What are your top 5 books and films you couldn’t live without? Here’s mine

After NaNoWriMo I was in the mood to do something less taxing and lists like this are always fun to put together. 

This post will fittingly do exactly what it says on the tin, and list five films and five books that I couldn’t live without if something were to happen like, I don’t know, being banished to an island somewhere. An island with a TV and DVD player obviously.

The lists are in no particular order and I’ll no doubt kick myself approximately five minutes after posting this for a book or film that somehow slipped my mind, which doesn’t matter really because I’m going to write a post soon about the films, books, TV shows etc that you’d share with a new friend, girlfriend or boyfriend; the ones that you just have to share with them, and yes, that is a different thing to this. For example, The Golden Child (1986) won’t make this list, but it would definitely be a film that I would share – and have done – with someone because it was part of my childhood. Make sense?

Off we go.

Movies

Batman Begins (2005)

When I was a kid I was obsessed with Batman, but it was an obsession that didn’t take the form that most young kids love of comic book characters took, and by that I mean reading all the Batman comic books I could get my hands on. In fact, I only ever read one Batman graphic novel when I was a kid ( A Death In The Family), and by then my love for the character was already fully evolved.

The first time I ever came across the Batman character was the 1989 Tim Burton film. I would have only been three at the time so I obviously saw it some time after when it was out on VHS. Whenever it was that I saw it though, it had a lasting impact; the idea behind Batman, the driving force behind why he took on criminals, the inner turmoil from his childhood, everything about him spoke to me on a deep level that I didn’t have the maturity to vocalise. I also felt that every take on Batman I saw on screen just wasn’t right, it didn’t fit what I saw in my head or tally with what I thought of the character (although I’ve recently re-watched the Tim Burton films and they are very enjoyable and Michael Keaton is great. The less said about the rest of them the better.)

But then Christopher Nolan came along and delivered Batman Begins (along with a perfectly cast Christian Bale), the origin story to end all origin stories and finally I had a Batman film that felt and looked right. It encapsulated everything I’d ever felt about the character and put it on the big screen.

So I guess it’s no wonder that it makes this list and that Begins is my favourite film in the Nolan trilogy.

And of course it had a cracking soundtrack as well.

The Exorcist (1973)

The most terrifying film I have ever watched but also one of the films that I admire the most. I still struggle to make it through to the end and am still blown away by the power of it, which is precisely why it makes this list. If I’m going to have to a horror film on here, it’s going to be one that remains fresh, shocking and scary no matter how times you view it.

As I say, it is a film I admire and one of the main things I admire is the script, so much so that I bought it.

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Although most of the times I cover her face because, well, it’s not very nice to look at.

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I think it is a wonderfully put together piece of work that is positively alive. There has been a lot written about this film, and if you’re a fan I’d highly recommend buying the book below

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And here’s the author of that book talking about his own obsession with the film

Also, this documentary is cool

Goodfellas (1990)

If I ever happen to be flicking through the TV channels and come across a film that I like, or a film that I have been meaning to watch, but have missed even one minute of it, I simply can’t bring myself to watch.

I simply have to watch a film from the beginning; I have to see every last second, even those first few seconds of black before it fades up. I don’t know why, it’s just something that has always been true to me.

Goodfellas spectacularly breaks that rule. As it’s such a rare occurrence, I know that there have been three separate occasions where I’ve stumbled across Goodfellas when I had missed the start. There was even an occasion where I’d missed the first hour. It didn’t matter, each time it instantly suckered me in.

Again I’ll use the terminology I used with The Exorcist and say that this is no mere film, it is a living, breathing work of cinematic art that is alive. The performances are incredible and Scorsese’s directing is pitch perfect; in fact the cinematography, the editing, everything, everything about this film is simply outstanding. Including the soundtrack. One of my most treasured possessions is the Goodfellas soundtrack bought for me by two girls I knew back in college for my 18th birthday. This film was always going to make this list.

Ah man just watching that trailer makes me want to go watch this right away.

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)

Film number four already, damn. Well I had to have a comedy and I was saying to my friend recently that this may well be my favourite comedy of all time and there’s some stiff competition in that category. From films like Airplane! (1980) and Naked Gun (1988), to The 40 year old Virgin (2005) (I always forget how much it makes me laugh), there are a lot of films that crack me up, but Walk Hard just edges it. Great songs and great performances, especially from John C.Reilly who is superb. Oh and also, anything with Tim Meadows in is fine by me, that guy is hilarious.

I Heart Huckabees (2004)

OK, this comes under comedy as well, but it gets in anyway.

I’ve said before that I know this film may not be the best film ever, and in fact I know plenty of people don’t really like it at all, but ever since I first watched it, I Heart Huckabees has had a special place in my heart.

It’s simply a film that is very important to me. I suppose it was the movie that got my mind thinking along lines that I would later be able to identify as the starting point for an interest in philosophy. So whilst people may say it presents a very simplistic representation of deep philosophical theories, for me it was a great introduction.

I know for a fact that the timing of me first watching this film also plays a part in why it has remained such a favourite of mine. I was 18 when I first watched it and it was the first time I was living away from home as I embarked on my first crack at university in Brighton. I failed spectacularly, dropping out during my first year after realising that I far preferred drinking and having a good time with friends then Criminology and Sociology.

I was in a whole new place – physically, intellectually, emotionally – so the big question that this film raises – how am I not myself – resonated hugely. And it still does.

Great soundtrack too, one of my favourites

Right, so that’s the films done. Jeeze, am I really not going to have The Matrix here? Agh, it’ll be on the other list. On to

Books

Infinite Jest David Foster Wallace

One of the greatest things I’ve ever read, this book is staggeringly good. Also by far the biggest book I’ve ever read. A journey that takes place over more than a thousand pages with a non-linear storyline, I’d be lying if I said that I’d taken everything in. It is simply impossible to do so after one read. There are though passages that are now ingrained in my mind, and I’m looking forward to going back to it in years to come and reading it all over again. I know it’s huge, I know it looks daunting, but seriously, give it a go, you won’t be disappointed.

Song of Solomon Toni Morrison

This was actually the last book I read so it says a lot that I’d put it straight on a list of my top five books that I couldn’t live without. I’m actually going to write a separate blog post specifically about this book but needless to say, this book got to me in a way that I didn’t expect, and actually it kind of ties into my next choice.

East of Eden John Steinbeck 

OK, so there are similarities here between this book and the one above in that it follows the fortunes of one family across decades, so maybe I’m just a sucker for these types of stories, but I remember reading this and just being blown away. There’s something about the way the passage of time is conveyed and the way characters grow up, change and develop that is alluring, illuminating and entertaining. I suppose it’s the fact that the process of growing up is something that lends itself naturally and organically to plot and the development of theme.

In the great book The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler, the storytelling process is broken down into twelve stages, such as the Ordinary World (the beginning) and Crossing The First Threshold (moving from act one to act two). When I was first reading it I applied it to my life seeing as our lives are themselves one big narrative where we all have the same beginning and the same end point, and everything in between is hopefully where the magic happens. I could see how going from primary to secondary school was crossing a threshold, whereby everything is the same but bigger and you have to get the lay of the land and work out who your allies and enemies are.

The other stages can also be applied and of course there are lots of different narratives with the same steps going on alongside whatever our main goal is at the time, whatever that may be, finishing university, getting married, whatever.

So yes, books following characters or entire families through decades and generations really appeal to me. Oh and also, one final point, it’s just really intriguing to see the actions of past generations echo through to the present generation as you read, especially if the writer builds in things like destiny and fate and trying to break free from what you’re ‘supposed’ to be because that’s the background you come from.

The Writer’s Journey Christopher Vogler

I’ve learned so much from this book. I’ve developed beyond recognition as a writer by taking on board what this book has to offer. Throughout secondary school teachers commended me on my creative writing and even at university (the second time around when I studied Creative & Professional Writing) my lecturers would say I had talent, but no one seemed able to convey to me how to construct a story.

I don’t know if that is something lacking across the board educationally or just in my experience but anyway, to go off on a bit of a tangent, I think sometimes people are too involved with the romantic notion of the muse and how ‘a story just comes to me darling and I write it.’ Which is cool, but it’s kind of bullshit too.

I think that people look at something like structure and believe that it will strangle their creativity or dampen the spontaneity of their work.

The way I look at it is like this: Take something like football (soccer). The rules are always the same: two teams of eleven, two halves of 45 minutes. Does the structure take away from the spectacle? Does it take away the spontaneity? The creativity? Go and watch Ronaldo or Messi or Aguero and see if there’s no magic to be had in a structured environment.

You can basically take any sport and apply the same analogy. The parameters of the game give purpose and energy and I happen to think storytelling is the same.

Homicide: A Year on The Killing Streets David Simon

A phenomenal book that was one of the inspirations behind two of the greatest TV dramas of all time: The Wire (2012) and Homicide: Life on The Street (1993)

I’m a big fan of the work of David Simon and was lucky enough to hear him talk live at an event in London when he was over here talking about the war on drugs alongside Eugene Jarecki (director of The House I live In (2012) and Rachel Seifert (director of Cocaine Unwrapped (2011)

If you’ve seen any of David Simon’s tv shows but haven’t read, or didn’t know they came from Simon’s books, which in turn came about through his work as a journalist, go and read them. And read The Corner too (which by the way I also need to do.)

So that just about wraps up part one and incidentally, my longest post ever. Hopefully there’s enough videos and music in here to break it up. Next time I’ll do albums, computer games and TV shows.

 

 

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4 comments

  1. The original 12 Angry Men- stellar cast, tight script and tension-building direction. , and still relevant. Midnight Run- I don’t know who thought up pairing Robert DeNiro with Charles Grodin. But my god. One of the funniest films ever. The Silence of the Lambs- raw and intense like a film from the 70’s, the best film of the 90’s ( with formidable competition). Dog Day Afternoon- another prescient work of magic from Sidney Lumet. He knows how to get the best out of his actors/actresses. Any old Kurosawa ( Stray Dog, Red Beard, Throne of Blood, The Bad Sleep Well, High and Low, The Lower Depths, Rashomon, The Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Drunken Angel) His track record of excellence is peerless.

    • I absolutely love Silence of the Lambs, same with Rashomon. Dog Day Afternoon has been on my Netflix que for ages. I will have to watch 12 Angry Men and Midnight Run as well.

      It was weird writing this and knowing there were many films that are outstanding that wouldn’t make it because of being as strict as I could be with the reasoning behind it.

      I’m looking forward to going back to this list in years to come and seeing how much it has changed and what has stayed the same.

      • Like you I’m sure, a couple came right to me, and then it was an elimination for the others. Dangerous Liaisons, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and Monsieur Hire to name a few. As I write this, for years Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Rope were my favorite movies in high school. Rope is my favorite Hitchcock, although picking a Hitchcock is like picking a Kurosawa, or a Woody Allen.
        When you do see 12 Angry Men, see the remake as well, but especially see the Russian remake by Nikita Mikhalkov called 12. Mind blowing interpretation.

    • Yep there was definitely a few on this list that instantly came to mind.

      On the subject of great films, have you seen Zodiac? I remember reading the book by Robert Graysmith years before the film and being completely engrossed by it. I was just as blown away by the film. For a film that is over 2 and a half hours it never feels that long at all.

      It also inspired me to go and watch The Most Dangerous Game which I also thought was brilliant.

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