Fifty Pounds Worth of Movies

Icon-Movie-150I was asked yesterday what movies and TV shows I would recommend someone buy; someone who loved film, but whose collection was bereft of anything but old VHS copies taped off the TV. The budget of £50 meant it was hard to recommend many TV box sets, otherwise I’d have loved to include The Hour, Deadwood and The Fades and perhaps The Wire, BSG, Fringe and Peaky Blinders. But here’s what I came up with, for a total of £51 second-hand, but including postage and packing:

Drive Netflix recommended it to me for ages, but I ignored it because: Ryan Gosling. However, this was tightly scripted, beautifully shot, high on subtle imagery
West Wing Season 1 Sorkin writes amazing dialogue and never insults his audience’s intelligence (unless they’re Republican). Superb characterisation, and no hint of his later apparent misogyny.
Raiders of the Lost Ark The classic adventure film and I grew up with it. But it’s often used as an example of classic movie structure. Plus: I always wanted to be Indiana Jones
Memento If Raiders is classic structure, this is that structure broken into tiny pieces; a perfect example of knowing the rules and then using that knowledge to break them.
Bound Bound is what the Wachowskis did before Matrix, and shows off their spectacular skill at tight, tight plotting. A superb, sexy thriller.
Brick I love this film; again tightly plotted and the most amazing Chandleresque dialogue. Witty, sexy, classic noir.
Citizen Kane I avoided this film for decades, the accolade of Best Film Ever weighing too heavily on it. Don’t make the same mistake I did. This film warrants frequent re-watch and study.
The Big Sleep The film that made Brick possible and made Bogart a star. Smart, witty dialogue, managing to make the journey through a convoluted plot fun. Classic noir.
Black Swan This film surprised me a lot, because of the multi-layered storytelling; we have straight thriller,psycho-fantasy, post-modern existential crisis and reimagining of the original ballet.
Pan’s Labyrinth Back when Del Toro was still the cream of the crop, this modern fairy tale set during the Spanish Civil war was wondrous and plays with ambiguity and doubt perfectly.
Million Dollar Baby Handling schmaltzy emotional content in a sports movie in a way that appeals to people who hate schmaltzy content and sports movies? Only this and The Blind Side have achieved it.
Secretary A subversive genre-busting romantic comedy, this had to be on the list.
Moon Beautiful, heart-breaking and executed with the most delicate touch. All with three locations and three actors.
Good Night, And Good Luck George Clooney, it turns out, has a deft directorial touch, subtle and light and this film is the finest example of that. And considering the topic of McCarthyism, it was perfect.
Once Upon a Time in the West Languorous, over the top, slightly ridiculous, massively indulgent shots… You’d think it was a modern action film, instead of a 1968 western! Beautiful and frequently referenced.
Dark City If you hadn’t picked up on it so far, I love noir. This is the perfect example of how noir and science fiction can be married without losing the essential feel. Also: post-modern as fuck.
In Bruges Witty, tightly plotted and darkly funny, this is what happens when you give a celebrated playwright the chance to write and direct his own movie: He makes a Greek tragedy in Belgium with Colin Farrell.
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist This… might be a bit of a departure from the rest of the list. But anything in this genre that stands out to me is going to be worth a mention! I thought it was a sweet modern romance.
Fish Tank Young, urban, tragic and talented. A clean, heartbreaking through-line, a great example of British indie cinema.

Clearly the list is incomplete, and I’m eternally remembering things I wish I had put on it. For a start, there are no foreign language films on this list, when it could include Jeux d’enfants, Lola Rennt, La Femme Nikita and Seven Samurai. But what else have I missed? Let me know in the comments!

4 thoughts on “Fifty Pounds Worth of Movies

  1. This is handy – I was going to ask you to recommend some films to me. I don’t watch many. Another friend recommended The Godfather but I didn’t get very far with it.

  2. By including “Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist” you have officially become one of my favorite people! That is such a great simple love story, set to a pretty amazing soundtrack. And the chewing gum lost in the toilet scene was brilliant!

    I would add two to your list. “Jaws” (of course) because the sheer terror of a mostly unseen monster is an experience. Sure, everyone has seen it, we know we’re “going to need a bigger boat”, but it still scares people. For a film nearly 40 years old, that says something.

    Another is “The Conversation” (1974). The tension that builds and builds in that film is incredible. If you haven’t seen it (and have seen “Rear Window”), take those eternal seconds before Raymond Burr bursts into Jimmy Stewart’s apartment and make it feature length. And the reveal in “The Conversation” is nuclear. It’s Coppola and Hackman…you cannot go wrong.

    I too could think of more, but those two were glaring omissions, Mr. Burn.

    • Jaws gets mentioned a lot amongst screenwriters and filmmakers, but to my shame I haven’t seen it since I was a boy! Perhaps I should remedy this…

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