So I turned 40 this year. My intent was to write a post or two to mark the occasion, but I had a few problems. The main one was starting a new job which currently consumes most of my waking hours, but there was also a question of what I should write. I quickly ruled out the idea of films based around the number 40, given that the list appeared to consist of:
- 40 Days And 40 Nights (with Josh Hartnett, not seen)
- The 40 Year Old Virgin (seen, not bad)
- This Is 40 (seen, rubbish and it clearly isn’t what 40 is about based on the last three months)
- 40 Carats (comedy from 1973 with Liv Ullmann and Gene Kelly about a divorcee engaged to a younger man – oh the scandal! Haven’t seen it)
- North Dallas Forty (an American football comedy drama with Nick Nolte and Charles Durning. Nope.)
- Forty Guns (a Sam Fuller B-movie western starring Barbara Stanwyck. Err…)
- Forty Shades Of Blue (it’s something about Russian music and Memphis and it’s got Rip Torn in it. Whatevs.)
- Er, that’s it
I’m sure any Pulitzer prize winning journalist with too much time on their hands and several online film memberships could have spun nostalgic gold out of that list; sadly I think the day I win a prize for my writing might be the same day that a frozen hell is darkened further by a flock of winged pigs passing overhead.
What I also ruled out was any thoughts of “The 40 Best Films I’ve Ever Seen”, which as we’ve established previously my film knowledge has some significant gaps in it. However, what would give more of an insight into me, warts and all, is the forty films that I’ve seen most. This is a list I’ve pulled together with the help of family and friends, and is by no means a record of quality. But perhaps what it does do is show how my film taste has / hasn’t evolved over the years to become the obsessive cinephile I am now. It also counts home viewing as well as cinema trips – in fact, I’ve only seen 19 of this list in a cinema.
That first problem – work obligations – mean that my 40th birthday is now several weeks in the past. So instead, I present this list in honour of the 4th anniversary of this blog, which occurred last weekend. In that four years I’ve written over 500 posts and watched exactly 666 films at the cinema. I can assure you that there’s no demonic messages to be found if you read this post backwards. **
So here, I present for your reading pleasure in chronological order the list of the forty films I’ve watched most often in my lifetime. EDIT: I cannot stress strongly enough that this isn’t a list of my favourite films – I think, even now with my moderate film knowledge no more than a dozen of this list would make it on to an all-time top 40 – but more a documentation, for better or worse, of my viewing habits in my first four decades. Feel free to judge me, or tell me of your own obscure favourites in the comments.
** I cannot guarantee you won’t hear demonic messages while reading this post backwards because I haven’t actually checked, but I hope it’s unlikely
The first film on the list was a Friday night treat. My mother and I would regularly stay up late on Friday nights watching TV, hence my childhood viewing of everything from V to Prisoner Cell Block H and the Eighties version of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. From time to time this also took in late night film viewing, including both the original and the remake of The Blob. (Who said I wasn’t cultured?) The Hitchcock connection also then took in my first ever viewing of the great one’s films, and while I’ve seen many better – North By Northwest, Rear Window, Vertigo and Notorious to name but a few – repeated viewings of this one mean it retains a fond place in my heart.
Best bit: the audacity of repeated cuts between Tippi Hedren’s face and the encroaching flame, followed by the ominous sight of the long shot of the town on fire being invaded by birds, are both pure Hitch.
The Sound Of Music
Many of the films on this list are films from my childhood that sit in the middle of a Venn diagram. I grew up with my mother, my sister and my grandmother in the same house, and as a consequence many of the films watched regularly were those that crossed the boundaries of our respective tastes. Given the amount of singing I do, it’s perhaps a surprise they’re aren’t more musicals on this list, although Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, The King And I and Little Shop Of Horrors would all probably feature in the next forty on the list. For me, it’s the threatening mood created by the imminent arrival of war at the end that kept my interest as a child throughout the whopping duration.
Best bit: everyone’s friends and has made up, and now a bunch of over-privileged children put on an obscenely high quality puppet show with seemingly little or no rehearsal. Yay!
What child in the western world hasn’t been brought up on Disney movies? Admittedly the current generation might be dosing theirs with a heavy measure of Pixar, and possibly the odd Dreamworks, and there might be a few film scholar parents getting their children a head start on Miyazaki, but the House of Mouse remains the go-to destination for quality animation to show the kids. Yet it wasn’t my favourites that were our most watched when I was in short trousers (the likes of Dumbo and The Jungle Book still my fondest now), but the lesser know animations from the Sixties and Seventies such as The Sword In The Stone and The Aristocats. The most watched was this lively anthropomorphising of the Nottingham legend, and who could fail to like the bad guy pairing of Peter Ustinov and Terry Thomas? Maid Marian the fox was also foxy in more ways than one, although all of those other ways fill me with shame and regret.
Best bit: Pretty much every adaptation of Robin Hood has some form of archery tournament or similar challenge for Robin to show just how ridiculously good his archery skills are; somehow animation actually makes it believable.
Digby, The Biggest Dog In The World
Typically, mornings over the Christmas season when I was a child were filled with two options. With the weather too cold to play outside, it was a choice between BBC1 or ITV for what to watch (we didn’t get our first VCR until I was nine or ten, and BBC2 and Channel 4 didn’t broadcast early mornings in those days). While BBC1 would typically be worthy entertainments such as Why Don’t You…? and Junior Kick Start, while ITV had Sesame Street, some Warner Brothers cartoons and typically a couple of films. While the afternoon would normally be a Ray Harryhausen or a James Bond, the mornings were filled with Grizzly Adams, Black Beauty and this oddity from 1973, with Jim Dale and Spike Milligan working to a script from Jon Pertwee’s brother. The joy of being a small child is that even the dodgiest special effects take on a reality in your mind, so I was totally entranced by the giant sheepdog marauding across the English countryside. Thankfully, it seemed to be on at some point every Christmas when I grew up.
Best bit: With the effects of Digby’s Project X ingestion attracting the attention of the army, Jim Dale and his child sidekick have to try to give Digby the antidote before it’s too late.
The Towering Inferno
I had a huge fear of heights when I was a child, something that’s taken a long time to even come to terms with. I do challenge myself now, attempting to climb to the top of tall buildings whenever I get chance and testing my boundaries whenever possible. But as a child who got nosebleeds at the top of a flight of stairs and couldn’t ride an escalator until I was 23, the idea of a building 138 stories high and made largely of glass was more terrifying than a man who invaded your dreams with knives for fingers. And that was before they set it ON FIRE. But there’s a question here – was my repeated watching of this Irwin Allen masterwork quietly feeding my terror, or was it simply an enabler that could have saved me a childhood of height-based misery if I hadn’t watched it?
Best (or possibly worst) bit: It took me thirty years after first seeing this to feel safe in a glass lift. And one that only goes up eight floors.
Close Encounters Of The Third Kind
I was very young when I first saw this, and my memories of it were somewhat confused. They didn’t get much better as I got older, as the copy we recorded off the TV when we first had a video recorder had all the ads in (we weren’t pausing the recording to cut them out in those days for ITV programmes), so my memories of the film have become as much about those adverts. I also didn’t understand much of what happened in the desert, why there was a man who spoke mostly French that everyone thought was important and why a small child would be so tempted by flashy lights as to run away from home. I especially didn’t understand how all of the flashy lights and tunes made sense to the aliens, but it’s one of many seeds that implanted an interest in music that survives to this day.
Best bits: when we get to the lumpy potato mountain and the aliens are debating whether or not to land. Would be a shame if they didn’t having come all this way.
Also, these adverts which we inevitably ended up watching every time we saw it, now inextricably coupled to my memories of the film. For some reason I can’t explain, these weren’t on the DVD release.
Another musical, and again one that crossed all the demographic boundaries of my house. It’s also one that I’ve regularly revisited since I’ve left home and branched out on my own, as there are few musicals which are simply such unabashed fun. It’s easy to overlook that these are poor role models for children, slightly harder to overlook that most of these people are now in their Sixties, and impossible to forget that the ending of this film possibly makes the least sense of any film ever made (and I’ve seen Jacob’s Ladder). However, if anyone’s planning a Grease sing-a-long, give me a call, as I know all the words to all the songs.
Best bit: There’s something totally compelling about Stockard Channing’s ruthless deconstruction of the wholesome Sandra Dee. Deep down inside me there’s a really mean person I’m desperately trying to repress.
This list wouldn’t be a list without a Bond film, and there were only two real candidates. The first Bond film I saw in the cinema was Goldeneye, and while I saw it four times (and a few more on video later), the Eric Serra score meant that I often watched the bit he didn’t score – the tank chase – rather than the film itself. So the Bond film making it onto this list is again the one my family were most likely to let me watch, as it’s not really a Bond film, having descended into a bizarre Star Wars rip-off about two-thirds of the way in. But I still have a soft spot for it, double-taking pigeon and all.
Best bit: The pigeon, clearly. Oh, all right, probably this. As fine an example of good, old-fashioned Bond stuntwork as you’ll see in the series.
Superman II was the ideal superhero movie for watching with the family. Steering away from the more majestic workings of Richard Donner’s original, Richard Lester’s reworking of what Donner had started was a strong mixture of action, comedy and romance. It was also the moment that Lois Lane finally took off the rose-tinted imaginary glasses of stupidity and worked out that Clark might have a bit of a secret, a conundrum that almost every adaptation of Superman since has struggled with. Even now, for all its faults, it still feels 100 times the Superman film that Zack Snyder’s abomination did.
Best bit: So many moments, most of them involving the glorious Terence Stamp, but this ending (spoiler) was a childhood favourite.
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
I’ve shed many a tear in films over the past few years. I sobbed through the endings of Mary And Max and Of Gods And Men, the beginning of Up, I watched the end of The Selfish Giant through a misty haze and I lost half my own body weight in tears during 12 Years A Slave. However, my family will try to maintain to you to this day that I lost my self-control when (spoiler) E.T. “dies” at the hands of the evil government agents, and I will maintain to this day that not a single tear was shed, for I knew that E.T. would be fine. Probably. Maybe. Anyway, you believe who you want, not only did we see the film several times in the cinema, we also had the audiobook, which in those pre-VCR days came on 12 inch vinyl and was narrated by Michael Jackson. Fact.
Best bit: A bike chase that puts the car chases in most films to shame, once I’d wiped away the salty tears from earlier. Not!
Return Of The Jedi
Another film that we had the audiobook for, and one which made regular returns to the Classic cinema which was the main cinema in my hometown of Ramsgate until it was demolished in 1985 and replaced by an Iceland foodstore. Pre-VHS, it was these re-releases that allowed us to see films again, and a Friday night double of this and The Empire Strikes Back was a particular treat as it would have been one of the first times we were allowed to watch more than one film in the cinema in one go. (Sadly the Saturday treble bill including Star Wars was a stretch too far at the time, even though I wouldn’t bat an eyelid at doing all six / seven now.) Return Of The Jedi is also a landmark in being a film where the bad guys had a good idea, and when it failed the first time, not just giving up on it, but attempting to do it again and to learn from their mistakes. Sadly they just made different mistakes. Bloody rebels.
Best bit: I don’t think anyone’s going to pretend that Return Of The Jedi is the best Star Wars film, but it has its moments, and many of them cause my inner child to punch the air. Here’s proof that R2-D2 is the best character in Star Wars. (You’ll have to be patient through the Blu-ray advert.)
I’m from a generation that grew up with the first home computers. We got a BBC Micro at my primary school when I was eleven, and being a swotty genius I was one of the first two people allowed to have a go. That Christmas, I got an Acorn Electron with a staggering 32K of memory, and I then studied computing at every possible opportunity (GCSE, A level, university), during which I often received a lecture on the history of computing. Most of those lectures described the very rooms that made up the farms of computers that here were on the verge of starting Global Thermonuclear War, a game I would love to have played given half a chance. It’s a sad indictment of Hollywood’s understanding of computers that the one in Transcendence and the one in this are virtually interchangeable.
Best bit: While my pre-teen self might have argued for any scene with Ally Sheedy in, hopefully I’ve grown up since then. I did most of that growing up working alongside these guys.
Romancing The Stone
I think Romancing The Stone, and iffy sequel The Jewel Of The Nile, were part of a gradual transition to slightly more mature films during my childhood. There’s a risk that Stone especially appears to be a poor imitation of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, but don’t let the hat fool you, this is no Indy wannabe, full of sharp dialogue and more knowing than its contemporaries. While there might be greater Robert Zemeckis movies both on this list and off it, Romancing The Stone has become something of an overlooked gem. It was also the film which introduced me to Danny DeVito, but it might have been the film which introduced me to Sylvester Stallone, for a time apparently under consideration for the Michael Douglas role.
Best bit: in this selection of action sequences, the mudslide sequence alone proves this isn’t a kids’ film.
Another film I saw three times at the Classic cinema before its demolition, this was another watershed moment in terms of the kind of PG swearing that first opened the eyes of a rather naive child. But Ghostbusters is so much more than child-friendly swearing, bursting with imagination and with a performance from Bill Murray that made you want to play Peter Venkman as much as you wanted to be Indiana Jones or one of the A-Team. (I was always Face, because even as youngsters we had a sharp sense of irony.) It was also a film where I first became aware of the marketing, and the repeated teases of the corridor scene with Slimer let me desperate to discover what happened. Safe to say I wasn’t disappointed.
Best bit: not a word that would cause nuns to blush these days, but this joke still brought out as bigger reaction as I’d ever heard in the cinema when I first saw it.
Back To The Future
When I came to re-evaluate my favourite film a few years ago, I realised that there was only one real candidate. The only film in existence which has something of everything: action, drama, comedy, romance, science fiction, unlikely friendship, triumph over adversity and the coolest time machine in film history. Endlessly quotable, with a timeless feel that captures two moments in time beautifully, it’s perfectly cast, superbly scored by Alan Silvestri and I will challenge anyone who believes this isn’t a cast iron classic for the ages. If that’s you, start by reading my 88 reasons why I loved it, then go and watch it again, then if you still don’t like it, rethink your life.
Best bit: The whole film. But when I saw it for the first time in a cinema in 2010, I genuinely welled up with emotion at this moment. Glorious.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
I’d love to say that I had a lot of appropriate role models in TV and film to replace my absent father, but instead they were all the worst kinds of characters, shallow and amoral. The pinnacle of that on TV was Edmund Blackadder – Mrs Evangelist and I no longer watch episodes because we can recite them both rote – but in cinematic terms, there are none finer that John Hughes’ best creation, the ultimate expression of subtle, assured teenage rebellion. Even now, with forty years of confidence built up, I can normally get served quickly at the bar and will happily complain if my restaurant meal has any flaws, but I wouldn’t have the cojones to pull half the stunts that Ferris did. Hats off to you, sir, even if you are a fictional construct.
Best bit: The picture says it all. Despite a consistent stream of memorable moments, the peak of the film are Ferris’s parade shenanigans.
While I always had an interest in music, it never really extended to the classics. Not, of course, Bach, Mozart or Beethoven, who were all fond acquaintances through their music and my years of piano lessons and school choirs, but the true classics of the modern era, such as The Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Chuck Berry and the main man himself, the Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust, and here the most stylish villain ever to grace a children’s film, David Bowie. Sadly at that point to me he was the bloke who sang “Let’s Dance”; now I happily sat through the credits of Frances Ha just to listen to “Modern Love” in its entirety. It’s the closest we get to a Muppets film on this list from the man that brought you BlogalongaMuppets, and it still hold a fond place in my heart not only for Bowie’s performance and for being the film that gave the world Jennifer Connelly, or even that it found work for Kenny Baker that didn’t involve sitting in a beeping dustbin for weeks on end, but for the fact that it was partly choreographed by Dr. Beverly Crusher off of Star Trek herself, Gates McFadden. Seriously.
Best bit: “You remind me of the babe.” “What babe?” “The babe with the power.” “What power?” “The power of the voodoo.” “Who do?” “You do.” “Do what?” “Remind me of the babe…”
While we’re in quoting mode, let’s consider the first time my mother allowed my sister to watch an 18 rated film. She was eleven. She didn’t sleep properly for two years afterwards. But for quotes like this, surely it was worth it?
“How could they cut the power, man, they’re animals?”
“Get away from her, you bitch!”
“How do I get out of this chickenshit outfit?”
“Maybe you haven’t been keeping up on current events, but we just got our asses kicked, pal!”
“You know, Burke, I don’t know which species is worse. At least you don’t see them f***ing each other over for a goddamn percentage.”
“What the hell are we supposed to use, man? Harsh language?”
“Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away?”
“Outstanding. Now all we need is a deck of cards.”
“It’s gonna be dark soon, and they mostly hunt at night. Mostly.”
“We’re on an express elevator to hell, goin’ down!”
“It was a bad call, Ripley, a bad call.” “A bad call? These people are DEAD, Burke!”
and of course,
“That’s it, man! Game over, man, game over!”
Two years of nightmares. That’s all I’m saying.
Best bit: if you didn’t have a child in your class at school who nearly lost a finger from trying to imitate this, you were probably home schooled.
Flight Of The Navigator
I could have packed this list with Eighties family classics that my sister and I watched until the tapes went funny. The Karate Kid. Fright Night. Short Circuit. Adventures In Babysitting. Gremlins. Clue. The Golden Child. (Okay, maybe not the last one, although we did watch it a lot, and it does have Charles Dance in it, so ner-ner-ne-ner-ner.) But there was one that’s lasted longer in my memory for both the concept and its execution, and in the same way that Back To The Future did, left me wondering “what if?” I was by now reaching an age where I could see the joins in the visual effects, but I’ll be damned if I could work out how they made the floating spaceship steps. More convincing to pre-teen me than David Blaine and Dynamo in a levitating competition.
Best bit: Cool, early CGI spaceship. Tiny cute alien. The Beach Boys. Seriously, what more do you want?
While Aliens was my sister’s initiation into adulthood, The Fly was mine. A family from the next street offered to lend us a pirate VHS copy – with THE FLY (18) scrawled in black marker on the side – which turned out to be remarkably good quality. I lasted until the baboon turns inside out in the telepod before I had to turn it off. After my mother had then pre-screened the rest of the film, I rejoined it shortly after that scene, and began a love affair with David Cronenberg’s work that embraces Videodrome, Dead Ringers, A History Of Violence and so many others, but this remains my favourite. Surely up there in the top five remakes ever (I do have a soft spot for the Vincent Price original, but it’s not in the same league), the blending of drama and horror with the high concepts and tCronenberg’s gifts for exploring deeper themes with his story and a script that practically crackles, and this remains an all time favourite. Still can’t watch the baboon bit though.
Best bit: When the second baboon goes through fine. You don’t know how relieved I was. Also, this discussion about insect politics sums up everything great about the film. (Apologies for the poor quality. Not actually as good as the pirate VHS I saw.)
Beverly Hills Cop II
So many Eighties and Nineties action movies could also have made this list. Some I would watch with my mother, who despite being pure as snow would happy let me sit through Robocop with its repeated swearing. However, one film edges into my list as it also appealed to my sister. I haven’t actually asked her why, but I’d guess it’s the chemistry of the three leads, and that she may have also had a slight thing for Judge Reinhold, but I can’t prove that. Anyway, as with the Lethal Weapon series, these films became increasingly comedic over the course of the series, but the second Cop struck a decent balance, undoubtedly helped by the direction of Tony Scott. (Credit to Scott, as another of his finest, the epic Hackman / Washington stand-off Crimson Tide, narrowly missed out.)
Best bit: The cement truck chase is ace (“Authorised!”), but then Axel then drives straight to a Playboy party where Chris Rock is running the valet parking. You couldn’t make it up.
The house in which I grew up was a small one. My bedroom through most of my teenage years was a small box room, only accessible through my sister’s room, which means I could give you detailed biographical details on both New Kids On The Block and Take That. It also means that when my mother got her hands on a copy of Dirty Dancing and watched it four times a day for several weeks, I couldn’t avoid coming into contact with it. Or with hearing the soundtrack on a loop once she bought that. Maybe nobody puts Baby in the corner, but there was no escape for me from Patrick Swayze, a pre-nose job Jennifer Grey and that lift. I’ve also seen Pretty Woman more times than I’d care to admit, so forget I just said that.
Best bit: from the raw heat of “Do You Love Me” to the crippling social embarrassment of “I carried a watermelon” in under four minutes, it’s easy to overlook that, and I know I’m going to regret saying this, that Dirty Dancing isn’t actually that bad.
It’s the point where Tim Burton emerged from obscurity into the mainstream and into the minds of two children prepared for something a bit different. I would have no issue being cast away on a desert island as long as I had a Blu-ray player, a decent TV and a Tim Burton box set for company. As long as it didn’t have Dark Shadows in it. Or Planet Of The Apes. Or Alice In Wonderland. Yes, the Tim Burton box set (where his three worst films have somehow been mysteriously lost at sea) would while the time away very nicely. But if I’m being honest, it’s Beetlejuice that would get the most air time, and talk last year of a sequel gets me more excited than any thought of another sequel to anything on this list. Even Return Of The Jedi.
Best bit: Harry Belafonte. Surely no-one pronounces tarantula better? Also see Jump In The Line. I defy you not to join Lydia in mouthing the words.
It’s freaking Die Hard. Come on.
Best bit: Anything. Usually the bits with Alan Rickman (“… your Mr Takagi will not be joining us… for the rest of his life.”). But this is also why Die Hard is held up as one of the finest examples of its genre.
The Naked Gun: From The Files Of Police Squad
I’ve always had a fondness for rampant silliness in films. Airplane! remains my favourite comedy of all time, one I’m almost scared to watch too often now in case I wear the jokes out. So to protect Airplane! from overuse, I’m happy to wear out my DVDs of other Zucker / Abrahams / Zucker works, including Top Secret! and Police Squad! the TV series! that lasted just six episodes! Sorry, those exclamation marks are catching! Surely there can be no more simple pleasure than watching Sergeant Frank Drebin, Detective Lieutenant of Police Squad (for yes, Frank is his middle name)** bumbling round, abusing the Queen, overthrowing world leaders and complementing beavers.
Best bit: Try to forget this is OJ Simpson, then count the number of jokes that this clip gets through in under two minutes. Compare that to most modern comedies, which struggle for the same amount of laughs in their full run time.
** In the film it seems to be the other way round and Lieutenant is his first name. Because these things matter to some people.
While I’ve explained most of my choices on this list, I’ve not really attempted to defend any of them (not even Digby, bless him), so I’m not going to start here. But Major League is one of my comfort films, a goofy, over the top sports comedy that has a tense, valedictory ending as good as you’ll find in any sports movie. Also a great chance to see Charlie Sheen while he was famous for just being Charlie Sheen, Wesley Snipes before he was really famous at all, Dennis Haysbert before he famously became President David Palmer in 24, Corbin Bernsen while he was still famous from LA Law and yes, that is the Janitor from Scrubs in a tiny role every half an hour or so.
Best bit: Apparently the original scripted ending would have shown that Rachel Phelps’ plan was all a ruse and she was really a goodie. So much better to keep her bad.
Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade
As with the Star Wars movies, all three (yes, three, you heard me) of the Indiana Jones films played on full rotation throughout childhood. Raiders retains a firm place in my memories, not only because it’s the best of the three but because it was also the first time we were allowed to watch a video at the end of term at school, and we had to get parental permission. Pity the poor handful of people whose parents weren’t having it, they had no idea why we were on the playground attempting to whip and shoot each other during the intermission. But Last Crusade again wins out on the family friendly vote in terms of number of times watched, a fitting way to conclude the Indiana Jones series. Good job they never made any more. No, not ever. No sir.
Best bit: from John Williams’ music to the perfect staging of the action, everything about re-watching this gives me a warm glow inside, like a Nazi with his face melting off. Lovely.
A Few Good Men
Another one to credit / blame my mother for. By this time I was a university student and every time I returned home, she seemed to be watching this, so I ended up seeing most of it out of order. Consequently it took me a fair time to actually work out the plot (Aaron Sorkin scripts are wonderful, but ideally best when watched in the correct order), to work out what actually was in that dime bag in Caffee’s first case (clue to any Americans reading, no offence but it’s pronounced ori-GAH-no, not oh-REG-anoh; seriously months before the penny dropped) and to work out why I loved the film so much when Demi Moore plays a whiny bitch who spends the entire film sulking, attempting to get her own way, succeeding and then admitting she was probably wrong when people now have no choice but to follow her advice. Guantanamo’s too good for her character.
Best bit: Tom Cruise delivers one of cinema’s all time great drunken rants.
The Usual Suspects
There was a time when I regarded this as my favourite film. It was a time after I’d caught this at a midnight showing at the ABC in Bath (another cinema sadly no longer with us), and then made a trip home during the Christmas holidays to see it again when it showed in Margate to prove to myself my love for the film wasn’t just about the ending. It marked a time when I stopped seeing films just as entertainments and started to appreciate the craft – John Ottman’s dual duties of composing music and editing combine to almost mesmeric effect at times – and although critics who claim Bryan Singer’s directorial bag of tricks has a few clichés in it, not least the match cut from a cave entrance to a coffee cup, it’s still a film that amounts to more than the sum of its considerable parts. Credit Stephen Baldwin’s appearance on Celebrity Big Brother for causing me to reconsider my film choices and discard this in favour of Back To The Future.
Best bit: while the ending is justifiably famous, many of the best scenes are the two handers of Kevin Spacey and Chazz Palminteri in a room. Here’s Kevin Spacey in Oscar-winning form.
Star Trek Generations
I was, and always will be, your friend. (Sorry, wrong Star Trek movie.) No, I was and always will be a hardcore Trekkie, but one thankfully that can go into a Star Trek film without rose-tinted 3D glasses any more, after two poor and one execrable Next Generation films disabused me of the notion that anything Next Generation was necessarily great. Yes, another long queue to get into the ABC in Bath, I saw this four times in the cinema and countless more on home video, thrilled that my favourite TV characters had gotten the chance to move to the big screen and desperately trying to ignore the insulting plot twists or that the majority of them spent most of the film acting out of character. The crash of the saucer section must rank up there with ILM’s poorest VFX ever, Dennis McCarthy’s score might be one of the worst ever written for a major studio feature – thankfully Jerry Goldsmith returned to do a brilliant job on the next one, First Contact – but now, I can see this and any subsequent Star Trek movie for what they really are. In the case of Into Darkness, don’t get me started.
Best bit: Erm… Well, there’s this space battle. Bearing in mind Riker says they have a two second window, start counting from the moment the Enterprise fires, then wonder why on earth Lursa and B’Etor don’t simply attempt to decloak and fire back.
Although Seven arrived on these shores in January 1996, it opened in America in 1995, which means that The Usual Suspects might not just have lost its title for favourite film of all time, but with hindsight it may also have let slip my favourite film of its year. For the further you get from Seven – and I will not call it Se7en any more than I will append The Avengers with any Assembling – the more it feels like a bona fide masterpiece, the perfect reaction to David Fincher’s personal hell making Alien³ and a devastating combination of script, performance and direction that combines almost Haneke-like judgement on our own personal expectations and desires of such films with a bitterly honest, darkly humourous portrayal of life. I saw this at a small cinema in Westgate-On-Sea during a Wednesday afternoon matinee filled with old people, most of whom stumbled into the darkness completely unable to comprehend the horror of what they’d just witnessed, which I thought was fantastic because I’m a terrible, terrible person.
Best bit: The eight minute car journey to the desert is a masterclass in tension. Here’s just a piece.
What seems remarkable about Toy Story now is how well it holds up. The animation techniques evolve year on year as computing power increases, but the storytelling techniques arrived fully formed and have held up strongly over a decade and a half of Pixar films, most of which rank among the finest animations ever. Both of the sequels to this film caused a grown man to cry, but we wouldn’t have them without Pixar’s willingness to strike out onto the movie screens of the world with the original.
Best bit: while I still have a soft spot for the aliens after three films, this clip shows the storytelling and craft at its finest.
Another film with fond memories of the ABC in Bath, for it was another film – see also Goldeneye and Star Trek Generations – that I made four trips to see at Bath’s largest cinema. I later matched this total with Titanic and Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace when living in Leicester. I have no shame. Oddly, I think this might be the best film on that list now, despite giving away most of the climactic action sequence in the trailer, but it’s the central CIA break-in that shows Brian De Palma at his best and might just rank up there with his Odessa Steps homage from The Untouchables for sheer buttock-clenching tension that elicited gasps every time I saw it.
Best bit: Yes, it’s the CIA break-in. What else?
Just around the time I started to accept subtitled movies and overcome a strange fear of reading a film while I watched it (The City Of Lost Children was my first subtitled film, some two years earlier), John Woo was abandoning films in his own language and allowing English speakers such as myself to see his films without having to keep up with the words. There might only be one of his films that comes close to the standard and reputation of his earlier work, but Face/Off is truly, genuinely bonkers. From the seemingly Red Dwarf-inspired prison to the ease with which grown men can seemingly swap faces and voices (and indeed, survive without them), Woo takes Nicolas Cage and John Travolta and lets them take turns at being dialled all the way up to eleven. It’s just a shame we don’t get more of Cage as the bad guy.
Best bit: A massive gunfight, with people jumping in the air firing guns in the grand Woo tradition, soundtracked by Olivia Netwon-John singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow. But of course.
If I have to pinpoint a moment that my obsession with watching films in the cinema started, it could well be this day. The day I first saw four films in the cinema in a single day, or what I would now call “a typical Saturday”. The day that I saw the dire An American Werewolf In Paris as the first part of a planned double bill, before taking in L.A. Confidential. The day that I felt my heart rate elevated by the sheer adrenaline rush. The day that I wondered if all of the great films of the next twenty years would have Kevin Spacey in. The day that L.A. Confidential saw me so excited, by the time I’d walked home from the cinema and eaten dinner, I had no choice but to head back to the cinema and watch The Full Monty and Volcano simply in an attempt to come down gradually from the high that L.A. Confidential had left me with. Mercy, that was a good film. And look what it started.
Best bit: The interrogation that Exley starts, proving beyond doubt his skills to his fellow officers, but it’s one that Bud White finishes.
Paul Verhoeven’s films might be about as subtle as him coming round to your house, swinging his testicles in your face while screaming “SATIRE! WITH BOOBS AND GUNS!” at the top of his voice, but I’ve spent many an hour in their company. Robocop remains my favourite, but I’ve probably seen Starship Troopers about as many times and I’m going to give it the edge in this list thanks to having seen it three times in the cinema against Robocop’s none. Verhoeven almost cynically packs his film with pretty (terrible) actors and puts Doogie Howser in jackboots and a black cap, and goes all out to make you feel sorry for Phil Tippett’s superbly designed bugs. Would you like to know more? Then go and watch the film, silly.
Best bit: Capturing the tone of the movie in two minutes. Warning, this contains scenes of violence and a young Barney Stinson. Legen-wait for it-dary. Legendary!
South Park: Bigger, Longer And Uncut
I can remember seeing this at a friend’s house with a group of their friends, one of whom loved the TV show but didn’t realise the movie was a musical. While he found the joke funny to start with, by the time we were about an hour in he was tearing his hair out. As you may have deduced from reading this post. I was brought up in an environment of women that exposed me to a large number of musicals, so this combination of my favourite animation and a superb collection of songs was like manna from heaven. Parker and Stone pulled off similar miracles with marionette-based follow-up Team America: World Police, but nothing can top “It’s Easy, Mmm’kay” or “Uncle F*****”.
Best bit: Pretty much any of the songs is a highlight, although this Les Mis-style drawing together of all the movie’s disparate plot threads is pretty great. And Blame Canada should have won the Oscar. Just sayin’.
My favourite film of the first decade of the new millennium. Never grow tired of it, always find something new in it. Christopher Nolan’s best film. Jackman and Bale are both remarkable, and the supporting cast is uniformly excellent. It twists and turns, but puts a giant spoiler in the first scene, so nothing should really come as a surprise. It’s about power, desire and it transforms from period piece to science fiction to horror without skipping a beat. And if it’s not one of your favourite films, it makes me feel all the more comfortable that it’s one of mine and that I’m not just following the crowd.
Best bit: David Bowie IS Nikola Tesla.
There are no films from the current decade on this list, but my most watched film of the past four years is currently The World’s End, which I watched again on Blu-ray yesterday as I attempted once more to strip away its layers. It’s probably no coincidence that the last few films on this list are the ones from recent years that both excite in the moment and reward repeated viewings for the level of detail they pack in to reward the less casual viewer. The film I’m most excited about next year is Ant-Man, given that every film from Edgar Wright other than The World’s End has scored ten from me and Scott Pilgrim was my first film of the year, but Hot Fuzz is the film with the staples of my childhood writ through it like letters in seaside rock, and Hot Fuzz is the one I’ll always come back to for sheer cinematic pleasure.
Best bit: Simon Pegg convinces totally as supercop Nicolas Angel, on a foot chase through seemingly the world’s largest village (partly filmed in England’s second smallest city).
The Dark Knight
And finally, to my most anticipated film of this year: Interstellar. Christopher Nolan has taken the title of my favourite living director, in a close-run battle with Steve McQueen, and is willing to push the boundaries of blockbuster films with the likes of Inception rather than be content to churn out endless comic book adaptations. That said, his three versions of Batman all have their merits and will stand the test of time, but thanks to Heath Ledger’s peerless performance The Dark Knight is the pinnacle of Nolan’s bat-based achievements and remains totally rewarding from start to finish. Maybe Interstellar will be the first film to join this list from this decade, or maybe it’ll be a Wes Anderson, or a Coen brothers film, or something totally unexpected. But that’s the joy of film.
Best bit: The bat-bike chase with the truck flip is spectacular, the opening one of the best ever, but nothing can top the Joker’s magic trick.
Thank you for taking the time to read my forty most watched films; I hope it’s inspired you to a few memories of your own film back catalogue, for better or for worse. Maybe, in among the Citizen Kanes and Lawrences of Arabia, you have a Digby or a Major League of your own?