As it was my birthday a few weeks ago in this month, I wanted to make a fun challenge for this edition of The Ultimate Choice. I started thinking about my birth year and what films were in it, and I wanted to challenge others to pick one film from the year they were born as their favourite. Here is what everyone picked.
You’ve Got Mail (1998)
Chosen by Amy Smith (me)
Being born in the year 1998, I had so many options for some of the biggest and most beloved movies to choose from. The Truman Show, Saving Private Ryan and The Big Lebowski are just a few that are regarded as some of the best movies of all time. You may see the list that I had to choose from and simply be baffled as to why I am picking a smaller rom-com in the name of You’ve Got Mail as my favourite film from that entire year.
Whilst not many people talk about the film now, it is clear that You’ve Got Mail is a film that surprisingly ages well as a discussion on both online dating and the debate between independent businesses against the massive corporations. Based on numerous adaptations of the story, including the musical She Loves Me (in which a wonderful production in 2016 starring Zachary Levi and Laura Benanti is available to watch online), this is a story that is timeless and easy to adapt to any situation, whether it is a perfumery or a book shop.
There is a reason why Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks worked alongside each other several times and that is due to their chemistry. Their relationship in this film is so complex, more so than most rom-coms. They have their own stories and backgrounds, but they weave together through numerous levels and it is fascinating to see them connect and open up so easily online without knowing each other, whilst still feeling disconnected based on their moral beliefs in real life. Whilst it could have been easy for me to choose a more well-known or beloved movie from my year, this simply is my favourite and it is a great chance to highlight it for others to enjoy.
Chosen by Owen of The Pope in the Pool: Twitter
While scrolling through lists of 1996 films I very quickly discovered that my birth was one of many great things to happen that year, which has posed me quite the difficult (or rather ultimate) choice. I hope that the Coens and Michael Jordan will accept my apologies for not picking their films, but I do have to go with the Danny Boyle masterpiece that is Trainspotting. Trainspotting is a film that takes a very honest look at addiction (I assume), in a way that allowed people to understand why these characters were involved in drug use. While most films would show drug use as bad, Trainspotting digs deeper into the details showing how attractive it can seem without shying away from the consequences. A lot of people attribute this approach to inspiring a lot of the TV shows that were popular shortly after, such as Skins and Misfits, but it definitely made British TV take a more complex look at drug addiction in its storylines. If you hadn’t seen Trainspotting this would sound like a depressing film but its humour and lovable characters really elevate this film to something far better. The real trick to Trainspotting is that it takes people with a cynical view towards what people consider normal in society, and uses them to look at modern life through the lens of an outsider, yet at the same time critiquing the hypocrisy of those who avoid the responsibilities of modern adult life in favour of short term pleasure. It questions what the actual ideological differences are between choosing life and avoiding it, suggesting that we are all addicted to something, just that some of these things are socially acceptable. Trainspotting doesn’t side with the addict, but it does state their case. Choose Trainspotting. Choose Ewan McGregor. Choose Danny Boyle and Irvine Welsh. Choose “Lust for Life” by Iggy Pop and Underworld’s “Born Slippy”. Choose climbing into the worst toilet in Scotland. Choose Sick Boy, Begbie, and Spud. Choose surreal set-pieces. Choose a unique look at the criminal underworld. Choose loyalty, Choose betrayal, and Choose escaping it all. Choose a great movie. Choose Trainspotting.
Home Alone (1990)
Chosen by Samuel Preston: Twitter | Author Details
The year 1990 was a strong entry for cinema, with a mixture of tremendous film choices for fans to enjoy. Whether the pleasure of Scorsese classics in Goodfellas, cult classics such as Tremors, Gremlins 2 and Edward Scissorhands, a range of sequels such as Die Hard 2, Rocky V, The Godfather Part III and Back To The Future 3, or horror classics such as Misery, IT and Jacob’s Ladder, as well as many more. However, for me, with 1990 being the year I was brought into this world, I lean more towards the childhood enjoyment of Home Alone, a family classic that can be enjoyed all year round but especially at Christmas. A relatively simplistic tale of a young boy accidentally being left at home by his family and utilising the opportunity to enjoy his freedom, as a child I would take tremendous pleasure in the madcap adventures of Kevin McCallister. Whether running across the frozen ice amongst skaters as he’s chased by police, or swinging paint cans to defend himself, Kevin’s mishaps would delight many a child as he battles against hapless burglars Harry and Marv.
However, as the years have passed and I’ve grown in maturity as a film fan, it’s the quiet scenes that have gained the most resonance for myself. Whether it’s Kevin’s mother Kate battling to get home, begging couples to buy their plane tickets, or it’s John Candy in a wonderfully wholesome cameo as polka band player Gus Polinski, the film is filled with sincerity and heartfelt scenes. It’s quite easy for audiences to naturally feel pessimistic and negative towards such scenes, finding them either ‘cheesy’ or ‘boring’, but by refusing to lose its legitimacy, the scenes are that much more evocative. Whereas as a child, my favourite scene would likely have been one where Kevin is battling the Wet Bandits, nowadays I lean more towards the quiet moments, such as Kevin suggesting to Old Man Marley that he should phone his son to try and rebuild their fraught relationship.
The best moment for me, however, is the morning of Christmas Day, when Kate finally arrives home, panicking as she looks for Kevin, while he has been feeling disappointed that his wish for his family to be home seemingly failed. It’s the shot where Kate and Kevin turn around to see one another, that gutting apology from Kate when she thinks Kevin hates her, and it’s that lovely moment where the two-run to hug one another. As much fun and enjoyment you can gain from watching the film, at its heart, it’s a story about the relationship between a mother and her son, how the forced separation between the two reminded them that deep down, they genuinely love one another. It’s that moment, combined with one of John Williams’ best work as a composer, that makes me return to this movie, and leaves me with a smile as it wraps up.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)
Chosen by Russell Bailey: Twitter
Released in 1988, Who Framed Roger Rabbit still resounds as a genre-redefining, cinema-shattering achievement. Coming at the height of Robert Zemeckis’ blockbuster-experimentations (slap bang between the first and second Back to the Future) the film meshes a film noir narrative on a world populated by iconic characters from the history of animation. Packed with studio-straddling cameos, it nevertheless manages to create charming characters of its own. It all meshes together, leading to one of the best films of the 80s.
One of the strengths of Who Framed Roger Rabbit is that it marks a crossroad for family films, a culmination of all that has come before and a self-aware, postmodern signposting for the future. It is arguable that without Roger Rabbit there would be no Genie in Aladdin, no Shrek, no Lego Batman. The self-referential quality that flourishes so much here is the spark that set alight animated and family blockbusters thereafter. If no film has quite achieved the success of Zemeckis’ (and co-director Richard Williams) work, well that is down to the alchemy at the heart of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It is why there is no sequel, the Herculean task undertook by those involved (the legal wrangling of all those characters on screen is worthy of a book in its own right) has made this a one-and-done phenomenon.
But this isn’t really why I love this film. You can admire the technical prowess of a work of cinema and applaud its place in the history of its respective genre. But the works that truly linger, for me, are the ones with a heart and a humanity. For all the spectacular animation, this is a deeply human story. The audiences’ perspective runs with Eddie Valiant, a bitter, toon-hating detective. His cynicism of the world around him matches our own, and his softening as the narrative progresses and his viewpoint opens up aligns with ours. It is perhaps Bob Hoskins’ greatest turns, in a career littered with them. Behind every scowl and harsh word is a break person whose healing brings the film its warmth. Even with all the craziness on display, this film belongs to Hoskins. It is why each and every rewatch rewards viewers. Who Framed Roger Rabbit is about the power of healing and overcoming your grief. And we all need a story like that in 2020.
Almost Famous (2000)
Chosen by André Sousa: Twitter
In the year 2000, two Crowe caught the public’s attention and both released the best works of their career. Gladiator would be quite deserving of an article like this but I decided to talk about the other Crowe. I was born in the same year that Cameron Crowe presented the world with Almost Famous, his magnum opus, an extremely personal project that managed not only to talk to me in a very special way but also to become an important milestone in the coming-of-age genre.
In this picture, Cameron Crowe delivers a very honest, passionate and truly raw work that leads us through his own experiences and memoirs as a young journalist who travelled on tour with rock bands like Led Zeppelin. It is a beautiful tale about music, addiction, ambition, sexuality, youth madness, loneliness and hope with a very cynical look from someone who lived it all up close and who looks at it all with a mix of regret and longing for those times.
Another important aspect of Almost Famous is the character of Penny Lane, the groupie that introduces the young protagonist to the struggles of loving someone. Based on a love story by Cameron himself, Penny Lane is presented to us in an idyllic and sparkling way in the eyes of the dazzled William Miller. But as we go deeper, we are confronted with complex layers of the mysterious character, someone totally lost and who hides her insecurities and instability with all her falsely confident and bold attitude. If Penny Lane works so well as a character it is due to the academy award nominee performance from Kate Hudson where the actress finds the fine line between the character´s complexity and shallowness and plays it as a strength.
Besides Kate Hudson, Almost Famous features a fabulous cast. Patrick Fugit portrays William Miller with the right amount of innocence and charisma, Frances McDormand is at her highest level as William’s concerned mother, Billy Crudup is quite seductive and charismatic as the star of the band Stillwater and we still have the one and only Phillip Seymour Hoffman in a mesmerizing performance as a music critic who becomes the mentor of the young protagonist. Jimmy Fallon is also doing something there but that we’ve been trying to ignore it.
Music is clearly a key element of the film, it is the passion that makes the plot move, the fuel that unites and feeds the characters. It is an expression of freedom and rebellion and it is this same courage that William Miller found and makes him discover as a person. The soundtrack is strategically chosen with several treasures like Cat Stevens´s “The Wind” or Thunderclap Newman´s “Something in the Air” to illustrate decisive moments of William’s trip. But it is impossible to talk about Almost Famous and its relationship with music without mentioning one of the most iconic scenes in modern cinema in which all the struggles and problems were forgotten by the characters and came together in one voice to sing Elton John´s “Tiny Dancer”.
Almost Famous is one of those films that stays in the mind of the viewer for a long time, something that makes you think about your own experiences and that you can easily identify with because it is something so real and passionate that it came directly from the heart of Cameron Crowe to the world.
Chosen by Scott Gilliland: Twitter | Blog
1988 was a year full of sequels such as Hellraiser II, The Dead Pool, Short Circuit 2, Rambo III and more. Some were better than others (sorry Caddyshack II) and then we also had the adaptations such as Die Hard. The pick for me was Katsuhiro Ôtomo’s adaptation of his own manga, Akira. Akira will always have a place in my heart, it was the first anime I ever watched and like many Western teenagers, it was most likely the jumping point into a world of non-Disney filled animation. I had never connected with Disney films and would instead favour (and be horrified by) Watership Down and The Plague Dogs. Visually, Akira is astonishing. Shot and edited as a live-action film (at 24 frames a second) this cinematic approach from Ôtomo made Akira look special. The depth in detail of the backdrop of the rebuilding city leaves you wanting to just pause to analyse it for a few extra moments, getting lost in its vastness and detail, it is truly mesmerising work. Akira’s biggest triumph, however, is that it is a film that had a message. The story is told on the go, there is rarely a moment where the film stops to fully explain what is happening, you are just dragged along for this cyberpunk ride. What makes Akira stand out is how layered it is as a film. It is much more than the cyberpunk, science fiction, body horror film it appears to be. Akira delves into creation, evolution and spirituality. It is also an allegory for Japan post-WWII after the atomic bomb rocked the country. We see the people of Tokyo struggling to rebuild after the destruction 30 years prior but these people are broken and the current generations are paying the price for it. This interlinks with again spirituality, Tetsuo being overcome with power that he believes himself to be a God, what happens when you think God has left or betrayed you? These adult themes helped me fall in love with cinema, helped me see that even non-conventional genres had something important to say. Akira has always held the same level of importance to the science fiction genre to me as Metropolis. Without Akira, we possibly would not have gotten cinematic anime epics such as Ghost in the Shell, which means we would not have gotten films such as The Matrix. Akira not only has key importance to myself but also to cinema as a whole.
Thank you to everyone who took part in this edition. Let me know what you thought of our picks and what you would choose from your birth year in the comments section.