Sunday, April 11, 2010

Desert Island DVDs

Imagine if you were shipwrecked on a desert island with no sign of rescue, how would you pass the interminable days and nights? I suppose you could grow a beard and start a relationship with a volleyball, or perhaps you'd like to get naked and hang out with Oliver Reed. To be honest, neither of those options sound particularly appetising, so I'm just going to watch a load of DVDs instead. Andy from Fandango Groovers has come up with a project called Desert Island DVDs, and he has invited a bunch of fellow bloggers to compile a list of eight films that are essential enough and re-watchable enough to be our constant companions on the island. The rest of the selections will be here, but my list is below.

2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)

Hopefully I'll be washed up on this island with a decent-sized TV and a Blu Ray player, so I can get maximum enjoyment from this selection of films. Certainly, Kubrick's sci-fi work of art deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible and in the most spectacular format. It is a truly unique and truly magnificent piece of work, and one that casts a spell over the viewer again and again thanks to Kubrick's peerless direction, superb musical choices and audacious imaginative leaps. It is as impressive today as it was forty years ago, and it will remain so for many years to come; a vision of life beyond this earth that remains unmatched in cinema.

The Big Lebowski (Joel and Ethan Coen, 1998)

I don't feel The Big Lebowski is the greatest film the Coen brothers have ever made, but there's something irresistible about it. I can watch this one again and again and, in contrast to most comedies, this one actually gets funnier and more satisfying on repeated viewings. With career-best performances from Jeff Bridges and John Goodman leading a flawless cast, the film gives every character, no matter how minor, their moment to shine, and the film is a collection of brilliant individual sequences that add up to a hilarious whole. If I'm ever feeling particularly lonely on my island, it will be good to know that I can pop this into my DVD player and hang out with The Dude, Walter and Donny down at the bowling lanes.

Fanny and Alexander (Ingmar Bergman, 1982)

I adore this film more than anything else Ingmar Bergman ever made, but rarely do I get the opportunity to enjoy it. It's hard to find the five hours required to sit down and watch this sprawling masterpiece, but on my desert island, with no distractions, I'll have plenty of time on my hands to do just that. It will also give me a chance to dig fully into the extras on the sumptuous Criterion edition, which offers both the 3-hour theatrical cut as well as the magnificent 5-hour TV version. This is the kind of film that displays what cinema can be – a film that completely transports the viewer, and allows us to share in themes and emotions that are timeless and universal.

Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)

David Lynch's Mulholland Drive remains as enigmatic and puzzling now as it did when it was first released in 2001, but it also remains as beguiling as ever, and I'm frequently drawn back to it. There are certain sequences here that are charged with such an erotic rush, or are so vividly nightmarish, they never fail to move me. Being alone on my island would allow me ample time to unpick the complex mysteries in this one-of-a-kind movie, and by the time I finally get off the island, perhaps I will have discovered the key to clarifying Lynch's film once and for all (alternatively, maybe I'll just be more baffled than ever).

The New World (Terrence Malick, 2005)

Mulholland Drive was my second favourite film of this decade, and it finished just behind this. Both films have a lot in common; they forgo familiar narrative structure, they are both films made by brilliantly singular artists, and they are films that can touch emotions other pictures can't reach. In a perfect world, I'd like to have a Blu Ray box set of this magnificent film, containing each of the three different cuts that Malick has produced to date, but I'll happily settle for the extended version alone on Blu Ray. It is a gorgeous film, and one that gets under the skin and sucks me into its lush world, which is a place I'm happy to spend many long hours.

North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)

This film is pure entertainment. As the adman who finds himself on the run after a case of mistaken identity, Cary Grant proves that nobody made being a movie star look so damn easy. It's a glorious performance from Grant, who gets so many great lines ("Obviously they've mistaken me for a much shorter man") and so many iconic moments to play with. The great James Mason is the villain of the piece, Eva Marie Saint is The Blonde, and the film is simply one great scene after another, culminating in that terrific Mount Rushmore climax. North by Northwest has it all, and it's a film that simply doesn't get old.

The Red Shoes (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1948)

Now more than ever, this is an essential picture. Seeing the breathtaking new restoration was one of my cinema highlights of 2009, and the spellbinding new Blu Ray disc is an utter dream. Jack Cardiff's cinematography is the finest use of Technicolor imaginable, and the imagination displayed in Powell and Pressburger's direction of this ballet melodrama never ceases to amaze. The whole film is wonderful, but I'd be happy just to have that extraordinary central dance sequence, which is unquestionably one of the greatest artistic achievements in the history of cinema. A truly extraordinary work of art.

Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954)

Finally, I've gone for a film that has everything you could possibly want in a classic movie. Kurosawa's hugely influential adventure has great characters, a strong storyline and some of the most exciting action sequences ever filmed. This director's greatest strength was his ability to strike a perfect balance in his work, knowing exactly when to give us moments of humour or quieter interludes amid the intensity of battle, and this epic is the best example of his remarkable judgement. I'll be happy on my island with the extras-stuffed Criterion edition of the film, although it is a bit frustrating to have to get up halfway through the picture to change DVDs. Perhaps I'll find a Man Friday to do the dirty work for me.