Every time I read a Top Ten Films list, either at the end of a year, a decade, or simply look at someone else’s top ten, I’m compelled to make my own. Or rather I’m compelled to attempt to list ten, sweat over it, cross some out, add some more, remember some later, then realise I can’t whittle it down to ten.
So, rather than do my Top 10 Films of all time, here are 12 films I couldn’t live without. Some years back my list would have looked very different, with more Coen Brothers, Allen, and Lynch. I still love their films, some more than ever, but with Lynch it’s more his style that appeals and certain scenes, rather than entire films. So here we go…
This is almost certainly my favourite film of all time. I love ensemble dramas, cause-and-effect plots, interweaving storylines. The cast is perfect. The soundtrack by Aimee Mann is impeccable. However, while people rave about the ‘Wise Up’ singalong scene as being the highlight, for me it’s nurse Philip Seymour Hoffman’s scene where he’s on the phone, trying to track down his patient’s son. This scene alone earns him the title of my all time favourite actor. Also if you’ve never really thought Tom Cruise could act, watch his scenes. I couldn’t really neglect to feature a film which boasts the 3-name trilogy – William H Macy, John C Reilly & Philip Seymour Hoffman
A lot of people don’t like the third act, see it as misguided or disappointing, or both, but it works for me. I can understand why people are turned off by the direction the film took, but I love it. It’s got so much in it that I love – strong ensemble cast (again), a strong score by John Murphy, Brian Cox as a scientific adviser, Danny Boyle behind the camera, and Chris Evans before he went beefcake.
I saw it on the big screen when it was released and when the end credits came up I wasn’t sure what I’d seen, couldn’t quite decide what I felt about it. The same thing happened with Ex Machina – maybe it’s the Alex Garland factor. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen this film, read the script, listened to the score. To me, it’s perfect.
When Goodfellas was released I was 16. I couldn’t see it at the cinema but I rented it on VHS. I was a huge Scorsese fan but had been horrified when someone had told me it was ‘better than The Godfather’ – how could someone say such sacrilege, I thought?
And then I watched it. Bought it. Wore out the VHS tape. My friends and I would quote it when we weren’t quoting Die Hard or The Goonies.
I don’t watch this film very often any more, but I don’t need to. I know it’s a classic, there’s not a lot I could say about it that hasn’t been said before, but it’s played a huge role in my history as well as film history.
Despite loving this on first viewing, it’s grown on me intensely over the years, and I do think most of the love I have for this film stems from Clint Mansell’s hypnotic score. It draws you in, calms you, isolates you – apparently Clint drew from his own experiences of feeling like an outsider when he first moved to LA – to show Sam Rockwell’s alienation. Rockwell is excellent as Sam Bell; whenever I watch it I forget his journey is so intense and how the film unfolds.
Missed this on its theatrical release but Empire magazine were all over it like a rash, so some friends rented it at University one night. About 30 minutes from the end, a friend of mine phoned me, and I returned only to catch Verbal walking down the street. Hadn’t got a clue what was going on.
But I couldn’t get the film out of my head. I couldn’t stop thinking about this little guy from New York being interrogated. I wanted to know what Gabriel Byrne was up to. A few months later I bought it on video (a special double VHS box set with the film-and-commentary on the second tape) and, like Goodfellas, wore the thing out. I don’t think Bryan Singer has come close since – and kudos to editor/composer John Ottman for making the thing so darn well executed.
Another one which grew on me since I first saw it. I was working at HMV when this came out so much of my day was spent talking about films or watching films. I was so pleased to see Kevin Spacey get his second Oscar (no, I’m not going to mention anything other than his acting here) and to see such an incredibly crafted film, rich in imagery, some of which was only revealed to me through Sam Mendes’ wonderful commentary. I cry every time, and I love that I do. When I last watched it a few months ago I knew that if I was asked to put a ‘top films’ list together, I’d have to now include this.
Unlike some of the others on this list, I knew within the first few minutes of this film it would be a favourite. Some of you reading this who know me from social media or in real life know the place this film holds in my heart. I was 21 when it came out. I was living in London studying at Goldsmiths College. Everyone I knew had the poster or the soundtrack. The poster image was iconic, everything about it was fresh and in your face, and don’t they all look so young? In the 21 years since it came out, I’ve become a huge fan of Irving Welsh’s books and Danny Boyle, and watching this is like giving me a glimpse into my university-life self, with all the ups and downs that came with it. Rarely do I see a film with such energy.
This film seems to have left people confused by its intertwining timelines, but whether you ‘get’ it or not (I hate that phrase), it’s a work of art in terms of visuals and music. The music is composed by Clint Mansell, who I believe can do no wrong, and while ‘Death is the Road to Awe’ is the one that people know best, there are so many other gems in his score. Put this alongside my favourite Hugh Jackman performance, Darren Aronofsky’s storytelling, and a great supporting cast, and you’ve got this haunting film which I always watch when I’m having a ‘favourite films’ weekend.
In 1989 Brooklyn, to me, was a mythical place known through Woody Allen films and from TV. Do The Right Thing showed a side to the borough which I hadn’t seen before, and as a teenager I was in love with this story of the Bed-Stuy region on the hottest day of the year. Although it’s written by, directed by, and starring Spike Lee, it’s John Turturro who steals the film in my eyes with his portrayal of Pino. I went to an anniversary screening at a local cinema two years ago to see how the film held up over time, and it was interesting to see it with people watching it for the first time. I was surprised by how much of the violence I’d forgotten, how vitriolic some of the dialogue is. I also visited Bed-Stuy on one of my location-hunting trips: sadly there’s no Sal’s Famous.
10 The Prestige
This film is CLEVER. It looks beautiful and it’s full of costume porn. Christian Bale is brilliant, the non-linear narrative is well directed, and is told in the pledge-turn-prestige method of a magic trick. But it’s no so much about the magic, it’s about obsession, the lengths people will go to in order to succeed and compete, and once you watch the end and you understand a bit more about it, you’ll want to go back and watch it again through new eyes. Even when you know what’s going to unfold, it’s beautiful to watch how well it’s done and how beautifully you’ve been deceived.
I wasn’t sure whether to include this. I haven’t seen it as many times as the others on my list, and in 10 years I’m not sure it would make any of my lists. But during the last two viewings of this film, I’ve been genuinely amazed by Inception as an example of film-making. The plot may be insane but it doesn’t matter because you’re along for the ride and sucked into it, and even if you get confused it doesn’t matter because it’s so interesting. I’m glad I could include Tom Hardy in this list somewhere, because he’s one of my favourite actors. Would the film be as memorable without Hans Zimmer’s score? Maybe not. But this was one of the first films I watched on Blu-ray and it reminded me why I love film and how, for a few hours, I can be immersed in another world and swept along for the ride.
12 Withnail & I
This is a nostalgic and very funny story of two friends at the end of the 1960s which features some of the most quotable lines in British film history. It’s also incredibly honest and bitter-sweet, balancing humour and drama well, with director Bruce Robinson drawing on his experiences as a young actor living in Camden. Earlier this year I was lucky enough to attend a special anniversary screening presented by Richard E Grant and Bruce Robinson. It was magical to hear Richard E Grant call us all ‘scrubbers’.
- Two Christopher Nolan films
- Three Kevin Spacey films
- Two films scored by Clint Mansell
- Two Danny Boyle films
- Two Cillian Murphy films
- Two Hugh Jackman films
I don’t get as excited about films like I used to, and I don’t visit the cinema nearly as often. There was once a time when I would rent 6 films in one weekend, catalogue what I’d seen on index cards (this was a good 10 years before we got the internet at home) and pore over my collection of Empire magazines. What I do love is when I see a film which blows me away and reminds me that cinema can be epic, can be entertaining, can be silly, can be fun, can be heartbreaking, but I don’t get to experience that much any more, unless I’m watching an old favourite. I’m looking forward to seeing Loving Vincent and Call Me By Your Name this year, but most of all I’m excited about a Christmas screening of Die Hard at my local indie cinema. Classic.