Steven Spielberg's requiem to Stanley Kubrick is one of the strangest versions of Pinocchio you're ever likely to see, but its timing (not long after September 11th) was eerie, and I felt very haunted about the fragile state of human existence when I walked out of the cinema that afternoon.
Can't say I really liked this film at first - Ridley Scott is just too manipulative both of his audience and his actors - but watching the non-director's approved "Special Edition" in 2003 was an eye-opener, restoring the missing scene with the ill-fated Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt) giving the character a much more satisfying "closure" and for me, elevating the film towards the level of a classic which it is generally regarded.
American Graffiti (1973)
Some would say this is George Lucas's best film: certainly his warmest and most nostalgic, with some of his best ensemble cast performances, from the likes of Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Charles Martin Smith (a dead ringer for the young Lucas), and Harrison Ford - whatever became of him?
Apocalypse Now (1979)
"The best ever film about Vietnam", shot shortly after the end of the conflict itself, is too expensive, too noisy and makes little sense - much like the war itself, some thought. However, nothing that Francis Ford Coppola does is ever dull (or wasn't up till then), and among the film's supporting players - in perhaps his last "obscure" role - was Harrison Ford (as "Colonel Lucas") just after he had finished making a film called Star Wars. I had the good fortune to see the "Redux" version of this film at the Empire Leicester Square, cementing its place as a near-favourite.
Jaws for arachnophobes; one of the best monster movies of recent times, playing on people's widespread fear of spiders, without overly manipulating the audience or turning too nasty. My Mum watched five minutes of this on video, until the scene where a spider leapt straight on the camera lens, and she was gone: a true test of a scary, but fun, film.
Back to the Future (1985)
Battle of Britain (1969)
Tom Hanks' best performance - relatively early in his career - capturing expertly the personality of a 12-year old in an adult body. There were several Hollywood "body-swap" films at the time for some reason, but this one is by far the best, thanks to a decent script and Penny Marshall's sympathetic direction.
The distinctive opening music by Jerome Moss instantly conveys the atmosphere of the Wild West, and the story's a gripping mixture of Shakespearian feudal tragedy and Cold War allegory, as Gregory Peck inherits an ongoing conflict between the upstanding Tyrrells and the gruff, bullish Hennesseys (Burl Ives is on great form as their boss.)
The Blues Brothers (1980)
Loud, noisy and action-packed - like some of the numbers (with several notable guest appearances by Ray Charles, James Brown, John Lee Hooker, Aretha Franklin, etc.) - this was perhaps the dying gasp of the Hollywood film musical, in very modern clothes. By the time I came to it (decades after first release) it was already a cult item, and a frequent slot at 11pm on Saturday nights. John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd had echoes of Laurel & Hardy or Abbott & Costello about them (although both those comedy pairings were better), and their onetime soulmate Carrie Fisher was at her feistiest (outside of Princess Leia) as a vengeful beautician at the "Curl Up and Dye" Salon.
Rob Marshall's musical high heels and lethal ladies extravaganza, quite faithfully adapted to the screen and heavy with influences of Bob Fosse and Cabaret, which I found nostalgic. It brought Catherine Zeta-Jones her first Oscar, and helped me through a slightly difficult time at the beginning of 2003 with its cheerful cynicism and flambuoyant style. Also the first film I saw at the new Odeon Colchester multiplex.
Every critic features this on a 100 Best list, so I suppose I have to as well. It’s more a film that I admire and respect than adore, however. Orson Welles’s cinematic tricks are wonderfully inventive (thanks also to Gregg Toland’s superb photography), but tricks just the same, more than plot, and Welles himself enjoys being the centre of attention just a little too much. That twist ending is great, but even that was out of compromise between Welles and fellow writer Herman Mankiewicz.
The feature film of the classic TV series followed a fashion for rushing out variably amusing spin-offs of hit comedy shows in the 1970's, and was admittedly a little overstretched in its thin plot (the first third was merely recycling the first TV episode), but the regulars were all present and correct and on good comic form. I've since visited some of the locations used for this film, including the lovely village of Chalfont St. Giles, the Dover Cliffs, and Littleton Church - just outside Shepperton Studios (see pictures).
The Devil Rides Out (1967)
Christopher Lee's favourite Hammer film, cast against type as the dynamic hero battling Satanists, which makes his presence all the more effective with the horror confronted, epitomised by Charles Gray as the smoothly ruthless Mocata. The cast in Terence Fisher's commendably straight-faced drama also included Paul Edington and Sarah Lawson.
One that I first enjoyed on children's TV in the 1970's, then happened to see at the Ipswich Film theatre years later, its humour and its quaintness undiminished.
Time has withered my impression of this Spielberg epic, especially in the light of his subsequent masterwork Schindler's List, but this is still a sumptuous work, a little languid in parts, with the drawn out scenes in an internment camp reminiscent of an episode of Tenko, but the young Christian Bale is excellent as the boy who treats the war as one big adventure - at first - and Spielberg and J.G. Ballard seem as one in terms of the film's imagination.
E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982)
Apathy and partial jealousy prevented me from seeing this film on its first release. As the Empire Strikes Back blog will explan, I'd turned away from the cinema, and the notion that this was an even bigger film than Star Wars also prompted a certain amount of antipathy. Curiosity and the skill of Steven Spielberg's direction won me over in time however (the video release didn't come along until as late as 1987.) Despite a certain amount of cloying sentiment and parts of the film that lag, it is by and large a classic of entertainment, and so simple yet so grand in its concept. I finally got round to seeing E.T. in the cinema in 2002 - a partially revamped "Special Edition" which thankfully didn't change too much, and helped blow away the blues of the Queen Mother's death at the time.
It doesn't seem to me that there's been a really good film about my favourite classical composer, Ludwig Van Beethoven: Immortal Beloved had a stab at it, but dwelt on speculation and the women in Beethoven's life, although Gary Oldman gave a good account of himself. But this BBC film is perhaps the closest it has come so far to a decent biopic. The real star is the 3rd ("Eroica") Symphony itself, played in its entirety throughout the film.
Etre et Avoir (2002)
A beautiful French documentary about a small country pre school, all about the joys of early learning and the first building blocks of life. One typically charming moment is where a pet tortoise crawls slowly through the classroom while the snow rages outside. I can see why teacher friends took up the profession after seeing this film.
After 20 years waiting for a film adaptation of Tim Rice and Andrew Lord Webber's hit stage musical, Alan Parker did a more than creditable job, and even more surprisingly he etched out a suitably spirited star performance from Madonna, in perhaps her one and only film to effectively unite her talents as both actress and singer. This was also the most recent case of a full blown cinematic opera, and the wall-to-wall music (in Dolby Digital sound) made for a full-blown cinematic experience - together with a trailer for the 1997 Star Wars Special Editions, it's one I remember vividly. I'd often wondered what it would be like to do a film about an ordinary everyday man taking his own personal revenge on the world around him (especially during the 1980's.) Michael Douglas's "D-Fens" wasn't quite that "ordinary", as plot details later reveal him to be psychologically disturbed as well as unemployed, but it was a compelling performance in a wry black comedy action drama, where he rampages across urban LA pursued by Robert Duvall's retiring detective (on his last day of course). "I'm the bad guy?", Douglas ironically asks as he and Duvall showdown at the end. I borrowed some of Douglas's look for a similar character I played in a stage play, Nasty Neighbours in 1995.
Flash Gordon (1980)
This is a cult favourite, and although hardly in the same league as Star Wars (George Lucas himself tried and failed to secure the rights to Flash Gordon years before), it has many exuberant elements such as Max Von Sydow's majestically evil Ming the Merciless, a young Timothy Dalton as dashing Prince Barin, the stunning Ornella Muti as Ming's daughter, and a sountrack by Queen. Brian Blessed thinks it's the greatest film ever made (so a friend tells me), and you can't can blame him, as he gives such a hearty performance as Vultan. Director Mike Hodges was brought into this typically overblown Dino de Laurentiis production of a comic strip - and that's exactly how he chose to make it.
From Beyond the Grave (1973)
One of my favoruite Peter Cushing films, even though he's mainly a linking device as a sleazy antiques dealer to a series of dubious customers who await grizzly ends to their ill-gotten gains, in what I think is the best of Amicus's horror compilations. Among the stories were David Warner and Ian Ogilvy compelled to commit murder by ghosts hidden within the antiques, Ian Carmichael and Margaret Leighton hamming it up in the comedy segment, and both Donald Pleasence and his daughter Angela in a macabre little tale of murder with Ian Bannen and Diana Dors.Galaxy Quest (1999)
A wonderful fusion of spoof and homage to Star Trek, as Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman play former TV sci-fi actors now reduced to doing the convention circuit, until they are hurled into a real life Galaxy Quest and have to call upon the strengths of the characters they played. Anyone who's been to a few sci-fi conventions or sat through a few episodes of Star Trek will recognise the jokes.
The first video rental I saw (courtesy of my Dad) in the mid-80's was this rambling but powerful - if anti-British - war drama about two friends cajoling each other into joining up to fight the Turks at Gallipoli in World War I. The final image of youth lost on the battlefield (to the music of Albinoni's Adagio) is as heart-rending as they come.
Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)
The first Gremlins had something of a 1980's feel to it, with some of Spielberg's sentiment tinged with darkness and Joe Dante's enthusiasm for horror pastiche: the sequel choose not to top it, but instead piled on a whole series of in-jokes and a typically surreal moment when the Gremlins get into the projection room (or the video machine, depending on your viewing media), done in a general healthy atmosphere of 1990's niceness. Composer Jerry Goldsmith even puts in an appearance, and the credits are presided over by Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and (mostly) Daffy Duck!
The first Woody Allen film that I got round to seeing, and it's a clever mixture of wit and pathos (although Crimes and Misdemeanours was even cleverer.) The cast included Carrie Fisher, Barbara Hershey, Diane Wiest, Max Von Sydow, and of course, Mia Farrow, and Allen himself, who's on great form, and also as director selects some great music (mostly jazz). Need I say more? It also showed me for the first time that Michael Caine can really act when the right script comes along. The scene where he tells Hershey he loves her, and senses an element of reciprocation, is easily identifiable.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1955)
The original and best version of Jack Finney's Body Snatchers short story, with Kevin McCarthy conveying a gripping portrait of gradually mounting terror as he sees all that he knows around him transformed into cold-hearted strangers inhabited by aliens. Director Don Siegel creates the maximum amount of horror and suspense with the least amount of gore or special effects. A "happy" ending of sorts was added by the studio but frowned upon by most fans, although poor Kevin surely deserved some sort of recompense after all his rushing around; come the 1978 remake, he was still warning the citizens of San Francisco of the oncoming danger.
This is one of the most terrifying films ever made. Though the plot is crazy, it's too scary not to believe it couldn't happen - especially with all that we now know about Communist infiltration and attempts at brainwashing during the Cold War. Frank Sinatra is the traumatized Korean War veteran who can't understand why he so idolizes fellow veteran Laurence Harvey - a war "hero" who is prepared to kill indiscrimately at the merest gentle request from the true villain of the piece, Angela Lansbury. Jonathan Demme directed a variable remake updating the story for the Iraq War, but there's no way he could have topped the sinister atmosphere John Frankenheimer created for the original.
One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)
Back in the 1970s like most kids I was brought up in the cinema on a regular diet of Disney films, most of which were the classics from the 1940s. This one resembled a 1940s classic too, except that to my later surprise, I found that it was a much more recent entry in the Disney canon. The moment when a crook accidentally grabs hold of a cat's neck instead of a wine bottle delighted me at the time, I remember. I also secretly enjoyed Stephen Herek's live action remake (he of Bill & Ted fame) in 1996 with Glenn Close, Jeff Daniels and Joely Richardson, with Hugh Laurie and Simon Williams as Laurel & Hardy-style crooks.
Poltergeist 3 (1988)
Seven Days to Noon (1950)
A futuristic paean to nostalgia and lost memories by Wong Kar Wai (his first American road movie My Blueberry Nights was a less successful but nonetheless interesting variation on the subject.) The title refers to the year when Hong Kong will complete its transfer from the UK over to China, so it's a suitably melancholic time to reflect on past and future. The Sars virus broke out in Hong Kong at the time, abandoning the original production, so Wai rejigged it into a sequel to his previous film In the Mood for Love, with Tony Leung as a womanising but reclusive writer who pens his futuristic 2046 novel. A film better for general atmosphere than overall content, and it also has a great soundtrack CD that I often play.