Friday, May 27, 2011

Do The Twist

Movie twist endings can be fun, but--even if well prepared for--are sort of cheap.  If it all ends like an O. Henry story, the thrill probably won't hold up so well on second viewing.

Here's a list of the ten greatest plot twists in film.  There was apparently voting involved.  Most of them you can probably guess. I think about half deserve to be there.  (Obviously spoilers:)

1.  The Sixth Sense

I don't know if I'd put this on the list.  Yes, it's famous, but I figured it out.  I know, I know, everyone says that.  But I remember discussing the film with a friend before it opened. We'd heard there was a twist and he said "I bet Bruce Willis is dead all along." I said there's no way they'd dare try that old Jacob's Ladder gag, but soon as I watched the first scene, I knew it had to be true.  It was kind of interesting noting how much they cheated to make it work.  But I'm not sure if I'd call it classic. Actually, it'd be cool if M. Night used this trick ending in every film he made.

2.  The Empire Strikes Back

Definitely.  As I may have mentioned previously, I was in line to see this film the day after it opened.  Some kid behind me mentioned Darth Vader ias Luke's father.  I wonder if I could find him on Facebook and go punch him.

3.  The Usual Suspects

I don't like it.  The twist doesn't make much sense.  First, if everything was made up, why did we waste our time watching the film?  Second, if Keyser Soze has done so much to hide himself, and was so powerful that he could do whatever he wanted behind the scenes, why did he give himself away so easily? (I could probably argue more sharply about it if I'd seen the film in the last fifteen years.)

While we're at it, why not go to the original film with "the usual suspects," Casablanca?  There are a bunch of twists at the end.  Even the people making the film didn't know where it was going.

4.  Psycho

Excellent choice, with two famous twists.

5.  Planet Of The Apes

I first saw this as a kid and had to have the ending explained to me.  But it's great.  (Also great is Homer Simpson repeating Charlton Heston's lines when he finally figures out the ending.)

6.  Chinatown

Never thought that much of the twist.  It's actually made better by that fact that Jack Nicholson, soon after making the movie, discovered his "parents" were his grandparents and his "sister" was his mother.

7.  Blade Runner

This makes no sense at all.  The film is overrated for a lot of reasons, but the ending is muddled and there are different versions, so the "twist" may not even be in the version you see.  Anyway, once you set up a world where you can't easily tell humans from replicants, you're just begging for a big moment at the end where it's revealed Harrison Ford is the very thing he's hunting.  Yawn.

8.  The Maltese Falcon

Another overrated film.  The ending isn't bad, but it's not shocking.  It's just yet another classic crime doesn't pay moment.  Indeed, there are a numerous films where crooks spend the whole running time trying to get something that turns out to be worthless.

9.  Citizen Kane

A classic twist, but not a great one. For decades, film commentators, not to mention Orson Welles himself, have been a bit embarrassed about the cheap "Rosebud" gimmick.  It's fine as an engine to get the plot going, but it doesn't really mean that much.  If it did, it'd only make the film more shallow.

10.  The Crying Game

Now we're talking.  One of the top twists in movie history, in what otherwise might have been a routine film.  I remember talking to a friend about how surprising it was that Dil was a man.  She said she felt the movie left it open.  I said what are you talking about, we saw his penis.  She said really?--she must have missed that seen during a bathroom break.

There were plenty of other twists that I thought might make the list. The Sting, Fight Club, No Way Out, The Others, Primal Fear, Witness For The Prosecution, Memento, The Prestige, Les Diaboliques, Night Of The Living Dead, The Ring, Mulholland Drive, Open Your Eyes, The Conversation, Carrie, The Game, Soylent Green and so many others.  But I guess these ten are so famous that they'll get the votes on most lists.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What, no closeup from The Crying Game?

1:52 AM, May 27, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would put The Sting at the top because its the first one I remember.

Hmm. I have a more limited definition of "twist" to be something that integrally affects the plot and not just a surprising development (thats probably not a helpful definition but I just mean that not all surprises are twists).

- Empire Strikes Back - This actually over the years has evolved into a twist. At the time, it seemed a distracting WTF surprise- I felt there was no build up to the issue (or it was too well hidden for my teen brain)and just dropped in out of nowhere - something like finding out Luke was really a girl. After seeing it, my Star Wars fanatic friend explained in great detail why it was a red herring. Over the years and having seen the whole series and seen the documentaries (James Earl Jones was apparently floored by the scene when he first read it), I appreciate anticipating the "twist" nowadays. My then 8 year old son was not surprised when we first watched together - "They ripped that off from Toy Story."

-Planet of the Apes- In the wonderful world of pre-cable/pre-internet I only saw this film on network TV and so missed the first 1/2 hour each time it was on(I think I had Scout meetings on the nights they aired it). In catch up mode, I just assumed it was Earth all along and didn't get surprised. (Though really what coast where they on- Was Ape City in the midwest?) (NOTE- My son's POTA timeline informs me that geography was altered by man's destructive wars- interesting no other flotsam of man washed up anywhere else)

- Blade Runner- What? I'll have to see it again. Don't remember that- I do remember my friend saying, "If I have to be killed by a robot, I'd like to be killed that way" Where were Darrell and Darrell?

- Crying Game-this was given away in the media unless you saw it the first week. When you know, its hard to buy the premise. He ain't that cute and I don't recall the money shot either.

6:58 AM, May 27, 2011  
Anonymous Denver Guy said...

What do you consider the twist in "Night of the Living Dead"? Just the final "shot"?

7:49 AM, May 27, 2011  
Blogger LAGuy said...

That reminds me of a great thing about The Crying Game twist. It was widely reported there's a twist, but not everyone gave away the specifics. And in the movie, a major character is killed out of nowhere, so it's easy to think that's the twist, so you're not expecting anything when the real twist happens.

Night Of The Living Dead has a number of shocks and turns in the plot, but the ending, after a whole movie about a guy doing everything he can to survive against the zombies, is what I'm referring to.

9:41 AM, May 27, 2011  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

It's hard to evaluate twists, because it depends on how many movies you have seen. I saw "Deathtrap" in junior high, and was astounded. It still holds up well on repeated viewings, but if someone had seen one of the movies it was stolen from (e.g., "Sleuth", which even has the same star!) they would be less impressed.

Years later, when the young kids were amazed by the twist ending in "Wild Things" I thought "what dummies, this is obvious."

Perhaps the only truly great twists are so unique that nobody could expect them, and yet when you watch the movie the second time it all fits together perfectly. "Fight Club" might be the very best example.

9:03 PM, May 27, 2011  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

Anonymous # 2 wrote: Blade Runner- What? I'll have to see it again. Don't remember that...

If you saw any version produced before 1992, the "twist" is missing.

The post-1992 version, which is called both "the Director's Cut" and "the Final Cut", has a different ending and an important added scene.

[The Director's Cut (1992) and the Final Cut (2007) have differences in the editing -- but these are mostly very small tweaks, as directors like to do when they get old and have nothing better to do than to add a few minor brushstrokes to their old projects. Plot-wise they are identical.]

9:16 PM, May 27, 2011  

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