Saturday, 16 January 2016

101 (or so) Favourite Films

I've never (perhaps surprisingly!) made a list of my favourite films before, nor thought I'd be able to. Not being a film scholar, I don't necessarily rewatch and rewatch films, and I thought that I wouldn't be able to differentiate sufficiently between all the films I'd seen just once and enjoyed.

First of all, when it comes to films, I'm thankfully not encumbered by any notion of being to look at things objectively, as I have the misfortune to think I can with pop music and sport. 

This list will simply be my favourite films. There are many of what are considered by various sources the greatest films of all time that I haven't seen, and frankly my personal favourites don't usually conform to those high up in high-end film critics' lists anyway.

But, as I said, I still thought it would be impossible to decide on my favourites. I've watched, I think, by most standards, a lot of films - I used to watch a lot on TV (all those bored university evenings ...) and now I think I go to the cinema more than most folk. And I usually enjoy the films I see, probably because I'm, by now, pretty tuned into what I'm going to like at the cinema, and, when at home, I'm too restless and there's too much good sport on TV to leave myself sitting in front of some average film I'm not really enjoying for very long.

So how to decide between so many films I enjoy but often don't revisit?

Still, I thought, this week, with something of an impasse in musical things to write about (which aren't just "what David Bowie album should I listen to now" ... favourite Bowie in film .. Bandslam or Last Temptation of Christ... though i did watch Absolute Beginners before I really knew who he was), I'd give it a go, and it actually came surprisingly easy. As I parsed the various lists of films one might find online to remind myself of everything I'd seen, my agenda was simply whether the title of the film gave me a certain glow or made me remember the thrill of it, or whether I realised I had little personal attachment.

Sometimes, the instinctive responses were surprising. The Apartment, Some Like It Hot, All About Eve, It's a Wonderful Life, The Godfather - highly acclaimed and beloved films which I definitely appreciated and enjoyed, but I just didn't feel a personal attachment too. Also, I was quite sure I was a big Woody Allen fan, but nothing made it in.

It's not even necessarily about films I've seen more often - I've seen the Godfathers a few times each, I think they're great, but, I don't think I've ever, as such, been moved by them.

Being "moved" can mean various things, of course - shocked, horrified, thrilled amongst them. If a film gave me a strong enough response of some sort, made a lasting impression from one or more viewings, it might make the list.

The list, of course, reflects the films I grew up with and corresponding memories. I'm definitely less of an active historian when it comes to film than some other things, but the other side of that is that I simply prefer modern films to older ones quite often. Powell and Pressburger may be Martin Scorsese's favourites, and I bow to him in every way, but, though I watched several of their most acclaimed films, I'd be lying if I said anything but 'A Matter of Life and Death' came near to being a favourite.
I do just prefer the way films have been made over the last 40-50 years, for the most part. I'm never one to believe in a past "golden age" when it comes to anything, be it music, sport, film, society, it's just the human condition to think there was.

I think the fact that I'm a sucker for slightly (but not too) quirky somewhat indieish films with somewhat indieish soundtracks will become fairly obvious. There are even one or two within that subgenre which are a touch drossy, but hey, I've been more honest than I might have been. I didn't have to include 'Definitely Maybe' starring Ryan Reynolds when I have also seen and enjoyed 'Citizen Kane' and 'Vertigo', but it felt like the right thing to do.

Of course, it's perfectly possible, in fact, it's definite, that I've forgotten loads. I haven't been keeping a record of all the films I've ever seen, you'll be shocked to hear (well, I did start doing that a couple of years ago actually) and through I've scanned as many lists of likely suspects as I could in the time allowed, there's no way I won't have forgotten a few films which I loved at the time and would still love now. So be it.

The numbering is arbitrary to an extent - I know 'The Big Lebowski' is my favourite film, beyond that, things are broadly in chunks.

And at the bottom, the natural cut-off was actually about 120 where I stopped thinking "I love that film and it's mine all mine", so it seemed pointless to cut it off too soon.

There's a good chance I'll look at some parts of this list with some bafflement in a few months' time. Still, a list's a list ...

1                             The Big Lebowski
2                             Mean Streets
3                             Die Hard
4                             Short Cuts
5                             Adventureland
6                             Star Wars
7                             Saturday Night Fever
8                             Klute
9                             The Deer Hunter
10                           The Commitments
11                           Don't Look Back (doc)
12                           Mary Poppins
13                           The Maltese Falcon
14                           Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight (I'm taking it as one film if that's ok)
15                           Grosse Point Blank
16                           The Graduate
17                           Local Hero
18                           Jaws
19                           The Wizard of Oz
20                           United 93
21                           Memento
22                           The Usual Suspects
23                           Rear Window
24                           Role Models
25                           Donnie Darko
26                           Sideways
27                           Trading Places
28                           The Outlaw Josey Wales
29                           Bringing Up Baby
30                           Cool Hand Luke
31                           Doctor Zhivago
32                           An Officer and a Gentleman
33                           On the Waterfront
34                           if ...
35                           Taxi Driver
36                           The Grand Budapest Hotel
37                           LA Confidential
38                           Dazed and Confused
39                           Dirty Dancing
40                           Trainspotting
41                           The Fellowship of the Ring
42                           Rust and Bone
43                           The Royal Tenenbaums
44                           The Last Waltz
45                           Kes
46                           Pulp Fiction
47                           The Social Network
48                           Four Weddings and a Funeral
49                           The Jungle Book
50                           The Wicker Man
51                           High Fidelity
52                           Empire of the Sun
53                           Brick
54                           Inside Llewyn Davis
55                           Oliver!
56                           Dead Poet's Society
57                           Chariots of Fire
58                           Gone Baby Gone
59                           The Theory of Everything
60                           The Lavender Hill Mob
61                           Top Secret
62                           Con Air
63                           One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
64                           Shadow of a Doubt
65                           Big
66                           Leaving Las Vegas
67                           Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
68                           Scott Pilgrim vs the World
69                           The White Ribbon
70                           Boyhood
71                           The Sting
72                           Badlands
73                           The Terminator
74                           Back to the Future
75                           The Hustler
76                           Rio Bravo
77                           Pride
78                           Brokeback Mountain
79                           The Secret in their Eyes
80                           Oldboy
81                           Definitely, Maybe
82                           Y Tu Mama Tambien
83                           The Birds
84                           The Railway Children
85                           Gattaca
86                           Cyrano de Bergerac
87                           Cloverfield
88                           Say Anything
89                           Parenthood
90                           I've Loved You So Long
91                           The Truman Show
92                           Burn After Reading
93                           Hidden
94                           Philomena
95                           Two Days and One Night
96                           Midnight Run
97                           Adaptation
98                           Jackie Brown
99                           Pan's Labyrinth
100                         Almost Famous
101                         Me and You and Everyone We Know
102                         School of Rock
103                         Raging Bull
104                         The Remains of the Day
105                         No Way Out
106                         Casablanca
107                         The Verdict
108                         The Squid and the Whale
109                         Unforgiven
110                         The Prophet
111                         Bull Durham
112                         The Boxer
113                         Foxcatcher
114                         Boyz n the Hood
115                         The Ice Storm
116                         High Plains Drifter
117                         The Long Good Friday
118                         The 101 Dalmatians
119                         Singin' in the Rain
120                         Rebecca
121                         Rocky IV
122                         A Life Less Ordinary
123                         Ghostbusters

oh, yes, and I also loved The Force Awakens, it's the most I've enjoyed the cinema for ages, so let's have that too.

Monday, 11 January 2016

The gift of sound and vision

My feelings are, of course, of sadness and awe at this genius to the end, but also of a personal, selfish relief. I feel like an errant relative fully reconciled to a loved one before they passed.

After loving 'Where Are We Now' when it first popped out almost exactly 3 years ago, I wasn't quite so enamoured of the album 'The Next Day', and wasn't sure I liked the sound of 'Blackstar' from initial descriptions. I'm so glad, therefore, that I didn't leave it a few days to give it a spin, but that I was listening to, and loving, the music of David Bowie in the days before he died, just as he planned.

'Blackstar' is a beautiful and dark album - 'Lazarus' and the last two song 'Dollar Days' and 'I Can't Give Everything Away' are powerfully emotive in the way that sometimes people said Bowie couldn't be.

Of course people were wrong about that. He wrote honestly about himself, about his displacement and alienation, it was just filtered through ideas and characters.

Yes, he was a soul singer, amongst the thousand other things he was.

I've listened to other people more than Bowie in the last 10 years or so, but he's always cropped up on my playlists or in my mind, thankfully.

Just a couple of weeks ago, a little drunk on the train home to Kent, I suddenly thought "I haven't listened to Young Americans properly for years". What a song! One of my early favourites, its relentless stream is even more up-my-street now than then.

What's my favourite Bowie? Freaky Bowie? Space Bowie? Electro Bowie? Berlin Bowie? Funky Bowie? No, I must admit, I'm a sucker for ballad Bowie. Absolute Beginners has never been cool but it's always been a beautiful song, like Heroes, Under Pressure and Lady Grinning Soul and Thursday's Child and Strangers When We Meet. And, of course, Life on Mars?

I still hold a certain moment of my life in the highest regard, a moment on a coach aged 17 descending from Delphi in Greece, listening to Life on Mars? on my walkman, a transcendent multimedia flood of beauty I'd never known before. That's what that song means to me.

I used to sing along in my room as a teenager to the Greatest Hits collection, Ziggy Stardust and Drive-in Saturday and Changes (though I avoided the octave leap in Starman). Such great tunes and glorious words.

I read two biographies - mesmerised by his intelligence. I think I've written before that it's him and Dylan who are the great minds - could have been or done anything with those minds, anything.

I'm wondering today if I bet on the wrong horse for posterity. Will Dylan's death mean so much to so many? Will his life cross into so many strata? Were his songs actually better? Bowie was clearly more than I understood him to be, more to more people, to more worlds. So many colours.

He did countless hilarious things - Peter and the Wolf, The Snowman, Little Drummer Boy, Twin Peaks, gave a song to this or that, a word to this or that. He was everywhere.

You know, we laugh sometimes at the cesspit of modern emotional splurge, but I truly believe all the tributes that came his way today, that's the most amazing thing. Madonna, Kanye West, McCartney, even David Cameron, You can't begrudge or disbelieve anyone's right to have been touched by him.

Anyway, one song, one picture at the bottom. Tricky choices ...

And, I think ...

Five Years

Saturday, 2 January 2016

The Name Game

For at least four decades, human beings have been giving themselves names. It's been incredible.

In some cultures, males and females have had different names.

But which are better? Let's find out.


Alexander - Charlotte Hatherley
Ben - Michael Jackson
Carey - Joni Mitchell
Daniel - Elton John
Ebenezer Goode - The Shamen
Frankie - Sister Sledge
Gabriel - Lamb
Henry Lee - Nick Cave and PJ Harvey
Ike's Mood - Isaac Hayes
Jimmy Mack - Martha and the Vandellas
Kevin Carter - Manic Street Preachers
Lenny - Supergrass
Maxwell's Silver Hammer - The Beatles
Making Plans for Nigel - XTC
Oliver's Army - Elvis Costello
Peter - Jamie T
The Mighty Quinn - Manfred Mann
Ricki Don't Lose That Number - Steely Dan
Saint Simon - The Shins
Clever Trevor - Ian Dury and the Blockheads
Ulysses - Franz Ferdinand
Vincent - Don McLean
William, It Was Really Nothing - The Smiths
X Gon Give It To Ya - DMX
Yves - Mr Oizo
Zebulon - Rufus Wainwright


Angela Surf City - The Walkmen
Barbara Ann - The Beach Boys
Oh Carol - Paul Anka
Oh Dana - Big Star
Emily - Joanna Newsom
Felicia - Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass
Gloria - Them
Hannah Hunt - Vampire Weekend
Iris - The Goo Goo Dolls
Jolene - Dolly Parton
Karen - The National
Layla - Derek and the Dominoes
Michelle - The Beatles
Natalie's Party - Shack
Ophelia - The Band
Priscilla - Bat for Lashes
50 ft Queenie = PJ Harvey
Ruby - Kaiser Chiefs
Sarah - Thin Lizzy
My Name is Tallulah - Jodie Foster
Uma Thurman - Fall Out Boy
Victoria - The Kinks
Wendy - Jesse Malin
X - Let's Not Get Silly Now
Yvette - Jason Isbell
Zelda - The Antlers

I'm not going to lie to you, that was harder and less fun than I thought it was going to be.