The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Production year 1964
Written and directed by Jacques Demy
Starring Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo
Music by Michel Legrand

Often cited as one of the most beautiful films ever made this charming, intensely romantic film turned its stunning lead actress - the 21 year old Catherine Deneuve - into an international star .

Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, to give it the French title, is sung through the film, in which even the most mundane lines of dialogue are set to music, a revolutionary concept at the time.

The story tells of a pair of young lovers in 1950s France, Genevieve played by Deneuve and Guy (Nino Castelnuovo) When Genevieve falls pregnant and Guy leaves for military service their love affair is threatened.

Jacques Demy was a director who emerged in the New Wave of filmmaking in the early 1960s. Unlike some of his contemporaries he was not overly experimental in his techniques but produced a series of films that drew on musicals and fairy tales for their inspiration.

The ravishing cinematography is by Jean Rabier. The music is by Michel Legrand, perhaps the most famous of all French film composers whose scores include The Thomas Crown Affair, The Go Between and Atlantic City.

Les Parapluies de Cherbourg was shot in Eastmancolor, an unstable process that meant the film very quickly faded from the rich and saturated colours seen by audiences in 1964. In the 1990s the director's wife Agnes Varda took the separate colour elements that her husband had archived as a precaution and made a brand new print that reproduced the vivid tones of Demy's original.

The result is often breathtaking and unlike any other film that you will see.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg won the Palme d'Or at the 1964 Cannes Festival.

Taxi Driver

Production year 1976
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Paul Schrader
Starring Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Jodie Foster and Cybill Shepherd
Running Time 113 mins

This dark and brooding tale of obsession, corruption and revenge is a seminal film in American cinema and was made by one of the finest directors of the 1970s and 80s - Martin Scorsese.

The drama focuses on Travis Bickle, an insomniac Vietnam veteran who drives a taxi on the streets of New York City. Travis is played with extraordinary intensity and edge by Robert De Niro in perhaps the finest and certainly the most famous performance of his career. De Niro had made his name in an earlier film by Scorsese, Mean Streets, and went on do some of his best work with the director.

The screenplay, by Paul Schrader, is harsh and uncompromising. The grainy cinematography uses available light to paint a lurid picture of New York at night and the score, the last to be composed by Hitchcock’s composer Bernard Herrman, is a masterpiece.

Taxi Driver was controversial at the time of release with the then 13-year-old Jodie Foster portraying a child prostitute in the grip of a violent pimp played with terrifying authenticity by Harvey Keitel. The film achieved further notoriety when it became part of the evidence in the trial of John Hinckley - who attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan. Hinckley was obsessed with Jodie Foster and identified strongly with the De Niro character.

Taxi Driver won the Palme d’Or at Cannes but was beaten to the best picture Oscar by Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky.

Son of Rambow

Production year 2007
Written and directed  by Garth Jennings
Produced by Nick Goldsmith
Starring Bill Milner, Will Poulter, Jessica Stevenson and Eric Sykes
Running Time 96 mins

Son of Rambow is written and directed by Garth Jennings, one of the most gifted pop promo directors around. With his production partner Nick Goldsmith, through their company Hammer and Tongs, they have created memorable videos for such artists as Robbie Williams, Supergrass, Pulp and Blur. In 2005 they made a film version of Douglas Adams’ classic sci-fi comedy The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and followed that in 2007 with this charming, funny and eccentric British coming of age comedy.

The film is set in the early1980s and tells the story of Will, a young boy from a strict religious family and his friendship with Lee Carter - the worst behaved kid in school. Together they set out to make a film to enter in the Screen Test Young Filmmakers competition. Inspired by Sylvester Stallone’s ‘Rambo - First Blood’ they embark on an ambitious action movie - the making of which which leads them into various hilarious adventures.

Son of Rambow is quirky, beautifully observed and boasts fantastic performances from its two young stars. 

The late and much-missed Mark Mason, co- founder of the Acton Film Club, was the Special Effects Supervisor on this film. The effects needless to say are terrific and a testament to what Mark and the Asylum team could achieve even on a modest budget.


Production year 1950
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Written by Akira Kurosawa and Shinobu Hashimoto based on stories by Ryonosuke Akutagawa
Starring Toshiro Mifune, Masayoki Mori and Machiko Kyo
Running Time 88 mins

Rashomon is one of the greatest films by one of the greatest of all directors – the Japanese master Akira Kurosawa. Kurosawa’s career spanned 50 years and included such masterpieces as The Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Kagemusha and Ran.

He made Rashomon in 1950 and based his screenplay on two stories by Ryonosuke Akutagawa – a writer known as the father of the Japanese short story.

Rashomon tells the story of an assault and murder from four different perspectives – leaving the viewer to decide which is the true account. This fascinating and revolutionary narrative technique had never been seen in cinema before and for that reason the film is a milestone in the medium. The luminous black and white cinematography also broke new ground – Kurosawa chose to shoot directly into the sun to great visual effect. He deployed multiple cameras to enable fluid editing in the finished film – it has nearly twice as many individual shots as a conventional movie of the time. Kurosawa cast the great Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune in the lead role – they were to collaborate on 16 occasions and although they fell out in later life each produced his best while working with the other.

Like many of Kurosawa’s pictures Rashomon was remade by Hollywood in 1964 as The Outrage, a western starring Paul Newman. Rashomon won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1951 and an honorary Academy Award in 1952.

Nine Queens

Written and directed by Fabian Bielinsky
Starring Gaston Pauls and Ricardo Darin
Running Time 114 mins

Nine Queens is a smart, slick crime thriller telling the story of two con men who team up to pull the job of a lifetime. It was made by the Argentinian director Fabian Bielinsky. Bielinsky started to make films whilst still a high school student, after graduation he began studying psychology - a career he pursued only briefly before enrolling in the Centro de Experimentacion y Realizacion Cinematografica film school from which he graduated in 1983 with a short called La Espera.
He directed his first movie Nine Queens - original title Nueve Reinas - in 2000, and a second - El Aura - in 2005. Both films starred Ricardo Darin in the lead role.
In 2006 Bielinsky died suddenly from a heart attack
during the casting session for an advertisement at only 47 years of age.
Although he directed only one short and two feature films, his slim body of work was given excellent reviews worldwide. His movies straddle the mainstream and the arthouse with great narrative skill and excellent characterisation.
Nine Queens has many clever twists and turns and will keep you guessing till the very end...

O Brother Where Art Thou

Production year 2000
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Written by Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring George Clooney, John Goodman and Holly Hunter
Running Time 106

O Brother Where Art Thou is the second film by the Coen Brothers to feature in the Acton Film Club programme. A slapstick comedy set in the Depression era it stars Hollywood megastar George Clooney as an escaped convict seeking reconciliation with his long-suffering wife played by Holly Hunter. He is aided and abetted in his adventures by fellow convicts Tim Blake Nelson and John Turturro - the characterisation is sublime and the comedy laugh out loud.
The story owes more than a little to Homer’s Odyssey with appearances from The Cyclops and The Sirens among others along the way. But what makes this film is its fabulous soundtrack - consisting of period Bluegrass and folk tunes performed by some of the finest exponents of such music working today. The documentary Down From the Mountain about the music of O Brother and a special concert mounted around the release of the film is well worth seeking out.

Night of the Hunter

Production year 1955
Directed by Charles Laughton
Written by James Agee and Charles Laughton from the novel by Davis Grubb
Starring Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish

Of all the actors from Hollywood’s golden age Robert Mitchum is surely the most charismatic and dangerous. He played criminals, private detectives soldiers and cops but always with an edge of knowing, sardonic humour and sometimes downright cruelty that marked him out from the other stars of the time. Two of his most memorable roles saw him portraying psychopaths – the vengeful ex-con Max Cady in Cape Fear and the self-appointed ‘preacher’ Harry Powell in The Night of the Hunter. In this film he is mesmerising – alternately charming and terrifying as he terrorises a family in his search for stolen money.

The film is one of two important movies credited to writer and screenwriter James Agee – the other being The African Queen. The Night of the Hunter is the only film to be directed by the distinguished actor Charles Laughton.  Laughton was a British born performer who is best remembered for a series of powerful character roles including Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Working with cinematographer Stanley Cortez, Laughton gave Night of the Hunter a haunting expressionistic design reminiscent of the German cinema of the 1920s and 30s. The beautiful black and white photography gives the film a dreamlike tone, which makes it unique and vivid and has influenced the work of many modern directors including David Lynch, Terrence Malick and the Coen Brothers.

Let The Right One In

Production year 2008
Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Written by John Ajvide Lindquist based on his novel
Starring Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson and Per Ragnar

Just as Stieg Larsson’s  Millenium trilogy and the Wallender novels have breathed new and distinctive life into the genre of detective fiction so this extraordinary film has a novel and uniquely Scandanavian take on the Vampire movie.

Based on the bestselling novel Låt den rätte komma in and set in the frozen suburbs of Stockholm ‘Let the Right One In’ tells the story of a Oskar – a boy who is bullied at school and his friendship with Eli - the girl who moves in next door. She is a vampire and as their relationship deepens they fall in love and their lives become inextricably intertwined.

Oskar and Eli are brilliantly portrayed by Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson and the film was widely praised by the critics everywhere and shortlisted for a BAFTA this year.

This is no Hammer horror or Swedish ‘Twilight’ – part rite of passage story and part teenage drama it is a haunting and highly original tale that will stay with you long after you have seen it…

Kind Hearts and Coronets

Production year 1949
Directed by Robert Hamer
Written by Robert Hamer and John Dighton based upon the novel by Roy Horniman
Starring Dennis Price, Alec Guinness, Joan Greenwood and Valerie Hobson 

This sublime black comedy detailing the exploits of a serial killer is one of the greatest films to come out of Ealing Studios and one of the jewels of British cinema.

Kind Hearts and Coronets was directed and co-written by Robert Hamer. Hamer, the son of an actor, was an alcoholic and a homosexual whose career was cut short by his premature death from pneumonia in 1963. This is his masterpiece – a beautifully scripted and barbed satire of the British class system, which pushed the boundaries of taste and decency back in 1949. The film fell foul of the American censor who reduced its running time by a number of minutes in an attempt to tone down the ambiguous ending and the adulterous behaviour of the lead characters.

Dennis Price plays Louis Mazzini - the illegitimate son whose aristocratic mother is cast out by the snobbish D’Ascoyne family. When they deny her last wish – to be buried in the family vault - Louis plots to revenge her and plans to murder all those relatives who stand between him and a Dukedom.

In a brilliant series of performances Alec Guinness plays no fewer than eight members of the D’Ascoyne family including a young man in his twenties, a suffragette and an octogenarian.

Louis Mazzini (after murdering his cousin along with his cousin's mistress):

“I was sorry about the girl, but found some relief in the reflection that she had presumably during the weekend already undergone a fate worse than death.”

Jules et Jim

Production year 1962
Directed by Francois Truffaut
Written by Henri-Pierre Roché, François Truffaut and Jean Gruault
Starring Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner and Henri Serre 

Francois Truffaut was one of the most important members of the Nouvelle Vague or New Wave of French filmmaking – the movement that was to break with the past and change the style of films all over the world in the early 1960s. Jules et Jim was one of his most celebrated and imitated movies – it blended voiceover, still images, freeze frames and other techniques to tell the story of a love triangle in a way never before seen in cinema and that still feels fresh today.  The film stars Jeanne Moreau as a free spirited woman who entrances two friends – although the story is set around World War 1 it clearly plays with the notions of free love that were so fashionable at the time it was made in the 1960s.

Truffaut began his career as a film critic writing for and later editing the influential magazine Cahiers du Cinema. With others he developed the ‘auteur’ theory – the idea that the director, like a writer, is the author of a film. This theory was based on his admiration for certain key Hollywood filmmakers including Alfred Hitchcock with whom he conducted a famous set of interviews. He was fierce in his opinions and was known as the ‘Gravedigger’ of French cinema. In the late 50s Truffaut became inspired to make his own films and had great success with his debut feature Les Quatre Cents Coups (The 400 Blows) a semi autobiographical coming of age story. He went on to make 25 films in a career spanning a quarter of a century until his untimely death in 1984.

Truffaut occasionally appeared as an actor – most notably playing the French scientist  in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

In the Company of Men

Production year 1997
Directed by Neil LaBute
Written by Neil LaBute
Starring Aaron Eckhart, Matt Malloy, Stacy Edwards 

Touted as the most controversial film of the year on its release in 1997, this jet black comedy is the debut film of Neil LaBute who adapted it from his own play of the same name. LaBute, once a member of the Mormon Church, works as much in theatre as cinema and recently directed his play Fat Pig here in London. 

In the Company of Men tells the story of Chad and Howard, two embittered 30-something men who, angry and frustrated by their experiences with women and an increasing sense of losing their place in the world, plan to take a vicious emotional revenge on their female co-worker… 

Like such other recent movies as Sex, Lies and Videotape and Secretary this film delves into difficult and compelling territory and sparked a storm of praise and loathing from critics and audiences alike. One of the movie’s two leads, Aaron Eckhart - who is a college friend of director LaBute - became the focus for these responses. He won an Independent Spirit Award for his performance but also attracted verbal abuse from angry women mistaking him for the appalling character he plays.

In the Company of Men unflinchingly portrays the cruel and ingenious actions of Chad and Howard and completely draws us into their fiendish plot. It is without doubt one of the most intriguing and memorable movies of the 1990s. 

As the tagline on the film’s poster asked – Are all men bastards – or just misunderstood?

Hudsucker Proxy

Production year 1994
Written by Ethan Coen, Joel Cohen and Sam Raimi
Starring Tim Robbins, Paul Newman and Jennifer Jason Leigh
Running time 111 minutes

A modern fairy tale set in ’50s New York, The Hudsucker Proxy is the Coen movie that probably best combines all of their early obsessions: classic movie tributes, pitch black comedy, and set pieces to leave you grinning for years afterwards when you remember them.

 Tim Robbins is ideal as a wide-eyed, lumbering business graduate hoping to make it in the big city but rapidly dismissed as an "imbecile" by Jennifer Jason Leigh's spitfire newspaper reporter--as good as she’s ever been especially when executing the best screwball dialogue since Rosalind Russell traded barbs with Cary Grant in His Girl Friday.

 For fans of The Wire there’s an early appearance by "Pres" Pryzbylewski as the world’s most annoying lift operator, there’s Paul Newman playing old (he was old for a very long time), and the Fascist deco look of the piece is brilliantly realised in a loving parody of that familiar Technicolor palette by Roger Deakins who shoots all the Coens’ good films.

 Finally, at one magical point, in a spectacle of perfect cinema, there is the inspired cutting to Aram Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance of a scene that explains the entire film and probably a million other things about life, but which is essentially about a boy and his Hula Hoop, “You know, for the kids.”