Picking the 10 films the influenced me was by no means an easy task. Sure, it would have been easy to reel off 10 classics and talk about how great they are, but instead, I’ve decided to treat this list as a way to rediscover films that had a profound, emotional impact on me upon first viewing. I’ve seen a great deal of movies in my time however, only a select few have really resonated with me on a greater level than simple enjoyment.
To some, this list may seem a little strange, perhaps even a little obscure, but each of these films has earned its place in my top 10 with rightful cause. Whether they happened to coincide with personal circumstance in my own life, or they covered themes so harrowing they really stuck with me, here are the top 10 cinematic experiences that influenced me as a film fan, a film critic, and even as a person.
10. The Road
I remember not being particularly interested in The Road before its release. In fact, it took me a good few years to see it even after it had been released on DVD. The reason for this was that it looked like a fairly bleak and generic post-apocalypse movie, and not something I would usually be very interested in. Oh, how wrong I was.
Firstly, it’s packed with great performances, great dialogue and some incredibly well-executed set pieces, but it’s the father-son dynamic that really sets the film alight. The reason it makes my list is for its brutal depiction of the fragility of life and the relative morality of the human race. A standout scene, and one that lives long in the memory, is the basement scene. I’ve seen a lot of horror in my time, but things rarely stick with me as long as that scene did.
9. Only Lovers Left Alive
Totally unique, a wonderful soundtrack, and it also happens to be a creation of my favourite director Jim Jarmusch. Only Lovers Left Alive is a sombre vampire film about companionship and the longevity of true love. Despite being a vampire film, it’s actually fairly light on blood and guts, instead focusing on what it means to be immortal.
Supported by two titanic performances from Marvel alum Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, Only Lovers Left Alive is a truly hypnotic film and a real treat for fans of stripped-back, evocative storytelling.
8. This is England
Shane Meadows’ film makes my list because it covers themes not commonly covered, and does it in a profound and impactful way. Difficult to watch in places, it’s an incredibly well-constructed narrative about the radicalisation of an impressionable youth.
Packed with incredible performances from an impressive cast, it really is a tale of two halves. The first section of the film introduces us to a motley crew of teens trying to make the best of 1980s life under the iron-fisted rule of Thatcher. Despite the economic and social backdrop, the film starts out with a sunny optimism as main character Shaun makes his way in the world.
The film inevitably (and expertly) gives way to what is a common by-product of nationalist, anti-immigration rhetoric as 12-year-old Shaun falls under the wing of neo-Nazi skinhead Combo. Slowly through the course of the film, our cheerful mods are replaced by a frightening crew of racists and, in the process, Shaun sadly becomes a product of his environment.
This is England is a masterpiece and a particularly important film, and I happen to have watched it approximately 10 times; it makes my list because of this.
7. (500) Days of Summer
There’s something about (500) Days of Summer that really resonates with me. On the face of it, the film is a simple rom-dram-com focusing on the relationship between main characters Tom and Summer, but there is so much more to it than that. Told exclusively from Tom’s perspective, we never really know what Summer is thinking, which makes their journey from happy couple to estranged acquaintances feel so real.
Every key moment of their relationship is expertly captured on screen, making great use of the film’s wonderful soundtrack in the process. I think the reason I love (500) Days of Summer so much is for its cathartic conclusion – after all Tom and Summer go through, 500 days of love and loss, life really does just go on.
6. The Godfather
Who doesn’t love The Godfather? Director Francis Ford Coppola’s magnum opus is essentially the perfect movie and it is also partly responsible for my life long passion for Italian culture. Beautifully paced and wonderfully shot, not a minute of film is wasted in its 2-hour 58-minute running time. It’s a film I never get tired of watching and is best enjoyed with a bottle of red wine. (p.s. don’t bother reading the book it’s absolute merda).
5. Dead Man’s Shoes
Another appearance from Shane Meadows and another jarring and emotionally impactful film. Dead Man’s Shoes follows Paddy Considine as he tracks down and punishes his brother’s tormentors. Aided by an incredible performance by Toby Kebbell as the brother, the relationship between the two is truly believable and heartrendingly poignant. This only serves to make the ending all the more shocking and sad. If you haven’t seen it, I’m not going to spoil it, all I’ll say is that it is a must-watch.
4. The Magnificent 7
Why is The Magnificent 7 on my list? It was one of my favourite films growing up, it’s got a great cast of characters and a wonderful soundtrack, and it also happens to be incredibly well written. Sure, it may be a remake of Kurosawa’s 1954 original, but to 8-year-old me, cowboys were eminently cooler than samurai. The Magnificent 7 is true classic when it comes to Westerns, and if I’m ever in need of a Sunday afternoon film, this is where I turn.
3. Ex Machina
With an ending that leaves you tumbling perilously down the uncanny valley, this sci-fi horror thriller hybrid is easily one of my favourite films of all time. It also happens to be a masterpiece of one room or single set storytelling. What I enjoy most about the film is its expertly executed portrayal of artificial intelligence (or more accurately, intelligence itself).
Although the ending is sometimes misconstrued as demonstrating that Ava never cared for Caleb, and that this is some form of indication that Nathan’s creation is a failure, exactly the opposite is true. Ava’s final scene actions prove that she is alive and is a fully thinking and feeling being. What she is not, however, is human. Her need to live outweighs all else as she abandons Caleb to die, demonstrating true survivor instinct – an ending both horrifying and awe-inspiring in equal measure.
2. Where the Wild Things Are
Almost everyone I talk to says they don’t like Where the Wild Things Are. For my part, I have seen the film exactly once in my life. Despite having not seen the film for almost 10 years, it has thoroughly stuck with me. No, it isn’t a great film, but there’s something about the escapism, death of childhood naivety story that really gets to me. It also happens to have a really great soundtrack which always helps.
1. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
With a fantastic performance from terminally underrated Forest Whitaker, Ghost Dog is a masterclass of atmosphere building. Full of great dialogue and some incredible set pieces, it really showcases director Jim Jarmusch at his best. Although not wholly original in its plot, the execution is incredibly unique in the way that it blends ancient Japanese samurai code with modern-day, New Jersian sensibilities. Although odd to the point of surreal in places, it’s a film that you’re almost certain to return to for multiple viewings.