|Do the Right Thing
|This is England
|Vittorio De Sica
|Ghost Dog The Way of the Samurai
|A Taste of Honey
Do the Right Thing
Do the Right Thing has ingredients that make up a masterpiece: an unforgettable opening, climax and unparalleled rhythm; bold, striking visuals and staging; tension and pace; an ensemble cast of skilled actors who bring great eccentricity and gradation to their characters. It has a gorgeous jazz score, coupled with an indelible soundtrack! The film is unflinchingly subversive and confrontational – take the characters yelling racial slurs whilst looking down the lens or Mookie’s huge decision at the climax of the film. Most notably, the film has aged well. Like all great art, it asks relevant questions and lets the audience contemplate and argue over the answers.
GoodFellas is near perfection – from the masterful performances of the cast to the innovation by way of masterful camera movement, rollicking structure, pace, flow (Schoonmaker’s editing is off the charts) and innovative use of voiceover in ways we’d never heard before. The film is a genius blend of realism and expressionism, components for greatness. What makes it the greatest film of all time besides its aesthetic virtuosity is that it shows what it means to make those choices, but doesn’t morally judge its characters. It takes people that do terrible things and makes you relate to them. It both respects and subverts the gangster genre and it’s a film one can watch over and over again and still find something new. A great film is deep and dark, but also fun!
Great cinema is complex and puts you in the shoes of people you’d never think you’d see eye to eye with and makes you empathise with them. This is the genius of Taxi Driver. It’s one of the greatest character studies. We experience the world via Travis Bickle, a white man with an inferiority complex and racist, murderous ways and thoughts. It is aesthetically riveting, from the sweeping gothic visuals of New York City to the dark and epic score by Bernard Herrmann – all of this makes for an operatic experience. Taxi Driver is a landmark film that asks complex questions and leaves you to answer them.
This is England
I remember watching this at the cinema when I was at university and being blown away by how real it felt and how much I loved each of the characters. It showed me that if you put great characters on screen an audience will go anywhere with them. It is also a look at regional England and the skinhead gangs that my mum grew up around, and so feels quite familiar. It’s a celebration of childhood and British subculture. The film doesn’t shy away from showing some of the darker, ambivalent aspects of England during the time.
It has one of the greatest film openings of all time, featuring Pam Grier in her air hostess uniform on the moving walkway, whilst 110th Street blasts. It nods to The Graduate’s opening. That’s what I love about this film (and all Tarantino films). It takes pieces of the greatest films and makes them into their own wonderful standalone pieces. This film features two of the most brilliant and underrated performances of all time: that of Pam Grier and Robert Forster. What I enjoy most about this film is the pacing and the unfolding. This film got me into Blaxploitation cinema. Delicious references and the best soundtrack of all time.
Striking, haunting, hypnotic. My Favourite Jarmusch film. It took me a few years to get it and after the third or fourth watch I became captivated. This is a quiet, poetic and subversive take on the great American Western, that reveals its less than heroic elements and haunting past. It has a meditative pace that reminds me of Haile Gerima’s Harvest: 3000 Years. I love the bizarre friendship and misunderstanding between Nobody and William Blake. Neil Young’s sublime score leaves you with a majestic feeling at the end.
This is a film that still brings me to tears every time I watch it. For a film that is about poverty, devastation and desperation, what I love is that it manages to find a lot of humour. It’s an extremely moving film with so much heart, a journey between a father and son with the son understanding that his father isn’t the hero he thought he was. That moment ages him. As the viewer, you can tell that every single character in the film has been richly considered. One of the best films ever.
This is my favourite Cassavetes film and one of my favourite gangster films. In many ways it is a great buddy comedy too. Gena Rowlands plays Gloria Swenson, a hard headed gangster’s wife alongside 6 year old John Adames as Phil Dawn. Both give awesome, comedic performances. Cassavetes plays brilliantly with genre here. One might call the plot far-fetched and the love between Gloria and Phil melodramatic, but Cassavetes makes these elements the beating heart of the movie, grounding it with a rawness, realism and immediacy. A genius film.
Ghost Dog The Way of the Samurai
This film changed everything for me. I watched it for the first time when I was around 16 or 17. My college mentor gave it to me and it showed me just what a film can do. I hadn’t seen a film like it, from the opening shot of the pigeon flying through the sky over RZA’s brilliant score. I was into hip hop and gangster films in a big way and this showed me what films can do: take a great character and subvert genre conventions. It's inspired by another wonderful film, Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samouraï. This film has a legendary performance from Forest Whittaker. All in all, quietly riveting, complex and moving.
A Taste of Honey
I remember learning about British New Wave films at university. A Taste Of Honey stuck out to me. It made me laugh and then cry. It’s a brilliant character piece. It is of course groundbreaking in its depiction of interracial sex and love, and also friendship between a pregnant teenage girl, Jo, and her gay best friend Geoffrey, themes that were once so controversial. I suppose we have moved on a lot socially, but beneath the surface these prejudices still exist. What I love most about this film is the banter. The relationships in the film feel so real, complex, funny and tragic. This is a staple of British films.
It took me a little while to narrow my favourite films down to ten. I love this poll and at first I felt the urge to add in some of the films that regularly top the greatest films of all time list. I can deeply appreciate many of them and take a lot of inspiration, but one or two of them still send me to sleep. I won’t say which ones. As I get older, I’m really starting to appreciate a lot of the classics. In any event, I crossed out my first list and started again. These are the films that are, I suppose, my favourite films, entirely personal to me – picked from what came to be a list of 29 of my favourites. It’s been a blast!