With the release of The Martian, The Snooty Ushers put our heads together to celebrate the work of one of Britain’s finest directors: Sir Ridley Scott.
His career has spanned 4 decades and defined genres, Scott has built up a formidable body of work that rival any film maker. Here are a few of our favourites…
James: An anti-war, pro-soldier film. A moving, emotional film that felt realistic when I first watched it. It slightly loses some of its impact with repeat viewings . It was the first “realistic” war film I saw in a cinema, and in my post-9/11, first year student emotional state, this film packed a real, genuine punch.
Welshy: I think this a good film. Similar to James, it was one of the first war films I watched not set against the World Wars or Vietnam. Very strong ensemble cast (it’s nice to go back and see where they are now) I think this is equally as good as Saving Private Ryan but for different reasons, the main one being the realism, they are not immortal or super soldiers and they are dealing with one maneuver gone awry. It is a film I can watch again with equal enjoyment as the first time .
PS: I am not saying Saving Private Ryan doesn’t have realism, I just feel it is a very poetic and deeply sentimental film whereas this takes a different approach, especially since it is based on true events
Dan: This is a film that I feel gets better with every viewing, as it avoids what many films that depict war do, and that is to get caught up in the gunfight. It’s honest, boasts a fantastic cast (that could be your joker card in a game of degrees of separation) and as with any Scott film, superbly directed. The conflict in the film is also one that is also seldom used in film, and as a result remains as fresh and relevant as ever.
Dave: This is one of those films that was passed around my high school class, this is back in then day when films with any kind of violence and nudity were given an 18 cert. Michael Douglas is brilliant as the now stereo-typical cop on the edge. He is under investigation, divorced and broke. After arresting a Yakuza enforcer, he and his partner (the equally brilliant Andy Garcia) travel back to Japan to hand him over to the authorities…things go predictably wrong. Now, this isn’t Scott’s best, or most well know work, but for me is it is just one of those films, you know? The ones that hold memories of a period in your life? This, along with Young Guns, The Terminator and Midnight Run, just conjure images of VHS, high school and bad TV over dubbing. Plus the poster and tag line are just cool right?
Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
James: I did enjoy this film when I saw it in the cinema, however, it is the Director’s Cut that I prefer. It’s about 45 minutes longer than the original version, which pushes the running time up towards 3 hours, which is the right length of time for what is an epic movie. The film looks beautiful, the cast is excellent – apart from the ever so slightly average Orlando Bloom. He’s not bad, but put a Russell Crowe-level actor in the lead role and you have a great film. I don’t mind the odd historical inaccuracy (Scott’s not putting on a re-enactment or writing a text-book) and there is more than enough action to balance . Like I said, an epic.
Welshy: I like this better than Gladiator, not by much, but I think it has more substance than Gladiator because it looks at the relationship between Christians and Muslims; historically, if not always accurately. I can understand why this was deemed as pro Islamic extremist when it came out. But again I am not a fan of these kinds of movies in general so my view is skewed.
Matchstick Men (2003)
Dave: I think this is one of Nicolas Cage’s finest moments, con man with obsessive compulsive disorder. Sam Rockwell is perfect foil as his partner/protegé. I kind of suspected what was coming in the way of the twist ending, but the resolution is satisfying. It is refreshing to see this type of film grounded in realism. An under appreciated gem.
Welshy: I love this film. Its heartfelt clever and again very realistic. Nic Cage and Sam Rockwell are experienced con men. They are not robbing casinos or pulling off elaborate jobs like Hustle etc. It is superbly acted, Cage is amazing, he really mixes your emotions. Not only that but I never guessed what was coming. It is one of Scott’s best pieces in my opinion.
Thelma and Louise (1991)
Welshy: This is a great film and although it is not one of my favourites, I totally see why people love it so much. Like; Matchstick Men, Alien, and Black Hawk Down, Scott really finds a way of giving us what we love and expect but subverts it so it feels new. It was a fresh take on the road movie and had two superb actresses as leads. Similar to Alien, certain tropes and scenes have become part of Americana and movie history. The scene at the end has been parodied and quoted and plagiarised a hundred times.
James: Technically, this might be his best film. Russell Crowe is phenomenal as Maximus Decimus Meridius (Mel Gibson was offered the role but felt he was too old, which would have been…interesting) and Joaquin Phoenix gives life to one of the great villains of modern cinema in the Emperor Commodus. A tale of revenge (rather than redemption) which gives the films a nastier edge. It also has the correct ending for this type of film.
Dave: Brilliant, epic and unforgettable. This, as James said is probably his finest hour as a director. The scale of what he accomplished here is truly remarkable. Crowe’s monologue “I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next” still gives me goosebumps to this day. As I said, brilliant, epic and unforgettable.
Welshy: Going to throw the contention grenade here and say I do not like this film. Other than Joaquin Phoenix who is incredible as the malicious, cruel and incestuous Emperor. The film is boring and it mistakes misery and depression for good characterisation. Having your characters depressed, morose, melancholic or bitter doesn’t make them interesting; just makes them drab and irritating. I also think its very overblown and pompous. I am not a huge sword and sandals kind of guy and that’s probably why this doesn’t rate high.
The Counsellor (2013)
Welshy: Now this is another contentious choice. I love this film and think it is very underappreciated. It is very hard going but it is also written by a novelist and known for dealing with life and death situation, rich prose and sparse dialogue; so I got what I expected. I was hooked. It has such a stellar cast. Cameron Diaz steals it for me. I am not a fan of her as an actress but she is electric in this. It is a tale of greed and the dark side of humanity. It very much feels like a ‘play’ on screen.
Dan: As I said to my fellow usher Welshy upon leaving a screening of this film, mark my words this is a film that could become a future classic. Is it an easy watch? Not at all, and it doesn’t actually have a ton of on-screen events or action, but that is because it is all in the dialogue and at the end of the day it was like watching a play. Had the acting not been absolutely terrific it would have fell flat, however that was not the case as the entire cast brought their A game. This is gem of a film that needs to be viewed in the right light, it’s not conventional and has some weighty dialogue but is an absolute treat if you take it for what it is, and not what you want it to be.
Blade Runner (1982)
James: There could be an argument that about 3 different versions of Blade Runner would make my top 5. Such a film: it’s a futuristic film noir, a philosophical action film, an intelligent sci-fi. Scott provides another set of iconic characters, and a great set of performances. The cityscapes inspired by Teesside (drive from Hartlepool to Middlesbrough down the A178 past Seal Sands and you’ll see) are just a nice bonus for a guy like me. A true masterpiece. Sir Ridley calls it probably his most complete film. He’s probably right, but I like one film just a bit more.
Dave: This is my favourite Ridley Scott film, being a massive fan of film noir and sci-fi this blended both and set it against a bleak futuristic back drop. Harrison Ford will always be Indy or Han Solo or even Jack Ryan to most people, but for me Rick Deckard is his finest hour. I have a love for each different version of this, but I think Scott’s first directors cut is my favourite. I must have seen it a dozen times and I get something different with every watch. The word masterpiece gets banded around a lot, but for me this is just that. I met Edward James Olmos once and was privileged to talk to him about this film. He maintains he was the only true Blade Runner in it. A masterpiece
Welshy: A Breath taking film, my colleagues have said everything I want, I would just be reiterating and getting all academic and douchey on you.
James: For me, the number 1 Ridley Scott movie. Perhaps Gladiator is a better film, perhaps Blade Runner is a deeper sci-fi film, but Alien is my favourite. With Gladiator, Scott re-invented the sword-and-sandals epic genre. With Thelma and Louise, the buddy movie got a female twist. And Blade Runner and Alien are the benchmarks when it comes to sci-fi. But what sets Alien apart is the horror. “Jaws on a spaceship”, “Texas Chainsaw Massacre in space”, whatever tagline you prefer, Alien is a template for a horror movie. Replace “spaceship” with your chosen location and “alien” with the murderer of choice and you have a great script. “The Alien” one of the most iconic images ever put on-screen – in all of its forms. A dozen marketing and branding teams couldn’t come up with images like the egg, the facehugger, the chestburster, and the xenomorph. All four of them being part in one character? That’s too much to expect! Ripley is one of the most bad-ass action heroes in film, and Sigourney Weaver smashes it out of the park. The cast is brilliant, with a nice touch of realism with being slightly older than you get in a film like this. And… the moment the alien hatches out of John Hurt’s CHEST! Not from his stomach, it bursts through his lungs and rib cage! One of the most singularly grotesque moment in horror. The crowning moment in one of my favourite films.
Dave: What can you say about this film that hasn’t already been said. It is simply brilliant. The work of a true genius is the ability to transcend the confines of a genre, Scott is a master of this and it all started with Alien. This, for me, isn’t a sci-fi/horror, it is just Alien. It set the bar and, so far, at least no one has cleared it. It is almost 30 years old and it is like it hasn’t aged a day.
Welshy: Again my fellow usher says what I am unable to. I agree with all of this except that I think this is number 2. My number one is Blade Runner.
Dan: Absolute perfection.