I wrote this 3 years ago. It hasn’t changed.
After much deliberation (not that much actually, more like a bored fifteen minutes) I picked 10 films that for one reason or another I adore more than most. And here they are.
10. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Or ESOTSM if you’re a fan of brevity. A staggeringly close to the bone portrayal of why people love and hate each other, and get together and don’t. Visually amazing and emotionally shattering, this is what cinema was made for and possibly the most astute and honest film about relationships, since you see all the good and bad points unglamorously presented for our joy and horror.
The best way I can put it is that this film feels like a relationship. And it bloody hurts.
9. Blade Runner
I was obsessed with this film as a kid, and back then we only had a crummy VHS copy with the voiceover (which some still prefer) but I didn’t see this on the big screen until 2000, unbelievably, and it had such an effect on me that I left the cinema thinking I’d seen a new film. The same thing happened in 2007 with the Final Cut version which was just staggeringly beautiful.
A complex visual feast, this was also one of the most notoriously awful shoots in film history, and a complete flop at the cinema in 1982, but in the 28 years since it has more than earned its legendary status as a film of beauty and quality, and a film that seems to change every time you see it, with more to notice each time and food for thought on just what it means to be human. Believing that Deckard is a non-human replicant is just the start; whether he is or isn’t, what does that mean? I can’t think of many sci-fi action films with this much philosophical heart and soul. Or another film in which Ridley Scott was this much of a genius.
8. Raiders of the Lost Ark
Oh look, it’s Uncle Harrison again. This is one of the reasons I love films and filmmaking. Admittedly I saw Temple of Doom in the cinema before I saw this on video, but the whole rumpled adventurer thing caught my attention and so did the Making Ofs that kept being on TV. I wanted not only to be the hero (we made our own Indy film on Super 8 when I was 10) but also the director, stunt guy and storyboard artist. So, a holistic experience, this one! As you can probably already tell, Ford, Lucas and Spielberg were my childhood heroes. Not so much now, but I’ll never forget their early influence on me.
7. Edward Scissorhands
I’m such a sucker for this film, it gets me every time. It helped that I saw this first when I was a shy, lonely, awkward 17 year old (instead of an all of the above 35 year old), but what gets me about this film apart from the emotional whallop is the production design & cinematography (Bo Welch, Stefan Czapsky) and the music (Elfman). It’s just one of the best looking, best sounding films I’ve ever seen. Burton’s best work. In fact just a downright masterpiece.
My favourite bit is when it all goes horribly wrong for Edward, because I’m an emotional masochist (or maybe just emo?). So when Winona says, ‘Hold me’ and Edward replies, ‘I can’t', followed by their hug (see picture) and the subsequent scene in which the Inventor dies and Edward’s human hands are destroyed forever… I’m a wreck. A happy wreck.
6. It’s a Wonderful Life
People get sick of the mention of this film at Christmas, as it’s very bittersweet and never goes away, BUT this isn’t by any means a ‘Feelgood Film’. This is the classic example of a film that seems to change as you do, so that it’s always relevant to your life. It’s the story of a man who has big hopes and dreams but never fulfils them, I mean that’s depressing right? Not only that, but he resorts to shouting at his kids’ teacher, his wife and children, and smashing up his lounge on Christmas Eve, then trying to commit fucking suicide! ‘Feelgood’? NO.
BUT… the whole point of the film is that people get discouraged. Your hopes and dreams, if you don’t fulfil them, can drive you to the brink of despair and misery. I’m sure we all know this. Ok, still depressing. But then comes the heart and soul of the film; your friends want you to do well, but they love you for who you are and what you mean to them, not what you’ve achieved. And by the end of the film, George Bailey really is the richest man in town. He may not have built skyscrapers and bridges but he’s housed and cared for an entire community who love him for it. The moral is, if you’ve got good friends, you’re one lucky son of a bitch, so appreciate them. It’s a point of view I happen to subscribe to.
The moment where George’s little brother arrives at the end absolutely kills me. Every time.
“You just have to have a little faith in people”. It’s hard to say much about this film without sounding like every other review ever written about it, so I’ll focus on the last three scenes where Woody sits down to list all the things that make life worth living, and lasts about two minutes before mentioning the girl he let go… and then he sprints about fifty blocks through New York to reach her before she can escape, only to have a very sobering yet heartwarming conversation in which 18-year old Mariel Hemingway manages to say the most wise and insightful thing in the whole film. And that last shot of Woody’s smile as he gets it is just magical.
Much imitated but never equalled, this is a truly complete film with incisive, witty comedy, comments on love and relationships, THE most beautiful black and white cinematography, and the George Gershwin soundtrack is the icing on the caaaake.
4. The Empire Strikes Back
Yes, so I do admit to having had a little man crush on Harrison Ford when I was a kid. Here he is again for the third and (nearly) final time
Star Wars started it all, but this is the best thing that ever came from Lucas’ space epic. Contender for the best music score ever, too. Han and Leia bantering and snogging, C-3P0 a genuinely hilarious comedy sidekick, Yoda, Cloud City, “I love you” – “I know”, a sweeping sense of impending doom throughout, this is the Act II that everyone can’t help copying. Visually the best of the Star Wars films too, with that amazingly exciting asteroid chase, and the fight between Luke and Vader is still my favourite set piece in the whole saga. The prequels aren’t fit to lick Empire’s saber.
3. Back to the Future
It was 1985. I was 11, it was a cold November, and I left the cinema having seen Back to the Future. I was a changed man/boy. Ok, so this is pure entertainment, nothing deep or arty, but it’s just so fucking COOL and memorable that it’s been in my Top Ten ever since. I love the look, the sound, the feel of it. And this was another troubled production, with Michael J. Fox replacing Eric Stoltz at the last minute, filming this and Family Ties back-to-back for 3 months and nearly dying of exhaustion in the process.
But Mr. Fox, it was so worth it. This Capra-esque comedy is the one everyone wants to copy; small town, young hero, sci-fi twist, being fancied by your mother… hmm, no wonder Disney and about 10 other studios turned it down. Boasts the most nail-biting finale as well. Kudos to Alan Silvestri and a big bolt of lightning.
WOOHOO! Who doesn’t love this one? Not only is it the most quotable, entertaining comedy ever, the effects are awesome and the monsters are great and it’s actually SCARY! At least when I was 10 and went to see it at the cinema four times (explains a lot, doesn’t it) it scared the shite out of the audience.
Not to mention that, as a filmmaker, this has been the biggest influence on everything I’ve ever made, from BandWagons to Zomblog to CrimeFighters. Ghostbusters is so entertaining on every level; another tightly-scripted, beautifully performed and executed blockbuster made by comedy pros, that delivers the goods even if you’ve seen it 200 times which I probably have by now. Wasn’t sure about the sequel, and even more not sure about Ghostbusters 3, but we shall see…
AND HERE’S MY TOP FILM EVER WHICH I KNOW MAKES ME A BIG SOPPY SAP:
1. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
This film is my first ever cinema memory, maybe that’s why it’s so special. 1982, queues round the block, not being able to leave for twenty minutes afterwards because my big sis was a complete snotty mess, going down the woods on my bike immediately afterwards, collecting the Figurine Panini stickers… yes, this one links me with my childhood like nothing else.
This serves as a kind of ‘Best of Spielberg’ too; lonely central character from broken home, friendly alien, lights and beams all over the shop (Allen Daviau was the DP on this one and still my favourite work of any Director of Photography), John Williams’ best score, the list goes on and on. Spielberg laments sometimes that this film is seen as a ‘hamburger served to the World’ when actually it’s his most personal, small, heartfelt movie yet. The iconic moment where the bicycle soars across the moon still gives me goosebumps.
And as for that moment where I totally lose it (there’s one in nearly every film on this list), how about the moment where they hug goodbye? So much said with no actual words, like in Lost In Translation; a friendship that means as much to you as you want it to.
Also, Harrison Ford was actually in this film but they cut his scene. Fact.
So there we have it, and I am aware that I am very much a child of the 80s and that these films are pretty much all big American blockbusters, but this is genuinely my Top Ten… for now, but probably for a long time. And hey, there’s one French and one British director on there Hope you enjoyed. Let’s see yours now!
After some initial apathy I watched Frankenweenie, Tim Burton’s latest, last night.
I was apathetic because – despite a couple of recent minor classics – Sweeney Todd and Big Fish – Burton’s output has been patchy for the last decade or so. His adaptations of children’s literature, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory and Alice In Wonderland, and his own Corpse Bride, were weirdly commercial, heartless and lacklustre, lacking the magic touch of the more assured Burton of my youth.
When I was getting seriously into films and the idea of being a filmmaker, I went to see Beetlejuice, aged fourteen (my first underage cinematic transgression in 1988.) I was blown away by the amazing visuals, Danny Elfman’s music and the degree of originality and PERSONALITY Burton exuded in only his second feature.
In the years to come we’d get two great Batman movies, the stop-motion genius of The Nightmare Before Christmas, the kooky, funny Ed Wood, the Hammer-esque Sleepy Hollow and Burton’s undisputed masterpiece Edward Scissorhands and I’d continue to be influenced by Burton; as a misfit in a small town, a fantasist, an admirer of cemeteries and slightly weird girls… and later as a filmmaker. My own feature CrimeFighters has many nods to early Burton.
I admired Tim Burton greatly because these films were his persona writ large: a blend of queasy American suburbia, misfit geek boy fantasy and celebrations of cinematic style from F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang to Ed Wood and Alfred Hitchcock. Burton could do no wrong as far as this misfit geek boy was concerned.
Then in the 90s, Burton had a couple of misfires with Planet of the Apes, which strayed way too far from Burton’s sensibilities and Mars Attacks!, which didn’t but was essentially a series of set pieces in which flashy guest stars got blown up by Martians, albeit amusingly and with some great Burton flourishes…
So when Burton announced he was making a stop-motion feature version of his short live action film Frankenweenie, included as an extra on the DVD for The Nightmare Before Christmas, I did find myself thinking that the director might have taken one too many trips to the well; perhaps he was jaded by the high profile fairy tales and wanted to revisit something safe, something he’d already made. After all, his previous film Dark Shadows was disappointing on almost every level and felt tired and predictable.
I was delighted when Frankenweenie turned out to be Burton’s best work in years.
Part Burton retrospective, part autobiography, part homage to the magic of cinema, Frankenweenie is the kind of film you’ve seen before and can probably predict to some degree: boy called Victor Frankenstein loses dog, boy discovers the wonders of lightning in his science class… you know the rest.
But it’s in the details where Frankenweenie ascends predictability and becomes a modern Burton classic. Lovingly rendered, Victor’s world is a warmer version of Edward Scissorhands‘ bungalow-strewn suburbia. Obvious references to classic Hammer films are painted in broad strokes but it’s all done so charmingly that the ride is never dull or anything less than magical.
In fact it’s the magic of cinema that comes to the fore, from Victor’s screening of his 8mm masterpiece to his parents – a wry nod to Burton’s own sophomoric cinematic efforts, no doubt – and knowing references to classic black and white Hollywood and 50s B monster movies, to the overall message that true-hearted friendship conquers all.
Plus it has one of Elfman’s most thrilling scores to date:
It’s easy to write Burton off as a man who falls victim to his own tropes – always casts his wife and Johnny Depp, always uses Elfman’s choppy scores, puts candy stripes on everything – but Frankenweenie feels simultaneously like a reminder of classic Burton (no Depp and Bonham Carter in sight, incidentally, but there is the welcome return of Winona Ryder, albeit in voice only) and a reminder of why I love moviemaking.
Put all those ingredients together and you have perhaps Burton’s most personal film to date and definitely that rare oxymoron: a modern classic.
We were on Leeds Indie Radio this week talking about filmmaking, Twilight, monstrous celebrity children, poo poo, computer games in urinals and other scorching topics. We had such a fun time recording it and we hope you enjoy listening to our verbal diarrhea. Squelch.
Thanks to Steve Shooter
This is not in any way meant to be a comprehensive review of every apocalypse movie, just a personal essay on why I find the subject so fascinating and how it inspired our zombie series Zomblogalypse. Please feel free to add, recommend and discuss your own favourite apocalyptic gems on this thread.
I finally watched The Quiet Earth last night, a film that was recommended to me a few months back as I sat at a wedding and discussed the apocalypse with a fellow obsessee. It’s the kind of thing that morbid people do at weddings while everyone else celebrates life and a gathering of people. The Quiet Earth is just one in a long list of movies and literature that deal with the concept of the complete breakdown of society and the man alone in not just a seemingly Godless world but usually a people-less one. One in which they are in fact Godlike yet wretched in their solitude.
The earliest two memories I have of what evolved into an obsession with this concept are both Twilight Zone episodes. The classic episode ‘Time Enough At Last’, in which Burgess Meredith survives an apocalypse to become the last man on Earth and quite happy with his lot until he breaks his glasses and can’t read, haunted me from the moment it finished. The more modern episode ‘A Little Peace and Quiet’ in which Close Encounters‘ Melinda Dillon gains the ability to freeze time, and then has to deal with a nuclear strike on the USA, complete with missile hanging over her home town, is similarly haunting. As was the novel ‘Z For Zachariah’ that we read at school, a book which documents the trials of a young girl after a nuclear war who discovers the one man left on Earth with her is a creepy pervert.
I began to have dreams about what it would be like if I were to wake up one morning to find I was the last person on Earth. As something of a misanthrope and someone who spends a considerable amount of time alone, reading, writing and watching films, at first I thought, just like the protagonists in these films, that it would be a bit of a hoot. Just imagine, rollerskating down supermarket aisles, taking what you wanted, having the whole town, the whole world, to yourself. You could do whatever the hell you wanted. As someone who likes people but not particularly ‘the public’, I thought it might be something I’d enjoy.
There’s also a strange beauty in the natural decay of buildings that used to be tended by humans. There are so many websites on decaying buildings that you can spend mesmerising hours trawling through them.
But like the hero of The Quiet Earth, like Robert Neville in the half-good I Am Legend (the first half, that is, where Neville and his dog speed through a deserted New York before crappy CG monsters ruin the film), or even like Jim in 28 Days Later, I think the novelty would wear off pretty fast.
After a few moments of elation at having the World to oneself, I imagine the deafening silence of an empty Earth would shatter your eardrums and grip your soul with terror. Yes, you could do what you wanted, but the mind-blowing ramifications of this would rapidly bring about the realisation that whether you particularly liked humanity or not, it was good to know it was there.
The hero of The Quiet Earth goes doolally pretty quickly, making himself President of the Earth and living in the biggest mansion he can find, dictating his power to the hordes of mannequins standing by the pool below. The mannequins were my favourite part of The Quiet Earth as they were in I Am Legend – the need for human contact and continuity painfully evident in the scenes where Neville visits his video store to rent all the films they have from A-Z, conversing with the mannequins he’s positioned there.
This leads to the creepiest, cleverest mental U-turn in I Am Legend, just after tragedy has struck Neville and he revisits the video store to find that the meaning of the mannequins – which of course are exactly the way he left them – has mutated from a daily comedy routine of speaking to inanimate objects into a desperate longing for human contact.
Neville’s bath-dwelling, lonely existence and my own apocalyptic dreams are what led me to co-create my own apocalyptic project, the zombie web series Zomblogalypse. It began as a series of dreams in which I somehow survived a nuclear blast, a recurring dream that had haunted me since seeing the cartoon of Raymond Briggs’ When The Wind Blows in the 80s, and like many people being frightened by the callous, monstrous machinations of the Superpowers. I had my own private Cuban Missile Crisis going round my young head, thinking from the news that the World may get blown to bits at any moment because some people I didn’t know couldn’t sort out their disagreements.
And so we began filming Zomblogalypse with Hannah sitting in the bath, blogging matter-of factly about the end of the World, and obviously played things for laughs, but the idea and the way the show developed sprang from a darker place. Next year there will, all being well, be a Zomblogalypse feature film, in which we aim to make people laugh along with developing the themes of an apocalypse. Less The Road and more National Lampoon’s The Road Vacation?
However it happens, we want to develop the ‘Last Man on Earth’ theme perhaps even more than we do the zombie theme.
Yes, there will be zombies, lots of zombies, but although I am a massive fan of the zombie genre – the original Dawn of the Dead and Night of the Living Dead huge influences and great, classic movies – it was less the zombies that drew me to making Zomblogalypse and more the idea of what we would do if we found ourselves alone in our home town. At first it might rule, as in Episode 1 where Tony and I pillage the local Asda, avoiding a zombie who ends up recurring at key moments of the first two series.
Eventually though, we would probably murder each other or just bicker a lot as do the characters in The Quiet Earth (hope I haven’t given too much away there). I even enjoyed the ‘World to oneself’ theme in Zombieland more than the zombies themselves. Particularly in THAT scene with you-know-who. And you could even interpret The Shining as a ‘Last Man Alive’ movie. There’s certainly a lot more to it than Jack Nicholson going bonkers.
Some recent zombie movies have attempted to understand the whats and whys and wherefores of zombies and the morality attached to blasting a hole in the head of someone who used to be your friend or neighbour. Some even try and postulate a reason for the zombie outbreak or a cure that will make everyone better, and although we dealt with these themes in Season 3 of Zomblogalypse, it was mainly to say how much we didn’t really give a stuff about them.
Ultimately, ‘Quiet Earth’ type films say much about humanity through the very lack of humans that occupy them. The social drama in an anti-social World suddenly becomes about how we treat ourselves and each other in the face of being the only ones left. Would we finally find inner peace and compassion towards our fellow man, or would we still fight and kill to get to the top of the chain?
With the human race being as savage as it is, it could go either way. One thing’s for sure though. You’d get less moaning about the weather on social networking sites.