If I thought that ‘R’ was hard, ‘S’ was almost impossible. So many I wanted to include, I had an A4 page for a shortlist. It gave me a real headache, and a late night too. Just trying to reduce the number down to a normal size post had me biting my nails over what I had to leave out. But I had to make some tough calls, and left out all the obvious ones that screamed in my head to be allowed on. Once again, I have settled for some obscure choices, and left you all to run riot with the rest.
Ricardo Darin again, and the wonderful Argentinian thriller, ‘The Secret In Their Eyes’. (2009) Oscar-winning excellence all round, in this film that spans a period of twenty five years, as a judge and his colleague investigate a rape and murder that becomes the focal point of their lives. From the discovery of a body in 1974, through the case being closed and reopened, to the unexpected and gripping climax, this film never lets up, and demands your attention at all times. It deserved that Oscar, undoubtedly.
I write a lot about war films, and there are hardly any I haven’t seen. But the German film ‘Stalingrad’ (1993) is one of the most authentic and convincing to ever look at events during WW2. Following a group of soldiers from a relaxing posting in Italy, to the sheer hell of the street fighting in the Russian city, this film is memorable for both its realistic portrayal of combat, and the sincerity of the performances from the mostly unknown cast. Beware of poor imitations.
Billy Bob Thornton had his finest hour in a film hardly anyone has seen, and is rarely mentioned. In the poignant thriller ‘Sling Blade’ (1996) he not only starred, but also wrote and directed the film too. This tale of a man released from a mental hospital in Arkansas, trying to fit back into society with a damaged mental state, is a film I have never forgotten. He befriends a local boy and his mother in his home town, and gets a job as a repair man. Events turn tragic, when the mother’s abusive boyfriend takes offence at her friendship with the man, and he in turn seeks to protect the family members who have become his friends. Thornton is just wonderful in this film, a sight to behold.
David Lynch’s film, ‘The Straight Story’ (1999) is based on a true story about a man using a powered lawn mower to travel across two states to visit his estranged brother. That’s it. Man on a lawn mower, driving a long way to see his brother. Sound dull? Pointless? You would be wrong. The wonderful Richard Farnsworth captivates as the gentle Alvin Straight, and the scenery and soundtrack are both magical too. The everyday situations Alvin finds himself in will make you look at the better side of life, the kindness and gentleness that we are capable of, if we just act like human beings. This is a life-affirming film, and made me feel a better person for just watching it. As well as Farnsworth, Sissy Spaceck and Harry Dean Stanton lend great support. One of the best, by far.
I have written about this film on my blog before, and also submitted a full review to a film website. It remains one of the enduring memories of my youth, and I still can’t forget how impressed I was when I first watched it, aged just fifteen. Jean-Pierre Melville’s French crime thriller, ‘Le Samourai’ (1967) has got nothing to do with Japanese warriors, so don’t be confused by the title. It deals with the life of a Parisian hit man, someone who lives a lonely life (like the samurai of old) on the wrong side of the law. Alain Delon plays Jef Costello with such overwhelming cool, that I immediately wanted to be him. (And still do) His girlfriend Jane (played by Delon’s sister, Nathalie) is his only real human contact, and she supplies the alibis that keep him from being arrested. After a hit, the police start to get on to Jef, and he tries to cover his tracks. Moody, beautifully shot, and oozing Parisian 60s cool, (including the Citroen DS car) this is one to catch up with.
Just one more (Only one? I cry) before my choice for today.
Gnashing my teeth at all the films I had to omit, I decided to increase the length of the post by adding this one. A great example of American film noir, ‘The Sweet Smell Of Success’ (1957) gives Burt Lancaster one his most convincing and ‘baddest’ roles, as the bitchy columnist J. J. Hunsecker. He is a man who can destroy reputations overnight with a few words, and takes great delight in doing just that. Tony Curtis co-stars, as the weak press agent, Sidney Falco. He is a flattering and fawning man, willing to go to any lengths to get a a mention for his clients in Hunsecker’s column. When J.J.’s younger sister begins a romance with an up and coming young jazz musician, he uses Falco to discredit the young man, stopping at nothing to get what he wants. This is an insightful look at the newspaper industry, and still completely relevant today. “Match me, Sidney.”
No Japanese film today, and nothing from Akira Kurosawa either. But my top pick is another Asian film, this time from South Korea. Buddhist monks living in a floating temple, in the middle of a lake, surrounded by mountains. Spanning decades in the life of a young novice monk, and his wise mentor, ‘Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter…and Spring’ (2003) is something magical and unique. This is a spiritual and peaceful experience, watching how they live their lives, and how those lives change with the seasons, and the years going by. Viewing this film is like a combination of sitting looking at the best painting ever created, whilst being inside the most serene and contemplative spot on Earth.
There really is nothing else quite like it, I assure you.