My five favourite films
There’s no unifying theme, such as you’d find in the Top 10s; there’s no template, like the one for the Cheat Sheets. It’s just sixteen articles, published over nearly a year, that showcase some of our best writers’ favourite films. And I never wrote one. I always knew what my film would be, but what with one thing and another I never got round to writing about it, finding a handful of pictures and publishing Best For Film’s Favourite Flicks #17. It’s only a little thing – one forgotten blog amongst the twelve hundred articles I’ve written on this site – but the little things can fester. So, on this indifferent spring day, I’m finally going to write about my favourite films. And I’m giving myself five, because fuck it.
None of these films are classics of the New Wave, or bold artistic statements, or shot in monochrome. Few of them, I suspect, would make it into one of Sight & Sound’s insufferable lists. None of them even have The Rock in, which feels a bit like a betrayal of everything Best For Film stands for. But (with one exception) they’re all films that I watch over and over again. They’re equally capable of rescuing a dreadful day and gilding a great one; they comfort and entertain and take you away from this ghastly bloody world where, as the great sage and philosopher Jessie J once said, the sale comes first and the truth comes second. They’re proper films, and I will never not love them. If you spend too much time worrying about what’s on at the Curzon or what’s going to make you look cool, take a night off and watch one. It might do you good.
#5 – American Beauty
I first saw American Beauty with my friend Chris, a wiry, witty Northerner who was my best friend during the hardest month of my life. I can’t now remember exactly when or where we watched it – hell, I can’t remember exactly when or where I last saw him – but Sam Mendes’ unforgiving deconstruction of suburban inertia convinced me that I’d done the right thing by moving to London and starting a degree I didn’t really understand. Against all the odds, I think American Beauty does an even better job of conveying the ‘get busy living or get busy dying’ motif of The Shawshank Redemption than Shawshank itself – however flawed its characters and however pointless their quests, it’s not a negative film or one designed to leave you feeling empty. Lester Burnham is a man who reclaims his youth and, eventually, his adulthood – he doesn’t need to live past the end of the film to have found some peace in a turbulent, unfocused life. I miss Chris, and I miss being eighteen and knowing nothing of bereavement and heartbreak, but I wouldn’t want to go back to 2007 again. I might miss all the beautiful things second time round.
#4 – Back to the Future
For about ten years, the only Back to the Future film I’d seen was Part III, taped off the TV by my dad and idiosyncratically labelled ‘Time Car 3/3‘. Whilst preteen John thrilled to the Old West adventures of Marty and Doc, there were moments throughout the story that didn’t quite make sense – where did the self-erasing note come from, and why does the baddie end up covered in suspiciously green manure? – until, years later, I mainlined the entire trilogy on a hungover New Year’s Day. Unless you too have watched and rewatched a film whilst being totally ignorant of its context, it’s hard to describe the utter joy of finally understanding all the references and all the call-backs in one glorious afternoon. I sort of think decoding the Rosetta Stone must have felt a bit like finally understanding why Marty says “Great Scott” and Doc says “I know, this is heavy”. Even if you can’t recreate my experience, Back to the Future is perfect escapism – the acutely honed script, pitch-perfect cast (speak not of the recasting of Claudia Wells in the sequels) and extraordinary, engaging, uplifting story combine to produce a film of rare genius. One for a low day.
#3 – Cinema Paradiso
I’ve never seen Cinema Paradiso all the way through. I realise this is playing directly into Harry’s hands, since he insists that the final film on this list is the only one I’ve ever watched to the end, but so be it. When I was at school and studying several languages, the last lesson of term would traditionally be given over to watching a film in the relevant tongue on the basis that it would teach us some new vocabulary and some colloquial constructions. Obviously this never worked, because we were always allowed subtitles and therefore ignored the words altogether. In 2004, in Italian class, the film we watched was Cinema Paradiso, which is three hours long; it was a bloody awful choice, objectively, but I don’t think our Italian teacher had any other DVDs.
We got through the first hour in class, and then I stayed alone to watch the second hour during lunch, surrounded by the thirteen year olds whose form room we’d been in. I was totally absorbed by the story, the colour, the whole seductive ambience of post-war Sicily; I think I remember deciding that from now on, this was going to be what I said when people asked me my favourite film. However Cinema Paradiso ended, it was bound to stay with me forever. Then, of course, lunchtime was up and I had to go to double Maths, with nearly an hour of the film to go. Ten years later, I still have a perfect, golden memory of Cinema Paradiso, and I’ve twice turned down opportunities to see it at screenings. What I saw was so intoxicating, so perfectly wrought, that I’d hate to rewatch it with the critical eye that was wholly absent from my first viewing. In my head it’s perfect despite – or because of – its incompleteness, and it’s staying that way.
#2 – Trainspotting
I’ve written before about my relationship with Trainspotting. As a nice middle-class boy who’s never glassed a lassie, robbed a tourist or been addicted to anything illegal, Danny Boyle’s best film isn’t exactly a mirror of my life, but Renton’s attempts to escape his surroundings – first by taking drugs, then by moving away, then by doing over his best friends and disappearing into a London morning – tell a genuinely universal story. Set in a city I’ve barely visited, soundtracked by the music of a generation I don’t remember, Trainspotting is wholly immersive in a way that few other films can match. I find myself empathising with different characters every time I watch, depending on the most recent turns my life has taken – sometimes I want to be smooth, ruthless Sick Boy, sometimes simple, clean-living Tommy. I don’t often admit to wanting to be Begbie, but I know there’s a sliver of maniac in me just as I know there’s a hint of poor, pathetic Spud, desperately clinging to his intoxicants because life’s just too bloody hard. Renton is the best of the lot, the most rounded person, but if you combined all of the boys from Leith you’d get someone a lot like me and a lot like you. Just like Rents and Begbie (in the book, not the film), at some point we’re all trainspotting in a derelict station.
#1 – The Princess Bride
You probably knew this was coming. My reverence for Rob Reiner’s 1987 meta-fairytale is well known amongst the BFF community, and if I were writing a proper Favourite Flicks blog then you’d be coming to the end of 1500-odd words about how it’s the wittiest, best-cast and most sensitively adapted film I’ve ever seen. But there’s a time and a place for these things, and the time for me to write about why I love The Princess Bride was last year, or the year before, or at any point in the four wonderful years I’ve spent at Best For Film, initially under the tutelage of Tash Hodgson and then as editor. Like the unfinished viewing of Cinema Paradiso, I can’t quite bring myself to write about my very favourite film, because for the last year I’ve been telling myself that Best For Film’s Favourite Flicks #17 – The Princess Bride would be the last thing I ever wrote for this tattered, glorious website, with its incredible writers and its wonderful fans and its steadfast refusal to be optimised for mobile viewing. If I tell you why I love The Princess Bride, that’ll be the end; and although this is my last day, and from Monday I’ll be pounding the streets looking for work as Best For Film is shipped off to some anonymous buyer, that’s not something I can face. So watch the film, if you haven’t already, and tell me why you loved it in the comment box, or on Twitter, or in the pub sometime. We’ll have a chat. It’ll be good – because despite everything, Best For Film has been inconceivably good fun, and I shall miss it more than I can say.
So long, guys and girls. Thanks for reading.