20. Hocus Pocus (1993) dir. Kenny Ortega
“Oh look, another glorious morning. Makes me SICK!”
I love Hocus Pocus for so many reasons. Winifred Sanderson is one of the sassiest women in this countdown, but this film probably should have been a flop (I mean it was released in July, what a stupid decision for a Halloween film). There’s a reason why it’s a cult favourite, though – cute 90s dreamboat teenager as the protagonist, a catchy song that lives on through Halloween playlists forever (I know you’re all singing “I put a spell on you” in your heads) and Thackeray Binx being the best name ever. It also taught all kids what a virgin was – no need for that awkward talk with your parents. Let’s just not talk about when the cat dies.
- Spy Kids (2001) dir. Robert Rodriquez
I have so many fond memories of regularly popping Sky Kids into the VCR and becoming engrossed in the weird world of fooglies and little weird plastic things that you put in the microwave that turn into hamburgers. Literally, some of those weird trap doors in Floop’s castle were like the kiddie version of tripping on acid. Carmen Cortez is also the coolest 12-year-old EVER. I can’t have been the only person excited when there was that snapchat filter that made you look like a fooglie. (There’s only one more kid’s film on this countdown, I promise).
- When Harry Met Sally (1989) dir. Rob Reiner
Probably the best rom-com ever. It’s not just that fake orgasm scene; everything about this film is scarily great – the fast-paced dialogue, that fact that there were thousands of better looking actors than Billy Crystal but he was chosen for being a genius, Meg Ryan’s wardrobe, the ups and downs of friendship and love. The line “I’ll have what she’s having” is apparently the only quote on AFI’s Best 100 Movie quotes list that is not spoken by a professional actor – in fact, it was spoken by the director’s mum! I love everything – Marie’s little portable catalogue of single and married men, Harry running through the streets while “It Had to Be You” plays. Also, this scene.
- Love Actually (2003) dir. Richard Curtis
Love Actually reminds me of how much I love London, and Christmas, and British Actors (and boy were we spoilt with this film – Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Kiera Knightley, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy, Martin Freeman, Rowan Atkinson, need I continue?). Hugh Grant shimmying, an airport chase, sad/hot Karl being rejected mid-foreplay, and most of all – realism. Love Actually isn’t too delusional – Trelawney and Snape (wait, wrong film) are awkward and uncomfortable with each other at the end of the film after the whole cheating debacle, Sarah doesn’t get to bang the hot guy, and everyone is wonderfully British – one of the first lines of the film, after all, is “fuck wank bugger shitting arse head and hole!” There’s so much love in this movie, of all kinds – friends, colleagues, parents, siblings, lovers, spouses, families, even the basic kindnesses from strangers looking to help someone out (looking at you, Rowan Atkinson). It’s heartfelt and heartwarming – even if this scene has raised your expectations of men wayyyyy too high.
- West Side Story (1962) dir. Jerome Robbins
Let’s forget about some of the atrocious acting and dubbed-in singing for a moment and think about how Bernstein composed one of the best musicals, ever. Just the prologue sets me off – the music is genuinely incredible. The notion of a dissatisfied youth, immortalised in numbers like Gee Officer Krupke, a tragic lovestory and some banging dance numbers make this film worthy of being only one of two musicals in my Top 20.
- 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) dir. Gil Junger
“Hello, Katarina. Make anyone cry today?” “Sadly, no. But it’s only 4:30.”
Kat Stratford is a total feminist icon. “I guess in this society, being male and an asshole makes you worthy of our time.” HELL YES KAT! “Likes: Thai food, feminist pros and angry girl music of the Indie Rock persuasion.” “THAT’S ME!!!” every indie girl on twitter proclaims, pretending that they listen to riot grrl and have read Beauvoir. I can probably recite this film backwards, it’s that quotable (special shout out to Kat’s dad) and everything about it makes me happy – Heath Ledger singing and dancing round a football stadium, a baby-faced Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and the good-ol’ moral message of always being true to who you are. I’ll never forgive the costume designers for putting Kat in the ugliest prom dress ever, but nonetheless this is my favourite chick flick.
- Donnie Darko (2002) dir. Richard Kelly
Donnie Darko is confusing, enlightening and senseless. A creepy giant bunny man, an unexplained, unhappy ending and a sexy young Jake Gyllenhall originally don’t sound like the best ingredients for a movie, but this works. It’s an agitating film – there’s literally a whole website dedicated to explaining all the weird time-travel shit about it – but a brooding, troubled narrator, tender love story and incredible soundtrack help make it brilliant.
- Kill Bill Vol. I (2003) dir. Quentin Tarantino
“Silly Caucasian girl likes to play with Samurai swords.”
Wiggling my big toe as I write this (although not in a pussy wagon), the Bride is the cool, tenacious protagonist that everyone wants. Whether it’s ripping rapist’s tongue’s out or killing people through cereal boxes, hybridized with Japanese animation, pretty much anything Tarantino directs turns to gold (except Death Proof. Nobody mention Death Proof). What is essentially a revenge movie spattered in blood has become so irreverent due to its incredibly stylised and extravagant production. From the opening credits, set to Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang bang” to the kick-ass O-ren Ishii, and immaculate fight scenes, it luxuriates in Tarantino’s cinematic flair.
- Big (1988) dir. Penny Marshall
An iconic bildungsroman immortalised on screen, the story of Josh Baskin is so heartwarming and Tom Hanks is the perfect lead to this nostalgic, if weird, story. The walking piano scene, the shimmy shimmy coco pop rap – everything in it breathes childhood. It all gets a bit weird when you realise that Tom Hanks as an infantile 12-year-old has sex with a woman in her twenties, who doesn’t seem too disgusted when she discovers this, but let’s let that one slide. Also, Penny Marshall became the first female director to ever direct a movie that grossed more than $100 million at the box office with this film. Pretty cool.
- School of Rock (2003) dir. Richard Linklater
“It’s a rare blood disease: ‘Stick-it-to-da-man-noisis’.”
One of those rare films I can literally watch over and over again, with a soundtrack that as a kid probably was a genuine contributing factor as I love rock music. Edge of Seventeen by Stevie Nicks! Immigrant Song by Led Zep! The Ramones! AC/DC! And of course the catchiest song ever, leaving kids and adults everywhere screaming along “ROCK GOT NO REASON, ROCK GOT NO RHYME, YOU BETTER GET ME TO SCHOOL ON TIME” and pledging allegiance to the band of Mr Schneebly. This picture of the reunion cast is literally too much to handle. Everything about this film is so well crafted and bound together by the genius of Jack Black – the math song, teaching the kids new instruments (tip it on the side and che-llo, you got a bass!), the legend of the rent being way hardcore, and doing the handshake – slap it, shoot it, kaboot it. After of course, the moral lesson (ish) unveiled near the end – “Rock isn’t about getting an A. Sex Pistols never won anything.”
- Kill Your Darlings (2013) dir. John Krokidas
“Another lover hits the universe. The circle is broken. But with death comes rebirth. And like all lovers and sad people, I am a poet.”
The most recent film on the countdown, and as far as I’m aware the lowest-grossing, at Number 10 is Kill Your Darlings: an incredible film exploring the interactions between pioneering members of the Beat Generation – Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and Lucien Carr – and exploring the true-story murder of David Kammerer. Set on a backdrop of sexual discovery and drug use and ignited by the beauty of poetry and imagination, Daniel Radcliffe (despite his character’s Harry Potter-esque inclusions like owlish glasses, walking around clutching books with a thirst for knowledge) gives a phenomenal performance, but the true star is Dane Dehaan as the enigmatic and charismatic Lucien Carr. Apart from being my biggest movie crush of all time, he flits between the character’s sneering scorn and fearful fragility with ease. Forties New York, in its sweaty, stifling glory, has never looked so good.
- Jumanji (1996) dir. Joe Johnston
Two years ago I was walking down the Hollywood Walk of Fame and came across Robin Williams’ star, adorned with flowers and tributes for the man who had died only two days before. That man was my childhood, and two of his films have made it into my top 20 – Jumanji being one of them. It’s one of the funnest film experiences you can have, if mildly terrifying – young Alan Parrish being sucked into a board game, missing out on his childhood and never seeing his friends or family again is actually pretty disturbing. Packed full of dodgy CGI monkeys and the coolest stampede ever, as a kid this film was a whirlwind adventure (who am I kidding, it still is).
- A Clockwork Orange (1972) dir. Stanley Kubrick
A Clockwork Orange is truly a cinematic masterpiece: the cinematography, the acting, the soundtrack, the explorative commentary on society, crime and punishment. The exposition of narrative is one of the best, the use of nadsat (props to Anthony Burgess) is ground breaking, and although opinions vary on the aestheticisation of violence, the real horror you get from the film is how you’re masterfully guided towards sympathising with a raping, murdering sociopath. MacDowell actually improvised the Singin’ In The Rain part of the rape scene, stating that “[the song is] Hollywood’s gift to the world of euphoria. And that’s what the character is feeling at the time.” Astonishingly vivid, it’s a real gem of British cinema and a firm cult favourite.
- Lost in Translation (2003) dir. Sofia Coppola
One of the most visually pretty films I’ve ever watched, Lost in Translation basks in a soft-pink cherry blossom glow and the dewy beauty of Scarlett Johannson’s refreshing protagonist, contrasting with the bustling metropolis of Tokyo. As a film it’s deliciously self-indulgent, yet explores something quite rare – two utterly different people sharing a relationship, of what form is still hard gage, and go on a voyage of self-discovery to break out of their stifling lives; in this way it breathes Renaissance and style. I want to go to a Tokyo karaoke bar, wearing a pastel pink wig, looking as good as Scarlett Johannsson in transparent baby-pink underwear. The entire thing feels incomplete, and yet when it ends you feel like you’ve lost a part of yourself in the plot, it promotes that much self-investment. The last words Bob speaks to Charlotte are an improvised mystery, with not even Coppola knowing what was uttered.
- The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) dir. Jim Sharman
The biggest, bestest, glam-rock cross-dressing cult extravaganza you’ll ever witness. Audience participation has driven this musical through the years, making it one of the first “midnight movies,” with Tim Curry shocking audiences in the 70’s as he gyrated in stockings and platforms and took the virginties of unwitting innocents, whether it be a boy or a girl. In my opinion every film should have a mad libertine transvestite scientist – apparently, Tim Curry showed up to a rehearsal in his full costume while singing the song ‘Sweet Transvestite,” shocking Meatloaf so much that he walked out of the theater in the middle of the production and even tried running away, only to get a ticket for jaywalking. Amazing. There’s astonishing technical detail for a film where people break into song and dance for no reason – the makeup department created a plug to fit over Rocky’s belly button, as he can’t have had an umbilical cord being Frank’n’Furter’s creation. Glitter, sex, corsets, labs and destruction, coupled with catchy songs, make this a firm favourite for me.
- Forrest Gump (1994) dir. Robert Zemeckis
“Hello. My name’s Forrest, Forrest Gump. You want a chocolate?”
Forrest Gump. Where do I start? Recalling the stories of his life to strangers on a bench in Alabama, Forrest ran his leg braces off and into our hearts. He’s probably the most endearing character of all time, and this film teaches you how to love. Forrest fulfils his promise to Bubba, he loves Jenny until the day she dies (sob), whilst clumsily meeting famous people along the way and somehow stumbling into good fortune as every other character falls in sight of the American Dream. Historically accurate and documenting the rise of Elvis, the Vietnam War, the subsequent Anti-War rallies and environment of counterculture, this epic is almost painfully heart wrenching and quotable. When Forrest and Jenny reunite at the anti-War rally. When Forrest runs around America for no reason. This film will never fail to make me cry.
- Pulp Fiction (1994) dir. Quentin Tarantino
“Does he look like a bitch?”
Pulp Fiction is the coolest movie ever. It’s part of the American zeitgeist, a portmanteau crime film that storms its way through a non-linear narrative and carries its eclectic assemblage of actors cursively on its back. Uma Thurman’s effortlessly stylish Mia Wallace and John Travolta’s Vincent Vega dancing together at Jack Rabbit Slim’s is a scene that everyone knows, and Samuel L. Jackson is the reason we can all quote Ezekiel 25:17 by heart. Tarantino’s script is dialogue-driven as opposed to plot-driven, is composed with a skilful flair that makes this neo-noir masterpiece something that I can watch over and over again.
- Les Quatre Cents Coups (1959) dir. Francois Truffaut
“Si tu me demandes 1000 francs, c’est qu’t’en espères 500, donc t’as besoin de 300. Tiens, v’la 100 balles.”
The oldest film in my countdown, and also the only foreign language film, is Truffaut’s debut masterpiece of the nouvelle vague movement, Les Quatre Cents Coups. Jean-Pierre Léaud plays the young and mischievous Antoine Doinel, who grows up in Paris aggravated by his careless parents and scolding teachers, eventually explains his delinquent behaviour through a series of fragmented monologues. A homage to iconoclasm, Truffaut belonged to a group of directors who fought against the traditional ways of movie-making, utilising natural light, long tracking shots, and actors that weren’t well-known. Characterised with existential themes that highlighted the absurdity of life, the films that were produced from the New Wave movement were ground breaking. The film’s score is utterly beautiful, and your heart pangs for the dissatisfied Antoine, even as he plagiarises Balzac, skips school to frolic in theme parks and cinemas, and steals from his friends. This film luxuriates in Parisian flair.
- American Beauty (1999) dir. Sam Mendes
“Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it, and my heart is just going to cave in.”
Coming in at Number 2, American Beauty is a film that has probably resonated with me the most upon watching. It has one of the best endings to any film ever, with one of the most devastatingly climactic twists. The attention to detail is outstanding; the bars in the reflection of Lester’s computer screen reflecting his entrapment, the cohesive apparition of the colour red, with its stifling connotations of lust in relation Angela’s rose-petals or Lester’s blood-soaked body, is phenomenal. It’s a rare movie that truly gives us a character’s full and complete development, whilst also embracing individuality, rejecting societal constraints, and living. As Donna Tartt writes in my favourite book The Secret History, “Beauty is terror,” and in this film it’s no different; it’s suffocating, and the dialogue is equally beautiful.
- Dead Poets Society (1989) dir. Peter Weir
“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”
In true English Literature student style, coming in at Number 1 is, of course, Dead Poets Society. “There are some films that, if you watch them for the first time at the right age, have the capacity to inspire and embolden you: Dead Poets Society is one such film,” one critic writes, which I couldn’t apply to myself more strongly. This film is so special to me, it’s almost painful to watch. The inspirational Mr. Keating, the hauntingly nervous Todd, the enlivening, passionate and tragic Neil, the bumblingly lovable Knox, I feel like I know them all and am enraptured and a part of their journey towards literary-inspired enlightenment. With reference to the works of Henry David Thoreau, Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, Tennyson, Byron and the performance of my favourite Shakespeare play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I hang onto Mr Keating’s words as if I were sat in his class, I run excitedly into the woods with the boys into their Dead Poets Society meetings, I mourn the tragic death of Neil alongside them, and I stand proudly on my desk, saying “O Captain, my Captain” at the end through tear-soaked eyes. It shows us how the battle between idealism and obligation is a brutal one to fight, and no film will ever provoke a reaction from me as this one does, making it truly deserving of the top spot on my countdown of favourite films.
Carpe Diem. Sieze the day, boys.