10 Best Films of All Time: Katie Doyle

8. Get Carter (1971)

Get Carter Review

Get Carter is one of those beautifully understated films. Its quiet confidence leaves it in danger of being forgotten about in such lists as this. However, when one takes a moment to consider the best of the best, its effortless supremacy rises above its contemporaries which vainly vie for attention. Consequentially, this modest production directed by Mike Hodges adapted from the Ted Lewis novel “Jack Returns Home” is often regarded as one of the best: best British film, best Gangster film, best Michael Caine performance etc. It’s almost frightening how this economically filmed adaption of a small violent story managed to redefine a genre and effectively capture a moment in time.

Both before and after the release of Get Carter, British films in the gangster genre were and are often vehicles for comedy; instead Get Carter achieves what Trainspotting did for the depiction of the drug scene, with both films effectively disenchanting and removing the glamour from the counter cultures they represent.

The stark messaging that manages to leave an impact on violence-hardened audiences 50 years on is proof of the importance of how each element of production must excel to make a flawless film. Such aspects include Michael Caine’s devastatingly cold performance in the titular role, and the unique and iconic jazz score by Roy Budd, but the one element that helped to make Get Carter a moment in time is its location.

In the original novel, Jack Carter’s hometown was Hull, but after some scouting in the North of England, Newcastle upon Tyne was chosen. No matter how bad you think your hometown is, guaranteed it looked 100 times worse during the 70s. Carter being surrounded by the grimy combination of urban degeneration and dense industrialisation of Tyneside is possibly the most effective way to say crime doesn’t pay. Possibly unwittingly, it also represented the changing tides and moods of this new decade. What better way to depict the disappearance of the hope of the 1960s and impending economic decline by the destitution and squalor of early 70s Tyneside on film?

As the credits roll over the vanishing image of the deceased Carter whose body lies next to the mechanised dumping of coal mining waste into the sea, all successive generations could only hope for a film to as effectively capture the sign of the times as much as Get Carter does.

7. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

In conversation with other alleged cinephiles, mention of any of the entries of the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings trilogy in any type of “best films of all time” list can often be dismissed as the lazy franchise choice; a more intellectual turn from those who find the MCU output the pinnacle of high art. Additionally, the fact that the whole series of films have been memed to death over the last 20 years with countless in-jokes (including Viggo Mortensen’s big toe), it seems difficult to take any of them seriously.

However, anyone whose eyes have filled with tears once the first few notes of “The Breaking of the Fellowship” reaches our ears knows for certain the emotional chokehold The Fellowship of the Ring has on us all.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is one the great cultural phenomena of the 21st century, and its fateful premiere on the 10th of December 2001 means it is the gift that keeps on keeping for the generations this film has helped to raise.

Released in the shadow of the tragedy of 9/11, the film’s continuing popularity has lived through the great disasters of the modern age from the war on terror to Brexit; from the recession of 2008 to the ongoing climate crisis. For those who have grown with The Fellowship of the Ring and now face the trials of the 2020s, including eroding human rights and the undermining of democracy, we cannot help but to think back on the film’s ever so relevant philosophy.

“I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this happened.”

“So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in the world, besides the will of evil.”

The fact of the matter is that The Fellowship of the Ring is a first in a trilogy that has been faithfully and lovingly adapted from the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien himself was not only an outstanding academic with remarkable world-building skills, but was also a veteran of the First World War, a survivor of one the greatest tragedies mankind has ever seen. The relevance and power of The Fellowship of the Ring is because the trauma and horror Tolkien poured into his novels were genuine, as was his hope and his faith in the goodness of ordinary people.

The power of the written word can only be truly transferred to the big screen if it is given the utmost respect; Jackson’s adaption makes no attempt to modernise the story by trivialising it, shoe-horning or using anachronisms. As such The Fellowship of the Ring has become a beacon to all those wearied by the horrors of modern life as it offers the believable hope of the strength in small kindness and bravery.

Recommended for you: The Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit Movies Ranked

6. The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist Review

A quality that is demanded for any film to be considered truly excellent is its power to immerse audiences within its story. The great genre dichotomy of comedy and drama have made audiences both laugh and weep for over a century of cinematic history, but arguably the genre that has evoked the most powerful emotional response is horror. A horror worth its films reels is one that can induce fear, disgust and dread, and yet horrors are often fodder for the critics – often accused that they manipulate these emotional reactions by crude means with little intellect. From out of the heap of Universal and Hammer, The Exorcist kills all such accusations; and most bravado. Even the great Barry Norman admits to running to the cinema toilets, on edge in the darkened corridors.

Since 1973 there have been countless films depicting demonic possession, but this film based on the novel by William Peter Blatty remains the most famous and legendary. Accounting for inflation, it is Warner Bros’ most profitable film to date. This staggering achievement can in part be attributed by the buzz created by the news of ambulances having to be posted at cinemas dealing with swathes of audiences members vomiting and fainting halfway through the movie.

The Exorcist happens to be another example of a directorial dictatorship with William Friedkin employing unorthodox and abusive means to elicit his ideal performances from the cast. This includes shooting a gun next to Jason Miller’s ear, incorrectly preparing Ellen Burstyn for a stunt where her on-screen screams were of real agony. The youngest of the cast, Linda Blair, who played Regan, arguably suffered the most – she was half frozen to death with her back literally broken for the duration of the shoot.

It is not this vulgar catalogue of methods that made the film such a success upon its release, however, nor why it has had gained such enduring popularity. It is The Exorcist’s intelligence. Any decent horror illustrates the fears of society at the time of its production, and has there not been a better summation of the dread of the youth and their own counter culture than the grotesque possession of Regan? Never before had a generation in the USA been in such rebellion against the status quo than during the 1960s and 70s, protesting the Vietnam war and experimenting with new and exciting substances. Parents were living in the terror of the dissolution of society itself at the hands of their own children. As the youth of 1973 rejected the traditional values of the time, the possessed Regan seems to reject goodness itself.

This particular depiction of a girl on the brink of puberty becoming possessed by a malevolent demon did not just have an impact in 1973 but continues to be a disturbing contemporary watch, as its allegorical nature opens itself up to countless interpretations which continue to have relevance today. There is the battle between science and religion, medical abuse, divorce and even sexual abuse, to name the few possible themes of The Exorcist. Even the fear of our own children has pervaded to this day, as the world becomes chaotic with the growing anxiety of our young people’s integration with technology.

To make a controversial turn, The Exorcist isn’t included on this list because of its frightening capabilities. It has long ago lost its title of Scariest Horror of All Time – after all, in the fifty years since its release more shocking and disgusting acts have been committed to the big screen. No, the reason it remains adored by horror fans and film buffs is the powerful story it tells. It’s not the head spins or projectile vomiting that gets you hooked, its the compelling drama, its the fully realised characters that depict the tragedies most of us face. We are moved by the telling of the loss of faith, guilt-ridden grief, family breakdown, and the ultimate horror of your child becoming seriously ill.

These powerful plot threads are treated with the utmost respect and are not upstaged by an ignorant, hokey or even camp approach to exorcisms. It is presented as a very believable and terrifying possibility as Regan’s mysterious illness is investigated with the most modern medical techniques of the time. The exorcism itself is extremely low-key, based on the real Catholic rites, it is similar to the prayers you’d expect to hear read during mass.

Not only does The Exorcist handle these universal fears with cool expertise, but its ongoing popularity can also be attributed to the film’s resolution. As Father Merrin steps out of his car and is illuminated by the single beam of light from the street lamp, so do our hopes persist that in this chaotic world good will eventually overcome evil.

Recommended for you: Katie Doyle’s “Films I Had a Religious/Spiritual Experience with” Part 5: The Exorcist

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