It's difficult to convey, but at its heart there is a real point to Life of Brian. Of course this is usually lost upon audiences as soon as the three wise men realise they've arrived at the wrong inn and the wrong manger. From John Cleese's grammar obsessed centurain, to Michael Palin's ex-leper and dialogue such as the often quoted 'Fuck off! We're the People's Front of Judea!' 'Biggus Dickus' and 'He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy' only the Python's could create something so anarchically subversive that the clever study on human behaviour and herd mentality is wonderfully lost amongst the increasing farce. That such anarchy is beautifully controlled throughout as Graham Chapman's continually exasperated main character bounces from one disaster to the next (including being whisked off by Aliens in one surreal scene) in the greatest case of mistaken identity is unrelentingly brilliant. Smart, satirical and utterly hilarious you to will be asking 'what have the Romans ever done for us?' by the time of the now utterly iconic closing song.
9. Dead Man's Shoes (2004), Shane Meadows
'God will forgive them. He'll forgive them and allow them into Heaven. I can't live with that.' And so begins the vengeance movie to end all vengeance movies, not that there's anything drastically original about Dead Man's Shoes. The simple tale of a man returning home to exact revenge on the bullies of his mentally impaired brother, complete with the typical slow-burning flashbacks to build up the extent of the crime, is little different to most other vengeance flicks. But where Dead Man's Shoes excels against its contemporaries is in the acting, cinematography and script departments.
Yes, who would have thought that Matlock, Derbyshire could be shot so beautifully? Whilst the likes of Old Boy glimmers with style, there's something a good deal more terrifying about the action being encapsulated in this small bubble of middle England. The normality of the situation, turning credibly more oppressive and stifling as Paddy Considine's utterly brilliant anti-hero begins to taunt and toy the rag-tag crew of petty criminals is masterful. More so because director Shane Meadows lets the audience sympathise with said criminals as Richard's brand of personal justice grows into something much more sinister. Staring into the abyss and seeing ones own reflection glance back at them has never been such compelling viewing.
On top of this, Tony Kebbell is brilliantly understated as the younger brother, there's some fine subtle humour (see the 'goonies' pimp my ride Citroen) juxtaposed against otherwise harrowing scenes and several stand out moments that seemingly kick sand in the face of Hollywood's finest. Considine's and Gary Stretch's meeting when each weighs the other up is tantalising, intense and to the point in everyway that Pacino and De Niro failed to manage in Heat. Sure, it's hellishly dark, but Dead Man's Shoes is perhaps the finest British film you're ever likely to see.
8. The Princess Bride (1987), Rob Reiner
Ever yearned for a film that was the perfect flight of fancy? One that features fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, miracles, true love and doesn't take itself too seriously? 'Inconceivable' some might say - but The Princess Bride exits to fill the gap that has persisted since the Errol Flynn swashbucklers and Ray Harryhausen movies of old, whilst adding a good dollop of exquisite post-modern daftness for the modern audience. Joy!
Based on William Goldman's masterful book of the same name, The Princess Bride works as both a playful send-up of fairy tales and a smart, hip yet endearing entry into the genre. Capturing a reminiscent, fantastic sweetness of character and tone Rob Reiner resurrected, however briefly, the long-forgotten art of the romantic adventure. Devoid of compromised morals, conflicting motivations and questionable, misplaced heroism, The Princess Bride is a film with a genuine heart. Mixing comic absurdity, a wonderful dry wit and intelligent humour to the romance and swashbuckling is the real match winner though, producing an original variant to an often-used genre. Indeed it is the knowing wink towards spoof and satire, without ever crossing the line towards outright mockery that makes The Princess Bride such an accessible and memorable movie. The fact it is widely quoted amongst fans, ("My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my Father. Prepare to Die") is also testament to Goldman's superb screenplay.
With wildly inventive characters, standouts being Wallace Shawn's hunchbacked Vizzini, Cary Eweles high-camp hero Westley, Christopher Guests gloriously evil Count Rougen and perhaps the greatest performance ever provided by a professional wrestler, nothing should deter you from watching this small work of genius. Still not convinced - well you don't get to see a left-handed sword fight everyday...
7. The Thing (1982), John Carpenter
The Thing, in a roundabout way, re-invented the horror film. While all about it were plumbing the depths of slasher territory (ironically instigated by John Carpenter's Halloween) and Evil Dead rip-offs, Carpenter decided on heading to the expansive environment of Antarctica (well, British Columbia) to create one of the most claustrophobic and suspenseful horror movies ever made. Twelve Angry Men crossed with a unique take on the creature feature, if you must.
Indeed, it is the squabbling bored scientists and the marvellous construction of the movies monster (along with Kurt Russell's fantastic beard and hat combo) that make The Thing so highly memorable. The ease with which it moves from horror, to science fiction, to character drama exposes the film as so much more than your typical bog-standard horror flick. It's just as much a compelling exercise in characterisation, paranoia and suspense, as it is an unrelenting gore filled shocker.
Despite this refreshing intelligence, however, it is The Thing that steals the show from Russell and company. Moving away from the bland and not particularly scary man-in-a-monster-suit, Carpenter revolutionised the way an alien encounter could be perceived on screen, and created a genre-defining monster-in-a-man-suit horror flick that has yet to be bettered. Indeed it is those sequences that have come to transcend the movie and take on a reputation of their own that really makes The Thing unique within the vaults of horror. That the now infamous blood test sequence has been ripped off in numerous horrors (The Faculty most recently) shows just how far reaching the imagining has ingrained on movie lore. And there is still little that can top the unbelievable outcome of Norris' heart attack. Along with Ennio Morricone's fantastically haunting synth score and no real conventional ending, just a beautifully scripted sequence finishing with probably the greatest final line from any film ever, The Thing is one hell of a movie.
6. Paths of Glory (1957), Stanley Kubrick
Paths of Glory is possibly the greatest war film ever made. What do you mean you've never heard of it? Sure you have to go through Stanley Kubrick's back catalogue to locate it - a tightly constructed 90 minute flick from 1957 starring a wonderful Kirk Douglas - but it does everything expected of most modern war films, only much, much better.
Sure it's a brutal condemnation of the barbarity and ridiculousness of war, (and is very much the equal of his similarly themed Full Metal Jacket) but the fact it doesn't sugarcoat its anti-war motif with cliché or trite sentimentality, instead ramming home a subtle message with a darkly satirical streak, is what makes Paths of Glory stand out. From the brilliant choice to shoot the film in black and white (thus giving a gritty, darker feel to the entire story), to the short poignant dialogues and the generally minimalist approach to the anti-war message of the screenplay - it all mixes together incredibly well. Kubrick could have spent hours of celluloid on the finer illogical points of military court martial trials, as well as elaborating on the horrors behind the deluded decision making preceding battle. Instead he wrapped the total package in a fast-paced 87 minutes that doesn't miss a beat. A film doesn't need to be three hours long in order to be profound.
Such simplicity combined with a deliciously dark and biting script, some wonderful performances from Adolphe Menjou and George MacReady as the despicable generals and Kubrick's own technical nous (it looks like the film was made in the seventies rather than the fifties) make this the most easily accessible and enjoyable of all his movies. Paths of Glory is also his most emotional film (to which the ending will testify, a rare glimpse of humanity) and that's why it remains one of his best, if not the best within the entirety of the war film genre.
5. The Big Lebowski (1998), Joel & Ethan Coen
Whilst Fargo deservedly won the Coen Brothers the Oscar plaudits they deserve, The Big Lebowski is not only their real masterpiece, it's also the funniest fucking film ever made. Whilst the screenplay has more in common with a Raymond Chandler-esque detective tale - with a soiled rug and an insidious kidnap plot holding the string of events together - it's not until you delve much deeper that the full blown comedy will cause your spleen to rupture.
How this is possible is debatable. Some would say a story which goes nowhere, is full of red herrings and wild goose chases, leaving little actually resolved by the end, allows for the host of zany characters on show to simply breathe life into proceedings. Jeff Bridges is perfect as the eternal slacker, bumbling from one fiasco to the next in his own personal rug replacing odyssey, bettered only by John Goodman's slightly unhinged Vietnam veteran and Jesus, a rather extravagant bowling messiah. Indeed, Jesus' introduction is possibly one of the finest ever filmed. But it's the impressive number of different style of gags throughout that elevates Lebowski above most contemporaries. It has a wonderful dry wit ('obviously you're not a golfer'), some fantastic slap-stick, great dialogue ('F**k me! Say what you want about the tenants of national socialism at least its an ethos'), excellent recurring jokes (witness the slow destruction of The Dude's car), too many laugh out loud moments to mention (the reactionary chief of police's mug throwing, a dead man's ashes blowing into The Dude's beard) and a sequence of visual genius involving a curious Dude, a pencil and a tracing etch that is just as memorable, if not better, than Airplane's drinking problem gag.
Trust me, The Big Lebowski is brilliant. Nihilists, carpet pisser's, paedo bowling messiahs, pacifists, ex-Vietnam vets, quasi-Europeon artists and The Dude. It's got everything you want in a comedy and much, much more! Hell, we never even find out if the Dude and Walter get to the bowling final - the hall-markings of a truly a great movie.
4. Blade Runner (1982), Ridley Scott
There are few films that are as visually satisfying as Blade Runner. It's opening shot, set to Vangelis' wonderful opening score, is not only one of the most iconic shots ever composed in a sci-fi movie, but perhaps any genre of film ever. An industrial shitscape, blooms of fire arcing into the sky, flying cars hovering overhead, all juxtaposed by a cut to a large blinking eye - oh my! That subsequent shots are of equal calibre, be it the beautiful lighting in the Aztec dominated décor of Eldon Tyrell's office, or Ridley Scott's sublime use of the Bradbury building 2019 style, is genuine genius. Then there's the heavy metal look, the layered textures of the buildings, gaudy neon street lights, big screen advertising, police 'spinners', a perpetual darkness and never ending rainfall all adding to create the sense of one beautiful nightmare.
The world of Blade Runner is often too much for the eye to take in. Yet that's the appeal and why people watching it for the hundredth time are still finding something new in almost every frame. With each blink an entire world crashes in. If the setting is perfect for a future noir then it's just as well Scott infused the film with enough depth to match the visual style. Harrison Ford's burned out, down trodden, Marlow-esque detective and the apathy towards his role of executioner against beings that are human in all but design says more about the nature of man than you're likely to expect from a Hollywood mega-movie. That it does so with subtlety and without the need to ram it down your throat is equally impressive.
Roy Batty's (a superb Rutger Hauer) closing 'tears in rain' eulogy is poetic and enchanting and has more poignancy in its 'live life to the full' message than few other films can match. More so the ambiguity of Hauer's words, the motivations of the replicants and Deckard's own questionable ethics, leaves the meaning of the film specifically at the door of the viewer to make their own interpretations. It's the encapsulation of a perfect movie experience and one you won't soon forget.
3. Evil Dead 2 (1987), Sam Raimi
85 minutes. That's all it takes to watch one of the most perfect films ever devised. 85 minutes. In a blink of an eye you've witnessed a film that turns the rules of the horror genre on it's head, is way more post-modern than anything Wes Craven's created and, most importantly, has left you enthralled and highly entertained. With Sam Raimi swinging camera's enigmatically into Bruce Campbell's face and spraying shitload's of blood over everyone's favourite idiotic hero, there's much to be admired. Flying eyeballs, headless-chainsaw wielding corpses, blunt shovel decapitation, an unseen force crashing through doors (in a visually awesome chase sequence), three stooges slapstick, hose-pipe bloodbaths, worksheds, boomsticks, a decapitated head with a nasty bite and the greatest scene of self mutilation ever filmed all add up to unbelievable audience satisfaction. Campbell's now iconic tooling up for the final confrontation with a soul-sucking deadite and the fantastic way that he continually has his arse kicked by the evil spirits, is not only "groovy" it has also entered the halls of movie lore, so important they are to Evil Dead 2's success. And it all ends with one final kick in the balls to our hero, much to our delighted pleasure. 85 minutes of your time isn't much to ask for, plus you get two films for the price of one seeing as Evil Dead 2 is one of the few films that has adjudged the balance between horror and comedy so perfectly. And if you didn't hear me before - this film features a flying eyeball! No excuses, go and watch it now... the power of the chin compels you!
2. Aliens (1986), James Cameron
Some may suggest that James Cameron going missing from the radar following his Titanic "King of the World" speech could only have been a good thing. Yet this neglects that the man made some damn good sci-fi before becoming somewhat obsessed by a bigger boat. None more so than Aliens, which is, in every sense of the word, the perfect sequel. Taking the singular beastie from Ridley Scott's original and then multiplying it by a couple of hundred makes sound financial sense, as well as taking the story in a near perfect logical direction. It's the same, but with the inclusion of some hard-assed marines and exquisitely over-powered weaponry, entirely different.
Ripley is the constant here and luckily the script is just as much a continuation of her story as it is the titular baddies. Confronting her demons and returning to destroy them all, this time it is very much war. References to Vietnam and the nuclear family make it smarter than your average action flick, but what really sets Aliens apart are the deftly built sequences that crank the tension to eleven followed by short, sharp bursts of Alien blasting. Moving from the nerve-jangling bleeping of a motion tracker to the blast of a mighty pulse rifle, the release is simply invigorating, especially when you consider, for once, the characterisations of the marines are finely drawn that you genuinely care when your favourite is about to be munched on. Hicks, Hudson, Vasquez and the rest of the gang simply set the template for any ensemble action flick that followed, but still has never been bettered. Not even by Johnny Rico!
And then there's a final three-quarters of an hour of non-stop, balls out pulse rifle fire and a fine-tuned race against time, ending with Ripley becoming the hardest women ever to be cast on celluloid and a final battle of the bitches which is beyond spectacular. Alien was a masterful horror film, but Cameron did something that few sequels have since managed. Building on a concept, staying true to the concept and, ultimately, improving on the concept. Aliens, for what its worth, reeks of awesomeness!
1. The Matrix (1999), Larry & Andy Wachowski
So, "what is the Matrix?" asks one of the finest teaser trailers ever devised, as a leather clad Keanu Reeves back-flips away from a speeding train. After finding out later for ourselves, the teaser merely announced the arrival of the sleeper hit to end all sleeper hits. The brothers Wachowski had audiences tumbling down the rabbit hole for what transpired into a mesmerising concoction of intelligent science-fiction, high octane kung-fu and action scenes that are, quite literally, out of this world.
With a wonderful premise that has you questioning from the start - who are these "agents?" how the hell did Trinity (Carrie Anne-Moss) do that? - and a reveal that maintains a carefully balanced intrigue, Neo's (Reeves) transcendence from hacker nerd to full blown superhero is utterly compelling. Brilliantly fleshed out characters, a clever script and tantalising dialogue on the workings of the Matrix delight until the pivotal moment where the film just lets go. A magnificent dojo fight provides a taster of what is to come, but little prepares for the final forty minutes of the most adrenaline pumping action you're ever likely to see. One amazing set piece after another, from the beautifully composed lobby shoot-out to a wall-punching subway fight, all climaxing in an exquisitely paced race against time... woah!
The perfect combination of style (bullet-time) and substance (the Oracle's thoughtful meanderings), nothing has matched The Matrix in its technical capacity, artistry or originality since. And Keanu's great as well, so perhaps for once there really is no spoon...