‘Skyfall’ and the Best of Bond: Our Critics Rank the Top James Bond Movie Moments!
Jordan Hoffman: Hi everyone, and welcome to another edition of “Matt and Jordan Talk About Something!” I’m your co-host, Jordan Hoffman, and this week we’re doubling over for double-oh seven!
Matt Singer: Double-oy seven.
Jordan: Matt, you’ve been firing off a great deal of material about the Bond franchise at Criticwire for what feels like 007 weeks. You’ve been a fan all your life?
Matt: Yes, I can recall my time as a toddler, sucking on a bottle and watching ‘Octopussy.’ Okay, maybe not. I really became a fan with the first Pierce Brosnan, ‘GoldenEye,’ which was the first one I saw in the theater. I was 14. My dad took me, and it felt very special, like some kind of manly rite of passage. It was like my cinephile bar mitzvah. What about you? Last night in an email you referred to the gun barrel opening as “the floating eye getting shot gag.” So I’m guessing the answer is no.
Jordan: Well, I may not be so down on the nomenclature, but I am going to say something that sounds like I’m joking, but I am not. I will provide the legal documents if necessary. My middle name is Shawn. I don’t have a drop of Anglo/Irish blood in me, but I was so named because my mother was really, really into Sean Connery and the 007 franchise. (I got the non-Gaelic spelling, though.) As such, as a very young tot, I was watching Bond VHS tapes. I saw ‘For Your Eyes Only’ way too young (kinda fell asleep.) I was really into the Connery/Moore era. I even had a 007 digital watch that would sing the theme song and play a very rudimentary game. By the time Timothy Dalton came around, I kinda lost the faith. But ‘Skyfall‘ is pretty terrific, and I think I’m a fully blooded fan again.
Matt: Interesting. So you’d rank ‘Skyfall’ high on the list of the best in the series?
Jordan: Yes, though I must confess, I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen a Brosnan one from beginning to end. Bits of them on cable. And I missed the second Dalton. When the first Dalton came out, I left the theater (age 13) in a neophyte cineaste huff. But I’ve seen the earlier ones 3,000 times each, so it balances out.
Matt: You huffed ‘The Living Daylights’? But that’s one of the best in the entire series! Timothy Dalton was doing the Daniel Craig Bond — sensitive, vulnerable, moody — before Daniel Craig. He was ahead of his time. So let me ask you this then: if you loved the Connery and Moore Bonds why fall so far out of love with the later ones? What went wrong?
Jordan: I never really liked the moodier Bond until ‘Skyfall.’ I didn’t much care for ‘Casino Royale’ (the FAKE ‘Casino Royale’ — give me Peter Sellers) and thought ‘Quantum of Solace’ was dynamite. ‘Skyfall’ is such a good movie on its own terms — non-Bond terms, if you will — that it won me over. I liked the Connery ones for being so 1960s and the Moore ones for being so campy. I’m of a select breed that watched ‘Moonraker’ many, many times.
Matt: That explains a lot.
Jordan: I’m not saying my critical faculties were high: I was 10!
Matt: That’s no excuse. But let’s move from nostalgia to list-based nostalgia. Bond fans don’t care about us — they care about ranking EVERY SINGLE FACET OF EVERY SINGLE BOND MOVIE. And so we must weigh in.
Jordan: True. Getting on the scale. Oh my God, I ate too many Milk Duds at ‘Skyfall’ last night! Anyway, what’s your first question?
Matt: Well, let’s start at the beginning. What’s your Favorite Bond Theme Song?
Jordan: Good question. I gotta go classic and say Shirley Bassey and ‘Goldfinger.’
Jordan: For score, however, some of the incidental music during ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ is outrageous. The skiing stuff. Sooooo good. You?
Matt: ‘Goldfinger’ is a classic, and might have been my choice too. For the sake of variety, I’ll go ‘Thunderball.’ It’s even bigger and brassier than ‘Goldfinger’ with that amazing final note by Tom Jones. “Thunder-BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALL!”
Matt: I have to admit, even though I love the song, I have no idea what it’s about. It sounds like Jones is singing about Thunderball as if it’s a person. “The name is Thunderball. Arthur P. Thunderball.” Honorable mention for me goes to Gladys Knight’s ‘Licence to Kill’ — the best, most romantic part of a pretty crummy, dour Bond.
Jordan: Yes, it’s a killer. By the way, a thunderball is what happens when an explosion happens underwater and then a big ball of firey air comes to the top.
Matt: No, it’s a man. Arthur P. Thunderball, certified public accountant.
Jordan: Oh fine. Now, Matt you and I are very enlightened, sensitive men, but one can’t deny that part of the 007 franchise is the sex appeal. Is there a Best Bond Girl that has, um, a special appeal to you? Keep in mind that Barbara Bach is also Mrs. Ringo Starr and Jill St. John dated Henry Kissinger — both grant a LOT of extra credit points.
Matt: Indeed. This is a very subjective category, with a lot of competition. I’m going to listen to my gut (yes… my “gut”) and pick Jane Seymour as Solitaire in ‘Live and Let Die.’ In my highly professional opinion she is mind-numbingly hot. Like Dr. Quinn: Foxy Lady hot.
Jordan: That is a pretty stellar pick. Now, when I was a dumb kid who still had a lot of basic questions about biology I would have picked Maud Adams in ‘Octopussy’ based solely on the name.
Matt: Understandable, although Maud Adams was even sexier in ‘The Man With the Golden Gun’ a few years earlier.
Jordan: Maybe but I’m going with Jill St. John as Tiffany Case in ‘Diamonds Are Forever.’ She was feisty, she wore fun wigs, and she stayed in a bikini a lot. I guess she’s my vote.
Matt: Well you applied the highly scientific method of how much she made you go “NYAH-AH-AH!” like one of the Three Stooges when she’s onscreen. St. John is good, although ‘Diamonds are Forever’ is pretty mediocre Bond. In my mind the best Bond girl *name* is also in ‘Diamonds:’ Plenty O’Toole.
Jordan: I think Britt Eckland in ‘The Man With the Golden Gun’ may’ve photographed best. And, of course, Ursula Andress in ‘Dr. No.’ Oh, and let’s not forget Daniela Bianchi as Tatiana in ‘From Russia With Love’ with that ribbon around her neck. Hey, what’s the next topic?
Matt: Let’s flip to the dark side: Best Bond Villain. Come, come Mr. Hoffman: who do you pick?
Jordan: It’s too fresh in my mind but Javier Bardem in ‘Skyfall’ is a serious contender. He’s fantastic. He’s almost as creepy as Anton Chigurh.
Matt: He is very good, no question.
Jordan: But, prior to him, I do have a lot of love for Michel Lonsdale, so Hugo Drax in ‘Moonraker’ is cool. And Robert Shaw in ‘From Russia With Love’ is just a pure hunk of determined muscle. But I can’t lie, and you’ll laugh at me: my pick is Max Zorin! Christopher Walken in ‘A View To A Kill.’ What’s not to love?
Matt: We’re going to agree and disagree here. I think once you put aside Blofeld, who’s the template and the obvious #1, the best might indeed be Christopher Walken in ‘A View to a Kill.’ Few men have played psychotically insane as convincingly as him. But I would rank Lonsdale as Hugo Drax as maybe the very worst. He looks ridiculous in his spaceman jumpsuits, and even worse, he looks completely bored! He’s going for a sort of detached I-don’t-give-a-crap attitude, but it comes across as depressed. “Drax, baby, you’re trying to destroy the entire world and repopulate it with your own master race! You’ve got a super groovy space station! Cheer up!”
Jordan: He’s French!
Matt: He acts like he’s already lost!
Jordan: You expect him to be impressed just because he’s in space?
Matt: Yeah, a little!
Jordan: Do you have a Favorite Bond Villain Sidekick? Keep in mind Odd Job has maybe one line of dialogue.
Matt: Grace Jones as May Day in ‘A View to a Kill’ is very memorable.
Jordan: And how!
Matt: I also enjoy Herve Villechaize as Nick Nack in ‘The Man With the Golden Gun.’
Jordan: You are taking all my lines.
Matt: He tries to stab Bond and then Roger Moore throws him in a suitcase! That’s fantastic.
Jordan: Lotte Lenya as Rosa Klebb in ‘From Russia With Love’ has that great scene where she’s really brutal to Tatiana. It’s a great moment. Then she dresses up like an old maid at the end with a poison razor in her shoe. And this is in the “serious” 007 film!
Matt: All true. It’s like my grandfather always told me: beware of Russian women with poison razor shoes. And he was right.
Jordan: Your grandfather was Ian Fleming.
Matt: Yes, I should have mentioned that.
Jordan: Do you have a Favorite Bond Gadget?
Matt: It’s tough, because the gadgets are a very fine line. When they get too goofy, they kind of ruin the fun for me. I actually don’t want to see Bond in a jetpack. If he’s got a jetpack, why is he not constantly using the jetpack everywhere he goes? You don’t need a car if you have a jetpack.
Jordan: Yes. He would be known not for his licence to kill,’ but license to float around Europe in a jetpack. I can’t agree enough. I loved his alligator-kayak from ‘Octopussy’ — when I was 8 years old. Now I’ll have to say that the classic Aston Martin has a certain appeal.
Matt: A sturdy pick. If pressed, I vote for the trick briefcase in ‘From Russia With Love,’ because that seems fairly plausible to me as something a spy might have. Plus it is really cool: spring loaded secret knife, emergency cash in the lining, and the tear gas canister to blind enemies who open it incorrectly.
Jordan: Yes, and worked more elegantly into the final fight than you might otherwise expect. In one of the Daltons, I forget which, there is the boom box that doubles as a bazooka, which Q calls a “ghetto blaster.” That’s, um, a questionable moment for the franchise.
Matt: It’s in ‘The Living Daylights.’ And yes. Yes it is.
Jordan: In summing up, do you have one thrilling sequence that you hold above all others?
Matt: Maybe it’s because it is the first one I saw in the theater, and the one that really captured my imagination first, but I’ve always loved the cold open to ‘GoldenEye.’ Bond does this crazy bungee jump off a dam, then infiltrates this Soviet compound. After he gets into a firefight, he has to chase after his plane as it freefalls.
Jordan: Ah, where he jumps off a cliff into the cockpit of a plane. Yes, I’ve seen that bit. Very entertaining.
Matt: Great stuff. The opening of ‘Octopussy,’ as silly as it is, is pretty great too. In that one Bond gets caught trying to blow up some evil Soviet doohickey, then uses this supersonic mini-jet to escape. The bad guys fire a heat-seeking missile at him, so he loops back around to the hangar where the doohickey is being kept, and uses the missile to blow up the bad guys and the doohickey before he makes his getaway.
Matt: What about you?
Jordan: I hate to keep harping on ‘Skyfall,’ but the opening chase in Istanbul is really well put together. And the Shanghai assassination is shot in a very artful manner. Really striking. Of the earlier ones, I always loved the one where he stops the nuclear bomb on the Eiffel Tower. Oh, wait, that’s ‘Superman II.’ I guess I gotta be a classicist and say the train fight in ‘From Russia With Love.’
Jordan: Oh, and there’s blowing up Yaphet Kotto with a shark pellet in ‘Live and Let Die.’
Matt: The train fight in ‘From Russia With Love’ is a great pick. It really stands the test of time, and it is such a contrast to the sort of choppy action we get today. It’s clear and fluid and really intense.
Jordan: Yes, I agree. Lightning round: George Lazenby? History gave him a raw deal?
Matt: He’s better than his reputation in wider pop culture — but not quite as good as some of the really serious Bond nerds claim. I’m kind of a Lazenby agnostic.
Jordan: Dude, the Lazenby Agnostics opened for the Polyphonic Spree at Bonnaroo and it was FANTASTIC!
Matt: One more time: double-oy seven.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.
Matt Singer is a Webby award winning writer and podcaster. He currently runs the Criticwire blog on Indiewire and co-hosts the Filmspotting: Streaming Video Unit podcast. His criticism has appeared in the pages of The Village Voice and Time Out New York and on ‘Ebert Presents at the Movies.’ He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, dog, and a prop sword from the movie ‘Gymkata.’