Category Archives: Sam Mendes

Top 5: James Bond Movies

The jetpack from “Thunderball”: the peak of bad special effects humor.

This weekend, “Skyfall” opens in theaters. “Skyfall” marks a remarkable 50 years of the existence of James Bond onscreen. Directed by Sam Mendes (“American Beauty,” “Road to Perdition”), “Skyfall” has already been receiving early raves.

No matter how repetitive or ridiculous it gets, I will have a strong fondness for the Bond series. Thanksgivings of my childhood were usually marked by watching the Bond marathons on AMC or TNT (or whatever other network showed them) with my dad and brother. From my years of watching, I compiled a list of my favorite Bond films, building up to number one. Here are my five favorite Bond films:

5. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

It’s hard to fill the shoes of Sean Connery, but I believe Roger Moore did as good a job at it as anyone could. This is my favorite Moore installment, and it certainly doesn’t shy away from the Cold War inspired madness of the time. While the villain’s objective of creating a new civilization under the ocean should be completely ludicrous, it doesn’t feel as unrealistic in light of climate change. Plus it’s got a hot Bond girl, and Jaws, one of the few villains in the Bond series who got to come back for another film. If only Oddjob didn’t meet his end in “Goldfinger,” him and Jaws would have made a great team of villains.

4. Dr. No (1962)

This is where it all began. Bond had much less weapons to use, so he mainly relied on his own cunning. And while ejecting car seats are cool, it’s even cooler to see Bond having to use his own wits, like watching “Spider-Man” try and scale the city when his web blasters run out. And speaking of spiders, there’s a great scene where Bond battles a tarantula, which has the kind of slow-burning suspense rarely seen in movies anymore. I had the distinct pleasure to go to a beach screening of “Dr. No” while at Cannes this summer. To say that “Dr. No” has aged is an understatement. To say that because of that “Dr. No” is no longer funny or exciting to watch would be a lie.

See my Top 3 after the jump:


3. You Only Live Twice (1967)


“You Only Live Twice” might be one of the most insane Bond films, yet it still manages to keep its cool. It’s hard to disagree with an intoxicating theme song by Nancy Sinatra. This one has a space ship that steals other spaceships, a secret volcano lair, and Bond pretending to be Japanese. It is also the first glimpse we got of bald, kitty-loving bad guy Blofeld. “You Only Live Twice” was one of the Bond films I would always watch the whole way through every time there was a Thanksgiving marathon. But it is hard to deny, without “You Only Live Twice,” there might not have been “Austin Powers.”

2. Casino Royale (2006)

In 2006, “Casino Royale” both brought Bond back to his roots and reinvented the Cold War spy for the modern age. Many balked at the idea of a blonde Bond, but Daniel Craig effortlessly fit into the role. This was a much grittier Bond film, and the first time our hero actually seemed like a vulnerable human being. Plus, the gravity-defying opening chase is absolutely magnificent. Not to mention, the action replaces implausible death rays and such with the simplicity of guns and knives. Its greatest achievement, however, is turning a poker tournament into a breathless life or death situation. “Quantum of Solace” couldn’t quite follow in its footsteps, but I have a good feeling that “Skyfall” will bring back the Bond promised to us by “Casino Royale.”

1. Goldfinger (1964)

This seems too obvious but the more I think about it, the harder it is for me to put any other Bond film first. This was the first time Bond went high tech, but there is more to it than just that. It has one of the most simply sadistic villains in the entire series (he kills people by painting them gold!). It also had the audacity to (SPOILER) kill off the girl early on and replace her with another one. If anyone needs a perfect example of the witty intelligence of James Bond and the awesomeness of Sean Connery, look no further than “Goldfinger.”

Most Underrated: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

George Lazenby was the first Bond after Connery and he only got one shot at 007. He’s definitely not on top in the Bond caliber, because “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” is actually a classic. It has a famous ski chase in which no one can remember which Bond film its actually from. Most notable about “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” is that it is the most self-aware Bond has ever been. At the beginning  after the girl gets away, he turns to the camera and says, “this never happened to the other fellow.”

Worst: Die Another Day (2002)

I was close to choosing “Moonraker,” both for its “it’s like “The Spy Who Loved Me” in space” premise and the fact that it gave Jaws a love story. Yet, “Moonraker” is campy fun. “Die Another Day” represented the breaking point of Bond. The series had gone too ove-the-top for its own good. The need to see shiny lasers totally overshadows the plot. The only things I could pick up were a beam that harnessed the power of the sun, a hotel made of ice, and a Korean dude who was reincarnated as a white dude. Sure, it tried to be relevant by making the bad guys North Korean. Yet, it didn’t tap into any plausible fears like the Bond of the Soviet Era. Pierce Brosnan, who actually fit the Bond label very well, deserved better than this. And we ended up getting better. Four years after the mess of “Die Another Day,” Bond arose from the ashes in the form of “Casino Royale.”

Shaking Things Up: Sam Mendes Will Be Next Bond Director

Over the past few years, the James Bond series, which is now approaching its 23rd installment, has begun to make some changes to the classic character. Some changes have worked amazingly, and others haven’t really changed much at all.

Now comes the most surprising change of all: Sam Mendes (“American Beauty,” “Away We Go,” “Revolutionary Road”) is slated to direct the next Bond film. This is a piece of news I am quite happy to report. Mendes is a very talented dramatic director, and even though trashing “American Beauty” is a hobby of most film critics, I still stand firmly stand by its side.
Anyway, Mendes might be the first Oscar winning director to helm a Bond film, and probably the most talented. There was once word that Quentin Tarantino was going to direct “Casino Royale,” but those unfortunately turned out to be just rumors (I guess Bond fans would’ve been a little turned off by hearing 007 talk about what they call a Big Mac in England).
What I wonder though is this: can Mendes handle the action? “Casino Royale,” which revamped the series, was directed by Martin Campbell. Campbell isn’t known for making amazing stories, but he did have experience on how to make a good action film. That might be why “Casino Royale” not only had one of the most interesting Bond stories, but it also gave us one of the most beautifully choreographed chase sequences ever put on film.
“Quantum of Solace” was put in the hands of director Marc Forster (“Finding Neverland,” “Monster’s Ball”). While the film’s plot was engaging, the action sequences lacked the sheer grace found in “Casino Royale.” The action here was too quick, sloppy, and unfocused to be thrilling. Even when Bond was in gravest danger, it was hard to feel too worried. There’s no way to enjoy a good thrill when you can’t even tell whether or not it’s going on.
This is the sole reason I worry about Mendes’ direction: will his inexperience in the action genre be problematic? He’ll definitely be able to conceive a well put together storyline and believable characters, but he might not be able to trigger that wow factor a well-made thrill ride can produce.
Hopefully, this won’t be true. Many directors have gone from art house to blockbuster with amazing results. Take for example, Christopher Nolan (“Memento,” “Batman Begins”) and Alfonso Cuaron (“Y Tu Mama Tambien,” “Children of Men”). Both managed to add their unique storytelling skills to films defined by action. Both these men would be fine future candidates.
For now, lets just hope Mendes can make another “Goldfinger,” and not another “Die Another Day.”
I originally intended to end this post with a joke about Mendes turning the next Bond film into a story about 007 going through suburban angst. Too bad every other film blogger beat me to the punch.