). He made Lucas look regrettably unaware of American entertainment’s dark tradition of “coon” caricatures, positioning black characters as dim-witted fools whose speech and idiocy are played for laughs. Lucas claimed the character was inspired by the Disney character Goofy and denied all accusations of racism, but many people were unconvinced. The Wall Street Journal called Jar Jar “a Rastafarian Stepin Fetchit”, a reference to the 1920s/30s actor synonymous with the term, having perpetuated negative black stereotypes across a number of roles throughout this period. “There was something about his demeanour that suggested blackness and that suggested, more specifically, stereotypical blackness,” Michael Dyson, professor of African-American studies at Columbia University complained to CNN after the film’s release.The problem with The Phantom Menace’s approach to people of colour didn’t end with Jar Jar. Watto, a greedy, hook-nosed businessman whose love for cash not even the force could buckle (“your Jedi mind tricks don’t work on me, only money!”) was accused of pedalling antisemitism, while the cowardly Trade Federations bosses who wore mock oriental robes and spoke with exaggerated Asian accents also drew criticism.Just as surprising was how the film misunderstood the magic of previous Star Wars films: their feel, their facade of a rough, ready lived-in universe. Replacing the grubby aesthetic of the original films, in which scuffs and scrapes covered every inch of the Death Star and rebel base, was a glossy green-screen sheen. Where A New Hope and co employed barrier-breaking practical effects, The Phantom Menace and its sequels were “computer generated”, Ewan McGregor later sighed. “It was a shame.” Similarly, the film threw out the original saga’s sense of a vast, unknowable universe full of exotic characters at every turn by revealing that half the key players had crossed paths before. C-3PO was built by Anakin Skywalker, it turned out. Jabba the Hutt was present at the pod race that won Anakin’s freedom. These connections gave a sense of Star Wars’ galaxy shrinking in on itself, like the inside of a trash compactor.The frustrating thing was that The Phantom Menace also did a lot of things right. Composer John Williams’ dazzling Duel of the Fates; the film’s climactic three-person lightsaber showdown; Ray Park’s caged-tiger energy as the villain Darth Maul; and of course, the film’s pulse-quickening pod race sequence (if you ask me, this entire prequel trilogy should have been basically the Fast and Furious franchise set in Tatooine’s wretched pod racing underworld, full of gangsters, gamblers and nefarious speed junkies).The movie also certainly did all it set out to achieve commercially. “The Phantom Menace seems designed more as a promotion for Lucasfilm’s billion-dollar merchandising concerns than a meaningful chapter in the Star Wars canon,” wrote The Hollywood Reporter at the time, correctly predicting a storming performance at the box office and beyond: the film grossed $1bn and millions more in toy sales and tie-in deals (if you’re wondering how low the film’s execs were willing to stoop, as part of one promotional deal with KFC, Colonel Sanders was written into Star Wars canon as having fought in the Battle of Naboo, dishing out “a bucket full of pain” to the dark side).No amount of commercial success, though, could cover up the consensus that The Phantom Menace was a creative failure. The force was not with the film when it came to critics, who savaged Lucas’s creation with Maul-like malice. But 20 years later, in a time of factory-line Marvel movies that often – Infinity War and Endgame aside – repackage the same formula and sell it back to audiences time and time again, is there something to admire in its sheer strangeness? In its desire to do something different, twisting Star Wars into new shapes rather than regurgitating the originals? The optimism of the first trilogy was replaced in The Phantom Menace by a cynicism towards bureaucracy-suffocated political systems and the careerists that inhabit them, exploiting them for their own means. Its explanation of the mystic, ancient force as essentially a blood mutation called midichlorians might have had some fans in despair, but at least it attempted to push the series somewhere new, and expand its mythology.Speaking of Marvel, The Phantom Menace might be to thank for the structure of modern franchises like the MCU. Today, hot Hollywood properties like Marvel (and indeed, Star Wars) are never entrusted to one auteur and their vision, but loaned out to custodians, one film at a time. Fifteen different directors, for instance, have manned the 22 MCU films so far. It could be argued that the unruliness of The Phantom Menace, on which Lucas had unmitigated free reign, helped lead to the current way big film franchises are handled, in which multiple directors are kept on short leashes, beholden to a wider, company-led vision for that film series, afraid of another Phantom Menace. Lucas had the freedom to remould Star Wars as his imagination, and his imagination alone, saw fit in 1999. In today’s more sanitised Hollywood, that would never be allowed again.Last month at this year’s Star Wars Celebration event in Chicago, a Phantom Menace panel marked its 20th anniversary. Lucas, who sent in a message to fans, sounded still on the defensive regarding the much-maligned prequel. “[The Phantom Menace] is one of my favourite movies, and of course Jar Jar is my favourite character... It was very very hard.”Its stars did indeed have a rough ride: Ahmed Best revealed last year that he considered suicide after the movie’s backlash, while Jake Lloyd has talked about how the film made his life “a living hell”. “Every saga has a beginning,” read the tagline for The Phantom Menace. It was almost Star Wars’ end: the film and its two equally flawed follow-ups (2002’s Attack of the Clones and 2005’s Revenge of the Sith) severely damaged the franchise’s reputation and cultural relevance, before Lucasfilm was sold to Disney in 2012.Since then, though, the force has reawakened. Following a string of well-received Star Wars movies and spin-offs, director JJ Abrams will release the final instalment in the Skywalker saga, Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, this December. Little is known about the saga’s swansong but one thing’s for sure: it won’t be as bizarre as The Phantom Menace, the prequel that confounded a generation.
Game Of Thrones fans couldn't quite believe their eyes earlier this week, whena takeaway coffee cup made an appearance during a scene in the most recentepisode
The legendary film critic Roger Ebert called film “the most powerful empathy machine in all the arts”. Cinema offers us complete immersion in another reality, taking us on an almost out-of-body experience into someone else’s life and experience.But as one oft-filmed character says, with great power comes great responsibility, and the very best films use that power to help us. They might offer an escape from our own lives, the catharsis of a huge hit of action, horror or adventure that makes our own everyday problems seem small. They might reflect our lives on a more human scale, giving us the sense that we are not alone in our concerns and examining our emotion to find the common threads that bind us. Or they could play out possibilities for our own lives, letting us see the consequences of an affair or murder plot unwind before our eyes so we don’t have to flirt with disaster in reality.Film is well over a century old now, and with competition from high-quality TV and games it may never again reach the audience numbers that it did in its 1930s golden age. But it can still offer an emotional hit like nothing else when there are hundreds of us together, in the dark, losing ourselves in a moving picture – and here are 42 of the best ever to sweep us off our feet.Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)With this update and upgrade of the 1930s serial adventure, Steven Spielberg turns what could have been pastiche into a practically perfect film. Harrison Ford’s daring archaeologist is almost always out of his depth but has impeccable underdog charm, and Douglas Slocombe’s casually stunning cinematography is matched by one of John Williams’s finest scores. Indiana Jones is ultimately irrelevant to the entire plot, interestingly, but his indefatigable effort to do the right thing still inspires. HOThe Wings of the Dove (1997)Henry James is notoriously difficult to adapt well, but here is the darkly, shimmering exception. Helena Bonham Carter still hasn’t topped Kate Croy, conniving but also trapped by her circumstances, as a leading role; the masquerade of her and Linus Roache’s motives makes the film a psychological thriller of sorts. Iain Softley directs the Venice sequences with bewitching gamesmanship, then tears your heart out at the very end. PSSpirited Away (2001)Japanese animation legend Hayao Miyazaki’s films delight kids with their bright colours, imaginative characters and plucky heroines (usually). But there’s meat to their bones for adults to digest, especially in this towering fantasy epic. As young Chihiro takes a job in a mysterious bathhouse peopled by spirits in order to save her parents, viewers can explore everything from deeply rooted interpretations of traditional Japanese myths to Miyazaki’s fascination with Western filmmaking and the Second World War. And visually it’s unparalleled. HOUn Chien Andalou (1928)Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí changed the face of cinema with this 16-minute Surrealist short, instantly confronting the viewer with the sight of an eyeball being slit open. Narrative is jettisoned, and the unnerving power of juxtaposition championed in dreamlike montage, which still has a fizzing voltage and suggestive power. PSAvengers (2012)Yes, but hear us out: Avengers is a grand experimental film. Marvel risked four popular franchises on this superhero throw of the dice, something never attempted in cinema history. They won, and made the fizzing chemistry of the unlikely gang who must save us from aliens look easy. But the failure of every Marvel imitator since makes clear how impressive this billion-dollar gamble really was, and how difficult it is to tell character-driven stories in blockbuster cinema on this scale. And as a bonus, it has a Hulk. HOThe Shining (1980)Stanley Kubrick’s creep-show classic is remembered for the indelible images of that violent finale chase, but its reputation and influence stem from the slow-winding tension that precedes it. Jack Nicholson is the struggling writer whose sanity frays over a winter season at an isolated and haunted hotel; Shelley Duvall plays his increasingly desperate wife. Touching on questions of domestic violence as well as delivering a ghost story for the ages, this will get under your skin and stay there. HOInvasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)One of those remakes that justifies remakes, Philip Kaufman’s beautifully skilful spin on the McCarthy-era alien-clone thriller translates it wickedly to the psychobabble age of the 1970s, with a bit of post-Watergate panic thrown in. Donald Sutherland’s lugubrious health inspector is a nicely grumpy enemy of the pod people, and the hysteria ratchets up masterfully. PSThe Royal Tenenbaums (2001)Wes Anderson’s meticulously mannered and beautifully composed films are not to all tastes, but when combined with a cast of this calibre and a more-than-usually heartfelt script, they are capable of magic. Gene Hackman plays the disgraced patriarch of a family of geniuses, making one last attempt at redemption. With a who’s who of Hollywood in support, it’s a story that is as bizarre, hilarious and moving as family life itself. HOLawrence of Arabia (1962)David Lean’s First World War epic about TE Lawrence remains a filmmaking milestone, the movie that Steven Spielberg rewatches before starting each new film. Its genius is to combine huge scale battles – notably the attack on Aqaba – with psychological insight into the toll that the war took on Lawrence’s mind. The white-led casting of Arab characters is appalling to modern eyes, but with its daring, dazzling filmmaking it remains one to watch despite that. HOBicycle Thieves (1948)A devastating portrait of the poverty trap, Vittorio De Sica’s neo-realist masterpiece remains all too relevant. Antonio (Lamberto Maggiorani) is offered a desperately-needed job – but it requires a bicycle, and when his is stolen, he and his son resort to desperate measures to get it back. Shot with non-professional actors who lived in circumstances close to that of their characters, this is a study in compassion and empathy. HOFarewell My Concubine (1993)Spanning five decades of Chinese history, this sprawling epic follows two stars of the Peking Opera from harsh childhood training through the perils of the Second World War, the communist takeover and the Cultural Revolution. Director Chen Keige drew on his own experience of the Cultural Revolution to shape this groundbreaking, tormented romance both between Zhang Fengyi’s Ziaolou and Leslie Cheung’s Dieyi, and between Ziaolou and his former prostitute wife Juxian (Gong Li). HOBrazil (1985)Originally titled 1984½, Terry Gilliam’s crazily ambitious riff on Orwell is a dystopian comedy about a world stuffed to bursting point: one clerical error and it threatens to burst, plunging Jonathan Pryce’s befuddled low-level bureaucrat into madness and chaos. A nightmare of retro-futuristic oppression, outfitted with mad bravura and some of the best sci-fi production design ever. PSTokyo Story (1953)Pauline Kael thought that the basic appeal of movies was the “kiss kiss bang bang” of action and romance, but Yasujirō Ozu demonstrates that film is capable of much more in this quiet family drama. It’s a simple story about two elderly parents visiting their adult children, only to find that the younger generation is busy with other things. But it’s also a meditation on the passing of time, and on grief, and on the constant push towards the new that will break your heart every time you watch it. HODouble Indemnity (1944)If we have learned anything from film noir, it is that murder pacts never work out well for both parties. That’s certainly the lesson when Fred MacMurray’s infatuated salesman offers life insurance to Barbara Stanwyck’s femme fatale Phyllis against the will of her unloved husband. The scheme gives way to a riveting stew of suspicion and paranoia, with Stanwyck’s ruthless determination warping MacMurray’s out of all recognition as director Billy Wilder tightens the screws. HODays of Heaven (1978)Terrence Malick’s second, and for many, greatest film is a mesmerising, gorgeous love triangle set in the Texas Panhandle in 1916, loosely based on an Old Testament parable. Richard Gere and Brooke Adams are the lovers who pose as brother and sister to fool a rich, dying farmer (Sam Shepard). Nestor Almendros’s astounding magic-hour photography rightly won an Oscar, and Linda Manz supplies heartbreaking, plainspoken narration as Gere’s younger sister. PSCitizen Kane (1941)The problem with calling something “the greatest film ever made” is that it begins to sound like homework. Forget that: beyond all the technical dazzle and ground-breaking filmmaking Orson Welles’s masterpiece has red blood in its veins and a huge beating heart. What’s more, its portrait of a thrusting, occasionally demagogic tycoon and the hollowness at the heart of his success remains as relevant as it ever was, and the suggestion that America might be susceptible to media manipulation is all too believable. HOLes Enfants du Paradis (1945)Nirvana and despair among a troupe of 19th-century theatre actors, in Marcel Carné’s luminously moving epic of the heart. This not only represents the full flowering of French cinema’s Golden Age, but a gracious look back at the performing traditions film was built on. It’s peopled with some of the most touchingly clownish characters you’ll ever see. PSRear Window (1954)Whether you see it as Alfred Hitchcock’s celebration of voyeurism or simply one of the most nail-biting thrillers ever made, it’s a superb example of the Master of Suspense at work. James Stewart’s photographer, laid up with a broken leg, becomes obsessed with the lives of his neighbours and suspects one of murder. The unusually vulnerable hero – as in Vertigo – increases the stakes and ensures that simple brawn won’t save the day, while Hitchcock ratchets up the tension unbearably by putting Grace Kelly’s plucky girlfriend in the lion’s mouth. HOIt Happened One Night (1934)Claudette Colbert’s eloping heiress and Clark Gable’s hack on his uppers warily team up on a Greyhound bus, only to aggravatingly fall for each other. Frank Capra’s evergreen romcom all but invented the love-hate formula that’s one model for silver screen chemistry, hoicking up Colbert’s skirt to flash a leg when they need to hitch-hike, and dismantling Gable’s smarmy defences. The biggest hit of its day for a reason, it was also the first ever film to win the big five at the Oscars. PSHoop Dreams (1994)The trials of young black basketball hopefuls in Chicago tell us volumes, from their upbringing to all-or-nothing career rimshots, about the opportunities otherwise denied them. For these portraits of inner-city poverty, gliding between frustration and triumph, Steve James’s epic of ghetto realities has been influential on every sports doc that has come in its wake. The Academy’s documentary branch will never quite live down failing to nominate it. PSThe Apartment (1960)This blistering Billy Wilder and IAL Diamond script is a demonstration of just how dark a love story can get without tipping entirely into bitterness, a standing rebuke to every lazy, schmaltzy comedy going. While the entire cast is stellar and Shirley MacLaine was never better, it’s worth ignoring them all and just watching Jack Lemmon’s meek office worker CC Baxter. Every gesture and glance is flawless; he carries entire scenes without a word. HOParis, Texas (1984)The title of Wim Wenders’s Palme d’Or-winning emotional odyssey is both a real place and a broken state of mind. The missing Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) is found wandering there in a battered cap, and begins a trek to make amends with his ex (Nastassja Kinski), whom he finds, oblivious to who he is, on the other side of a Houston peepshow window. Culminating unforgettably with this long-take tête-a-tête, it’s a mesmerising quest for redemption, with a Ry Cooder score that will twang its way into your soul. PSSynedoche, New York (2008)It’s encouraging how many obituarists of Philip Seymour Hoffman identified this as his masterwork – literally the performance of a lifetime. The meta-theatrical conceit – Caden Cotard is constructing a play about his life, which becomes as long as his life – lets Charlie Kaufman unleash a panoply of ideas about creativity, self-worth, love, death, everyday and lifelong terrors. It’s brutally honest, and a shattering experience for the faithful. PSBefore Midnight (2013)Céline (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) have settled down since the two earlier films in Richard Linklater’s essential triptych, Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004), but the problems in their lives – self-inflicted by now – only keep proliferating. Trenchantly pushing them into full-on battle-of-the-sexes territory, the film squares them off for a bitterly adult dissection of a long-term relationship, asking stark questions about love, compromise and lasting the course. PSLe Mépris (1963)Other Jean-Luc Godard films are punchier, ruder, more experimental. But this is his most lavish, measured, and sad: an elegiac fantasy of filmmaking, as a loose adaptation of The Odyssey grinds to a halt on Capri, with Jack Palance as the brash American producer trying to sell art by the yard. Meanwhile, the screenwriter (Michel Piccoli) and his beautiful, bored wife (Brigitte Bardot) tussle and reconcile in an incessant, pained ballet. PSCasablanca (1942)Some films strain under the weight of greatness; Casablanca’s quality bubbles through. Against the backdrop of the Second World War, two former lovers reunite though everything in the world is pulling them apart. Bogart’s Rick hides a huge heart under a thin veneer of cynicism; opposite him, Ingrid Bergman’s luminous Ilsa could melt an iceberg. Packed with quotable lines and brimming over with impeccable cool, here we are, still lookin’ at you, kid. HOMeet Me in St Louis (1944)On the surface, Vincente Minnelli’s Technicolor classic is all sweetness and light: Judy Garland, the Trolley song, lots of dancing and tinsel. What makes this one of the great American musicals is an undertow of despair a mile wide. It’s a nostalgia trip as subtly bitter as it is sugary; and the subtext of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is anything but merry. PSA Trip to the Moon (1902)Georges Méliès pioneered many of the visual and special effects techniques that have formed the backbone of fantastical filmmaking ever since, and he pushed them all to their limits in this turn-of-the-century tale of a rocket trip to the moon to meet the strange creatures who live upon it. Witty touches and a real sense of story mean that this is still entertaining more than a century later, and if the effects are less awe-inspiring now, they’re still beautifully designed and executed. HOOut of the Past (1947)Cigarette smoke gives everyone a halo in this masterly, Jacques Tourneur-directed tale of a private investigator (Robert Mitchum) who can’t escape old associates – especially Kathie (Jane Greer), the doll-faced schemer who perhaps is noir’s ultimate femme fatale. Aka Build My Gallows High, it’s a fatalistic masterpiece, with Kirk Douglas as the smarmy gangster setting Mitchum up for a fall. PSHis Girl Friday (1940)A screwball comedy of substance, Howard Hawks’s remake of The Front Page is an objectively odd mix of high stakes and high comedy. Yet it works because the machine-gun dialogue is so quick that there’s never a moment to question what’s happening (the great screenwriter Ben Hecht, who co-wrote the original Broadway play, worked on it uncredited). Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, as the warring editor and star reporter trying to work together long enough to land the story of the year, remain the standard by which all on-screen chemistry should be judged. HOThe Conversation (1974)Who’s eavesdropping on whom? Hatched before Watergate and speaking eerily to it, this audacious story of an obsessive surveillance whiz (a career-best Gene Hackman), commissioned to snoop but finding himself morally embroiled, is a slippery plunge into Seventies paranoia like no other. What a run Francis Ford Coppola had, slipping this one in between the first two Godfathers. PSBlow Out (1981)John Travolta’s Z-movie sound man, out recording one night, accidentally tapes what turns out to be a political assassination. Brian De Palma hit peak ingenuity and gut-punch profundity with this stunning conspiracy thriller, mounted with a showman’s élan but also harrowing emotional voltage from its star. It’s one of the most delirious thrillers of the 1980s, with a bitterly ironic pay-off that’s played for keeps. PSCity of God (2002)There’s a deep contradiction at the heart of this acid-bright portrait of the violence in Rio’s favelas. On one hand these child hustlers and teen gangsters have an intense lust for life, an exuberance displayed in dance and play and love; on the other, they value life cheaply and take it without a qualm. Director Fernando Meirelles and co-director Kátia Lund cast a talented band of local kids to give it authenticity and then punctuated their story with Scorsese-esque violence that still shocks. HOHannah and Her Sisters (1986)The diverging romantic fortunes of Hannah (Mia Farrow), Lee (Barbara Hershey) and Holly (Dianne Wiest, who won an Oscar, as did Michael Caine) provide an ideal structure for Woody Allen to check in on a midway state of adulthood, when there’s already a sense of disappointment about squandered promise, but still much to play for. It hits the miraculous sweet spot between all Allen’s modes and tones. PSRaising Arizona (1987)The Coen Brothers had already established a ghoulish signature style with Blood Simple, but here they showed us how funny they could be, in a zig-zagging kidnap farce which manages the difficult feat of being both zany and adorable. Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter are the unlikely couple whose abduction of a spare newborn quintuplet, Nathan Jr, causes all hell to break loose. PSCaché (2005)This looks and acts like a thriller, but in reality Michael Haneke’s exploration of colonialism, guilt, paranoia and privacy cares more about subtext than about scares or mystery. A well-to-do Parisian family are tormented by the arrival of surveillance tapes of their lives, but it’s not clear who could be sending them or why, leading patriarch Georges (Daniel Auteuil, never better) to confront his own past sins. As a subversion of genre and viewer expectation, there are few to match it. HOThe Bourne Supremacy (2004)Straight up the best Bourne movie – an experience Ultimatum can’t help but want to repeat, more falteringly – because of Paul Greengrass’s phenomenal instincts for pace, Matt Damon’s unguessed flair for minimalism, and a script by Tony Gilroy that’s all about conscience. Barring Mad Max: Fury Road, it’s the best and most enduring action movie of the present millennium. PSThe General (1926)Orson Welles suggested that Buster Keaton’s silent Civil War comedy might be the greatest film ever made, and who are we to argue? Keaton’s Johnny Gray is a key figure on the railroads of the Confederacy, but he and his engine, The General, must go above and beyond to defeat a Union spy. Ignore the dodgy politics and focus on the sublime physical comedy of Keaton’s beautifully composed routines. You’ll come out wondering if movies even need sound. HOThe Babadook (2014)The Babadook is a black, hunched pop-up book monster who raps on your door three times before paying a visit. And you can’t get rid of him. Widowed mum Amelia (brilliant Essie Davis) can’t remember reading his book to her emotionally disturbed misfit of a son (Noah Wiseman) before. Jennifer Kent’s thoughtful Australian chamber shocker, a feast of inventive design, claws its way into you and leaves scratch marks. PSWhen Harry Met Sally (1989)Is it impossible for men and women to be purely platonic? It is according to Harry, in this beautiful, brainy comedy about two neurotic New Yorkers who become friends. Directed by Rob Reiner and written by wonderful Nora Ephon, it’s a paean of sorts to Woody Allen’s early films, with razor-sharp observations about sex and dating (“I’ll have what she’s having”). It’s still the pinnacle of both Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan’s careers. PSInside Out (2015)Toy Story revolutionised animation; Up and Wall-E vie for the best opening of any film this century, but for sheer audacity Pete Docter’s head-trip must prevail. As a little girl struggles to adapt following a family move across country, her emotions go on a madcap adventure through the mind itself. What’s dazzling here is that two completely separate films unfold at once. Kids watch brightly coloured sprites on a quest; adults watch a psychologically dense depiction of how we think and feel. It’s wonderful. HOTrue Romance (1993)Disinterred from a script Tarantino wrote in the mid-Eighties called The Open Road – the same screenplay that also spawned Natural Born Killers – Tony Scott's True Romance is a dirty, hyper-violent twist on a damsel-in-distress fairytale, with a plinky-plonky score indebted to the fugitive classic Badlands. Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette are the lovers on the lam, chased by Christopher Walken's suave mafioso. Bombastic, brash – and totally brilliant. PS
From Iron Man to Thor, Captain Marvel to Black Panther, here’s what we know of their future in the MCU post-Endgame.
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