(NOIR IN A NUTSHELL)
THE EXORCIST (1973)
Let’s start with my favourite movie. Noir? Yup. From the compromised ex-boxer priest to the plodding, sardonic detective, the budding evil gives purpose to their wearying lives of quiet desperation. Also, it’s got banter. As in wisecracks. Yes, The Exorcist.
Simple premise, yet a tour de force of cinematic set-pieces. You can pluck any of a half-dozen sequences and teach them in film class. Workaday heroes, check. Great banter, check.
NIGHT MOVES (1975)
If The Big Sleep was the quintessential evocation of Raymond Chandler, this ’70s thriller is surely birthed from his successor, Ross Macdonald.
Sad, wrenching, poignant. A hero who knows not what he does
— or rather: WHY.
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007)
Crime as literature, pure and simple. Violence that is clumsy, erratic, shocking — even comical. Look and learn.
THE HANDMAIDEN (2016)
As Hitchcockian as it gets. A stunning, often infuriating look at depravity, and the brilliant women who conquer it.
Someone will doubtless miss the point and call for its cancellation.
THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR
A bleak Christmas adds colour to Sydney Pollack’s story of a frightened loner on the CIA’S kill list. Quirky, awkward, REAL. A good primer for thriller fans.
THE LIVES OF OTHERS
A story about the East German Stasi that practically drags you up onto the screen with the characters. So engaging that when I screened it (blind) at my house, my guests offered reverent thanks. They’d been changed.
EASTERN PROMISES (2007)
People like to point to David Cronenberg’s A History Of Violence as his triumph, but I was much more impressed with this diamond-crafted gem. The steam-bath sequence is SWEET.
On the surface, an easily overlooked Korean ghost thriller…but so much more. It aspires, by the end, to a level of sadness that isn’t just surprising — it’s a powerful lesson for horror filmmakers.
SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957)
The Holy Grail. In Barry Levinson’s Diner, that character who keeps popping his head in? He’s quoting this movie. Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman on screenplay — say no more.
The first movie we ever saw. It made us laugh, it made us cry, it taught us the power of the moving image.
THE GREAT ESCAPE
As movie-obsessed kids, we subsisted on a cinematic diet almost exclusively from the ’80s and ’90s — that is, until we saw The Great Escape. Before long we were sifting through a treasure trove of classics, but our history lesson began right here, in a World War II POW camp with Steve Mcqueen, the coolest movie star of all time.
We vividly remember watching
The Goonies for the first time on
VHS with our friends, slumped on beanbags during a summer afternoon in the room over our garage. As soon as the credits rolled, we shared awed looks, hit rewind and watched it again. No film or show before or since has so accurately captured what it feels like to be a kid.
Tim Burton’s style was so unique that it was impossible to miss, even at a very young age. We began to watch all of Burton’s films, discovering along the way what a director was, and how they shape everything on screen. This was the film that made us want to be directors.
Our go-to favourite film of all time from our favourite director of all time, Jaws has something of everything — horror, comedy, drama, action, adventure — and it glides so effortlessly between tones and genres that you don’t even notice. The benchmark.
The first horror we ever saw, Scream was our gateway to John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Sam Raimi, Clive Barker, Stephen King and the other giants of horror. Our biggest hope for
Stranger Things is that, like Scream, it will lead its younger audience to discover the classics that inspired it.
THE EVIL DEAD
We first heard about this NC-17 horror film from our cooler, older cousin. Only problem — we were only 12 at the time. So we lied, telling our mom that, although the film was technically unrated, “Leonard Maltin said it would be PG-13” (he didn’t). Watching it was a shock to the system from which we have never fully recovered. The definitive proof that you don’t need a big budget to make a big impact. (And to this day, we still pull from Sam Raimi’s ingenious
bag of camera tricks.)
We were unabashed M. Night Shyamalan fanatics in high school, and Unbreakable was our favourite. A brilliant deconstruction of superhero mythology, it inspired us to return to a Spielberg style of storytelling, where the ordinary and extraordinary meet — and where genre tropes are explored with an intimacy and earnestness usually reserved for indie dramas.
As we learned to write screenplays in college, we would watch Toy Story on a loop, analysing its structure, characterisation, and all those perfect plants and payoffs.
It is a perfect script, and proved more valuable to us than any screenwriting book.
With big stars, a big budget and Cary Fukunaga’s cinematic eye, True Detective felt like a big movie and made us reconsider everything we thought we knew about TV. Stranger Things simply wouldn’t exist without it.