The idea of a horror movie, wrecking your nerve as much by what is unseen as what is, is an idea so poorly delivered upon so often. The less said about the recent spate of horror porn the better, the less said about the lazy teen lead stab-a-thon that began after Scream revitalised horror in the 90s, again, the better. The opening sequence to Scream with Drew Barrymore, is brilliantly executed and does deserve mention for its influence on film making in the last 10 years. So too the daddy of them all ‘Halloween’ is a master class in creating fear and genuine tension. My choice though when I want to flinch and quake at every movement of a shadow, is a Danish film ‘Nattevagten’ which follows the mantra set out by ’Halloween’ of creating untold fear in simple surrounds. Following a law student working by night in a city morgue, the victims of a serial killer under his watch, it consistently unnerves me no matter how many times I go back to it. Walking down a hallway and turning on a light switch become the true test of a mans valour. A discovery late one Saturday night this is my choice for encompassing all that can be achieved in this genre. I obviously recommend it, unfortunately the lesser Ewan McGregor remake may be more easily accessible. When it comes to gore, only Peter Jackson’s ’Brain Dead’ will do.
19. ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?’
Invariably at the Oscars each year there are clips strung together of classic movies, full of revered actors playing defining roles which nurtures in me a sense of an old romanticised view of Hollywood that I am sure never existed. ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ is the type of movie which should serve as a definition for the word classic. It epitomises a time when people sought to achieve something through art, with the holy trinity of Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn and Sidney Poitier bringing such mature dignity to their roles. The decency of the characters, playing out their concerns with restraint, highlights how unreasonable prejudices are. I remember reading only 2 years ago how Will Smith commented people had difficulties with his pairing with Eva Mendez in the romantic comedy ‘Hitch’, showing worrying signs of little changing in the 30 years since the story of inter racial marriage in ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?’ One of the great stories of movie making is that Hepburn’s tears were real for Spencer Tracy’s final words in the film, the actor in poor health at the time died 17 days after his final scenes. Enjoy those last lines here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061735/quotes. As for Poitier, he will forever be Virgil Tibbs in ‘In the Heat of the Night’, a must see.
18. ‘Five Easy Pieces’
Don’t get me wrong, this is an outstanding film throughout but the final scene is a stand-out for me, and tapped into some deep seeded urge I often have to drop everything and leave, exactly as Jack Nicholson does here. Not even bothering to take a jacket, wallet or other trace of his life he leaves his girlfriend at a gas station, bumming a ride from a trucker to head into the unknown. Having buried his father, in a detached daze he severs any ties to a life and people he has tolerated out of necessity. Picking a single Jack Nicholson role is a futile endeavour, I will say however his work in ’Five Easy Pieces’ and in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’
Kate Winslet, whatever the quality of the film, delivers without fail. Her role choices are unique, varied and challenging. And yes I even include her role in ‘The Holiday’, her performances are classic examples of a good thing that can come from a poor movie. Endlessly Oscar nominated, she has earned the reverence of established Hollywood but so too portrays herself as being down to earth, with a wry sense of humour and taste, involving herself in films like ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind;, ‘Heavenly Creatures’ and of course her role in ‘Extras’. She exhibits a respect for her trade that places her above the pressures female actors seem subjected to, being judged by her talent. Of course her weight, looks and personal life are scrutinised but not by anyone interesting. She is the actress I feel best encompasses the type of performances and roles I enjoy watching most. I feel here is the place to mention Brenda Blethyn, or more specifically her performance in ‘Secrets and Lies’, my outright choice for one of the great female performances.
16. 'Dirty, Pretty Things'
Dirty, Pretty Things is the most obviously issue driven selection, it is the most harrowing I think too but also one of the most hopeful films I have ever seen. Illegal aliens, struggling to survive in London, having every ounce of their dignity eroded by those out to exploit them. So solid are the performances and so noble the characters that you genuinely feel for them. The final scene at an airport is the most tragically sad farewell I have seen. This is not your standard romantic comedy happy resolution, this is a real world refusal to happily end the story, choices and great ideas like destiny never getting a look in. Bleak but a film that gets into your pores.