Saturday, November 10, 2012

List and Let Die

Once again, we've come to the weekend of an event that's happened every few years for the past half-century and gets a lot of people very excited. It's time for the release of a new James Bond movie. I won't be seeing SKYFALL this weekend. I'll wait for the crowds to subside a little, but I'll see it soon. I hope it's better than the last one. QUANTUM OF SOLACE was a bland, murky mess, not at all what I want from a film about one of my favorite characters. But I'm glad to be able to say that QUANTUM was an exception to the rule. Almost all the other Bond movies are great fun to watch but they do, as with all long running series, vary widely in quality. With SKYFALL coming, various magazines and websites have been ranking the Bond movies from best to worst or worst to best, and I've yet to see a list that I agree completely with. So now it's my turn. I'm not going to tackle all 23 previous movies here. What I'm going to do instead is choose my 10 favorite Bond movies, starting with the best and going down the list. When you shake the mix (don't stir it!) these are the films that rise to the top:

001. GOLDFINGER (1964) Absolute perfection! This is Bond at his best. The series really hit its peak with this third movie. The series most colorful villain, Auric Goldfinger ("No, Mr Bond....I expect you to die!"), coolest henchman (Oddjob, with his razor-brimmed hat), best gadgetry (I want an ejector seat in my car), greatest theme song (Shirley Bassey can sing!). Every ingredient that made the Bond films so much fun is in top form in this one. The quality of the series has gone up and down many times in later years, but it may never get this good again.

002. FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963) Lotte Lenya and Robert Shaw absolutely shine as SPECTRE agents. The visual style of the film is stunning. Gypsy cat fights in Turkey, fights to the death on the Orient Express, our first partial glimpse of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, and the introduction of Desmond Llewellyn as Q. Nearly as perfect as GOLDFINGER, this one is a thrill from start to finish.

003. DR. NO (1962) What a way to start! From our first glimpse of Sean Connery as Bond, we know exactly what kind of a man he is. This film introduces all the elements of the formula that would keep this series going for a very long time. We not only meet James Bond, but Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny and Bernard Lee as M. Jack Lord is still my favorite actor to play Bond's CIA ally Felix Leiter. Joseph Wiseman does an excellent job playing our first Bond villian and Ursula Andress walking up onto that beach was the first in a long line of actresses who were as important to the films as whoever happened to be playing Bond each time.  

004. ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE (1969) How do you replace Sean Connery as Bond? You can't, not completely, for he defined the role. But George Lazenby, a man with little previous acting experience, did a damn good job filling 007's shoes. This is a magnificent movie from exciting start to tragic finish. The plot is one of the best, the locations picturesque, the supporting cast, including Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas all do an excellent job. One of the least mentioned Bond films (do most people even know who George Lazenby is?) is, in my opinion, one of the best. 

005. THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) While Roger Moore played Bond seven times, only two of his movies make my top ten. It wasn't Moore's fault. He's a competent actor, but he was rarely given the chance to play the character Ian Fleming created. The series became more lighthearted in the 70s and gadgets and silliness became more frequent. But Moore's term of service as Bond had a few highlights and this is one of them. THE SPY WHO LOVED ME begins with one of the best opening sequences of the Bond franchise, a thrilling ski chase that ends not in a cliffhanger, but a cliff jumper, a literal skyfall! After that opening, we get Carly Simon's "Nobody Does it Better," which I think is one of the best Bond songs. The movie then proceeds to give us the breathtakingly beautiful Barbara Bach as Russian agent Triple X, Richard Kiel as Jaws, Curt Jurgens as the main villain Karl Stromberg, submarines, pyramids, and lot of action.

006. THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987) Timothy Dalton is my second favorite Bond actor. Only Connery was better. After the increasing silliness of the Moore era (and Moore getting far too old to play the part), having Dalton arrive and play a Bond who looked and acted as if he's just stepped out of the pages of Fleming's books was a breath of fresh air. He was perfect for the part and, being a big fan of the literary Bond, took the job very seriously. I really, really wish he had done more than just two movies. Of those two, THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS is the better of the two, following the formula of the others but renewing much of the seriousness that had been absent for most of the last decade. I also enjoyed Dalton's other appearance, in 1989's LICENSE TO KILL, but that one went a little too far in the direction of a standard revenge/action movie, making it a lesser Bond movie than THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS.

007. FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981) After the over-the-top space age silliness of MOONRAKER, the producers of the Bond series did a very smart thing. They stripped things down and got back to basics. This movie minimized the gadgetry and had Roger Moore playing a down to earth Bond in a very enjoyable film. It also has one of those little moments that makes me wonder how Moore would have fared if all his Bond movies had been of the more serious sort. In that ruthless instant, Bond gives a little kick to a car as it dangles over a cliff.  

008. THUNDERBALL (1965) While not quite as good as the first three films in the series, this fourth Bond movie is still classic Connery-era stuff and should not be overlooked. It has all the exotic locations, SPECTRE villainy, and beautiful women that made those early movies so good. It also features one of my favorite battles of the Bond films, a stunning underwater fight scene with spear guns and sharks!

009. CASINO ROYALE (2006) Daniel Craig's debut as Bond rebooted the franchise, showing us a Bond new to his Double-O status and trying to prove himself to M. I have very mixed feelings about this one. On one hand, it gave the serious, gritty intensity back to Bond after a decade of Pierce Brosnan's very Roger Moorish movies. CASINO is a well made film, full of action, darker and more exciting than the handful of episodes that came before it. But I do have a few complaints. I didn't think it was really neccesary to reboot the franchise. In Fleming's novel, Bond was already an older, experienced agent when the events of this story happened. That made certain elements of the plot more effective, showing a hardened Bond who's vulnerabilities are suddenly exposed, rather than the rookie fumbling his way through things that Craig portrayed here. But this is overall a very good movie and a good start for Daniel Craig as Bond. So far, Craig is one-for-two. QUANTUM OF SOLACE was terrible. Hopefully, SKYFALL will make up for it.

010. NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983) At first glance, this movie has more flaws than good things. It's not part of the official Bond series, so there's no classic Bond theme song running throughout, no opening gun-barrel sequence, no familiar actors in the roles of M, Q, and Moneypenny, and the recycled plot is just a remake of THUNDERBALL. It shouldn't feel like a Bond movie without those elements in place...or should it? Looking at just those facts, one might expect this movie to stink, but something overrides all the weaknesses. Connery is back! Sean Connery's presence here, returning twelve years after his last appearance (in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER) makes it well worth watching. Despite the same plot, character names, etc as in THUNDERBALL, it's different just enough to make it seem fresh. Connery shines in the part again, playing it with more energy and wit than in his last two appearances in the official series. Klaus Maria Brandauer and Max Von Sydow are superb villains. Bernie Casey is one of the my favorite Felix Leiters. It's a fun movie, and it was great to be able to see the best of the Bond actors come back one more time.

So those are my ten favorites. That being said, I want to mention that I don't really dislike any of the Bond movies (except the aforementioned QUANTUM OF SOLACE). There's something to enjoy in all of them, and they're all fun to watch in one way or another. Apologies to Pierce Brosnan for not including any of his Bond films on my list. They're entertaining, but none of them really stand out enough to make my top ten.

I look forward to hearing what others think of my list. If anyone wants to debate my choices, feel free.
In a week or so, I'll see if SKYFALL is good enough to knock anything off this list!   


  1. Wow, this is really a radical list. Mine starts with ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, has several Connery, Brosman, Dalton and Craig...but no Moores. All way too silly.

    1. Ron, I'm glad to see I'm not the only person who appreciates ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE. It's certainly the most underrated Bond movie. I love it and I think Diana Rigg might be my favorite of the Bond women. I've often wondered what it would have been like if Lazenby had taken the subsequent Bond appearances he was offered.