A Century of Film

 

Suspense Films


The Genre

What is a Suspense film, anyway?  What makes it different from other genres?  I think I first started thinking about that with the release of The Hunt for Red October.  It was still early in my days of being serious about films but I realized it was a bit unclassifiable.  It wasn’t an Action film.  There was too much suspense to be a Drama.  I got a film guide (called the Video Movie Guide – I had the 1990 edition and later gave that to my mother who still has it when I got the 1993 edition which I eventually got rid of, feeling I no longer needed it) not long afterwards that classified films by genre and had Action-Adventure-Thriller as one of them.  I realized that was where Hunt for Red October belonged.  But eventually I would decide that Mysteries really were their own sub-genre.

Almost all Mysteries could be pushed into this Genre which is why Mystery will be the next genre covered in this series (it was originally going to be first but it was easier to find a list of Mysteries and go through that than it was for Suspense, so I am watching a bunch more Mysteries before that post).  But Mysteries are tied up in a specific Mystery and solving that Mystery while Suspense is often more about the feeling in the film.  There is often a Mystery as well and I would not quibble with any person who keeps any of these films in Mystery.  A lot of them could also be classified as Action, but Action films, for the most part, focus more on the actual action and less on the feeling of suspense (for instance, most Spy films are here, but the Bond films are in Action).  Crime films could also be classified here (Crime films are often described as “crime thriller”).

Suspense films really kind of begin with Hitchcock.  They existed before him, of course (the earliest film I classify as Suspense is Ace of Hearts from 1921) but it was Hitchcock who first made an art form out of it, who made it really popular and who inspired countless imitators.  I have seen 23 films that were released before 1940 and that I classify as Suspense (Film Noir, which really came of age in the 1940’s, was all about Suspense films) and 10 of them are Hitchcock films.  He ruled the genre both in terms of quantity and quality.  Through 1959 there are 19 Suspense films which earn a **** from me and 10 of them are Hitchcock films.

But, of course, then came Film Noir.  Suspense films started getting a wider berth with a lot more directors making these kinds of films.  Now suddenly directors like Billy Wilder and George Cukor were making great Suspense films and every studio was getting in on it.  As time went on, the French started worshipping Hitchcock and the films of Film Noir and we started getting the likes of Claude Chabrol.  The 70’s would get the next Hitchcock devotee in Brian De Palma and would get a wave of thrillers that would work around political paranoia.  In the wake of the Bond films, we would start to get Spy films that, because they often didn’t have Bond-like budgets, focused more on suspense than on action.

In the last 20 years, Suspense films have become much bigger deals at the box office with the success of the Mission: Impossible films and the Bourne films, but much less so among awards groups (no groups has nominated a Suspense film for Picture since 1999 and the Oscars, PGA and Critics haven’t done so since 1993).

Sub-Genres

Cop

  • Best Film:  Stray Dog

Cop films, as a sub-genre, fall into a variety of primary genres.  The main four are Crime films (when the cop is corrupt), Detective films (when the cop is a detective and is investigating some mystery), Action films (for those that are more focused on action scenes) and then Suspense films.  There might be some element of mystery but it isn’t the primary element and the cop is a good cop and it’s not heavy on action.  The best kind of these films are Stray Dog, Witness and The Untouchables and while they go back quite a ways (my earliest listed is On Dangerous Ground from 1951) it really became popular in the 80’s (I have seen eight such films from the 80’s and seven more from the 90’s).

Courtroom

  • Best Film:  Presumed Innocent

These are films that have too much suspense to be classified as Dramas but focus much more on what is going to happen rather than solving the mystery of who actually committed a crime.  Presumed Innocent is a great example of course and A Time to Kill is also here as would other Grisham films be if they ever got around to the trials which they usually don’t.

Lit Adaptation

  • Best Film:  The Comedians

There are not that many films that fall here.  There are a couple of Conrad adaptations (Sabotage, The Secret Agent), a Faulkner one (The Story of Temple Drake), two Graham Greene films (The Comedians, The Honorary Counsel), a Maugham story (the Hitchcock Secret Agent) and a Zola novel (Human Desire).

Spy

  • Best Film:  The Hunt for Red October

This is a large sub-genre and though I am not breaking down and listing them separately, I also have sub-sub-genres of Spy (Jason Bourne), Spy (Ethan Hunt), Spy (Jack Ryan) and Spy (Le Carre), the last because the spy in the Le Carre books aren’t always the same.  For the purposes of keeping like films together, I have grouped all of the Jason Bourne films and Mission; Impossible films as Suspense though they could also easily be classified as Action films.  This is by far the largest sub-genre with the three Bourne films, four Ethan Hunt films, four Jack Ryan films and four Le Carre films plus 39 other films, including such solid films as Three Days of the Condor, Foreign Correspondent and No Way Out and such crappy films as The Saint.

Assorted

  • Best Film:  Z  (True Story)

There are a few films that fall here.  I list two Heist films that I didn’t classify as Crime films (Gambit, Flawless), one Hitman film because it wasn’t really a Crime film (The Day of the Jackal), one Stephen King film (Secret Window), two true stories (Z, Breach) and one World War II film (36 Hours).


The Directors

There are directors who really specialize in Suspense-Thrillers.  It all began with Hitchcock, of course, but there are others as well.  These are the four with, not only the most films, but by far the highest reputations within the genre.

Brian De Palma

  • Films:  9
  • Years:  1973  –  1998
  • Average Film:  59.89
  • Best Film:  The Untouchables
  • Worst Film:  Snake Eyes

I must admit that I am conflicted on De Palma.  Because of The Untouchables and Casualties of War, he was one of the first directors I ever took seriously.  I enjoy him to the point that I watched the really well-done documentary on him, De Palma.  But I actually think most of his films just aren’t very good.  I want them to be better and I want to like them more but I just don’t think they are (I spent a lot of time saying that to Veronica, who hasn’t seen many of them, when we watched the documentary).  But you can’t deny his importance in the genre.  I’ve got nine films classified as Suspense directed by De Palma with The Untouchables by far the best of them.  But I think Body Double and Obsession are badly over-rated and that Raising Cain and Snake Eyes are just terrible.

Fritz Lang

  • Films:  10
  • Years:  1928  –  1954
  • Average Film:  74.40
  • Best Film:  The Big Heat
  • Worst Film:  Secret Beyond the Door

Unlike de Palma, the Suspense films from Fritz Lang include neither his best films nor his weakest films.  He started making Suspense films when he was still in Germany with Spies but he really was a major director with the turn towards Film Noir in the 40’s making Ministry of Fear, Hangmen Also Die, Cloak and Dagger and Secret Beyond the Door.  The last of those is the only film below *** but only Ministry of Fear, The Big Heat and Human Desire rise above ***.  Let’s not forget that Lang also made The Woman in the Window and The Blue Gardenia, both of which could easily be classified here (they’re in Mystery).

Claude Chabrol

  • Films:  12
  • Years:  1969 – 2003
  • Average Film:  65.58
  • Best Film:  Le Ceremonie
  • Worst Film:  Dirty Hands

Unlike the other directors, there is a lot of Chabrol I haven’t seen.  He directed over 50 feature films and I have only seen 25 of them and some of the ones I didn’t consider as Suspense were listed as Mystery or Crime and could have been here.  He is, even more than De Palma, the most obvious director under Hitchcock’s influence.  While Chabrol has always been highly regarded internationally, most Chabrol films I have seen are in the *** or **.5 range, including his Suspense films (10 ***, one **.5, one **).  But he worked too long and made too many films in this genre to be ignored.

Alfred Hitchcock

  • Films:  30
  • Years:  1929  –  1972
  • Average Film:  75.60
  • Best Film:  Strangers on a Train
  • Worst Film:  Jamaica Inn

As you can see, it’s not hyperbole to refer to Alfred Hitchcock as the Master of Suspense.  Just look at the list just below.  It’s not only that he made by far the most films in the genre but that he also made the best films in the genre.  I could list The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes and those are just the list of **** films that he made before coming to America (or that received no Oscar nominations, take your pick).  Amazingly, only two of his Suspense films earned him Oscar nominations (his other three were for a Mystery, Drama and Horror, respectively) although really all five could have been considered Suspense films.  In fact, there are very few of his 52 films that can’t be considered Suspense films.

Best Suspense Director  (weighted points system)

  1. Alfred Hitchcock  (719)
  2. Fritz Lang  (161)
  3. Akira Kurosawa  (153)
  4. Alan J. Pakula  (132)
  5. Jonathan Demme  (90)

Analysis:  This adds up points on a weighted scale (90-1) for placing in the Top 20 at the Nighthawk Awards for Best Director in any given year.


The Stars

Ingrid Bergman

Bergman, like some other stars of the genre (Cary Grant is one that I don’t include here) became a star in the genre because of Hitchcock.  But Bergman also added in Gaslight, which is probably her best performance on film.  There is no actress even close to Bergman in terms of great lead actress performances in Suspense.
Essential Viewing:  Notorious, Gaslight, Spellbound

James Stewart

Jimmy Stewart really ends up here because of Hitchcock.  He was the star of several Hitchcock films, beginning with Rope and including several films in the 50’s and including Rear Window which for years was the most financially successful Suspense film ever made.
Essential Viewing:  Rear Window, Vertigo, Rope

Michael Caine

Michael Caine became an Oscar nominee because of Alfie but he became a star because of films like The Ipcress File and GambitGambit was a one-off but The Ipcress File was the first of three Harry Palmer films, all of them solid Suspense films.  He would also make films like Dressed to Kill, Deathtrap and The Fourth Protocol.
Essential Viewing:  The Ipcress File, The Fourth Protocol, Gambit

Harrison Ford

When he wasn’t being Han Solo or Indiana Jones, Ford was making some of the best Suspense thrillers of the era when I was growing up.  Even before that he had a bit part in The Conversation.  He earned his only Oscar nomination for Witness, should have earned a nomination for Presumed Innocent and scored what was then the biggest box office success for a Suspense film of all-time, The Fugitive.
Essential Viewing:  Witness, Presumed Innocent, The Fugitive

Michael Douglas

It’s hard to know what to list as Essential Viewing because while Douglas is unquestionably a star of Suspense films, with a number of them under his belt, very few of them, in my opinion, are any good.  It was the success of Fatal Attraction that turned him in this direction with later films like Basic Instinct (which I classify as a Mystery but easily could have been here), Shining Through, Disclosure, The Game, A Perfect Murder.  They’re generally not very good but they are successful and Douglas is a star.
Essential Viewing:  The Game, Disclosure, Fatal Attraction

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise is Ethan Hunt, of course.  That alone is huge since it’s the most successful franchise in the genre (by a considerable distance) and doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down.  But even before then, he had been the star of The Firm, one of the few Suspense films before the original M:I to break $150 million at the box office.
Essential Viewing:  Mission: Impossible, The Firm

 

The Studios

Paramount is the dominant studio here.  There are 11 great films from Paramount, far more than any other studio (no other studio has more than four).  And it’s not just a question of Hitchcock because only two of them are his (Rear Window, Vertigo).  I should also note that of all the studios except for Paramount, only Warner Bros has more than three films that I saw in the theater (it has five).  But Paramount has ten.  On the financial side of things, Paramount is also responsible for both the Jack Ryan films and the Mission: Impossible films which gives it two considerably successful franchises in a genre that doesn’t have a whole lot of franchises.

Countries

France dominates here, partially because of Claude Chabrol.  But there is also Henri-Georges Clouzot and Robert Bresson.  The French love their Suspense films because so many directors there worshipped Hitchcock.  I have 54 films listed here and 23 of them are from France including two of the five films that actually earned Oscar nominations (La Verite, Coup de Torchon).

Oscar Submissions

There are 17 Suspense films that I have seen that were submitted for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film.  Of those, five earned a nomination (La Verite, Knife in the Water, Woman in the Dunes, Letters from Marusia, Coup de Torchon) while  Z actually won the award.

note:  For the next few lists, any links are to reviews I have written.  Some of them go to the Adapted Screenplay posts that discuss the film and the literary source but don’t actually review the film (but link to places where I had already reviewed the film).  There are a few that are not linked now but will be in the coming months as I get to more of the Adapted Screenplay posts.  The middle list deliberately includes any Suspense films I have already reviewed as well as any Suspense film I saw in the theater as well as all the Hitchcock films and some remakes to note the difference in quality.
note:  Please don’t try to make the following list match up with other lists I have made.  All my lists are fluid and they change.

The Top 75 Suspense Films

  1. The Silence of the Lambs
  2. Double Indemnity
  3. The Crying Game
  4. Strangers on a Train
  5. Z
  6. Rear Window
  7. North by Northwest
  8. Stray Dog
  9. Notorious
  10. Gaslight (1944)
  11. The Conversation
  12. Blood Simple
  13. Shadow of a Doubt
  14. The Big Heat
  15. High and Low
  16. The 39 Steps (1935)
  17. The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
  18. Night and the City (1950)
  19. Witness
  20. Bad Day at Black Rock
  21. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
  22. Knife in the Water
  23. Crossfire
  24. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)
  25. Diabolique (1955)
  26. Dead Again
  27. The Talented Mr. Ripley
  28. In the Line of Fire
  29. Out of the Past
  30. Presumed Innocent
  31. The Letter (1940)
  32. The Hunt for Red October
  33. The Untouchables
  34. Death and the Maiden
  35. The Day of the Jackal
  36. Vertigo
  37. Klute
  38. The Parallax View
  39. Three Days of the Condor
  40. Run Lola Run
  41. Following
  42. The Bourne Ultimatum
  43. House of Games
  44. Death of a Cyclist
  45. Spellbound
  46. The Lady Vanishes
  47. Insomnia (1997)
  48. Body Heat
  49. Peeping Tom
  50. Swimming Pool
  51. Insomnia (2002)
  52. I See a Dark Stranger
  53. Absolute Power
  54. Suspicion
  55. Panic Room
  56. No Way Out (1950)
  57. Ministry of Fear
  58. The Big Easy
  59. The Fugitive (1993)
  60. Marathon Man
  61. Seven Days in May
  62. The Comedians
  63. Human Desire
  64. The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
  65. A Cottage on Dartmoor
  66. The Deadly Affair
  67. Act of Violence
  68. He Ran All the Way
  69. The Tailor of Panama
  70. The International
  71. Cash on Demand
  72. Hunted
  73. No Way Out (1987)
  74. Rope
  75. Wait Until Dark

note:  The Top 47 films are all ****.

Notable Suspense Films Not in the Top 75

  • Ride the Pink Horse  (#77)
  • The Stranger (1946)  (#78)
  • Sudden Fear  (#79)
  • Frenzy  (#82)
  • Stage Fright  (#83)
  • Foreign Correspondent  (#84)
  • The Last Seduction  (#87)
  • The Story of Temple Drake  (#89)
  • The Window  (#91)
  • The Fallen Idol  (#93)
  • Sabotage  (#95)
  • Secret Agent (1936)  (#97)
  • Cape Fear (1962)  (#99)
  • Night Must Fall (1937)  (#100)
  • The Ipcress File  (#101)
  • The Secret Agent (1996)  (#104)
  • Hanna  (#105)
  • Le Beoucher  (#106)
  • WarGames  (#108)
  • To Live and Die in L.A.  (#111)
  • Manhunter  (#117)
  • Purple Noon  (#118)
  • Mission: Impossible  (124)
  • The Tenant  (#126)
  • Images  (#127)
  • Number 17  (#132)
  • Sleuth (2007)  (#133)
  • Gambit  (#134)
  • Five Fingers  (#142)
  • The Bourne Identity  (#144)
  • Ace of Hearts  (#149)
  • Spies  (#150)
  • Patriot Games  (#153)
  • Young and Innocent  (#155)
  • Woman in the Dunes  (#165)
  • Cape Fear (1991)  (#167)
  • Murder  (#173)
  • Blow Out  (#178)
  • A Kiss Before Dying (1956)  (#179)
  • Blackmail  (#180)
  • Red Dragon  (#184)
  • Malice  (#195)
  • Topaz  (#199)
  • The X-Files  (#203)
  • Saboteur  (#205)
  • Mission: Impossible 2  (#212)
  • Dial M for Murder  (#214)
  • Clear and Present Danger  (#224)
  • The Postman Always Rings Twice  (#228)
  • The Firm  (#250)
  • Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte  (#258)
  • F/X 2: The Deadly Art of Illusion  (#261)
  • Sleeping with the Enemy  (#263)
  • The 39 Steps (1959)  (#268)
  • Dressed to Kill  (#287)
  • A Time to Kill  (#288)
  • Marnie  (#291)
  • The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)  (#294)
  • Disclosure  (#300)
  • Torn Curtain  (#308)
  • Enemy of the State  (#315)
  • Battle Royale  (#318)
  • Body Double  (#324)
  • Blown Away  (#335)
  • I Confess  (#345)
  • Under Capricorn  (#356)
  • Ransom  (#361)
  • Diabolique (1996)  (#390)
  • Jamaica Inn  (#396)
  • A Perfect Murder  (#406)
  • Snake Eyes  (#407)
  • Fatal Attraction  (#408)
  • A Kiss Before Dying (1991)  (#415)
  • Rising Sun  (#420)

The Bottom 10 Suspense Films, #429-438
(worst being #10, which is #438 overall)

  1. Cruising
  2. Nomads
  3. The Saint  (1997)
  4. Midnight Crossing
  5. Mercury Rising
  6. Windows
  7. Bluebeard
  8. Abduction
  9. Murder by Phone
  10. Body of Evidence

The 10 Most Underrated Suspense Films

These are all films that I rate at **** or ***.5 that have never appeared in TSPDT’s Top 1000 (now 2000) or their Top 250 21st Century Films (now 1000) and were not on the AFI’s list of 50 films (their Mystery film list, in this case).  Also, I eliminated a couple of films that were nominated for Best Picture (The Letter, Crossfire).  In fact seven of these films weren’t nominated for any Oscars at all.  I present them in their rank order.

  1. In the Line of Fire
  2. Dead Again
  3. The Man Who Knew Too Much  (1934)
  4. The Talented Mr. Ripley
  5. Presumed Innocent
  6. The Hunt for Red October
  7. Death and the Maiden
  8. Following
  9. The Death of a Cyclist
  10. Insomnia  (1997)

Best Suspense Films By Decade

  • 1920’s:  The Cat and the Canary
  • 1930’s:  The 39 Steps
  • 1940’s:  Double Indemnity
  • 1950’s:  Strangers on a Train
  • 1960’s:  Z
  • 1970’s:  Chinatown
  • 1980’s:  Blood Simple
  • 1990’s:  The Silence of the Lambs
  • 2000’s:  Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
  • 2010’s:  Hanna

Best Suspense Films by Country
(**** or ***.5 only)

  • United States:  The Silence of the Lambs
  • Ireland:  The Crying Game
  • Algeria:  Z
  • Japan:  Stray Dog
  • England:  The 39 Steps
  • Poland:  Knife in the Water
  • France:  Diabolique
  • Germany:  Run Lola Run
  • Spain:  Death of a Cyclist
  • Sweden:  Insomnia

The Five Most Over-Rated Suspense Films

  1. Fatal Attraction
    This piece of crap is one of the worst Best Picture nominees in Oscar history.
  2. Body Double
    Widely praised and Melanie Griffith won a critics award but it’s really just mediocre.
  3. Dressed to Kill
    Another over-praised Brian de Palma film.
  4. Battle Royale
    This disturbing Japanese film really isn’t very good but it’s continually on the TSPDT 21st Century list anyway.
  5. Marnie
    I wouldn’t have thought this was over-rated.  I thought everyone thought of it as one of Hitchcock’s later weak films.  But it’s the 11th highest rated Suspense film on TSPDT above Silence of the Lambs and Strangers on a Train.

 

The Statistics

Total Films 1912-2011: 433  (7th)

Total Percentage of All Films 1912-2011:  3.25%

  • 1912-1929:  3  (10th)  – 0.85%
  • 1930-1939:  20  (4th)  –  1.92%
  • 1940-1949:  60  (6th)  –  5.52%
  • 1950-1959:  54  (9th)  –  4.25%
  • 1960-1969:  47  (9th)  –  3.16%
  • 1970-1979:  38  (9th-tie)  –  2.53%
  • 1980-1989:  59  (8th)  –  3.47%
  • 1990-1999:  77  (7th)  –  3.97%
  • 2000-2011:  75  (9th)  –  2.54%

Biggest Years:

  • 13:  1987, 2002
  • 11:  1998
  • 10:  1947, 1952, 1990

Biggest Years by Percentage of All Films:

  • 1947:  8.62%
  • 1952:  8.62%
  • 1944:  7.69%
  • 1951:  7.37%
  • 1946:  6.81%

Best Years:

  • 1944:  3 films in the Top 10, 4 films in the Top 20
  • 1947:  3 films in the Top 10

Eras:

  • 1943 to 1947:  9 Top 10 Films, 14 Top 20 Films

The Top Films:

  • Nighthawk Winner:  1944, 1991
  • 3 Films in the Top 10:  1944, 1947
  • 2 Films in the Top 10:  1935, 1958, 1963, 1974, 1985, 1990, 1991
  • Top 10 Films:  48
  • First Year in the Top 10:  1928
  • Latest Year in the Top 10:  2007
  • Longest Streak with at least one Top 10 Film:  1943-47
  • Longest Streak without a Top 10 Film:  1999-2006
  • Best Decade for Top 10 Films:  1940’s  (11)
  • Worst Decade for Top 10 Films:  1920’s / 2000’s  (1)
  • 4 Films in the Top 20:  1944
  • 3 Films in the Top 20:  1943, 1947, 1950, 1967, 1987, 1999
  • Top 20 Films:  92
  • Longest Streak with at least one Top 20 Film:  1935-56
  • Longest Streak without a Top 20 Film:  2000-06
  • Best Decade for Top 20 Films:  1940’s  (23)
  • Worst Decade for Top 20 Films:  2000’s  (1)

Nighthawk Awards

  • Number of Films That Have Earned Nominations:  81
  • Number of Films That Have Won Nighthawks:  26
  • Number of Films With Multiple Nominations:  52
  • Number of Films With Multiple Wins:  11
  • Best Picture Nominations:  21
  • Total Number of Nominations:  311
  • Total Number of Wins:  47
  • Category With the Most Nominations:  Editing  (33)
  • Director with Most Nighthawk Nominated Films:  Alfred Hitchcock  (19)
  • Best Film with No Nighthawks:  Strangers on a Train
  • Best Film with No Nighthawk Nominations:  Following
  • Number of Films That Have Earned Drama Nominations:  81
  • Number of Films That Have Earned Comedy Nominations:  2
  • Number of Films That Have Won Drama Awards:  18
  • Number of Films That Have Won Comedy Awards:  2
  • Drama Picture Nominations:  26
  • Comedy Picture Nominations:  2
  • Total Number of Drama Nominations:  214
  • Total Number of Comedy Nominations:  9
  • Total Number of Drama Wins:  30
  • Total Number of Comedy Wins:  4
  • Category With the Most Nominations:  Adapted Screenplay  (32 – Drama  /  1 – Comedy)
  • Best Drama Film With No Nominations:  Run Lola Run
  • Best Comedy Film With No Nominations:  Gambit
  • Most 2nd Place Finishes:  The Big Heat  (7)
  • Most 6th Place Finishes:  Ministry of Fear  /  Witness  (4)
  • Most Top 10 Finishes:  Night and the City  (13)
  • Most Top 20 Finishes:  Presumed Innocent  (14)
  • Best Film Without a Top 10 Finish:  Insomnia  (2002)
  • Best Film Without a Top 20 Finish:  The Long Night

Most Nighthawk Nominations:

  1. Gaslight  –  12
  2. The Silence of the Lambs  –  12
  3. Double Indemnity  –  11
  4. High and Low  –  11
  5. Spellbound  /  Night and the City  /  The Big Heat  /  Presumed Innocent  –  10

Most Nighthawks:

  1. The Silence of the Lambs  –  7
  2. Gaslight  –  5
  3. Double Indemnity  –  4
  4. eight films  –  2

Most Nighthawk Points:

  1. The Silence of the Lambs  –  605
  2. Double Indemnity  –  535
  3. Gaslight  –  500
  4. Spellbound  –  360
  5. Shadow of a Doubt  –  340
  6. Presumed Innocent  –  340
  7. Stray Dog  –  335
  8. Crossfire  –  330
  9. High and Low  –  330
  10. Night and the City  –  325

Most Drama Nominations:

  1. Presumed Innocent  –  8
  2. six films with 6

Most Comedy Nominations:

  1. The Cat and the Canary  –  5
  2. North by Northwest  –  4

Most Drama Wins:

  1. The Silence of the Lambs  –  5
  2. Double Indemnity  –  3
  3. Gaslight  –  3

note:  The three wins each for Double Indemnity and Gaslight is especially notable since they are from the same year.

Most Comedy Wins:

  1. The Cat and the Canary  –  3
  2. North by Northwest  –  1

note:  I feel like I should point out that The Cat and the Canary has very few serious contenders while North by Northwest was up against Some Like It Hot.

Most Drama Points:

  1. The Silence of the Lambs  –  410
  2. Double Indemnity  –  370
  3. Gaslight  –  335
  4. The Crying Game  –  300
  5. Presumed Innocent  –  290

Most Comedy Points:

  1. The Cat and the Canary  –  295
  2. North by Northwest  –  210

Nighthawk Awards

 

note:  These are my all-time Top 5 in each category.  But in the Analysis section, I discuss not only how Suspense Films have done in the Nighthawks but also in-depth discussions of how they have done in all the awards groups.  Films in red won the Oscar.  Films in blue were Oscar nominated.  There are a few lists here that aren’t in my usual Nighthawk Awards.

  • Best Picture
  1. The Silence of the Lambs
  2. Double Indemnity
  3. The Crying Game
  4. Strangers on a Train
  5. Z

Analysis:  Silence and Double Indemnity both win Best Picture at the Nighthawks.  The other three all earn nominations though Z is at #4 in 1969 because it’s such a strong year.  There are a total of 21 films that earn Picture nominations at the Nighthawks though none since 1992.  There are another 26 films that make the Top 10.  Though Nighthawk winners are rare, Suspense films come in at #2 several times: The 39 Steps, Gaslight, Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, Blood Simple, The Crying Game.
Silence is the only Oscar winner.  There have been another 14 nominees, half of them in the 1940’s and none more recent than 1993.  Since I consider Suspense to be a director driven genre, it’s odd that five of the nominees weren’t nominated for Picture, including three in the 5 BP Era.  Three of the Picture nominees were directed by Hitchcock (Foreign Correspondent, Suspicion, Spellbound), the first two being the two nominees from the Expanded Picture Era that didn’t earn director nominations.
The Globes have nominated ten films for Best Picture, one in Comedy (Gambit), though none have ever won the award.  Since the Globes didn’t have nominees back in the 40’s, they are all more recent, though none since 1999.  Not only have none of the films won Picture, but of the ten Picture nominees, they, combined, only won one award (Best Actress for Silence of the Lambs).
There have been 16 Suspense films nominated for Best Film at the BAFTAs but like the Globes, none of them won the award.  There have, however, been three winners of Best British Film (Fallen Idol, Ipcress File, Crying Game).  There have been no nominees since 1999.  Unlike the Globes, each of the last six Suspense Picture nominees won at least one BAFTA though of the first 10, only Fallen Idol won an award.
The BFCA’s, not having been around as long have only nominated The Talented Mr. Ripley.  Likewise, the PGA has only nominated three films, though two of them, Silence and Crying Game, won the award (The Fugitive was the third).
Night Must Fall was one of the earliest critics winners, winning the NBR in 1937.  But it would be a 32 year gap before another Suspense film won a critics award, when Z won both the NYFC and NSFC.  The Conversation also managed an NBR win in 1974.  Then came Silence, which won four awards (NYFC, BSFC, CFC, NBR).

  • Of course I’m using this picture again. It’s hilarious.

    Best Director

  1. Jonathan Demme  (The Silence of the Lambs)
  2. Billy Wilder  (Double Indemnity)
  3. Neil Jordan  (The Crying Game)
  4. Alfred Hitchcock  (Strangers on a Train)
  5. Akira Kurosawa  (Stray Dog)

Analysis:  Demme, Wilder and Kurosawa all win the Nighthawk while the other two are nominated.  Unlike the Oscars, all of the directors of Nighthawk nominees for Picture were also nominated for Director as well as two others.  In total there are 59 directors who land in the Top 10 for the year, 12 of whom are Hitchcock, including four second places finishes.
There are actually the same number of Suspense films nominated for Director as there were for Picture: 14, with one winner (Demme).  It’s just that the films are different.  Between 1947 and 1969 no Suspense film was nominated for Picture.  But in that same period, five films were nominated for Best Director (Fallen Idol, Five Fingers, Rear Window, Bad Day at Black Rock, Woman in the Dunes).  The last time a Suspense film was nominated for Director was 1992.  Hitchcock is the only director nominated twice (Spellbound, Rear Window).
The Globes have actually nominated one more director than Picture in spite of the larger Picture group of nominees.  Four films have been nominated for Director without a Picture nom (Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May, Marathon Man, Fugitive).  Bizarrely, all four of those films won at least one Globe (three of them won Supporting Actor, the other, Supporting Actress), unlike the Picture group.
Only six films have been nominated for Best Director at the BAFTAs, all of them losing, and two of them not earning Picture noms (The Conversation, Bourne Ultimatum).  The BFCA’s lone nomination for Director was Sidney Lumet for Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.  Jonathan Demme is the only one of the 14 DGA nominees to win the award.  Five of the nominees were during the 50’s and there have been none since 1993.  Hitchcock earned three DGA nominations for Suspense films (Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much).  Over the years, there have been seven Suspense directors to win a lone critics award for Best Director, including Hitchcock twice (NYFC for The Lady Vanishes, NBR for Topaz, of all things).  Then there is Jonathan Demme, who won four awards in 1991 (NYFC, BSFC, CFC, NBR).

  • Best Adapted Screenplay:
  1. The Silence of the Lambs
  2. Double Indemnity
  3. Z
  4. Strangers on a Train
  5. Gaslight

Analysis:  Suspense thrillers have always been successful at bookstores so it’s natural that there have been a lot of success in this category.  Silence and Double Indemnity both win the Nighthawk and 23 other films earn nominations.  In all, 59 films land in the Top 20 somewhere including 10 Hitchcock films, five of which earn nominations.
Silence is the only Oscar winner while 10 other films have earned nominations, the most recent in 1999.  Rear Window is the only Hitchcock film to earn a nomination.  Silence, Double Indemnity, Crossfire, Z and Fatal Attraction are all nominated for Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay.
Of the 10 films nominated for Screenplay at the Globes, five were adapted including the only winner (5 Fingers).  Frenzy, Day of the Jackal and Silence (which is the most recent nominee) are the only adapted films to be nominated for Picture, Director and Screenplay.
There have been eight BAFTA nominees (either in Adapted or were adapted and were nominated before the split) though none have won the award.  Day of the Jackal, Silence and Ripley are the only ones nominated for Picture, Director and Screenplay.
Of the 23 films nominated by the WGA, 13 of them either were nominated as Adapted or are adapted and were nominated in the days of the genre split.  Of those films, only Silence of the Lambs won the award.  The most recent nominee was in 1999.
The Fallen Idol won the NBR.  Silence won the CFC.

  • Best Novel Adapted into a Suspense Film:
  1. Sanctuary  (The Story of Temple Drake)
  2. La Bête Humaine  (Human Desire)
  3. The Secret Agent  (twice, once as Sabotage)
  4. The Silence of the Lambs
  5. The Talented Mr. Ripley  (twice, once as Purple Noon)

Analysis:  Sanctuary is in my Top 100 of course.  La Bête Humaine would have made the Top 100 had I read it before I did the list.  The Secret Agent is in the second 100.  Then it was going through all the thrillers I’ve read and deciding which ones rose to the top.

  • Best Original Screenplay:
  1. The Crying Game
  2. Blood Simple
  3. Stray Dog
  4. North by Northwest
  5. Notorious

Analysis:  Two films win the Nighthawk (The Crying Game and the original The Man Who Knew Too Much which had little competition).  There are 20 others with nominations and 21 more with a Top 20 finish.  Hitchcock films score five nominations and another Top 10 finish.
Four films win the Oscar, including the only two films to earn Picture, Director and Original Screenplay nominations (Witness, The Crying Game).  Of the other 15 Oscar nominees, including the other two winners (House on 92nd Street, Seven Days to Noon), none were nominated for Director and only Foreign Correspondent and The Conversation were nominated for Picture.  Four Hitchcock films have been nominated here (Foreign Correspondent, Shadow of a Doubt, Notorious, North by Northwest).
Five of the 10 films nominated for Screenplay at the Globes were original scripts though none won and the most recent was in 1987.  The Conversation and Witness are the only original ones to be nominated for Picture, Director and Screenplay.
There have only been four Suspense films nominated in Original Screenplay: The Conversation, Witness, The Crying Game and In the Line of Fire with none of them winning.  Only The Crying Game was nominated for Picture, Director and Screenplay.
There have been 10 films nominated for Original Screenplay at the WGA (or were original before the distinction).  None of those are more recent than 1993.  Witness and The Crying Game both won the award.
The Crying Game won both the NYFC and the BSFC, the only Suspense film to win multiple critics screenplay awards.

  • Best Actor:
  1. Anthony Hopkins  (The Silence of the Lambs)
  2. Toshiro Mifune  (Stray Dog)
  3. Gene Hackman  (The Conversation)
  4. Robert Walker  (Strangers on a Train)
  5. Charles Boyer  (Gaslight)

Analysis:  Hopkins and Boyer both win the Nighthawk while the other three earn nominations, along with 11 others, though none more recently than Hopkins.  While only 16 actors earn regular nominations, 24 earn Drama nominations (plus Cary Grant in North by Northwest earning a Comedy nom).
Only seven actors have managed Oscar noms and Hopkins is the only winner.  There’s a big gap between the first three nominees (1937, 1944, 1955) and the last four (1985, 1991, 1991, 1992).  Twelve actor have managed Globe noms though none of them have won the award.  The only Comedy nomination is Michael Caine for Gambit.  There have been four Globe nominees between 1955 and 1985 when there were no Oscar nominees and there have been three just since the last Oscar nominee (Harrison Ford, The Fugitive, 1993, Mel Gibson, Ransom, 1996, Matt Damon, The Talented Mr. Ripley, 1999).  Hopkins is the only winner among 10 BAFTA nominees, none of whom have been since 1992.  Neither the BFCA or SAG have ever had a nominee.  Only four actors have won a critics award: Ralph Richardson won the NBR for The Fallen Idol, Gene Hackman won the NBR for The Conversation and Stephen Rea won the NSFC for The Crying Game while Hopkins won both Boston and Chicago (plus two more – see supporting).

  • Best Actress
  1. Jodie Foster  (The Silence of the Lambs)
  2. Ingrid Bergman  (Gaslight)
  3. Jane Fonda  (Klute)
  4. Sigourney Weaver  (Death and the Maiden)
  5. Bette Davis  (The Letter)

Analysis:  Actress has actually done much better than Actor in the Suspense genre, surprising as that may seem.  The top four here all win the Nighthawk as do Deborah Kerr for I See a Dark Stranger and Frances McDormand for Blood Simple.  There are another 10 Nighthawk nominees aside from that, including Davis and another four more who earn Drama nominations.
It’s not just at the Nighthawks.  Four actresses have won the Oscar for Suspense films: Foster, Bergman, Fonda and Joan Fontaine for Suspicion.  There have also been five other nominations though none since Foster won the Oscar in 1991 (though it’s worth noting that Linda Fiorentino likely would have been nominated in 1994 had she been eligible for The Last Seduction).  Foster, Fonda and Bergman also all won the Globe while five others have earned Drama noms (including Jodie Foster for The Brave One, a rare recent nomination) along with Shirley MacLaine earning a Comedy nom for Gambit.  Foster and Stéphane Audran (Just Before Nightfall) both won the BAFTA while seven others have earned nominations.  While no actress has earned a BFCA or SAG nom, four have won a single critics award (the NBR for all four): Fontaine, Bergman (for Spellbound instead of Gaslight), Kerr and Fiorentino.  Three actresses have won two awards, all of them the NYFC as well as the NBR for Grace Kelly (for both Rear Window and Dial M for Murder), the NSFC for Fonda and the CFC for Foster.

  • Best Supporting Actor:
  1. Claude Rains  (Notorious)
  2. Sean Connery  (The Untouchables)
  3. Toshiro Mifune  (High and Low)
  4. Robert Ryan  (Crossfire)
  5. Jaye Davidson  (The Crying Game)

Analysis:  Rains, Ryan and Mifune all win the Nighthawk.  There are 19 additional Nighthawk nominees including Connery and Davidson as well as two actors from Presumed Innocent (John Spencer, Raul Julia).  Connery and James Stephenson (The Letter) also win the Drama award while Tully Marshall (The Cat and the Canary) wins the Comedy award.
Connery won the Oscar, of course as did Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive).  Twelve other actors earned Oscar nominations, most recently Jude Law in 1999.  The bulk of the nominations was in the 1940’s (six of them).  Four actors have won the Globe (Edmund O’Brien for Seven Days in May, Laurence Olivier for Marathon Man, Connery, Jones) though only five others have earned nominations.  Denholm Elliott won one of his three straight BAFTAs in a Suspense film (Defence of the Realm) as did Law.  Seven others have earned nominations, most between 1987 and 1993.  The BFCA and SAG have again offered up no nominations.  Six actors have won a critics award: John Williams (Dial M for Murder), Paul Ford (The Comedians), Philippe Noiret (Topaz), Connery, Kevin Spacey (Outbreak) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (Ripley).  All but Spacey were from the NBR (his was the NYFC) and the last two were won in conjunction with other performances.  Most notably, that NYFC was the only award for Spacey that year that mentioned Outbreak.  In addition, Jones won the LAFC and CFC and Anthony Hopkins won supporting awards from both the NYFC and NBR (as opposed to lead awards).

  • Best Supporting Actress:
  1. Gloria Grahame  (Crossfire)
  2. Miranda Richardson  (The Crying Game)
  3. Angela Lansbury  (The Manchurian Candidate)
  4. Bonnie Bedelia  (Presumed Innocent)
  5. Angela Lansbury  (Gaslight)

Analysis:  All five of these except Bedelia win the Nighthawk (though Presumed Innocent has the same amount of points because it also has a nomination for Greta Scachi).  Aside from those six, there are six other Suspense films that earn nominations, though Presumed Innocent and The Crying Game are the only ones since 1962.  The Drama nominations have a lot more (22 from 21 films) and get a lot more recent (2007 – Marisa Tomei in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead).  The only Comedy nominee wins the award: Martha Mattox for The Cat and the Canary.
No actress has won the Oscar though eight have earned nominations (including Lansbury twice and most recently Holly Hunter for The Firm in 1993).  I feel I should mention that Richardson couldn’t be nominated because she was nominated that year for Damage.  Lansbury won the Globe for The Manchurian Candidate as did Agnes Moorehead for Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte.  Seven other actresses have earned nominations, though the only one since 1991 is Meryl Streep playing the Lansbury role in the Manchurian Candidate remake.  The only BAFTA winner is Billie Whitelaw for Twisted Nerve in 1968, the first year of the award.  Since then, there have been seven other nominees, most recently Streep.  The BFCA and SAG complete their acting awards anti-sweep.  There have been seven critics awards but two of them were for two different among the six Jessica Chastain films in 2011 that shared the LAFC award (Debt, Texas Killing Fields).  She had followed two other LAFC recent winners, also for performances shared with other films: Catherine Keener for The Interpreter and Amy Ryan for Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.  Aside from those three, Lansbury won the NBR for Manchurian, Melanie Griffith won the NSFC for Body Double and Richardson won the NYFC (another shared award).

  • Best Ensemble
  1. Presumed Innocent
  2. Notorious
  3. The Crying Game
  4. Gaslight
  5. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

Analysis:  This is based on the total points for acting for all members of the cast.  What distinguishes Presumed Innocent is that it has both multiple strong Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress performances (it earns two nominations in each category at the Nighthawks).

  • Best Editing:
  1. The Silence of the Lambs
  2. Blood Simple
  3. The Crying Game
  4. Z
  5. The Conversation

Analysis:  This is a category where Suspense films shine.  Four of them have won the Nighthawk (The 39 Steps, Double Indemnity, Blood Simple, SIlence) and another 29 have earned nominations with another 28 Top 10 and even more 27 Top 20 (for a total of 88 films in the Top 20).
Three films have won the Oscar (Z, Witness, Bourne Ultimatum) and another 14 have earned nominations including five in four years from 1990 to 1993.  Four films have won the BAFTA (Day of the Jackal, The Conversation, Fatal Attraction, Bourne Ultimatum) and another 9 films have earned nominations including four in just three years from 1991 to 1993.  No film has earned a BFCA nom.  Three films have won at ACE (WarGames, Witness, Bourne Ultimatum) while another seven have earned nominations.

  • Best Cinematography:
  1. The Silence of the Lambs
  2. Blood Simple
  3. Rear Window
  4. Strangers on a Train
  5. Stray Dog

Analysis:  This is another category where Suspense films do well, which is really no surprise, given their look and feel.  Three films win the Nighthawk (Silence, Double Indemnity, North by Northwest).  Twenty six other films earn nominations, mostly in the 40’s (9), 50’s (6) and 60’s (4).  A total of 103 Suspense films earn Top 20 spots.
Given all of that, surprisingly, this genre hasn’t necessarily done as well at the actual awards group.  Seventeen films have earned Oscar nominations (over half from 1940 to 1954) but no film has ever won.  One film has won the BAFTA, The Ipcress File, back when it was only available to British films (and was split into Color and Black and White), though eight others have earned nominations.  No films has earned a BFCA nomination.  Tequila Sunrise won the ASC while The Untouchables, Someone to Watch Over Me and The Fugitive earned nominations.  Really, ASC and Oscars?  No nomination for Silence of the Lambs?  Three films have won critics awards (The Parallax View and Diva won the LAFC while Silence won the NYFC).

  • Best Original Score:
  1. The Untouchables
  2. North by Northwest
  3. Witness
  4. Z
  5. Presumed Innocent

Analysis:  Three films win the Nighthawk, all Hitchcock films, with music by Miklos Rosza for Spellbound and Bernard Hermann for Vertigo and North by Northwest.  Another 19 films earn Nighthawk nominations and 73 films in all land in the Top 20.
Rosza’s score for Spellbound is the only Suspense score to win an Oscar though 17 others have earned nominations, most recently The Good German, though almost half of all the nominations were from 1940 to 1945.  Six films have earned Globe nominations though none have won.  Three films have won BAFTAs (Z, Witness, The Untouchables) and two others have earned nominations.  Witness, The Untouchables and The Talented Mr. Ripley are the films nominated by all three groups.  Ripley also won the BFCA as did Mission: Impossible 2 while The Good German earned a nomination.  The only critics winner though is Hanna which won the LAFC.

  • Best Sound:
  1. The Hunt for Red October
  2. The Bourne Ultimatum
  3. The Conversation
  4. The Silence of the Lambs
  5. The Day of the Jackal

Analysis:  The top three films win the Nighthawk because they have absolutely incredible Sound.  Twenty one other films earn Nighthawk nominations.
Only The Bourne Ultimatum win the Oscar though 15 other films earn nominations.  More films have won the BAFTA (The Conversation, WarGames, The Fugitive, The Bourne Ultimatum) than have earned BAFTA nominations (Day of the Jackal, Hunt for Red October, Silence of the Lambs).  No film has earned a BFCA nom but the category is only three years old.  The Fugitive won the CAS and six other films earned nominations.

  • Best Art Direction:
  1. The Untouchables
  2. Gaslight
  3. The Silence of the Lambs
  4. High and Low
  5. The Conversation

Analysis:  Suspense films aren’t often period pieces so they don’t tend to do as well in Art Direction.  Gaslight wins the Nighthawk (The Untouchables is in a much tougher year) but only nine other films earn nominations and only 51 total films earn a Top 20 mention, more than half of them outside the Top 10.  Gaslight is also the only Oscar winner and while there are 10 other nominees, only two of them have been since the reduction to 5 nominees in 1967 (Witness, Ripley).  The Ipcress File is the only BAFTA winner while four others have earned nominations.  Given that it was a later guild award, it’s surprising that even four films have earned ADG nominations, though the split categories of Period and Contemporary help (The Bourne Identity, Panic Room, The Bourne Ultimatum, Angels and Demons).

  • Best Visual Effects
  1. The Bourne Ultimatum
  2. The Hunt for Red October
  3. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
  4. Mission: Impossible
  5. The Fugitive

Analysis:  Before the Bourne and M:I films, Suspense films relied more on feeling and setting than effects for their thrills.  So this category doesn’t have much there.  Spellbound wins the Nighthawk in an era where effects weren’t that special and its dream sequences were.  Aside from that, the only three Nighthawk nominees are Hunt, Fugitive and Ultimatum.  Only five films have earned Oscar noms, four of them in the 40’s as well as Ice Station Zebra.  Three films have earned BAFTA noms (WarGames, Fugitive, Ultimatum).  The Sum of All Fears won a VES award while six others have earned nominations.

  • Best Sound Editing
  1. The Hunt for Red October
  2. The Bourne Ultimatum
  3. The Conversation
  4. The Fugitive
  5. To Live and Die in L.A.

Analysis:  Suspense films do well here.  Six films have won the Nighthawk: Sabotage, Saboteur, Night and the City, The Conversation, The Hunt for Red October, The Bourne Ultimatum.  Seven others earn nominations.  At the Oscars, Red October and Ultimatum won while Fugitive and Clear and Present Danger earned nominations.  A whopping 21 films have earned MPSE nominations but that’s because they nominate so many films.  Only three films earned nominations before 1998 and they all won the award: Three Days of the Condor, Dead Calm, Red October.  Since 1998, the only winner is Bourne Ultimatum which won two awards.

  • Best Costume Design:
  1. The Untouchables
  2. Gaslight
  3. Dead Again
  4. The Talented Mr. Ripley
  5. Under Capricorn

Analysis:  Again, like with Art Direction, there’s not a lot here.  Gaslight wins the Nighthawk (in an easy year) and Under Capricorn, The Untouchables and Dead Again earn nominations.  Only 11 films have even landed in the Top 20.  Surprisingly seven films have earned Oscar noms though five of them were in the era where there were 10 nominees and none have won.  Only two films have earned BAFTA noms (Arabesque, The Untouchables).  The Talented Mr. Ripley earned a CDG nom.

  • Best Makeup
  1. The Silence of the Lambs
  2. London After Midnight
  3. F/X
  4. The Untouchables
  5. Dead Again

Analysis:  There is even less here.  London After Midnight wins the Nighthawk while Silence, Day of the Jackal and F/X all earn nominations in fairly weak years.  No film has earned an Oscar or BAFTA nom and only Red Dragon has earned an MUAHG nomination.

  • Best Technical Aspects
  1. The Silence of the Lambs
  2. The Untouchables
  3. The Hunt for Red October
  4. Gaslight
  5. Night and the City

Analysis:  This is based on looking at the totals for all the technical categories, based on the individual film.  Silence rules this category with its magnificent technical appeal while Untouchables rises because of its costumes and sets and Hunt for its masterful sound and visual effects.

  • Best Original Song:
  1. “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera Sera)”  (The Man Who Knew Too Much)
  2. “Mona Lisa”  (Captain Carey USA)
  3. “Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte”  (Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte)

Analysis:  Yes, that’s the whole list.  The first two earn Nighthawk noms while the last barely even makes the Top 20.  Both the top two won Oscars while Hush was nominated as was the song “Julie” from Julie.  The only Globe nominee is the theme song from Color of Night.

  • Best Animated Film:
  1. n/a

Analysis:  I have never seen an Animated Film that I classify as Suspense.

  • Best Foreign Film:
  1. Z
  2. Stray Dog
  3. High and Low
  4. Knife in the Water
  5. Diabolique

Analysis:  I have seen 55 foreign language films that I classify as Suspense films.  Only 13 of them rank at **** or ***.5 (all of them in the Top 75 list towards the top).
Z is the only Nighthawk winner while 10 others earn Nighthawk nominations.  Stray Dog, Diabolique, High and Low, Insomnia and Run Lola Run all earn 2nd place finishes (Knife in the Water is in a tougher year, finishing 4th behind, among other films, High and Low).  Z won the Oscar while five others earned nominations.  La Verite and Z won the Globe while three others earned nominations including High and Low.  One of those, Images, was for the English Language Foreign Film Award.  Two films have earned BAFTA nominations (Diva, Run Lola Run).  Swimming Pool earned a BFCA nom.  Diabolique won the LAFC, Monsieur Hire won the BSFC, The Crying Game won the LAFC and CFC and La Ceremonie won the LAFC and NSFC.

  • Best Film (by my points system):
  1. The Silence of the Lambs
  2. Gaslight
  3. Presumed Innocent
  4. The Untouchables
  5. Night and the City

Analysis:  Silence has a considerable lead over any other film.  Presumed Innocent is so high because of the acting.

  • Best Film  (weighted points system)
  1. The Silence of the Lambs
  2. Gaslight
  3. Presumed Innocent
  4. The Crying Game
  5. Notorious

Analysis:  Presumed Innocent and The Crying Game actually tie for the #3 spot.  A greater emphasis on acting, writing and directing is what moves The Crying Game and Notorious over Night and the City (which ties for #6) and The Untouchables (which drops to #13).

Best Films With No Top 5 Finishes:

  • The 39 Steps
  • Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
  • Shadow of a Doubt
  • Night and the City

Worst Film with a Top 5 Finish:

  • Under Capricorn

Note:  The only two films below *** with a Top 5 finish are actually two of Hitchcock’s weakest films.  But Under Capricorn has good costumes in a genre that doesn’t have much in that category and The Man Who Knew Too Much has an Oscar winning song.

 

Nighthawk Notables

  • Best Film to Watch Over and Over:  North by Northwest
  • Best Line  (comedic):  “I’m having an old friend for dinner.”  (Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs)
  • Best Line  (dramatic):  “She can’t be all bad.  No one is.”  “She comes the closest.”  (Virginia Huston and Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past)
  • Best Opening:  Bad Day at Black Rock
  • Best Ending:  The Silence of the Lambs
  • Best Scene:  Hannibal’s escape in The Silence of the Lambs
  • Most Gut-Wrenching Scene:  Hannibal’s escape in The Silence of the Lambs
  • Most Heart-Wrenching Scene:  Toshiro Mifune sacrificing his fortune for what’s right in High and Low
  • Best Use of a Song:  “What a Wonderful World”  (Witness)
  • Worst Film I Saw in the Theater:  The Saint
  • Worst Film by a Top 100 Director:  U-Turn
  • Worst Remake:  A Kiss Before Dying  (1991)
  • Best Remake:  Gaslight  (1944)
  • Best Sequel:  The Bourne Ultimatum
  • Watch the Film, Skip the Book:  The 39 Steps (1935)
  • Read the Book, Don’t See the Film:  The Looking Glass War
  • Performance to Fall in Love With:  Teresa Wright in Shadow of a Doubt
  • Sexiest Performance:  Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs
  • Highest Attractiveness / Acting Ability Ratio:  Jane March in Color of Night
  • Best Kiss:  Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant in Notorious
  • Most Surprisingly Good Performance in an Otherwise Terrible Film:  Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction
  • Coolest Performance:  Kirk Douglas in Out of the Past
  • Best Cameo:  Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck in Cape Fear  (1991)
  • Funniest Cameo:  Alfred Hitchcock in Strangers on a Train  (1951)

note:  It doesn’t include categories that are covered in some of the lists above like Worst Film, Most Over-rated Film, Best Ensemble, etc.

At the Theater:  By the end of 2011, I had probably seen over 1000 films in the theater at some point or another.  I had certainly been to the movies well over 1000 times.  Suspense films did well for a stretch in the 90’s (when they were also becoming bigger box office).  I saw 26 films in the theaters in the 90’s that I classify as Suspense.  But then things just stopped.  It’s true I greatly dropped off going to the theater in 2005 when I moved to Boston, but from 2000 to 2005 I only saw three films that I classify as Suspense: M:I 2, Red Dragon and The Manchurian Candidate.  It’s true there were some duds I saw in the theater (Rising Sun, The Saint, Snake Eyes, A Perfect Murder) but there were also some really great ones (Silence of the Lambs, Crying Game, Talented Mr. Ripley, In the Line of Fire, Hunt for Red October, Presumed Innocent).

Awards

 

Academy Awards

  • Number of Films That Have Earned Nominations:  82
  • Number of Films That Have Won Oscars:  16
  • Number of Films With Multiple Nominations:  40
  • Number of Films With Multiple Wins:  5
  • Best Picture Nominations:  14
  • Total Number of Nominations:  198
  • Total Number of Wins:  25
  • Category With the Most Nominations:  Score  (18)
  • Number of Films with Nominations I Haven’t Seen:  0
  • Directors with Most Oscar Nominated Films:  Alfred Hitchcock  (10)
  • Best Film with No Oscar Nominations:  Stray Dog
  • Best English Language Film with No Oscar Nominations:  Blood Simple

Oscar Oddities:

  • Suspense films get nominations but don’t win.  Fourteen nominations for Picture, one win.  Eighteen nominations for Score, one win.  Seventeen nominations for Cinematography, zero wins.
  • Paramount has had 17 Suspense films earn Oscar nominations including four for Picture with 51 total nominations; it has five wins.  Orion has had one Suspense film ever earn an Oscar nomination; it won five Oscars.
  • Five Suspense films have won all their Oscar nominations.  One of them was 3 for 3 (The Bourne Ultimatum).
  • The other four were all 1 for 1.  Two of them were for Original Screenplay (House on 92nd Street, Seven Days to Noon) and the other two were for Original Song (Captain Carey USA, The Man Who Knew Too Much).
  • The average Suspense Oscar nominee is good (76.09) while the average Oscar winning Suspense is very good (85).  Of the 16 Oscar winning films, all but four are an 84 are better; ironically those 4 are the four listed in the line above.

Most Oscar Nominations

  1. Witness  –  8
  2. The Letter  –  7
  3. Gaslight  –  7
  4. Double Indemnity  –  7
  5. Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte  –  7
  6. The Silence of the Lambs  –  7
  7. The Fugitive  –  7

note:  Ironically, tied for 2nd are a film that won the big 5 (Silence) and a film nominated for none of the big 5 (Charlotte).

Most Oscar Wins:

  1. The Silence of the Lambs  –  5
  2. The Bourne Ultimatum  –  3
  3. Gaslight  –  2
  4. Z  –  2
  5. Witness  –  2

Most Oscar Points:

  1. Silence of the Lambs  –  455
  2. Witness  –  330
  3. Gaslight  –  290
  4. The Crying Game  –  265
  5. Double Indemnity  –  240
  6. The Letter  –  235
  7. Z  –  225
  8. Fatal Attraction  –  225
  9. The Fugitive  –  225
  10. Spellbound  –  220

Critics Awards

  • Number of Films That Have Won Critics Awards:  33
  • Number of Films With Multiple Awards:  12
  • Best Picture Wins:  8
  • Total Number of Awards:  67
  • Category With the Most Awards:  Actress  (12)

Most Awards:

  1. The Silence of the Lambs  –  16
  2. The Crying Game  –  6
  3. The Fallen Idol  –  3
  4. Dial M for Murder  –  3
  5. Z  –  3
  6. The Conversation  –  3

Most Points:

  1. The Silence of the Lambs  –  1187
  2. The Crying Game  –  351
  3. Z  –  280
  4. The Fallen Idol  –  210
  5. The Conversation  –  208

note:  The Silence of the Lambs is #8 all-time and was #2 at the time.

Most Points by Critics Group:

  • NYFC:  The Silence of the Lambs  –  330
  • LAFC:  five films  –  60
  • NSFC:  Z  –  100
  • BSFC:  The Silence of the Lambs  –  300
  • CFC:  The Silence of the Lambs  –  430
  • NBR:  The Conversation  –  260

note:  The Silence of the Lambs is  #1 all-time at the CFC.  It also received 250 points at the NBR.

Golden Globes

  • Number of Films That Have Earned Nominations:  40
  • Number of Films That Have Won Globes:  12
  • Number of Films With Multiple Nominations:  17
  • Number of Films With Multiple Wins:  0
  • Best Picture Nominations:  10
  • Total Number of Nominations:  82
  • Total Number of Wins:  12
  • Category With the Most Nominations:  Actor  (12 – 1 in Comedy)
  • Best Film with No Globe Nominations:  Double Indemnity

Most Globe Nominations:

  1. Witness  –  6
  2. Marathon Man  –  5
  3. The Silence of the Lambs  –  5
  4. The Talented Mr. Ripley  –  5
  5. four films  –  4

Most Globes:

  1. twelve films  –  1

note:  Over half the wins are in Supporting Actor (4) or Actress (3).

Most Globe Points:

  1. The Silence of the Lambs  –  240
  2. Witness  –  225
  3. Marathon Man  –  210
  4. The Talented Mr. Ripley  –  185
  5. The Conversation  –  170
  6. Seven Days in May  –  165
  7. Frenzy  –  160
  8. Fatal Attraction  –  160
  9. The Fugitive  –  140
  10. The Day of the Jackal  –  135

Guild Awards

  • Number of Films That Have Earned Nominations:  56
  • Number of Films That Have Won Guild Awards:  11
  • Number of Films With Multiple Nominations:  27
  • Number of Films With Multiple Wins:  4
  • Best Picture Nominations:  3
  • Total Number of Nominations:  100
  • Total Number of Wins:  17
  • Category With the Most Nominations:  Screenplay  (23)
  • Best Film with No Guild Nominations:  Stray Dog
  • Best English Language Film with No Guild Nominations:  Blood Simple

Most Guild Nominations:

  1. The Fugitive  –  6
  2. The Bourne Ultimatum  –  5
  3. The Silence of the Lambs  –  4
  4. The Talented Mr. Ripley  –  4

Most Guild Wins:

  1. The Silence of the Lambs  –  3
  2. The Bourne Ultimatum  –  3
  3. Witness  –  2
  4. The Crying Game  –  2

Most Guild Points:

  1. The Silence of the Lambs  –  295
  2. The Crying Game  –  225
  3. The Fugitive  –  225
  4. Witness  –  175
  5. The Bourne Ultimatum  –  170

The BAFTAs

  • Number of Films That Have Earned Nominations:  45
  • Number of Films That Have Won BAFTAs:  18
  • Number of Films With Multiple Nominations:  23
  • Number of Films With Multiple Wins:  4
  • Best Picture Nominations:  15
  • Total Number of Nominations:  122
  • Total Number of Wins:  23
  • Category With the Most Nominations:  Film  (15)
  • Best Film with No BAFTA Nominations:  Strangers on a Train

Note:  While no Suspense film has won Best Film at the BAFTAs, three films have won Best British Film: The Fallen Idol, The Ipcress File and The Crying Game.

Most BAFTA Noms:

  1. The Silence of the Lambs  –  9
  2. The Day of the Jackal  –  9
  3. Witness  –  7
  4. The Crying Game  –  7
  5. The Talented Mr. Ripley  –  7

Most BAFTA Wins:

  1. The Ipcress File  –  3
  2. The Conversation  –  2
  3. The Silence of the Lambs  –  2
  4. The Bourne Ultimatum  –  2
  5. 14 films  –  1

Most BAFTA Points:

  1. The Silence of the Lambs  –  370
  2. The Crying Game  –  330
  3. The Talented Mr. Ripley  –  275
  4. The Ipcress File  –  265
  5. The Day of the Jackal  –  265
  6. Witness  –  260
  7. The Bourne Ultimatum  –  230
  8. The Conversation  –  210
  9. The Deadly Affair  –  185
  10. The Night My Number Came Up  –  175

Broadcast Film Critics Awards  (Critic’s Choice Awards)

  • Number of Films That Have Earned Nominations:  5
  • Number of Films That Have Won BFCA:  2
  • Number of Films With Multiple Nominations:  1
  • Number of Films With Multiple Wins:  0
  • Best Picture Nominations:  1
  • Total Number of Nominations:  6
  • Total Number of Wins:  2
  • Category With the Most Nominations:  Score  (3)
  • Best Film with No BFCA Nominations:  The Bourne Ultimatum
  • Most Nominations:  The Talented Mr. Ripley  (2)
  • Most Wins:  The Talented Mr. Ripley  /  Mission Impossible 2  (1)

All Awards

Most Nominations:

  1. The Silence of the Lambs  –  41
  2. Witness  –  24
  3. The Talented Mr. Ripley  –  24
  4. The Crying Game  –  23
  5. The Fugitive  –  22
  6. The Conversation  –  17
  7. The Bourne Ultimatum  –  17
  8. Fatal Attraction  –  16
  9. Z  –  14
  10. The Untouchables  –  13

note:  The Silence of the Lambs was the all-time #1 at the time, though it is no longer even in the Top 10.

Most Awards:

  1. The Silence of the Lambs  –  27
  2. The Crying Game  –  10
  3. The Bourne Ultimatum  –  9
  4. Z  –  7
  5. The Fugitive  –  6
  6. The Conversation  –  5
  7. Witness  –  5
  8. The Fallen Idol  –  4
  9. Klute  –  4
  10. The Untouchables  /  The Talented Mr. Ripley  –  4

note:  The Silence of the Lambs was the all-time #1 at the time, though it is no longer even in the Top 10.

Total Awards Points

  1. The Silence of the Lambs  –  2470
  2. The Crying Game  –  1189
  3. Witness  –  928
  4. The Talented Mr. Ripley  –  843
  5. The Fugitive  –  769
  6. Z  –  743
  7. The Conversation  –  741
  8. Fatal Attraction  –  567
  9. The Bourne Ultimatum  –  513
  10. The Fallen Idol  –  461

note:  The Silence of the Lambs was the all-time #1 at the time, though it is no longer even in the Top 10.

Highest Awards Percentage:

  1. The Silence of the Lambs  –  20.04%
  2. The Crying Game  –  9.77%
  3. Witness  –  7.91%
  4. The Conversation  –  7.13%
  5. Z  –  6.73%
  6. Gaslight  –  6.64%
  7. The Fallen Idol  –  6.60%
  8. The Fugitive  –  5.81%
  9. Spellbound  –  5.54%
  10. Crossfire  –  5.34%

note:  This is why I do the percentage, because it gives a historical perspective.

Lists

I won’t do a lot of lists, because that’s the whole point of TSPDT – they put a ridiculous amount of lists in the blender and come out with the “definitive” one.  Their lists includes lists by genre, so you can always go there and look at their source lists.

The TSPDT Top 25 Suspense Films:

  1. Vertigo  (#2)
  2. Rear Window  (#41)
  3. North by Northwest  (#60)
  4. A Man Escaped  (#89)
  5. Notorious  (#129)
  6. Double Indemnity  (#137)
  7. The Conversation  (#142)
  8. L’Argent  (#159)
  9. Out of the Past  (#180)
  10. Peeping Tom  (#297)
  11. Marnie  (#334)
  12. Woman in the Dunes  (#359)
  13. The Tenant  (#366)
  14. The Silence of the Lambs  (#367)
  15. High and Low  (#383)
  16. Strangers on a Train  (#462)
  17. Shadow of a Doubt  (#477)
  18. The Lady Vanishes  (#585)
  19. The Manchurian Candidate  (#593)
  20. The 39 Steps  (#606)
  21. Diabolique  (#682)
  22. Blow Out  (#740)
  23. Blood Simple  (#749)
  24. Z  (#772)
  25. Spies  (#802)

note:  These are the current (2018) rankings from TSPDT but the same 25 films were on this list the year before (with some slight changes).  I don’t know what the bloody hell Marnie is doing on this list.  Are there seriously people who think Marnie is a better film than Strangers on a Train or Shadow of a Doubt?

AFI’s Top 10 Mysteries:

  1. Vertigo
  2. Chinatown
  3. Rear Window
  4. Laura
  5. The Third Man
  6. The Maltese Falcon
  7. North by Northwest
  8. Blue Velvet
  9. Dial M for Murder
  10. The Usual Suspects

note:  Since only five of these were considered Mysteries by me and four of them Suspense (and since there is no AFI Suspense list), I thought I would list it here.  You will see it again in the Mysteries post.

The IMDb Voters Top 10 Suspense Films:

  1. The Silence of the Lambs
  2. Rear Window
  3. Vertigo
  4. North by Northwest
  5. Double Indemnity
  6. Out of the Past
  7. Diabolique
  8. The Bourne Ultimatum
  9. The Manchurian Candidate
  10. Rope

note:  I had to go through 110 films on their “Thriller” list to get this list, weeding out all the films that didn’t belong.

Top 10 U.S. Domestic Box Office  (1979-2011)

  1. The Bourne Ultimatum  –  $227.47 mil
  2. Mission: Impossible II  –  $215.40 mil
  3. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol  –  $209.39 mil
  4. The Fugitive  –  $183.87 mil
  5. Mission: Impossible  –  $180.98 mil
  6. The Bourne Supremacy  –  $176.24 mil
  7. The Firm  –  $158.34 mil
  8. Fatal Attraction  –  $156.64 mil
  9. Taken  –  $145.00 mil
  10. Mission: Impossible III  –  $134.02 mil

Suspense films weren’t big box office (with the exception of Rear Window, see below) for a long time.  It would take until Fatal Attraction for a Suspense film to break $100 million (it was the 53rd film to do so); no other film had come even remotely close to that (WarGames, at just short of $80 million was the next highest) and it would be three more years before another film would do it (The Hunt for Red October).  It would take until the summer of 1993 and the double whammy of The Firm and The Fugitive before Suspense films really started to get big.  But really, it would be the franchises of Jack Ryan (three films over $100 million), Mission: Impossible (four films over $100 million) and Jason Bourne (three films over $100 million) to really turn Suspense into big box office.

This is another list that I was forced to create by myself.  There is no Suspense category at BoxOfficeMojo and their Thriller category is broken down into five subcategories.  All of these numbers, of course, come from BoxOfficeMojo.

Top 10 U.S. Domestic Box Office (all-time, adjusted to September 2018)

  1. Rear Window  –  $466.78 mil
  2. The Fugitive  –  $411.56 mil
  3. Mission: Impossible  –  $379.57 mil
  4. Mission: Impossible II  –  $370.47 mil
  5. Fatal Attraction  –  $367.84 mil
  6. The Firm  –  $354.56 mil
  7. The Bourne Ultimatum  –  $306.49 mil
  8. The Silence of the Lambs  –  $287.88 mil
  9. Clear and Present Danger  –  $270.97 mil
  10. The Hunt for Red October  –  $267.38 mil

note:  This only includes what Box Office Mojo has information on (and I had to put some of it together myself).  If The Numbers is correct with its box office for Notorious, which BOM doesn’t list, it would actually be #1 on the list.

Books

note:  There are lots and lots of good books on Film Noir.  To get an idea, one of the books listed below has a five page bibliography including listing the 12 other books on Film Noir just by the editors of that book.  For a list of more of them, wait until the Mystery post (no duplicates).

The Movie Treasury: Thriller Movies: Classic Films of Suspense and Mystery, Lawrence Hammond, 1974

A bit of a dud of a book without really any kind of guiding notion through the book.  It does have chapters but they are not themed very well and the films they choose to put in the book are a bit random.

The Suspense Thriller: Films in the Shadow of Alfred Hitchcock, Charles Derry, 1988

An academic book that discusses Suspense films, and specifically how they stem from Hitchcock and have tried to move out from his under the influence while still obviously being under the influence.

Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style (3rd ed.), ed. Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward, 1992

This book confines itself to decent size reviews and discussions of major films in the Noir category, though it does push the earliest films all the way back to 1927.  It has sizable appendices discussing other genres, films since the height of Noir that fit the category and a bibliography as well as lists of directors and films.

Thrillers: Seven Decades of Classic Film Suspense, John McCarty, 1992

Out-of-print now, this book is actually a list book though the title doesn’t tell you that.  It chooses 50 Suspense films and writes a bit about each one (with a list of an additional 50 at the end).  Granting the book leeway for including a lot of films I don’t consider to be suspense (The Great Escape, Goldfinger, Deliverance, All the President’s Men), it actually does a pretty good job with what it picks.  It is a little light on Hitchcock for my tastes (just four films, but all of them are Suspense and all of them are strong choices) and it has several films that others might not have put on such a list like Bad Day at Black Rock, High and Low, Blood Simple and Manhunter.  The most glaring non-Hitchcock omission is Gaslight.  Strangely enough, the author and I were born in the same city (which means a good chance of the same hospital, though some 30 years apart).

Film Noir Guide: 745 Films of the Classic Era, 1940-1959, Michael F. Keaney, 2003

Film Noir covers a wide ground, but the vast majority of the films are either Mysteries, Crime films or Suspense thrillers.  So any Film Noir guide is going to work for all three genres.  This is big and in-depth and has a lot of useful appendices.  However, I doubt the judgment of any film reviewer (or publisher for publishing such a reviewer) who doesn’t think either Sunset Blvd or Double Indemnity is worth the highest rating.  I also think his definition is overly broad for including Casablanca.  Still, detailed and in-depth and a useful starting point if nothing else.

Encyclopedia of Film Noir, Geoff Mayer and Brian McDonnell, 2008

A solid encyclopedia that covers not only films (which go up to the present, which many Noir books don’t) but also actors and directors.  It also has several long essays at the beginning that flesh out the details and characteristics of Noir.  One of the most useful books on Film Noir but also, because its only in hardcover and because of the publisher, one of the most expensive.

Film Noir: The Encyclopedia, Alain Silver, Elizabeth Ward, James Ursini, Robert Porfirio, ed., 2010

A fantastic detailed encyclopedia that splits things in two – the Classic Noir films (through the early 60’s) followed by a section of “Neo-Noir” that covers films all the way up to the publication date.  A bit expensive but given what you give in terms of what you pay, probably the best book on the subject you could get.

Reviews

The Best Suspense Film I Haven’t Yet Reviewed

Notorious  (1946, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

What is perhaps most amazing is that I haven’t actually reviewed Notorious already.  How many other films that are this good have never received a review from me?  (The answer is two, actually: Crimes and Misdemeanors and Y Tu Mamá También, both of which, like Notorious, were original scripts, failed to earn Best Picture nominations, didn’t make the Top 5 at the Nighthawk Awards because they are in stacked years and while they were all directed by Top 100 Directors, I chose different films by those directors to review; between genres and studios in the Century of Film project they should both eventually get reviews as well.)  There is an argument to be made (and it has been made, if you read around) that this is the ultimate Hitchcock film; Francois Truffaut himself declared it his favorite Hitchcock film in their famous book.

The key thing that this film does is get everything together all perfectly.  It had uber-producer David O. Selznick (supposedly Selznick wanted Joseph Cotton and not Cary Grant, which would have been disastrous but in 1949, when Bergman was on the outs with Hollywood, he pointed out to her that under his leadership, Hitchcock made Spellbound and Notorious with her and without him, Hitchcock made Under Capricorn with her).  It had Ingrid Bergman, who was probably Hitchcock’s perfect match on-screen as a lead actress, paired her with Cary Grant (certainly much better than pairing her with Gregory Peck) and to complete things, added Claude Rains, the best character actor in film history.  It had a solid score from Roy Webb and magnificent cinematography from Ted Tetzlaff.

Most important was the script from Ben Hecht.  Hecht was one of the biggest writers in Hollywood for a very long time, a Chicago newspaperman and playwright (he wrote The Front Page based on his memories) and this was probably the best original script he ever produced.  What makes it work so well is that the MacGuffin was so perfectly timed (it’s about uranium being mined by Nazis who managed to survive the war) that you really get into it when it’s not the point.  One producer later said to Hitchcock that he passed on the film because the MacGuffin (being touted around in 1944, before the atom bomb) seemed to far-fetched while Hitchcock told him he made the mistake of focusing on that when it’s really just a story about a man who falls in love with a woman while, because of work, he has to push that woman into another man’s arms.  It’s, at heart, a love story.  But it’s a love story that has suspense straight through from start to finish.  It has magnificent performances and a great storyline.  It keeps you riveted all the way up until the final shot and that final shot might be the best ending to any of Hitchcock’s films.

The Worst Suspense Film I Haven’t Yet Reviewed

Body of Evidence  (1993, Uli Edel)

“Whew.  I just got away from the ‘Portland Curse‘ thanks to Body of Evidence earning a 3 while this film earns a 2.”  That was what I wrote in the Nighthawk Awards for my review of Boxing Helena as the worst film of the year.  Now, the so-called “Portland Curse” isn’t actually much of a curse.  I just remember that when this film was released (just after I moved there), there was talk about how Portland movies always sucked and it would again come up with Mr. Holland’s Opus (in the debate over whether it was good or not) and The Hunted.  The list that I linked to included The River Wild under bad Oregon films and Twilight on its good one and it didn’t list My Own Private Idaho, which in some ways, is the ultimate Portland movie at all.  Nonetheless, this is a terrible, terrible film.  It makes you wonder why Alan Parker would even let Madonna attempt to be in Evita, let alone how he managed to get such a good performance out of her.

First of all, let’s look at the premise of this film: that a lawyer representing a client who is being accused of murder (she had sex with the dead man and now stands to inherit eight million dollars) then starts to have sex with her.  She’s a noir blonde and he’s a man approaching middle-age.  Does this sound familiar?  If it does, it’s because it’s not so different from Basic Instinct except that Sharon Stone gave a solid, alluring performance in that film and Madonna just tries to rely entirely on her looks and some very kinky sex.  Let’s get to that, because it was supposed to be the appeal of the film.  But, with all due respect to Willem DaFoe, does anyone go to a movie hoping to see him a sex scene where Madonna is dripping molten candle wax onto his chest and genitals?  Does even DaFoe want to see that?  Never mind, of course, that sleeping with his client would be enough to get him disbarred or that he (and the jury) are apparently the only people in the film too stupid to realize that of course she did what she is being accused of.  Or how about the fact that DaFoe is willing to throw his career, his life and his marriage away (oh, yeah, he’s married to Julianne Moore – how stupid do you have to be to cheat when you’re married to Julianne Moore?) for the sake of having molten candle wax poured on his genitals by someone who is clearly psychotic.

Could all of this have been saved if someone other than Madonna been cast?  Or someone other than DaFoe?  Unlikely.  The direction is quite murky and the screenplay is appalling.  No one could do anything with lines like “Don’t look so hurt, Alan.  I fucked you, I fucked Andrew, I fucked Frank.  That’s what I do; I fuck.  And it made me 8 million dollars!” but certainly Madonna was just going to make it worse.

What’s most embarrassing for me, as someone who lived in Portland for 12 years, is that the film was allowed to use the Pittock Mansion for its filming.  The Pittock Mansion is one of the glorious places in Portland with a magnificent location up in the West Hills and there’s no way it should have to be associated with such inept trash.

Bonus Review

Mission: Impossible  (1996, dir. Brian de Palma)

Continuing with reviews of films I saw in the theater that I think are fairly good (in this case, a high ***), I bring you the original Mission: Impossible film.  I am not a big television guy and I don’t think I had ever seen any of the original series when I first saw this film although I kind of remember watching a couple of episodes when they revived the show in 1988.  I went to this film at a special sneak preview showing as I mentioned in my Nighthawk Awards for 1996.  I went to see it because I was (and am) a big fan of Tom Cruise.  It can be tricky when you like someone on screen who is clearly a lunatic off-screen, but I have always been content to enjoy Cruise and his abilities and have tried not too hard to think about his bizarre actions when he’s not on-screen (or, frankly, given his stunts for the films in this series, when he’s on the screen sometimes as well).

Part of why I went to see Mission: Impossible was that I was determined to help it at the box office.  It finished third that year, over $100 million behind Independence Day and an astounding $60 million below Twister in spite of the fact that it is not only considerably better than either of those films but also considerably more entertaining.  Twister has the cow scene while Independence Day blows up various buildings.  But M:I has thrills from start to finish and a big star at the top of his game.  What’s more, this film was directed by Brian De Palma and it shows in some of the more interesting shots in the film (the first person POV, the odd angles coming up from the floor).  It is also indicative that Tom Cruise has always been interested in good directors.  After this, he worked with Cameron Crowe and then spent three years in London working with Stanley Kubrick before following that up quickly with a Paul Thomas Anderson film.

The knock on this movie has long been that the plot doesn’t make sense.  It only doesn’t make sense if you’re not paying attention.  Yes, it’s true that there is a huge MacGuffin in the film, designed to be in there only to give Cruise something to track down (with one of the great all-time stunt scenes, as he dangles there, inches above the ground in CIA headquarters) but lots of films have MacGuffins.  The point of the film is the chase.

So, confused by the plot?  Here’s a run-down.  Trying to stop an important list getting out in the open, Cruise’s team is slaughtered (which is too bad, because Emilio Estevez is good in his small little role and I actually sat up in the theater when I saw Kristen Scott-Thomas with that hair and wondered if this gorgeous woman was really the same actress being ignored by Hugh Grant in Four Weddings) in what was actually a mole hunt.  Determined to find out who has betrayed him, Cruise uses the only possibility (the arms dealer who was after the list in the first place) to get him in touch with the person who was selling that, but to do that, he needs something to give the arms dealer (Vanessa Redgrave in a wonderful small role) and so he has to break into headquarters to steal the actual list.  But he’s not really betraying his country, so he sets up his old boss to help him out while he stops the actual villain.  Still confused?  Not my fault and I argue, not the film’s fault either.

A film like this should provide plenty of thrills and this one does in spades, not only Cruise hanging from the ceiling, but also moving along a very fast moving train, a helicopter being dragged into a tunnel and some very narrow escapes.  Liam Neeson would later say, in another popular thriller, that he has a particular set of skills.  Cruise’s skills involve both a sense of playfulness (which Redgrave points out) and intensity (I have always loved the way he delivers the line “Kittridge, you’ve never seen me very upset.”) as well as some great stunt work (because he’s a crazy person) and he makes great use of all of them.  And while this film might not have topped the box office, of the Top 6 films at the box office that year, all of which I have seen, the only two I ever go back to happen to be the two that star Tom Cruise.

Not Suspense

Like I said at the beginning, there are a lot of films that could easily be classified as Suspense films but I tend to put in other genres either because of the mystery at its core or the level of action.

A Dozen Worthwhile Films I Don’t Classify as Suspense Films (in Chronological Order)

  1. Rebecca  (Mystery)
  2. The Maltese Falcon  (Mystery)
  3. Touch of Evil  (Mystery)
  4. Psycho  (Horror)
  5. The French Connection  (Action)
  6. The Usual Suspects  (Crime)
  7. Lone Star  (Mystery)
  8. Ronin  (Action)
  9. Mulholland Drive  (Mystery)
  10. Memento  (Mystery)
  11. The Departed  (Crime)
  12. Inception  (Sci-Fi)

Post-2011

All-Time:  Gone Girl is the best Suspense film this decade by a long way.  The only two other films even within 15 points are Prisoners and Sicario.  Atomic Blonde wins Best Soundtrack.  Special kudos to Henry Cavill in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. for Most Entertaining Performance in an Otherwise Pointless Film.  Inferno (2016) easily takes Worst Sequel.

Awards:  Gone Girl lands in the Top 5 for Actress, Total Points and Weighted Points (thanks to its technical achievements and the great acting).  Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation lands in the Top 5 for both Visual Effects and Sound Editing.  I’ll note at this point that I haven’t yet seen M:I – Fallout.

Oscars:  Only three Suspense films have earned Oscar nominations since 2011: Prisoners (Cinematography), Gone Girl (Actress) and Sicario (Cinematography, Score, Sound Editing).

Critics:  Gone Girl and Sicario each won one award.

Golden Globes:  Gone Girl earned four nominations and became the rare film to earn Director and Screenplay Globe noms without a Picture nom.

The Guilds:  Gone Girl and Sicario both earned 8 guild nominations but both failed to win any.  Most important, though, is that Gone Girl became the first Suspense film to earn a SAG nomination and below would also become the first to earn a BFCA acting nomination.  There were also two each for Prisoners and M:I – Rogue Nation and one each for The Hypnotist, Don’t Breathe and Atomic Blonde.

BAFTA:  Gone Girl earned Adapted Screenplay and Actress nominations while Sicario earned Supporting Actor, Cinematography and Score nominations.

BFCA:  Prisoners received 1 nominations, Gone Girl received 6 (and won Adapted Screenplay) and Sicario received 3.

Total Awards:  Both Gone Girl and Sicario land in the All-Time Top 10 for nominations and points.

Lists:  Currently, Mission: Impossible – Fallout and Gone Girl both rank in the Top 10 on the IMDb, though the former still has the high ranking that many films in theaters do.  At the Box Office, the list now has M:I – Fallout at #2 (still in theaters but unlikely to catch up that last several million to reach Bourne Ultimatum), M:I – Rogue Nation at #5, Gone Girl at #9 and Jason Bourne at #10.  So the Top 10 list now has a Bourne at 1, 8 and 10 and an M:I film at 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7 (and 14).

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