So Rich had his moment in the sun, inexplicably missing out ‘Ishtar’ and ‘Sex Lives Of The Potato Men’ – films that’ll be inexplicably missed off this list too…
Andy has a crack at his own “10 Best” after a brow-furrowing, no-particular-order brain trowel through decades of great film. And ‘Cool Runnings’ if there’s nothing else to watch.
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- THE FRENCH CONNECTION – 1971
Hackman and ‘that’ pork pie hat. An antithetical New York to ‘Sex In The City’ where police officers fire their guns a lot (sometimes at each other), confuse ‘questioning’ with ‘assault’ and never go to magazine launches with Sarah Jessica-Parker. You get the feeling door-hinge salesmen in early ’70s New York must’ve made an absolute killing judging by the NYPD’s predilection for opening doors with the soles of their Size 11s. I also place the iconic, howling car chase across Brooklyn a notch above McQueen’s cat-and-mouse tyre shredder in ‘Bullitt’: Hackman’s tenacity during the lengthy FC sequence is almost coronary-inducing. Incidentally, both chases were choreographed and executed by acclaimed stunt driver Bill Hickman who makes extended cameos in both films. Hickman was also besties with James Dean who didn’t drive quite as well.
- THE WILD BUNCH – 1969
A Western with a Schwarzenegger-level body count, made when the big man was still flexing his pecs in his undies and a body count was a yardstick to measure how well you were doing in your South-East Asian dirty war. William Holden, Ernest Borgnine and friends gurn, grimace and growl through a succession of gunfights and questionable business transactions: they kill their own gang members; they kill old ladies who don’t like booze; they kill an entire Mexican army regiment with a machine gun. Sam Peckinpah expends an awful lot of ammunition and propels men and horses through shop windows in slow motion as he crafts an elegiac lament for the passing of the Old West and its dubiously romantic ways… by killing absolutely everyone and everything in it. WARNING: contains Warren Oates.
- ’71 – 2014
An absolutely stunning portrayal of The Troubles in microcosm: young army recruits stuck with a thankless and dangerous policing task; Republicans and Loyalists plotting and planning behind the barricades on grim Belfast streets; shady British Intelligence-types playing all sides off against each other. A chase movie at heart as one young recruit finds himself cut off from his unit with the IRA hot on his heels, the film nevertheless subtly – and very eruditely – portrays a bewildering array of attitudes and standpoints that demonstrate just how politically and socially complex the ‘Northern Ireland issue’ was back in the 70s. I’ve never before seen a film display such a breadth and depth of topical knowledge in such a short window.
- NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD – 1968
George A. Romero turned the horror genre completely on its head with his seminal low-budget zombie kickstarter. Young children were in the audience when this first screened in October ’68 as ‘horror’ generally cut through with a pretty blunt, campy edge. There’s nothing remotely campy about the anxious, disbelieving news reports of country-wide mass murders. Or the worrying close-up shots of the windows as darkness falls. Or the sight of an 11-year-old girl tucking hungrily in to her dead dad in the cellar. Romero also plays dirty trickster with the ending, allowing the hero to survive the titular night only to take a sheriff’s bullet square in the physog the following morning and wind up piled on a mini hillock of burning corpses. The guts and gore certainly shocked at the time but the ‘no-one-here-gets-out-alive’ motif genuinely troubled cinema goers used to the triumphant hero staple. “They’re coming to get you, Barbara… oh sh*t, they really are coming to get you, Barbara!”
- PATHS OF GLORY – 1957
Kirk Douglas gets an entire regiment of French soldiers to fritter away on an ill-conceived attack on the German-held ‘Anthill’, a defensive network of trenches tougher than 3 Jet Li-stuffed Jason Stathams. With the attack breaking down for the want of any living rifle-carrying folk to help push it forward, the French high command elects to blame-file the tragic debacle under ‘cowardice’, graciously agreeing to reduce their death list from 100 to 3 randomly-picked rank-and-file scapegoats (one of whom is bodge-faced Hollywood fruit-and-nut, Timothy Carey). A defence lawyer in civvy street, Kirk steps in to sort this objectionable farce out for good ‘n’ all only to find a fait accompli for execution with its fait so entirely accompli-ed that it’s an exercise in frustration just watching the poor sod waste his breath (I genuinely shouted at the telly the first time I watched the court martial sequence). Bodge-faced Tim, Ralph Meeker and spooky barman Lloyd from ‘The Shining’ are duly taken out and shot – to encourage others to go out and be shot voluntarily – leaving an embittered Kirk to square his Spartacun (?) shoulders and ready another hapless bunch of corpses-in-waiting for a second pointless crack. The real power of this Kubrickian (??) classic is its deeper understanding of the abstractive ‘futility of war’ as a consequence of the limitless stupidity and intractability of individuals with the power to advocate and perpetuate it. Better pick a comedy next…
Paul Newman made over 60 films but I doubt I could name half of them. I could probably name more of his salad dressings at a push.
- GROSSE POINTE BLANK – 1997
OK, so it’s not a comedy in the strictest sense, but anything with Dan Aykroyd in it’s bound to inflate a little more chuckle space into the middle of that ‘comic thriller’ Venn diagram. Despite a modest showing at the box-office, the pearl in its oyster is its premise. Put Seagal or Stallone in the role of a disenchanted government assassin and they’d be taking down drug cartels or rescuing retirement-age POWs from the jungles of Vietnam with their serious faces on. John Cusack, however, drags his disenchanted government assassin ass off to his 10-year high school reunion, wisecracks laconically throughout and lets that pearl of a premise carry the joke onwards and upwards: he kills a guy with a pen at his high school reunion!; he disposes of a corpse in a furnace with an old pal at his high school reunion!; he kills Dan Aykroyd with a massive television just after his high school reunion! For me, the plausible implausibility of the whole thing is the cinematic equivalent of a stacked bacon sandwich the morning after a big night out – simply irresistible. Despite Minnie Driver.
Goes great with The Sundance Kid. And pasta.
- ZULU – 1964
The 11-Victoria-Cross defence of Rorke’s Drift given the Technirama treatment and crafted into a polished piece of British cinematic awesomeness. Stanley Baker is a veritable rock. Michael Caine is coolly aristocratic. Nigel Green is shouty and avuncular with an Old Testament wisdom. The speccy Welsh bloke from ‘Please Sir!‘ is… Welshy. Never mind the liberal sprinklings of ‘artistic licence’ throughout (Zulu/Redcoat sing-off anyone…?), the film’s a cast iron blood stirrer and works hard to be even-handed with its positive treatment of all parties involved. Not all individual portrayals were universally adored, however: James Booth’s whiskey-loving, authority-hating Henry Hook was a sharp contrast to the teetotal model career soldier who snagged a VC for bravery on January 22nd 1879. Hook’s own daughter walked out of the UK premier which screened on the 85th anniversary of the engagement. Look out for Chief Buthelezi’s cameo at the beginning (clue: he isn’t one of the Redcoats). Peter Jackson modelled his ‘Lord Of The Rings’ battle for Helm’s Deep on the combat sequences in ‘Zulu’.
Goes great with The Sundance Kid. And pasta.
- SOUTH PARK: THE MOVIE – 1999
“Shut your f*@$ing face Uncle Fuckaaaaaa…“.
There’s really nothing more to add here.
- BAD LIEUTENANT – 1992
Harvey Keitel bottoms out and outs his bottom in Abel Ferrara’s dark and difficult-to-watch litany of sex, sleaze and drug guzzling. Less a tale of redemption in a Catholic overcoat than a powerful study of the kind of behavioural contradictions that mark out each and every one of us, though perhaps not to the same polar extremes as Harvey and his al fresco gluteus maximus. In spite of his sense-killing addictions and abuses of power, the Lieutenant nevertheless metes out a kind of forgiving ‘second chance’ justice at odds with his destructive manner and mentality – an articulation of ‘good’ by other means, if you like. A really, really fascinating film once you get over the ‘hero’ indulging in cocaine and threesomes, blackmailing teenage girls for sexual gratification and shooting his car radio over the baseball scores.
- GET CARTER – 1971
A gold-plated British crime classic. Ruthless, remorseless Michael Caine comes ‘home’ to the grim North-East to put some serious hurt on the shady types implicated in the death of his kid brother. He knifes the barman from ‘Minder’. He throws Coronation Street’s “Alf Roberts” from the roof of a parking building. He threatens tough guys with a shotgun in his birthday suit. Not even the creepily laconic John Osborne can deviate Caine from his vengeful course: those who manage to avoid the stabbings and involuntary off-building aerobatics end up drowned, poisoned, clubbed to death or shot instead. Caine’s divestment of the cheeky, chirpy, cockney geezer that garnered him such fame in the years immediately preceding ‘Get Carter’ is a gamble that pays off in spades, but the prize for ‘Most Convincing Baddie’ must surely go to supporting cast member Ian Hendry. Blighted by alcoholism and ill health, Hendry lost out on the role of Jack Carter to Caine and wore the indignation of his ‘demotion’ and envy of Caine’s success on his sleeve throughout the entire shoot. Hendry barely conceals his loathing and prodigious beverage intake during their on-screen exchanges.
Deliverance (1972); The Killers (1964); Dead Man’s Shoes (2004); A Field In England (2013); Rollerball (1975).