The success of Knives out (2019) unraveled the magic of whodunit amongst the viewers and rejuvenated the dramatic elements of a murder mystery that occurs mostly within the confines of a huge mansion. The writer-director of the film Rian Johnson tactfully crafts a sensitive tale of a crime that dwells upon a murderous incident and raises issues of social responsibility and personal awareness.
The film also had an ensemble cast of interesting actors where everyone comes under the radar of suspicion. Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc plays the role of a private detective with aplomb and grace. Midway into the film, the viewers are revealed about how the crime has taken place. But yet the viewers prefer to travel with the characters and explore the intricate behaviors of the family members having ties with the deceased patriarch Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). Knives Out (2019) was nominated for the Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards but lost to Parasite. It was also nominated in some of the other major film awards such as BAFTA, Golden Globe, London Critic Circle Film Awards amongst others. It was also a profitable film at the box office collection.
Here is a list of ten films to watch if you liked Knives Out (2019).
1. Rope (1948)
The auteur of suspense and mystery Alfred Hitchcock’s tale of crime and murder is loosely based on the Leopold-Loeb murder case that took place in Chicago, Illinois in the 1920s. One of the highlights of the narrative structure is the use of the transitions, the edits, and the long takes within the film. The film tells the tale of two young men Brandon Shaw (John Dall) and Phillip Morgan (Farley Granger) who brutally murders their classmate David Kentley (Dick Hogan) and hides his body in a chest. To boast of their dexterity in committing the heinous crime, they host a dinner party.
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What happens next is a quintessential Hitchcockian drama that takes its time to unfold and awe the viewers. Upon the completion of the film, Hitchcock was happy with the outcome. But at present, the film has been considered as a textbook in creating a psychological crime drama with minimal resources and location. The performance by James Stewart as Rupert Cadell keeps the viewers hooked to their seats. Rope can be considered as one of the earliest films in the oeuvre of the filmmaker, where the incredible fusion of technology and cinematic narrative helped the filmmaker to break new grounds in concept and execution.
2. Chiriyakhana (1967)
Satyajit Ray took creative liberties in bringing the story of the popular Bengali truth seeker Byomkesh, to the screen. This was the first detective film to be directed by Ray, the other two are Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress, 1974) and Joi Baba Felunath (The Elephant God, 1978). The plot of Chiriakhana is based on a short story written by Saradindu Banerjee. The narrative is set forth when a retired judge and a rich merchant, Mr. Nishanath Sen (Sushil Majumder) visit Byomkesh (Uttam Kumar) and hires him to find the information about a film that has picturized a particular song which he had heard in his Golap Colony at night. Byomkesh agrees to investigate and one unfortunate night Sen gets murdered.
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We are then introduced to a melange of suspicious characters each with ulterior motives. Intricacies of human affairs, concealments, greed, lust, and as well as weakness and eccentricity of the mind and soul are scrutinized through the slow-burning stride of the inquiry. At the 15th National Film Awards, the film won two National Film Awards: Ray for Best Direction and the matinee idol Uttam Kumar his first Best Actor accolade shared with Antony Firingee. Both the categories were introduced and Ray and Kummar were its first recipient. However, the festival participation of the film was limited.
3. Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
Sidney Lumet’s multi-starer whodunit drama is considered one of the best adaptations of an Agatha Christie novel. The Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney) has to solve a murder mystery while traveling back to his hometown London on the Orient Express from Istanbul. Lumet showcases an extraordinary style and ability to tell an appealing murder mystery with minimal canvas, handling the medium with control, restraint, and astounding sensitivity.
The cinematography of the film helps the precise interpretation of the material through the judicious use of lighting and camera operation adding a very vital dimension to the narrative. The costume team displayed care and perception in designing the period with apparel required for a film that covers a demanding range encompassing the upper class to the common individuals struck inside a train. The film was nominated for multiple Academy Awards including Best Actor, Screenplay, Cinematographer, Costume, and Orginal score. Ingrid Bergman won her third Academy Award for the Best Supporting Actress. The film was one of the highest grosser of the year at the box-office collection. In the year 2017, Kenneth Branagh, who also directed and starred in the film, remade the film. But the film could not achieve the feet earned by its classic predecessor.
4. Death On The Nile (1978)
The film can be considered as a follow-up to the film Murder on the Orient Express as this also has the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) who uses his acumen to solve another murder mystery. Adapted from another Agatha Christie novel, the film was directed by John Guillermin, with a screenplay written by Anthony Shaffer. As Poirot is spending a relaxing vacation on a luxurious cruise to Egypt, the death of a young lady onboard sets a chain of events. Poirot now has the challenge to solve the case before the end of the journey.
Guillerman’s sincere attempt to depict the period in the film is extraordinarily engaging and filled with intrigue. The costumes of the film present a stylized and innovative period rendition of the 1930s. The cinematography of the film by Jack Cardiff captures the feel of the background, setting, atmosphere of the subject and making use of striking visuals to communicate the theme. The picturesque locations of Egypt work in adding a layer of authenticity to the film. Though the film could not repeat the success of its predecessor it is nonetheless an important adaptation of Christie’s novel. The film won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design at the 51st Academy Awards.
5. The Mirror Crack’d (1980)
In this screen adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel, the detective Miss Marple (Angela Lansbury) is assigned to solve the mystery when a local woman is murdered using poison and a film actress who has visited the village of St Mary Mead in England becomes the victim. The narrative of the film creates an exquisite and gentle tale full of mystery and plays the trope of the crime and whodunit quite well. Directed by the British filmmaker Guy Hamilton, the film depicts the grim and tense mood of the film, admirably depicting suspenseful moments in the film with charm and humor.
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The milieu of the film maintains authenticity in the period, etching the characters against the canvas, with perfect color, design, and execution. The film has an ensemble cast of characters that includes Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, Tony Curtis, Edward Fox, and Kim Novak amongst others. All of these characters help in adding a standard to the narrative with their mature and melodramatic performances that work in the service of the film. The film also highlights the theme of jealousy, fame, and rivalry within the story weaving it with the plot. The film was not a box office success but has been appreciated by few critics.
6. Clue (1985)
A comedy whodunit by Jonathan Lynn, the film is an ensemble drama where six guests invited for a dinner are unfortunately gets embroiled in a mystery when their host is murdered. But more murders keep happening and the killer must be caught as soon as possible to avoid the inevitable. The narrative of the film is mischievous and yet engaging. The comic element in the film keeps us entertained and does not allow the film to get into the zone of dark crime mystery.
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The filmmaker along with his cameraman Victor J Kemper had brilliantly created the salient features of each character with the help of superb camera control and effective use of lighting which significantly contributes to the mood of the film. Lynn with a zestful dose of comic elements and a colorful style in the direction adds a dimension of intrigue to the film, which is the screen adaptation of the sleuthing board game ‘Clued’. The film was not well received at the time of its release. Most of the critics termed it as a failed attempt and the film did not receive any major nominations. But in due course of time, the film somewhat became popular amongst a handful of cineaste around the world.
7. Inspector Lavardin (1986)
Inspector Lavardin (Jean Poiret) is called to a provincial village in France to investigate the case of murder. But the narrative of the film takes a twist when Lavardin discovered that one of his ex-lovers is the victim’s widow. Director by one of the members of the French New Wave, Claude Chabrol, the film is engrossing with unusual twists and turns of fate told interestingly with good production values. With a judicious balance of grit and suspense, Chabrol allows his film to take the right path in keeping viewers invested. With his motley bunch of characters, he creates an engaging milieu.
While the layers of mystery are unraveled with a meticulous style, the filmmakers’ clarity of vision keeps the narrative seamless. The film shuns away from excessive gore and rightfully uses tropes that are vital for creating an impact in the story. Plot contrivances are not visible anywhere within the narrative. There are several twists within the film as anything can happen anytime and keeps the viewers on the edge. More than being a regular kind of entertainment, the film can be christened an intellectual crime mystery that has a sophisticated storyline. It is a murder mystery with a quintessential french cinema flavor.
8. Gosford Park (2001)
What could have been a better way to begin the twenty-first century than with a murder mystery directed by one of the legendary filmmakers Robert Altman? A period drama set in 1930; the film narrates the tale of boastful and affluent rich people gathered together at a resort for enjoyment. But when a mysterious murder takes place within the safe confines, each of the characters becomes suspicious of one another. Altman has beautifully captured the meticulous detail and the opulent splendor of the period. He has used a color scheme with discrimination and taste to evoke the distinctive decadent flavor of the time and to provide psychological insights into the characters.
There’s no denying the film’s technical virtues: the cinematography, the set design, the costumes, the hairstyles, and the makeup. The narrative moves at a brisk pace, under the skillful precision of the editor Tim Squyres, flowing along a familiar murder mystery stream that easily survives and creates an engrossing whodunit thriller. The disquieting score by Patrick Doyle strikes exactly the right chord. Julian Fellowes won the Academy Award for the Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. The film won the Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film at BAFTA.
9. Shubho Mahurat (2003)
The Bengali master Rituparno Ghosh’s adaptation of The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side is a serious Indianized adaptation of Miss Marple played by Raakhee as Ranga Pishima. Just like the British detective created by Agatha Christie, she too does not step out of her house to solve the mysterious death of an actress on the set of a feature film. With a panache, she displays a balanced portrayal of an enigmatic and sophisticated detective belonging to a simple middle-class background in Kolkata. The film has an ensemble cast of popular Bengali actors who are presented as more than mere colorful misfits decorating the background. They are used more as a medium to oscillate the needle of doubt from one person to the other.
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Ghosh also brings in the question of whether a woman is capable of loving two men same time in his life within the narrative. Though this angle may not seem to synchronize with the plot of the murder but helps in bringing in a kind of complexity to the film. The film has a distinctive directorial flair and style that makes the film one of the important Indian films in the genre. The film won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Bengali and Best Supporting Actress.
10. Murder Mystery (2019)
Kyle Newacheck’s sophomore is a whodunnit comic tale where a cop Nick (Adam Sandler) and his wife Audrey goes on a holiday trip in Europe so that they could settle the differences in their married life. But due to a twist in fate, they get framed for the murder of billionaire Charles Cavendish (Luke Evans). The production values in the film including set decoration, costuming, etc meet the demand of an engrossing murder mystery with an ample dose of humor.
Our Toronto Review of Knives Out (2019): A Gripping Often Hilarious Mystery
The sense of suspense within the narrative has been arranged in an interesting manner that may or may resonate with the sensibilities of lots of people. But it does tick all the boxes of an entertaining endeavor. The performances are all fine, though a few scenes seem “over the top”. Most of the major plot points remain in place, but extreme liberties have been taken with the suspension of disbelief and at times there are lots of coincidences. Though there are few moments in the film, which are examples of lazy writing the filmmaker, leaves no stone to unturn to exhibit his directorial acumen. At the People’s Choice Awards, USA 2019 the film had won the award for the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Comedy Movie.