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Ridley Scott’s Top 10 Films

Forty years later, these are the essentials of an icon

Ridley Scott
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As Ridley Scott’s new film, Alien: Covenant, arrives in theaters, we revisit the cinematic master’s very best work.

Ridley Scott directs everything. Science fiction (Alien), road movies (Thelma & Louise), war epics (Black Hawk Down), crime capers (Matchstick Men), and lame romantic dramas (A Good Year). We realize that no director is perfect, and while he’s amassed some stinkers over his nearly 40-year career in film, Scott has already proven himself to be an icon of cinema.

We’ve managed to pull together the best of his lengthy filmography, and because we can do whatever we want in my America, we’ve ranked them. While our Top Two could go either way, we just had to … well … you’ll see. We’ve also posted links to our favorite moments from each film that made the list, so remember to chime in below with your agreements and even your disagreements. We look forward to your comments, “Anonymous.”

ROFL, LOL, LMAO,
–Justin Gerber
Contributing Writer

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10. Legend (1985)

Here’s a prime example of Scott’s visuals far surpassing the narrative content of his film. Legend is superb in its very watchable effects, makeup, and production design. Incredibly in-depth makeup. And unicorns rushing through cherry blossom petals. Actually, come to think of it, you can probably skip Legend and do a thorough Google image search of production stills and makeup tests and other sightly things this movie gave us. Tom Cruise is the generic leading hero boy. Mia Sara the princess, or girl Tom Cruise must rescue. Something like that … look, Tim Curry is all latexed up as Darkness, and it’s the most memorable thing about Legend. Seriously, did you look at those giant horns? Like a bull’s head stuck on a man. And Ridley Scott supposedly gave Curry the job because of Rocky Horror. Kinky.

It’s funny to imagine Ridley Scott bugging the hell out of makeup guru Rob Bottin on set, giving the same note over and over about Darkness’ makeup: “Bigger” written on a Post-it or something like that. Then Bottin would have a fit and curse Scott’s design madness.

Best Moment: Every time Darkness shows up and the mind boggles at his physical presence and great big horns. Were those made of carbon fiber?

–Blake Goble

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09. The Duellists (1977)

The legendary Alien is often mistaken as Ridley Scott’s first film. Alien is not Ridley Scott’s first film. That distinction goes to The Duellists, starring David Carradine and Harvey Keitel as, you guessed it, French soldiers circa-1800. War is the backdrop, but the story is a years-long rivalry between Carradine’s d’Hubert and Keitel’s Feraud. The latter challenges the former to a duel after d’Hubert is ordered to place Feraud under house arrest. The “duel” continues for over a decade, with special circumstances always stopping the action before the contest reaches a necessary outcome. It’s a movie more concerned with man’s pride than war, and the decision to just let Carradine and Keitel speak as they would on a stateside street in the late ‘70s doesn’t prove detrimental to Scott’s debut. A nice little gem that paved the road to Alien.

Best Moment: Years have gone by, flashbacks intercut the duel, and d’Hubert’s “fuck you” as he rides off is priceless.

–Justin Gerber

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08. Thelma & Louise (1991)

Thelma Dickerson (Susan Sarandon) is an Arkansas waitress with a jerk boyfriend. Louise Sawyer (Geena Davis) is in a crummy marriage with an unappreciative bum hubby. Stuck in a rut, Thelma and Louise take off, wind up shooting and killing a rapist, and suddenly it’s no turning back for them. They hit the open road, pistols packed, in a ’66 Thunderbird on the run from Johnny law. Ridley Scott built on his tradition here of strong and fierce women with the titular duo kicking men’s butts and taking names across the country. Take THAT, stupid hunks of America! Personally, the only disappointment is that they let a dopey, young Brad Pitt rip ‘em off. If ever there were a special edition, Scott should add a scene where Thelma and Louise tie Pitt up with that stupid hairdryer he flaunted. Thelma & Louise’s glory may have faded in recent years, but Callie Khouri’s Oscar-winning script (which she wrote in longhand), holds up, and gave us two of cinema’s toughest leading ladies.

Best Moment: Not to spoil the ending, but…

The hands clench, the Hans Zimmer gospel score swells, and the Thunderbird goes into the great beyond. Freeze frame and fade to white. BFFs forever, RIP Thelma and Louise.

–Blake Goble

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07. Kingdom of Heaven (Director’s Cut) (2005)

After watching Scott’s fully realized vision of Kingdom of Heaven, it blows the mind to discover what was cut from the edit that made its way to theaters. You know, the version that completely eliminates the son of the princess (Eva Green). Her fall from sanity makes no sense without this information, and don’t get me started on the removal of several scenes featuring an unbilled Edward Norton as the King. With all that said, Scott’s director’s cut is the director’s most sweeping epic to date, surpassing Gladiator. The backdrop is the Crusades, with a story about an admittedly lacking lead (sorry Orlando Bloom) and his rise among the ranks. Fortunately for Scott, the supporting cast is terrific, including the aforementioned Green and Norton, alongside Liam Neeson, Jeremy Irons, David Thewlis, and the great Jon Finch (Macbeth, Frenzy). Brutal but beautiful.

Best Moment: A bit of a cheat here. The final battle is appropriately big, but Thewlis’ role as the Hospitaler is much more mysterious in the director’s cut. Is he man or spirit? Here are his greatest hits:

–Justin Gerber

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06. Matchstick Men (2003)

Matchstick Men is like watching the weird son of Rain Man and one of those Ocean’s Eleven cons. Thanks to a clever script from Ted Griffin and some sneaky leading performances from Alison Lohman, Sam Rockwell, and a typically bananas Nicolas Cage, Matchstick Men is the closest thing we’ve ever seen Ridley Scott do to a film that could be considered “light” fare. Roy Waller’s (Cage) the name and con-art is his game. At least, he’ll get back to the game after he deals with his manic tics, cleanliness issues, therapy, and potential meltdown after realizing he may have a long lost daughter. Come to think of it, someone with OCD would be the best criminal: accounting for all the details and whatnot. Matchstick Men is a nutty, detail-oriented crime caper.

Best Moment: Nicolas Cage’s nervous breakdown at a pharmacy taking him off the rails to the point of him screaming “PISSED! BLOOD!” could be accredited to Cage, Griffin, or Scott … so we’ll call it a draw. Watching Cage freak is always the best moment in a movie, if you’re into that.

–Blake Goble

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05. American Gangster (2007)

Hey. We love American Gangster. I’m not talking about the weird album inspired by the movie that Jay-Z recorded back in the day. I’m talking about Scott’s adaptation, which featured one of Denzel Washington’s top-10 performances and served as another winning combination for Scott and Russell Crowe. Based on a true story, it follows the rise of drug kingpin Frank Lucas (Washington) and Det. Roberts (Crowe) trying to take him (Crowe) down. Sounds like a been-there-done-that scenario, but Scott’s return to a gritty crime drama (not seen since 1987’s decent Black Rain) is a welcome one, with a well-handled back-and-forth narrative following Washington and Crowe’s characters. Also notable for a heartbreaking performance courtesy of the late, great Ruby Dee, who received an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of Lucas’ mother.

Best Moment: Scott’s camera follows Lucas as he steps out of a church … only for Roberts to step into view at the bottom of the steps. It’s over.

–Justin Gerber

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04. Black Hawk Down (2001)

In October 1993, dozens, possibly over a 100 U.S. troops were to execute a raid in Somalia to capture two top renegade lieutenants. No one was prepared for what happened next: one of the biggest military disasters in history as everything went horribly wrong with a body count of 19 dead American soldiers and over a thousand Somalis dead in 11 days of bungled fighting. Based on Mark Bowden’s book, Ridley Scott told the terrible tale of Black Hawk Down, a moment-by-moment recount of everything that went wrong in the operation. It’s not necessarily a defeatist allegory, but a captivating and intense recount of what happened. It’s a journalistic war tragedy through Scott’s focused eyes.

Best Moment: In the end, SFC Norm “Hoot” Gibson (Eric Bana) gives a speech about why he goes to fight. He talks about why he’s going back in despite previous horrors. He has a job to do. After all that frenetic war and action, the speech stands out as one of Scott’s most somber and well-spoken moments.

–Blake Goble

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03. Gladiator (2000)

Russell Crowe won an Oscar (which he should have won for The Insider from the year before), and Scott won Best Picture in his return to critical and commercial success after a few years of directing films that didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Gladiator is the first of Scott’s sandals-and-swords trilogy (Kingdom of Heaven, Exodus: Gods and Kings), and the film’s brutal battles in the bloodthirsty arena don’t just take it to the levels of Spartacus; it surpasses Kubrick’s film altogether. While Crowe headlined, Joaquin Phoenix’s disturbing turn as Commodus, the evil and creepy Emperor who wants to get with his own sister, steals the film along with the last performance of town drunk Oliver Reed, and I’m not even talking about who he plays in the movie.

Best Moment: “Are you not entertained?” Duh.

–Justin Gerber

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02. Blade Runner (Director’s Cut) (1982)

Scott stayed within the realm of science fiction with his follow-up to Alien and created a movie that has truly endured after initial dismissal by both audiences and critics alike. The plot appears simple on paper: a detective in the future must track down and destroy runaway replicants (cyborgs). But there’s much more. What makes us human? If we’re programmed to believe we’re human, how do we know if we’re not? Replace “replicants” with “slave,” and you will see the movie in a whole new light, but even if you take it at face value, it’s hard to shake off its dystopian nightmare. And have I mentioned the hypnotic score courtesy of Vangelis? The score and film are not to be missed, but make sure you watch either “The Final Cut” or “The Director’s Cut.” The theatrical version is a voiceover mess.

Best Moment: Rutger Hauer’s improvised “Tears in Rain” speech loses none of its impact no matter how many times you watch it.

–Justin Gerber

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01. Alien (1979)

What else is there to say about Ridley Scott’s grand thriller about a gnarly space alien and the crippling claustrophobia and ravages it brings upon a team of space truckers. This is the stuff of legend. From the penetrative aliens to the startlingly junky designs to H.R. Giger’s bio-organic extreme design, Ridley Scott went all in and came out with a science fiction masterpiece. Bodily horrors and far-away fears abound in this film. This has been Scott’s calling card for decades, what with his defining dark and intense aesthetics, and it was out of necessity here. Scott didn’t want the actual creature, the “Xenomorph,” to look like a rubber suit, so he opted for very dark close-ups and seldom showing its full body. 1979 ingenuity or just a great directorial choice, it was a simple tactic that wound up being the stuff of nightmares. It inspired several sequels and has stood the test of time as a pop cultural touchstone of terror.

Best Moment: Not to espouse gore, violence, and mayhem pornography, but you know damn well what the best and most remembered scene was in Alien. Poor John Hurt. This still shocks and appalls to this day.

–Blake Goble

 

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