The ASIDESTEPS CANON – b-sides vol. VII

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.


61. Sisters (1973 – Brian De Palma)


Because maybe there’s something better than Psycho (1960)


In a world of utter deification of the master, it’s refreshing to see a daring cover version of a half-remembered film.  But De Palma is not content with a retread; he layers his film with a greater level of perversion, racial tension, voyeurism and the spectacular decision to develop the changing protagonists featured in Psycho.  By ensuring the protagonist of the second half of the film observes the murder of the protagonist of the first, there is a drive to film that surpasses the occasional lethargy that is found after Hitchcock’s shower scene.  The ending reinforces the utter senselessness of existence and the curiosity of supporting character in the cinema.


62. Sorcerer (1977 – William Friedkin)


Because cinema is all about tension


Cinema is at its greatest when it plays with tension; the careful balance of image, time, performance and action are delivered slowly and deliberately in order elicit/provoke a reaction from the audience.  This is why there is such a necessity to the horror and comedy genres, which so carefully control tension for scares and laughs respectively.  Sorcerer is neither of these, but for a film to feature one moment of utter tension is masterful; for one to feature a number indicates a piece of complete integrity.  Misbegotten upon release, it is a film of total hubris; one where the wideframe image is used to devour the performances within it and demonstrate the holistic deconstruction of the self.


63. Breaking News (2004 – Johnnie To)


Because movies are a series of moments


With the complete saturation of media, and the increasing way in which they determine a story rather than report it, Breaking News is prescient glimpse into the way in which it could impact upon the most violent on situations.  Like many great films, it uses a constant evolving scenario format; from the single-shot gunfight opening, to claustrophobic Carpenteresque genre picture, to familial domestic comedy, to the closing, desperate car chase.  It has a playfulness and wit that is specific to the superb career of To.


64. Unfaithful (2002 – Adrian Lyne)


Because there is beauty in cruelty


There is a quiet moment on a crowded commuter train where Richard Gere realises his marriage is over.  He takes off his glasses, pinches his nose, and it is one of the most devastating moments represented on screen.  Adrian Lyne’s wonderfully beautiful, but completely cruel masterpiece excavates the consequences of betrayal and regret.  My dad once told me about this film; he had stayed up late watching it on telly in the hours after my mum told him of her affair.  I don’t think I’ll ever know what that was like.


65. The Grey (2011 – Joe Carnahan)


Because it is meaningless, meaningless; a chasing after the wind


So completely not the Liam Neeson punches wolves movie that this was sold as, this is a devastating, desperate deconstruction of male identity and the limits of survival.  It shows us that everything we have built – our successes, identity, physicality and social dominance – prove worthless in the face of nature’s unsympathetic eye.


66. An American Werewolf in London (1981 – John Landis)


Because some films have everything; sex, death and comedy


There’s a brilliant moment in this film where David Naughton is left alone in a house after having sex with Jenny Agutter and he has nothing to do.  It’s not his house and he’s alone and he just has time to kill before he can fuck her again.  It’s a beautifully observed moment in a film that successfully balances comedy horror and sex – leading to a populist, delightful film.  Landis was able to blend these often contrasting elements with a deft hand; this, The Blues Brothers (1980) and Trading Places (1983) is an extraordinary run of films… and then he murdered some children.


67. The Hunger (1983 – Tony Scott)


Because trash is truly beautiful


A beautiful film in a career of beautiful films, Tony Scott takes the ethereal, iconic, almost alien presences of Bowie and Deneuve and revels in their appallingly wonderful faces.  Scott sought to document the vapid indulgences of the wealthy metropolitan elite (the final shot where Sarandon is transposed to London underlines this) and effectively encapsulates the most vapid and irresponsible of decades.


68. The Driver (1978 – Walter Hill)


Because you can say a lot without saying a lot


In the extraordinary runs of filmmaking, Hill is rarely mentioned but from Hard Times (1975) to Streets of Fire (1984) he created a series of focussed, tense films that explored isolated individuals.  The epitome of this run is The Driver, a terrifying clash of male egos, that is ultimately surpassed by the most hostile and beautiful of screen presences – Isabelle Adjani.  But whilst the spare, man-on-his-own-doing-a-job has been often replicated, it has never been pared with such gripping car chases.  Car chases are impossibly wonderful on screen, such is the absolute control over movement, tension and space – and impossible to present in any other medium.  This film features some fine examples of the form.


69. Duel (1971 – Steven Spielberg)


Because some films aren’t even films


And whilst this film is not so much a car chase as an extended exercise in developing tension.  It is an oppressive experience, only underlined by the horrendous tin-can experience of sitting in the driver’s seat in the burning sun.  There is an alternate history where Spielberg continued to make the sweaty genre pictures in the Duel vein; his control of framing and camera movement would have brought a unique power to the form, but his eclectic, expansive filmography is valuable for the moments like this, Empire of the Sun (1987) and Munich (2005.


70. Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977 – Richard Brooks)


Because there are masterpieces on Youtube

Diane Keaton is often the best in films that are designed to demonstrate the talents of the men in front of, and behind the camera.  She is a chaotic screen presence, even in movies where she is playing relatively straight parts.  Looking for Mr. Goodbar is an exploration of the private lives that are found behind the most generous benign public faces.  ‘Good’ people are easily simplified, and the edges and contradictions and compromises that come from dedicating your life to others are delicately presented on screen.  There is a creeping horror to the picture, as if Keaton is far out of her depth, and her enjoyment of sex is not matched by an understanding of the essential selfishness and cruelty of man, who will seek to denigrate her for enjoying her body whilst they simultaneously clutch at her skin.

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