I’ve never seen any of the big film franchises—no Harry Potter, no Star Wars, no Marvel—and the reason for that is the same reason I’ve never enjoyed reading. I think I’ve got an all-or-nothing mindset that’s always made reading, and starting film series stressful: books and films are something I have to “complete”, and starting feels like a monumental task. Despite not considering myself very well-cultured in film, these five movies have seen me through a lot, and if they were the only films I had on a desert island (with a solar-powered DVD player) I’d be just fine. It was only once I made my selection that I realised how many pivotal moments in my life I had subconsciously associated with these movies: it’s much deeper than I had thought.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)
Dir: Stanley Donen
The plot of Seven Brides (itself based on the Roman myth, The Abduction of the Sabine Women) doesn’t sound ideal for a musical; A farmer in the hills of Oregon, 1850, marries a woman from the town, withholding the information that he’s got six brothers back on the farm that she’ll also need to cook and clean for. Later on all seven brothers journey into town, kidnapping wives for each of them, and causing an avalanche on their ride back home so the townsmen can’t retrieve the girls. It’s fucked up left, right, and centre but bear with me. You can’t help but love the characters. The songs are joyous and the dance numbers are incredible—there’s an elaborate fight-scene while a barn is being raised, and a lot of tricks done on top of logs. I’ve been watching this film since I was 5 or so (which might be why I wasn’t immediately outraged by its deep misogynistic themes) and it’s truly my most treasured film.
Legally Blonde (2001)
Dir: Robert Luketic
Legally Blonde is my go-to film when I’m demotivated, depressed, or heart-broken. When my boyfriend left me in university I was distraught; I didn’t know what to do with myself other than to put on Legally Blonde and eat a packet of Oreos. It’s the ultimate ‘Girl Boss’ film, and it’s preppy and perky in a very American way that could easily give you a headache. But whenever I’ve needed guidance in how to love myself or stay tenacious, Elle Woods (Reece Witherspoon) has been there to show me how. I first saw this as a teenager and despite the integral message in Legally Blonde being about not needing male confirmation, it would take many more years before I learned that lesson.
Goodbye Lenin! (2003)
Dir: Wolfgang Becker
We had to study Goodbye Lenin for German A Level, which taught me some key Socialist vocabulary as well as lessons on protecting the ones you love no matter how devastating the consequences. Alex Kerner’s (Daniel Brühl) mother Christiane (Katrin Sass) is a dedicated member of the SUP in East Germany, turning to the cause after her husband fled across the border, abandoning her and her two children in the process. However, when Christiane falls into a coma in 1989, the world around her changes forever with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Knowing that his mother wouldn’t survive the shock of hearing about German re-unification once she has awoken from her coma, Alex goes to extreme lengths to hide the truth from her and recreate East Berlin inside her bedroom. The film has a beautiful soundtrack from Yann Tiersen, which lends real poignancy to the struggle of a man, city, and country to keep up with turbulent change. This film captures a time in my life where anything seemed possible, but simultaneously distant. Change was frightening.
Dir: Sophie Hyde
Animals is the only film that has ever given me anything close to an existential crisis. I watched this with a housemate during lockdown, both of us in our early 20s. The film follows two friends as they approach 30, make life decisions, and those decisions ultimately fall apart. The emotions and relationships are harsh and very real: much-desired perfection and contentment ever-evading the characters. We sat there once the film was over in silence, suspended in that feeling you get when you go to sit down and your chair isn’t there, or when you miss a step on the stairs. Nothing’s ever made me feel the way this film did. I was 23 and suddenly the reality of ageing hit me. It was as though I has somehow never realised I would one day cease to be 23.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Dir: Brian Henson
I’m happy to go on record saying that this is the best film in the world. If we received alien contact, asking for one example of human artistic achievement which tells us about our attitudes and beliefs, The Muppet Christmas Carol should make the shortlist. More than just a story about Christmas, this film (and obviously Dickens’s book) celebrates humanity’s ability to truly reform, and the joy that can be found everywhere if we look for it. Times are tough, and it’s easier (perhaps now more than ever) to believe that humankind is inherently malicious, selfish, and doomed. But it’s hard to remember irreversible climate damage when Gonzo is guiding you through Muppet Victorian Britain. The songs have been in my life for as long as I can remember, and they bring the same tear-to-your-eye happiness as they did each time we watched my grandparents’ worn out VCR tape as children.
Words by Verity Babbs
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