TTT – Top Twenty Five Christmas Specials/TV Episodes

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Greetings, Glancers! I’m back again to lovingly twist tinsel around your throats and tug until your baubles burst – in other words – to make you read these words about Christmas. If you liked my Christmas songs post, you should seek counsel with your local priest or GP promptly, but while you wait, why not make things considerably worse for yourself by browsing this post too? What’s the worst that could happen?

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Ah.. yes…

In case you didn’t know by now- I love Christmas. I love the TV, I love the atmosphere, I love the presents. I may be in my thirties, but some childhood traditions never go away – I still get the Christmas TV times and highlight all the TV shows and movies I want to watch or record. One of the things I loved most when younger was getting off school in the run up to the big day, and planning out my day of watching – waking up to catch a few 7.00 am cartoons, then seeing which movie I could watch in bed before breakfast. Even on Christmas Day, I would switch on the TV in my room while going through my stocking – Channel 4 always had the best stuff.

As much as the internet is populated with all the classic American TV specials – The Grinch, Charlie Brown etc – those never entered my Northern Ireland childhood in any real sense. I saw them, but they seemed too cutesy or foreign and as such were not deemed required annual viewing. Much of my list consists of shows which were force fed by my family or which I found myself returning to each year by myself once I gained such critical faculties. Don’t worry US readers – there’s a lot more American content here than there was in my TTT Christmas songs list.

I was too young for a lot of the more traditional British Christmas specials – Morecambe and Wise, The Two Ronnies etc, and I won’t be including any soaps, even if Eastenders and Coronation Street have both had their fair share of memorable one-offs. Remember that time when Bradley fell off the roof, or when Archie was done in by Queen Victoria? No, neither do I. No, old soap episodes aren’t the sort of thing you watch each year as they are ever replaced by new episodes, the Langoliers munching up all that has come before. No game shows or compilation clips shows either, both stalwarts of December viewing – sorry QI and It’ll Be Alright On The Night. Also, The Office will not appear in any guise. Because Ricky Gervais is a dick. Finally (finally!) there’s no ranking because I can’t be arsed.

Alan Partridge – Knowing Me, Knowing Yule

For whatever reason, I never saw much, or any of Alan Partridge in my formative years. It was around the age of 18 that I started watching the odd episode here and there before blasting through it all a few years later. In this episode, Alan is hosting his very own special festive edition of his show and invites guests including a devout Christian lady, a Carry On style innuendo spouter, and the disappointed and increasingly angry Chief Commissioner of the BBC, setting up nicely for the following Partridge series. The format is essentially the same as the others – Alan awkwardly interviewing increasingly ridiculous guests and trading insults, but with a nice Christmas backdrop and theme, and a slightly longer running time.

Beavis And Butt-head

Beavis And Butt-head had the occasional special episode during their run, and while many of the entries on my list are satires on British culture, this one is of course US aimed. That’s not to say it isn’t universal, or at least understandable in Western White culture. There’s A Very Special Christmas With Beavis And Butt-head – the name itself a send up, which sees the useless pair watch a bunch of Christmas songs on TV. It isn’t that exciting an episode, but as always their reactions are amusing and they do get to sing along near the end. Due to those pesky copyright laws, this one is very difficult to find in its original form.

The second episode(s) is Beavis And Butt-head Do Christmas. It’s split into the usual two separate episodes, this time linked with a festive theme. Huh Huh Humbug is another version of A Christmas Carol – but don’t worry, there is absolutely no moral here. Beavis falls asleep while his boss lectures him, and dreams that he is in fact the boss. While trying to watch Porn, he is visited by Ghost Butt-head and a bunch of other familiar faces who show him his past, present, and future – the past being particularly funny. The plot doesn’t go anywhere, but they never do. The second one is It’s A Miserable Life and it has a little more story, with Butt-head being visited by his guardian angel who shows him how wonderful life in town would be without Butt-head messing it up. Again it’s funny seeing the little twists within the world – Stuart and Beavis are now best friends and it seems like Beavis has sunk to Stuart’s level by wearing a Winger shirt – the horror. These ones always take me back to my pre-teen and early teen years and still get a chuckle.

Bottom – Holy

Bottom is one of my favourite sitcoms of all time, with two performers and writers at the top of their game, bringing the unfocused anarchy of their 80s work into the self-referential 90s. Aside from being about getting drunk, ‘doing it’, and slapstick ultra violence, the show has always skewered everything from British traditions to the sitcom format itself.

While Bottom also features a fantastic Halloween themed episode, it’s Holy which really gets the juices going, literally at times. Richie and Eddie, the Hammersmith Hardmen, are trying to celebrate Christmas with Richie in usual jubilant, devoutly English form and Eddie simply wanting to get pissed and watch Goldfinger. We have the unwrapping and sharing of presents, hope and disappointment in unequal measure, charades, Christmas Dinner mishaps (including the hilarious loss of a finger and even more hilarious fixing of said finger),  and even a Christmas miracle. It’s one of the finest British comedy episodes of all time and it’s the one which is most quoted by me in the run up to, and on the big day itself. Has heeeee been?

Buffy The Vampire Slayer – Amends

I talked about this episode in my Season Three Buffy Review so I won’t go into details here other than to say that this isn’t your traditional, drop in and watch, episode. There’s a lot of back story going on, as well as plenty of foreshadowing, but if you’ve seen the whole show a few times then you’ll be fine. The story follows Angel still trying to readjust to life on Earth once more, while being tormented by visions of The First Evil, showing his past brutality and encouraging him to kill himself, or kill Buffy. Buffy, meanwhile is trying to host a normal, family Christmas dinner and invites Faith along. If you’re not a Buffy fan it won’t mean a lot to you, but it’s a nice change of pace from the centrally comic or horror themed episodes.

Friends

Being (one of) the biggest show(s) of the decade, Friends was obliged to have a variety of Holiday Specials – Halloween, Thanksgiving, New Years, Christmas are all covered. There are a few Christmas episodes, as well as other which were filmed around that time of the year and feature New York in all its snowy glory, so you have a few to choose from. In The One With Phoebe’s Dad, the gang are off doing different Christmasy things – Joey and Chandler leave their shopping too late, Monica is on selfish baking mode, Ross and Rachel fight while the heating is off, and Phoebe drives to meet her father. In The One Where Rachel Quits, Rachel quits, Joey gets a job selling Christmas trees, Phoebe witnesses a tree massacre, and Ross helps a scout after breaking her leg. In The One With The Girl From Poughkeepsie Ross is dating two women at the same time and ends up falling asleep on the train and going to Canada, Phoebe is writing a Christmas song, and Monika a Joey scheme to earn respect and money. The one With The Rockin’ New Year’s Eve features some Christmas fun while The Holiday Armadillo is the most famous Christmas episode and features Ross trying to teach his son about Jewish traditions as well as Christmas. Finally, we have The One With The Creepy Holiday Card which sees Ross and Mona’s relationship at breaking point, and The One With Christmas In Tulsa where Chandler is forced to work on Christmas Eve. Watched together, the amount of laughs, nostalgia, and Christmas tone will definitely get you in a festive mood.

Harry Enfield

I could be wrong on this, but I think there were two Christmas episodes in the 90s for Harry Enfield And Chums – it’s difficult given the show hasn’t been released on DVD and it changed its name at least once. These are quite difficult to track down, though you can find it them on Youtube. The shows were sketch based, featuring a wide array of classic characters in various scrapes. The Christmas episodes were extensions of these, with most of the sketches featuring a (mostly very sleight) festive slant both simple characters and those with some sort of progression. Along with this, there was usually a sing-song or longer section such as the characters singing ‘Perfect Day’ or parodying Titanic. There’s were repeated every so often on BBC and now on UK Gold, so catch them to remember a simpler time and some of the based character catchphrases ever.

Inside Number 9

Inside Number 9 is undoubtedly one of the finest TV shows of recent years – an ode to film-making, a love-letter to the creative craft. I know quite a few glancers of this blog are massive movie and TV fans, but may not be as exposed to British Television as those over here. I implore you all to watch this show – if you love horror, comedy, film in general, then this will be a new favourite for you, with the show ranging from gut-wrenching emotional episodes, to horror homages, all down with the typical sadistic wit, love of language, and sinister twists that you would expect from Reece Sheersmith and Steve Pemberton.

For those who don’t know, Inside Number 9 is an anthology programme – each episode featuring a new cast of characters and a new self-contained story, generally set in a single room or location. While the absolutely wonderful The 12 Days Of Christine features Christmas in some key scenes and is referenced in its name, it’s the Series 3 premier The Devil Of Christmas which should be a future viewing tradition. It’s a retro piece, set in the late 70s, and follows a family on a Christmas holiday where one of the locals explains the legend of Krampus. The episode, aside from being a faithful attempt at recalling 70s anthology horror and TV, is very funny, and very dark, and should not be missed. Black Mirror made it big – this should be just as big.

Lost – The Constant

Lost, you say? Lost never had a Christmas episode! Well, you’re wrong, and not only are you wrong but you’ve forgotten the single greatest episode of the series. Not only that, but you’ve forgotten one of the best episodes of any TV show, ever. The Constant culminated in the resolution of many crossover-plots and saw, finally, the happiness of my favourite character on the show. There aren’t enough words I can give to praise this episode – the acting, the writing, the way it all comes together – this is how the series as whole should have ended in terms of quality and tone. While I still enjoyed the last episode, The Constant is the pinnacle of the show. My love for it can be stemmed all the way back to all of those 70s, 80s, 90s cartoons and shows I watched and loved, featuring a person or people trying to find their way home – think Dungeons & Dragons or Quantum Leap or Sliders or Battlestar Galactica. Taken further, it all goes back to my love of The Odyssey – a tale I have been obsessed with my entire life. Hell, lets take it further still and say it’s related to those times I got ‘lost’ as a child and didn’t know how to get home or find my parents. Lost brought this idea into the new millennium, in a time when the world became smaller and there were no more undiscovered lands to explore – The Constant wringing out emotion, drama, adventure, tension, romance, time-travel, parallel balls, and all the rest of it into a single satisfying whole.

Christmas though? Yes, because Desmond has to make the call to Penny on Christmas Eve to let her know… well, I don’t want to get into the plot. This is frankly impossible to watch unless you’ve followed the show from episode 1, closely. Even watching as a standalone when you’ve seen the series before is difficult because you’ll miss most of the intricacies and details and will likely forget many of the more minor characters and references. However, if you’re a superfan, then this makes for excellent Christmas viewing and will warm your heart and make you believe in miracles.

Merry Christmas, Mr Bean

Out of all the shows on my list, Mr Bean is the one my kids have watched most regularly at the time of writing. I try to get them to watch this around Christmas each year, but they prefer the one where ‘Mr Bean shows his bum to all the little kids’. Their words, not mine. Merry Christmas, Mr Bean has a load of iconic and hilarious moments – the most famous of which is of course that Turkey on the head scene. The episode follows Mr. Bean preparing for the big day by doing a spot of shopping. His girlfriend drops hints that she wants a ring, a proposal, leading to much hilarity later on, while Bean messes around with a Nativity scene, leads a Brass Band, raises money for charity, and steals a tree. In the second half he decorates his house, posts a card to himself (which always makes my eldest laugh), makes a hash of Christmas dinner, and designs his own cracker. Mr. Bean is one of my oldest and most most favourite series and another which never fails to warm my soul.

Only Fools And Horses

I’m not even going to bother listing the various Christmas themed episodes for Only Fools And Horses…. incidentally, for any of my US glancers – are you even aware of half these shows? What British shows did you get (before the days of downloading and streaming and Kodi etc) on your shores years ago? A lot of these probably don’t translate well, but if Monty Python gets an audience worldwide then I don’t see why others can’t. Out of all the shows on my list, this is likely the biggest British institution. There have been a whopping sixteen Christmas episodes, starting in 1981, and ending in 2003. The ones I am most familiar with are the ones in the 90s, coincidentally around the time I started watching the show, having previously dismissed it as grimy and depressing. Namely, the 1996 Christmas Trilogy which sees Del Boy and Rodney dressing up as Batman and Robin and then, finally, becoming millionaires. It’s classic British humour, but it helps to have a history with the characters before indulging.

Peppa Pig

Peppa and pals have been around for years now, and with each new generation parents get roped in to watching and end up realising that it’s actually really good. I mean, it doesn’t have the same invention as Ben And Holly but it’s more of a family show. There are now a whole host of holiday themed or one-off Peppa episodes, but the Christmas ones were among the first. Peppa’s Christmas was the first episode to run longer than five minutes, and sees Peppa having to remember what all of her friends want from Santa – then he pops in to say hello. Later on the show started doing multi-episodes where the story followed on from the previous episode – we have one where the family visits a Santa’s grotto followed by an episode where they wake up on Christmas day to see what presents they have, and later still there’s an episode where they see Mr Potato in panto. Due to the short running time you can blast through these quickly, but it’s good to supplement them with some of the snow-themed episodes, like when the family build a snowman, go to a snowy beach, and go skiing. These are great for younger kids and cuddling up to watch and get into the Christmas spirit. At time of writing there is a new Christmas episode coming – by the time I post it should have been shown in the UK.

The Simpsons

What quickly became the Daddy of the festive episode, thanks to the yearly Treehouse Of Horror episodes, and later more regular Christmas episodes. Even though the show is largely unwatchable now, you can still revisit those classics, including the very first episode – Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire. It looks terrible now, but it still sucks you in and avoids a lot of the terrible, flat humour of Season 1 by piling on the charm. I’ll move next onto the least best episode of the classic era of the show – Gift Of The Magi. By this point in the series the scale was tipping over to having more misses than hits, this one following an evil toy company trying to unleash a new must have on citizens. It’s an okay episode, but not one I’d recommend watching every year. I’d say the same about Skinner’s Sense Of Snow except I remember less about it aside from people being trapped in school. There’s also one about Lisa becoming a Buddhist. No, stick with the good ones; Miracle On Evergreen Terrace sees Bart accidentally burning the presents and lying to the town and features the immortal ‘where is Christmas’ line, and the best of the lot, by a huge margin – Marge Be Not Proud. This one nails what it’s like being a boy at Christmas, from putting up with the lovingly bought, but terrible videogames or knock off action figures (I am Carvallo), to jealousy, to wanting to be loved, and all that other junk. This is the one to watch every year. Recent years have seen almost annual Christmas episodes, but I haven’t seen any of those that I’m aware of – I’ll get round to them eventually, but watching the show now is at once a chore, depressing, sad, and infuriating.

The Snowman

What is there to say about this – you have to watch it. Is this a thing in the USA, or anywhere else? Let me know. Like Mr Bean, it’s universal because it’s mostly silent, even though it’s inherently British. Follow it up with Father Christmas and The Snowman And The Snowdog for added points.

Wallace And Gromit

Although none of them are honestly Christmasy, the fact that they were released and are always shown at Christmas means they have become part and parcel of the whole package. You can take your pick of any of them, but you’re best watching them all over a few days – A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers, A Close Shave, A Matter Of Loaf And Death – and while you’re at it, watch a few Timmy Time and Shaun The Sheeps too.

The Vicar Of Dibley

I say this is just as much of a British institution as Only Fools And Horses and any other sitcom which has lasted more than a few years. It is harmless, family oriented humour which anyone can ‘get’ which makes it great for watching with older kids. I hope my kids end up with a similar sense of humour to me, tending towards the zany side, playing with conventions, playing with language, more on the bizarre, non-sequitur side of the scale. The Vicar Of Dibley has just enough of this, mixed with traditional laughs to make it cross borders, and its Christmas episodes work well enough as standalones, though you’re better with a grounding in the characters. There are a few Christmas episodes, the one where Geraldine has to go to all the different meals on the same day, the one where Alice has her baby, the sort of double episode where it’s Geraldine’s 10th year in Dibley and the anniversary of Live Aid.

The League Of Gentlemen – Yule Never Leave

As mentioned above, my sense of humour was waiting for this show to come along. I already loved Bottom and everything Vic & Bob did, and this came along to merge both styles as well as my love of horror. The League Of Gentlemen instantly became my favourite show after its premier, but this Christmas Special is one to whip out and return to thanks to its anthology nature. Sure it means more if you know about the characters, but it’s a better choice to watch on the spur of the moment than any other episode as the series was fairly plot heavy.

I love anthology series and movies, and in this special episode, the Vicar is trying to have a bit of peace at Christmas but is disturbed by three visitors, each with their own macabre tale – the highlight of which is the Herr Lipp story. If you want to laugh your balls off this Christmas, this is the one to watch – I highly recommend you watch the series from beginning as it’s an all time great. Even better is that we’re getting new episodes this year as part of the 20th anniversary!

The Royle Family

This was grabbing all the headlines around the time The League Of Gentlemen first came out, and as such it was like Oasis Verses Blur all over again. I didn’t watch the show for quite some time, and the pieces I saw of it, all the slow panning cameras of people sitting, eating, yawning, scratching themselves, pissed me off. When I finally did watch, I began to appreciate it. I mean, I still hate all that slow panning stuff and the repetition, but I love the characters and the dialogue. The series last for three seasons, and had two Christmas episodes, but since the original run it has been brought back a number of times for specific new Christmas episodes. Again, it’s perfect for family viewing, but better suited to having teens in the house as the kids won’t understand any of it. I’m not sure I’ve even watched any of the other later Christmas episodes, but I must do that this year as we won’t be getting any more after the tragic passing of Caroline Ahern.

The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air

The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air remains, well, fresh. It’s still LOL funny today, has more one-liners, yo momma, and fat jokes than anything else, and is still a better written sitcom with more fully formed characters than most around today. It’s one of those shows which influenced me to the point that I can’t answer a simple question without including some sort of joke or sarcasm. I used to tune in to every new episode on BBC 2 and laugh my ass off, and the show still gets regular viewing by me today. The show had a bunch of Christmas episodes – all are worth revisiting in December, from Will decorating the house, to the one where they are robbed, and the one with Boys II Men, or the one where Hilary decides she wants a baby…. or does she?

The Fast Show

The Fast Show was the master of one-liner, catchphrase character based, surreal skits and sketches. It feels weird now looking back at a show which was often based around building up to a certain character saying their unique catchphrase, but the show was so much more than that, creating a world of interesting and weird characters with a wealth of humour and drama. As the name suggests, the show was quick moving, with sketches rarely lasting over a couple of minutes. Everyone had their favourites – while most loved the likes of Ted and Ralph, it was always the weirder side of the scale that I enjoyed – Johnny Nice Painter and the ‘what if you feel down a hole’ guy. Johnny Depp made an appearance, many of the characters featured in spin-offs, other shows, or ended up having their own dedicated series, and it has been brought back for various new series or specials over the years. The Christmas Episode as exactly as you’d expect it – more sketches with the usual suspects, though with a Christmas twist or backdrop. It will either be entirely bewildering to any newcomers watching now, or you’ll be sucked in and left gasping for more – for regular viewers it’s another great one to watch at Christmas for a quick collection of laughs with old favourites. SLAP. IT. IN.

The X Files

Like Lost, you may think it’s a bit strange that a show such as The X Files would contain a Christmas episode. Why not, though? WHY NOT? There are two episodes which overtly features Christmas – in Christmas Carol, the ongoing saga of what happened to Mulder’s sister is avoided and instead we look at Scully’s dead sister Melissa. Melissa had been killed off in an earlier episode, but here, during a Christmas trip with the rest of her family, Scully begins receiving phone calls from a young girl who sounds just like her sister – investigations and twists ensure. It’s not the most festive episode, and you’d need to be a longstanding fan to follow everything, but it’s still good. On the other hand, How The Ghosts Stole Christmas is a monster-of-the-week festive experiment. By this point in the series, the writers were creating more outlandish and unique episodes outside of the main arcs, and this was one of the most popular – I can remember watching this in bed in its original BBC run and chatting about it in school the next day. It’s Christmas Eve again and Mulder ropes Scully into investigating a haunted house – ghostly hijinks ensue in what is simply a good fun romp – its standalone nature makes it a strong candidate for one-off viewing.

3rd Rock From The Sun

I was a huge fan of this during its original British run, but it was one of those shows that no-one else seemed to watch. It was the right mixture of surreal and traditional, the performers were excellent, and the writing and jokes were always top notch. Jolly Old St Dick is probably the best festive episode, with Sally and Harry getting part-time Mall jobs at Christmas, leading to plenty of laughs, Dick being arrested, and Tommy again becoming frustrated with August. Happy New Dick almost qualifies but focuses more on New Year, while Gobble, Gobble, Dick, Dick is based on Thanksgiving.

The Twilight Zone

The Twilight Zone must surely rank as one of the greatest, most rewatchable, and most influential series of all time, and even it was no stranger to the Christmas episode. The Night Of The Meek deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as other Christmas Classics such as A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life, being a hope-based story in the midst of troubling times. It centers on an alcoholic store Santa on Christmas Eve, a well-meaning character who wishes that just for one day all the beaten, downtrodden, and hopeless people he knows could be happy. This being The Twilight Zone, his wish comes true, and for a change there isn’t a stinging twist in the tale. Next up is The Changing Of The Guard in which Donald Pleasance learns on Christmas Eve that his job is going to be given to a younger man, so he contemplates suicide. Enter a guardian angel to show him that this would be a mistake. There are plenty of other episodes of the show which feature snow or moral quandaries suitable for watching at this time of the year, and as always if you’ve never seen the show, there’s no better time to start than today.

South Park

I’m not going to bother listing all the festive or Christmas related shows here – any or all of the Mr Hankey episodes will do nicely here, and most are delightful and hilarious send ups of various tropes and cultural norms.

Spittin’ Christmas

I freely admit that anyone not from Northern Ireland and of a certain age will have no idea what this is. It’s a bit of a cheat given that it’s not actually a TV show, but a comedy recording – I have it on cassette but you can find it on CD or online. What is it? It’s a comedy recording by one John McBlain – a wonderful impersonator from my country whose voices are second to none and whose comedy centers on British and Irish politicians. Even if you listen to it as a non NI person, you’re unlikely to understand the voices never mind the references or know who the various players are, but for me it’s a vital part of Christmas tradition. There are actually two versions of it (at least) – Christmas at Adams’ and Christmas at Paisley’s but they’re essentially the same.

For existing fans of McBlain’s Spittin series, this is a joy – you’l already be familiar with the characters (caricatures of their real life counterparts) – the ultra violent beast Ian Paisley, the cowardly pervert Gerry Fitt, the shit-stirring Adams, John Cole who tries to hold it all together, and many more – even Bill Clinton pops in. They are all getting together for Christmas dinner in one of the homes which Gerry A owns (or should I say frequents, for various reasons) and to have a bit of a chat and a party. Naturally all hell breaks loose, there’s piss in the soup, Robert craps himself, Fitt cuts down a tree and wrecks himself…. yeah, I’m laughing my head off typing this but you are likely losing the will to live. It’s packed with one-liners, hilarious gaffs, great moments, and it’s also fucking disgusting. Click the link above, but be warned, this is racist, sexist, makes jokes about the handicapped, pedophilia, and anything else you could possibly be offended by… but it’s all funs and games.

Warehouse 13

Warehouse 13 is such a wonderful show – it’s the geek show that not even geeks talk about. It’s a lighter take on something like The X Files with a great cast, interesting ideas, lots of sexy ladies and (sort of) lads, and it’s written by Jane Espenson – if you’re not sold, you’re not worth talking to. Basically, there’s a big warehouse in the middle of nowhere which houses mysterious, mystical, and powerful artifacts – items with the ability to stop time, to give super powers, to hurt people etc, and they are typically based on some historical moment or famous person. A group has been protecting these artifacts for hundreds of years, preventing them from doing harm or falling into the wrong hands. Each episode follows a different artifact, though there are larger arcs too. Oh yeah, loads of Buffy people and other famous guest stars pop up too.

Anyway, the show has a couple of Christmas episodes which are, again, best viewed if you’re already a fan but still are entertaining standalones for the uninitiated. Secret Santa sees Claudia trying to reunite Artie with his father, while Myka and Pete investigate a Christmas artifact which seems to be making Santa evil while The Greatest Gift is a little more trippy as Pete accidentally sends himself to a parallel universe where he doesn’t exist and has to convince his friends to save him and send him back. Both episodes are a lot of fun, have plenty of drama, laughs, and Christmas cheer, and are good as an early December entree.

I think that’s enough yapping for now. Even as long as this post was, I’m sure there’s a load of shows and episodes I’ve missed. Let us know in the comments what your favourites are, what your Christmas viewing routine is like, which shows you absolutely couldn’t miss when you were young, and if I don’t speak to you again before the big day – Merry Christmas!

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TTT – Top Twenty-Two Christmas Songs

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Greetings, Glancers! It’s the festive season again, that most wonderful time of the year when we open our chimneys and beckon Good Old St Beardy McBuldgingsack into our homes so he can spurt joy all over our hearth. That run up to Christmas may be getting earlier each year, and as we grow older and more cynical it’s increasingly easy to aim a sneering ‘humbug’ at the whole tinsel-draped event. But ‘fie’, says I. Fie, to all the naysayers, scrooges, sadsacks, and seasonally-challenged. Fie to those who would rain on our snowy parade in a vain attempt to wash away our once a year spending spree in a moaning puddle of sleet. Who could deny the smile and wonder of the wide-eyed child when they stumble out of bed to find a Winter Wonderland frosting up their windows? Who could hold back a tear and an oh so human warmth when seeing the innocence and excitement of finding a half-munched carrot in the living room and bags upon bags of toys and treats just waiting to be discovered? Dicks, that’s who.

Growing up in the turgid 80s wasteland of Northern Ireland, where a large snowfall usually meant having to spend longer on your hands and knees checking for car-bombs each morning before heading to school, Christmas was nevertheless something unimaginably special. The lights, the music, the parties; the end of school, the Television specials and adverts, and of course the presents. Even though Christmas as depicted on screen, in such far-flung places as England and the USA looked like an impossible dream, where everything was bigger, brighter, and even more snow-packed and gift-wrapped, in our wee corner of the globe we still shared in the united glory and tradition.

A very large part of that tradition – one that has been going of course for centuries, but at least as part of modern culture, is the Christmas song. I’ll say this about the USA – as impressive as their Christmases looked, their Christmas music is wank compared to ours. This list therefore is going to be primarily British. What list? Why, this list of my favourite Christmas songs! This selection of songs never fails to bring back memories, nostalgic feelings, and the fact that they have been enjoyed for so many generations and continue to be passed from parent to child each year will ensure that even as our descendants are old and frail, they will still be taken back to a place of happiness and wonder upon hearing them. I hope you read, enjoy, and comment with your favourites, but above all I wish you a safe and happy Christmas.

22. A Winter’s Tale – David Essex

Slow. Dreary. These are things that are not reflective of Christmas, yet so many Christmas songs, particularly US ones strike me as being such. This song I feel skirts dangerously close to falling into that category, but avoids it due to the warmth and comfort of melody. The horns work, the violins hit the mark, and the sentiment ripples outwards.

Did it reach Number 1 in the UK: Nope, but it did get to number 2

Is The Video Terrible: Yes, just David meandering through various depressing snow-covered fieldsand hanging about near a shed

21. Lonely This Christmas – Mud

Firstly – this is NOT Elvis. Okay? It sounds like Elvis, but this has nothing to do with him aside from the fact that the band are deliberately trying to sound like him. I always assumed it was him when I was young, and when I saw the video I assumed Mud were covering him. It’s slow too, but it has always struck me as funny – that along with the harmonies keeps it from being dreary. It could absolutely do without the spoken section.

Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Yes, and it was a Christmas Number 1.

Is The Video Terrible: Of course – a live version taken from TOTP where the band sit about looking depressed in front of the world’s most 70’s Christmas tree. They are wearing gaudy suits and covered in tinsel and bauble accessories, yet rather than appearing festive they look like  four local low-grade thugs who have broken into your home and demanded a warm plate of turkey and ham – and they’re not pleased about having to wait.

20. Thank God It’s Christmas – Queen

It’s another slow one, and it has terrible 80s drums, but it does have Mr Mercury belting out the vocals – particularly the title – so it’s immediately worth hearing. It’s far from being exciting, nothing really happens, yet it somehow still works.

Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope, not even close

Is The Video Terrible: There isn’t one.

19. Stay Another Day – East 17

Many people argue that this isn’t a Christmas song. Yes, there’s very little Christmasy about it, except for the fact that the video has fake snow and the boys are wearing hoodies. There is some timpani or bells or something which gives it the edge, and the fact that is was released in December and was such a massive hit means it has become associated with the period – that’s fine with me. On a serious note, the lyrical content bears mentioning as it was written about the suicide of one of the member’s brothers. It’s unusual subject matter for a boyband, it’s unusual for a boyband member to actually have any input into a song’s creation nevermind write the whole thing, and it’s unusual that it actually ends up being pretty good.

Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Yes. It was apparently their only UK number 1 and it was a Christmas Number 1.

Is The Video Terrible: It’s a boy band, so obviously the video is terrible. It looks like it was put together on Media Player by a child, and it consists almost entirely of the group in various poses shooting around the screen or giant close-ups of their faces panning across. It’s doubly terrible because of how the group were portrayed as ‘bad boys’, so they have all these looks that aren’t so much smouldering or heartfelt, but rather come across as ‘I’m going to stab you and then ram your nan’. Also, did you ever notice how whenever a new boy band becomes popular, within months an alternative appears and they are ALWAYS – without exception, portrayed as bad boys? It’s hard to take any of it seriously when the songs are wafer-thin love-letters or requests for sex. Aimed at 10 year olds.

18. In Dulci Jubilo – Mike Oldfield

The only hymn on my list, the only instrumental, and the only song that’s over 500 years old. You have to hand it to Oldfield – he’s a musical beast, playing all the parts himself and using roughly 500 instruments too. It doesn’t feel like a Christmas song at all, except for the fact that it’s always played around Christmas. It’s also repetitive as hell but remains dynamic throughout thanks to the gradual building of instruments and the occasional little twist on the standard.

Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope, number 4 only.

Is The Video Terrible: Yes, it is kind of terrible, but that’s mainly due to the age and hair and fingernails and clothes, yet it apparently influenced every Youtube video ever made with it’s grid based format showing Mike playing each instrument.

17. Do They Know Its Christmas? – Everyone

The ultimate ‘get together a bunch of famous people to sing a song’ song. It has also been re-recorded and released with diminishing returns numerous times, but there’s not getting away from the original. It’s not the most complex song – it’s not supposed to be. It’s meant to be a message to the world, delivered in an earnest and easily digestible, commercial way. It worked, becomes one of the biggest selling songs of all time.

Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Yes, and was a Christmas Number 1.

Is The Video Terrible: Yes, given that it’s just a bunch of famous people singing into the camera or walking around in slow motion. It’s interesting now though as you try to work out who each person is and what the hell was wrong with the world in the early 80s to make some of them so famous in the first place – to be fair, each version of the song has featured mostly unremarkable artists and the odd diamond.

16. Walking In The Air – The Snowman – Peter Auty/Jones/Nightwish

I’ve no idea how popular this, or The Snowman is in the USA – let me know in the comments, I guess. Over here though it’s a must for Christmas viewing – the timeless story of a boy and his adventure one night with a snowman. In some ways I wish this hadn’t been such a choirboy vocal as those are almost always unlistenable. It works though, although I will say the Nightwish version gives some much needed oomph – I don’t think the best version of the song has yet been recorded, or if it has I haven’t heard it. I do love the quiet instrumental version which is played over the end credits – beautiful. I’ve given three links above – the original by Auty, the Aled Jones version (yes folks, it’s not him in the movie), and the Nightwish one.

Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope.

Is The Video Terrible: The Snowman is excellent – everyone should see it. The Aled video is fairly bad, unless you’re into watching Welsh boys traipse around barren mountains, while the Nightwish version was not a single and had no video.

15. Don’t Let The Bells End – The Darkness

Back in that brief period when The Darkness was a popular band, they cranked out an impressive number of hits. This is arguably their widest reaching song, aimed directly at the Christmas market and ensuring annual rotation. Good marketing, sure, but it’s also a fun, festive song with all the hallmarks of other British classics. There’s a wry sense of humour, heapings of cynicism, and plenty of double-entendres. Musically it has everything you would want from a Christmas hit – big chorus ripe for a drunken singalong, hefty verses filled with festive lyrics and traditional instruments, a choir of kids etc. It doesn’t take itself seriously, just like most of the best hits for the time of year.

Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Unfortunately not, just like a bunch of other better songs. It was held off the top spot by the absolute wank cover of Mad World – one of the worst songs of all time.

Is The Video Terrible: It’s fine – deliberately cheesy, it fits with the rest of the band’s visual output and humour while also harking back to a few previous Christmas videos. It’s mostly the band unwrapping presents in front of a roaring fire inside a log cabin, but done with plenty of panache and larfs.

14. Mr Hankey The Christmas Poo – South Park

Nothing says Christmas like squeezing out an enormous yuletide log of your own, and this song continues the grand tradition of animated characters recording a Christmas song. The song appears in the episode of the same name, along side other classics like Kyle’s Mom Is A Big Fat Bitch and A Lonely Jew On Christmas, but this is the winner. It’s as ridiculous as it is ridiculously catchy as well as being endearing and funny.

Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Of course not.

Is The Video Terrible: Of course not.

13. Wonderful Christmastime – Paul McCartney

It’s another one that reminds me of Christmas parties as a child, ones we had at home, or the more organized group ones in my town. This was always one of a number of songs which seemed to be played every day of December and therefore it’s intrinsically linked to toys, snow, and good times in my mind. The song has a lot of weird synth stuff going on meaning it doesn’t feel inherently Christmas-like, but it does have those bells and the video is festive as hell. It’s super repetitive and simplistic, but still good.

Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope, it only got as high as number 5.

Is The Video Terrible: It’s certainly dated, with a lot of weird effects and fashion, but the setting of the pub in the midst of a party is a great idea – all the locals are hammered, everyone’s dressed up in cosy garb, the booze is flowing, and Paul keeps bouncing about in every shot like he’s snorted a snowball right off Rudolph’s red nose.

12. A Spaceman Came Travelling – Chris De Burgh

The most unusual song on the list – weird considering the list includes a singing turd. De Burgh posits that the Star of Bethlehem was actually an alien spacecraft. The lyrics are interesting and the song feels both ethereal, somehow faith-driven, and otherworldly. I love the organ/keyboard.

Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: When it was first released in the 70s it failed to chart, but it had better success when re-released in the 80s with a more Christmas themed arrangement.

Is The Video Terrible: There wasn’t one, so I’ve linked your standard live version.

11. Hazy Shade Of Winter – The Bangles

Okay, this one isn’t necessarily very festive – it does have those jingle bells though and if you play it each Christmas it’ll soon sink in to your annual festivity. There aren’t many Christmas songs which rock as well as this one, so you should stick it in your playlist.

Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope, only number 11.

Is The Video Terrible: It has Susanna Hoffs in it, so it couldn’t possibly be terrible. It’s just the band playing with clips of Less Than Zero in the background.

10. Mistletoe And Wine – Cliff Richard

It seems weird that soon we’ll have kids (actually, we already do) growing up in a world without Cliff Richard’s music. I’m hardly a fan, but he’s nevertheless a British icon. Cliff has always been no stranger to Christmas songs, but I think this is his most well-known and best, and you can’t pass December without hearing this at least five times. Cliff took a rather sordid song and made it more religious, more Christmasy. It’s all about the kids, as Christmas should be, but hopefully it doesn’t take on a more dubious meaning given recent rumours about Cliff. Again, though I’m not a fan, it’s pretty shocking that many people don’t recognise his influence and impact. Back on topic, this is a super-happy song with lyrics about presents, Santa, hymns, fires, baby Jesus et al. It’s great.

Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Of course, one of the four times Cliff has had a Christmas Number 1. Speaking of Christmas Number Ones, looking at the list the last one I’ve actually heard is 2009’s Killing In The Name. Sad.

Is The Video Terrible: Depends on you really. It’s just Cliff and a bunch of extras roaming around a set filled with fake snow, singing carols and swinging their arms.

9. Merry Christmas Everyone – Shakin Stevens

We’re into the classics now – another song you’ll start to hear in shops around the middle of November. The moment you hear those opening notes you can’t help but grin like a maniac and it’s another which takes me back to my childhood with zero effort.

Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Does Santa shit in your chimney? Christmas Number 1. Incidentally this, along with a few others in my list re-enter the UK charts every Christmas and generally reach the top 40.

Is The Video Terrible: It’s certainly different, starting out with some kid getting a private jet trip and landing in some far-flung snowy land. From then on it’s as Ultra-Christmasy as the song itself, with snow fights, sleigh rides, presents, Santa, elves, and the rest. That dance remains terrible, as are the rolled up sleeves.

8. Fairytale Of New York – The Pogues

My wife’s personal favourite. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this one as in the UK it’s held up as this untouchable thing – it’s not, it’s just a decent song. Out of all these songs I feel like it’s overplayed the most and it’s the one I get sick of most easily. Perhaps it’s the whole Irish thing that annoys me given my feelings about that particular brand of music. Yes the lyrics are cynical but that loses its impact after the billionth play and you begin, quickly, to remember how terrible the vocals are. Still, you can’t have Christmas without it!

Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope, held off the top spot by The Pet Shop Boys. There’s no question it should have made Number 1 though.

Is The Video Terrible: It gets points for featuring a snarling Matt Dillon, but loses points for showing Shane Macgowan. If Shane Macgowan starred in a horror movie it would be banned. The video is mostly a lot of bored, dour, sour faces sitting in bars or walking around New York – it has become iconic, but that neither means it’s terrible nor good.

7. River – Joni Mitchell

It’s arguably the finest rip off/musical homage of all time, with Joni twisting ‘Jingle Bells’ and transforming it into something serene, heart-rending, and timeless. This is likely the finest song on this list and a haunting reminder that Christmas can be rough. It doesn’t go into some of the more important issues we should think of at this time of year – homelessness, starvation, families drifting apart etc, instead fixating on a single relationship. But who cares, it does what it does beautifully, the lyrics and music centre on Christmas, and it’s a gorgeous listen every damn time.

Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: It was never released as a single, so nope.

Is The Video Terrible: No video.

6. Last Christmas – Wham!

I prefer the James Dean Bradfield solo version as it cuts away most of the chaff, but this is the better of the two in terms of pure festivity. This is Christmas through and through, managing to be tragic and happy at the same time. It’s great, and again you can’t have Christmas without it.

Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope, kept off the top spot by Band Aid – the song remains the biggest selling UK single to never reach number 1.

Is The Video Terrible: It’s certainly a dated relic of the 80s, but it isn’t terrible in and of itself. There’s nothing amazing, just Wham and a bunch of extras prepping for a party and having fun up a snow covered mountain.

5. The Ghosts Of Christmas – Manic Street Preachers

Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope, it was released free so wasn’t eligible for charts. Damn Capitalism.

Is The Video Terrible: Manics videos are rarely very exciting, and as this never had one we can assume it would have been standard fare. However, given the band’s love of nostalgia we may have had childhood clips and the usual twists on British culture. I can’t even find the song on Youtube, so you know it must be good.

4. Happy Xmas (War Is Over) – John And Yoko

An anti-Vietnam war song, became an anti-war song, became an anti-hate song, and remains a pro-Christmas song. It’s another which doesn’t feature a lot of traditional Christmas sounds or lyrics, but the sentiment is one of hope, peace, and looking towards a brighter future – things we can all support at this time of the year. Musically it’s one of the best post-Beatles pieces of work, and not even Yoko’s wailing can dampen it.

Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope, number 4 in 1971 and then number 2 in 1980, as well as other positions in other years.

Is The Video Terrible: There are a couple of different versions, but they’re both fairly similar. The original features John, Yoko, and Sean and a lot of footage from their War Is Over period, while the newer one is news footage of the aftermath of war, famine, murder etc.

3. All I Want For Christmas Is You – Mariah Carey

A frequent winner of many Best Christmas songs lists, it’s certainly one of the most fun, unashamedly buoyant, and downright joyous Christmas songs. How can you not smile or get excited when you hear this? It makes me want to live somewhere where there’s actually a guarantee of snow each December, not the same grey clouds and drizzle we get every other time of the year.

Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope, number 2, kept off by Stay Another Day.

Is The Video Terrible: No, it’s probably one of the best videos on the list. Back before Mariah was a dick, she was incredibly hot, supremely talented, and crucially – not a dick. Her frolicking about in the snow should be watched at least once during the holiday period and it makes me, again, wish I lived somewhere with actual seasons – warm summers, freezing winters, not this endless grey shite we deal with 90% of the time.

2. Merry Xmas Everybody – Slade

IT’S CHRIIIIIISSSTMAAASSS! There’s isn’t much else to say about the song – it’s great, and you need it in your life in December.

Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Yes, Christmas Number 1 in 1973

Is The Video Terrible: Absolutely, but it’s great too. Laughing at the hair and the fashion and the Noddy, but then remembering that whatever you are wearing, however you are dancing, is going to be ridiculed in 10 years time. Not me though – my look is timeless. It’s another live performance video so you can’t say much about it.

  1. I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day – Wizzard

My favourite, and it has mostly always been that way – all those memories I’ve mentioned before about my own childhood are most perfectly recalled by this, it’s probably the song I listen to most at the time of year, and it’s definitely the song I find myself singing or humming most. It’s perfect. I think it’s the only Wizzard song I’ve ever heard.

Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope, kept off the opt spot by Merry Xmas Everybody.

Is The Video Terrible: Well, yes. The band, in all their bizarro, glam, glory prance around in a semi-frightening manner while a bunch of kids arse about with them.

There you have it, my favourite Christmas songs. I’m sure you have plenty of your own. As I was typing the list, I remember the Gary Glitter classic – Another Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas – a song I always kind of liked, but then… Gary Glitter. Let us know in the comments what your favourites are and if you have any fond memories of Christmas music!

Bonus – Sexy Christmas USA – yeah, best watch this one alone. Or Never.

TTT – Top 10 Horror Movies

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Greetings, Glancers! It’s been an age and a half since I did one of these Top Ten Tuesdays lists, and that is simply unacceptable. As it’s the season of ghouls and murder I’m going to throw my head into the ring and let you know my Top Ten favourite Horror Movies of all time. Now, I haven’t put a lot of thought into this – I’ve just gone back to my old, faithful, never updated since created Top 250 IMDB favourite movies list and picked the highest ranking horror films. The lowest ranking movie in this Top Ten comes in at 40th in my IMDB list – so you know how much I love horror when 10 movies appear in my top 40 favourite films of all time.

Yes, I’ve loved horror all my life, and I’ve always been the morbid kid. One of my first Primary School stories came back with a note from the teacher saying I had a keen interest in the macabre. I had no clue what that meant, or how to pronounce it. Most of my stories and the games I imagined up to play with my friends involved monsters and gruesome mayhem. And ninjas – it was the 80s after all. I’ve probably mentioned it before – how I was always drawn to the horror section of the VHS store – and I don’t really know where it comes from. I think some of us are just born the right kind of wrong. That’s a good thing too, otherwise we would have never had many wonderful works of fiction and film.

I’m not saying any or all of the below films are wonderful, or masterpieces, or anything like that – just that they represent a decent picture of what I love from the genre (however some of them are genuine masterpieces). I don’t think this list will be too different from any horror fan’s list but maybe there will be a few surprises. If I went back to my Top 250 there would be some definite changes, not just to the ordering but additions, removals, and not just from the horror genre. Enough warbling though. The below ten films are as good an introduction to Horror Movies as any, and they have provided me with a lifetime of entertainment and insight. Scares? Yeah, scares too.

10. Interview With The Vampire

This is probably the most controversial and least loved film on my list. I’m actually surprised I had it so high on my Top 250 too, but there you go. I do love the film, and it’s a great adaptation of one of my favourite books. The cast is top notch, it looks gorgeous, it’s sexy, bloody, and in Claudia we have one of my favourite tragic figures.

9. The Lost Boys

The ultimate MTV generation movie. One of the coolest movies ever too, but you had to be there around the time of release to see that, because watching today it looks either cheesy as hell or a product of another world. It’s vampires again, but rather than mopey, sorry figures, these guys are perma-teens of the cool kids club – sleeping all day, partying all night, pouting in leather and denim. Again there’s a great cast, everyone is ultra-hot, it’s hilarious, quotable, and endlessly entertaining.

8. Night Of The Living Dead

Probably the most important film on the list, this is where modern horror truly kicked off – Psycho started things rolling, but this brought realism where Psycho still felt like a movie. I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is the film where zombies feel most plausible and most scary. Other films use their zombies for sheer shocks and gore, Romero included, but here they are at their most chilling – we don’t know where they’ve come from, they look like our loved ones, and they just keep coming.

7. Jaws

I’m going to assume everyone has seen this. It’s the ultimate gateway horror film, and one its best to see in your youth. Its scares range from jump-shocks, dread, tension, gore, but at its core it’s a story of man versus monster with universal characters and a simple, entertaining story.

6. Scream

Horror in the 90s was in a downward spiral – Scream almost single-handedly brought it back to relevance, making a tonne of money and getting praise from critics and fans new and old. As much as it nods, winks, and plays with tropes, it’s still an emotive story with a great heroine, tonnes of memorable dialogue and iconic scenes, and plenty of violence, laughs, and scares.

5. The Stand

I could get a lot of stick for this, but I don’t care – I love The Stand. It’s probably my favourite or second favourite book ever, and Mick Garris does it justice. Sure, some of the acting is painful in places and its age and budget are showing now, but the opening scenes and the following collapse of society were shamelessly stolen by The Walking Dead and yet are still effective. There are jump scares, there is violence, nihilism, hope, but it’s the ultimate battle of good versus evil. The soundtrack is also on regular rotation in my car/pocket. As much as I love it, I think an updated version could be epic.

4. The Thing

Now, these top four films – every one of them is a masterpiece – that can’t be disputed – and there isn’t much between how much I love, respect, and appreciate them. The Thing transcends horror – it’s one of the best movies of all time. It’s one of those movies I can’t really fault… the only thing I would say is, as great as the cast is, maybe we don’t spend enough time in the early moments with certain characters, and it can be difficult to differentiate between them. Regardless, it’s a perfect film.

3. Dawn Of The Dead

I can find fault with Dawn Of The Dead, and yet I love it just as much, if not more. The Thing is bad-ass, but Dawn Of The Dead was life-changing. I already loved horror, I already loved zombies, but this opened up a whole new world – it’s one of those movies that feels like something I would make or write. You know when you’re starting out as a writer or performer or artist – and I’m speaking to those of us who started young – as children – you get an idea and you begin tossing it around your juvenile mind, working out the plot and intricacies, and then one day you find out that someone else has already done it. They got there before you, and did it better than you ever could – suddenly you see your dream or nightmare on screen before you, but rather than being bitter, you love it. Someone else gets it. That’s Dawn Of The Dead, and it’s mind-blowing every time.

2. Ringu

This one was also life-changing. I already love foreign movies, Japanese movies, but my experience of Asian Horror was fairly limited. When I first saw Ringu around 1999 I had never seen anything like it. It was modern, beautifully shot, paced to perfection, and holy heavens did it scare my soul away. I couldn’t buy it anywhere, but once it came to TV a year or two later I recorded it and must have watched it every day for a week, showing it to my brother, sister, friends, and loving it every time. I don’t think I’ve had a horror film which has made me do that before or since. Sure I have recommended films to people and have sat people down and forced them to watch some movies, but no movie felt so necessary – I had to see and feel their reactions and I had to be part of that world again. I love the sequels, I love the books, but this is where it started. I was picking up every single Asian horror film I could find after this.

1. A Nightmare On Elm Street

I don’t want to say this is where it all began – the first true horror film I remember seeing was Salem’s Lot – but really this is where it all began, and where it’s still at. Those VHS stores I mentioned –  the Elm Street movie VHS covers were the ones which most caught my eye. Sometimes there would be a poster or cardboard cutout of Freddy there and I’d look at it cautiously, waiting for it to come to life. Who was this guy? What was that glove about? What happened his face, what was he doing? Somehow – credit to the wonderful powers of childhood imagination – somehow, though reading the backs of the videos, looking at the pictures, and splicing together rumours, by the time I was 6 or 7 I kind of had the whole thing worked out. I knew Krueger’s name, I knew the 1, 2, Freddy’s coming for you song, I knew that he got you in your sleep, and yet I didn’t see any movie until years later.

I somehow caught the last minute or so of the movie once, and that stayed in my head for years, even after I finally watched the whole thing. The same goes for snippets of other films in the series – something about the characters crept inside me on a personal level to the extent that I credit Krueger, Craven, and the series as being my true doorway to horror cinema. That idea of not being safe in your sleep is something chilling for all of us, but I think it’s something kids are especially susceptible too. We’re supposed to go to sleep, dream sweet dreams, and wake knowing we are safe and warm and loved. Craven turns that upside down and inside out, and goes further, exploring that idea that it’s the fault of the protector, the parent, that we are put in this mess. That idea is explored in many of his films – the mistakes of the parent coming back to haunt the child, but it’s perfected here. I still have a crush on Langenkamp, and while the film doesn’t remotely scare me any more, I can still put it on and love the imagination, the characters, the nostalgia, the story, and all of the more artistic and technical elements.

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So there you have it, my very own favourite horror movies. What are your’s? Let us know in the comments! Before I go though, as a bonus, I have other genre crossover movies which some would consider horror or as having horror elements that I rate just as highly, if not higher than some of the above (in other words, they are not lower than 40 on my Top 250 list):

The Terminator

Firmly placed in the action genre – it’s essentially a chase movie – nevertheless The Terminator has a lot in common with the slasher genre. There’s a final girl, an unstoppable killer, tonnes of violence, and plenty of kills.

Predator

Unstoppable killer, violence kills, sort of a final girl, but a bunch of bad-ass marines kicking ass. Predator is a horror icon, even though this is more entrenched in the sci-fi genre.

Aliens

Unstoppable killer, violence kills, a definite final girl, but a bunch of bad-ass marines kicking ass. The Alien is a horror icon, even though this is more entrenched in the sci-fi genre.

Battle Royale

It’s questionable that anyone should include this in the Horror genre… but if it’s not, then what the hell is it? Drama, action, satire, and horror elements – kids forced to kill each other. Regardless, I still say it’s the best film of the 21st Century.

The Crow

Is comic book adaptation its own genre? There are loose connections to horror here, with the unstoppable killer being the hero. The dark visuals and the origin plot are horror.

Assault On Precinct 13

Like many (most?) of Carpenter’s movies, this is a siege film. There isn’t anything supernatural, but it features hordes of faceless gang members attacking relentlessly – Night Of The Living Dead anyone? Also – ice cream.

Jurassic Park

It’s lighter and more family friendly than Jaws, but it’s still Spielbergian horror. Kids under threat from dinosaurs, huge unstoppable monsters, nowhere to run – good stuff.

Happy October everyone – Happy Halloween, Happy Horror Watching, and don’t forget to share your comments and memories!

TTT – Johnny Depp Movies

Greetings, Glancers! Ladies keep your pants on as today we look at my favourite 10 Johnny Depp movies. I’ve been a big Depp fan since as long as I can remember. I’m not sure what the first movie of his I saw was, but I’m farily positive it is something from this list. Depp has been a megastar since the early 90s and a star long before then, and he was my personal pick for that wonderful hetero-male schoolyard question – ‘if you had to shag one man, who would it be’. Kids these days.

Johnny Depp is known (increasingly so in recent years) for picking offbeat characters to portray, usually those on the fringes of society, or quirky, or with romantic burdens. These are the roles which he seems to enjoy, but he has also featured as more serious, straight types – most performances though he gives himself entirely over and even though you know it’s Johnny Depp you can feel the character rather than the actor. Below are my top ten Johnny Depp films – a mixture of performances that I think are his best while also thinking of my enjoyment of the whole film, with a greater focus on the performance. This top ten is actually fairly interchangeable – Number 1 is the only 1 that remains fixed, while the others are all essentially the same ranking, and quite a few other films not included are roughly similar in quality in my eyes.

10. A Nightmare On Elm Street

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Depp’s first major appearance was in my favourite horror movie of all time. A Nightmare On Elm Street sees the young star playing a typical teen boyfriend and his role doesn’t go much further than the tropes and expectations of the genre. This is Nancy’s and Freddy’s movie, but everyone remember’s Depp for his failure to stay awake and his gloriously bloody demise. He doesn’t quite have the look yet, or the star power, but the film is so good and he is an integral part, so it has to make my top ten.

9. The Libertine

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Has anyone even seen this movie? I feel like nobody has because nobody ever talks about it. Sure, it isn’t the best movie in the world, and is probably in the lower half of Depp’s filmography if we’re talking about good movies, but Depp’s performance is excellent – dirty, horrific, and with the venomous charm of a street addict looking for a final fix. Depp stars as the Earl Of Rochester, The Libertine of the title, a notorious pleasure seeker and dandy. As the film progresses, the hedonism comes back to bite the character in the body, if not the soul, and he begins to wither to an emaciated husk. Even as he falls to bodily corruption, he flies his singular flag, acting like a 17th Century punk hero who burned brightly for a few moments, then was snuffed out – except here he portrays the character as mostly unlikable and dastardly. It’s one of his bravest, most visceral performances.

8. Donnie Brasco

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I’ve spoken about this movie before, covering it in my favourite Al Pacino performances. Depp and Pacino work well together, and while Pacino’s weary, fading performance grabs the eye, it is Depp who goes through the changes – the loving cop husband seduced by the darkside. People never gave Depp’s ‘serious’ performances the credit they deserved at the time, and now moan about how every film now is some bizarro freakshow. You can’t have it both ways! Or more accurately where Depp is concerned – of course you can. Depp can play any sort of role, and here it is one of his finest straight shots. He gets to play a normal human, flawed and wretched like the rest of us, but without the need for grandiosity or make-up, and with all of that stripped away he still knocks it out of the park.

7. Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl

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As everyone knows, the sequels drastically went downhill while becoming increasingly convoluted, but the original Pirates Of The Caribbean Movie is as perfect a popcorn movie you’re ever likely to see. A fun adventure filled with larger than life scoundrels, daring escapades, laughs, romances, and good performances all around. Depp steals the show entirely in what may now be regarded his most famous role. Jack Sparrow is more of a Pirate to the public conscience now that Blackbeard or Long John Silver or Old No-Eyed Skip Stumpy Stump. His maniacal performance deservedly got an Oscar nomination, probably should have got the win, and is brimmed with swaggering confidence and anxious ticks.

6. Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street

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After some time away from bestie Tim Burton, Depp joined forces with his sullen goth pal once more to bring this musical to stinking life. I was genuinely shocked at how dark and depressing the film actually was, and that was after me already knowing the story since childhood. It’s one of the few instances where I felt kind of shaken leaving the Cinema, and that is as much down to Depp as it is the denouement and the gorgeous look and feel of the thing. Depp channels and then exorcises his Ichabod Crane and merges it with some malevolent, swamp monstrosity. The Demon in the title is key – this is a man, and a performance, possessed by something unspoken and arch, a foul parasite that destroys whatever it comes into contact with – and yet you still somehow manage to feel sorry for him.

5. Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas

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Going full Depp, is that a thing? It is now. Yes, Depp goes full Depp in Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, chewing the scenery as much as his own face, and making merry with Del Toro and go as they ravage Vegas to pieces in their quest for half-assed gonzo reporting and the finest highs the world can offer. It’s well documented that Depp and Hunter S Thompson were pals, and Depp takes his look, mannerisms, and speech, mangles them in a stoned haze, and tosses them through the looking glass to craft another colourful character and performance that can never be forgotten once seen.

4. Benny And Joon

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This was pretty much ignored at release and beyond, except for a few years after the turn of the century when everyone remembered it existed. Since then it has vanished from people’s minds once more. Or so it seems to me. It’s a gentle comedy, a quiet romance, and features Depp being just off centre enough to still be adorable but not off-putting. The film is never laugh out loud funny, or heartbreaking, or anything extreme – it is light and airy, without becoming preachy or sentimental. It’s simply a sweet story, with Depp showing us a different side to what he was known to at the time, recalling the physical comedians of the past.

3. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

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It’s Johnny at his most hearthrobby, whatever that means. DiCaprio rightly gets the plaudits for his performance, but Depp, Lewis,and all the rest all give it a damn good go to complete a touching portrayal of daily struggles. Depp is able to carry a lot of the film as the ostensible lead, and he doesn’t have the suit of armour or make-up to hide behind as in his previous hit. There is nothing inherently quirky about his character, name aside, but it is the situation he finds himself in which borders on the unusual. Depp is a strange mixture of passive, accepting, and keen – willing to be the father figure and brother, yet accepting of his lot even as he hopes for more.

2. Ed Wood

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Depp’s other film of 1993 allowed him to unleash his more madcap and exuberant side as he plays the title character in the cult biography. Teaming up with Burton after their earlier success, Ed Wood was a much smaller movie and for many years remained that Tim Burton or Johnny Depp movie that no-one had seen. Even with the critical acclaim which was given to the film and its stars, it was a commercial failure which has luckily found a cult audience in the years since. What is key to the success of the film is that it does not outright mock or laud its titular figure – it simply presents a captivating story of people with a dream and a will – people who will never succeed, people who have already succeeded but been spat out, and people who remain enamored by an industry that doesn’t care about them. Depp’s Wood is stellar, ably backed by a terrific Martin Landau – another instance of the supporting performer getting the plaudits over Depp when both performers deserve all the praise. Depp’s character is child-like in both enthusiasm and despair, a most human Peter Pan, and is just out of place and time enough to be noticeable – he is someone for the powerful to swat away and the needy to cuddle and protect.

  1. Edward Scissorhands

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Once again my Number 1 should not surprise anyone – Edward Scissorhands is in my mind a flawless film and one of my all time favourites. The only criticism I have ever been able to lay at its feet is that it just isn’t long enough. This is a star-making performance by Depp, creating an emphatic 90s outsider and anti-hero, and showcasing his ability as a physically expressive actor and someone who is able to play the audience for laughs and tears in equal measure. Much of the credit of the film goes of course to Burton – the ideas of isolation, the frivolous horrors of suburban America, and the bizarre realities and feelings of the outcast are his – but all of these are portrayed through the script, the colours, and the performances, with Depp at his best as Edward.

Ten great films and ten great performances – 10 films every film fan should see. I think seven of these performances are worthy of Oscar nominations/wins, so once I get to the 90s in my Oscars rundown, you’ll see most of these popping up. Let us know in the comments what your favourite Johnny Depp films and performances are!

Top Ten Tuesdays – David Lynch

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Greetings, Glancers! It’s been a while since my last TTT post, and as it’s October why not resume things with a director who is more than a little familiar with the darker side of life. David Lynch, for most people, is synonymous with weird – his films often dividing critics and fans due to their uncompromising dedication to non-linear, non-traditional storytelling. Some call it art, others call it shit, but most agree that his work will continue to spark debate.

Lynch’s movies have so far garnered over 10 Oscar nominations, but have yet to gain a single win, though his movies frequently appear on many ‘Best Movies Of The Year/Decade/Ever’ lists and generally feature notable or iconic performances or scenes, along with famous scores and unforgettable imagery. He has, at the time of writing, made 10 movies which is handy for today’s list as I can rank them all in order from my least favourite to my absolute favourite. As always, the numbers aren’t set in stone and may change slightly depending on my mood. Lets not wait 25 years for this gum to come back in style!

Dune

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I wanted to start out by saying that this is possibly Lynch’s most divisive film… but i truth the same could be said for most films on the list. It’s one I looked forward, but one which I ultimately didn’t get. I haven’t read the source material and don’t have any sort of affinity or relationship with the story, but I loved the idea of Lynch tackling a fantasy epic – his attempt at a blockbuster. To be honest it’s a bit of a shambles and I struggled to get through it. I’m willing to give it another go as it has been years since I saw it, and many people don’t appreciate Lynch’s films upon first viewing – though in most cases it’s love at first sight for me. Dune has since gone on to be named as one of the worst movies of all time, and Lynch has pretty much distanced himself entirely from it, after saying that the Studio and Producers didn’t give him the control he needed.

Inland Empire

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Lynch’s most recent feature is now 10 years old, and given the Director’s return to TV we may not see another movie from him. Hopefully that’s not the case. Inland Empire say Lynch going fully digital for the first time, but returning to old hallmarks such as the fish out of water, ambition crushing and cursing, seedy underbellies, dopplegangers, shadows, and tantalizing mysteries with creepy tangents. Laura Dern is superb as an actress who gets a part in big movie, but who life begins to unravel and seemingly merge with the plot of the movie. It’s possibly Lynch’s most dense and confusing work given that Lynch himself admitted that the writing and shooting process went almost hand in hand, rather than having a script ready before shooting. The loose structure is similar to Mulholland Drive in that the first part is mostly linear, while the second half collapses upon itself with multiple scenes tumbling over each other. The film gets more impenetrable as it progresses, but Dern’s performance gets stronger and more intense along the way, proving to be an anchor in the storm. It’s not advised to start your Lynch viewing with this one, but it’s essential nonetheless.

The Straight Story

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What Lynch would amusingly call his ‘most experimental movie’, the ironically titled The Straight Story is of course Lynch’s most accessible work. Telling the true story of Alvin Straight, a WWII veteran who travels across North America on a lawnmower to visit his brother. Naturally the idea is going to put some people off watching the movie, but those people would be missing out on one of the most touching US movies of the decade a true story of heroism and the triumph of the human spirit. As you would expect, there are lots of vignettes and interesting characters met along the way, each offering something important about the human condition. With an Oscar nominated performance by Richard Farnsworth and support by Harry Dean Stanton and Sissy Spacek, this is a gentle introduction to Lynch – some of his humour and treatment of character, but in no way prepares you for his more well known work.

The Elephant Man

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Lynch’s most successful feature, The Elephant Man was nominated for 8 Oscars, but somehow didn’t win anything. His other biographical tale, it recounts the life of Joseph Merrick, a man born with a horrendous deformity which meant he spent a large part of his life in a freak show. John Hurt gives possibly his best performance in the title role, alongside Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft, and John Gielgud. As you would expect, the film is both tragic and hopeful, powerful and affecting, beautifully shot and with several standout moments of dialogue or incisiveness.

Eraserhead

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This is where it all began, and it would be difficult to argue against this being still Lynch’s most confusing and disturbing feature. I remember being haunted by the poster from an early age, before I knew anything about Lynch, just knowing that it would be an odd and frightening experience if I ever saw the film. Mostly financed by Lynch and his friends, the film took several years to make, and several years after release until it found its audience. None of this will be surprising to anyone who has seen the movie – what most people read as a fear of parenthood, fatherhood, isolation, commitment, family. Jack Nance stars as a young man who is left to look after his ‘child’ – a writing, lizard like creature which seems to exist just to scream and feel pain. As time passes he experiences unnerving visions and.. that’s about it really. It has to be seen to be believed, and once seen you will never forget it. It’s one of the few films which makes me genuinely uneasy and I can’t imagine anyone wanting to sit through it more than a couple of times. Why so high on my list then? Nance is brilliant as always, and the sheer creativity and audacity on show is alarming – it’s precisely because it is so difficult to watch that it is so good – it’s a calamitous nightmare, a shrieking cloud of imagery which comes closer to generating and understanding personal fear better than a hundred horror movies or books on the subject. Critical consensus on the movie is generally positive, but what is interesting is that critics are divided over whether this is his best work, to the point that nothing he made later comes close, or that his later work is much more refined and mature to the point that Eraserhead is a mere early experiment. Watch it and decide for yourself.

Blue Velvet

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Famous, not least for bringing Dennis Hopper back into the limelight for good reasons, Blue Velvet is another critically acclaimed high point for Lynch – a bizarre stripping back of suburbia’s skin and an investigation of the flesh which writhes underneath. Lynch had already made a failed blockbuster with Dune, and a hit biographical drama with The Elephant Man, so wanted to make something more personal with story, character, and setting elements which were more familiar to him. What comes out is an extremely dark mystery, blending noir elements with moody jazz tones and a twisted vision of America filled with secrets and savagery. Hopper gives an extraordinary performance, the young Laura Dern and Kyle Maclachlan hold their own, and Isabella Rossellini is the most manic femme fatale you’re ever likely to see.

Lost Highway

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I think Lost Highway has had a bad rap – at release it was largely dismissed. As a mystery, it is more impenetrable than Blue Velvet, there is less of an emotional connection with the audience, but I find it the more interesting film. With Lost Highway Lynch presents another warped vision of America, almost as if two separate but connected worlds which exist on both sides of a highway begin to blur and drip into one another. Where Lost Highway ‘fails’ is in it doesn’t feature a big, iconic performance. The trio of Arquette, Pullman, and Getty are very good, each evoking a bewildered, dreamy state as they struggle to understand the mystery they find themselves in. We also get notable performances from Robert Blake, Robert Loggia, and Richard Pryor – each terrifying in their own way. The story allows for many interpretations and nightmarish moments, and each viewing only serves to unlock more rooms and questions.

Mulholland Drive

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I was late to the Mulholland Drive party. In fact, it was the last movie on this list I saw. I’m not sure why I’d held off for so long – unless the movie is something which really leaps out to me as something I desperately need to see, I wait for it to come to me via TV or streaming sites. Naturally I loved the film from first sight – the moody tones and textures, the assortment of scenes and characters all colliding with the central plot and offering tantalizing glimpses into something bigger. If you’re already reading this then you probably know that the film was originally supposed to be a pilot for a new TV show – hence the additional characters and plots which seem to go nowhere. Lynch is able however to weave it all together by allowing the film to disintegrate – time and space become liquid or air, and events merge together. There are memorable moments and a terrific cast – the Llorando theatre scene is a personal favourite and both Naomi Watts and Laura Harding are excellent – Lynch always seems to know how to get powerful performances from his female leads.

Fire Walk With Me

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Speaking of female leads and powerful performances – do you remember when Sheryl Lee won the best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Laura Palmer in Fire Walk With Me? No? Well, that’s because it never happened. It it will go down in history as one of the biggest shambles of the Academy’s history that wasn’t even nominated. Do these people even watch movies? There are various reasons for this – the most notable being that the film received a critical mauling in the US upon release, and many people were upset that the movie was so drastically different in tone from the TV show. Make no mistake, Fire Walk With Me is a horror movie; one of the most emotionally draining, stunningly shot, well performed horror movies of all time, but a horror movie nonetheless. Lynch gets full reign and rather than wrapping up the many cliffhangers from the show he simply explores the last week of Laura Palmer’s life and delves deeper into the dark heart of Twin Peaks than the show ever did. Make sure you have seen the show before you watch the movie though, but if you like the show be prepared to have the rug pulled from under you – there are few, if any, quirky laughs to be found here.

Wild At Heart

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While we’re on the topic of Oscar omissions I always found it odd that Wild At Heart was so abandoned. I mean, Diane Ladd got a Supporting Nomination, but what about Cage, Dern, and the writing team? I’m going to be ruthless and say that Wild At Heart is Lynch’s least essential film, but easily his most entertaining and mainstream. Sure there is weirdness, but nothing that would ever put the laziest viewer off. This is Lynch doing Tarantino before that was even a thing. This is a love, sex, and violence fueled, foul-mouthed road trip of mayhem with a manic assortment of comic book characters who leap off the screen with abandon, creating a gripping, thrill ride of laughter and drama the likes of which you’ll rarely see again.It isn’t his most essential, it isn’t his best, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun and it’s one which is so easy to return to again and again.

Think I’ve got any of the above completely wrong? Let us know in the comments what your favorite Lynch films are, and if you think he has another classic up his sleeve!

TTT – Disney Movies

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Greetings, Glancers. Today I list my top 10 favourite Disney movies. Animated movies that is, as most of their non-animated stuff is muck. For almost a hundred years, Disney has been synonymous with animation and they have crafted some of the world’s most imaginative movies with stunning visuals, timeless stories, wicked villains, tireless heroes and heroines, and a multitude of memorable side characters and songs which have become cultural touchstones – there simply isn’t another company like it. While I have yet to see all of their central animated movies and hardly any of the many many straight to DVD sequels and spin offs, my Top Ten represents a fairly wide array of choices to represent just what made, and continues to make them so special.

10. The Sword In The Stone

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One of the lesser known and most unusual Disney movies, this tale based on Arthurian Legend doesn’t feature a princess in need of rescue or any overly memorable songs, but it does have cutesy animal characters, quirky humour, and a host of slapstick action and ideas. The animation has a similarly bland feel to 101 Dalmations but a variety of colour schemes and transformation scenes which are magical in my childhood and were likely all the more impressive at the time of release. Arthur is an unusual hero, a bumbling but well-meaning idiot, surrounded by brash masculine figures, a crabbidy old owl, and a wizened old wizard. Madam Mim makes for a unique villain, a crazed witch who doesn’t really have a goal in the overall film’s plot, but her scenes are a lot of fun and make you wish she played a bigger part. The plot of the story is fairly bizarre too, as it simply chronicles a short stage in Arthur’s life as he moves from weak little squire to England’s rightful ruler – but it features some early meta-humour and enough oddities to make it charming for a viewer like me.

9. Frozen

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I almost was not going to include this monstrosity, but I have seen it so many times that it is not only a huge pop culture phenomenon, but something which my family has watched together numerous times. If you’re a parent of young children then you’re probably in the same boat – Let it Go will haunt your waking hours without warning, your house is adorned with Frozen memorabilia, clothes, toys, and you know the characters, dialogue, and story by heart. It’s difficult to be cynical when the film is so good at wrapping up the kids in its wonder, and its’ very easy for an older viewer to get pulled in again. It’s classic Disney stuff, with many tropes twisted on their heads, clever one-liners, great characters, and a message which values true love in any form over blind faith.

8. The Lion King

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Like Frozen I almost feel obliged to include The Lion King in my Top Ten. I know it’s going to many people’s favourite, especially people of my age who think it’s ever so clever to announce at the top of their voices that it’s based on Hamlet. There are quiet a few films not included on this list that I enjoy more than The Lion King, but where it succeeds over those is in the quality of animation, music, performances, and humour. The cast of The Lion King is superb and breath life into even the most minor character, and with a list including Simba, Mufassa, Scar, Timone, Pumba, the hyenas, and many more, there is so much to love. Throw Elton John, Hans Zimmer, and Tim Rice’s music and lyrics into the mix and you have one of the most successful movies ever made. The subtle use of CG merged with gorgeous traditional animation serves up a sprawling view of Africa – bright, mammoth, and deadly, but brimming with life and wonder.

7. Pocahontas

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I saw Pocahontas quite late, after generally seeing the 90s Disney output shortly after release. I remember only watching part of it after its VHS release, and then only watching it fully some years later on TV. It continues the gorgeous art work of the 90s Disney features before the CG began taking over, and features a very strong female lead in the title character, continuing the company’s trend which started with The Little Mermaid. The story of the cultured white man coming to the new world and staking his claim may get criticized for being simplistic, but along with the general environmental message this is a story with heart and meaning – aimed at children. I have no doubt that the messages sink in to younger minds and hopefully once watched a bunch of more tolerant people come out the other end.

We have a dastardly villain who may not be the most memorable in the Disney canon but still is eminently slappable, a strogn male lead in John Smith, a few decent side kick characters, and of course Pocahontas herself. It isn’t a joke heavy movie, but there are a few funny moments, strewn between some effective action scenes and of course a load of great music – it’s the music which raises the movie well above average and reminds us of the message.

6. Mulan

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Disney struck gold again after the modest financial and critical success of their previous two movies with Mulan. I don’t remember this getting much praise upon release and it seems like the movie’s popularity has grown with time. Mulan is a divisive character, getting both praise and sharp criticism from feminists, but in my mind she is another progressive Disney woman who controls her own destiny. I also would rank Mulan as one of the most beautiful looking Disney films -the oriental art style and the setting being unique and one I wish the company would return to. Shan Yu is one of the most vicious and evil Disney bad guys, although he is perhaps not memorable due to his lack of comic moments. The voice cast is superb, with Ming na Wen, BD Wong, and James Hong all giving terrific performances, but Eddie Murphy steals the show as the dragon Mushu. The battle scenes are epic and exciting, the songs are wonderful, there are plenty of visual and slapstick gags, the hero’s journey is hopeful and poignant, and we even get an excellent montage, Rocky style.

5. Tangled

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Moving on from the Girl Power Disney Princesses of the 90s, the Noughties Disney girls retained their strength while still being girly – never more obviously shown than with Rapunzel. I’ve always loved the story of Rapunzel and was excited when Disney said they would be tackling it. It’s one of the fastest paced, most fun Disney movies with gloriously bright visuals and a fairly sad plot. Rapunzel is an extremely lovable character, somehow always upbeat even though she was kidnapped at birth an locked in a tower for her whole life, while Flynn Rider is an affectionate rogue in the Han Solo mould. Mother Gothel is one of the most interesting villains in Disney history – ambiguous enough that we think she does sort of love Rapunzel, but clearly wicked and self-interested. It must have been a difficult task for the writers to turn the witch of the original story into someone as wily and engaging as Gothel, and Donna Murphy gives her rambunctious diva breath. While the songs may not be as monumental as those in other movies on this list, they are a hell of a lot of fun and performed in a light, bouncing spirit.

What always disturbed me about most versions of the original story was how the first half focused on these loving, poor parents who have a child, and in the second half it’s all about Rapunzel, the Witch, and the Prince – the parents apparently never find out what happened to their baby; Tangled changes this for the better. It’s maybe cynical that her parents are King and Queen, but who cares – it’s magic!

4. The Nightmare Before Christmas

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Okay, I’m cheating a little with this one as it isn’t really a classic Disney feature, but it’s still a product of them – current animators, ex-animators, and it spices up the list giving something with a little bit of flavour. It is a fantastic story, imaginative, dark, and filled with cheeky charm. The stop motion still looks as good today as when I saw it in the cinema, and Jack Skellington is a legend. An unusual love story like several of Tim Burton’s others, this is a tale for kids who are perhaps that little bit lonelier than others or who simply appreciate the darker things in life or maybe see the world through a rim of shadow that a ray of light – but who still dream and hope.

3. Aladdin

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Another one I saw in the Cinema upon release, Aladdin must rank among the most entertaining, funny, and action packed Disney movies and has possibly the best single performance in any animated movie – Robin Williams as The Genie. Disney has a record of employing iconic comedians for their movies, but never before or since has someone as loved as Williams provided so much of their own style , personality, and energy into a character.

With all the anti-Muslim fearmongering and hatred in the world at the moment I’m surprised Aladdin is still as beloved as it is. Hopefully that shows that a good film will always be a good film no matter how culture changes and how many fools decide to show their true colours. At its heart though, this is classic Disney – dreams of better days, love and romance, freedom and desire, all offset against wicked, ruthless, and selfish ambition. Like many Disney classics of old we get a roster of classic characters – Aladdin the adventurous street rat, Jasmine the lonely Princess who wants true love and a real life of possibility, Jafar the insidious cheat and power-hungry magician, The Genie and more. The movie builds upon the CG experiment unveiled in Beauty And The Beast to provide dazzling thrills and timeless set pieces – the escape from the Cave Of Wonders, Jafar’s last stand, and of course a little sequence involving a song called ‘A Whole New World’. Disney truly expanded its horizons in the 90s and Aladdin was a key component of that expansion – it remains as effervescent and amusing and enjoyable to new viewers new as it was to oldies like me.

2. The Jungle Book

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In some ways I’m surprised this one is so high up my list – when I was young it was the Disney movie I probably saw most and at times I got annoyed about this because I wanted to check out other Disney movies but the only thing being shown was The Jungle Book. It got quickly to the point that I knew the dialogue and lyrics off by heart, meaning I would unleash impromptu King Louie performances upon unsuspecting school friends (I never could manage to skip over my own arms though). The Jungle Book is maybe the central ‘Boy’s Disney Movie’ as it skips many of the traditional Disney tropes – Princesses, romance, some typical bad guy to overcome, and instead it’s basically an adventure, a journey through the jungle with a bunch of friends getting into various scrapes. There is of course Shere Khan, voiced deliciously by George Sanders who acts in the antagonist role, but rather than being a constant stalking presence, he’s only there so we have a greater sense of threat and conflict. It’s about leaving home, finding your place in life, finding friends, and making your own home, family, and future. There’s also a lot of singing and scratching your arse against trees.

The Jungle Book has some of Disney’s finest songs and funniest scenes. In Baloo the bear we have the perfect madcap folly to the straight-laced Bagheera, in Mowgli we have the innocent wide-eyed man-cub who is easily influence by the world and characters around him a la Pinocchio, and there’s a host of supporting characters from Primate mobsters, Scouse vultures, and marching elephants. If you don’t laugh at Baloo shouting in Bagheera’s face, or if you don’t dance, sing, and woo-bee-doo at this, you have no soul.

  1. Beauty And The Beast

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It couldn’t really be anything else, could it? You can rank Snow White as the most important, Pinocchio as the archetype, The Little Mermaid as the first return to form for the Company, but for me Beauty And The Beast trumps everything else – in those categories and more. Arguably the first animated movie in 50 years to be taken as a serious piece of art*, it was the first animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, it breathed new life into an old story and completely rejuvenated a Company that many would have claimed to be past their best. It brilliantly utilizes the state of the art CG which was just creeping into the industry, seamlessly blending with traditional artwork to create a sweeping re-imagining of a tale as old as time, with classic characters, timeless music, and a story everyone will enjoy.

Belle is one of the finest Disney heroines – containing all the Princess tropes of beauty and kindness, but possessing an inner and outer strength, a huge imagination, and a dream of there simply being more to life than her quiet provincial existence. Thrust into a nightmare, it is her inner strength which turns her fears to fantasy and her fantasy to reality as she sacrifices her future for her father’s safety and embarks upon an adventure where beast can be more human than man and love can be the only thing to save us. The Beast is a fantastic creation – terrifying when he needs to be, and scary when he doesn’t, dumb, shy, proud, funny, lonely, regretful, but at his heart he learns to be heroic and to also understand a selfish sacrificial act. We have Gaston as the worst of humanity – a pinnacle of manhood – masculinity for masculinity’s sake, a man who believes the world should obey his puerile whims, and someone who is cruel, calculating, and will let nothing sway him from the pursuit and completion of his goals. Then there are the side characters of Lumiere, Mrs Potts, Coggsworth, Chip, Belle’s father and many more who each are important in their own right and each make the movie that bit more special. It is rare for any movie, let alone an animated one, to have such fully formed and interesting characters in such a vibrant world.

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I can’t leave without commenting on the music – not only do we have a fantastic array of songs, but the incidental music is superb too – just listen to the opening track played over the prologue which blossoms into ‘Belle’. The music meant multiple Oscar nominations and two wins for Best Original Score and Best Original Song, but lyrically they are excellent too – funny, poignant, and imaginative – getting right to the core of the character or struggle. Howard Ashman wrote most of the lyrics for the soundtrack on his deathbed, adding another layer of tragedy and something bittersweet – he never got to see the final product, but there could surely be no finer passing gift.

So there you have it, my personal favourite Disney movies. A polarizing company with many polarizing works – but if you’re reading this I’m sure you have your own favourites. Why not share them and your reasons in the comments below!

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*Grave Of The Fireflies might have something to say about that.

TTT – Ridley and Tony Scott

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Greetings, Glancers! On today’s Top Ten Tuesdays List I change things a little by taking two of Cinema’s finest British exports – the Scott brothers. Both brothers achieved incredible commercial success and more often than not plenty of critical and fan acclaim. I’ve split the list so I get five films by each brother, mainly because I was struggling to select 10 films by both Ridley and Tony that I truly loved. That means of course that some great films are missing, but I still feel the 10 films below are worthy of every film fan’s time, some iconic, some timeless, others pure entertainment. I will say there are a few films I have not yet seen, namely The Martian and Exodus by Ridley and Unstoppable by Tony. But alack and alas and alarum, lets proceed with the things! Exeunt!

10: Black Rain

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A film which I almost never see on any Top List of Ridley Scott movies, this is drenched with 80s cool through and through and features decapitation – that’s two big thumbs up from the outset! I’ve always loved the look and feel and atmosphere of the movie, what starts off as a buddy cop movie soon takes a darker turn as Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia get sucked into Japan’s lethal underbelly. This one has slipped off the radar of most people who enjoy 80s (particularly action) movies, but it is worth another look thanks to the cast, the action, the sound, and the cool.

9: The Fan

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Unfairly savaged by critics and quite a commercial bomb upon release, The Fan may not be as good as the earlier (unrelated) film of the same same which starred Lauren Bacall and Micahel Biehn, but this is still a thriller which deserves better than what it got. Robert De Niro is great as the titular fan, taking his stalking to crazier levels than in The King Of Comedy and Wesley Snipes also does a good job in a rare straight role. Through in a superb supporting cast including Ellen Barken, John Leguizamo, and Benicio Del Toro and you have everything you need for a rip-roaring tale of paranoia and celeb hunting.

8: Top Gun

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As much as I watched Top Gun in my youth, I was never as huge a fan as most people. It’s difficult to dismiss it though as it is both a highly watchable piece of entertainment which will suck in modern viewers as much as those who were around first time, even if all the young, bronzed bodies and cliches are hilarious. Still, it features some of the best aerial action scenes ever captured, a number of stars on the rise gives excellent performances, and it has a number of iconic moments, memorable pumping soundtrack, and an encyclopedia of quotable dialogue.

7: Gladiator

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Ridley Scott’s 1990s movies were, by and large, forgettable flops. Indeed, by the turn of the century it seemed that he had lost his way and was out of favour with regards to the viewing public. Enter Gladiator. This film shot Scott back into the pantheon of great directors, introduced the world to Russell Crowe, and portrayed the first truly breathtaking view of Ancient Rome. It is hardly a film without flaws, but again the violence and action, the score, visuals, gripping performances, rousing speeches, and of course the engaging story all pulled together to create a massive hit and a film which is still enjoyable sixteen years later. Yikes, sixteen years. I saw this upon release as part of school trip. I studied Latin in school, and upon the advice of a fellow pupil who had already seen it several times, we were able to convince the teacher to take the class on this valuable trip. Memories.

6. The Hunger

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Tony Scott is often remembered more for his flair than his storytelling. Visual flair is of course a way of telling stories and with The Hunger the visuals and the atmosphere they create are often what are solely remembered. David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve (what a pairing) are the eternal couple of vampires who engage in a love triangle with Susan Sarandon – a Doctor who studies the correlation between sleep and aging. It’s a highly stylized, highly sensual, and quite violent vampire movie, arguably the first of the modern era to truly show these creatures as overtly sexual and able to exist in the 20th Century.

5. Blade Runner

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Speaking of visuals, it would be hard to argue against Blade Runner being one of the most visually influential movies of all time. Rain-drenched futuristic cities, trash-ridden and neon-laden and populated with hunched shouldered denizens who weave in and out of crowds, between starbound vehicles and Asian marketplaces, surrounded by towering monuments to commercialism, power, money, and soullessness. Luckily there is an enigmatic story too, one with rambling philosophy and existential crisis, and at the heart, if there is a heart, a number of fine performances from Harrison Ford, Darryl Hannah and Rutger Hauer.

4. Thelma And Louise

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Any of the top five movies could be number 1 for me, but it’s these top four which have had the longest lasting impact. Thelma And Louise is a flawless tale and sadly a film the likes of which we have seen all too rarely. I love its blend (and twists) on the road movie, camaraderie, action, comedy, and its performances. It’s rare to have a cast this good all being this strong together and for the film to churn out memorable moments and dialogue throughout.

3. True Romance

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I often wonder what this would have been if it had been directed by Tarantino himself, but I don’t think it could have been bettered. Tarantino’s dialogue is of course one reason to recommend the movie, and when coupled with Scott’s stylish direction we have a pseudo road movie which is one of the finest ensemble pieces of the decade. It’s difficult to think of any movie with a more impressive cast – Joining Slater and Arquette as leads we have the likes of Brad Pitt, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Samuel L Jackson, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Saul Rubinek, James Gandolfini, Chris Penn, Michael Rappaport etc etc. There are so many great scenes in this movie, from the Sicillian speech to the final shootout, and the pacing is breathless and energetic without being frantic (I’m looking at you, Domino). And at the core it’s all about love.

2. The Last Boyscout

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I’ve of course spoken about my love for this film elsewhere on the site, but it’s one big macho, quotable sensation which never fails to have me laughing my nuts off. Highly recommended, but I also appreciate that many will simply find it too dumb or too offensive to enjoy.

  1. Alien

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My number one (as I’ve said) could have been any of the previous few films, but I feel that Alien remains the best out of any of the films which the brothers have made. Of course it’s a personal favourite – how could it not be? A nightmarish vision of the future, an all too realistic approach to science fiction, and the first film of the modern era to make people genuinely believe that somewhere up there, there could be a creature lurking around with acid for blood and a tongue like a piston, ready to snap us in half. It plays sublimely on main of our fears – the unknown, the dark, being helpless, claustrophobia, sex, disease, even technology, and the cold and detached atmosphere broken sporadically by howling sound or shocking bouts of horror and violence create a spectacular sense of tension and unease. The creature itself is glorious, the effects hold up today, and the cast is wonderful.

What are your favourite movies by Tony and Ridley Scott? Obviously there are quite a few big films I haven’t listed, so feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

TTT – Akira Kurosawa

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Greetings, Glancers! It’s been a while since my last Top Ten Tuesday list, so why not kick it off once more by looking at my 10 favourite films by The Master. Akira Kurosawa is frequently cited by anyone with even a passing interest in cinema as one of the greates directors of all time. His influence is seen in most movies today, from a technical point of view, from a storytelling standpoint, and simply because his sheer bulk of work made the likes of Spielberg, Lucas, Scorsese, Fellini etc start making movies. His working has a lasting impact on Japanese Cinema and Western movie makers have taken his ideas and either remade them or added their own touches. There will be quite a few films not making this list as the quality and breadth of his work is stunning, but this is as good a place to start if you are interested in getting into Kurosawa.

10. Kagemusha

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We start with a latter day Kurosawa epic charting the downfall of one particular clan and their attempts to trick those they are warring with by replacing their dead leader with a thief who happens to look like him. Amidst the massive battle scenes we have the old questions of loyalty and honour coming back again again as the thief first only cares about himself but over time sees himself as a de facto leader and member of the clan. It’s that blending of the personal drama offset against the massive scope of warring armies all shot with Kurosawa’s flawless eye for detail which sets Kagemusha apart from the lay man’s epic.

9. Ran

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Continuing with the epic, perhaps Kurosawa’s biggest and most ambitious film, Ran may be the most beautifully shot piece the director created. In many ways it feels more like a Western movie than any other one Kurosawa shot, with a memorable score, vibrant colours, and a bleak and depressing outlook. A gorgeous film to look at, it is a tough watch due to the fact that almost every character is either ruthlessly self-interested or doomed to a needless death. It’s sad to note that at his age at the time of filming Kurosawa was viewing the world with such futility and fatalism, especially considering the heroism and hope in his previous works.

8. The Hidden Fortress

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A rip-roaring old school action movie with samurai fights, scheming, and plenty of laughs. You have the group journey of four characters, each individually has their own plot and life, and they additionally can be split into groups of two – a road movie without cars or spaceships where the quest for gold and honour clash and combine. Like other films on the list, this is a good one to surprise people with when they believe that old black and white or foreign movies can’t possibly be entertaining.

7. Stray Dog

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On the cusp of greater success, both Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune made this noir detective thriller which stands out for most people as their finest non-Samurai work. Both borrowing from the US hard-boiled works of the 1940s and in turn adding a style which would be later adopted by the West, it is notable for the great rapport and performances of Mifune and Shimura. Both leads basically invent a thousand tropes as the hotshot rookie and weary veteran team up to chase Mifune’s missing gun around Tokyo as it continues to be used in increasingly barbaric crimes. Another wonderfully shot and well-paced movie

6. Sanjuro

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The partner to Yojimbo is perhaps the more entertaining film due its overall lightness. Mifune returns as the ‘unnamed’ Ronin who has a knack for appearing in the right/wrong place and the wrong/right time and using his wiles and considerable sword skills to sort out the rights/wrongs of a town. There is plenty of violent action here and a surprising amount of laughs, at least for me.

5. Rashomon

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The first true masterwork of Kurosawa’s career, this is a small piece utilizing the immense skill of a talented cast and crew. Most of the crew lived together throughout the shoot to create a sense of family and a one direction purpose to make something as good as it could possibly be. With experimental shots and storytelling techniques, an ambiguous plot, superb performances, rain, silence, light, Rashomon is one which continues to impress and is one of those films which all students of film should watch to vastly increase their knowledge and appreciation.

4. Ikiru

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A motivating tale, one of hope and laughs, of the difference between youth and old age and the impact one can have on the other, also a satire of the working life, of bureacracy, and a discussion on the anonymity and powerlessness we can feel being a cog in the wheel – all topped off with the message that we can each make a difference and overcome the odds and the uncaring world.

3. Yojimbo

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The more influential and more fondly remembered partner of Sanjuro sees Kurosawa and Mifune create an action hero archetype which remains to this day – the nameless wanderer, the anti-hero, the loner in search for person glory, the mysterious stranger. Forming the basis for Leone’s A Fistful Of Dollars, Mifune is masterful as the wily, fearless, and skilled unnamed ronin who visits a town under the thrall of two warring clans. He conspires with each group, turning them against each other for his own ends and to rid the innocents caught in the midst of the struggle of these gangsters. Even though Kurosawa was influenced by Western Literature in crafting the story, it is the style, tone, and look of his film which had Western filmmakers trying to emulate – the wide shots featuring a lone warrior in the distance, the wry humour, the lack of dialogue from the main character, the violence both on screen and implied – the dog carrying the severed hands in the opening moments telling us the town’s history without needing to hear about it.

2. Throne Of Blood

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One of Kurosawa’s lesser known films, and one of his most direct adaptations, this retelling of Macbeth remains the creepiest version yet committed to film and is perhaps still the closest at getting to the root of the lust for power and the stain of madness which ruins anyone who comes into contact with it. Again Toshiro Mifune leads the way with perhaps his finest performance as the tortured Taketoki Washizu, together with an absolutely terrifying Izuzu Yamada as his Lady Macbeth. We follow the loose plot of a mysterious force whispering honeyed prophecies into the ear of an ambitious warrior, a scheming wife eager for glory and power coaxing a husband into doing what must never be done, and the inevitable downfall – that sense of inevitability pervades every shot, with fog closing in, with shadows growing and becoming denser, until a rain of arrows courses down. The use of Noh imagery is suitable for the plot and adds another layer of mystery and unease for Western audiences, destined to be haunted by the vision of Yamada’s grinning death-mask like face. The climax is still among the most thrilling in movie history and that last arrow is still brutal and shocking.

1. The Seven Samurai.

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I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I believe that the best films of all time must be a mixture of immediate and long-lasting critical and commercial success, be classed clearly as both entertainment and art, be influential on a number of levels both technical and otherwise, and retain ‘watchability’ for a wide audience over the decades. I’ve said before that I believe the best four films of all time which fit this criteria are Vertigo, The Godfather, Star Wars Episode IV, and The Seven Samurai. Its influence on multiple genres from action to drama is clear and it’s as entertaining and engaging today as when I first saw it – presumably it’s just as good as it was upon release. Its influence on filmmakers cannot be understated. It is Kurosawa’s signature film and whether or not you feel it is his best is a testament to his skills. At almost three and a half hours it is Kurosawa’s longest movie, but it flies by like a 90 minute movie. With a large cast we somehow manage to feel empathy and sympathy for all of them, we engage with them and love them, and feel a sense of loss when they fall. The plot on the surface is simple – a village abused by bandits recruits seven warriors to protect them, but the interactions between characters gives a snapshot of life like few films come close to achieving. Modern viewers should not be put off by the length, or the age, or the subtitles – if you watch it for the first time today, you won’t see anything better this year.

What are your favourite Kurosawa films – which ones are missing from my list? How do you convince friends to watch a fifty year old Japanese film? Let us know in the comments!

TTT – Steven Spielberg

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Arguably the most important figure in cinema of all time, surely of the later half of the 20th Century, Steven Spielberg has directed and produced some of the most successful movies of all time. The maestro of countless million childhoods, Spielberg’s output in undeniable with several films being inescapable parts of pop culture and of our lives. Love him or hate him, he is a storyteller and visionary of the highest order. Having said all that, when I was checking the list of films he has directed though, i was surprised though that I was actually struggling to find 10 films that i truly loved. I have enjoyed everything he has directed, but quite a few of his films have been good, just not the sort of thing I would tend to include on a top ten list. There are a lot of films that others may rightly include but as my lists tend towards personal taste rather than cultural impact or even how good a film actually is, this list may not be to everyone’s tastes.

10. Duel

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Based on the Richard Matheson tale, this debut effort from Spielberg packs in a lot of taut action and early flair. Frequently voted as the best TV movie ever made, it is a simple tale of man versus the unknown, a chase film and road movie in one, and a story that shares many similarities with his later work. It’s proof of Spielberg’s ability to create timeless pieces of entertainment as the film still retains a power to shock and thrill today.

9. The Terminal

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I’ll probably get some flack for this because it’s schmaltzy Spielberg at its most saccharine. But it works because we’re in the hands of a master and because Tom Hanks is always watchable when playing an offbeat character. You balk in the opening scenes and question why an American actor of his stature was used, but by the end it doesn’t matter as you’re won over by the charm of the performance and story. I skipped seeing this one until recently (last year I think) because it sounded like drivel. I think it’s a simple, heartwarming family film that won’t change anyone’s life but is a nice change of pace for what we have come to expect from the director.

8. ET

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Spielberg’s premier family favourite is one that I hope to re-appreciate as my children get older. I haven’t seen it in many years and if I was to watch it now maybe If wouldn’t feel the same youthful delight as when I was a kid. But I know that my children, like many others when they first see Eliot and his family and his friend, will be enchanted and me along with them.

7. Schindler’s List

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A grueling watch which lacks most of the sugar-coating you come to expect from Spielberg, not surprising given the subject matter. Although it is ultimately a story of hope, the film is drenched in the shadow of the Holocaust as we watch hundreds and thousands of innocents march to their deaths under the tyrannical gaze of Ralph Fiennes. Liam Neeson as Schindler is the man trying to make a difference, but we get superb support from Embeth Davidtz, Ben Kingsley and others. A timeless film of great importance it is one that should shake even the most apathetic into action.

6. Animaniacs

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Unquestionably one of the greatest cartoons of all time, Spielberg’s touch is all over it. Meta before it was a thing, throwing a hell of a lot of adult humour in, references to past and current stars, movies, politicians, and more, with a massive cast of characters it’s the sketch show to end them all. Endlessly quotable, always hilarious, and with a range and scope unseen in kids cartoons before or since, and of course featuring a superb cast of writers, animators, and voice talent the show flies along at a breakneck speed, never apologizes, and it’s clear that everyone involved must have been having the time of their lives.

5. Saving Private Ryan

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A more action packed, yet introspective partner to Schindler’s List, this takes the simple story of a group of soldiers undertaking a single basic mission as a template to discuss the War at length, humanity, senseless violence, futility, honour, duty, and the value of a life. It’s the stellar cast and gripping set pieces which set this apart as one of the great war movies, with the harrowing landing scenes at the start, the light discussions between the men as they march from disaster to disaster, and the sudden intrusion of violence and brutality, and unfairness which ensure that the film will haunt you. The film not only forces you to question the purpose of war and how you would react under certain circumstances, but whether it is possible to move on as a survivor, as a species. The question remains unanswered.

4. Raiders Of The Lost Ark

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Maybe the best example of Spielberg’s ability to entertain, thrill, scare, to make you laugh all while telling a coherent engaging story with wonderful characters. If that wasn’t enough we get iconic scene after iconic scene, memorable one-liners, and those tiny Spielberg moments that few other directors would ever imagine. Add Harrison Ford, add Karen Allen, add a host of the most vile cartoon villains ever and you have yourself one of the best movies of the 80s.

3. Temple Of Doom

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And yet I prefer Temple Of Doom. Obviously it isn’t the best of the series, but it’s the one I saw most growing up and the one I get most enjoyment from. I’d class most of the iconic scenes from this one as just as immense as those from Raiders – the minecart ride, the heart-ripping scene, the rope-bridge battle, and dinner scene – all have varying levels of obscenity, scares, laughs, and excitement and the cast hams it up to eleven. But where’s Dan Akroyd?

2. Jaws

The one which nailed Spielberg to the map, becoming the biggest grossing film of all time and effectively creating the notion of a summer blockbuster. Once again it’s that mixture of an extremely talented cast giving their best performances to honour a simple story, all while Spielberg pokes and prods the audience for reactions and tries things no other director would dare. The fact that even today the film works when the effects are so bad is a testament to everyone involved, and to the director for holding it together.

1. Jurassic Park

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If the likes of Hook and Empire Of The Sun showed that the director was possibly past crafting another mega hit, this one brought him roaring back into the limelight as a director. Coming hot on the heels of T2 as a special effects extravaganza the film succeeds on all fronts – the effects are still superior to many we see today, the story is again simple, yet based on a wonderful concept, the performances are each wonderful, those iconic moments are so iconic that I don’t need to mention them, Williams provides another epic score, and perhaps most important is the sense of awe and childlike wonder which was, and still is evoked. It’s this combination that each of the sequels have failed to re-ignite and while they are each watchable and exciting in their own right, they don’t come close to matching the joy this one gives.

Have I missed any of your favourite Spielberg films? There are plenty that I have not covered so let us know in the comments what you think his best work is!

Top Ten Tuesdays – Robert De Niro

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It’s Tuesday again, and that means it’s time to look at ten films by one of my favourite performers – this time around I check out Robert De Niro, one of the finest actors of all time and someone who has perhaps more iconic performances in history. There are so many films I have not been able to discuss here, and while recent movies have not been as well received, for over thirty years he has been at the top of his game. I haven’t given much thought to the list order below, it’s a mixture of favourite De Niro performances and favourite films that he has been a part of, but really the numbers are not important.

Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein

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I may get a lot of stick for this one, considering some of the much more acclaimed films I haven’t included in my list. De Niro transforms himself once again and maybe becomes the most un-De Niro of his career. Unsurprising given the character he plays here (The Monster) but he still manages to bring power, gravitas, and emotion to the role. I’ve always enjoyed this version of the story – much of it comes down to the look of the film, but you have a strong central cast in Branagh, De Niro, and Bonham Carter. The film retains a bleak tone, and a truly gothic approach, ensuring it is an authentic vision of Shelley’s masterwork.

Cop Land

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Although more famous for Stallone’s performance, De Niro also puts in another heartfelt character examination as he plays an unusually (for him) good, plain cop wanting to shut down corruption within the force. In this ensemble film with some terrific actors, De Niro stands out primarily because of how normal he is when compared to the characters he is more known to play.

Ronin

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Ronin is one of the best films ever to not really be about anything – it’s one big mis-direct for most of the movie as we follow a group of mercenaries, led by De Niro who are tasked with hunting down some mysterious briefcase for the IRA. Throw in some intrigue, back-stabbing, Russian mob, political nonsense, action, and some of the best car chases ever filmed and you have a riveting film which is endlessly watchable. There is a brilliant cast each unleashing strong performances, and De Niro leads the way tricking the viewer, his companions, and his enemies.

The Deer Hunter

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This one cemented De Niro as a long-lasting talent and features some of his most gruelling work, both physically and emotionally. We follow De Niro and his friends starting out as casual workers and hunters who are abruptly ripped out of their simple lives to the horrors of Vietnam. De Niro’s Mike is one of many characters who change dramatically throughout the course of the film, though De Niro is possibly the one who tries to hold on to his previous life most dearly even though he resorts to brutality to survive. It’s a startling, powerful film with a superb cast, and allows De Niro opportunity once again to craft another iconic figure.

Heat

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De Niro plays the villian in Michael Mann’s opus, but it is the duality between his desire for a normal life, his need for one last score, and his obsession with beating the cops which ensures the character is more than a by the numbers crook. His scenes with Pacino are electric, but so are his scenes with Kilmer, Brenneman, and so on. With Mann in control, with wonderful dialogue, and with De Niro and co at their best, this was always going to be a classic.

Godfather II

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De Niro’s first big outing sees him filling in Brando’s shows – arguably the most difficult job in cinema history, but he manages to be everything Brando was and more, carving out his own style as the young Vito Corleone entirely separate from the Don which Brando portrayed. Arguably he is more like Pacino in the first film – a young man trying to find his way in a violent world, eventually being drawn into that violence and its seductive potential rewards.

Raging Bull

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Going through some shocking physical changes earned De Niro an Oscar win, but even if he had not piled on the pounds, his performance here is nothing short of flawless. La Motta is an ugly figure, a man driven to success but easily swayed by the demons which try to pull us down, and De Niro and Scorsese never flinch from showing the grim realities of success, of downfall, of the power-hungry, and of sheer masculine brutality. The fights are wonderful of course, but it is that contrast of the glory of victory and adoration of the crowd juxtaposed with all the wife and brother beating which make this an anti-Rocky and one of the best films of the 1980s.

Taxi Driver

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To prove that he wasn’t a one trick pony (though with Mean Streets earlier he had already done this) after the success of The Godfather part II, De Niro set his sights on another iconic character. He converts Travis Bickle from words on a page to a brazen, all too real paranoid romantic, a man who is steadily losing his mind in the midst of all of the scum and filth he sees surrounding him. Scorsese and De Niro again create another ambiguous masterpiece as Bickle is a clearly disturbed and dangerous figure, but his attempts at saving others and his ironic ‘happy ending’ merged with his ultra violent descent and near assassination attempt leave the viewer with uncomfortable questions to ponder on.

Goodfellas

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The film that brought De Niro successfully into another decade and again partnered him with Scorsese and Pesci, Goodfellas is another extraordinary tale with high levels of violence, realism, and humour. Although the dreamlike quality of much of Scorsese’s work is present, this is largely an effectively realistic portrayal of mob life – from both the inside and outside, from both the good and wrong side of the law. It’s hard to say who steals the movie here with Pesci, De Niro, and Liotta all superb, but De Niro is the one who manages to hold sway over the more maniacal and obsessive other duo.

The Untouchables

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People forget that De Niro was even in this movie. In fact, it’s rare that I hear people talking about the movie at all, unfortunate because it features one of De Niro’s best performances – and the same can be said for Costner, Connery, Garcia, and Billy Drago. De Palma keeps the tension high, the entertainment flowing, and De Niro is free to give his version of an Al Capone who is on his way out thanks to superhero good guy Eliot Ness. It’s an unusually beautiful film given the subject matter, and although there is plenty of violence there is a lot of heart as Costner leads his family – both at home, and his family at work to hopefully safer times. De Niro is excellent as Capone in a performance which drew a substantial amount of criticism, but he comes over as a Tony Montana style leader, his grasp on reality and on his own power pouring away, even as he still leads with an Iron Glove (or baseball bat).

What is your favourite De Niro performance and film – is it something I’ve missed from my list? Do you prefer De Niro’s comedy roles or his more serious, dramatic performances? Let us know in the comments!