The 2012 Advent Calender: For the 25 days of Christmas, I will be blogging each day about a miscellaneous thing I love. Not necessarily a big thing, not necessarily a small thing and not in any order.
My god, this is by far the most challenging post I’ve had to write. I like lists–love lists in fact–but to try and narrow either of these categories to just ten was completely impossible. I may even have made some glaring omissions purely by the sin of memory and a giant library that is getting wildly uncatalogued. What’s most interesting though is that this is the first time I’ve listed my favourite films in over six years, and films which I will glibly list as my favourite–Mean Creek, Road To Perdition, for example–have completely and utterly vanished without me even noticing they were being replaced.
I grew up without a television–tv shows and films were not a part of my childhood at all. When I was sixteen I got myself a Lovefilm subscription and started devouring movies and television voraciously. These days I watch at least the pilot of nearly every TV show going, and have a 1500 strong DVD collection. So you may be able to imagine how hard it was to put together these lists…
1. The Crow
I think I just decided one day that I was going to love this film–when I was fifteen I dressed up as The Crow for the only Halloween I was ever allowed to go to, without ever having seen the film, because I’d seen photographs of my brother in the same costume. But when I did see it, I loved every glorious gothic second of it; the dramatic urban gothic visuals, the music, the love story at the beating heart of the film, Eric’s guitar solo, and that iconic circular window. Unlike many people, my love for the film has little to do with the real life dramatics around it–the death of Brandon Lee, etc. The story of a rock musician killed by gangsters, only to return a year later in the form of the Crow, reborn to seek his vengeance, it’s just out and out the best film I’ve ever seen.
It’s probably hard to imagine exactly how revolutionary a film Saved! felt like to me when I saw it. I bought it when I was about sixteen and completely mired in the contradictions of my own burgeoning independence and the evangelical Christian church life I was involved in. Saved! is still the only film I’ve watched which reflects that kind of world, and it does it with both cutting satire and a surprising amount of acceptance for the religion it is simultaneously criticising. The story follows Mary, a devout Christian who sleeps with her gay boyfriend in an effort to cure him at the behest of a vision of Jesus in her swimming pool. When she falls pregnant, she redefines her life in response to the reactions of those around her. It’s full of great actors–Jena Malone, Mary Louise Parker, Macauley Culkin, and even Mandy Moore is brilliant in this–and only slightly wusses out for the Hollywood ending.
3. Latter Days
A mormon evangelist encounters a promiscuous gay neighbour, and the pair fall in love, despite the consequences. Despite one scene which is on the level of bad porn, this film is a whole step above what the premise suggests it could be, and finishes with a massive helping of heart and heartbreak. One of the few films that makes me actually interact–crying, cheering, singing. Wonderful film.
As I type I’m realising that almost the entirety of my list so far is gay cinema, which is understandably not going to appeal to everyone. If any film is going to be crossover though, it’s C.R.A.Z.Y. which is an involving family drama centred around the youngest brother. His coming out is not the entire centre of the drama; it follows him and the rest of his family through the years, especially with the main character’s relationship to his father, a hard man with a weakness for Patsy Cline records. Beautiful and involving. And French.
5. The History Boys
If I could go back in time, one of the things I would do would be see The History Boys live with the original cast (who return for the film.) The film that made me love Alan Bennett and give me a huge crush on Samuel Barnett, The History Boys is the story of a class of working class pupils who are trained to get into Oxford university by two teachers; one an ostentatious man who teaches them useless pop culture and occasionally gropes a boys leg on the way home, and the other an uptight graduate with new and revolutionary ideas about education. It’s the Posner character that really makes me love this film (the tiny movement of the hand in that one scene is a heartbreaking moment) but the whole play has a great resonance to it that is hard to pinpoint. Not only that, but it’s also the first appearances of Russell Tovey, James Corden and Dominic Cooper…
6. Garden State
A film in which little to nothing happens; a film that I love and John despises. The thing that connects so many people to Garden State, and disconnects so many others, is the timing of watching it. For Garden State to work, you have to view it at just that point in your life, around about the early twenties, when you have drifted from the roots of your home and haven’t quite clung on to anything new…
7. The Amazing Adventures Of Adele-Blanc Sec
An out and out rip-roaring adventure film, like Indiana Jones fused with Amelie, by way of the Mummy, with a bit of steampunk and a pterodactyl thrown in. Entertaining from start to finish, and highly recommended.
I went to ridiculous lengths to secure this film when it first came out, and it’s still an undervalued gem. Written by Neil Gaiman, the film is directed by Dave McKean, one of my favourite artists, and three-quarters of the film occurs in his unique visual style, a kind of surreal phantasmagoria that is impossible to describe. Aside from being a feast for the eyes (cliche unapologetic), it also has great turns from Rob Brydon and Gina McKee and features Stephen Fry as a talking library book, alongside pet sphinxes, spider spies, giants in the sky, an offended castle and floating book staircases.
Ladies and gentlemen, the film that convinces you being a slut is not only fine, but is actually the meaning of life. Okay, an exaggeration, but not by much. Famously one of the few films in which all the sex is real–and be warned, Shortbus is completely explicit–it still avoids being pornography by investing the sex with heart and emotion and spinning a spinetingling web of interconnectedness between all of its characters. All that and great music.
10. Prayers For Bobby
Based on the true story of a Christian mother’s reaction to the suicide of the gay son she had rejected, this is actually a made for TV movie with Sigourney Weaver, who is superb. I defy anyone to not burst into tears at the ending of this. Powerful, and Weaver can’t be beaten in this.
Also rans (because 10 in a list is just too hard…): The Star Wars series for its escapism and sparking teenage obsession, and the Harry Potter series for much the same. Stand By Me for potent nostalgia and poignancy. Serendipity for sheer romance. Finding Neverland for never losing the spirit of childhood. Repo: The Genetic Opera for bonkers goth musical madness. Kinsey for real-life fascination. Broken Hearts Club for relating to ten characters all at once. Freaky Friday for guilty pleasure. Mrs Henderson Presents for Judi Dench and sheer entertainment. The Mummy Series for adventure and Egypt. Billy Elliiot for T-Rex and goosebumps. The Lord of the Rings because it’s part of my childhood. Eating Out series for gay comedy genius. Love Actually for Christmas. La Petit Nicolas & Moi Cesar for great French kids films. Watchmen for the best book to film adaptation ever. The Perks of Being A Wallflower because it probably deserves to be higher placed but is too soon to tell.
1. Six Feet Under
The lives of a family of undertakers in the wake of their fathers death, including the returning prodigal son, the closet gay son, the drug-experimenting artist daughter and a whole cast of others. I watched all five series in university with two of my best friends, and we completed the final episode together at the end of our first year of university. Picture three six feet men crushed onto one bed, all in floods of tears. It’s that good a show.
I came late to the bandwagon, renting first Buffy then Angel from Lovefilm, and going through all the seasons in one go. On a technical level, I actually think Angel is a better show, but Buffy had one huge thing going for it, the same thing as Harry Potter does for me: the desperate desire to run away and be part of the world, to join the Scoobies, hang out at the Magic Box and fight vampires. To burst into song on their famous musical episode, or fight the Gentlemen in the equally famous silent episode. An amazing show, and the one I always return to to cheer me up.
3. Doctor Who
I never watched any of the old Doctor Who and was very sceptical when the new show started. I watched the first series on DVD in my garden one summer and was completely hooked. Doctor Who has something that nearly no other TV show seems to manage, and that is a manic, excited passion for life; in the Doctor Who world, everything is wondrous, and that’s refreshing. Not to mention that the new series has all kinds of innovation and pizazz that no other show has. And then, of course, there’s The Empty Child.
4. Sugar Rush
An over-caffeinated, dizzying rush through the life of a closeted lesbian in love with her best friend, the wildly inappropriate Sugar, set in Brighton. Aside from the occasionally relatable story lines, two things endear me to Sugar Rush: the sheer energy of the story that for once actually seem sto capture teen life, and a moment midway through the first season when Kim outs herself to her best friend Sugar, and overcome by the sheer pent up emotion hot foots it away before her friend can respond, accompanied by Emiliana Torrini’s Today Has Been Okay which in some way sums up wordlessly so much more about life as a gay teenager than I could write with any words.
A university professor enters into a professional relationship with a woman who claims to be a medium. Two seasons of supernatural drama anchored by a strong sense of realism and an impressive balance between scepticism and belief that lasts right up until the devastating last episode. A superb series with two great turns from Andrew Lincoln and Lesley Sharp.
6. Secret Diary of a Call Girl
Just the right side of slutty, and completely unjudgemental. It’s been accused of glamorising prostitution, and the critics may be right, but the show is damn entertaining and for my moneys worth, I would fall on the side of claiming Belle as a feminist hero. Plus where else on ITV will you find bondage and sploshing?
Casanova is my go-to film for three hours of cheering up; the story of Casanova, his conquests, and the one woman who captured his heart. Wickedly entertaining, zipping along a pace and a half and bookended by a genuinely emotional payoff to the love story at the heart of it. I’ll never forget Casanova dancing with his lady on the cobbles. Highly recommended.
8. Desperate Housewives
Who can really resist the pull of Wisteria Lane? It started off bitchy and satirical, with a great cast, some hilarious set pieces and an engrossing central mystery. And where else but suburbia can you find this much ridiculous mayhem? The show drifted off the tone a little in the middle, but I stuck with it right til the end and it concluded wonderfully. Most affecting to me was the season-long plot of Tom and Lynette’s divorce, in which the audience can plainly see they belong back together but have to watch them hitting the obstacles as they try to move on from each other, but there are some other amazing highlights.
9. Beautiful People
The gayest show on TV without once being about sex, it’s the story of the camp Simon Doonan and his friend Kylie in 90s Reading. Full of ridiculous characters and nostalgic cultural references, it also benefits from Samuel Barnett, on whom I have a huge crush (see History Boys above.)
10. Queer As Folk UK
The gayest show on TV that is definitely about sex. Can you image in the adrenaline shot this gives you when you’re a closeted sixteen year old who’s had to buy Gladiator and Little Women from Tesco to sneak this DVD out between them at the tills. ‘They didn’t tell you about that, did they?’
Also rans: The OC for soapy drama that makes everything ok in your life, Jekyll for inventiveness and twist ending, Carnivale for Dustbowl magic. The West Wing for simply being awesome. Hex for British boarding school magic, demons and lesbianism. House for being constantly intriguing despite not understanding half of the medical dialogue. Coupling because Stephen Moffat was a genius before Doctor Who. Weeds because it was good once. The Big C, because the world needs more Laura Linney. Friends because ‘I’m going to kiss you know’/’Not if I kiss you first.’, Modern Family because it’s never once not been funny in three seasons, Alias because you can’t stop watching once you’ve started, Fringe because it’s the X Files but good, and because John Noble is wonderful, Supernatural because it’s the Buffy for this generation, Miranda because I am her male reincarnation, Greek just because, Heroes
because that first season blew the roof off TV, Being Human because Russell Tovey gets his bum out alot as a werewolf, Pushing Daisies because I love the pie-maker, Benidorm because it’s comedy gold and Sherlock because didn’t I mention that Stephen Moffat was a genius?