Ridley Scott is one of the most unpredictable and audacious directors of modern times. Inexplicably wielding enormous power amongst the big wigs of Hollywood (despite having a myriad of commercial and critical atom bombs littering his long and mostly distinguished resume) Scott has bounced around through nearly every conceivable genre of film, worked with some of film’s greatest movie stars and accrued multiple notices from the Academy Awards for some of his prolific work. Now, in honor of Scott directing what is sure to be one of the summer’s biggest films (a tiny character piece called Prometheus) we at Filmophilia will stretch our minds backwards through a portal filled with Blade Runners, Aliens, Gladiators and Matchstick Men and decipher for you just what is the most distinctive, challenging, daring and artistically resonant work that Scott has ever done. This is Top Five: Ridley Scott.
5. Matchstick Men (2003)
Matchstick Men was a welcomed reprieve for Scott fans weary of the director’s proclivity for churning out massively misguided epics during the first half of the 2000′s (Kingdom of Heaven, Gladiator, Hannibal). Expertly directed by Scott, featuring an uncharacteristically well-developed performance from the one and only Nicholas Cage, and thoughtfully written by Nicholas Griffen, Matchstick Men is probably one of Scott’s most emotionally legitimate films. A welcome break from a director who continually skimps on character in favor of spectacle.
4. Black Hawk Down(2001)
This macho and chaotic evocation of one of America’s more recent global misadventures represents Scott at his technical best. The characters in Black Hawk (embodied by a capable cast including Ewan McGregor, Eric Bana, Sam Shepard and the feckless Josh Hartnett) are reduced to little more than bodies to be ripped apart or chess pieces to be moved around a demolished Somalian chess board. However, it is the kinetic and visceral manner in which Scott stages the battle between the besieged American forces and attacking Somalis that truly makes this war film move from mundane to memorable. The violent energy imbued in the camerawork and especially in the vicious, frantic editing style employed by Pietro Scalia provides the film with a hypnotic power – something that the lack of emotional or geo-political complexity can’t deny.
3. Thelma & Louise (1991)
There is a great deal to love about Thelma and Louise. From the iconic, suicidal car tumble off the canyon to Brad Pitt‘s star-making performance of pure titillation, Scott’s road-movie depiction of feminine empowerment is simultaneously entertaining and grim, joyful and tragic. Providing an excellent showcase for the two titular female leads (this is easily Genna Davis’s best role) Thelma and Louise probably represents Scott’s most complete film, meaning that the elements of a strong story, effective character development and thematic complexity all shine.
2. Alien (1979)
The first of Scott’s two landmark works of science fiction was also the inceptive force behind one of the most enduring franchises in the last 30 years. Offering viewers a unique meshing of science fiction and horror 1979′s Alien is lumbering with its pacing yet horrifyingly effective in its staging of the Alien’s slow destruction of our almost helpless cast of human and non quite so human characters. With a brooding aesthetic that is conveyed through the film’s cavernous production design and a great cast (including Ian Holm, Jon Hurt and of course Weaver’s iconic and heroic Ripley) Alien was a definitive game changer for an entire genre.
1. Blade Runner(1982)
A thrilling mixture of cyber-punk, science fiction and hard-boiled noir, Ridley Scott’s masterful adaptation of Phillip K. Dick’s novel (retitled as Blade Runner) was cruelly overlooked upon its initial release (like so many films that are ahead of their time). Still, Blade Runner’s influence (which was affirmed through a myriad of different “cuts” and re-releases) set off shock waves that are still being felt decades later. A grimy portrait of urban dystopia, Scott’s mise-en-scene builds upon the aesthetics of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and creates an unforgettable world filled with darkened monolithic buildings and perpetual rain that has been endlessly imitated (Burton’s Batman films, Fincher’s Seven, the Wachowski’s The Matrix, and Nolan’s Batman Begins) but rarely (if ever) equaled. Even more startling is Scott’s ability to condense Dick’s source material and focus on using repeated visual motifs to suggest the ambiguity of what exactly constitutes one’s humanity and, because of its heartbreaking temporality, that life is something that should always be cherished.
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