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Isn’t cinema wonderful?

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I’d wager we’re all several weeks into our new way of living, missing a few of our comforts lost. For me, it has been the loss of regular trips to the cinema that’s felt most impactful. So while we wait for a time when we can all enjoy a film together again, here are my top ten best cinema experiences:

Gladiator – Empire High Wycombe

The first 15 rated film I saw at the cinema (and slightly underage) was none other than Ridley Scott’s sword and sandal epic. A sweeping drama, perfect viewing with one’s dad (who took me) it was the first time I watched a film and felt smug at the end. Not only was it brilliant, but it was a film that most of my peers would not have the opportunity to watch for years.

The Orphanage – The Watershed, Bristol

Horror is a genre I love more than most. And the area that’s most guaranteed to frighten me are ghost stories. The Orphanage stands as one of the best of these, a doozy of a watch, drenched in dread and a myriad of bangs in the night. This is all before the film pivots to one of the most devastating climaxes I’ve seen, one that haunted me long after the credits ended. I own the DVD and have never managed to return to The Orphanage, the trauma still lingering.

Christopher Nolan viewings

It’s hard to downplay how impactful Christopher Nolan’s films have been on my viewing experiences. 

From a first night cry of frustration at the cut to credits in Inception to the pure terror of the Luftwaffe attacks in Dunkirk, his mastery of cinema is often on full display. But it might just be because throughout my summer of working in a cinema, I timed my screen checks on two moments from The Dark Knight: the opening heist and the lorry flip. Both are examples of a craftsman at the top of his directing prowess.

Kill List – Frightfest

Sometimes you don’t know quite what to expect from a film. Kill List had been talked about in hushed whispers, a horror film with a true descent into madness. Yet when I entered the Frightfest screening for it (my first experience of the genre powerhouse, but not my last), I could not have been prepared for what lay ahead of me. Two hours later I emerged, stunned and frightened but also energised for seeing a true horror classic in the making.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Journeyman & Brawl in Cell Block 99– London Film Festival

I could write this entire list for what I have seen at the London Film Festival. From much-anticipated premiers (The Favourite, The Handmaiden) to unknown gems that snuck up on me (Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Thelma) it’s an annual fixture that gives access to the very best cinema. But one day in particular highlights why I love it. 

My day began with one of the tensest viewing experiences I have ever had, in the form of The Killing of a Sacred Deer or the cinematic equivalent of a heart attack. This was followed by Paddy Considine’s devastating Journeyman, before I ended my cinematic journey in the Prince Charles Cinema. Together with a particularly rowdy audience, we took in the bone-crunching, head-stomping pulpy delight of Brawl in Cell Block 99.

Roman Holiday – Ashmolean Museum

Over a century of cinema has given us a wealth of classics to delve into. And one of these proved a magical night of open-air cinema with my partner. Taking place in the courtyard of the Ashmolean Museum, we were transported to the 50s classic Roman Holiday, a beautiful fairy tale, packed with comedy and a refreshing return to reality in its final moments. Rarely do I engage with the romance around cinema, but sometimes the stars align and cinema can be the most beautiful of endeavours.

Tangled – Cineworld High Wycombe

My daughter’s introduction to cinema, at the age of 2, was at a child-friendly screening of Tangled. A firm favourite in our household, it proved the perfect starting point to foster a love of her dad’s favourite pastime in her. Plus, it’s a film that will undoubtedly make her dad cry each and every time. It’s that good!

One Cut of the Dead – Ultimate Picture Palace

No city is complete without an independent cinema, and Oxford has one of the best. It always feels a privilege to catch something missed by other cinemas, and one of the best of these is One Cut of the Dead. It is a beautiful tribute to the act of making films and a hilarious work whose surprises I won’t ruin here. If there was ever a movie to stick through their opening act, it’s this one, with those who do rewarded with all of the feels.

Jurassic Park – Natural History Museum

I could easily have placed my first viewing experience of Jurassic Park on this list. But it was an incomplete one, as the terror this film caused leading to me leaving after the second T-Rex attack, having spent about fifteen minutes cowering in the footwell. 

Many years and viewings of the film later, is my true highlight here. For my 30th birthday my partner bought us tickets for the Natural History Museum sleepover, a truly incredible evening. It was here I got to see one of my favourite films in one of my favourite venues at midnight. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.

Parasite – Curzon Oxford

My final entry and one of my last trips to the cinema was for Parasite. Few films have so successfully been able to wrong-foot and throw me off balance quite as much as Parasite and in a first viewing the film’s entire second half moves at a terrific pace. 

I sat in a packed, near-silent auditorium as Bong Joon-Ho’s masterpiece twisted and turned around us. It was even more impactful as once I stepped back into the light of day, I learnt that my grandfather’s terminal cancer had finally taken its toll. Cinema is an escape in both the good and the bad times and few recent works have exemplified this as much as Parasite.

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