Friday, December 9, 2011

Top 5 James Bond Films


The holiday season has become a haven for family gatherings, big meals, and James Bond films. Although they're designed like summer movies, the big-budget action franchise carved a niche at the end of the year. Cable networks also use this time to run Bond movie marathons, which offer a pleasant respite from the winter doldrums. With this trend in mind, I've decided to make the tough choices and present my Top 5 picks from the entire series. To give some background, I grew up with these films and watched them frequently as a kid. They weren't R-rated so they were acceptable at home, but they still provided action, girls, and spy fun. I've seen all the movies and am looking forward to checking out Skyfall next winter. After reading these picks, I'd love to hear your own top choices, which will likely are much different from mine. Let's do this!


Honorable mentions, From Russia with Love (1963) and For Your Eyes Only (1981)
The second-best outings for Sean Connery and Roger Moore, respectively, these films are the most straightforward spy pictures from each star. From Russia with Love built on the success of Dr. No and offered a tense, small-scale mission. Robert Shaw’s Grant is one of Bond’s most formidable enemies, and their scenes on the train rank among the series’ best. It's fairly slow-moving, but the payoff is worth the wait. After the bombast of Moonraker, Moore brought the character closer to reality with For Your Eyes Only. It’s his best performance as Bond and provides several white-knuckle action sequences. The final assault against the villain’s fortress is a spellbinding climax and puts Bond in legitimate danger. Moore also adds a touch of nastiness that we rarely see during his run with the character.


5. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
George Lazenby doesn’t get much credit for his one Bond appearance, but he’s stellar in this underrated film. It sticks closest to Ian Fleming’s original novel and provides a surprisingly effective love story for Bond. Telly Sevalas is the most believable actor to play Blofeld and doesn’t overplay the villainy. Diana Rigg brings grace to a tricky role as Tracy, and we’re right with Bond by the time they get together. The action remains top-notch and includes a stunning bobsled pursuit. The most unique part is the shocking finale, which offers a rare downbeat ending only matched by Casino Royale. It would have been interesting to see what Lazenby would have done with a second movie.


4. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
The strongest of the Moore films, this over-the-top production shows off remarkable art direction from Ken Adam. The final act takes place inside a massive submarine base and involves a lengthy shootout to save the world from nuclear war. Barbara Bach is one of the best Bond girls, and her connection with Bond is complicated because he killed her ex-lover. The opening sequence includes a crazy stunt of skiing off a cliff, and that sense of daring permeates the entire picture. While the main baddie is forgettable, the standout henchman is the steel-toothed Jaws (Richard Kiel). His invincibility is ridiculous, but he remains one of the classic Bond villains from the entire series. 


3. License to Kill (1989)
Timothy Dalton’s two Bond films are extremely divisive and usually place fans in either the “love it” or “hate it” category. The Living Daylights provides a solid change-up from the last two Moore outings and nearly made this list. For his second appearance, Dalton brought a down-to-earth, rough side to Bond that would inspire Daniel Craig’s current take. Diverging the furthest from the formula, License to Kill involves Bond’s personal vendetta against drug lord Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi). He quits his job and seems willing to do anything to bring down Sanchez. Robert Davi is perfectly cast as the villain who values honor more than money. There are a few flaws, but it’s the movement away from the slick style (returning in the Brosnan years) that makes it so memorable. Also, the final tanker-truck chase is one of the top action sequences in the entire franchise.


2. Casino Royale (2006)
After the sad demise of the Brosnan era with the pitiful Die Another Day, the prospect of another new Bond making it work seemed unlikely. This made the remarkable success of Casino Royale even more amazing. Rebooting the franchise with Bond as a new agent, the story takes the best elements of Fleming’s book and transforms it for a modern audience. After a striking black-and-white opening, Craig leaps into the role with an energetic parkour chase. The action combines well with the dramatic moments to deliver a true rejuvenation for the tired franchise. The brutal story doesn’t pull any punches and keeps you enthralled into the final revelations. Like Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, this reboot subverts the formula but retains the best elements of the series.


1. Thunderball (1965)
But what about Goldfinger, you ask? The Bond phenomenon truly began with that memorable film, which created many of the basic elements. However, it was the follow-up Thunderball that set the standard. In his fourth appearance, Connery strikes the right balance between the straightforward character of the early films and the sillier approach of his last few roles. SPECTRE and their #2 guy Largo (Adolfo Celi) have stolen nuclear warheads, so the stakes are higher than ever. The highlights include remarkable underwater photography, two great Bond girls (especially Luciana Paluzzi), and a fast-paced water finale. It’s the quintessential Bond film and sets the standard for everything that follows.

I'd love to hear your angry thoughts about this James Bond list below in the comments section. You should also check out the archive of past Top 5 Lists if you've missed them. There's a new one every Friday.

Next week, I'll join George Clooney and Cate Blanchett in the post-war Berlin of 1945 to learn more about The Good German.

16 comments:

  1. Really? Thunderball was always one of my least favorites, and I really can't stand the rebooted series-- anything besides Blade Runner or film noir with the adjectives 'dark and gritty' tacked on bores me. I guess it's good to know somewhere my polar opposite exists.

    (My top 5 would also include Moonraker, if you need to feel better about yourself after this comment; I just love it)

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  2. Danny, good to hear from you. I actually don't have a problem with Moonraker being in your top 5. It's totally ridiculous and over the top, which is admirable. At least it's not boring like some of Moore's other movies. What would your Top 5 be?

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  3. Those are all good picks. Thunderball would be the only one that wouldn't immediately come to mind for me, but it is still a good Bond film. My favorite is OHMSS. Nice list.

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  4. Nice list! And, 'cause I can't help hearing it in my head any time Bond gets mentioned, "Timothy Dalton should get an Oscar and beat Sean Connery over the head with it!" Oh, Andrew.

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  5. Adam - OHMSS is a great pick; I'm guessing it might be even higher on the list if I watched it again.

    Kate - I can't think of Andrew without smiling; that's one of his best lines (there are a lot of them).

    Thanks!

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  6. I quiet dislike Thunderball, but I think the rest of your list is really strong. Mine would be:

    1. Casino Royale (2006)
    2. Goldfinger
    3. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
    4. The Living Daylights
    5. For Your Eyes Only

    I know Dalton is still somewhat of a controversial Bond, but I think he lays the foundation for a Bond like Craig. Also, it seems like OHMSS has only gained more popularity among fans since its release. Like you, I think I'll like it even more upon a rewatch.

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  7. Thanks James. I can't argue with any of your picks. Goldfinger and The Living Daylights were right on the edge of mine. I do think that Dalton laid the groundwork for Craig, especially with License to Kill. The Brosnan films went a different direction, but by the time of Casino Royale, the producers realized audiences were now ready for a different type of Bond.

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  8. I'm glad to see a Dalton film on here. As someone who had been watching the contemporary Bond films during the end of Moore's run, Dalton was a welcome change. In fact, almost everything that has been said in praise of Daniel Craig when he took over was first said of Dalton.

    On a related note, I don't really consider the Craig incarnation to be Bond movies at all - they are Jason Bourne movies. Bond out-thinks his opponents, not out-punches them.

    I'd probably have The Spy Who Love Me at the top of my list, not because it's the best movie of the series, but because it is the most fun, has the best theme song, and has one of the best all time openings of any movie, not just Bond ones. With all the BASE jumping and filmed sky gymnastics all over ther web now, people don't realize what an impact that scene had on people back when it first came out. No one had seen anything like it.

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  9. Chip, I see your point about the Craig movies, but would you consider some of the Brosnan films to be Bond movies using that definition? I know he's not as tough as Craig's version, but there was a greater reliance on gadgets than smarts. For this reason, I think every actor brings something different to Bond, and all vary from Fleming's original incarnation.

    The Spy Who Loved Me is a good choice. That opening scene with the jump was quite a feat. I watched the DVD extra that talked about that sequence, and the danger involved with that stunt was surprising.

    Thanks!

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  10. Dan, to be completely honest, I don't remember much from the last couple of Brosnan Bond films. I just remember being kind of disappointed in them and wondering if the Bond franchise was over for good. Goldeneye was probably the last Bond film that I watched more than once.

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  11. I think any serious James Bond fan would put Casino Royale in their top 5. It stayed true to the originals while being supremely badass.

    I agree with most of your choices here, but man, I always thought Timothy Dalton SUCKED as Bond. Maybe I should go back and rewatch his.

    Glad From Russia With Love got to sneak in!

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  12. Alex, it's interesting to me how divisive Dalton's movies are, even among Bond fans. Most people like the early Connery movies and Casino Royale, but responses to Dalton are all over the map. It also seems like most are pretty passionate about it either way. There aren't too many in the middle.

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  13. Wow Thunderball??? :) I doubt it would make my top ten... If I narrow it to 5 I think it would look something like this:

    1. License to Kill
    2. From Russia with Love
    3. Goldfinger
    4. Goldeneye
    5. A View to a Kill (probably my guilty pleasure bond film, I had a great time when revisiting it a couple of weeks ago)

    Have you submitted this list to Fogs' Bond blogathon round-ups?

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    1. Joel, I keep forgetting to submit this one to Fogs. I have another Bond Top 5 going up tomorrow, so I'll probably just send both then.

      I feel like Thunderball is the signature movie for all of the elements that make a Bond film. It has the world-domination plot, the gadgets, the girls, and some great action scenes. The combination of all those elements makes it #1. That said, I might change my mind if I watched them all in a row.

      Can't argue with your top three picks. Goldeneye is Brosnan's best, but it's pretty far from my Top 5. I agree that A View to a Kill is silly, and Walken is great. Unfortunately, Tanya Roberts is just terrible and Moore is too old. Still, I agree that it's a lot of fun.

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  14. WOW. I was all ready to go on an OHMSS rant, and then you threw the curveball with Thunderball! :D Nicely done.

    I love Thunderball, it's a great flick, to me. Definitely in my top five too (pretty sure, I'll be making it official next week post-Skyfall, LOL) so no complaints. But I think that Goldfinger needs to be there somewhere. I can't really support OHMSS... I'm a huge hater of that flick. I might suggest starting there. :D

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    1. Fogs, I feel like every person always says "What? Thunderball?" when they hear my favorite. I think Goldfinger has almost become such a pop-culture staple that it's hard to separate the movie from it. Thunderball surprises me when I watch it because it gets pushed aside sometimes when people talk about Bond. I forget just how great it is. I will say that Goldfinger might get as high as #5 if I watched it again. The top four are pretty set for me.

      I'll look forward to hearing your thoughts on the LAMBcast when it's released. I think it turned out really well, especially since we all didn't agree.

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