I have been perusing the interweb for the last few days wondering what films are considered and by whom to be the most influential, inspirational, well loved and just completely unmissable…and I have discovered something interesting.
Most of the films on these lists are foreign and most of them I have never seen.
Not sure what that means, so I will let it go. I’m trying to do that more and more, but it all got a little confusing and while I understand and respect that these films are probably academically and philosophically important, they are not the kind of holiday fare I was thinking of.
So, I will give you my list.m As a filmmaker, as a movie lover and as someone who has been forced with the threat of no mince pies at Christmas to watch some of these iconic films over and over again on the holidays, and in spite of, and probably because some of my neural pathways were permanently damaged, these films remain to me absolutely and most ridiculously great and totally unmissable.
I grew up in a house where we watched telly, unabashedly, with relish and with excitement and sometimes even with bated breath.
The holidays, particularly Christmas, was when we watch the classics. The old faithfuls rolled out by the BBC and ITV, and later on Channel 4, and around which we planned our days, excitedly rushing the washing up and fighting over the best position on the sofa.
A film was an event, a treat, and at times it quieted the streets and emptied the pubs, and when it was over we all went up to our beds with a cup of hot chocolate and a hot water bottle, still smiling, still laughing, still tearful and always to dream of what we had seen, even if we knew it all by heart. This was before the interweb, before DVDs, Blockbusters and even, heaven forbid, home video players, back in the days of a one TV a household and of actually having to get up and change the channel with your hand, good lord how did we ever survive?
So here is my list, in no particular order, of my cinematic loves. Some of my fondest memories of my darling parents, who I miss more and more with each passing year, are built around a few of these films…Happy Christmas Mum & Dad, wherever you are, I love you.
The Bridge Over the River Kwai
David Lean’s film adaptation of Pierre Boulle’s novel about the construction of the Burmese ‘death railway’ by the forced labor of Dutch and American soldiers imprisoned by the Japanese during WW II is a staple Christmas film. It seems odd considering there’s no snow in it. But, for some reason, it’s always on at Christmas in England and I can’t remember how many times, often through groans and complaints of ‘isn’t there anything else on Dad’ I was forced to sit through it. But it is an incredible film. David Lean is one of my favorite directors and it holds a kind of epic and dreadful beauty in every frame…13,000 prisoners died building the railway and were buried along its tracks. The film won seven Oscars for heaven's sake and Obi Wan is in it! (Alec Guinness) This one’s for my Dad.
My Fair Lady
The perfect musical. Gorgeous lavish sets, beautiful performances, funny, classically English and a bit heartbreaking. I can never miss this, I always love it and I always sing along, loudly. Oh, and it has Rex Harrison in it, Audrey Hepburn and the brilliant Stanley Holloway.
Probably my favorite film if I had to chose one - dirty, gloomy, stunning and profound. It set the bar for Scifi, soundtracks, fight sequences and dying on screen…the sequel is finally done and I can honestly say I will cry if it’s not as genius as it could be. The trailer looks amazing though! And Harrison Ford…Rutger Hauer…
Another Ridley Scott film and still chilling to watch as Sigourney Weaver creates nightmares for us all, sometimes just in her knickers. I still think this is the best alien creation, no CGI here, just solid design, gorgeous performances and inventive, stunning direction.
Director Jane Champion at her absolute best. New Zealand as the garden of Eden. Holly Hunter is astounding and Sam Neill and everyone else is soooo good. Anna Paquin won an Oscar and we saw Harvey Keitel’s bits and pieces. Add to that one of the most beautiful scores ever written (Micheal Nyman) and The Piano is one of the most remarkable films you will ever see…guaranteed…oh and it won a gazillion awards.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
I think I know this film’s dialogue by heart. My mum and I would watch it over and over again. A dream of a film and utterly entertaining. Harrison Ford is perfection as is everyone else. Love it!!
Danny Boyle’s fabulous and shocking ode to urban squalor, heroin addiction and economically depressed Glasgow is highly regarded as one of the best British films ever made. It’s hard to watch at times, but the energy and the incredible performances, the style and the sheer nerve of it propel you through, with one of the best soundtracks you will ever hear ringing in your ears.
The Railway Children
Classic English literature, becomes classic English film. A beautiful story about imperfect children made into a film without goo, without syrupy shortcuts and set in the English countryside with wonderful, wonderful actors, way ahead of its time. It still makes me cry!
More music! I can never not sing along to this brilliant and lusciously filmed classic either. The songs are incredible and the cast is sublime. Oliver Reed haunts me still!!
I love, love, love this film. Weird and strange and hilarious. Best design and much replicated but never with anything near the style and the substance. The genius of Terry Gilliam.
Monty Python’s Life of Brian
The best Python film, and heartbreakingly perfect in every way.
Cheesy of me??? I don’t think so, take another look at this, it kept me and millions of others out of the water for quite some time.
The Sound of Music
Another musical! But all shot on location and how more gorgeous could Christopher Plummer be I ask you?
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Charlie Kaufman wrote something quite brilliant, then Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, Elijah Wood and Tom Wilkinson made it real…still my favorite film about love.
What can I say that hasn’t already been said? It has to be on my list…sorry. Oh and there’s Harrison Ford again!
The Cohen Brothers at their best. Astonishing film…geniuses at the darkest of American comedies. It’s actually in the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry, designated as ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.’ incredible casting. Every time I watch it I see more of its charm and I love watching William H Macy squirm.
The Usual Suspects
There’s is nothing even close to this film. It’s become so legendary it’s almost mythological. How on earth did writer Christopher McQuarrie ever came up with it I have no idea. But it earned him an Oscar. Who is Keyser Soze???
Some of these aren’t what you might expect at Christmas, but in my experience, the holidays should always be full of surprises.
Happy Crimble everyone!!!