3. Eight Men Out (1988) – Dir. John Sayles
Eight Men Out often crops up in these sorts of lists/articles and rightly so, which may mean that enough people have now caught up with it that it no longer belongs here. Even so, it is an impressive portrayal and dissection of the loss or betrayal of innocence and the price paid in all respects by those who so betray.
It is the true story of the decision made by the Chicago White Sox players to accept bribes to throw the 1919 baseball World Series. Some will be immediately put off by the word “baseball”, but as with all of the best American sports movies, it is not really about baseball at all. Rather it is about trust, honesty, temptation, self-respect and character.
The cast list makes fascinating reading, providing relatively early outings for DB Sweeney, John Cusack, Michael Rooker and Charlie Sheen and also giving us Christopher Lloyd, John Mahoney and David Strathairn for our money. Director (and writer) John Sayles, consistently under-heralded, shows a deft hand here at getting to the heart of issues of corruption and corruptibility and although there have been enough films about the loss of American innocence to cause us to question whether it ever really existed, the sense of betrayal is palpable and evocative.
The film has relatively little to do with the on-field exploits and instead primarily concerns itself with the trial, punishment and reactions of the players and is all the better for it. Sayles gives us an impeccable sense of time and place, without self-consciously drawing attention to these elements. Try it as a double feature with Field of Dreams for an evening of tonal contrasts, but an affecting consideration of the state of the US national pastime. Catch it here, if you so wish. An honourable mention should also go to John Sayles imperious Western mystery Lone Star, an unfathomably unheralded film starring Matthew McConnaughey and Kris Kristofferson, but you can’t have the same director twice in one list, that would be unfair.
4. Timecrimes (2007) – Dir. Nacho Vigalondo
It perhaps goes without saying that there are almost innumerable foreign language offerings that deserve a place on this list and given the lack of my depth and breadth of knowledge of international cinema, I am undoubtedly omitting some much-deserving films. Having said that, I can only go with what I have seen and so here is film which covers the foreign language group and the sci-fi genre in one go.
Timecrimes opens on a seemingly non-descript domestic scene, with a middle-aged man sitting in his garden, taking a break from moving into his new home with his wife. Looking through binoculars, he spots a naked woman in the distance and sets off to investigate. In the woods, he finds her and also a bandaged man, who promptly stabs him in the arm with a pair of scissors. In attempting to escape, he stumbles upon a time machine, which sends him back an hour, setting up a loop whereby he will spiral into ever-increasing difficulty and peril.
This is one of those time-travel films where the focus is very much on trying to put things right, perhaps in the vein of elements of Groundhog Day or Source Code (or indeed BTTF PtII), but this has a story and atmosphere very much its own. There is very little time wasted on the science, it is presented instead as a reality and forms the catalyst for a man’s desperate attempt to put right what once went wrong. Compared to the at times bloated and directionless meanderings of a lot of modern sci-fi, this is back in the best traditions of the genre – lean, focussed, issue-driven, all about our intrinsic humanity. Too much more comment will only tend to spoil the film’s subtler elements, but suffice to say that the film is inventive, original, affecting and effective and blissfully short, coming in at 90 minutes rather than outstaying its welcome.