How to pretend you've seen some of the best movies ever made

How to pretend you've seen some of the best movies ever made

MOTHER OF ALL SPOILERS: We’ll be spoiling some of the best movies ever made. If you see the title of a movie you’re planning to watch, for the love of all that is holy DO NOT READ THE ENTRY. You have been warned. 

We’ve all experienced it before. Someone tells you to watch a movie, saying it’s the best one ever made, and for a full two minutes (it feels longer than it sounds, trust me) they rant about how it’s a marvel. Then you go home and promptly never watch it. Next time they ask you if you’ve seen it and you politely say no. And again the next month. And the next. And the next. And oh god this is getting embarrassing.

To save you the trouble of sitting through [insert famous movie title here, which you clearly don’t want to watch], we’ve created a bluffer’s guide to some of the best movies ever made, and therefore the ones people are most likely to pester you to see. Filled with plot details, key bits to mention to fool people that you’ve enjoyed the movie, and a quote to roll out when they start to get suspicious, we’ve done all the hard work for you. You’re welcome. 

Oh, and do you really need to be told? There are massive spoilers ahead.

By Total Film staff

The Usual Suspects (1995)

Five criminals flung together by chance. Only one has survived a massacre onboard a boat containing cargo belonging to Keyser Söze, an elusive, seemingly all-powerful underworld crime boss. Over the course of the film the only man (Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint; Kevin Spacey) left narrates, with a limp and other physical disabilities, their dealings with the crimelord to a Detective in hopes of helping the police catch him. Verbal’s erratic, tangential narration tells how their job becomes increasingly complicated in the lead up to the boat bloodbath. For the first time ever, Söze is within the police’s grasp… and he’s closer than you’d think. Ahem. Verbal is Söze. Weaving an intricate plot out of the bits he could see in the detective’s office, it’s ambiguous how much of the tale is made up and how much is true. At first limping out of the police station, Söze shakes off his Verbal disguise and strides away, using what was his disabled arm to light up a cigarette before driving away. 

Key things to mention: Fred Fenster’s (Benico Del Toro) bizarre slack-jawed speech (seriously, good luck trying to understand him), and the five suspects’ giggling in the line-up scene. Oh, and Kint is Soze, but you totally saw it coming.

Memorable quote: “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.”
Zoe Delahunty-Light

Citizen Kane (1941)

“Rosebud…” This first line of the famed film is the last one uttered by fictional newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) before his death. A reporter charged with discovering the story behind that final word learns all about Kane’s life from friend and colleague Jedediah Leland (Joseph Cotten) and his mistress Susan Alexander (Dorothy Comingore). Charting his poverty-stricken childhood and the turning point of a gold mine being discovered on the property, up to the decisions he made as a tabloid newspaper tycoon, you see just how deluded Kane became with his own power. He paid a steep price for it. That last word, “Rosebud” ends up being the name of his childhood sleigh - seems all Kane wanted was a return to the simplicity of his past. 

Key things to mention: For this one, talk Citizen Kane’s techniques. There’s Welles’ use of optical illusions to demonstrate power. Or the invisible wipe in the opera debut. Or his groundbreaking use of deep focus, which demands intentional staging and framing in each shot. Also name-drop William Randolph Hearst, the real-life media mogul who was an inspiration for the Kane character.

Memorable quote: “People will think what I tell them to think.”
Anna Washenko

Psycho (1960)

Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) steals a bunch of cash from her boss, flees the city of Phoenix, and ends up staying the night at the Bates Motel. The owner, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), stabs her to death in the shower in one of cinema’s most famous scenes before dumping her body in the nearby lake. The rest is the story of various characters looking for Marion Crane, and discovering the grizzly secret lurking in Norman’s house on the hill that reveals a very unique relationship between the boy and his mother. Oh, you want to know what it is? Bates dresses up as his mother to commit his crimes, and keeps her dessicated corpse in the house.

Key things to mention: The money is just a McGuffin, isn’t it? What’s the deal with that creepy police officer? Did you spot the Hitchcock cameo when Marion is leaving Phoenix? Did you know the stabbing noise from the shower scene was from someone sticking a knife in a grapefruit? You do now.

Memorable quote: “It's not like my mother is a maniac or a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven't you?”
Andy Hartup

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Millions of years in the past, prehistoric ape-men encounter a mysterious, perfectly rectangular black monolith, coincidentally developing the ability to use tools at the same time. Flash forward to modern man, and a similar monolith is found buried on the moon. Investigations are made, but no-one can work out what it does. 18 months later, astronaut Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and his crew are journeying to Jupiter on a mission they do not yet know the true purpose of. As they attempt to find out, their apparently infallible supercomputer HAL-9000 (Douglas Rain) progressively kills them off, until only Bowman is left. Dave shuts HAL down and takes a pod to Jupiter. Surprise! There's’ a monolith orbiting the planet. Dave shoots down a hallucinogenic colour-tunnel, sees himself rapidly aging in a highly civilised neoclassical bedroom, and eventually becomes a magic glowing space-baby, floating close by to Earth. 

Key things to mention: 2001: A Space Odyssey contains multiple space-based and zero-G shots that just seem impossible given the year it was made. The film is dialogue-free for its opening and closing 20 minutes, and while its ending is incredibly abstract and open to interpretation, it’s all about benevolent, ancient alien civilisation helping mankind evolve past its current limits. Probably. Also, astronomer and all-round cool-guy Carl Sagan consulted on how to represent the aliens, and the film was developed in tandem with Arthur C. Clarke’s novel rather than based on it. 

Memorable quote: “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
David Houghton

Raging Bull (1981)

Martin Scorsese's biographical boxing flick charts the rise and fall of Jake LaMotta. Robert DeNiro’s performance as Italian-American boxer has become the yardstick by which all other method actors are measured: production was closed down for four months so DeNiro could binge eat his way around Europe, gaining 60 pounds for the scenes featuring the older, fatter LaMotta. It’s more than just a sports film, too. Instead, it’s an examination of self-destructive jealousy, anger and obsession, shot in bleak black and white. It’s widely regarded as Scorsese's best film, and critic Roger Ebert declared it the best film of the 1980’s. Take that, Mac and Me.

Key things to mention: Don’t use the bit about De Niro gaining weight. Everybody knows that. Instead, go with Raging Bull’s boxing anecdote: LaMotta taught DeNiro to box, who had three middleweight fights, two of which he won. LaMotta even said De Niro was one of his top 20 best middleweight boxers of all time.

Memorable quote: “I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it.” Throw in that this is a direct quote from On The Waterfront for extra bluff-o-points.
Matt Elliott

Taxi Driver (1976)

A dark, disturbing look at the loneliness of nocturnal living in New York City, Taxi Driver cemented Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro as titans of cinema early on in their careers. Vietnam War veteran Travis Bickle (DeNiro) takes up a thankless job as a cab driver to make the most of his insomnia, becoming more and more unhinged and repulsed by the "scum" walking the streets of the Big Apple. It's only a matter of time until he does something drastic, shooting pimp Matthew ‘Sport’ Higgins (Harvey Keitel) who becomes a target of all his righteous anger. Why? He falls for one of Higgins’ girls, Iris (Jodie Foster), who is working as a child prostitute. Bickle’s actions against Higgins and his associates is reported positively in the press, and he’s hailed - ironically - as a hero in the movie’s final scenes. 

Key things to mention: Just how frightening the typically lovable DeNiro can be, especially as he becomes increasingly disturbed while passing time in his disheveled apartment. Practicing push-ups and pull-ups is perfectly normal; clenching your fist over the open flame of your stove top, not so much.

Memorable quote: "You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me?"
Lucas Sullivan

Casablanca (1942)

Set in 1941, it’s the tale of US expat Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), proprietor of a nightclub and gambling den in Casablanca. Rick is the quintessential cynical hero with a damaged moral compass, but he comes good when it matters, helping Victor Lazlo and Ilsa Lund escape the Nazis at the end of the movie in place of himself. It’s a fascinating examination of war, neutrality and love, with a stoic, moving central message. Also: watch out for the spine-tingling moment a group of German officers start singing Nazi anthem Die Wacht am Rhein, only to be drowned out by a muscular rendition of La Marseillaise; the noble, rallying cry of a defeated nation. Simply one of the greatest scenes in cinema. 

Key things to mention: “Play it again, Sam”. Nope. That line is never said in film. The actual line is, "Play it once, Sam, for old times' sake", followed by, "play it, Sam. Play 'As Time Goes By'." 

Memorable quote: See above, yeah? Failing that: "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine."
Matt Elliott

Vertigo (1958)

Scottie Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart) is an ex-detective hired to investigate the strange behaviour of his friend’s wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak). Scottie becomes obsessed with her, but can’t prevent her from killing herself by jumping from a tower. Or does she? Months later Scottie sees a dead ringer for Madeleine walking into a department store, he follows her, and… the story really starts to unravel and his obsession reaches new heights. While Madeleine’s first death is staged, her ironic final demise at the end of the movie - which mirrors the staged version - is very, very real.

Key things to mention: Saul Bass’ soundtrack is amazing, isn’t it? Weird to see Jimmy Stewart playing a ‘bad guy’ isn’t it? Although is he really bad, or just damaged from the way he’s manipulated? Did you see the Hitchcock cameo outside the department store?

Memorable quote: “Did he train you? Did he rehearse you? Did he tell you exactly what to do, what to say? You were a very apt pupil too, weren't you?”
Andy Hartup

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) is a huge silent film star in the late 1920’s, just as studios are beginning to adopt the technology for sound. But his on-screen partner Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) has a voice like nails on a chalkboard, putting their first big talkie at risk of being a massive flop. Can Don, his best friend Cosmo (Donald O’Connor) and his new lady love Kathy (Debbie Reynolds) save the picture? Of course they can, singing and dancing and wise-cracking all the way to a happy ending. Having Kathy dub over Lina’s voice in their film The Dancing Cavalier, it quickly becomes a smash hit and fans demand to hear Lina sing live on stage. After Lina threatens to sue if Kathy gets credited in the film, Don and Cosmo agree to have her sing behind a curtain while Lina mimes onstage. Midway through the performance the curtain lifts, revealing Kathy. Lina runs off in shame, and Kathy is credited as being the real star.  

Key things to mention: It’s all about the Singin’ in the Rain’s dance numbers. Was your favorite Kelly and O’Connor toe-tapping to a tongue twister in ‘Moses Supposes’? Maybe it was the slapstick mayhem of O’Connor’s ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’ solo or the titular ‘Singin’ In The Rain’ by Kelly? Or are you partial to ‘Broadway Melody’, the massive third act ballet where Kelly duets with the incomparable Cyd Charisse?

Memorable quote: “Am I dumb or something?” (Ideally delivered in an absurdly nasal high-pitched voice.)
Anna Washenko

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is sent to Shawshank prison for the murder of his wife and her lover. He’s innocent but the evidence against him is so strong that he spends many years locked up, ultimately making a life for himself behind bars and striking up a close friendship with fellow inmate Red (Morgan Freeman). He becomes an accountant for the Warden and his guards, helping them evade tax amongst other (illegal) things, and even sets up a prison library for the inmates. Then one day, he breaks out through a tunnel he’s dug from his cell to a sewage pipe which he crawls through to escape. The movie ends with Andy relaxing on a beach fixing up a boat to take out to sea. 

Key things to mention: During The Shawshank Redemption, one of Andy’s crew, Brooks, gets released but after spending most of his adult life in prison he’s ‘institutionalised’ and eventually kills himself. Andy used a very small rock shaping tool to dig his escape tunnel, which is why it took so long. Once on the outside, he tips off the Feds about what’s been happening at Shawshank and the Warden kills himself before he can be arrested. Once Red is released he follows Andy hints about how to find him and makes it to the beach to be reunited with his friend. 

Memorable quote: “I guess it comes down a simple choice: Get busy living, or get busy dying.”
Lauren O’Callaghan

12 Angry Men (1957)

In an apparently cut-and-dry murder case, one brave juror suggests they should deliberate before coming to a verdict. On examination, his fellow jurors gradually change their minds about the case, or reveal misguided, personal reasons why they were so quick to judge the accused. More of a juryroom drama than courtroom, 12 Angry Men is a humane examination of judgement and assumption, which feature one of cinema’s greatest good guys - the angelic Juror 8, cast to perfection and perfectly played by Henry Fonda. In the end all the votes are unanimously changed to ‘not guilty’, either by logical argument or revealing the prejudices of each Juror. It’s an absorbing, hopeful fable, which shows that one bold, dissenting voice is enough to change opinion and save a life. It’s full of brilliantly observed characters who feel as recognisable today as they did in 1957.

Key things to mention: In case you were in any doubt who the good guy is, Juror 8 is the only member wearing a white jacket. Also, none of the characters are named during the film. Instead, they’re referred to only by their numbers. At the end of the film, Jurors 8 and 9 reveal their real names to each other.

Memorable quote: “You don't really mean you'll kill me, do you?”
Matt Elliott

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

The conclusion of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Western trilogy (so called because it was filmed in Italy), The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly sees the formidable trio of Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach sharing screen-time. It’s a three-way scrap for a bag of Confederate gold - which is buried somewhere in a grave - between the movie’s cast who roughly map to the film’s title (Eastwood / Van Cleef / Wallach respectively), and the trio are forced to form an uneasy alliance to get it. After escaping the attentions of the army, and a wonderfully-forced sharing of information, the iconic final stand-off between the cast is some of Leone’s best movie-making, as he ratchets up the tension through long, lingering shots and lashings of Ennio Moriccone’s now famous soundtrack. What’s more everyone sort of gets what they deserve, but you’re left guessing about the outcome to the bitter end.

Key things to mention: Oddly, Lee Van Cleef plays ‘The Bad’ in this movie after playing a good guy alongside Eastwood in For A Few Dollars More. The shooting of the hangman’s noose is one of the most iconic scenes in all Westerns, and it’s an anti-war film, yeah. Leone actually removed dialogue from the movie to make his shoot-outs more intense.

Memorable quote: “You see, in this world there's two kinds of people, my friend: Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig.”
Andy Hartup

Fight Club (1999)

The Narrator (Edward Norton) is a man who sees no future ahead of him and is suffering with insomnia. One night, he meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). The men strike up a fast friendship, commiserating over their anti-capitalist  and anti-materialism views. In an attempt to bring some excitement into the Narrator's life, Tyler goads him into engaging in a fistfight. The Narrator moves in with Tyler and they continue their bouts. Each time they draw a larger and larger crowd of spectators and participants, with the fights eventually organizing into the titular Fight Club. The club continues to grow, with members moving into the house and working secretly through the night. 

When one member is killed by police, the Narrator seeks to confront Tyler and shut the organization down. During his investigation, the Narrator discovers that Tyler is a split personality of his own mind, a projection of everything he wishes he could be. "Tyler" plans to erase debt by destroying several buildings containing credit card histories, and the Narrator - still envisioning Tyler as a separate entity - fights him for control of their shared body. The Narrator wins by shooting himself through the cheek, but Tyler's plan still unfolds. The Narrator holds hands with a woman he has pined for as the buildings crumble.

Key things to mention: The biggest thing to remember is that Fight Club actually has very little to do with fighting, and much more to do with anarchist views and conspiracy theories. That and the whole ‘The Narrator is Tyler’ twist. The Narrator often refers to himself in a sort of poetic, disassociated third-person, saying things like "I am Jack's inflamed sense of rejection" and "I am Jack's complete lack of surprise." Despite this, he is never properly named, hence being referred to as ‘The Narrator’. 

Memorable quote: "The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: you do NOT. TALK. ABOUT. FIGHT CLUB."
Sam Prell

Forrest Gump (1994)

Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) is not a particularly intelligent person but he does lead an extraordinary life. Something which he recounts to numerous people while sitting at a bus station waiting to go to meet his childhood friend Jenny. He tells anyone who’ll listen about his upbringing - he used to have a problem with his legs which meant he had to wear braces but one day he starts running and they just fall off - and the rest of his life, from his time in the Vietnam War to setting up a shrimp business. He eventually goes to meet Jenny and finds out that they have a son together, also called Forrest. Jenny is very sick so Forrest fulfils his lifelong dream of marrying her and they all return to home to Alabama where she lives out the rest of her short life. Forrest is left to raise their son, something he’s very devoted to. 

Key things to mention: Forrest meets Elvis Presley, President John F. Kennedy, President Lyndon B. Johnson, and President Nixon. He planned to set up the shrimp company with his army buddy, Bubba, who dies so he gives half of the money he makes from the business to Bubba’s family. His former superior officer (now in a wheelchair, drunk and bitter) becomes his business partner and invests the rest in Apple, setting them up for life. At various points in his life he reconnects with Jenny and after one such encounter they have sex, however she doesn’t stay. Frustrated Forrest runs from coast-to-coast for three and half years, gaining much media attention. 

Memorable quote: “Mama always said, life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.”
Lauren O’Callaghan

Inception (2010)

Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his crew are a set of very special thieves who go inside people’s subconscious and steal information while they dream, but when a potential client asks them to implant an idea in someone’s mind rather than steal one - something which has never been done before - Dom agrees on the understanding that the client will then make it possible for him to go back home to his children. As they go deeper and deeper into the mind of Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) to try and convince him it’s his idea to sell his father’s company, they risk being trapped forever. Only their totems can tell them whether they’re dreaming or in the real world (see below). Oh, and it doesn’t help that a dream version of Cobb’s dead wife, Mal, (Marion Cotillard) is trying to screw them at every turn. After a dangerous and near-fatal but successful inception, Cobb returns home… or does he? The director Christopher Nolan leaves the question hanging about whether he’s still dreaming, as he sets his totem spinning but walks away without caring about the answer.

Key things to mention: Implanting an idea in someone’s mind is called Inception. There are multiple levels to the dream world and the further you go down the slower time gets. You can wake yourself up by ‘killing yourself’ in the dream. In the dream world you can change and build almost anything you want (it’s a bit like being Neo in the Matrix). It’s very difficult to tell the difference between a dream and the real world. 

Those who go inside people’s minds are called ‘extractors’ and each one has a totem which tells them whether they’re dreaming or not. Dom’s totem is a small spinning wheel which keeps going in the dream world but falters and stops in real life. Dom can’t go home because his wife killed herself and made it look like he did it to try and get him to kill himself too. She killed herself because after a particularly deep and long dream with Cobb, she was convinced she was still dreaming and thought killing herself would wake her up. 

Memorable quote: Dom Cobb: “You're waiting for a train. A train that'll take you far away. You know where you hope this train will take you. But you can't know for sure. Yet it doesn't matter. Now, tell me why?”
Mal Cobb: “Because you'll be together.”
Lauren O’Callaghan

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) hopes to squeak through the rest of his prison sentence with minimal effort, so he fakes a mental illness and ends up in a mental institution overseen by the strict Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). McMurphy's free-wheeling and rebellious attitude goes over well with the other patients as he sneaks them out on an unsanctioned fishing trip, but Ratched sees McMurphy as a threat to her own control and order. McMurphy learns that his stay might become permanent, so he tries to convince Chief, his large Native American roommate (Will Sampson) to throw a hydrotherapy cart through the window so they can escape; Chief pretends to play deaf and mute until the two go through electroshock therapy together. McMurphy throws a surprise Christmas party for the other patients, sneaking a couple of women into the hospital, using the ruckus as cover to escape. He and Chief are about to leave, but fellow roommate Billy (Brad Dourif) won't accompany them, so McMurphy convinces one of the women to have sex with him. Nurse Ratched discovers the two together, Billy's stutter gone until Ratched threatens to tell Billy's mother what he did. Billy locks himself the doctor's office and kills himself. This sends McMurphy over the deep end, who attempts to strangle Ratched until he's knocked out by an orderly. McMurphy returns to his room with lobotomy scars, and his roommate Chief suffocates him with a pillow, picks up the hydrotherapy cart, chucks it at the window, and escapes.

Key things to mention: Composer Jack Nitzsche use a bowed saw and wine glasses to craft an eerie, off-kilter score. This is Danny DeVito's first film, reprising his role from the stage play as dimwitted patient Martini. DeVito would eventually parody this film in an episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia called "Sweet Dee Has a Heart Attack" - right on down to the nurse's hair and the film's ending, featuring Will Sampson's son. This is also Christopher Lloyd's (aka Doc Brown from Back to the Future) first film. 

Memorable quote: "Which one of you nuts has got any guts?"
David Roberts

Goodfellas (1990)

Besides The Godfather trilogy, Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas is the greatest portrayal of the Italian gangster lifestyle put to film, full of wise guys, organized crime, and plenty of good ol'-fashioned whackings. Based on a true story, Goodfellas follows Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) as he grows up from a young kid who idolizes mobsters into a mafioso who might be in over his head. Along with his close associates James Conway (Robert DeNiro) and the depraved Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), Hill tries to move up in the criminal world while dealing with drugs, murder, and the chaos of having a family. Eventually Henry Hill is forced out of gangster life, having given testimony against his former associates, ending the movie on a bleak note as he says “I’m an average nobody. I get to live my life like a schnook.”

Key things to mention: You just can't look away whenever Joe Pesci is on screen - he absolutely steals every scene with how aggressively erratic and abruptly violent he can be. Here's this relatively small guy with a high-pitched voice who you probably know as a bumbling burglar from Home Alone - but in Goodfellas, you don't know whether to laugh or tense up every time he speaks, because he can swing from hilarious wisecracking to dead-serious intimidation or heartless brutality in an instant. I almost feel like he's going to come find me and kill me just for writing that description.

Memorable quote: "I'm funny how? I mean funny like I'm a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh, I'm here to f****** amuse you?"
Lucas Sullivan

Seven Samurai (1954)

Akira Kurosawa’s most famous movie follows the exploits of seven ronin (samurai without a Lord), who unite to protect a poor village from bandit attacks. The band are recruited thanks to a mixture of charisma and respect commanded by the main hero, Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune), and they fight and die for the villagers for almost no reward. In fact, the villagers are often portrayed as devious by Kurosawa, tricking and cheating the samurai to get their own ends. After a climactic battle in the rain, as the samurai repulse the raiders, the poignant end of the movie sees the villagers returning to their lives, turning a cold shoulder to the heroes who fought and died to grant them freedom.

Key things to mention: The epic final battle in the rain; the different characteristics of the samurai somehow gelling them into a roguish group of heroes; the various class tensions on display in the movie; the fact this film inspired The Magnificent Seven, which is essentially a Western remake.

Memorable quote: “This is the nature of war: By protecting others, you save yourselves. If you only think of yourself, you'll only destroy yourself.”
Andy Hartup

City of God (2002)

Set in Rio de Janeiro between the 1960’s and 1980’s, City of God follows the life of Rocket (Alejandre Rodrigues), a boy living in the titular favela (low-income Brazilian housing project) who navigates a world ruled by drug wars, the film jumping back and forth between points in his life and the lives of people around him. His older brother, Goose (Renato de Souza), along with Goose's friends Shaggy (Jonathan Haagensen) and Clipper (Jefechander Suplino), run a gang known as the Tender Trio, committing petty crimes and distributing the wealth to the favela's inhabitants. A young kid named Li'l Dice (Douglas Silva) convinces the trio to hold up a hotel and, unsatisfied by the lack of bloodshed, takes it upon himself to gleefully murder everyone inside. The trio disbands, Li'l Dice renames himself Li'l Zé (played as an adult by Leandro Firmina de Hora), and using a gang of children known as "The Runts" eliminates all of the competition save for one dealer named Carrot (Matheus Nachtergaele). Li'l Zé, drunk with power, attacks a peaceful man named Knockout Ned (Seu Jorge) and murders several members of his family; Ned partners with Carrot, and the two sides are enveloped in all-out war. Ned is killed by a boy seeking vengeance, and the police capture Carrot and Zé, keeping Carrot for failing to pay off the police and letting Zé go, who is subsequently killed by Runts looking to take over the business for themselves. Rocket photographs the scene, and has a choice: expose the police's corruption, or use the photo of Zé's body to get an internship with the paper. He chooses the latter.

Key things to mention: One of the reasons City of God is so powerful is that, other than the actor who plays Carrot, no-one in the film has any professional acting experience. Many of the actors were from favelas in Brazil, several of them from the actual city portrayed in the film. Also, Li'l Zé is horrid; one scene shows him harassing a bunch of Runts, asking them whether they want him to shoot their hands or feet. They hold their hands out, and he shoots their toes, then calls a young boy over named Steak-and-Fries and asks him to kill one of them to see if he has the guts.

Memorable quote: "Where do you want to take the shot? In the hand or in the foot?"
David Roberts

Se7en (1995)

Brad Pitt’s police detective investigates a series grotesque murders and apparent suicides, and along the way realises that each is themed around a different one of the seven deadly sins. A gluttonous man is forced to eat until his stomach bursts. A slothful man is tied to a bed for a year. That sort of thing. With five murders discovered, the killer (identified only as John Doe) surrenders, but negotiates Pitt and his close-to-retirement partner (played by Morgan Freeman) to drive into the desert with him. There, a delivery fan arrives and deposits a box. Inside the box is Pitt’s wife’s (Gwyneth Paltrow) head, Doe having killed her out of envy at Pitt’s character’s happy life. He goads Pitt into (wrathfully) killing him, this completing the seven punishments. 

Key things to mention: The atmospheric opening-title sequence was created because the scripted, more narratively traditional opening required too much expensive location work, but was ultimately designed to give Doe a presence throughout the movie despite not appearring until near the end. Also, it was Kevin Spacey’s idea to keep his involvement as Doe a secret, so as to keep the killer a mystery. 

Memorable quote: “When a person is insane, as you clearly are, do you know that you're insane? Maybe you're just sitting around, reading Guns and Ammo, m*********** in your own faeces… Do you just stop and go, ‘Wow! It is amazing how f****** crazy I really am!’?”
David Houghton 

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

This black and white movie is a Christmas classic and follows the story of George Bailey (James Stewart) who dreams of travelling the world, but decides to stay in his small town when his father dies unexpectedly and his family’s building society threatens to close. Over the years he struggles to keep it open and support his family during the war, the Great Depression, and many other challenges, until a mistake is made and it looks like he’ll go to prison for fraud. Believing everyone will be better off without him, he decides to kill himself, at which point God sends the angel Clarence (Henry Travers) to save him. Clarence shows him what life would be like if he’d never been born and he discovers his brother would have died, his wife would be alone, and many of his friends and family in the community would have suffered terribly without him. He realises that despite the sacrifices he’s made, It’s a Wonderful Life indeed and he runs home to his family before having the day saved by the generosity of others. A truly heart-warming story. 

Key things to mention: George saves his little brother Harry from drowning when he’s just 12-years-old, and as a result loses hearing in one of his ears. When he’s courting his future wife, Mary, George tells her he’ll throw a lasso around the moon and pull it down for her. The baddie of the movie is Mr. Potter who’s the richest man in town and owns the bank which would be the only place people could get a loan without Bailey Building and Loan, which George runs. Mr Potter is basically a Scrooge-like figure who constantly tries to shut George’s company down.

Memorable quote: “Every time you hear a bell ring, it means that some angel's just got his wings.”
Lauren O’Callaghan

Léon (1994)

The main thing with Léon is its relationship between its two leads, Jean Reno’s Léon and Natalie Portman’s Mathilda. He’s a lethal loaner hitman, she’s a child, recently orphaned after her father ran foul of Gary Oldman’s psychotic bad cop. The real strength of the movie though is the relationship between Reno and Portman - him playing the curmudgeonly grump murderer learning to feel again, and her a girl on the cusp of womanhood developing feelings for her killy rescuer. Oldman’s terrifying performance is also worthy of note, especially for creating the ‘EVERYONE!’ meme when he calls for backup to deal with Léon’s revenge. However, it’s the end most remember: after Léon’s already heartbreaking death, the film closes on Mathilda potting the plant he’s cared for throughout the movie, at the school she now attends, saying “I think we'll be okay here, Léon.” Not. A. Dry. Eye. 

Key things to mention: Léon is a reworking of a character Jean Reno previously played in La Femme Nikita, called Victor. In that film he was a ‘cleaner’ hired to dispose of a body, and director Luc Besson has stated in interviews that, "now maybe Jean is playing the American cousin of Victor. This time he's more human." Worth noting as well that this was Natalie Portman’s debut film performance and she was only 11 when she auditioned for the part. 

Memorable quote: “EVERYONE!”
Leon Hurley

Spirited Away (2001)

Written and directed by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki for Studio Ghibli, Spirited Away was so successful on release that it overtook Titanic as the top grossing movie in Japan’s history. Spirited Away is the story of Chihiro who stumbles upon a bathhouse in the spirit world. To save her parents (who have been turned into pigs), she ends up working in the bath house, saving a river spirit and overthrowing an evil witch who has an absolutely enormous obese baby. At the end Chihiro has to choose her parents-turned-pigs from a group of the farmuard animals, and correctly identifies that none of them are her mother or father. Yep, it’s just as wonderfully surreal as it sounds with beautiful animation and that wonderful sinking-into-a-hot-bath Ghibli atmosphere that you can only find in Miyazaki’s work. In fact, stop acting like you’ve seen this film and actually watch it. Stuff the rest of the list. Watch this. 

Key things to mention: How genuinely scary it is when Chihiro’s parents turn into pigs, how you should definitely watch the original even though the Disney dubbed version is fine, the wonderful scene on the train with No Face, and how scary it is when the spirit vomits everything he’s eaten.  

Memorable quote: “There must be some mistake! None of these pigs are my parents.”
Louise Blain

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Director Steven Spielberg’s other Oscar-winning WWII movie (in addition to Schindler’s List), starring Tom Hanks and based in part on actual people. Opening on a veteran paying his respects at a grave, it flashes back to the Normandy landing, which is the first half hour of the movie and one of the most harrowing depictions of war ever committed to film. Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) and his men have to track down Private Ryan (Matt Damon), who is being sent home after all of his siblings were killed in action. Saving Private Ryan is a dirty, bleak exploration of the common soldier in warfare, as eight men risk their lives to find a man and give him the one thing they all want but won’t get: an escape from the mud and bloodshed. Finding him defending a bridge, Ryan refuses to leave “the only brothers [he] has left”. Miller takes command, with most of the band of soldiers being killed in the process. A German prisoner they previously saved from being executed turns up again as he’s rejoined with the Germans, shooting and mortally wounding Miller. One of the surviving allied soldiers hunts down him and his group, shooting him in revenge but letting the others flee. Ryan is beside Miller as he dies, and is revealed to be the elderly soldier visiting the grave at the beginning of the movie. 

Key things to mention: The trick to convincing people you’ve seen the movie is name dropping the plethora of stars who are in it at, including Vin Diesel before he was either fast or furious. Giovanni Ribisi, Nathan Fillion, Paul Giamatti, and even Ted Danson make appearances alongside Tom Hanks and of course, Private Ryan himself, Matt Damon. For extra credibility, mention how Spielberg was smart to convert the camera lenses to mimic the washed-out look of actual newsreel footage from WWII. Another fun fact: the D-Day sequence cost $12 million all by itself, but it’s also the arguably the most memorable part of the film.

Memorable quote: “This Ryan better be worth it. He’d better go home and cure some disease or invent a longer-lasting lightbulb or something.”
Susan Arendt


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