For far too long, my interest in movies was sporadic and indifferent. I had always been engulfed by books, but yet lacked the attention span for fully-fledged films. Up until around 2011, my favourite flicks were Police Academy II, and that movie with Lindsay Lohan and McFly (Just My Luck incase you didn’t know). Something had to change.
Embarking on an A Level in Film Studies awakened me to the power of film. The way a narrative can wrap threads of intrigue and mystery around the viewer, the way a comedy can have unparalleled amounts of poignancy and the way every emotion can be catered for. Since then, it’s fair to say my film taste has gone from ‘indifferent’ to ‘insufferably indie’, but there have been so many celluloid classics that have left an indelible imprint.
Mrs Doubtfire (1993)
Dir: Chris Columbus
Let’s get the classic out of the way first. This movie wouldn’t make it into my top 10, nor even my top 50, but it’s a film that has followed me since childhood. It’s a go-to movie where you want to unwind and relax, a movie perfect for turning off your brain and enjoying comfortable comedy. Robin Williams was a comedic whirlwind, a freak of nature who could ad-lib with whip-crack immediacy, and often co-stars would simply stand in awe while Williams riffed incessantly. He had a great way of combining comedy with bludgeoning pathos, and in my view not many comedians, nor actors, can achieve that. He’s sorely missed.
Dir: Wes Anderson
With my slightly idiosyncratic leanings, discovering Wes Anderson movies was only a matter of time. Rushmore isn’t my favourite, but it’s where it all began. Anderson’s usual cinematic quirks are on full display, but are kept in the familiar compound of romantic pursuit – overachieving student Max (Jason Schwartzman) competes for his teacher’s affection over his surly older friend, the alcoholic businessman Herman (a superbly downtrodden Bill Murray). The soundtrack, rich with Cat Stevens, the Stones and Lennon, gives a sepia-tinged serenity to a brilliant movie.
Garden State (2005)
Dir: Zach Braff
Perhaps soundtracks play an unconsciously pivotal role in my enjoyment of movies, but Garden State is another flick with some great tunes. This was one of my movies I discovered in Film Studies, which helped introduce me to some songs of brittle wistfulness (The Shins, Coldplay, Iron & Wine). Braff’s tale of emotional dislocation has a realistic, and brutal, sense of detachment, even if the romantic angle is a little unnecessary – I love Natalie Portman, but her character is a tad pointless here.
Dir: Cameron Crowe
The Generation X movies often list the likes of Reality Bites as flag-bearers, but Singles is a movie with considerable currency. It influenced the television behemoth Friends and, yet again, boasted a formidable soundtrack from alt rock legend Paul Westerberg. I rewatched this recently to celebrate its 25th anniversary, and while some of its trademarks are incredibly dated (the women, while strong-willed, buckle far too easily under persistent and often indifferent men), it has a certain warmth and reliability.
The Shawshank Redemption (1996)
Dir: Frank Darabont
As soon as I finished watching this, it instantly became my favourite movie. It’s a film full of hope, despair, humour and heart. There are some amazing scenes and some incredible cinematography, from Red’s reluctant blow of the harmonica (signifying he does, even slightly, hold on to hope) to Brooks’ devastating, and fatal, struggle to adapt to the real world. My family used to do ‘Shawshank Fridays’, in which we’d all meet up and watch the movie with lasagne, but obviously things got a tad repetitive.
Slacker; Django Unchained (2012); The Virgin Suicides (1999); Goodfellas (1990); Full Metal Jacket (1987), Repulsion (1965).
Words by Sam Lambeth