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Movies, movies and more movies

Oh dear, more movies to watch. It’s not like I don’t have three or four previews in a week, and then there are the DVDs piling up at home …

The second edition of 1 001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (Cassell) is out. The previous edition (2003) ended with The Pianist; this one has a new 17 made since then, including Tsotsi. So, even if they’ve now taken 17 older movies out of the book to keep to their figure of 1 001, between the two books that’s a total of 1 018 you’ve got to see before you die.

I’m not planning on dying any time soon, so hopefully I’ve got some room to manoeuvre, but in any case I personally wouldn’t recommend all 1 001 of the movies here as wholeheartedly as this book does. And of course there are many on my personal list of movies to see before I die that aren’t in here. Still, it gives a wide range of films from classics to arty to popular successes, and it’s a great deal of fun to browse through. It’s well-illustrated and well-designed, and the reviews (by a range of critics) are well-written. One’s bound to stumble on a few one hasn’t seen and now must see before the Grim Reaper (see The Seventh Seal, directed by Ingmar Bergman, 1957) comes knocking.

1 001 Movies … is essentially a long list, and if you like movie lists there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had from Ten Bad Dates with De Niro: A Book of Alternative Movie Lists (Faber), edited by Richard T Kelly and rather pointlessly illustrated by one Andrew Rae. (No money for movie stills on expensive paper, I suppose.)

With contributions from a wide range of writers, including the Coen brothers (who advise on remakes) and Steven Soderbergh (a list of one movie), Ten Bad Dates contains amusingly offbeat lists such as “Twisted Christopher — Ten Inimitable Walken Line-Readings”, “The Prying Dutchman — The Ten Most Gratuitous Uses of Sex and Nudity in the Oeuvre of Paul Verhoeven” and “The Greatest Movies Never Made — Ten Sadly Unrealised Masterworks”. There are some gems of observation here — Mavis Cheek’s account of her teenage experience of watching King of Kings (starring heartthrob Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus) is priceless; it made me laugh out loud.

If it’s pictures you want to commemorate this visual medium, there’s The Movie Book (Phaidon), a massive coffee-table number available at a much-reduced price on the Exclusive Books sale starting on Wednesday January 30. This tome is compiled alphabetically, ranging from “Abbott and Costello” to “Zsigmond, Vilmos”. It goes through actors, directors and a few designers and cinematographers, with a brief overview of their work in a strip of text above and a nice big picture below.

Not all the pictures are of the same sterling quality (some are rather blurry), and many are familiar images that must be the standard stills from particular movies — some are the same as in 1 001 Movies. But most of them are lovely to look at, with many an iconic movie image, such as Cary Grant running from the crop duster in North by Northwest, Brigitte Helm as the android in Metropolis or Rita Hayworth’s striptease in Gilda. There are some delightfully serendipitous juxtapositions, too, like the seven dwarfs contemplating Snow White in the Disney cartoon, opposite a picture of six of the seven brothers gazing at one of the brides from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

The book is dated 1999, so it does feel a little out of date. Some careers that seemed lustrous then seem less so now, and other filmmakers have gone in new directions — there’s so much more to be said about Pedro Almodóvar, for instance, since he made Atame!. And, contrary to the implication here, Yul Brynner had hair in Solomon and Sheba — one of the reasons it qualifies for the list of worst movies of all time.