My eccentric editor Esther gave me a wonderful gift recently. A scratch and sniff poster with the top one hundred movies of all time emblazoned across it. Such fun. Having seen most of them I got to scratching away immediately. Some of the scents were more successful than others; Stanley Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’ emitted a fine citrus aroma. Gorgeous. Sadly I found Guy Ritchie’s ‘Snatch’ to be less fragrant. It got me thinking though. Whenever I am around younger people, the gap in their knowledge of fairly recent cinema leaves me open-mouthed at times! So I decided to edit the list from one hundred down to the top ten for all you millennials out there. Not all of my favourite films are on this list, I grant you, that conversation is to be had another time. But out of the one hundred great films suggested, I bring you a considered distillation. Enjoy!
10) Little Miss Sunshine
A classic road movie with a dysfunctional family sharing a camper van en route to a beauty pageant. A ‘laugh-out-loud’ comedy, mixed with poignancy and pathos by a first time writer. A simply astounding piece of work. An incredible cast and clever direction make this a film to remember. Fully rounded characters showing us just how complex family relationships can be. Even though Alan Arkin won an Oscar for his performance, in my eyes Paul Dano stands head and shoulders above everyone else. Surely he is becoming one of America’s greatest actors, no?
9) Groundhog Day
After deciding Tom Hanks was ‘too nice’ (he is, I assure you) to play the weatherman who relives the same day, again and again, the director decided that Bill Murray could do the job. And he was right. I genuinely cannot picture any other actor with the comic skill of Bill Murray playing Phil with such conviction. Forget the corny premise, Groundhog Day delivers as both a romantic comedy and a wry comment on the daily grind we can find ourselves in when we think our lives are on hold. More fun than it sounds, believe me.
How on earth Barry Jenkins managed to write a screenplay covering sexual identity, toxic masculinity, race, drug addiction and childhood trauma, and then make such a coherent film is quite simply beyond me. He finds the darkness in human existence and then shines the brightest light. Three actors playing the same character at different times in his life as he struggles with his sexuality. One of the most beautiful and touching films about young love ever made.
7) This Is Spinal Tap
The first in a long line of ‘mockumentaries’, and also the best, in my humble opinion. A British rock band are filmed on a comeback tour of the United States by one of their fans. A sly commentary on the pomposity of the music world, and the egos contained within it. Hilarious. In fact, friends and I still quote it to this day; “Saint Hubbins? He was the patron Saint of quality footwear”. Genius.
Prepare to have your mind blown. Christopher Nolan at his finest. A simple enough plot; a man with memory loss is trying to find his wife’s killer. But an incredibly complex timescale where one part of the story is told backwards, the other forwards, with each scene revealing slightly more information as it alternates between the two. Stunning.
I am not normally a fan of films adapted from plays, I find they are two separate beasts. Peter Shaffer’s adaptation of his own play ‘Amadeus’ is the exception that breaks this rule. And by jove does it break it. Even if Mozart’s music does not float your boat, I urge you to watch this eighties classic. It is as much a film about the nature of genius, and the envy that it can elicit, then it is a film about music. And Tom Hulce steals every scene he is in. How he failed to sustain a Hollywood career after this still baffles me to this day.
Whilst being interviewed for the BBC on the day it was released, I had to defend Irvin Welsh’s film about a small group of Scottish junkies against the criticism that it glorifies drug use. I stand by my opinion to this very day. How on earth anyone could think that watching someone dive into ‘the worst toilet in Scotland’ to retrieve a lost suppository, or finding a baby dead due to neglect could glamorise drug use simply hasn’t watched the film. Laughs are definitely there, but so is the shocking reality of the way in which drugs can destroy lives. A cautionary tale, but stylish enough to produce a thousand wannabee directors after its release. A must-see.
3) The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Young newlyweds stumble upon a secret society in a spooky mansion after their car breaks down in a storm. Like nothing you have ever seen, or will see again, I promise. Tim Curry gives the performance of a lifetime as the transvestite Dr Frank n Furter, in this bizarre nineteen fifties B movie, horror/science fiction classic. Oh, and it’s a musical too, just for good measure. Creator Richard O ‘Brien mixes absurdity, comedy, horror and a good old fashioned love story into what is arguably the greatest musical ever written. Hats off to you my boy!
Appearing far fetched on its release only seven years ago, HER chronicles the love between a writer and his computer operating system. Now, this is definitely a Marmite film. You are either going to love it or hate it. I LOVE it. But then any film with Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson being directed by Spike Jonze was going to get two thumbs up from me. A tender, gentle portrayal of intimacy. A love story like no other, Beautiful.
1) Pulp Fiction
Being possibly the only one of my peers to not have seen Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs upon release, I had no expectations at all as I sat down with my popcorn to watch Pulp Fiction for the first time with some chums from the industry. Oh My Gosh. I was immediately drawn into Tarantino’s world of insanely clever wordplay, visual references and solid acting from a then discarded John Travolta, Uma Thurman, et al. In fact, this film is the reason for the late-life resurgence of the aforementioned Travolta. I can easily say with hand on heart that I feel phenomenally lucky to be alive at a time when Tarantino is realising films. Two hundred years from now Universities will be studying the effect he has had on cinema in the twenty-first century. Mark my words. And just think, you and I managed to see them as they were being made. A humbling thought indeed.
God Save the Queen. Lord bless you all. Same time next week fellow film lovers.