71 Films

Years ago I saw and argued in print with a Hong Kong reviewer, who disparaged the film. And now I see how right I was to defend it!

Great performance by Al Pacino, in a deft screenplay, whose power is masked by the film presenting itself more as entertainment than biting satire – a film that puts the New York legal system to the blade.

Film list of 63 of the best for me

These films are not the best perhaps, or even the best 63 films I have seen, though they would be very close to that.

I simply laid them down without prior thought of ordering or listing them in any kind or categorisation of this or that.

The only change was to add Gosford Park by Robert Altman, and to do that I dropped Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! which should not be left out, but I kept Monsoon Wedding which I adored when I first saw it and still do.

So the filmmakers and films are all great and in no way am I listing them in order of best – first to worst. There are no second-best or best here. They are simply all magnificent for all their own reasons and appeared as I remembered them and wrote them down.

Tell me what you think – offer suggestions – i.e. if you wish to.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s NestMilos Forman
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance KidGeorge Roy Hill
The Last Picture ShowPeter Bogdanovich
Apocalypse NowFrancis Ford Coppola
Rear WindowAlfred Hitchcock
King of ComedyMartin Scorsese
Raging BullMartin Scorsese
The Good the Bad and the UglySergio Leone
Little Miss SunshineValerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton
Pulp FictionQuentin Tarantino
Reservoir DogsQuentin Tarantino
CasablancaMichael Curtiz
Dog Day AfternoonSydney Lumet
The GodfatherFrancis Ford Coppola
UnforgivenClint Eastwood
2001 A Space OdysseyStanley Kubrick
AmadeusMilos Forman
Blade RunnerRidley Scott
The ThingJohn Carpenter
Ace in the HoleBilly Wilder
The VerdictSydney Lumet
NetworkSydney Lumet
SidewaysAlexander Payne
The French ConnectionWilliam Friedkin
The Godfather IIFrancis Ford Coppola
A Clockwork OrangeStanley Kubrick
Paths of GloryStanley Kubrick
Lawrence of ArabiaDavid Lean
Easy RiderDennis Hopper
ChinatownRoman Polanski
8 1/2Federico Fellini
La Dolce VitaFederico Fellini
The ConversationFrancis Ford Coppola
Out of AfricaSydney Pollack
Annie HallWoody Allen
Hannah and Her SistersWoody Allen
Deconstructing HarryWoody Allen
Broadway Danny RoseWoody Allen
AmarcordFederico Fellini
Day for Night (La Nuit américaine)Francois Truffaut
La règle du jeuJean Renoir
Crimes and MisdemeanoursWoody Allen
The French Connection IIWilliam Friedkin
Thelma and LouiseRidley Scott
GandhiRichard Attenborough
American GraffitiGeorge Lucas
Atlantic CityLouis Malle
Das BootWolfgang Petersen
Monsoon WeddingMira Nair
Gosford ParkRobert Altman
WitnessPeter Weir
PersonaIngmar Bergman
Wild StrawberriesIngmar Bergman
Cries and WhispersIngmar Bergman
Autumn SonataIngmar Bergman
The Truman ShowPeter Weir
Fanny and AlexanderIngmar Bergman
War and PeaceSergei Bondarchuk
YojimboAkira Kurosawa
RashomonAkira Kurosawa
Paris Texas‎Wim Wenders
Schindler’s ListSteven Spielberg
JawsSteven Spielberg

A Rainy Day in New York

From the moment in Annie Hall when he led Marshall McLuhan out from behind a film hoarding in a New York cinema I have been a huge fan of Woody Allen. He is America’s best writer director of ensemble urban comedies – truly a unique filmmaker.

Joe Strummer and I ran the ’83 London Marathon together

Joe Strummer April ’83

The Selvedge Yard writes:

“Believe it or not – Joe Strummer actually ran the London marathon in 1983. “I didn’t fuckin’ train. Not once. Just turned up and did it,” Strummer said. His keep-fit regime for success– “Drink 10 pints of beer the night before the race. Ya got that? And don’t run a single step at least 4 weeks before the race.” Got it, Joe…”

Well Selvedge – Believe it or not I ran the London Marathon with him – only I needed a beer so ran on ahead getting to the finishing line and over to Earl’s Court an hour earlier – finishing at 3hrs and 3 minutes.

I didn’t train either … tho’ I did for another one six months earlier

… I heard the Clash were running out of steam and wanted to give some moral support …

… Well partly not true. I didn’t know we were in the same stream of humanity on that given day – tho’ always liked them & their music … London Calling and all that … but then who gives a fuck about me and that … One day I might run the LM again …

Just so I can say Lou Alba died right here on this spot on the road which Joe Strummer ran over too … R.I.P. Joe

Dark Waters

As a filmmaker and writer everything I saw and heard in Dark Waters was pitch perfect for me. Is this the point when an already very, very good filmmaker makes something so significant it and he cannot be ignored? On my one viewing I would say definitely yes. So, how did Todd Haynes, and the cast and crew, not receive any Oscar nominations? The answer to that is unfortunately in the film itself.

Mark Ruffalo is exceptional as the initially unsure advocate (should I, shouldn’t I take this case?) the reluctant hero turning crusading lawyer travelling deeper into the lies and cover up world of Du Pont’s immoral practices, as he takes them on in the courts. The journey is long and far from easy.

Based on the New York Times Magazine’s “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare” by Nathaniel Rich, the story is real, the deaths associated with teflon and the poisoned waters from chemical spill run-off are countable, coupled to another important fact—the film narrative is so well managed and un-histrionic in its style and delivery that it makes watching dramatic and very affecting.

The mantra told often to us by lecturers in JD units: a lawyer reads, that’s what a lawyer does’ hit home as I watched the many boxes of incriminating documents and records being wheeled into Mark Ruffalo’s (Rob Bilott’s) law offices.

How was Bilott not removed from his firm? It’s to my relief and all our benefit that he kept his position and kept on fighting the actions. A roomful of long applause for all involved.

Stanley’s say

I recently saw Stanley Tucci’s 1964 Paris set Final Portrait, with Geoffrey Rush playing the lead, artist, painter Alberto Giacometti.

Not much happens in terms of the old story plot nexus but a lot goes on.

Verdict: Wonderful film, brilliantly observed. Great cast and script. Funny ironic tender sad cruel. Bring on more Stanley. 9/10

I’d give it ten out of ten but no films hit that high for me. Music, painting, literature, yes. Films, no. Too many departments, too many hands on deck for something not to go wrong somewhere.

Europe & Freedom of Movement

As Brexit continues morphing out over the coming months, I think we should begin sharing experiences of what it has been like to live in and freely travel around Europe before our rights disappear. The ‘good’ the young of Britain in particular are about to lose.

Automatic right to be and travel inside Europe without a visa, attend universities, work without foreigner status conditions, to learn languages, share in the life as citizens of Europe with equal rights.

What the Europe Union does so well is not to look towards obvious economic stimulants as bridges to future social, cultural and economic activity, but to social and cultural stimulants, which when aggregated from individual life-changing experiences multiply in exponential societal ways, not only across Europe but across the world. Europe is a civil and cultural force unlike any other.

Here is an early pre-FOM personal European experience, before freedom of movement was instituted, but giving reason to why it is so good for societies and individuals.

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus. The ancient Odeon, built by Herod Atticus 161 AD, situated at the foot of the rock of the Acropolis with the Parthenon as a backdrop. The Odeon of Herodes Atticus written up by Vernon Kidd in the New York Times, describing a 1981 Athenian summer component in a plethora of Europe-wide festivals, The Athens Festival awaiting travellers… “plays of Euripides, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Aristophanes … presented by the National Theater of Greece, the Amphi-Theater, the Art Theater and Northern Greece State Theater. Tickets: from $1.20 to $6. July 5 to Sept. 25.” As Kidd’s NY times article detailed, Ancient Greek theatre in the ancient Odeon was only a small part of a Europe-wide extravaganza of arts festivals in the summer of 1981.

So, unaware of any of the above, one hot early July ’81 evening I wandered up the road from my Plaka hotel to the Acropolis, this young filmmaker then resident of Hong Kong. As darkness gathered, I sat myself on a wall to take in the dusk scene at a spot overlooking the lit-up Odeon of Herodes Atticus theatre. A rehearsal was going on way down below. Intrigued very quickly by what I saw, I hiked down the hill to find out what it was I was watching. A poster outside the Odeon announced the Athens Summer Festival’s showing of The Acharnians by Aristophanes. Had I see an Aristophanes play before? No.

I returned to my hotel and the next day bought a ticket for the play at a ticket outlet – (prices of the day ranging from $1.20 to $6). I found a Penguin translation of the play in a bookshop, read it, and no wiser I have to say set off a night later to see the performance.

The Acharnians was first performed in 426 BC. A strident anti-war play it is credited with being the oldest staged Greek comedy. I didn’t know what to expect because the Penguin translation did not make anything clear. Still, I had seen the rehearsal. That was enough. The play itself would do the rest.

The Odeon theatre is an extraordinary space, but on a hot July summer night it is other-worldly. The night air made translucent by light was alive with what looked like tiny floating tips of flowers, rising in the warm air all throughout the amphitheatre. In jeans, t-shirt, sandals surrounded by Greeks in evening dress I felt a rank outsider. Yet nobody cared.

What truly resonates with me most, nearly forty years later, is how an ancient play, interpreted, performed and directed as it was, was soon so relevant for a 1981 audience. Filled with dance, mime, mask, and music, George Kounis’ (or Kouns’) production lifted me off my seat. This was not a stilted play from Ancient Greece, a production I remembered too well from university productions. The Penguin translation was swept from my mind.

Dicæopolis, a native of Acharnæ and an ex-soldier returns disillusioned from the Persian wars, heartsick at the miseries and stupidities of the conflict. Not shy in making his views known, with earthy gestures he rails against fellow citizens, while a chorus of startled, indignant citizens in white masks, odd hats and fantastic bed square sewn quilt costumes, rush in dance formation from one side of the stage to the other, all to a cacophony of startling music and sound effects, remonstrating with him and each other. The audience was in stitches inside minutes. I didn’t understand a word yet understood everything.

As a writer it is hard to communicate the effect this experience has had on me: the hot July night, the western world’s most ancient comedy, the mime, dance, costume, design and performances, Greeks all around me ‘rolling in aisles’, the old director helped on stage after the performance – I felt as if theatre itself, not only the ancient Greek concept of  ‘spectacle,’ had finally been made clear to me.

Athen_Odeon_Herodes_Atticus_BW_2017-10-09_13-12-44

photograph by and courtesy of Berthold Werner 2017

Cannes

Camera
Lights

Camera
Positions please

Camera
Roll cameras

Camera
Cue background artists

Camera
Mark it

Camera
Action..No, no. Not everyone going everywhere

Camera
What’s my ex-wife’s lawyer doing in the shot?

Camera
And the spy in the hat..cut. CUT.

Camera
I know, I know..what can I do..There’s six thousand of you.

Camera
First positions again please, as quickly as you can

Camera
OK…What I want is like…a crowd ..being…like…a real crowd