We challenged our writers to fight the corner of their favourite films and a varied, interesting, and in places controversial, set of choices were the result. There’s comedy, action, sci-fi and psychological thrillers, but most of all- there’s a passion for cinema.
The Manchurian Candidate (1962) – Liam Dunn
What I love about The Manchurian Candidate is that it is not only a great political thriller but also a jet-black satire. That it was released in 1962, during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis and one year before the assassination of JFK makes the film as a whole even stranger than the bizarre dialogue and hallucinatory sequences it contains.
The film follows Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey), an American soldier brainwashed by the Soviets into becoming an assassin. What could have been a generic potboiler becomes a scathing indictment of McCarthyism and reveals the hypocrisy of America’s righteous indignation, showing both sides of the Cold War with the same dis-taste.
The acting across the board is also truly excellent, from Frank Sinatra’s sweaty, nightmare plagued Bennett Marco to an Oscar-nominated villainous turn from Angela Lansbury; you’ll never look at Jessica Fletcher the same way again.
Inception- Oliver Rowe
A dramatic thriller, heist-movie, crime epic, psychological thriller, science fiction film, even a tragic love story – what is Inception? All of these things. Memento was Christopher Nolan’s grassroots masterpiece, but it is in Inception that Nolan re-connected with the style that led to his acclaim – his unique skill of ‘storytelling-by-not-storytelling’ was put back on display, (in the wake of finding Hollywood success with the excellent reboot of the Batman franchise). Inception reignited the much-needed flame of the ‘intelligent blockbuster’, and proved that films did not have to be dumbed down in order to be commercially and critically successful. Capitalising on the success of The Dark Knight, Inception is arguably the peak of Nolan’s recent filmmaking, with impressive set pieces alongside empathetic characters and a complex plot. Nolan’s entire filmography is hugely impressive, but Inception is arguably the closest he’s come to ‘perfect’. Its layers are gradually, beautifully revealed and all mesh perfectly – the ensemble cast is spectacular, and Nolan’s admirable reliance on as many practical effects as possible, as well as the twisting, ambiguous, potentially non-linear story all helped to usher in a new era of intelligent film-making.
Hannibal- Phil Gorski
Somewhere between a terrific novel by Thomas Harris and its evolution into a show stuffed to the brim with ‘wink-wink-nudge-nudge-I’m-a-cannibal’ moments, Hannibal found its way to cinema. (For the sake of fairness, before continuing, it should be noted that most anything starring Sir Anthony Hopkins has a damn good head start.)
Hannibal was to movies of its time what modern psychological thrillers are to their current horror movie counterparts. Each drop of blood measured, with no -gore for gore’s sake- and the suspense felt masterfully crafted to fit the way Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling circle one another as simultaneously equals and opposites.
There are a few moments that feel a bit silly compared to the overall tone of the movie, such as Ray Liotta’s final scene, but Hannibal is a tremendous success in terms of creating a creepy, smart horror film that moviegoers don’t get to see enough of these days.
Seven Samurai- Emlyn Roberts-Harry
What is there new to say about Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece and one of the greatest and most influential action films ever made? Reams have been written about it in the over 60 years since it was first released, but perhaps the best thing that can be said is that it’s hardly aged a day. Even now it’s a strikingly lean, modern film, a piece of pure blockbuster entertainment powered by the singular creative vision of an auteur at the absolute peak of his powers. Practically every film where the plot involves putting an expert team together has borrowed from it, from The Magnificent Seven to The Avengers. And the final battle in the rain is still one of the very best action sequences ever put on film.
Kung Fu Panda 2- Josh Radburn
The Kung Fu Panda series is a tale of heroism in its purest form. It bathes its hero and audience in the same childlike wonderment found in the wide eyes of our younger selves as we gawped up at the silver screen’s greatest heroes. It’s the most technically and narratively solid series in recent memory; unwaveringly faultless in the pacing of its comedy, drama and visuals. The reason the sequel sits on a pedestal above its predecessor is down to Lord Shen. An ethereal yet fragile warrior, Shen’s motives are that of a misunderstood genius with a toddler like ferocity. He provides Kung Fu Panda 2 with a villain we know and have seen in others or even ourselves growing up, and becomes a plot deepening device for our hero, Po – the pandafication of an entire audience’s inner-child’s wish to do good and save the world.
Rocknrolla – Anna Whealing
Right from the title credits, Guy Richie’s third London gangster crime-comedy is pure, action fuelled entertainment. This is a film born of clever script patter, pleasingly unrealistic characters and a maze of entwining sub-plots; topped off by a cracking soundtrack. The fast paced style is characterised by constant movement on screen and various different and contrasting urban settings. What keeps audiences returning to Rocknrolla, is the way it presents the world of London gangsters, junkies, rock-stars, Russian mobsters and accountants – a world completely inaccessible – in a highly comedic, captivating and familiar manner. Richie undermines old sinister clichés by inviting you to laugh at them, and consequently provoking a connection to these hapless characters that cannot be ignored; or indeed, left off your favourites list.
Star Trek the Motion Picture- Gareth Wood
Helping to bring new life into being saves the world. That’s what happens at the end of Star Trek the Motion Picture as Will Decker joins himself to the powerful V’Ger, a living machine searching for spiritual fulfilment. As a finale to one of the most ambitious films ever made, it’s a welcome antidote to anyone weary of today’s diet of kid friendly science fiction blockbusters where triumph is achieved through clichéd, dramatic action sequences rather than reasoning.
That this film was seen as a failure at the time isn’t surprising. An exceedingly experimental film, it was derided by critics as relying too much on special effects and style over substance. That it has achieved a well-deserved cult status is due to the fact that the plot was based around thinking your way out of a situation instead of just blasting away until and all the bad guys are dead and the emotional overture kicks in.
Apocalypse Now- George Storr
In a word, Apocalypse Now is haunting. Based on Joseph Conrad’s classic novel, Heart of Darkness the film is a fantastically sound-tracked, surrealist masterpiece, which is infinitely memorable. Long after the film has finished it’s guaranteed that The End, by The Doors, will still be playing on an interminable loop in your head.
Martin Sheen stars, Robert Duvall and Marlon Brando also feature in notable roles (a young Harrison Ford features too,) Duvall’s role of course featuring the immortal and often quoted lines ‘I love the smell of napalm in the morning… smells like victory’. Apocalypse Now examines through a surreal lens, how the Vietnam War tore the country apart and how it tore apart many of the men that fought in it.
Each stop off point on the film’s journey is unique and more surreal than the last. Amazingly atmospheric, dark and gripping it is Apocalypse Now’s creation of that atmosphere which is truly un-paralleled and it makes the film a unique cinematic experience.
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