Friday, November 06, 2015

007 Week: Final Post

Well, 007 Week is now at an end!

I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have.  As you read these words, I’ll be screening SPECTRE (2015) with my wife, and experiencing the next chapter in the Craig Era. 

Hopefully, it’s a worthwhile entry.  Look for my review next Tuesday, right here.

Now, to end the week, I’m including my extremely individual and biased ranking of the Bond films from best-to-worst.

This is a snapshot of my evolving ideas on the movie franchise, and in three years -- in time for the next film -- I may rank some entries differently. 

But for right now, here’s how I tally ‘em up, and a few thumbnail reasons for my choices.

007 Films, Ranked Best to Worst (and categorized by quality):

The Great:

1. From Russia with Love (1963): Greatest fight in the series (Train Car); greatest soldier villain (Red Grant), and Sean Connery at his most charming/fit.

2. Goldfinger (1964): Greatest villain (Auric Goldfinger), greatest car (Aston Martin), great pre-title sequence prototype, great car, great sacrificial lambs (Jill and Tilly Masterson), and greatest overall leitmotif (gold).

3. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969): The most human Bond film. The first “re-grounding” effort in the saga, and one that considers Bond as a person.  Greatest Bond Girl Ever: Diana Rigg’s Tracy Bond.

4. Casino Royale (2006): Another great “re-grounding” effort, after the ludicrous Die Another Day (2002) Gives us the most physically-fit, believable Bond in Daniel Craig, and offers a solid villain (Mads Mikkelsen) and great Bond Girl, to rival Tracy: Eva Green’s Vesper. In a way, a great “origin story,” and in 20 something other films, we’ve never really had that.

5. Licence to Kill (1989): Timothy Dalton’s final film was only twenty-five years ahead of its time, giving us a bloody, serious, tortured Bond on a mission of vengeance. Features one of the franchise’s all-time great villains, the quasi-Shakespearean Sanchez (Robert Davi).

6. For Your Eyes Only (1981): The Bond re-grounding film, after the excesses of Moonraker (1979) that proved Roger Moore can be a great James Bond. The film eschews fantasy, and shows how resourceful Bond can be. The car chase with the junky old Citroen proves it’s not the car that matters, it’s the man behind the wheel. The film also features the most suspenseful scene in all the canon, with Moore’s 007 scaling a sheer mountainside as villains attempt to send him plummeting to his doom.

The Good:

7. Skyfall (2012): Who knew Bond had a Mommy Complex? This film, in keeping with the Craig Era, gives us more insight into the creation of Bond’s world, adding flesh to the bones of Moneypenny, Q, and even the new M. 

8. Dr. No (1962): The first Bond film, and the one to set the tone/style for the series.  Features a great villain, an amazing Bond girl, and made Sean Connery a star.

9. The Living Daylights (1987): Another re-grounding film (this time after A View to a Kill), giving us a younger, more vigorous Bond in Timothy Dalton. The film speaks meaningfully to then current events (the Reagan Administrations’ shadowy arms deal with the Iranians), and gives the audience the most human, flawed 007 since Lazenby’s in 1969.

10. Never Say Never Again (1983): Overall, this one gets high marks from me because the film acknowledges that Bond (Sean Connery) has aged, and must now rely on his wits and cunning. The film’s villains are of the 1980s “push button” age, playing video games and remotely detonating bombs, but Bond is a moving human target, relying on instincts.  Great antagonists here, too.

11. Live and Let Die (1973): This Bond, the first starring Roger Moore, apes the Blaxploitation movie trend of the time period, but holds together well.  Features the best title song of the franchise, and one of the finest Bond girls, Jane Seymour’s Solitaire.  The presence of Baron Samedi – Death Himself – also adds a layer of visual and thematic artistry to the affair.

12. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): A veritable remake of You Only Live Twice (1967), only with nuclear submarines instead of rockets. But this movie features a great Bond car (the Lotus Esprit) and the finest pre-title sequence of the saga, with Moore’s Bond skiing off a mountainside and deploying a parachute.

13. Quantum of Solace (2008): Craig’s sophomore outing in the 007 role is best enjoyed as the second half of Casino Royale (2006). On that basis – as well as its pastiche-style recycling of classic Bond images (girl in oil; girl in gold; Quantum = SPECTRE) -- the film worth revisiting.

14. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997): Brosnan’s best Bond; a rip-roaring social critique of the 24-hour news cycle, and the rise of cable news. Michelle Yeoh is a fantastic ally for Bond, and Brosnan seems especially committed to the proceedings, especially in his scenes with Teri Hatcher.

15. Goldeneye (1995): After the ahead-of-its-time Licence to Kill, Pierce Brosnan’s first outing is a perfectly entertaining -- and perfectly bland -- re-establishment of the series’ spectacular side.  Unlike other re-grounding Bond films, this one is all about re-establishing the series’ “big,” outrageous moments. One downside is the funeral dirge-like soundtrack, which casts a pall over what should be a fun, buoyant, Bond film.

The Fair:

16. Thunderball (1965): This Bond film is over-long, edited poorly, and features one of the dullest villains ever: Largo. By this time, it’s also clear that Sean Connery is also getting bored in the role of 007. This is the “tipping” Bond in his era, the film that starts the descent towards crap (see: Diamonds are Forever.)

17. You Only Live Twice (1967): Features a great villain (Donald Pleasence), a great gadget (Little Nellie), and a great headquarters (inside a volcano), but also feels bloated, and is weighted down by Connery’s apparent disinterest in the whole enterprise. Also, there’s his terrible Japanese make-up…

18. The Man with the Golden Gun (1974): Roger Moore’s second film is fun but pretty unmemorable, overall.  A low point in the film is the return of Live and Let Die’s bigoted Southern sheriff. A high point is Maude Adams

19. Octopussy (1983): Another disposable entry in the Moore Era. Not bad, but nothing special either (except for the pre-title sequence with the AcroStar mini-jet). Roger Moore looks old and disinterested, and the last thing the series needed at this juncture was to feature his 007 dressed as a circus clown.

20. The World is Not Enough (1999): Sophie Marceau is fantastic in this film as Bond’s lover/nemesis, but Denise Richards isn’t exactly cut out to be a nuclear physicist. More than Brosnan’s first two Bond films, this one feels like little more than re-shuffled elements (another boat chase, another ski chase, another submarine set-piece…).

Below Average:

21. Moonraker (1979): Pardon my schizophrenia. As a Star Wars kid I love this film without reservation.  As a Bond fan, this film is low-points of source, made so by the campy, tongue-in-cheek approach and every single scene featuring Jaws.  That said, I could watch this any day and be thoroughly entertained. I could do without the pigeon doing a double-take, and the gondola-turned hover-craft.

22. A View to a Kill (1985): I should look as good as Roger Moore does in this film, when I’m his age. That said, he’s still way too old to be a convincing James Bond at this point.  The film is bloated and slow, and Tanya Robert’s Stacy Sutton is the most annoying Bond Girl of the series.  Christopher Walken, Grace Jones, and Duran Duran are all “fresh” ingredients in the franchise that utterly fail to enliven this beached-whale of an epic.

23. Diamonds are Forever (1971): Terrible, awful, no-good effort that sees Connery’s retirement from the role until 1983. The film’s steadfast refusal to connect itself to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is insulting, as is Blofeld’s death scene.  Overlong and with a confusing plot.

24. Die Another Day (2002): The first twenty or so minutes of this Bond film -- which see 007 (Pierce Brosnan) captured, tortured and humiliated in North Korea -- are great; a fresh launching point for the saga. But then – after a serious first act – the film devolves into excess: ice palaces, invisible cars, power gloves, and Bond surfing CGI tsunamis. Excessive, stupid, and a sad end for Brosnan’s era.

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