The Esprit Picture House’s Alternative 100 Movies

A Late Reviewer Q&A

If you follow @alatereviewer on Twitter, you might have noticed me retweeting The Esprit Picture House’s Alternative 100 Movies over the last few weeks. I thought it was an interesting experiment by a couple of film fans – including Late Reviewer contributor John Featherstone – which highlighted their feelings about mainstream lists which I suspect are shared by a few readers.

Here’s a brief look at the project and how it came about from the lads behind the list.

Who are you and how do you know each other?

JOHN: I’m a locksmith and I’m a… No. We are me, John Featherstone, Ben Gosling and his brother, Chris Gosling. I’ve known these two since I was about five and they’ve known each other longer than that, obvs.

How did Esprit Picture House come to be, and why did you choose that name?

JOHN: A few months ago, a film magazine that we all grew up loving, released their top 100 films – based on their readers’ votes. Now, we respect the opinions of others and recognise that liking or disliking anything is purely subjective and all that… but there is no way on Earth that Thor: Ragnarok (2017) is one of the 100 best films ever made. I’d argue that if that movie makes your top 100 but Passage To Marseille (1944) doesn’t…

BEN / CHRIS: Wahey!

JOHN: Alright, alright.

CHRIS: The list was inspired by the Empire magazine readers’ top 100 films…

JOHN: Oh right, we’re naming the magazine then, are we?

CHRIS: Yeah, why not?

JOHN: OK, carry on.

CHRIS: [The Empire list] was a frustratingly narrow-minded selection of mainstream crap, new releases (yet to stand the test of time, a film less than five years has no right to be on an all-timer list) and completely boring, obvious selections. Don’t get me started on the lack of world cinema in this list…

BEN: Come on, bruv, why don’t you get down off the fence and tell us all what you really think?

CHRIS: So the idea was to provide a response to this that looked broader and showed a bit more breadth, as the whole point of these types of list is to expand your palette and be introduced to films outside of your sphere of influence – not to reinforce the current obsession with Marvel mediocrity and tedious mainstays of cult mainstream cinema. So, for me, the idea was:

  • not to provide a list of my personal favourite films ever but to focus on selections that are left field
  • fill essential gaps and act as a counterpoint to the ‘same old, same old’ Empire approach
  • to try and inspire people to seek out things they otherwise wouldn’t
  • to promote my love of world cinema

BEN: Confession: I liked Thor: Ragnarok

JOHN: I thought it was alright but top 100?

BEN: Nah. Anyway, the brief for our list was ‘films that don’t usually show up in top 100 lists but are worth your time’ so I pulled up the other list (which I have to say, contained a lot of my faves; I’m quite populist taste-wise) and went with my heart when choosing my own which weren’t on there. They’re ones that we want to try to bring to a wider audience – via John’s Twitter account.

JOHN: I’ve done a few film-themed countdowns on Tweetdeck over the last few years: #ThirtyFromTheThirties, #ThirtyOnTheBigScreen, #JonesNotJones etc. It’s nice to have a scheduled tweet to look forward to every day.

CHRIS: So, every day at 10am for 100 days from 1 March, the IMDb link to one of choices goes out with a mini write-up in a follow-up tweet, showing our working out.

JOHN: And when I get round to it, I’m going to write a novel that features a cinema called The Esprit Picture House so I asked the boys’ permission if I could use that for a silly hashtag.

How did you set about whittling down your selections, and how easy or difficult did you find it?

BEN: I really didn’t try to overthink it. I love film anyway, so I’m constantly thinking about what my favourites are and I always have a rough idea of my likes and dislikes, so my choices were quite easy to make. I almost feel like this should go without saying, but all my parts of the list are made up of films that I absolutely love, for various reasons. Often the reason is nostalgia. A particular film might take me back to a time when it played an important part in my life and cultural interests at that time, but really, all my choices are great films that I want as many people to watch, experience and, hopefully, enjoy as much as I did.

CHRIS: The good thing about our list, and in choosing my own selections, is that the three of us come from different perspectives and areas of interest. So I know certain titles will be covered so I could focus on picking films I knew the others wouldn’t think of. My aim was to mix ‘gateway drug’ films and deep-cuts, and then try and represent a broad spectrum with one rule: one film per director only.

JOHN: Oops, I’ve got three John Fords on my countdown…

CHRIS: When I was a kid, Ben got copies of La Haine (1995) and Man Bites Dog (1992) on VHS. These were my entry into world cinema and where my love of watching films from different cultures started. So I was aiming to do the same thing with my choices. The hardest part was to balance fresh takes with essential necessities, which usually meant picking an obvious directing great and then going further down their filmography for the actual final choice. So instead of the obvious Seven Samurai (1954) Kurosawa selection, go with High & Low (1963) instead.

BEN: We wanted a broad spread age-wise so John knocked anything post-1975 from his initial list, including Phone Booth (2002) and Buried (2010), and bulked out his choices from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.

JOHN: It was quite easy for me, really, but surprisingly, I’ve only got one from 1939 AKA Hollywood’s Greatest Year – and Chris is the only one to choose something from 1999 AKA Hollywood’s Second Greatest Year.

You compiled your lists separately, right? Were there any surprises from your fellow organisers, and did anything pop up that you’d never seen, forgotten all about, or have ended up buying or watching as a result?

BEN: As I’ve said, I probably have the most mainstream taste in film out of the three of us, so I’m constantly surprised by the other two selections as the majority of their choices I’ve just never heard of! I’ve got a very open mind when it comes to film though and I’ll watch almost anything, so it’s been good to add some more films onto my must watch pile. I am definitely going to check out Pale Flower (1964) as I love Japanese cinema from the 1960s but that one somehow passed me by and, of course, if I ever want to watch a rollicking, swashbuckling adventure film with a cracking duel in it, I know who to ask…

CHRIS: I’m surprised by just how much John loves a sword fight.

JOHN: ‘Final duel’ does seem to crop up a fair bit in my write-ups…

CHRIS: I was completely blown away by Twelve O’Clock High (1949). I went in expecting the usual dated ‘stiff upper lip / lemme at em!’ World War Two action and was completely surprised to see a film made that close to the war ending being a psychological study on the impact of conflict versus the need to perform as a unit under extreme pressure. Absolutely superb. The Best Years Of Our Lives (1946) had a similar approach and was also a treat.

JOHN: I’m continually surprised and that’s probably what I’m enjoying most. There are a few of Chris’s choices I’ve never heard of and on the back of the list so far, I’ve got the following lined up to watch:

  • Young Sherlock Holmes (1985; a rewatch)
  • La Haine (1995)
  • Open Range (2003)
  • The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007)

I’m sure there’ll be others when we’ve finished and I’ve gone back over the whole thing.

What sort of response has the list had so far, and are you happy with it?

JOHN: Let’s face it, none of us are Twitter famous so we’re never going to blow up the internet but it’s nice that it generates daily discussion among the three of us. We get a handful of likes and replies from people we don’t know and that’s brilliant too. Personally, I was really happy that a couple of my choices – Vivacious Lady (1938) and Zorro (1975) – had been watched by Twitter friends on my recommendation. FYI, both of these films feature brilliant, albeit very different, fights.

BEN: As John said, none of us are under any illusions here about the kind of reach this list may or may not get, it’s just the three of us spit-balling about films we love, so if that gets any engagement, or piques anyone’s interest outside of our little circle, I am more than happy.

So that’s what the Esprit Picture House’s Alternative Top 100 is all about – you can see what’s already made the list and follow the countdown on Twitter by searching #EspritPictureHouse, where new entries go live every morning.

If you want to weigh in with your thoughts on the list so far, or if you want to let the fellas know what you think to their choices, head over to Twitter and have your say – be polite, obviously.

And, if you want to write about a film you feel strongly about, or something you wish more people knew, there’s a whole Special Features section waiting for your submission – drop me a line here or message me on Twitter and we’ll get something sorted.

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