Dunkirk (2017 – Christopher Nolan)
There was a lot of talk about this film, but really, when it came down to it, it was utterly thrilling. I was completely gripped by the whole thing. Easily Nolan’s most proficient film by a considerable distance, Dunkirk seemed to capture a nostalgia and dignity for a time that only exists in the most patriotic fantasists. The brutality of war and the hopelessness of survival were buried under a British reserve. But this all seems far away… thought the deliberate refusal to refer to Germany or Italy or any other of the Axis powers in the opening crawl did seem to suggest that all-consuming capitalism and the fear of offending these potential markets has managed to trump an antiquated notion of decency.
But there is moment where Tom Hardy looks at his fuel gage and realises he now has to choose whether to turn back home or stay in the air and defend British ships in the Channel. And there is fear and deliberation and finally resolve… all performed solely with his eyes. It is the most exquisite piece of acting I have seen for many years. The best special effect in cinematic history.
Seen on 15/70mm at the BFI IMAX. Ticket cost £18 or something like that. There was a typical backlash against the fetishisation of release formats that accompanied the release of this film, but it really did benefit from being seen on this huge, all-encompassing screen with extraordinary sound. The experience was slightly let down by my neighbour referring to me as ‘middle-aged’ though!
The Conversation (1974 – Francis Ford Coppola)
I don’t think I knew that the dream sequence in this movie was the result of an abandoned waking chase scene that Coppola didn’t have the time to shoot completely before he began shooting The Godfather: Part II (1974). I mean, I probably did know it once, but had forgotten it. My memory sometimes feels like a cinematic dream sequence, desperately clutching onto thoughts and images that have some meaning.
I don’t think I understood Harry Caul’s paranoia the last time/first time I saw this movie. I certainly didn’t know the solitude he had imposed on himself. But as I get older, the dislocation he senses within himself towards the surrounding world feels more profound. It is a deeply unsettling film; one that masterfully indicates how our own perceptions shape our senses and a film that technically anticipates the digital revolution a few decades before it arrived.
Seen on 35mm on the main screen at the Curzon Soho followed by a gracious and intelligent Q&A with Walter Murch. Without any justification, the fact that the film was projected from 35mm was described as being inherently better by the event’s organiser… a statement slightly deflated by Murch’s stated wariness of film projection a few minutes later! Ticket cost £18.
A Ghost Story (2017 – David Lowery)
I liked it at the time, but I can’t remember much of it now. I think I wanted a nastier ghost. Or a ghost that didn’t experience all that silly going forward and backward in time towards the end (that felt like a little too ‘narrative clever, clever’ where an early moment of confusion is later revealed to be the action of a character we see on screen. It’s a little too pretentious and tidy for my liking. And not very impressive anymore.)
But I wish I never found out that Rooney Mara had never eaten pie before her traumatic gluttony. It’s the most preposterous thing I’ve ever heard. Who goes their life without eating pie? What miserable, self-denial of happiness convinced her that that was an acceptable life choice?
Can I recommend a good steak and kidney Rooney? It’s what I turn to in moments of grief/boredom/Tuesdays.
Seen at the Curzon Soho on the large screen. Ticket cost £10.50.
Big Wednesday (1978 – John Milius)
Meditative and full of the lost highways and broken relationships that are scattered about our lives, it’s easy to see why Spielberg and Lucas thought that Milius was the real deal in comparison to them. From the start, Milius imprints himself upon the film; you wonder whether he realised the brokenness of his central characters and the substantial limits they place upon their existence. The violence is ridiculous, the draft-dodging scene is offensively hilarious and the surfing shots are beautiful. A great, contemplative movie.
Projected from 35mm at the BFI Southbank on Screen 3. Like all screenings in London, there was a homeless man in the audience. Ticket cost £8.
Atomic Blonde (2017 – David Leitch)
It’s such a boring movie revolving around such tediously predictable spy tropes (the MacGuffin is a list of undercover agents for Pete’s sake)… which becomes understandable once you realise that the film is an adaptation of a comic book. And it was probably one of those lowest common denominator comic books that was made solely for the purpose of selling off some film+TV rights. The shallowness of it all is only underlined by some of the most basic music cues committed to celluloid.
But, in the middle of this film is the most extraordinary fight scene I have seen for many years. Shot to simulate a single take, it is a thrillingly brutal scene of Charlize Theron murdering henchmen in a stairwell. It is everything you want in a fight scene. It has verisimilitude, stacked odds and amazing choreographed performances from a stunt team.
And so you’re left with a boring movie with one exceptional scene. And you have to ask yourself… is it worth it?
Seen on the decent-sized Screen 3 at the Odeon Covent Garden. Ticket cost £6.50
Love Streams (1984 – John Cassavetes)
It’s just a film with such empathy. And two profoundly different portrayals of individuals suffering from mental health issues – Cassavettes all crashing and burning and chequebooks and pens and Rowlands nervy and impulsive. There’s an extraordinary couple of dream sequences – an amazing car crash and a dance on stage that may or may not have been directed by peter Bogdanovich in a desperate attempt to save himself from his depression. I love how you feel they only figured out that they were siblings after several weeks of shooting. It’s delightful to spend time amongst the clutter of their house, so familiar it is to us from their previous movies. It’s immediate – Cassavetes’ desire for truth sees him include shots where camera crews that are visible. And it’s utterly hilarious – the scene where Rowlands tries to get home whilst abroad is possibly the funniest thing ever.
It contains pretty much everything I have ever loved about movies.
Seen on the downstairs screen at the Prince Charles. Projected from 35mm. Had a migraine, but still enjoyed myself. Ticket cost £4.50.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974 – Tobe Hooper)
Throughout the runtime of this film there was a man sitting behind me laughing every thirty seconds. The Prince Charles is an amazing cinema, but it does frustratingly encourage this behaviour with its knowingly ironic screenings. And I gave this dude the half-turn… and then the turn, but it had no impact. I’m not the most intimidating fella.
And as I walked out I heard him turn to his friends. ‘You see’ he sneered ‘I think it’s meant to be funny.’
Well, it’s not you absolute cockhead. It’s a horrifying movie. The soundtrack of the second half of the film is a never-ending cacophony of guttural screams and the grinding a whirring of a chainsaw. That in itself is as unsettling as cinema ever got, and that’s before you mention the inevitable dread of the hitchhiker, or the sudden violation of the metal kitchen door slamming shut out of nowehere, or the…. I could go on.
It’s a terrifying movie. It’s not a comedy. And you are not worthy of watching it.
Projected from 35mm on the downstairs screen at the Prince Charles. Print seemed to originate in France. Beautiful condition. Ticket cost £6 or thereabouts. Obviously a screening that gained some retrospective poignancy after Hooper’s recent death.
Tom of Finland (2017 – Dome Karukoski)
Which is an ‘18’ for some reason. Someone needs to let the BBFC know that we can all cope with seeing a few drawings of penises. Because it deserves a wider audience. It’s a joyous film that encountered much of the gay experience of the second half of the twentieth century; repression, violence, S&M, the gradual slipping out from the closet, desire and HIV. A lovely little film.
Seen on one of those awful little small screens at the Curzon Bloomsbury and I had to pay £10.50 for the privilege.
Out of Sight (1998 – Steven Soderbergh)
About half an hour into the film, there was a moment where I suddenly became profoundly aware of how much I was enjoying myself. It’s a great, big pleasure of a movie, and more and more, I realise what a rarity that is.
I’ve been thinking of the nineties quite a lot recently – the decade in which my burgeoning cinephillia blossomed – and a time when we were all told that The Usual Suspects (1995 – Bryan Singer) was an important film. And a little bit pathetically, I feel nostalgic for it, remembering how surprising it must have been to hear the Coen Bros. for the first time. But there are real mainstream gems from that era, and Out of Sight is at the forefront of that, so drowning in acting talent is it. I don’t think I’d ever realised that Albert Brooks is a major part of this film!
Projected from 35mm on the downstairs screen at the Prince Charles. Ticket cost £4.50.
Logan Lucky (2017 – Steven Soderbergh)
Which I watched with a huge smile on my face. It was just wonderful to watch all those modern actors who I actually like – Tatum, Keogh, Waterson etc. – in something enjoyable for once. A real favourite already (which as I type I realise isn’t as a powerful statement to make… in September!)
Seen on a big screen at Bluewater Showcase. Ticket cost £9.
American Made (2017 – Doug Liman)
It’s just Tom Cruise and I love Tom Cruise and this is Tom Cruise in a comedic twist on a sub-Goodfellas (1990 – Martin Scorsese) fall-from-grace. I don’t think I’ll ever watch it again – hell, I barely remember any of it now – but I loved every minute of watching it. Great stuff.
Seen on a pretty big screen at Bluewater Showcase. Ticket cost £9.
Detroit (2017 – Kathryn Bigelow)
It was a surprisingly tame film… which seemed to only make the case even more convincing for a more ethnically diverse directorial landscape within mainstream cinema. Because this film seemed to pull its punches, in a way that made me suspect that it was fearful of being perceived a racist itself. And I get it… no-one wants to have the dodgy racial politics of Quentin Tarantino, but it was a horrific moment in history, and it needed to be horrific, not unpleasant.
And this only adds to the case that John Krasinski is not a movie star. He totally derails the final half-hour of the movie. What is it with Bigelow and her desire to cast mediocre television stars in her films. John chuffing Barrowman is in Zero Dark Thirty (2012) for christssake.
Seen on a huge screen at Bluewater Showcase. Ticket cost £6.50.
Sequels, prequels and remakes. One of the greatest pleasures of movie obsession is seeing the films you love reimagined, seeing how different directors bring their own peccadillos to the proceedings. Remaking movies is as old as cinema itself, so quite why the concept is so frowned upon nowadays, I have no idea. Anyways. These are my personal favourites (though it bears underlining that in nearly every case the original movie is superior.) No Jaws (1975 – Steven Spielberg) sequels though because they’re all terrible.
71. Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom (1984 – Steven Spielberg)
Sequel/prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981 – Steven Spielberg)
Lucas and Spielberg’s desperate attempt to make a Bond film, this film is fuelled by a healthy dose of cynicism. The movie attempts to distil the entire history of cinema into its running time – bickering back-and-forth repartee, dance routines and casual racism included. Here the narrative is more stationary than its predecessor, so the action sequences can seem a little more obligatory, but when they are as excruciatingly involving as the mine cart sequence, its easy enough to allow yourself to be enveloped in its dazzling momentum.
Traditionally, this was seen as the weakest entry, but Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989 – Steven Spielberg) is a more prosaic affair, only enlivened by Sean Connery’s brusque charm. The less said about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008 – Steven Spielberg) – personally I have an affection for the episode of the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles that features Harrison Ford – The Mystery of the Blues – which features a pretty engrossing car chase for something made on a television budget.
72. The Curse of the Cat People (1944 – Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise)
Sequel to Cat People (1942 – Jacques Tourneur)
The original invented much of the language of cinematic shock, all creeping tension and jump-scares. This sequel threw much of its narrative out of the window, instead choosing to focus on the memetic memory of shared trauma. We are haunted by the stories we’ve read and the traumas we see at a distance. It is a creeping portraying of the swirling emotions of an adolescent girl, how puberty can force girls to explore the dangerous and rebel against the conformity they are being forced to adopt. Primal experience provides a release from the patriarchy they are being groomed to work within.
73. Cat People (1982 – Paul Schrader)
Remake of Cat People (1942 – Jacques Tourneur)
Schrader’s remake is a fairly pedestrian attempt for most of its running time that simply repeats the shocks of the first film with more tits on display. However, its ending, a depiction of sexual dominance and control, bound in a presentation of sado-masochism, is almost elegiac. It speaks deeply to our deepest perversions, and the ease and willingness with which a man will revert to patterns of abuse if presented with the opportunity – all agency is removed from the woman in order to satisfy his sexual desires.
74. Spider-Man 2 (2004 – Sam Raimi)
Sequel to Spider-Man (2002 – Sam Raimi)
The first film, in my mind a heady mix of first dates and dropped popcorn, showed Raimi’s mix of volcanic action scenes and cheesy emotion. The second film is pretty much in the same vein, but the pirouetting camera that swirls around some genuinely thrilling action sequences ensures that this is the best superhero film the world has ever seen. Which is a bit like being the world’s most popular STD…
75. Rambo (2008 – Sylvester Stallone)
Fourth in the Rambo film series
Very much a companion piece to Rocky Balboa (2006), Rambo featured Stallone’s return to an iconic eighties role. But this was a far more pessimistic affair, where good intentions proved fruitless and violence gave the only answer. Stallone plays John Rambo as an empty shell – a logical conclusion of the events of the previous three entries in the series. He is broken and hollowed out by violence. He has little grip on compassion, and the film follows this path, refusing to present his adversaries with any inch of humanity. It is Stallone’s greatest fantasy.
76. The Godfather Part II (1974 – Francis Ford Coppola)
Sequel/prequel to The Godfather (1972 – Francis Ford Coppola)
Which is often little more than the first response to ‘sequels that are better than the originals’. I don’t think that’s a true statement, in the same way that no film adaptation is ‘better’ than the novel upon which it is based; they’re different emotional experiences. First films have to establish tone and character and theme. Sequels can take that from granted and build upon what has come before. ‘Prestige’ long-form television relies on that function – unfortunately, miss-used, as it so often is by tv, the audience experiences a form of cinematic Stockholm Syndrome, whereby affection is given simply because they’ve spent a lot of time with the characters. The Godfather Part II, does not engage with these facile assumptions, simply because it is determined to build on the first film; by both extended Michael Corleone’s descent into transgression, and by adding depth to a family business he was unable to escape.
77. Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970 – Ted Post)
Sequel to Planet of the Apes (1968 – Franklin J. Schaffner)
Which takes a pulpy concept (a spaceman land on a post-apocalyptic Earth ruled by monkeys) and somehow makes it even pulpier, by throwing in psychic mutants who worship an atom bomb. Developing a more fully designed world than its predecessor, Beneath the Planet of the Apes carefully withholds Charlton Heston’s manic screen presence to the final reel. And what a final reel, where the Earth is annihilated by its god, only this god is an invention of man that he wished he could have forgotten, the nuclear bomb. God isn’t that much different.
78. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972 – J. Lee Thompson)
Fourth in the Planet of the Apes series
After a more jovial third entry (Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971 – Don Taylor) – very much ‘The Voyage Home’ of the series, featuring drunk monkeys) the series had been boldly recast around simian protagonists rather than the humans. By the seventies, the realisation was that the threat did not come from outside humanity, it came from within. Here, as the continuity of the film series turned back upon itself, the series showed how our species would seek to dominate and oppress anything it perceived to be aa threat. The only consequence, quite brutally depicted within the film, was violent insurrection by the oppressed.
79. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011 – Rupert Wyatt)
Seventh in the Planet of the Apes series and reboot
After a lacklustre final instalment (Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973 – J. Lee Thompson)) and an underwhelming, though not worthless reboot by Tim Burton in 2001, the series was once again restarted in 2001. Technology had reached a point where CGI apes had a life to them, though they were somewhat unfairly cast opposite John Lithgow, who has made a bit of a career of upstaging apes of various forms. Despite being an ostensible franchise kick-starter, Rise of the Planet of the Apes takes its time, creating an engaging drama that demands your attention. The moment where Caesar speaks for the first time is genuinely shocking. It was followed by a messy, ridiculous sequel, where Gary Oldman had a totally superfluous moment where he cried at the sight of a cynically product-placed iPad.
80. Beverly Hills Cop II (1987 – Tony Scott)
Sequel to Beverly Hills Cop (1984 – Martin Brest)
Eddie Murphy is one of the great screen presences, and Beverly Hills Cop best captured these charms – his defiant, inimitable disruption of the conventional white screen that Hollywood forces upon us. The sequel built upon that by placing him within a fluorescent, hypnotically glossy world that appears now to be the epitome of the eighties that we see in our collective cultural memory. Tony Scott brought a balletic grace to his action scenes, and ensured that they were as thrilling as they can be – it’s almost as if he realised no one would be able to act Murphy off the screen, so the only way to provide a credible threat was by presenting action scenes as genuinely threatening. It was a bold move, and one that began to define Scott’s career.