I love film – trashy chick flicks, artsy films with no plot, psychological thrillers, stupid comedies – and I know how it feels to desperately want to watch something new but have no idea where to start. With this in mind, I’ve decided to throw together some films, some classic, some maybe less well known, in a list of recommendations. They’re not necessarily my favourites, (although some featured can also be found on my favourite films list) but they are all definitely worth a watch if you haven’t already.
Breathless, dir. Jean-Luc Godard (1960)
One of the first examples of French New Wave cinema, the fairly nothingy plot is vindicated by being #artsy and basically making you yearn for Paris. Jean-Paul Belmondo shoots and kills a policeman, and turns to American love interest Jean Seberg (her weird american french accent makes this film worthy enough to see) to help him out.
West Side Story, dir. Jerome Robbins (1961)
LEONARD BERNSTEIN IS A GENIUS *louder for the people at the back*
If you sideline the fairly troubling fact that basically no hispanic actors played the Puerto-Rican characters, and the dubbed-in singing, this film is the perfect musical film. I’m basically praising the musical really, plus the aggressive finger-clicking. Even the fight scenes in the prologue are like beautiful choreographed dances. GAH
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, dir. Robert Aldrich (1962)
A psychological thriller-horror (oooh) about an ageing has-been who keeps her paraplegic sister prisoner in their house, torturing her as she descends into mental illness. What makes this film extra juicy is that its two co-stars, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, loathed each other in real life, with their Hollywood rivalry climaxing at the point of the film. Apparently, Crawford, who knew Davis had a bad back, wore a weighted belt under her costume during a scene in which Davis’ character had to drag an unconscious Crawford across the room. Crawford then ruined the scene by laughing or smiling when her character was meant to be unconscious, meaning that the scene had to be done over and over again. I aspire to be that level of petty.
Lord of the Flies, dir. Peter Brook (1963)
A really really great adaptation of Golding’s perennial novel where a plane carrying English schoolboys crashes on an island and they all start to expose the darkness of the human condition by killing eachother (light and fluffy viewing). Ralph’s complete distress in the final shots are really a chilling example of what film can do that some books can’t.
Pierrot le fou, dir. Jean-Luc Godard (1966)
Oh look, it’s another Godard film staring Belmondo! (The rest of this list isn’t that repetitive, I promise). He’s on the run again trying to woo a pretty woman, but this time it’s more Bonnie-and-Clyde, with Godard’s bizzare narrative flair and sensory curveballs being thrown at you left, right and centre. There’s even a bit when Anna Karina is talking looking into the camera and Belmondo asks “who are you talking to?” and she replies, “the audience.” Oh so meta. Breaking down that fourth wall.
The Graduate, dir. Mike Nichols (1967)
“Hello darkness my old friend” is my meme of choice and this is (sort of) where it comes from! (Well, Simon and Garkfunkel technically but eh) – Benjamin Braddock graduates from university and sort of doesn’t know what to do next. Even though he’s more interested in her daughter Elaine, he succumbs to seduction by his parents’ friend, Mrs Robinson. The cultural references are strong with this one. It also has one of the most beautifully ambiguous endings to a film ever.
A Clockwork Orange, dir. Stanley Kubrick (1971)
How do you make a violent delinquent charismatic and likeable? This film shows us how. Malcolm Macdowell’s creepy portrayal of Alex will forever be etched on my brain, the soundtrack is perfect, Kubrick is a master, and I fangirl even more over here at No. 8.
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, dir. Mel Stuart (1971)
Gene Wilder made a simple chocolate maker v. creepy. Remember that scary tunnel scene? I don’t recall Quentin Blake illustrating that in his comforting scribbles. I also find it cute that this film was Peter Ostrum (Charlie Bucket’s) only ever film role and then he became a vet (predominantly for cows, if you’re interested).
The Exorcist, dir. William Friedkin (1973)
Everyone watched this with their mates when they were fourteen, pretending to joke-shriek and clutch eachother and shout “boo” mockingly at their friends – but then secretly SHIT yourself and not sleep for a month. Even my mum said that she walked out of the cinema when she went to watch this. In hindsight, well, upon second viewing, it’s pretty funny – the poor prosthetics, scratchy demonic voice and projectile pea-soup vomiting – but a classic, nonetheless.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, dir. Miloš Forman (1975)
A reoffending prison inmate feigns mental illness so that he can live a more relaxed life without hard labour at a mental institution – and slowly helps his fellow inmates rebel against the manipulative Nurse Ratched. THE LAST TEN MINUTES OF THIS FILM BROKE ME. Although you don’t really warm to Jack Nicholson’s character, he still makes your heart break. Feels feels feels.
Bugsy Malone, dir. Alan Parker (1976)
OK so the dubbing is so bad in Fizzy’s song that the last note in Tomorrow is basically him yawning, and my god, this film really takes the piss out of The Godfather that came out a few years before it, and Jodie Foster was also rocking some troublingly strong Lolita vibes- but nonetheless, it’s just so stupid and heartwarming.
The Shining, dir. Stanley Kubrick (1980)
The Shining is about a a struggling writer who decides to take up a job taking care of the temporarily empty Overlook hotel, bringing his wife and son along. One guy who did the same job developed cabin fever and murdered his family. I think you can guess what happens next. The direction of this film is STUNNING. The film is so terrifying, even though Jack Nicholson’s character is clearly mental from the start (though this may be because everyone’s seen him in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and then can’t help viewing him in this way). The Shining is literally the most stylistically brilliant film you will see in your life. Music, editing, the famous tracking shots, it is just SO good and eerie.
Airplane!, dir. Jim Abrahams (1980)
A comedy, yaaaay! I realise the recommendations have been pretty macabre so far…
Basically a spoof disaster film, this film is full of the most stupid humour possible. It’s one of my Dad’s favourite films, so just think “Dad humour” = that’s Airplane!.
Scarface, dir. Brian de Palma (1983)
Al Pacino stars as the Cuban immigrant-turned-drug lord Tony Montana in this classic gangster film – cocaine, gangsters, drug kingpins, guns, violence, the Elvira aesthetic – just a whirlwind of a film really. Fun fact – the word “fuck” is used 207 times (1.2 times per minute).
Little Shop of Horrors , dir. Frank Oz (1986)
A shy and gentle florist finds a strange and interesting plant, which he soon realises only feeds on blood and is planning on taking over the world. Not a ridiculous plot at all. In that lovely niche genre of the spoof horror comedy musical (see: The Rocky Horror Picture Show), this film has a ridiculously catchy rock musical score and has become one of those weird inexplicable cult classics. There’s also some sassy riffs and a masochistic dental patient.
The Princess Bride, dir. Rob Reiner (1987)
Admittedly this is nowhere near as good as the book (which I read when I was thirteen and have adored as one of my favourite books ever since), but it’s still hilarious. In some sort of Renaissance-era world, the beautiful Buttercup falls in love with farm-boy Westley, though the evil Prince Humperdinck conspires to have her for himself. There’s also a gentle giant addicted to rhyming; a man who says “inconceivable!” a lot, but doesn’t really know what the word means; fireswamps; and a zoo of death. Wikipedia succinctly puts it in the genre of ‘American romantic fantasy adventure comedy.’ I don’t really know why it’s great, but it is.
Dead Poets Society, dir. Peter Weir (1989)
My fave film. Nuff said. See why here (at Number 1).
Edward Scissorhands, dir. Tim Burton (1990)
An inventor starts to create a human but dies before he has had a chance to finish him, leaving him with scissors for hands. It sounds utterly ridiculous, but Tim Burton makes this film genuinely heartbreaking in the weird bright suburban town he creates.
The Silence of the Lambs, dir. Jonathan Demme (1991)
Incredible incredible incredible film, Anthony Hopkins is the creepy imprisoned serial killer messing with with trainee FBI student Jodie Foster who’s trying to capture another serial killer on the loose, ‘Buffalo Bill.’ My god, this film will have you on the edge of your seat, terrified, the whole way through. The unsettling calmness and charisma of Hopkins’ characters (who ate one of his victims’ livers “with some fava beans and a nice chianti”) is unparalleled, and famously, the two leads never actually spoke to eachother unless the camera were rolling.
The Shawshank Redemption, dir. Frank Darabont (1994)
One of the best films of all time, in my opinion. Testament to the strength of the human spirit, friendship, overcoming adversity, it’s about a banker called Andy who is sent to prison for murdering his wife (which he denies), befriending a fellow inmate (Morgan Freeman) whilst locked up. This film is so snubbed and underrated, probably because it came out the same time as films like Pulp Fiction and Forrest Gump – but the ending will make you cry like a baby.
La Haine, dir. Mathieu Kassovitz (1995)
Like a good little typical French student, I’ve included La Haine on this list. If you study French, you’ll either have had to watch this for A-Levels or, for me, at Uni – the film covers 19 hours in the lives of three friends living in impoverished housing projects outside Paris. The films’ events coincided with real police riots happening at the time, with real footage interspersed in the film, giving it a sense of gritty realism (the three main characters even used their real names).
Good Will Hunting , dir. Gus Van Sant (1997)
Good Will Hunting is about a 20 year-old delinquent and genius who begins therapy sessions to avoid prosecution – soon learning to appreciate his own talents and the world around him thanks to his therapist Robin Williams. I am basically transfixed by anything Robin Williams does, and watching him accept his Oscar for this film makes me BAWL.
The Truman Show, dir. Peter Weir (1998)
With such a hugely relevant comment about the construction of society and surveillance, The Truman Show is about a man whose entire life since birth has been carefully constructed and broadcast as part of a reality TV show – which he doesn’t know about. Yes, very “Big Brother is watching you.”
American Psycho, dir. Mary Harron (2000)
Again, absolutely nowhere near the pure narrative genius of the book, but a good alternative if you don’t want to get through 400 pages of filth (trust me, the book is a thousand times more vile than the film – the film looks like a fluffy PG in comparison). Patrick Bateman, a charismatic young investment banker, revels in a daytime life of expensive meals and mergers and acquisitions but has a secret life of a remorseless serial killer – or does he? The ambiguity of his crimes and mental state propels this story forward into one of gripping depth.
Lost in Translation, dir Sofia Coppola (2003)
Perhaps one of those films that values aesthetics over the screenplay and plot, Lost in Translation follows a struggling former actor Bob Harris and his meeting with the newly-married but restlessly dissatisfied Charlotte, played by a baby-faced Scarlet Johansson. Again, I witter on about it here at number seven.
Little Miss Sunshine, dir. Jonathan Dayton (2006)
Although seeing Steve Carrell in a serious role is a little jarring (especially if you saw The Forty Year Old Virgin first), this film is almost sad in its portrayal of misfit characters – butt the way the film develops makes the ending indescribably heartwarming.
Juno, dir. Jason Reitman (2007)
I am absolutely convinced that this film has one of the wittiest scripts ever, with Ellen Page’s portrayal of a teen struggling with an unwanted pregnancy skyrocketing her into the public eye. Everything is wonderful – the adorable, tic-tac eating awkwardness of Michael Cera, the hamburger phone, THE SOUNDTRACK – if you haven’t already seen it, do so NOW.
Fantastic Mr. Fox, dir. Wes Anderson (2009)
Wes Anderson’s kooky directorial stance and Alexandre Desplat’s perfect soundtrack make this (albeit embelllished) Roald Dahl classic an amazing watch. The stop-start animation style, offbeat techniques and naturalistic voice acting show Anderson’s versatility – and if that isn’t enough, it has a star-studded cast (George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe, I can go on…).
Inglorious Basterds, dir. Quentin Tarantino (2009)
Following two separate and fictional plots to assassinate Adolf Hitler: one, led by a group of Jewish-American Nazi hunters called ‘The Basterds,’ and one by Shosanna (played by the frankly dreamy Mélanie Laurent), who owns a cinema in Paris, this film is a hilariously gross film that in many ways reminds me of Truffaut’s Le Dernier Métro. Obviously, with Tarantino as a director, there’s plently of gruesome twists and turns (scalping, anyone?) to keep spectators on their toes. Christoph Waltz’s genius portrayl of Colonel Hans Landa lead to his well deserved Oscar win.
Black Swan, dir. Darren Aronofsky (2010)
Frankly this film is creepy as hell (I’ve just realised that there are so many psychological thrillers on this list… sorry). Natalie Portman’s obsession with perfecting her role in the ballet Black Swan leads to her hallucinations and mental breakdown. Just like in American Psycho, we have an unreliable narrator and have to question the events, making it a scarily untrustworthy film (there is also a fairly steamy sex scene between Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman, if you’re into that kind of thing).
The Social Network, dir. David Fincher (2010)
Although there’s been loads of arguments over the accuracy of the film, with accusations of exaggaration (particularly in the characterisation of Mark Zuckerberg, who called the film ‘hurtful’ – boo hoo, you billionaire), undeniably the screenplay, score and directing of this film is incredible. It’s witty, sharp, tense, and way more interesting than nerds writing code.
Intouchables, dir. Olivier Nakache (2012)
Out of all the films on this list, if any, I implore you to watch this one the most. I only watched it for the first time about a year or so ago and it has fast become on of my favourite films. Philippe is a rich quadriplegic, who is interviewing to hire a live-in carer. When Driss interviews, wanting to get a rejection letter so he continue receiving welfare benefits, Philippe decided to hire the Earth Wind & Fire-loving layabout, and the two forge an unlikely friendship.
The Grand Budapest Hotel, dir. Wes Anderson (2014)
An artsily-made, pastel-coloured, bizarrely nonsensical visual masterpiece, starring Ralph Fiennes as an eccentric concierge trying to prove his innocence when framed for murder.
Gone Girl, dir. David Fincher (2014)
Ooh look, ANOTHER psychological thriller! This time it’s based on Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel (yeah, that one everyone reads on the tube). I haven’t read the book, but I found the film amazing – tense in all the best ways, an amazing nonlinear narrative that keeps you on your toes, and basically just an excellent plot. Although I found Ben Affleck’s performance a bit potato-like (this description makes sense in my head), Rosamund Pike is the perfectly manic scorned wife who’ll go to any extremes to get revenge on her husband.
The Hateful Eight, Quentin Tarantino (2015)
The sort of film you can only watch once. Firstly, it’s about a hundred years long (3 hours), and the majority of the film takes place in one room. Only a master like Tarantino could keep you hooked for such a length of time. After some bounty hunters take refuge in Minnie’s Haberdashery, a stagecoach, eight people start to suspect eachother and, as inevitable in a Tarantino film, it all starts to get a bit gruesome. Ennio Morricone’s oscar-winning score is the perfect accompaniment to this creepy Western.