Children of Men
When it was released back in 2006, Children of Men’s near-future British setting seemed like a particularly pessimistic take on the direction in which humanity was heading. A decade and a bit later, post-ISIS, Brexit, Trump et al, it seems eerily prescient in its deft presentation of a green and pleasant land gone grey and grim, robbed of hope by multiple crises – climate change, a huge influx of refugees fleeing wars and failed foreign countries, nuclear attacks, terrorism and, worst of all, a lack of children.
The setup here is that the human race has become completely infertile, with the last baby being born 18 years previous. But Children of Men does more than just show us a depressingly plausible dystopia – it weaves together a thrilling plot, featuring some of the best one-shot takes in modern cinema.
Christopher Nolan’s recreation of the British and French armies’ evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940 is an audiovisual masterpiece, richly served with moments of both quiet grandeur and epic spectacle.
With comparatively little dialogue, barely any CGI effects and an enemy that’s barely seen, Nolan conjures up the hopelessness of the surrounded British Expeditionary Force, trapped between the sea and the German army and prey to horrifying attacks from the air, and the heroism of soldiers, sailors, pilots and civilians caught up in a desperate situation. Hans Zimmer’s score, meanwhile, remains a lesson in understated power.
Jurassic Park’s masterful mixture of special effects and CGI means that its visuals impress to this very day, more than 20 years after its release. Being big dino fans in our youth, this movie had it all - big teeth, gigantic beasts, and just enough humour to lighten the mood in between scenes brimming with terrifying suspense. We still get the odd recurring T-rex nightmare even now and - wait, can you hear that thumping?
If you have a daughter between the ages of two and eight, you may already know this one. Or rather, you may already know EVERY SINGLE WORD OF EVERY SINGLE SONG, which character is singing them, what they’re wearing at the time, what happens next and what it means for Disney’s profit margin. You may also be able to pinpoint the exact moment at which your brain melted at the sheer, relentless onslaught of it all.
That said, Frozen is a pretty wonderful modern-day Disney film. It’s not horribly sexist, in that the lead characters are strong-willed, independent girls who don’t generally need saving, it looks fantastic, the story is gripping and funny without being too cheesy, and there’s no denying the power of those aforementioned songs.
It’s definitely one to settle down with and watch together as a family - but just be aware that you will have those tunes jammed your noggin for the next month.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Based on three novels in Patrick O’Brian’s beloved Aubrey-Maturin series, this rollicking Napoleonic Wars epic is probably one of the most historically accurate depictions of early 19th century naval life (and death) ever put on screen. You can practically smell the sea salt, boiled cabbage and gunpowder as the HMS Surprise’s crew, led by Captain “Lucky” Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) and his faithful physician friend Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany), pursue the larger, more heavily armed French privateer Acheron from the South Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
From tense evasive manoeuvres to ship’s dinners to battles filled with smoke, flame and splintered wood, this movie’s authenticity and attention to detail shines through – and almost all of it achieved without CGI chicanery, too. It’s a real pity no more Aubrey-Maturin movies followed – with 21 books in O’Brian’s entire series, there’s no shortage of source material from which to draw.
The Godfather trilogy
Look, if you haven’t seen The Godfather and The Godfather Part II by now, stop reading this and just go watch it. And then maybe watch the third one just to round things out, even though it’s a bit of a dud by comparison.
Francis Ford Coppola’s mafia epic spans a generation, weaving the tale of a Sicilian immigrant who becomes a powerful mobster and his son, who strives to turn his father’s “business” into a legitimate concern but finds it impossible to keep his two families together without getting his hands dirty. With fantastic performances all round and a true sense of scale and grandeur that no later mob movie has ever matched, The Godfather trilogy (or at least the first two thirds of it) can rightly be called one of the greatest feats in cinematic history.
No Country for Old Men
No Country for Old Men always felt like the most screen-adaptable of Cormac McCarthy’s novels, and with the Coen brothers at the helm it would have taken some kind of disaster to stop this movie from becoming an instant classic. And it is, thanks to not only the source material and its sympathetic treatment by two of America’s finest filmmakers, but due to strong performances from Josh Brolin, Kelly Macdonald, Tommy Lee Jones and, most memorably, Javier Bardem as a philosophising, seemingly unstoppable mass murderer. If you like your thrillers as contemplative and lyrical as they are nail-biting, look no further.
The movie that put James Cameron on the map as a AAA director and cemented Arnold Schwarzenegger as a superstar (albeit one whose acting talents yet required some polish), this 1984 action thriller succeeds despite a ludicrous premise (a humanoid robot is sent back in time to kill a woman before she gives birth to a resistance leader) and some of the dodgiest haircuts ever committed to celluloid.
Schwarzenegger excels as the monstrous monotone cyborg, Cameron cranks up the tension like a master, and the film would go on to spawn one of the greatest sequels ever – as well as Arnie’s beloved catchphrase…
Saving Private Ryan
Ex-schoolteacher Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) sets off across France to find Private Ryan – whose three brothers were killed during D-Day – and y'know, save him. It's Steven Spielberg's take on the classic "men on a mission" movie, a grand epic rich with the sort of masterful camerawork, thrilling action and touching sentimentality that tend to be associated with the director.
It's worth watching for the intensely terrifying opening scene of the Normandy landings alone, one of the most pioneering bits of filmmaking in recent history. Spielberg deliberately aped the look of vintage newsreels during the 20-minute sequence, fiddling with the shutter timing on the cameras and treating the film to desaturate the colours.
Not many horror movies get nominated for Best Picture Oscars (in fact, the last two were Pan’s Labyrinth in 2006 and Black Swan in 2010, both of which could arguably described as non-horror), but Get Out isn’t your average slasher flick or ghost story, even if it features gallons of gore seasoned with plenty of otherworldly creepiness.
It's instead a satirical, genre-bending piece that succeeds both as a straight-up scary movie and as a wry, insightful take on race – in particular, on modern interracial dating between black men and white women. And, as you’d expect from a film written and directed by Jordan Peele, it’s not inadequately stocked with laughs either. Add in Daniel Kaluuya’s fantastic lead performance (also Oscar-nominated) and its box office smash status, and you can see why it’s attracted the Academy’s attention. But who needs Oscar’s seal of approval when you have Stuff’s?