We asked Exhibit A’s brilliant new thriller writer and movie aficionado, Richard Parker, to blog about his top five thriller movies. Easy, he thought, until he realised which ones he’d have to leave off the list.
Richard ended up going for his top ten instead and, as you’ll see, he’s managed to shoehorn a few more in amongst them. Here at Exhibit A, we’re off to rent the ones we’ve not yet seen and recommend you do the same.
Before the colossal budgets of ‘Batman Begins’ and ‘Inception’ director Christopher Nolan made some fine thrillers. ‘Following’ was his debut and well worth checking out. Memento is still my favourite of his movies, however, and concerns Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) a man who has short-term memory loss and uses pictures and tattoos as prompts to help him find the man he believes murdered his wife. The plot runs backwards and is split into bites of his memory as the movie slowly reveals the truth. Apparently Nolan’s brother was working on the short story and told Chris about it. Chris completed the screenplay before he’d finished.
This Argentinean thriller won an Academy Award for best foreign film. A great screenplay, performances and camerawork make this a treat on every level. A retired legal counsellor is working on a novel and trying to expunge the regret he feels over an unsolved case and a love for a woman that was never reciprocated. Stand out moments for me are the stunning camera shot over a stadium – if that sort of thing pops your corn – the great reveal at the end but, moreover, the performances by the bereaved husband (Pablo Rago) and the two would be lovers (Ricardo Darin and Soledad Villamil).
3. ANGEL HEART
This is Alan Parker’s faithful adaptation of one of my favourite books – ‘Falling Angel’ by William Hjortsberg. Mickey Rourke plays gumshoe Harry Angel who has been hired to track down a missing person – Johnny Favourite – a popular singer prior to World War 2. Nothing is as it seems in this satanic noir thriller that blends the tenebrous worlds of the PI and black magic. The whole movie has a great sense of mounting dread and is a reminder of how Parker can deliver an uncompromising thriller – ‘Midnight Express’ and ‘Mississippi Burning’ are also still very powerful. Even if you know the significant twist it only enhances the viewing or reading experience.
This is a definitive race-against-time action thriller and a triumph of low-budget movie making by director John Carpenter. Only the opening dolly shot was actually lensed in New York. The Big Apple skyline was down to matte-paintings by future director James Cameron. Kurt Russell plays Snake Plissken (having beaten Tommy Lee Jones to the role), a convicted bank robber sent in to rescue the president. His plane has crashed into New York, which is now a walled high security prison. When character Maggie (Adrienne Barbeau – Carpenter’s then wife) dies and we see her sprawled in a pool of blood it was actually shot in Carpenter’s garage at home. As you can gather, I’ve seen this way too many times. Check out Carpenter’s other thriller classic ‘Assault On Precinct 13.’
As claustrophobic movies go this is the ultimate. There has been a spate of them – ‘Blackout’ (an elevator), ‘Phone Booth (self explanatory) and ‘Frozen’ (a ski resort chairlift) but this one is set entirely in a wooden coffin that the protagonist (played by Ryan Reynolds) wakes up in. Before watching I assumed that the movie would resort to flashback but no, the entire 95 minutes is set in the box so kudos to writer Chris Sparling and director Rodrigo Cortes for keeping the viewer engaged for the duration. You really do really feel as if you’re in there with him.
This Italian giallo (named after the ‘yellow’ Italian thriller novels that usually featured elegant women and black gloved killers) is a typical Dario Argento movie – great, energetic set pieces held together by lesser scenes of exposition. As always the lighting, sets and cinematography are stars although the late David Hemmings – protagonist of seminal sixties thriller ‘Blow Up’ - is very watchable as the reporter helping a musician who has witnessed the death of a famous psychic. An early scene contains a neat give away that I won’t reveal for those yet to enjoy this. Everyone cites ‘Suspiria’ as Argento’s masterpiece but that’s a horror movie. It’s worth checking out the director’s other giallo movies particularly ‘Bird With The Crystal Plumage’ and ‘The Cat O Nine Tails.’
Prior to ‘The Matrix’ the Wachowski Brothers made this fun and stylish crime thriller starring Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon as Violet and Corky, two lesbian lovers determined to swipe a suitcase of money from Tilly’s gangster husband. Events rapidly and enjoyably unravel as fast as they do in Raimi’s ‘A Simple Plan’ or Berg’s ‘Very Bad Things.’ Tilly and Gershon clearly have fun but it’s Joe Pantoliano (who also appears in ‘Memento’) who puts in the best manic performance as he frantically tries to recover the suitcase while Tilly plays innocent.
This is a masterful heist thriller from Sydney Lumet starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke as two brothers who orchestrate the robbery of their own family’s jewellery store. Naturally, things don’t go to plan and the repercussions bring about a powerful confrontation with their father played by Albert Finney. Great acting across the board and a believable plot make for compulsive viewing. The whole movie has a nervous charge that holds you to the last frame.
A train journey from China to Moscow becomes a gruelling ordeal for couple Roy (Woody Harrelson) and Jessie (Emily Mortimer) in this suspense thriller from director Brad Anderson who also gave us the surreal mystery ‘The Machinist.’ Beautifully shot, if you haven’t seen it this one’s worth tracking down. It’s Ben Kingsley who steals the show for me. He plays Grinko, a Russian narcotics officer eager to sniff out the drugs that have been planted on the unwitting couple. Directors always seem to get good results when they give a veteran actor a good villain to get their teeth into. Which brings me neatly onto my last but certainly not least choice…
10. IN BRUGES
For me a perfect blend of black comedy, violence and pathos from writer/director Martin McDonagh. Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell play Ken and Ray, a couple of hitmen who are holed up in the Belgian city after a job gone wrong. It’s the last place Ray wants to be and they meet a number of bizarre characters before their boss (Ralph Fiennes) makes his memorable appearance and we realise just how wrong the hit went. It’s quirky, graphic and touching. If you enjoy this you may also enjoy Gleeson in the Irish thriller ‘The Guard.’
Darn – I’ve just thought of another one I wanted to include so maybe the top twenty next time. Happy viewing.