Thursday, July 10, 2008

BEST MOVIE ENDINGS EVER

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20 Se7en
David Fincher, 1995

Kevin Spacey’s gruesomely creative serial killer takes the Seven Deadly Sins as his inspiration for a series of horrible and slightly sanctimonious murders. Can Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman catch the killer before he dispatches all of his targets?

The “head in a box” denouement is a jaw-dropper of an ending. Pitt and Spacey’s characters take on the mantles of Wrath and Envy, respectively: Spacey’s jealousy of the cop’s domestic bliss with bride Gwyneth Paltrow causes him to chop her head off; Pitt’s rage and grief prompts him to execute the killer on the spot. WENDY IDE

19 The Blair Witch Project
Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez, 1999

After numerous screen freak-outs, lost students Heather (Heather Donohue), Mike (Mike Williams) and Josh (Josh Leonard) are in a deserted house. Heather screams, Mike is killed by an unseen assailant and the last shot we see, in Heather’s grainy video footage, is of Josh standing in a catatonic stupor, facing the corner walls of the basement, like a punished child. Creepy. KEVIN MAHER

18 Memento
Christopher Nolan, 2000

Leonard (Guy Pearce) is so traumatised by his wife’s murder that he is incapable of remembering anything, bar the occasional jigsaw-like flashback. As he pieces together the clues and tracks down the man who killed his wife, we share his revelations and his triumphs, sympathising with his need to remind himself of what he’s done using notes and tattoos. Then we realise that Leonard is on his way to kill an innocent man. As Leonard drives away his satisfaction at killing his wife’s “murderer” is, we realise, only temporary. We have been had. Leonard’s amnesiac quest for revenge has turned him into a serial killer, doomed to repeat his actions ad infinitum. And we have been on his side. NIGEL KENDALL

17 Planet of the Apes
Franklin J Schaffner, 1968

Dignified seminaked astro-hunk George Taylor (Charlton Heston) has finally escaped from his brutish gorilla overlords, and is taking a coastal canter when it happens. First the mangled torch creeps into shot, then the crown of lady Liberty herself. Taylor realises that he’s not on another planet but on postapocalyptic Earth! “You maniacs!” he screams. “You blew it up! Damn you! God damn you all to Hell!” KM

16 The Shawshank Redemption
Frank Darabont, 1994

Having endured decades of wrongful incarceration, beatings, rape and false hope, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) escapes from his gothic jail. After gleefully detailing Dufresne’s flight, Darabont was unsure whether to show his subsequent reunion with jail buddy Red (Morgan Freeman) on a Mexican beach. He wisely chose the even more uplifting option – as his editor noted: “Tell me that smile on Morgan’s face isn’t going to leave the audience as high as a kite.” ED POTTON

15 Gone With the Wind
Victor Fleming, 1939

Boasting a double-whammy of iconic endings, this Civil War epic closes with the destitute heroine Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) being dumped by husband Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) with the immortal lines: “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” The feisty Scarlett regroups and, within 50 seconds of screen time, faces the camera for that classic tear-stained close-up, announcing: “I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.” KM

14 Doctor Strangelove
Stanley Kubrick, 1964

This comedic countdown to nuclear apocalypse concludes in appropriately bombastic style, with Peter Sellers’ eponymous, wheelchair-bound strategist suddenly finding the use of his legs and Slim Pickens’s bomb commander riding an ICBM, rodeo style, out of a plane. Kubrick’s masterstroke was following such outrageousness with a michievously serene montage of explosions set to Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again. EP

13 Les Diaboliques
Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1955

Forget the so-so American remake – the black-and-white French original has one of the most shocking denouements in screen history. The illtreated wife and the mistress of a cruel provincial head-master are conspiring to kill him, and appear to have done so. Until his “corpse” rears up out of the bathtub, sending his wife into terminal cardiac arrest. Just as her plotting husband and his mistress had hoped. EP

12 The Wizard of Oz
Victor Fleming, 1939

The prototype twist ending has Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) waking up back in drab and dreary Kansas and realising that the previous 90 minutes of multicol-oured action adventure were only part of a fever dream. Bummer. Farm hands Hunk (Ray Bolger), Zeke (Bert Lahr) and Hickory (Jack Haley) gather round Dorothy’s sickbed, invoking their counterparts from Oz – Scarecrow, Lion and Tinman respectively. Dorothy decides that, despite the allure of faraway lands, “There’s no place like home”. KM

11 Thelma & Louise
Ridley Scott, 1991

In this outlaw chick-flick Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis are on the lam in a Ford Thunderbird convertible. After a truck-stop altercation turns deadly, the two women flee across the US. Eventually they are cornered by the police, but Sarandon floors the accelerator and sends the car hurtling over a cliff. Part exploitation movie, part cri de coeur for abused women, this film let its girls go down gloriously unrepentant. WI

10 The Sixth Sense
M. Night Shyamalan, 1999

The twist to tend all twists. Try as he did in subsequent movies such as Signs and The Village, Shyamalan has failed to trump his debut film’s climax. Cole, a child psychologist (Bruce Willis), is making good progess with a troubled boy who can “see dead people” (Haley Joel Osment), until it dawns on Cole that he himself is a ghost. The genius of the ending was not just its unexpectedness, but the way it forced a reevalution of the film’s previous events – “So that’s why his wife was ignoring him!” EP

9 The Usual Suspects
Bryan Singer, 1995

Cop Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) thinks he has the case of enigmatic criminal mastermind Keyser Söze sewn up, until it turns out that Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey) – the informer Kujan has rashly set free – made up most of his story and is probably Söze himself, a double bombshell that Singer drops in a dazzlingly edited final flourish. EP

8 The Italian Job
Peter Collison, 1969

This light-hearted heist movie boasts the ultimate cliff-hanger ending – literally. Michael Caine and his colourful band of crims have just pulled off a daring bullion robbery from a bank in Turin. The getaway by bus goes smoothly until an accident sends the vehicle into a skid, leaving it dangling precariously over the edge of a cliff. Cue great final line: “Hang on lads, I’ve got an idea . . .” WI

7 Some Like It Hot
Billy Wilder, 1959

It’s the perfect ending to the perfect screwball comedy. Italian mobsters have seen through Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis’s female disguises. Along with Marilyn Monroe, they flee on board the yacht of millionaire Osgood Fielding III, who is smitten by Lemmon’s female alter ego, Daphne. Lemmon desperately tries to dissuade Osgood, finally ripping off his wig and shouting: “I’m a man.” The smirking Osgood’s reply is one of the great last lines: “Nobody’s perfect.” WI

6 Breakfast At Tiffany’s
Blake Edwards, 1961

In torrential rain, in an insalubrious Manhattan alleyway, Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly desperately searches for Cat, the stray pet she just cruelly dumped from a cab. The missing cat represents her decision not to close herself off from love and mutual dependency. Only when she finds him can she move on with George Peppard’s impoverished writer Paul. There’s not a dry eye in the house – and the sodden cat’s furious expression is hilarious. WI

5 Chinatown
Roman Polanski, 1974

Private eye Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) has blundered into a murder case that involves multimillionaire Noah Cross (John Huston) and a scandal about the Los Angeles water supply. Gittes, hired by Cross, discovers that Cross has had an incestuous relationship with his daughter, Evelyn, that has produced a child, Katherine. Cross wants the child. Evelyn wants to keep her away from her wicked father. Gittes has fallen in love with Evelyn, but suspects her of murder.

In the devastating final scene, all the film’s protagonists and plotlines twist together. Evelyn drives away at high speed with her daughter through the streets of Chinatown. The police fire warning shots, one of which kills Evelyn. Cross takes Katherine. He has the child he wanted.

But at what cost? Gittes knows the truth about Cross’s relationship to the child, but is powerless to stop him. A crowd gathers around the fatal scene. Gittes is told to turn away. “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.” The camera, indifferent, fades out, leaving us as desolate and shocked as Gittes. NK

4 E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
Steven Spielberg, 1982

After weeping at E.T.’s tragic death, then weeping again at his resurrection, and again as Elliott (Henry Thomas) and Co magically take to the skies, what could possibly be next? Nothing but the mother of all weepies in the final farewell scene. Here the composer John Williams pummels the soul, Spielberg yanks every heartstring, and E.T. touches the blubbering Elliott’s forehead with his flashlight finger, saying: “I’ll be right here.” Then E.T. disappears up inside a giant Fabergé egg. Brilliant. KM

3 Casablanca
Michael Curtiz, 1942

Driven to cynicism and exile in wartime Casablanca by a woman who abandoned him in Occupied Paris, Rick (Humphrey Bogart) is not best pleased when she turns up in town with her freedom-fighting husband. But Bogie can’t stop loving her, nor she him. Now though, with Nazis all around, the fate of the world may depend on her husband’s safe passage out of Casablanca. Rick and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) must choose between enriching their own lives by eloping, or enriching the world’s by helping her escape with her husband. On the tarmac, the plane ready to taxi and the Nazis ready to spring, Bogart and the love of his life embrace for what we know will be the last time. Bogie’s ability to suggest the soft centre at the heart of a tough nut has never been matched. NK

2 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
George Roy Hill, 1969

Pale, bullet-ridden, yet still bantering, our improbably handsome bank-robbing heroes Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and the Sundance Kid (Robert Redford) are trapped in an adobe barn, surrounded by the entire Bolivian army. They have just enough time for a few gags before it’s time for a suicidal frontal assault on their foes. “For a minute there, I thought we were in trouble,” quips Butch, before leading the charge. The soundtrack then reveals the inter-ballistic mayhem that follows, yet the screen simply freeze-frames on the men, an elegant portrait of courageous insanity. KM

1 Carrie
Brian De Palma, 1976

At the end of this Stephen King adaptation, Carrie (Sissy Spacek), who begins the film doused in the blood of her first period, has ended it drenched in the blood of pigs at a high-school prom. Unfortunately for her classmates, Carrie’s womanhood brought with it telekinetic powers, which she then uses to wipe out most of them – and herself – in a blaze of purifying flame. Sue (Amy Irving), one of the few survivors, visits Carrie’s freshly dug grave. She lays flowers. Carrie’s arm thrusts out of the soil and grabs her. A million stomachs leap. Sue wakes up. It was just a nightmare, but one that will never end. NK

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