Saturday, October 19, 2013

The favourite ten

Inspired by The Guardian current series of the best ten xxx (romantic, action, comedy etc) movies and by having to begin sorting and discarding for a forthcoming move, rummaging through my DVD collection, and idling, I came up with my favourite ten films.

Defying the convention of reverse order, I will start with the film that I would want to keep if all the others were to float away (Desert Island Disc style).

This would be Denys Arcand's 'Jesus of Montreal' that cleverly, movingly recapitulates the story of Jesus, in deeply human terms, through telling how a group of avant garde actors re-create a Passion play at the main shrine in Montreal. It is pitch perfect - funny, biting, moving - asking how might we see Jesus' life, here and now, though stripped of the supernatural, it speaks utterly to the human.

At number 2, 'Paris, Texas' by Wim Wenders. For the extraordinary way Travers confesses to his estranged wife, through the telephone wire of a peep show, and restores her son to her without thought of a redeeming 'happy ending' for their relationship. Redemption is neither a cheap nor easy ticket.

(3) 'There are more important things than happiness', declares the church sacristan to the principal character in Andrei Tarkovsky's 'Nostalgia'. This was the first of his films that I saw. I was mesmerised and am still. The extraordinary moment when Gorchakov, at the behest of a 'holy fool' carries a candle, fragile light, continually threatened, across a shimmering hot pool, so that the world might be redeemed. In small, ritual acts might everything be contained. A film that is visually stunning.

(4) But if the world cannot be saved, run away! 'Mediterraneo' has a group of Italian soldiers take over an obscure Greek Island (from which all the able bodied men have been forced into labour elsewhere by the Germans). The war passes them by and they adjust, more or less, to their displaced fate. It is a beautifully observed film and is dedicated to 'all of those who are running away', sometimes it is the best medicine.

(5) But wherever you go, grace will find you. Babette's Feast is a film about the extravagance of grace. A church sect in Denmark gathers to celebrate the anniversary of its founder's death, presided over by his two, spinster daughters, both of whom have denied the possibility of being someone other out of loyalty to their father and to one another. They have sheltered a Frenchwoman as their housekeeper, who, unbeknownst to them, was the chef at a famous Parisian restaurant. It is she, who uses a lottery prize, to cook the celebratory meal. The meal is utterly beguiling and it draws all the participants into a pattern of reconciliation that is magical. Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury called it, the most Christian film he had seen. I concur.

(6) 'Les Enfants des Paradis' - Marcel Carne's wartime homage to the disparate patterns of love and homage. A film whose very act of affirming the value of the all too human was a furtive yet resounding riposte to France's occupation by a power that could not see the individual, let alone value it.

(7) Like 'Les Enfants', Sam Peckinpah's last western celebrates values that are both threatened, yet eternal, In ' Ride the High Country', Randolph Scott continually challenges Joel McCrea to surrender his integrity to ensure his future. A challenge, out of duty and integrity, he refuses. They are both enforcers of the law fallen on hard times. They are in a West that is changing and they are given a poorly paid job to escort gold from a mine. Scott sees the opportunity of earning a fast buck, absconding with the gold, and justifies it with all the good he has done in the past that has reaped little reward. McCrea adheres to his duty and in the end it is his witness that succeeds and to which Scott returns. Both actors, veterans of the genre, produce performances that are sublime.

(8) But duty is an internalised good rather than an external demand as Kapadia's 'The Warrior' demonstrates, where the warrior eschews violence at great personal cost but finds, possibly, a renewing future. It is another film heightened by the beauty of its setting (in Rajasthan and the mountains).

(9) 'Chariots of Fire' was released just at the moment when I had come to university, hope filled and with young ambition, both of which are captured beautifully in this account of the English running team at the 1924 Paris Olympics and who can forget the Vangelis score!

(10) Building on  a childhood of Star Trek, 'Galaxy Quest' is the perfect spoof. A group of aliens imagine that a terrestrial sci-fi series (modelled on Star Trek) is an historical documentary and recreate the ship in response to an existential threat to their civilisation. They come to enlist the Galaxy Quest characters, who are eking a living attending sci-fi conventions, to man the ship, imagining them heroes, when, in truth, they get failed actors (who, of course, rise to heroic status)! It is so perfectly structured, magnificently acted and full of in jokes - both about Star Trek and the Star Trek cast (in real life) yet works completely on its own terms!

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