The paradox of the unwatchable films list.

10 Best films since 1980

Running totals


Blade Runner 6
Unforgiven 5
Pulp Fiction 4
The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) 4
City of God (Cidade de Deus) 3
The Matrix 3


Quentin Tarantino 8
Clint Eastwood 7
Woody Allen 5
Ridley Scott 8
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck 4

Initially, this page started with me trying to think of a ’10 best films since 1980′ list, in response to that of my friend Daryl Sparkes, who works in the industry. Then I realised it would be fun to ask all my friends, since I figured that after spending endless hours obsessing, they should be similarly punished. Now I am treating the lists as a reflection of the cultural interests of the individuals and their backgrounds, as well as some kind of guide to great film.

I have discovered from the participants (aka victims) that they found the post-1980 constraint maddening, and have spent entire weekends stuck inside, forgetting coffee, bodily functions and other necessities of life, just trying to refine their lists when they could have been playing golf. Which makes me wonder what will happen when they get a really difficult challenge, like ’10 best films featuring dog-kissing scenes’…

The list below is the one that started it, and was created after many years of cogitation by Daryl Sparkes, who is a lecturer in film and television at Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia. He has made a number of films for television, including various historical documentaries and one called ‘Shit of a Job’, an exposé of, well…shit. He only went for English language films, but even with this limitation, I have to admit it is a pretty good list. Daryl Sparkes
  1. Withnail and I
  2. Mad Max 2, dir. George Miller
  3. The Red Violin
  4. The Assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford
  5. Gods and Monsters, 1998 dir. Bill Condon [IMDB]
  6. Rushmore (“Life Aquatic” at a pinch could replace)
  7. This is Spinal Tap, 1984 dir. Rob Reiner [IMDB]
  8. Breakfast Club
  9. Blue Velvet, dir. David Lynch
  10. Blade Runner (equal with Evil Dead – so that’s 11)

This has ‘Withnail and I’ [IMDB] at the top, which I must admit was a close contender for me as well. And I did watch again it the other night – it is a linguistic near-masterpiece of the English language. Gods and Monsters – faultless drama and characterisation (when is Brendan Fraser going to get another decent role to show his stuff?); This is Spinal Tap had me in the aisle when it first came out since I just happen to be familiar with all the drowning-in-vomit legends of rock and roll.

Here is my list (slightly in revenge for the English-language constraint):

  1. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (Wo hu cang long), 2000, dir. Ang lee [IMDB]
  2. Burnt by the Sun (Utomlyonnye Solntsem), 1994, dir. Nikita Mikhalkov [IMDB]
  3. The Downfall (Der Untergang), 2005, dir. Oliver Hirschbiegel [IMDB]
  4. Le Grand Bleu (The Big Blue), 1988, dir. Luc Besson [IMDB]
  5. Ridicule, 1996, dir. Patrice Leconte [IMDB]
  6. Dead Heart, 1996, dir. Nick Parsons [IMDB]
  7. Le Diner de Cons, 1998, dir. Francis Veber [IMDB]
  8. Excalibur, 1981, dir. John Boorman [IMDB]
  9. The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen), 2006, dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck [IMDB]
  10. Cidade de Deus (City of God), 2002, dir. Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund (co-director) [IMDB]
  11. Hidden (Caché), 2005, dir. Michael Haneke [IMDB]
  12. Unforgiven, 1992, dir. Clint Eastwood [IMDB]
  13. Man facing South-east (El hombre mirando al sudeste), 1986, dir. Eliseo Subiela [IMDB]
  14. Dekalog, 1989, dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski [IMDB]

I know, more than 10, but I can’t remove any…  Films that almost made it: Pulp Fiction, The 5th Element, Spinal Tap, Miller’s Crossing, The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover, Bitter Moon, Une Pura Formalità, The Wind Shakes the Barley. Also, District 9 came out the week after I made my list, and I think I might have put that on as well. I feel another list coming on…. but that can wait…

Now we get serious. Merilyn Fairskye is a video artist and lecturer in fine arts at Sydney College of the arts, and has made works in all kinds of disciplines, from urban sculpture to painting. But video and photographic images are her real love, and she knows short and long film inside out. I asked the ’10 best since 1980′ question at dinner in Newtown, in October 2009, and she came up with a list that I scrawled on a restaurant table before the waitress took the pen away. Merilyn Fairskye

Her list after some days of consideration is as follows:

  • Struggle, 2003, dir. Ruth Mader
  • Children of Men, 2006, dir. Alfonso Cuaron [IMDB]
  • 2046, 2004, dir. Won Kar Wei
  • 71 Fragments, 1991,  dir. Michael Haneke
  • Hunger, 2008, dir. Steve McQueen
  • All About My Mother, 1999, dir. Pedro Almovodar
  • The Town is Quiet, 2000, dir. Robert Guediguian
  • Samson and Delilah, 2008, dir. Warwick Thornton
  • The Circle, 2000, dir. Jafar Panahi
  • The Lives of Others, 2006, dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

She said:  it was SO hard to leave these films off the list: The Double Life of Veronique,1991 dir.Krzysztof Kieslowski; The Comfort of Strangers, 1990, dir.Paul Schrader;  Zentropa, 1991, dir. Lars von Trier; Monsieur Hire, 1989, dir.Patrice Leconte and Crash, 2004, dir. Paul Haggis.

Let’s see what a linguist from Brazil likes from the 1980- period….Solange Vereza is Associate Professora at the Linguistics Department of Universidade Federal Fluminense in Rio de Janeiro. Her main work is in the area of metaphor (the branch of linguistics largely founded by Lakoff & Johnson with ‘Metaphors we live by’). This means that when you meet her, you must be careful of what you say! She doesn’t work in film, but I think  she and her husband, Jorge Chami Batista who see absolutely everything that comes to Rio, probably did in another life. I also have to mention that she means a wonderful spaghetti do camarãos (district-9 influenced) and moqueca, putting the quite good moqueca at Iguana bar, Southbank, London into distant 2nd place (it is made by Brazilians I believe!)

Solange Vereza
  • Caché, 2005, dir. Michael Haneke [IMDB]
  • Blade runner, dir. Ridley Scott [IMDB]
  • District 9, 2009, dir. Neill Blomkamp [IMDB]
  • City of God (Cidade de Deus), 2002, dir. Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund (co-director) [IMDB]
  • Babel
  • Dogsville
  • Ran
  • Children of Paradise
  • Paradise now
  • Carne Trêmula,
  • Three Colours: Blue
  • Ghost dog (Jim Jarmusch)
  • Paris Texas (Wim Wenders)
  • High Fidelity

Dogsville reminded me that I would have gone close to putting Festen (a 1998 Dogme film [IMDB]) on my list. Blue remains one of my all time favourites (particularly for the soundtrack), but of course I could not have both it and Dekalog.

I also managed to convince Jorge to give me his list of 10 best (like me he can’t really count to 10, but then he is from Rio, and 1 hour has about 92 minutes there). By way of background, Jorge is a professional economist – he is associate professor at the Institute of Economics, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Jorge Chami

Jorge’s list:

  1. Blade Runner(Ridley Scott)
  2. Yol (Serif Gören)
  3. Diva (Jean-Jacques Beineix)
  4. City of God (Fernando Meirelles)
  5. Kagemusha (Kurosawa)
  6. Dreamers (Bertoluchi)
  7. The Matrix (Andy Wachowski)
  8. Match Point (Woody Allen)
  9. Hanna and her Sisters (Woody Allen)
  10. Das Leben der Anderen (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)
  11. Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood)
  12. Letters from Iwo Jima (Clint Eastwood)
  13. Twelve Monkeys (Terry Gilliam)
  14. Inglorious bastards (Tarantino)
  15. Pulp Fiction (Tarantino)
  16. Central do Brasil (Walter Salles)

The Woody Allen entries made me feel a bit guilty. I remember thinking about Crimes and Misdemeanors, which I think is a masterwork, mainly due to Martin Landau’s tense performance, but also an excellent script.

While still in Brasil in October this year, I hassled my friend and Colleague in the Ministry, Jussara Macedo Rötzsch for a list. Jussara is not your average Brasilian, she qualifies as something like what we would call a ‘goth’ in anglo culture, and knows all about 80’s anglo alternative music, manga comics and other weird stuff. Plus she lives across from the beach at Barra de Tijuca. Go figure! Jussara Rotzsch

Jussara’s list:

  1. Kill bill
  2. Seven
  3. Crash
  4. der untergang
  5. Good bye lenin
  6. The lord of the rings (everything, what fotos!)
  7. The cut
  8. Fight club
  9. The Matrix
  10. Le fabuleux destin d’ameli poulain

The thing I like about this list is that it was put together purely on personal taste and pretty fast after I suggested to Jussara that she needed to waste half her weekend. Probably she did it while sipping a Caipirinha by the pool of her local health club. Interesting points: the Matrix and Fight Club turn up again…and of course, we agree for der Untergang (the Downfall) – a chilling masterpiece of historical reconstruction.

My dear Bulgarian world travelling friend Stella Boeva was enticed into my little game, and did exactly what I wanted: a first gut reaction list. She is only slightly obsessed by still photography (mainly black and white) as well as all things beautiful (including the poetry of Yehuda Amichai, and a wonderful book I once gave her called ‘Einstein’s Dreams’). Stella currently lives in Burgas, Bulgaria, but knows the entrails and smells of many other cities as well as something about their history and design, having taught on the topic at Harvard. Stella Boeva

Her list:

  • the lives of others
  • paradise now
  • ali zoua: prince of the streets
  • in the mood for love
  • last life in the universe
  • traitor
  • talk to her
  • babel
  • blade runner
  • yumurta
  • leon
  • fight club
The next target of my little prank was June Kane AM, whom I met on a flight to Rio last year. I was on the way to do training with Ministry of Health people, she was on her way to speak at a conference on child trafficking and exploitation (in which she is a world expert), which made me reflect on my own work in health for a bit. June turned out to be one of those amazing people you only meet a few times in life, an arabic speaker (among other languages), full of amazing life stories (including some stomach churning ones to do with her professional work), and she has a world travelling schedule that puts mine in the shade.  She is also a passionate Australian football fan, avid consumer of crime fiction and generally wonderful cultural companion.

June admits to being a sucker for Hollywood movies, and produced the following list (which are mostly not Hollywood anyway).

  • The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994)
  • To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Winmar (Beeban Kidron, 1995)
  • The End of the Affair (Neil Jordan, 1999)
  • Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
  • Run Lola Run (Tom Tykwer, 1998)
  • A Scanner Darkly (Richard Linklater, 2006)
  • Ten Canoes (Rolf de Heer, 2006)
  • Jean de Florettes + Manon des Sources (Claude Berri, 1986)
  • The Band (Eran Kolirin, 2007)
  • Whale Rider (Niki Caro, 2002)

Now this is an interesting list. Shawshank is pure Hollywood, but the good side. I seem to remember it came top in the IMDB user ratings. The Stephen King novel (or I think short story from memory) is compelling. I remember The End of the Affair in the cinema as well – I really liked Stephen Rea in this one. Run Lola Run – should be in everyone’s DVD collection! Richard Linklater….damn… I forgot about Before Sunrise / Before Sunset. Ten Canoes and The Band are great as well. And I must get a copy of Whale Rider! The Manon des Sources/Jean de Florette pair reminded me of another French film I love – Les Enfants du Marais. Well, this list mania is helping me remember a lot of great films, even if it is making all my friends spend frustrated hours racking their brains over breakfast…

I realised a while ago that there are other movie people in my extended family, and of course had to annoy them with the usual request. This time it was Brendan McCaul, long time head of Buena Vista International film distribution in Ireland. Yes, he’s seen pretty much everything, and also knows what audiences love, including little kids. Brendan McCaul

Brendan’s list (with justifications):

  • Pulp Fiction – class
  • The usual Suspects – same
  • Unforgiven – I like westerns
  • The Tin Men – never trust a salesman
  • Crocodile Dundee – a breath of fresh air
  • Shrek 2 – impossible to better the original, but it did
  • Gladiator – ticked all the boxes
  • Cinema Paradiso – they don’t make ’em like that anymore
  • Monsters Inc. – because my grandchildren love it
  • The Commitments – it broke BO Records and won me 2 tickets to Cheltenham [a.e.p.]

This game is great isn’t it?!

I also asked my brother Michael Beale (married to Brendan’s daughter Oonagh) to produce a list. Michael, like me, doesn’t work in the film, TV or arts, but he does know what wine tastes good, what cars look nice and go seriously fast around corners, and also what films are actually worth watching more than once. You can see from his photo here that he also gets into arguments with all kinds of characters, in this case a giant Australian parrot who has taken charge of the camera shoot. Michael Beale

This his list, full of ‘big’ films:

  • Blade Runner – Surreal
  • Gladiator – just epic
  • Pulp Fiction – Tarantino’s finest hour
  • Unforgiven – One of the best westerns of all time
  • Leon – Classic
  • LA Confidential (1997 ) – pure class
  • Snatch – The script, direction and Best Brad Pitt ever.
  • Usual Suspects – What can you say – just watch it again!
  • Shawshank Redemption – Probably the true modern classic.
  • Dances with Wolves (1990, dir. Kevin Costner) – Epic story and cinematography

I have actually watched every film on this list more than once, and enjoyed them all. Dances with Wolves I would say is another candidate along with Unforgiven for the short list of best westerns (in the most general sense of the term) ever – it is not often a film combines passion for the subject and great cinematography (from Aussie Dean Semler, who I think won an Oscar for this).  LA Confidential is probably the slickest modern crime film in my view, no small thanks to the story from James Elroy. More Australians here as well – Russell Crowe strikes here and in Gladiator, Guy Pearce (now that I think of it, I suspect Memento will turn up on someone’s list soon) and Simon Baker (better known to many as ‘The Mentalist’). Michael also gave me his ‘cull list’, which is completely against the rules (did I not mention that? Well, I just made it up), but it is also pretty fun to read (note: he has 2 little girls, both adorable, both under 6… could this have influenced his thinking?!):

  • Terminator – relentless and personal
  • MadMax2 – Just about right and so copied
  • Hostile Hostage – Denis Leary v Judy Davis & Kevin Spacey – oh the pain.
  • Platoon – shockingly real
  • Fargo – I spent 10 years travelling to that part of the US and they just hate it up there! Americans & Sarcasm – Yah Yah [editor’s note: somehow he avoided being fed into a mulching machine!]
  • Sexy Beast – Best ever bad guy….maybe!
  • Empire Strikes Back – better than the Star Wars!! And show any kid today and they will love it
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark – Again show any kid today and see the reaction.

Good to see a film with Ray Winstone in it (he is not the main bad guy, Ben Kingsley is, and he is quite scary. Reminds me of Ralph Fiennes’ gangster character in ‘In Bruges’, which was nearly as good).

My next victim was my old friend and partner in slightly drunken philosophical debates, arguments over ‘what is beauty’, why killing one kind of endangered to save another almost never makes sense, and many other oddities. Ray Genet is a conservation biologist by training, and is among other things one of the founders of the Quail Island restoration project. However, for the last 9 years he has taught English at Grenoble III University to engineers, mathematicians and other culturally-deprived rocket scientists. During this period he developed a most original approach to language teaching, based around bringing ‘real’ subject matter such as arts (e.g. Shakespeare), ecology (questions of environmental behaviour) and science (questions of rational thinking, evolution) together into a framework in which students improve their english by discussing topics that matter to them (including religion!). Ray Genet

Ray’s list:

  1. Amercian Beauty 1999, dir. Sam Mendes, screen play by Alan Ball [IMDB]
  2. Back to the Future – Robert Zemeckis
  3. Matrix – Wachowski Bros.
  4. Strictly Ballroom, 1992, dir. Baz Lurhmann [IMDB]
  5. L’effrontee – Claude Miller
  6. Pauline a la Plage – Eric Rohmer
  7. Le Diner de Cons, 1998, dir. Francis Veber [IMDB]
  8. Being John Malcovitch – Spike Jonze / Charlie Kaufman [IMDB]
  9. Scoop – Woody Allen
  10. My Dinner with Andre – Louis Malle
  11. Hannah and her Sisters, Woody Allen

Ray’s keen interest in language (or should I say ‘good’ language) has certainly influenced his choice of films, many notable for wonderful scripts including American Beauty, Le Diner de Cons, and of course Being John Malkovich, which takes absurdity to new delicious heights (I still cry with laughter at the part where Malkovich is discussing his career move into puppetry with an interviewer). Strictly Ballroom is a favourite in Australia, and is a great feelgood movie, notable for Barry Otto’s hilarious father character. Speaking of Baz Luhrman, I suspect Ray must have been close to choosing his Romeo + Juliet, given his Shakespearean leanings.

Moving on – well not quite – to two of my favourite people in the whole world, Ray’s little girls Chloé (10) and Éva (7) also gave me favourite film lists. Chloé is definitely the romantic here, while I think Éva is shaping up to be either a pilot or a sorcerer!

Chloé’s list

  • Back to the future
  • Jean de Florette
  • Strictly Ballroom
  • The Incredibles
  • Unhappily Ever After
  • Porco Rosso
  • Azure and Azmar
  • Kirikou
  • Totoro
  • Amelie Poulain
Éva’s list

  • Strictly Ballroom
  • Le voyage de Chiro
  • The Aristocats
  • Bad Jelly the Witch
  • Barbie and the Nutcracker
  • Kiki the little witch
  • Porco Rosso
  • Le chateau dans le ciel
  • Totoro
  • E.T.

These lists have started me thinking about my next version of this game: the 5 best films for kids. And as we can see from above, films like Strictly Ballroom and Porco Rosso weren’t made for kids, but are such good films that young people love them just as much as adults.

My cinema-going friend Cécile Favre from Grenoble was kind enough to provide the next list. Cécile is a teacher, has travelled all around Europe and has two lovely children.  She is also a mean skier, loves the mountains around Grenoble and doesn’t mind a nice beer back in the city.

Her list is as follows:

  1. Into the wild, dir.  Sean Penn
  2. Dead man, dir.  Jim Jarmush
  3. Unforgiven, dir. Clint Eastwood
  4. Lost in translation, dir.  Sofia Coppola
  5. Mulholhand drive, dir.  David Lynch
  6. In the mood for love, dir. Wong Kar Wai
  7. O’brother Where Art Thou, dir. Coen brothers
  8. Edward Scissorhands, dir. Tim Burton
  9. Faux semblants de David Cronenberg
  10. De battre mon coeur s’est arrêté de Jacques Audiard

Cécile added: how difficult it was to choose – I could have included: Clint Eastwood’s A Perfect World, two Jarmusch films – Down by law and Ghost Dog… The big Lebowski from the Coen brothers, Lost Highway from David Lynch, Un air de famille de Klapish,  Polanski’s the Pianist, Kubrick’s Eyes wide shut, Crossing guard by Sean Penn, ….. but the list above are the ones that really had an emotional impact on me.

A recent entry on this page, but from a friend, Dirk Flinthart*, of 30 years I should have asked a long time ago. My excuse for not doing that is that he lives on a farm in rural Tasmania and I have to concentrate hard to remember how to contact him. He’s somewhat famous among friends and foes alike for extremely eclectic tastes in the arts, with special interests in science fiction literature, Irish tin whistle

(try to imagine the person on the right standing on one leg, no shoes, in a bank queue in New Orleans, playing any well-known jig perfectly), writing, martial arts … and apart from that, drinking fine wine, cooking, and creating any other mayhem that comes to hand. Yes. In short, you can’t trust him with your grandmother.

Here is his list.

* of course that’s a pseudonym. If you ask for the real name, my response is just to repeat what he would say: bite me!

Dirk’s list:

  1. Blade Runner (Director’s cut. Forget that foul voice-over).
  2. The Princess Bride
  3. The Fall
  4. Memento
  5. Sexy Beast
  6. Sauna (a very, very rare entry from the horror genre. This one actually worked for me, making it — in my opinion — a truly remarkable piece of filming)
  7. Pulp Fiction (for its relentless exposure and parody of classic filmic technique)

For this Dirk wins two prizes: firstly for coming in under 10 films, and secondly for a film (Sauna) that I haven’t even heard of. So… another vote for Blade Runner, not unexpected from an SF cognoscento. I have to say that Memento also crossed my mind for the list at one point: it does plays with your mind, and Guy Pearce really manages to take you on a very strange journey. Sexy Beast deserves more votes here: of Ray Winstone reduced from a hard guy to a mouse by one of the most repellent characters ever to hit the screen, Sir Ben Kingsley’s gangster, Don Logan, is utterly compelling, nail-biting drama.

Dirk’s comments on his choice:

I suffer from the same problem with cinema that I do with literature. I go to the movies for entertainment, not enlightenment. I need to be interested in what’s happening. If you’ve got morals, themes, lessons, ideas and art — so much the better, but they need to be worked in to the tale, and the story itself had better be interesting.

There’s a whole debate to be had under this somewhere. The concept that Art necessarily ‘challenges preconceptions’, or whatever… what happens when you’re not bringing a lot of preconceptions with you? To make it more obvious: I didn’t bother to see “An Inconvenient Truth.” You know me well enough to know why: Gore didn’t have anything new to tell me with that film. Serrano’s “Piss Christ” didn’t shock me. It didn’t even interest me, because I have no stake in the holiness or otherwise of Jesus of Nazareth.

So. The films listed above incorporate what I regard as top-notch technique, coupled with intriguing storylines, interesting characters, and in most cases, something chewy to think about. I’m sure there are others in that thirty-year span I’ve forgotten, but that’s a good enough list for now. Oh: can I just speak up and put “Avatar” at near the very top of my list of films that should never have been made?

13 thoughts on “Film

  1. Pingback: More 10 best films since 1980 « Woland's cat

  2. OK doodles, I gotta get some things straight here. When I came up with the original list there had to be guidelines. The first was it had to be English language only. This stipulation was more about the argument that English language films have their own cultural set of rules (e.g. the three act structure) that just aren’t adhered to as much in, say, French, Russian or Asian cinema, which can be structurally more experimental (mostly because most non-English speaking filmmakers hate those pesky Americans with their ‘3 acts’, ‘plot points’, ‘climax and resolution’ and basic formula style of filmmaking. So it is easier for a European/Asian/Middle Eastern/etc to break free of the American film formula because they have not been totally immersed and indoctrinated into American film culture as, say, us Aussies and the English have. And before someone chokes on their croissant, remember that in Aus and UK 95+% of our films screened are American. So what I was looking for was films/filmmakers that were English speaking yet were able to transcend the indoctrination of their culture. For example, “Assassination of Jesse James” was directed by an Australian (a man I classify as Australia’s only true auteur in Andrew Dominik) and when you watch it you realise it is an American story but it is told so Un-Americanly (is that a word?) with such force of beauty that you could argue it initiates a new style or even, dare I say it, narrative genre.

    The second thing was that the films had to be a stand out for their genre or were ground breaking in creating a genre. Take “Breakfast Club” if you will. Sure, on the face of it just your average teen coming of age comedy, with ever present in the 80’s teen angst-comedy actress Molly Ringworm, but this film is the PINNACLE of this genre. Widely imitated but never bettered. You could write a thesis on why this film is the best of its genre and how it has affected other filmmakers in that genre. Again with “Evil Dead”. Could there be a better horror film structurally. This film WROTE THE BOOK on modern horror. “Blade Runner” did the same for Sci-Fi. Wes Anderson created his OWN GENRE with “Rushmore” and “Life Aquatic”.
    So, the ultimate reason for this list was not really about personal taste, even though that is always lingering there, but to identify the films that have changed the way you see the world, have somehow progressed and renaissanced (ok, I just made that word up but it sounds approproiate) intellectual and cultural thought, and, ultimately, have changed the way we use the audio-visual medium to express insight into this ridiculous process we call the human condition. Big ask for a bunch of celluloid. So, I’m sorry to be a complete bitch and say films like “The Matrix” or “Shawshank” (why do people always list this as their favourite film on dating sites? Does it have something to do with the buggery scenes?) and many others just don’t cut it (although I am up for debate on any of these). However, “Barbie and the Nutcracker” does come close.
    kisses to you all


  3. Daz, this is great. Just what we needed to understand your list! You are right in the anglo-centric obsession with plot structure. European and independent cinema is far less interested in structure, more in style and raw emotional impact. If you can feel the kiss, the emptiness, or the fear, who cares about the story…So it depends on how important structure really is, and whether being an exemplar in terms of structure actually means a film is ‘good’. Funnily enough, I would say only the best of the American style films actually have coherent plot, so although structure apparently is needed superficially, actual coherent narrative is rare…

    I think genre is a more universal concept than structure, in the sense that we identify with it more. Films which defy both structure and genre – Haneke’s recent White Ribbon (Weisse Bande) is an example – can be really unsettling. Genre usually corresponds to the cultural settings of stories, and it is hard not to have one. District 9, although notionally sci-fi comes close to breaking out of any neat classification. Tarkovsky regularly did it – although Solaris is probably the ultimate contender for the definer of sci-fi, or maybe 2001 – still I think the only space film that doesn’t have stupid laser and explosion sounds in space…

    I agree about Shawshank…it’s a neat story, but there are thousands of those. I think people just like the idea of having a mate in jail like Morgan Freeman. On the other hand, there are films that might not get top marks on a theoretical analysis, but are killers for emotional impact – The Lives of Others rates highly for that, according to almost everyone in the world.

    If we get into ‘art’ cinema (yeah, I know you hate it;-) some films are pure beauty in motion – Nostalgia, Scent of Green Papaya, Blue, and my own #1, Crouching Tiger – visually beautiful, emotionally mature while leaving space. Not to mention Greenaway (evil laugh).

    It’s interesting that Blade Runner is so far the top single film among my (mostly) non-film professional friends – at least no one picked Star Wars. See, they do have some taste.

    Finally, what genre is Withnail & I ?! I think you just like uncle Monty…


  4. My list is under ten probably because writing comes first for me. I see a lot of cinema (thanks to DVD) but the experience is never as direct and visceral as the reconstruction that occurs in my head when I get hold of a good book.

    My real criterion for those films – apart from Sauna, which I’ve seen only twice so far – is that I can see them repeatedly without being bored. (I doubt Sauna will make that. While it’s an unusually effective horror flick, it still relies on the classical elements of horror. Now… if you can give me a horror film which relies on something like the central idea in Memento – which I think is very close to being a horror film, and could easily have been – and I might go back to it.)

    I forgot Withnail and I, and I have to say it makes the grade. Best thing Richard Grant ever did, I think.

    I’m thinking I should also have included the original ‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark’ on that list. It was, and is, a wonderfully clever homage to a lost era of cinema, and it instantly created one of the most recognizable characters of all time in Indiana Jones. That’s hard to beat.

    Pity about the sequels.


  5. Good comments. In reverse order: as a dedicated detester of 99% of Hollywood output, I have to agree with you on ROTLA (the sequels simply justify my horror of Hollywood). Another film (different genre) that has to come close to the cut for similar reasons: LA Confidential. On Richard E Grant: Wah Wah is a great coming-of-age film based on his childhood in Swaziland. He directs; cast includes Gabriel Byrne and Emily Watson.

    On criteria for a great film: repeated viewing is also key for me. My three favourite ‘meditation’ films: Le Grand Bleu, Crouching Tiger, Excalibur.


  6. Hmm.

    I haven’t seen Le Grande Bleu. Grouchy Tiger is lovely. And Excalibur…

    …that one is interesting.

    I’ve long thought of it as a film with wonderful ambition, that fell short of greatness. Visually it’s a marvel. And the soundtrack was a hoot. But it wavered between comedy (early Arthur) and melodrama and even near-camp Grand Romance.

    Nevertheless, it’s in my collection, and I do watch it from time to time, so it out-rates 99% of what comes past me.


  7. Now let’s discuss Raiders and why it SHOULDN’T be on anyone’s list. I LOVE this film, as we all do, but why do we love it? No, it’s not because of the campy characters or the unimaginative story, those are all easily dismissed as being post-modern. Why we love it is because it harks back to the B pictures of the 30s/40’s/50’s. It’s just a nostalgia trip. There’s nothing in Raiders that hasn’t been screened before in a Humphrey Bogart (think Treasures of the Sierra Madre)/ Stewart Granger (think King Solomon’s Mines) or John Huston or Cecile B. DeMille movie. But it’s because it’s an amalgamation of all these (very Post-Mo) that we all recognise what we love about it. It’s not new, or groundbreaking, or experimental, and most certainly not original. It just allows us to re-connect to a more innocent age in cinema where characters were good or bad and adventure was there for the taking. Love it, sure, but there’s no reason to argue that it ticks the boxes for life-changing cinema.


    • Daz, Dirk beat me to it… your point of view is that of a film historian. 90% of cinema-goers seeing ROTLA in 1981 would never have seen King Solomon’s Mines (1950). Cecil B Demille’s last films were in the early 50s. So you can’t argue from the typical viewer’s standpoint. From a film history perspective… well, if we go there, everything starts to look like a recapitulation of something by Lang, Murnau, Selznik, Fellini, De Mille, Renoir, Godard etc – it ends up being a debate of archetypes.

      My argument for ‘greatness’ would not be that a film breaks virgin ground, but that it succeeds perfectly in its artistic / emotional / entertainment mission. Nothing in Unforgiven hasn’t been seen before in some other western or indeed any other assassin flick, but it clearly comes close to being perfect. That’s great art.

      Speaking of bad cinema, I should start a page on Star Wars episode one. I am thinking of getting everyone I know to count the minutes they could stand it before having to resort to hard drugs or violence.


      • I went to see it at the Gold-Class, at Indooroopilly. It was a new thing, then. It seemed the right thing to do.

        By the time the film came around, I’d heard enough to make me… nervous. So I instructed the lovely bar-lass to bring me a G&T every fifteen minutes until I said otherwise.

        Five gin and tonics later, the movie was adequately interesting, and I stopped ordering drinks. Or at least, I changed my order to “one per hour from here on in.”


  8. Daz: bite me.

    It’s fine and dandy to dismiss it as simple PoMo bullshit. But what you forget is that the generation which was delighted by Raiders is a generation that never grew up with the oldies. In fact, it was Raiders that got me interested enough to go back and revisit some of those ‘classics’ to which you refer.

    Further: the people putting together those old ‘classics’ often didn’t realise what they were creating. Look at Casablanca – one of my personal favourites: shot in mere weeks, with… how many different writers? And half of it is pure WWII politicking and propaganda. Yet for every Casablanca, there’s probably a hundred or more forgotten Saturday matinee features. ROTLA was the ultimate acknowledgement of the power and influence of those wonderful little films .

    And if you wanna talk ‘genre breaking’ — come on. You surely won’t try to tell me that ROTLA hasn’t played a huge influence on the entire genre of action films that followed. Hell… you could argue the goddam film practically SPAWNED the action genre. Remember the days before ROTLA? There were no ‘action’ movies. There were Westerns, or War movies, or Police movies… but after ROTLA, you get the deluge.

    ROTLA rattled along on the back of stunts and pace (and sheer fun, yeah). Stallone and Schwarzenegger and there ilk came afterwards – but Indiana Jones blazed the way.

    By the way – talking about movies I really enjoyed, I’d list “Crank” up there. Not necessarily ‘best’, no. But in the barefaced way that it stripped the ‘action’ movie to its final essentials – and for the absolutely, hilariously unrelenting action… full goddam marks. Any movie that can successfully combine a car chase, a gunfight and a blowjob without straining the script is a work of genius!

    BTW: Breakfast Club is one of a handful of movies I’ve walked out on. Or more correctly, passed out. It was so farking dull that I kept drinking… not unlike Star Wars Episode 1.


  9. Launz, I have but one word for you (actually, it’s 3). Jar Jar Binks. Nothing more needs to be said on this topic. Lucas will pay for his crimes against humanity.


    • Oh, I fully agree Lucas has looongg since shot his bolt. Whatever joy and vision his films may once have had has long since perished under the vast and turgid weight of his burgeoning mediocrity. I’ll see your “Jar-Jar” and raise you “Indiana LaBoeuf”!


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