For as long as I can remember, I wanted my life to be focused on the movies. Originally I wanted to make them, but that fell through. So instead I decided to channel my love, passion and unapologetic nerdiness into writing about films.
Being an editor you probably expect my choices of films to be particularly profound, niche, or historically significant. In all honesty, and with perhaps one or two exceptions, they really aren’t. Michael Shannon throws dog crap at a rehearsing band in one of the films on my list. In another, a robot gets lippy with Diego Luna. But if by some chance you are interested in old and bleeding men, perverse Japanese teenagers, and angsty but pioneering female rock bands, then read on. Afterwards, perhaps you will understand how I turned out the way I did…
No Country For Old Men (2007) dir. Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
This Oscar-winning, desolate neo-Western from the Coen Brothers is one of my earliest, fondest movie memories. I borrowed the DVD from my granny, who I think had watched it once before deciding it wasn’t really for her. At this point, my attention span was still pretty pathetic. I needed dominating music, striking visual effects, and an action-packed story to keep me invested. Or so I thought. Then I watched No Country For Old Men.
Watching the film for the first time, I had no doubt in my mind that it was fantastic—for reasons that completely escaped me. I could pick out some reasons why (not least Javier Bardem’s terrifying turn as Anton Chigurh), but I was still too dumb to piece it all together yet. Now that I actually can pick a film apart analytically, it is one I love to revisit. It isn’t even my favourite Coens film anymore—that would have to be The Big Lebowski—but No Country remains a standard by which I hold almost every other film against.
Love Exposure (2008) dir. Sion Sono
It began with a scintillating trailer pieced together by Film4, a trailer that fixated me like nothing else ever had. I had to watch it, even if it meant staying up until almost four o’clock in the morning on a school night (I know, how rebellious). Love Exposure is twisted, blissfully blasphemic, and four hours long. I did not regret a single second. From start to finish, it is transfixing.
I sat up in my bed utterly hypnotised. Shocking, appalling, and yet thoroughly entertaining, it remains the most provocative film I have ever watched. Sion Sono’s sensational odyssey dives uncomfortably deep into questions of living, desire, and faith. I remember thinking that this is how people must have felt seeing Alfred Hitchcock or Quentin Tarantino films for the first time. The first time seeing films that completely upend the acceptable limits of onscreen violence, profanity, and lewdness in the name of meaningful entertainment. There are barely any films I would label as ‘essential viewing,’ but this is undoubtedly one of them.
The Runaways (2010) dir. Floria Sigismondi
No other film has had a more aesthetic influence on me than The Runaways, a biopic of the band of the same name. Floria Sigismondi’s film is noteworthy for the way it places female musical and gender identity at the forefront of its story. Furthermore, released years before her acclaimed turn in Spencer, The Runaways proves that there has always been more to Kristen Stewart than the Twilight Saga.
The main reason that The Runaways makes my list however is because it introduced me to rock. After watching Sigismondi’s film, I began listening to The Runaways, Suzi Quatro and Joan Jett (who was one of The Runaways’ original members before having her own band). From there, I discovered everything else that rock had to offer, from the glam spectacle of Kiss to the heavy orchestral melody of Nine Inch Nails. It influenced the way I dressed and the way I behaved, encouraging me to discover a newfound sense of self. I owe a lot to The Runaways for the confidence I have as an adult.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) dir. George Miller
George Miller’s return to the post-apocalyptic hellhole completely redefined what I thought was possible on a cinema screen. I hadn’t seen any of the Mad Max films beforehand (although needless to say I ate them all up not long after), so I wasn’t sure what to expect from Mad Max: Fury Road. Not long before I had gone to see Furious 7 and had figured that to be the peak of petrolhead mayhem. Fury Road makes Furious 7 look like a tame Sunday drive.
I remember sitting in the cinema with my jaw hanging open. By the time I collected myself after the fire tornado sandstorm (sold yet?), I realised that I was barely a quarter of the way through. I’ve thrown myself back into the fire many times since then, including another cinema outing to see the Black & Chrome Edition. But nothing will beat the sheer exhilaration of that first ride. I felt like I went to hell and back, and had a better experience at the movies than I have had before or since.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) dir. Gareth Edwards
I’ve always loved Star Wars with a passion, but Rogue One is the only film of the series I have gone to see more than twice. It is also the only one that has reduced me to tears. Something about fighting oppression at all odds, and the way it layers the supposed ‘good guys’ with a complexity not seen in Star Wars before, all spoke to me in ways I couldn’t express at the time. Star Wars has never had a finer moment this century.
The film is an underdog story unlike anything else, handled capably and with confidence by Gareth Edwards (whose Godzilla film I will defend to the death). Jyn Erso is one of my favourite characters from any Star Wars film, and yet poetically a character never destined to be talked about in the same vein as Princess Leia or Luke Skywalker. Her fate, and the way the whole film orchestrates itself around apparent hopelessness and chance, makes for the most affecting blockbuster experience I have ever had.
Honorable Mentions: War Of The Worlds (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), Birdman (2015), Moonlight (2016), Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Words by James Hanton
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