Five cinematic greats to dispel grouch in you

Oxford Mail: . .

Last week I grouched. Which is highly unusual for me, so in that spirit of goodwill which flourishes during every World Cup and Wimbledon tournament, let me redress this balance by pouring light, praise and love on five highs guaranteed to keep you sane, grounded and happy.

Naturally, as I know almost next to nothing about books, plays, art or sport, I’ll focus on movies, a subject which has kept me out of prison and high security institutions since I first saw 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea in 1967.

These of course will be films but no ordinary films; these are cinematic masterpieces that are NOT masterpieces as critics choose to define the term but simply 90- to 120-minute examples of pure, unadulterated joy.

Indeed, whenever I’ve felt depressed or expressed an urge to go ‘postal’, it is one of these five films that I will sit down and watch in much the same way that a madman is tamed by a strong narcotic or anaesthetic.

So in no particular order, let me reveal my very own Top Five indispensable lifesavers:

  • The Station Agent: a 2003 American comedy-drama about a man seeking solitude in an abandoned train station. Sounds heavy? Not a bit of it. In fact, it’s one of the most joyous, feel-good experiences you can have outside of kissing your first girl.
  • The Apartment: a 1960 bitter-sweet comedy by that king of the bitter-sweet stable, director Billy Wilder. Starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, it’s brilliant, honest and boasting an ending Barbara Cartland would be proud of...
  • The Odd Couple: the 1968 adaptation of the classic Neil Simon play starring the immortal Jack Lemmon as the uptight Felix Ungar and Walter Matthau as the decidedly slobbish Oscar Madison, I defy anyone not to cry with laughter for days afterwards during the visit of the Pigeon sisters (the theme is irresistible too).
  • Breaking Away: a 1979 coming-of-age story about four friends leaving High School and one of them who has a fixation on the Italian cycling team, to the point where his father (the wonderful Paul Dooley) discovers him shaving his legs. Poignant, delicious and unexpectedly thrilling.
  • Diner: a 1982 release that, like Breaking Away is a coming-of-age odyssey. Starring a stable of actors who became famous overnight – Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon, Ellen Barkin, Daniel Stern and Paul Reiser – it’s a rose-tinted snapshot of an era now gone. Gloriously evocative and boasting one of the best soundtracks ever. Just sitting here writing about it has made the hairs stand up on my arms.

And that’s it. I don’t claim these five films will change your life but they sure as hell will make you smile, laugh and just a little sentimental.

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