Thursday, 31 January 2013

The 30 Greatest Spy Films

I've been working through my BBC Radio4 dramatisations of John LeCarre's classic spy works for the second time (featuring the brilliant Simon Russell Beale as George Smiley), and it caused me to reminisce, en route to work this morning, of my entry back in September 2011 of a piece about the greatest spy films ever made. It included the entire Bourne trilogy along with Daniel Craig's weakest Bond entry across only ten films; it was a rather modern list, overlooking some sharper, and better, spy films. To refresh your memory, here's the link to the blog piece, and you can see for yourselves.

I've had a think over how many spy or secret agent films there are, and came up with a list of about 60 movies which I cold recall, although I'm positive the number must stretch into the hundreds when you include all the comedies, satires and downright peieces of rubbish. Of these 60, only half are actually decent films, so, after dwindling that list down to a Classic 30, the outcome is the below list of my greatest spy films:

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - this modern classic is a throwback to espionage films of the fifties and sixties. Playing out like a roll of thread unwinding, this LeCarre masterpiece sets the bar for spy films moving forward.
The Lives of Others - one of the most moving films I've ever seen, this German film follows a lonely Stasi operative during his investigation into a creative playwright. Masterful performances from all concerned, and a seriously evocative ending.
Munich - Spielberg's best film of the last twenty years, Munich sees Eric Bana lead a Mossad hit squad hellbent on avenging the murders of the Jewish athletes killed during the 1972 Munich Olympics.
The Bourne Identity - it's almost impossible to figure whichof the trilogy is the best film, as they are each soperfect in their own way. I started with the original, as this saw Matt Damon break out into the spy scene with the most efficient agent Hollywood's ever produced.
Casino Royale - probably the best espionage film of the Bond franchise, Daniel Craig's first outing saw hiBond reinvented as a lean, mean killing machine. As we find out in the opening scene, he's just go his double-o status, and is raring to go.
Argo - anyone who didn't enjoy Ben Affleck's CIA extraction story can Argo-fuck themselves!
Shadow Dancer - another very recent addition, and definitely from the LeCarre 'grimy spy' book of espionage. Set in Nrothern Ireland during the troubles, Clive Owen's Mac is a superb incarnation of an MI5 agent running an IRA double-agent/spy.
The Bourne Supremacy - Bourne is back with revenge on the mind.
The Bourne Ultimatum - a fitting conclusion with some fantastically entertaining set-pieces.
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold - one of the best spy novels of all time doesn't have the same impact on screen, but Burton is ace as spymaster Alec Leamas.

From Russia With Love - Sean Connery is James Bond.
North by Northwest - this Hitchcock classic sees a classic case of mistaken identity evolve into a cat-and-mouse chase across some very recognisable landmarks.
Ronin - David Mamet-penned adult thriller, with some great characters and a sharp plot.
The Good Shepherd - so tell me, how did the CIA come about?
True Lies  - Arnie has never been so much fun.
Body of Lies - Ridley Scott cast heavyweights DiCaprio and Crowe as field agent and controller in this modern take on espionage post 9/11.
Haywire - plays out like a Bourne film, but here Bourne is a badass woman.
The Conversation - Francis Ford Coppola's masterful direction of Gene Hackman as the King of eavesdroppers.
Three Days of the Condor - Robert Redford has to go on the run when his entire CIA team are annihilated while he popped out for lunch.
The Constant Gardener - again, LeCarre knows what he's doing, and his stories are so encapsulating.
Skyfall - a superb addition to Bond's repetoire, and very much a throwback to Bond of yesterday.
Inception - who said spies need to work for the government? Chris Nolan's mind-bending epic sees Dom Cobb and his team of extraction experts lay down some smart tactics to steal ideas from people's minds.
Spartan - like Body of Lies, another modern take on the world of espionage and secret agents post 9/11.
Zero Dark Thirty - where the hell is Osama Bin Laden? Don't know? Get Maya in here.
Hanna - Joe Wright's acid-trip take on the spy world with a young girl raised to be the ultimate agent.
No Way Out - Kevin Costner needs to find a way out fast.
Quantum of Solace - apparently I was the only person to really like this, but Quantum is a worthy film on the list, and has some great spy scenes - radio chatter at the opera! Great!
Safe House - Denzel Washington was always going to be the ultimate spy if he ever got the chance, and here we see just about every agency after him, incuding his own people, but the man just keeps getting away!
Licence to Kill - the only 15 rated Bond, definitely the most serious and adult of the films pre-Craig.
Goldeneye - anyone who was born in the eighties, and had a N64 in the nineties, will love this film. Pierce Brosnan was excused the later (awful) additions due to this corker of a movie.

And that's that folks. Mission Impossible could probably be in there as it is a good film, and a good spy one at that, but I didn't know what to replace, so for now, it'll have to sit on the sidelines. Same goes for a lot of Bonds and also films like Salt and The Debt. Good, but not good enough.

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