The Greats: Historical Movies

Posted: November 20, 2010 in Top Lists
Tags: , , , , , ,

Pretty much, movies that take place before the time that the movie was shot in. That’s a historical piece and that’s all the criteria I used for picking these.

Adventures of Robin Hood
Yes, it’s about as historically accurate towards those times as a 2001 is to what really happened that year, but who cares? It’s one of the better adventure movies ever made and I decided against an action/adventure category this year so it’s got to go somewhere! Besides, it does highlight the complaints that the Saxons had with Norman oppression, even if that was all taken care of and over by the time we get to the period this movie takes place during. Besides, it’s an important insight into how earlier generations viewed historical films, since a lot of history books were read and reviewed in the making of this movie. While we might look at it as a bit hokey, they viewed it as historically accurate at the time.

Project A II
Probably my favorite of Jackie Chan’s historical movies. I like it a bit more than the first one because Chan was able to afford a bigger and more elaborate setting this time. Also, this one is purely a Chan movie, without Sammo Hung or Yuen Biao. Not that I don’t like those guys, but I wanted to have the Jackie Chan movie be a purely Chan movie. This one is sort of funny though, because it’s so clearly made in 1987. While it’s supposed to be 1911 or so everyone has 80s hair cuts, are wearing their suits with their shirts sleeves rolled over the jackets, it’s sort of hilarious. I do like this in its own right. Some of the fights are really good and the story is at least passable.

Hamlet (Branagh)
I’ve talked about this one at length already. I find it lovely, opulent, and way too darn long. Not that I don’t appreciate it, but it is butt-numbing and we shouldn’t pretend that it isn’t. Still like it though. I think because it manages to be a great historical piece while also being a great presentation of the play.

Brotherhood of the Wolf
This is, without a doubt, the best kung-fu action movie based on the Beast of Gévaudan attacks ever made. French action has included a lot of martial arts lately, but this is still the best one. While it has elements of horror and mystery, those are all just hooks to hang some really good action scenes onto. The movie takes a left turn about half way through and abandons all historical fact to fall into action/fantasy realms, but we’re willing to go with it by that point, since it wasn’t really all that accurate to begin with. Still, this is a great movie and worth your time.

Barry Lyndon
I like Barry Lyndon. I know a lot of people don’t, but it’s actually a really great movie. I suppose the slowness and lack of action draw people away from it, but I still like it. It’s sort of a strange joke on people who read the original novel though, as Kubrick sort of had a drastically different interpretation of the book than most everyone else at the time had. This is probably a more accurate version of how the situation would have worked historically though. The movie goes a long way to recreating then time period, going so far as to reproduce certain contemporary paintings in the camera’s set ups.

L.A. Confidential
A fictionalized account of several big stories of the early fifties Los Angeles police department. This is one of those movies that seems to have no particular flaw, although I hate the distinction of “perfect” when talking about movies. It’s one of the few neo-noir movies that I feel really works though, and that has to count for something.

Adapted from Nicholas Pileggi’s biography of Henry Hill, Wiseguy, Martin Scorsese turned the movie into something really fantastic. A wonderfully detailed historical piece (You’ll see why it’s not on the historical list later), a first hand account of street level gangsters, and of course of the great drug movies of all time. Above all though, the sense of history evoked by this movie is fantastic. Rarely do you ever see a movie where so many historical periods are shown and each of them having such perfect detail.

Rarely do historical movies place themselves in context as well as Chinatown does. This movie doesn’t just have a sense of when it takes place, but it has a sense of what it meant to be in that time and exist in that place. While the water wars in California are a matter of historical record, and this is a fictionalized account of what happened, really it’s used as a backdrop to tell what kind of place LA was at that time. This is a town that is growing faster than its resources can cope with, and a town deeply mired in corruption. I sort of don’t want to say more because I’d hate to spoil it.

Kingdom of Heaven (Director’s Cut)
While the theatrical cut of this movie is nothing special, the director’s cut is really quite excellent. You are well placed in the midst of the Crusade, drinking up the spirit of the times. Even if the actual facts themselves are far from perfect, the movie’s atmosphere really takes your breath away. I must say though, only watch the Director’s Cut, the theatrical takes a lot away from the product.

I’m loathed to put another Scorsese gangster picture here, particularly since it’s seen as a spiritual sequel to GoodFellas, but I’m not sure where else to place it. However, it’s such a great movie that I didn’t want to skip it. It’s a change for Scorsese who gave this movie a completely new look that I had never seen before. As a story, it’s interesting how it manages to be a rise and fall tale, while remaining on small part of the empire that was destroyed by the end of the movie.

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