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.
- Husbands and Wives (1992 – Woody Allen)
Because this is what men are like.
In a substantial and celebrated career, it’s hard to identify the true moments of glory. But here, Woody Allen accurately portrays the control men attempt to have over women, particularly if the women are younger. It’s all about power. Choosing a freer style of shooting, with misframes, empty spaces and openings and endings of scenes allowed to continue beyond their natural cutting points, Allen creates a vibrant piece of mature filmmaking that he has been unable to top now for twenty-five years.
- Fish Tank (2009 – Andrea Arnold)
Because this is reality.
Shot in academy ratio, Arnold’s touching account of a young girl’s desires never fails to provoke an audience. It presents a reality of neglect, dreams and survival that is deeply moving. Interestingly, no one ever seems to agree on Michael Fassbender’s intentions in this film; is he grooming the daughter, is he a good man who makes a mistake, is he the only decent thing in her life – it presents a situation more complex than real life.
- AntiChrist (2009 – Lars Von Trier)
Because maybe the world is evil.
Willingly provocative, AntiChrist is explores what happens when a man tries to fix a woman. From the opening moments, when Von Trier seeks to make something beautiful out of explicit sex and the death of a child, the film is full of moments designed to shock an audience. Yet, amidst the ejaculating cocks and talking foxes, there are moments of subliminal and explicit beauty – where faces are glimpsed in the reflection of train windows, and bodies writhe in and out of the roots of a tree.
- Assault on Precinct 13 (1976 – John Carpenter)
Because movies blow your mind.
So much of my formative cinephilia came from scanning the TV listings and finding classic movies shown late at night. Despite a wall of DVDs, I long for those days. I came in halfway through Assault on Precinct 13… and sat, a few inches from the screen, with the sound turned down and light flickering across my face until the early hours of the next day. I had never seen anything like it. Brutally compelling, it has the directness of intention that is a tremendous strength of Carpenter’s work. It marks the start of one of the greatest runs of good movies in cinema.
- Point Blank (1967 – John Boorman)
Because there are great adaptations.
The first in a long line of unrelated adaptations of Richard Stark’s Parker series of fictions, Point Blank predicates a wave of modern films that took the stripped, direct approach of noir cinema and transported it to the modern world. Filmed in bright colour and deep shadows, with flash cuts, and a monolithically unstoppable performance from Lee Marvin (a man out of time – whose very presence disrupts the very structure of the celluloid.) It would later be readapted as a more conventional film by Brian Helgelend in 1999, of which the director’s cut (Payback: Straight Up) is a pale, but watchable, imitation of this film.
- Frances Ha (2012 – Noah Baumbach)
Because it’s right to stay to the end of the credits.
I went to the cinema expecting, at best, to tolerate this film. And I sat, leaning forward, enthralled to very closing moment of the credits. It is a sweetly touching film, its authenticity coming from the hand of Greta Gerwig. It is the most perfect film to watch at any moment when you are trying to make changes to your life on your own. It’s for those moments when failure feels close and it is only hope that keeps you moving forward.
- F for Fake (1974 – Orson Welles)
For me the second half of Orson Welles career is the most appealing. When he’s desperate and overweight and taking roles in anything to make money just to fund his project. When there are these half-finished, stolen projects scattered all over Europe. When our imaginings of what he was capable of achieving are as vivid as the final products we possess. A living expression of the power of editing, of the ability of directors to manipulate the viewer, of the joy of performance. It is a testament to the openness of cinema – of how it involves us in temporal moments and engages us to feel something quite extraordinary.
- Suspiria (1977 – Dario Argento)
Because movies are better at nightmares than dreams.
From the very first frames of the film, you know this has been a mistake. You know that there are images in this movie that will haunt you forever. Argento’s whirlwind of anxiety (even the wallpaper in the sets are designed to induce feelings of discomfort in the audience) features some of the most extraordinary colour design that cinema has ever seen. The Goblin soundtrack is designed to both perfectly catchy, and utterly unplayable due to its inclusion of grunts and yells and demonic chants.
- Bande à Part (1964 – Jean-Luc Godard)
Because this is what I’d want to be.
In a decade of riding the zeitgeist, this remains Godard’s most agreeable movie. With a fertile imagination of form and a casualness of performance, it represents a world in which we’d want to live. There is a freedom to existence; this is a life without fear, regret or anxiety. By breaking plot to its thinnest edge, Godard demonstrating that the appeal of movie lay in the exhilaration of watching figures move through a frame, and subliminally seeing a direct transpose these figures and their environments against each other.
- The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956 – Alfred Hitchcock)
Because Hollywood isn’t always right.
Often neglected in favour of Hitchcock’s own fifties remake, (as indeed is all of his British work – not unjustly, but it does deny many of the pleasures to be found in his British movies.) The English version is messier and nastier and loses some of the gloss that can smother Hitchcock’s Hollywood work (I’m not saying this as a rule – I love To Catch a Thief (1955) as much as anyone else.) It also features a compellingly disgusting villainous role from Peter Lorre that is a delight to watch.