“Beg your pardon. Forgot to knock.”
So uttered Pierce Brosnan in his first outing as James Bond, Goldeneye (1995), which I recently rewatched for the umpteenth time. This return to my first visceral thrill of a Bond film was brought on by what I can only describe as the lacklustre spectacular that was Skyfall (2012), which I decided to watch in ‘preparation’ for this autumn’s twenty-fourth Bond feature, Spectre (2015). Daniel Craig is alright. Brosnan is better. Skyfall is long and takes itself far too seriously. Goldeneye is magnificent and fun. I was aged nine on the release of Goldeneye, a film that saw the return of a franchise many suspected was dead following Timothy Dalton’s last outing six years previous in Licence to Kill (1989). The film had a special connection for my friends and me; it starred our local celebrity, Sean Bean, who was born and raised in Handsworth, Sheffield, had attended our school, and still hung around in the suburbs many cosy-pubs. A Handsworth-lad as a Bond villain, a role filled by so many classic characters and actors: Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasance, Telly Savalas, Charles Gray and others), Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) and Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), to name but a few. I wince at times now, however, when I watch Bean’s performance, seeing him struggle to mask his thick Southern Yorkshire accent with an awful attempt at Etonian English. Tthankfully, Bean himself has realised in recent years to exploit his Sheffield dialect in the likes of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) and Game of Thrones (HBO, 2011). But the film itself still stands up to my memories of it as a child. The excitement of the unveiling of Pierce Brosnan as he leaps off of the dam to infiltrate a Russian military complex, in what is arguably one of the greatest opening Bond sequences in the franchises history. The pulsating score and the classic theme song by Tina Turner (take heed, Sam Smith), the glamorous locales and the highly sexual villains. Goldeneye had everything, including its own video game, released on the Nintendo 64, a generation defining experience. And who can forget Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen), brought to orgasm by the sadistic murder of men.
This revisting of Goldeneye led me to think back on that year with nostalgic delight and realise just how varied and exciting cinema was in 1995, compared to the staid and formulaic Hollywood releases we’ve suffered in the past decade. ’95 was a year of originality and of excitement, not the turgid attempts at the same generic superhero films (I’m glossing over Batman Forever). From the box office superhits such as Apollo 13, Toy Story and Jumanji, to the more cinematic, autuerist fare such as Martin Scorsese’s Casino, Mike Figgis’s Leaving Las Vegas and Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects. In fact, the list of excellent films from that year is exhaustive, but a mention is needed for the likes of Casper, Get Shorty, Heat, Die Hard With A Vengeance, Babe, Twelve Monkeys, Braveheart, Se7en, Showgirls, Ace Ventura When Nature Calls, Nixon, Species, Bad Boys and Clueless, amongst many, many others. Maybe it’s not a classic list of cinema, but a wistful recollection of my formative filmic education. Either way, what follows is a brief overview of five of the classics from that year, celebrating the vintage class of 1995.
Jumanji (dir Joe Johnston)
Perhaps one of two films responsible for my extraordinarily bad aracnophobia (the other film being Aracnophobia (1999)), Jumanji
features a scene that still makes me shudder. In fact, I’m writing this whilst twitching and have posted a picture below through closed eyes. I shall say no more about this scene:
But Jumanji was a film that I remember seeing at the Odeon in Sheffield and was so excited by this fantastical and imaginative story about a dangerous boardgame that unleashes wild destruction, I ruined the VHS we subsequently purchased through repeated use. The film isn’t Robin William’s best performance, but his energy is vital in convincing us he has been trapped inside the boardgame for nearly three decades.
Apollo 13 (dir Ron Howard)
A film that gripped my sense of excitement about space travel, Apollo 13 shows how films about being trapped in space should be told (listen up, Gravity (2013)). And the best thing about this true-life scenario of three men stuck in a malfunctioning space capsule heading for the moon? Ed Harris as Flight Director Gene Kranz drawing on a chalk board and asking his team to figure out how to get the rocket back to earth. These scenes turn the entire thing into a puzzle film and is sheer delight for a science-nerd like me. And the level of technical detail and insight provided in the film are necessary to understand the complexity of returning Apollo 13 safely to Earth (LISTEN UP, Gravity!).
Se7en (dir David Fincher)
Brooding, dark, well-acted and a great ‘twist’, Se7en is probably still David Fincher’s best film. Rewatching it now, I can’t help but notice it captures the more sinister aspects of that seminal 1990s TV show, The X-Files, episodes not about the paranormal, but about the darkest depths of the human psyche. Take the Season Two episode, “Irresistible”, for instance, about a fetishist serial killer. Se7en plays very much into this noir-like detective narrative, its protagonists having to track down the most terrifying of villains in bleak, nihilstic post-capitalist landscapes. The only true safety in the film is felt in the grandfatherly presence of Morgan Freeman, who himself is unable to cope with what is unfolding. A still rewarding film, even when you know the final twist in the tale.
Casino (dir Martin Scorsese)
The second part of Scorsese’s loose gangster trilogy (bookended by Goodfellas (1990) and The Departed (2006)), Casino is often overlooked in favour of Scorsese’s other crime epics. But if you truly want epic, then it’s Casino that offers it, with a running time of nearly 3 hours and a storyline that begins in the early 1970s and finishes violently in the late 1980s. The film tells the story of Sam Rothstein who his hired by the Mafia to oversee the running of one of their many Las-Vegas casino establishments. Both Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci are reunited after their previous appearance together in Goodfellas, with Pesci’s character arguably even more psychotic than the previous film. Scorsese entered into a period of uncertainty after the release of Casino and wouldn’t return to form until the turn of the century.
Showgirls (dir Paul Verhoeven)
Showgirls was the first NC-17 film to receive widespread mainstream distribution in the United States. An “erotic” drama, it tells the story of the drifter, Nomi Mallone, who becomes a stripper in Las Vegas and rises through the ranks to become a showgirl. The film’s supposed explicit scenes were controversial and its restrictive rating meant the film, with a budget of $45 million, performed poorly at the box-office. It went onto gain a reputation as one of the worst films ever made, winning seven of the notorious Golden Raspberry Awards in 1995, but found a cult following, particularly when released on VHS. It has even gained serious academic attention for its satirical qualities and be given a worthy reappraisal by the CATH Research Centre’s own Professor Ian Hunter (‘Beaver Las Vegas! A Fanboy’s Defense of Showgirls), who has defined the film as a “trash masterpiece”.