It is getting on for a year since I saw Avatar in 3D at the cinema. It annoyed me then, and it’s still annoying me. It turned up as the festive highlight of the Sky movie channels and I am flabbered to the ghast at how cheap and effectsy it already looks. For no reason, other than that I love you, here is a list of films that are better than Avatar. There are millions more obviously, but these ones are tinkling my bells just now.
Airport 80: The Concorde – The fourth and best of the Airport franchise (without which we’d have had no Airplane movies). This is the one with Sylvia Kristel as an airhostess and Alain Delon as a pilot throwing Concorde round like it’s an X-wing.
Alien Nation – The James Caan/Mandy Patinkin team-up no one expected. It’s a clear influence on District 9. There is beauty in it.
Altered States – It still astonishes me that one of the most authentically “science” science fiction movies ever made was directed by Ken Russell. Fucking hell, I love the guy but this was wholly unexpected. There’s proper boffin-speak. William Hurt and Bob Balaban are awesome. So is Blair Brown who turned up 20 years later in the under-appreciated TV series Fringe.
Android – A low budget 80s sci-fi flick with Klaus Kinski. It’s short but lovely. And does anyone know what happened to director Aaron Lipstadt subsequently? The guy should definitely have directed more movies.
Beastmaster – Ha ha. It’s crap, but it’s not. Marc Singer is the eponymous hero. Tanya (Charlie’s Angels) Roberts’ boobs perk things up no end.
Big Wednesday – The Taxi Driver of surf movies. An intense Vietnam statement of a movie from the hard right wing of John Milius. A key 70s movie that deserves more attention.
The Black Hole – 1980 and Disney is still running scared of Star Wars which came out three years ago. This is their response. A dark, inexplicable, pseudo-religious piece of mentalism with Norman Bates and cute robots. It is gorgeous to behold and John Barry’s score is lush.
Blood on Satan’s Claw – A doolally cross between Witchfinder General and The Wicker Man. Famous for starring two Doctor Who actors: Wendy Padbury (as was) and Anthony Ainley (as was yet to be).
Brick – An astonishing film. A film noir done with all the characters as high school students. Rian Johnson’s follow-up The Brothers Bloom is no less marvellous.
Carnival of Souls – This is the Herk Harvey 1962 original, not the 1998 remake. It remains to this day one of the most unsettling and scary horror
films I’ve ever seen.
Cat People – A beautiful marriage of Paul Schrader guilt, Giorgio Moroder funk and Nastassja Kinski beauty. The RKO original is a bit staid. This is balls-out. If you like Tony Scott’s The Hunger you will love this.
The China Syndrome – Like a Three Mile Island version of Network. Jack Lemmon has rarely been better in a dramatic role.
Conan the Destroyer – Shorn of the fascistic trappings of the original (which I enjoyed a lot) this is a romp. From the director, lest we forget, of The Vikings.
Contamination – Who even knows what those crazy Italians were doing with this? It’s sort of Alien. It’s sort of Quatermass. It’s a mess, but it’s compelling. It stars Ian McCulloch who was awe-inspiring as Greg in the BBC’s original series of Survivors.
Cube – More low-budget, high-imagination sci-fi as a bunch of amnesiacs negotiate their way through bizarre death traps. No this, no Saw.
Dick Tracy – So much money, so much talent. How did it end up this bad? You can probably blame Madonna. And yet, and yet, and yet, it exerts a pull, you know? The design work is phenomenal, and it feels like the last of the misguided, old school, blockbusters.
Dune – The one David Lynch fans try to ignore. But it’s fabulous. So grotesque, and probably as good a version of Herbert’s book as you could expect once Jodorowsky was out of the picture. And there are so many Twin Peaks actors here it’s adorable.
Emmanuelle – A personal favourite here. In between the smirking innuendo of Carry On films and the butcher’s slab brutality of hardcore porn lies the bit where sex is fun, and had by people who like or even love each other. Ding dong. Wicker chairs. Squash courts. I regret nothing.
Evilspeak – A sort of computery splatter film, once on the BBFC’s video nasty list for reasons that remain impenetrable. Eric Weston directed. Again, where is he now? Movies could use this talent.
Excalibur – John Boorman’s magnificent Arthurian fantasy choreographed with divine arbitrariness to classical music. It would fall on its arse if not for Nicol Williamson’s brilliant turn as Merlin.
Fail-Safe – A ball-shrivellingly tense, straight version of Dr. Strangelove. America launches nukes at Russia by mistake and can’t recall them. Henry Fonda is a brilliant President. A very young Larry Hagman is his translator. This is awesome.
Firefox – A weird, old-style cold war thing from Clint Eastwood that somehow works despite ropey John Dykstra special effects. Nigel Hawthorne’s in it. Hooray!
A Fistful of Dynamite – The one complete and utter anomaly in Sergio Leone’s career. Set during the Mexican revolution it’s a what? A comedy? A western? The missing link between Once Upon A Time In The West and Once Upon A Time In America? It’s a fabulous film. James Coburn and Rod Steiger are clearly having a hatful of fun.
Flash Gordon – As The Empire Strikes Back, The Black Hole and Superman II fought for box office supremacy out waddled this insane competitor. Like some sort of sequel to Barbarella that nobody wanted. But it turns out it’s genius-level filmmaking. Just throw a bunch of incongruent stuff together and camp it up a bit. It’ll be OK.
Glengarry Glen Ross – ABC. Always be closing. The shoutingest, sweariest indictment of selling stuff to people that there’s ever been. Al Pacino is transcendent.
Gone Baby Gone – Bizarrely Ben Affleck’s directorial debut, starring baby brother Casey, is a convoluted, complex essay on human frailty. Way better than you’d imagine given the pedigree.
Halloween III – The one that just has nothing to do with the other one hundred and sixteen sequels. This had a minuscule contribution from the holy Nigel (Quatermass) Kneale. It’s not a wholly successful horror film, but you’d be mad not to want to see it. Bits of Stonehenge in silicon chips? Why not?
Hard Eight – A stilted, stagey slice of weird from the director who would later give us Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood. All the talent is here to see.
The Haunting – Robert Wise, whose career also included The Day The Earth Stood Still, The Sound Of Music and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, found some quiet time to direct this utterly horrifying movie that probably rates PG maximum these days. There’s nothing explicit there, it’s all suggestion. Scary as hell though. Shirley
Jackson’s source novel The Haunting Of Hill House is also a blinder if you’ve not yet read it.
Hawk the Slayer – A dismayingly low-budget addition to the 80s post-Conan Sword & Sorcery deluge. But how can you not love a movie which contains the line “The Hunchback will have something to say about this”? John Terry (Hawk the actual slayer) went on to play Jack’s dad in Lost. True Fact!
The Howling – Joe Dante’s post-Piranha pre-Gremlins monster movie is a delight for buffs. Just check out the character names. It was less popular than An American Werewolf In London but Rob Bottin’s effects still look juicy, and Patrick Macnee’s in it.
More letters of the alphabet later.