Well, what a stir part I seemed to cause with strong points of view expressed on the blog and Facebook. Nice to see that most found something they liked here. I am afraid there will be disappointments with this following list. Even I acknowledge there are some very odd choices indeed.
I think the reason for making lists like this – and for people reading them – is that they tell you more about the writer than they do making any objective statement about what is best. Some of you who have known me for many, many years will not be surprised by some of these films but I hope there is something to surprise all but one or two of you who might have guessed what would be here.
To those of you disappointed by what you find here, I can only apologise and remind you that my criteria was, at least in part, based on how these films affected me personally. I hope that all you find something here that makes you think “oh I have never thought about that film before. I’ll have to try it out.” If you do, then I’ve done my job!
Here goes then.
One of the best feel -good films of all time even if very American. Tom Hanks is a wonderful actor to watch in any situation and this choice represents all the films I’ve seen with Hanks. The film itself is true to something I believe in strongly – that your intelligence or background should not be how you are judged. Your spirit and honesty inside is what makes you and what defines you. For this reason I am very anti-educationalist despite being a teacher – I certainly don’t believe in education as the answer to all. If it encourages young people to think and feel the way Gump does, then it’s good. If it encourages greed then it’s not.
In total contrast to the family feel good nature of Forrest Gump, this film is dark and difficult. A cult soundtrack with some of the best rock/pop tracks of all time (in my opinion) I love this film because it cleverly gives and anti-drug message by making drugs seem the coolest thing ever. By doing this, it hooks those who would be turned off from normal anti-drug propaganda so the full shock of the infamous ‘baby’ scene really hits hard. This, along with the great humour (I nearly gagged with laughter at the ‘bedsheets’ scene the first time) makes it a memorable, and classic, film.
In my opinion, Stanley Kubrick is possibly the greatest film director of all time and I could have chosen several of his films – 2001 A Space Odyssey , One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Clockwork Orange to name a few – to be in this list. The Shining can represent them all then as arguably the greatest horror ever made (as voted many times). You can’t best Jack Nicholson for playing a mad guy and this film sees him at his best despite the fact that the story moves far away from that of the original by Stephen King. I loved this film because it does not rely on gore for the thrills. Almost nothing happens throughout the film – but what does happen is terrifying. As an aside, if you have not seen the Simpson’s Shinning episode you should do – it spoofs this film brilliantly even though now when I see the real film I find myself thinking “that’s odd. Usually the blood gets off at the second floor…”
Had I seen this film before living in Bangladesh I would have just counted it as yet another rags to riches story. But watching in Bangladesh had my wife and I both feeling we knew this story for real. For that reason it holds many special memories for us and everyone we knew who lived or lives in Bangladesh felt the same about it. The film could be set in Dhaka just as easily as it was in India. The harsh reality of life for poor Asians is portrayed perfectly with a wonderfully clever plot idea to tell the main character’s life through the questions he has to answer to win the jackpot. If you want an introduction to why I work in the Indian subcontinent then watch this film. It does not tell the whole story, but it will give you a taste.
Believe it or not, I did not watch this film until earlier this year. I love Ben Kingsley’s work and think he is one of the most versatile actors in the business today. But that is not why I love this film. I never watched it before because I was led to believe that was a great deal of bias against the British (despite it being made by a British director) and too much glorifying of Gandhi himself. It was only after spending a lot of time in Bangladesh reading the history (from both sides – Bangladeshi and British) from ancient history up to the present that I felt able to watch the film and judge for myself. I found it truthful, accurate and utterly captivating. I can’t recommend this film enough to anyone wanting to know about arguably the most important and politically influential man of the twentieth century and I defy anyone to watch this film and not want to be more like Gandhi by the end.
To this day, if I hear the theme tune to this film I start to weep and I can feel tears in my eyes as I think about the final scene where the actual Jewish people who are portrayed in the film are led by their respective actors to Schindler’s grave to lay flowers. What an incredibly moving story made all the more heart-churning by being true. Oscar Schindler is one of the few men in the world I come close to envying. To die knowing you saved so many lives has got to be one of the best ways to go. I wish we could all have such hearts. This film introduced Liam Neeson to me and, as a result, I have remained a fan ever since. I don’t think I have seen him in a bad film yet. I don’t want to either.
04 The Clay Bird
Not many of you, outside of Bangladesh, will know Matir Moyna (The Clay Bird) though I would be surprised if there are any Bangladeshis reading this who don’t know it. I only recently discovered that the film was actually banned in Bangladesh for a few years before the ban was overturned. I can understand why, but think it was a pity. I thoroughly enjoyed this film and appreciated the accuracy of its portrayal. I sympathised with the father of the main character who refuses to believe, and then later is devastated to realise, that brother could go to war against brother. This film won several awards including the 2002 Cannes Film Festival and deservedly so. If you are a foreigner living in Bangladesh I recommend this film to you to understand something of where this nation has come from.
Well I’ve done horrors; I’ve done sci-fi; comedies; even historical drama has had a look in. But a Children’s story and that a made-for-TV film?! If there is any common thread running along all of these movies it is this: I am attracted to character – be it ugly, heroic or simple. It just has to be truly human. The character I identify with more than any other is that of Anne Shirley, the little orphan girl who lives in a world of her own full of adventure and romance despite the harsh realities of her real world. Unwanted and unloved, she wins the hearts of everyone just by believing in imagination and the truth that “tomorrow is day without any mistakes in it”. I can’t think of a much better way to live life on a day to day basis. No matter how you screw up today, tomorrow is a fresh start. Despite being a teenage boy when I first saw this (forced by my parents) I fell in love with that Anne girl and loved the first film and then the sequel. I bought all six books and they are amongst my most treasured possessions. What a disappointment to find that a third film did not follow the books at all and was hopelessly sentimental. Don’t watch it – but do watch the first two films!
Despite being partly based on the play rather than the true story, this film depiction of Joseph (or John) Merrick is a wonderfully produced piece of art that succeeds in bringing out the real man behind the ‘monster’ that was the horribly disfigured ‘Elephant Man’. David Lynch who directed (and went on to do the incredible Twin Peaks series) did an incredible job with clever ideas such as setting the whole thing in black and white to aid the Victorian atmosphere and giving a dreamlike sequence to the opening which describes the myth of how Merrick came to be deformed. A great cast included John Hurt, who plays Merrick himself perfectly, and Anthony Hopkins (I told you he would get mentioned again) who plays his friend, Frederick Treves, on whose writings this film is, in part, based. John Merrick is one of my all time great heroes in life. Watch it and see why.
01 The Empire Strikes Back
Ok, after all this strange eclectic mix of films, I come back to the film that gets voted as number one more often than any other. Sorry, I know that is disappointing but it does tell you one really important fact about me – that, at heart, I am just a big kid! Star Wars ruled my life as a kid and I lived to be Luke Skywalker. But with The Empire Strikes Back I was utterly shocked. I thought there must have been some terrible mistake. Darth Vader couldn’t be Luke’s father could he? And how can a film end with the bad guys winning?! In its own way Empire introduced to me the concept that films can break rules and mess with your head. Unfortunately, most films seem to forget this and only a very few do something different. The Star Wars universe continues to be enjoyed by millions of kids-at-heart whatever their age and I have no shame in admitting that I am one of them. George Lucas was a brave man when he started the franchise at a time when sci-fi films were trashy and brought little revenue into Hollywood. Star Wars changed all that and Empire made sure that the franchise would still be entertaining us all 30 years later. When I grow up, I want to be George Lucas. Or Luke Skywalker .