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.
- Repulsion (1965 – Roman Polanski)
Because movies help you understand other souls.
Because movies are littered with beautiful people, and they involve us actively watching them, part of our viewing experience involves fantasising about their precious existence. So Polanski takes that, takes a stunning icon of the sixties, and puts her through true terror. The mind is a fragile thing when you are left to your own devices. Even the bright and beautiful struggle to stay alive. It speaks to the daily horror that women are subjected to – their bodies objectified, their minds denied, their friendship perverted into attraction.
- Prince of Darkness (1987 – John Carpenter)
Because the second draft is better than the first.
In John Carpenter’s great run of movies, The Fog (1980) is a picture that I have always struggled with. I like the creeping horror, but the fact that it attacks on so many fronts leads to a splintered viewing process, with multiple cliffhangers occurring at once. Prince of Darkness refines the scenario, causing multiple threats to strike, but within a contained environment. A cinematic exploration of the supposedly ‘separate spheres’ of science and religion.
- Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974 – Sam Peckinpah)
Because all films end.
Sometimes you’re just watching the running time, mentally calculating how much longer there is to go. Some great films adopt that into their text, where the ending is inevitable, and the plot of the film is a desperate attempt to avoid it. And with Peckinpah, the ending would always be an explosion of violence. A sleazy, shameless delight of a film, you feel the sweat and dirt dripping off the celluloid. And it has the greatest title given to a film ever.
- Possession (1981 – Andrzej Zulawski)
Because this is true horror.
The history of horror movies is one of men doing horrible things to women (as the real world is too.) Within these narratives, women have been able to escape these misogynistic structures, or turn violence against their oppressors. Actors can escape by producing performances of strength and charm that endear them to the audience. Or they can do what Isabelle Adjani does, and give a performance of such extraordinary terror and conviction, that you never feel safe. You cannot grasp what she is achieving, performing multiple roles and exposing her body to such possession. The greatest special effects are performances and this is one of the greatest of all.
- Opening Night (1977 – John Cassavetes)
Because I still have nightmares about not knowing my lines.
Acting is such a peculiar profession – pretending to be someone else for entertainment – that we forget the craft involved when it is done well. Opening Night features some extraordinary moments of performances (staged? Improvised? Rehearsed?) that are beguiling and shattering and electric. It is acting at its most vulnerable and most intriguing.
- Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957 – Frank Tashlin)
Because sometimes movies see the future.
It’s easy to contain films – to limit them to times and nationalities. To judge them on their superficial qualities. To focus on troublesome qualities and deny the remaining pleasures. But films breakout from these constrictions, and sometimes present intriguing glimpses into the world ahead of them. Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? anticipates our obsession with celebrity, our reliance on advertising to feel good, and the rise of corporations in limiting our abilities to change our lives. And it features some of the greatest trolling of television ever. TV sucks. Long live movies!
- McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971 – Robert Altman)
Because movies are the great American artform.
Here Altman plots the birth of commercialism in America and indicates how it will dominate everything, including the individual (and even religion – see how the church burns down in the final reel of the film.) It features some delirious cinematography from Vilmos Zsigmond, who almost ‘washed out’ the film to ensure that every moment was heavy with a sense of history, despite the multi-levelled soundtrack work that was occurring onscreen
- Schizopolis (1996 – Steven Soderbergh)
(Soderbergh begins his career with a bang, and then spends years trying to figure out what he is. Ultimately he realises he is not a writer, and spends a decade or so attempting a wide variety of projects that amount to a great deal as a whole, and more often than not, not very much on their own. Schizopolis is his palate-cleanser, his self-starring, frenetic surreal piece of comedy filmmaking.)
- The Color Wheel (2011 – Alex Ross Perry)
Because movies are horrendously surprising.
Filmed in high contrast, high grain black-and-white, The Color Wheel features about eighty minutes of some highly repellent individuals being toxic to those around them and deluded about themselves. As we all are. And then comes an ending which is so surprising, so compelling and so perfect that you never quite believe it happened. Extraordinary.
- Strange Days (1995 – Kathryn Bigelow)
Because you need to see things in a different light.
Bigelow takes the very idea of cinema – the experience of watching another perspective – and incorporates it into the narrative of a science-fiction thriller. Featuring moments of extraordinary spectacle, she confronts us with our complicity in watching horrible things happen to other people, and the delight we so often feel when we do so.