10 of my absolutely favourite films – from the sublime to the ridiculous

1.Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – John Hughes

You can keep your Citizen Kane and your Godfather; part of me reckons that Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is the greatest  film of all time. Some of that is attributable to growing up in an era when John Hughes released one great movie after another, each one as entertaining as the last. Part of it is down to the fact that Ferris Bueller is the cool rebel I always wanted to be. And much of it is down to the fact that it was a film both my father and I shared a love for in equal measure, often swapping lines with glee and, after a long search through the channels, deciding to stick the well-worn Ferris Bueller video on. Most of all, it is a film that is genuinely funny with real emotional depth and holds up just as well in today’s light. It has it’s fair share of wildly enthusiastic fans (one fan recut the film as an indie coming-of-age film) and, without fail,  it always gets the single biggest roar and response in my “Things That Are Cool” poem. It is a film that that celebrates living in the moment. How could you not like a film like that?

 “Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it”

2. Fitzcarraldo – Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog is a genius. Lets get that out of the way immediately. His cinematic output would put most filmmakers to shame with a range of remarkable dramatic pieces (Aguirre, the Wrath of God; The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser) alongside spectacular documentaries (Grizzly Man; Lessons of Darkness). But perhaps his most famous film is Fitzcarraldo, fabled as much for its difficult production as for the remarkable end result. The making of the film is brilliantly chronicled in “Burden of Dreams” by Les Blank which serves as a terrific companion piece to Fitzcarraldo. The central role of the Irishman Fitzgerald, known as Fitzcarraldo in Peru, is played by longtime Herzog collaborator Klaus Kinski (originally played by Jason Robards, with Mick Jagger as his sidekick), who has to pull a steamship over a steep hill in order to access a rich rubber territory and fulfill his dream of staging an opera on the other side. Herzog chose to actually pull a boat over a mountain and so the stuff of metaphors is born. Despite the troubled production, what remains is a stunning film that has yielded millions of fans around the world (including the brilliant Irish band The Frames, who named an album and song after the film). If you see only one Herzog film, then see this one, but you really should see them all. 

“I want to build an opera!”

3. Withnail & I – Bruce Robinson

“Withnail & I” is a longheld cult favourite amongst students in Ireland and England, but is a somewhat unknown entity further afield. This is a great shame, as Withnail & I is one of the most hilarious films you’re ever likely to see. On the surface it is a story about two out-of-work actors at the tail end of the 60s, but beyond that it is a much richer story of broken dreams, friendship, lots of drinking, delusion, poverty and how one may never play ‘the Dane’. With an incredible soundtrack, brilliant comic dialogue, a meandering oddball story and Richard E. Grant’s superb central performance as Withnail, you will be hard pushed to find a film more bumper packed with memorable scenes and quotable lines. 

“We’ve gone on holiday by mistake!”

4. The Big Lebowski – Joel & Ethan Coen

The Coen brothers have made many, many masterpieces ( Fargo, Oh Brother Where Art Thou?, Raising Arizona, No Country For Old Men) but The Big Lebowski seems to have a particular, beloved cult status for anyone who has seen it. Myself included. But, in some ways, it is actually quite hard to place what is so wonderful about the film. Maybe it’s the central characters of The Dude and Walter  (portrayed in career best performances by Jeff Bridges and John Goodman) or perhaps the gang of brilliantly loopy supporting characters (esp. John Turturro as  Jesus Quintana),  or maybe it is the brilliantly chosen music that complements each scene or perhaps it is the wonderful, quirky dialogue which repeats and twists its way back around to different characters throughout the film. Or maybe its just because every time you watch it “new shit comes to light, man!”  Whatever the reason, it is a film that never fails to put a smile on your face. 

“The Dude abides.”

5. I Am Trying To Break Your Heart – Sam Jones

Music documentaries are usually reserved for fans of the band in question, but this gorgeous black & white documentary about the difficult genesis of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco is a fascinating film for anyone interested in that age old battle between commerce and art. It helps that the album in question is one of the great records of the modern era and the band, Wilco, are one of the very best around (best kept secret and all that). Like all great documentaries it happened to be there at a critical time to capture a defining moment in the life of the subject and their environment. In retrospect it seems like a perfect snapshot of the beginning of the end of traditional record labels. The happy ending for the story is that Yankee Hotel Foxtrot has gone on to be Wilco’s most successful record ever. If you haven’t listened to it, you’re as foolish as the record execs who ignored it.

You were right about the stars, each one is a setting sun”

6. Wings of Desire – Wim Wenders

A film co-written by Austrian novelist Peter Handke and German filmmaker Wim Wenders about an angel in Berlin who longs to be mortal might sound like difficult, pretentious viewing. And for some, it might well be, but to me it is the most lyrical, beautiful film of them all. What if I told you Peter Falk and Nick Cave star as themselves and the cinematography is among the finest you will see? Still not convinced? Well, all I can say is that this is a film that resonates and reverberates inside long after you have seen it. It is in essence a layered, nuanced poem set to film (based loosely in part on Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies) and manages to tackle profound truths about love, humanity, history, mortality and sense of place. The central poem by Handke, Das Lied vom Kindsein, is a masterpiece of writing in its own right and truly sings in harmony with the film overall and asks us to see the beauty of the world through pure innocent eyes. How we see, after all, is how we live.

“When the child was a child, it didn’t know that it was a child, everything was soulful, and all souls were one”

7.  Baraka – Ron Fricke

Baraka is an absolutely mesmerising film but extremely hard to classify. In essence it is a series of images from over 24 countries on 6 continents set to music (or using source music and audio) that paints an astonishing portrait of the planet we live on. Falling somewhere between a Planet Earth documentary and a National Geographic photo essay, it is a spellbinding and captivating look at the people and creatures we share this world with. Filmed in gorgeous 70m, long before handy digital cameras were the norm, it is a truly beautiful film that is as rewarding as it is thought provoking.

8. Fight Club – David Fincher

Fight Club is a film that divides opinion somewhat and generally appeals more to men than women, but it really is worth a look. It’s a modern classic. Visually stunning, well-written, expertly directed, well acted and a pitch-perfect soundtrack (music nerds will be interested to know that Radiohead were one of the original choices for composing the soundtrack). The film even manages to improve upon the source material (a novel by Chuck Palahniuk) with inventive visual flourishes and dark, subtle humour. Once again, this is a film that rewards you upon repeated viewings as its many layers reveal themselves in different ways, even after finding out the game changing plot twist. I am Jack’s recommendation. I am Jack’s complete admiration for this film.

“The first rule of fight club is, you do not talk about fight club”

9. Waiting for Guffman – Christopher Guest

Christopher Guest has the honour of pretty much creating the genre of mockumentary with his collaborators on Spinal Tap. Since going up to 11 on that work of genius he has continued to create several slices of mockumentary brilliance of his own making. While “Best in Show” is probably more well known and absolutely hilarious, it is his precursor to that film, Waiting for Guffman, which I think is his true masterpiece: A film about a theatre director, Corky St. Clair, who wishes to stage a musical about the history of small town Blaine, Missouri. For anyone who has even had a cursory encounter with amateur drama it rings painfully true and features some absolutely inspired, deliberately painful musical sequences. It also features some truly hysterical, inane dialogue and the brilliant cast of improvisational actors are uniformly brilliant, with special praise reserved for Parker Posey who manages to bring incredible tenderness and unbelievable stupidity to her character. An underrated comedy classic that you have to see. 

“I just hate you and I hate your ass face”

10. Point Break – Kathryn Bigelow

Point Break? Yeah, Point Break! As pure, dumb action movies ago, you’d be hard pushed to find many better ones. Keanu Reeves goes undercover to infiltrate a bunch of surfing, skydiving bank robbers you say? I’m already in and I am munching popcorn. Great cinematography, preposterous names like Bodhi and Johnny Utah, along with a collection of great character actors like Busey and Swayze makes for good old fashioned fun. Plus I am reliably informed by an NYU film school graduate, that the car and foot chase sequence (see above) is still taught as a masterclass in editing. And the director Kathryn Bigelow went on to win an Oscar for The Hurt Locker, if that stuff matters to you. Anyway, this film will make you want join the FBI, start surfing or make action movies. Or all three. Not many films can boast that. 

“I caught my first tube today, SIR!”

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