Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, 1980
I was considering only choosing relatively obscure and arty films for my ‘top 9’ list, so as to appear intelligent and cultured to the very few people that will read any of these blog-posts. Despite trying earnestly to stick to this strict criteria I have cracked have decided that I’ve got to put Star Wars Episode 5 into here. Perhaps it is just childish nostalgia. Indeed I vividly remember watching the Star Wars series when I was just a wee lad. In fact, I was so young and weird that I remember having an incredibly retarded confusion about the nature of the medium of film; what happens when the actors need to go to the toilet, I pondered. No, not when they are on set… For a short while I thought that when you pressed play the actors literally started acting live for you, which if you think about it is a rather silly belief indeed. Thinking back on it, I was a very strange child.
Anyway, why is this in my top 9 films ever? Well, to put it crudely it’s just really fucking cool. Here are some pictures which show how epic it is. Below is a clip from the beginning of the film, where the empire assaults the rebel base on the ice planet of Hoth. How could this not arouse childish excitement?
“No, I am your father.” No more words needed.
The closing shot of the whole film. Look at that! Phwoar.
Seriously though, it is an excellent film. It’s also a lot more mature than many people might give it credit. It is far less childish than episode 6 (why did they add midget bears!) and much darker than episode 4 (e.g. the betrayal on Cloud City, the capture of Han Solo and Luke’s tragic fight with Darth Vader). The soundtrack is incredible (although the music is consistent across 4, 5 and 6 to be fair). It is packed full with some of the best science fiction scenes that cinema has to offer. Basically, as I said earlier, it’s fucking cool.
Although I have actually only ever watched Fargo twice I have absolutely no hesitation putting it into my top 9 favourite films. It is a crime-drama about an indebted car salesman in Minnesota who hires two incompetent criminals to kidnap his wife, with the idea that he will then split the ransom money (to be paid by her rich father) with the hired thugs. Of course, things don’t quite go to plan and as the story progresses, the tragedies start piling up.
Despite IMDB listing Fargo as being just under the three genres of ‘Crime, Drama and Thriller’ it is also a very funny (although admittedly extremely dark) comedy. This is in large part due to the hilariously quirky characters that the Coen brothers did such a brilliant job of creating. Pretty much every person in the film is a slightly exaggerated caricature of personality types that we will all have come across at some point (well, perhaps apart from the two criminals).
Between the major and minor roles pretty much every single one is highly memorable- a testament to fantastic script-writing, acting and directing. There’s the main character: Marge Gunderson, the pregnant chief of police of a small town in Minnesota. She is sweet, a very intelligent cop and like the other characters just a little bit eccentric. Perhaps her best line is when she politely questions the preliminary investigation of a fellow cop into some murders; “I’m not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your police work there, Lou.”. Then there are the two thugs: the rude, idiotic and slightly ‘funny-looking’ Carl Showalter and his silent, psychopathic accomplice Gaear Grimsrud. But as I said, the minor characters are just as perfectly crafted, for example there is the desperate car salesman’s wife: Jean, who furiously works away in the kitchen, stirring and chopping at a perplexing yet weirdly amusing rate (having just written that, it might seem a bit odd how that could be funny without watching the film- but just trust me!).
As well as its great characters Fargo has an engaging and original plot (& which never gets overly convoluted). It has a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack which helps to set the mood of the film and strongly augments its best scenes. It is wonderfully shot as well, with the barren, freezing cold Minnesota winter brilliantly depicted in all its barren and freezing cold wonder.
This is a film that leaves you feeling deeply depressed by the end. In my opinion this is a good thing as it means the film-makers have done their job properly; the movie elicits strong emotional feelings from its audience (and not ‘cheap’ emotions such as disgust (e.g. crappy, gory horror movies don’t count)). It deals with the themes of loneliness, dysfunctional families and hopelessness. The main character Mia is a troubled and socially isolated 15-year-old who lives on a neglected Essex council estate with her alcoholic single mother and unruly little sister. The plot is based around Mia’s increasingly flirtatious relationship with her mum’s new boyfriend, who is keen for Mia to try and pursue a dancing career.
Fish Tank is a perfect example of cinematic social realism, everything about it is so tragically believable- it’s very easy to imagine Mia being the focus of a slick documentary about deprived areas around London, for example. The estate she lives on is dilapidated and its inhabitants are impoverished and angry. Mia’s mum is borderline abusive and is desperately trying to cling onto vanished days of youth by drinking and holding debauched parties for her mates. School is out of the question for Mia due to her volatile and violent nature and so a large amount of her time is spent dreaming about becoming a professional dancer.
The film does a fantastic job of making you empathise with Mia; despite being violently impulsive, rude, a petty thief and a liar you can only feel sorry for her and blame her situation entirely on the unforgiving, hopeless environment that she grew up in. In this way, the film is also important social commentary as it is a piece of entertainment. It should make those opposed to the welfare state and government investment in neglected areas think twice about their viewpoints; people like Mia didn’t choose that life they were born into it.