50 best epic movies ever – part two
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Stanley Kubrick's cerebral sci-fi is nothing if not ambitious – it starts with the dawn of man, transitions into the future of space exploration (via one of the greatest cuts in the history of cinema) and proceeds to take the audience on the ultimate trip – taking in alien monoliths and mad computers on the way. Good luck puzzling out the closing twenty minutes of the film, though.
Out of Africa (1985)
Meryl Streep and Robert Redford act out a grand romance in this adaptation of Karen Blixen's memoir of her years in British East Africa, playing a woman caught in a marriage of convenience and a big game hunter who find themselves drawn to each other. The pair's chemistry would be enough to sell the movie on its own, but director Sydney Pollack uses the African locations to great effect, with sweeping shots that mirror the film's high emotions.
For his story about an Irish entrepreneur who goes slowly mad as he attempts the impossible task of moving a ship through a jungle and over a mountain, Werner Herzog merrily ignored the warnings posed by his script, and tried to move a ship through a jungle and over a mountain.
One crewmember lost a foot in the process, cutting it off with a chainsaw to prevent the venom from a snakebite spreading. The cinematographer, meanwhile, had to have his hand operated on without anaesthetic. Herzog’s clashes with star Klaus Kinski on the troubled production were the stuff of legend – at one point a local chief offered to kill Kinski on Herzog’s behalf. Never mind the movie – the production alone was an epic.
Gangs of New York (2002)
Martin Scorsese's crime saga follows Leonardo Dicaprio's young tearaway as he attempts to avenge his father's death at the hands of Bill the Butcher. It's Daniel Day-Lewis, though, who dominates the film as Bill – his "Honorable man" monologue, draped in the American flag, is a masterclass.
Ultimately, though, Bill's towering personality and Dicaprio's mission of revenge are swept aside by the course of history, their blood feud rendered petty and meaningless in the face of the Draft Riots that ravage New York.
How the West Was Won (1962)
In terms of scale alone, this western beats all-comers – it was shot by four different directors, using the Cinemascope process, and could only be projected onto a huge curved screen. It needed to be big, just to cram in all the stars who featured, with Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck and John Wayne jockeying for screen time.