The Canon. One hundred films with nothing from the top 250 Sight & Sound poll. These are the b-sides; un-canonised, free from decades of perception and discussion, but great films in their own right. No apologies, no pretensions.
11. Three Businessmen (1998 – Alex Cox)
Because you could get lost tonight.
Two men meet, get talking and become completely oblivious to their surroundings. Quietly discussing their own opinions (as all men are want to do) they walk through an ever-changing city, full of impossible geography and an-architecture. They look for reason and sense, but the icons they place hope in (such as a financial systems) prove to be empty rooms. Ultimately they wander into a moment of divinity, but remain completely oblivious to it, continuing with their meaningless meandering shortly afterwards. There is no hope for us all.
12. High Fidelity (2000 – Stephen Frears)
Because even the little films open your mind.
I remember seeing this film at a young age, being dragged there by two friends. I sat enthralled, and it worryingly shaped my life for the next few years. My friends hated it – and at that moment I realised how good it was to be an individual. It remains a thoroughly touching film – “She didn’t make me feel miserable, or anxious or ill-at-ease.” It’s what we’re all hoping for. (I appreciate the irony that I am currently creating one big list.)
13. Punch-Drunk Love (2002 – Paul Thomas Anderson)
Because love is wanting to punch you in the face.
Sometimes the palate-cleansers are more rewarding than the great works of art. Anderson trolls his audience by making a ninety-minute Adam Sandler comedy and creates one of the most vivid representations of discomfort and the struggle to maintain mental health on screen. More quietly manipulative than initially thought (Emily Watson can be seen in the background of some of the supermarket scenes), it remains kaleidoscopic delight.
14. Death Proof (2007 – Quentin Tarantino)
Because few films are this open.
Another superior palate-cleanser. Tarantino’s films benefit from their openness; his novelist approach to writing stories ensures his films have life before and after their running time and are littered with characters who have (and will live) entire lives. Death Proof makes this the text, crafting a film which has vital moments deleted, could be running out-of-order, or could be a mash-up of two completely unrelated movies starring Kurt Russell. It is Tarantino at his purest; violent, chatty, frigid and dynamic and has an utterly brilliant car chase (the greatest thing about movies ever.)
15. The Small Back Room (1949 – Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger)
Because someone did an alcoholic Hurt Locker sixty years ago.
Created in between some of their greatest Technicolour glories (though it features a spectacular dream sequence), The Small Back Room is a brutal portrayal of the wearying responsibility that comes with trying to be good. Tired and drunk, Sammy Rice is intoxicated with a rather old-fashioned sense of duty that comes with attempting to defend a country on the verge of defeat. Ending with a flinchingly terrifying bomb defusal scene – it is the terrifying sight of a man battling to control himself in order to save others and a moment of brilliant tension.
16. The Long Goodbye (1973 – Robert Altman)
Because there are no easy answers.
Laid-back and inoffensive, Philip Marlowe is a victim of the forces that surround him. It is impossible for the individual to maintain his dignity in the face of the oppressive forces of crime and business in his city. A perpetual stooge, his act of violence at the end of the film is one of the most disruptive instances committed to celluloid. Even the picture jumps. An unflustered, washed-out glimpse of seventies Los Angeles, it is the high-point in a remarkable decade of directing by Robert Altman.
17. Into the Night (1985 – John Landis)
Because sometimes it’s better not to step outside.
Lost and sleepless after discovering his wife is having an affair, Jeff Goldblum wanders the streets of night-time L.A. There he discovers the inescapable reality that you should never step outside your comfort zone. Hapless in the face of violence, sex and personalities fare stronger than his own, he struggles to restore some order to his life. No wonder no one ever makes the drastic decisions they need to, and choose to remain in the relationships and jobs and lives that make them unhappy
18. The Tenant (1976 – Roman Polanski)
Because some films make you want to take a shower.
The final part of Polanski’s apartment trilogy, here he continues his exploration of mankind’s greatest enemy – their own mind. But the sheer unashamed nakedness of Polanski’s film (and performance) makes it the most disturbing of all. There is a moment in all our lives where we hate the place we live, where going home makes us physically uncomfortable, and no film has captured this experience – and it’s consequences – better.
19. Big Wednesday (1978 – John Milius)
Because we’re desperate for grace.
Milius is caricatured as a right-wing nut, his films dismissed as violent fantasies (though it always struck me that Red Dawn (1984) showed extraordinary sympathy for the Vietcong.) In Big Wednesday he crafted an elegaic testament to the beauty and freedom found in nature, and he captured (as film is wont to do) the fleeting moments in our lives when we are surrounded by special people who make us feel good. These moments pass, but this film lasts forever.
20. 13 Assassins (2010 – Takashi Miike)
Because death is the only answer.
Made with Miike’s unapologetically fantastical eye, this film is vital for its final hour… which is an unstoppable battle. With determined, unwavering focus, he shows us the efforts of 13 men defending a village against an army. It is brutal and breathless and unflinching and it makes you feel as if you have fought yourself. You are left bloodied and bruised by cinema itself.