From my earliest years I have always been a huge film fan. I still have vague memories of my mother taking me to see Jurassic Park at the Grosvenor Cinema when I was 4 years old. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before, these monstrous dinosaurs were to my mind ‘real’ and as such I experienced the same excitement and terror from my popcorn littered seat as those characters in the film did. On that day my love of cinema was born and since then I have watched more films than I can remember, of course as I have aged so my taste in and appreciation for films has changed however there are some that I feel are so good I continue to watch them religiously to this day.
To pick a top 5 has been a mammoth task in itself as I feel there are many great films worthy of the slots and that are masterpieces in their own right. The 5 that I have picked have for me stood the test of time, they are the marvels I experienced as a child, I never tire of them and I can begin watching these films even if they have already been playing for a good hour.
Stallone’s original zero to hero story has me rooting for the underdog every step of the way and is only matched by the true story of Stallone going to incredible lengths to see the film put into production with himself as the star. The plot is as thin as a piece of rice paper; a poverty stricken amateur boxer gets given a chance to fight the world champion, he trains hard, fights the champion and gets a girlfriend, the end – it’s a formula that we have seen used all too many times in Hollywood. Although the great thing about this film is that it doesn’t pretend to be something that it is not, unlike the later copycat rip-offs it spawned that see the heroine overcome impossible odds and walk off happily into the sunset. Instead Rocky’s character keeps you firmly grounded in reality as he struggles to make ends meet whilst training for the fight of his life in a Philadelphia slum. The whole film is essentially one big prelude to a final epic fight scene and sees me going from pitying and perhaps even disliking the underdog, to fanatically screaming words of encouragement at the screen whilst simultaneously cursing his opponent. Even though he eventually loses the bout I find myself so packed with adrenaline that I honestly don’t care.
When it comes to gangster films Scorsese’s biographical portrayal of wise-guy Henry Hill has to be my favorite, purely because it really happened. Some may argue that ‘The Godfather’ or ‘Once Upon A Time In America’ hold this title and I can see why, but the basic fact is they are works of fiction. As the film charts Hill’s progression from an almost cheeky scoundrel to a big time Mafia crew member so I can feel my attitude towards him change. It’s very rare I come across characters that I love, hate and fear all in one but this film manages it and that’s precisely why I love it so much. Their polarized personalities lead the film through ups and downs of comedy, suspense and some of the most brutal violence of any such film, but it is the realization that these characters were real people and the events that unfolded were true is what makes it so astounding to watch.
Admittedly I was far too young when I first watched Ridley Scott’s dark sci-fi horror as it did scar me for life, even to this day I occasionally have a nightmare where I’m being hunted by the demonic creature however that is also why I love it so much. The true measure of a film’s success is not how much money it makes at the box office, but how it scorches itself into the memory of its viewers and none does this in quite as savage, stark and cold a way as this. Even though I know the story off by heart I still experience genuine fear throughout; it is the fear of being the prey to a merciless predator that cannot be reasoned or bargained with, it doesn’t fear the dark but lives in it. You are alone, vulnerable, without any help to call on and it’s coming for you. This film crowned Scott as the master of suspense and rightly so; there is no buildup of music to suggest something is about to happen, nor is there any indication of how it will all end, no cheesy gore, and as quickly as the creature appears it vanishes into darkness. It forces your imagination to run riot with thoughts of where this ‘thing’ could be at any moment and the horrors that await those captured by it. Truly a cult classic.
The first of Oliver Stone’s Vietnam trilogy follows ‘Chris Taylor’, a young infantryman on his first operational tour of the war torn country. From the instant he sets foot in the country he is confronted by the ‘true’ products of war – lines of body bags and bedraggled looking grunts with thousand yard stares. He is thrown into a world of aggression, fear, and social isolation; his platoon members show a callous resentment towards the man who they see as a ‘green replacement’ and he must adapt quickly if he is ever going to make it home. It is a disturbingly accurate portrayal of war and the dynamics that take place between soldiers when forced into the most horrific of situations: How the misery and suffering of prolonged combat become normalized, discipline hangs by a thread as they fight to survive, they do not understand why they are there and all that stands between them and the decent into madness is the thoughts of finally getting to go home. It does not glamourize war nor does it pretend to understand the feelings of those who fought in it, instead it makes a point of stating how little the lay public actually understand about a soldier’s experience – it is something that cannot be described in words and is totally meaningless to all but those who were there.
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
I honestly cannot remember how old I was when I first experienced the swashbuckling adventures of this fedora wearing, gun spinning, whip touting, Nazi punching archeological adventurer. Second to my parents he was perhaps the greatest influence during my childhood. Until the age of 10 I ‘was’ Indiana Jones, he was my idol and to be honest I can’t think of a better role model. This film has everything in it you could ever want from a film, it is a fantastic mix of themes including action, adventure, comedy, romance, really evil villains, and a touch of the super natural. From the very beginning it is littered with some of cinemas iconic action scenes; from the tumbling giant stone ball, the fight scene in a Cairo market, being lowered into a pit of snakes to retrieve the ark, sliding under a moving truck and hijacking it, to the final ‘bad-guy melting’ scene. Every time I watch it I feel like I’m the same 8 year old kid again jumping on the couch rooting for my hero. This for me it ‘is’ the greatest film ever made.