10. The Last Duel (2021)
French knight Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) duels his former squire Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), accused of raping his wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer), holding honour, his life and hers in the balance before God as their witness.
A nice companion piece to Scott’s feature debut The Duellists, only far more cynical, brutal and socio-politically pointed work.
The multiple-tellings structure, reminiscent of Rashomon, could try the patience of some, particularly in how it depicts the awful inciting incident multiple times, and not every line of the script hits home, but you really get the sense of the abject misery of medieval women being seen as property. Comer’s raw performance and the demonstrable harshness of this world, whether on the battlefield, in packed city streets or even your supposedly safe castle, makes the film’s central message clear as day.
9. American Gangster (2007)
Rags-to-riches Harlem gangster Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) builds an empire on heroin smuggled from Vietnam on US military planes, undercutting his rivals and out-foxing the authorities stateside. Then one of the only straight New York cops on the job, Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), forms a team to build a case against Frank and clear up the streets once and for all.
A grand crime epic with a fascinating true story as its basis, American Gangster’s success relies much upon the two central performances from Washington and Crowe, representing upcoming black crime families with a monopoly on heroin dealing and a good cop swimming against the tide in one the most institutionally corrupt times in New York’s history.
It might be slightly unwieldy at almost 3 hours, but it’s consistently engaging, brutally violent and hard-hitting to make up for it.
8. Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
Balian (Orlando Bloom), a tortured French blacksmith, sets out on a crusade to Jerusalem at the behest of his previously unknown noble father (Liam Neeson) where he is caught between battles of succession and the climax of a war between Christians and Muslims for the holy city.
The theatrical cut of Kingdom of Heaven never quite reached the heights of Scott’s previous historical epics, feeling disjointed and de-fanged, but his far more complex and satisfying Director’s Cut is great enough to be an entirely separate, superior movie.
This film’s ranking reflects an average between the two versions, and even the original boasts great scale, stirring music from Harry Gregson-Williams and fine performances from Eva Green, Jeremy Irons and a masked but expressive Edward Norton.
7. Matchstick Men (2003)
Successful conman Roy Waller’s (Nicolas Cage) life unravels when his previously unknown teenage daughter Angela (Alison Lohman) appears on the scene and his fragile mental health begins to spiral. Can Roy balance being a new dad, keeping his conditions on a level, and maybe finally giving up his life of crime for good?
This is Scott’s sweetest film by some margin, with heart and humour at its forefront, and it is a really good caper to boot.
Nicolas Cage and especially Alison Lohman deliver ace performances, and the somewhat episodic nature of the story makes you long for an extended TV miniseries to spend more time with these compelling characters – even if their story, while always entertaining, becomes more conventional towards the end.
6. Black Hawk Down (2001)
A UN peacekeeping operation in Somalia led by US special forces intended to unseat a dictator quickly becomes catastrophic as a team becomes stranded in the heart of Mogadishu and surrounded on all sides by militants.
“We can help or we can watch this country destroy itself on CNN” just about sums up the recent US military history that Scott is highly critical of. The cast is frankly ridiculously star-studded, though most are playing against type or severely down-playing their star personas. Playing this group of soldiers in a nightmare situation are Obi-Wan, Lucius Malfoy, Legolas, Bane and Jame Lannister, and those are just the ones from major franchises.
This is an almost unbearably tense war film, viscerally directed, hectic and unrelenting, the tension always driven home by Hans Zimmer’s propulsive drum score.