10 weeks into the new Generator blog and we have finally come to the first, of what will no doubt be many, ‘Top 5’ posts. Pretty good going, if I do say so myself.
After some consideration, I've decided to take a look at my 5 favourite films. While this is hardly game-changing content, I really dig these kind of listicles and I really dig cinema, so screw it, that's what I'm running with. Rather than go full Buzzfeed though, I’ve made sure to write a couple of paragraphs on each film. This should hopefully give you a little insight into my thinking, and who knows, maybe you'll be tempted to check/recheck them out.
Full disclosure – This list is in a constant state of flux. Who truly knows what my numero uno is… Annie Hall? Batman & Robin? Your guess is as good as mine.
5 – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004 / Dir: Michel Gondry)
My introduction to Michel Gondry came as a teenager, when Papa Kulman would bring home DVD compilations of his mesmerising music videos (pre-YouTube instant accessibility). These videos were unlike anything that had ever graced my retinas before – or since – totally altering my perception of what short form content could be. So when I sat down with the Frenchman’s 2004 feature, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I naturally expected it to be both aesthetically inventive and memorable in equal measure.
What I wasn’t prepared for was something so nuanced and full of heart. Charlie Kaufman’s script balances wit and weirdness with genuine warmth, broaching existential questions in a way that never feels portentous. The big revelation, however, comes from Jim Carrey’s turn as protagonist Joel. Dialling back his hyper-active shtick several notches, Carrey delivers a career-high performance, conveying the devotion and desperation of Joel in a way that feels familiar to the audience. Similarly, Gondry himself holds back on a lot of the stylistic flourishes that define his work, only employing his kaleidoscopic camerawork in order to enhance the narrative. Add a great soundtrack and you’ve got yourself a damn cool film.
4 – Do the Right Thing (1989 / Dir: Spike Lee)
Those who know me know I’m a huge hip-hop head; From Missy Elliot to Lil Peep, everyone is welcome on my Spotify playlist. However, I hold a particular fondness for the Golden-Era (typically regarded as being the late 80s – 90s). As well as being enamoured by the B-Boys & breaks, I am also keenly interested in the politics of that period. Hip-hop began in 70s NYC as an artistic resistance to the institutional racism leaving non-white communities disenfranchised. This movement continued to evolve over the subsequent decades, giving a voice to the voiceless and challenging prejudices head on.
Hip-hop plays a crucial role in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989). The film is an exploration of the different people and communities living in Brooklyn’s Bed Stuy neighbourhood. Set during an especially hot Summers day, Lee doesn’t shy away from confronting the multitude of tensions simmering just beneath the surface of this poorer district, all while punctuating DTRT with the rallying cry of Public Enemy’s Fight The Power. A lot has been written on the film’s climatic scenes and their frightening relevancy nearly 30 years later, so I won’t go into detail on that. But the mere fact that Lee was able to get this made is a political statement in itself. Hollywood has always struggled with a lack of representation both in front of and behind the camera. It was only thanks to guerrilla filmmakers like Lee and his contemporaries that this began to shift (albeit slowly).
And let’s not forget this is a straight up good film. As well as smartly subverting the system, it manages to be bright and playful and funny and complex, just like hip-hop!
3 – Four Lions (2010 / Dir: Chris Morris)
Chris Morris is a low key national treasure. Everything this curly-haired Midas touches turns into satirical gold. His work on The Day Today and Brass Eye has largely shaped my taste in comedy, however his crowning achievement, imo, is Four Lions. Morris is no stranger to controversy – just look at the tabloid frenzy caused by Brass Eye special ‘Paedogeddon!’ – and he seemed to be stoking the fire once more with his debut feature: a dark comedy centred on a ragtag group of aspiring suicide bombers.
But, as Morris fanboys will continually point out, the Writer/Director takes a carefully considered approach to his skewering. What might’ve been a crass and offensive mess in the wrong hands is actually an intelligent and thoughtful examination of the confused nature of home-grown Islamic extremism. Plus it’s hilarious, because Chris Morris can never not be hilarious. Nothing exemplifies this better than the sight of three radicalised Muslims singing along to Toploader’s Dancing in the Moonlight as they drive to London to bomb the marathon. Sadly, like DTRT, Four Lions has only increased in relevance in the years since it’s release. In a political climate where extremist terror attacks seem to be on the rise worldwide, this satire is necessary viewing.
2 – My Neighbor Totoro (1988 / Dir: Hayao Miyazaki)
Moving onto something a little lighter, My Neighbor Totoro is an utterly charming tale from Japanese animation powerhouse, Studio Ghibli. Of Hayao Miyazaki’s enviable oeuvre, MNTis perhaps the master storyteller’s most personal film. The narrative follows sisters Satsuke and Mei as they move to the country to be closer to the hospital housing their ill mother. As the kids settle into their new environment, they begin to befriend the locals, including a giant, fluffy troll named Totoro.
Although the story is about childhood and targeted towards children, it can hardly be considered ‘childish’. The stakes are as high as any other film on this list. MNT’s depiction of sisterhood is the most authentic I’ve ever seen on-screen, despite being animated. Speaking of which, the visuals are gorgeous (which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone even faintly familiar with Studio Ghibli). Rural Japan looks luscious and the characters are brimming with personality. The Prince Charles in Leicester Square repeatedly puts on Ghibli screenings, so I’d recommend any and all Londoners go see this at an actual cinema. You won’t regret it!
1 – This Is England (2006 / Dir: Shane Meadows)
After that adorable detour, we’ve come to my number 1 film – the slightly less adorable This Is England, a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age tale from proud Midlander Shane Meadows. Set in 1983, the plot revolves around Shaun Fields (get it), a 12 year-old loner who is taken in by a gang of skinheads, but soon finds himself getting caught up in the white nationalism that came to define the subculture. If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m fascinated by films which address issues of racial inequality and extremism. Film can be a powerful tool for education, and This Is England tackles tough topics with an appropriate degree of candidacy and urgency. It’s no wonder Meadows pushed for a 15 rating, so that it could be discussed in secondary schools.
And like any good coming-of-age film, TIE has it’s fair share of hijinks peppered in-between the deeper life lessons. Balancing rofls and racism is no mean feat, yet the film succeeds, thanks in part to excellent central performances. There is a natural rapport between the cast, something which can be accredited to Meadows’ approach to casting (unprofessional actors) and dialogue (improvisational). Given his lack of acting experience, Thomas Turgoose deserves a special mention for absolutely smashing the role of Shaun.
But going beyond the film text, This Is England holds a particularly special place in my heart. As a movie-geek from the Midlands, it is always inspiring to see filmmakers representing my neck of the woods. When our media is constantly reminding us that to be British is to be from London, the film industry can seem a little abstract to anyone based outside of the capital. It is thanks to the success of people like Meadows that I have actively pursued a career in this exciting world.
Cheers Shane! And cheers for helping fix our coffee machine that one time at university. That was a big help.
Honorable Mention – The Room (2003 / Dir: Tommy Wisaeu)
The best worst film ever made, Writer/Director/Producer/Financier/ Star Tommy Wisaeu’s masterpiece deserves every bit of the ‘cult classic’ reputation it has garnered. Words struggle to do it justice, so all I’ll say is watch it with group of mates and some beers. Then read The Disaster Artist (a first-hand account of the film’s inception). Then go to our old friend The Prince Charles for one of their monthly midnight movie screenings. And make sure you're armed with plastic spoons…