I used to work at the cinema and when you’re cleaning screens with someone for ten hours in a day, you’d better think of something to talk about. My go-to was asking their top five films, top five TV shows, top five everything (thanks, High Fidelity). So I thought I’d look at my top five films and examine why I find myself so passionate about this medium above all others.
The Root Cause
My eldest brother is a film fanatic, and he introduced me to films I was far too young to watch. I remember learning about reservoirs in year five and blurting out to my teacher: “Like the film? Reservoir Dogs?” Unsurprisingly, she was pretty shocked. A year later, I remember asking my classmates whether they’d seen Battle Royale, and they said they had, although they couldn’t tell me what it was about when I tested them on their claims.
So clearly my introduction to the non-kiddy spectrum of cinema was incredibly premature, and I was exposed to complex and exciting stories from a very young age. It was a pretty exhilarating experience, watching films I wasn’t supposed to see and obsessing over how fucking cool they were. I was introduced to ideas and tales I wasn’t able to access anywhere else, being shown imaginative worlds and scenarios my child-brain would never have thought of alone. I remember being obsessed with Goldeneye, Starship Troopers and Face Off because of the distance they took me from my own reality. You are transported into fictional worlds so far from home that you can’t help but be wowed, especially as an awkward fat kid with no hobbies whose highlight of the day was dinner or a Jacqueline Wilson book. With film, the story is more encompassing, engaging more of your senses and progressing faster than a book: you take in a lot more in a much shorter time.
I used to rent movies from MVC (remember that chain?) and the library, and while my friends were obsessing over Save The Last Dance and Step Up, I was scoffing at their poor film choice and voting to watch Ghostbusters when we got the option to watch a film in school. I never won that battle, and if I’m ever forced to sit through any of the Fast & Furious franchise again, I’ll kill myself.
I used to have a weekly ritual with my best mate from secondary school where we would go the cinema every weekend and then sit in Starbucks and people watch until it was dark. I don’t know why we stopped, but I remember a few years later one of the best moments of my life was being 15, wearing heels and getting us tickets for 28 Days Later (an 18). There were very few people in the cinema, and this was the first time I’d seen a proper horror on the big screen. It blew my tiny little mind and although horror has always been one of my favourite genres, this cemented that fact right there and then. I sneaked into Saw IV once as well, and the opening scene during Jigsaw’s autopsy is burned into my mind’s eye; it is so graphic and stomach churning, yet my morbid curiosity meant I watched, mouth agape, for the entire scene.
As I got older and was able to finally watch 18s legally, I educated myself on classic horror and critically acclaimed films, dipping into French flicks and obscure indie films. Film4 became my favourite channel and there are so many films I watched at about 3am without knowing the title that I wish I could revisit.
It comes as no surprise, then, that of course I grew up and got a job in my local cinema. You had me at ‘free tickets.’
So what are my top five films that I claim outshine a barrage of others? To be fair, this list changes on a weekly basis, but I’m pretty confident that the following are outstanding examples of why film is regarded as such an important and intrinsic part of the human experience.
Too obvious? It’s a classic for a reason, people. I saw it screened at Sheffield’s independent cinema The Showroom a few years ago and it just reinforced to me why this film is so iconic. The dialogue is so different from your average movie script, with tagent-based conversations being a cornerstone of its brilliance. The hilarious and often bullshit-laden conversations the characters have is so refreshing, and you can imagine having these mundane yet captivating conversations with those around you. This is, of course, mixed with action and scenarios so varied and creative yet so intrinsically linked you can’t help but be blown away by this artistic masterpiece. The humour in it never feels outdated, and I will never not laugh at Vincent saying, “Oh man I shot Marvin in the face!” And did I mention the soundtrack? It is probably my most listened to album on Itunes.
Full Metal Jacket
I’m a sucker for a war film, and this film reached me on an emotional level I didn’t think was possible with a war film – not in the cry-your-eyes-out-everyone’s-dying kind of way, but in a this-film-is-fucking-deep kind of way. The shocking scene of a solider laughing manically and murdering civilians says more about the barbarity of such actions than a five thousand word essay explaining exactly why it is wrong ever could. I re-watched this film during a time I was incredibly depressed and verging on suicidal, and Private Joker’s line: The dead know only one thing: it is better to be alive woke me the fuck up, and I resurface that sentence whenever I feel like shit as a shining reminder towards, well, choosing life. The film’s not all doom and gloom though, with Gunnery Sergeant Hartman delivering some laugh-out-loud whoppers and Private Joker living up to his nickname.
28 Days Later
Did I mention I like horror? Zombies are my favourite kind of monster, because what’s scarier than a rotting member of the human race snapping their jaws and spitting blood in your face? I blame this zombie obsession on playing Resident Evil as a kid and being scared shitless when they finally got you. 28 Days Later was one of my Film4 late-night discoveries, and I remember being captivated by it from the opening montage of terrible footage playing as part of an animal testing experiment. When Jim is walking around a deserted London, I remember being blown away by the immensity of that image and how it captured loneliness in such a powerful way. The film moves at a great pace and the zombies are perfect; they are always terrifying and never comical. The plot and character interactions are never boring, and you find yourself rooting for Selena and Jim without being exposed to excessive or over the top flirting. You care so much about these character because the dialogue is executed with precision, humour and reality: these people seem real, likable and you want them to survive because you find yourself relating to them. This film is so re-watchable I dread to think how many hours I’ve actually spent replaying it (I may have broken the disc from over-playing).
Oh, John Cusack, how I love thee. There is no other actor who can play this archetypal character so well, aka the floppy haired, lovable heart-throb full of cyncism, self-loathing and charm. If you could can ‘the 90s’ and sell it, this film would still come a close second to capturing the decade almost perfectly. Alternative music fans will get off on the soundtrack and musical references, and its humour varies from subtle lines to the camera to Jack Black being an in-your-face arsehole as Barry, the most unhelpful shop assistant in the universe. Yet there’s a love story at the heart of it, and Cusack’s character Rob getting in touch with past girlfriends to find out why they broke up with him is a shining example of originality and creativity for the genre. The book it is based on is just as fantastic, but John Cusack brings this adaptation to life by being a relatable, lovable yet thoroughly flawed protagonist who sums up perfectly what it is like to be a lost human being searching desperately to find true love.
Does this need an explanation, really? This jewel of a horror hacks into old fashioned tension building and the biggest fear of them all: death by psycho, especially one that is supposed to love and protect you above all others. The cinematography and creepy moments are unique, and that’s likely the reason it’s so often referenced by other pieces of art. Every shot feels important and you can feel yourself guts getting uncomfortably taut when Jack finally turns on Wendy. Jack Nicholson’s ability to play such a convincing madman mixed with Wendy’s power to play such a haunted victim come together to make a nightmare scenario feel real. Let’s not forget Danny’s interactions with imaginary friend Tony, which are chilling and often a little disturbing to watch. Stephen King is famously unimpressed with Kubrick’s adaption, and I must admit I am holding out on reading the book in case I find myself agreeing with him.
For the love of film, watch these movies if you haven’t already. My love affair with cinema will continue, and I’m always amazed by the industry’s ability to create exciting, fresh narratives that tap into that awestruck kid that still exists inside of me when I discover a film so outstanding that my imagination feels shaken up for the first time all over again.
– Katherine Hockley