Where Eagles Dare (1968)

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If you don’t like this, there’s a high probability that you’re either dead or German (preferably both) and you definitely hate Top Gear. So stop reading now. This, like The Great Escape and The Guns of Navarone, is the only litmus test for a common humanity amongst right-thinking viewers. The story of Allied agents trying to break into a castle (Schloss Adler) held by the Nazis to break out a British colonel, it has Eastwood and Burton and Mary Ure working their way into the fortress to stop losing headway on the planned D-Day landings.  Or … something else???? Twisty Twister McTwisted! Fabulous stunts, great scenery, terrifying cable-car scenes, amazing tension, wonderful action. Just what you want, really, from a film. Another reminder that the prolific Alistair MacLean wrote brilliant books. Happy New Year.


Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)

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When this was released it felt like Woody Allen had run out of ideas. In recent years, it seems like one of his warmest, funniest ones, filled with good humour, good jokes and some wonderful cinematic throwbacks:  that’s what two decades of non-classic cinema will do to a viewer, you re-evaluate everything you once judged harshly. Keaton and Allen are excellent foils for each other, Alda and Huston great support and the central mystery is satisfying and funny. Great late night entertainment.

Midnight in Paris (2011)

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After years of something akin to exile in Europe making so-so movies (with the exception of Vicky Cristina Barcelona) Woody Allen made a genuinely terrific piece of cinema. The story of Gil the nostalgic screenwriter who gets inspiration from his midnight encounters with the great artists of the 20s who congregated in the City of Light & Love, is brimming with goodwill, sentiment, wisdom and … love. The scenes with Hemingway and Dali are particularly hilarious. Watch this over and over …

The Cotton Club (1984)

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The reception to this was damaged by a murder case allegedly involving producer Robert Evans. Even so, it doesn’t quite explain the ‘bomb’ reviews of a magically constructed, brilliantly made gangster musical which of course tells the story surrounding the infamous Harlem club. There are great jazz sequences, beautiful people (Diane Lane AND Richard Gere in the same film! As well as cameos by Diane Venora AND Joe Dallesandro!) and marvellous set design. Maybe Coppola ain’t no Busy Berkeley but there are great tap dancing set pieces including by the Hines brothers. This was one of a slew of great looking films in the period – including Year of the Dragon, Once Upon a Time in America and The Untouchables. Maybe the ending is unsafisfying, but … What’s not to like?

Father of the Bride (1950)

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If ever there were a case to be made for the classic Hollywood film, this is it. A shrewdly observed yet sentimental observation of a middle class Californian family imploding when their sweet daughter (the startlingly beautiful Elizabeth Taylor) announces her forthcoming nuptials. Father (Spencer Tracy) has conniptions over the cost of everything, Mom (Joan Bennett) is in her element and the hapless groom Buckley is at everyone’s mercy. Great fun, gruff voiceover from Tracy and Taylor’s glistening violet eyes (even in monochrome) and great pace in the Goodrich/Hackett screenplay (adapted from Edward Streeter’s novel) really show director Minnelli’s sharp directorial hand at its best. Taylor’s real-life wedding to hotel heir Nicky Hilton helped make this the biggest grosser of the year. This had a sequel, Father’s Little Dividend and Nancy Meyers updated the franchise in the 1990s. Made in Hollywood, USA.

One From the Heart (1982)

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It’s fair to say that Francis Ford Coppola’s follow up to the majestic decadent symphony to insanity that was Apocalypse Now was never going to get an easy ride. Even my very young self was pretty derisive at my local cinema upon its release. Thirtysomething years on it has a passion and yearning at its centre that cannot be denied. The studio evocation of Las Vegas is unbelievably impressive, Terri Garr is sweet as the girlfriend of Frederic Forrest, who just doesn’t understand romance and the dialogue was improved by the late, lamented Luana Anders. Another almost-classic by the great man distinguished by its steadicam photography (by Garrett Brown) and a unique song cycle from Tom Waits sung by him and Crystal Gayle. Nastassja Kinski would be paired opposite Harry Dean Stanton once again in Paris, Texas.

The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1957)

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The career of Jennifer Jones was driven by her marriage to producer David O. Selznick who saw a star where many saw a pretty girl with a speech impediment. However she had a  capacity for radiating joy and emotion that is quite appropriate in this discourse on the problems of finding love in a household run by a bullying tyrant of a father (John Gielgud in a rare film role.) This beautifully filmed interpretation of her life as the invalided poetess Elizabeth Barrett with fellow poet Robert Browning (Bill Travers) is quite knotty and the apparent mummifying at its centre belies a story of disturbing passions which come to a head when the father confesses his quasi-incestuous love for his gifted eldest offspring. Better than it is rumoured. Only Natalie Wood could surpass Jones in the category of emotionality.

Scrooge: A Christmas Carol (1951)

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Alastair Sim was one of cinema’s great performers and this is probably his finest hour, in a traditional and effective adaptation of Dickens in which he is matched by George Cole as his younger self (they would meet again in St Trinian’s in rather different circumstances.) Simply great, magical filmmaking by Brian Desmond Hurst from a screenplay by Noel Langley.

The Holly and the Ivy (1952)

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The new channel Talking Pictures has brought back British films long out of circulation.  This adaptation of the Wynyard Browne play is one I haven’t seen since Channel 4 showed it in the 1980s during what was undoubtedly a horrible Christmas…. It is an interpretation of a troubled postwar family dreading spending the holiday with their vicar father whom they wrongly presume to be very unknowing. The cast is wonderfully anchored by Ralph Richardson as the wise patriarch and there are some lovely renditions of carols including the titular one, my favourite. Proper Christmas viewing.

Winter Meeting (1948)

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It’s easy to forget how great Bette Davis is until you see her performance tear strips off everyone around her and here poor Jim Davis is simply submerged as a naval war hero who tells the poetess his secret desire to be a priest after she reveals her own family secret. Adapted by the very useful Catherine Turney from a novel by ‘Ethel Vance’ this is minor Davis but a little is better than none at all. And who doesn’t want to indulge a sleigh ride in the snow …