Looking for some of Hollywood’s bests to sink your teeth into? Our writers have picked their favourite classic movies that will without a doubt deliver a heavy dose of nostalgia and make you appreciate the golden oldies of the film industry.
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
T/W: Sexual assault, rape, alcohol/substance abuse.
Absolute double bill here because not only have you got a film, but you’ve got the classic Tennessee William’s play to read as well! Not to be a nerd (but who am I even kidding at this point), both the play and Elia Kazan’s film starring Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh and Kim Hunter – are incredible. And since National Theatre live are currently streaming Gillian Anderson’s performance for 7 days, now feels like the right time to write about it.
A Streetcar Named Desire sees Blanche arrive, funnily enough, by streetcar in New Orleans – the home of her sister (Stella) and her husband (Stanley). Having never visited before, she’s both drawn to and disgusted by brother-in-laws company. But in claiming she’s arrived to right some wrongs with Stella, she causes more trouble than she fixes.
It’s not a spoiler to say that Stanley is a misogynistic, violent, all-round ignorant arsehole, which doesn’t make the film the easiest thing in the world to watch. But that’s why it’s so good – it brought to life the attitudes on class, sex and gender that Williams wrote so vividly in his play. It’s unsettling, heartbreaking and doesn’t have a happy ending at all. Some parts might feel outdated, but if anything it’s a reminder of times we should not go back to. It’s not a happy film, but that by no means diminishes its importance.
I think the relationship between Blanche and Stella is fascinating, compared to the representation of sisterhood in modern movies. They are polar opposites; Blanche has expectations of how things “should” be, Stella has none. Blanche is constantly concerned with her appearance both externally and in the opinions of others, Stella is only worried about keeping her family going. Yet in both of them, there’s some innate part of the other. They’re both, in their own regards, selfish. They’re both struggling – but neither recognises the struggle of the other. They both keep on keeping on – because it’s all they seem to know. They’re both drawn to Stanley; but at the end of the day, he’s the thing that will divide them permanently. Leigh’s performance takes a bit of getting used to, but it’s worth it.
Watch it just to see Marlon Brando scream “Stella!” at the top of his lungs, stay for the socio-political themes. Oh, and read the play, please.
The Birds (1963)
Watching the complete filmography of Alfred Hitchcock has been a slow-moving task that I set myself some time ago. For years, my experience with Hitchcock began and ended with Psycho (1960) which, though a phenomenal film, doesn’t quite make up the rich tapestry that the entire filmography forms.
At long last, I made a breakthrough, sitting down after January assignments were submitted and putting on The Birds (1963). For those unfamiliar, The Birds follows socialite Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) and lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), who are trapped in Bodega Bay after the arrival of a large flock of birds becomes an increasingly violent occurrence.
The Birds was unexpected to say the very least. Like Psycho, it starts off with a slow-burning stroll through the characters life, illustrating their romantic deviance and mischief. It soon descends, however, into a frenzy of mistrust and paranoia, with explanations becoming desperately in want and nowhere to be found. It’s a classic story of small, tightly knit towns that suspect the outsider and know too much about each other.
What really caught me off guard though was the film’s use of violence. Many contemporary reviews will call out The Birds as being a product of shock-value, akin to the more modern entrapments such as Hostel (2003). Naturally, I believed that it couldn’t be too gory, considering that it sprouted in the early 1960s. Oh boy was I wrong.
A far cry from the wickedness of modern torture porn, The Birds has some tremendous make-up effects that heighten excitement and threat of its winged fiends. Additionally, the mixture of animation, animatronics, and real birds (yes, real birds) in the attack sequences is maddening to watch, forming hurricanes of distress around its protagonists.
Despite not being quite as illustrious as Psycho, The Birds is a prime example of why Hitchcock should be more fondly thought of as a forefather of modern horror, and not just the detective-thriller genre.
The Thing (1982)
There are films everyone should see, even if you don’t like the genre. For many that hated genre tends to be horror, but yes there are more than a few of those you need to watch no matter how scared you get. And more than a few of them come from the legend that is John Carpenter. He is certainly one of the most influential people for the horror genre with him directing the film that popularised the slasher genre, Halloween with the now-iconic Mike Myers (No, not you Austin Powers go away). But no, this isn’t the film I want to talk about because for one, I haven’t actually seen it (sue me), and two, another of his works is my personal favourite horror film. And I for one will make sure everyone on Earth sees it.
I am of course referring to The Thing (1982).
For those of you who hate jump scares don’t worry, there aren’t many here as instead, the fear factor comes from the constant paranoia you feel as to who is actually human and who isn’t. It is masterfully done, and oh so much better than most trends at the moment with tons of obnoxious jump scares.
Many of the best horror films have settings that are beyond iconic now, but not outright scary to begin with. Friday the 13th (1980) was set at a summer camp, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) in a normal American town, and Psycho (1960) in a hotel. These are all mundane, normal places that become terrifying. But The Thing is set somewhere completely terrifying, to begin with, the bleak, freezing isolation of the Antarctic. And somehow Carpenter makes this so much scarier, and that’s part of why this film is so good.
Another part of this film that is brilliant is the practical effects used for the monster and transformations. The effects are so good that its no wonder why The Thing is one of the points brought up every time there is the debate between practical and CGI effects.
If you haven’t seen this and call yourself a horror fan then please, please go watch this masterpiece. And if you don’t like horror then maybe give this a chance. For all you know, it could spark a deep love of it.
But enter with caution if you have a particular affection for dogs…
Last modified: 23rd May 2020