Have you ever been really engrossed in a movie and something occurs in that movie? Something you didn’t see coming, a twist, a turn, and you have to go down a different path. Or you’re sitting in a darkened theater and you turn to the person next to you and ask holy-mazoly what just happened? They’re dead? He’s whose father? You’ve been fooled, you never caught on! All those clues were right there in front of you and you never saw it coming. Wow! What a great movie. I love those movies that have little mysterious spirals, little surprises, and I’ve seen a fair number of them over the years. Well, buckle up, here for your edification is my list of 10 special movies, those special movies that surprise, twist, turn and leave me spellbound. My 10 eye-openers are listed in chronological order. Warning: There are spoilers ahead, so, if you’ve never seen these movies beware!
Rebecca, 1940. Selznick International Pictures, United Artists Corporation. Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders, Judith Anderson. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
“Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. Then, like all dreamers, I was possessed of a sudden with supernatural powers and passed like a spirit through the barrier before me. The drive wound away in front of me, twisting and turning as it had always done. But as I advanced, I was aware that a change had come upon it. Nature had come into her own again, and little by little had encroached upon the drive with long tenacious fingers, on and on wound the poor thread that had once been our drive. And finally, there was Manderley – Manderley – secretive and silent. Time could not mar the perfect symmetry of those walls. Moonlight can play odd tricks upon the fancy, and suddenly it seemed to me that light came from the windows. And then a cloud came upon the moon and hovered an instant like a dark hand before a face. The illusion went with it. I looked upon a desolate shell, with no whisper of the past about its staring walls. We can never go back to Manderley again. That much is certain. But sometimes, in my dreams, I do go back to the strange days of my life which began for me in the south of France …”
So begins one of the best openings ever brought to life in film and literature. This, dark
Laura, 1944. 20th Century-Fox Film Corporation. Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price, Judith Anderson. Directed by Otto Preminger.
This is one of my all time favorite movies and if it wasn’t on this list it would be on another. Laura is a great example of film-noir, however, this moody film has a few moments that one doesn’t see coming. In short this is a story of a woman, Laura, who is murdered and the detective who solves the case. The movie is wonderfully written, told partly through flashbacks, and has one of the best acerbic characters ever to walk out of a film, Waldo Lydecker. Waldo Lydecker, as played by Clifton Webb has some wonderfully funny, biting speeches just oozing off the screen. Clifton Webb steals the show. By the way, has anyone really ever tried to break a door down using one’s shoulder?
The Ladykillers, 1955. The Rank Organization, Ealing Studios. Alec Guinness, Cecil
Parker, Herbert Lom, Peter Sellers, Katie Johnson. Directed by Alexander Mackendrick.
Yes, this one was remade by the Coen brothers in 2004, and while that one was funny, I prefer the older one. I love the gentle humor in this version, and let me just say, there are not too many comedies that have a twist. The Ladykillers is filled with subtle English humor and numerous instances of overlapping dialogues, which is rare in movies. One of my favorite scenes in this movie is when all of “the old lady’s” friends show up for tea. I’m just a sucker for overlapping conversations in movies. There is a twist with a smile.
Carnival of Souls, 1962. Harcourt Productions. Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist. Directed by Herk Harvey.
Another great movie by Herk Harvey! Yes, Herk Harvey made this cult classic for just around $33,000 dollars; it is his one claim to fame. But, let me tell you, when I was younger and stayed up late at night watching old movie reruns, this movie made my little heart speed up. I couldn’t sleep for weeks, and I most definitely couldn’t look out a window of a moving car at night! This movie is loaded with creepy roller skating organ music and here’s a hint on the twist … people, you can’t really survive three hours under water without an oxygen tank.
Planet of the Apes, 1968. 20th Century-Fox Film Corporation. Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowell, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans. Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner.
Yeah! Yeah! I know this movie has been remade a gazillion times and it may even be somewhat dated. Really, Mr. Astronaut Heston, you don’t see any problems with smoking a cigarette on a spaceship filled with oxygen? However, travel back in time to 1968 and put yourself in that audience. Sure, we get it … there are apes on this planet and by g-o-l-l-y they talk. But, let me tell you there is nothing better than sitting in a theater and having an audience react with one big gasp. I remember vividly the exclamation when Charlton Heston dismounts from the horse and we view him through the crown of the Statue of Liberty. That was a moment no one in the theater had seen coming and it was stunning.
The Empire Strikes Back, 1980. LucasFilm Ltd Production. Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher. Directed by Irvin Kershner.
Did anyone see that father business coming? I know I didn’t, and I suspect that was because George Lucas actually hadn’t planned on it when the series began. Somehow, I always felt that I was tricked in Star Wars.
Body Heat, 1981. Ladd Company, Warner Brothers. William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Richard Crenna, Ted Danson. Directed by Lawrence Kasdan.
“Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” All is not what it seems in this hot, sweaty movie. Katherine Turner was in top form in this movie. The closing scene in Body Heat is one of my favorite gotcha moments!
The Usual Suspects, 1995. PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Spelling Films International. Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Spacey, Chazz Palminteri. Directed by Bryan Singer.
Look at the bulletin board! Look at the cup! It’s all about the coffee mug. Who’s Keyser Soze? Who’s Keyser Soze? I’m not really sure what this movie is all about, but it’s a great ride to the end and the big surprise.
Seven, 1995. New Line Cinema. Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, Gwyneth Paltrow. Directed by David Fincher.
Don’t open the box! Don’t open the box! Oh,well. What a dark, gruesome movie. Constantly raining. And, the surprise ending is one I never saw coming. I think it might be one of the best performances I’ve ever seen Brad Pitt do.
The Sixth Sense, 1999. Hollywood Pictures. Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette.
Hey Bruce, when someone is looking at you and they say “I see dead people,” you should ponder that a moment. When I watch this movie now, I cannot believe I didn’t catch on sooner. There are so many clues that one is fairly tripping over them. Red! Red! White streaks in hair! They’re everywhere! They’re everywhere! This is also one of M. Night Shyamalan’s better movies, before he turned into a cheese maker. (And, while I’m on the cheesy topic; what’s with Oscar winner Adrien Brody’s horrible acting in another Shyamalan movie, The Village?)
And for the honorable mentions: Citizen Kane, 1941. What can I say … think winter sports. Psycho, 1960. This was one time you didn’t want to be the leading lady! Easy Rider, 1969. Watch what country road you drive down and by the way, one of the most depressing movies ever made. The Sting, 1973. It’s all a lie! Soylent Green, 1973. Now is the time for that diet you’ve always wanted to start. The Stepford Wives, 1975. Husbands with no sense of humor. Capricorn One, 1977. Another government cover-up. Friday the 13th, 1980. Gives a whole different meaning to mother. Deathtrap, 1982. A plot within a plot? Presumed Innocent, 1990. Don’t mess with the “little lady.” Soapdish, 1991. Get rid of that old yearbook! The Crying Game, 1992. Hands aren’t the only big thing in this movie. Jagged Edge, 1995. Lawyers beware. Lone Star, 1996. The family that plays together stays together. Primal Fear, 1996. Talk about identity disorders. Arlington Road, 1999. Some people are just paranoid. The Others, 2001. What is it about dead people never catching on? A Beautiful Mind, 2001. Wait, what? Mystic River, 2003. Oops, my mistake, my mistake, s-o-r-r-y.
Those are some of my favorite movies that have a twist or turn. I might have missed some – but hey, I haven’t seen them all!