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RETROSPECTIVE: The Films That Mean Things To Me

A Look Back From Ben Wheadon

There is an Audrey Hepburn quote, or it's attributed to her at least, describing that "everything I learned, I learned from the movies." I feel a great attachment to that, but not in some cosmic, philosophical sense, nor in a sense that I actually know anything about cinema. Instead, I feel that so much of myself is drawn from the films that have marked the most important moments in my life.

Cinema has this distinct way of provoking self-reflection, and quickly the films that mean something to us can quickly become extensions of ourselves. I'm definitely not an expert in film. I've frantically tried to stay afloat during enough conversations with well-educated Nolan-disciples to understand my deficiencies in appreciating the mechanics of filmmaking, but there lies the beauty of the art form. Perhaps like no other medium, film opens itself up for everybody. Anyone can allow themselves to be swallowed up inside the immersive capacity of visual spectacle, and whether or not I can distinguish a wide-angle from a dolly-zoom - one truth stands: nothing else does what film can.

It is in that all-consuming power of a good film that their impact becomes clear. When it is done well, the fantastical worlds constructed by the best experiences extend far beyond the closing credits. Instead, certain films sink their hooks deeper; fascinating enough in their design that the worlds inhabited for an hour or three become extensions of the audience's own. Now, there are certain films that seem almost like memories to me. A few films that stand like flagpoles in the sand, marking off some of the most important moments of my life for better and for worst. They are immeasurably capable of rekindling, revisiting and refreshing the memories of the past, and I think that's something worth exploring.



Dir. Richard Ayoade

As a Welsh teenager with an obnoxious attitude and a growing adoration for the music of Alex Turner, I imagine I must have fitted neatly into the exact target demographic for Richard Ayoade's 2010 debut. Set in the fluorescent adolescence of the South Welsh coast, Submarine is a film that I (unsurprisingly) saw a reflection of myself starring in.

Neurotically fumbling from one scene to the next, the film stands as a wonderful disassembly of the romantic-comedy genre, complete with accents and landscapes that, for seemingly the first time in a big, proper film, I recognised. Set somewhere vaguely in a re-imagination of 1980's Swansea, Submarine wasn't exactly built around 2000's Cwmbran, but starved of actual on-screen Welsh-ness in film growing up, it was close enough for me to see myself in the shoes of its protagonist.

Between the influence of Wes Anderson and 'atavistic' forefathers of the French new wave, just as much as this project is a dark and self-aware coming-of-age tale, it's also utterly committed to being a moment of maturation for many of its younger watchers. To this day, certain passages from Submarine are still immovable from my memory. The montages of Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige, riding bicycles and setting off fireworks to Turner's original soundtrack is still indescribably wonderful, ten years on. A 10" copy of Submarine is among the most cherished gifts I've ever been given, and with the amount I've played it over the past three years I'm surprised it hasn't already disintegrated into nothingness.

I know that what drew me into this film was assuredly baked in narcissism. "I'm not like the other kids, I'm different" etc. etc., but even now Submarine stands quite absolutely unique in its tone and the gorgeous design of Ayoade's artistic vision. For anxiety-ridden Welsh alternative weirdos, a more perfect film couldn't be dreamt of.



Dir. Wes Anderson

More than half the things I love in life, I love because my brother introduced them to me. From The Lord of the Rings to Street Fighter II, the passions I have are all at least partially owed to trying to copy whatever he was doing. So, heading up to Manchester to sleep through a Louis van Gaal-era 0-0 draw at Old Trafford, when I mentioned to my brother that I had started watching Wes Anderson's films - it was almost like he couldn't believe I'd discovered something that he liked, all by myself.

He scrounged around, trying to set me up with a reading list of all the Anderson filmography that I hadn't yet dug through. Piling up a DVD haul of Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and Bottle Rocket I had a whole world of obsessively symmetrical design to enjoy, but he couldn't find his favourite. There was one film Simon wanted me to watch more than any other, and it was The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

Acquiring it *entirely legally* through a creative use of the internet and a USB drive, I was introduced to one of my favourite films of all time. Adventuring through Bill Murray's quest as a revenge-fuelled marine biologist, complete with a typically astonishing cast, I came to love this film more than any of Anderson's others. It is the funniest, and I think the most visually breathtaking, and it has Seu Jorge singing Bowie songs. It's amazing, and I have my brother to thank for knowing anything about it.

Happy birthday Simon.



Dir. Hayao Miyazaki

I'd obviously seen my fair share of children's movies by the time My Neighbour Totoro made its way into my life. Drenched in energetic, but rote titles like Over the Hedge or Cars, my first time enjoying a Hayao Miyazaki film was rooted in just how perplexed I was at how comfortably it took its time.

I must have been a weird kid growing up. My sister still makes fun of the memory of me, five years old, re-watching my favourite films in every language available. I don't know why I did it, God knows it didn't deliver me any bilingual abilities, but even after finishing Zulu again and again in every language from Italian to Portuguese, I had never really found a film to be 'foreign' until My Neighbour Totoro.

It refused to rush itself. Taking time to create a universe without an antagonist, Totoro was alien. Slow, patient establishing shots made way for unmistakably Japanese sensibilities; praying at shrines and conversing with the forest-spirit Totoro. This film is one of the very few that I have seen which just perfectly returns its watchers to the sights and sounds of childhood. It was completely different to everything I had ever seen, and remains perhaps the very best introduction to the world of Studio Ghibli that anyone could ask for.



Dir. Michel Gondry

I've watched a lot of films on planes that I really should have seen on the big screen. My first times with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, BlacKkKlansman and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri were all squeezed (like I was) onto an unflattering flight from San Francisco to London in 2019, and I know I should've saved them all to be seen on a grander scale.

But, in a quite different way, Be Kind Rewind deserves to be seen in the cinema for entirely unique reasons. Not because it's a spectacle of a film, or even that it's that good of a film at all. Instead, Be Kind Rewind commits itself to an incredibly earnest exploration of an often overlooked aspect of film, the value of community. Watching it with like-minded cinephiles is like experiencing cinema in its purest form, enjoying the ability film has to connect strangers together and to turn one movie into a shared sensation.

After accidentally wiping every video at a VHS store in Passaic, New Jersey, Jack Black and Mos Def team up to recreate every film they had destroyed, filming 'sweded' versions of classics from Ghostbusters to 2001: A Space Odyssey in order to rescue Danny Glover's store from foreclosure. It sounds the premise for a typically forgettable comedy film, and I suppose in some aspects that's probably true - but Be Kind Rewind is a film dedicated to a love for cinema, and the way in which it draws its meaning from the power film has to connect people still proves that this is a film with an extraordinary amount of heart.

It would be easy to write Be Kind Rewind off as just another moment in the Jack Black domination of late 2000's comedy films, but in truth it's just so much more than that. It's no masterpiece, but it's a film that I really hope won't find itself unfairly lost to time. It has one of my favourite endings ever, and I cannot stress enough just how inviting it is if you give it a chance with your time.


HER (2013)

Dir. Spike Jonze

At the age of 14, I didn't know shit about anything. That wouldn't have been particularly surprising if you knew me, neck deep in Daft Punk's Discovery or pretending that I properly understood Frankenstein.

But when I watched Her, I realised how much I didn't understand. A film about a man falling in love with a computer provoked me enough to make me want to watch it, but I didn't expect it to lay bare the architecture of life before me just as effectively as it did. I couldn't understand the intricacies of how a relationship builds, or even how it breaks apart - but somehow in the lop-sided romance of Scarlett Johansson and Joaquin Phoenix, I think I probably started to understand things a little better.

Whenever anyone asks me what my favourite film of all time is, it rotates between this and the last entry on this list endlessly. I think most people that watch Her find themselves mirroring Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), quickly forgetting that Johansson's character isn't even human, but as all great science fiction does, the (now quite believable) future of Her does more to explore humanity than it does anything else. Her is one of the greatest films about love that has ever been conceived - and half of its central romance never appears on screen. It's genius, and I love it, and Her will make you love love.



Dir. Brad Bird

As the years go by, Ratatouille is still unravelling itself to me. My friends know that Ratatouille and Her constantly shift up and down as I decide which of the worlds I feel more in love with, but for now I think again that this film is my favourite of all time.

If there was one film that I feel most desperate to hold onto for the rest of my life, this is it. From memory I'm sure that I could sketch the layout of its copper pot kitchen nightmares and underground Parisian rat-scapes with a near perfect accuracy, that's just how much this film maintains an intellectual monopoly on my attention span. Patton Oswalt immortalised himself to me as Remy the rat, but so too did every single perfectly cast member of Pixar's greatest work: the late Ian Holm and Peter O'Toole, Janeane Garofalo and even Will Arnett provide an enviable cast of cooks and critics, and the number of iconic moments birthed from this film is simply staggering.

The second I stopped watching this film, I demanded that my mum should teach me how to cook. I was told by a highly respectable source that "anyone can cook," and immediately I put that to the test, making soups and salads of dubious taste for my family to eat. But of course, Ratatouille isn't really about cooking. Or, it is, but isn't just about cooking.

To this day, slowly I begin to notice the increasing complexity of Ratatouille. As a part-time (unqualified) critic, the closing monologue from O'Toole only bites with more tenacity as I engage more and more in the act of opinionated discourse, but so too do the moments of joyous self-belief furnish a determination in myself to work harder to achieve what we all can. The film is a work of genius, all bound together by Brad Bird's directorial assertion that not only should animation be for anything, but that anything can be animated.

The wonder of Bird's films (The Incredibles, The Iron Giant) are in their commitment to treating both children and adults with the utmost respect. Ratatouille never speaks down to its audience, but rather speaks ahead. It predicts the brilliant things that people can achieve when they are told that they can do them, but it doesn't pretend that those achievements are permitted by a world that is fair in design. Rather, "anyone can cook" - but some of us have more obstacles than others to demonstrate that ability. I think it's a fantastic film, and its core philosophy perfectly balances a pride in determination, with the reality that the world does not operate in some neo-liberal fantasy. The world is difficult, particularly for those that do not fit into its expectations, but where there is a resolve to succeed, anyone can cook.


Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based at the University of Oxford. He is also a Fleet Foxes shill.

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