*Apologies – this is a long post*
Are you a movie fan? Do you like going to the cinema, or are you more of a wait-until-it-comes-out-on-DVD kind of person? Or a Netflix addict? I used to go to the cinema regularly – at least twice a month I would say – but it is so expensive now and, most of the time, I just can’t be bothered. Because I’m a hermit, as we all know. I get really excited about something new coming out and then I’m like meh… Plus new movies don’t seem to stay out as long as they used to so you’ve barely blinked and you’ve missed them.
I tend to go and see movies that are a little more arty or quirky than the standard Hollywood blockbuster. Not because I’m a snob, but because I get really annoyed by the constant hype of “big” films. I like my foreign films and am quite happy with subtitles. I like the little art house cinemas with their ancient seating and lackadaisical approach to ticket collecting. I like films that are beautiful to look at as much as they are intriguing to follow, and I love a good soundtrack (that, in my opinion, can make up for a dodgy plot).
So I’ve listed a few movies that I myself like to watch. They are an eclectic bunch – there’s some horror and romance, humour and tragedy. I like a bit of everything. I haven’t included all the classics – It’s a Wonderful Life, The Great Escape, The Apartment, and others of their ilk because, well, they’re classics and you should have seen them already (if you haven’t – go and find them immediately!) plus my list was getting really long, and I have left out some obvious films that always top these kind of lists (like The Color Purple – I really struggled with taking that one out of my list! It’s just so brilliant… But I wanted to leave room for some other lesser-known films). Actually, compiling this list made me remember some movies I had forgotten so it’s been a good exercise for me (although possibly not for my wallet because I now want to try and track those movies down…). I’ve also included some that I may have only seen once, but they left an indelible mark on me. It was hard compiling a list of just forty (and I had to cull quite a few) and I know I am probably forgetting another forty that I dearly love. And I know there’s a million other movies that should be included here, but I couldn’t include them all. No matter.
Here’s a bunch of movies I think are worth cuddling up on the couch for(preferably in your pyjamas with a hot beverage or a tub of ice cream).
- The Orphanage (El Orfanato) – Ok, so this is a ghost story with a difference. It will scare the pants off you but then have you in tears of sadness and heartbreak. It’s breath-takingly gorgeous, as is anything that film maker Guillermo Del Toro lays his hands on. This is horror where the horror is not blood and gore, but human emotion and loss. And you will feel it right down to your core.
- The Triplets of Belleville – If you google this this animated film, you will get the following description : “… follow elderly Frenchwoman Madame Souza as she becomes involved in international intrigue when her grandson, Champion, a professional cyclist, is kidnapped and taken abroad. Joined by her faithful dog, Bruno, Souza embarks on a journey to find Champion, and stumbles across unlikely allies in the form of three sisters who are veterans of the vaudeville stage. Tracking down Champion’s criminal captors, the quartet of old women use their wits to try and win the day…” What that description doesn’t tell you is the film is amazing to look at, has some wonderful music in it, and is completely barmy. There’s no dialogue (but it doesn’t need any – the characters’ actions speak louder than any words could) and the characters are at once charming and hideous. But theres a beautiful pathos to it that is so unique and heartwarming.
- Sling Blade – A mentally -impaired man is released from an institution after 20 years imprisonment for killing his mother and another person. Karl is alone and, understandably, a little hesitant about being back in the world. He befriends a young boy and his mother who take him under their wing. The mother’s boyfriend is both abusive and bigoted. Basically, you spend the whole movie wishing someone would hit him with a bus. Karl wants to protect his new friends and does so, the only way he knows how. Billy Bob Thornton is AMAZING in this movie, which he also wrote and directed. It’s a sad tale and you desperately want it to end differently but you also know that it could end no other way.
- Beasts of the Southern Wild – There is absolutely no point in me trying to explain or describe this movie. It is just dark and mesmerising and beautiful and strange and exquisite. It had mixed reviews but what film doesn’t? It’s a film you absorb, rather than try and understand or break down into bite-sized pieces and themes. IMDB gives this summary “Faced with both her hot-tempered father’s fading health and melting ice-caps that flood her ramshackle bayou community and unleash ancient aurochs, six-year-old Hushpuppy must learn the ways of courage and love.” Aurochs are prehistoric bovine beasties and they are just magnificent in this movie. As you would expect from something that possibly isn’t even there and is a metaphor for something else.
- Harvey – My brother and I first saw this on a day home from school (sports carnival was on – we were wagging, with Mum’s permission) and have loved it ever since. Jimmy Stewart can do no wrong in my opinion. I would follow any of his characters to the end of the Earth (when I was a child I thought he was God. Or at least what God must look like. If God were a man. Etc.) but combine him with an invisible, six-feet tall rabbit and you’ve got a perfect pairing. That sounds weird. It’s less weird than you think. The film is funny and beautiful and sweet and sad all at the same.
- Some Kind of Wonderful – It’s fair to say John Hughes is one of my favourite film makers. I don’t think anyone has ever done teenage-hood quite as well as him. Some Kind of Wonderful is probably one of his lesser-known films, which is a shame because it’s still pretty awesome. It also has, in my opinion, one of the best screen kisses EVER, between Eric Stoltz and Mary Stuart Masterson. It’s got a killer soundtrack too.
- To Kill a Mockingbird – This is my all-time favourite book, so I was quite prepared to hate the movie. Normally, screen adaptations of so many books are just DREADFUL. But not this one. I LOVE this movie. It’s as close to the book as it possibly could be. Gregory Peck is the perfect choice to play Atticus Finch and the whole movie is just bloody well done. I hope they never colourise it because the black and white only adds to the drama and feel of the movie (one of the main themes being racism anyway – black and white seems appropriate).
- The Whole Wide World – IMDB’s summary of this one goes like this : “…In Texas in the 1930s, young schoolteacher Novalyne Price meets a handsome, eccentric, interesting young man named Robert Howard. He’s a successful writer – of the pulp stories of ‘Conan the Barbarian’; she’s an aspiring one. A friendship develops into a sort of courtship…” So, yes, there is the romantic aspect to this movie, but it’s not the whole story. Far from it. Plus it has Vincent D’Onofrio in it, at his eccentric and bloody handsome best, which is never a bad thing. It’s also nice to see a period movie in which the main female character isn’t a wussy idiot who gets the vapours a lot and can’t think for herself.
- 200 Cigarettes – 200 Cigarettes is one of my all-time faves. I LOVE it. But I haven’t watched it in years. This is because my ex-hubby and I used to watch it every New Year’s Eve. It was like a tradition in our house. But then you get divorced and you feel a bit icky about some things. I’m gonna bring it back this coming New Year’s. I am. It’s time. And it was my movie first, dammit! Anyway, the film is set in the 80s (cue very awesome soundtrack) on NYE in New York and it follows a series of inter-connected stories as a group of friends and strangers all head towards the same party. I kinda love films that have lots going on in them, with lots of characters and storylines intermingled. It’s an hilarious plot and I can pretty much quote it word for word. It’s like the best movie John Hughes never created. Just fab. The music! The Fashion! The one-liners! Too cool…
- Cabin in the Woods – Contrary to what this list might indicate, I don’t watch a lot of scary stuff. I am very prone to night terrors so I try not to encourage any more spookiness into my brain. However, when Joss Whedon makes a film, you watch it. Even if it is flippin’ scary. Cabin in the Woods is very, very clever though and turns the whole horror genre on its head, using every cliche in the book as part of the plot. Joss is one of the best when it comes to writing a good script. He does one-liners and witty dialogue like no one else. So you’re laughing one minute and hiding behind the couch cushions in terror the next. Awesome.
- Pan’s Labyrinth – Another one that will pretty much rip your heart out. Be warned : it is very brutal and not for the faint-hearted. It’s a story where the monsters come in human form and little girls are true heroes. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Another masterpiece by Guillermo Del Toro. It’s a movie that will stay with you a long time.
- The City of Lost Children (La Cite des Enfants Perdus) – Sigh…I love this movie. It is gloriously surreal and dark and funny and so, so clever. A mad professor kidnaps children so he can steal their dreams. Makes sense, right? It stars Ron Perlman whom I love in every single thing he’s ever done. He’s amazing, and the warmth between his character and the children here is palpable. It’s created by the super-talented Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet who have brought us (either as a team or individually) equally awesome movies such as Amelie (I almost put this on the list but ran out of room), Delicastessen and Micmacs.
- Labyrinth – If you haven’t seen this already, I’m sorry, but you can’t be in my gang any more. It has David Bowie in it, for crying out loud! In tights! And he sings! And he’s kinda evil but also a bit sad, but mostly evil. There’s goblins and fairies and all sorts of creatures and Ludo, oh Ludo! He’s a huge beastie that you just want to cuddle and be his “fwend”. Love it. The music is great, the humour is great and it’s just awesome. Go and watch it now. Seriously. Now!
- Fargo – Whenever I have a movie night with a new group of friends, I take Fargo with me. It’s just such a great film. It’s clever and hilarious and a bit dark, but also has moments of pure delight in it. When a bungled kidnapping goes from bad to worse and quite a bit of blood is spilled, it’s up to very-pregnant sheriff, Marge Gunderson, to get to the bottom of things (all the while dealing with morning sickness and idiot locals). The characters are brilliantly eccentric or beautifully human and it’s just so well done. I am forever quoting from it. Any movie that has Steve Buscemi, Frances McDormand and William H. Macy in it is going to be good.
- Journey to the West – Stephen Chow is a master at combining Kung Fu with romance, humour and non-stop action. If you think you won’t like a martial arts movie, think again. This film is hilarious and action-packed, but also stunning to look at. It’s very loose re-interpretation of the classic Chinese novel, Journey to the West and, as such, has a lot of familiar characters and scenes in it (if you’re a fan of the classic “Monkey Magic” TV show), whilst still being very original. Great fun.
- Lamb – This is one of my favourite books, as well as being a darn good movie. It stars a very young Liam Neeson as an Irish Catholic priest who befriends a young boy in an institution for wayward boys, described as “a finishing school for the sons of the Idle Poor”. Now, before you start thinking “Oh, here we go…Catholic priest, young troubled boy….”, it’s not what you’re thinking. Get your mind out of the gutter! It is, however, a very sad story that, I’m afraid, does not have the happiest of endings. It’s a pretty dark and desolute movie to be honest, but still worth a watch. If only because it’s got Liam Neeson in it.
- Lost in Translation – Lost in Translation is one of those gentle, meandering kind of films that makes you sigh and think about stuff. I was actually angry when Bill Murray didn’t get an Oscar for this (although he was nominated) because he is SO GOOD in it. He and Scarlett Johansson are brilliant together, with so much on-screen chemistry. It’s a romance movie without all the gross, unrealistic, soppy stuff. It’s just two people connecting, in a world that is kinda disconnected and foreign to them. It’s also very funny in some scenes, as you would expect from Bill Murray. Put this movie on your to-do list, if you haven’t seen it. And if you have seen it, watch it again.
- Anything by Wes Anderson – I wait with bated breath for every new Wes Anderson film that comes out. They are so intricate and detailed and the cinematography is sigh-worthy, the set design exquisite. He has a habit of doing these little slow-mo shots every now and then, accompanied by amazing music, and they are just wonderful. The characters are often ridiculously quirky and weird too, but in a good way. You don’t watch his films, you breathe them in. Just glorious. My favourite is probably The Royal Tenenbaums, but you can’t go past Moonrise Kingdom, Rushmore, or The Darjeeling Limited, either. Bill Murray is in most of his movies which, for me at least, makes them worth seeing.
- Secrets and Lies – Secrets and Lies is one of my absolute favourites. I have watched it a million times. It makes me sob my eyes out but also laugh out loud. Writer/Director Mike Leigh uses a lot of improvisation in his films – actors are not always given complete scripts, just general outlines of what will be occurring, so the emotion and interactions become very real and honest. It kinda makes you feel like you’re not watching a film at all. The story centres around Hortense, a well-educated black middle-class London optometrist, who was adopted as a baby. After the death of her Mother, she chooses to trace her family history – only to discover her birth mother, Cynthia, is a working-class white woman with a dysfunctional family. At the end of this film, I just want to give everyone a hug. And call my Mother.
- Magnolia – I have to admit this film is not for everyone. Film-maker Paul Thomas Anderson said, upon its release, “…Magnolia is, for better or worse, the best movie I’ll ever make…” and I kinda have to agree with him. I don’t know how you could follow this up with anything that was even half as good. I won’t go into a plot synopsis – there is waaaaay too much going on in this film to try and explain any of it (biblical references, coincidences, weird relationships, life, death) – but it’s amazing. The detail and human interaction and the character development is – sigh- just so perfect. It’s also pretty harrowing and nasty at times. Not a feel-good-romp in anyone’s book. I pretty much fell in love with Philip Seymour Hoffman in this movie – he is JUST SO GOOD. I am so very, very sad that he is no longer with us. But the movie is ace. And also long, so remember to stay hydrated and take regular pee breaks.
- Uncle Buck – I know, you’re like “Whaaat? She’s put Uncle Buck in here?!” Well, yes, I have. Hear me out. Have you ever really sat and watched this movie? It’s really sweet and funny and the one-liners are pure John Hughes magic. It’s probably the best movie Macaulay Culkin ever made (well, besides “My Girl”) and he is so hilarious in it. But John Candy is the star and he is such a big bundle of goofy, messy love. I’m so sad he died 😦 Not in the movie – that doesn’t happen, don’t worry. He plays the black sheep of a well-to-do family who is called in to babysit a snarky teenager and her two younger siblings. He’s such a mess himself but he does the best he can and learns a lot about responsibility, love and family along the way. Plus he is super funny. And a bit crazy (in a good, protective way). I love this movie and I will take on anyone who tells me it’s not awesome. Put up your dukes!
- Night Watch / Day Watch – I’ve put these two together because I think you need to see both. IMDB describes the first movie as “A fantasy-thriller set in present-day Moscow where the respective forces that control day-time and night-time do battle.” And yep, that’s pretty much the crux of it. Except it’s not your average, run-of the mill sci-fi/supernatural story. It’s clever and weird and beautifully shot. The stories are based on the books by Russian sci-fi/fantasy author Sergei Lukyanenko.
- Kramer Vs Kramer – Bring the box of tissues for this one. You will do some serious blubbing. The ugly snotty kind. This 1979, adapted from the novel by Avery Corman (a great read, by the way) portrays a divorce and subsequent custody battle, and its impact on the people involved. The performances are amazing (as you would expect from Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman) and so HUMAN. I cry every time I watch this.
- Paradise Road – IMDB summarises Paradise Road thus : “…Fact-based recounting of a group of women who are imprisoned on the island of Sumatra by the Japanese during World War II and used music as a relief to their misery…” But it’s more than that. It’s a look at humanity and wo-manity and war and cruelty and strength and spirit. It’s not a happy film, in many ways, but it has uplifting moments and scenes that will make you laugh and shout “Yay!” a bit. The singing is gorgeous and is made all the more so, given the dreadful setting. The cast is AMAZING – Glenn Close, Frances McDormand, Pauline Collins, Cate Blanchett and many more – and it’s just a real eye-opener to a side of war we don’t often hear about.
- The Road – I have to admit, this movie scared the heck out of me. It’s terrifying. Mostly because it could TOTALLY HAPPEN in real life. That scares me. In a post-apocalyptic world, a man and his son travel through an increasingly stark and inhospitable landscape, towards the sea where the man hopes things will be less bleak. They have to be on the lookout for gangs of cannibals – lack of food has meant people are turning to the only source of nourishment left (crispy human, anyone?) – and anyone who may steal their belongings. It’s a tense, fraught, dark and frightening movie, based on the best-selling book by Cormac McCarthy. It does have moments of humanity though, mostly via the innocence of the boy and his desire to be a “good” person. It’s not a fun movie, but it is so worthy of your time. I would recommend NOT watching it right before you go to bed.
- Mary and Max – an Aussie stop-motion animated comedy-drama that is just gorgeous (I know – I’m saying “gorgeous” and “beautiful” a lot in this post). IMDB’s summary goes like this : “…In the mid-1970’s, a homely, friendless Australian girl of 8 picks a name out of a Manhattan phone book and writes to him; she includes a chocolate bar. She’s Mary Dinkle, the only child of an alcoholic mother and a distracted father. He’s Max Horowitz, an overweight man with Asperger’s, living alone in New York. He writes back, with chocolate. Thus begins a 20-year correspondence, interrupted by a stay in an asylum and a few misunderstandings…” It’s just delightfully funny and sad and deserving of all the awards it won. Beautifully made, with great detail and an amazing sense of heart and the human condition.
- Keeping the Faith – Ok, this movie is not going to win an Oscar and it’s probably not a critic’s fave (what rom-com, other than When Harry Met Sally, is?) but I like it. So there! It’s just really sweet and funny and I am a bit obsessed with Edward Norton’s collarbones. Well, Edward Norton in general, really. It’s a bit of a love triangle kinda thing between a beautiful executive and her childhood best friends who now just happen to be a Catholic priest and a Jewish Rabbi. Hilarity and mixed-messages ensue. It’s just a good, harmless little movie about love and friendship and faith. And did I mention it has Edward Norton in it? 🙂
- Pump up the Volume – I must have watched this about two million times as a teenager. Possibly because it has Christian Slater in it (when he used to be cute), but mostly because it’s just really good. Great soundtrack too. Introverted, intelligent and isolated, Mark is a mild-mannered student by day, and a hard-hitting, pirate DJ by night. He has the student population in a frenzy and the authorities on his tail. Freedom of speech always has a price.
- The Lord of the Rings (The Animated Version) – Now, I know you’re thinking “Come on, lady, we’ve all seen LOTR a million times!” But just hold your horses. This is the 1978 animated version we are talking about. It’s amaze-balls. And talk about scary – wooh! The film uses rotoscoping, which is a technique in which live-action film is traced onto animation cels. The result is a sort of nightmarish realness that freaks you out if you’re ten years old and watching it for the first time. Ahem.
- The Chorus (Les Choristes) – “…The new teacher at a severely administered boys’ boarding school works to positively affect the students’ lives through music…” You get the idea. The ending is the best bit (cue sobbing from me). This is kinda like a French schoolboy Sister Act 2. Except it’s better. And there’s less hip-hop and nuns.
- Lawn Dogs – Young girl in a new neighbourhood doesn’t fit in. So she decides to hang out with the local lawn-mower man (a “lawn dog”) instead of other girls her own age. What could go wrong? This isn’t a movie about a weird, icky relationship that shouldn’t be occurring, don’t worry. It’s more about people’s perceptions and the social repercussions of not following the “appropriate norm”. There is a sense of foreboding in this film from the get-go, and it’s not the fairy tale ending that you want. But it’s great, nevertheless.
- To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar – The premise of this movie is “…three drag queens travel cross-country until their car breaks down, leaving them stranded in a small town…” It’s been done before (Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) and it’s been done better, but I still like it. It’s funny and colourful and you want the main characters to succeed and make the world a better place. That’s good enough for me. Not everything has to be Academy Award material. Sometimes it’s just about frocks.
- Doubt – I seem to watch a lot of movies about priests. I don’t know what that says about me – I should probably bring it up in therapy. This film stars Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, and the amazing Philip Seymour Hoffman. The tagline is ” There is no evidence. There are no witnesses. But for one, there is no doubt…” And indeed there will be for you, as the viewer. This is a movie you discuss afterwards with your friends and you’re not really sure what to believe. Which is kinda the whole point.
- The Taking of Pelham One Two Three – This is such a great movie. But make sure you watch the 1974 version, with Walter Matthau (it’s glorious), not the crummy 2009 remake starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta (it’s rubbish). In New York, armed men hijack a subway car and demand a ransom for the passengers. Simple enough story, but there’s such a fabulous interplay between the characters, and Mr Matthau is brilliant as “cynical and curmudgeonly, yet light-hearted, New York City Transit Authority police lieutenant” Zachery Garber. It’s just good viewing. Not whizz-bang special effects or overdone action, just great acting. As it should be.
- Memphis Belle – I’m not a war film fanatic. I have probably seen half a dozen that I like. I have never even seen “Saving Private Ryan” (I know, right?! How is this possible?). But there are some I DO like and would put in my top 20 most loved films. Memphis Belle is one of them. It has THE BEST cast – Eric Stoltz, Matthew Modine, Harry Connick Jnr, Sean Astin, Billy Zane, John Lithgow, Jane Horrocks – and is more about friendship and camaraderie than it is about war. It’s heart-stopping in parts and funny in others and always makes me cry. When Eric Stoltz’ character, Danny, reads a poem by Y. B. Yeats, it just makes me weep like a big girl. (Or a large, non-gender-biased person of slightly emotional persuasion. Whichever is more PC these days.) But it’s a great film and one that would appeal to all – you could watch it with your Dad or your Mum or your boyfriend or whoever. It’s one of those movies that has something for everyone. Plus it makes you hate war just that little bit more which is always a good thing.
- Silent Running – The general gist of this movie is “…in a future where all flora is extinct on Earth, an astronaut is given orders to destroy the last of Earth’s botany, kept in a greenhouse aboard a spacecraft…” It’s very atmospheric and sad and just one of those movies that stays with you. Made at a time when we weren’t all that aware about the environment, this movie is pretty ahead of its time in a lot of ways. If it was made now it would be a bit ho-hum. But in the 70s? Come on!
- The Grey – Stoic-but-damaged-loner Liam Neeson has to lead a bunch of oil workers to safety after their plane crashes in the Alaskan wilderness, which is home to lots of hungry wolves. No good can come of this, obviously. It’s edge-of-your-seat stuff. And the ending is awesome and slightly more realistic than a lot of these movies can be. There are some parts of it that make no sense (you’ll understand this if you watch it) but hey, just go with it. In Movie Land, things don’t have to make sense, right? And it’s Liam Neeson, so you’d pretty much do whatever he told you to do. Walk out into a freezing cold blizzard with wolves howling in the distance? Sure! Leave the safety of a crashed aeroplane where there is warmth, fuel and the possibility of being found? Why not!?
- Primal Fear – The first time I saw this film, I was on an aeroplane heading home from the UK. I hate flying with a passion, and generally feel ill and desperate. This movie had me riveted and made me forget my nausea and deep loathing of air travel. It’s essentially a movie about a murder case where the main suspect is a young man who may or may not be who he says he is. Richard Gere plays his lawyer, and he specialises in cases that are “unwinnable”, which basically means he thinks himself to be all that and a bag of chips. As you would, if you were Richard Gere. The acting is great (especially from Edward Norton, who is FABULOUS) and the story has some nice little twists in it that you don’t see coming. Well, I didn’t see them coming…but then I was jet-lagged and had been sitting on a plane for 23 hours. Just go watch it.
- Murder in the First – Ah, Christian Slater…what happened to you? You held such promise, such potential, and then…sigh… We may never know. But in this movie Christian is pretty great. He doesn’t play some wise-cracking, sarcastic, hot dude. He plays James Stamphill,a young, bespectacled attorney, defending a man (Kevin Bacon) who is headed for the gas chamber after murdering a fellow inmate at Alcatraz Prison. Stamphill argues an almost unwinnable (should have called in Richard Gere, huh?) case – that Alcatraz, the institution, is the true murderer. It’s a very unpleasant movie, to be honest. You know when you watch movies about slavery or any kind of injustice, and you want to go back in time and say “Hey! That’s not nice! Stop that!”? Yeah, well, it’s like that. Still, a good movie that didn’t receive much notice or acclaim, as I recall. Which is a shame, because it is one of Christian Slater’s better roles.
- Kung Fu Hustle – I went to see this with a friend who said (a few seconds in to the film) “Oh, is this a subtitled movie?” with a sigh of disappointment, as though I had tricked him into watching a Danish documentary on fungus or something. He soon perked up because this movie is HILARIOUS and so, so clever. The special effects are amazing and every scene is fabulous to watch. The fight scenes are actually pretty damn beautiful but also fast-paced enough to make your eyeballs hurt. The story is crazy, the characters even more so, but it is Stephen Chow at his best. It’s the age-old battle between good and evil, and who doesn’t love that?
So there you go. Just a few little films to add to your “Must Watch” list. I’m no film critic, and probably don’t know a good film from a bad one, but I know what I like. Try some of these and see what you think, and let me know if you loved or hated them. Feel free to tell me some movies I should see, if they’re not on my list 🙂
Happy viewing x