Brown paper packages tied up with strings…

… these are a few of my favourite things.

So sang Maria (and yes, I’m sorry, I can’t get it out of my head now either). And here are some more of my favourite things! This time it’s films – in no particular order as I’d find it impossible to rank them.

Shooting the Past – a Stephen Poliakoff masterpiece. A beautiful story about a photographic library, housed in a gorgeous old building which is purchased by a developer. The buyers aren’t interested in the collection and want the photos either sold or destroyed.

The eccentric staff of the archive can’t bear to see the collection broken up and must persuade the American company to save it as a whole.

The story unravels so luxuriously – the setting is marvellous, the filming atmospheric, the photos themselves are amazing and the acting first class. I’m a fan of most of Poliakoff’s work but this one is my favourite.

Caché – a French psychological thriller about a successful professional Parisian family who discover they’re being watched when they receive anonymous video footage of their house and odd crayon drawings etc. The relationships between husband, wife and son start to break down when the husband won’t go to the police – but he can’t tell his family that he knows who’s doing it and why…

To say more about this one would spoil the plot, so I shan’t. But the French seem to do psychological thrillers really well – there’s always a great atmosphere, they get the tension right and their dialogue errs towards sparse which works, I think, to enhance those crumbling relationships and the overall atmosphere.

Brief Encounter – yes, the dialogue is dire and worthy of parody and, yes, the RP accents and unnerving politeness are dated and, yes, the extent of the love affair is laughably tame… but isn’t this just one of the best films ever?? I think so.

It would be impossible now to remake Brief Encounter without saucing it up to suit modern mores and turning it into just another tacky illicit sex romp in the process.

The beauty of this film is its simplicity, its tameness and all the things it doesn’t show or say… it’s gorgeous and I love it and it always makes me cry.

Crustaces et Coquillages – a French farce. This is a genre in which, in my opinion, our voisins Français excel. British farce is a hateful thing… I can’t abide the way we do them… but the French farce is – along with their bread, cheese and all-round style – the best in the world!

This film is set in the Côte d’Azur. A family takes a summer holiday in a house the father has recently inherited from his aunt. It’s the usual cocktail of interconnecting relationships, extra-marital affairs, a son who’s assumed gay but isn’t, a father who’s assumed straight but isn’t… and the manic revolving-door kind of activity that makes for a great French romp.

Gosford Park – I love this film and have watched it so many times I’m sure I could recite most of the dialogue. I find the upstairs/downstairs observation fascinating, along with the period detail that goes into these films. The story is brilliant, the acting sublime – what a cast list! – and the setting fabulous.

According to Wiki: the film was shot with two cameras, both moving perpetually in opposite directions. The cameras pointed toward no specific area, intended to cause the audience to move their eyes throughout the scene which is a nifty trick and something I’ll look for next time I watch it.

L’homme du Train – a truly beautiful film about two very different men who develop a brief unexpected friendship. One is a retired poetry teacher about to have major surgery, and the other an out-of-town criminal due to lead an armed robbery on the local bank. Both events are to take place on the same day.

Each man envies the other’s life. Johnny Hallyday is the criminal, Milan – edgy and reluctant initially to trust and warm to the poet, played to perfection by Jean Rochefort. The older man persists – coaxing and pestering until Milan finally opens up.

I shan’t spoil the ending but it’s one of those that makes you smile and cry at the same time.

Before Sunrise/Before Sunset – Two strangers spend the night walking the streets of Vienna and falling for each other. They part without exchanging details as they don’t think they’ll see each other again. At the last-minute they panic about this and agree to meet in the same location in six months’ time.

Nine years later, they meet again by chance. He’d waited for her at the agreed point but she’d been unable to contact him to say she couldn’t be there. Each is now in a relationship, but they still have a strong attraction… Will they or won’t they? Ha. That’d be a spoiler.

Le Dîner de Cons – a French comedy about a group of professional men who hold a weekly dinner party where each must bring along ‘an idiot’ for the entertainment of the others – the winner being he who brings the ‘best idiot’.

This is THE funniest film I’ve ever seen. I’ve watched it many times and still I cry laughing at certain scenes. It is, for me, the ultimate Cheer Me Up film. Thierry Lhermitte is wonderfully straight-faced as the publisher, Brochant, whose chosen ‘idiot’ causes mayhem, and Jacques Villeret fantastic as Pignon, the idiot in question.

I adore this film and pester even complete strangers into watching it.

Last Year in Marienbad – the weirdest film I’ve ever seen (though it’s a close call between this and The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover which was pretty surreal). It’s on my list not because I love it for itself but because of the profound effect it had on me. It haunts like flashbacks from an acid trip. In fact I’m half-convinced that if a person watched this film on acid it’d make perfect sense.

It’s been described as both the worst and best of films – pretentious, pointless and unintelligible on the one hand, clever, artistic and deep on the other. For me, it’s like a work of art – filmed beautifully, it just looks gorgeous. There isn’t a plot – it’s a series of scenes replayed, most making no real sense. Being immersed in this bizarre yet beautiful film is like being stolen for a couple of hours, or asleep – the atmosphere is very powerful. This lingered, for me, for months – as if I was still trying to analyse a most peculiar dream… which a person can’t do, of course, because dreams rarely make sense. It’s amazing, disturbing, but beautiful.

And those are my favourite films… I’m sure the minute I post this I’ll think of another batch.

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