The best (in my opinionated view) 100 films of all time - in no particular order.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014


So here we are at Number One – THE BEST Christmas film of all time, and after It’s A Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story went by you were probably thinking what on earth it could possibly be. Well, the wait is over – here it is!

It’s my favourite Christmas film because it can be watched all year round – you don’t need it to be Christmas to bang it into the DVD or Blu-Ray player or to select the illegally downloaded 1080p version you have hidden away on a hard drive.

So what is it? I hear you cry, Tell us, oh oracle of Christmas films. You have led us thus far!

Well, hang on there just a moment and let’s see if you can guess it from the description below.

It’s a heart-warming film about a man who flies into Los Angeles from New York on Christmas Eve to spend the holiday season with his estranged wife and children in a last ditch attempt to patch things up between them. She’s been working hard all year for a giant Commodities company and as a result has risen to the top. He is a New York policeman and is disappointed to find that his wife is now using her maiden name. Is this the cue for a delightful romantic comedy, where through the efforts of their adorable kids they somehow, despite all the odds, patch up their differences and have the best Christmas ever?

Not exactly. And why is that? Because when he’s freshening up in the executive bathroom the building is taken over by TERRORISTS! 

That’s right, this is no soul-sucking, limp-wristed, namby-pamby, manipulative Christmas rom-com – this is DIE HARD!

In case you didn’t know - for maximum impact that last sentence should have been read in that deep, bass boom of that bloke who reads out the trailers for action films in cinemas. If you didn’t do it like that, try reading it again – it’ll sound better and it’ll also make you feel better. Promise.

When Die Hard was unleashed in cinemas 1988 no-one (and I mean no-one) had ever seen a film like it. It became the prototype for the modern action movie and is still today the benchmark against which I judge other movies of that genre. So far nothing has come even close to giving me that exhilarating rush of adrenaline I first watched this utterly brilliant movie.  It takes about ten minutes to set up the situation and then it’s off and there’s not one single second of screen time wasted in its remaining two hours.

This was the film that made Bruce Willis a member of the A List. After two disappointing Blake Edwards films, Blind Date (1987) and Sunset (1988), both designed (I assume) to harness the comic potential he had shown in the hugely popular TV series Moonlighting, he hit the big time with Die Hard and proved that he was a movie star and not just someone destined for made-for-television movies.

Die Hard was released at a time when the action movie genre was dominated by the likes of Arnold Schwartzeneger and Sylvester Stallone and so casting Bruce Willis as the wisecracking, tough, anti-authoritarian New York cop John MCClane was a big risk for director John McTiernan. Especially after Nick Nolte, Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Richard Gere and Robert DeNiro were all offered the part before Willis. McTiernan needed an actor that could not act tough, but also look like he was clever enough to think his way out of the situation he was in and he got in his eventual casting of Bruce Willis.

Actually the first actor to be offered the part of John McClane was 73 year-old Frank Sinatra and here’s the reason why: Die Hard was based on the novel Nothing Lasts Forever by Richard Thorp, which was a sequel to The Detective and because Sinatra played the main character of the novel in the 1968 film of The Detective there was a clause in his contract that stated should they ever make a sequel he would be given the right to reprise the role. Hmmm, Frank Sinatra running across rooftops and crawling through ventilation ducts – I don’t think so.

Although he made an impact in his first big budget movie, it’s not Bruce Willis who immediately springs to mind when the original Die Hard is mentioned in conversation. That honour belongs to British actor Alan Rickman, who made his charismatic villain, Hans Gruber, menacing, dangerous, intelligent and sexy all at the same time. He delivers a masterclass in movie villainy that has never been bettered by anyone . . . in anything . . . ever.

The supporting cast are excellent. Bonnie Bedelia as McClane’s tough wife, Reginald VelJohnson as the first officer on the scene Sgt Powell, Paul Gleason as the pig-headed Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson, William Atherton, as wily reporter Thornburg, Hart Bochner as slimy Harry Ellis, Alexander Godunov as the psychotic Karl and Robert Davi and Grand L. Bush as Agents Johnson and Johnson.

Like most Christmas movies, Die Hard isn’t completely believable, but it’s believable enough because it moves at such a speed that any plot holes are quickly covered up and the Christmas themed music keeps the pace moving constantly. But, let’s be honest, what is there not to like about this film? It has great dialogue written by screenwriters Jeb Stuart and Seven E. de Souza that is often very funny. It has scenes like a bare-footed McClane despatching a terrorist and then taking his shoes off him only to find they don’t fit. And when he sends that same dead terrorist down in the lift to join the remaining living terrorists he ties him to a chair with Christmas lights, puts a Santa hat on his head and attaches a note to his shirt that reads, “Now I have a machine gun. Ho Ho Ho.”

Die Hard is our annual Christmas Day film that goes on so we don’t have watch the depressing awfulness of Eastenders.

Why don’t you make it yours this year?

You know it makes sense.

A Merry Christmas and a Yippee-ki-ya to you all!


For the eleventh film of Christmas my true love gave to me . . . an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!

The director Bob Clark made his name in the late 70s and early 80s with four exceptional films that couldn’t have been more different to each other, starting with perhaps the very first Christmas slasher movie. Pretty much ignored on its original release, Black Christmas (1974), about a sorority house that’s terrorised by a stranger who makes frightening phone calls and then murders the sorority sisters one by one during the Christmas break, is now regarded as a classic of the genre and is one of the finest horror movies ever made.  Next came Murder by Decree in 1979 which follows the terrific Christopher Plummer and the velvet voiced James Mason as Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson as they investigate the Ripper murders and discover a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top.

Then came a movie that the Boston Globe film critic described as being “an overblown, over-publicized, overwrought exploitation flick that’s about as funny as the first dirty joke my father told me.” This was obviously written by a film critic with no sense of humour and a lack of any kind of memory of his own sexual awakening. Like a lot of other films the critics didn’t approve of, the public flocked to see Porky’s in 1982. And they loved it. It was rude, crude, and exceptionally funny and it tapped into a vein of teen humour that only American Graffiti had before. Who can forget Lassie or the waitress innocently announcing over the PA system, “Has anyone seen Mike Hunt?”

After the excesses of Porky’s where would Bob Clark go next? Well, in 1983 he would return to the Christmas season and make probably his most treasured film, A Christmas Story, a timeless Christmas classic that’s even better than It’s A Wonderful Life

For those of you reading this who have yet to see this wonderful little Christmas movie, you are in for an absolute treat. It’s based on Jean Shepherd’s 1940s set novel, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash and it tells the story of young Ralphie Parker and his attempts to manipulate his parents into buying him an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle, which he believes is the perfect gift for him at Christmas. His parents, however, are not convinced – in fact they think he’ll shoot his eye out with it.

The film is narrated by Jean Shepherd himself and is filled with joy and a deep love of the story he’s telling and he perfectly captures the skewed logic of childhood.

As for the cast, Peter Billingsley is pitch perfect as the bespectacled Ralphie. Darren McGavin is wonderfully funny as Ralphie’s foul-mouthed but big hearted Dad. “In the heat of battle,” an older Ralphie narrates, “my father could weave a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.” Melinda Dillon is his loving mother who covers for Ralphie when his Dad comes home, and then later makes him eat soap for regurgitating words he’s learned from his Dad. “Over the years,” he recalls, “I got to be quite a connoisseur of soap. My personal preference was for Lux, but I found Palmolive had a nice, piquant after-dinner flavour – heady, but with just a touch of mellow smoothness. Lifebuoy on the other hand . . .”

There are so many brilliantly funny moments: Ralphie helping his Dad change a car tyre – with disastrous consequences; Ralphie’s Dad’s unusual competition prize; the double dog dare and the frozen post; the unwanted present from the aunt who thinks Ralphie is permanently four years old – and a girl; the neighbours’ dogs and the Parker family’s turkey.

Anyone who is middle-aged will be able to relate to the events in this beautiful and funny movie, and it doesn’t matter whether you are from the US or the UK you will easily identify with young Ralphie and his materialistic plight. It is the perfect Christmas film and it is Bob Clark’s masterpiece.

The film critic for the Boston Globe was more enamoured with A Christmas Story than he was with Porky’s. “In short,” he wrote, “A Christmas Story isn’t just about Christmas; it’s about childhood and it recaptures a time and a place with love and wonder. It seems an instant classic, a film that will give pleasure to people not only this Christmas but for many Christmases to come.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Monday, 22 December 2014


For the tenth film of Christmas my true love gave to me  . . . a film that I think everyone in the Western world must have watched at some time or another over Christmas.

When It’s A Wonderful Life was released in 1946 The Second World War had been over for around a year and audiences were looking for a different type of film, a type that reflected how they felt at the time – like, David Lean’s Brief Encounter, Edmund Goulding’s The Razor’s Edge and William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives. Audiences didn’t want sentiment – they wanted a harder edge to their films and although It’s A Wonderful Life was nominated for Best Picture of 1946 it lost out to The Best Years of Our Lives, and from there it sank without a trace.

Well, almost . . .

That terrible enemy of cinema – television – was to be its unwitting saviour. The networks were able to buy Frank Capra’s slice of Americana at a bargain-basement price and show it over the Christmas season and it was from there that it slowly began to build an audience. Word-of-mouth spread the news that here was a Christmas film that perfectly reflected the sentiments of the season.

It stars James Stewart as the compassionate but despairing local businessman George Bailey and the stunningly gorgeous Donna Reed as his sweetheart Mary Hatch. Lionel Barrymore is the bitter and twisted Mr Potter and Thomas Mitchell, who had won an Oscar for his role as the alcoholic doctor in John Ford’s magnificent Stagecoach (1939), plays eccentric Uncle Billy. I’m not in the slightest bit religious but George Bailey’s Guardian Angel, Clarence (played beautifully by the wonderful British actor Henry Travers) always warms the cockles of my heart. And if that wasn’t enough, it was directed by the great Frank Capra.

It’s A Wonderful Life tells the story of George Bailey, whose dreams of travel and adventure are dashed when he is forced to take over the family business after his father dies, after which he settles down, gets married, has kids, and all while having to fight the town’s evil tycoon who wants to take control of the town. He is holding on by fingernails until something happens that makes him realise that he is financially worth more to his family dead than alive and he contemplates suicide. This is where Clarence (literally) jumps in. When George claims that everyone would be better off if he had never been born, Clarence grants him that wish and shows George what life would have been like if he had never existed.

Sounds depressing, doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t. Although this is an almighty emotional sucker punch of a movie, it is by far the most uplifting film I think I have ever seen. It shows that no matter how small or insignificant we think we are, we all play a part in the great tapestry of life and our lives touch so many others without us even realising it.

James Stewart, one of the Hollywood System’s finest actors, delivered a multi-layered performance and proved that there was a darker side to him. He was to Hollywood then what Tom Hanks is today – the everyman, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Stewart never played a bad guy and neither has Tom Hanks for that matter, but both actors are capable of delivering intense characterisations that show the darker side of essentially good men.

James Stewart’s performance in It’s A Wonderful Life was what Alfred Hitchcock remembered and was instrumental in his casting him as the doomed, acrophobic Private Detective, Scottie, in his masterpiece Vertigo (1958), his darkest and most ambiguous film (and also probably the best film ever made by anyone anywhere).

My wife and I went to see it in 2007 at a special screening on Christmas Eve at the multiplex just outside Basingstoke and it was a magical experience, apart from the drunk man who had decided to sit next to me and who fell asleep within two minutes of the film starting and didn’t wake up until I nudged him as the credits were rolling at the end.

How anyone can fall asleep – no matter how drunk they are – during this marvellous film is beyond me. It’s a film that moves along at a lightning pace – there’s always something happening. It makes you laugh and it makes you cry (the scene where young George is bashed about the ear by the drunk and distraught druggist Mr Gower (he’s just received a telegram informing him that his son had been killed in action) for not delivering a potentially lethal prescription and the subsequent realisation of his actions gets me every time).

And yes, like all of Capra’s films it’s unashamedly sentimental.

And what’s wrong with that?

Oh, by the way, like Scrooge (1951), avoid the colorized version of this film at all costs.