Tag Archives: Favourite Movies

The Dirty Dozen – Part Deux

Okay. Now for the remaining half-dozen movies that lend themselves to Sunday afternoon viewing, curled up on the sofa with the one you love –  before you go home;

The Man Who Would Be King

Legend has it that director, John Huston, had Kipling’s story in mind for a film treatment for many years before finally fulfilling his wish in 1975. His original pairing was Gable and Bogart; then Lancaster and Douglas; then Redford and Newman –  before settling on Sean Connery and Michael Caine.

Whatever the delays in coming to the screen, the movie proved to be extremely popular with audiences once it did –  and ensured Huston’s return to the director’s A-List. Connery and Caine are two former, somewhat roguish, British Army officers in late-Victorian India who set off in search of adventure and fortune in Kafiristan. Huston’s approach, too, is roguish and there is scant regard for political correctness in the portrayal of colonialist attitudes. Great fun and Connery’s favourite role!

Planes, Trains & Automobiles

I think that this odd couple movie is the high point in the careers of director John Hughes and stars, Steve Martin and John Candy. Hughes brings us not just a road movie, a buddy movie or a family movie – but a poignant, comedic synthesis of several tones that enables Martin and Candy to deliver well-rounded characters and robust performances. These elements, I should add, serve to strongly mitigate the obligatory schmaltzy final scenes – although an earlier, now legendary, airport scene with Martin dropping the f-bomb 18 times in a minute – has probably already allowed us to gladly pardon the ending.

Mona Lisa

Neil Jordan’s tale of a none-too-bright petty criminal and his relationship with a high-class prostitute that he minds, oozes seedy assignations and dubious pleasures. Bob Hoskins and Cathy Tyson play the oddest of odd couples, each trying to retain some vestige of honour in a broken, venal world.

The revelation, though, is Michael Caine’s Denny Mortwell, a gangland boss who has long since abandoned any contact with honour or decency. Caine is utterly convincing in his role and,  as the narrative unfolds, reveals the full extent of his corrupt and corrupting occupation. A dark, but satisfying, movie.

Being There

Evidently, Peter Sellers tried to obtain the rights to Jerzy Kosinski’s novel of the same name and pestered director Hal Ashby to make the movie with him in it. His persistence paid off and Sellers delivers what many, including me, believe to be his finest screen performance.

Chance the gardener (Sellers) is an innocent abroad. A simple being, bereft of any of the layers or devices that we have accumulated, historically, to survive. His knowledge of the world is limited only to what he knows of tending a garden and watching television. But the world he encounters, when his benefactor dies, is so jaded, so weighed down with artifice and egoism, that his naivety is mistaken for profound wisdom and his words for illuminating prophecy. The final scene, I believe, stands as one of the great moments in cinema.

Cross of Iron

There is a knowingness at the heart of James Coburn’s portrayal of embittered sergeant, Rolf Steiner. Steiner is the universal soldier, wartime’s everyman –  as he leads his men against the irresistible advance of the Red Army as they push the German occupiers out of the Caucasus in late 1943.

The arrival of a new battalion commander, Captain Stransky (Maximilian Schell), a Prussian aristocrat in search of glory and the famed Iron Cross, allows director Sam Peckinpah the opportunity to examine the mores of war and juxtaposition them against traditional peacetime values as the screen crackles with the tension generated by his two fine leads. The film contains Peckinpah’s trademark violent action but the Brechtian narrative allows the viewer a certain, cool distance to engage the mind as well as the heart as the story reaches its acrid, ironic conclusion.

Sexy Beast

First time director Jonathan Glazer has created two of the most evil criminals in the history of the genre. Gangster, Don Logan (Ben Kingsley) has been sent to Spain by crime lord, Teddy Bass (Ian McShane) to recruit retired safe-cracker Gary Dove (Ray Winstone) for a bank job in London. As Gary tries to appease both men whilst holding on to his relationships and enviable life style, the true, vile nature of the underworld is revealed, both literally and figuratively.(Viewers might light like to identify the film’s links to Harvey and Donny Darko)

The Dirty Dozen – Part 1

Now that winter has its icy fingers clasped firmly around your neck, I thought it may be as well to sort out a dozen movies, any one of which might provide an enjoyable way to spend a bleak Sunday afternoon.

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes

Billy Wilder’s affectionate take on the real detective behind the legend. Robert Stephens as Holmes and Colin Blakely as Watson tackle a WWI espionage plot that involves The Loch Ness Monster, circus midgets, spys and Queen Victoria. A curious sub-plot has a Russian ballerina wanting to engage Holmes as the potential father of  their wunderkind child.

My favourite Sherlock movie, beautifully shot with Wilder’s skillful cast perfectly reflecting his playful but fond attitude towards his material.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Based on 3 novels by Patrick O’Brian and set during the Napoleonic Wars,(moved back to 1805 from the novels’ 1813 Anglo-American War setting, so as not to upset US audiences) Capt Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) and Dr Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany) aboard the Surprise pursue the French warship Acheron.

Director, Peter Weir, has an eye for period detail and directs the action with a sure hand. Nominated for 10 Oscars, the movie won 2 only – the execrable Lord of the Rings sweeping the board that year. Nevertheless, a fine, exciting movie that, for me, was top of the class that year.(2003)

Monkey Business (1952)

Howard Hawks’ screwball comedy stars Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers and Marilyn Monroe and revolves around an elixir of youth finding its way into an office water cooler. The impeccable cast delivers the one-liners and mugging with gusto and the movie contains possibly the single funniest scene in the history of cinema –  Grant, having regressed to childhood and dressed as an Indian chief, leads the local kids in the kidnapping of his ‘adult’ rival (Hugh Marlowe) who they tie to a tree and…. well, watch the movie.


Hitchcock’s classic tale of obsession, set in San Francisco and starring James Stewart and Kim Novak –  Vertigo is an intense experience that quickly draws the viewer into its neurotic world. Fine performances by Stewart and Novak assisted by Bernard Hermann’s haunting score contribute to this enduring masterpiece.(Love Theme from Vertigo was used in last year’s The Artist)

La Reine Margot

Set in late 16th century France against the backdrop of religious conflict and the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre, director Patrice Chereau provides a densely textured account of intrigue, ambition and passion in a violent time. The seemingly ageless Isabelle Adjani portrays Margot, a political pawn put into play by her Medici mother (Virna Lisi) to shore up the Catholic hold on a France where the Protestant Huguenots assert a growing influence.

Based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas père, the sumptuous set design and visceral narrative provide the viewer with a darkly entertaining movie that clings to the memory long after it has finished.

Enemy at the Gates

Set during WWII’s Battle of Stalingrad, snipers from the opposing Russian and German armies (Jude Law and Ed Harris) fight a duel to the death that resonates on personal, class, ideological and national levels.

The film was criticised, when released, by army veterans in both Russia and Germany for its inaccuracies and some film critics also disliked the introduction of a love interest in the Russian camp (Rachel Weisz). I beg to differ though and for me, the story succeeds because the action is portrayed closely, intimately. The lethal chess game played by the principals is gut-wrenchingly tense, their need for feral companionship all too credible. Compelling viewing.

A Note from the Author; Part Deux will follow shortly.