In the spirit of my previous article, 5 Books that Everyone Should Read, I present a list of movies, oft not found on the Best of All Time lists, that everyone should check out. Pull out your sleeping bag and crack open a packet of Jaffas in preparation for this movie marathon.
The Classic: Annie Hall
This is what romantic comedies looked like before Reece Witherspoon came along. Director Woody Allen also plays the male lead, Alvy Singer, while Diane Keaton plays his leading lady, the titular Annie Hall. The film documents the highs and low of their relationship, while also examining larger concepts such as religion, class, and the constant search for meaning (in art, relationships, or life). Many elements that became Woody Allen trademarks, such as breaking the fourth wall, long takes, and the neurotic lead character, were used here for the first time.
Annie Hall is an innovative and influential piece of cinema. Diane Keaton's tomboyish wardrobe of blazers, ties, boots and trousers, became an instant trend throughout the late seventies, and the films influence can be seen in modern day movies like 500 Days of Summer.
The Anti-Classic (aka So Bad it's Good): Showgirls
Sometimes when an actress finds herself typecast as the 'good girl', she feels the need to do something totally outrageous to distance herself from previous roles. Case study: Elizabeth Berkley became a household name playing feminist geek Jesse in Saved By The Bell, but her first role after leaving the show was as an exotic dancer in the R rated Showgirls.
Showgirls has few redeeming qualities – it's two hours of soft core pornography with one hell of a disturbing coda – and is not for the faint hearted. But the bad acting, strange plot points, and constant 'what the hell?' moments make it pretty entertaining.
The Movie is Better than the Book: The Shawshank Redemption
It doesn't happen often, but any movie starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman stands a pretty good chance of outshining the book.
Robbins plays Andy Dufresne, an innocent man sentenced to life in Shawshank Prison. There, he meets Red (Freeman), the man who can 'get things'. The Shawshank Redemption chronicles their friendship and Dufresne's activities over the next decade or so. Based on a novella by Stephen King, both are thoughtfully executed works that explore the concept of freedom, but the movie devotes more time to character development, and slight changes serve to make the experience more horrific on screen.
The Politically Incorrect Olden Day Talky: Freaks
Freaks is the tale of a cruel and beautiful trapeze artist who seduces a sideshow dwarf upon learning of his vast inheritance. The film is set within a travelling circus and vignettes throughout the movie show the everyday lives of the other sideshow performers. The films climax is one of the most disturbing and memorable movie scenes I have ever seen.
Modern day audiences might find this uncomfortable viewing, but it's worth noting that director Tod Browning belonged to a travelling circus before becoming a filmmaker. Freaks compares the deformed but kindly characters with the beautiful but morally bankrupt stars, with the former getting their revenge in the end. You can watch it online here.
The Actually Scary Horror Movie: The Haunting (1963 version)
Psychological horror beats gore every time, and psychological horror that uses pacing and suspense instead of music and loud, sudden noise is even better. The Haunting is adapted from the Shirley Jackson novel Haunting of Hill House, which is equally terrifying.
Four people involved in paranormal activity descend upon Hill House in an attempt to provide proof of the supernatural. One guest, Nell, seems to be the centre of the houses malevolent attention, and her experiences are terror at its spine tingling best. Like all good thrillers, The Haunting is restrained in the things it shows and the questions it answers.
Make sure you get the 1963 version by Robert Wise and not the awful 1999 remake.
I add another 11 must see movies to the above list!
1/ Cabaret: Michael York/Liza Minnelli
2/Leon The Professional: Luc Besson/Jean Reno/Natalie Portman's first film
3/Long Kiss Goodnight: Geena Davies
4/Waitress: Nathan Fillion (Castle)
5/Benny & Joon: Johnny Depp
6/Man on Fire: Denzel Washington
7/Franco Zeffirelli's: Romeo & Juliet
8/John Cassavetes: The Tempest
9/How to win a million: Audrey Hepburn
10/Breakfast at Tiffany's: Audrey Hepburn
11/Enemy of the State:Gene Hackman/Will Smith
These have no common thread; some are action; some are political thrillers; some are tearjerkers or chick flicks (but not overly) and some are just damn good films. Leon or Leon the Professional, as it has been re-released as, was Natalie Portman's first film at circa age 12. Benny and Joon is a little known Johnny Depp/Mary Louise Masterson (whatever happened to the goodies?) gem of the Buster Keaton mode. Enjoy!