Are we still in Lockdown? By the parametres set out from the top, it’s impossible to say, and by my own personal parametres it’s impossible to say too. Mine being to first stay alive, and then to finish watching 100 movies, which I have now done. What started with Moneyball from my sick bed in March ended with 1917 from my sofa in July. In between I’ve spanned most of the movie-making decades, and been a fair way around the world.
These are the ones took me to my century, the full 100 will be listed in order of magnificence in a later piece.
(On the Covid Rating, 19 means amazing, 1 means bloody dreadful.)
Late Spring (1949) – I’ve cycled around France, got a train through Germany, now it was time to rickshaw through Japan– via the legendary film maker Yasujiro Ozu. The lesser running time of Late Spring initially pipped Tokyo Story (more of which in a sec), now that I’m a Nazi for films being under two hours long (preferably under 90 minutes, that’s the dream anyway). It’s beautiful, subtle, outwardly about love, marriage and the tension between different generations, but then it hits you right in the larynx (SPOILER ALERT), it’s really about a father letting go of his daughter. Cue floodgates.
Covid Rating: 18
Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) – directed by German legend Werner Herzog, starring German legend Klaus Kinski – yet another movie icon orbiting the twin planets of Great Actor and Awful Human – it’s about Spanish soldiers in search of El Dorado (the city of gold, not the BBC’s legendarily bad soap opera), with Kinski as the maniac in charge – activating full Richard III intensity. SPOILER ALERT It ends with Kinski’s approximation of Colonel Kurtz attempting to invigorate an army of monkeys. He’s gone totally fucking loco.
Covid Rating: 15
Five Easy Pieces (1970) – often considered Jack Nicholson’s best performance – playing a poor little rich boy/master pianist revolting against his roots – it’s mainly known for the iconic diner scene where Nicholson really puts a waitress through her paces when ordering a chicken sandwich. Now a fairly commonplace occurance in most restaurants.
Covid Rating: 11
Jules and Jim (1962) – this, the tale of two guys falling in love with the same girl, is widely agreed to be Truffaut’s masterpiece, but BOMBSHELL ALERT I’d take the Antoine Doinel saga any day. They’re lighter, more optimistic. This one starts similarly with a refreshingly progressive portrait of male friendship, before veering wildly into melodrama. Still great though, obviously.
Covid Rating: 14
Bad Timing (1980) – Nicolas Roeg’s controversial classic, with it’s groundbreaking non-linear narrative style, was once described as a “sick film made by sick people for sick people” – and if you wait for the ending you might see why. Harvey Keitel’s Austrian cop (sounding not dissimilar to Chris Eubank at times) can’t figure out why Art Garfunkel took such a curious amount of time to call the ambulance after his on-off lover (amazing played by Theresa Russell) overdoses on tablets. If you prod around the murkier areas of your brain, you can probably dot the dots.
Covid Rating: 15
The Running Man (1987) – two moderately interesting facts about The Running Man: 1) it’s based on a Stephen King story written under a pseudonym, and 2) it’s directed by Starsky from the original Starsky and Hutch. Beyond that, it’s painting by numbers, saved entirely by Schwarzenegger – zero acting ability, pure charisma.
Covid Rating: 8
Tokyo Story (1953) – considered to be one of the greatest movies ever made, and it’s hard to argue with that. Japanese master craftsman Ozu weaves a gentle tale of a family too caught up in their own lives to look after their visiting parents, but the central message – that life, children, and family are all ultimately disappointing – isn’t as pessimistic as it looks on paper. The movie accepts human fallibility as something to be unashamed of, while celebrating unforced acts of kindness as always meaningful and rarely unnoticed. Incredibly life-affirming, this should be on the curriculum somewhere.
Covid Rating: 19
Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) – in the pantheon of existential road movies, this falls just shy of Vanishing Point (one of my all-time faves). There’s no major plot, James Taylor makes the least convincing drag racer of all time – he’s more like what he actually was, a folk singer from the village – but there’s something about driving in films, I can’t look away. And get this: I don’t even have a license.
Covid Rating: 13
Le Mepris (1963) – another one from the Frenchman Jean-Luc Godard, and probably my favourite of his so far – a point I’ll be reasserting for many years at dinner parties. It’s partly a movie about making movies (like The Player and Singin’ in the Rain, also in the Lockdown 100) but mostly it’s one long marital argument, interspersed with sweeping music and stunning views – one being Brigitte Bardot (playing the role of the hot infuriated spouse) the other being various gorgeous Italian landscapes.
Covid Rating: 16
The Aviator’s Wife (1981) – I’ve hammered home my love of the French director Eric Rohmer, my greatest discovery of the pandemic – I just needed one more hit before bringing my 100-movie challenge to a close. He never disappoints, here taking a small story of petty inner-city jealousy and putting it under a magnifying glass to make it bigger. He revels in the complexity and duality of people, and to create entire casts of three-dimensional characters is a huge feat – yet he does it effortlessly every time. In my opinion, that makes him the best film maker we’ve ever had (even though this wasn’t my favourite of his).
Covid Rating: 15
1917 (2019) – if you compare it to 2017’s Dunkirk, which might be the best war film ever made (seriously), 1917 doesn’t stand a chance. Nolan’s troops had trauma etched on their faces, they could barely talk, here the privates are having a right laugh, it’s all banter, the officers are incredibly serious as you’d expect, and the dying get just the right amount of air to give a little speech. If you compare it to Gallipoli with Mel Gibson, a similar story, it comes off second there too. But put it up against the other popcorn flicks in my Lockdown 100 – Star Wars, Thor, Die Hard – and it’s head and shoulders above the competition. Think The Floor is Lava, but during wartime.
Covid Rating: 10