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.
- The Last Movie (1971 – Dennis Hopper)
Because movies are an addiction.
It was a film I had to hunt down, having only seen moments of the movie within a documentary. It became a high I was desperate to seek. Still hidden, it remains one of cinema’s greatest buried treasure, a painfully honest excavation of ego (and the demise of it) at the height of a decade of American auteurism. Hopper was determined to collapse any expression of his perceived ‘genius’, and few films capture such unrelenting self-destruction.
- The Bling Ring (2013 – Sofia Coppola)
Because this is the future.
Unlike most films that seek to divide young people, this film demonstrates the bliss of forming deep friendships at that age (and the absolute freedom that comes once one of you has a car.) Dismissed, by men, as superficial and indulgent, The Bling Ring follows children overwhelmed by the beauty of the world they live in and explores their absolute intention to live a life that matters. Did we really all become that much better when we grew up? Shouldn’t we return to those feelings of such intensity we knew at a young age? Wouldn’t that put an end to all the apathy we experience in the face of such evident cruelty in the world?
- Light Sleeper (1992 – Paul Schrader)
Because we’re searching for moments of peace.
Pauls Schrader’s spiritual sequel to Taxi Driver (1976) continues a running theme of individuals dislocated from society around them, and the unavoidable descent into violence that occurs once you try to take control of your life. There’s an earnestness to Schrader’s work which is so charming… like he has no ability to express love so can only steal sex scenes from Godard and grace notes from Bresson. But it is a film of utterly sweet queerness, as if sex can never enter the frame. Even the final expression of love comes with the understanding that there will be no physical contact for years.
- Thief (1981 – Michael Mann)
Because the understanding the individual is key.
Michael Mann is a man who is excavating his themes to their fullest extent. He will uncover that skeleton. Key to his work is understanding how he explores the ability of the individual to maintain control over his life – to maintain a work/life balance with his family in Manhunter (1986), to maintain control over a profession in the face of overwhelming love in Miami Vice (2006) – and here, how an individual maintains his individuality and integrity when a corporation disrupts his existence. With a richness of colour, a depth of shadow and a soundtrack that elevates the film to something eternal, Thief is an artist laying out a stall that we will return to again and again.
- Déjà Vu (2006 – Tony Scott)
Because you would do anything for love.
There’s a moment when Denzel Washington looks at an image of a woman and decides he will go back in time to save her life. And in that moment his face flashes with fear of the consequences, terror at the force of his conviction and absolute determination to do the right thing. Tony Scott directs with his kaleidoscopic approach to montage, allowing fragments of images, colour and performance to fill the screen, forcing us as a viewer to become more engaged, to invest more and to stretch our minds by constantly stitching together images. It’s a stimulating visual pleasure.
- Event Horizon (1997 – Paul W. S. Anderson)
Because some images haunt your mind
Cinema is superior to television in many ways (performance, direction, inventiveness) but no more so than in how it has appropriated science fiction concepts and reduced it to the background. Ideas litter the frame, rather than dominate the conversation. Event Horizon explores the horror of space travel, the limited movement, lack of freedom, lack of company in an environment that will kill you in an instant. This film features a truly disturbing vision of hell that plagues my mind from time to time.
- Play Misty for Me (1971 – Clint Eastwood)
Because sometimes you can’t escape.
Clint Eastwood begins a career of exploring how he does not understand women. But he is never content to simplify women (or indeed, ever cast conventionally Hollywood type actresses) allowing for portrayals of a complex, yet ultimately terrifying femininity. Even at this relatively early stage of his career he realised that he was greater than a star – he was already an icon – and his future years would depend on threats causing his iconic body crumble and the ultimate dominance of his face and voice when films required it. The first half of the film is imbibed with a sense of dread, that manifests itself in genuinely unhinged acts of mania. Eastwood’s first film remains his most invigorating, in the same way that Duel (1971) is for Spielberg.
- Groundhog Day (1993 – Harold Ramis)
Because sometimes you can’t escape.
One of the most beautifully enjoyable films ever made, Groundhog Day is about the serenity found in accepting that you cannot affect the world or the people around you, you can only affect yourself. A film of blissful humour and a typically laconic central performance from Bill Murray that plays off his peculiar blend of sweet frostiness, it is only in the moments after the film that you realise that Phil Connors relived the same day for a millennia or two.
- Jaws (1975 – Steven Spielberg)
Because there is no point in life which wouldn’t be made better by watching Jaws.
For a film that supposedly invented the blockbuster, Jaws takes its time to get to the shark. Spielberg demonstrates the purity of his eye, his subtle ability to place figures in a frame and move the camera only at moments of great effect. Demonstrating how physical strength and intellectual stamina are both required to survive, he demonstrates how man’s inventiveness and ability to create tools allows us to dominate, and destroy, nature.
- Shock Corridor (1963 – Samuel Fuller)
Because independence is worthwhile.
With a purity of expression, Samuel Fuller explores humanities dirtiest little secret… our minds. Hidden from everyone else, our perversions, delusions, and fantasies fester away. Occasionally they break through, and then we have a mental health issue, but this is too much. And mental health must be as hidden as the thoughts themselves. So the struggling individual is placed in an institution, where expressions of control and sanity are ignored as moments of confusion. And all the dirty little thoughts bubble up in racism, cruelty and violence.