Take 2′s Best Spy Thrillers
Gadgets, glamour and secret identities. With the recent release of “Jason Bourne,” the latest entry in the acclaimed Bourne spy franchise, I’m coming in from the cold to run down my favorite espionage movies. “Skyfall” (2012): “Skyfall” won me over not only as a James Bond film, but as one of the best spy films ever made. The rollicking action and chases stun the senses, pulling out the franchise’s signature spy tech. But the film also delivers an intensely personal story that delves into the background of Daniel Craig’s suave yet vulnerable secret agent. Giving Oscar-worthy performances are Judi Dench as intelligence head M and Javier Bardem as villainous megalomaniac Raoul Silva. The climax thrills with its back-to- basics sensibility. “Notorious” (1946): Set in post-World War II, Alfred Hitchcock’s stylish film-noir drama perfectly blends intrigue and romance. Reckless socialite Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) is approached by distrustful agent Devlin (Cary Grant) to spy on her jailed father’s Nazi friends. When Alicia and Devlin fall in love, their relationship is complicated by Alicia’s mission to seduce a high-ranking Nazi (Claude Rains). What follows is a love triangle set in a high-stakes cat-and-mouse game, where a blown cover means death. “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” (2011): Tom Cruise’s fourth entry in the “Mission Impossible” franchise set a new standard for action movies. When the Impossible Missions Force is blamed for the bombing of the Kremlin, agent Ethan Hunt and his team hopscotch across the globe in a series of daring missions to clear their names. “Ghost Protocol” features breath-taking action and awe-inspiring stunts from its leading man. In a jaw-dropping sequence, Cruise himself scales the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. “Spy” (2015): The hilarious spy spoof starring Melissa McCarthy becomes a solid spy film in its own right. McCarthy transforms into an action heroine as Susan Cooper, a mild-mannered CIA analyst who goes undercover when her partner (Jude Law) goes missing. The laugh-out-loud humor gives way to well-choreographed fight scenes. But it’s action star Jason Statham who steals the film playing a parody of himself. “Argo” (2012): The political thriller based on the real-life mission to rescue six Americans during the Iran Hostage Crisis deservedly won the Oscar for Best Picture. Ben Affleck directs and stars as CIA agent Tony Mendez, who pretended to be a Hollywood producer scouting locations for a sci-fi fantasy film, called “Argo,” in order to travel to Iran and sneak out the Americans in 1980. The film ratchets up the tension, especially in its final act. Honorable mention: Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies” (2015), based on the true story of a Cold War prisoner swap in the 1960s, features excellent performances from Oscar winner Mark Rylance as a Soviet spy and Tom Hanks as his American attorney. “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” (2015), Guy Ritchie’s fun throwback to the 1960s TV series, stars Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer and Alicia Vikander. “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” (1997) is a gut-busting parody of spy films starring Mike Myers as the titular British spy and his nemesis, Dr. Evil.
Rebecca Kivak considers herself representative of the average filmgoer. Her favorite films are “The Illusionist” and “The Avengers.”
“Jason Bourne” marks the return of Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass to the spy/action series. In honor of the comeback, I’ve selected five similarly themed films in this genre: “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (2011): I’m a huge fan of spy novelist John le Carre and had read “Smiley’s People,” the second sequel to “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” George Smiley, the lead character of both novels, makes frequent appearances in le Carre’s books, and he takes center stage in this 1970s thriller. Starring Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Toby Jones and Benedict Cumberbatch, it takes place in the midst of the Cold War. In a top-secret operation, Smiley (Oldman) is brought out of retirement to rat out a mole connected to the Soviet Union. Highly stylized and well-acted, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is a slow burn and plays like a good novel. “Top Secret!” (1984): From the makers of “Airplane!” Val Kilmer makes his film debut as a teen idol with a hit song who gets involved in East German politics. A German scientist is kidnapped and forced to work on a destructive device. Kilmer is placed in comedic situations involving a French Resistance movement with an NYNSYC-era, Justin Timberlake-type ringleader, flying cows and Elvis Presley-style songs. Watch out for the repeated fireplaces are romantic devices. “North By Northwest” (1959): My love for this Alfred Hitchcock thriller is well documented, and I watch it whenever it’s on television. Cary Grant plays an ad executive mistaken by bad guys as a government spy. Grant plays it cool for the most part, a man in the wrong place at the wrong time, until he learns that the woman who keeps endangering his situation (marvelously played by Eva Maria Saint) is an actual spy. Many of the film’s memorable scenes take place at American landmarks, like the United Nations headquarters and Mount Rushmore, and nearly every shot is well composed. Plus, crop dusters have never been so lethal. “The Lives of Others” (2006): Spy films are not limited to that of secret agents or good guys versus bad guys. In this Oscar-winning German film, a government worker is tasked to spy on a playwright and actress in 1980s East Germany, before the fall of the Berlin War. The worker is to track for anti-government activity, and when the writer publishes an article critical of the regime, their relationship changes. “Sabotage” (1936): This second Hitchcock entry is slightly adapted from the Joseph Conrad novel “The Secret Agent.” A movie operator is one of many individuals involved in terrorist acts in London and an undercover Scotland Yard officer is assigned to him and his activities. Much of the film realizes on irony and suspense, particularly by employing timed bombs to be used in highly populated places. “Sabotage” was released three years before World War II when terrorist acts by foreign nationals were on the rise, and the fear of war was bubbling up. Honorable mention: “Skyfall” — It’s the best offering of the world’s best known spy, James Bond. “The Informant!” — On paper, it’s a true-story film that looks at agricultural price fixing and the company informant that is the government’s key witness in the practice. In director Steven Soderbergh’s hands, it’s a spy parody starring Matt Damon. “The Bourne Ultimatum” — The last Damon-starring film introduced more action to the series with hand-held cameras and man-to-man combat, while most spy films keep the action at a distance.
Tamara Dunn is a card-carrying cinephile. Her favorite films are “The Battle of Algiers” and “Traffic.”