Some Films You Probably Haven’t Seen

I went to the cinema yesterday; I last went before Christmas when I saw a depressing film called ‘Saint Maud’, much loved by The Guardian, but maybe not something to hold against your heart through a winter pandemic.

Yesterday’s film was ‘Nomadland’ which I really liked, though I confess to being a mite surprised that it’s deemed the best film of the past year. Beautiful to look at, though, and a good reminder of what going to the cinema is about. My company was lovely, but I did miss Dr Scott, still shielding, with whom I have been going to the cinema well…forever.

Anyway, I feel prompted to talk about some movies I have liked over these decades of cinema-going. It didn’t seem to me to make much sense to just list my favourite ever films, because many of my favourite ever films might be fairly obvious choices, though I suppose many of them have some story or association that might be interesting. Here’s some – ‘The Godfather’, ‘Stand By Me’, ‘The Silence of the Lambs’, ‘Nashville’, ‘Night of the Hunter’, ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’, ‘In The Heat of the Night’. And some great films do have associations – I think I have been to the cinema by myself maybe three times in my life – once in Australia, feeling pretty depressed, being greatly cheered up watching ‘Steel Magnolias’ not by the film, which is a conventional but astonishingly well cast weepy, but by the dialogue behind me, where an old lady loudly explained to her blind friend what was going on. This is what friendship is about, I thought, which fitted neatly with the film’s theme. On a hot summer’s day in London, seeking air conditioning, I saw ‘The Long Good Friday’ – Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, gangsters, the IRA – just everything a man could wish for on a hot day.

My mother liked films. I must have been 15 when my mother and I sat down to watch ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ on the telly, while at the same time my father had gone to the station to pick up my brother, back for Christmas from his first term at Cambridge. He arrived, her eldest boy, just at the point where the children are attacked in the wood, and was told, pretty sharply to sit down and be quiet until the film finished. Now that is a great film. Similarly, I loved ‘Ordinary People’, not least because Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore more or less were the middle class, American versions of my folks.

Anyway, enough about films you’ve probably seen, though if you haven’t, then I would do so without delay. Here are some great films which I think most people won’t have seen – ten now, and another ten in another post. I know, I know, there will be people who read this who have seen them all, you smarties….

‘Sexy Beast’ – Ray Winstone as a retired gangster in Spain, being terrorised by a psychopathic Ben Kingsley (in a role rather dissimilar to Gandhi) who wants him to do a final job.

‘Running On Empty’ – now, I have to admit that I was distraught when River Phoenix died because I thought he was so…talented. On the day after he died, the girls in my CSYS class gave me a picture of him, on the back of which they had written ‘He is gone but we must all struggle on”. But even allowing for that bias, this Sidney Lumet film, about a family on the run, has a fabulous cast and is very moving, and River is so…talented…in it.

‘Pucker Up’ – part of a very fine series of documentaries dealing with arcane pursuits, this is about the World Whistling Championships. I have no idea where you will find it. Another fine film in the same vein is ‘Pecking Order’ about the raising of fancy chicken breeds in New Zealand. Seriously.

‘The Apostle’ – Robert Duvall as a minister who does something terrible then starts a new life. Should have been laden with awards.

‘Margaret’ – so Dr Scott and I went to see ‘Manchester By the Sea’ which – as mentioned in a previous post – I loved. He, being a considerable cineaste, then gave me Kenneth Lonergan’s earlier film ‘Margaret’ as a gift. It’s a long, complex study of a girl and her mother, the former played by Anna Paquin, who came to fame in ‘The Piano’, which I absolutely loathed (there, I’ve said it.)  This is a deep and exhausting and brilliant film.

‘Happiness’. Todd Solondz, so, while it’s funny in places, happy it ain’t. I have liked every single film he directed, but I don’t think I’d like to have his mind.

‘Tatie Danielle’ – lockdown has been a particular struggle, I think, for people with teenage children and those with elderly relatives. This is a French black comedy about a selfish old cow living with her kindly family and squeezing them dry. Will make you look at care homes differently.

‘The Mission’. This is, in my view, one of the very greatest films ever made. I honestly can’t think of a single thing about it that isn’t close to perfect. It’s got Jeremy Irons, Liam Neeson and Robert de Niro in it, an astonishing performance by Ray McAnally, beautiful music by Morricone and it is gorgeous to look at. The ending resonates with me 35 years after I first saw it. It’s set in South America in the 18thCentury and it’s about Jesuitism, colonialism and brotherhood, and it simply must be the subject matter that’s made it so grossly undervalued. 

‘Capernaum’ – only two years old. A Lebanese street kid runs away having sued his parents for giving him such a terrible life. Absolutely riveting; audience sobbing at the end. 

‘Red Road’ – ok I realise there’s not a lot in this selection of movies to bring a smile to your face, and this one certainly isn’t ‘Carry On Glasgow’ but Kate Dickie is wonderful as a dreary woman obsessed with an ex-con. Just to add an eleventh recommendation – and this one is very funny – she is also in ‘Get Duked’ (previously called ‘Boys in the Wood’) directed by my former student Ninian Doff, which opened the Edinburgh Film Festival in 2019, back in the days when crowds of people could sit maskless and all laugh at the same clever, silly, original film and hug each other at the end. Sigh.

More soon, if desired. 



  1. It’s Capernaum with an “a”, Cameron. After almost 30 years, a chance to correct your spelling.


  2. I’m probably the world’s least frequent cinema visitor but I am genuinely reassured that with The Godfather, Kind Hearts and Coronets, Stand By Me, In The Heat of the Night and Sexy Beast under my belt, I may have made some decent choices.
    Will I spoil it all by mentioning the Dollar Series? Morricone’s music sealed the deal.

    Liked by 1 person

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