My Favourite Movies


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July 18th 2021
Published: July 18th 2021
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Every morning, for two months, I would wake up, log on to Facebook and diligently post a short write-up of a favourite movie, accompanied by a picture of the original movie poster.

I am passionate about movies and love writing, and this daily target forced me to think hard about which movies have given me most pleasure. It forced me to do research – into Oscars won, critics' reviews, box office success and so forth. It also led to my re-watching a number of movies which I only vaguely remembered. Being semi-retired with loads of free time, I thoroughly enjoyed my little project.

My initial list grew organically week by week, as long-forgotten movies suddenly came to mind.

I now realize how limited my movie-watching has been. For example, I know next to nothing about French or Italian cinema. Most of my choices are either Hollywood or British.

Facebook is ephemeral, and it seems a pity to let my carefully penned write-ups go to waste. Therefore I have decided to collect them under a single heading - 'My Favourite Movies' - and publish them on travelblog,org, where they will have some degree of permanence.

When I
posted my critiques on Facebook, they were in no particular order (except for ‘Casablanca’, which I wrote about first, because it may be the best movie ever made, and 'The Godfather', which I wrote about last, because that too is a contender for greatest movie). Here now are the titles of my favourite movies - 60 all told - in random order (except for ‘Casablanca’ and 'The Godfather'):

Casablanca

Rear Widow

2001: A Space Odyssey

A Fistful of Dollars

Alfie

The Bridge on the River Kwai

Brief Encounter

Far From the Madding Crowd

Frenzy

An Inspector Calls

If ....

Goldfinger

Get Carter

Kes

Kind Hearts and Coronets

King Kong

Locke

Nosferatu

Of Mice and Men

Parasite

Psycho

Pulp Fiction

Romeo and Juliet

Rosemary’s Baby

A Streetcar Named Desire

Sunrise

Terminator 2

The Bicycle Thieves

The Gold Rush

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

The Mummy

The Wicker Man

Titanic

West Side Story

The Wild Bunch

12 Angry Men

The Elephant Man

Groundhog
Day

Kramer v Kramer

The Apartment

Blade Runner

Monty Python’s Life of Brian

The Bride of Frankenstein

Quatermass and the Pit

Dracula (1931)

On the Waterfront

Good Morning Vietnam

Tunes of Glory

Braveheart

Gregory’s Girl

Macbeth

The Adventures of Robin Hood

North by North West

Apocalypse Now

High Noon

The Shawshank Redemption

It’s a Wonderful Life

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Some Like It Hot

The Godfather



And now here are my critiques, following the order of the titles above.

Let’s start with probably my all-time favourite movie, ‘Casablanca’ (1942). It has everything: a great script, great storyline, memorable scenes, great acting. It won 3 Oscars: for Best Picture, Best Director (Michael Curtiz), Best Screenplay. And Humphrey Bogart should have won Best Actor for his brilliant performance.

I have watched ‘Casablanca’ many times and will keep on watching it until the day I die.

Rear Window’ (1954) is a masterpiece. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly, it was nominated for 4 Oscars but won nothing. (Grace Kelly,
however, won the Best Actress Oscar that year for her role in ‘The Country Girl’.)

Rear Window’ is remarkable because the whole movie takes place inside James Stewart’s living-room. I am used to watching stage plays where all the action is in one room, but I cannot think of another movie where this happens. Despite the one location, the movie is never boring; on the contrary, it is one of the most suspenseful movies I’ve ever watched. Like the hero, James Stewart, who is trapped inside his room in a wheelchair, the audience is trapped too – inside his point of view and limited freedom.

I think the world of James Stewart, and the movie belongs to him. This is one of his most impressive roles, primarily because of the limitations placed upon him; more than in any of his other movies, he must act with his eyes, face, and voice.

And like a ray of pure sunshine, the luminous Grace Kelly lights up every scene she's in.

2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968) is a unique and fascinating movie. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, with input from sci-fi writer Arthur C, Clarke, it has little in the
way of sparkling dialogue and action. It was nominated for 4 Oscars but won just one – for Special Visual Effects.

I saw the movie on the big screen in 1970 and was deeply impressed but baffled. I immediately bought the book, which explained everything.

I love the opening 20 minutes - ‘The Dawn of Man’ – when the ape men encounter the mysterious artifact and learn how to use tools. Kubrick’s genius is evident in the sequence where the airborne bone becomes a spaceship.

The sequence where HAL lip reads the astronauts’ decision to shut him down and then tries to kill them all is brilliant – an eerie prognosis of the day when artificial intelligence will become self-aware.

The final sequence, with its psychedelic colours, is hard to understand without reading the book but is visually spectacular and thought-provoking.

The music is an intrinsic part of the experience. ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ is a brilliant choice for the most dramatic moments, and ‘The Blue Danube Waltz’ superbly complements the spectacle of the orbiting space station.

2001: A Space Odyssey’ is very static most of the time, but it is a visual and intellectual
feast. Roger Ebert wrote: “The fascinating thing about this film is that it fails on the human level but succeeds magnificently on a cosmic scale.” I agree. It is quite unlike all my other favourite movies, because the human interactions count for nothing. This is a movie of big ideas.

In 1967, my favourite movie genre, the western, was dying. Then along came Clint Eastwood and breathed new life into it.

A Fistful of Dollars’ (1964 in Italy, 1967 in UK), directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint as the Man with No Name, blew me away when I saw it on the big screen. The invincible and enigmatic Clint was the perfect anti-hero, an antidote to the saccharine cowboy heroes I had grown up with.

The music, by Ennio Morricone, is an ideal match for the violent action.

This movie and its sequels became known as ‘spaghetti westerns’ because they were made with Italian money (but shot in Spain).

Alfie’ (1966) stars Michael Caine as the charismatic womanizer Alfie. The movie’s five Oscar nominations - including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Song, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress (Vivien Merchant) - didn’t translate into
a single win, and Merchant was the only winner out of six BAFTA nominations. However, ‘Alfie’ did win the 1967 Golden Globe for Best English-Language Foreign Film.

Michael Caine’s Alfie would, these days, be condemned as horribly sexist. He attempts to win the viewer’s sympathy by addressing the camera directly, an unusual but effective technique (a bit like a Shakespearean soliloquy). However, he only engages this viewer’s sympathy once: after arranging an illegal abortion for one of his mistresses (Vivien Merchant), he sees the aborted foetus and weeps. This is the most powerful sequence in the movie. Denholm Elliott is excellent as the seedy abortionist.

The movie owes a lot to the screenplay by Bill Naughton, who wrote the original novel and play. And there is a very catchy soundtrack by tenor saxophone great, Sonny Rollins.

Avoid the 2004 remake, starring Jude Law; it is lightweight compared to the original.

Directed by David Lean and starring Alec Guinness as the insanely disciplined Colonel Nicholson, ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ (1957) is a good old-fashioned war epic which won 7 Oscars, including Best Actor, Best Director, Best Picture and Best Screenplay.

Unlike most war movies,
the emphasis is not on the war itself but on the behaviour of individuals – specifically the bridge-obsessed Colonel Nicholson, who puts building the bridge before winning the war, and the Japanese commandant, Saito,who weeps privately with humiliation because Nicholson is a better bridge-builder and a stronger man and prepares for hara-kiri if the bridge is not ready on time.

I was surprised to read that, during filming, David Lean clashed with Alec Guinness, who thought the movie was anti-British. Lean had a lengthy row with Guinness over how to play the role of Nicholson; Guinness wanted to play the part with a sense of humour, while Lean thought Nicholson should be "a bore." After one argument with Guinness, Lean is reported to have said, "Now you can fuck off and go home. Thank God that I'm starting work tomorrow with an American actor {William Holden}."

Fun fact: Lean’s first choice for the role of Colonel Nicholson was Charles Laughton.

Directed by David Lean, with screenplay by Noel Coward, ‘Brief Encounter’ (1945) was nominated for 3 Oscars. Celia Johnson really should have won Best Actress, but that Oscar went to Olivia de Havilland in a movie that
has sunk without trace (‘To Each His Own’).

Brief Encounter’ is filmic perfection. It ticks all the boxes: compelling storyline, great script, superb acting and direction, memorable score. The passionate chords of Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No 2 (known to many as the ‘Brief Encounter’ theme) perfectly complement the romantic drama in the foreground.

And there is a wonderful subplot; the flirting between Stanley Holloway and Joyce Cary serves as a comic contrast with the more serious love affair between Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard.

I have watched ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’ (1967) several times over the years. It is based on one of my favourite Thomas Hardy novels and has three of my favourite actors: Alan Bates, Julie Christie and Peter Finch. I like Julie Christie more for her good looks than her acting (Carey Mulligan makes a better Bathsheba Everdene in the 2015 remake), but Peter Finch is wonderfully intense as the love-struck Farmer Boldwood. Alan Bates is goodness personified, while Terence Stamp is perfectly cast as the caddish Sergeant Troy.

Directed by John Schlesinger, with Freddie Raphael supplying the screenplay, and with lovely music and views of Dorset, it did not win any
big prizes but is engrossing throughout its 2 hours and 50 minutes.

Fun fact: one of my favourite folk musicians, Dave Swarbrick, plays the fiddle at the wedding celebration.

I love Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Frenzy’ (1972). For some reason it does not seem to be very highly regarded. It won no important awards and was not nominated for any Oscars. It is not mentioned in the same breath as Hitchcock’s critically acclaimed ‘Vertigo’, ‘Rear Window’, ‘Psycho’ and ‘North by North West’.

However, I beg to differ. It has a gripping storyline and an all-star British cast. Moreover, it has a superb script, written by the great Anthony Shaffer. I can watch the movie over and again and still be surprised by some of the witticisms in the dialogue. The last line of the movie is priceless.

As a counterpoint to the main serious action, there is the comedy of the Chief Inspector returning home to his wife’s experimental cooking - a subplot which is a stroke of genius.

I used to love teaching ‘An Inspector Calls’ by J. B. Priestley. I showed 3 movie versions of the play to my classes: the 2015 one with David
Thewlis as Inspector Goole; the 1982 movie with Bernard Hepton; and the black-and-white 1954 one with Alastair Sim as the Inspector.

All these movies are good, but I love the 1954 one because of Alastair Sim. He is whimsical and commanding, with one of the most expressive faces in movie history.

The movie is not particularly well directed, but the power of the original play shines through. The surprise supernatural ending is one of my all-time favourites.

Directed by Lindsay Anderson, scripted by David Sherwin and starring Malcolm McDowell, ‘If .…’ (1968) won Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival but nothing else.

It is an unusual movie. There are other movies portraying repressive boarding school life, but this one preaches violent revolt against the system. It taps into the revolutionary spirit of the late 60’s and scandalized some establishment figures. A British ambassador called the film "an insult to the nation". Lord John Brabourne read an early draft and called it "the most evil and perverted script I've ever read. It must never see the light of day".

The title tells the audience that some of the things in the movie are to be
wished for but not real. For example, the scene in the café when Mick (McDowell) makes love to the waitress on the floor is surely imaginary. The final scene, where the waitress shoots the Headmaster through the forehead, is equally surreal.

The movie’s strength, though, lies in its realism. Having worked in an old-fashioned boys’ boarding school myself, I empathize with many of the things depicted, such as the bullying and the corporal punishment. The texture of boarding school life is admirably conveyed through the dialogue and attention to detail: the VD inspection, the perverted chaplain tweaking a boy’s nipple in class, the teacher cycling into his lesson, the nerd peering into his microscope, Mrs Kemp walking naked through the boys’ dormitory. And the sadistic caning scene in the gym is unforgettable.

The ‘Sanctus’ soundtrack, which Mick plays in his room and on the café jukebox, is haunting and open to symbolic interpretation.

Malcom McDowell, with his bold stare, is perfectly cast as the rebel-in-chief. No wonder Kubrick chose him to play Alex in ‘A Clockwork Orange’ three years later.

Fun fact: the movie alternates between colour and black and white. The director revealed that lack
of funds was the sole reason for the black and white sequences.

Goldfinger’ is my favourite James Bond movie (although ‘From Russia with Love’ and ‘Skyfall’ come close). When I watched it on the big screen in Reading in 1964, it thrilled me to bits.

The plot is simple and ingenious: by irradiating the gold reserve at Fort Knox, Goldfinger’s own gold will shoot up in value, so Bond must foil his dastardly plan. There are some memorable scenes (the girl found dead and painted gold, Bond about to be emasculated by a laser), some good lines ("Do you expect me to talk?" "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die”) and a memorable villain (Oddjob with his lethal bowler hat). The theme song (sung by Shirley Bassey) is surely the best James Bond song ever, and Sean Connery is arguably the best James Bond.

And, of course, there is the preposterously named Pussy Galore. In those innocent days we Brits had no idea what her name signified.

Get Carter’ (1971) is a top-notch British gangster movie. Full of casual violence, it is memorable for Michael Caine’s thrilling and iconic performance as a London gangster returning
to his native Newcastle to find out who killed his brother. Just as Michael Caine seems to have fully avenged his brother, there is a superb twist in the final minute.

Get Carter’ won no awards. However, in 1999 it was ranked 16th on the BFI Top 100 British movies of the 20th century and, five years later, a survey of British film critics in Total Film magazine chose it as the greatest British movie of all time.

Director Mike Hodges captures the atmosphere of the grim North Eastern locations (seedy pubs, run-down terraced houses and faceless concrete tower blocks, plus the climax by the aerial coal skips on a wind-swept North Sea beach).

This (along with ‘Alfie’) is my favourite Michael Caine movie. His menacing stare and ready wit give him great presence. With his shotgun and cigarette and bottle of Scotch, he is the epitome of cool and the perfect anti-hero. There is also a superb cameo from playwright John Osborne as the gangster Kinnear.

Do not confuse this fine movie with the piss-poor 2000 remake starring Sylvester Stallone.

'Kes' (1969), directed by the great Ken Loach, is quite unlike any of my
other favourite movies because it is so utterly down-to earth and realistic. Not released in the United States (because the Yorkshire accents in the movie would have been incomprehensible to Americans), and therefore not nominated for any Oscars, it won the 1970 British Academy Award as England’s best movie of the year and 2 BAFTA’s (David Bradley as Most Promising Newcomer and Colin Welland as Best Supporting Actor). The BFI voted ‘Kes’ the 7th greatest British movie of the 20th century. Roger Ebert awards it the maximum 4 stars.

This was Ken Loach’s second movie, and he was still directing, aged 83, in 2019. He is a national treasure, a socialist with plenty to say about the English working class and political system. It is his brilliant understated direction that makes ‘Kes’ such a masterpiece of social realism.

Kes’ is set in Barnsley, Yorkshire, portraying a dead-end society where Billy Casper suffers at the hands of rotten teachers and a rotten family. The contrast between Billy’s unhappy interactions with people and his blissful relationship with the hawk is very moving.

In its unassuming way, ‘Kes’ is heart-breaking without ever being sentimental.

I’m not a great fan
of comedies, but ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’ (1949) is a masterpiece - the cinematic equivalent of an Oscar Wilde play. The movie received no Oscar nominations; it is criminal that Alec Guinness was not nominated for Best Actor – perhaps because British comedy does not travel well to the U.S. – but the movie won a handful of lesser awards.In 1999 it was voted 6th greatest British movie of all time by the BFI.

Alec Guinness gives a dazzling display of his versatility and exquisite comic touch as all the eight members of the aristocratic D’Ascoyne family. Dennis Price is outstanding as the anti-hero who sets out to bump the entire family off. And Joan Greenwood is perfect as Sibella. Robert Hamer directs his own beautifully written screenplay (co-written with John Dighton).

The movie is a comic delight from start to finish, and the twists at the end are brilliantly unexpected.

I have a soft spot for the original ‘King Kong’ (1933). I showed it to my students once, and they found the giant gorilla ridiculous because of the primitive technology that existed in 1933. However, in my opinion, the original movie is far superior to all
the King Kong remakes using modern technology to make the gorilla seem real.

I have always felt sorry for the poor lonely gorilla taken away from his tropical island by the smug Carl Denham. When King Kong stands astride the Empire State Building, I want him to destroy all those planes, but he only gets one before falling, mortally wounded, to the ground.

The last line must be one of the corniest in movie history. When a policeman remarks that the planes killed King Kong, Denham says, "Oh, no, it wasn't the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast".

Fay Wray played the woman who so enraptures King Kong. Fun fact: on August 10, 2004, two days after Wray died, aged 96, the lights of the Empire State Building were dimmed for 15 minutes in her memory.

This may not sound like a recipe for cinematic success: a man, alone in a car as he makes a 90-minute trip to London, connects with the voices of the outside world via his mobile phone. Yet, despite these limitations, ‘Locke’ (2013) is a nail-biting thriller.

Tom Hardy gives a wonderful performance as Ivan Locke. From a series
of telephone conversations we get a fascinating picture of Locke and his world. Director and screenwriter Steven Knight has crafted a unique motion picture that makes a statement about accepting consequences and the changes that accompany them.

When he gets into his car, Ivan Locke has a job, financial security, and a family. When he emerges, he will have none of those things. His choice - to abandon a stable lifestyle to fulfil what he believes to be a moral obligation - re-aligns his priorities and changes his life.

Locke’ was completely ignored by the Oscars but won a clutch of smaller awards – for Best Actor and Best Screenplay.

Tom Hardy is more often associated with action roles, but here he sits in his car, a model of composure and reason, coolly dealing with each crisis as it assails him. Every phone conversation brings a fresh challenge. The monologues addressed to his dead father are almost Shakespearean. The camera is on his face the whole movie, so he must act with his voice and his expression. He does so brilliantly, becoming a heroic figure in the process.

I love a good vampire movie, and ‘Nosferatu:
A Symphony of Horror’ (1922), directed by F. W. Murnau, is the first, and arguably most chilling, movie rendition of the Count Dracula story. The names are different – Count Dracula becomes Count Orlok, Jonathan Harker becomes Hutter, Van Helsing becomes Professor Bulwer – but the plot is much the same.

This is a black-and-white silent movie relying on captions and music. Max Schreck’s vampire is eerie, more like an animal or a corpse than a human being. He has pointed bat ears, claw-like fingernails and a rodent’s fangs. He is a walking cadaver – emaciated, bald and stiff. Definitely the scariest vampire in movie history.

Nosferatu’ is full of unforgettable sequences and images: Hutter cutting his finger and Orlok’s reaction (“Blood – your beautiful blood”); Orlok rising, stiff and ghastly, from his coffin on board the ship; Orlok’s shadow on the wall as he approaches Hutter’s wife; Orlok evaporating in the rays of the morning sun.

I watched ‘Nosferatu’ on the big screen circa 1978, as part of a double bill with that other great silent movie, ‘Sunrise’. The movie had a piano soundtrack, and there was one unforgettably comic moment. When Hutter announces to the
local peasants that he is on his way to Count Orlok’s castle, they are horrified, and the piano strikes up the tune of 'The Teddy Bears’ Picnic': “If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise …” On hearing this, the audience, a sophisticated student audience, roared with laughter, and so did I.

Unsophisticated it may be compared to later Dracula movies, but ‘Nosferatu’ has great power. This is largely owing to the craftsmanship of director F. W. Murnau.

Fun fact: The movie was banned in Sweden because it was deemed too horrific. The ban was finally lifted in 1972.

There are several movies of John Steinbeck’s perfect novella, ‘Of Mice and Men’. As an English teacher, I showed the 1992 version so often it became an old friend.

Directed by Gary Sinise, starring himself and John Malkovich, it did not pick up any awards.

John Malkovich does an excellent job as the mentally retarded Lennie, and Sinise is an admirable George. There are some memorable set pieces: the fight with Curley, the death of the girl, the mercy killing at the end.

The supporting cast is strong, especially
Ray Walston as Candy and John Terry as Slim. There is a nice cameo from Noble Willingham as the Boss.

This is not a great movie because it has its flaws. The actor playing Crooks overdoes it, and the fight is rather melodramatic. However, the movie is faithful to Steinbeck’s book and always served me well in the classroom. I will always remember the lesson where, after the poignant final scene, one of my girl students burst into tears.

Just before Covid kicked in, I went to the cinema to watch ‘Parasite’ (2019), which had just won 4 Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best International Feature Film) – the first non-English language movie ever to achieve such success. I was expecting it to be good, but it knocked me out.

Hilarious and heart-breaking, disturbing and uplifting, riveting from start to finish, it is unlike any movie I've ever seen. A masterpiece. And, obviously, even better if you understand Korean.

The shower scene in ‘Psycho’ (1960), directed by Alfred Hitchcock, made a big impact on me when I was a teenager. Considered shocking at the time, it is tame by today’s standards. Unlike modern slasher
movies, ‘Psycho’ does not show the knife striking flesh. There are no wounds. The closing shots are not graphic but symbolic, as blood and water spin down the drain, and the camera cuts to a close-up, the same size, of the woman's unmoving eyeball. This remains the most effective slashing in movie history, demonstrating that situation and artistry are more important than graphic details.

Psycho’ was nominated for 4 Oscars but won nothing. It is a wonderfully atmospheric movie, full of suspense and shocks, with suitably dramatic music (Hitchcock said: "one third of the effect of 'Psycho' was due to the music") and with a memorable villain. For the rest of his career, Anthony Perkins was best known as the actor who played Norman Bates, the eponymous pyschopath. Indeed, he starred in three sequels.

The ending of ‘Psycho’ is a let-down. The knife-wielding Norman Bates, is overpowered rather too easily. And the long-winded explanation by the psychiatrist of his behaviour is unnecessary and anticlimactic.

Psycho’ is Hitchcock’s most popular movie. It cost a pittance to make - $807,000 - and was a box office smash, grossing $32 million worldwide.

When I first saw it, ‘Pulp Fiction’
(1994) blew me away. It has a sky-high user rating on imdb – 8.9/10. Nominated for 7 Oscars, it deservedly won the Oscar for Best Screenplay.

That is the main reason I like Quentin Tarantino – the vulgarity-laced dialogue of his movies is endlessly witty and inventive.The characters in ‘Pulp Fiction’ are always talking and always interesting. This movie would work as an audio book.

I rate ‘Pulp Fiction’ Tarantino’s greatest movie (with 'Kill Bill' a close second). Brilliantly structured, the different stories cleverly interconnect. It is a wild ride from start to finish – exhilarating with never a dull moment. The actors are all superbly cast. A movie like no other. A masterpiece.

As an English teacher, I have shown the movie ‘Romeo and Juliet’ many times, in conjunction with reading the Shakespearean text.

There are two fine movies of ‘Romeo and Juliet’: the 1968 one, directed by Franco Zeffirelli, and the 1996 one, directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring a young Leonardo di Capprio. Of the two I prefer the Zeffirelli.

The 1968 ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was nominated for 4 Oscars and won 2 – for Cinematography and Costume Design. The whole movie
is a feast for the eyes, and some of the scenes are spectacular: the initial fight between Montagues and Capulets, the Capulets’ masked ball where Romeo first meets Juliet, the funeral where the Prince shouts “All are punished!

But the greatest scene is where Tybalt fights Mercutio and then Romeo. Michael York is a superb Tybalt and John McEnery an even better Mercutio. These two actors are streets ahead of the protagonists (Leonard Whiting as Romeo, Olivia Hussey as Juliet, who were chosen for their looks). The two sword fights are brilliantly staged – exciting, realistic and colourful.

The soundtrack, composed and conducted by Nino Rota, nicely complements the tragic romance.

Out of all the Shakespearean movies I have watched, this is my favourite.

Rosemary’s Baby’ (1968) won many prizes including a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Ruth Gordon. The other main actors – Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes and Sidney Blackmer - are excellent, and the screenplay, written by director Roman Polanski, picked up a Golden Globe.

Rosemary’s Baby’ is my favourite supernatural horror movie (as opposed to psychological horror, cf. ‘Psycho’, or sci-fi horror, cf. ‘Alien’). It is much better than 'The Omen<em style="mso-bidi-font-style:
normal;">’, also about the birth of Antichrist.

The horror is understated, building up slowly and subtly until the ghastly climax: “He chose you, honey! From all the women in the world to be the mother of his only living son!” Like all the best movies, horror or otherwise, it casts a spell on us, suspending our disbelief, telling a story that seems realistic.

The final shot of Mia Farrow smiling at her newborn devil-baby is a masterstroke. While far from being a feel-good ending, it is a touching reminder of the transcendent power of maternal love.

The movie is yet another example of director Roman Polanski’s genius. Apparently he went way over budget in his quest for perfection.

I have taught Tennessee Williams’ brilliant play, ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, many times. I’ve always shown my classes the Hollywood movie of it (1951), which is equally brilliant.

Vivien Leigh gives an inspired performance as the tragic Blanche, deservedly winning the Oscar for Best Actress. Karl Malden and Kim Hunter picked up Oscars for Best Supporting Actor and Actress. Marlon Brando should have won Best Actor but didn’t (it went to Humphrey Bogart in ‘The African Queen’).
Only one other movie has won 3 out of the possible 4 acting Oscars: ‘Network’ (1976).

Critics have said that no performance had more influence on modern film acting styles than Brando's portrayal of rough, tough, sexually charged Stanley Kowalski. Before this role, there was a certain restraint in American movie performances; actors would portray violent emotions, but modesty prevented them from displaying their feelings in raw nakedness. Brando changed all that.

I love this movie. It is very faithful to the original, although Hollywood demanded the reference to homosexuality (Blanche’s dead husband was gay) be censored.

Circa 1978, I went to the cinema to watch ‘Nosferatu’. It was part of a silent movie double bill; the other movie, ‘Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans’ (1927), also directed by F. W. Murnau, I‘d never heard of and wrote off, in advance, as a mere side-show to the main event. How wrong I was; it was every bit as good as the more celebrated ‘Nosferatu’.

Sunrise’ has a special place in movie history because it was honoured at the very first Oscar Awards ceremony in 1929, receiving Oscars for Best Unique and Artistic Picture, Best Actress and
Best Cinematography.

Sunrise’ was one of the last silent movies. ‘The Jazz Singer’, the first ever talkie, premiered two weeks after ‘Sunrise’, heralding a seismic shift in the movie-making industry.

Sunrise’ is a simple moral fable – a tale of sin and redemption, of country virtue versus city vice – relying on captions and music and powerful black-and-white images. Technically unsophisticated, it has great emotional power – a testament to the direction of F. W. Murnau. On the strength of ‘Sunrise’ and ‘Nosferatu’, he must be considered one of the greatest movie directors.

Sunrise’ was voted the 5th best film of all time in Sight & Sound's 2012 critics’ poll. If you have never watched it, I urge you to check it out on Youtube.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ (1991) is one of my favourite movies. ‘The Terminator’ (1984) is very good, but ‘Terminator 2’ is a flawless masterpiece. Directed by James Cameron, it is an adrenaline rush from start to finish.

The scene where Arnold Schwarzenegger first appears, petrifying poor Linda Hamilton, who thinks he is the same robot that pursued her before, is brilliant. Turning Arnold into a ‘good’ robot, with the same
lethal capabilities as when he was ‘evil’, was a masterstroke.

Alas, the subsequent ‘Terminator’ movies are pretty dismal.

The Bicycle Thieves’ (1948) a black-and-white Italian movie, directed by Vittorio de Sica. It won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language movie in 1950 and is routinely voted one of the greatest films of all time. It is a simple, powerful film about a man whose precious bicycle is stolen. His efforts to find the thief take him all over Rome.

Ken Loach said that ‘The Bicycle Thieves’ “made me realize that cinema could be about ordinary people and their dilemmas.” Loach’s socially realistic movies about the English working class owe an obvious debt to ‘The Bicycle Thieves’.

It’s a film about an honest family man who feels ashamed that, through no fault of his own, he cannot support his family - a subject that is universal and timeless. As he goes from place to place in his futile search, we feel deeply sorry for him. We are alarmed that he apparently attaches more importance to his stolen bike than to his little son, who follows him around like a faithful puppy.

The ending, when the man
walks home ashamed of what he has done, is very moving, finally revealing the full significance of the movie’s title.

The Gold Rush’ (1925) is my favourite Charlie Chaplin movie and, along with ‘Nosferatu’ and ‘Sunrise’, my favourite silent movie.

Some of the comic scenes are priceless: Chaplin being pursued by Big Jim, who mistakes him for a giant chicken; Chaplin cooking and eating a leather boot; the dining table ballet of the bread rolls; the cabin teetering on the cliff edge. And then there is the exquisite scene when Chaplin dances with Georgia, using his walking stick to prevent his trousers falling down, before finding a rope to act as a belt. The rope is attached to a dog which is dragged around the dance floor; then the dog sees a cat and gives chase, pulling Chaplin to the ground.

There is immense pathos when Georgia, with whom Chaplin is sorely smitten, fails to turn up for his meticulously prepared New Year’s Eve dinner.

Fun fact: the scene where Chaplin and Big Jim eat a boot for supper took 3 days and 63 takes to suit director Charlie Chaplin. The boot was made of licorice,
and Chaplin was later rushed to hospital suffering from insulin shock.

Although it won no big prizes, ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’ (1963) is a great western. Directed by John Ford, it features three marvellous actors: James Stewart, John Wayne and Lee Marvin. It has a compelling storyline and one of my all-time favourite scenes.

After the dastardly outlaw Liberty Valance trips James Stewart, working as a waiter, causing him to fall on the floor with the steak he is carrying, John Wayne stands up and says: “That’s my steak, Valance.” One of the classic movie confrontations and a scene I could watch forever.

The Mummy’ (1999) is a wonderfully entertaining horror-comedy, starring Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz and John Hannah. Written and directed by Stephen Sommers, it picked up no big awards.

With its blend of adventure and fantasy and horror, it has more in common with ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ than the other ‘Mummy’ movies, which are straight horror. I prefer it to the more celebrated ‘Raiders’.

The fact that I used to live in Egypt and am fascinated by the mythology and antiquities is one reason why I like this movie
so much. Other reasons are the good acting (John Hannah, especially, is a hoot), the fine script and the special effects.

The Mummy’ is a perfect comfort watch – undemanding, stylish, spectacular, funny, never boring.

I love a good horror movie. ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973) is one of the best. Film magazine Cinefantastique described it as "The Citizen Kane of horror movies", and in 2004 Total Film magazine named it the sixth greatest British film of all time. Christopher Lee described it as the best movie he ever acted in.

With a script written by Anthony Shaffer, the movie stars Edward Woodward (who did Shakespeare on stage and played Callan in the TV series) and Christopher Lee, with Britt Ekland as the eye candy. The soundtrack - classic early 70's folk music - is unusual and haunting.

There is no violence or gore, just mystery and suspense and weird goings-on, before the unforgettably grisly climax.

Please do not watch the piss-poor 2006 remake with Nicholas Cage.

Titanic’ (1997) jointly holds the record for most Oscars – 11 (along with ‘Ben Hur’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’). Writer-producer-director James Cameron’s romantic disaster movie reputedly cost
a scary $250 million and nearly sank the studios involved (Fox and Paramount), but it went on to box office triumph as the first film to gross $1,000 million. By now, it has probably earned double that.

'Titanic' is the kind of epic motion picture event that has become a rarity. It is a romance, an adventure and a thriller all rolled into one. It contains moments of exuberance, humour, pathos and tragedy. In their own way, the characters are all larger-than-life, but they're human enough to capture our sympathy.

I’ll never forget watching ‘Titanic’ on the big screen in a flea-pit cinema in Tanzania. It gripped me throughout its 194 minutes and reduced the woman I was with to tears.

If the test of a great movie is whether you can watch it many times without getting bored, ‘Titanic’ perhaps falls short. It is a straightforward escapist fantasy, a compelling narrative with little in the way of great script-writing or great acting or hidden depths (it won no Oscars for acting or script). I could watch ‘Casablanca’ or ‘Frenzy’ forever because of the quality of the scripts and the acting, but not ‘Titanic’.

Having said
that, it is a spectacular and touching movie.

I regard most musicals as froth – silly entertainments to be taken lightly – but 'West Side Story’ (1961) is the exception. One reason I like it so much is because it is based on Shakespeare's ‘Romeo and Juliet’. The other reason is because the choreography and the songs are so darn good. It won a mammoth 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (George Chakiris), Best Supporting Actress (Rita Moreno) and Best Music. Only 3 movies have won more - 'Ben Hur’,‘Titanic’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ each winning 11 Oscars.

Rita Moreno and George Chakiris are superb in their fiery Puerto Rican roles, contrasting nicely with the love-struck Tony and Maria. The dancing is remarkable, and some of the songs have become standards (‘America’, ‘Tonight’, ‘Maria’, ‘I Feel Pretty’, ‘Somewhere’).

My favourite song by far is ‘America’, which combines a great melody with spectacular dancing and sharp lyrics. While the Puerto Rican women cling to their dream of America as a land of promise, the Puerto Rican men have become disillusioned. The words “Skyscrapers bloom in America, Cadillacs zoom in America, industry boom in
America” are countered by “Twelve in a room in America”. Likewise, the response to “Life is all right in America” is “If you’re all white in America”.

The Wild Bunch’ (1969) is a great movie. Nominated for 2 Oscars (Best Screenplay and Music), it is directed by Sam Peckinpah and stars William Holden, Ernest Borgnine and Robert Ryan. Peckinpah is notorious for his violence, and this movie is generally considered “the most graphically violent Western ever made and one of the most violent movies of all time”. However, it has a fine script and cinematography, powerful acting and some serious themes.

The violent protagonists abide by a code of honour, which forces them to stand up for their Mexican friend who has been tortured by a band of Mexican soldiers. When Pike (William Holden) says to his men "Let's go," everybody knows what he means, and they walk out of a bordello and begin a suicidal showdown with the heavily-armed soldiers. The odds are hopeless, but William Holden and his men cannot desert their friend. As Pike (William Holden) says: “When you side with a man, you stay with him. And if you can't do that, you're like
some animal. You're finished. We're finished. All of us.”

The Wild Bunch’ is classified as a western but is set in 1913 on the eve of World War I. The machine gun at the end is a symbol of the modern age. The mantle of violence is passing from the old professionals, like Pike and his bunch, into the hands of a new generation who kill more impersonally with machines. "We gotta start thinking beyond our guns," one of the bunch observes. "Those days are closing fast."

In ‘12 Angry Men’ (1957) a panel of jurors debate whether a teenager is guilty of murder. Apart from the opening few minutes, all the action is in one room. There are no special effects, just great dialogue and great acting. For sheer concentrated tension and realistic drama, this black-and-white movie takes some beating. It plays out in real time – 1 hour and 36 minutes. It has a sky-high imdb user rating of 9/10.

It was nominated for 3 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director (Sidney Lumet) and Best Screenplay (Reginald Rose) - but won nothing, because this was the year of ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’, which
swept the board.

We see nothing of the trial itself except for the judge's perfunctory, almost bored, charge to the jury. His tone of voice indicates the verdict is a foregone conclusion. The rest of the movie depicts the accumulation of arguments against the boy’s guilt.

Henry Fonda is brilliant as the smart juror who, initially, is the only one harbouring doubts about the boy’s guilt. Lee J. Cobb is tremendous as the prejudiced juror who finally breaks down.

My only criticism of this near-perfect movie is the title: only 3 out of the 12 jurors can be described as ‘angry’.

The Elephant Man’ (1980) was nominated for 8 Oscars but won nothing because this was the year of ‘Kramer v Kramer’. The British thought differently, however, and honoured the movie with 3 BAFTA’s including Best Actor (John Hurt) and Best Film.

Despite an odd opening and ending, ‘The Elephant Man’ is a powerful and emotional movie. It would take a heart of stone not be moved by it. Based upon the true story of the horrendously deformed John Merrick (Hurt), this tale of a pure soul struggling to be heard over the prejudice of
the many is quite heart-rending.

It has an all-star cast including Anthony Hopkins, John Gielgud, Freddie Jones and Wendy Hiller. John Hurt, that most versatile of actors, is tremendous as John Merrick. His Elephant Man make-up took 8 hours each day to apply and 2 to remove. He arrived on set at 5am and filmed from noon till 10pm, working alternate days. ‘I think they finally managed to make me hate acting,’ he joked.

The movie was shot in black and white, adding to the Victorian atmosphere.

Groundhog Day’ (1993) won a BAFTA for Best Original Screenplay. It also picked up Best Fantasy Film, Best Actor (Bill Murray) and Best Actress (Andie McDowell) from the Academy of Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror Films.

It is a unique movie, a brilliantly inventive comedy with a serious core – so serious that it has been hailed by religious leaders as the most spiritual movie of all time.

Bill Murray is perfect as the man trapped inside the same repeated day. His detached melancholy and dry sense of humour combine with some hilarious situations to produce a comedy like no other.

Kramer v Kramer’ (1979) won 5 Oscars:
Best Picture, Best Actor (Dustin Hoffman), best Supporting Actress (Meryl Streep), Best Director and Best Screenplay (Robert Benton). Interestingly, it won no BAFTA’s, the British preferring to honour ‘The Elephant Man’ and John Hurt.

It is an emotional drama about a marriage that breaks down and the resulting tug-of-war for custody of the child.

The relationship between father and child is movingly portrayed without being mawkish. Dustin Hoffman is heroic in his efforts to raise his son single-handedly while holding down a demanding job. He dominates the movie, while Meryl Streep, the mother, appears only at the beginning and the end.

The unexpected feel-good finale is satisfying emotionally but, artistically, perhaps stretches the viewer’s credulity a little too far.

Overall, a well-made and most watchable movie.

The Apartment’ (1960) was nominated for 10 Oscars and won 5. It got Best Picture, and Billy Wilder got Best Director and Screenwriter.

It is a sharply written romantic comedy that revolves around office worker C. C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) and the elevator operator, Ms Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine). Actually, it is more than a romantic comedy; it is also a satire on corporate ethics and human nature.

Jack Lemmon is the life and the soul of the movie. He is a timid self-deprecating everyman whom we like enormously.We feel bad when Ms Kubelik ditches him for her self-centred boss (played by Fred McMurray). Billy Wilder gave Lemmon free rein to fill in the character of C.C. Baxter and compared the actor favourably to Charlie Chaplin.

The popping of the champagne cork at the end of the movie is an electric moment, a stroke of directorial genius. Potential tragedy is averted as Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine sit down to play gin rummy in the delightfully feel-good closing scene.

Fun fact: ‘The Apartment’ was the last black-and-white movie to win the Best Picture Oscar until ‘The Artist’ (2011). ‘Schindler’s List’ (1993) which won in 1994 was not completely b&w.

Blade Runner’ (1982) is my favourite sci-fi movie. Directed by Ridley Scott, it is set in the dystopian future and stars Harrison Ford as a bounty hunter and Rutger Hauer as a powerful robot. It won no big prizes but has achieved iconic status because of its stunning futuristic setting and its blend of thrilling action and ethics.

The central ethical question posed is whether
artificially created robots – here called ‘replicants’ – which are virtually indistinguishable from human beings deserve the same treatment as human beings. Is it ethical to use them as slaves and not care about their happiness?

This question is brought into sharp focus at the end when Roy (Rutger Hauer), the most powerful and intelligent of the replicants, spares Deckard’s life because now, coming to the end of his own preordained replicant lifespan, he realizes that life is infinitely precious. Before dying, he delivers a moving monologue expressing his love of life:

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”

‘Blade Runner’ is an extremely intelligent movie that I’m not sure I have fully figured out. For example, in the director’s cut, there is evidence that Deckard may himself be a replicant.

As a Monty Python devotee, I have to include at least one of their movies in my list of favourites.

There are 3 Monty Python movies. ‘Monty Python’s The
Meaning of Life’ has several superb sketches but is so loosely structured it can hardly be termed a movie. Therefore, I have chosen ‘Monty Python’s Life of Brian’, which I think has greater depth and better sketches than ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’.

The Python trademarks of brilliant ideas, hilarious quips and profound silliness are evident throughout. The best sketches are the stoning of the blasphemer, the Biggus Dickus speech impediment sequence, the conversation about a man’s right to have a baby ("But you can't have babies!” “Don't you oppress me!” “I'm not oppressing you, Stan. You haven't got a womb! Where's the foetus gonna gestate? You gonna keep it in a box?”), the haggling and the ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’ scenes.

This is not just a very funny movie but a satire on organized religion, on religious fanatics who refuse to think for themselves ("You've all got to think for yourselves!" Brian exhorts his followers, who obediently repeat after him: "We've all got to think for ourselves!") and on the pointless bureaucracy and absurdly punctilious use of language inherent in ruling bodies like the People’s Front of Judea.

The final scene
- where the crucified Eric Idle, together with Brian and all the other crucified enemies of Rome, sings ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ – remains long in the memory.

The Frankenstein story is the basis of many movies. Perhaps the best of them is ‘The Bride of Frankenstein’ (1935), directed by James Whale and starring ‘Karloff’ (they dropped his first name) as the Creature, Elsa Lanchester as the Creature’s bride and Colin Clive as Baron Frankenstein.

I like the opening scene where Mary Shelley (played by Elsa Lanchester), the author of ‘Frankenstein’, sits down with her husband (the poet Percy Shelley) and Lord Byron and decides to tell them what happens next in the Frankenstein saga. And so the movie unfolds – a sequel to Whale’s original ‘Frankenstein’ (1931) but very different from the novel Shelley wrote.

The best parts of this movie are the sequence in the blind hermit’s house and the finale, where the artificially created bride is brought to life and then screams at the sight of her ‘husband’.

This is an all-time great horror movie, with a good and sometimes darkly humorous script, some memorable scenes, fine cinematography and
a dramatic score.

Quatermass and the Pit’ (1967), written by the talented Nigel Kneale, is a creepy sci-fi alien movie set in London. It first appeared as a black-and-white BBC TV serial in 1959; watching it as a 7-year-old was a thrilling experience for me. However, the 1967 Hammer technicolour movie is far superior to the BBC version.

Julian Glover, one of my favourite character actors, plays the obnoxious Colonel Breen.

The original poster goes way over the top with its “WORLD IN PANIC! CITIES IN FLAMES!” All the action is confined to a London tube station, and the emergency is short-lived with few casualties.

Don’t bother watching the other Quatermass movies, which are mediocre. This one has deservedly become a cult classic and stands up to repeated viewings.

I am a sucker for vampire movies: ‘Dracula’ starring Christopher Lee, ‘Lost Boys’, ‘Vampires’, ‘Interview with the Vampire’, ‘Nosferatu’ (1979), ‘Nosferatu’ (1921) and ‘Dracula’ (1931) starring Bela Lugosi.

Directed by Tod Browning, ‘Dracula’ (1931) is, depending on your point of view, either a silly old melodrama with laughable special effects (the bats on strings) or a wonderfully atmospheric milestone horror movie. I take the latter
view.

Bela Lugosi is nowhere near as terrifying as Count Orlok in ‘Nosferatu’ (1922), but he plays Count Dracula with eerie other-worldly authority. His accent, slow and portentous manner of speaking, theatrical gestures and penetrating eyes make him into a larger-than-life figure. He is the perfect suave Dracula - the displaced European aristocrat come to a new country in search of fresh game.

Lugosi, Edward Van Sloan’s commanding Dr Van Helsing and Karl Freund’s beautifully poetic cinematography combine to produce a chillingly magnetic movie.

The original end, in which Van Sloan warned the audience that there really are vampires, was mysteriously cut, and the footage is now lost. This is a great pity, because the existing ending is somewhat abrupt and anticlimactic.

Many of Dracula’s great lines have entered into folklore:

I never drink ... wine.”

“For one who has not lived even a single lifetime, you are a wise man, Van Helsing.”

“Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.

Bela Lugosi was buried in 1956 wearing his Dracula cape.

On the Waterfront’ (1954) won 8 Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director (Elia Kazan), Best Actor (Marlon
Brando), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (the gorgeous Eva Marie Saint) and Best Screenplay (Budd Schulberg). Lee J. Cobb, Carl Malden and Rod Steiger were all nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

This is a great movie in every respect with its stellar cast, intelligent script and gripping storyline about corruption and murder on the American docks.

If proof were needed of Brando’s genius, it is here. His restrained and sensitive performance as Terry Malloy, the ex-boxer wrestling with his conscience, is quite different from his portrayal of the violent and vengeful Stanley Kowalski in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ (1951). “If there is a better performance by a man in the history of film in America, I don't know what it is,” director Kazan said.

The movie was made after Kazan had testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee, naming former associates who were involved with the Communist Party. This made him a pariah in left-wing circles. ‘On the Waterfront’ was Kazan's justification for his decision to testify. In the film, when a union boss shouts, “You ratted on us, Terry,” the Brando character shouts back: “I'm standing over here now. I was rattin'
on myself all those years. I didn't even know it.” That reflects Kazan's belief that communism was an evil that had to be opposed.

Fun fact: as I write this today (July 2021), Eva Marie Saint is still alive, aged 97.

‘Good Morning Vietnam’ (1987), expertly directed by Barry Levinson, is a very funny movie with a serious core. I like it partly because of the setting in Vietnam, the country where I live, but mainly because of Robin Williams. I find most of his movies sickly, but this one hits the spot. Williams missed out on an Oscar (Michael Douglas won it that year) but picked up a Golden Globe.

Williams is brilliant as a fast-talking, wise-cracking radio disc jockey in Saigon during the Vietnam War. Some of his jokes are hilarious but delivered at such breakneck speed they can be hard to catch. Though the screenplay was written by Mitch Markowitz, most of Williams’s zany gags were improvised.

This is very much a one-man movie, but I also enjoyed the Forest Whittaker character and Noble Willingham’s cameo as General Taylor. Cu Ba Nguyen is a delightfully over-the-top Jimmy Wah.

What gives this comedy
teeth is the underlying very serious theme of America’s meddling in Vietnam. The joking evaporates during the bar scene where the redneck soldiers call Williams’ Vietnamese friend a ‘gook’. The friend’s impassioned speech at the end, explaining why he is working for the VC against the Americans, is very moving.

The movie cost $13 million to make and grossed $124 million at the box office.

Tunes of Glory’ (1960), directed by Ronald Neame, didn’t win any major prizes (although John Mills won Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival) but is a very strong movie. I have liked it ever since stumbling across it on DVD twenty years ago.

It revolves around a clash of personalities. Jock Sinclair, played by Alec Guinness, is the acting Colonel of a Scottish regiment but is replaced by Lieutenant Colonel Basil Barrow, played by John Mills. The two men are chalk and cheese: Sinclair is a former piper, a whisky-drinker and a bully with a loud extrovert personality, whereas Barrow is a quiet Oxford-educated teetotaller and martinet who goes by the book and disapproves of many things that went on under Sinclair’s command. Sinclair regards Barrow as his inferior, not a
proper man.

The ending is tragic and quite surprising.

Although Mills won a prize, the movie is a showcase for the genius of Alec Guinness. He puts on an authentic Scottish accent and alternately shocks and touches the viewer.

I suspect that this movie is not very well known. It can be found on Youtube.

Braveheart’ (1995) was nominated for 10 Oscars and won 5, including Best Picture, Best Cinematography and Best Director (Mel Gibson).

Nearly 3 hours long, ‘Braveheart’ is an epic adventure story, enthralling from start to finish. The battle scenes are terrific, and it has characters of real substance.

Mel Gibson is both the leading man and the director – no mean feat. When I was teaching in Argentina, the students identified with his portrayal of the Scottish rebel, William Wallace, because William Wallace stood up to the English. This was shortly after the war between Argentina and Great Britain over the sovereignty of the Falklands, which Argentina believes should belong to them.

There is a fine cameo from Patrick McGoohan as the English King Edward 1. When he sees the Irish soldiers deserting from his army to join the
Scots, he utters a single word: “Irish”. Just one word, but he injects it with such withering contempt it is unforgettable.

Sophie Marceau as the French Princess is absolutely gorgeous.

Braveheart’ cost $72 million to make and grossed $210 million at the box office.

Fun facts: 1,600 extras were used for the battle scenes. Most were members of the F.C.A., the reserve Irish Army. Several major battle scenes had to be reshot because extras were wearing sunglasses and wristwatches. (No Irish jokes, please.)

Gregory’s Girl’ (1980), directed and written by Bill Forsyth, is a charming, innocent, funny movie about an adolescent Scottish boy who has a crush on a girl at school. It was nominated for 3 BAFTA’s and won Best Screenplay.

The movie is a study of adolescent behaviour. The girls in the movie come across as smarter and more mature than the boys or even the teachers, especially the pathetic football coach and the Headmaster, lost in his world of piano-playing and pastry-sampling.

Gregory is hopelessly uncoordinated both physically and emotionally and could be described as an immensely likeable stork.

This is a heart-warming movie, a breath of fresh air, with
a lovely finale.

Macbeth’ (1971), directed by Roman Polanski, with screenplay by Polanski and Kenneth Tynan, is one of many movie versions of Shakespeare’s play. I used to show it to my classes whenever we studied ‘Macbeth’ because it is such a thrilling spectacle. Financed by Playboy magazine, this is a big-budget, glossy Shakespeare acted in traditional costume. Anthony Mendleson won a BAFTA for his costume design.

The acting is not great. Macbeth (Jon Finch) and Lady Macbeth (Francesca Annis) look the part but, judged by the highest standards, are rather wooden.

Polanski attempts to popularize the play by stressing gore and nudity. We see Macbeth murdering King Duncan, an event that happens offstage in Shakespeare’s text. The murders of Banquo and Lady Macduff and her son are graphically portrayed. The beautiful Francesca Annis is nude in the sleep-walking scene (not surprising for a movie produced by Playboy).

Certain scenes are brilliantly visual – notably the murders of Duncan and Banquo and Macduff’s household; the Banquet, when Banquo’s ghost appears; the Witches showing Macbeth his destiny; Birnam Wood seen moving towards Dunsinane; Macbeth at the end, seemingly invulnerable, confronting Macduff.

The movie’s closing image, of
Donalbain seeking out the Witches, is a stroke of genius, a departure from the Shakespearean text but hugely effective and consistent with the theme of vaulting ambition.

The Adventures of Robin Hood’ (1938) won 3 Oscars (for Art Direction, Editing and Original Score) and was nominated for Outstanding Production (aka Best Picture).

This fine movie exists in an eternal summer of bravery and simple values. There is no clever subtext; it is enough that Robin wants to rob the rich, pay the poor and defend the good Saxons against the bad Normans.

Excitement, danger, suspense, romance and comedy are in full supply. Errol Flynn plays the swashbuckling Robin Hood with light-hearted smiling exuberance, reminding me of Roger Moore (as the Saint and James Bond). Olivia de Havilland is a radiant Maid Marian. Claud Rains and Basil Rathbone are suitably evil as Prince John and Sir Guy of Gisborne. However, nothing remotely nasty ever happens on screen, because the movie is essentially joyous and far-fetched.

The action moves along at a cracking pace, credit for which must go to director Michael Curtiz (who directed ‘Casablanca’ in 1942).

The dramatic Oscar-winning music blends perfectly with the action,
helping to create a mood of playful and exciting adventure.

I love the Sherwood Forest scene where King Richard throws off his abbot’s disguise. Robin Hood and the men of Sherwood are awe-struck at the sight of His Majesty and instantly kneel down, pledging their loyalty to the true King of England.

Fun fact: first choice for the role of Robin Hood was little James Cagney. Thank god he fell by the wayside.

North by North West’ (1959), directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Cary Grant, has a deservedly high reputation. It was nominated for 3 Oscars and has two of the most iconic sequences in movie history: the crop-dusting scene and the showdown on Mount Rushmore.

It is also surprisingly forthright regarding sexual matters; there aren’t many euphemisms or double entendres between Grant and the beautiful Eva Marie Saint. Their conversations on the train contain some splendid lines, credit for which must go to screenwriter Ernest Lehman.

The movie is dominated by Cary Grant with his effortless charm and ready wit. This, I think, is his greatest movie.

Director Hitchcock handles the ending masterfully, the scene suddenly changing from Mount Rushmore to a
Pullman compartment, where Grant is lifting his bride-to-be into an upper berth. What happens next is suggested by the final image of a phallic train entering a tunnel.

For its combination of memorable set pieces, ingenious plot, intelligent script and charismatic leading man, ‘North by North West’ takes some beating.

Apocalypse Now’ (1979) is a great war movie, the best movie about the war in Vietnam (although 'Good Morning Vietnam' is a contender). Nominated for 8 Oscars, it won 2: for Best Cinematography and Best Sound. This was the year when ‘Kramer v Kramer’ scooped 3 of the big Oscars, but ‘Kramer v Kramer’, for all its virtues, pales into insignificance beside ‘Apocalypse Now’ which, in my opinion, deserved to win Best Picture, Best Director (Francis Ford Coppola) and Best Supporting Actor (Robert Duvall).

It is a sprawling movie – 2 hours and 33 minutes long or, if you watch the redux version, 3 hours and 22 minutes. Some of the scenes are unforgettable.

The scene in which Robert Duvall, as the surfing-obsessed Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (symbolic surname), leads his troops in a helicopter assault on a village is, quite simply, the best movie battle
scene ever filmed. As the helicopters close in, to the accompaniment of Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkyries’, we are simultaneously numbed and exhilarated. And the line where Duvall confesses he “loves the smell of napalm in the morning” is one of the most iconic lines in movie history.

Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen and Dennis Hopper are all brilliant. The 60’s rock’n’roll soundtrack opens and closes, most fittingly, with ‘The End’ by The Doors. And behind every scene is Oscar-winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro’s glorious imagery, shot on location in the Philippines.

If you like your movies tight and disciplined (like ‘Kramer v Kramer’ or ‘High Noon’), you may not like ‘Apocalypse Now’. I like both sorts. ‘Apocalypse Now’ reminds me of one of those great sprawling novels by Charles Dickens – ‘Bleak House’, for example – which are full of memorable scenes and weird characters held together by some overarching idea. In this case, it is the idea that war is hell.

I love a good western, and ‘High Noon’ (1952) is the best. I first watched it on BBC one Saturday afternoon in the early 1960’s; when heavy rain forced ‘Grandstand’ to cancel its racing programme, ‘High
Noon’ was shown instead. I was hooked.

I’ve watched ‘High Noon’ many times since, and it never fails to move me. It was nominated for 7 Oscars and won 4: Best Actor (Gary Cooper), Best Editing, Best Score, Best Original Song (‘Do not forsake me, oh my darling’).

The movie resonates emotionally because of Will Kane’s (Gary Cooper’s) predicament: a lone man seeking help but finding none, up against dastardly Frank Miller and his gang of outlaws.

Although ‘High Noon’ is now recognized as a classic, it was criticized upon its release because it was so different from other Westerns. It didn't have wagon chases, shootouts and gorgeous vistas of the Old West. It was a small-scale story told in real time. It favoured tension over action. It was basically a thriller that just happened to be set in the West.

The events of the movie happen in real time, with a minute on the screen equalling one in the cinema. There is terrific suspense as the clock ticks down to the noon arrival of the train carrying Frank Miller.

‘High Noon’ was described by John Wayne as the most un-American movie he'd ever seen.He
saw the plot as an allegory for McCarthyism (which it was). Just as the people of Hadleyville were unwilling to stand up and do the right thing, so Americans who opposed Joseph McCarthy’s blacklisting of Hollywood writers and actors deemed ‘communist’ were also afraid to stand up and do the right thing.

And Wayne was infuriated by the movie’s last scene, where Kane throws his marshal’s badge on the ground and tramples it. Showing such disrespect for the job was anathema to the ultra-conservative patriotic Wayne.

Politics and allegory apart, ‘High Noon’ is a little gem of suspenseful movie-making. I loved it when I was 11 and will keep on watching it until I expire.

For some time I was put off watching ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ (1994) by its boring title. Then a friend sat me down in front of it and I was gobsmacked.

It is my favourite prison movie. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman are the stars. Although a fairytale with an improbable feel-good ending, it packs a considerable emotional punch. It won some prizes but no Oscars, despite being nominated for seven. On imdb it has a user rating of 9.3/10, the highest
I’ve ever seen.

It is full of memorable scenes: Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) telling Prison Guard Hadley how to avoid inheritance tax; the suicide of the old librarian; the leader of the Sisters ordering Andy to perform fellatio; Andy’s ingenious escape.

But my favourite scene is where Andy plays an excerpt from Mozart’s ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ over the public address system, giving the prisoners a little solace and driving the Warden wild.

Looked at dispassionately, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ (1946) is seriously flawed. The human events are framed inside a silly heavenly drama involving a guardian angel with the absurd name of Clarence. Mr Potter is a pantomime villain, a mere caricature. The happy ending is wildly improbable. In short, the movie is a sentimental and corny piece of Hollywood hokum. However, these blemishes fade into insignificance when one is watching it, because ‘It's a Wonderful Life’ is a heart-warming and enriching experience.

Every year around Xmas, there are two stories guaranteed to show up somewhere, sometime on television: ‘A Christmas Carol’ (of which there are several good versions) and ‘It's a Wonderful Life’ (of which there is only one). In both stories, the visions
supplied by supernatural beings convince their subjects of the value of life and the importance of the contribution of the individual.

As well as being vastly popular, 'It's a Wonderful Life' is brilliantly made, kudos for which must go to director Frank Capra. However, the lion’s share of kudos goes to the incomparable James Stewart whose brilliant acting skills light up every scene.

The movie was nominated for 5 Oscars. It baffles me that James Stewart did not win Best Actor, because I think this is his greatest performance and one of the greatest acting performances in the history of cinema. However, the 1947 Academy Awards were dominated by ‘The Best Years of Our Lives’ which claimed 7 Oscars, leaving ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ empty-handed. It’s weird how time has totally changed the critical and popular perspective on these two movies.

I have never been so moved by a movie as when I watched ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ on the big screen in Birmingham in 1975. One of the greatest movies of all time with a stellar performance by Jack Nicholson as R. P. McMurphy. In fact it won all the big Oscars – Best
Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay – the so-called ‘Big Five’. Only two other movies have achieved this: ‘It Happened One Night’ (1934) and ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ (1991).

The movie is essentially very serious - R. P. McMurphy’s fight against the system – but is so full of laughs that, at times, it can be mistaken for a comedy. I love the fishing trip scene where McMurphy introduces the mental patients as college professors.

The ending is deeply shocking and, finally, uplifting when we see the influence that McMurphy has had on the Chief.

Fun fact: Jack Nicholson was offered the role of R. P. McMurphy only after Gene Hackman and Marlon Brando had turned it down.

Some Like It Hot’ (1959) is a small miracle of a movie. I am not usually a fan of comedies, but this one is flawless. From beginning to end, the witty lines and comic situations come thick and fast. There is not a dull moment or a dud line in the entire movie.

It was nominated for 6 Oscars and won 1 – for Costume Design. I think it deserved to win Best
Director (Billy Wilder), Best Screenplay (Billy Wilder) and Best Actor (Jack Lemmon). However, this was the year of ‘Ben Hur’, which scooped a record 11 Oscars.

Lemmon and Tony Curtis are tremendous as the musicians, disguised as women, on the run from Chicago gangsters. Marilyn Monroe provides the eye candy, combining bewitching sexuality with little-girl innocence.It is an act of the will to watch anyone else while she is on the screen.

The script is a delight. Billy Wilder builds a mountain of gags around a hilarious plot. Here are two. The bandleader, addressing the audience, says: “Every girl in my band is a virtuoso, and I want to keep it that way.” Marilyn Monroe, admiring her diamond bracelet, says: “Real diamonds. They must be worth their weight in gold.”

Legends surround the movie. Kissing Marilyn, Curtis famously said, was like kissing Hitler. Marilyn Monroe required 47 takes to get "It's me, Sugar" correct, instead saying either "Sugar, it's me" or "It's Sugar, me." And she had so much trouble saying one line ("Where's the bourbon?") while looking in a dresser drawer that Wilder had the line pasted inside the drawer. Then she opened the wrong drawer. So he had it pasted inside every drawer.

Fun fact: Tony Curtis asked Billy Wilder if he could imitate Cry Grant for his stint as the millionaire in the movie. Wilder liked it, so they shot it that way.

Fun fact: Upon its original release, Kansas banned the film from being shown in the state, explaining that cross-dressing was "too disturbing for Kansans."

‘Some Like It Hot’ is so good it must be a contender for greatest movie ever made. It is certainly the best comedy.

The Godfather’ (1972) is a superb movie that deservedly won 3 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Actor (Marlon Brando) and Best Screenplay – and was nominated for 8 others. Such was the strength of the acting that no fewer than 3 actors – Robert Duvall, Al Pacino and James Caan – were nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Costing $6 million to make, ‘The Godfather’ grossed $245 at the box office. It has a stratospheric imdb user rating of 9.2/10.

The opening wedding scene – with Don Corleone alternately granting favours in his study and enjoying the party - is brilliantly done, and the movie goes from strength to strength with no end of memorable set pieces: the racehorse’s head in the studio boss’s bed (“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse”); the hospital scene where Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) looks after his wounded father; Michael’s murder of the corrupt policeman; Don Corleone’s reaction to the news that Michael has avenged him; Michael walking with his fiancée, Apollonia, through the Sicilian countryside with female chaperones and armed gunmen in tow; their wedding party; Apollonia’s murder; Sonny beating up his brother-in-law in the street; Sonny’s death; Don Corleone’s death; the baptism of Michael’s godson juxtaposed with the assassinations of the rival Mafia bosses.

Yes, this is a very violent movie, but the stellar acting and direction and script and the underlying themes (family responsibility, a father's legacy, the need to earn respect, the corrupting influence of power) make it special. Almost 3 hours long, ‘The Godfather’ is riveting from start to finish. It is an incredibly rich movie, beside which most other movies seem shallow and trivial.

At the movie’s centre, Marlon Brando, wearing a voice-distorting mouthpiece, plays the Mafia boss to perfection. Corrupt as he is, we admire him, and when the old man falls dead among his tomato plants, we feel that a giant has passed. This may be Brando’s finest role, and he may be the finest screen actor who ever lived.

The Godfather’ is the best gangster movie (although the sequel, ‘Godfather 2’, runs it close) and possibly the best movie ever made. I began my favourite movies theme by stating that ‘Casablanca’ is my favourite movie, but there are times when I prefer ‘The Godfather’.

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