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    Nov 10, 2014

    Matt's 24 Favourite Films

    I originally made this list before my 22nd birthday as part of a promotion of my music and media profile. However, I've decided to update this list once every few months, as my tastes change and I became aware of new work; and add an extra film to the list as I age each year.

    24. High-Rise (2016, Ben Wheatley)

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    Based on the novel by JG Ballard, High-Rise presents a somewhat comical, somewhat horrifying vision of the future imagined in the 70s.

    Tom Hiddlestone stars as Dr Robert Laing, a middle class everyman who moves into a new High-Rise tower, which is something of a social experiment, where the higher classes live on the upper floors and vice versa.

    After moving in he makes two friends; the High rise's creator, Royal and a long-suffering working class father, Richard Wilder. He also falls in love with a socialite of a similar social class to him.

    As the working classes rebel and the upper classes react the tower descends into anarchy and chaos.

    This chaos is perfectly directed by Ben Wheatley, who clearly revels in the comical insanity of the situations, upends the audiences expectations and blurs the line between tastefulness and horror. The whole film channels A Clockwork Orange; and like in that film where we begin to relate to Alex despite all the horrible things he's done; in High-Rise the most relatable character is a coke-snorting rapist. Indeed this gives way to the most memorable quote of the film, when Laing describes him as 'possibly the most sane man in this building.'

    I left the film feeling somewhat educated, somewhat entertained and somewhat violated. Few films have had such a profound emotional effect on me.

    23. La Science Des Reves (2006, Michel Gondry)

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    Michel Gondry's bizarre romantic comedy is both light hearted and tragic simultaneously. As a bit of a linguist, I quite enjoyed the film switching between equal parts French, Spanish and English; and the stop motion animation tied into the film is magical and works perfectly.

    Stephane (Gael Garcia) is a young man who grew up in Mexico with his father after his parents divorced; after his father dies he is cajoled into moving to Paris by his French mother. He doesn't speak French so well, though, leading him to conduct a lot of his conversations in English or Spanish. He meets his neighbour (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her friend; and after fancying her friend for a while, falls in love with her. His problem however is that he has inredibly surreal dreams which he finds difficult separating with his reality, leading to terrible confusion about the relationships with people around him.

    I enjoy this film mainly for its offbeat storytelling style and aesthetic but it's also quite nice to see a love story surrounding an obssessive and possibly autistic person, and letting his character and his love interest's character develop through off the wall creativity and see their personalities develop to an infectious level - which is what the characters really fall in love with, rather than two beautiful people finding each other attractive. There's sadness and hilarity in equal measure, and the film doesn't force you to laugh at somebody who's weird, but embraces the weirdness and finds humour in the surrealism the situation creates. It's all very French, which is a fitting way to begin this list, seeing as cinema as we know it was practically a French invention.

    22. Unbreakable (2000, M Night Shyamalan)

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    I will happily stick my neck out and proclaim this as one of the best superhero films ever. While most superhero movies glory in the special effects and daft array of costumes, Shyamalan manages to totally humanise the characters in this tale. There are a selection of brilliant moments - the intense scene where the child holds a gun to his dad; the emotional one where the father and son reconcile silently and the tragic nature of all of Samuel L. Jackson's scenes (I've never seen him act so well as in this film). There is, of course, a twist ending, and while it may not compare too favourably with that of The Sixth Sense (1999); there are clues towards it throughout the film, so you don't feel you've been duped/led astray/betrayed (like in The Village (2004)), and in retrospect it makes perfect sense, and heightens the ambiguity of the characters.

    21. Stalker (1979, Andrei Tarkovsky)

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    To understand Stalker, you need to first consider the time and place in which it was made. It was made in the secretive USSR during the Cold War, at a time when the soviets wanted to project an image of unfounded prosperity not just onto the world but onto their own people.

    And so came along Stalker, which was adapted from a novel, Roadside Picnic. In the film, the world is more or less the same as a contemporary USSR, but there is a no-go zone which has been the site of extraterrestrial activity. It is fabled that in this zone, one can realise their true desires.

    Two men, led by a guide, a 'stalker, travel into the zone to do this. While they are there, they find that the laws of physics and logic are subtly changed to confuse and trick them.

    Not only is the film brimming with political statement that is still relevant today, but it is beautifully shot. The transition from black and white bleak cityscape to full colour countryside in the 'zone' is indicative of how much the director is intent on showing you rather than telling you - you could watch the film without subtitles and still pick up a lot of inference from it.

    20. The Shining (1980, Stanley Kubrick)

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    I do love the films of Stanley Kubrick; but they are mostly a difficult watch. Despite this film being his only out-and-out horror, it's probably the easiest to simply sit and watch for entertainment (or scare) value. Unsettling throughout; if you haven't seen the film before, you will watch most of the scenes on the edge of your seat, unsure as to when something's going to happen. If you have watched it before you can enjoy it again for it's pace and story, and for Jack Nicholson's completely insane lead role. It's not a particularly funny film, but the 'Wendy, Darling, Light of my life!' line is so demonically uttered it never fails to make me chuckle. Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd and Scatman Crothers all give terrific performances too, to make this a landmark of horror.

    19. Waltz With Bashir (2008, Ari Folman)

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    Waltz With Bashir is a stark and harrowing autobiographical documentary made by Ari Folman who was in the Israeli army during the war with Lebanon and witnessed the Beirut massacres. However, due to some form of PTSD he has no recollection of the incidents save for one cryptic memory that may not even be real.

    The animation style is beautiful, yet terrifying and in using animation it creates a documentary otherwise impossible as Folman can animate events from his and others' memories.

    The film throws up serious questions about the morality of the war and those who fought it, without judging or lecturing the audience.

    18. Moonrise Kingdom (2012, Wes Anderson)

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    Clearly taking a leaf out of Peter Greenaway's abstract book, this film is again visually entrancing; the detail of the background is fantastic and the music fits perfectly with the setting. The characters in Moonrise Kingdom bear similarities to characters in his earlier work; but the children hold an innocence that is endearing, compared to the disaffected and somewhat unlikeable demeanour of his adult characters. A light-hearted comedy that nonetheless manages to capture a certain darkness to provide an emotional depth not normally seen in Anderson's films.

    17. Pulp Fiction (1994, Quentin Tarantino)

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    Possibly the most quotable movie on this list; Pulp Fiction has a selection of well-rounded characters, well written yet deceptively simple storylines knit together in a complex, but necessary manner and a classic cinematic mystery - what is in the briefcase? I heard a theory that it contains Marsellus Wallace's soul; hence the plaster on the back of his neck. It's worth watching the film again from that perspective as it sheds new light on the violence.

    16. Children Of Men (2006, Alfonso Cuaron)

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    Word of warning, don't watch the trailer past 1m20s if you haven't seen the film as it contains a pretty major spoiler; it was the only official trailer I could find, and I couldn't be bothered sifting through hours of fan made trailers to see if they contained spoilers...

    In the near future, humankind has become infertile and the world has descended into chaos as a result. Theo (Clive Owen) is approached by his ex-girlfriend (Julianne Moore), now a fugitive, labeled a terrorist by the British government, the only government yet to have fallen, to smuggle a young woman out of the country. With Britain violently militarized and concentration camps set up for immigrants; Theo is forced out of his comfortable life to confront the harsh realities of utter desperation.

    Not only is this one of the greatest concepts to a sci-fi film to have been made, but the cinematography is incredible. Cuaron uses his trademark long takes to make the viewer his or her own character taking in a lot of the world that Theo doesn't notice or remark upon. All of the characters of well developed and multi-layered; especially Theo, who, though essentially a fish out of water, is weary and experienced which makes him a part of the world; not somebody for the audience to imprint themselves upon.

    Clive Owen, of course, gives a phenomenal performance in this role; Julianne Moore and Chiwetel Ejiofor are both fantastic as well. The only downside to this film is Michael Caine, who sticks out like a sore thumb, with an annoying character that seems to be an exposition tool and voices the philosophical themes to the audience. Without Caine, this would be in my top 10.

    15. Alien (1979, Ridley Scott)

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    It's got a fantastic trailer too (if I may just put a quick note about it first), even if it couldn't have a more 70s title reveal... Alien is one of the best horror films, and also one of the best sci-fi films ever made. People tend to quote Blade Runner as Ridley Scott's best sci-fi film, but ignore them; Alien is a work of genius. For a start it's filled with so many iconic moments:- John Hurt's chestburster scene (Hurt didn't even like sci-fi and was apparently reluctant to accept the role at first), the ship's cat, the appearance of the Alien, Sigourney Weaver generally and Ian Holm as the malfunctioning android. On a sci-fi specific note its visuals have inspired just about every sci-fi film and video game since. On a horror specific note, it treads the line of subtlety expertly:- The Alien is hardly seen, you just know it's on the ship somewhere and the set is magnificently claustrophobic so every nook and cranny is liable to set your teeth on edge. Whereas Aliens (the sequel) is daft, action packed and about as subtle as Brian Blessed; this film is deadly serious... deadly being the operative word.

    14. Only Lovers Left Alive (2014, Jim Jarmusch)

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    What I find really interesting about Jim Jarmusch as a filmmaker is the apparent symbiosis of music and story in his films - he says himself that he uses music to help him develop his ideas (Neil Young and Crazy Horse for Dead Man, for example).

    What I like about this film in particular is that it takes an overdone formula (vampire movie) but spins out a rather original story, and the soundtrack is pretty phenomenal. John Hurt playing Christopher Marlowe is quite a nice touch too.

    13. The Guard (2011, John Michael McDonagh)

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    The McDonagh family seem particularly gifted when it comes to dark comedies. The Guard, a send up of the countless American police dramas features Brendan Gleeson as a maverick cop in rural Ireland who is joined by a straight laced FBI Agent (Don Cheadle) to track down a large scale drug import and general hi jinx ensue. The best thing about The Guard is the refreshing use of Irish humour with the added irony of an American outside of his comfort zone (when the reverse is usually true (although you can substitute any foreign nation, or indeed US State for Irish)).

    12. Drowning By Numbers (1988, Peter Greenaway)

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    Probably the most bizarre film I've ever watched; Drowning by numbers is a dark comedy set in rural England where three generations of women (all named Cissy Colpitts) murder their husbands and elicit help covering it up from the sexually frustrated Henry Madgett (Bernard Hill). The film is visually exciting; featuring the numbers 1-100 appearing in ascending order throughout the film and an assortment of games (the majority of which were invented for the film) played by the cast while the story develops.

    11. A Town Called Panic (2009, Stephane Aubier/Vincent Patar)

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    I would defy people to have more fun watching another stop motion feature... or indeed any animated feature... or indeed any feature at all. A feature-length adaptation of a children's TV Show in France; A Town Called Panic (Panique Au Village) is a series of bizarrely random but visually exciting set pieces that follow each other like a set of tumbling dominoes. The story is actually quite good too:- After trying to build a homemade barbeque for Horse's birthday, Indian and Cowboy order 50 million bricks instead of 50 and try to hide them on top of their house which crushes it. While trying to rebuild the house, mysterious thieves keep coming and stealing the walls during the night. The trio then follow their quarries to the centre of the earth, the tundra and the bottom of the ocean to relocate their house and put these burglars in their place! Quick note, if you live in the UK and saw any adverts for Cravendale (milk) during 2007/2008, this will seem familiar to you; as the advert was based on the original TV series.

    10. Brazil (1985, Terry Gilliam)

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    I read a review for this film which summed it up rather well; to paraphrase; 'Terry Gilliam's Orwellian dark comedy is all the more relatable because nothing in this dystopian future works!'

    In Brazil, Gilliam was able to find his post-Python stride perfectly, without the (possible) hindrance of his former colleagues. You get all of the Python surrealist daftness, but the film inhabits a quality level far above that of any of the Python films, which all feel more cobbled together than crafted.

    Michael Palin joins his old Python collegaue gives an enjoyable performance as a slightly sociopathic man, and friend of the somewhat impotent protaganist played by Jonathan Pryce. Robert De Niro has a cameo as a rogue bolier-repair-man. Ian Holm and Jim Broadbent both turn up as men in positions of relative authority who seem to have no idea how they got there and the only person with any sort of purpose about them is Kim Greist's 'Jill' who inexplicably becomes the love interest of Sam Lowry (whose name is an obvious nod to the powerful-banal set up of Winston Smith in 1984).

    The end is rather ambiguous and after an amusing little nod to Battleship Potemkin, we are left wondering how much of the film happened inside Sam Lowry's head; moreover from which point in the film's narrative did he leave reality? The whole plot is so bizarre and far-fetched that one can debate this for hours.

    9. Sound Of Noise (2010, Ola Simonsson & Johannes Stjärne Nilsson)

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    If you love music, especially drumming, you'll love this film! This story is full of endearing characters and laugh-out-loud set pieces; I'm going to quote the blurb on my DVD case for this film, and let it speak for itself!

    'Police Officer Amadeus Warnerbring was born into a musical family with a long history of famous musicians. Ironically, he hates music. His life is thrown into chaos when a band of renegade musicians decide to perform a musical apocalypse using the city as their orchestra. Reluctantly, Wanerbring embarks on his first musical investigation...'

    8. Cloud Atlas (2012, The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer)

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    A lot of critics panned the film for its complex storyline, and others for its many differences to the book. On the latter point, I think the movie adapts the source material incredibly, making the frankly necessary changes to the story so that the final film is more cinematic, while maintaining the sense of connection throughout the six storylines that is described in the book. The huge ensemble cast all did their jobs superbly, particularly Ben Whishaw as a down-on-his-luck 1930s composer. The Wachowskis again excel at the visuals, making the film beautiful to behold. As for the complexity - it took me a few watches to get a firm handle on what was going on, but it's refreshing to see filmmakers tackle such a leftfield plot and dispense with the traditional beginning, middle and end. Expect to see similar movies appear in a few years.

    7. The Iron Giant (1999, Brad Bird)

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    In my opinion, the best animated film of all time. Not only is it visually appealing, but the animation is deliberately made in a style fitting of the 1950s, the period in which it is set. It's also wonderfully emotional for an animated flick. This is the first film that I saw out of any on this list; on its release, when I was a young child. Anyone who, like me, grew up with this movie will find their eyes moistening if you simply say 'I go, you stay, no following' especially if you do a good impression of Vin Diesel's low robot voice.

    6. Amelie (2001, Jean-Pierre Jeunet)

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    One of the few feelgood films that I can actually endure; Amelie is a sweet romantic comedy with fairytale-like visuals that make the film a feast for the eyes. A strong lead performance from Audrey Tatou was essential, and we, the audience, can cheerfully enjoy her imp-esque presence as she goes about the number of bizarre tasks chronicled in the film. The film is fairly linear in a sense; it's a romantic comedy and that's all you get, but in this case, that's all you need.

    5. Apocalypse Now (1979, Francis Ford Coppola)

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    One of the few war films that I rate; and certainly the best concerning Vietnam, Apocalypse Now is impressively stark, neither glorifying war nor explicitly condemning it. The most horrifying thing about it is the cavalier attitude of many of the soldiers in the story - 'I love the smell of napalm in the morning... smells like victory'. Marlon Brando's colonel Kurtz is a well engineered as a MacGuffin for the most part of the film, but his final reveal doesn't disappoint. He comes across as powerful and reasonable whilst also managing to sound insane without losing any of his conviction. The music plays a large part too; with The Doors's 'This Is The End' opening serenely over war footage setting the morally ambiguous tone of the film.

    4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick)

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    Probably the best film on my list, if not all time; misses out on number 1 as, despite its brilliance, it's quite a difficult watch: I can't quite enjoy the film as much as the two that follow it. Still, considering that it was made 46 years previous to the time of writing, it's visuals are still stunning now. To understand its legacy, simply look at any sci-fi film to follow this one and see how many cliches and influences you can find that were from this film. To name a few - the use of Also Spracht Zarathustra as the theme music, the maniacal psycho-computer, the unbelievable portrayal of zero-gravity, the black monolith, the star child, the human-voices-that-sound-like-angry-bees music, the trippy star-gate sequence, the moon base, the evolution of man (and implying that despite our technology, we're still primitive) and, of course, 'Open the pod bay doors, HAL!' 'I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that'

    3. Blade Runner (1982, Ridley Scott)

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    When I first saw this film, I didn't like it because of the lack of story I had perceived. But upon repeat viewings I gleaned more of the story that had been subtly implied, and I had missed first time.

    I always thought that the film looked incredible - and consider that it came out over 30 years ago - this is no doubt thanks to Scott's history of directing commercials; he is very much aware of the consumer culture and is able to caricature it whilst still operating inside the bounds of realism.

    Harrison Ford's performance is suitably understated and Sean Young's somewhat hysterical, giving perfect weight to the what-it-means-to-be-human theme. For a long time Samuel L. Jackson's quote in Pulp Fiction was probably my favourite movie quote, but I think Rutger Hauer's 'I've seen things you people wouldn't believe' speech surpasses it.

    If you, like me, saw this film once and didn't think much of it, I urge you to see it again as this is one of those films that just can't be appreciated from one viewing.

    2. Dr. Strangelove (1964, Stanley Kubrick)

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    Kubrick's best in my opinion; a film that is still highly watchable 50 years after its release. Consider that when it was released, the Cold War was at its height and the threat of nuclear annihilation was a constant concern for the average civillian. While we may now consider satire as normal; to challenge and mock most people's worst fears was a brave and unprecedented move. Peter Sellers shines in all three of his roles (The old RAF pilot, The US President and the titular Doctor) and the farce develops in just the right way to deliver you into hysterics at just the right moment; whilst providing an unbowdlerised social commentary, that still seems potent today, despite the Cold War being a thing for history books.

    1. Pan's Labyrinth (2006, Guillermo Del Toro)

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    Why is this film number one? So. Many. Reasons. Del Toro's (once again) wonderfully imagined creatures, especially the hand-eye thing. The visually appealing fantasy world. The use of shapes rather than colour palettes to distinguish the two worlds (Straight lines for reality and circles for fantasy), the use of less (or more subtle) violence as the film's tone gets considerably darker. The un-hollywood ambiguous ending. The strong advocacy for feminism with its two main characters (Ofelia, obviously, and Mercedes the rebel posing as a cook). Sergi Lopez's performance as the expertly psychopathic Capitan Vidal. The look of the film in general. The folk/mythology storytelling. The backdrop of the (very real and very sadistic) Spanish Civil War. The Spanish Language itself, which due to its sonic qualities sounds somewhat more mythical (especially during narration). And finally, the both incredibly dark and somewhat sobering tone of the movie (especially during the final sequence) that is offset by the wonder and optimism of the fantasy world. Even if you don't speak Spanish; if you've seen it before (and therefore know the story) watch it without subtitles just so that you can look at everything.