100 Films I Adore - A Personal Love Letter
426 7.6 81. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
Swashbuckling pageantry at its finest. A feast for the eyes that leaps from great scene to great scene at a ridiculous pace. By the final sword fight you'll be jumping out of your chair. By far the best adaptation of Robin Hood. I never tire of watching this one and always walk away afterwards feeling thoroughly uplifted.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Basil Rathbone as Sir Guy of Gisborne
3796 8 8.22. Trainspotting (1996)
Watching 'Trainspotting' still takes me back to my school days, during which I was so obsessed with the film that I would watch the brilliant opening 5 minutes almost daily. Most of the cast give the performances of their careers. Ewan McGregor would never be anywhere near as brilliant again. The script perfectly mixes black comedy with grim drama but Danny Boyle keeps things moving at such a vivid, rock 'n' roll pace that to simply call it depressing would be lazy and totally miss the point. Despite the awards heaped on 'Slumdog Millionaire', this is still Boyle's best film by some distance.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Robert Carlyle as Francis Begby
257 8.4 7.83. Monsieur Verdoux (1947)
Though perhaps not for all tastes, Charlie Chaplin was undoubtedly a genius. While most people laud his silent films the most, I think that his reluctant move into talkies heralded some of his finest, most intelligent work. If you think of Chaplin as just a sweet little tramp doing slapstick routines, 'Monsieur Verdoux' will take you by surprise with its eloquence and the blackness of its comedy as Chaplin brilliantly portrays a charming serial killer. Although it tends to divide his fans, 'Monsieur Verdoux' is probably the Chaplin film that best stands up in a modern context.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Charles Chaplin as Henri Verdoux
284 7.5 7.44. Mystery Train (1989)
Jim Jarmusch is one of my favourite directors and I was sad to only be able to include one of his films in this list but it is a doozy! Taken at the deliberately slow pace that characterises all Jarmusch's work, 'Mystery Train' beautifully captures the atmosphere of a run down Memphis still trading on its rock 'n' roll history. Split into three vignettes, each connected by the fact that the lead characters stay in the same hotel, 'Mystery Train' is best remembered for its opening segment, 'Far From Yokohama', in which a seemingly mismatched young Japanese couple make their rock 'n' roll pilgrimage.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Youki Kudoh as Mitsuko
1234 7.1 7.15. The Sword in the Stone (1963)
As an enormous animation fan I wanted to include many animated features on this list but, alas, there was only room for a handful. Although Disney has made a barrage of groundbreaking and masterful animated films, for me it is this underrated gem that stands out. Telling the story of the young King Arthur and his first encounter with Merlin, the film employs an episodic structure as the wizard teaches the young Arthur (known as 'Wart') about life and love by turning himself and the boy into a series of different animals. Although 'The Sword in the Stone' is rarely mentioned alongside Disney's more accepted greats, it does feature one of the studio's best loved sequences: the phenomenal Wizard's Duel scene.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Junius Matthews as Archimedes
159 7.2 76. Dear Diary (1993)
Director Nanni Moretti is often called 'the Italian Woody Allen' but this description is woefully inaccurate. Moretti actually bears comparison with no other director I can think of. 'Caro Diario' ('Dear Diary') is the best example of this. A leisurely-paced autobiographical piece in which Moretti plays himself in a series of three segments, 'Caro Diario' has a charm all of its own. I frequently hear people say they loved it but don't know why. The best part of the film is the opening segment in which Moretti rides around Rome on his Vespa spouting comic monologues, having surreal encounters or just simply enjoying the ride as we enjoy watching him ride and drinking in the beautiful scenery married so perfectly with the captivating music. An oddity but a great one.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Nanni Moretti as Himself
66 7.5 7.47. Billy Liar (1963)
I first watched 'Billy Liar' when a girl I was rapidly falling in love with recommended it to me. Needless to say, that pretty much sealed the deal! Although it is often overlooked in favour of other British New Wave films like 'Saturday Night and Sunday Morning', 'Billy Liar' is the best of the lot, combining the downbeat realism that characterised those films with escapist fantasy sequences and hilarious comedy. The script (by Keith Waterhouse, based on his novel) seems way ahead of its time in terms of language used and the style of humour and the performances are uniformly superb, from Tom Courtenay's turn in the title role right down to supporting character sketches by future sitcom stalwarts Rodney Bewes and Leonard Rossiter. Needless to say, 'Billy Liar' has become a very special film to me personally but, even without the romantic connection, I would have seen it for the masterpiece it is.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Tom Courteney as Billy Fisher
131 8 7.58. Bigger Than Life (1956)
I loved Nicholas Ray's most famous film 'Rebel Without a Cause' but it was this one that really blew me away. Featuring a towering James Mason performance worthy of the film's title, 'Bigger Than Life' is directed amazingly by Ray, who never misses the chance to make Mason look gigantic by shooting from an unusual angle or emphasising a monstrous shadow. Presented in sumptuous colour, 'Bigger Than Life' follows the descent into megalomania of a man taking the experimental drug Cortisone. Mason's transformation is by turns touching, funny and always frightening. He's so imposing you feel he might leap from the screen and rip your head off at any moment. In the film's unforgettable finale he also gets to utter one of cinema's most audacious lines of all time, consisting of three little words... but that's all I'm saying!
BEST PERFORMANCE: James Mason as Ed Avery
704 8.1 8.19. Network (1976)
When making 'Network', ace director Sidney Lumet had the good fortune of being in possession of one of the greatest screenplays of all time (by Paddy Chayefsky) and a cast of amazing actors all of whom turned in incredible performances no matter how small their parts. Peter Finch is electric as Howard Beale, a news anchor who reacts to hearing that he's to be fired in two weeks by announcing on air that he will commit suicide during the next Tuesday's broadcast. So begins the development, exploitation and destruction of a new cult TV hero. As well as Finch's brilliant turn (for which he won a posthumous Oscar, since he died shortly after completing the film), 'Network' is littered with superb performances from Faye Dunaway, Ned Beatty, Beatrice Straight, Robert Duvall and, in the film's most subtle and winning performance, William Holden.
BEST PERFORMANCE: William Holden as Max Schumacher
1682 7.2 7.710. Adaptation (2002)
Those who know anything about screenwriter Charlie Kaufman know that it's futile to try and synopsise the plots of his films. This is particularly true of 'Adaptation', an incredibly intricate film in which Kaufman spends the entire runtime playing games with the audience by way of including himself (played by Nicholas Cage) and his own fictional twin brother (also Cage) in the film and interrupting the flow of the actual story (an adaptation of Susan Orlean's book 'The Orchid Thief) by tentatively deciding to also include the story of his own attempts to write the script of the film we are now watching. See what I mean about a synopsis being futile? Directed brilliantly by Spike Jonze (who also helmed Kaufman's equally tricky but less satisfying 'Being John Malkovich'), 'Adaptation' features easily the greatest performance the usually annoying Nicolas Cage has ever given, as well as a reliably brilliant turn by Meryl Streep as Susan Orlean.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Nicolas Cage as Charlie Kaufman/Donald Kaufman
229 8.1 8.111. Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
Director Alexander Mackendrick made the leap from directing some of the best loved British Ealing comedies to this completely different American production with amazing smoothness. Few directors have two such different films as 'Whiskey Galore' and 'Sweet Smell of Success' in their canon, although the darker tones of Mackendrick's previous film 'The Ladykillers' bridges the gap between the two styles. Featuring two great performances by Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis as scumbags of varying degrees, 'Sweet Smell of Success' tells the story of newspaper columnist JJ Hunsecker, a journalist of incredible influence whose powers weasily press agent Sidney Falco hopes to benefit from, if he can only help break up the romance between Hunsecker's beloved sister and her jazz guitarist boyfriend. It sounds like a potentially farcical comic plot but the superb screenplay instead makes it one of the hardest-bitten dramas of its era, filled with witty lines, sleazy characterisations and unsavoury revelations. Definitely a film that needs several viewings to sink in, although it's clear the first time round that 'Sweet Smell of Success' is something special.
BEST PERFORMANCES (too close to call): Tony Curtis as Sidney Falco & Burt Lancaster as JJ Hunsecker
1745 8.1 8.212. Annie Hall (1977)
Woody Allen is my hero and my favourite director (despite a string of stinkers since the turn of the millennium). 'Annie Hall' was the film which made me fall in love with Woody, his style and his representation of New York. Packed full of brilliant one-liners yet still finding plenty of room for a deeply involving, emotionally engaging plot, 'Annie Hall' saw Allen move from films composed of surreal gags and broad slapstick (the "early, funny ones", the best of which is the hilarious 'Love and Death') to something more personal and grounded in reality. In the whiny, neurotic but cool Alvy Singer, Allen also perfected his film persona that would form the basis of most of the characters he would go on to play. As usual, Allen gets all the best lines but the wonderful Diane Keaton as the titular Annie gives one of cinema's most endearing performances, transforming from a lovably ditzy girl to a serious-minded but somewhat pretentious intellectual, never employing any of the broad strokes that most would fall back on in such a role. As Alvy's best friend, Tony Roberts is also wonderfully funny. Just about a perfect film and one I will always treasure.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Diane Keaton as Annie Hall
52 7.5 7.213. Allegro non Troppo (1976)
Italian animator Bruno Bozzetto is best known for creating the character of Senior Rossi, whose dubbed adventures I enjoyed watching on TV while growing up (and who has a brief cameo in this film in which he burns to death!). Bozzetto's masterpiece, however, is this stunning parody of Disney's 'Fantasia', which presents 6 animated sequences set to classical music. Bozzetto's style is quite different from Disney's but often no less grand in its own way. The film climaxes with a satirical descent into hell by the Biblical serpent who, in this version of the story, eats the apple himself. 'Allegro Non Troppo's most startling sequence, however, is a segment which charts the evolutionary progression of some slime in a coke bottle to the strains of Ravel's 'Bolero'. Although the film is handled with a great deal more tongue-in-cheek humour than its Disney counterpart, Bozzetto is committed to the beauty of his creation too and knows when to drop the clowning in favour of more serious fare, as in the heartbreaking sequence of a cat remembering its former life in a now derelict house.
1633 8.2 8.714. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
OK, so it's very corny but Frank Capra's masterpiece overcomes all its moist-eyed moments of doe-eyed children talking about angels by offering total commitment to its subject and story, sincerity trumping sentimentality. Capra crafts such a perfectly realised fable that 'It's a Wonderful Life' cannot be reduced to its famously slushy ending (which we're all rooting for by the climax anyway). What many people forget is the harsh truths of the build up, which, after all, charts the life of a man trapped by circumstance in a small town he longs to escape, culminating in a suicide attempt. In essaying this man's life, James Stewart turns in his greatest performance in an illustrious career. Although its a treat often saved for Christmas, 'It's a Wonderful Life' is a wonderful, uplifting experience at any time of the year.
BEST PERFORMANCE: James Stewart as George Bailey
370 8.6 8.215. Sherlock, Jr. (1924)
Clocking in at just 44 minutes in length (just scraping past the 40 minute limit I set for consideration of inclusion on this list), Buster Keaton's 'Sherlock Jr.' is the director's masterpiece. Keaton stars as a projectionist who falls asleep on the job and dreams that he is a great detective. This leads to one of the most magical and jaw-dropping scenes of early cinema, in which Keaton walks into the cinema screen and joins the movie, suffering through sudden abrupt scene changes around him. Its the highlight of a visually amazing film which features the barrage of incredible stunts one had come to expect in a Keaton film (he actually broke his neck performing the water tower stunt). Keaton was rarely cooler than he is here, excelling in both the big set-pieces and the more modest but equally skilled moments such as the clearance of a pool table. The films reduced length means it never outstays its welcome and should encourage even those skeptical about silent cinema to give it a try. You won't regret it.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Buster Keaton as The Projectionist
715 7.9 8.216. Cool Hand Luke (1967)
Stuart Rosenberg's 'Cool Hand Luke' chimed well with the non-conformist, anti-establishment mood of the late 60s and still strikes a chord with rebels to this day. The story of a man sent to a Georgia prison camp for 2 years because of a petty, drunken crime, 'Cool Hand Luke' opens out into a story of a Christ figure (a comparison made explicit by much of the film's imagery) who becomes a hero among his fellow prisoners because of his refusal to fall into line. George Kennedy is great as fellow convict Dragline but this is Newman's film and he brilliantly portrays Luke's joyous, persistent spirit and also his suffering at the hands of the sadistic warden. Inspiring.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Paul Newman as Luke Jackson
1466 6.6 7.317. Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
Eddie Murphy was not always the insipid star of weak family films that he is today. Back in the 1980s he was a nauseatingly homophobic stand-up comedian. Fortunately, I was unaware of his vicious AIDs and "fags" routines (for which he has since apologised) at the time and knew him simply as one of the coolest comic film talents of the era. 'Beverly Hills Cop' features undoubtedly his greatest performance. As Detroit cop Axel Foley, Murphy fast talks and ad-libs his way through a series of absolutely hilarious scenes. This is truly a case of the actor being the making of the film, since all the finest lines either come from Murphy's ad-libbing or are delivered with such smoothness as to appear to be made up on the spot. He receives able comic support from John Ashton and Judge Reinhold as two Laurel and Hardy-esque Beverly Hills policemen and the action-thriller plot is gripping enough to carry the non-comic moments (and make up for the brief, gratuitous "titty bar" scene, a sexist staple of many 80s films). One of the brightest, most fun films of the 80s but with a gritty edge that makes it stand out from other such fare.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley
402 8.1 7.818. Naked (1993)
'Naked' is Mike Leigh's best film by some distance. Featuring a sensational gripping and hilarious performance by David Thewlis as Johnny, an obnoxious but intelligent street philosopher, 'Naked' spends most of its runtime drifting aimlessly through London streets as Johnny goes from encounter to encounter with a range of different characters, sharing his philosophies of life and subjecting them to his brutal wit. This culminates in one of the most incredible scenes of extended dialogue in cinema history, as Johnny pours out his frenzied, paranoid theories to a bewildered, lonely and ultimately disillusioned security guard. Though frequently unpleasant in its graphic depiction of not always consensual rough sex, 'Naked' is never gratuitous and never glorifies the actions of Johnny or the even more despicable, smirking landlord Jeremy (Greg Cutwell), who acts as an even more reprehensible, psychotic counterpoint to Johnny. For such a brutal and grim film, 'Naked' is consistently enjoyable and endlessly rewatchable.
BEST PERFORMANCE: David Thewlis as Johnny
3762 7.7 8.319. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
While most people tend to choose 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' as the greatest entry in the Indiana Jones trilogy (and it IS a trilogy, 'Kingdom of the Crystal Skull' NEVER HAPPENED!!!), my favourite has always been this climactic quest for the Holy Grail. Telling an expansive story (including a great prologue starring the much-missed River Phoenix as the young Indy) in a relatively short 127 minutes, '...Last Crusade' employs the masterstroke of saddling Indy with his elderly, though similarly adventurous, father as a companion. Sean Connery, in this role, is hilarious and delving into Indy's family issues provides a brilliantly comic and touching counterpoint to the superbly handled action sequences. After the enjoyable but occasionally daft, shrill and ever so slightly racist 'Temple of Doom' (look at those crazy foreigners, they eat bugs and monkey brains!), '...Last Crusade' was the Indiana Jones film that people like me were crying out for and exceeded expectations set by the excellent 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Sean Connery as Professor Henry Jones
1415 8 8.420. Singin' in the Rain (1952)
While I generally enjoy the big, bright musicals of Hollywood's Golden Era, they usually fall short on appeal for me somewhere. Whether it be a lack of great songs, weak performances or thin plot, by the end I'm usually entertained but glad its over. Not so with 'Singin' in the Rain', a gorgeous experience that I never want to end. This is achieved simply by upping the ante on all counts. 'Singin' in the Rain' has the best songs (all cannily cherry-picked from previous films), the best performances (Donald O'Connor totally nails the funny-man bit that Oscar Levant so frequently struggled through, Jean Hagen is superbly hammy as the non-singing villain of the piece) and, crucially, the best script. Its witty, self-referential movie industry plot is engaging and hilarious, ensuring that 'Singin' in the Rain' lights up the screen whether the stars are singing and dancing or not. With not a wasted moment or bad decision to be found anywhere, 'Singin' in the Rain' is another perfect film, its dizzyingly uplifting atmosphere encapsulated in that most iconic of American movie scenes: Gene Kelly's lovestruck splash through the rain soaked streets.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Donald O'Connor as Cosmo Brown
467 8.1 8.221. Diabolique (1955)
'Les Diaboliques', Henri-Georges Clouzot's unforgettable blending of the suspense/horror/thriller genres, is said to be the film that spurred on a competitive Alfred Hitchcock to make 'Psycho', such was its impact on audiences. To say too much would give away crucial plot details but, needless to say, 'Les Diaboliques' is edge of the seat stuff. It culminates in one of cinema's most unexpected and frightening sequences, followed by an early example of an anti-spoiler message in which the director implores audiences not to tell their friends the film's secrets. As well as its twist-laden plot, 'Les Diaboliques' is also notable for the character of Alfred Fichet, a retired police officer whose idiosyncratic portrayal by Charles Vanel inspired the creation of one of my favourite TV character, Peter Falk's Lt. Columbo.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Charles Vanel as Alfred Fichet
810 8.4 8.522. Paths of Glory (1957)
Not only is 'Paths of Glory' one of the greatest war films ever made, it also began probably the most exceptional run of form by a director ever. Stanley Kubrick, from this film until the unfortunate release of 'Eyes Wide Shut' in the 90s, seemed utterly incapable of making a bad film. 'Paths of Glory' remains one of his very best. Eschewing the crusty tradition of war films to be overlong and cloyingly patriotic, 'Paths of Glory' tells its intensely gripping and powerful story in under an hour and a half. The story questions the motives and practices of higher ranking officers in the military (albeit the French military), which made it unpopular in some quarters, but the film is now recognised as a masterpiece. With great performances by all the cast, 'Paths of Glory' also boasts one of the most poignant endings ever.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Kirk Douglas as Colonel Dax
5994 7.8 8.523. Back to the Future (1985)
It's rare that I come across anyone born between 1970 and 1989 who would not include this film on their list of most adored movies. Combining elements of sci-fi, action-adventure, romantic high school comedy and 50s nostalgia flick, 'Back to the Future' is one of the fastest moving, most rewatchable movies ever made. Brilliantly scripted and directed, 'Back to the Future' also boasts a series of great performances in roles that could easily have been played two-dimensionally. Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd are both great as teenager Marty McFly and his best friend Doc Brown and it is their touching relationship that forms the major emotional through-line of the subsequent trilogy. Also great is Thomas F. Wilson as chief antagonist Biff. As all-round enjoyable a film as you're ever likely to come across, it'll be interesting to see how 'Back to the Future' ages but it'll live long in the hearts of movie lovers of a certain era as the true classic it is.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly
573 7.9 824. Duck Soup (1933)
The Marx Brothers reached the peak of their powers with 'Duck Soup'. While they had always been known for puncturing pomposity, the brothers were also known for their anarchic approach, aiming their verbal and physical attacks at anyone and everyone who came along, deserving or not. While this approach is continued here, the ultimate target couldn't be more deserving: the utter absurdity of war. A Marx Brothers film with a serious point is a delicious premise but comedy fans needn't worry; the emphasis is still entirely on laughs alone and there's not an ounce of preachiness. The film is best known for what is largely considered to be the best-executed version of that oft used comedy staple: the mirror gag. However, the gags come so thick and fast you could take your pick of favourite moments. Personally, I love Groucho's entrance and opening barrage of wit and the priceless scene where he meets with his cabinet.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Groucho Marx as Rufus T. Firefly
1159 7.4 7.725. Rushmore (1998)
Wes Anderson is one of my favourite directors currently working today and I've enjoyed all his films enormously but 'Rushmore' just pipped the others at the post for inclusion ('The Darjeeling Limited', 'The Royal Tennebaums' and 'Fantastic Mr. Fox' were all strong contenders). With its wandering, unpredictable plot that totally defies expectations, 'Rushmore' is constantly entertaining and hilarious in a beautifully melancholy way. Also in 'Rushmore's favour is its amazing soundtrack (a staple of Anderson's films) and the great lead performances by Anderson mainstays Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray. If nothing else, 'Rushmore' should be widely respected as the film that snatched Murray from the jaws of a downward spiral. Before this performances, his career was falling into a pit of Larger-Than-Life-Wild-Things-Man-Who-Knew-Too-Little-Cameo-in-Space-Jam badness. His turn as Herman Blume recast him as every independent directors subtle comedic actor of choice.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Bill Murray as Herman Blume
309 8 7.926. Winter Light (1963)
Ingmar Bergman was undoubtedly a cinematic genius. He also made some very difficult films to watch. For every challenging but enjoyable 'Wild Strawberries' or 'Seventh Seal' I have also come across a taxing 'Shame' or 'Hour of the Wolf'. Considering his own wife called 'Winter Light' "a masterpiece - but a dreary masterpiece", you might expect it to fall into the latter category. However, relentlessly downbeat as it is, I immediately adored 'Winter Light' and watching it is still always the easiest and most pleasurable of experiences every time. This is probably most due to its tight, concise little screenplay which may be one of the finest, most perfectly crafted screenplays I've ever come across. Clocking in at 81 minutes in length, 'Winter Light' follows a few hours in the life of a pastor who is suffering from both a cold and a crisis of faith. Bergman does an amazing job of chronicling the pastor's church service, the joylessness of which speaks for itself. Every moment, every little detail, is utterly riveting and the ending, though very understated, is utterly perfect.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Gunnar Bjornstrand as Tomas Ericsson
30 7.1 7.627. Green for Danger (1946)
Alistair Sim was a unique and brilliant Scottish actor who is undoubtedly one of my favourite film stars of all time. Unfortunately, despite his popularity, no-one seemed to know quite how to use Sim. Although he usually got top billing, many of his roles were effectively cameos or supporting character sketches which saw Sim effortlessly walk off with the film in a matter of minutes. 'Green for Danger' is one of the few films that has a perfect, meaty role for Alistair Sim to really get his teeth into and he more than rises to the challenge. Although he will always be best remembered for his definitive turn as Scrooge in the film of the same name, to me Alistair will always be Inspector Cockrill. Even in 'Green for Danger', however, we must wait over half an hour for Alistair to take to the screen, during which the film sets up its murder mystery plot and appears to be a serious drama. The moment Sim puts in an appearance, however, 'Green for Danger' becomes a hilarious comedy as he mischievously sets about interrogating and irritating the suspects. His presence totally changes the film and he dominates brilliantly from his first moment. There's able support from the likes of Trevor Howard and Rosamund John and the involving script. A little known, little seen but utterly essential lost gem.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Alistair Sim as Inspector Cockrill
303 8.4 8.228. Ace in the Hole (1951)
Although director Billy Wilder is well known for his cynicism, he generally tempers it with sweetening doses of comedy. Not so in 'Ace in the Hole', a vicious media satire which is one of the most uncompromising films of its era. Audiences and critics baulked at the unforgiving mirror Wilder held up to them as unscrupulous newspaper man Kirk Douglas exploits the story of a man trapped in a cave by turning the site of his premature burial into a huge public attraction. Still as relevant, if not more so, today as it was back then, 'Ace in the Hole' has since been reassessed as a masterpiece. It is an ugly film but in the best possible way; its ugliness is a necessary means to an end and there's something refreshing and cathartic about spending a couple of hours in the company of utterly irredeemable characters.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Kirk Douglas as Chuck Tatum
1108 7.1 7.629. Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)
After his remarkably assured and ambitious directional debut with 'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind', George Clooney stepped things up to create his first masterpiece with the riveting 'Good Night, and Good Luck'. Focusing on the McCarthy era (a time period I have always been fascinated by and which inspired other great films such as 'The Front', 'A King in New York', 'Salt of the Earth' and, allegorically, 'High Noon' and 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers'), 'Good Night, and Good Luck' charts the conflict between Senator McCarthy and TV and radio journalist Ed Murrow (superbly played by David Strathairn). Recreating Murrow's broadcasts alongside actual archive footage of McCarthy, 'Good Night, and Good Luck' is an invaluable document but also massively entertaining, funny and utterly thrilling. It should have won the Best Picture Oscar instead of the heavy-handed, self-conscious 'Crash'.
BEST PERFORMANCE: David Strathairn as Ed Murrow
1282 8 8.130. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
How cruel it was that 'Dog Day Afternoon', one of my favourite films of all time featuring Al Pacino in one of my favourite performances of all time, happened to fall on the same year as 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest', another of my favourite films of all time which features another of my all time favourite performances of all time, by Jack Nicholson. Though both films received enormous amounts of praise, '...Cuckoo's Nest' walked off with most of the Oscars, leaving 'Dog Day Afternoon' with just one for Best Original Screenplay. The 70s were my favourite era for film making. It was so vibrant and exciting that its only to be expected that there'd be an abundance of amazing films vying for awards and some would lose out. Nevertheless, 'Dog Day Afternoon' is utterly brilliant. Based on the true story of a siege between amatuer bank robbers and the police, 'Dog Day Afternoon' is set almost entirely in and around their target bank as Pacino's Sonny Wortzik attempts to deal with the escalating situation. One of the masterstrokes is to play 'Dog Day Afternoon' as a black comedy, which gives Pacino the chance to show off his deft comic skills with an unforgettable, unusual characterisation which would undoubtedly have won an Oscar in any other year. From the moment he awkwardly tears open the birthday gift box concealing his gun to a hysterically funny ending sequence in which he dictates his will, Pacino goes through every emotion a man in such a situation could possibly display. This tour-de-force is helped by the phenomenally realised script and great supporting performances by John Cazale, Charles Durning, Penelope Allen and Chris Sarandon. Sidney Lumet directs with aplomb in a fertile creative period that would see him turn out 'Network' the following year.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Al Pacino as Sonny Wortzik
1300 7.5 7.331. Eraserhead (1977)
The first time I saw David Lynch's 'Eraserhead' it was on the inadequate recommendation that it was "the scariest film ever made". This meant I sat down to watch with a set of preconceptions, something you simply cannot bring to this unique, indescribable movie. 'Eraserhead' is not "scary" in any conventional way. You won't scream or jump but it will fester and, if you're anything like me, you'll become mildly obsessed with it. When I returned to the film for a second look, I got a friend to watch it with me. We then returned to it again with another friend, then another. Much of that Summer was spent with curtains closed, introducing more and more friends to 'Eraserhead's peculiar charm and then discussing at length what it all might mean. Taken at a very slow pace and set largely in one room, 'Eraserhead' drags us into the world of Henry Spencer, a printer on vacation whose girlfriend has given birth to an odd, alien-like baby ("They're not even sure it is a baby"). When its constant crying drives its mother away, Henry is left to look after the creature alone, while also dealing with an obsession he has developed with his radiator and the hamster-cheeked woman who lives in it. If this all sounds confusing, intriguing, ridiculous, hilarious and disturbing, that's because it is. A perfect introduction to the world of David Lynch, 'Eraserhead' provokes laughter, unease and intrigue in equal measures. The scene in which Henry has dinner with his prospective in-laws (the dinner consisting of tiny, not-quite-dead chickens) is one of my favourite darkly comic scenes ever. 'Eraserhead' will most likely baffle you beyond reason but hopefully you'll keep coming back for more.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Jack Nance as Henry Spencer
1394 8.4 8.532. North by Northwest (1959)
Alfred Hitchcock's 'North by Northwest' is an extraordinarily fast-paced thriller in which a case of mistaken identity leads to Cary Grant being pursued across the country as he strives to clear his name. This fairly standard thriller plot is revitalised by Hitchcock's deft handling of every sequence. The attack by the crop-duster has passed into movie iconography but there are many other great sequences, notably Grant's hilarious escape from the bad guys who have him hemmed in at an auction, and the climactic sequence atop Mount Rushmore. 'North by Northwest' is played as much for laughs as it is for thrills, Grant dryly wisecracking his way through the whole nightmare. When the film ends, you really feel you've been on that journey with him. A deeply satisfying, entertaining and amusing experience.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Cary Grant as Roger Thornhill
502 7.4 7.933. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
With a screenplay by David Mamet (based on his own play), 'Glengarry Glen Ross' is a compelling and very funny look at the desperate world of four real estate salesmen who are forced into competition with their jobs as the stakes. The film assembles one of the most amazing ensemble casts ever: Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Kevin Spacey, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Johnathan Pryce and, in a cameo that remains the best-loved part of the film, Alec Baldwin. Every performance is great but it was Pacino who got most of the recognition (and the Oscar nomination) as the cocky, successful Ricky Roma. He is, of course, brilliant as always but for once he is trumped by an even more devastating performance by Jack Lemmon as the completely desperate Shelley "The Ma chine" Levene, a former legend in the business who has since fallen on hard times. Lemmon's characterisation is heartbreakingly indelible and Ii still can't believe it received so little recognition. Still, he was given a higher accolade than any industry award when his performance became the inspiration for a new ongoing character in 'The Simpsons', the even more desperate Gil Gunderson.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Jack Lemmon as Shelley "The Machine" Levene
57 8.2 834. Stop Making Sense (1984)
Whether you like a concert movie or not generally depends on whether you like the band who star in it. Since Talking Heads are one of my favourite bands of all time, 'Stop Making Sense' would have been a treat even as just a straight concert. However, it is far more innovative than that. Rather than just trot out the songs with shots of the crowd intercut, Johnathan Demme's film is incredibly visual. It begins with just lead singer David Byrne walking out onto the stage with an acoustic guitar and a tape recorder for a jittery version of the classic single 'Psycho Killer'. Byrne is then joined one by one by the rest of the band, each performing a song with him as they appear. Slowly the number of people on the stage grows and the stage set up changes and fills out. By the finale, the once empty stage is teeming with people and objects, with Byrne now wearing an unforgettable, oversized business suit which he changes into during a brief absence from the stage. Not only is 'Stop Making Sense' incredible to look at but it is also amazing to listen to. The band are at the top of their game and many of the tracks performed are far superior to their original album versions (notably anything from 'Speaking in Tongues', the album the band were currently promoting, and especially this definitive version of 'Life During Wartime' which is ten times better than the version that appeared on 'Fear of Music'). Far from just a dull document of an average live performance, 'Stop Making Sense' is a captivatingly odd love letter to the act of music-making and the art of live presentation.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Talking Heads as themselves
256 7.7 8.235. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)
Seth Gordon's documentary about rival video game players competing for the world record score on Donkey Kong is one of the most hilarious and also most exciting films of the 00s. No, really! Gordon brilliantly charts the rivalry between school teacher and all round nice guy Steve Weibe and video-gaming legend and utterly monstrous Billy Mitchell. Mitchell is so obnoxious, self-obsessed, mean-spirited and loathsome that the viewer cannot help but spend the film on the edge of their seat hoping for him to be taken down a peg or ten. Alongside the film's central struggle, Gordon also focuses on the petty rivalries and complex relationships of the obsessive gamers sub-culture. 'King of Kong' is a completely fascinating documentary and, despite suspense playing a crucial role in the initial viewing experience, it's such a funny film that you can watch it again and again even when you know the outcome.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Steve Weibe's little daughter Jillian, for coming up with the most insightful observation in the whole film!
326 7.2 7.636. High Plains Drifter (1973)
Clint Eastwood has become one of the most admired American directors of the last 20 years with acclaimed films such as 'Unforgiven', 'Million Dollar Baby', 'Changeling' and 'Gran Torino'. However, it is his second film as a director way back in 1973 that remains his masterpiece in my book. 'High Plains Drifter' sees Clint playing a variation on his famous Man With No Name character but a far more brutal version. He finds himself in a small mining town that is so full of depravity and sin that it resembles Hell itself. The film seizes upon this metaphor and spirals into a surreal nightmare as Eastwood sets about literally turning the town into its Afterlife counterpart. This hugely ambitious, one-of-a-kind film is one of the great movies of the 70s and bears comparison with the works of Luis Bunuel in its unsettling, surreal approach.
34 7 7.637. The Four Feathers (1939)
'The Four Feathers' is a very special film to me because it will always be linked with my Dad in my mind and heart. This was my Dad's favourite film as a child and remains so to this day. He showed it to me when I was quite young and, while it was not the sort of film I would generally have watched back then, I immediately loved it. Viewings of 'The Four Feathers' with my Dad have become a regular event and we both now know the film so well that we join in with the dialogue and make all the same jokes at all the same moments. Aside from this emotional attachment, however, 'The Four Feathers' is a great film in its own right. Lavishly filmed in Technicolor on location in the Sudan, the film asks questions about the true nature of bravery as former soldier Harry Faversham follows his old regiment to Egypt to make them take back the white feathers of cowardice they have sent him. The main attraction is the cracking story and gorgeous Technicolor locations but the film is also helped by some very good performances by John Clements, Ralph Richardson and C. Aubrey Smith.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Ralph Richardson as Captain John Durrance
2286 7.5 7.938. Hot Fuzz (2007)
Edgar Wright's 'Hot Fuzz' is the second of his collaborations with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. The first, the superbly clever and hilarious horror pastiche 'Shaun of the Dead', quickly became a cult classic but it was utterly surpassed by its follow-up, 'Hot Fuzz'. A brilliant take on action movies, 'Hot Fuzz' follows the story of Nicholas Angel, a London police officer who finds himself promoted to a position in the seemingly dull village of Sandford. However, a series of murders, which everyone else seems contented to write off as freak accidents, sets Angel and his new partner Danny Butterman on the trail of a mysterious hooded figure. Filled with tons of film references and plenty of self-referential touches ('Shaun of the Dead' is referenced and parodied several times), 'Hot Fuzz' rises above run-of-the-mill spoofs by also including a great plot and plenty of emotional involvement. Pegg and Frost are both great in the lead roles but the supporting cast are even better. A virtual who's-who of British comedy, its great fun spotting the familiar faces but every one of them gives a great turn no matter how small their cameos. Best performances come from Timothy Dalton, who relishes the opportunity to ham it up as the suspicious supermarket owner Simon Skinner, and the always brilliant Jim Broadbent as the jolly Inspector Frank Butterman.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Jim Broadbent as Inspector Frank Butterman
1630 8.6 8.939. 12 Angry Men (1957)
Sidney Lumet began his cinematic directional career with this indelible classic. Following the tense deliberations of a jury as they examine the details of a seemingly open-and-shut case on the hottest day of the year, '12 Angry Men' owes most of its brilliance to Reginald Rose's exquisite screenplay which breaks down the crime slowly while simultaneously exploring the characters of all twelve members of the jury. These 12 men include such famous faces as Martin Balsam, Jack Warden, Jack Klugman, Lee J. Cobb and Ed Begley. In the key role of the man who refuses to find the defendant guilty without some discussion, Henry Fonda is firm and dignified. Lumet manages to direct a script that takes place almost entirely in one room and make every moment captivating and some positively electric.
BEST PERFORMANCE: One of the few cases where it's impossible to choose. So reliant on its strong ensemble is '12 Angry Men' that to pick one standout would miss the point. The characters and performances all play off each other and would be reduced in power without the support of the others.
1628 8.1 8.440. Chinatown (1974)
Roman Polanski's highly complex psychological film noir is a remarkably atmospheric piece of film-making. With two brilliant lead performances from the ever-reliable Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, 'Chinatown' has a positively labyrinthine screenplay by Robert Towne. You must have your wits about you to follow it but, even if you lose the thread (and most do. 'Chinatown' is best appreciated on the third or fourth viewing), there's plenty of great dialogue and character-based humour to enjoy anyway. In a decade in which he gave some of the best performances of his career (and thus, some of the best of all time), Jack Nicholson excels himself as morally ambiguous private investigator JJ Gittes who ultimately finds events getting out of his control, culminating in one of the darkest and most famous endings in film history. "Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown".
BEST PERFORMANCE: Jack Nicholson as JJ Gittes
258 7.3 7.641. Play It Again, Sam (1972)
Among the early, pre-'Annie Hall' films of Woody Allen, the very best of the bunch was actually directed not by Allen himself but by Herbert Ross. It is clearly an Allen film in every other aspect though, from his neurotic central turn to his hilarious script (based on his own play). Woody plays Allan Felix, a jilted husband who hero-worships Humphrey Bogart. When he falls in love with his best friend's wife (Diane Keaton, as her most gorgeous), things become complicated. Can Allan rely on the advice of a ghostly Bogart apparition or should he just follow his own instincts? Unlike the gag-based films Allen was directing at the time, 'Play It Again, Sam' is grounded in reality and its focus on romantic complications points the way towards Allen's more emotionally mature films of the late 70s onwards. In terms of performance, Allen was at his peak and his turn as Allan Felix is amongst his finest. The scene in which he entertains his date by trying to put on a record is a justly famous piece of slapstick perfection.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Woody Allen as Allan Felix
775 8.1 842. Harold and Maude (1971)
Hal Ashby's 'Harold and Maude' was a complete commercial flop on its initial release and critics were unsure what to make of it. However, it has since gone on to be regarded as one of the best films of the 70s, a hilarious and touching black comedy that was somewhat ahead of its time. 'Harold and Maude' is still a hard sell when you tell people it is about an unconventional love affair between a young man in his early 20s and a 79 year old woman but there is so much more to this perfect little film than that. Part black comedy, part existentialist drama, 'Harold and Maude' absolutely floored me first time round and I adore it more and more each time. It is both shockingly dark and disarmingly gentle and boasts a great soundtrack by Cat Stevens. A clear influence on the style characteristic of many future independent American films, 'Harold and Maude' continues to charm those viewers curious enough to seek it out. The epitome of a genuine cult classic.
BEST PERFORMANCES (too close to call): Bud Cort as Harold Chasen and Ruth Gordon as Dame Marjorie “Maude” Chardin
1097 8.3 8.543. The Great Dictator (1940)
Chaplin's first talkie was a truly bold piece of film-making. Few, if any, films at the time were attacking Hitler and Nazism. The United States was still formally at peace with Germany and, while the film was still in production, the British government announced that it would ban the film in keeping with its appeasement policy concerning Nazi Germany. In the face of all this potential opposition and lack of commercial potential, Chaplin pushed forward with his brave film which would ultimately go on to become the most commercially successful of his career. All this would be amazing even if the film had not been a masterpiece but 'The Great Dictator' is an utterly wonderful film. Chaplin plays two roles, that of a Jewish barber and the dictator and Hitler figure Adenoid Hynkel. In the latter role, Chaplin is as brilliant as he ever was, particularly in an opening cod-German speech. There are plenty more amazing scenes to relish: the famous dance with the globe , the flight in an upside-down plane, the barber-chair-jacking-up duel and the final, stirring speech in which Chaplin steps out of character to condemn Nazism in the strongest terms, never cheapening his heartfelt words by undercutting it in any way. A fantastic film experience unlike any other.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Charles Chaplin as Adenoid Hynkel
5055 8.2 8.544. The Shining (1980)
Stanley Kubrick's take on the horror film has become one of the genre's best loved films. Amazingly atmospheric, spooky but with a delicious vein of dry black comedy running through it, 'The Shining' is a mesmerizing film. Jack Nicholson drops all subtleties in his fantastically wild portrayal of the increasingly insane Jack Torrance, the new Winter caretaker of the deserted Overlook Hotel. His descent into madness is a thrilling and often hilarious thing to behold as he lurches around furiously, wielding his axe and howling. Memorable images abound: the blood-filled elevator; the ghostly twin girls; the lipstick scrawl of REDRUM; Jack's manic face at the broken door. My favourite scenes, however, are the lesser-celebrated moments in which Jack converses with the ghosts of the hotel's past. His conversation with Lloyd the bartender and especially his encounter with former caretaker Delbert Grady just drip with bleak wit. Yet another masterpiece from the director who couldn't do wrong for 3 decades.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance
2096 8.3 8.545. Vertigo (1958)
Alfred Hitchcock's 'Vertigo' is one of the directors best loved films for good reason. As well as an ingenious plot, 'Vertigo' also features one of James Stewart's best and most unusual performances as Scottie Ferguson. To say too much would be to spoil the plot for first time viewers but this is certainly not the folksy Stewart viewers of 'It's a Wonderful Life' or 'Harvey' are used to. It's clear from the outset that Scottie is a deeply troubled man and across the course of the film he gives way to an emotionally brutal obsession, making for some uncomfortable but captivating viewing. The film ends with one of the Master's most unforgettable moments and 'Vertigo' stays in the mind long after the credits have rolled.
BEST PERFORMANCE: James Stewart as John 'Scottie' Ferguson
348 7.8 8.146. Brief Encounter (1945)
David Lean made many great films during his early British period but 'Brief Encounter' remains the best. The fourth of four great Noel Coward adaptations by Lean, 'Brief Encounter' tells the simple but immensely moving story of two married people who fall in love with each other at a railway station. The film follows their subsequent, largely chaste affair as they long for each other but are also consumed by guilt and fear of discovery. It's all very British (sometimes hilariously so) but its all part of the charm and the emotional impact is phenomenal. The lovers' final goodbye is one of cinema's most heartbreaking moments. 'Brief Encounter' is a gorgeous film to lose yourself in on a wet afternoon. It also features one of my favourite screen performances of all time, by the wonderful Celia Johnson. Her haunted, sorrowful eyes never fail to hypnotise me as she utterly convinces us that she is desperately, helplessly in love with a man she can't have and effortlessly portrays all the desolate feelings that we all know accompany such devastating circumstances.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Celia Johnson as Laura Jesson
313 7.5 7.847. The Ladykillers (1955)
Alexander Mackendrick's 'The Ladykillers' is one of the finest black comedies of all time. The story of a gang of crooks who attempt to manipulate an old lady into unwittingly help them with a robbery, the film features a wonderful cast including Herbert Lom, Peter Sellers and the wonderful Katie Johnson as the formidable Mrs. Wilberforce. Best of all, though, is the incredible Alec Guinness as the ringleader. From the unforgettable moment that he leers his greeting, Guinness is completely brilliant. Fast moving and farcically hilarious, 'The Ladykillers' descends into surprisingly dark material in its second half as the crooks plan to murder the sweet old lady (hence the title). A much treasured Ealing comedy classic, 'The Ladykillers' was the subject of an unsuccessful, pointless modern remake by the usually exceptional Coen Brothers. All this did was prove that the original was an inimitable classic that can and will never be repeated.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Alec Guinness as Professor Marcus
2627 7.8 8.248. Fargo (1996)
The Coen Brothers are two of the finest talents working in film today. Their unique directorial style and hilarious scripts make their work instantly recognisable. Their films have played such a huge part in helping develop my love of cinema that it's difficult to pick a favourite but, if pressed, it would have to be 'Fargo'. A brilliantly bleak comic crime caper, 'Fargo' hinges on three equally superb lead performances by William H. Macy, Frances McDormand and Steve Buscemi. Macy just about edges the acting honours with his jittery, pathetic performance as Jerry Lundegaard, a car salesman whose financial difficulties lead him to hire two crooks to kidnap his own wife. The plan is that Jerry's rich, bullying father-in-law will pay the ransom which Jerry will then split with the crooks. All does not go quite according to plan, however, and soon the bodies start piling up and Jerry finds himself more and more out of his depth. Buscemi is totally brilliant as one of the inept crooks and McDormand, as the heavily pregnant, relentlessly upbeat cop Marge Gunderson, brings warmth to this otherwise horrific world. The Coen's own brand of character comedy makes 'Fargo' constantly hilarious. Their penchant for leftfield non-sequiturs leads to one of my favourite scenes in their entire canon; Marge's deeply uncomfortable dinner with old school friend Mike Yanagita, a scene which manages to be hysterically funny and extremely sad all at once. For a long time I called 'Fargo' my favourite film of all time and, though nowadays I'd be reluctant to assign that title to any one movie, 'Fargo' remains high in my list of most treasured cinematic experiences.
BEST PERFORMANCE: William H. Macy as Jerry Lundergaard
315 7.8 8.149. Sleuth (1972)
With a brilliant script by Anthony Shaffer, Joseph L. Mankiewicz's 'Sleuth' is essentially a filmed play but, with its intricate fun-house style set, it looks great. The story focuses on games and game-playing and the film itself is one big game with the audience, heaping twist upon twist as Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine attempt to one-up each other in a battle for "ownership" of Olivier's estranged wife. Olivier and Caine match each other pound for pound in the acting stakes. That wonderful script, which follows witty line with witty line, and those knockout performances make 'Sleuth' infinitely rewatchable even when you know ever plot twist inside out.
BEST PERFORMANCES (too close to call): Laurence Olivier as Andrew Wyke and Michael Caine as Milo Tindle
775 8.2 8.450. All About Eve (1950)
Directed and scripted by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 'All About Eve' is a fantastic comedy-drama about fame and manipulation. Under ordinary circumstances I would say that the script (one of the greatest screenplays ever filmed) was the clear star but, with Bette Davis involved, these are far from normal circumstances. Always great, Davis excels herself in this gift of a role as Margo Channing, an aging Broadway star whose life is turned upside down when she lets Eve, a woman who worships her, get a little too closely involved in her life. Davis is phenomenal and she has great support from Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm and the always underrated Thelma Ritter. The darling of its particular Oscar year, 'All About Eve' was nominated for a total of 14 Academy Awards, a feat not equaled until the rubbish 'Titanic'.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Bette Davis as Margo Channing
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