Wednesday, November 4, 2015

What is the Best James Bond Film of All-Time?

I first compiled this list back in November of 2012, right before Skyfall came out.  It was Bond's 50th anniversary, so it only seemed natural to honor such an iconic character in the grandest way possible.  Back then, I rewatched all 23 James Bond films up to that point, reviewed them, and ranked them from my least favorite to what I felt was the franchise's gold standard.  Now, I said I rewatched many of these, but in fact, I watched more than half of those films for the first time in getting ready for the list.  While I discovered a few turkeys in the process, I also discovered a fair share of new favorite films of all-time, and that's what I love so much about doing such lists.  Now with Spectre coming out this Friday, I decided this moment in time would be as good as any to update the list, adding in Skyfall, while also tweaking a few things here and there.  So without any further ado, let's kick it off with number 24:

24.  Diamonds Are Forever
This is the most painful James Bond film to date.  After the serious tone and darker feel of the box office flop, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the Bond producers wooed back Sean Connery for his final official Bond film.  This seemed like a good idea, as they tried to lighten things up a bit, and the result is a 00-dud.  Save for a tense two minute fight scene in an elevator, Diamonds Are Forever is almost painful to watch.  Featuring comedy that always falls flat, the two most annoying Bond girls in existence, a Sean Connery who just seems tired and grumpy the whole time, two dreadful henchmen, and Blofeld (007's archnemesis) in drag, do yourself a favor and skip this film.
Grade:  F!

23.  The Man With the Golden Gun
Roger Moore's second appearance as Bond is just a trainwreck.  Moore tried so hard to have that tough guy swagger of Sean Connery, but his Bond comes off more so as an arrogant jerk rather than a charmer.  Not to mention, a three-nippled villain named Scaramanga and his midget sidekick Nick Nack, as well as two of the more forgettable Bond girls, with the only sliver of light being the five minute duel sequence where Bond and Scaramanga square off at the end, this is a Bond adventure best forgotten.
Grade:  F!

22.  Never Say Never Again
The final Sean Connery Bond film, and often considered the unofficial Bond adventure, because the film was not produced by Eon productions, but rather by an independent company with Kevin McClory leading the charge.  McClory was one of the original writers working with Ian Fleming on Thunderball, and after many years of legal battles, he finally won the rights to the initial novel, therefore he made this remake.  Never Say Never Again is notorious for drawing Connery out of Bond retirement, and that is the only good thing about this film.  While Connery still has the charm, the rest of the film is a structural mess, paling in comparison to the original Thunderball, even if Kim Basinger tries her best as Bond girl Domino.  This is doubly sad because this film is directed by Irvin Kershner, who directed my favorite film of all-time, The Empire Strikes Back.  Hey, everyone makes a few turkeys.
Grade:  F!

21.  License to Kill
In Timothy Dalton's second outing as Bond, his best friend, CIA agent Felix Leiter, barely survives a shark attack after being fed to it by a ruthless drug lord named Sanchez, who also murdered Leiter's wife on his honeymoon.  The set up for this Bond adventure, where 007 goes rogue as he tries to avenger Leiter, has plenty of promise to start, such as M revoking Bond's license to kill, but unfortunately the film plays more so as an episode of Magnum, PI, or Miami Vice, and not as a Bond film.  It's a run of the mill drug lord vs. one man wrecking crew story, that was in almost every TV show in the 1980s.  Not to mention, the film is steeped in cheesy '80s fashion, style, and music too often to be taken seriously as a Bond film.  Is License to Kill a gosh awful movie?  No, but as a Bond film it just doesn't cut it.  However, if you're a fan of Desmond Llewelyn as Q, he has more screentime in this adventure than in any other Bond film, as Q humorously helps Bond in the field.
Grade:  F!

20.  The World Is Not Enough
This is one of the more forgettable Bond films.  There is very little that is memorable about this film, no real memorable action sequences, no real memorable villain, and no real memorable Bond girl, unless you count the atrocity that is Denise Richards as nuclear physicist, Dr. Christmas Jones.  Sadly, the film starts with promise, with the first thirty minutes or so promising a 007 adventure that actually has James and MI6 reeling after a friend of M's is murdered within their very walls, unfortunately after the strong opening, the film starts to quickly go down hill.  It is sad because the film had so much promise:  the first Bond villain that is a woman, her right hand man a fellow that cannot feel pain, and an intriguing plot to gain a monopoly on the West's oil supply, however the film is more interested in bombarding the viewer with action that adds little to the story, therefore never having time to fulfill the promises made early on in the film.  Plus, Pierce Brosnan tries a little too hard in his third outing to make the script work, and he often comes across as an angry uncle, shouting much of the movie.  Even still, the final line that Bond utters to Christmas is a classic, and that's the only thing that is about The World Is Not Enough.
Grade:  F!

19.  The Spy Who Loved Me
This film should really be called, "Jaws," and not because it's about a shark (even though it has one of those), but that the villain's henchman, named Jaws, is the greatest part of this film.  Jaws, who can chew through anything with his metal teeth, is easily one of the more iconic Bond villains of all-time.  Whenever Jaws is onscreen, whether it's fighting James, or when he's simply manipulating things in the background, he owns it.  Sadly, the film itself is fairly lifeless, with little to add to the Bond canon.  The concept for the film, with 007 teaming up with a female KGB agent on a mission when he killed her lover in the opening, is a strong concept that is merely brushed aside come to the end of the film, making any scene where Bond isn't battling with Jaws a chore to get through.
Grade:  F!

18.  Die Another Day
This was the very first Bond film I ever saw in theaters, and while I may have outgrown many of it's antics, Die Another Day is still one of the more gleefully enjoyable Bond films.  It's a guilty pleasure, because there really is no substance to this film, just tons of awesome, over-the-top action.  Sure, it follows the Bond formula and doesn't stray from it, but I mean, who doesn't love an insane villain, or the run of the mill Bond girls.  However, with very little substance, the film wears out its welcome around the 45-minute mark, with you only being able to take so much ridiculous action with no real character development beneath it for so long.  By the time Bond is windsurfing off of a melting glacier, my patience has worn thin and Die Another Day has overstayed its welcome.  While Pierce Brosnan's final outing as 007 is great to a 12-year-old, thanks to some enjoyable action sequences and Halle Berry, to a 25-year-old, it just falls short of the golden standard, with Brosnan's reign as 007 ending with a whimper, rather than a bang.  However, the finale with Moneypenny enjoying the virtual reality simulator is one of her funnier moments in the entire franchise.
Grade:  D-!

17.  A View to a Kill
Roger Moore's final outing as 007 is a dud.  The action, the plot, just about everything is forgettable, save for Christopher Walken as villain, Max Zorin.  Walken plays psychopaths so well, and he is marvelous as the bloodthirsty computer chip tycoon with eyes full of greed.  Other than Walken and the marvelous finale atop the Golden Gate Bridge, the film's jokes mostly fall flat, and Tanya Roberts' Stacy Sutton is perhaps an even more wooden Bond Girl performance than Denise Richards' Christmas Jones.  However, when you've got the Walken, it at least elevates this film above the ones below it on this list.
Grade:  D-!

16.  Live and Let Die
Okay, the good:  a charming Roger Moore, a badguy with a hook for an arm, born to be Bond girl, Jane Seymour, and an awesome theme song.  The bad:  just about everything else.  In this film, James Bond goes Blaxploitation as he deals with everything from voodoo to fortune tellers.  The film was shot like a Blaxploitation film from the '70s, making the film feel cheesy and outdated by today's standards.  Even still, some of the humor is kind of funny, however too much time is spent with the buffoonish Louisiana sheriff chasing James Bond through the bayou, who is by far the most offensive part of this movie.  A stereotypical Hollywood Southern idiot who is as annoying as all get out.  So what, the finale where Bond actually explodes the bad guy by expanding him from the inside-out, is good old-fashioned Bond fun.
Grade:  D-!

15.  The Living Daylights
The Living Daylights should be called, "The Tale of Two Films."  The first half of The Living Daylights is like the previous seven Roger Moore films, filled with jokes and insane action, but the latter half offers up one of the more hardcore Bond adventures there is in Timothy Dalton's first outing.  This the first Bond film that doesn't languish in cartoonish action, but delivers real meat-and-potatoes explosions, punches, and gunfire, however the film doesn't become awesome until midway through when a fellow 00 is murdered in front of Bond. While the film seems to have an identity crisis as to what kind of Bond film it truly wants to be, Dalton steals the show, proving to be a Bond that is romantic and charming, but believable as a man with a license to kill, who will not hesitate to use it.  That is what colors this entry.  If only the villains and Bond girls were as memorable as the action and Dalton's performance, to say anything for the murky, anti-climactic plot.  Even if the film doesn't truly know what it wants to be, how can you not watch the fight between Bond and the bad guy hanging out of the back of a cargo plane and not think this is one of the finest fights in any Bond film.
Grade:  C!

14.  Moonraker
It's hard to take the Roger Moore films seriously, but if you're looking for a good time, Moonraker was one of Moore's better efforts as 007.  Moonraker was the first Moore film that really allowed his personality to influence the character.  While the Moore films after this point lost much of the cool factor of the early Bond films, they became something that was imminently more enjoyable to watch, by mixing Moore's gentleman charm with his sly sense of humor, making for Bond films that were at times parodying what had come before it, but it worked.  For example, villain Hugo Drax's plot, to take only the best looking people up into space and then annihilate all life on Earth to create a master race, is one of the more clever evil plots in a Bond film, though it's absolutely absurd.  While the film dips into cartoonish moments a tad too often, such as evil henchman Jaws falling in love and then becoming an ally to Bond in the end, Moonraker always retains a good sense of humor and manages to have fun with the over-the-top action and thrills.  I mean, who doesn't love the final action sequence on the space station, or the opening where Bond falls out of an airplane without a parachute and fights the bad guy in mid-dive for his.  It's not a real thoughtful or suspenseful film, but it's fun.
Grade:  B-!

13.  Quantum of Solace
Daniel Craig's second Bond film failed to reach the heights of Casino Royale, yet it still serves up one of the more introspective 007 adventures ever written.  Bond is still reeling over the death of his love, Vesper, embarking on a quest for vengeance to take down the evil organization that was revealed to be behind her death, Quantum.  There are no gadgets to be found, no jokes, with the film just being hardhitting action.  While there is a lack of many classic 007 trademarks, the film works because of its deep characterizations.  Sure, the villain and his plot is merely there to get from point A to point B , but it's Bond's journey and the journey of Bond girl, Camille, that stands out in my memory from this film.  Olga Kurylenko's Camille is one of the more fully realized Bond girls of all-time, with her not being an object of affection for Bond, but rather being her own character who is driven by revenge.  While the brief interlude where Bond is with the other Bond girl, Strawberry Fields, is a little odd considering he is still trying to get over Vesper, I am partial to the scene where Fields is killed by being covered in crude oil, making one reminisce about the golden woman in Goldfinger (is that morbid to say).  Even if the film isn't 100% 007, the strong sense of characterization and humanization of Bond make this a serviceable entry in the franchise.  Not to mention, the tense scene at the opera, which is espionage filmmaking at its best.
Grade:  B!

12.  For Your Eyes Only
By the time Roger Moore got to his fifth Bond film, he had really found his groove.  This film in particular had more going for it than most of the other Moore films.  While For Your Eyes Only is not an A-grade film that causes you to think, it's a fun, enjoyable film that is extremely funny, and surprisingly suspenseful.  The film starts with a suspense-filled opening where Bond goes from his deceased wife's graveside to fighting for his life as his archnemesis, Blofeld, returns for the first time since Diamonds Are Forever, to try and kill Bond by remote controlling his helicopter.  This opening works to form a connection between Bond and his Bond girl in this film, who is seeking revenge for her parent's murder, and Bond wisely understands her grief, due to his own loss.   While this storyline between Bond and the Bond girl kind of fizzles out when it comes time for her to exact her revenge, it is still one of the better motives ever cooked up for a female character in a Bond film.  Though, what really makes this film stand out is that it has some of the more memorable action sequences in any Bond film transpiring in this movie -- from the gripping scene on the side of the cliff, to the battle in the sunken ship, to the bad guy's devious plan to kill Bond and his Bond girl by dragging them behind his yacht through a barrier reef filled with great whites!  As for the humor, who doesn't love it when Bond goes to confessional and Q rips off a fake beard, masquerading as a priest?  Simply put, For Your Eyes Only is a lot of fun.  So what if it drags a bit in the middle when dealing with the Olympic ice skater with a crush on Bond, the film works, and is one of the few Moore films that comes close to classic 007.  On a final note, the final scene with the Margaret Thatcher look-a-like is hilarious.
Grade:  B!

11.  On Her Majesty's Secret Service
One-time Bond, George Lazenby, suits up for what is one of the more intriguing Bond films out of the entire franchise.  On Her Majesty's Secret Service features the return of James's archnemesis, Blofeld, with Blofeld threatening to unleash a biological weapon unless he is given money and amnesty from the UN for his crimes.  While it is a weak plot, thankfully that is only secondary to the true core of this particular Bond adventure, which is its beating heart.  On Her Majesty's Secret Service is by far the most romantic Bond film of all, with 007 finally finding a woman to settle down with in strong-willed and vulnerable, Tracy di Vicenzo.  Tracy matches Bond's toughness, and his hidden loneliness, marking her as the only Bond girl that Bond was willing to say, "I do," with.  While Lazenby often comes across as a poor imitator of Sean Connery, when he is given emotional scenes, he comes through.  Oddly enough, if this film were made today, I feel it would be a few shades better, because the Bond producers seemed beholden to still try and keep some of the fun of the Connery films, while not wanting to traipse into too serious territory, which is where Blofeld's brainwashed women come into play, and James plays along with them, even though he's already in love.  Even still, the thrills are top notch -- in particular one of the series' best action scenes when Bond chases Blofeld in bobsleds -- and the heartbreaking finale where Bond is married, only to have his wife murdered shortly after by Blofeld.  If only Bond truly had all the time in the world with Tracy.
Grade:  B! 

10.  Dr. No
This was the film that started it all, and in some ways it shows.  The film has lower production values than other Bond films, and the Bond story formula was not perfected yet, with Bond girl, Honey Ryder, not showing up till over halfway through the movie.  Of course, who is to complain when we are given one of the more memorable Bond villains in Dr. No, and then there is Sean Connery as James Bond, who delivers each line of dialogue as if it were his natural, everyday language.  From tarantulas in Bond's bed, to the explosive finale, Dr. No may not be Bond's best, but it is easily one of the more entertaining adventures 007 has ever had.
Grade:  B+!

9.  Tomorrow Never Dies
Pierce Brosnan's second outing as 007 merely pales in comparison to Goldeneye,  but it's not a bad film by any means.  While there is not much depth of character in this film, there is tons of action.  It's hard to complain when there are gunfights, motorcycle chases, and explosions every few minutes.  As well, the plot is serviceable to the adventure, and Michelle Yeoh and Teri Hatcher help give this film an added spark as the Bond girls.  Bottom line, Tomorrow Never Dies is fun, and that's what really matters.
Grade:  A-!

8.  You Only Live Twice
Starting with the faked death of James Bond, to the volcanic eruption tearing apart the villain's hideout at the end, You Only Live Twice is one of the more quintessential Bond films.  Taking place almost entirely in Japan, the film features:  cool gadgets (his tiny helicopter named Little Nellie), Bond girls that are actually intriguing characters, and the reveal of SPECTRE's number one, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the pussycat stroking villain behind all of the actions in the first few Bond films.  We finally get to see Sean Connery square off with his archnemesis, and the wait is worth it.  I absolutely love the Japanese setting, which leads to some great sequences, only one question:  Why does the film see fit to create false racial stereotypes when they try to make Bond look like a Japanese man by pulling his eyes back, waxing his chest, and teaching him to be a ninja?
Grade:  A-!

7.  Thunderball
One of the more entertaining Bond films, Thunderball was written to be an underwater adventure for 007, and that is what distinguishes this film.  The shark attack, the spear gun fights underwater, and the plethora of tropical locations.  Not to mention a true Bond villain with the eyepatch wearing Largo, a likable Bond girl, and the awesome jetpack opening, Thunderball is classic 007.  Even if it has one of the more simplistic plots of the entire series, it's a thrilling adventure from start to finish.
Grade:  A!

6.  Octopussy
This is perhaps Roger Moore's finest hour as Bond.  Initially, I was not going to give this film such a high rating, due to its nature more so as an adventure comedy, but while I prefer Bond a little less campy, that is no excuse to deny camp when it's done exceptionally well.  See, camp is often considered a bad thing, but when done well, the tongue-and-cheek feels natural and completely a part of the world of the film, lending this particular film an innocent, almost boyish charm that few Bond films have.  Like the Adam West Batman, this is why I love OctopussyOctopussy combines the gentleman-like portrayal of Moore with a whip smart script that features developed characters and fabulous set pieces.  The film is mysterious and suspenseful, forcing you to have to really think to try and puzzle out who's crossing who, while still retaining that cartoonish charm that the Roger Moore films had.  Add with that an exceptional MacGuffin (a Hitchockian-phrase regarding an object that sparks the story into action) with the Faberge egg, and one of the best Bond girls ever, with Maud Adam's Octopussy and her island of women followers, and you have one of the more fun Bond films in existence.  From the opening where Bond misdirects a missile with his jet, to the battle atop a circus train, Octopussy is true-blue James Bond and Moore's best film as the character.  Plus, I always love it when Desmond Llewelyn's Q gets in on the action.
Grade:  A+!

5.  Goldfinger
Considered by many to be the quintessential Bond film, Goldfinger has more iconic elements associated with the character than perhaps any other installment in the franchise.  The tricked out Aston Martin; Shirley Bassey's theme song; Bond girl, Pussy Galore; bad guy, Goldfinger; Goldfinger's henchman, the bowler hat tossing, Oddjob; the battle in Fort Knox; and who can forget the murdered woman covered in gold paint that kickstarts the whole story, creating an anger in Bond that has him wanting to seek revenge on Goldfinger.  This is Sean Connery's best performance as 007.  In his third outing, Connery found the right groove between charm and toughness, with his performance being more reactionary than in any other installment.  Connery actually shows anger and sadness, when two, not one, Bond girls are murdered on his watch.  Not to mention, when Goldfinger shoots a laser between Bond's legs, there is real fear in Connery's eyes.  "Shocking.  Positively shocking."
Grade:  A+!

4.  Skyfall
Skyfall was the first James Bond film to ever have the audacity to actually explore James Bond's past (a trend that Spectre seems all but game to carry on).  Everything about Skyfall is classic James Bond, while at the same time it subverts the tropes of all the other Bond films.  While there is the tricked out Aston Martin from Goldfinger and the sultry Bond girl, as well as a pit full of Komodo dragons and a charismatic villain in Javier Bardem's Silva (one of the series' best baddies ever), Skyfall deconstructs Bond rather than carrying on with the Bond status quo.  From the opening sequence, Bond is vulnerable, always one step behind.  He is injured for most of the film and is literally outsmarted by Silva more times than he's ever been outsmarted by any bad guy.  Then there is the Home Alone-esque finale at Bond's childhood home, alluding to the tragedy of what happened to his parents followed up by the death of his surrogate mother in M.  Add that all up and you have a Bond film that is perhaps the most emotional of them all, really working to get under the skin of Bond in a way that I am not sure any other Bond film can quite match.  With all that said, Skyfall is fairly light on action compared to most other 007 adventures, but all of these differences between Skyfall and the other Bond movies is what allows it to stand apart.  This is the kind of film that they could only have done as the 24th installment in a franchise that will conceivably go on forever.
Grade:  A+!

3.  Goldeneye
Pierce Brosnan's debut as 007 is also the best movie in his four film tenure as Bond.  From the hair-raising bungee jump sequence, to his skydiving into a crashing plane, all the way to the awesome tank chase through St. Petersburg, this film flies along.  However, where Goldeneye shows up most other Bond films is that it portrays these characters as human beings and not as larger than life characters on a screen.  There is a believability and loneliness to Bond in this film, there is a believability in the fears and emotions of Bond girl Natalia as she is on the run, and there is a believability to bad guy Alec Trevelyan turning on MI6 and friend James Bond to seek revenge for his parent's deaths.  It asks the question:  Where do you draw the line between your mission and your personal emotions?  A question never really asked in a Bond film before, and answered when Bond kills Trevelyan at the end, saying it wasn't for the mission, but for him
Grade:  A+!

2.  Casino Royale
This film marked the first Bond portrayal from Daniel Craig, succeeding in both, re-establishing the Bond brand and reinventing it in the process.  Casino Royale marked a huge turn in the 007 films, shedding much of the cartoonish action and eye-roll inducing humor for an approach closer to the original Ian Fleming novels.  There were still exotic locations, Bond girls, and sly, verbal humor, but everything had a purpose to serve a human story of Bond falling in love and then losing that love in the film's climax.  Bond was a full-fledged human being in this entry, with Craig often conveying fear, anger, and sadness, and not always managing to keep the cavalier swagger that was Sean Connery.  It was a different Bond experience, but one that oozed with genuine suspense because for the first time in a Bond film, we felt he wasn't invincible.  When he is poisoned or when he is being tortured, you actually believed he might not make it, because, unlike all the other Bond films, he was no longer a suave superhero, but rather a flesh-and-blood man, marking this as one of the finest Bond entries.
Grade:  A+!

1.  From Russia With Love
The greatest Bond film also happens to be one of the greatest suspense thrillers of all-time.  Playing like North By Northwest's long lost twin brother, From Russia With Love is a classic cat-and-mouse game played on an international stage.  The film is filled with less action, but more suspense than any other Bond film due to the nature of the story.  Bond has unknowingly fallen into SPECTRE's trap from the very moment he comes onscreen.  SPECTRE pulls the strings, manipulating the events around Bond, always remaining one step ahead of him and very often putting him in danger that he does not know about but we as the audience do.  Of course, when Sean Connery meets Robert Shaw on the train, the pot boils over, with Bond killing SPECTRE agent Red Grant, finally taking the upper hand in this delicate chess match for a Russian decoding machine.   What more can be said?  This is a taut mystery/suspense film with so much going for it.  The Bond girl, Tania, is one of the best ever created, with a fragility to her that allows her to be manipulated by SPECTRE as well, unknowingly falling for James in the process.  Plus, we get our first, cryptic view of SPECTRE's number one in this film, only seeing the back of his chair and his lap where sits a kitty cat that he is always petting.  This is just a superbly directed film that requires you to think, while also having plenty of moments that make you cheer and laugh.  This is Bond's finest hour!
Grade:  A+!

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