So, when you get a text challenging you to pick your favourite ten films you think “Pfft, easy mate, give me twenty minutes”. That was three weeks ago. This has been far tougher than I thought! On reflection, I’ve only got one film on my list that came out before the year 2000. What does that say about me? Now, I will admit, I’ve not seen some truly amazing films. Never seen any of the Godfather films, I’ve not seen Robert de Niro drive a taxi and I’ve not seen a Tarantino film I’ve liked – controversial I know. You wait; you haven’t seen my list yet…
Anyway, grab your popcorn, turn down the lights and have a read of my list. Will be the worst Saturday night in you’ve ever had. Any complaints about my list, direct them towards Jo Gill, she asked me to write it, I shouldn’t get the blame!
Without further ado, lets start wiiiiiiiith…
- Wish I Was Here (2014)
Now, stay with me here, feel like I may lose some of you already! This film, to be polite, had mixed reviews. The story follows a struggling actor (Braff), his wife (Kate Hudson) and their two kids, Tucker (Pierce Gagnon) and Grace (Joey King). Mostly funded through a kickstarter campaign, the film contemplates topics like family, life, cancer and happiness but still makes you come away feeling hopeful about the future. In essence, Zach Braff’s character is going through all the things we worry about at one time and, like all of us, he doesn’t handle it all with the style and grace that we’d hope. This film makes you realise that not everything has to be perfect for it to work. Relationships that are broken can be fixed, you can never fail at chasing a dream if it gets you somewhere else, and finally, the slogan of the film, “Life is an occasion, rise to it”. It’s not an Oscar contender, but parts of it will warm you, a Sunday afternoon watch.
- (500) Days of Summer (2009)
This was the first Rom-Com that I believed it was ok to say I loved. First watched when I went to University and had my first foray with love and breakups. This film seemed to hit the spot with a lot of millennials (someone who did the majority of their growing up in the 21st century) who were in and out of relationships. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is instantly relatable; working in a very average job, with a couple of good friends and then BAM, she walks in. Don’t lie; we’ve all been there. The timeline of 500 days is non-linear (fancy film phrase) and flicks between the happy days (i.e. picnics and Ikea trips) and the not so happy days (trips to the shops in a dressing gown because getting dressed is that one step too far…once again, we’ve all been there). The film doesn’t fall into the emotional rollercoaster stereotype that a classic rom-com might have but is much more subtle, using The Smiths instead of sugary pop music and portraying real life relationship problems without all the sunshine and rainbows. It’s a fun film that shows how a romantic comedy really should be made, with a true reflection of how romance can actually be really, really unfortunate. Cheery I know.
- 21 (2008)
Jim Sturgess and Kevin Spacey’s film about a math whizz who attempts to beat the dealer and take away the jackpot at the Blackjack table. This is another favourite of mine that didn’t make it to many award ceremonies and isn’t heralded as a masterpiece but it’s a solid watch. Being a ‘big player’ at a casino is something everybody has dreamed of. Pushing a huge stack of chips towards a dealer and knowing, through ‘simple math’, that the next two cards are going to make you very, very rich. Sturgess plays a student at the prestigious MIT University in Boston, USA. Upon meeting a professor (Spacey) who assembles bright, young minds to count cards in Las Vegas, his life quickly changes and everyone’s luck eventually runs out. The relationship between Sturgess and Spacey is always interesting and, like so many films on this list, it’s the antagonist co-star (Spacey) who steals the spotlight from the other actors. His building of the character is always intriguing and shows how manipulative a smile can be. Certainly not a cinematic game changer but whenever its on, I’ll always stick around to see if he gets away or not. Winner winner, chicken dinner.
- The Bourne Identity (2002)
For a long, long time the only secret agent who lured me to the cinema was James Bond. Pierce Brosnan was my first Bond. Steely eyed, always tuxedoed and never a drop of blood on him, he made everything look incredibly easy. Switch to Jason Bourne, where nothing is ever simple. The film is much less flashy than Bond, far less gadgets, more modest cars and certainly no such thing as a ‘Bourne Girl’ in sight. But what the films like in gimmicks, it makes up for in proper action sequences. Real fist fights, more ‘normal’ car chases and it all feels like you are literally standing next to the fight or in the car with him. Handheld footage is what sets the Bourne franchise apart; it removes the polish from the film and makes it far more real. But Matt Damon embodies the character wonderfully. The confusion over his identity is evident at all times and the frustration at how he knows all of his skills but none of his backstory is a very interesting dynamic. The thrill of the chase from the CIA is paralleled with Bourne’s chase to complete his memory and remember who he was, and why he is the way he is. Sounds like a film with lots of questions, and the answer to all of them is simply…watch the film. Simple.
- Shaun of the Dead (2004)
People on Instagram are frustrating. The worst users are the ones who post a picture of Kylie and Kendall Jenner stating “name a more iconic duo, I’ll wait…”. Well, to all of you out there, Simon John Pegg and Nicholas John Frost, arguably the most recent incarnation of the classic British double act. First starring together in the late 90s/early 2000s TV show ‘Spaced’, the pair have gone on to make four films together, three of which being in what is known as the “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy”. Shaun of the Dead was such an interesting film. This hilarious horror comedy is another superb film that did great things with a very modest budget. Costing only $6.1 million to make, it banked five times that at the box office and led to continued success with the sequels. This film is a shining example of an independent British movie showcasing proper British talent. Pegg and Frost are excellent, Lucy Davis (best known as Dawn from “The Office”) is the scatty, actor best friend and Penelope Wilton and Bill Nighy play Shaun’s diddery Mum and cantankerous Stepdad. With this being Edgar Wright’s second directorial credit, it was an early indication that he was going to go on to very big things. A seriously funny comedy that will make you rethink any zombie movie you subsequently watch. You’ve got red on you…
- Good Will Hunting (1997)
To say that this film had humble beginnings would be an understatement. Two college friends who write a script, pitch the idea, but state that the only way for it to be made is if they get to star in the lead roles. It’s a ballsy move for a pair of young guys with next to no reputation behind them. The film went ahead and it never looked back. Damon was amazing, towing the line between slightly arrogant boy genius all the while showing the vulnerable side of his troubled upbringing. Affleck’s character seems more simple, certainly not as intelligent but he shows the pain he feels about his own dead end situation and how he wants to see his best friend thrive in a world he can only dream of. This film looks at many dynamics and relationships, particularly the connection between somebody who is intellectual superior and the childhood social equal. The key pairing though is that of Damon and Robin Williams. Williams has had some amazing roles throughout the years, championing comedy and drama with ease, but ‘Good Will Hunting’ allowed him to show his full range. Williams’ role is the last psychiatrist who is given the job to understand Will Hunting’s mental state. Williams will have you laughing one minute and on the verge of tears the next. An Academy Award followed and the film had huge success. It is a much watch.
- Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
New Zealand, death, abandonment, and a dog named Zag. This film certainly doesn’t set itself up to be light-hearted. Set in rural New Zealand, the story centres on a street orphan who is fostered by an elderly farming couple. After multiple escape attempts and the threat of a return to foster care, this film is the subtlest of comedies, with laugh out loud moments appearing from out of nowhere. Sam Neill plays Hec, the foster parent who literally never smiles. Stone faced, downtrodden and horrendously grumpy, it takes Ricky Baker (played by newcomer Julian Dennison) to reignite any sort of personality. Dennison is superb. His comedic timing is impeccable and for only his forth-acting credit ever, it is a truly remarkable achievement. The tone is sombre with no obvious comedic banana skins lying around. The dialogue is extremely witty and clever, something you would expect from a writer and director who worked on projects like Flight of the Conchords. A very modest film (budget of US$2.5 million) which has had massive implications for the cast and crew. Director Taika Waititi has gone from low budget mockumentaries (What We Do In The Shadows) to directing the latest instalment from Marvel’s Norse God Avenge and Dennison’s next big screen role is alongside Ryan Reynolds’ Super (anti) hero Deadpool in Deadpool 2. Very funny and will certainly not disappoint. Not bad for 2 guys from a country where the sheep to human ratio is roughly 4:1.
- The Dark Knight (2008)
How do you redefine an entire genre? How do you take an entire group of films that are embedded in fantasy and bring them into the real world? These questions and so many more were asked of Christopher Nolan when he took on the Batman project from DC Comics and Warner Brothers. It has often been said of Nolan that the only reason he did these films were to bankroll more personal projects like Inception and Interstellar but these films have not only been a stepping stone for Nolan, but have also caused the entire superhero phenomenon to move out of the comic book shop and into the Hollywood spotlight. Christian Bale is grumpy and croaky but the first name on the poster has to be the late, great Heath Ledger, and what a performance it was. Winning a posthumous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker was simply amazing. If you research the costume and make up of all the Jokers that had come before (Jack Nicholson for example) this was a complete shake up and rework of what people would class as “the classic comic book villain”. You were engrossed by his performance, waiting for him to reappear in every scene, and when news of Ledger’s death surfaced, the fans (myself included) mourned the man, but also mourned the character he created, the reappearance that could never happen. A great film that deserves more credit for what it did and how it did it. “Why so serious?”
- The Social Network (2010)
When a friend from school said, “Oh, did you hear? They are making a film about Facebook” I thought, ‘God, I hope its not just mindless status updates, pictures of food and Emojis’ (Cue obvious joke about The Emoji Movie’s lack of success). But I was happily wrong for a change. Now, I didn’t study film, as you can probably tell, but I’m assuming there are theories or equations as to what creates the perfect film. In my opinion, the simplest formula would be a good cast, a good director and a good script. Andrew Garfield is fantastic, Jesse Eisenberg is brilliant, Justin Timberlake is surprisingly good and David Fincher’s directing is at it’s usual standard, superb. So we have the cast, we have the director but the writing is the headline act of this film. Aaron Sorkin has quickly become one of my favourite writers and this film is a shining example of the extreme talent of the man’s creative mind. The dialogue moves at roughly 100 miles an hour and is so multifaceted that new jokes appear on every watch. For a film about a website, its pretty damn good. Shame they didn’t use that on the poster.
- A Knight’s Tale (2001)
The second mention of Heath Ledger on this list. A young servant attempts to distance himself from his past and use his skills on a horse, with a lance in his hand to forge a better life. This film hit me at just the right time. I went to see it at the cinema when I was nine years old and for me, it ticked every box. The jousting provided action, the servants provided comedy and the female lead, Princess Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon), provided a love interest that even a nine year old wasn’t grossed out by. Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell) was the perfect bad guy, hissing his lines like a troublesome serpent but what always stuck with me was the use of music throughout. While doing more background research for this film, I stumbled across the word ‘anachronism’, which, in layman’s terms, means something that is taken chronologically out of context. Often used as a criticism for this film, I believe that it enhances it more than it hinders. How do you make a banquet/dance scene more engaging to an audience? A music mash-up of a Green Sleeves-esque guitar into the David Bowie classic ‘Golden Years’ should do the trick. A film that doesn’t take itself completely seriously, featuring Geoffrey Chaucer, one of the most influential writers in human existence completely naked on multiple occasions, but one that I will often go back to when needing something familiar. R.I.P Heath Ledger.
Author: Jamie Warwick