So, Empire magazine recently performed a reader’s poll for their 301st issue, taking the public’s temperature on what are the best films of all time. As expected the results were varied and – such is the nature of a public vote – heavily skewed to crowd-pleasing blockbusters, especially in its top section. There’s nothing wrong with this. One of the greatest things a film can do is take the viewer on a wonderful journey.
While I’m not a regular reader of Empire anymore, I did pick up that issue, scribbled little ‘x’s by the movies I’d seen and, yes, I voted in the poll too (you could pick 5 movies, all 5 of mine featured, I was pleased to see)… Yet it left me wondering if it might be worth taking my own temperature at this time. What would my own personal 301 favourites look like? Could I even compile such a list, and how does one assign rank to that degree? I have my favourites (which are slowly being covered in more depth in my Why I Love… series and in no particular order, I might add) but 301 films? Isn’t that too many?
Turns out it’s not. Compiling this list (which was fun – I love lists) made me realise just how many I’ve seen, and also more pointedly, how many films I haven’t got around to yet (at the time of writing an unwatched Seven Samuari steelbook sits on my shelf chastising me for not arranging the necessary 3+ hours to contend with it).
So here, over the next few days, is a list of 301 films that I am hugely fond of circa June 2014, roughly in order of preference. As much as possible I’ve tried to go with gut instinct and not bow to what ought to be featured. Judging and ordering has been tricky, mixing feelings of respect with enjoyment, rewatchability and many other more intuitive values that these titles have for me.
I’d like to stress this is a personal list. Nobody helped compile it, it’s just me. It can’t possibly be comprehensive and it is entirely of my own design. It is not a definitive list, nor is it ‘correct’ in any way. It is simply my favourite 301 movies as of this time in my life. My hope is that, if I’m still doing this in a few years, I can contrast who I’ve become then with who I am now. So on to the list, which will be posted over 5 consecutive days, with more elaboration as we get nearer the top…
301. The Limey (1999, Steven Soderbergh) – Terence Stamp is irrepressible in this dreamlike revenge thriller.
300. The Running Man (1987, Paul Michael Glaser) – Arnie careers through one-liners in this trashy sci-fi actioner.
299. Post Tenebras Lux (2012, Carlos Reygadas) – Arty, sometimes maddening look at family and class in Mexico, peppered with some astonishing visual motifs. That thunderstorm…
298. Rashomon (1950, Akira Kurowawa) – Hugely influential, multi-perspective tale of murder based on a short story by Ryunosuke Akutagawa (though not the one called ‘Rashomon’, strangely).
297. Lars And The Real Girl (2007, Craig Gillespie) – Ryan Gosling buys himself an artificial girlfriend on the internet in this sweet, curious indie gem from Six Feet Under writer Nancy Oliver.
296. A Town Called Panic (2010, Stéphane Aubier & Vincent Patar) – Hilarious, exhausting claymation silliness best enjoyed on a sugar high and with company.
295. Down By Law (1985, Jim Jarmusch) – Tom Waits, John Lurie and Roberto Benigni are unlikely cellmates in Jim Jarmusch’s perennially cool cult cut.
294. The Godfather Part II (1974, Francis Ford Coppola) – Controversially low appearance(?) for the second installment in Coppola’s graceful gangster saga.
293. Ikiru (1952, Akira Kurosawa) – Unfolding slowly – and sneaky in its power – Kurosawa’s poem on mortality… and living… has universal appeal.
292. Three…. Extremes (2004, Park Chan-Wook, Takashi Miike & Fruit Chan) – Three Asian auteurs provide different bizarre tales for this portmanteau horror piece. Miike’s ‘Box’ provides an astonishing finale.
291. Somewhere (2010, Sofia Coppola) – Sofia Coppola returns to hotel rooms and tentative human connections for this slight but rewarding tale of a father and daughter getting to know one another.
290. American Mary (2012, Jen Soska & Sylvia Soska) – The Soska Sisters’ cult hit splices surgical and body horror motifs into something new and thoughtful, gracing Katharine Isabelle of Ginger Snaps fame with a gift of a role as titular medical student Mary.
289. Forrest Gump (1994, Robert Zemeckis) – Corny, sentimental, but hugely enjoyable slice of apple pie in which Tom Hanks plays the simple-minded man with a big heart. Aw shucks.
288. Rushmore (1998, Wes Anderson) – Wes Anderson broke into the public consciousness with this superb and quirky (unrequited) love triangle, featuring a breakout performance from Jason Schwartzman.
287. Gravity (2013, Alfonso Cuaron) – Sandra Bullock whizzes around the Earth and panics about it in this visually stunning rollercoaster ride.
286. A Scanner Darkly (2006, Richard Linklater) – Linklater rotoscopes his cast and stays faithful to Philip K Dick’s source material for this sci-fi tale of drug addiction and surveillance.
285. Room 237 (2012, Rodney Ascher) – A celebration (and lambasting) of fan obsession with Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.
284. Zero Dark Thirty (2012, Kathryn Bigelow) – Jessica Chastain gives a powerhouse central performance in this dramatisation of the search for Osama Bin Laden.
283. Back To The Future (1985, Robert Zemeckis) – Classic 80’s sci-fi adventure starring Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd.
282. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972, Luis Bunuel) – Scathing attack on middle class trivialities from the surrealist upstart Bunuel. Dinner, anyone?
281. Lawrence Of Arabia (1962, David Lean) – From Peter O’Toole’s droll performance to the astonishing widescreen cinematography, this epic production excels from end to end.
280. Body Heat (1981, Lawrence Kasdan) – Sweat-soaked film noir homage that sizzles thanks to great leading performances from William Hurt and Kathleen Turner.
279. Inland Empire (2006, David Lynch) – An unflinchingly ugly spiral down the rabbit hole from David Lynch. Difficult, sprawling and horrifying but with moments of absolute grace for the patient.
278. Freaks (1933, Todd Browning) – At times amateurish and, really, somewhat horrible in the way it bends to prejudice at the end… but what an end.
277. Thirst (2009, Park Chan-Wook) – The Korean master takes the vampire flick and twists it through multiple genres to his own amusement.
276. High Plains Drifter (1972, Clint Eastwood) – Eastwood paints the town red in this brutal little revenge Western.
275. 25th Hour (2002, Spike Lee) – Spike Lee memorialises 911 and gives Edward Norton one of his finest leading roles in this character drama that rewards repeat viewings.
274. Assault On Precinct 13 (1976, John Carpenter) – Carpenter relocates the Western to the bleak LA sprawl, setting up a run of incredibly impressive films… for about a decade or so…
273. Kwaidan (1964, Masaki Kobayashi) – Four Japanese horror stories are brought to theatrical life in this stylised portmanteau epic. Includes killer hair.
272. Naked Lunch (1991, David Cronenberg) – Any literal adaptation of Burroughs’ cult classic novel would be impossible, so Cronenberg inverted the film into a weird, weird exploration of the author’s murky psyche. Includes typewriter sex.
271. The Usual Suspects (1995, Bryan Singer) – That ending. The first time you saw it. Yeah, you remember feeling the rug go from underneath you.
270. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002, Peter Jackson) – The Helm’s Deep set-piece remains the high water mark for fantasy battle work on an epic scale.
269. LA Confidential (1997, Curtis Hanson) – Rolo Tomassi.
268. Frankenhooker (1990, Frank Henenlotter) – The first of a handful of great ‘bad’ movies. Riding the shockwave of 80’s excess, this misguided tale of a deranged scientist’s attempts to rebuild his girlfriend from dead hookers is a ridiculous romp.
267. Samurai Rebellion (1967, Masaki Kobayashi) – Back to more serious form, here’s one of Kobayashi’s great thrashings of the samurai genre. A slow build up that rewards with a stunning payoff.
266. Heima (2007, Dean DeBlois) – A Sigur Rós tour film… but so much more than that. The Icelandic Tourist Board’s work is done for them by the director of Lilo & Stitch.
265. Out Of The Past (1947, Jacques Tournier) – None-more-noiry 40’s yarn starring Robert Mitchum that throws the works in – dames, flashbacks, mobsters, Kirk Douglas – to thrilling effect.
264. The Descendants (2011, Alexander Payne) – George Clooney grieves for his comatose wife and grows closer to his daughters. Oh, he also tries to sort out a trust. I work in insurance, so that this film makes that interesting is a minor miracle.
263. Enter The Dragon (1973, Robert Clouse) – Bruce Lee does James Bond, only more badass, because he’s Bruce Lee.
262. Elephant (2003, Gus Van Sant) – Depiction of a high school shooting that chills to the bone.
261. The Blues Brothers (1980, John Landis) – Mixing up elements of musical, tour film, screwball adventure and then throwing in more car crashes than the rest of cinema together, seemingly… it can only be John Landis.
260. Barefoot In The Park (1967, Gene Saks) – Robert Redford and Jane Fonda are never-more-charming than in this superior romantic comedy about a young couple and their new apartment.
259. Near Dark (1987, Kathryn Bigelow) – The vampire movie meets the Western in Bigelow’s hot and dusty supernatural genre-splicer.
258. Holy Motors (2012, Leos Carax) – None-more-weird episodic surrealist odyssey. Carax’s celebration of performance.
257. Brief Encounter (1945, David Lean) – Celia Johnson is tempted to cheat on her husband when she meets charming stranger Trevor Howard. Couldn’t possibly be more British.
256. A Fistful Of Dollars (1964, Sergio Leone) – You’ll notice a paucity of John Wayne on this list. When it comes to Westerns, I choose Clint. Here he saddles up with Leone for the first time.
255. Edward Scissorhands (1990, Tim Burton) – Johnny Depp became an icon (or more of an icon?) with this superb modern fairy tale. This is why it snows.
254. Inception (2010, Christopher Nolan) – Nolan’s grandest design so far; dreams within dreams in this high-concept action movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
253. Ju-On: The Grudge (2002, Takashi Shimizu) – Basically, it creeped the living shit out of me. I watch a fair bit of horror, so props to Shimizu for getting under my skin. His own US remake is awful, mind.
252. Escape From New York (1981, John Carpenter) – Carpenter brings the feel of a comic-book to dystopian action sci-fi, then adds Kurt Russell. Get the popcorn.
251. Re-Animator (1985, Stuart Gordon) – It’s hard to know who to credit more, the special effects team behind all the gooey grue, or Jeffrey Combs for his batshit crazy turn as Herbert West.
250. Evil Dead II (1987, Sam Raimi) – Sticking with wacky, visceral horror from the 80’s, Bruce Campbell excels in Raimi’s sequel/reboot. There are other characters, but it feels like a one-man-show.
249. Porco Rosso (1992, Hayao Miyazaki) – Miyazaki’s first (but by no means last) appearance in the list. A cursed pig, a stalled romance, pirates of the sea and skies – what’s not to love?
248. The Shawshank Redemption (1994, Frank Darabont) – Perennial favourite, this prison movie about hope is good, solid entertainment.
247. Dead Man’s Shoes (2004, Shane Meadows) – For a brief moment it seemed like Paddy Considine was set to become our Robert De Niro. In light of recent decades, the fact that he didn’t may well be a blessing.
246. La Haine (1995, Mathieu Kassovitz) – Blistering, bristling French cinema, pulled convincingly from the projects and cast in unapologetic black and white.
245. Once Upon A Time In America (1984, Sergio Leone) – Take a day off; you’ll need it. Leone’s sprawling gangster tale has a sour taste, but it’s a masterwork.
244. Twelve Monkeys (1995, Terry Gilliam) – Brad Pitt is superbly off the wall, but the owner of this film is Gilliam, who wrestles time travel paradoxes into a bleak poem.
243. Withnail & I (1987, Bruce Robinson) – There’s a copy of this in every student digs across the UK. Fact.
242. Jackie Brown (1997, Quentin Tarantino) – Tarantino’s most mature piece of filmmaking so far, bolstered by fantastic central turns from Pam Grier and Robert Forster.
241. Dead Or Alive (1999, Takashi Miike) – “Hi, I’m Takashi Miike. Please enjoy my yakuza movie, which is going to start with an incredible montage, drift for a while through standard plot machinations, then end with, well, the most ludicrous showdown ever!”
240. Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (1970, Lucio Fulci) – Classic (if underseen) Giallo movie which features some striking surreal imagery, both genuinely erotic and horrifically grotesque.
239. Late Spring (1949, Yasujiro Ozu) – Ozu on classic form here, bringing us the quiet tale of a young woman who is loathe to leave her aging father. Quietly astonishing.
238. Blue Is The Warmest Colour (2013, Abdellatif Kechiche) – Last year’s Palme d’Or winner is a long, luxurious examination of the highs and lows of love. Simply, heart-wrenchingly complete.
237. The Thin Red Line (1998, Terrence Malick) – Malick is as poetic as ever, balancing his perennial grace with an angry whisper in this elegiac address on the horrors of World War II as a war against nature.
236. Memento (2000, Christopher Nolan) – Two ends of an amnesiac tale meet in the middle in Christopher Nolan’s attention-grabbing mission statement. Entertainment that requires your attention.
235. Catch-22 (1970, Mike Nichols) – Adapting Joseph Heller’s sprawling satirical war novel was always going to be an impossible task. With screenwriter Buck Henry, Nichols took an ambitious swipe at it. Worth investigation.
234. The Great Beauty (2013, Paolo Sorrentino) – An aging writer who has been living the high life in Rome reaches a place of contemplation and reflection. Stylish and luxurious.
233. The Stuff (1985, Larry Cohen) – A hugely enjoyable B-movie curio. An ice cream-like substance bubbles up out of the ground and gets mass-marketed as a tasty dessert… one that takes you over!
232. Heat (1995, Michael Mann) – Robert De Niro (before he went shit) and Al Pacino (before he wisely saw what was happening to De Niro) face off as cop and criminal. Oh, there’s a gun battle.
231. Letters From Iwo Jima (2006, Clint Eastwood) – The flip side to Flags Of Our Fathers, Eastwood presents the Japanese perspective on one of the most punishing defeats in the Pacific. Grim and haunting.
230. Bonnie And Clyde (1967, Arthur Penn) -A new language in screen violence was brought to the masses in this romanticised account of modern American crime folklore.
229. Deep Red (1975, Dario Argento) – Superior Giallo entry from Argento with a strange streak of humour. The answer to the riddle is right there in the picture, but I bet you won’t spot it first time through…
228. Schindler’s List (1993, Steven Spielberg) – Spielberg’s holocaust drama bristles with anger. As beautifully as it’s crafted, it’s easy to take for granted the impeccable talent on display. Hardly fun, but it excels on every level.
227. Straw Dogs (1971, Sam Peckinpah) – A difficult film. Peckinpah shows us ugliness, presents it uncomfortably, and leaves us deeply troubled. So it’s unsettling, harrowing and, in its own particular way… brilliantly executed.
226. Eyes Wide Shut (1999, Stanley Kubrick) – Slowly growing in stature (like a lot of Kubrick movies), his final film lingers for its dreamlike sprawl, something even Tom Cruise can’t fuck up.
225. Hunger (2008, Steve McQueen) – As white-hot as cinema gets, McQueen’s directorial debut concerning Bobby Sands’ prison hunger strike hinges on precision visuals and a committed performance from Michael Fassbender.
224. The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (2001, Peter Jackson) – The first installment in Peter Jackson’s ambitious Tolkien adaptation remains my favourite of the bunch.
223. The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013, Michael Scorsese) – Features the best scene of a man getting into a car, ever.
222. Django (1966, Sergio Corbucci) – I can’t pretend Tarantino didn’t bring me here, but what I wasn’t expecting was a better film. A glorious reward. Franco Nero is Django.
221. Ghost Busters (1984, Ivan Reitman) – Classic feel-good entertainment. Plus Bill Murray.
220. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991, James Cameron) – Cameron ups the ante, exchanging visceral brutality for a fluid action adventure ride. The franchise hasn’t come close to matching it since.
219. Day Of The Dead (1985, George A Romero) – My favourite Romero movie (perhaps controversially). Bleak, misanthropic, but it gave us Bub, and a plethora of skin-crawling gore scenes.
218. Rosemary’s Baby (1967, Roman Polanski) – A horror built on insidious chills and mounting unease rather than traditional scares or gratuity, Polanski’s slow-burn creeper lingers long in the mind.
217. The Hudsucker Proxy (1994, Joel Coen) – Considered a failure at the time, the Coens’ screwball comedy of invention has become one of their signature films. A great way to see in the New Year.
216. Being John Malkovich (1999, Spike Jonze) – Ladies and gentlemen; Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze. Everyone else; go back to the drawing board and try harder.
215. Reservoir Dogs (1992, Quentin Tarantino) – The most celebrated populist director of our time strode confidently onto the scene with this heist-gone-bad crime thriller.
214. The Insider (1999, Michael Mann) – Russell Crowe outpaces Al Pacino in this searing, intelligent depiction of a whistleblower’s struggle against his former employers in the tobacco industry.
213. Top Hat (1935, Mark Sandrich) – Hugely endearing, agelessly classy Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers vehicle. Astaire has many such pictures, but this is my pick.
212. The King Of Comedy (1983, Martin Scorsese) – My highest placing Scorsese movie is this one, squirreling uncomfortably into obsession, fandom and the locked room of self-deception.
211. About Schmidt (2002, Alexander Payne) – Jack Nicholson acts his age in this wise, heartbreaking road movie about one man trying to sabotage his daughter’s happiness. Nice.
210. Die Hard (1988, John McTiernan) – Bruce Willis. Alan Rickman. Rooftop firehose absailing. The “now I have a machine gun” bit. The new meaning of Christmas.
209. Arrietty (2010, Hiromasa Yonebayashi) – The end is abrupt, but the journey up to it is utterly enchanting, featuring some of the finest sound design in any Ghibli animation.
208. Show Me Love / Fucking Amal (1998, Lukas Moodysson) – Blue Is The Warmest Colour for the Grange Hill generation. Scuzzy, saccharine… the film equivalent of popping candy.
207. Dougal And The Blue Cat (1970, Serge Danot) – Yes, the original The Magic Roundabout movie. Fantastic in either language.
206. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989, Hayao Miyazaki) – Super-cute story of a young witch going out into the world to make her mark, with her cheeky little cat Jiji.
205. Dirty Harry (1971, Don Siegel) – The template movie for the now-standard bad-cop-doesn’t-give-a-shit-but-gets-results set-up. Inspired by the Zodiac killings in San Francisco. More on those to come…
204. The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970, Dario Argento) – Where Argento first made his name and justifiably so. Frequently mental, but featuring some arresting set-pieces, not least the pointedly framed murder at the top of the picture.
203. Melancholia (2011, Lars Von Trier) – Has the end of the world ever really been so miserable? Don’t let that scare you away. Von Trier’s treaty on depression is a unique, gripping piece of emotionally-grounded science fiction.
202. Barton Fink (1991, Joel Coen) – The Coen Brothers show you the life of the mind in one of their strangest films.
201. Sightseers (2012, Ben Wheatley) – Wheatley ups the comedy in this particularly British take on roaming serial murderers. Caravans, knitted underwear and special pasta sauce.
We’ll race up to 101 tomorrow…