50 Films You Must See Before Kildare Win an All-Ireland


#1

I swear to Bernard Brogan I’ll finish this list one day. But I backed up the original only a week or so before the old forum went, hinting at a level prescience that deserted me with the nags this season. So here they are:

1 Oldboy (Korea - 2003)

The reason I’m doing this first is that there’s a Spike Lee remake due out in October. I expect there to be a lot of controversy about this film, and the merest explanation of the reason for the controversy will be completely plot-spoiling.

A businessman is arrested for drunk and disorderly behavior. Shortly after his release he is kidnapped and held in a room. He has no idea who is detaining him or why. While locked up, he discovers his wife was murdered the night he disappeared and he is the prime suspect. After 15 years in the same room, he is suddenly released without any explanation as to either why he was held or why he’s been released.

What follows is at times gruesomely violent and shocking – you may never visit a dentist’s again after one scene in particular. Not everyone will like this film and it probably isn’t one to sit down and enjoy with the missus of a Sunday night. It’s a gripping thriller though, although if you know the plot in advance a good deal of the tension is taken out of it, which is why I would advise anybody with a remote interest in it to see it now before Hollywood destroys it.

2 Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)

Sidney Lumet burst onto the movie scene in 1957 when his directorial debut, 12 Angry Men, became an instant Hollywood classic. Exactly 50 years later, after a career that had included such highlights as The Verdict, Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon, he bowed out with this film that seemed to slip under the radar of the film watching public despite widespread critical acclaim.

Brothers Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Hank (Ethan Hawke) Hanson both desperately need cash and lots of it but can see no way of acquiring it legally. Andy comes up with solution with which Hank reluctantly agrees to cooperate – to rob a family-run jewellery store - despite neither of them ever having committed a serious crime before. While not divulging any details, Andy assures Hank the job will be simple, quick and victimless – nobody will be hurt and insurance will compensate the store owners. On the day, things go awry. Very badly awry.

The storyline jumps back and forth in time to slowly reveal the circumstances and character flaws – the greed, insecurities and cowardice - that drag the brothers towards inevitable catastrophe. There’s more than a whiff of the Shakespearean tragedy about this, Hoffman in particular puts in a terrific performance portraying the crumbling Andy.

I’m not going to try tell you this is one of the best films ever made – it isn’t. But it was for my money comfortably one of the best films in the year of its release, despite receiving no Golden Globe or Academy Award nominations. It marked a huge return to form after a quarter of a century for a former giant of the directing world – who died four years after its release- and ought to have been hailed as such in my view. Worth a watch to see if you agree.

3) The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three

No, not the utterly pointless remake from a few years ago, the original.

New York City provided the backdrop for some of the 1970’s most enduring classic films – The French Connection, Shaft, Dog Day Afternoon and Taxi Driver among them. Less heralded, but well deserving of its place in that pantheon, is this terse thriller by Joseph Sargent. Whereas I find many films from that decade, even the great ones, have a tendency to drag their arse a bit, there is no wasted celluloid here – the pace remains brisk throughout and it clocks in at just 104 minutes.

Four armed men hijack the front car of a Subway train and its 17 passengers. They demand one million dollars to be delivered to them in one hour or they’ll shoot one hostage for every minute the money is delayed. Walter Matthau plays the surly Police Lieutenant thrown into a negotiation process over the radio with the cold and calculating leader of the gang (Robert Shaw), as he tries to gain more time to save the lives of the passengers while trying to figure out a way to apprehend the hijackers. Both Matthau and Shaw excel in their roles as they each deal with the distractions of others around them with other agendas and priorities.

Whilst neither the action nor plot are earth-shattering, the film works best at an atmospheric level. Though entirely fictional, it has an air of realism that many dramatizations of actual events lack. From the wiseass cynicism of the dialogue, the total lack of consideration for political correctness and David Shire’s excellent film score, this could only have been made in the New York of the 1970’s – part of the reason the remake was such a dud. Quentin Tarantino was evidently a big fan – keep an eye (or rather an ear) out for one aspect of this film that he pinched for Reservoir Dogs.

4 The Long Good Friday

The first British film in this list and one of that country’s finest gangster flicks. Bob Hoskins plays Harold Shand, a ferocious crime boss who has risen to a position of great power in London’s underworld. He has big plans to move towards more legitimate means of making money, with dreams of transforming London’s then derelict Docklands into the kind of cash cow Las Vegas became for the Mafia. But somebody clearly has other plans. A series of attacks on his associates from unknown enemies sees him embark on a ruthless pursuit of his known foes to determine which of them is making a move for his empire.

The storyline is not flawless and credibility suffers a little in places but Hoskins delivers a masterful performance as the quintessential Cockney villain.

5) Volver (Spain)

Whatever anybody thinks of Pedro Almodóvar and his films, nobody could ever accuse him of plagiarism. There’s simply no mistaking his cinematic trademarks; the vibrant colours, the comedy, the melodrama and willingness to create characters still very much on the edges of society (in Spain and elsewhere) when he made his directorial debut on a shoestring budget in 1980.

Those themes have continued through his work to this day, and fascinating though the various homosexuals, transsexuals, drug abusers, prostitutes etc he has brought to life on screen have been over the years, for me his obsession with the taboo has at times detracted from the human emotions he’s attempting to portray. In that sense, Volver is perhaps the least Almodóvar of Almodóvar’s films, as here the protagonists are much more conventional (though his enduring penchant for the use of the colour red is never more prevalent than in this). Forced to mine deeper into his characters, he produces a modern masterpiece that stands both as his finest achievement and the ideal introduction to his work.

The title means ‘to return’ (and is pronounced bol-ber if you find yourself having to say it :wink: ) which is exactly what the mother of Raimunda (Penélope Cruz) does, three years after she died in a house fire with her husband. The plot does at times appear so far-fetched as to be ridiculous, all I can say is that judgement on the storyline’s credibility should be reserved until you’ve seen the whole film. There’s plenty of typical Almodóvar wit sprinkled through it, and while the subtitles do enough to get across the humour, my Spanish-speaking other half tells me there’s a lot of this that just doesn’t translate (like the way a non-English speaker could never truly understand why getting a Louthman to say ‘star bar’ is so funny ).

And if you’re of the opinion that Penélope Cruz isn’t much of an actress based on her Hollywood films, you need to be judging her on this.

6) The Killing Fields

One of those films that few people dispute is great but has somehow fallen out of the public’s consciousness of the great films.

It’s based (reportedly with little dramatic elaboration) on the true story of two journalists, American Sydney Schanberg and Cambodian Dith Pran, who are in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh at the time of its fall and takeover by the Khmer Rouge in 1975 and the paths their respective lives take from that point. At heart it isn’t a political film or war film, the emphasis is always on the human element of a plight created by Cold War politics and its ensuing wars. This direction brings the viewer into the world of the main protagonists, particularly Pran as he endures the unspeakable horrors that Pol Pot unleashes upon his own people.

There’s a tragic post script to the film in real life. The part of Pran is played by Haing S Ngor, a Doctor and first time actor who had himself survived the Cambodian genocide. He was later shot dead in Los Angeles’ Chinatown by a street gang during a mugging, reputedly when he had refused to hand them over a locket containing a photo of his wife who had died giving birth in a Khmer Rouge concentration camp (although there have been claims over the years that the mugging was a cover for a politically-motivated murder).

And here’s where the Roman-style personal story comes into it!

I first saw The Killing Fields one Sunday night when I was 20. I had literally never seen anything like it and couldn’t believe that something like that could happen in my lifetime without the UN, US or somebody intervening to stop it. I had so many questions and thoughts in my head after it I literally didn’t sleep for hours until I promised myself that if I found out that anything like that was happening in the world now, I would attempt to stop it in some small way. That pledge was the first step on a personal journey that took me into volunteering for the ultimately successful global campaign to end Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor, a genuinely life-changing few years that taught me an awful lot about how the world really works and to understand why the likes of this genocide is allowed happen again and again across the planet to this day. Perhaps at another time it wouldn’t have had the same impact on me or maybe another film would have had the same effect but as it was, I can genuinely say this film (and the experiences I lived ultimately as a result of having watched it) changed my life and my view of the world. Can’t say whether it was ultimately for the better or worse but it definitely changed me.

7) Eastern Promises

First time for a couple of weeks I’ve been able to update this list though as last Sunday week showed both I and anyone wanting to watch these have plenty of time on our side.

Fans of David Cronenberg will probably dismay at me choosing a film so untypical of his usual horror and science fiction influenced output. Well the truth is I’m not familiar with most of his work as those genres don’t really interest me. I came across this film though and liked it enough to include it. That said, his reputation for the gory rears his head here; this is a violent film but not gratuitously so in my view.

Naomi Watts plays Anna, a British midwife of Russian extraction, who finds a diary written in Russian on the body of a 14-year old girl who dies while Anna is delivering her child. She attempts to track down the girl’s family so that she can find a home for the orphaned child but soon finds herself entangled in London’s Russian Mafia. What unfolds isn’t for the faint of heart but Viggo Mortensen’s turn as a conflicted mob chauffeur is excellent and this is well worth a viewing in my book.

8 Goodbye, Lenin! (Germany)

On such a nice weekend I think something slightly lighter than my usual fare is called for. So I’m going with this black comedy/melodrama that’s now almost a decade old.

It’s the autumn of 1989 in East Berlin in what were to become the dying days of the German Democratic Republic. Anti-government demonstrations demanding reform are gathering pace and when Christiane, a loyal supporter of the Communist regime, sees her son Alex being arrested for taking part in one of these protests, she suffers a near-fatal heart attack and slips into a coma. By the time she awakes, the Wall has fallen. Warned by doctors that the slightest shock might cause another, probably fatal, heart attack, her children decide she must be shielded from the tumultuous events in the world around her and concoct increasingly desperate schemes to shield her from the post-Communist reality of her surroundings. Simultaneously, a romance develops between Alex and Lara, the nurse looking after his mother. What develops is ultimately much more a love story than a political/historical drama but for me skilfully stays the right side of being mawkish.

And before anyone says it, yes there is another film set in East Berlin in the 80’s that will make this list!

9) Gomorrah (Italy)

I would consider most of the films in this list entertaining if not always enjoyable. There are some that are frankly neither but are such strong pieces of filmmaking to make them worthy of recommendation. Gomorrah most definitely fits into this latter category.

This is a mob film but probably unlike any you’ve ever seen before. Whereas the stock Mafia film focuses on the high rollers in mansion being driven around in limousines, this is a film about those at the other end of the ladder whose lives are destroyed by the consequences of their activities. Set and filmed on the Camorra-ridden streets of Napoli, there’s nothing glamorous whatsoever about its characters and nothing sensationalised in the depiction of the unravelling of their lives. As its subject exerts its control over Italian society in diverse ways, so the film intertwines five separate stories of characters entangled in the Comorra’s web in different ways and to various degrees. This film is violent, bleak and at times the pace dawdles as if to emphasise that life in this hellhole is essentially humdrum punctuated by episodes of extreme violence – some may find that boring, I find it greatly adds to the film’s credibility, echoing Italy’s era of classic neorealist films.

Perhaps the critical praise it has received in some quarters has been excessive but on the other hand I feel its uniqueness and the bravery with which it tackles it subject makes it a must-watch. I can’t guarantee you’ll like this but I’d be surprised if you leaves you unaffected or unmoved.

10) Midnight In Paris

Woody Allen tends to have that ‘marmite’ effect– there are at least as many people around who can’t stand the man or his films as those that adore him. This film might be described as “a Woody Allen film for people that don’t like Woody Allen” as he doesn’t appear in it himself, Owen Wilson taking the ‘Woody Allen’ part. Some may say I’m stretching my assertion that there would be no fantasy-based films among my list but I’d class it more as a smart romantic comedy that manages to escape the usual pitfalls of films described under that banner.

Wilson plays Gil Pender, a screenwriter who is enjoying commercial success but not artistic satisfaction with his work in Hollywood. With his love of the ‘Lost Generation’ writers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, he dreams of being a novelist and moving to Paris but his materialistic fiancée wants none of it. They visit the city on holiday and immediately start to drift apart, especially after Gil gets lost alone one night in the back streets and ends up in a very unexpected place.

This isn’t a profound movie but rarely has the old adage that the grass is always greener on the other side been evoked with such warmth and humour.

11 The Motorcycle Diaries (Argentina/UK)

A lot of people’s perceptions of this film seem to be coloured by what they expected of it beforehand. If you’re anticipating a blow by blow account of what turned aspiring young Doctor Ernesto Guevara into iconic Revolutionary figure Che Guevara, I’ll warn you now - this isn’t it. Nor should it be, as it was his later experiences in Guatemala that played a much greater role in pushing him from the ranks of the passively disaffected to a man of action. The upside of that is that it appeals to a wider audience, you certainly don’t have to identify with Guevara’s later actions or beliefs to appreciate this film.

It’s 1952 in Buenos Aires and Guevara teams up with his friend Alberto Granado on a voyage of discovery around South America – a quite radical idea of itself at that time. What starts out as a youthful adventure with the main purpose of having fun evolves into something different, as the impact of the pervasive poverty on the lives of the people they encounter gradually seeps into their consciousness and slowly transforms their view of the world and their role in it.

The film probably works better as a road movie and coming-of-age drama than as an exploration of the making of a revolutionary – simply because it’s so difficult to capture the essence of the latter without being trite. There’s a warmth and humour throughout the film that’s engaging enough to sustain through some slower paced episodes. Some of the cinematography is excellent – by rights every tourist board of the countries they visit ought to pay royalties to the films’ producers for some of the scenic shots in this.

Trivia – the actor who plays Alberto Granado, Rodrigo de la Serna, is a second cousin of Guevara in real life (although he wasn’t born until 9 years after Guevara’s death).

12) Donnie Brasco

It’s often been said that Al Pacino hasn’t starred in a decent film for 20 years. Whilst I’d agree that in recent years he has become something of a caricature of himself, there has been a tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater and dismiss everything post Carlito’s Way. For me this mob drama based on a true story is the pick of his latter-career efforts and stands up pretty well alongside his earlier work.

Pacino plays Lefty Ruggerio, an aging mobster whose life is unravelling at the seams. The comfortable life he imagined he’d have for himself after 30 years of loyal service to the mob hasn’t materialised and his home life is a mess. But in Donnie Brasco (Johnny Depp), Lefty sees a protégé – someone to succeed where he failed. Problem is that Donnie Brasco doesn’t exist – he’s an undercover alias of FBI Agent Joe Pistone on a mission to infiltrate the Mafia. The longer he plays the role of a mobster however, the more the line where Pistone ends and Brasco begins becomes blurred and the more the question of to whom he really owes his allegiance looms.

For me this film is pretty much as good as it could be, constrained as it is by having its main plot line having to tally with actual events. There’s an obvious comparison to Goodfellas here and while this film can’t match the slickness and witticisms of Scorsese’s work, personally I preferred the lack of glamorisation of the mob lifestyle and for me the ending to this is much more resonant.


#2

13) The Birds

Couldn’t resist the temptation to make a Hitchcock film Number 13.

Although this is among Hitch’s best known films, it seemingly isn’t among his most liked despite being generally regarded as his last true classic. There are a couple of his films I prefer to this but I think it’s aged better than Psycho for example.

The plot is simple enough. Attractive young socialite Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) meets lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) in a bird shop in San Francisco. Brenner is looking to buy a pair of lovebirds but the store has none in stock. Recognising Daniels, he plays a prank by pretending he thinks she’s a salesperson working in the store. Piqued by his cheekiness, she decides to get even by buying a couple of lovebirds herself and driving a couple of hours up the coast to sleepy Bodega Bay where she secretly delivers them to the door of his home. From the time she arrives in the small village however, things take a turn for the sinister. For reasons that are never explained, wild birds – crows, seagulls, sparrows – start to act bizarrely and seemingly attack the town’s residents.

For me, the film’s best attribute is its atmosphere. In terms of slowly building terror, the scene where Melanie sits outside the schoolhouse oblivious to the danger amassing around her is unsurpassed in any film I’ve seen and even if he’d never done anything else, would secure for me Hitchcock’s title as the ‘Master of Suspense’.

14) Touching The Void

In 1985, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, two young, adventurous but reckless British mountaineers, attempted to scale the lethal west face of the 21,000 feet Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. And they did. But their duel with the mountain and its violent weather fluctuations was only half over – they needed to get down again. Without giving anything away, let’s just say that things didn’t go smoothly.

Based on the book of the same name written by Simpson, Touching The Void is a documentary rather than an action film. Kevin McDonald’s directorial decision to make the film in documentary style adds to it immensely in my view, for rather than trying to thrill viewers with “what’s going to happen next” scenes, it features interviews with both climbers (so we know from the start that both survived) interspersed with reconstructions of critical episodes from their expedition. This gives it a sense of realism which draws the viewer into the world of these two young men – just as it’s disintegrating. The film isn’t so much about their ordeal of itself as the primal instincts and emotions it engenders – loyalty and betrayal, belief and rejection, hope and despair, culpability and innocence, guilt and absolution. It’s also visually stunning and effectively so; the long shots of the climbers appearing like ants against the vast frozen expanses of their treacherous terrain is a constant reminder that both protagonists are well beyond the help of anybody but themselves.

Even if documentary films aren’t really your thing I’d highly recommend checking this one out.

15) Incendies (Canada – in French)

Starts off with a twin brother and sister attending the reading of the will of their recently deceased mother. They receive two letters and a request to deliver one of them to their father and the other to their brother. Only thing is so far as they know, their Dad is dead and they have no brother. The brother wants to forget about it but the sister feels compelled to carry out her mother’s final wish and goes to an unnamed Middle East country (very obviously based on Lebanon) to find out about her past, of which they know very little other than that she left there about 20 years ago to start a new life in Quebec. From there the film flips back and forward from the present day to her mother’s life during the civil war that engulfed that country from 1975 to 1990.

Very tough film in places (being set during a vicious conflict) but well worth watching. There’s not much explaining of the background so if you know nothing whatsoever about Lebanon probably no harm to have a glance at wikipedia before looking at it, though you don’t need anything more than a passing knowledge of the conflict to keep up.

16) Lost In Translation

It can’t be easy trying to make a name for yourself in film directing when you’re the daughter of an iconic figure in that field. That has been Sofia Coppola’s lot and for the most part I think it’s fair to say it’s a cross she has struggled to bear. The one shining exception to that in her canon for me is Lost In Translation.

Aging actor Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is a household name but increasingly a relic of the past. His career on a sharp decline, he accepts an offer to go to Tokyo for a few weeks to make a series of lucrative advertisements for a brand of whisky. Though grateful for the work and the money, the long hours he has to spend alone in the hotel bar leave him pondering not only his new surroundings but also his life, his career, his marriage – and none of it makes him feel good about himself. One night he meets another lost soul in Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), herself a tourist with nothing to do for hours while her new husband is busy on a photographic assignment. Despite Harris being twice her age, a kinship develops between them that quickly seems destined to develop into something more.

Lost In Translation is a triumph of subtlety – there’s a hell of a lot more going on in the minds of its participants (and hence the viewer) than appears on the screen. It’s as much about what isn’t said as what is said, what isn’t done as what is done. It’s neither exactly an American Independent nor Hollywood film and it certainly feels nothing like the typical output of the latter. Had I been told it was a faithful remake of a French or German film I would have found that entirely believable (that by the way is a compliment in my book). As a rule I wouldn’t be a huge fan of films falling under the ‘romantic comedy’ banner but I do like when that’s done with a unique twist. Which this certainly is.

17) The Wrestler

Some directors seem to spend their whole careers damned with faint praise, others seem to have plaudits thrown at them for everything they touch. I’d have Darren Aronofsky in the latter camp, as ever since the hugely overrated Pi in the late 90’s he’s had the critics eating out of his hand, often with little justification. One film for which I felt the critical acclaim was merited though was The Wrestler.

Mickey Rourke plays Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson, a one-time star in the world of professional wrestling for whom the big pay days are a distant memory. He is now reduced to working part-time while putting himself through the indignity and physical punishment of wrestling every weekend for crowds and purses of a few hundred a time, relying on steroid injections to get his aching body through the bouts. His personal life and health are in a similar state but after he befriends a stripper, he resolves to try to rebuild the fractured relationships in his life with the promise of a lucrative rematch with 1980’s rival ‘The Ayatollah’ looming. We follow him on his path along the road towards redemption, as fate and his own demons act as constant barriers to his recovery.

The casting of Rourke in the lead role was an inspired but risky move by Aronofsky. After he had taken time away from the screen to pursue an unlikely pro-boxing career in the early 90’s, Rourke’s own film career had descended into a drugs and alcohol fuelled mess which had seriously affected both his reliability and his ability to act. For the best part of a decade, no director in Hollywood had entrusted him with star billing in a film. Perhaps it was the parallels between his own life’s experiences and those of the part he was playing that drove him here, bit whatever his motivation he delivers a terrific performance here which rightly won him widespread acclaim, including the Golden Globe. Rourke himself has said that the praise he valued most was that received from former pro-Wrestlers, especially ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper who was said to have been emotionally overwhelmed at the authenticity of the film’s portrayal of the industry’s dark underbelly.

18 -) Misery

There was a time a few years back when I would have considered this far too obvious to be included here as everybody I knew seemed to have seen it. However a few times recently when justifying my lukewarm attitude towards the horror genre in general, I’ve referenced this film as an example of how it should be done and found to my surprise that a lot of people haven’t seen it.

With a body of work prior to this encompassing the likes of This Is Spinal Tap and When Harry Met Sally, Rob Reiner might have appeared an odd choice to bring Stephen King’s psychological horror novel to the big screen. However King had been impressed with Reiner’s film adaptation of his novella The Body into Stand By Me and encouraged Columbia to put him behind the lens again here.

James Caan plays Paul Sheldon, an author who has achieved great commercial success with his novels based on a heroine named Misery Chastain. He longs to be taken more seriously in the literary world and while his latest ‘Misery’ book is awaiting publication, takes off to his regular retreat in the seclusion of the Colorado Rockies to write his first post-Misery novel. With the manuscript complete, he sets off home but gets caught in a snowstorm in which his car crashes off the road. Fortunately he is rescued by homely nurse Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), who, with all roads in the area impassable, brings him to her home and treats the two broken legs and dislocated shoulder he sustained in the accident. Proclaiming herself to be his ‘number one fan’, she talks incessantly about his novels and Sheldon agrees to let her read the manuscript of his new book. And that’s where things start taking a turn for the sinister…

As I say, I normally don’t like ‘horror’ films but this is one of the minority done with intelligence and eschews the usual clichés of the genre. There’s no gore, no monsters or supernatural beings, no incongruous episodes shoehorned into the storyline purely for effect. In fact perhaps the most terrifying thing about the story is it credibility and sense of reality – you truly do believe there could be Annie Wilkes’s out there that harbour violently psychotic personalities beneath a normal veneer. Bates, who was generally considered unfit to carry a lead role prior to this, excels in the role - her performance deservedly won her both the Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Actress. With Sheldon’s role being to some extent that of a foil, the part was passed around Hollywood A-listers like a hot shite before Caan got it - De Niro, Pacino, Redford, Hoffman, Douglas, Hackman, Ford and Hurt were among those that apparently turned it down before Caan accepted.

With scary season upon us, this is one to either check out or enjoy again over the next couple of weeks.

19) Zodiac

David Fincher burst onto the cinematic scene in the mid-90s with the chilling Seven and ended that decade with another ‘must see’ film of the day in Fight Club. Since then he’s continued to have success, but the likes of The Social Network have lacked the distinctive touch of his earlier output while his decision to direct the US remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was a little disappointing for me – he’s better than having to rehash somebody else’s (very recent) work.

Somewhat lost among his noughties films was this complex thriller based on the true story of the hunt for the notorious self-christened ‘Zodiac’, who murdered at least five people and seriously injured two others in a killing spree across the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1960’s and early 70’s. The killer sent taunting letters to police via the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper claiming responsibility for the attacks that also included cryptograms apparently based on astrological signs. The murders remain unsolved as the ‘Zodiac’ was never apprehended.

This latter fact makes this murder mystery different to the archetypal standard of the genre, where everything is neatly tied up at the end. Instead this film is more a character study of the immense strain that obsession with a frustrating, fruitless search for an answer has upon those investigating the case, both in law enforcement and those reporting on it. This approach has polarised audience opinion of the film, some find it dragged out and boring, and it performed poorly at the US box office. To me, that’s missing the point of this film entirely. If you want a ‘good guy gets the medal, bad guy gets the chair’ popcorn flick, there are gazillions out there. If this leaves you with a sense of dissatisfaction, it’s supposed to – it’s intended to put us inside the heads of men who were reduced to shadows of their former selves by their inability to bring the case to a successful conclusion. If you find the depiction of the dead-end leads and vanishing hopes of its last hour a challenge, what this film asks of you is to consider what it was like for these men to live with that feeling every day for decades.

With so many films on murders solved and unsolved having been made in the history of cinema, I think it’s a remarkable achievement for anybody to offer a fresh twist on the genre. That uniqueness makes this a must view for me.

20) The Imposter

The publicity this week around the strange case of the mystery woman found outside the GPO reminded me of this gem of a documentary film – one that definitely needs to be in this list (it gets a few mentions on the other film thread). Bizarre as the Azzopardi episode might be, it truly has nothing on this saga.

In 1994, a 13 year old boy named Nicholas Barclay disappeared near his home near San Antonio, Texas. Three years later, ‘Nicholas Barclay’ turned up alive in Andalucia, apparently deeply traumatised and having grown considerably in the intervening years. We learn pretty soon that the Nicholas Barclay who appeared in southern Spain wasn’t the same person who had disappeared in Texas but in fact a man named Frédéric Bourdin – he was much older (23), had the wrong colour hair, wrong colour eyes and most importantly, was clearly French, not American. Despite this, when Nicholas Barclay’s sister arrived to identify him, she confirmed that this man was her long lost brother. That set in motion a chain of ever more unlikely events that saw Bourdin ‘repatriated’ to Texas and accepted into the Barclay family.

If this film were fictional, I think it would have been panned critically for the sheer implausibility of the plot and the leaps of faith it demanded of its audience. It’s that same stretching of credulity that makes this true story all the more compelling, as it inevitably begs questions regarding the motivation not only of Bourdin in creating this improbable fantasy, but also those who were willing to play along with it.

21) A History Of Violence

Including two David Cronenberg films in the first 20 on this list might give the impression I’m crazy about all his stuff which isn’t the case. But like Eastern Promises earlier, this was a film I just really liked.

Viggo Mortensen (who also stars in Eastern Promises) here plays Tom Stall, a quiet man living a quiet life in a small Indiana town, running a diner with his wife. Late one night a couple of armed fugitives enter the diner intent upon committing a violent robbery. When they start to threaten the lives of staff and customers, the mild-mannered Tom springs into action, disarming one of the men and shooting both of them dead. The incident creates a media frenzy with Tom hailed as an American hero. He seems reluctant to step into the limelight however despite the diner being inundated with new customers. Even less welcome is a shady visitor from out of town named Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris), who arrives with a couple of sidekicks and has apparently mistaken Tom for a former criminal associate , refusing to take Tom’s denials of this for an answer.

As the title suggests, violence comes to dominate this film but perhaps not in the way expected. While there are some very violent scenes in the film, it is essentially a psychological drama. I can’t expand much more beyond that without spoiling the plot, suffice to say I’d be surprised if this film disappoints anybody who likes a crime thriller done a little differently to the norm.

22) This Is England

There are films which attain and retain classic status instantly. There are others that are underrated upon their release but gain critical respect over the ensuing years. And then there are those which are initially hailed as masterpieces but whose aura fades because of subsequent events. I fear Shane Meadows’ This Is England is in danger of falling into this latter category, as I felt the spin-off TV Series it spawned fell victim to the law of diminishing returns to the point where it has sullied the reputation of the whole ‘franchise’, original film included. You can have too much of a good thing.

The film is set in an unspecified (Northern/Midlands) English town in 1983. Shaun is a 12 year old kid struggling to cope with the loss of his father in the Falklands War the previous year. He falls in with a group of older skinheads after their leader, Woody, takes pity on him. To the uninitiated, skinheads were paradoxically closely associated in the public consciousness with both the far-right National Front and Jamaican Ska music (which is obviously of black origin). It’s clear this group have much more interest in the latter than the former, at least until the return from prison of Combo, a sociable but sociopathic character who immediately comes to dominate the group and tries to reshape it along his ultra-Nationalist lines.

This Is England is a grim but realistic portrayal of the frustration, despair, hopelessness and powerlessness felt by many who found themselves young, idle and abandoned in Thatcher’s Britain. Soundtracks are often plastered into a film for no other reason than to give them some sense of cool, here the meticulously chosen music plays a critical role in setting the film’s tone and cementing the sense of time and place – this could only have been a declining working class community in early 80’s England. Sociological commentary has rarely been so entertaining and this stands as a dark but rewarding memoir of turbulent times.

23) Jagten (The Hunt) (Denmark)

The festive season has traditionally been an excuse for all manner of schmaltzy drivel to hit our screens, usually being spared the critical panning such dross deserves for fear of the critic being labelled a Grinch. Because for every It’s A Wonderful Life or even Trading Places, there has been a hundred cynical half-arsed cash-ins with paper-thin plots and the obligatory mawkish finale. If you have to suffer them for the sake of the kids, fair enough, but they aren’t making this feckin list. Instead, my Yuletide offering is something decent that happens to have part of its story set around Christmas. While it’s about kids, it most definitely isn’t for them. And there’s snow in it - that’ll have to do those of you looking for something traditional.

Mads Mikkelsen plays Lucas, who works in a kindergarten in a small rural Danish village. Despite his divorce complicating his efforts to build a meaningful relationship with his son, in general his life is pretty content, immersed as he is in the local community and its main interests of hunting and drinking. And even his love life seems to be looking up, when he starts dating Nadja, a pretty immigrant co-worker. All of this changes upon one out of place remark made by Klara, the young daughter of his best friend, who attends the kindergarten. This sets in motion an inquiry that soon leads to a hysterical witch hunt which overwhelms trust, friendships, the truth and any sense of rationality within the community. What follows makes for a tough but compelling watch with superb performances from both Mikkelsen and 5 year old Annika Wedderkopp as Klara.

This film was made last year and premiered at the Cannes Festival in May. It didn’t receive a full cinema release until January of this year though so is eligible for next year’s awards and indeed has been nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards.

24) Best In Show

Christopher Guest is probably best known for playing the part of dim witted guitarist Nigel Tufnel in the classic mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap, in particular the ‘these go up to 11’ amplifier scene. Guest was one of the main writers of Tap and has continued to write, direct and act in films of a similar semi-improvised comic vein.

Best In Show is Guest’s satirical swipe at the world of pedigree dog owners and trainers. You may only have been vaguely aware that such a world even existed but this film follows the lives of five dogs and their owners who take this thing seriously. Very seriously. In fact so seriously they seem oblivious to the fact that their devotion to their dogs and obsession with winning the eponymous annual show strips bare their most unpleasant and embarrassing personality traits to the wider world. Though for me it’s Fred Willard’s turn as the hapless ‘colour commentator’ Buck Laughlin that steals the show as he attempts to inject his ‘common man’ angle to proceedings.

This type of humour isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. However if the likes of The Office rocked your boat, then you’ll probably appreciate the output of a man who Gervais has acknowledged as having had a huge influence on the humour employed in that series and Best In Show is as good an introduction as any.

25) Das Leben Der Anderen (The Lives Of Others) Germany

I said when I included Goodbye, Lenin! in this list that there’d be another film set in East Berlin in the 1980’s in it, as there was no way I was ever omitting this. This may be thought of as the darker companion of that film.

It’s 1984 in East Berlin and still a couple of years before Gorbachev’s Glasnost policies would initiate a thaw in the Cold War. Nowhere is the paranoia of the Eastern Bloc more prevalent than in the German Democratic Republic, where every citizen is considered a potential spy, collaborator or dissident. The dreaded Stasi are the eyes and ears of the State – their goal, as the opening titles tell us, is to know everything about ‘the lives of others’. Those involved in the Arts find themselves the subjects of particularly close scrutiny and this story centres around the plight of two prominent members of East Berlin’s stage scene; successful playwright Georg Dreyman and his theatre actress girlfriend, Christa-Maria Sieland. Although to all outward appearances Dreyman is loyal to the regime, one of the Stasi’s most proficient agents, Hauptmann Gerd Weisler, is assigned to spy on him. It soon becomes clear to Weisler that one of his superiors has an ulterior motive in wanting to incriminate Dreyman in anti-State activity. This realisation forces him to constantly reassess where his loyalties lie through the long hours of surveillance.

If you’re thinking that this is a spy film in the classic mould, think again. This is a car chase-free zone. As with many of the best films labelled with the ‘Political Thriller’ moniker, its greatest success lies in the sense of realism and empathy it achieves in portraying the effects of politics on the lives of ordinary people.

Incidentally the film mirrored actual events in the life of Ulrich Mühe, who plays Weisler here and sadly died from stomach cancer the year after the film’s release. To elaborate on this would be plot-spoiling but after you’ve seen the film it’s worth reading if only to emphasise that while the plot is fictional, the sense of fear and betrayal it engenders very much reflects the reality of life in the GDR.

Some have called this the greatest film made so far this century. That’s a lofty claim but it’s certainly a strong contender for that title in my book and absolutely essential viewing for anybody that hasn’t seen it. I’ve watched it at least half a dozen times and taken something new away from it each time, something I could say about very few films ever made.


#3

26) Waltz With Bashir (Israel)

Israel’s role in the Lebanese conflict and particularly the 1982 Lebanon War will forever arouse controversy. This film relates the experiences of an Israeli Defence Force soldier during the war, using the rather unconventional format of being an almost entirely animated fact-based documentary with some fictional elements employed.

Ari Folman, (who apart from being the central character, also writes and directs the film) is an IDF veteran of the Lebanese War. When, in 2006, an old friend and fellow veteran tells him of nightmares he still suffers about the war, Folman realises that he has no memories of his time in Lebanon. (This is where truth and fiction are blurred, as Folman was actually a teenaged soldier in the war but the amnesia depicted in the film is simply a plot development device). That night he dreams of lying on a beach in Beirut on the night of the infamous massacre in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps but can’t discern whether this vision comes from his imagination or memory. So he begins a process of tracking down his old comrades in an attempt to reconstruct what happened during those weeks in Lebanon and understand why he is suffering a memory block concerning this pivotal moment in his life.

Any depiction relating to Israel military action will inevitably draw criticism and this is no exception. It doesn’t attempt to answer the greater moral questions of Israel’s involvement in the war (though it certainly does pose the questions) so shouldn’t be judged by the degree to which it fails or succeeds in that regard. It’s rather a personal testimony of a young man thrown into a war of which he had little understanding and living with its consequences.

The animation used in the film is particularly striking, being neither cartoonish nor particularly lifelike but hugely effective in setting the tone for key episodes, used to best effect in the scene from which the film takes its title.

27) María llena eres de gracia (Maria Full Of Grace) (USA/Colombia)

Ask the average person in the street of a North American or European city to associate one word with Colombia and it’s a safe bet that a good proportion of them will make some reference to the drug trade. The reality for many of its 47 Million inhabitants is somewhat different, with their lives being a daily struggle to escape the hardships resulting from the decades of economic and political instability that have blighted the country rather than rampaging cartels.

17 year old María Álvarez (Catalina Sandino Moreno) is just such a person, working for low wages in a sweatshop with little prospect of her living conditions ever improving. She supports her extended family with this meagre income until one day her patience with her exploitative boss runs out and she quits. When she realises she is also pregnant, she decides to up sticks to Bogotá in search of a job but en route is offered a much more lucrative means of making money quickly. And this is where those aforementioned cartels come in, for the offer is to work as a drug mule.

The story follows her through her attempts to deliver her consignment to traffickers in New York City. This isn’t one of those thrill-a-minute films and in truth the storyline doesn’t depart much from the expected trajectory. Instead, the focus is on taking us inside the head of a desperate young woman on the wrong side of the law in a strange country and the dilemmas and dangers she faces. Dialogue is at a premium so it’s left to Moreno to communicate Maria’s plight visually, something she achieves brilliantly.

With so many films about the drug trade being based on either the high-rollers or gunmen, this darkly realistic insight to another side to the trade is a breath of fresh air and well worth checking out.

28- Secrets & Lies

The first thing to say about Mike Leigh’s films is that they definitely aren’t for everyone. The ‘kitchen sink realism’ style that characterises his output inevitably encompasses themes – dysfunctional families, social disadvantage, human flaws – which can take an emotional toll on the viewer that some find discomforting. It’s partly because of that I’ve chosen one of his works where the sun at least bursts through the clouds occasionally.

Hortense Cumberbatch is a successful black optometrist, living a comfortable middle class life with her family in London. Although comfortable with the fact that she’s adopted, curiosity gets the better of her and she endeavours to track down her natural mother. This proves a fateful decision that has profound consequences for all affected by it.

Secrets & Lies is a monument to great filmmaking. The script is largely improvised from a loosely written screenplay which results in an almost ‘fly on the wall’ feel despite the story being entirely fictional. There is a slowly building tension throughout the film as each of its protagonists in turn have to deal with uncomfortable truths exposing the illusions upon which they’ve built their lives. Added to that is a wonderful performance from Brenda Blethyn as the mother which won her a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture (Drama). As demanding as the film can be at times, I think most viewers will find it ultimately rewarding and even oddly uplifting.

29) Searching For Sugar Man

Cape Town in the late 1990’s. Apartheid, along with the resultant sanctions and censorship that isolated South Africa from the outside world for decades, is gone. Among those taking advantage of the new found freedoms are two die-hard fans of the American folk singer Rodriguez, who was as popular as the likes of Neil Young and Bob Dylan on the underground music scene of the liberal white middle class in South Africa in the early seventies. Idle curiosity into what became of him reveals a shocking fact – nobody outside of South Africa seems to have ever even heard of the man that much of the nation assumed had been a global superstar.

The quest that slowly reveals both the reasons for the obscurity of their idol and the circumstances behind his incongruous level of recognition in their country is ultimately a celebration of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.

Director Malik Bendjelloul, who sadly took his own life earlier this year, was accused in some quarters of applying an a la carte approach to some aspects of the subject’s life to create a myth-based melodrama rather than a factual documentary. Such criticism seems unjustified to me given that the story is told through the eyes of two South African fans, rather than claiming to be a conventional biopic. And even if the director did pick and choose his stories to suit a particular narrative, who really cares when the result was something so engaging and heart-warming?

30) Relatos Salvajes (Wild Tales) (Argentina)

The merits of Tarantino’s filmmaking have been discussed on both this thread (which is odd as none of his films have made this list, at least not yet) and the other film thread. There’s an often cited criticism of his work that while the style is laudable, there’s little of substance beneath it. If you’re in that club and have found yourself thinking “Lovely cinematography Quentin, but any chance of making a bit of effort with the plot?” while watching his films, this may just be your bag.

‘Wild Tales’ is, just as the title infers, six unrelated stories of characters pushed beyond the line where civilized behaviour ends and animalistic rage takes over. Only the common theme of revenge links the various episodes but all are memorable in their own right, thanks to director Damian Szifron’s macabre style, at once combining Tarantino’s penchant for the unforgettable scene with Almodóvar’s (who incidentally co-produces here) flair for flamboyance and capacity to shock, without ever feeling like he’s plagiarising either. This is archetypal black comedy, the humour frequently being truly twisted, the blackness very dark indeed. It sticks rigidly to its goal of poking fun at the worst of human nature, however inappropriate that may be. Like its characters, sometimes it explodes into the realms of craziness but it’s never a forced or incongruous leap.

I should point out that this film was made in the early months of 2014. Because if it had been made any time after this past Spring, the opening story would have gone down as one of the most tasteless ever committed to celluloid and a cinema release would have been out of the question. You’ll know exactly what I’m on about once you watch it, which you most definitely should.

31) Animal Kingdom (Australia)

The thread about the travails of Roman with the feral youth of Connemara put me in mind of this dark but fine crime drama. Time was when the like of those unruly kids would have been shipped off to Australia and this story, loosely based on real events, is a frightening insight into what generation upon generation of the ingrained criminal mentality produces. It’s not pretty.

Australian cinema has always worked best when it hasn’t tried to imitate what everyone else does and rejoiced in its own quirkiness. The likes of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert simply couldn’t have been made anywhere else. So it’s fitting that David Michod’s directorial debut takes a fresh approach to the portrayal of organized crime, this is anything but ‘Goodfellas goes Down Under’ as it has sometimes been inappropriately labelled.

The Cody family are a fixture of Melbourne’s underworld, headed up by their mother, affectionately nicknamed Smurf, who rules the clan in the style of an Antipodean Ma Barker. Her 17 year old grandson Josh has strived to stay outside of the family business, but when his mother dies from a heroin overdose, he has no choice but to turn to the matriarchal Smurf for help. She invites him to move in alongside her three sons into the family home, which is under constant surveillance from the local police seeking to arrest Smurf’s on-the-run eldest son, Pope. This inevitably drags the vulnerable and impressionable Josh into the criminality that is pervasive around him.

Some would say that Animal Kingdom is a film more to be admired than enjoyed but it has plenty to recommend it, not least the performances of Jacki Weaver as Smurf – truly a wolf in sheep’s clothing - and Ben Mendelsohn in the role of the manipulative and menacing Pope. There’s an incessant grittiness to it but perhaps the most striking feature of the film is the near-apathy with which its protagonists greet events which ought to leave them outraged and shocked. A different take on a well-worn theme and one of the most appropriately titled films I’ve ever seen.

32) Nebraska

Alexander Payne depicted the plight of a Nebraskan struggling to adjust to life after retirement in his touching if melancholic 2002 film About Schmidt. So making another film on essentially the same topic was a courageous move but one he accomplished handsomely in this sedately paced, dark but engagingly charming work.

The film opens with Woody Grant, an elderly man wandering in a confused state around his small hometown in rural Montana. We soon learn that the reason he’s in this dither is his belief that he has won a million dollars in a sweepstake and asks his son David to drive him to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim his prize. With one look at the notification letter David realises it’s an obvious scam but with his own personal life going less than swimmingly, agrees to drive his father to Lincoln regardless. Along the way they visit family and old friends, an experience which shines light into a past the father had managed to keep hidden from his son and family all his life.

There’s sparseness to every aspect of the film that is particularly convincing in evoking the atmosphere of the Midwest. The beautiful black and white cinematography somehow succeeds in making the wide expanses of the Nebraskan plains seem claustrophobic. The dialogue is minimal but pithy. Many films use expletives with a frequency which results in them scarcely registering with the viewer, here the one f-bomb in the film is delivered with the precision, force and impact of a cruise missile strike. Less is definitely more in Nebraska and the film does demand the viewer to join many of the dots for themselves. It’s a rewarding exercise though as the more one thinks about this film, the more its beautifully humane heart is exposed.

33) Stoker

‘The life of an impressionable young woman is turned upside down by the arrival of her Uncle Charlie, who she quickly comes to realize isn’t the charming gent he appears to be.’ Thus may have read a brief summary of Hitchcock’s 1943 Film Noir Shadow Of A Doubt. It’s as though screenwriter Wentworth Miller (who acknowledged the influence of Hitchcock’s film on his work here) decided to write a screenplay after reading such a synopsis off the back off a DVD cover and indeed the film draws other inspirations from the Master of Suspense.

This Uncle Charlie arrives at the funeral of his brother Richard, who has died in a car accident. There he is introduced to Richard’s widow Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) and daughter India (Mia Wasikowska) for the first time, as he had spent his life until then traveling the world. Once there he announces that he’s moving in with them indefinitely to help support them through their bereavement, despite neither mother nor daughter requesting this. This proves the first indication that all is not what it seems to be with this man.

This is the English-language debut of Korean director Park Chan-wook, whose Oldboy initiated this list. While it could never lay claim to being the greatest film ever made, I loved the way it continually confounded my expectations of it, all the way from its incongruous title to the conclusion. I won’t elaborate on that as to do so would influence your opinions of the film.

I’ll freely admit to allowing reviews of films to greatly influence whether I’ll watch them or not. And perhaps if I’d read the reviews of this before watching it I’d never have bothered, as the general reception was mixed. That came as a surprise to me when I read them afterwards because I found this a very refreshing approach to essentially mainstream filmmaking. I suspect the difference between what reviewers were expecting and what transpired was largely responsible for those lukewarm sentiments. If you go into this with an open mind and let it take you where it will, I think you’ll find it a rewarding journey. It’s a film whose stock I can envisage rising with time.

34) Man On Wire

Yes, another documentary and it’s something for which I offer no apology, we are living in a golden age of the genre. This particular one deservedly won the 2009 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

The Man On Wire is French High-wire artist Philippe Petit. What made the wire particularly noteworthy was that it was tied between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre on the morning of August 7th 1974, with an untethered Petit strolling nonchalantly back and forth across it for three quarters of an hour in the howling wind, 400 metres above the ground with only a balancing pole for support.

Presented almost in the style of a heist film, it chronicles the years leading up the WTC walk and the clandestine efforts of Petit and his associates in setting up the brazen exhibition. Petit’s inspiration and the hopes and fears of he and his fellow participants are vividly evoked by director James Marsh, who said he wished to offer the people of New York an alternative abiding memory of the Twin Towers than the circumstances of their ultimate demise (which is never referenced here).

By mining into Petit’s psyche in an attempt to understand what would possess any sane person to take such an enormous risk to their life for what was ultimately just a performance, the subject comes across somewhat arty and a bit well, French, at times. That would normally irritate me but the film succeeds in convincing us that he deserves a pass for any self-indulgence on account of the sheer balls he demonstrates to accomplish his feat.

35) El Secreto De Sus Ojos (The Secret In Their Eyes) Argentina 2009

I swear I’m not on a retainer from the Argentine Film Institute but this is the third film from that country to make the list. Few who have seen this one could argue with its inclusion here I think.

It’s the turn of the millennium in Buenos Aires. Benjamin Esposito (played by Ricardo Darin, who also features in the previously included Relatos Salvajes) is a retired Federal Agent inflicted with a bad bout of writer’s block in attempting to start his first novel. He visits his former colleague and now Judge Irene Menendez-Hastings to inform her of his idea of basing the book on a case that they both worked on in the mid-1970’s, that of a young woman who was brutally raped and murdered in her home. In delving back into the circumstances of that investigation, the story inevitably immerses itself in the history of those dark and violent times in Argentina.

Being an Argentine film intended primarily for viewers in that country, the narrative assumes some knowledge on the part of the viewer of the time and place in which it is set. Thus it isn’t made explicitly clear that the timeframe covered by the original investigation, trial and its aftermath spans the years leading up to and immediately following the seizing of power by the ruthless military dictatorship of General Jorge Videla in a Coup D’état. There is no direct reference to the Dirty War or the Disappeared but the pervasive presence of the junta casts a conspicuous shadow over proceedings. Although the story and its characters are entirely fictional, the backdrop is all too historically accurate.

That said, one shouldn’t get the impression that this is two hours and ten minutes of despair and political ideology. Far from it. Ultimately, it’s a love story but it’s sprinkled with some wonderfully cynical humour throughout. This more than compensates for the occasional bit of credulity stretching with the plot. And it can lay serious claim to having the best sequence ever filmed inside a football stadium.

This is yet another fine foreign language film about to be subjected to the curse of the pointless (and no doubt inferior) Hollywood remake. Make sure you see the original before Julia Roberts ruins it for you.

36) Nueve Reinas (Nine Queens) Argentina

Really didn’t intend following one Argentine film with another in this list, but circumstances dictate here. I’m sensing a lot of PMT on the forum so something lighter than normal is required. So I’ve gone for a good old fashioned con flick with a difference. And anyway that blue and white striped third strip we have is clearly modelled on that of La Albiceleste, so it’s good luck. Probably.

The film opens in a convenience store where Juan (Gastón Pauls) successfully pulls off an old school con on the cashier. He pushes his luck by trying it again on the next shift but this time gets caught. A plain clothes police officer who witnessed the scam hauls him away, only to reveal himself as a fellow confidence trickster, Marcos (Ricardo Darín – star of the El Secreto De Sus Ojos reviewed above). He takes the young Juan under his wing, teaching him a few new techniques.

A once in a lifetime opportunity then presents itself. A former associate of Marcos approaches him for his help in selling counterfeit copies of a collection of rare and valuable stamps collectively known as Las Nueve Reinas (The Nine Queens). An elaborate scheme is then hatched to entice the chosen target to hand over $450,000 for the stamps without him realizing they’re fakes.

There are twists, turns and deceits aplenty as the story plays out. It’s not the best film (or even the best Argentine film) in this list but is a level above your average crime drama, entertaining throughout and should keep you guessing to the end.

37) Double Indemnity

We’ve probably all had the experience of reading through some published list of the ‘Top 100/200 Films of All Time’ by some alleged expert and despairing at the addition of some very recent films that really weren’t particularly memorable. While these things are purely a matter of opinion and one critic’s views are as valid as any others, one unwelcome consequence of this tendency to overvalue the contemporary is that some genuinely classic flicks of yesteryear slip out of the public consciousness of what constitutes essential viewing. This fate seems to have befallen this week’s choice.

Billy Wilder was a true Hollywood giant, as a canon that includes The Lost Weekend, Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot and The Apartment attests. His own favourite film of those he made himself was this adaptation of James M Cain’s novella, which over 70 years later still sets the standard against which anything labelled Film Noir is measured.

The opening scene sees Walter Neff (played by Fred MacMurray), a successful insurance salesman, relating an apparent confession into his office Dictaphone in the dead of a Los Angeles night. In the ensuing flashback, Neff visits the home of one of his clients, Mr Dietrichson, for a routine car insurance renewal. Dietrichson is not home but his sultry and seductive wife Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck), oozing sexual charisma, engages him in some playful flirting until she casually enquires about taking a life insurance policy on her husband without his knowledge. Smelling a rat, Neff makes his excuses and leaves. But he soon finds the allure of this femme fatale irresistible and finds himself helplessly drawn into her murderous plans.

Many of the elements employed here have been copied so often over the ensuing seven decades that they have become cinematic clichés but that doesn’t detract from Double Indemnity in any way. In fact trends in cinema since its release in 1944 have moved away from much of what works best here – the distinctly murky atmosphere throughout, the subtlety of the sensuous interplay between the lead characters imposed by the mores of the time and the emphasis on nuances of voice and sharp dialogue (the ‘speed limit’ scene in particular) – in a manner that’s to the detriment of modern equivalents in these eyes. Watch it and judge for yourself how the 1940’s thriller measures up to 21st century equivalents.


#4

So Glad you decided to post this again, it’s become my ambition to watch every single movie on this list.
Like to see you add some westerns especially spaghetti westerns.
For what it’s worth I love the magnificent 7 ( will not be going to see the remake)
A fistful of dollars, and a few dollars more are great flicks too.
Old boy at number one is a great pick,saw the Hollywood version first and then the origina, really is no comparison.
Would also like your take on sci-fi.
Top of my list is Alien, Ridley Scott’s best movie imo.
Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading and seeing much more.


#5

Cheers Kenny.

When I started the original list, I said my idea was not to post anything too obvious or that I felt most people would already have seen.

Have to admit I’m not a huge fan of Westerns in general. I think anybody into that genre will already have seen the Dollars trilogy. The Magnificent Seven is a great film but as I’m sure you know is itself a remake of Seven Samurai. They truly are scraping the barrel in remaking a remake.

I’ve an even bigger aversion to Sci-Fi as a genre, though there may be one or two exceptions in the draft list. Saw Alien for the first time only a couple of years back and found it incredibly overrated, literally nothing happens for the first 45 minutes. It’s not even his best Sci-Fi film for me, I’d sooner watch even The Martian again before it.


#6

I would go far as to say Aliens was actually a better film , don’t have to worry about lack of action in that . Is This Is Spinal Tap in your list ? I find it one of the best comedies I’ve ever seen . Prob because of my interest in music but I just love the whole ad lib stuff as well and the ridiculousness of it all . Big fan of Christopher Guest & Michael McKean.


#7

I thought Spinal Tap would be too obvious, went for Best In Show from most of the same crew.


#8

I’m the same when it comes to sci-fi with 2 exceptions: Flash Gordon (Sam Jones and THAT soundtrack from Queen) and the original Battlestar Galactica series from 1978.


#9

Best in show, fantastically underrated movie, office space is another I love.
Guess I’m just the sci-fi geek round here.
Have to agree with the original Battlestar too.
Mash is another movie Id have in there, again war movies are a genre I’m fond of.
Letter from iwojima, full metal jacket and apocalypse now would be my favs.
Platoon another good one and more recently the hurt locker.
Was not a big fan of American sniper. Lot of propaganda going on that didn’t sit right with me.


#10

Great list…loads I would love to see and never even heard of. The Lives of Others is a cracking movie. Also the Rodriguez movie…through someone in SA I was given a bootleg of his amazing album Cold Fact in about 1993. It was one of my favourite albums for many years but I was told he was dead and knew nothing else about him. Then my South African buddy was here and SPOILER ALERT! brought me to the movie without telling me that he was actually alive and well and living in Denver…I haven’t been that stunned and delighted since Jack Sheedy scored that point against Meath!


#11

Thirteen films to go and an explanation is owed for the snail’s pace at which I’m completing this list, for it’s not just complacency about the Lillies’ prospects of lifting Sam to blame. I have a draft list of films to include but I’m not convinced I have enough films meeting the criteria of not being too obvious whilst also being of the same quality (in my opinion anyway) as what has preceded them in this list. I’ve also got a rake of films I either want to check out or else revisit. So bear with me. I will go with one recent addition that’s been nailed on for inclusion since I saw it.

Incidentally these films are in no particular order, the numberings are just that, not rankings.

38) The Gift (2015)

The fact that the judging panels for the Golden Globes and Academy Awards apparently have a collective memory akin to a goldfish afflicted with Alzheimer’s has resulted in the major studios increasingly tending to shoehorn the releases of what they consider their best (or perhaps more accurately, most lucrative) films into the last weeks of a given year. One unfortunate upshot of this policy has been the assumption of lesser quality on the part of the movie-watching public towards films of certain genres released outside this period. However, many independent producers are now targeting their releases deliberately to avoid being swamped by the annual deluge of Oscar bait and a few gems have slipped into this space in recent years. Amongst them is this unsettling psychological thriller made on a budget of $5 Million and released last summer.

Well-to-do married couple Simon and Robyn Callum move into a luxury home in Los Angeles, where they have just moved to from Chicago after Simon accepts a highly paid position back in his home city. While queueing to pay for groceries one day, they are approached by Gordon ‘Gordo’ Moseley, who recognises Simon from their shared schooldays. Despite Simon barely being able to remember the guy, Gordo visits their house to deliver a housewarming present. He starts to visit their home with increasing regularity for ever more implausible reasons, which Robyn sees as no problem but makes Simon feel uncomfortable. Things take a turn for the strange after they accept an invitation to Gordo’s place, after which Simon tells Gordo to stay away from them.

To reveal much more would be plot spoiling, suffice to say this doesn’t unfold in the manner one might expect of your average thriller. Some have apparently been quite repulsed by it, I found it original, thought provoking and thoroughly engrossing.

Incidentally, Simon is played by Jason Bateman, who those of you of a certain vintage may remember as a child actor as the ‘bad influence’ on Ricky Schroder’s character in the 80’s American sitcom Silver Spoons.


#12

Together, were going to find our way.
Together, taking the time each day.
To learn all about those things you just cant buy.

Loved that when I was a nipper


#13

Anyone seen Sing Street yet? Any good?


#14

Really enjoyed Animal Kingdom, Ben Mendelsohn is a fine actor.


#15

Absolutely class! In my opinion one of the best Irish films in a while. And the sound track is absolutely amazing. Really well shot, really well directed, and some seriously good performance from totally unknown actors


#16

Cheers… I’ll go and see it, so.


#17

Watched this last night - thought it was excellent.
Keep up the good work.


#18

A friend just recommended this to me last week and was surprised I’d never heard of it. Had put it on the long finger until reading this review. Thanks Uroy.

Incidentally he’d also recommended The Invitation which he said was the same type of flick as The Gift but he preferred The Invitation. I hadn’t heard of that either, but I’ve watched it since - not bad.


#19

By the way, it’s been a few months now since the original was on, what was the aspect of The Taking of Pelham 123 that Tarantino lifted for Reservoir Dogs?


#20

Each crook is named Mr Orange, Mr Brown etc?