Ridley Scott. Sir Ridley is certainly still working adding films to his archives like The Martian from 2015 and All the Money in the World in 2017. Scott probably isn’t in the top 100 at all without Blade Runner. He’s the lowest ranking auteur with a top 10 all-time film (we’re talking Ozu, Ford, Dreyer, Kubrick, Scorsese, Coppola, Welles, Tarkovsky, Hitchcock). That’s incredible company.  This becomes one of the tougher parts of doing this list. How many films like say Gosford Park (to pick one) is Blade Runner worth? How many films like Moonrise Kingdom is Blade Runner worth? Perhaps more important than just merely directing a top 10 film, Scott’s Blade Runner is exceptionally well directed. Scott is the star of Blade Runner. I know that may seem obvious but I have lofty places in and around my top 100 of all-time for Casablanca and say City Lights and Scott’s work as director is far beyond Curtiz in Casablanca (it’s a top 5 all-time screenplay and probably the best performance from 2 of the best 5-6 screen actors of all-time) and Chaplin’s work as director in City Lights (City Lights is also the greatest performances from one of cinema’s greatest performers…not directors).  After all that, he does have 12 archiveable films and he has a second film, Alien, that rates as a masterpiece and proves that Blade Runner was no fluke or happy coincidence of an extremely talented cast and crew at their peak (which it was).

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a ridiculously beautiful tableau in Blade Runner

Best film:  Blade Runner. Easy choice here for me. One of the greatest films of all-time. Simply put it’s an expressionistic masterpiece and perhaps the greatest example of production design and mise-en-scene in film history. Has many roots in noir and detective/crime films and fiction—the fire bursting from the city reminds me of Walsh’s White Heat with James Cagney in 1949. Every scene is pouring with steam from the streets and cigarette smoke (noir). It’s perpetual rain and perpetual night just like noir. Harrison Ford has more screen time but it’s Rutger Hauer’s film. Hauer is in roughly 32 minutes and it may be the greatest 32 minute performance of all-time. Ford’s performance isn’t transcendent but it isn’t bad either- he’s doing Bogart here- meeting with seedy club owners and falling for the damsel in distress. He keeps it all internalized with a handed outer sheen. Sean Young is very good here—it’s a strong performance. Features an absolutely brilliant synthesizer score and main motif by Vangelis. Gorgeous advertising production design with the Coke, Atari and Pan Am logos. The reflected eye (you can see the city and fire) and reflected window/glass use it’s hard not to think of the helmet shield in 2001. The architectural miniatures are truly part 2001 and part Metropolis from Fritz Lang. Ford’s driving narrative is largely a slow-burn detective film looking for clues but there’s existential questions, largely in subtext, throughout. I think there’s an underlying racist element in the dystopian word. This is just an observation—but the world here is a melding of worlds and language- very Japanese heavy of course but we also hear German “danke” in the elevator, there’s the snake maker (this could be a nod to Casablanca as well), a Spanish language movie house, etc. There’s a Christ allegory I hadn’t realized until now. Hauer’s Roy is the “prodigal son” and near the end of the film he puts a spike through his hand as he’s dying. It’s a bit of a stretch to say he spares Ford or that he’s somehow dying for him but the “Father/God” character of Tyrell is very real. Very “Why has thou forsaken me” in some of Hauer’s musings. Two perfect endings in one- we have the tears in the rain death of Hauer and then the unicorn escape epilogue with Ford and Young with the open ending and the jump to the faster score- pitch perfect. Douglas Trumball—special effects designer has both this and 2001 to his name not to mention a special consultant mention in Tree of Life…. Yamma. Lawrence G Paul is the production designer, he worked in Back to the Future– which is really well done as well-l but I don’t see anything else in his history here to suggest that Ridley Scott is NOT the genius behind the production design—Scott is the auteur. A wonder of film miniature work and establishing shots. Countless still-frame hang-on-wall photography shots including Tyrell in bed doing stocks and has about 50 candles going in his room. Haha. Much tighter than Blade Runner 2049. It’s weird- it’s a very tight film but it’s also a slow-burn mood piece. The scene where Hauer’s Roy kills Tyrell is so magnificently operatic. It reminded me here of the Joaquin Phoenix killing of Richard Harris in Gladiator (obviously also by Scott)– vengeful son killing father. Literally people smoking and/or drinking whiskey in every scene (very noir/detective). Clearly influenced by Bertolucci’s the conformist in lighting and set design. The film is as influential as any film in post 1980’s cinema—there’s no AI from Spielberg without this film. It’s a very short scene but the scene where Ford interrogates the snake-maker is shot entirely through glass with logos on it and it’s utterly stunning to look at. The lighting of the umbrellas is so inspired—ditto with the lining of the interior of the bus. The Joanna Cassidy broken glass slow-mo shooting/death sequence is another stunner—fake snow and reflected neon glass. Countless beautiful dank dark shots of Ford’s cluttered apartment and there’s always exterior light pouring in from every window—the darkness and busy disheveled mise-en scene reminds me of some of Tarkovsky’s work—JF Sebastian’s large house/set piece reminds me of it as well. A Masterpiece and top 10 all-time film.

a riff on Kubrick’s helmet shield illuminated shot from 2001 – this glorious image here is from Blade Runner

total archiveable films: 12

top 100 films: 1 (Blade Runner)

top 500 films: 2 (Blade Runner, Alien)

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expressionistic mise-en-scene- masterful lighting and set work in Blade Runner

top 100 films of the decade: 3 (Blade Runner, Alien, Thelma and Louise)

another riff- this one on Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid– fatalism and the freeze-frame– outstanding work here in Thelma and Louise

most overrated:  None- he has 3 films in the top 1000 – my top 3 below—and none are overrated.

most underrated:  Prometheus. The starts off with an absolute stunner of an opening and credit sequence- such beautiful photography is pretty rare in cinema. There’s a lot under the surface with the Fassbender character. I’ve seen this film 3 times now and wish they had expanded a little on the 2 years of travel or whatever when everyone else was in hibernation and Fassbender’s David was awake—learning about others, watching and copying Lawrence of arabia, etc- I wonder if there’s a Ridley Scott directors cut out there like blade runner or kingdom of heaven. The fassbender character name is David- just like AI, The storm set piece is an absolute stunner as well. The film is flawed. There much that is questionable if not improbable, even in the world of the film, but I think one of my biggest beefs is Logan Marshall Green’s character. The actor is fine, but I just think he’s completely miscast and functionary to propel the narrative and nothing more. He doesn’t seem intellectual, he’s overly reactive and cocky without intelligence. It’s a “good ideas” screenplay but not great dialogue. Many great films call into this category though. Very strong score. The surgical machine set piece sequence is a highlight as well. Great actors but not great performances here which is telling. The film is filled with homages and winks to 2001 but one I didn’t notice until this viewing was that Guy Pearce’s old man looks just like the old man in 2001. The effects Scott uses are set design drive and not special effect driven- I think this is what elevates this film above almost every superhero film.

gem I want to spotlight:  Alien. Certainly seems like the offspring off 1951’s the thing from another world and kubrick’s 2001. Weaver had one other role and her debut in a quick shot as woody’s date I believe in annie hall but what a tremendous casting find here. I absolutely love the first 45 minutes. It’s patience, building tension and gorgeous production design and mise-en-scene. Clearly, Ridley Scott is not Kubrick but visually he’s closer to Kubrick than George Lucas. There’s some similarities between the ship, also the Mother/HAL and Ian Holm’s icy “ash” character. Anyone calling this a straight B-movie as an insult to its grandeur ideas and themes is wrong- there’s quite a bit going on here.This is the 2nd finest example (blade runner) of Scott’s superior (even amongst great auteurs) craftsmanship and skilled photography. The ending shutting down of the ship again mirrors 2001 – there’s so much going on with the lighting and mise-en-scene… it certainly reminds me of some german expressionism. There’s shadow work, fantastic lighting, sirens going off, flames, yellow/green coloring that is quite beautiful (there’s a reason Fincher would do the 3rd aliens film), strobe lighting as well. It’s the 4th best film of 1979 but that’s no insult- we’re talking about career-best work from Woody Allen (Manhattan), Tarkovsky (stalker) and Coppola (apocalypse now). Masterpiece.

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detail in the blockbuster production design in Alien
a perfect close-up– Weaver’s performance captured through angle, length, and a shrewd blocking of the mise-en-scene

stylistic innovations/traits:  When I think of Scott I think of absolutely wonderful photography first. He’s a photographer first by trade. He’s known for spectacular visual composition and production design (which highlight both of his masterpieces).  His detractors always say the “style over substance” but those are cinema’s great artists. Scott himself says: “People say I pay too much attention to the look of a movie but for God’s sake, I’m not producing a Radio 4 Play for Today, I’m making a movie that people are going to look at.” Haha. Again if you go back to his 1-2 with Blade Runner and Alien he’s the artist—the production designer for Blade Runner is Lawrence Paul, DP is Jordan Croneweth and music by Vangelis.  For Alien it’s Michael Seymour as the production designer, Derek Vanlint as the DP and Jerry Goldsmith doing the great score.

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world creating through production design in Alien
wall art bliss in Blade Runner

top 10

  1. Blade Runner
  2. Alien
  3. Thelma and Louise
  4. Gladiator
  5. The Duelists
  6. Prometheus
  7. Kingdom of Heaven
  8. Blackhawk Down
  9. The Martian
  10. American Gangster
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spectacular shot from Gladiator

By year and grades

1977- The Duelists R
1979- Alien MP
1982- Blade Runner MP
1991- Thelma and Louise HR
2000- Gladiator HR
2001- Black Hawk Down R
2003- Matchstick Men R
2005- Kingdom of Heaven R
2007- American Gangster R
2012- Prometheus R
2015- The Martian R
2017- All the Money in the World R

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives