100 films to watch before civilisation ends. You’ve probably got time. The list, which includes teevee shows, animated shorts and documentaries, is mostly ordered by the name of the screenwriter. I define a ‘director’ as ‘someone employed to get in the way of actors and take the credit of writers’. Just about all the directors worth their salt either write their own scripts, have written great scripts or give an enormous amount of credit to the writer (e.g. Gilliam and Loach). Of course cinematography and choice of music is important — one reason Kubrick is here — but these things are a distant second to the story and, most particularly, to the actor’s artistic truth.
Do you know the feeling, when you first feel the hands of an osteopath on your back, or you first feel the movement of a dance partner (or lover) in your arms, or you first enter a hotel and sniff the vibe, that feeling of subtle relief, that you’re in the hands of someone who cares, or who knows, or who feels? This is the feeling that I get in the first few moments of all of these films…
- Allen, Woody. Annie Hall.
Pretty much everything Woody Allen did after this was about rich unhappy New Yorkers trying to work out why they are unhappy and failing to comprehend it’s because they are rich New Yorkers. Annie Hall, however, has more superb (or sweet) gags in five minutes than most films manage in ninety.
- Anderson, Paul Thomas. Magnolia.
I can hardly believe I’m saying this, but this is worth watching for Tom Cruise alone. Yes, Tom Cruise. His change of facial expression during the ‘exposure scene’ is the purest, meatiest schadenfraude (an artistic delight which will also feature heavily in this list).
The rest of the film is very good if, like Anderson‘s films, much more lightweight than it wants to be. William H. Macy is particularly majestic, as is the ever superb Alfred Molina.
- Andersson, Roy. Songs from the Second Floor / You the Living / A Pigeon Sat on a Branch…
I’ve got a lot of love for Scando black comedies (Four Shades of Brown, Rare Exports, Adam’s Apples, etc, etc.). The best though are these three. All the same they are, and some bits are actually very boring, but Andersson’s films give us the very bleakest of gallows humour and the most beautiful of bittersweetness.
- Apted, Michael. Almond, Paul. The Up Series.
In the 1960s a group of kids were interviewed about their lives, and then the documentary makers returned every seven years to see how they’ve been. Starts off hilarious, become utterly fascinating, moves briefly through moving, before becoming, very quickly, utterly depressing. Essentially everyone is dead by the age of 28. The same thing happens in the Russian and Japanese series.
- Arndt, Micheal. Little Miss Sunshine.
Faultless in my view — a masterclass in screenwriting — although criticised by discerning people, as pop-comedy tends to be. I mentioned once to a group of Sudanese businessmen that I loved this film and they were absolutely disgusted — how could you enjoy a film about losing!
- Attenborough, David. The Life Series.
I’d like Attenborough to mention the system, just once, and his adherence to the silly ideology of extreme genetic-determinism and population control is annoying, but he’s still beyond reproach. These films though become sadder every time I watch them. One day soon they’ll be all we have left.
- Banksy. Exit Through the Gift Shop.
Marvellous critique-through-the-back-door of modern art and the kinds of vacuous businessmen who succeed in it. Banksy, unsurprisingly, has real character and presence, even in the shade with his voice distorted.
- Bergman, Ingmar. The Seventh Seal.
The joy of dancing with death, an activity well-loved here in the Belly Up! offices. Can’t say I’m big on the rest of Bergman’s films though. Bit boring aren’t they?
- Bird, Brad. Hughes, Ted. The Iron Giant.
One of my favourite books, when I was a nipper. The idea that it would be updated by a big American studio filled me with dreadhorror, but they did a marvellous job (evidenced by its box office failure). Read the book though, because there’s a bat in it the size of AUSTRALIA.
- Bleasdale, Alan. Boys From the Blackstuff.
Six tales from Thatcher’s Liverpool. The now legendary episode ‘Yosser’s Story’ is one of the greatest episodes of any television series anywhere. Hilarious and moving as only true tragedy can be and as close to King Lear as you can get on prime-time television. Any American readers on this list, or any ‘millennial’ Brits — this is how good our television used to be. Bleasdale’s other early works are also excellent.
- Blier, Bertrand. Going Places (Les Valseuses — Balls).
Firstly, a superb first five seconds. Then it’s kind of ridiculous and kind of horrible, at least in the first half, but it’s supposed to be. It’s not the misogynistic horror show woke-folk believe it to be. The women that Jean-Claude and Pierrot treat badly react as if they’re being treated badly; a narrative awareness which is carried into the story in the second half, after the boys meet a real woman. For me the most unpalatable part of this film is that Miou-Miou looks like Matt Lucas.
Anyway, there is a an incomparable air of sweet freedom that breathes through this film, which inspired me, in my twenties, to lead as close to this kind of life as I could — just without the violence, petty crime, the constant fucking and Gallic insouicance. Essentially my twenties were a peaeful, nuerotic, confused, nerdy, solitary, British working-class version of this film; but those final few moments of Going Places, thank God, I tasted that when I was young.
- Blixen, Karen. Axel, Gabriel. Babette’s Feast.
‘An artist is never poor’. I can testify that this is not the whole truth, but it is the most important part of it. A true artist that is. The opposite truth, ‘a fake artist is always poor’ (no matter how famous he becomes) being equally true.
- Bogdanovich, Peter. Paper Moon.
‘Just this once let Miss Trixie sit up front with her big tits’. Classic tragi-comic tale of depression-era America. Unbelievable performance from 10 year old Tatum O’Neal and one of the handful of deserved Oscars. Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show is very good too, although it’s only considered ‘a masterpiece’ because it’s in black and white, and is unutterably bleak.
- Chazelle, Damien. Whiplash.
Another deserved Oscar. Fantastic comedy. The cuntishness is turned up to ten, but cuntishness with a sublime point, for once.
- Clarke, Alan. Road
‘He was the best of us,’ said Stephen Frears of Clarke, and he probably was. By ‘us,’ Frears means Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, Frears himself, Alan Bleasdale, Lindsay Anderson and Dennis Potter, all of whom were working for the BBC at the same time, in the seventies and eighties. Can you believe it? Can you feel the horror, by comparison, of the cultural output of the UK today?
Anyway, get you to Road, immediately, and see what television is capable of. Other great Clarke films include Penda’s Fen, Horace, Made in Britain and of course Scum.
- Clement, Jermain & McKenzie, Bret. Flight of the Conchords.
‘The only thing that’s stopping you from being with me is that you don’t want to be with me.’
So much quality here. My favourite song is Pencils in the Wind. Season 2, as usual, isn’t much cop.
- Clowes, Daniel. Zwigoff, Terry. Ghost World.
More outsider art, this time a young girl in Middletown, USA unable to fit in anywhere. Buscemi, who is always Buscemi, is at his Buscemimost here.
- Coppola, Francis Ford. The Godfather Part One.
I don’t get the so-called ‘philosophy’ of this film. It really is nothing more than murderers scheming to kill each other. The whole ‘depth’ and ‘meaning’ of the film actually comes down to this vileness being hidden by good writing, masterful directing and charismatic acting, which, in a way, makes it even worse — as if real murderers have the presence and majesty of Brando. They don’t. They’re squalid, mediocre nobodies who want to think, and want you to think, they’re Brando. But Godfather Part One makes it to this list because Puzo, Coppola, Brando, Pacino, Keaton, Caan, Cazale and Duvall are at their peaks and, despite the empty horror at heart, it is still great to watch them. Not Part 2 though, which is just three hours of bone-dry brutality. Nabokov, incidentally, pulls the same shoddy trick in his writing as this film does.
- Curtiz, Michael. Casablanca.
‘Was that cannonfire? Or was it my heart pounding?’ It’s all so terribly terribly melodramatic — thank heavens Brando and Strasberg and all those chaps did come along. Still, good though, isn’t it? Gets into the list for the bit where Bogey nods at the orchestra. The Maltese Falcon is pretty funny too.
- Davies, Andrew. Dickens, Charles. Bleak House.
Terrible direction in this one — unnecessarily flashy — but the story and the actors put it into the pantheon. Phil Davis’ Smallweed is a masterpiece of comic grotesquery. I also love Davies’ rendering of Pride and Prejudice, tinkering tea-cups and inconsequential nothing that it is.
- Demme, Jonathan & Byrne, David. Stop Making Sense.
I used to get stoned and watch this once a week when I was in my early twenties. Nowadays I prefer the Live in Rome set, but you can’t fault this. Or this.
- Dhawan, Sabrina. Monsoon Wedding.
Oh, mother India! Where are all the Parabatlal Kanhaiyalal ‘P.K.’ Dubeys in provincial England? Where the exuberant performances of Chunari Chunari? Where the sideways horseback skids under lorries? That last one isn’t in Monsoon Wedding though.
- Donnersmarck, Florian Henckel von. The Lives of Others.
It’s a bit silly, transforming from a pitiless Stasi cop to a Thoroughly Good Man through listening to one song, but alright, we’ll give them it, because Wiesler has such an adorable little face. I like his jacket too.
- Eastwood, Clint. Peoples, David Webb. Unforgiven.
This is a masterpiece of world cinema. As often with the very greatest films, the direction is not really much to shout about. Eastwood points the camera like I imagine he makes his sandwiches — slap, cut, eat — but it doesn’t matter. The story is so subtle, so layered. Who is to blame? That’s a good question to ponder after a second or third reviewing. Another is; What is fearlessness here? And the final shootout… good lord.
- Elliot, Adam. Mary and Max.
One of the most moving animated features ever made. Ever since seeing it I’ve found I have a tendency to say ‘ooh!’ like Max.
- Fedorchenko, Aleksei. Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari.
Extraordinarily strange series of vignettes about remote, pagan, Mari folk, on the fringe of Russia. Strange in that strangest of senses; real. Not that the seven foot man-faced wood goddess with ‘blind hedgehogs in her belly’ is real, or those dead blokes slinging fruity semen over hypnotised naked women. The reality is deeper than that. I’d say this is one of the most truthful films about femininity ever made, but what do I know?
- Fellini, Frederico. Nights of Cabiria.
Quite boring, actually, but none of that matters when you get to the ending, which is so beautiful, that, for one tender moment of liberating yesness, no evil in the entire universe matters, or even exists.
- Fricke, Ron. Koyaanisqatsi.
Fricke did lots more films like this, Baraka and Samsara — all the same, all very corporate looking wordless documentaries about the whole world. Koyaanisqatsi was the same too, but, not cheesy. Partly because of Philip Glass’ legendary soundtrack, but also because the narrative here is so much simpler, and direct, and terrifying.
- Gavin, Jim. Lodge 49
The best American television since Twin Peaks. Only an artist, someone who had actually lived and learnt to put that life into narrative form — can place real characters in an unreal world and allow them to change believably. Kind of a miracle it was ever made — just as, I dare to add, it will be a miracle if my series, very much a British cousin of Lodge 49, is — although, predictably, series two was worse; merely surreal rather than absurd, cliched new characters (all mostly bland or unpleasant) and a vague spiraling away of the plot into a kind of wacky soap opera… although it rallied during the final few episodes.
One of the staff writers, Andy Siara, wrote Palm Springs, also recommended.
- Greenaway, Peter. Drowning by Numbers
Heir of Stanley Kubrick and progenitor of Wes Anderson, Greenaway often veered into tiresome (and cold) self-indulgence, but Drowning by Numbers is so very lovely to look at (and listen to — the Michael Nyman score is transcendent) it doesn’t really matter. The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover is very good too. I wouldn’t bother with any of his others.
- Gilliam, Terry. Stoppard, Tom. McKeown, Charles. Brazil.
Don’t fight it son. Confess quickly! If you hold out too long you could jeopardize your credit rating. Gilliam’s finest, although The Fisher King and 12 Monkeys are marvellous. Time Bandits has many brilliant scenes and his genuinely independent genius sparkles throughout his oeuvre, although he started to lose his mojo after the mind-bending Fear and Loathing.
- Gregory, Andre. Wallace, Shawn. Malle, Louis. My Dinner with Andre.
This, like Dostoyevski’s novels, made me feel, as a young man, that I was on the verge of discovering a Great and Terrible Truth. When you stop to think about the ideas these two guys discuss they seem rather silly — which shows more how stupid it can be to ‘stop and think’ than how intense and liberating this conversation is.
- Hamer, Bent. Eggs.
Another bizarre and extremely funny Scandinavian black comedy. Hamer’s other films are very good too.
- Hartley, Hal. Trust.
Maria: Can you stop watching television for a moment?
Matthew: I had a bad day. I had to subvert my principles and kowtow to an idiot. Television makes these daily sacrifices possible. Deadens the inner core of my being.
- Henson, Jim. Oz, Frank. The Muppet Show.
Most of the shows are pretty naff really (although still more profound than Christopher Nolan’s movies). The gags are just awful. But pretty much every episode has something like this in it. Everything after Henson died was, of course, depressing.
- Hertzfeldt, Don. Rejected.
Hertzfeldt did a good one recently too, called World of Tomorrow. All of his toons have massively anarchic, closely observed black-comedy, combined with that not-very-funny trying-too-hard-be-surreal aggressive-humour thing that Americans sometimes do (‘Mom I have wasps in my eyeballs!’). Rejected, however, is consistently wild and quite pristine.
- Herzog, Werner. Cave of Forgotten Dreams.
One day I’ll find a way to break into that poxy cave. Until then we’ve got Herzog’s reverent documentary. Just a taste of what it was to live in the Dreamtime, but a taste is all you need.
And I can’t leave Herzog without mentioning Aguirre, Wrath of God. Is it mind-thrilling devastation and the Horrendous Awe of Great and Hopeless Struggle (in this case of making the thing), or is it all just pointless and stupid, like Fitzcarraldo? Not sure.
- Higgens, Colin. Ashby, Hal. Harold and Maude.
I haven’t lived. I’ve died a few times. Black comic masterpiece with a great wooden vagina moment. Hal Ashby made a few good ones in the 70s (when Hollywood made good films), the best of ‘em probably being Being There, The Last Detail and Shampoo.
- Hykade, Andreas. Love and Theft.
Mesmerising animated short; themewise along the same lines as Koyaanisqatsi, but focusing on modern iconography. Watch it here. Ring of Fire is excellent too—shows how incredibly potent animation can be—hits a primeval otherplace that live action just can’t quite get to. He’s working on a feature about Jesus, which will surely be worth watching.
- Imamura, Shôhei. Hasebe, Keiji Profound Desires of the Gods
Wild, exotic, fucked-up, feverish, tropical masterpiece about an engineer who goes to live on a remote island with a family of inbreds. Astonishing things happen; even more astonishing, they are somehow believable. A subtle commentary on modern Japan’s relationship with its animist past makes up the backbone of the story, but its meandering, random slice-of-warped-life majesty is what keeps you going. Shôhei Imamura is, for me, up there with Kurosawa — not as great a filmmaker — quite hamfisted from time to time — but for pure wild madness, unbeatable in Japanese cinema. Also recommended: The Ballad of Narayama and the lighter Dr Akagi.
- Itami, Juzo. Tampopo.
Okay, let’s try your normal noodles. Stupendous 80s Japanese food comedy.
- Ivory, James. Jhabvala, Ruth Prawar. Forster, E.M. A Room with a View.
Extremely beautiful, but worth watching for Daniel Day Lewis’ unbelievably good—good to the point of hilarious—rendition of Cecil Vyse. One of those performances you can watch twelve times.
- Jodorowsky, Alejandro. The Holy Mountain.
Absolutely nuts. Nothing like it on earth. God only knows how it got made. Another good one, although nowhere near as brain-bending of course, is the recent documentary about the sci-fi that Jodorowsky never made, Jodorowsky’s Dune.
- Kesey, Ken. Forman, Milos. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
You must have seen this already. No? What!?
- Larry Karaszewski, Larry. Alexander, Scott. Forman, Milos. Man on the Moon.
Which is all about the funeral scene for me.
- Khan-Din, Ayb. O’Donnell, Damein. East is East.
Light comic-character masterclass of modern Britishness. Every scene has a nugget, not a moment wasted.
- Kubrick, Stanley. The Shining.
Kubrick is, as Jack Nicholson said, and as everyone acknowledges, the man. There is no doubt that his films are immortal. I still say that it’s a symptom of the inordinate prestige that photography — and, therefore directors — have in the world that he is worshipped above, say, Mike Leigh; because some of his films are a bit boring, and they’re all a bit cold. What makes them the greatest is that everything in them is kind of astonishing. The acting, the script, the music, the photography, the carpets, the fingernails, the lot. My favourites are the hilarious Dr Strangelove, the impossibly beautiful Barry Lyndon and the righteously insane Clockwork Orange.
- Kurosawa, Akira. Red Beard.
A lot of good narrative art seems to say—be like these people. For me, Kurosawa’s best is this, along with the transcendent Ikiru, and, naturally, the glorious Seven Samurai.
- Kusterica, Emir. Black Cat White Cat.
Joyous madness, coruscating soundtrack, Branka Katic, fat women pulling nails from walls with their bums, excrement, running through sunflower fields naked, how did he find all these people?… so wildly stupid and balls-to-the-furnace chaos-worshipping that I’m almost prepared to forgive Kusterica’s awful treatment of animals.
- Lee, Bruce. Way of the Dragon.
What this one reminds me is that there is always something sweet about any master, always some gentle humour, always a lightness, even when (in this case) the master in question is a martian.
- Leigh, Mike. Nuts in May.
Impossible to just choose one Mike Leigh film. He—along with the actors that create his works—is one of the greatest artists the world has known. As with all truly great films (and books) you can watch them again and again and again—because the plot is a distant second to the life of the characters, which is timeless. There’s no trick, no twist, no ah-ha! which, once experienced, can never be again, but life as it is—and what can possibly be of more interest than that? Also highly, highly recommended; Topsy Turvy, Grown Ups (filmed down the road from me when I was growing up), Meantime and, of course, Naked.
- Loach, Ken. Kes.
I prefer Loach the man to Loach the artist. I just don’t resonate to his overall vision of artistic truth—that life is, yes, wonderful, interesting, a dramatic struggle and so on but, when all is rendered and received, it’s basically shit. I still watch everything he does though—he gets some fantastic work from his actors, and Kes is an undeniable masterpiece. Worth it for the ‘school speech’ scene alone.
I, Daniel Blake is a thing to marvel at too. Devastating — but again, something is missing. I know, I know, that’s the point.
- Lodge, David. Dickens, Charles. Martin Chuzzlewit.
In honour of the late, great Pete Postlethwaite who, if you’re a connoisseur of legendary British actors, works here alongside the equally great Tom Wilkinson (currently squandering his talents in silly Hollywood films) and Paul Scofield (currently dead).
- Lumet, Sidney. 12 Angry Men.
Contrast this to Ken Loach. Loach’s work is totally realistic, and this is totally unrealistic. Cynics would say that we are resonating, in 12 Angry Men, to the clever plot, the marvellous acting and, above all, to wish-fulfilment, that baddies do change, that justice does prevail—when it doesn’t. Oh but it does.
Lumet’s (Pierson and Kluge’s) Dog Day Afternoon is also a comedy masterpiece, and Network is, while being without a drip of moisture, full of masterful moments. Also excellent (David Mamet’s) The Verdict, a tight courtroom drama starring sliver-fox Paul Newman as a morally broken lawyer who attempts to redeem himself in a fight with the megachurch. Weakish second half as the critical character change comes very early in the film, but aside from that, pretty much faultless.
- Lynch, David. The Elephant Man.
Lots to choose from Mr Lynch’s oeuvre. Top of the list for me is the heart-rending Elephant Man, but the first six episodes of Twin Peaks (after which it went downhill — and the third series was a self-indulgent abomination) are up in the higher reaches too, as is Blue Velvet and scattered moments of Wild at Heart. I think Lost Highway is excellent too but I don’t know why, after that, he chose to continue making the same point in ever more self-indulgent variations.
- Matsumoto, Taiyô; Masaaki, Yuasa. Ping Pong (the animated series).
Superb manga tale of two teenagers entering a Ping Pong competion. Subtle and truthful characterisation, elegant and unexpected plot, and beautifully balanced hand-drawn art. Only negative for me is the theme and credit songs — but, with the mighty exception of Akira (one of the all-time great soundtracks) I always find Jap-anime music to be hideous.
While we’re on the subject of Japanese anime, have a go on Taniguchi, Takashi’s Mr Ando of the Woods here. You might regret it, but you might also learn to say ‘Strike! Andosan Strike!’ at unexpected moments.
- Mamet, David. Oleanna.
Another filmmaker who I used to love and now seems far to tricksy to me. And heartless. But this is still an amazing story. I also like Ricky Roma’s foulmouthed tirades in Glen Garry Glen Ross.
- McDonagh, Martin. In Bruges.
Light, but very funny. Fiennes is an excellent psychopath. Love the way he says ‘is he ‘avin a wee or a poo?’. (So is Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast if you like British working-class crime comedies).
- McGoohan, Patrick. The Prisoner (ep. 1-6 and last two).
McGoohan, whose face was for a while one of the greatest things on earth, was the British Eastwood. Implacable, wry and weird. The last two episodes are best watched high on acid while flying through turbulence over a lightening storm.
- Miyazaki, Hayao. Princess Mononoke.
Miyazaki’s best, I think. The enormity of it, the moral complexity and the charming strangeness all come together, without cheese, as they don’t quite in any other. except perhaps Totoro, which is as good.
Totoro is incredibly well observed. Miyazaki understood little children and big monsters—check out, if you can, the precise notes that Miyazaki made on how to draw the characters.
- Morris, Chris. The Day Today / Brass Eye.
One of the godfathers (and admirers) of Belly Up! Morris did more than a thousand Chomskys to dismantle the omni-pornographic media-system and the bizarre dreamworld it is founded on.
4 Lions is good too.
- Nichols, Jeff. Take Shelter.
Not a masterpiece, by any means, but so worth it for the scene where Shannon freaks out.
- O’Brien, Richard. The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
No I do not look like Richard O’Brien.
- O’Bannon, Dan. Scott, Riddley. Alien.
Kind of Kubrick-lite. Not much of a story, really, but insane attention to detail everywhere, elevates it to art.
- Ozu, Yasujirō. Tokyo Story.
Another film, like Totoro, 2001 and The Seventh Seal that, the first time I saw it, I thought, ‘what? nothing is happening here.’ Now I aspire to write a story that takes three readings to fall in love with — even if such a thing would never get past the bloody slush pile.
- Park, Nick and The Great British Public. Creature Comforts (first series).
People talking with animal claymations over the top. It doesn’t get better than this.
- Parker, Alan. Bugsy Malone.
You give a little love.
- Parry, Bruce. Tribe (series I)
BBC teevee series in which Parry journeys round the world living with remote tribes. Its the ordinariness of Parry, combined with his cheerful willingness to try anything — including, in my favourite episode with the Papuan Kombai, a rather harrowing circumcision — that makes the contrast all the more funny, and poignant. The second series was alright, but the really funny stuff was in this one.
- Pierson, Frank. Pearce, Donn. Rosenburg, Stuart. Cool Hand Luke.
This one is here more for old time’s sake. I used to adore it, but then I watched it again recently and it struck me as a real young man’s story. A few fabulous moments though.
- Pollak, Kay. As it is in Heaven.
Almost crap, as some of the most heartrending stories are I’ve noticed. Babette’s Feast is another and Little Miss Sunshine. So, so close to sentimental—but, actually, not. An almost literally heartbreaking story of a famous conductor who ends up in a tiny Swedish town where he teaches the choir to die in song.
- Potter, Dennis. Pennies from Heaven.
Liberating tale of a salesmen that goes on the lam. Characters regularly break out in song, miming 30s hits. Part of a trilogy, in a way, with The Singing Detective (40s music) and Lipstick on Your Collar (50s music), although this one is the best, rawest and most uplifting. The US remake with Steve Martin was quite good too, featuring some of Christopher Walken’s greatest dancing.
- Python, Monty. Monty Python’s Flying Circus (particularly series I & II).
Quest for the Holy Grail and Life of Brian are outstanding of course, and the first two series are full of duds (nearly all of which are Eric Idle’s dreadful, self-loving, contributions) and gags that you’ve seen a hundred times but there is a—I dunno—divinely mad? reality shattering? totally liberating? thread through these early shows that has never been equalled. A sense of such perfect freedom. Don’t you want to fuck around like this? Every day? Isn’t this how life should be?
- Raimi, Sam. Evil Dead II
Masterpiece of butcherous silliness.
- Ramis, Harold. Groundhog Day.
If you can make a comedy that all religions declare is actually, secretly expressing the meaning of life, well, I’d say you’d achieved something.
- Reeves, Vic and Mortimer, Bob. The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer.
Two of the funniest people ever to have ironed a beard. Lots and lots of filler, but lots, too, of this. Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out is also unbelievably good, but more ‘advanced’. Also highly recommended their insane odyssey Catterick (free on You Tube).
- Reiner, Carl. The Man with Two Brains.
O pointy birds,
O pointy pointy,
Anoint my head,
The other two films that Steve Martin made with Carl Reiner are hilarious as well: The Jerk and (less so) All of Me. Carl had a son, called…
- Reiner, Rob. This is Spinal Tap.
Marty: What happened to Stumpy Joe?
Derek: Well, uh, it’s not a very pleasant story…but, uh, he died…uh…he choked on…the ac- the official explanation was he choked on vomit.
David: He passed away.
Nigel: It was actually, was actually someone else’s vomit. It’s not…
David: It’s ugly.
Nigel: You know. There’s no real…
Derek: You know they can’t prove whose vomit it was… they don’t have the facilities at Scotland Yard…
David: You can’t print, there’s no way to print a spectra-photograph…
Nigel: You can’t really dust for vomit.
And that was ad-libbed! Some say the funniest film ever made—and I think I agree. That or Withnail and I, although Withnail and I takes a bit of breaking in. Spinal Tap is hilarious the first viewing.
- Reitherman, Wolfgang. The Jungle Book.
When Disney was good; not just the story, but the art, so loose and fluid, knocks Pixar and slick modern computer-generated animations into a cocked hat. I quite like The Rescuers too, again as much for the astonishing art as for the story.
Talking of Pixar, as I say, I did enjoy Toy Story 3, also The Incredibles, Wall-E and and even the hideously unnatural work-worshipping meta-narrative of Up! didn’t stop me from enjoying the talking dogs — but they always leave a nasty taste in my mouth, like I’ve swallowed something that will not make me healthier, which is what has happened. The most recent ones don’t even bother to try and entertain, leaving their emetic ideology exposed.
- Robinson, Bruce. Withnail and I.
We’ve gone on holiday by mistake! And a few hundred other quotable lines (although only men go around quoting lines for some reason). Like the very greatest character stories this never gets old.
- Roiland, Justin, Harmond, Dan, Ridley, Ryan. Rick and Morty
Rick and Morty is burdened by the same cheap gags, garish in-your-face wackiness and knowing smugness as most US adult animated comedy, but there’s a lot of great stuff here. As usual the core brilliance is not in the hyperbizarre foolery and filth, but, like the Simpsons before it jumped the shark (season nine was it? ten?), in how well-observed the characters are, and in its equally perceptive account of people generally. There’s an episode in the first series, for example, where Rick is on a planet run by women and an announcement comes over the tannoy ‘Plan your route accordingly and expect delays. We’re not telling you what to do, we’re just telling you how we feel.’ The first season was full of this kind of mordant wit. The second was, on the whole, weaker, improving again in the third and fourth.
- Rogen, Seth. Goldberg, Evan. Superbad.
Fogell: What’s it like to have a gun?
Officer Michaels: It’s like having two cocks. If one of your cocks could kill someone.
Jules: Are you crying?
Seth: No, I just have something in both my eyes.
Great movies are rammed full of great dialogue like this. It’s so easy to ‘come up with ideas’ or even to write a ‘great plot’, but to actually fill the shelves of your structure with life… you have to live. That’s what creates greatness.
- Rogozhkin, Aleksandr. Kukushka.
Story of a Lap woman, a Russian and a Finn, none of whom understand each other’s language—but of course we do. Tender irony arises, like the mist of the majestic north.
- Rosenfeldt, Hans. The Bridge.
Yes! Thank you Darren! A modern teevee police drama!
Were you waiting for The Wire? Or Breaking Bad? I’m afraid I can‘t help you there—but The Bridge (the original Swedish series), is worth ten hours of your life, unless you live in a forest. Whodunnits are cheap, but there’s no reason a good story can’t have a bit of cheap in it.
- Sitch, Rob. The Castle.
Classic working-class Australian comedy.
- Ronson, Jon. Straughan, Peter. Abrahamson, Lenny. Frank.
I think true outsider musicians, like early Zappa, Frank Sidebottom and Captain Beefheart would sniff at this film. It’s just too pat. Still, full of splendid moments, and a very tight script which, even if it is a bit bland itself, still has a nice dig at bland tastelessness.
- Siegel, Don. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).
The best science fiction feels perfectly true, and this masterpiece is the godfather of all nightmarish visions of the present. Remade a couple of times. The second one, with Donald Sutherland, was very good as well, with a marvellous finale.
- Stenner, C. Wittlinger, H. Uibel, A. Das Rad.
Neat animated short about the history of humanity. Watch it here.
- Takahata, Isao. The Tale of Princess Kaguya.
One of the supreme artistic achievements of human history. Each minute took a month. Utterly. utterly beautiful. Takahata-san (or Paku-san as he’s known Jap-side) also made the terribly neglected Pom Poko.
- Tarkovsky, Andrei. Stalker.
Another Great Film by a Great Man that I will consent to be bored by.
- Thoreau, Louis. Weird Weekends (Series I).
Let’s all laugh at the Americans. What’s great about Thoreau though, is that there is a touch of genuine innocence (which he does non-genuinely play up a bit, but who cares) about his dealings with freaks, which somehow brings out their and our basic humanity. I wish he’d done something similar in the UK though, or Europe, but instead his themes got darker and darker until now he basically only ever interviews cannibals, satanists and radio DJs.
- Vinterberg, Thomas. Festen.
A good demo of what pure story, and pure acting, can do. Interesting to compare this to, oh I don’t know, I am Love — the excremental Italian film with Tilda Swinton—or, even something like Downton Abbey. Festen shows what rich people are actually like, while most films about wealthy people don’t. Why? Because they’re made by rich people. But then, see The Grand Budapest hotel below.
- Weir, Peter. The Truman Show.
I was living in Australia when I first saw this, and I printed out a hundred A4 little essays with the title ‘THIS IS TRUE—BE A TRUE MAN’ and gave them out at the cinema. Why did I do this? Hard to say, but when Cristof said ‘We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented. It’s as simple as that’ I thought to myself ‘oh well, that’s it, they’ve blown the open secret now. We’ll all be free soon’. I dunno; in many ways The Prisoner is better than The Truman Show, but this is pretty close to the phildickian bone.
- Wenders, Wim. Wings of Desire.
Close to pointless, meandering, euro-art-house cheese, but always stays this side of the line, where the real world really is sad and beautiful and magic.
- Whitehouse, Paul. Langham, Chris. Help.
Paul Whitehouse is one of the greatest comic actors of all time, as this series, in which he plays what is it forty parts? fifty? showed. Chris Langham is a bit of a paedo, as this series didn’t show.
Langham used to write for The Muppet Show by the way, and I’m guessing it was some of the better gags, but who knows.
- Mooney, Kyle. McCary, Dave. Brigsby Bear.
This is a ‘light comedy’ (and it runs perilously close in tone to the sterile bourgeois wank of modern American indy) so it seems a nothing, but it’s a work of minor greatness. There’s always a sense with great art that, no matter how good you ever became, you could never, ever imitate it and Mooney here, in his half-alien, half-naive comments (and very subtly subversive open-mindedness) is inimitable. The plot too is finely wrought.
- Winterbottom, Michael. Coriat, Laurence. Wonderland.
Pretty much the only decent thing Winterbottom has done, and even then not much happens, but so sweetly beautiful. I think that without Michael Nyman’s greatest score and without the London it portrays being one I’d lived in, it would still be moving.
- Willingham, Cakder. Nichols, Mike. The Graduate.
Minor comic masterpiece. A lot of people hate, or at least ‘don’t get’ the comedy, or enjoy Benjamin Braddock, for much the same reason a lot of people can’t stand Catcher in the Rye and Holden Caulfield. ‘A lot of people’ are gorts.
- Zeffirelli, Franco. Jesus of Nazareth (parts 3 and 4).
As I said elsewhere I had a weird mystic experience to this. If you can subtract the ludicrous churchy additions (the Pauline / Gospel groupthink, Roman-subservience and idolatry, and marvellous hairdressing) you’re left with a miraculous performance by Robert Powell. More miraculous than Jesus’ supposed miracles.
- Zemeckis, Robert, Gale, Bob. Back to the Future.
Only part 1, which really is charming. Parts 2 and 3 are the usual guff.
- Zweig, Stefan. Anderson, Wes. The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Wes Anderson’s films should be dreadful. They’re a kind of Hipster-apotheosis, self-consciously ‘beautiful’, stiff, and samey. I’m getting fed up of the ‘He’s GONE. He’s GONE!’ (pause). ‘Oh no, he’s over there’ ‘trademark’ joke for example, and the pater-familias-based plots, and the very, very, very symmetrical fixed-camera Kubrickisms, and all the retro train tickets designed in East London — and, to top it all, his films are always about wealthy idiots! But yet, magically, they are not dreadful. They’re beautiful—I like Moonrise Kingdom and The Royal Tenenbaums especially. How can it be? Somehow sublime sensitivity, and artistic truth trump all the rules I suppose, and that’s as it should be.
See also. 100 books worth reading.