Well here’s the thing. I was inspired by my sister Hel to write about the top 10 albums which most meant something to me and it triggered some nice response, even if I could only get it down to a top 12. So I thought I’d extend the artistic idea to write about the 10 films which have most significantly impacted upon me too. I’ve written around 1000 postings on this blog site and having checked through my search facility, I was amazed to find I’ve never written about this before now. I’m sure I must have done somewhere but no worry I’ve done a fresh list below. One big problem; I couldn’t get it down to a top 10 again. In fact I couldn’t even get it to a top score. I’m sorry I’m hopeless I know but it’s my website so tough titties. Here they are the 23 films that have meant something important to me in some way…
Swiss Family Robinson (1960)
Well when I was a lad of about 8 and 9 we were allowed to go out and about on two conditions; that we didn’t talk to strangers and didn’t play on the railway lines. And so during non-school days we would just go out and play with mates all day long, making dens, climbing pylons, lighting fires, playing footie, birds’ nesting and so on. And we never came to any harm (I guess it was a simpler time). I was even allowed out at night time with a mate or two to go to Cubs meetings and to our local cinema in Poulton-le-Fylde called the Rialto. That was a real treat especially when we stopped and had some chips on the way home (price 6d). Ah fantastic memories. And the film I most remember seeing two or three times was this one about a family leaving Europe in the early 1800s for a new life in New Guinea. Their sailing ship is beached in a storm and they are the sole survivors on this deserted island. The story is all about how they survive on their wits living in a fantastic tree house, fighting off pirates (I think Home Alone based a lot of its action on this film) and even shoe-horning in a boy meets girl story. It was just pure adventure like our days out playing. And the animals on this island included ostriches, elephants, tigers, zebras and so on. It was all completely unrealistic like a Matt Hancock pledge but typical Disney. At 8 or 9 you didn’t notice such flaws and just got swept up in the thrilling action. I think I was probably at my happiest at that age.
Now I didn’t see this film when it was first released (I remember my folks did) but did catch it a few years later in my teens and it was brilliant and shocking in equal measure, Hitchcock at his most inventive. I think it was the first film where the lead female is removed relatively early and the first to use clever camera techniques like the falling down the stairs shot. The shower scene was beautifully executed and soundtracked and the clever thing is it isn’t gory, you never see the knife penetrating the skin; it’s all implied and more chilling because of it. Anthony Perkins in the lead role was brilliant and he never came close to repeating such a performance in the future. The scenes with the dead mother in the chair are genuinely disturbing – even if you watch it today for the umpteenth time. Well they are to me and I may not sleep well tonight now.
Cool Hand Luke (1967)
I didn’t see this until a couple of years after its release when I went to visit my old mate (and later best man) Stephen M who was at Hull Uni. It was a flying visit and we watched this at the university’s film club before heading over to a party, which I thought was a very civilised. It’s the story of Luke, a prisoner in a Florida prison camp who refuses to submit to the system by forever escaping only to be caught and punished. Ultimately he is killed for his behaviour. There are some very cool scenes – obviously – where Luke slowly becomes something of a hero amongst his fellow lags for never giving in and kowtowing to ‘the man’. I think he genuinely set the record for egg eating whilst making this movie. I’ve heard it said that the film’s an allegory for Christ and his followers. I don’t know if that was the intention really. It is one of those films that makes you smile a lot.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
Now I had to include one more Paul Newman film as he is a bit of a hero of mine (for his work outside the cinema). This was another from my teens and one of the classic buddy movies. I don’t think two guys ever looked better than these two in their prime. A great story and lots of great lines. I still enjoy watching this film if it’s ever repeated on tv. I wonder if you remember that the story of their attempt to go straight was turned into a so-so tv series entitled Alias Smith and Jones (a title subsequently spoofed by the comic duo in Alas Smith and Jones).
Dirty Harry (1971)
One of the last films I saw before heading off to Uni and Clint Eastwood was at his best I think in this movie – he looked fantastic in the role as a cynical no-nonsense unforgiving San Fran cop which was perfect for him. The classic opening scene where he thwarts a band robbery with his 44 magnum, uttering ‘well do ya feeling lucky punk?’ is one of the most memorable lines in cinema history. I also quite liked the baddie in this film played by Andy Robinson in the role of psycho sniper killer Scorpio. He really did look a wrong ‘un.
A Clockwork Orange (1972)
I saw this in my first year at Uni with old friend Dave F. It was a very thought provoking piece from the genius film-maker Stanley Kubrick, celebrating mindless hooliganism, drug-taking, sexual violence in a cold vision of a dystopian near future. It seemed to embody the disaffected youth at the time with their own kind of slang speech. Perhaps it was just too shocking because the film was taken off general release within a year or so and not re-released and shown again until after Kubrick’s death. It was critically acclaimed but there several legal cases that came up where it was claimed the film had led to a number of copycat killings, rapes and beatings up which affected Kubrick’s affection for it I think. I liked that many of there scenes were shot at Brunel Uni which offered many buildings styled in brutalist concrete like the austere buildings of a communist state. I later played a semi final of the Universities cup at the Uni and lost. Bugger Brunel. I also really liked the poster for the film which you can see below – it was so sinister.
Kelly’s Heroes (1970)
Now we saw this a couple of years after its original release at Uni. Well not actually at the campus itself but in the town of Aberystwyth which had if I remember rightly two if not three cinemas. Amazing for such a tiny town. They were all fleapits but charged something like 10p – honestly – for entrance so Caz and I used to go regularly. It’s a bonkers story about some American soldiers looting a huge pile of gold from a French bank, heavily guarded by the Nazis, during WW2. It features the very cool Clint Eastwood in the lead role but the film is notable for a hugely amusing performance by Donald Sutherland as the spaced-out tank commander Oddball and a typically Teutonic performance from Karl Otto Alberty (with great facial scar) in the opposing role as the German Panzer tank commander. Great ending.
Well what’s to say about this film other than it usually features in every listing as one of, if not the best, movie of all time. It’s certainly one of mine. Beautifully shot and cast with a superb soundtrack and brilliant script and characterisations. Brando and Pacino were brilliant in this mobster movie but it’s hard to pinpoint an iota of poor acting from the huge cast. Salozzo, Fredo, Fat Clemenza, Luca Brazi, Tom Hagan , Sonny were all beautifully acted/crafted performances. I can almost recite the film by heart and have a well-used copy of it in Italy to while away the nights.
Godfather 2 (1974)
Another film Caz and I watched in Aberystwyth and I left the cinema gob-smacked. If any film can top the original it’s possibly this one. I loved the early scenes with the simply brilliant de Niro in the title role as a young Vito Corleone and thought this element of the film was simply outstanding. The later elements with Michael, played by Pacino, as the head of the family, in Nevada and Havana was just a little less impressive to me. But only by a smidge. My old mate Tony H bought me a set of all the films put into a chronological format and it is interesting to see it like that. There will never be a sequel (and a prequel) to match it imho.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
And speaking of great actors this classic starring Jack Nicholson in his most challenging role is very poignant for me. Carol and I went to see it in 1976 along with my gentle youngest brother Mark, who sadly left us a few years ago. He came to visit us in London in our first flat that we owned in Wood Green. We hadn’t long since had our first daughter Rebecca who long-term readers will know has Down’s syndrome. Anyway we saw the film and whilst it has a number of uplifting moments, ultimately it is the story about how institutional care for those with disabilities can be very hard and without love, and where peace and calmness is managed through heavy use of drugs, sedatives and even more drastic solutions. It is a sad and dispiriting tale. But it made Carol and I realise that we would never allow that for Rebecca – she would be brought up in a normal caring family environment and happily we achieved that and she’s developed into a wonderful, smart, free-spirited young woman. However when I look back I also realise it was, I think, the first and only visit my brother made to us. We didn’t fall out or anything; we just didn’t spend time with each other sadly. There’s a lesson there.
Back to the light side. This homage by Woody Allen to New York is one of our favourite films. He’s a divorcee who falls for a young girl and realises it’s not a fulfilling relationship and so he begins to flirt with his best mate’s girlfriend played excellently by Diane Keaton. Allen’s relationship movies are always full of sharp witty dialogue but what makes this movie special was the sumptuous way that the sights of New York acted as the film’s backdrop. Shot in black and white and featuring a gorgeous soundtrack of Gershwin music including the near perfect Rhapsody in Blue. They can play that at my funeral. Carol and I have been besotted by New York ever since.
We took our girls to see this lovely Spielberg movie at our local Wood Green cinema and they loved it. It’s such an uplifting story that you can’t help but be charmed by it, even though it looks slightly dated these days. Now our youngest daughter Sarah could only have been two or three at the time but she completely got it and years later christened her first child Elliott after the young boy in the film. And you know what, he has turned out to be beautiful, bright, caring young lad just like the character in the film.
This is one of our family’s all time favourite movies which we never get sick of seeing when ever it is shown on tv. We have a DVD of it in Italy that’s almost worn out. Starring Dustin Hoffman who I generally find to be a bit too actory if you know what it mean, playing a brilliant but frustrated actor who can’t find roles because he’s too, well, actory. But by dressing up as a woman, Dorothy, he lands a key role in a tv sitcom and becomes a hit. This is all a bit of a conceit because Hoffman in reality looks nothing like a woman but you can’t help but go along with the increasingly frantic plot as he falls for the Director’s girlfriend Julie who likes him as a woman and sets him up on a weekend date with her father, Les. Others too start to fall for him and he becomes desperate to escape the role and come clean but can he survive the fall-out? It’s great fun and Hoffman is surrounded by a host of great acting performances from Bill Murray, Charles Durning, Jessica Lange, Sydney Pollack (who also directed the film) and many others. It’s full of laughs and the line ‘Does Jeff know?’ has become a family saying.
I’m a big Scorcese fan and this is one of his best. It’s based on the true story of Henry Hill played by Ray Liotta and his life in the mob alongside his wife Karen played by Lorraine Bracco (who would later star brilliantly as Dr Malfi in The Sopranos) and lifetime mates Jimmy Conway and Tommy DeVito played brilliantly by Robert de Nero and Joe Pesci. It’s a rollicking story as the drugs and greed cause the relationships to fracture. It’s violent, shocking and funny in equal measure and makes you wonder if being a GoodFella is really as good as it’s cracked up to be. And it’s about 2.5 hours long so you need to take a good run at it! Get the nibbles in. It’s probably the nearest thing to a real blokey movie that I enjoy. I’m sure Carol has never seen it all the way through.
Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Now I can’t remember where we saw this for the first time but it’s a belter of a movie. Starring Anthony Hopkins in his greatest ever role as the cannibalistic killer Hannibal Lecter who assists the FBI in their hunt for another serial killer nicknamed Buffalo Bill. Supporting Hopkins was a brilliant performance from Jodie Foster as the raw FBI agent Clarice Starling and also from Ted Levine as the killer Jame Gumb. It’s a real psychological horror movie with loads of disturbing scenes, especially in the exchanges between Lecter and Starling in the high-security prison and once Lecter escapes custody. It spawned a series of sequels and prequels but none got close to the excellence of this classic. I think it means something to me as it’s probably the one and only horror movie that we’ve enjoyed watching together.
Schindlers List (1994)
I think we saw this film in Staines after returning from Italy. I’d come across the book on which it is based, Schindler’s Ark, by Thomas Keneally first. I think it had been a Booker prize winner and I came across it for pennies in a charity shop. I was utterly gripped by it and wondered if a film could ever do it justice but Spielberg did a fantastic job bringing the story to life. Basically it’s about Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist and member of the Nazi party, who turns from making money to trying to save his Jewish employees after witnessing the persecution of Jews in a Polish ghetto, whilst out riding. Liam Neeson is very good in the lead role but I think the most compelling performance was by Ralph Fiennes as the brutal psychopathic SS camp commandant. The brutality is harrowing but ultimately your faith in the human spirit is restored. It’s a true story. This coronavirus thing seems like a real burden but it is a bloody walk in the park compared to what these people had to endure.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Now I do remember where we saw this – it was the film’s premiere in Cannes at the Film Festival. We were entertaining guests there when I worked in the mobile phone business and it was the hottest invite around. We actually walked up the red carpet behind all the cast and Director Quentin Tarantino. Those were the days. I remember it affectionately not just because of the whole Cannes experience but also because it’s a fairly long film at 2.5 hours and the story is edited into different timeframes making it seem like a haphazard collection of disparate stories until it all comes together at the end. You needed to concentrate a bit and we’d been having a few drinks all day so most of our guests snoozed through it all. Ha! But I loved it. It’s a series of intertwined incidents about the Los Angeles underworld, involving the lives of two LA hit men, a gangster’s wife, a boxer, two small-time criminals and one gimp. The language is strong, some scenes are very graphic and the soundtrack including the sensational Misirlou, is just fantastic. Plus it’s he only film I can actually watch Bruce Willis acting and not corpse.
Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Look this has got to be in everyone’s top film collection hasn’t it? Heaven only knows where we first saw it; probably on tv. It virtually disappeared without comment (and takings) when it was first released. But it was the ultimate slow-burner and word of mouth slowly got it noticed by a wider audience. I shouldn’t have to tell you the plot about a man wrongly convicted for murder and his life in Shawshank prison and the relationships he develops with his friend Red, the prison Governor and the various bullies around the place on both sides of the cell doors. Ultimately he gets his redemption in a fantastically clever ending. You just go to bed smiling at the end of it. But it’s another 2.5 hour long film and until recently Carol had only watched the first hour or so before heading off. So I asked her to watch it through on a recent showing and she loved the complete storyline too. Morgan Freeman as ever gives a telling performance.
Toy Story (1995)
Now I’m sure we must have taken one of our grandsons to view this but it’s 25 years old. Hard to believe. It’s just a charming story about a collection of toys owned by a young chap called Andy. His favourites are Woody and new toy Buzz. It’s also a deeper story about friendship, fortitude and growing up so it works on several levels for young and old. I think this might have been Pixar’s first major film and the animation at the time was just gob-smackingly good. This is probably the ultimate makes-you-smile movie and we love to watch it with our kids and grandkids (well at least the younger ones). Later films in the series were all good but nothing quite made an impression like this first one.
Apollo 13 (1995)
First appearance from Tom Hanks after his voice role in Toy Story of course. It’s the story about a failed moon landing but against-all-odds return to Earth by the amazing crew and mission control staff overseeing the flight of Apollo 13. It’s all very jingoistic of course – American endeavour at its greatest and all that. But it’s a well-crafted story with several fine performances from Hanks as Flight Commander and Ed Harris as Flight Director. Plus there was Kevin Bacon acting in a film instead of doing cheesey mobile phone network ads for EE. The tension, sense of relief and celebration during the final re-entry was brilliantly well-crafted by Director Ron Howard. Even I felt like punching the air. Isn’t it a shame our kids and grandchildren don’t get to witness the incredible space achievements that we saw for real growing up? We can’t even get supplies of PPE equipment to our front line NHS team let alone put a man on the moon. Sigh.
Brassed Off (1996)
Now I do remember seeing this film with our good friends Mike and Jayne over in High Wycombe. We watched several movies with them and always had a great time, usually with a bite to eat and a few beers. The kids were kind of grown up and we were exploring venturing out as a couple again. This was a film very much to my liking; of it’s time, British, northern, gritty, based on reality, slightly political (left leaning), featuring great British actors like Pete Postlethwaite, Ewan McGregor, the lovely Tara Fitzgerald and Stephen Tompkinson, and a great soundtrack of brass band music. I especially loved the solo performance of ‘Orange Juice’. It’s the story of a Yorkshire colliery band forced into disbanding by the closure of their pit as a major competition looms. But it also went further than that in aiming its criticism of the Thatcher Government’s dismantling of the power of the Miners’ Union and the destruction is caused to communities, relationships, personal respect and dignity. But out of the depths of despair came a winning outcome. And just like with Apollo 13 I was punching the air again at the conclusion. A slightly biased perspective but powerful stuff for a northern working class boy like me.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Final appearance from Tom Hanks in yet another Spielberg masterpiece about the search for a young man being plucked from the action of WW2 because of the death in service of his 3 brothers. Yet another long film and again you’d think that that the only people taking part in the war were Americans. But hey it’s a great story partly based on reality. And I think Spielberg was at his best in this movie. The opening 20 minute sequence of the D-Day landings was grimly realistic and very bloody. Possibly the best war sequence ever filmed. I won’t give away the ending in case you haven’t seen it but I struggle not to get a lump in my throat at the final sequences. I hope I’ve led a good life too.
Something’s Gotta Give (2003)
Final appearances from Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton in my selection. This is probably the last film we’ve seen together that we both enjoy, It’s a Nancy Myers film which usually mean it’s a relationship movie where everyone is incredibly successful and lives in leafy Connecticut but the storyline is very much presented from a woman’s perspective. It usually makes for a cloying over-sentimental picture imho. But Jack Nicholson’s storming performance as a rich and successful lothario (obviously playing against type) surprisingly falling for his young girlfriend’s mother ensures that men get a decent shout too. In fact there’s a second male voice as Keanu Reaves plays her competing younger boyfriend but that’s where it gets a little too twee and Nancy Myersish. Slowly affection turns to something deeper and Old Harry finds himself in love with a woman closer to his own age and everyone lives happily ever after. You’ll gather that it’s not the plot line that we both found so entertaining (though I suspect Carol liked the contrived ending a little more than me). What we both fell in love with was the beach-side house on Long Island that the action takes place within. It’s a beautiful colonial style, clapper board home that we’d try and buy if we ever won the Lottery. Does anyone know if that’s still going? I’ve kinda lost track.
So there we are; 4000 words on 23 films that meant a lot to me for various reasons. As you can see I’m not a fan of CGI, action movies, Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter, James Bond, fantasy, Rocky/Rambo style movies. I just tend to like films made with care and passion that make me smile. I’m a simple soul. If you’d like to tell me of any films that moved you just feel free to comment below.