This week, I conclude the ten-week countdown of my 100 favourite English-language films. So I’m taking a little more space than usual, both to cham
This week, I conclude the ten-week countdown of my 100 favourite English-language films. So I’m taking a little more space than usual, both to champion my Top 10 and to remind you of the full list.
I’m aware that I’ve left out lots of all-time classics. There’s no Citizen Kane or It’s A Wonderful Life or Apocalypse Now. Heck, not even The Shawshank Redemption.
That doesn’t mean I don’t acknowledge them all as great pictures. I also confess that I regret not finding room for a Carry On film. I’m especially fond of Carry On Jack (1964).
From Unforgiven to the Godfather: Brian Viner’s list of his top 100 favourite films of all time
Feel free to register angry dissent, or cheerful agreement, at [email protected] and thank you for your many contributions so far.
I’ll list my favourite foreign-language films and documentaries in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, remember all these movies are available to watch at home, via streaming platforms or on DVD.
10. The Jungle Book (1967)
‘The Jungle Book’ is unimprovably exuberant, funny and charming and it’s still the most entertaining of all animated musicals
The last film that Walt Disney produced; he died before it was released. But what a swansong, to say nothing of the vultures’ song, That’s What Friends Are For.
Disney wanted The Beatles to voice the fab four vultures. Alas, John Lennon refused. But in every other way The Jungle Book is unimprovably exuberant, funny and charming.
For my money, though I hear the unique roar of The Lion King, it’s still the most entertaining of all animated musicals.
9. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Kirk Douglas tried for years to finance an adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel, set in a psychiatric hospital. Eventually he gave up and sold the rights to his son Michael, who wound up producing the first movie in more than 40 years to win all five major Academy Awards.
It’s an extraordinarily powerful film about mental health, in which Jack Nicholson excels at the head of a remarkable cast.
8. Modern Times (1936)
Great slapstick comedy is the most joyful of universal languages – that’s what makes ‘Modern Times’ so brilliant
I first saw Charlie Chaplin’s glorious industrialisation satire on a snowy afternoon in Athens, in the winter of 1972, when I was 11.
I fell in love with it instantly, realising, among lots of Greeks laughing fit to burst, that great slapstick comedy is the most joyful of universal languages.
The famous assembly-line scene on its own is a triumph of creativity no less, in my view, than the best bits of Hamlet, or The Marriage Of Figaro, or the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
There, I’ve said it.
7. Pulp Fiction (1994)
If ‘Once Upon A Time in Hollywood’ is Quentin Tarantino’s penultimate film, then ‘Pulp Fiction’ pictured) will go down as his best
I loved last year’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, which Quentin Tarantino tells us is his penultimate film.
But if he does call it a day after ten movies, this will surely remain the pick of them.
The graphic violence isn’t for everyone but there is so much to cherish, from the ingenious narrative structure to a brilliant script, superb performances and the confluence, for a few unforgettable minutes, of John Travolta, Uma Thurman and Chuck Berry.
6. Psycho (1960)
There was cinema before the taboo-busting Psycho, and cinema after. But people took showers before Psycho, and baths after. Hitchcock knew the likely impact of the grisly bathroom murder in his peerless psychological thriller — that’s why it took him 78 camera set-ups and almost a quarter of his shooting schedule.
5. The Godfather Part II (1974)
See The Godfather (below).
4 Jaws (1975)
Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece had the same chilling effect on my generation that Psycho (#6) had on the one before.
Yes, the shark looks a bit mechanical these days. But even with all the bells and whistles filmmakers have at their disposal now, none could tell this story like Spielberg, not even 30 at the time and already a true master of his medium.
3. The Graduate (1967)
The direction, writing, casting, acting and music are all perfect in ‘The Graduate’ (1967)
When the direction, writing, casting, acting and music are all as good as they can be, you have cinematic perfection.
That’s how I look on this treasure of a coming-of-age comedy, the crowning glory of lots of illustrious careers — including those of director Mike Nichols and star Dustin Hoffman.
It is also the all-time favourite film of two of my children, both in their 20s. They have great taste.
2. Some Like It Hot (1959)
Billy Wilder’s ‘Some Like It Hot’ , starring Marilyn Munroe (pictured) is pure gold
Billy Wilder’s credits as both writer and director are astonishing.
And this stands at the summit of them, a radiant comedy in which Wilder, aided by Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe, spins a sublimely silly yarn, about two musicians posing as women to escape Chicago gangsters, into pure gold.
1. The Godfather (1972)
The original always beats the sequel when it comes to the Godfather films
How often have you heard someone say of a film, ‘the book’s better’?
Mario Puzo went to his grave knowing Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of his novel about a Mafia family had turned that notion upside down.
I don’t agree that The Godfather II overturns another cinematic truism — the original always beats the sequel — but together they are so great they make The Godfather: Part III (1990) look feebler than it really is.
In truth, I could place my top three films on this list in any order. If there are any you haven’t seen, now is the time.
The High Note (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, available to rent through Sky Store/Amazon Prime, 12)
Verdict: Mostly bum notes
When we say of a new cinema release that it looks like a made-for-TV movie, it generally means don’t bother shelling out to go to the pictures.
But now, with cinemas closed and new releases coming first to the small screen, that jibe has lost some of its acid.
Nonetheless, if you do bother with The High Note, you’ll see what I mean.
Dakota Johnson plays Maggie, an ambitious, hard-working personal assistant to a world-famous pop diva called Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross, whose portrayal is surely inspired to some extent by her own mother, the great Diana Ross).
Dakota Johnson (right) plays a hard-working personal assistant a world-famous pop diva played by Tracee Ellis Ross (right)
Maggie, who has worked for Grace for three years, thinks her boss should record some new material instead of just churning out all the old stuff.
Heck, she could even produce it herself, to which end she has secretly been in the studio cutting her own version of Grace’s latest album — which, guess what, non-spoiler alert, Grace really likes.
Unfortunately, Grace’s money-grabbing long-time manager, Jack (Ice Cube), thinks exactly the opposite.
Ice Cube (pictured) also stars in ‘The High Note’ as a money-grabbing long-time music manager
He wants Grace to take up a lucrative residency at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, doing the same show night after night. Maybe she could even beat Celine Dion’s Vegas record!
By the way, there are endless name-checks for other musical acts in The High Note — Rihanna, Nina Simone, Elton John, Paul Simon, and on, and on — in a misconceived attempt to pump the script full of credibility. Instead, it sucks it dry.
Meanwhile, Maggie meets a guy called David (Kelvin Harrison Jnr) in the supermarket and they bond over a discussion of their musical tastes that sounds a lot less natural and organic than the vegetables in the background.
He’s a fan of Hotel California by The Eagles. She has only contempt for its ubiquity and thinks it’s ‘like the Brown-Eyed Girl of Southern California soft-rock’.
Behind them, as their carefully scripted banter continues, unripe tomatoes redden with embarrassment.
Grace, played by Johnson (right), meets a man named David, played by Kelvin Harrison Jnr (left), the pair bond over their diverse tastes in music
Anyway, it turns out that David is a talented singer, so Maggie pretends she’s already a hotshot producer and he agrees to let her add some pizzazz to his sound. He needs to consider his look, too, judging by his garish jacket.
‘This looks like Stevie Nicks ran over Jason Derulo in her car,’ observes Maggie, who is constitutionally incapable of uttering a sentence without at least one musician in it.
Soon, Maggie is frantically trying to juggle her two jobs, while we on our sofas are frantically wondering whether we should see The High Note through to the end, where a plot twist awaits us that, frankly, is like Beyonce sitting on Taylor Swift in Ariana Grande’s greenhouse.
The director is Nisha Ganatra, whose most recent film, last year’s Late Night, starred Emma Thompson as a hard-as-lacquered-nails Englishwoman with her own US talk show. That didn’t convince me, either.
Mike Wallace Is Here (various streaming platforms including Curzon Home Cinema, 15)
Verdict: Enthralling documentary
A genuine American TV institution is the subject of a really excellent documentary called Mike Wallace Is Here.
Wallace, who died aged 93 in 2012, was for many years a correspondent on the CBS current affairs show 60 Minutes, known for his fearlessly uncompromising reporting and interviewing style.
But in the course of his extraordinary career he was also a game show host, an actor, and a familiar face on commercials — for soap powder, among much else.
To find someone comparable on this side of the Atlantic, imagine a hybrid of Jeremy Paxman, Roger Cook, David Frost and Bruce Forsyth.
Avi Belkin’s film very cleverly uses clips from Wallace’s many interviews — with subjects as remarkably diverse as Eleanor Roosevelt, Salvador Dali, Richard Nixon, Bette Davis and the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan — to shed light on the man himself.
Veteran interviewer Larry King tells him that work was always his priority, that if he received two messages, ‘Your wife called — urgent’ and ‘CNN called — urgent’, he would always, always respond first to the latter.
Significantly, King has been married eight times. But through this we learn that Wallace, too (married a mere four times), made just the same choices.
Whether you know anything about him or not, it’s fascinating stuff. The film is worth seeing for the archive material alone, which includes Wallace’s interview with a thrusting young New York property developer by the name of Donald Trump, who expounds on his world view but adds firmly that no, he will never enter politics.