As the country moves into a more confusing state of lockdown – go out, see each other, enjoy yourselves, BUT BE AWARE – my state remains much the same: watch 100 films. Films that you wouldn’t necessarily snatch from the shelves at in your local Blockbusters but ones that have had chin-strokers massaging their goatee beards for years, or ones given the push of approval from the harbingers of interesting taste.
You’ll find the latest batch listed below, accompanied by a handy Covid Rating – 19 being AMAZING, 1 being SHIT. With this small handful ticked off the list, I move into my final 20.
The Long Goodbye (1973) – on paper it’s got everything. Elliot Gould channelling Humphrey Bogart’s old private dick, Philip Marlowe (from the Raymond Chandler books), chain-smoking throughout, reminding you a little bit of Fletch a decade later. There’s a John Williams score, Arnie in an uncredited early role as a heavy. Truthfully though, it’s spellbinding for the first ten mins, then less good for the rest of it. Not Robert Altman’s finest. That’d be Short Cuts, based on the work of another Raymond: Carver.
Covid Rating: 10
Fear Eats the Soul (1974) – I’ve recently taken French New Wave cinema for a few glasses of wine, so now it’s Germany’s turn for a big sausage, which means only one thing in this game (that’s right guys) – Rainer Werner Fassbinder, here writing, directing, and acting a minor role in the story of an old woman marrying a much younger Moroccan guy. Their relationship is either an optimistic triumph of love against the odds or a depressing reflection of racial tension depending which hat you’re wearing. Sadly, with the current winds blustering about, it feels much more like the latter. Both leads are fantastic.
Covid Rating: 16
A Good Marriage (1982) – my personal marriage to the work of the enigmatic Frenchman Eric Rohmer continues to blossom – his films are gentle, they’re insightful, they’re ultimately full of hope. They speak to me. I’m also a big fan of Beatrice Romand who plays the main character in this. BUT (capital but), this was my least favourite so far, telling the story of a strong independent woman who decides she wants to marry a lawyer – which, by Rohmer’s standards, feels strangely reductive.
Covid Rating: 14
Singin’ in the Rain (1952) – “could I handle a musical?” was the question, and “yes just about” was the answer. There’s no denying Gene Kelly’s magnificence, especially when he’s smashing it out of the park for the splashy dance routine despite famously showing Covid-like symptoms. I liked it. Everyone likes it, and quite rightly too.
Covid Rating: 13
The Big Bird Cage (1972) – from a modern perspective this “exploitation classic” set in a braless women’s prison in the Philippines is wall-to-wall offensive – casual misogyny, racism, homophobia, big tits falling out all over the place (okay I didn’t mind that so much), an entirely nonsensical plot – but perhaps even back in the prehistoric 1970s that was exactly the point. Unfortunately, being a bit kitsch, and starring the magnificent Pam Grier, can’t excuse it.
Covid Rating: 2
My Dinner with Andre (1981) – an existential conversation over dinner, almost done in real time – but not quite. Clashing philosophies with one man (Andre) removing meaning from anything, while the other (My) gives everything, no matter how mundane, importance. Cities are manmade prisons, the whole world is nihilistic, a nice cup of coffee is everything. You suspect that all of us would fall on one side of the coin. I thought I’d hate it, I’d find it too pretentious (prétentieux, me?), but get this – I loved it.
Covid Rating: 17
Bicycle Thieves (1948) – considered one of the all-time greats, famed for its “neorealism” and for using non-actors in all the big roles, it also really captures how annoying it is when you have your bike nicked. The young lad playing the son went on to become a maths teacher in real life. Thanks Wikipedia.
Covid Rating: 11
Bonnie and Clyde (1967) – very much a film of two halves, the first one a little slow by modern standards, then it cranks up into gear when Gene Hackman turns up and you can see why the grizzly violence smeared such an audacious smudge on the so-called Summer of Love. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway make the perfect murderous couple – her in particular.
Covid Rating: 13
Babette’s Feast (1987) – the plot is essentially that a great cook introduces repressed Christians from a small island community to fine dining with a magnificent meal, during which they open up, settle scores and sample caviar for the first time, but unfortunately, I didn’t really understand what it was trying to say. Was it anti-religion, blaming the divine for mundane wasted lives, or was this some kind of profound monastic fable about finding heavenly fellowship through food? If so the over-kneaded breaking bread metaphor got a bit chewy for me.
Covid Rating: 9
Blow Up (1966) – Not at all what I was expecting, I thought it’d be all “Austin Powers shagadelic baby yeah” but it’s a really odd, restrained film – featuring, unsurprising I suppose, echoes of the movie Blow Out which also features in my Lockdown 100. Both find artists – here a photographer, there a sound man – who think they’ve stumbled across a murderous crime through their work. The difference here being the underlying ambiguity of it, which leaves you wondering whether any of it actually happened or not.
Covid Rating: 15
Love on the Run (1979) – Truffaud’s final instalment of the romantic adventures of his alter-ego Antoine Doinel and it’s a curious concoction, with off-cuts from the previous four outings making up at least a fifth of the film. Loose ends are tied up nicely, but it plays like a highlights reel of a man’s life, one which even Truffaud himself said he regretted making. That said, with so much built-up affection for the characters, it’s impossible to hate. You can draw a line from Truffaud and Rohmer all the way to modern-day Linklater. That’s no bad thing.
Covid Rating: 12
Repo Man (1984) – produced by Mike Nesmith from The Monkees, music by Iggy Pop, the first film by Alex Cox who used to introduce the excellent Moviedrome cult classics on BBC2 back in the day. The plus sides: heavy on punk attitude and weird sci-fi, great music, future echoes of directors like Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. The downside: I hate to say it, but Emilio Estevez. I loved him when I was a kid, but every time I see him now, with the exception of playing Two-Bit in The Outsiders and one or two moments in Young Guns, he’s really hard to like, all Tom Cruise intensity without any Tom Cruise charm.
Covid Rating: 11
The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978) – another German one from our new pal Rainer Werner Fassbinder, it’s a complicated post-war love story that starts and ends explosively and abruptly. Bits of it seem more like a play (not surprising, Fassbinder was a theatre director too), and the lead Hanna Schygulla is magnificent. So magnificent she went on to star in The Delta Force with Chuck Norris.
Covid Rating: 13