Recently, I was debating films with a friend and that hoary old ‘High Fidelity’ style chestnut reared its ugly head:
“What’s your all time top ten?”
Writing about your favourite films is always going to be bloody difficult: they change depending on your mood, events that are going on in your life, whether you’ve drunk too much or if you’re desperately trying to impress someone you’ve had your eye on. Mentioning you have a secret Steven Segal box set under your sofa or a secret longing to watch a Deuce Bigelow marathon, is rarely going to win the heart of a fair maiden.
Start writing a ‘Top Ten’ and you’ll get three films in, before hitting a panic over whether or not you should include embarrassing choices from teenage years or that one that reminds of you of an ex who broke your fragile heart.
Then there is nearly always that horrible yearning to throw in a foreign film you’ve never seen, but seems to win points with culturally aware mates. Usually nodding and saying that you “really appreciate the director’s honest approach” or “it really CAPTURED the era”, means you’ll probably just about get away with it. It helps if you have a beard and Norwegian fisherman’s bobble hat (men), or clogs and a Pashley (girls), to make your hipster choice look more convincing.
So, I’m not really going to list my all time top ten films here, because that will change with each passing hour. But I am going to tell you about some pretty much constants amongst my favourites, give or take whatever new Tom Hardy film comes out. You do realise that I’m now playing up this image you have of me that I’m Hardy obsessed, don’t you? I’m not really that into him, honest. And since the court order, he won’t have anything to do with me anyway.
*takes down life sized cutout from bedroom wall*
The Servant (1963):
Joseph Losey’s alluring mix of class, servitude and sexual allure stars Dirk Bogarde and James Fox playing a socialite and his newly appointed butler set in 60’s London. From the very beginning it’s apparent that Tony (Fox) is very wealthy but incapable of looking after himself, in that upper class, old money kind of way. Barrett (Bogarde) is employed as a general dogsbody but becomes indispensable to Tony, who soon realises that he needs him more than Barrett needs an employer.
Throw in a young Wendy Craig playing against type as Tony’s bitchy high maintenance girlfriend and Sarah Miles as a sexually confident honey trap, and you have a dark, twisted story full of gay undercurrents and class war. Tony falls quickly into alcoholism, fuelled by Barrett’s mind games. Each needs the other, but hates themselves for it.
I loved Sarah Miles character particularly. She is schoolgirl cute but knowing, seducing Tony on the kitchen table and Bogarde in the upstairs bedroom. On the edge of the sexual revolution, she takes pleasure in her power over both men but is ultimately used by both in their disregard to get to each other.
All the way through, Tony’s upper class ways sit uneasily in the 60’s setting, the permissiveness and culturally changing times making his stiff Englishness seem more ridiculous with each passing snide comment from Barrett.
If you enjoy this, Losey’s equally famous ‘The Accident’ and ‘The Go Between’ are really worth catching too.
The Odd Couple (1968):
From dark and creepy to stupidly entertaining, The Odd Couple is the film I can probably quote the most. (Infuriating, I know):
“You’re the only man in the world with clenched hair”
“What’s in the sandwiches?” “It’s either very new cheese or very old meat”.
“They’re here…The dinner guests….I’ll go get the saw and cut the meatloaf.”
I could go on. But lucky for you, I won’t.
Felix (Jack Lemmon) and Oscar are the titular couple, thrown together through unfortunate circumstances. Felix’s wife throws him out, leading to a botched suicide attempt that sees his back thrown out and his neck lock up. Divorcee Oscar steps in with the offer of a place to stay but their differences soon make it wildly clear that their relationship should be kept firmly in the bar. Practically the whole film is set in Oscar’s large but unkempt apartment. There are various supporting roles that enrich the film, especially the two chirpy English sisters; ” The Pidgeon sisters, coo coo!”, but ultimately it is a tale of a mismatched bromance in the 60’s. Neither man’s much mentioned ex is featured in the film, it’s almost a boy’s own affair. One of my favourite scenes is when sports writer Oscar is at an important baseball game, when hausfrau Felix calls him to tell him they’re having meatloaf for dinner, just as the most important pitch of the game is made.
By turn endearing, sweet and saturated with sardonic New York humour, Felix and Oscar argue and bicker their way through the film like an old married Jewish couple. This is the kind of humour I love. It reminds me of my favourite joke ever (not in this film, by the way.)
A old Jewish lady is walking along a New York side street. Suddenly, a man steps out in front of her, opening his trench coat to flash her. She stops, looks disapprovingly at him and says:
“You call that a lining?”
Let The Right One In (2008):
Well, we’re back to creepy again. But this time with added Swedish vampires.
I’ve sat through this film with people who have loved it or they’ve downright hated it, so it’s obviously a bit of a Marmite choice. If you tell people it’s a pre – teenage vampire love story set in 80’s Sweden, complete with pudding bowl haircuts and spontaneous combustion, it may sound a tad clunky. Personally, I could watch this film on a loop for hours and find something new in it every time.
There’s no beautiful people in this tale of blood lust, the setting is endlessly snowy and it often seems emotionally blank. Young Oskar (Kare Hedebrand) lives in Stockholm with his mother, leading a uneventful and unhappy, bullied school life. A odd stranger moves into the apartment next door, smuggling in the palely beguiling Eli (Lina Leandersson), whom Oskar encounters outside in a cold playground. As detached as she is ethereal, Eli soon begins to allow Oskar to befriend her whilst struggling to keep her blood lust secret. With the devoted old stranger dead through Eli’s demands on his tortured soul, Oskar becomes her new guardian and accomplice in killing to survive.
Some of the scenes are so grim they are almost funny: a blowsy woman set upon by a number of cats, reeling around around a living room, trying to throw them against a window in attempt to stop the attack. Oskar’s schoolboy tormentors are dealt with an a beautifully shot scene in a swimming pool where you never actually see the attack, just a bloody aftermath, akin to a scene from ‘Jaws’.
One of the best things for the film for me is the way it is shot: the pale, Polaroid colours and instinctive, meticulous staging. You could take anyone of its scenes and hang it on your wall. There is more than a whiff of William Eggleston about the cinematography. And that, in my books, is No Bad Thing At All.
This was Wes Anderson’s first properly big film, leading on from the slightly underwhelming ‘Bottle Rocket’, which I did like, but I disliked Owen Wilson’s character so much it made it difficult for me to get really into it.
There are lots of reasons to love Rushmore:
* Jason Schwartzman is at his least self knowing, playing young Max Fischer as a pompous, overly confident and fearless teenager on the very edge of his adult life. I don’t find it easy to like Schwartzman in films because I find him too smug. Maybe he’s just inhabiting his characters too well and it’s my fault? If it is, I apologise.
* Olivia Williams as teacher Miss Cross is the object of his schoolboy lust. Furiously smoking away the grief of her passed husband, she unwittingly becomes the love interest of practically every male in the film, and it’s not hard to see why. Max almost kills himself in the process of desperately declaring his love. She also has to contend with two fellow suitors:
*Bill Murray, who plays a millionaire father of ignoramus twins at Max’s school. Detached from emotion and in a permanent haze of booze and smoke, he fights with Max for Miss Cross’s affections, although she wants neither. Both engage in a series of ridiculous fights and gestures to win her love. Seriously, Bill Murray every time. Did you have to ask?
* Luke Wilson is her third suitor and by far, the most attractive candidate in every sense of the word. Max manages to shoot him down with withering looks and catty asides:
“I like your nurse’s scrubs, guy”.
“These are O R scrubs”.
“O R they?”
* The ridiculous school play that Max takes over is a bizarre approximation of Apocalypse Now, but with awkward looking teenagers smearing charcoal across their cheeks and pretending to throw grenades. Likewise, the odd Serpico staging that Max precedes it with.
* It has one of the best soundtracks ever. You will never hear “Oo La La” by The Faces sound better or more poignantly placed. There is also a fair bit of Cat Stevens.
No! Wait! Come back!