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 investigating the sighting of their neighbour after she has supposedly died, Alda and Huston great support and the central mystery is satisfying and funny. Great late night entertainment co-written with Marshall Brickman.

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 (Owen Wilson)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 seamless time travel 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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I am not the man I once was. 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, with thrilling effects, wondrous performances and a chilling, funny, humane Sim at the centre of a parade for every season, not just for Christmas. Absolutely classic.

The Holly and the Ivy (1952)

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I suppose people who fall asleep in the snow must feel like this. The new channel Talking Pictures has brought back British films long out of circulation. This adaptation by Anatole de Grunwald of the 1950 Wynyard Browne play (which he based on his own family)  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 patriarch and there are some lovely renditions of carols including the titular one, my favourite. Martin Gregory (Ralph Richardson) is a widowed Anglo-Irish clergyman in Wyndenham, a village in Norfolk, who knows his parishioners better than his own children. Martin’s seeming detachment from his family is never more evident than at Christmas, when the family awkwardly and rather unwillingly comes together to celebrate. While Martin’s daughter Jenny (Celia Johnson) lives at home out of devotion, she doesn’t have the heart to tell him that she wants to move out and marry her dull but caring boyfriend David (John Gregson) who is about to emigrate to South America and wants to bring a wife. Martin’s devil-may-care son Michael (Denholm Elliott) gets out of national military service to spend the ill-humoured holiday.  His other daughter Margaret (Margaret Leighton) has initially decided to stay in London where she works as a fashion writer but also has a terrible secret that is driving her to drink – however she shows up and proceeds to get drunk and tells Jenny what has happened to her over the past decade. Why must you always crackle like ice?  Theirs is a prickly relationship based on a thorough understanding and, finally, sympathy. The actresses are expert at portraying their contrasting characters. This emotional reunion brings back memories of World War II and great hurts, and each child assumes that their father is an unworldly man who couldn’t possibly understand real life. Richardson and Leighton give wonderfully complex performances, with the fifty-year old Richardson proving a sly and wise old man who knows only too well what life is about. Do you think because I’m a parson I’ve a different attitude to life? He despairs of Christmas for different reasons – he thinks it has been take over by retailers and nobody remembers the birth of Christ. Margaret Halstan and Maureen Delany are brilliant as the aunts (reprising their stage roles) and it’s nice to see Hugh Williams in a good supporting role as the cousin, wishing he could spend the break in the west of Ireland. Proper Christmas viewing, tremendously set up and quietly devastating in its exposition of disappointed adult lives.  As well-made plays go, this is at the top of the seasonal list with its sensitive message of reconciliation and a ray of hope, along with an incredible score by Malcolm Arnold.  Directed by George More O’Ferrall and beautifully shot by Ted Scaife.  Do I seem the type of man that’d turn away from the sorrows of his own children? 

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 …