Freelance film journalist and historian
|Remember the Night
|Les Enfants du paradis
|The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
|Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
|The Magnificent Ambersons
|The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg
|A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
|Nuovo Cinema Paradiso: Director’s Cut
Remember the Night
Three towering talents of the golden age – Preston Sturges, Barbara Stanwyck and Mitchell Leisen – combined for this incomparable holiday movie, which segues stealthily from a lighthearted comedy to an extraordinarily heightened evocation of impossible love. Along the way, the film takes in sexual politics, social justice and the mutability of human nature, though there is also a bit where a cow eats Barbara’s hat. The movie’s unique atmosphere is born of Sturges’ counter-intuitive dialogue, Leisen’s lush romantic sense, and Stanwyck’s unparalleled ability to turn even everyday phrases into epiphanies that can break or heal your heart. The greatest of all the great films.
Les Enfants du paradis
Carné’s immortal epic is known colloquially as ‘the French Gone with the Wind’, which is like calling Michelangelo ‘the Italian Banksy’. It’s a tragic romantic pentangle, set against the Parisian theatrical world of the mid-19th century, and filmed – unbelievably – during the Nazi Occupation. Jacques Prévert’s astonishing script simply seems to contain more of life than any other, working not only as a heartbreaking depiction of doomed passion, but an ode to the art of acting, and an allegory of Free France.
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
The best film ever made about England and the people who live here. Written, of course, by a Hungarian. Powell and Pressburger’s defining work is both a wartime plea to ditch chivalry in the face of Nazism, and an internalised emotional epic that depicts the British stiff upper lip as no implacable virtue, but a symptom of a repression that ruins us. Every scene contains some inspired idea, hilarious line or sucker punch, and there isn’t a false note in any of them.
The saddest comedy you’ll ever see: a melancholy, bitingly hilarious crystallisation of teen ennui, focusing on Thora Birch’s acerbic school leaver, who is unwilling – or unable – to come of age.
The Magnificent Ambersons
In its final, compromised form, Welles’ second film falls apart in tandem with its family’s fortunes. And yet it has a look, a feeling, a technical bravura and a specificity of performance that keeps you endlessly coming back. Amid the wreckage and reshoots remain many of the greatest passages in American film.
The most emotionally intense experience in cinema: almost three hours (and more than four years) in the company of two teen basketball players from inner-city Illinois. This documentary is remarkable on the subjects of poverty, race, and the wounded maturity of compromise: those small triumphs we seize when the greater ones lie out of reach. From Curtis Gates’ Shakespearean tragedy of a life to those missed three-pointers and an unspeakably painful scene of father-son anti-bonding (“Ain’t no con game. I’m older now”), it is a miracle of a movie.
The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg
Lubitsch’s late-silent masterpiece: an enrapturing, overwhelming portrait of self-sacrifice; of paradise lost and position found; of young lovers torn from one another by "duty, obligation, tradition". "It must be great to be a prince!" says one kid to another, admiring a portrait of the title figure. On this evidence, not so much, but then isn't life just about enjoying those perfect moments when they come? This movie has more than almost any other.
“No. I’m nobody’s little weasel.” A wise, warm and whimsical piece of perfection, set in a beautifully-realised Parisian never-world saturated with mystery and magic, and centred on a performance of uncommon brilliance.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Kazan’s inspired first feature, in which the great actors’ director elicits three of the finest performances on the American screen. It’s decidedly ambivalent Americana, about a bright-eyed tenement kid (Peggy Ann Garner) who idolises her alcoholic pipe dreamer father (James Dunn) – though it’s her rapidly-hardening mother (Dorothy McGuire) holding the family unit together. The sequence in which McGuire’s matriarch goes into labour, flitting between practicality and panic, self-loathing and sentiment, is one for the ages.
Nuovo Cinema Paradiso: Director’s Cut
A hymn to the movies, showing the history of film through the lens of a small Italian cinema. It’s utterly magical and impossibly moving, particularly in Tornatore’s deeper, sadder director’s cut, obsessed with the sacrifices we make for art.
I love movies, and these are the 10 I love beyond all others, whether for reasons personal, prosaic or profound.