Monday, 7 November 2011

Top Ten: Movie Showdowns

These 'Top Tens' are just for my, and hopefully also your, amusement - feel free to add any showdowns you think have been grossly overlooked.

10. Inigo Montoya versus Count Tyrone Rugen

"My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

Nuff said.

9. The Good versus the Bad versus the Ugly

When teenaged Quentin Tarantino went to sleep at night, this is what his dreams looked like. The climactic showdown of Sergio Leone's classic Western The Good the Bad and the Ugly is widely considered to be one of the greatest pieces of filmmaking ever; if you felt like trying to cut through the tension in this scene, you'd need a chainsaw to do it.

8. Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker

If you don't know by now that Darth Vader is in fact Luke Skywalker's father, then frankly, you deserve to have the twist spoiled for you. This is a bit of a weird one, as the showdown isn't really between Luke and Vader; more between Luke and the Emperor, or even Luke and the Dark Side of the Force. Or perhaps between Vader and the Emperor, or Vader and his own internal demons...Maybe the title of this one should just have been the Force versus the Dark Side of the Force...but then, the whole point of the Force is that it is both good and bad in perfect balance. So technically, it's impossible ever to have a real showdown between the light and the dark...Time for another training session on Dagobah...

7. Oh Dae Su versus Woo-jin

My favourite film in Chan-wook Park's Vengeance Trilogy, Oldboy, is loosely based on the most famous revenge story ever, The Count of Monte Cristo. Oh Dae Su, after being inexplicably imprisoned for fifteen years, is suddenly and just as inexplicably set free. He vows revenge on whoever it was that orchestrated his imprisonment, and sets about trying to discover their identity. Eventually, he finds that the culprit is an old school friend of his, Woo-jin (hence Oldboy) and that in fact, the long imprisonment was only the beginning of Woo-jin's revenge upon Oh Dae Su, for something Oh Dae Su can barely remember. Oh Dae Su and Woo-jin engage in a violent and psychologically torturous battle which, it becomes clear, neither can win. The denouement of this film is horribly brilliant. Don't watch it while you're eating.

6. Ellen Ripley versus the Alien Queen

In probably the most memorable scene of any of the Alien films, Ripley battles the Alien Queen from within one of James Cameron's favourites, a human-shaped forklift (also seen in Avatar which, according to the Sci-Fi timeline, took, or will take, place between Alien and Aliens). The queen puts up a pretty good fight in revenge for her burned clutch of eggs, but she is no match for Ripley's tenacious defence of surrogate daughter Newt ("Get away from her, you bitch!"), and is soon sent spinning into the vacuum of space.

5. Beatrix Kiddo versus Oren Ishii

Another set of women in at number five. The superbly choreagraphed final fight of Kill Bill: Vol. 1 between Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu is one of my pet favourite screen scuffles. Not that you could really call it a scuffle; the blood splattered bride shows up at the House of Blue Leaves, mutilates her old friend Sophie, hacks her way through the Crazy 88 ("Well, there wasn't really 88 of 'em. They just called themselves the Crazy 88"), before braining that psycho Gogo with a handy nail-adorned table leg. Only then does she repair to the snow-covered rooftop garden to face down Oren in the ultimate Samurai battle, eventually slicing the top of her head off like a watermelon. If I were ever to take bloody revenge on someone, that's certainly how I'd go about it.

4. Gandalf the Grey versus the Balrog of Morgoth

Still one of the best CGI sequences I have ever seen, the epic battle between Gandalf and the Balrog, which is seen in Frodo's dream/flashback at the beginning of The Two Towers, makes it to number four in my list. In fact, this showdown is so epic that it kills both of its combatants, although of course Gandalf miraculously regenerates into Gandalf the White in order to be able to show up at the battle of Helm's Deep, and then later at Minas Tirith ("Send these foul beasts into the abyss!")

3. Colonel Kurtz versus Captain Willard

In the final scene of Coppola's Apocalypse Now, Willard (Martin Sheen) stalks towards Kurtz (Marlon Brando) in the manner of a hunter. Willard emerges from the darkness, slowly closing in on the brightly lit centre that is Kurtz, whose death is edited together with the brutal sacrifice of a cow. While his murder is technically an assassination, it seems to have an intensely personal element to it. Willard's killing of Kurtz is not just the assassination of an insane officer, but a symbolic act; the self destructive act of obliterating his own unconscious mind. (I wrote my dissertation on Vietnam War films. You can tell, right?)

2. Vito Corleone versus Don Fanucci

This sequence from Godfather Part 2 beats the equally amazing restaurant killing in Part 1 simply because it's been massively overshadowed for too long. Vito (a young Robert de Niro) follows the progress of Don Fanucci through the crowds drawn by a religious parade. Fanucci is in the street, while Vito is spying on him from the rooftops. The sequence is deliciously slow, building up to the brilliantly understated climax of Vito hiding in the shadows outside Fanucci's door, having strategically unscrewed a lightbulb. Wrapping up his gun to muffle the noise, he wordlessly shoots Fanucci as he arrives (but not before the Don has had enough time to turn around and see exactly who is about to pop him), and the wrapping around his gun bursts into flames.

1. The Narrator versus Tyler Durden

Surely the greatest ever showdown must be the one you have with yourself. Especially if the part of yourself you are fighting happens to look like a drugged-up, escaped mental patient version of Brad Pitt. At the end of Fight Club, the Narrator finally turns on his alter ego. This fight with a man that only Edward Norton can see is very cleverly dealt with by director David Fincher. Example: seen through the camera, Brad Pitt is most definitely present, but seen through the cctv camera, the truth is revealed and Pitt is absent as Norton appears to throw himself down a flight of stairs. Realising that he cannot beat Tyler, the Narrator formulates the clever solution of putting the gun in his own mouth and pulling the trigger. By a happy chance, the bullet only goes through his neck, leaving him alive; however, since he thought he was killing himself, alter ego Tyler keels over, the back of his head blown to smithereens...

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