‘Classics’ is a term that is sprayed around with enough gay abandon that it has now become, itself, a cliché. For instance, you can buy a Magnum Classic as if this modern day ice-cream has been around since the 1930’s; a veritable institution of frozen pleasure. What they mean by ‘classic’ is that it is the original, the first Magnum; that Magnums are so revered by ice-cream aficionados that they have to have the original, classic version delineated from the other – lesser – incarnations so that the connoisseur can feel that they are savoring the true Magnum, the mothership of Magnums. Like they’re drinking a 1999 Burgundy (a very good vintage, if you’re interested).
But what do I mean by a modern classic movie? I think that a movie should be called ‘classic’ if you can watch it more than three times and not slam your head in an oven door. Oh, and it has to have been made since 1980 This is, obviously, a crazily strict criteria that doesn’t take in performances, screenwriting and direction or any of the other measures that critics lean against films as a way to judge them.
So, I am not including any of the big, serious films that constantly get touted as being cinematic triumphs of storytelling but merely a list of films I think have been overlooked by award givers and critics (and I know I have missed loads out…):
- The Matrix This film has dated. They wander around it long leather coats, use dumb-phones and it has that whole greeny/bluey grading thing that was a big deal back in the day. But. There are a couple of scenes in this which are brilliant: the fight scene between Neo and Morpheus. Neo and Trinity trashing a lobby and about a hundred policemen. I do remember watching it at the time thinking: Oh Neo, you should’ve taken the blue pill, dawg! Who wants to live on a skeggy spaceship with a bunch of crusties eating reconstituted reddy-brek just so you can play computer games all day? Just go on the dole and live in Hull or something…however, that moment when Morpheus reveals the big ‘secret’ to Neo is one of the few times I have been genuinely surprised watching a film.
- Toy Story Yeah, there were a few 3D films before this, but this really was the first one. The real genius behind this film is that once you have gotten over the astounding technical achievement you forget about the technical achievement; it is a great film is because it is about story, characters and a great script. Pixar redefined the landscape of how movies are made and the fact that it didn’t win an Oscar for Best Film shows how bloody gormless the Academy is. Toy Story is what Disney used to do, but better.
- Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark This film gets shown on TV quite a lot and I have seen it many, many times and – even with all those viewings – I still never tire of watching it. Speilberg wanted to make an old school, Saturday morning, adventure-serial homage but I think he created something more than that: an almost perfect film with a bit of everything. Humour, action, adventure, romance, tension, good guys and bad guys. The final scene with all the packing crates in the warehouse gets me every time, in an unexplainable fundamental way. Awe. Some.
- Candyman This is in no way a perfect film – I know that. But I think that Candyman is a very, very good horror film that gave me the serious heebie-jeebies without resorting to buckets of gore and formulaic ‘jumpy’ moments. What made it creepy was that the film created a myth; a myth that if you said ‘Candyman’ into the mirror 5 times the Candyman (the brilliant Tony Todd) would come ‘n’ getchya. Watch the film, listen to the haunting Phillip Glass soundtrack, soak up the grey cinematography, the locations in the projects then stand in front of a mirror and say Candyman 5 times. Dare you. Double dare you.
- The Big Lebowski This is one of those films that you realise is a great film once you have watched it three or four times and even then you start to see new stuff. The ulitmate slacker film, full of stoner cod-philosophy. This, in my opinion, is the American Withnail & I. It has that same vibe, that same feeling of anything could happen and you wish it would…or wouldn’t. A Stella cast just look as if they’re having fun. The Coen Brothers must have had to kick Goodman and Bridges off the set at the end. Brilliant film. Did it win an Oscar? Did it even get nominated? Did it fuck.
- Snatch I think that we can all agree that Guy Richie is a bit of a mockney tool – but fair play to him, he did make two rather good films and married Madonna (though this is mitigated by the fact that he made Swept Away and Revolver and Madge has had more rings on her fingers than Liberace). Lock-Stock is regarded as the one great Guy Richie film but I think Snatch is better. Full of mad characters, funny and quotable dialogue and Brad Pitt‘s all-over-the-shop Irish brogue (but, to give the boy credit he really had a go and although it’s a bit mid-Atlantic, he has the essence of it – even I can’t understand some of my relatives, and he has captured some of that…). The film is worth it for Brick Top alone and his mad, super strength glasses and obsession with pigs. A great film.
- Pulp Fiction There have been few Tarantino films I haven’t liked, but Pulp Fiction is a particular favourite. Lots of clever, interwoven story-lines, absolutely riveting performances from Samuel L. Jackson, John Travolta, Tim Roth and Uma Thurman; trademark sizzling dialogue and an original and eclectic soundtrack. Tarantino, when he is on form, is one of the most exciting directors alive today, creating films that are surprising, funny, referential and iconoclastic. It was nominated, in ’94, for best film along with The Shawshank Redemption, Four Weddings, Quiz Show and Forrest Gump. Forest Gump won! Forest Gump! Forrest Gump is a shit film. I think I forgot what it was about when I watched it last on Channel 5 at 3 in the morning. Which is where it belongs. Seriously, the Academy is a bunch of eeijits.