Curator of Non Fiction BFI National Archive
|Harry Watt, Basil Charles Wright
|Buster Keaton, Clyde Bruckman
|Paul Thomas Anderson
|Under the Wire
|E.T. The Extra-terrestrial
The beginnings of the Grierson documentary tradition all come together in this landmark title from the GPO Film Unit. I have a very personal connection with Night Mail and I can return to this documentary again and again and discover something new each time. Railways and documentary films - What's not to like?
Another railway theme but I've picked this for so much more than it's locomotive chase, The General is a fantastic example of comedy, romance, love and war executed to impeccable standards as only Keaton could do. It's got to be on the list as one of the greatest features of the silent era and possibly one of the greatest films ever.
I've always been a Chaplin fan. It's very hard to pick out one favourite in the canon really, but Dicky Attenborough's biographical feature encompasses everything about the great man in one film. Charting the rise of the comedy genius, Attenborough tells not just the story of Charles Chaplin but the story of the rise of the film industry, the technology that improved as the industry grew stronger, the famous names around Chaplin and what became of them, the struggle to make the transition to talkies and of course the personal stories too. I took part as an extra during an evenings shoot for this film. I've never managed to spot myself in the crowd but I'm there somewhere.
An absolutely awe inspiring 'edge of your seat' drama. I don't think I've ever been hanging on the edge of my seat glued to the action and wishing for an actor to make it to the end of the film like I did with Gravity. I first saw it on an Imax screen and I was completely consumed by it. When I left the cinema the people in front of me were discussing how much it would have cost to film it in space! A fantastic British film!
Pure indulgence, sentimental warmth, comedy and family fun. What's not to like about Paddington?
My wild card entry.. Grounded in strong characters, bold themes, and subtle storytelling, few films have been more matter-of-fact, even disenchanted, about sexuality. Adult films are a hidden screen industry and one of the charms of Boogie Nights is the way it shows the everyday backstage humdrum life of adult filmmaking. I love the way it captures a technological change in film-making from the tightly controlled budget of 16mm film to the new age of video where you 'just keep filming'. The sweep and variety of the characters have brought comparisons to Robert Altman's The Player. There is also some of the same appeal as Pulp Fiction in scenes that balance precariously between comedy and violence. Through all the characters and all the action, Boogie Nights has the quality of many great films and a great soundtrack to boot!
Under the Wire
There's something about Under the Wire that has never left me since I saw the pre-release version at the Sheffield Docfest in 2018. Such a brilliantly executed structure - one man, 'piece-to-camera', telling a harrowing personal story with actual footage that places you right next to Paul as he tells you his tale. Are we in a bar listening to Paul or are we in the thick of it, in that room in Homs, wondering how on earth is this going to end well? Don't be fooled by the films simplicity, it's designed to do that - this film caught me sleeping, grabbed me by the scruff of my neck, shook me and brought me so close that I felt I could smell the cigarettes. I see a lot of documentaries and I've taken great pleasure in telling Chris and Paul that this is one of the greatest documentaries I have ever seen. It had a standing ovation even in the preview screening!
E.T. The Extra-terrestrial
I've always loved stories and tall tales, especially the ones that are so convincing that they might just be true. I love films that make you say 'yeah, but what if..?' There will always be a shelf space in my dvd collection for this one.
A fantastic exploration of themes such as free will vs. determinism, the role of chance in people's destiny, and obscure cause-effect relationships. Lola's fleeting interactions with bystanders are revealed to have surprising and far reaching effects on their future lives, serving as concise illustrations of chaos theory's butterfly effect, in which minor, seemingly inconsequential variations in any interaction can blossom into much wider results than first imagined. I've always felt this film deserves more credit. It's a hit for me. I first saw this when working as a projectionist at my local independent cinema. Operating change-over on spools of 20 minute capacity I remember it was essential that the spools were numbered in the right order.. otherwise there were at least three different endings.. or was that down to chance too?
I was a cinema projectionist once, I loved every minute of it. I think every projectionist can find something in Tornatore's film that they can relate too. It's a very lonely existence really, watching the world through a projection portal with so many people on the other side of the wall. Eventually you have to find life outside of the box. Cinema Paradiso really is a beautiful film.
It's really hard to find ten films and stick with them, I keep thinking of others. I've tried to find a balance between my own personal love of the cinema and films that I recognise professionally to be great. In the latter category I know I've failed miserably and instead fallen on ten films I have truly enjoyed. Should I have opted for a Hitchcock or Kubrick title? Certainly I have enjoyed both directors work. I would like to have included more documentaries too. Is it wrong to leave out Metropolis, Citizen Kane, The Third Man or Potempkin? I'll be honest I've toyed with Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Artist and even Robocop in there too! I'll always be a Disney fan but I can't see Mickey's Trailer making a big hit on here. Instead I've gone with a very personal selection, a set of films that all have some meaning to my own existence in, or love of, the film industry and have caused a stir in one way or another with a wide audience. I hope there is at least one film in my list you might agree with me on.