by Chris Haydon
Ever since I posted my blog on movies to watch during lockdown, I keep finding myself thinking of all the great films I left out. It’s odd, but one can feel almost guilty for not acknowledging really great work – as if you are somehow betraying something you love! So, today I wanted to suggest a few more movies that have left a transformative impression on me.
It was in the news recently that Quentin Tarantino has declared The Social Network to be the greatest movie of the last decade — and I have to say that I think he might be right. Written by Aaron Sorkin (who also wrote The West Wing, which I discussed in my first blog) and directed by David Fincher, this is the story of the creation of Facebook. When I first saw a trailer for this film I laughed out loud – how could programming a website possibly make for an interesting story? Well, with Sorkin’s dextrous dialogue and Fincher’s effortlessly cool visual style, it turns the story of the invention of virtual friendship in to a hugely compelling allegory for how money and ambition can destroy friendship in the real world. Jesse Eisenberg gives a truly acidic performance as Mark Zuckerberg and the film gets right to the (lack of) heart of that company.
As it happens, David Fincher is one of my favourite directors. Fight Club is probably his greatest achievement and, like The Social Network, benefits from multiple rewatches. Brad Pitt and Edward Norton are an odd couple with a twist in this caustic exploration of masculinity and consumerism. Panic Room is one of Fincher’s lesser known films but is a breathlessly exciting home invasion flick, which sees Jodie Foster and a young Kristen Stewart holed up in a secret room in their house as crooks try to break in. I am even a fan of Alien 3, his much derided contribution to that franchise. The story of Ellen Ripley’s fight for survival in an all-male penal colony has a lot more going for it than many critics thought at the time.
On the subject of underrated films, I am also a huge fan of V for Vendetta. Based on the Alan Moore graphic novel of the same name, it presents a dystopian vision of Britain as a fascist state. The story follows the attempts of one masked man, V, to overthrow the tyrannical government with the help of a young woman, Evey (Natalie Portman). I particularly love Roger Allam’s performance as a cynical right-wing TV personality. I think of him every time I see Nigel Farage on the telly. Children of Men is another superb depiction of a dystopian British future. Starring Clive Owen, it shows us a world where the whole population has become infertile. With no babies being born, society is collapsing and retreating into extreme xenophobia. Owen plays Theo Faron, a man tasked with rescuing a young woman from the authorities who, remarkably, turns out to be pregnant.
Children of Men has an almost docu-real feeling to the way it is shot, and the master of this kind of film-making is the director Paul Greengrass. Best known for the Bourne film franchise, I can strongly recommend both United 93 and Captain Phillips. The former is the story of the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania on 9/11 – when the passengers overpowered the hijackers. It is not an easy watch but it is a profoundly important film – and one that reclaims that act of heroism from the cynical hands of George W Bush who manipulated that event in order to justify the invasion of Iraq. The latter is the true story of the hijacking of an American tanker by Somali pirates. It stars Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi and is compulsively exciting whilst never feeling exploitative. Greengrass is a master of working with both professional and non-professional actors and both of these films feature expert performances from people who have never been in front of a camera before.
Finally, if you want something truly different, then take a look at David Lowery’s A Ghost Story. In it, we see Rooney Mara playing a character referred to only as ‘M’ coming to terms with the tragic accidental death of her partner ‘C’, played by Casey Affleck. The twist is that we see all of this from his perspective as he continues to exist as a ghost in their house (he is quite literally wearing a white sheet). It sounds incredibly odd, and it is, but it has an icy beauty and a deep sense of melancholy while taking a series of narrative turns that constantly leave you guessing. It is one of the best films I have seen in a long time and would be well worth your time.
Photo by Corina Rainer | Unsplash