This is the meme: What is your favourite movie for each year of your life?
Well, it’s tough enough to narrow each year down to a selection, let alone a single movie, but I felt like I ought to give it a go. Below then, I consider this question and come up with answers, some reasons for those answers, and some also rans, for each of my forty years. To be clear, I’m not making quality judgements; this is about my historical and ongoing enjoyment of the movie, not how good it is. Therefore I am only looking at films that I’ve seen, and believe me there are some shocking gaps in that subset. Even in that limited space I’m not saying these are the best movies, but they are the ones I’ve had most fun with, for one reason or another.
1977 was a classic year; the year of Star Wars, of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and of… well, of me. I was born in January, so I can’t blame Star Wars for my name, although I admit I have never been short of reassurance on my parentage. Star Wars has long been a favourite, although Close Encounters was less of an influence; apart from the music of course. Everyone remembers the music. 1977 also saw the release of High Anxiety, a spoof of Hitchcock’s suspense thrillers and arguably the last of Mel Brooks’ great comedies. Its depiction of mental illness is of its era, but its depiction of corruption in private healthcare is probably timely in any age. The year of my birth saw the arrival on the scene of creepier-than-they-meant-to-be live-action/animation mash-ups Pete’s Dragon and its lesser known Australian counterpart Dot and the Kangaroo, and of the rambling not-a-Monty-Python fantasy adventure Jabberwocky. Also of note, it was the year that Soldier of Orange – Rutger Hauer and Paul Verhoeven’s magnum opus – was released. I still haven’t seen it, but I’ve been burned for ignoring the talents of Mr Hauer before.
However, above all of these candidates I chose as my favourite film from 1977 Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, purely for a childhood memory of watching it through my bedroom door (obviously, a few years after release) when I was supposed to be asleep, utterly fascinated by the half-seen action on the screen. Eventually, my parents realised and let me watch the rest with them before putting me to bed. I’m amazed I ever slept again.
1978 was a year of things from beyond. An advanced, benevolent alien with uncanny superpowers that he used only for good came to Earth in The Cat from Outer Space, and the same thing happened again in its inferior clone, Superman (which might just be the first modern superhero movie.) Less benevolent visitors also came, housed within the sinister pods of the remake of The Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, which is by design one of those films that haunts you, if only for the horror of Donald Sutherland’s moustache.
It wasn’t all SF though, and fantasy got one of its great early offerings in the form of Ralph Bakshi’s (overly) ambitious and fascinating adaptation of the first two-thirds of The Lord of the Rings. It’s a flawed work. The rotoscoping used for the battle scenes is a little jarring compared to the traditional animation of the rest of the film (there’s a sense of ‘Lucy in the Uruk-hai with Diamonds’,) and it ends before the action can even get to Gondor, but it’s a site better than the 1980 Rankin/Bass adaptation of The Return of the King.) For all of the above, in my pick for the year I can’t help but go for the skillful blend of bildungsroman, body horror and death of innocence that is Watership Down. Again, very clear memories of this one, and it did give me nightmares.
1979 was another SF landmark year, and looking at this it’s small wonder I grew up such a nerd. Not that there was nothing else to see, but certainly there was plenty of nerd food. Disney went a little bit cray-cray with The Black Hole, possibly the weirdest film they’ve ever made, which ends with the protagonists transformed into angels or something and the villain trapped in the shell of his robot servant or something. I first saw it via the medium of one of those 3D viewers and it was confusing as anything. I think I might well have been missing some of the discs. TV’s favourite space frontiersfolk got their big screen debut in the staggeringly beautiful and stupendously slow-paced Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which also served to introduce the cast of proposed spin-off Phase 2 and then kill every last one of them. It was also the year when we met the Alien, a Geigeresque nightmare creature that introduced the world to the concept of Geigeresque, and Ellen Ripley, the Platonic exemplar of which all other tough space ladies are shadows. Also, out this year was cult classic The Warriors – CAN YOU DIG IT!? – a remake of Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes that was inferior to the original in all ways save the presence of Angela Lansbury, and Monty Python’s Life of Brian, the Python team’s crack at the Passion, the album of which was a fixture of long car journeys alongside off-air recordings of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Lord of the Rings. Alien was very close to taking this one home, but The Muppet Movie has been too much a part of my life, and now my daughter’s life, to overlook, and I sure as hell won’t be sitting down to watch Alien with Arya any time soon (eventually, but not soon.)
Things begin to pick up pace in 1980, as the number of movies released each year steadily increases. Airplane launched running gags that defined my childhood (‘I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.’) The Blues Brothers set the gold standard for car chases and swearing. London gangsters tried to take on the IRA in The Long Good Friday and found out why you don’t strong arm political zealots. And the USS Nimitz tried to stop the attack on Pearl Harbour in the poor yet memorable time-travel war movie The Final Countdown and found out why you don’t try to strong arm causality. In Hong Kong, Sammo Hung had some Encounters of the Spooky Kind and taught us that when two magicians are equal, the highest altar wins. In the land of literary adaptations The Mirror Crack’d was a forgettable Agatha Christie mystery, save the presence of Angela Lansbury as Miss Marple, while Stanley Kubrick doodled all over Stephen King’s The Shining with his own weirdness. Better-than-the-original sequels got their poster children in The Empire Strikes Back, usually known simply as ‘Empire’, and Superman II, usually known as KNEEL BEFORE ZOD! My parents took us to the cinema to see Superman II and we had to leave because I was so upset by the scene where the astronauts are killed. This may account for my lifelong fear of any situation requiring a sealed suit for survival. My pick for this year is, however, the cheesy – oh, so cheesy – good-natured knockabout fun of Flash Gordon, a film in which I swear everyone but the two leads are in on the fact that it’s a joke, and which I’ve probably watched as many times as the others combined.
In 1981, we met Kurt Russel’s iconic badass misanthrope Snake Plisken – the original of Metal Gear‘s assorted Snakes – as the grumpy master criminal is tasked by Lee Van Cleef to rescue the kidnapped President of a largely fascist America and then Escape from New York. In a similar vein, but with the fascists as unequivocal baddies, Michael Caine hatched a plan to Escape to Victory, in a film whose cast of footballing legends were a better scratch eleven than they were a dramatic ensemble. New ground was broken in the field of visual effects by the transformations in An American Werewolf in London, which also managed to be both funny and poignant. On the highways of a dead world we met The Road Warrior. This was the film which cemented Mad Max as a franchise, so that Beyond Thunderdome could piss away its potential in a few years’ time. Raiders of the Lost Ark introduced us to Dr Indiana Jones, who would go on to become America’s favourite Nazi-puncher for at least three decades. All of these were good, and the year also had some entertaining oddities, such as downbeat mediaeval fantasy Dragonslayer, downbeat time-travelling fantasy comedy Time Bandits, and downbeat mediaeval re-enactment-on-motorbikes drama Knightriders; or the entirely upbeat family spy comedy Condorman (Michael Crawford’s finest hour, Phantom bedamned.) With such a wealth to choose from, it’s almost a shame that the title was so easily snatched by fuzzy, fourth-wall busting heist adventure, The Great Muppet Caper, but this has long been my favourite Muppet movie of all, and the line ‘it’s plot exposition; it has to go somewhere,’ is a standard part of my critical vocabulary.
1982 brought us Airplane 2: The Sequel, which aside from anything else was probably the first sequel I was conscious of being a sequel. It was a good year for fantasy. John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian introduced the world to Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Austrian Oak’s first major role. For younger audiences, there was the Jim Henson nightmare fuel classic, The Dark Crystal, the lyrical feast of The Last Unicorn and the crossworlds fantasy/mythozoology mashup The Flight of Dragons, all of which have garnered and retained strong followings in the years since. This was also the year of The Beastmaster, an otherwise splendid piece of tosh with a terrible record on animal treatment, and The Sword and the Sorcerer, simultaneously the zenith of Albert Pyun’s directorial career and the nadir of the sword and sorcery genre, featuring the knife-block-bound wonder that is the three-bladed sword. Science fiction also had a good year, from the cult classic Tron and its pioneering computer effects, to the tech-noir drizzle of Blade Runner, which brought Harrison Ford his third iconic role in five years as replicant-hunter Deckard. For this year, however, my pick is the sequel to Star Trek: The Motion Picture (and to the classic Trek episode ‘Space Seed’.) The Wrath of Khan is a tightly-structured film which makes the most of its established cast and a villain for the ages in Ricardo Montalban’s Khan with a classic tale of brutal revenge. It’s the best of the Star Trek films, and I love me some Star Trek, so it really had to be here.
On to 1983, and a year of weirdness. We have horror classics Christine – boy meets serial killing car – and The Hunger – bisexual vampires swan about in a painfully chic apartment in a tale of angst and ankhs; also, it has David Bowie in it. The Keep is a lesser known film by Michael Mann, in which a German military unit in WWII disturbs an ancient evil beneath the titular fortification; also, it has Ian McKellan in it. Some interesting ideas are half-buried beneath a certain amount of overacting and an all-consuming Tangerine Dream score. Fantasy/SF hybrid Krull employed a lot of reliable old hands and also provided a proving ground for a wealth of up and coming British thesps, including a fresh-faced Liam Neeson. WarGames established the career of a young Matthew Broderick – you’re welcome, I’m sure – and launched a thing called ‘hacking’ onto the cinemagoing public at a time when the idea that you could change your grades using a phone and a computer was pretty outré. Return of the Jedi brought the original Star Wars trilogy to a close with teddy bears, which I loved as a kid, but less so now that I’m sophisticated and shit. And my pick for the year? Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain (or possibly Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain, the subtitles aren’t necessarily precise.) This was one of the first Hong Kong movies to combine traditional wuxia filmmaking with western-style visual effects, and was a strong influence on Big Trouble in Little China, which returned the cultural exchange a few years later. Also, there’s a wise old master with super-strong, prehensile eyebrows.
1984 brought us The Company of Wolves, a loose adaptation of the short story of the same name, which led to me confusing Angela Lansbury and Angela Carter for far longer than makes any kind of sense. On similarly paranormal ground we got Ghostbusters, a tale of hard working paranormal investigation and elimination specialists that would one day spawn one of the most toxic internet rows of our age. The inaccurately named The Neverending Story came in at a modest 93 minutes and spawned a pair of sequels which defined ‘diminishing returns’ for a generation. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension began its journey to colossal cult success, while The Terminator told an entirely closed and self-contained story of a killer robot from the future that surely would never need or spawn a sequel. But my pick of the bunch? This is Spinal Tap, a spoof documentary – or, if you will, rockumentary – that introduced the world to a down at heels British rock band touring America, to a Stonehenge monument being kicked around by a dwarf, to going up to eleven, and to the word rockumentary, which has been used with little or no irony ever since.
1985 was the jumping off point for many of the ongoing series that would define an era: Back to the Future launched the film career of TV actor Michael J. Fox; American Ninja added the ninja to the western cinematic canon alongside hackers and grumpy detectives; and Trancers introduced us to time-traveling grumpy detective Jack Deth and his zombie adversaries. Of these, Charles Band’s Trancers is the most obscure, but ran to something like six sequels. Prequel and wannabe franchise starter Young Sherlock Holmes made the cardinal error of trying to give Sherlock Holmes a tragic romantic past, as well as throwing occult shenanigans into the mix. Tom Cruise went pantsless and Tim Curry dressed as an ugly, red source of all evil for weird fantasy Legend, while the west got grim in vengeful cowboy ghost movie Pale Rider, and the romcom took a left-turn into magic realist whatthefuckery in the sublimely ridiculous Better Off Dead. Despite so many cult classics, I think my favourite is another Hong Kong export. Mr Vampire is the movie that introduced the Chinese vampire, a hopping corpse with killer fingernails and a unique panoply of weaknesses to be exploited by kung fu vampire hunting undertakers.
And so, to 1986, the tenth year in this little retrospective. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off brought us a wealth of oft-quoted and imitated moments, all in the company of the sinister, manipulative title character, possibly the most popular cinematic psychopath of all time. The Voyage Home took the Star Trek crew to modern day San Francisco and saw Kirk swear for the first time. Cult classic Highlander brought the last of a host of immortals to New York to battle for final supremacy, in an entirely self-contained film that surely would neither need nor ever receive any sequel. David Bowie confused a generation of pubescent teens with his ‘Magic Dance’ and mesmerising orb in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, and Sean Connery frustrated a generation of historians as an accessory after the fact to the untimely demise of Bernard de Gui in mediaeval book-hiding murder mystery The Name of the Rose. In animation, steampunk-fantasy Laputa: Castle in the Sky launched a little concern called Studio Ghibli, while The Transformers: The Movie broke new ground in the abuse of power rock soundtracks and overuse of definite articles, and broke the hearts of many a young Transformers fan with the death of Optimus Prime. It also featured the last recorded performance by cinematic giant Orson Welles, as the planet-eating antigod Unicron.
Darkly comic musical The Little Shop of Horrors showcased Frank Oz as a director of flesh and blood people, while spoof western ¡Three Amigos! united the comic talents of Steve Martin (also notable as a sadistic dentist in Little Shop of Horrors,) Chevy Chase and Martin Short to hilarious effect. The Invisible Swordsman routine is one of the only cinematic bits that has made me literally fall off my chair laughing. In the science fiction field, we had at one end the fluffy AI drama Short Circuit, about a robot that achieves sentience after a lightning strike yet fails to turn on man with deadly intent, and at the other Aliens. The sequel to Alien took the unusual step of shifting genres completely, going from tense, claustrophobic survival horror to full-blown war story. As with its predecessor, Aliens was this close to the prize, but for sheer enjoyment I have to go for Big Trouble in Little China, in which John Carpenter brought the kinetic style of Chinese action cinema to Hollywood and began the process of eroding the insular culture of massive, overmuscled heroes standing in a field waving a machinegun.
We begin my second decade with my favourite film I’ve never watched, 1987’s My Life as a Dog. It was a running family gag that we never got around to watching it on VHS, and in the end, we reached a stage where there was just no way we could ever watch it; it couldn’t have stood up to the hype.
1987 was a year for horror classics, with bloody, puzzle-box-powered torture-fest Hellraiser and John Carpenter’s sublimely weird and disturbing occult time travel nasty Prince of Darkness, another nice piece of nightmare fuel. GI Joe: The Movie tried to follow the success of The Transformers with a story which somewhat unexpectedly revealed that terrorists without a cause Cobra were actually formed by a lost civilisation of snake people from the hidden realm of Cobra-la (with the unfortunate consequence that they changed their battle cry to ‘Cobra-lalalala’,) in order to take over the outer world. Cobra Commander was once a man, you know? A MAAAN! And you know who else was once a man, and is now part-man, part-machine, all cop? Robocop was a splattery cyborg satire that I once got to watch in Geography class because… Well, because it was the end of term and I’m pretty sure the teacher no longer gave a shit. On the far other end of the cinematic spectrum, Withnail and I was a dark comedy that launched at least a dozen classic quotes, introduced the Camberwell carrot, and inspired the deadliest drinking game known to man.
For this year, and only this year, I just can’t make a final choice, between Predator, one of the world leaders (alongside Aliens) in the field of unbelievably macho badasses getting picked off by something worse, and the equally quotable and influential romanticomic fairytale The Princess Bride. In truth, trying to choose between them just makes me want to see an actual face-off. “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You decapitated and skinned my father. Prepare to die.”
1988 brought us the glorious failure that was The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Based on the character created by Rudolf Erich Raspe and directed by the erratic genius of Terry Gilliam, the film was rightly lauded by critics, but the public stayed away in droves and it became one of the biggest bombs of all time, which when you consider that Fifty Shades of Grey got its sequel is pretty damning of our culture. Also wildly imaginative, but far more successful, was Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a mix of animation and live action not unlike that in Pete’s Dragon, but far more extensive. Bob Hoskins proved that the grumpy detective type still had legs, while animated bombshell Jessica Rabbit cemented the rights of cartoon characters to appear on ‘100 sexiest’ lists. We got the world’s worst Sherlock Holmes in Without a Clue, which paired up Ben Kingsley and Michael Caine to present Watson as the detective and Holmes as a bumbling actor hired to be the doctor’s front man. Midnight Run was a low-key buddy road movie and gave Robert de Niro one of his better comedy roles as a tough, yet honest bounty hunter, while the little-regarded Dead Heat paired Joe Piscopo and Treat Williams as a tough cop and his reanimated partner, the hilariously named Roger Mortis. The top of the tree, however, is arguably the greatest Christmas movie of all time: Die Hard, the film that launched Bruce Willis from TV romcom star to action lead in the space of a single evening in the Nakatomi tower, and left a permanent scar on the zeitgeist. Yippee kay ay, motherfuckers.
The eighties came to an end with an eclectic year of cinema. Tim Burton’s Batman reinvented the superhero movie and was in many ways responsible for the terrible superhero movie pandemic of the nineties (Spawn, Catwoman, any Darkman film after Liam Neeson left.) Former Python Terry Jones brought us Erik the Viking, a saga of sorts not actually based on his own novel, in which a nice Viking leads a crew to find an alternative to endless conflict. After the underwhelming subcontinental shenanigans of Temple of Doom in 1984, archaeology’s most reckless professor returned for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, doing what he does best and battling Nazis to reclaim the Holy Grail. This was the last film in the series until 2008’s tooth-achingly bad Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but with a superb John Williams score and a wonderfully curmudgeonly Sean Connery as Indy’s father The Last Crusade was a worthy successor to Raiders of the Lost Ark, and provided a jumping off point for the TV series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles with its opening prologue featuring River Phoenix as young Indy.
Just in case you thought I wasn’t going to include any serious drama, Dead Poets Society tells the story of an inspirational teacher who defies the strictures of proscribed curriculum and is accused of making his pupils disrespect their arsehole parents. I first saw it while I was training to be a teacher, so that might be a thing. This was also the year when modest Shakespearean success and bit-part movie actor Kenneth Branagh became a sensation with his grey, grim and gory film production of Henry V, a far cry from the glittering armour and green fields of Olivier’s wartime version. Before the film of the year, a couple of oddities from 1989: Warlock was a time-traveling occult thriller which launched an uneven franchise; Slipstream featured Mark Hamill as a bounty hunter chasing android Bob Peck through a windswept post-apocalypse; and John Carpenter’s They Live offered a broad satire of consumer culture, the longest fight scene in cinema history, and Rowdy Roddy Piper announcing ‘I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass… and I’m all out of bubblegum.’ And what could top all of that? Why, those most righteous dudes Bill S Preston Esq and Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, a time travel comedy about a pair of high school slackers who are given the opportunity to abduct several of the greatest figures in human history to help them with their end of year report and so save the utopian future of all humanity.
The new decade dawned (assuming you subscribe to the theory that, while centuries definitely start in XX01, decades are defined by their tens digit,) with an underwhelming showing. Arachnophobia showed up to really, badly screw up arachnophobes everywhere, while The Witches preyed on other fears with its child-snatching villains. The Witches is the only film that I know of in which the hero is a small, Scandinavian grandmother, although I’m not prepared to swear there aren’t any others. The Hunt for Red October brought Tom Clancy’s CIA nice guy Jack Ryan to the screen for the first time – the character was first played here by Alec Baldwin, before being replaced by Harrison Ford, then rebooted as Ben Affleck and again as Chris Pine – alongside the film’s real draw: Sean Connery’s Russian submarine captain. Schwarzenegger returned in Total Recall, a gruesome piece of splattery action in which an attempt to buy an implanted memory of an adventure reveals that a humble construction worker is actually a superspy in deep cover, committed either to preserving corporate hegemony over Mars or destroying it. And also aliens, apparently.
In the dramatic and far more British stakes, we got the life-after-death tragicomedy Truly, Madly, Deeply, in which a dead musician returns to help his lover realise how imperfect he was, and the adaptation of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead, as piercing a look at the consideration we extend to our minor characters as anything Austin Powers had to offer. Die Hard 2 transplanted the high-rise action of the original to the sprawling environs of an airport, while Predator 2 made one of the most inspired of all sequel choices by shifting from the actual jungle to the urban jungle, and letting the Predator hunt Danny Glover’s hard-boiled cop through LA in a heatwave. In some ways more enjoyable even than the original and playing with a whole new set of macho conceits, Predator 2 makes film of the year.
1991 of course gave us the defining film of the Disney Renaissance, Beauty and the Beast, which I’ve talked about plenty of late. Dramatic two-hander Thelma & Louise hit like a meteor and was supposed to usher in a new era of female-led movies (it didn’t, alas) as well as spawning a wealth of parodies which, like the blast front of an explosion, rushed ahead of the film itself, so that anyone who missed it in the cinema was likely to have seen a parody before the original. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves brought Kevin Costner and his Nottingham twang to England to muck around with our beloved folk hero and abuse British geography more thoroughly than any other film until Reign of Fire tried to place its protagonists in the mountains of Norfolk in 2002. Terminator 2: Judgement Day hit the scene, and surprised everyone with its lowered rating, respect for the original and sense of fun, proving a solid hit and garnering critical praise over and above its predecessor. The franchise would never achieve this kind of success again.
France gave us Delicatessen, the first film from Jeunet and Caro, who brought a Gallic slant and a Gilliamesque cinematic eye to the story of a clown renting rooms in a post-apocalyptic apartment block where the temporary residents have been bolstering the menu of the butcher who owns the building. This was also the year of The Rocketeer, part of a retro subgenre of superhero films which, in eschewing the modern aesthetic escaped the curse of dreary, over-dark unpleasantness which dogged so many contemporary-set efforts and instead turned in a swashbuckling, jet-packing romp set in golden age Hollywood under the shadow of WWII. My film of the year, however, is the sequel to 1989’s winner, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, which holds the distinction of being far and away the most light-hearted fun of any movie in which the heroes are murdered by time-travelling robot duplicates from the future just a short way into the narrative.
There were a fair few movies released in 1992, but I seem to have seen very few of them. The only one I know I saw at the cinema was Batman Returns, the not-too-bad sequel to Tim Burton’s take on the Dark Knight. I remember that it was very dark and often hard to see what was going on. It was the year – well, one of them – that the western genre was reborn, with the release of Clint Eastwood’s rambling meditation on violence and the western philosophy of personal force, Unforgiven, in which an ageing gunslinger is called on to avenge a mutilated prostitute. Going further back into America’s past, Michael Mann brought the equally epic Last of the Mohicans, which scores for me more in look and in its score – especially the pieces composed by Trevor Jones – than for its story or characters. At the same time, Francis Ford Coppola produced the misleadingly named Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the film which more than any other cemented the idea of a reincarnated love into the Dracula story and tried to turn the Byronic vampire from a walking metaphor for death, corruption and disease into a brooding, romantic antihero. Also, Keanu Reeves as Harker. Far from these lavish productions, Robert Rodriguez delivered his $7,000 debut, a kind of modern-day western called El Mariachi which took around 285 times its original budget and ushered in a boom in independent filmmaking. Despite the quality of those films I have included, the winner for the year is once more a foregone conclusion. The Muppet Christmas Carol (aka Tellyfrog Christmas) is just too much a part of my daughter’s movie lexicon for me to overlook, and the memory of coming home from work while she and her mother were watching it, and joining in the Cratchetts’ family song to let her know I was there is too precious to ignore.
1993 continued the prevalence of the epic (which probably led to the increasing length of movies as a whole) with Gettysburg, a four-hour recreation of the Battle of Gettysburg, as depicted in the novel Killer Angels. It is a film with a truly astonishing range of facial hair, although one suspects that Sam Elliott as John Buford may be the only one to have brought his own stupendous moustache from home. Tombstone was the first of two major Wyatt Earp biopics released in quick succession and the more fun, playing fast and loose with history and benefitting greatly from Val Kilmer’s dissolute Doc Holliday and the presences of Sam Elliott and his moustache as Virgil Earp. Kenneth Branagh scored another win with Much Ado About Nothing, padding out his all-lovely rep company with Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves (yes, Keanu Reeves) and Michael Keaton and writing off a lovely holiday by shooting in sunny Tuscany. Schwarzenegger vehicle Last Action Hero proved a bomb at the box office, despite being a smarter and more fun movie than most gave it credit for. Sam Raimi and leading man Bruce Campbell rebranded the Evil Dead franchise with pseudo-historical horror-action romp Army of Darkness, later ruefully musing in the DVD commentary about giving Embeth Davitz her first break, before her career romped off and left theirs behind. Again a little off my usual green is Falling Down, in which Michael Douglas gives a career redefining performance as a man driven to the brink of mental collapse by the stresses of modern society. No Muppets this year, but there was Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, a film with a title as misleading as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, as it was directed by Henry Selick. Chris Sarandon voices Pumpkin Jack, a manifestation of Halloween, driven to the brink of mental collapse by the stresses of modern society, who decides to be Santa for one Christmas. But the one that really leaves a mark this year was the ground-breaking effects work and simple ‘likeable folks in peril’ story of Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. I’m just waiting for them to re-release this one in the 4DX sensurround theatres, with actual floor vibration and genuine T-Rex breath.
1994 saw the birth of an urban legend, as the play The Madness of George III was filmed as The Madness of King George and popular report had it that this was for fear that moviegoers might worry that they’d missed the first two. Future star-nerd Kevin Smith released his debut, the black and white, verité-styled Clerks, which followed the life of a convenience store clerk and his friends through the course of one day, and introduced the world to Jay and Silent Bob. Independent schlock horror director Peter Jackson took a radical left turn with disturbing true crime/fantasy mashup Heavenly Creatures, and now we have Kate Winslet and about eighteen hours of Middle Earth movies. Self-consciously clever auteur Quentin Tarantino released Pulp Fiction, possibly his cleverest, certainly his most purely entertaining movie to date, a portmanteau ensemble movie following the intersecting lives of a group of criminals, civilians and boxers in a non-linear fashion while pumping out quotable lines and parodiable scenes. The Shawshank Redemption turned a Stephen King short story into an enduring tale of hope and liberty, thanks in no small part to stalwart turns from Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins. Pulp adventure hit the screen in deliriously fun, but much derided The Shadow, while cult archaeology got its hour in the sun as US Special Forces faced off against ancient astronauts in Stargate. Last, and of course not least, the Cohen Brothers’ The Hudsucker Proxy gave us a magical realistic tale of corporate greed, lost ideals and all-powerful custodial staff.
In 1995, Mel Gibson began his campaign of terror against the English with Braveheart, which depicted the folks of 13th century Scotland as a pure and righteous people oppressed by cruel English overlords intent on taking their jobs and raping their women. I’m not saying that the 13th century English were cuddly, but Gibson makes them absolute demons while simultaneously stuffing up practically every historical point it raises. At the opposite end of time, Kevin Costner’s mutant fishman battled Dennis Hopper and an army based on crude oil and cigarettes on the endless seas of Waterworld, another legendary flop. A different, viral apocalypse led to Bruce Willis being sent through time to change the future in 12 Monkeys, a decent time travel thriller that led to a truly exceptional TV spinoff twenty years later. Bryan Singer made a splash with his debut, The Usual Suspects, a twisty, violent noir thriller with the most unreliable of unreliable narrators.
This was also the year when Toy Story – the first in a franchise of which my daughter is very fond – catapulted Pixar into the public eye, a move which would dramatically change the face of Disney. Away from the big leagues, Mortal Kombat emerged as, if not the best, then certainly the most fun computer game adaptation of the nineties, while Christopher Walken’s Gabriel sought for the ultimate evil soul in war-in-Heaven horror-thriller The Prophecy. Independent movie about movie making Living in Oblivion played up and down with perception and asked the question movies had been ducking for a while: “Have you ever had a dream about a dwarf?” My top film of the year is Jeunet and Caro’s follow up to Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children, an industrial-punk adventure horror in which simple strongman One and a group of ingenious orphans join forces to rescue One’s adopted brother from a mad scientist. Unique, enthralling and bizarre, The City of Lost Children was sadly the last collaboration between the two directors before Hollywood beckoned and Jeunet made Alien: Resurrection.
1996 saw Kenneth Branagh tackle the big one, directing and starring in a sumptuous adaptation of Hamlet with Kate Winslet, Robin Williams and the usual band of luvvies. Clocking in at roughly four hours with intermission, I’ve still seen it at the cinema at least twice (once in Woking and once, I think, at the old Cambridge Arts Theatre (the one in Market Passage where Baroosh is now.) Star Trek: First Contact was, sadly, the only really decent Next Gen Star Trek movie, but was beaten out for top scifi by the bombast of Independence Day, an entirely self-contained movie that surely would never need or receive a sequel. After all, you can only blow up the White House once before it loses its wow factor (although don’t tell Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down.) This same year also brought us an adaptation of The Crucible, and another of Roald Dahl’s classic James and the Giant Peach, as well as Fargo, which infamously toyed with perception but placing a notice that it was based on a true story within the fiction of the piece. Like 12 Monkeys, Fargo was not only good in its own right, but led to a superb TV series two decades down the line. The Ghost and the Darkness was a real oddity. Big game hunting movies had not been a thing for a while when Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas signed on to a film that had more claim to be based on a true story than Fargo, being a very loose dramatization of the hunt for the Tsahvo man-eating lions.
Truly a strong and varied year, 1996 also produced one of the all-time classics of British cinema, Trainspotting, with its iconic posters and opening monologue, and breakout performances from practically every member of its ensemble cast. A far more established ensemble, including Jeff Goldblum, Richard Dreyfuss, Ellen Barkin, Diane Lane and Gabriel Byrne, assembled for Trigger Happy (also known as Mad Dog Time,) a gangster thriller with a weird scifi twist. Very strange film; worth a look. This is another of those fixed choices, and the movie of 1996 for me is the last Muppet movie worth the name prior to The Muppets (Muppets from Space was okay, but the TV movies haven’t looked promising.) Muppet Treasure Island (or Tellyfrog Pirates) is a more-or-less straight retelling of the classic story, with Muppets, and Tim Curry having a ball as Long John Silver.
Okay; that’s twenty years. Onwards!
1997 is another beautifully varied year. Event Horizon was written as deep background for the Warhammer 40,000 wargame line, but produced as an unrelated horror movie about FTL travel that tragically proves to use Hell as a transit medium. Perhaps due to the company I saw it in, we found it deeply hilarious, although I’ve since been told it’s terrifying AF if you’re not a pack of snarky students high on their own cleverness. The same year produced The Full Monty, a poignant comedy about unemployed steel workers becoming strippers, Grosse Point Blank, a slick comedy about a hitman going to his high school reunion, and Men in Black, a scifi comedy about a secret agency concealing alien life on Earth. Why stick these all in the same sentence? Because I saw them all at the cinema, having started at University and being closer to a cinema than a train ride and a forty-minute walk. I also saw David Mamet’s con game thriller The Spanish Prisoner, which featured a mould-cracking performance from Steve Martin, at the cinema, but I think that was at the Arts again, and political con game comedy Wag the Dog at a cinema in Prague, where the subtitles meant that the local audience got the joke a second before we did every time. I watched it again on video in a double bill with Surf Nazis Must Die, and believe me, nothing makes a movie look like a timeless classic better than watching it alongside Surf Nazis Must Die. The excellent, but overall downbeat Boogie Nights I saw on video; likewise the terrible, but essentially upbeat Kull the Conqueror, which proves that tyranny is a better guarantee of liberty than a constitution, because axe.
My top pick for 1997 I saw at the cinema, and on video. Repeatedly. Seriously, my Dad rented The Fifth Element and watched it maybe twelve times before returning it. It’s a film with problems, I can’t deny it, but it’s a lot of fun and I have a lot of good memories of watching it with cool people.
1998 brought us Fallen, in which Denzel Washington is harassed by a fallen angel that can possess anyone, and vanguard of the Mockney revolution Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, which I think I originally saw on a computer. I Went Down – which, like Fallen, I saw on video with my friends – is an Irish gangster film which gave my friendship group the insult ‘ya… in the bath fella’ and featured a gun with so much history that if fired it would tie the shooter to ‘everything back to the Great Train Robbery.’ The Arts Cinema was again the venue for watching The Opposite of Sex, an antiromcom with a dark wit, which was saw one and a half times after the first showing was interrupted by a fire alarm. 1998 also brought Six-String Samurai to one of the college cinema clubs; I think it was Corpus Christi College Pictures under GonzoHistory’s watch. Now, Six-String Samurai is the film you’re least likely to have heard of. Its release was limited, especially in the UK. It’s a post-apocalyptic road movie, in which the reborn Buddy Holly has to fight his way to Vegas to become King of the former American Wasteland, fifty years after the Russians dropped the bomb. I love this movie. In any other year it would have been my pick (barring Muppets), but 1998 has an ace up its sleeve. Cassidy may find it overrated, but The Big Lebowski is a stone cold classic from the Cohen brothers, utterly packed with quotable lines and wonderful situations, and of course Sam Elliott and his moustache.
In 1999, ironically, I partied like it was any other year; which is to say, barely at all. I saw quite a lot of movies at the cinema, including a whole bunch during a week in Dublin over Christmas. The Iron Giant wasn’t one of them and I only caught the Vin Diesel-launching ‘adaptation’ of Ted Hughes The Iron Man recently on Netflix. Similarly, I only saw 10 Things I Hate About You, aka The Taming of the Shrew but less with the Guantanamo thing, on video. There was Being John Malkovich, in which John Cusack played against type as a narcissistic douche who gains control of John Malkovich’s body via a door in his office (of course), murder at a small town, redneck beauty pageant in Drop Dead Gorgeous, and antagonistic imaginary friend adventures in Fight Club (spoilers.) It was an odd time. Then there was Galaxy Quest, one of the best Star Trek parodies out there, and superhero comedy Mystery Men. This was also the year in which M. Night Shyamalan arrived on the scene with The Sixth Sense and all the critics thought they had found their OTP, but the big news was the Wachowskis and their debut feature film, The Matrix, a perfect and self-contained movie that surely would never need or receive a sequel. As much as I love The Matrix, however, it’s another franchise-starter that has my loyalty: The Mummy was a nearly perfect adventure movie, playing fast and loose with Egyptian myth and giving us not only Rachel Weiss and Brendan Fraser as the last great adventure power couple of the 20th Century, but also Ardeth Bey, the Medjay badass played by Oded Fehr. It was just an amazingly well-made film, and thus its sequels were a huge disappointment.
And so to the last year of the 20th Century. The year 2000 brought us millennial paranoia, but also Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Ang Lee’s sumptuous wuxia kung fu epic, which was derided in the Chinese market for being terribly slow and elegiac, but did mad money in the West and launched the meme of Zhang Ziyi riding in slow motion and turning up late. It was a good year for indie films, producing teen girl werewolf horror Ginger Snaps and solid sci-fi action horror Pitch Black, an entirely self-contained movie that… Well, you get where I’m going with this. Branagh was back with what proved to be his last Shakespeare for a while, the much maligned and unappreciated studio musical production of Love’s Labour’s Lost, in which Richard Briers and Geraldine McEwan sing ‘Just the Way You Look Tonight’, so fuck you nay-sayers. Love’s Labour’s Lost would win this year, easily beating out X-Men, but… well, then there’s Chicken Run, which is not just a hilarious film about chickens escaping their farm, but also a dead on the nail parody of prisoner of war movies. Also, I saw it in a double bill with Mission Impossible 2, and if anything is guaranteed to make something seem like a timeless classic… Well, again, you get where I’m coming from.
And so, we move on to the 21st century, and we turn our eyes to France. Vidoq was an alchemypunk action adventure mystery, set in early 19th century France and featuring a fictionalised version of thief-turned-detective Eugene Francois Vidoq, founder of the Surete and inspiration for both Jean Valjean and Inspector Javer in Les Miserables, because he was just that much of a badass. The film has an assassin with a mirrored mask that eats bullets and Gerard Depardieu doing the Shatner flying double kick. The Brotherhood of the Wolf is also ‘based on a true story’, in the sense that it takes place during the time of the Beast of Gevaudan but has native American kung fu, extendible whip swords made of bones and an armoured hyaena who makes the Hound of the Baskervilles look like a Chihuahua. Donnie Darko was a time travel horror sci-fi with a strict shelf life, in that it’s amazing until you have time to realise that it’s not as deep as it thinks it is. On the other hand, it gave us an awesome version of ‘Mad World’, so there’s that. Gosford Park was a country house, upstairs downstairs ostensible murder mystery, and also a prototype for the writer’s future TV juggernaut, Downton Abbey. The Royal Tenenbaums was Wes Anderson’s calling card to the world, and while mild by the lights of The Grand Budapest Hotel, introduced us to his brand of oddity. And then there are the two big franchise launchers: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone led ultimately to the modern trend for doubling up the last book into two movies, which is totally why it doesn’t get the top spot, leaving it open for The Fellowship of the Ring. Fellowship also nets the title for being the best of the Jackson Middle Earth movies, in part because it is the most restrained.
2002 brings in another very mixed bag. British horror had a bit of a high with fast zombie pioneer 28 Days Later and werewolves vs squaddies action horror Dog Soldiers, which had one of the best advertising campaigns I’ve ever seen, brilliantly lampooning the army recruitment adverts of the time. From China we got Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress and Hero, one a melancholy reflection on the Cultural Revolution and the other a chromatically themed kung fu action movie and the second part in the loosely linked ‘Zhang Ziyi arrives too late thanks to slow mo’ trilogy. New Zealand sent us the magic realist coming of age drama Whale Rider. Don ‘Beastmaster’ Coscarelli gave us Bubba Ho-Tep, a horror comedy in which an aged Elvis Presley and a black man who claims to be Jack Kennedy battle an immortal, mummified Egyptian haunting their retirement home. Secretary was what Fifty Shades of Grey would have been with a reasonable understanding of consensual B&D relationships. 2002 also saw the return of the big screen musical with Chicago, which triggered a revival of the show on Broadway and in the London West End. I struggled with a best of the year for this one, and in the end went for The Powerpuff Girls Movie for the sheer joy of a movie featuring an army of cyborg primates.
2003… Man, 2003 is apparently almost dead to me. After several searches, I have four movies I even want to talk about. Finding Nemo continued the rise of Pixar with a touching tale of fishy fatherhood. There is something odd about calling your kid ‘no-one’ though… Also at sea, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl took the ludicrous concept of a film based on a theme park ride and ran with it, thanks in no small part to Johnny Depp’s dissolute rock star portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow. Oddly, the film is often criticised for its historically inaccurate portrayal of Port Royal, but no-one seems phased by all those zombies they added. Dust is an obscure independent movie about a cowboy being pursued by his vengeful brother into civil war-torn Macedonia, and that story being told in flashback by an old woman to the young man who has broken into her apartment, so that in the end it’s more about memory than it is about cowboys, or treasure, or revenge. My pick of the year is X2, the sequel to X-Men, which built magnificently on the origin story of the first film and set us up perfectly for the crushing disappointment of The Last Stand.
2004 gave us a bit more to go on. Ella Enchanted never made a huge splash in the cinemas, but as an adaptation of one of the finer self-rescuing princess narratives was always going to be worth a look. Zomromcom Shaun of the Dead kicked off the Cornetto trilogy with a critically acclaimed parody of zombie tropes and modern British life. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind cemented Jim Carrey’s move towards dramatic roles in the wake of 1998’s The Truman Show with a story of love gone toxic and a scientific intrusion into the mediation between hope and experience. House of Flying Daggers completed the ‘Zhang Ziyi arrives too late thanks to slow mo’ trilogy with a tale of rebellion and jealousy in which changing landscapes serve a similar thematic role to the different colours in Hero. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow set out to prove that in modern filmmaking, sets and backdrops are optional, with pretty much everything but the actors generated on computer, including Laurence Olivier. Bride and Prejudice united Bollywood flare and colour with Jane Austen’s timeless narrative to produce something wonderful which made my girlfriend decide that she wanted an elephant at her wedding. For all these strong contenders, my choice for this year is The Incredibles, not least because of how impressive it is to see an animated superhero movie provide post-modern comedy on its genre and still be a pretty damn fine superhero movie in its own right. NO CAPES!
In 2005 one of my favourite franchises reached the big screen in The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy. It was an imperfect creation, but then I’ve thought the same of every incarnation of the Guide except for the radio series, and its arrangement of ‘Journey of the Sorcerer’ was amazing. Disney tried to mimic Pixar’s success in the superhero genre with teen heroes in training action comedy Sky High. It was no The Incredibles, but it was fun. Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride – actually co-directed by Burton this time – put the romance back into necromancy with its tale of an accidental wedding between the living and the dead, and if its songs weren’t as good as Nightmare, the story had more heart. Steven Spielberg remade The War of the Worlds with a modern setting but a surprising degree of faithfulness to the original story, with an uncharacteristically everymannish Tom Cruise not really saving the world at all. Meanwhile, Peter Jackson remade King Kong with a blend of total devotion to the 1930 original and parody of same. It’s another remake that gets my vote this year, as Batman Begins brought the Dark Knight back to his brooding roots and introduced the world outside the serious fan community to Ra’s al-Gul and the civilisation-burning League of Shadows.
2006 brings us the only Bond movie on this list, Casino Royale, a film which reinvented MI6’s finest as a rougher, more serious agent for a tougher, more serious era. The rest of the year is dominated for me by oddities: A Prairie Home Companion, Robert Altman’s final film, an ensemble comedy in which a cast of illustrious actors take on the roles of characters more usually played by Garrison Keillor and his rep company on the radio show of the same name, during a dramatization of the final episode of the (at time of writing still ongoing) radio show. The Prestige had Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman as bitterly feuding rival stage magicians determined to outdo one another’s illusions. Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth juxtaposed a world of magical fantasy with the brutal realities of fascist Spain, and Snakes on a Plane did just exactly what it said on the tin. No less an oddity, Little Miss Sunshine featured a veteran cast, plus excellent child performers, in the story of a desperately dysfunctional family travelling across America to take the daughter of the family to the titular beauty pageant.
Thirty years, and into the final decade.
2007 shows up as another fallow year. Honestly, a lot of what was good I haven’t seen on account of it looking like hard work (No Country for Old Men) and there was a lot of rubbish (Transformers, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, both of which I saw at the cinema.) Hot Fuzz is probably the strongest of the Cornetto trilogy, and I think that’s partly because it doesn’t have a love interest and partly because of the sheer incongruity of setting a brutal, US-style action movie in a small, English village. St Trinian’s recreated a British institution with just the right mix of sass, flagrant illegality and underlying decency to make its often violent misfits likeable instead of horrifying. The movie adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust comes close to taking the top spot, but because I’m a cold-hearted heretic, I prefer the book and feel that the story is weakened by making ineffectual antagonists out of the minor characters on the human side of the wall. Therefore, it is Disney’s self-effacing tour de force Enchanted that takes the title, with its synchronised cockroaches and ‘Happy Working Song’.
In 2008 something new began; something quite unprecedented appeared in a dimly-lit post-credit scene, speaking in the voice of Samuel L. Jackson, as Iron Man launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s hard to convey just how much impact this had at the time, and never mind that the film itself was an Iron Man movie that wasn’t a hateful slog alongside a dull, unsympathetic douchebag. The Dark Knight built brilliantly on the set-up of Batman Begins, not least thanks to a career-making performance from Heath Ledger which tragically proved to also be almost his swansong. In some years, The Dark Knight would have been a shoe-in, but it had the misfortune to be paired against the superb animated martial arts adventure Kung Fu Panda, which in turn could have beaten just about any competition except for WALL-E, the film which put tracks on an industrial press and made me weep when it got hurt.
We pick up the numbers again in 2009. In the scifi arena, South African featherweight alien apartheid parallel District 9 went up against the hulking goliath of JJ Abram’s Star Trek reboot. The latter is a lot more fun, although it tends towards the glitzy more than the profound. Animated SF Monsters vs Aliens was the first film I watched on my PC after updating to Windows 10 because things just weren’t working with XP anymore. Meanwhile, Disney stuck with what was working for them with The Princess and the Frog, a feel-good romance about self-identity, with an engaging villain with a great patter song. While the world had not exactly been crying out for Robert Downey Jr to star in a Sherlock Holmes movie directed by Guy Ritchie, but we got one anyway and it was surprisingly sound. Yes, they failed to resist the urge to make Holmes’s relationship with Irene Adler at least passingly romantic, but it was nowhere near as bad as many of us feared. Terry Gilliam came back this year with the psychedelic parable The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus, despite the obvious obstacle of the death of his star, Heath Ledger. Ultimately, this year belonged to Pixar again, with the release of Up, which can still reduce just about any viewer to tears with its opening ten minutes.
2010 saw a fresh attempt to reboot the Predator franchise, which took a serious hit from the truly dire Alien vs. Predator movies, with Predators. This time, the human prey were not regular soldiers stalked by a visiting alien, but a disparate group of killers brought to a sort of hunting preserve to be sport for a team of Predators. Former pretty-boy leading man Leonardo di Caprio continued his impressive reinvention with Inception, a twisty thriller about a team of specialists who access the dreams of sleeping subjects to steal secrets from their minds, who are hired to put an idea into someone’s brain. Luc Besson gave us a French-language gem with The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc Sec, a comic book adaptation about an adventuress and travel writer seeking to revive the court physician of Ramses II to treat her comatose sister. It was an excellent year for animation, with Pixar’s Toy Story 3 concluding the trilogy and leaving no need for there to ever be another instalment, and Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon introducing the world to Toothless, the most adorable plasma-breathing beastie of them all. However, it is Disney’s Tangled that most won my daughter’s heart, and thus Tangled – a loose adaptation of Rapunzel with basically none of the maiming and loads more agency – that gets the top spot.
2011 brought us two more MCU entries, with Thor – best described as ‘not the film you’d expect if someone told you Kenneth Branagh made a movie with Anthony Hopkins and Nathalie Portman’ – and Captain America: The First Avenger, which like Iron Man took a character all too often depicted as bland and made him awesome. Just to make sure that the characters never fell back into Marvel’s control for use in movies, Sony rolled out another X-Men movie, but the Year 1 sort-of-reboot X-Men: First Class was surprisingly good, with James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender providing able stand-ins for Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan. Occult romance The Adjustment Bureau saw sharp-suited angels interfering in the budding relationship between a senator and a dancer; sadly, minimal agency for Emily Blunt’s character, but some excellent concepts at play. Downbeat cold war drama got its day well and truly out of the sun, with the steel grey London skies of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, while audiences flocked back to a brightly coloured, animated China to watch a panda take on a peacock and his arsenal of cannon in Kung Fu Panda 2. This was also the year that The Muppets came back, sans many of the original puppeteers alas, but with a great script and an Oscar winning song in ‘Man or Muppet’. It was also the first movie I took my girlfriend to see, before we were an item, and for that alone it gets movie of the year.
2012 was clearly a good year, because there are a lot of contenders in my list. Indie found-footage superhero movie Chronicle, Disney’s glorious bomb John Carter, and one of the two adaptations of Snow White released this year (Mirror, Mirror, not Snow White and the Huntsman.) Pixar’s Brave had a difficult production and met with a lukewarm critical response, but I liked it. I also liked fluffy hair-metal jukebox musical Rock of Ages. The Hunger Games launched the first, great post-Potter, post-Twilight YA franchise on the back of Jennifer Lawrence’s spiky Katniss Everdeen, while The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! and brutal comic adaptation Dredd sadly failed to launch their own. Mostly comic actor Steve Carrell dramaed the hell out of us in poignant pre-apocalypse movie Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. The MCU hit its first big target with ensemble movie The Avengers, which marked the peak of its widespread critical reception, if not the end of its commercial appeal by a long chalk. My movie of the year in this excellent year is Battleship, because it should not have worked like it did; not even close.
After many delays, 2013 brought us Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby, a superbly stylist rendition of the story of wealth and jealousy. Pacific Rim established that giant robots fighting monsters could be both big and clever. At the far end of the budget spectrum, Avengers director Joss Whedon made a black and white version of Much Ado About Nothing in his own home, which may not have convinced anyone that he is the next Branagh, but certainly convinced a few people that they wanted his house. The rarely predictable Don Coscarelli brought us John Dies at the End, an adaptation of a novel in which – spoilers – John survives. By this point, my daughter was coming to the cinema with us, so to no-one’s surprise my pick of the year is the unstoppable, glacial superhit that is Frozen.
2014’s Days of Future Past was the peak of the new X-Men trilogy in the same way that X2 was of the first, although without the colossal let down of The Last Stand. Godzilla got a US reboot that didn’t suck, as did Hercules, appearing as a strongman and mild fraudster in the shape of Dwayne Johnson to use his mythic reputation to his own advantage, and that of his allies. John Wick provided a refreshing take on the action movie, and Edge of Tomorrow put a unique time travel spin on SF war movies with a much more in control Emily Blunt than in The Adjustment Bureau. The MCU produced excellent conspiracy thriller/superhero movie The Winter Soldier, and scored an unlikely smash hit with the previously obscure Guardians of the Galaxy. Big Hero 6 and The Lego Movie made this another great animated year, but the winner was once again a foregone conclusion for the connections to watching with my daughter: Muppets Most Wanted. It’s not her favourite Muppet movie, but at least she didn’t come out in tears because of a terrifying, noh-masked villain.
2015 gave us a damning assault on alpha male nerdism in AI psychological thriller Ex Machina. Minions delivered one of the best soundtracks of any film made for my daughter’s generations and raised serious questions about decimalisation. The Martian damn near stood up to the standards of the book, and Fury Road showed that a crappy predecessor and a thirty year gap are no indicator of a sequel’s quality or reception. The MCU scored another surprise hit with, of all things, Ant-Man, and after the highly mixed reception of the prequels, Star Wars was back on form with The Force Awakens. But there was only one film which made my daughter and I cry together: Inside Out. Score another for the traumateers of Pixar.
And so, we come to the last full year of this review: 2016. Deadpool threw a spanner into the superhero works with its R-rated violence and coarse humour, while Doctor Strange showed up later in the year to get weird magic stuff all over the formerly entirely technological MCU. Star Trek Beyond brought in the obvious wrong director and the obvious wrong script and somehow ended up as the most Trekky Trek that Trekked in recent years. The Cohen Brothers Hail, Caesar! was a hilarious tribute to the golden age of the studio system, while La La Land paid tribute to the movies it produced. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them brought the Potterverse spectacularly back to life, while Kung Fu Panda 3 once more failed spectacularly to suck as expected. Star Wars got dark with Rogue One, and Disney delivered a pair of massive successes with Zootopia/Zootropolis and Moana. In the end, however, I’m giving this one to the first film that taught us that my daughter most connects to the films that she seems to fear: Kubo and the Two Strings.
And finally, 2017 so far. We’ve already had the grimly excellent Logan and its near-perfect antidote The Lego Batman Movie, and the latter is close to being a favourite. When push comes to shove, however, it’s images of my daughter in a yellow dress and the recurring refrains of ‘Gaston’ and ‘Belle’ that stick in my head, so I guess it’s only right to give this one to Beauty and the Beast; for now, at least.
Wow; that’s a lot of movies, and that’s just the ones I really rate. As a TL:DR, here’s the complete list of top movies:
1977 – Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger
1978 – Watership Down
1979 – The Muppet Movie
1980 – Flash Gordon
1981 – The Great Muppet Caper
1982 – Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
1983 – Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain
1984 – This is Spinal Tap
1985 – Mr Vampire
1986 – Big Trouble in Little China
1987 – Predator/The Princess Bride
1988 – Die Hard
1989 – Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
1990 – Predator 2
1991 – Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey
1992 – The Muppet Christmas Carol
1993 – Jurassic Park
1994 – The Hudsucker Proxy
1995 – The City of Lost Children
1996 – The Muppet Treasure Island
1997 – The Fifth Element
1998 – The Big Lebowski
1999 – The Mummy
2000 – Chicken Run
2001 – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
2002 – The Powerpuff Girls Movie
2003 – X2
2004 – The Incredibles
2005 – Batman Begins
2006 – Little Miss Sunshine
2007 – Enchanted
2008 – WALL-E
2009 – Up
2010 – Tangled
2011 – The Muppets
2012 – Battleship
2013 – Frozen
2014 – Muppets Most Wanted
2015 – Inside Out
2016 – Kubo and the Two Strings
2017 – Beauty and the Beast