Thursday, December 22, 2011

Night Movies

On the night of the Northern Hemisphere's Winter Solstice, nine of my favourite films in which the story takes place over a single night. What did I miss?

The Thing 1982 dir John Carpenter
The crew of an isolated Antarctic base are infiltrated by a shape-changing alien. Unable to trust each other, they're picked off one by one as they try to stop the alien escaping. Yes, I know it begins in daylight, but the action really starts, with eye-popping SFX by Rob Bottin, as the stormy Antarctic night falls.
Best moment: Touched by a hot needle, self-aware alien blood leaps out of a petri dish.

Into The Night 1985 dir. John Landis
Ed Okin (Jeff Goldblum) has a dull job, an unfaithful wife, and can't sleep. When he accidently saves Diana (Michelle Pfieffer) from Iranian thugs in an LAX parking structure, he becomes embroiled in a plot involving smuggled jewels. David Bowie appears as a private detective who mistakes Ed for a veteran player.
Best moment: Stunned by narcolepsy, Ed watches an entire Cal Worthington commercial.

Night On Earth 1991 dir Jim Jarmusch
One night, five cities, five cab drivers and their fares, and a Tom Waits' soundtrack.
Best moment: Cabbie Corky (Winona Ryder) turns down casting director Gena Rowlands' offer of a part in a movie. She'd rather be a mechanic.

The Warriors 1979 dir Walter Hill
Framed for a murder that threatens to trigger gang warfare, a small but resourceful gang, the Warriors, must cross hostile territories in New York to reach a midnight summit, their only chance to prove their innocence. A great action film from great action film director Hill, set in tough old New York. With a story loosely based on Xenophon's 'Anabasis'.
Best moment: Warrior's leader Swan (Michael Beck) and gang-girl Mercy (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) meet cute.

Collateral 2004 dir. Michael Mann
After cab driver Max (Jamie Fox) drops off lawyer Annie (Jada Pinkett Smith) he picks up Vincent (Tom Cruise), a suave businessman who turns out to be a suave hitman. As the paths of his two fares intersect, Max has to work out how to save himself and the last victim on Vincent's little list.
Best moment: A coyote crosses the path of Max's cab, on an LA street turned into a ghost of itself by halogen streetlights.

Die Hard 1988 dir. John McTierman
When New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) turns up at his wife's office Christmas party, he becomes the only man who can stop a terrorist plot. You know the rest. There's a famous scriptwriting class that uses Casablanca as an exemplar. If you want to write a script without a superfluous scene or line, study Jeb Stuart and Stephen E de Souza's adaptation of Roderick Thorp's novel.
Best thing in the movie: Bruce's vest.

Night of the Living Dead 1968 dir George Romero
A mixed bunch of people hide out from flesh-eating zombies in a remote farmhouse. Things don't go too well. Shot on a shoestring budget, it set the template for zombie and spam-in-a-cabin horror films every since. Has one of the bleakest endings of any film.
Best moment: Involves a little girl, her father, her mother, and a basement.

After Hours 1985 dir. Martin Scorsese.
Word-processing drone Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) is plunged into a nocturnal Kafkaesque nightmare when he ventures into Manhattan's Soho to meet a girl he picked up in a coffee shop.
Best moment: Paul is turned into a living statue, to hide him from a vengeful mob.

It's A Wonderful Life 1946 dir. Frank Capra
On the worst night in the life of small town businessman George Bailey (James Stewart), apprentice angel Clarence (Henry Travers) demonstrates the worth of a life he thinks a claustrophobic dead end by showing what things would be like if he'd never been born. Key moments in his life are shown in flashback, so I think it counts. And the night in question is Christmas Eve, so hey. In his novel, Suspects, film critic David Thomson sets It's A Wonderful Life at the root of American noir. He has a point.
Best moment: Cornered by cops on the bridge where Clarence forestalled his suicide attempt, a humbled George Bailey asks for his life back. And snow starts falling around him like a blessing.


Blogger Ken Houghton said...

Quibble: I believe Bowie is supposed to be an MI-6 agent or similar.

For shorter time periods, there's Nick of Time.

For classics, I believe we would have to say that Sunset Boulevard (by the IaWL rule) occurs in one night.

There are myriad mediocre sexedy movies (The Allnighter, Room in Rome, etc.), but we would be surprised to see any of those on your favourites list.

December 22, 2011 9:17 pm  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

I think any excuse to include Sunset Boulevard is valid.

December 23, 2011 9:24 am  
Blogger Al R said...

I'd have to watch it again, but does the bulk of The Terminator take place over a single night?

Good calls, anyway. Collateral is one of my recent favorites. Digital photography has really opened up the possibilities of nighttime shooting - wonderful neon colours, reflections on car windscreens etc.

December 23, 2011 11:21 am  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

Re Terminator, I think Sarah Conner and Kyle Reese hole up in a motel for a day, but the time-line of the narrative is very tight, and most (all?) of the action is at night.

I wonder if George Pal's The Time Machine counts, framed as it is by a dinner party...

December 24, 2011 12:16 pm  

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