by Jason Koenigsberg
The Great Bond Movies
9. Skyfall (2012)
The Lowdown: This is one of the best 007 films of all time, which is very surprising considering its plot and its shortcomings. Going into a legendary hero such as James Bond’s back-story is a very precarious endeavor especially when it risks ruining some of the mystery of the character (one of the aspects I disliked from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). Yet amazingly, Skyfall gives just the right amount of background on Bond’s family and childhood, never revealing too much and still having enough ambiguity that it feels Bond is never sullied, nor is he too vulnerable, just a little bit more human.
Notable High Points: The vagueness with his back-story counts for a lot, a great script and some of the best acting in the franchises history from Daniel Craig, Judi Dench and Oscar Winner Javier Bardem as the villain. The music, Adele’s theme song, the opening action scene and just about everything that follows was riveting.
What Doesn’t Work: The third act where James Bond takes down the villain Kevin McCallister-style using booby traps in a big house reminded me way too much of Home Alone (1990). The lone Bond girl (not counting M or Moneypenny) Berenice Marlohe is beautiful but not given anything to do other than stand around and then die. Plus, I would have liked to have seen more of Javier Bardem, he does not show up until well into the second hour of the movie.
8. A View to a Kill (1985)
The Lowdown: The seventh and final Bond adventure for Roger Moore. He takes on Academy Award winner Christopher Walken as a deranged computer magnate trying to monopolize the competition by flooding Silicon Valley. A View to a Kill has received so much undeserved harsh criticism I wrote an article defending it here.
Notable High Points: The opening snow shootout, Walken as the villain, Tanya Roberts and Grace Jones as the good and bad Bond girls respectively, the chase through Paris starting out at the Eiffel Tower, a great climactic action sequence on top of the Golden Gate Bridge, this movie is so much fun. A View to a Kill is a very solid and entertaining James Bond adventure. With great action sequences throughout, a fitting farewell to two actors (Roger Moore and Lois Maxwell, the original Moneypenny) that belong enshrined in the 007 Hall of Fame, an over-the-top yet intimidating villain played by one of the best actors of the past fifty years in Christopher Walken. A View to a Kill is skillfully directed by John Glen, with tight editing and beautiful shots. Topped off with one of John Barry’s finest Bond soundtracks and the Duran Duran title track is a great theme song.
What Doesn’t Work: The biggest criticism is Roger Moore’s age and yes he does look old, I also found the scene where Max Zorin (Walken) kills a lot of his workers in a mine to be a little disconcerting, does not fit with the rest of the mood of Roger Moore’s Bond pictures.
7. Dr. No (1962)
The Lowdown: The one that started it all. We meet special agent 007 Bond, James Bond played by Sean Connery heading to Jamaica to infiltrate a diabolical plot to interfere with rocket ships and learn about SPECTRE’s plan for world domination.
Notable High Points: Everything. Because this is the film that really set the tone for the entire series to follow. Most notably Ursula Andress and the iconic shot of her coming out of the water sporting only a white bikini and a knife, it’s been copied a myriad of times but never eclipsed. Sean Connery’s bravado shines confidently. You need only see Dr. No to understand why people often consider him the greatest James Bond of all time.
What Doesn’t Work: We hardly seen Joseph Wiseman as the title villain, I think we see more of Bruce the shark in Spielberg’s Jaws (1975). It adds to the mystery but we could have used one or two more scenes. The film lacks some of the pizzazz of later pictures. Plus it’s lack of Desmond Llewelyn and Q’s gadgets is noticeable, but these are very minor criticims.
6. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
The Lowdown: Roger Moore’s third 007 outing and no doubt about it, this is his best. One of the best Bond movies of all time involves British Intelligence needing to team up with the KGB to stop a billionaire madman from starting World War III by hijacking nuclear subs and using the nukes against New York City and Moscow .
Notable High Points: The film that made Bond an international cultural icon in the post Sean Connery era. The opening sequence I already praised for its importance as well as its score by Marvin Hamlisch and theme song by Carly Simon. The location shooting in Egypt is outstanding and so are the action sequences underwater. Ken Adam’s production design on display is truly remarkable, the introduction of Richard Kiel as memorable henchman Jaws and Barbara Bach as Agent XXX is one of, if not the best Bond girl of the franchise, definitely top three.
What Doesn’t Work: We could have had a stronger performance from Curt Jurgens as the main villain Stromberg, but that’s about it.
5. You Only Live Twice (1967)
The Lowdown: Sean Connery’s fifth adventure as Agent 007 takes him to the far east where he goes face to face with the head of SPECTRE in a plot that involves the terrorist organization stealing US and USSR spacecraft in orbit trying to start an international conflict between the two world powers.
Notable High Points: Once again, just about everything, the gorgeous cinematography illustrating the beauty of Japan as well as the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. Connery delivers an impeccable performance. The story unravels like an mystery. The opening with James Bond getting killed on the job, the Maurice Binder designed title sequence with Nancy Sinatra’s beautiful theme, the subsequent funeral for Bond right after. Little Nelly, the John Barry score, The climax inside the volcano that is carved out as Blofeld’s lair. So much has been duplicated and so few exceed the excitement of You Only Live Twice. Plus, Bond finally meets Blofeld played by Donald Pleasance and it lives up to the hype, he is a great screen presence.
What Doesn’t Work: Some accuse this movie of being racist towards Asians, I never saw it, but maybe I’m not sensitive enough (or those that complain are too sensitive). The middle does feel a little bit slow, but I’m reaching for a criticism.
4. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
The Lowdown: The best Bond film of the ‘90’s and the best of the Brosnan pictures. James Bond goes against a media mogul (Jonathan Pryce) who creates disasters and starts wars so that his news outlets can be the first ones to report them. A fun and topical antagonist meant to thinly resemble Ted Turner or Rupert Murdoch if they were a diabolical Bond villain.
Notable High Points: The plot was actually interesting, the action scenes are abundant and each one is spectacular especially the opening aerial dogfight, the motorcycle/helicopter chase through an Asian slum town, and the shootout and escape from the top of a skyscraper. Jonathan Pryce made a fun villain and Michelle Yeoh is one of the toughest Bond girls of all time, she really feels like she can hold her own and does not need 007.
What Doesn’t Work: It was a shame that the script called for 007 to actually have to save Michelle Yeoh. The other Bond girl Teri Hatcher, although beautiful, feels like she was acting in another movie and really did not fit in with the other performances.
3. Casino Royale (2006)
The Lowdown: In some ways, this is the best James Bond film. It is almost impossible to compare any later film to the glory days of the Sean Connery era, but this one surpasses even some aspects of those films. Rarely has a reboot/prequel/origin story worked so effectively than Casino Royale. In this movie we see Bond earn his double 0 status, take on a villain who finances world terrorists, fall in love, get betrayed and then become the cold and hardened loner we know.
Notable High Points: Just about everything works. Eva Green as Vesper Lynd is one of the best Bond girls ever, Mads Mikkelsen is a great villain. All the times we have seen Bond play poker, they have never been as suspenseful and intriguing as this. Plus when it goes for big action, Casino Royale delivers in both spectacle and subtly, something no other recent Bond movies have done.
What Doesn’t Work: It’s a little long, the torture scene was kind of dark and brutal and the early chase scene ending in the embassy felt very far-fetched climbing up a buildings skeletal structure.
2. Goldfinger (1964)
The Lowdown: The quintessential James Bond movie. Bond goes from Miami beach to Kentucky to stop villain Auric Goldfinger from stealing all of the gold from Fort Knox to try and create a global economic meltdown. One of the biggest box office hits of its era, Goldfinger is the picture that made James Bond a worldwide phenomenon and a household name.
Notable High Points: The opening action scene, the Shirley Bassey theme song, John Barry’s score, “Man talk Dink”, the golden girl, the car (“Passenger ejector seat? You must be joking”… “I never joke about my work 007”), So many great moments of dialogue (“Do you expect me to talk?”… “No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die”). Operation Grand Slam, Pussy Galore as a tough Bond girl, the golf sequence, every scene with Odd Job, the car turned into a cube, the final shootout in the airplane. This is where all the notable staples of the James Bond series really come together.
What Doesn’t Work: Not much, maybe just the fact that the opening action scene although fun, has nothing else to do with the plot of Goldfinger.
1. From Russia With Love (1963)
The Lowdown: The best Bond movie of all time. It contains Sean Connery’s best performance as the secret agent. Bond must work with a Russian agent to recover a Lektor as the evil organization SPECTRE closes in on Bond trying to create global chaos between the East and the West. Not only is this the best of all the Bond movies, From Russia With Love transcends the series and is a great Cold War thriller.
Notable High Points: The fight on the Orient Express between Sean Connery and Robert Shaw is one of the best hand-to-hand combat scenes in any film. Daniela Bianchi is a beautiful and underrated Bond girl. Lotte Lenya’s Rosa Klebb is memorably vile as SPECTRE’s most lethal villainess (the blade in her shoe stunt is still spoofed and referenced today). The boat and helicopter scenes near the end are exciting. The catfight between two beautiful women and subsequent shootout at the gypsy camp are great and the cinematography featuring location shooting in Istanbul, Venice and London are all excellent. Interesting trivia note, this was the final movie JFK screened in the White House before his untimely death and he loved it.
What Doesn’t Work: Not much, once again the lack of gadgets and clear James Bond traditions and characteristics would not be as evident until Goldfinger the following year.
Where will this years Spectre rank among the great James Bond pictures? I hope and think that it will be pretty high considering the talent involved, in about a month we shall see, but it is good to know that James Bond will return after that as this series seems to keep getting stronger in the 21st century.