The Lives of Others
Set in East Berlin, this is the story of two lovers and the Stasi man who spies on them. Just when you think you know what’s happening… A slow-boiling thriller that holds you down to the very end.
It’s very hard to categorise this film except to say that it’s a beautifully nuanced Iranian drama about a family where each member has to confront him/herself as well as each other. I held my breath from start to finish and have recommended it to absolutely everybody.
Tell No One
A woman disappears and is presumed dead. Yet who is the person making contact? Guillaume Canet’s directorial take on this pulpy thriller had me gripped all the way.
Children of Heaven
Heartbreaking but illuminating story of a struggling brother and sister who share a pair of shoes. It has pathos but no maudlin note. I love The Color of Paradise as well, which is also from Iran and of similar ilk.
La Vie En Rose
This is an engrossing story of Edith Piaf’s tragic life, and it’s a gorgeously made film, but I was totally blown away by Marion Cotillard’s performance, and still believe it to be one of cinema’s finest ever.
The Ides of March
A terrific terse, tense and absorbing political thriller where every twist is played with sparse perfection. Headed on all ends by George Clooney, it has a stellar cast with Ryan Gosling in the lead.
- Rashomon (above) Kurasawa shows the same event told from different perspectives; its masterful handling has made the film’s title a shorthand for doing this in other films and mediums.
- Casablanca (top) Bogey! Ingrid! Noir with a heart.
- California Dreamin’ A train carrying US soldiers stop in Romania during the Kosovo war; this captivating film’s director was killed during the editing, so it’s ‘unfinished’ but can more than hold its own against most completed films.
- Wait Until Dark Audrey Hepburn plays a blind woman; quite possibly my favourite thriller.
- An Education Carey Mulligan in 1960s England, with a scene-stealing Rosamund Pike as the dim-witted friend.
- The Last King of Scotland Two of my favourite actors, Forest Whitaker and James McAvoy, in this fictionalised story of Idi Amin and his doctor.
- The Elephant Man Moving David Lynch film with John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins.
- The Player I’m not otherwise a huge fan of Robert Altman, but this and Short Cuts are slow boilers that reach satisfying crescendos.
- The First Day of the Rest of Your Life About a French family through the years.
- Tea With Mussolini A gentle story set in Florence during WWII with a cast including Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright, Cher and Lily Tomlin.
- Argo I wasn’t a big Ben Affleck fan until his directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone; each of his films just keeps getting better – I loved The Town too.
- Dog Day Afternoon Sidney Lumet’s brilliant film with Al Pacino as the man who robs a bank for the most unusual and touching reason.
- Persepolis Breathtaking animated version of Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novels.
- Akeelah and the Bee About a spelling bee contest – too charming to miss.
- Howl’s Moving Castle My favourite of Miyazaki’s many fantastical animation masterpieces.
- The Intouchables Omar Sy and François Cluzet play outcasts who bond.
- The Social Network The story of Facebook that started at Harvard.
- Insomnia A fan of most of Christopher Nolan’s other work, most notably Memento, the psychological layers of this film continue to stay in my mind years after seeing it.
- All About My Mother, Talk to Her and Live Flesh are three of my favourite Pedro Almodóvar dramas; Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is my favourite comedy by him.
• Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons