This is the twelfth post in the “The Best Films Set In…” series. The setting can be a place (like Tokyo), a location (like the beach), or a time (like Winter). In these posts I’m going to pick my 5 favourite films that are set in that particular place/location/time and explain why I like them.
For this edition, I’ve handed over the reigns to Sydney film enthusiast Steven Savona. Steven picked a city for the setting of his top 5 list. This city is known for its black taxi cabs, royal residents and a large clock called Ben. After the jump its Steven’s picks for The Best Films Set In…London
A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971)
Kubrick’s adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ 1962 novella is a cold, stark meditation on the dangers of inhibiting free will. Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) and his “droogs” traipse around a dreary London, terrorising people just for kicks. Once Alex undergoes a method of aversion therapy known as the Ludovico Technique, he loses all inclination to wreak havoc, but he suffers a heap of collateral damage to his dignity. This disturbing, highly controversial film was way ahead of its time, and it still confounds audiences who cannot work out whether or not to sympathise with the film’s mischievous antihero.
Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960)
Michael Powell is arguably most renowned for his directorial collaborations with Emeric Pressburger. Peeping Tom was one of his solo efforts, and along with Hitchcock’s Psycho—also released in 1960—it would pave the way for a myriad of slasher films in subsequent years. It stands alongside Rear Window and A Short Film About Love as one of the great films about voyeurism. Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) derives scopophilic pleasure from filming the facial expressions of women as he kills them. The film is rife with Freudian undertones and the terror bursts through the screen in gorgeous Eastmancolor. Sadly, the film was too much to handle for conservative critics at the time, and the negative reception would essentially ruin Powell’s career as a filmmaker in the United Kingdom. It took at least 10 years for the film to garner a cult following and receive recognition as a British classic.
Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)
It is so rare that I enjoy a sci-fi film to the degree I enjoyed Children of Men. A lot of modern science fiction films are set in the future, which has a distancing effect on me. Children of Men is set in 2027, but Cuarón aimed for a contemporary aesthetic, so nothing feels too far removed from reality as we know it. He instructed his art department to go for an “anti-Blade Runner” look. Cuarón also deserves praise for his use of long takes, which are generally sparse in the realm of sci-fi films. The film contains some of the best cinematography I’ve seen in the past 15 years. Despite the stunning visuals throughout the film, Cuarón never allows the special effects to take precedence over the human story.
Match Point (Woody Allen, 2005)
With Match Point, Woody Allen strays from his beloved New York for a dramatic jaunt in London. Allen revisits a theme that he addressed in Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)—namely, that a godless universe means crime will go unpunished. The change of location seems to foster a more mature Allen, who seems fixated with morality more than ever. The theme of luck is especially salient. Here, the game of tennis is used as an extended metaphor to prove that a centimetre’s difference can make or break your fortune. This way of thinking is a further rumination on Allen’s belief that existence is meaningless. I still think this is Allen’s best post-2000 film.
Closer (Mike Nichols, 2004)
It’s quite common for me to read a novel because I enjoyed its film adaptation. It is much rarer, however, for me to read a play because I enjoyed the film that used it as source material. Patrick Marber’s Closer is one such play I felt compelled to read because I loved the film adaptation so much. Don’t let the generic poster and simple one-word title fool you; there is plenty of substance beneath the surface. The performances are nothing short of fantastic. Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, Jude Law, and Clive Owen carry the film with great gusto. Owen in particular is an imposing, almost frightening force. Perhaps the most honest moment in the film occurs when Larry (Clive Owen) goes to a strip club. There, he finds Alice (Natalie Portman) putting on a show. Larry begs Alice to tell him something “true”, but his pleas for intimacy fall on deaf ears. Over the speakers at the club, we hear Morrissey belt out the line “I am human and I need to be loved.” A fundamental truth of the human condition crystallises.
By Steven Savona