At a loose end on a Sunday evening? Need some inspiration for what film to relax to? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.
First of all, I should be clear; this list will not be a rundown of my favourite films (although some do make an appearance) but rather flicks that I can put on if I’m at a loose end. Like picking up the phone and calling that friend you haven’t spoken to for months on end, you find you’re right back to where you were. Well, these films offer that same familiarity and essentially provide a comfort zone to ease into for me. Don’t get me wrong, there are going to be eyebrows raised at a few of these picks as some of the choices aren’t exactly what you’d call modern classics, but I trust we all have our guilty pleasures, which is why I’m sharing this with you today to remind you that you’re not the only one. Now, let’s get into it with the first barnstormer of a movie;
If you’ve just rolled your eyes, fair enough. This wasn’t universally loved on release, despite gaining praise for its visual presentation, which at the time was really remarkable and stylistic. The plot is relatively formulaic, characters are serviceable but without many dimensions to their overall persona, but for some reason, I keep coming back to this film. The score, which was overseen by Daft Punk is one reason. It seamlessly blends with the futuristic setting of the film and perfectly compliments the on-screen action when those moments do arise. There’s plenty of callbacks to the previous film from the 80s and even a nice little plot twist, which I won’t spoil here, and overall there’s just something about this film which pulls me back in time after time and provides a visual attraction to “zone out” to and enjoy.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
Okay, I promise there will be films on this list that are universally accepted as being “good” or even great films and I recognise that this is yet another film that probably falls short of that yardstick in many people’s opinion. However, for me, this film is an absolute riot. Nowadays, the Fast and the Furious (FAF) franchise is a juggernaut, with billion dollar films to its name and A-List actors seemingly queuing up to star in the series. However, back in 2006, this was not the case and along came this film, which seemed almost to act as a spin-off in many ways. Gone were lead actors Paul Walker and Vin Diesel (save for a small cameo towards the end) and instead, we had one of the most wooden actors I’ve ever seen in a lead role, of any film. But, this is such an important bookmark in the FAF lore. For one, it was the first film in the series which Justin Lin worked on. It was his direction on subsequent films that re-launched the franchise and propelled it into the mainstream once again and arguably he helped revive the career of Vin Diesel. Secondly, we were introduced to the character of Han, who has been beloved ever since, garnering a cult following that earned him additional roles in subsequent films within the franchise, and giving us one of the series’ more compelling and complex characters. That aside though, this instalment has such a diverse range of cars and introduced us all to the Japanese style of tuning, styling and of course, drifting. I was captivated by this and it’s definitely left its mark on me; I have owned a black Mazda RX-8 for 8 years now. So why do I love this film? Apart from the soundtrack, which is as good as all FAF releases, for me it just has this otherworldly feel about it; Japan is such an interesting culture to me and I think the film perfectly captures the “fish out of water” experience that a Westerner would go through upon arrival. Aside from this, I just love the cars, the atmosphere and how this film, which was so overlooked previously, became a lynchpin in the FAF timeline.
See? I told you there would be films that are absolutely undeniable in their quality, execution and legacy. Goodfellas is one of them. If you haven’t seen this film, I implore you to make time for it. Based on a true story, which for me, immediately adds a compelling layer to any film right from the off, this 1990 crime film ticks every single box for me in terms of being a perfect film. Beginning with the characters, it was as if every single actor in the role was born to play their respective parts. Ray Liotta as Henry Hill managed to give us, as viewers, the inside look into life as a gangster and even had us rooting for him, before reminding us that he is indeed a villain and has moments of sheer madness, which see him spiral out of control in the end. Robert De Niro as James “Jimmy the Gent” Conway masterfully showed us the multitude of personalities one might expect from a ruthless mafioso; on the one hand kind to his peers, yet he could easily have you “wacked” the next day. Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito perfectly portrayed the lunatic of the bunch, a loose cannon who often acted before thinking and the scene which perfectly encapsulated all of their traits was the murder of Billy Batts. The rolling narrative is given from the perspective of Henry Hill and has a very “Scorsese” feel about it; long cuts, personal close-ups, fast introductions to characters, it’s a living, breathing vibrant collection of personas that live in this world and you feel every single one of them as real as you would a friend. The rags-to-riches story is as dramatic and enthralling as you’d expect and it’s honestly one of the greatest films of all time. Hands down.
Frank Miller’s graphic novel 300 was lovingly recreated in 2006 with director Zack Synder at the helm. Miller himself served as executive producer and consultant for the film and his influence is felt throughout the stunning action movie, with some scenes pixel for pixel recreations of the comic. The movie boasts over the top action sequences with hyper-violent and stylized deaths that are matched with stunning visual effects to provide the unique colour palette of the imagined world. Whilst the story is based within History, liberties have of course been taken to dramatise the reality. The result is scantily clad shredded Spartans vanquishing wave after wave of would-be-invaders, spouting quote after quote all the while revelling in the fury of their attack. I simply love it. It’s so over the top, so easy to enjoy, it just demands sweets being thrown into the face. I’ve seen critics take this movie apart and I can’t fathom why; of course it’s stupid. Of course, it’s silly fun. It’s not meant to be a historical masterpiece, it’s just good action, an easy plot and a damn good time.
The year is 2000. Leonardo DiCaprio is at the absolute peak of his popularity with teenage girls after his roaring success in Titanic and director Danny Boyle wanted to take full advantage of that. What transpired though is many audience members went into this film expecting heartthrob Leo to be as charming and innocent as he was in the aforementioned blockbuster. What they got was a dark tale depicting the descent of a character into the depths of madness and saw a side of Leo that many never experienced before. His acting here is superb, as it would be for many years afterwards, but even this early on you get hints of how great he would be that is echoed in later films such as The Wolf of Wall Street. The film itself is strange in that to me, it can be perfectly dissected in half and almost treated as two separate identities, much like the main character (Richard). At the start, we have an optimistic, bright-eyed American traveller seeking adventures that differ from the norm and the film follows this journey. Richard reaches his mythical destination, along with his two accomplices and it’s not long after this that things go wrong. The lifestyle of the insular community of those who inhabit the island turns the narrative around and suddenly we see this film takes a dark spin with the death of a character. It’s here things drastically shift in tone and we are hurtled towards a bitter end. A favourite of mine, as it reminds me of my own spectacular travels in Thailand (where the film is set) and it’s an easy watch, in that you can appreciate some great acting and dark screenplay.
Crazy, Stupid, Love
The title of the film acts as a good breakdown for love itself and also for the actions within the film. It’s at times crazy, sometimes stupid and I love it. A star-studded cast blend effortlessly together and create nothing but magic, as this tale which starts off with a bang, weaves and unfurls into one of the best romantic comedies of all time, in my opinion. Normally, those words (shortened to “Romcom”) have connotations with another genre of films; “chick-flicks.” Well, I’m here to tell you as a red-blooded male that this is anything but. The comedic aspect of this film works incredibly well, helped massively by the lead (Steve Carell) portraying a charming, yet slightly bumbling middle-aged man seeking to find himself after a split from his wife. Ryan Gosling enters the fray and acts as a mentor of sorts, guiding Cal (Carell) in the ways of womanizing. Gosling, however, is eventually matched with Emma Stone’s character and the two have electric chemistry, which was later rekindled with the smash-hit musical, La La Land. It’s here where the movies’ heart shines through as Gosling’s character shifts from one night stand to one man girl. Offering a different spin on the Romcom genre, I love this film for its light-hearted, yet realistic look into relationships and their complexities. This film, like its main character, has a heart of gold.
Someone who certainly does not have a heart of gold is Patrick Bateman. A sociopathic serial killer from New York and thriving in the Go-Go 1980s, a life of decadence and more money than sense has led Patrick to become bored. He has it all; rich friends, an easy, well-paid job, any girl he wants and yet he can’t fill the void in his life. American Psycho is the adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel of the same name and whilst the movie leaves out some chapters and reimagines characters, it’s a very accurate adaptation. For me, this is Christian Bale’s best performance. The method actor gets into the best shape of his life to slip into this role and he attacks every scene with such an explosion of emotions that it’s impossible to see anyone else in this role. The film is filled with dark humour and is honestly one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen. The way Bateman lurches from one emotional space to another, over minor events, is hysterical. The narrative is given from the perspective of the clearly unhinged Bateman, so immediately we, as the viewer, can question the authenticity of what we see. Are the horrific murders really happening or is this all just a figment of Bateman’s imagination? That’s what I love about this film, the sheer ambiguity of it all. There are clues littered throughout the production that can either be for or against the theory that this is all really happening and every time I watch it, I spot something new.
The Lord of the Rings – Extended Editions
Very rarely is the word “epic” used in the correct context, but here, there is simply no other way to describe Peter Jackson’s trilogy. Stunning visuals, an iconic soundtrack, some of the best CGI ever seen and a cast that is as enormous as it is talented. It’s almost impossible to note down why I love this film so much in a short paragraph or two, so this is something that will undoubtedly be explored again on another day. For now, though, it’s my duty to explain why I not only love this film but how I can watch it over and over again. The answer isn’t as long-winded as you may expect, it’s just I simply love being transported into Middle Earth. It’s as easy as that and the film makes that transition just as simplistic. Thanks to some expert directing, real-life locations and storytelling, it is incredibly comfortable to sit back and allow myself to be fully immersed in this multi-faceted universe. Of course, it has to be the Extended Editions as to me, they add so much more to the story, such as additional dialogue to further flesh out characters, or interesting action beats that were unfortunately cut due to time constraints. There’s such a charm to this film that’s quite intangible and difficult to explain, but I’m sure many of you feel the same way. Timeless and classic, The Lord of the Rings is in my view, the greatest movie trilogy in history.
Pumping Iron/Raw Iron
The docu-drama that launched the career of one Arnold Schwarzenegger, I was introduced to Pumping Iron after I began my fitness journey back in 2012. I’d always loved Arnold of course; films such as Terminator, Predator, Red Heat and many more had been on my DVD shelf for years. This, however, was one that had escaped my viewing, due in part to my ignorance of bodybuilding as a sport. How I wish I had seen this earlier. Rather than being a pure documentary of the 1975 Mr Olympia competition, it is a showcase in how Arnold dominates the screen and can portray any character he is asked to. For in this, he is not himself. He is a reimagined, overboard caricature of Arnold Schwarzenegger, which is exemplified in his one on one interviews throughout the film. Arnold admits this in the follow up “making of” documentary, Raw Iron which itself is as intriguing as the film. I typically will watch one or the other, but both have been never far from view, as they are so relevant to me now and so thoroughly entertaining. Indeed, Pumping Iron served as a wonderful motivation for me during the days leading up to my first competition (which you can read about here) and helped me truly get into the zone for my big day. So, this is quite a niche and personal reason for inclusion on the list, but nevertheless, I’ll not grow tired of watching Arnold’s antics anytime soon.
My final entry and something that is dear to my heart; Aladdin. This film gave me my first nightmare that I can remember (the scene where the cave closes in and Aladdin is trying to escape on the carpet, yeah, that) but also my fondest memories of watching this with my parents and sharing in the joy of the brilliant storytelling and voice acting in particular by show-stealing Robin Williams. Back in the 90s, Disney was positively killing it with their animated films. This, along with Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Hercules and Pocahontas are in my view compulsory viewing for children and make for excellent films to be enjoyed by all ages. Aladdin takes the mantle for me, however, thanks to iconic songs, another rags-to-riches story and as mentioned; an amazing cast. The back and forth with Jafar and Iago is hysterical, Aladdin sounds like an authentic and atypical hero, whilst Jasmine set the tone for female characters in Disney films to no longer be damsels in distress, but independent Princesses who could dish out some punishment when the time arose. The main reason though I can watch this time and again is simply Robin Williams’ character; the Genie. Exuding life and personality that is simply not seen from animated characters this is once again a case of someone being born to play the part. Williams is able to add so much magic into this role with his intoxicating personality and the comedy is an absolute hit; there’s nothing cringe-worthy or anything that falls flat, it all works and it certainly puts a smile on my face.
That concludes my list. I hope there has been something in there you might want to watch on a dreary Sunday evening or any other time! I’d be interested to learn what your go-to film or collection of films are as well, so why not leave me a comment below or send me a message on Instagram or Facebook?