Note: This post is full of spoilers for the films featured. Consider this fair warning.
Earlier this year I put together my list of Desert Island Discs, to save me having to go on Radio 4 and discuss them in person. You know me, I don’t like to leave my flat without good cause.
This led to another conversation, more recently, about the eight films I would choose to take to a desert island with me. It’s taken me a lot longer to put the list together. The first draft was fifteen films long. I’ve got it down to eight and they’re exactly what you would expect of a droll indie prole boy. Check it out.
1. Almost Famous.
I can’t remember when I first saw Almost Famous. I know it was before I went to university. I know it was during the phase that continues to this day when I was obsessed with the culture/counter-culture of the ’60s/’70s. The thought of this young man who had all this vinyl and got to hang out with rockstars and write, was always going to appeal to me. If you add groupies into that mix, especially when one of them was played by Kate Hudson and named after a song/lane, then it’s going to completely be my bag. Also, Billy Crudup with a moustache.
For a long time it was my go to film when I had girls over to my parents house and needed to put something on before I awkwardly tried to yawn-and-stretch myself into a viable position for bad kissing and offbeat dry-humping. To this day, this moment in this film just makes me smile.
2. Pulp Fiction
On a very base level, everything about this film is incredible.
The cast. The soundtrack. The script, the pacing, the blood and the dancing.
This scene is the single coolest thing that has ever happened. A ’50s-themed bar, all these little references to listen out for, Uma Thurman absolutely killing it in the role of Mia Wallace.
I was too young to see it when it came out but I remember the poster in the windows of video shops. The image of her on that bed was iconic and even as a kid I knew the film had to be special.
I remember my friend Mike (who was forever teaching me what was cool when it came to films and music) buying this and Reservoir Dogs for me. They were some of the first DVDs I owned and I watched them until I memorised the Ezekiel 25:17 speech.
The following scene was such a departure from how gritty and real other elements of the film were that it made me think about whether it was ok to do this as a filmmaker, and in that, I recognised Boyle’s strength. You could never disappear into a toilet but somehow, I felt this on a deep level.
On top of the surrealism of this scene, the film is so slick and sexy, it’s such a compliment to the book. The cast are all spot on. Young Ewan has got it going on.
4. The Departed.
I did not think this film would be for me. I avoided seeing it in the cinema until enough people were talking about it that I took a chance. I had been sorely mistaken, something I’m always happy to hear.
It’s another film led by music. That’s definitely a theme in what I enjoy.
It’s brutal. It has this incredible back-and-forth where you don’t ever know who you are routing for. Everyone is at the top of their game. Jack Nicholson is outright terrifying. All the accents make it sound a lot more dramatic. Mark Wahlberg has terrible hair. What’s not to love?
5. Shaun of the Dead
Everything about this film is gold. It taught me a lot about writing and about timing. It taught me about setting and love and ice cream. I can’t help but smile whenever I see it and it’s constantly on ITV2.
For my 30th birthday I had a private screening of the film having spent three months beforehand watching it and pulling it apart with my friend Scott as we tried to work out what made it work and put it into a show we were writing together. We got some of the way there but it renewed my love for Pegg, Frost and Wright.
6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
I fairly recently saw this on a rooftop in east London. It was far from the first time I had seen it but I silently wept as it played out. I couldn’t work out why for a long time afterwards.
It turns out that it’s because it’s the most honest film about break ups I think I have ever seen and depending on where you’re at when you see anything, depends on the way it hits you. It’s become my go to Valentines Day film, which probably says a lot about me. Everyone, even Dunst, brings their A-game. Jim Carrey and Kate Winsley essentially swap places on their typecast characters to play Joel and Clementine and I don’t think I’ll ever get over it.
7. Nowhere Boy
I’m always going to be here for Beatles-related content and Aaron Johnson’s turn as a young Lennon (“glasses John!”) is really something to behold. It covers him as a teen, getting the Quarrymen together and basically having a terrible time when it comes to his family. There are some nice nods to what The Beatles would become and how they didn’t just happen upon that.
It’s a human story and it’s terribly sad in places but music saves him and I will always have time for that.
Again, I can remember showing it to girls as a way of impressing on them how deep I was.
8. The Darjeeling Limited
My friend Ben recommended Darjeeling to me when I was staying with him in Cambridge. He went to bed and I put it on. I was immediately won over. As the minutes rolled by it hit me more and more. I had never seen anything like it. The sibling rivalry. The decor on the train. The characters. Bill Murray. I fell in love.
I borrowed heavily from it for my first novel, somewhat obviously in places.
I had previously seen Rushmore and maybe The Royal Tenenbaums but the backdrop of India and this particular brand of family squabbling appealed. I’ve since become a huge Wes Anderson fan and insist on seeing his films in the cinema.
This sequence was so obvious (they’re literally throwing away their baggage) but it was in slow-mo and The Kinks were playing and if that’s not everything you need then I don’t know what is.