Friday, September 13, 2013

Top 5 Films Directed By Luc Besson

This list is in no particular order

These are just some of my favorite films that Luc Besson, the director of the new film The Family, has made over the years that I believe best epitomizes his immense talent as a filmmaker and helps solidify him as one of the best directors working today.

Don't be surprised if you know him more by his writing credits (he currently has over 54) which include such hits as Taken, Unleashed (aka Danny the Dog), The Transporter and District B13 (and some stinkers such as From Paris With Love, Taken 2 and Taxi). If this were to be comprised of his screenplays, it would be much more difficult to nail down a top 5, but that isn't meant to detract from his few directorial efforts.

Few directors could hope for the level of quality that Luc Besson has achieved with such a small filmography. Despite falling off the radar (as a director) after the release of his 1999 film, The Messenger for nearly a decade, his films still never fail to resonate or capture the imagination of all who see them. Long labeled the most American French filmmaker of all time and a man who loved his leading ladies (4 of the 5 films listed here have women in the lead role), here are my picks for the top 5 films directed by Luc Besson.

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Aside from launching the career of a very young Natalie Portman, this was Besson's very first attempt at cracking the US market. Arguably his best and most flawless film, combining an action thriller with a very unusual relationship between a hitman and a teenage girl may not sound like a recipe for success, but you can't argue with the results. While reports of the film being based off Besson's own romance with an under age girl may make the scenes between Leon (Jean Reno) and Mathilda a little more creepy than endearing, the film still holds up as one of the best marriages of action and a bitter sweet romance ever committed to film. Plus you can't beat the drugged-out-of-his-mind performance by Gary Oldman as a corrupt police officer who literally sends the entire NY police force after Leon. (Seek out the director's cut for the best version of the film)

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Panned by US critics upon its initial release (due mostly to some unfortunate edits that resulted in a different score and an alternate "happy" American ending) and virtually forgotten by all, this film about a pair of childhood friends who become two of the world's best free divers is the director's most down to Earth and emotional offering. Having a known affinity towards dolphins (his film studio Europa has them as its mascot), Besson not only features them throughout the film, he also gives his lead character the attributes of a dolphin which makes the film often feel like his most personal work to date. Featuring gorgeous cinematography and a very very young Jean Reno giving one of his most fun performances, The Big Blue remains a serene and an often compelling piece of work from a director who is mostly known for flamboyant excess. (Once again, seek out the director's cut for the best version)

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The film that would set the standard for Besson's directorial career, and his signature style, from that moment forward. La Femme Nikita was without a doubt the most influential film he has ever made. Spawning a US remake (Point of No Return) and a television show, Besson's story of a criminal turned assassin is a perfect blending of style with over the top action (something he would later perfect with Leon). One of the first group of filmmakers to place a female in a lead action role (Anne Parillard, whom he was dating at the time), the film broke boundaries in the action genre and opened doors for Besson to enter the lucrative Hollywood market. It isn't his best film, but it signified the coming of a true visual artist.

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It took Besson nearly 20 years to make The Fifth Element, and it shows. Very rarely do we get a film packed with this much imagination, this much character and this much energy. From the crazy taxi cab chase through the skies to the opera house concert by a blue alien Diva on board a space cruise ship, this film is just an explosion of colors and crazy imagery from beginning to end. You got yourself a blonde Bruce Willis in one of his most likeable roles, a red haired Milla Jovovich in her best role ever (Leelo Dallas Multi-Pass!), a crazed future metro-sexual Chris Tucker as the most annoying (but entertaining) space DJ you have ever heard and Tiny 'Zeus' Lister as the President of Earth!. Oh, and once again we have a scene chewing (and stealing) performance by Gary Oldman in yet another classic villain role. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the movie is pretty good too.

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The most uneven film in this collection, but an enthralling one nonetheless. Once again starring Milla Jovovich (surprise surprise, Besson and Jovovich were dating at the time), this time as the folk heroine and savior of France, Joan of Arc. It's hard to nail down exactly where the film loses its footing, Jovovich's energetic but over zealous performance or the many inconsistencies with Besson's version of history and what is in the actual history books , but his usual strengths as a filmmaker still shine through. Beautiful cinematography and some great castle storming sequences help make the film not a total loss. It remains engaging throughout, but you really need to accept the film as more fiction than fact to truly enjoy Besson's approach to the material.


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