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.
51. Certified Copy (2010 – Abbas Kiarostami)
Because truth rarely matters.
I live inside this movie. I walk its streets. I reflect on what is true and what is not. It’s a film where you can’t help but reflect on it and parse the slightest gesture, the muttered comment. But it exists as more than a puzzle because of the truths it speaks to. There is a moment where an old man tries to impart all the wisdom he has gained and shows that meaning can come from the smallest movement – placing a hand on a shoulder. Cinema is a Frankenstein medium, all art steals, but this shows the worth that comes with stealing.
52. The Silence of the Lambs (1991 – Jonathan Demme)
Because reading films is worthwhile.
It’s a gripping film, confrontational in its direct, head-on style of shooting. But it’s a film that has been drowned in budget price impressions and reactionary readings. It can be saved. Clarice is implicitly queer, she has few interactions with men, when they objectify her, she resists. She is always a little too close to her dorm-mate. Lecter is her campy queen, he sits back and amuses himself as she navigates the heteronormative world. A world never more evident when men do horrible things to women.
53. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981 – Steven Spielberg)
Because my eyes were opened.
I’m not thankful for parents for much… but showing me this film when I was seven years old is one of them. I can’t express how much I loved this film, clambering over climbing frames in public parks using a rubber snake as whip. You can keep your Star Wars (1977 – George Lucas), it was Indiana Jones for me. And as an adult, I love it just enough, it’s action-every-ten-minutes setpieces, its wit. And as Steven Soderbergh told us, you can turn the colour down and watch it in black-and-white and it’s just as good.
54. Streets of Fire (1984 – Walter Hill)
Because everything’s better with a Jim Steinman soundtrack.
Walter Hill thought that this film was the future, a post-apocalyptic urban comedy western. Musical. It’s a musical. Whose songs were written by Jim Steinman and Stevie Nicks amongst others. I spend a good few minutes each month thinking about what society would make these songs popular. Taking the glorious neon light from 48 Hrs. (1982) and stretching to create an entire cityscape, Hill injects a romanticism into his brutal, pared-down scripts. There is a moment where Michael Pare turns ‘round to see his love before he leaves her life… he can barely do it… every inch of him wants to stay… and he turns, and leaves. It’s the most heart-breaking moment in cinema. To think, Hill imagined that this was the first part of a trilogy…
55. Blow Out (1981 – Brian De Palma)
Because we all live with ghosts.
There’s an illicit thrill in De Palma’s pervy, trashy profoundly queer thrillers, but here we see him in a far more sombre mood as he details the limits of obsessiveness. In what is one of John Travolta’s finest performances, we see his inability to escape the forces of politics and the overwhelming death drive. Ultimately, he chooses to use his trauma as an anecdote, a resource in the cheap emptiness of his profession. Hopelessness has never felt closer.
56. Legend (1985 – Ridley Scott)
Because some worlds are better than others.
Ridley Scott’s fourth film is a profound exploration of world-building. Here the rich luxiourisouness of design and storytelling create a mise-en-scene where emotion is pure and on the surface. There is an exhilaration to this film, as we radiate in the delight of a world quite unlike our own. If only evil was as transparent as it was here. There are three substantially different cuts of this movie, and unfortunately it is hard to recommend one over any of the others; each as its own strengths of score, pace and performance.
57. Bigger than Life (1956 – Nicholas Ray)
Because we all see flashes of red.
Ray’s presentation of a fragile psyche demonstrates the limits of any individual. Even the people we trust the most, who we invisibly rely on to maintain the decency of society – our teachers – are susceptible to poor mental health. But this film is from the fifties, and poor mental health is not presented as anything prosaic. Instead, it is an opulent mix of hysteria, colour and religion. Society’s maintenance is paper-thin, it will take very little to destroy it.
58. California Split (1974 – Robert Altman)
Because it’s worth the risk.
With an output as prolific as his, it is often hard to navigate the waters of Robert Altman. But California Split remains a cinematic love-letter to his profound love of acting profession. He allows some deeply charismatic individuals to fully inhabit people, free of the responsibility of close-ups and holding attention. It is up to us to seek them out, find them within the frame and indulge in their make believe. I can sit on a train, and every other person is as real as I am. There is a horror to that that we refuse to explore, but Altman was a director fully capable of capturing the significance of every soul in a frame. A story is never complete within one of his films, only abandoned.
59. Days of Thunder (1990 – Tony Scott)
Because I feel the need for speed.
Tony Scott’s opulent, hazy mix of colour, sound and speed is a textural delight. Every second of screen buzzes with excitement, as we piece together information in our minds from milli-seconds of image. There are directors who spend lifetimes seeking to capture perfect images and Scott would throw them away in a moment. And then cut to another deeply moving echo of reality. Supported by a truly epic soundtrack that blends wailing guitars, synthesisers and arrhythmic percussion, and a script that is openly honest in its representations of ambition and belonging, it is a visual masterpiece, and speaks to something quite deep within myself.
60. The Innocents (1961 – Jack Clayton)
Because there’s nothing better than a ghost story.
A profoundly unsettling film, both for what is said and unsaid on screen. For what is said, we get a deliberate unravelling of multiple fading cuts, inexplicable images and a wonderful central performance from Deborah Kerr, who gives her a governess a virginal certainty and sexual repression that allows us to explain her hauntings as hysteria. For what is unsaid, we see the inextricable entwinement of sex and death, and the horror that unravels when this is directed at a child. It is an abusive, ambiguous masterpiece.