Bastille's Dan Smith handpicks classic films for this summer's Cinejam, a collaboration with BFI, Zig-Zag and the Rooftop Film Club
Words: Lou Thomas, Henry Barnes and Sam Wigley
For NME’s first film festival Cinejam, Bastille’s Dan Smith is going from frontman to curator. He’s picking some brilliant bands to play, he’s also chosen his favourite films of all time, all of which will be screened this summer on top of South London space Bussey Building’s Rooftop Cinema Club.
For the most part, Smith’s picks are undisputed classics. But there’s also space for a couple of recent Academy Awards winners, and a healthy supply of controversy-stirring Tarantino flicks.
Have these films stood the test of time? Who better to judge than three BFI (British Film Institute) experts, who’ve watched every classic and obscure independent triumph there is to see?
Martin Scorsese’s fast, stylish gangster epic covers three decades in the life of the New York mob, from the mid-50s to the 1980s. At its core is Ray Liotta as Henry Hill, the Brooklyn kid who falls in with experienced crim Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) and the hot-tempered hood Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci). Pesci deservedly won a best supporting actor Oscar for his chilling and indelible portrayal of murderous rage, while Lorraine Bracco, who later starred in The Sopranos, is superb as Hill’s anxious wife Karen. Crime may not pay, repeat viewings of this modern classic do. LT
Relocating Nick Hornby’s novel about a lovelorn record shop owner from north London to Chicago could have resulted in a bad cover version. But, with John Cusack in the lead and Jack Black given free rein in support, this take on a familiar tune (boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds shelter in the minutiae of record collecting) it’s a low-key hit. Stephen Frears’ truthful and hilarious comedy has a lot to say about the fragile male ego, co-habiting and relationships in general. It also gives normal people a smart insight into what it’s like to be obsessed by music. The Beta Band’s Dry the Rain is a highlight of the film’s consistently excellent soundtrack. LT
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
The Coen Brothers rarely make a bad film, but this is among their best. George Clooney is on fast-talking and foolish form as Ulysses Everett McGill, the leader of a trio of convicts who break out of jail in Depression-era Mississippi. Hilarity ensues as Clooney tries to evade the law, win back his wife and stick it to the Ku Klux Klan. The lovingly-shot road movie has a Grammy-winning soundtrack of bluesy US folk and features a raft of bizarre incidents and memorable characters. A proper lolpocalypse from modern cinema’s greatest siblings. LT
This is Spinal Tap
This is Spinal Tap invented the mockumentary 30 years ago and still hasn’t been surpassed. Tap (the band) are a ludicrous, anachronistic British heavy metal group. They’re adrift in the 1980s – touring to largely indifferent and increasingly dwindling crowds on a shambolic world tour. Tap (the film) is a never-bettered exploration of the frustrations, foibles and failings of the rock-star life. Your favourite bands love this film. You will too. LT
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Before La La Land reinvented the musical for the Snapchat generation, writer-director Damien Chazelle made this snare drum-tight study of a jazz drummer’s quest to make it big at a prestigious New York music school. Miles Teller is on great, smug form as the harassed trainee skinsman, but J. K. Simmons is the real star. Simmons plays a mean, cantankerous instructor and gives a performance as expertly vicious, loud, and unyielding as a Mogwai gig. LT
Tarantino’s masterpiece. A multi-stranded, timeline-hopping small-time LA crime thriller that bounces Tigger-like from heist film to sports drama to tragedy to farce. Packed with as much flavour as a Big Kahuna Burger, QT’s plot somehow encompasses boxing, foot massages, torture porn and dancing the twist, without feeling stodgy. All that and a MacGuffin (the “666 briefcase”) that still has fanboys guessing. Made a superstar of long-term character actor Samuel L Jackson, made John Travolta relevant again, made a lot of cult musicians (Urge Overkill, The Statler Brothers, The Tornadoes) an awful lot in royalties. A moment. A magic act. A rite of passage. HB
The Big Lebowski
The Dude abides. And abides. And abides. Almost 20 years after its release, the Coen brothers’ wonky crime caper has blossomed into a cultural force that’s responsible for … a convention (Lebowski Fest, held annually), a religion (Dudeism: 22,000 ordained “Dudeist Priests” and counting) and the names of two species of spider: Anelosimus biglebowski and Anelosimus dude. The soundtrack (Creedence, Gypsy Kings, Kenny Rogers) is stellar, the supporting acts top-notch, but it’s Jeff Bridges’s loose, lovable turn as The Dude – a schlub who, faced with the defilement of his favourite rug, stumbles upon a kidnap plot – that really ties the film together. Look out for Flea, of funk-punk grandpas Red Hot Chili Peppers, playing a nihilist German kidnapper. HB
For a megastar actor Ryan Gosling really doesn’t act much. Stillness is his style. He stares, he waits, he mumbles. But he looks very sexy doing it all and therein lies the magic. Drive, Nicolas Winding Refn’s gleefully violent revenge fairy tale, puts all this nothing to great use. Gosling plays Driver, who – funnily enough – drives getaway cars for a living. Icy detachment is de rigour, until he meets Irene (Carey Mulligan) a young mum in trouble who Driver decides to protect with extraordinarily grisly consequences. It’s a strange film: the glossy surface shields something ripe and icky. Gosling’s flatness, the neon sheen of night-time LA and – crucially – Cliff Martinez’s perfect, otherworldly score – combine to make for a strange and memorable trip. HB
This ultra-violent couple-on-the-run thriller was based on the first script Quentin Tarantino ever wrote. Christian Slater plays the Elvis-loving comic-book clerk who goes gaga for call-girl Patricia Arquette, kills her pimp (Gary Oldman) and scarpers across the States with a loot of stolen cocaine. Christopher Walken is the psycho mobster who wants it back, while Dennis Hopper gets in the line of fire as Slater’s unfortunate dad. Tony Scott’s film riffs on outlaw classics like Badlands (and cribs its music too), but updates the formula with Vegas-ready fashions from the style and swagger you know and love from Tarantino’s own movies. SW
British film had its Britpop moment with this generation-defining 90s classic. White-hot after Shallow Grave, Danny Boyle boldly took on the supposedly unfilmable Irvine Welsh novel about a debauched group of Edinburgh junkies and made it… well, not just filmable, but a once-in-a-lifetime pop-culture phenomenon. With a star-making turn from Ewan McGregor and an iconic soundtrack featuring Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and Underworld, Trainspotting manages to be both grim as hell and totally exhilarating. It’s a trip to the dark side of urban life, delivered with cocky Cool Britannia confidence. Just as sharp and hilarious 20 years on. SW