|Raiders of the Lost Ark
|Lawrence of Arabia
|The Wild Bunch
|An American Werewolf in London
|The Lord of the Rings The Fellowship of the Ring
|The Shawshank Redemption
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Quite simply the greatest movie ever made. Flawlessly executed by a director at the top of his game. Created one of cinema's most enduring and iconic characters. I first saw it when I was 11 and it determined my career path from that day forward. Will always be my No1 movie.
Lawrence of Arabia
Many have tried, but nobody else has quite managed to achieve such an intimate portrait on such an epic scale. The sheer scope of this movie is hard to grasp, given this was long before the advent of CGI. The photography is sumptuous and the script sublime. For a nearly four-hour-long movie, I can never get bored watching Lawrence. O'Toole's incredible performance – his debut – sucks you in through those blue eyes and holds you rapt. And Omar Sharif has one of the best character introductions ever committed to screen.
A visual and aural tour de force, Alien is one of the very few movies hat have managed to convey something truly, well.... ALIEN on screen. Something so far out there our minds struggle to contend with what we are seeing, it's so far from our understanding. The Xenomorph has been written about often enough, but save some love for the Space Jockey. It's incomprehensible, and all the more amazing for it. Alien also gave us Sigourney Weaver and Ripley, one of cinema's most iconic female characters. What Ridley Scott managed to create was a living, breathing, sweaty, dirty vision of the future that felt completely authentic. Then, of course, he screwed it all up a few decades later by revealing the Space Jockey was just a man in a suit. Talk about shitting on your own legacy.
The Wild Bunch
Within a career of great work, this is Peckinpah's masterpiece. A eulogy to the old west, and the western genre itself, painted in blood and dust. He turned cinema violence into an art form, finding beauty and poetry in slow-motion death and destruction. William Holden tops an incredible cast of western stalwarts including Robert Ryan, Earnest Borgnine, Warren Oats, the underrated Ben Johnson, and classic character actors like Strother Martin and L. Q. Jones. The Wild Bunch is also a product of its time. Pushing the envelope in cinematic form and leaving the 60s with a bang.
An American Werewolf in London
Given the subject matter of my own first feature, it's pretty clear that this movie had a significant impact on me. I think reading about this movie when it was first released was the first instance I can remember people talking about comedy horror. A concept I'd only ever encountered before with Carry On Screaming as a young child, and both movies of which I didn't really get the comedic value angle when I first saw them. On my first screening of American Werewolf (aged around 12 I think), I was suitably terrified. Only on many recurring viewings did I quickly tap into how hilarious it is without ever undermining the horror, and later still how tragic it is, its final moments, from his final call to his family in America to Jenny Agutter's desperate pleas packing a genuine emotional wallop. And it still has the best werewolf transformation ever put on film.
I suppose this film has such a personal resonance with me is because I am so familiar with the landscape. I've walked on these beaches, both before the movie was made and since, and always felt the magic of the place. That Bill Forsyth came along and made such a charmingly obscure and incredibly funny movie, which truly captured the magic of that place, was food for my soul. Quite who the Local Hero of the title is remains open to debate, but the movie is so packed full of wonderful quick characters and brilliant one-liners it takes a heart of stone not to be won over. Burt Lancaster brings real gravitas to the proceedings, but it's people like Denis Lawson, Peter Capaldi and Fulton Mackay who steal the show.
It's easy to see why The Thing was just too much for audiences back in 1982. I watched the movie again this week with an audience in Trieste and it still packs a visceral punch. The danger of showing a thing, or things, audiences have never seen before is that they are so blinded by it, they cannot see past it to the qualities of the rest of the movie. Now we are more used to such incredible horrors on screen we can fully appreciate the film-making craft on show here. Carpenter was at the top of his game here, working from a smart script by Bill Lancaster (son of Burt) and working with an amazing cast of nuanced character actors creating a solid ensemble that never feels fake or forced despite all the horrors they encounter. The only star, as such, is Kurt Russell, but he plays the movie so deftly that he never steals the other actors' thunder and blends into the ensemble perfectly. Rob Bottin's effects work remains as horrifically effective as ever and still retains the ability to both repel and attract in equal measure.
I saw Die Hard three times in its opening week and have watched it countless times since. Rightfully hailed as one of the greatest action movies of all time, Die Hard is superbly structured, has one of the best villains of all time in Alan Rickman's devious Hans Gruber, matched only by Bruce Willis' first turn as an action star as John McClane, the New York cop hopelessly out of his depth and getting through by grit and determination. Like Indiana Jones before him, McLane felt like a real guy who bruises and bleeds and feels pain, unlike the superheroes of today. You really felt he might not actually get out of this, and that made the silence all the more gripping. Throw in some classic one-liners and a solid supporting cast and you have a solid, edge-of-your-seat feel-good thrill ride. And yes, Die Hard is a Christmas movie. Nuff said.
The Lord of the Rings The Fellowship of the Ring
Peter Jackson's remarkable achievement in bringing the Lord of the Rings to the screen seems all the more impressive now that others have tried to emulate that success and fallen short. For a brief three-year period we spent the year looking forward to the release of the new movies and the next part of the incredible journey. And though it was Return of the King that received the bulk of the plaudits and Oscar glory, for me it was the first film, Fellowship, that packs the greatest emotional punch and keeps me thoroughly engaged in the action. While the mines of Moria give us the scope and spectacle, it's the final fight in the forest with the Urukai that features very little in the way of CGI and gives it that feel of brutal realism I love so much. That it also has the heartbreaking death of Sean Bean's Boromir is also a memorable moment for me. Jackson's work throughout is impeccable.
The Shawshank Redemption
The Shawshank Redemption would be an impressive enough movie under any circumstances, but that it was Frank Darabont's theatrical debut feature is all the astonishing. Darabont's ode to friendship and hope, based on a novella by Stephen King, is nothing short of a cinematic masterpiece and rightfully belongs on many people's top ten movie lists. What else is there to say that hasn't been said? From the perfect script to the beautiful score and the top-notch cast all delivering first-rate performances, the icing on the cake has to be Morgan Freeman's note-perfect narration that gives the movie its beating heart. And that beach looks like the place we'd all like to end up at the end of our stories.
It's no accident that many of my choices are from the early 1980s, when I was in my early teens. I think the movies you see at that age shape so much of your future tastes and choices, but you don't truly realise it until later in life...