A fight over an important object – it goes flying, or the wrong button is pressed. It’s a familiar film trope. In this case, a television remote (provided by a mysterious repairman) sends David (Tobey Maguire) and Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) into David’s favourite TV programme – a black and white sitcom.
Think entering Narnia but instead it’s the 1950s. The two worlds’ societal values clash, and the perfectly manicured lives of the sitcom’s residents begin to change (not to everyone’s delight). The blending of colour and black and white is also rather charming, and the social satire isn’t aggressive.
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
We meet Jamal Malik in medias res: the slum-born 18 year old is about to answer the 20 million rupee question on India’s version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? But how can a kid with no education possibly know enough to be on the verge of winning India’s biggest quiz prize? Tortured by the police, he explains how he knew the previous answers through a series of flashbacks. The child actors are particularly fine, and the plot undemanding. Yes, it’s Danny Boyle at his most crowdpleasing mainstream, but it’s still a thrilling watch.
Office Space (1999)
Stuck in a dead-end job with a hatefully mediocre boss, Peter Gibbons can no longer bear the monotony of office life. But when his cheating girlfriend forces him to see a hypnotherapist who has a heart attack mid-session, something remarkable happens: Gibbons remains stuck, permanently, in a state of relaxed, don’t-give-a-damn bliss.
Blessed with this unlikely superpower, Peter wreaks his revenge on the jobsworths and middle management that make his life misery. Written and directed by Mike (Beavis and Butthead) Judge, this may be one of the most underrated and best comedies of all time – and the payoff is excellent.
Battle Royale (2000)
This Japanese flick is disturbing, but brilliant and has become a cult legend. A busload of students awake to find themselves on an island with explosive collars on their necks. To control the youth in the wake of a massive recession, the government has started an annual ‘Battle Royale’. It’s kill or be killed.
If, like me, you grow frustrated by the often cumbersome sentimentality of The Hunger Games, this is a worthy (indeed, superior) alternative.
Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)
Filmed with the production values of a home movie – so it really doesn’t matter if you just watch it on YouTube – this starts as what seems like a cosy, almost saccharine tribute by an old buddy to someone who was clearly the Nicest Guy in the World. Very quickly though it turns very dark: it turns out that the subject Andrew Bagby, the filmmaker’s childhood best friend, was brutally murdered – by his girlfriend (a much older woman, clearly a psychopath, pregnant at the time with his son, Zachary, to whom the film is dedicated). Be sure not to Google what happens before you watch it. There are some shocking twists and turns to come.
Les Intouchables (2011)
A Maserati zooms down Paris streets followed by police. Once stopped, the black driver Driss – a carer for disabled people – points to his charge, and quadriplegic Philippe pretends to have a stroke as an excuse for their speed. The hoodwinked cops escort the pair to the hospital.
The scene then flashes back to the unlikely pair’s meeting, as aristocrat Philippe hires Driss, despite the fact that the latter is only being interviewed to still get his jobseeker’s benefits. A charming buddy comedy follows. Until 2014, it was the most viewed French film ever.
The Truman Show (1998)
Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey, as good as he is in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) lives an ordinary, perfectly normal life in the same seaside community in which he grew up. He greets the neighbours at the same time each morning, buys the same magazines, comes home to the same wife. Yet he begins to notice something isn’t right. Then – spoiler alert – he discovers the truth: his entire life is a reality show in which he is the main character.
At once shallow and deep, it provokes ruminations on everything from existentialism to metaphilosophy, but directed by Peter Weir (Master and Commander; Gallipoli) it never bores.