10. Catfish (Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman, 2010)
Say what you will about the film itself but Catfish produced one of the most intriguing trailers of recent memory. It starts off nicely enough, presenting itself as a documentary about a young man named Nev having an online relationship with a talented family in upstate Michigan, and falling in love with oldest daughter Megan. With an upbeat score and romantic narration, the trailer perkily takes us through the evolution of a relationship it promises is ‘just true’. Around the 1:27 mark however, that becomes a much scarier prospect, as Nev and his filmmaker buddies decide to take a trip to visit Megan… the screen goes black, and we’re told the unexpected ending will provide a “shattering conclusion”. The music becomes darker, the cutting rate faster. References are made to Hitchcock and after an eerie title card brief footage of Nev angrily telling Ariel to “put the camera down” pops up. Everything has been turned on its head, and a romantic mystery was added to the calenders of every movie fan in the world. It’s a brilliantly deceptive piece of work and creates more tension in those 30 seconds than some movies produce in their entire running time. Remarkable.
9. Sleeper (Woody Allen, 1973)
Sleeper is one of the funniest movies ever made. By far Allen’s most absurdist work, it’s also a fantastic mélange of comic styles, referencing everything from Charlie Chaplin to Monty Python. This trailer includes some of the best jokes from the film but gives them entirely new context with Allen’s hilariously deadpan narrator trying to send the film up as an “intellectual film” while footage plays of the comedian/actor pratfalling around futuristic furniture. Many of the scenes, he tells us, are of a “cerebral, didactic nature”, complemented by further footage of the actor in a silent comedy styled fight and giant balloon-like costume. The trailer also highlights the interplay and chemistry between Allen and Diane Keaton, who he makes great fun of by calling her graceful as she swings from the trees on a rope like some kind of primal Tarzan. He rounds the trailer off (which is already hysterically funny) with a perfect one-liner. “Will there be a special price for children?” the interviewer asks Allen. “No”, he responds, “but anyone accompanied by an incoherent person gets in for half price.” A classic in every sense.
8. Face/Off (John Woo, 1997)
To a 14-year-old boy Face/Off is a pretty mind-melting, exhilarating experience (this is how old I was upon first viewing). The sheer absurdity of the movie, with is extravagant action sequences and amped-up anarchy, is complemented by the brilliant practical effects work and the high-wire performances by John Travolta and Nicolas Cage. As I have got older I have loved the movie more and more; it retains its sense of fun, but the nuances of the technical achievements just become more and more apparent on every watch. I only saw this trailer for the first time last year, after about five viewings of the movie, and in an age of CGI and making the impossible possible, it blew me away. The sheer simplicity and audacity of the central shot is just thrilling and a true moment where you ask yourself “how did they do that?” Starting on Travolta recalling his lifelong hunt for the criminal Castor Troy, and how he knows his every move and gesture, the camera pans around him to end on the line “I’ve figured out a way to trap him… I will become him.” And suddenly, as he turns from the shadow to camera, Travolta has become Cage. You have to see it, right?
7. Cloverfield (Matt Reeves, 2008)
The film was a crushing disappointment but you really can’t argue with a trailer so assured that it ends on just a release date with no title. After a minute or so of handheld build-up (a yuppie going away party) there is suddenly a blackout and reports of strange goings on from the news channels. The 20-somethings head up to the roof only to be met by a Godzilla-type roar and explosions that send debris flying overhead – landing on the building which they quickly evacuate, in a series of frenzied jump cuts that disorient the viewer. The image is muddled, people are screaming, and what could have been an innocent little indie drama has just been turned on its head. Suddenly another explosion through the gathering smoke – and something flying through the sky. As it crash lands into the street, flipping cars out of their parked positions, it’s revealed to be the head of the Statue Of Liberty. One of the all time great money shots, the trailer then ends, without a single nod to plot or recognition of what is attacking, and expects you to get in line on the ‘1-18-08.’ Without a single star to sell the movie, Reeves And producer J.J. Abrams secured a monster smash in 100 audacious seconds.
6. Comedian (Christian Charles, 2002)
I haven’t actually seen the documentary this trailer promotes, but I doubt it could be half as funny as this is 90 seconds of pure Jerry Seinfeld genuis. Along with Seinfeld co-creator Larry David he criticized, questioned and poked fun at just about everything over the nine seasons (1989 – 1998) that it ran on NBC, but never did they tackle trailers, and the curse of the clichéd voiceover. In fact, the trailer may well exist just to rectify that fact, rather than promote the movie. Featuring classic voiceover artist Hal Douglas, from the Don LaFontaine school of advertising, the trailer is essentially a skit on the meaningless but catchy phrases now associated with genres like action and comedy. “In a land.” “In a time.” “In a land before time” – it gets funnier as it escalates, and the perfectly edited trailer also displays that Douglas has some expert comic timing. “In the edge of space.” “A robot renegade cop”… if you’re not in stitches, you’re likely not human.
5. Garden State (Zach Braff, 2004)
Along with films like Magnolia (1999), Psycho (1960) and À bout de souffle (1959), the Garden State trailer was one of the first works to really get me into movies. I’m not kidding. The hypnotic medley of dislocated images set to the soothing rhythms of Frou Frou’s ‘Let Go’ were absolutely capturing. I must have watched this trailer over a hundred times, just to marvel in its assured beauty. As the gorgeous, twinkling tones of the song open over a slow-motion shot of a turbulent plane going down, we meet Andrew (Zach Braff), a troubled young man who has just lost his mother. The trailer doesn’t tell us this however, as it’s completely silent with no plot points whatsoever or even any indication of character. Still, with shots of a daisy chain of children crossing a street, a lone Andrew standing poolside as everyone else jumps in and the fantastic canyon dolly shot, which follows the echo of a deafeningly powerful scream, the images do their job. Imogen Heap’s vocals provide the perfect complementary tone, equally haunting and romantic. It’s quite surreal, but on the slow-motion shot of Sam (Natalie Portman) dancing by a fire, also completely beautiful. A work of art.
4. There Will Be Blood (P.T. Anderson, 2007)
“Ladies and gentleman.” The Jonny Greenwood score (‘Future Markets’) quietly kicks in as Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) narrates us with his prospects, advertising himself as a family man. Robert Elswit’s Oscar winning cinematography is instantly arresting – the vast landscapes of the oil man’s world expanding as far as the eye can see – an entire territory of greed and ambition. The score is perfectly edited around Plainview’s speech, creating a rhythm as to imply that the jabbing orchestral sounds represent his inner thoughts. Soon things take a turn for the darker… an oil well sets on fire, conflict rises, the eerie drone of the score crescendos. “I look at people and I see nothing worth liking” notes Daniel with a disturbing calm. As the religious themes start to become more present the trailer shifts tone – it’s almost as if a horror movie is now being advertised, with a shot of a child setting fire to a bed being particularly troublesome. One of the final shots sees Daniel knelt before the oil well, his fountain of gold, and raising his hands – almost as if he’s bowing to it, praying, or recognizing its greatness and power over him. “I can’t keep doing this on my own. With these… people” he notes, before laughing. It’s utterly terrifying and sets the tone for one of the great masterpieces of contemporary cinema.
3. Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999)
A trailer so sexy it should come with its own age classification, yet it also feels like a statement on the vacuousness of modern movie advertising, completely exploiting its stars physicality when in reality the movie, based upon the 1926 novella Traumnovelle, explores much darker, deeper ideas about sexuality than most Hollywood cinema dares to. The trailer begins with Chris Issak’s ‘Baby Did A Bad Bad Thing’ over the unmissable tag ‘CRUISE’ in bold red writing. We then open to a shot of Nicole Kidman’s back, as she begins to slide her dress off – in front of a huge mirror, and red curtains (the colour of love, desire and danger). Then, in a soft yellow, ‘KIDMAN’ – perfectly nodding toward one of the most talked-about Hollywood relationships of all time. By now, Kubrick (whose name appears next) has suckered in an unsuspecting audience, who would have no doubt been shocked by the explicit content not even hinted at in this promo. The trailer ends with Cruise and Kidman in an awkward embrace, with “they did a bad bad thing” echoing over the images. A captivating example of cunning misdirection, it’s 60 seconds of perfection.
2. The Man Who Wasn’t There (Coen Brothers, 2001)
The Coens powerful homage to noir is one of their finest works, but is actually bettered by this trailer which makes the most of Roger Deakins’ stunning black and white photography, and is a perfect modern example of montage editing. The lovely score plays over images of smoke and shadows as Billy Bob Thornton’s laconic but ambitious barber stares into emptiness, contemplating a crime that will have tragic results. There’s some brilliant choice dialogue too, especially “life has dealt me some bum cards, or maybe I just haven’t played ’em right, I don’t know” – which sums up a lot of character arcs from the genre. There’s so much emotion in the images here, as they overlap each other, almost unfurling the tale of this man in such a profoundly affecting way that you don’t really need to see the movie. You should, though, because this trailer does a great job of highlighting its best qualities – the script, visuals and performances, which combine to create a modern classic that is just about due a reevaluation in the filmmakers oeuvre.
1. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
Yep, another Kubrick. This time though it’s for his adaptation of Stephen King’s 1977 novel of the same name. King famously disliked the movie, and with good reason, for it’s a terribly unfaithful adaptation. One key addition Kubrick made though is the scene where blood pours out of an elevator into a hallway of the Overlook Hotel. It’s a really chilling image that, much like “Heeeeres’s Johnny!” (also Kubrick’s inclusion) became instantly iconic and parodied. Kubrick obviously understood its power as he made it the crux of his advertising campaign. The first minute consists of the standard credentials scrolling over the screen. “Is this it?” we wonder, before suddenly the elevator opens and red begins to trickle out. It starts to come out faster, splashing all over the walls – it’s blood, and in slow-motion it’s creeping toward the audience. Eventually the blood splashes all over the camera, leaving a red coating, disorienting the image. Pure evil has been established, and hotels would never be quite as popular again. After a trailer this shocking, you just have to see the movie.