These are some of the films that helped shape Brendan’s love of the movies. We hope you will find something here that does the same for you. This page is a work in progress… check back for more reviews.
Rather than just list a dull old top 100, we have divided ours into eleven groups of ten, each based on a theme, plus a mysterious 111th, so if you are looking for something to watch, there is something here for every mood.
You can jump straight to the top ten for each theme via the links above, or see the entire 111 list below.
If Brendan could just choose one category to take with him to the proverbial desert island, this would be it. Whether the escape is from just such a desert island, as in Castaway, or from a prison or PoW camp, something about the dynamic of an individual or group planning and executing an escape against impossible odds, always makes for a great movie – or a great book, like his best-seller Under the Wire, now part of our film slate.
1. The Great Escape
“In the three years, seven months and two weeks that I’ve been in the bag, that’s the most extraordinary stuff I’ve ever tasted.”
Like the real-life WWII break-out from Stalag Luft III it chronicles, the movie is quite simply one of the greatest ensemble projects ever. While the film is universally known for Steve McQueen’s motorbike attempted getaway, the complex world of prion camp stooges, ferrets, scroungers and forgers is what brings the movie to life. It is full of unlikely heroes, forced by events to step up and risk all to defy the Nazis.
“You said you’d be right back.”
Any actor’s dream must be to be on camera for virtually every minute of screentime, sharing the limelight for most of the second act with only a volleyball called Wilson. But Tom Hanks uses every second of screen time well to pull off a magnificent performance of a time-obsessed and self absorbed manager who survives a plane crash to find himself as a modern day Robinson Crusoe. His habit of talking to himself and Wilson gives the audience a way in to his thought process, but as a screenplay its greatest strength is that it relies on what he does much more than what he says. The crash scene is one of the most graphic and visceral ever filmed – not reccommended as In-flight entertainment, but a wonderful, memorable film for all other occasions.
3. Cool Hand Luke
“The first thing you’ve got to do is get your mind right.”
Paul Newman’s superb performance as a returned war veteran who does battle with every form of authority, but lands himself on a Geogia chain gang. His journey from outsider to reluctant hero to the other cons is one of cinema’s greatest emotional journeys to a poignant conclusion. As the warden says “what we have here is a failure to communicate”.
“Hey you bastards, I’m still here!”
A harrowing account of life in the Penal colony of French Guyana – both Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman give astounding performances, one as an alleged murderer, the other as a master forger. Sometimes tough to watch, always impossible not to watch. A master class in building tension and ever increasing obstacles while never losing sight of the dogged umanity that makes the story timeless. The relationship between Hoffman and Newman is remarkably nuanced, going from a mercenary self preservation to brotherhood and beyond.
5. Shawshank Redemption
“I believe in two things: discipline and the Bible. Here you’ll receive both. Put your trust in the Lord; your ass belongs to me. Welcome to Shawshank.”
One of the most loved films of all time, largely because ot the terrible believabilty of life in Shawshank for an innocent man, contrasted with the patience, humour and humanity of the lead character, played with an understated brilliance by Tim Robbins, playing opposite Morgan Freeman, whose rich tones give the voice-over credibility. Look out for a wonderful supporting role by character actor James Whitmore as an institutionalised con, floundering in the outside world. If our definition of a “Proper Picture” was listed in a dictionary, it would say “See Shawshank”.
“I am Jaguar Paw. This is my forest. And I am not afraid.”
Our very own Ned Dowd was a producer and production manager on this magnificent epic. Sent in the jungles of central America just before the arrival of the Conquistadors, an innocent tribe of hunter gatherers are destroyed by a barbaric Aztec-type civilisation with the survivors brought to a grand but decaying city as sacrifices to the gods. While profoundly gory in parts, the film’s great strength is in its exploration of a civilisation decaying from within and how one person makes a stand in order to save his wife, his child and himself.
7. Army of Shadows
“This time he did not run.”
Armee des Ombres is remarkable not for its pyrotechnics, but for its unswerving reality. Both the writer and the director Jean Pierre Melville were veterans of the the French Resistance and their story is one of nerve-wracking tension and the ability to hold out against torture and bullying. It shows that the difference between bravery and cowardice, between callousness and pragmatism. Even though Melville loved mixing European art style with Hollywood storytelling skills, this is far from modern studio fare, with its roots in tough, tough reality.
8. The Pianist
“I was cold.”
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Polanski’s wonderful movie is that it flies in the face of one of the most universal truths of film-making: that the protagonist or hero must drive the action forward by his own actions and decisions. Instead, a Jewish concert pianist is saved from the Nazis at every turn by the bravery of those around him while he is battered around like a cork in a storm – a delicate flower in an ice age. It is a film of incredible humanity in which death and salvation come from the most unexpected directions. A truly great work.
9. The Killing Fields
“Nothing to forgive, Sydney”
Roland Joffe’s great direction of Bruce Robinson’s magnificent screenplay allows Sam Waterston and Haing Ngor to give the performances of a lifetime, one as an ambitious but ultimately guilt ridden western journalist and the other as his Cambodian fixer who is left behind as the Kmer Rouge sweep to power and create the Killing Fields in their chilling Year Zero. Despite the horrors, the story is actually one of humanity and forgiveness.
10. Catch Me If You Can
You’re gonna have to catch me first!
A film that showed just how much Leo DiCaprio had matured as an actor. Based on the true story of one of America’s most successful and creative forgers, chased around the planet by the equally determined law man played by Tom Hanks. Spielberg’s film was both a commercial and critical success. It is a great example of screenwriting and film making that understands the power of plumbing the highs and lows of a character’s journey, from King of the World to bottom of the heap and back.
OF LOVE AND LOSS
Great movies are often about fascinating characters faced with tough choices. Love and loss are two parts of life experienced by almost every human and reflected in many great movies. That’s why the films on this particular list are ones that people return to again and again. The love can be love of partner, friend or family, and the loss may be through distance or death, but nothing evokes emotion like a great movie of love and loss.
“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
Casablanca is like an elegantly tailored jacket. People are so busy enjoying looking at it that only those who really stop to read the screenplay can see that the ‘stitching’ is incredibly clever. What started as just another of fifty movies per studio per year cranked out as wartime potboilers, turned out to be something that has outlived all of its creators. Luckily for us, the decision to go with Humphry Bogart rather than Ronnie Regan proved wise. Even though it is a melodrama, the script crackles with wit and one liners.
2. Straight Story
“The worst part of being old is rememberin’ when you was young.”
The unlikely combo of director David Lynch and Disney give this wonderful little film a dreamlike quality on top of a realistic story of family feuds and forgiveness that never plunges into sentimentality. An old geezer sets out on a journey across the US midwest to set things right with his dying estranged brother. But his dodgy eyesight means that the only vehicle he can drive is an old lawnmower. A road trip at 5 mph, which slows us down to show us what we miss at the gallop.
3. 84 Charing Cross Rd
“I can never get interested in things that didn’t happen to people who never lived.”
A love affair between two people who never actually meet, brought to life through their spoken letters and immaculate performances by Ann Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins. The film gives a great glimpse at the differences between austere, polite post-war London and brash, vibrant New York City in the same era, with the lead characters and cities both reflecting the same contrast.
4. Remains of the Day
“Do you know what I am doing, Miss Kenton? I am placing my mind elsewhere while you chatter away.”
A brilliantly observed account of what happens when a stiff upper lip turns into rigor mortis. Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins at the absolute top of their game as a cautious housekeeper and ultra-reserved butler in a 1930s stately home, too afraid to reach out for each other and trying to make amends in later life. One of the greatest ever evocations of inter-war class-ridden Britain, lost opportunities and second chances.
5. Midnight Cowboy
“I’m walkin’ here! I’m walkin’ here!”
A poignant and unlikely relationship between a street hustler and a gigolo in 1960s New York City. Artfully directed by John Schlesinger, the movie follows the mentorship of a guileless good looking cowboy in the city by an old hand of street life and the subsequent reversal of roles as both seek to escape the city. Dustin Hoffman and John Voigt are great together. The film was the deserving winner of three Academy Awards.
“Is that our ship comin’ in, Da?”
A tiny gem of a movie starring Martin Sheen as a writer returning from New York to Ireland to bury his father. Along the way the darkly funny script delivers many surprises as he is haunted by the ghosts of his past, and the memories of his loving, infuriating parents. At no stage does it lapse into Oirish sentimentality or cliche, managing to make viewers laugh and cry from start to finish. Based on a very successful stage play by Hugh Leonard, with supporting roles from William Hickey and Barnard Hughes.
7. The Dead
“One by one, we’re all becoming shades.”
A brilliantly observed last film from one of our most loved directors, John Huston. Based on a short story from James Joyce Dubliners. A Dublin dinner party around 1900 attracts a constellation of fascinating characters – saints and sinners, drunkards and blowhards celebrate Christmas while memories of old loves stir in the shadows. Most of the action takes place in one room, but it is so well portrayed and filmed that it also feels like a film rather than a stage play on film. A particularly strong performance by Huston’s daughter Angelica, as a wife haunted by a long lost love from her youth.
8. All That Jazz
“It’s showtime, folks!”
One of the strangest and most powerful films ever on the reality of staging a show. Loosely based on the turbulent domestic and professional life of the great choreographer and director Bob Fosse, as told by himself. The star, played by a brilliantly manic Roy Scheider, is driven by a high octane cocktail of ambition, lust and a pharmacy worth of assorted drugs to achieve perfection in his shows. He drives himself and his dancers to the limit, while driving those he loves crazy. The opening audition dance scene, where hapless wannabes give it their all is funny, poignant and original all at the same time – much like Fosse’s dance work.
9. Ordinary People
“Feelings are scary. And sometimes they’re painful. And if you can’t feel pain, you won’t feel anything”.
This is the first movie I can remember seeing in a movie theatre that made me think – wow, someone wrote that, someone else filmed it and here it is. I wonder if I could do that some day? Alvin Sargent’s elegant screenplay, directed by Robert Redford, won four Oscars. It stars Donald Sutherland as an emotionally inarticulate father trying to hold his family together after the death of his eldest son in an accident. His younger boy Timothy Hutton plays a brittle survivor of a suicide attempt, while mother Mary Tyler Moore plays one of the coldest and most fascinating women on film since Nurse Ratchet. Despite the subject matter the movie manages to be warm, human and full of hope without ever flinching from the realities of life and death for ‘ordinary people’.
10.Truly Madly Deeply
“I can’t believe I have a bunch of dead people watching videos in my living room.”