This is a list that as a film student I have debated for many years and a couple of months ago, I finally came up with my five desert island films. This is inspired by Desert Island Discs, a popular radio show where guests have to list the eight songs that they would bring to a desert island. Each film on this list holds great memories from different moments in my life.
- The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
Synopsis – A climate scientist tries to warn his colleagues and the US government about an impending new ice age. His son is on a school trip to New York City and after a massive flood traps Sam and his fellow survivors in the Public Library. Jack and fellow explorers set off from Washington DC to find him while in other parts of the world, civilisation prepares for devastation.
Cast – The cast has a lot of potential in this film and they go on in the 16 years after this film was released to make some really great content. One of the biggest stars to come from the film is Jake Gyllenhaal who has been nominated for several Hollywood and British Acting awards and has also stretched his limits as an actor from horrors to romantic comedies to superhero films. He is an actor that I would struggle to put into one category as he is always doing something new whether that be theatre, comedy specials, indie films and he is about to foray into television. The other actors I feel that are worth talking about from this film are Dennis Quaid and Emmy Rossum. Dennis Quaid is always a good leading actor who often plays a man who looks tough or emotionally unavailable but starts to show an inner vulnerability. I have not seen as much of his work as I have of Gyllenhaal’s but I did enjoy his recent Netflix show and a scattering of other films that he has done. He was quite a prolific actor before my time so I have not gone back and seen many of his works. Emmy Rossum is also interesting for her roles as director and producer and as an artist. She played such a complex character for such a long time on one television show but finally left to pursue new passions. I admire her loyalty but also determination about when to leave at the right time.
Review – I first saw this film when it played on the television is the USA where I was on holiday. I was about 9 years old at the time and became entranced with this film. Whenever it played on TV from then on, in the following years I could never resist the pull. I know this is not a very sophisticated film with some pseudoscience and unlikely events but I think it is the human spirit and the way the characters try to survive and help each other that appeals to me. The mission that Quaid’s character undertakes walking from Washington DC to New York to save his son has such a powerful message about the love a parent contains for their child. His colleagues accompany him just as they would to the Antarctic without second thought. My favourite sub-genre of film is disaster films because of this movie. Seeing New York be flooded in such a way truly shows the power of the earth and while the events of the film are fictional, it does send a warning about climate change that many people are not heeding at this moment.
2. What Happens in Vegas (2008)
Synopsis – Two strangers go for a wild weekend in Vegas with their best friends. After getting married while drunk and then winning big on the jackpot, they must stay married for 6 months to keep the money. With court ordered marriage counselling, work, living together, exes and family to negotiate, will Jack and Joy make it the full six months?
Cast – The couple in the film are played by Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz. Both amazing actors in their own rights. Kutcher coming from television and doing a range of romantic comedies, and dramas whereas Diaz from a more film background with experience in voice acting, comedy and rom-coms. The chemistry between the two in the film is one of the main draws for me. At the beginning, I believe that they really despise each other but there is still an energy between the two. They are both great at physical comedy which is used a fair amount in the film. The best friends played by Lake Bell and Rob Cordry also have a fierce hate-hate relationship that makes for a fun sub-plot. I have seen both in a number of different films and while Bell leans more towards drama and sophisticated comedy, Cordry is very much in the stoner comedy world. The therapist played by Queen Latifah is a great role for her as she has the command to play her role well while still using comedy.
Review – I love this film. I discovered it by buying the DVD from a shop while abroad and as the cover was not in English I went by the actors. This is easily my favourite romantic comedy of all time. I have seen it probably over 10 times which is a lot for me as apart from the films on this list and a couple of others I hardly re-watch anything more than once or twice. It is a film that is great to watch if you’re happy or sad or feeling poorly or bored or anything. I always find new things and there are so many great actors. Jason Sudeikis also has a significant role as well as Zach Galifianakis, Treat Williams and Krysten Ritter. The title gives a little idea to the events but does not give us clues to the main chunk of the film. The scene at the end where Jack proves that he knows Joy by finding her in her happy place always makes me feel that love really does exist.
3. Mamma Mia! (2008)
Synopsis – The film is based on the hit musical and the songs of pop group ABBA. Growing up on a remote Greek island with her mother, Donna, Sophie has never known her father but when her and boyfriend, Sky decide to get hitched, Sophie sends out invitations to three potential fathers she has read about in Donna’s diary. Hilarity and drama ensues when all three turn up and Donna along with her friends and bandmates, Tanya and Rosie navigate seeing her three old flames all at once. The plot is shaped by ABBA’s iconic music with all the actors doing their own singing.
Cast – This film has a strong ensemble cast with all the actors being Hollywood greats or at least well known. Sophie played by Amanda Seyfried may only be 20 but has a great presence in the film and can certainly hold her own against her mother. Prior to this point, Seyfried did mainly television with an exception as a mean girl. Dominic Cooper has a film and theatre background and has since done a mix of things including television and film. The brilliant Meryl Streep as Donna is one of the best casting decisions and as she sung all her songs live proves that she is not just a serious dramatic actress. She was offered more musical roles after this film. Christine Baranski and Julie Walters are great side kicks for Donna each bringing their own personalities as dry and sarcastic wit along with honest and comedic assurance. The three fathers also blend well together despite playing different nationalities. Changing Bill’s nationality from Australian to Swedish for the film works great and Stellan Skarsgård plays a great sailor/lone wolf. I was surprised at Bill’s identity when I saw the musical in 2017. Pierce Brosnan is often thought of as the worst singer in the film but I think he holds his own and injects a lot of emotion particularly with his duets with Meryl. He previously played James Bond so this role is definitely a turn around and started a romantic comedy phase for him. Colin Firth as Harry also shows a different side from his early television and film days and I love the trope that all his characters get wet while wearing a white shirt as a nod to his Austen days. He also is the only gay character in the film and while it is not a main story point it is still there and never discriminated against.
Review – I do not quite remember my first viewing of this film but it would have been soon after it came out. It is something of a family favourite in my household with viewings almost yearly and many listens of ABBA in between. I always sing along and I think the story carries a real truth about family not being all about your biological offspring but your chosen family. There are some great dance numbers and being set in Greece gives the film a wonderful edge that it would not have if set in the UK or US. I also love the sequel to the film and saw in the cinema while on holiday as I couldn’t wait. I have also recently watched it when the original was not available. The first Mamma Mia! will always be my favourite and holds a special place on this list.
4. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Askaban (2004)
Synopsis – It is third year at Hogwarts for Harry, Ron and Hermione. They are teenagers now and the danger levels are rising. A prisoner has escaped from Azkaban, Harry is seeing deadly omens and Hagrid is now a teacher. This film is the first to take a darker turn but uses new elements such as time travel to bring a new flavour to the series.
Cast – The cast remains almost the same as the previous films with a few additions and one replacement. Sadly Richard Harris passed away after filming the second film so the character of Dumbledore is played from now on by Michael Gambon. He does a great job and I think of him as the better Dumbledore. He has more style and agility than Harris who was more of a grandfather figure. New additions also include Gary Oldman as Sirius Black, the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry’s father’s friend and David Thewlis as Professor Lupin, the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher and another of Harry’s father’s friends. The fourth member of the Marauders is also made known later on as Peter Pettigrew or Wormtail played by Timothy Spall. The Marauders all do a great job in their roles especially in a scene between the three of them at the Shrieking Shack and appear in the later films. The Golden Trio of Harry, Ron and Hermione take on new challenges this year and Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson do a great job bringing these characters from children to teenagers. The teachers, Professor Snape, McGonagall and Hagrid all have significant roles to play as we get to see new sides to all of them with Snape’s protectiveness over the trio; McGonagall’s honesty and pity for Harry and his family and Hagrid vulnerability and softer side over Buckbeak. Matthew Lewis as Neville and Tom Felton as Malfoy shine as always. These films have such big casts that it is hard to talk about all of them but I have focused on who has a bigger role this time around.
Review – This film has always been my favourite of the Harry Potter series but as a film itself it has many great elements that all come together well. I feel that the costumes are showing the character’s progression into teenhood as well as the sets and special effects. Having so many characters in the final showdown could have been tricky to navigate but everyone has their role and no scene feels clunky. New magic is also introduced with the Marauders Map, new creatures, Divination classes, the Patronus Charm and Dementors. I used to watch this film many times over with a friend when were in our Harry Potter Phase around 9 years old but I do not remember my first viewing. I love all of the films but this is the one I return to the most.
5. Rocketman (2019)
Synopsis – The story of Elton John from his early years as a piano student to fame, fortune and rehab. The plot is told through Elton’s music along with performances at the Troubadour, Dodger Stadium and around the world. Even though he falls into a dark world of sex, drugs and rock and roll he makes it out.
Cast – The stand out of the film is of course Taron Egerton as Elton John. I never really thought about their similarities as before the film I was not a big Elton John fan so had little idea of his appearance in the 70s/80s. Egerton does a great job at showing the highs and the lows of the character as well as Elton’s quest in life to be loved as himself despite his mother and manager/lover telling him otherwise. The singing is great and I personally prefer Egerton’s versions to the originals. Prior to the film, Egerton played a spy, an Olympian, a soldier and an outlaw with little singing experience apart from as an animated gorilla. Richard Madden as John Reed, Elton’s manager and lover does a great job at making Elton believe that he truly loves him and wants him to be a success but then his true nature comes out as Elton becomes rich and an addict. John’s villainy gave Elton something to rebel against and helped him pull himself out of the gutter. Bryce Dallas Howard is not someone I thought would be in a musical as a firm English mother but she played the role well and was a very emotional singer. Jamie Bell as Bernie Taupin, Elton’s song writing partner and best friend was also a good supporter to Egerton but I feel his role was to help Elton in times of crisis rather than anything else. Kit Connor as young Elton was also very good and his songs were great too. He has really rose to fame in the last few years and is popping up everywhere.
Review – I have always been a fan of musicals as this list shows but I think what grabbed me about this film was the music more than anything. I listened to the soundtrack on repeat for about a year after it came out and I did see this film in the cinema which is the first of the five on the list. It is also the only film made in the 2010s but sometimes with films its about a certain feeling or connection that comes instantly rather than over time. I have actually only seen the film two or three times but have listened to the full soundtrack hundreds of times which gives you the bare bones of the story anyway. I also love the bond between Taron and Elton. They both were in the second Kingsman film and Taron sang an Elton John song in Sing as a gorilla so the two were destined to work together again. This film showed at the Cannes Film Festival which is unusual for a studio biopic but thoroughly deserved. Since the film, Taron and Elton have performed together many times and Taron has stayed over at Elton and David’s house. This connection really enhanced the film for me and I’m sure it gave a lift to Egerton’s performance. Elton and his husband, David also served as producers on the film which helped with the reality of the story. Many biopics are made without the person’s involvement or after their death so Elton’s involvement helped the film immensely.