Following on from the post about my favourite SF films, I thought I’d chat a bit about the Fantasy films I really love. As before, this isn’t a comprehensive list. There are many, many Fantasy films on my shelves … but these are the ones that hold a special place in my heart.
Are you breathless with anticipation? Then read on …
The Lords of the Rings Trilogy (Extended edition)
I know these films deviate from the text. Some changes I think were absolutely necessary – books and films are very different mediums – and great choices, and some I think were more arbitrary – but for me, they still work. At the end of the day these films are Peter Jackson’s version of Tolkien’s classic saga, and on balance I think his version is mighty fine.
(But ask me about The Hobbit films and you’ll get a very different answer!)
Honestly, I don’t know where to start with these films. I love them. Most especially I love the full cuts – I don’t rewatch the theatrical releases. Especially not the theatrical release of Return of the King, which I hate with a purple passion. But the fully realised versions? Love, love, love.
Probably my favourite element of the films is Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn. I mean, it was a tough break for Stuart Townsend, being recast, but a blessing for the films. To me, Mortensen is inspired and utterly right in the part. He never puts a foot wrong.
Really, the casting is brilliant, full stop. Ian McKellan’s Gandalf is magical, no pun intended. The four hobbits are perfection. Karl Urban, Brad Dourif, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Bernard Hill … basically, applaud the cast list as it scrolls down the screen!
And speaking of performances, a special shout-out to Sean Bean as Boromir. I think he’s probably the most under-appreciated actor in the trilogy.
So, yes. I adore these films, I adore the love and passion and respect that was poured into them. Nobody thought they could be made as live action entertainment. I’m so glad I got to see that wasn’t true.
X-Men First Class
I’m not a comics/graphic novels person. Never have been, never will be. But I do enjoy many of the films that have been made using them as source material. And while I thoroughly enjoy the original X-Men movies, I didn’t really light up for them until First Class. I think that’s because of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, one of the most electric on-screen duos of recent times – far more compelling to me in this incarnation than when their older selves are played by Patrick Steward and Ian McKellan. I love the story of First Class, I love the themes and the elements and most especially the character work. I love the performances. Basically, I just love this film. For me it’s one of those rare beasts that reveals itself layer upon layer, after many viewings. There’s always something new to discover every time I come back to it.
This film is on my ‘flawless’ list. I love it unreservedly and I hope, I really hope, that when it comes to life after death stuff Ghost gets it right. Patrick Swayze might not have been a truly brilliant actor but – like Keanu Reeves – when he was in his zone he was wonderful. I think he’s wonderful here. So’s Demi Moore. And it’s one of my all-time favourite Whoopi Goldberg performances, utterly deserving of its Academy Award. Ghost is sad and it’s funny and it’s almost unbearably human. You have to let go of your modern-day, fashionable cynicism and give yourself over to the soft side … but it’s worth it!
Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
The first and, for me, the best of the Pirates movies. (The less said about the last one, the better!) Another one to make my ‘flawless’ list. I mean, seriously, what is not to love? If this isn’t Johnny Depp’s perfect performance, I don’t know what is. His entrance in the film is one of my three favourite character introductions of all times – if not my very favourite.
Really, I think everyone in this film is fine, even Orlando Bloom – and I’m afraid when it comes to acting chops I don’t rate him terribly highly. I love Keira Knightly, I think it’s some of the best work she’s ever done. Geoffrey Rush? Exquisite. The monkey? I want one! The soundtrack, the work of Klaus Bedelt and Hans Zimmer, is iconic.
This is a Jerry Bruckheimer production, and it has his style stamped all over it. Bruckheimer is one of the most consistently successful producers in Hollywood history. He understands popular tastes and culture and is not ashamed of producing rip-roaring, crowd-pleasing entertainment. Director Gore Verbinski does a wonderful job. Incidentally, some of Bruckheimer’s on location production photos are included in the disc extras, and they’re absolutely tremendous.
And just in case anyone was ever in doubt about the dubious taste and talent of movie executives? Some suit was sent out to watch a bit of the filming, and the idiot went back to Hollywood screaming that Johnny Depp should be fired.
Seriously? Seriously? What a maroon.
This is another one of those films that, for me, illustrates just how good Keanu Reeves is when he stays in his zone. It’s also another graphic novel adaptation, but don’t ask me to judge it on that score. I love this one because of Reeves, because of Tilda Swinton and Peter Stormare. I love the story, the content – dark supernatural fantasy is one of my favourite things when it’s done well. I think this one is done really well.
I absolutely believe Reeves’s world weary, soul-sickened anti-hero in this film. I feel his despair, his pain, his futile rage at the hand he’s been dealt. I love the production design and the world-building. When it comes to dark fantasy films, Constantine pushes all the right buttons for me.
This is an unashamedly romantic film. It’s a fantastical love story, a revenge tale, a battle between good and evil. The cast is wonderful: Rutger Hauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Leo McKern and Matthew Broderick. It’s directed by Richard Donner of Superman fame, and produced by Lauren Shuler – who to this day is part of the X-Men production team. She’s a great producer.
I don’t want to give away the plot because spoilers, but if you haven’t seen it I’ll just say that if you love an old-fashioned star-crossed lovers romance with a great evil villain, a journey of redemption, some wonderful light-hearted moments and some noble tragedy, then this is the film for you. Also, Rutger Hauer’s horse is utterly magnificent. And Michelle Pfeiffer is so hauntingly beautiful in this film you’ll want to hit pause on the remote control and simply marvel at her sheer physical perfection. It’s kind of like standing in an art museum and staring at one of the great masters.
I’m not sure I entirely understand beauty, and what it means to be beautiful in a human sense – but I can look at Michelle Pfeiffer and Johnny Depp and become utterly lost in their physical constructions. I think it has something to do with symmetry and bone structure. But wow. Just wow. And then I wonder what it feels like to look like that, how the world is experienced from behind those faces, inside those bodies. And then I wonder if it’s not easier to be looked at than to be them.
But back to the film! Ladyhawke! It’s fabulous.
Captain America: The First Avenger
Yeah, so just getting this out of the way now. There is Stanley Tucci. So of course this film is wonderful. But that’s not the only reason!
I never saw this one at the movies. It never appealed because I’m not a Marvel comics person. I didn’t know about Stanley Tucci, you understand. But a friend really liked it, and I’m guided by his recommendations, so I gave it a look on dvd. And wow! I really really really loved it.
The heart of this film belongs to Chris Evans and his performance as Steve Rogers. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that there’s Stanley Tucci and also Tommy Lee Jones, who comes close to Stanley Tucci on my this actor makes everything wonderful meter. And also Richard Armitage, whom I like very much (except when he’s playing a dwarf) and a wonderful performance from Hayley Atwell, and also Sebastian Stan (who looks weirdly different in the second Cap film, I think because he suddenly got skinny). Bottom line? Terrific cast, great script, wonderful direction. What’s not to love?
I’ve said this elsewhere but I’ll say it again: it’s a hugely amazing feat of storytelling to make Steve Rogers as compelling as he is, given he’s an out-and-out good guy with no interesting dark-and-twisty angsty side. Again, a lot of that is because Evans is marvellous. But it’s also in the writing. So kudos to everyone involved. One of my favourite films of all genres, this. And if you’ve skipped it because you don’t do comic book hero films, give it a go. Like me you might be pleasantly surprised.
I class this one as fantasy because there’s magic and ghosts and all kinds of supernatural shenanigans. And again, for me, it’s a film without flaw. Not a missed beat, not a sour note. A pity the same can’t be said for the sequels, but hey – I can live without them. I have The Mummy. It’s an historical piece set in Egypt and concerns a race by an intrepid young librarian and her ne’er-do-well brother who join forces with a roguish adventurer to uncover a lost Egyptian treasure. Naturally they fall foul of an ancient mummy …and mayhem ensues!
This is a perfectly chosen cast. Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah (showing yet again is amazing range as an actor) and Arnold Vosloo. A breakout film for Oded Fehr – one of my favourite actors on Covert Affairs. Everyone works together so well in this film, and most importantly they never play it tongue-in-cheek. I hate it when actors nudge nudge wink wink at the camera. I hate it when writers do that too, at least when it’s not the point or established style of the story. (Yes, Supernatural, I am looking at you with your dreary meta episodes!)
This is another rollicking action adventure fantasy film. It’s a very clever blend of humour, action and drama – and that’s not an easy mix to control. I applaud Stephen Somers for his work on this film, even as I utterly fail to understand why things went so wrong later. But never mind about that. The Mummy is wonderful and that’s all that matters.
Yet another one I ignored because comic book. And then I was on a plane and it was on the movie menu so I watched it because that same friend said I should check it out – and I loved it! Okay, the villain was a bit tedious – I usually find the Marvel universe villains to be the weakest part of their stories – but Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark more than made up for it. What a revelation! A wonderful performance, nuanced and riveting and boom. I was hooked. Extra astonishing was how much I loved Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, because in general I’m not a Paltrow fan. But in this I think she’s fabulous, no ifs or buts.
Iron Man is a really human story. So often the ‘origin story’ of a series is the best and I think that’s true of the Iron Man series. I’d say it’s also true of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, too, by the by. But be that as it may, and I know mileage varies on that one, I think this is a great drama. Partly I think that’s because there’s no supernatural element here – Tony Stark’s a genius, and it’s his brilliance that gives him his alter ego, not anything alien or supernatural. It’s the common thread with Captain America, since Steve Rogers was altered chemically. He’s still fundamentally human, just like Tony Stark.
So again I’d say that if you’d skipped this one because you’re not a comic book fan, give it a go. You never know!
This film could easily have been really, really, really bad. The fact that it’s not, that it’s wonderful, is thanks to a great cast, the excellent writing and directorial work of Joss Whedon, and the masterful production skills of Kevin Feige.
This is another one of those all-time favourite films for me. I have watched it many many times and I always find something new to appreciate or enjoy in it. That, for me, is the mark of a great story.
I think this one works so well for me because the villain, the real villain, is a character that we already know and love to love or love to hate or hate to love or whatever. You know. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki was introduced in the first Thor film – which I kind of like, but struggle with. I also kind of like but struggle with its sequel, The Dark World. Nevertheless, in both of those films Loki is the standout and it’s because he has such an interesting relationship with Thor, and because that relationship is carried over into The Avengers, that The Avengers succeeds where for me most of the other Marvel films have failed, villain-wise.
Loki is more than a cardboard cut-out bad guy, he has a life and a story and a journey that the audience has already invested in. Plus of course there’s his relationship with Thor and his willingness to be appalling in pursuit of his goals – even as we know there’s more to him than simple badness.
There’s a large ensemble cast in The Avengers and in less-skilled hands than Whedon’s that would have been a problem. But Whedon has a lot of experience with juggling a big cast and in this film he gives everyone their due.
So there’s drama and danger and heartbreak and humour and great character work and great moments and witty banter and only a couple of wincingly clunky lines – which to this day I don’t understand how it is they stayed in the film. But never mind, that’s why God invented the mute button on the remote control.
Seriously, I cannot wait for the next Avenger’s film. And I won’t be watching any more of the trailers, either. What is it with movie trailers these days, giving away every last great moment of the film????
So there you have it. Now it’s over to you. Let’s talk Fantasy films!