It’s Terry Gilliam‘s birthday! To mark the occasion, here are five of my favorite films from the acclaimed director. Check some of these out!
The first feature film directed by Gilliam alone (Monty Python and the Holy Grail was directed with fellow-Python Terry Jones) is a mixed bag. It shares a certain grimy medieval vibe with Grail, but the comedy doesn’t land as well. On display are Gilliam’s satirical irreverence and distinctive design, as well as the help of a Python or two. Michael Palin stars as Dennis Cooper, a hapless cooper’s son who stumbles his way into becoming a hero. Gilliam subverts all the typical medieval romance tropes in this well-intentioned disappointment. There are a few good gags to be found, but if the humor had landed a little better this could have been a much better film. As it stands, it’s largely for Gilliam purists.
Time Bandits (1981)
This is quite possibly Gilliam’s first near-masterpiece. It’s one of the best examples of the dark fantasies that came out during the 1980’s, and has Gilliam’s signature style all over it. Then again, that could be said for ALL his films. Love him or hate him, Gilliam ranks as one of modern cinema’s most distinctive and easily recognizable auteurs. This film follows a boy, Kevin, on his adventures through time with a group of dwarves. This band of dwarves are on the run from the Supreme Being after sealing a map which depicts rifts in the time/space continuum. The story beats, humor, acting, and design all surpass what was on display in Jabberwocky and combine to create one of Terry Gilliam’s best movies. This is truly one of those fantasies fit for kids of all ages, though the ending may be a little on the dark side for the very young.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)
Munchausen is another one of Terry Gilliam’s big, bold fantasy adventures. Widely enjoyed by critics, this film earned four Academy Award nominations: Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Visual Effects, and Best Makeup. Its baroque design is a feast for the eyes. Through his career, Gilliam has assembled some fine casts, and this movie is no exception. John Neville, Eric Idle, Uman Thurman, and Robin Williams all do a wonderful job with the parts they have. This is a story within a story, with many fantastic adventures. Adding to the film’s charm is the ambiguous ending. Was it just a story…or did it all really happen?
The Brothers Grimm (2005)
When Gilliam succeeds, it’s marvelous. When he misses, well, let’s just say he doesn’t do anything half-way. Starring Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, The Brothers Grimm received mixed reviews. Damon and Ledger star as the titular brothers, con-artists who go from town to town in 18th century Germany. Using local folklore as a basis, the brothers create elaborate monstrous threats, which they then “defeat” for money. As you’d expect, they are called upon to face a REAL threat: a witch queen (Monica Bellucci). While not one of Gilliam’s best, the leads are good (due to his short career, it’s always good to watch Ledger) and it’s not without its charms. Perennial film heavy Peter Stormare is as menacing and vile as ever.
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2018)
Quixote is the Gilliam comedy adventure that was seemingly cursed. After decades of delays and false starts so legendary that it inspired a documentary, Gilliam finally completed filming in 2017. That should have been the end of it, but release of the film was delayed due to legal battles with a former producer. So after all this, what’s the result? Well, in a word, mixed. It’s slow at turns, and the protagonist is hard to sympathize with. Having said that, the leads deliver mostly wonderful performances. Adam Driver’s comedic talent is underappreciated and is one of the strong points of the film. Frequent Gilliam collaborator Johnathan Pryce gives his all as Javier, a shoemaker under the delusion that he is, in fact, Don Quixote. Though the movie is definitely worth seeing, I’m not sure the finished product was worth the years of frustration that was poured into it. At the risk of sounding unenthusiastic, it’s worth a shot.
What are some of your favorite films that were directed birthday boy Terry Gilliam?