Tuesday, October 19, 2004

High Fidelity

I'm bored out of my skull. I've got plenty of work to do, but I'm really not in the mood. So I'm going to go all High Fidelity and make a Top 5 list.


One) Empire Strikes Back - chosen (and at the top of the list) for completely sentimental reasons. Of all the Star Wars films, this is the best. It's the darkest in tone, has the best music and arguably the best set pieces. I first saw ESB when I was five years old (in 1981) and it's been etched on my mind ever since. If I could only watch one film ever again, it'd be this one.

Two) Heat - to my mind, the perfect action-thriller. Brilliant acting, glorious cinematography, masterful direction, great characters and beautiful pacing. And the firefight in the street after the heist. Words just fail to describe how good that is. Clearly not for everyone, as there are few sympathetic characters, and it may be too long and complex for some, but I wish more films were made like this.

Three) Dr Strangelove: Or How I Stopped Worrying And Learnt To Love The Bomb - no film list would be complete without Kubrick, and this is my favourite of his many masterpieces. Again, it's a very dark film, with subtle humour intermixed with gags and juxapositions that whack you in the face, such as the immortal "You can't fight in here! This is the War Room!" and the battle between Ripper's troops and the Army at the Air Base, whose motto "Peace is our business" on the base entrance sign forms the backdrop to a vicious firefight. Give such source material to people like Kubrick, Peter Sellars and George C. Scott, and you can't help but make a great film.

Four) The Big Lebowski - not the Coen's best film in terms of artistic or cinematic merit (that honour belongs to either The Man Who Wasn't There or Barton Fink) but outrageously funny, and an inspired reworking of The Big Sleep. My most watched Coen film. Jeff Bridges and John Goodman are fantastic.

Five) Starship Troopers - I'm bound to take some flak for this choice, but what can I say, I've got a soft spot for Sci-Fi. Paul Verhoeven is a massively underrated director, and he brings a staggering amount of intelligence to what could easily be construed as a no-brainer action picture. One of the few DVDs worth watching for its commentary alone, this is actually a very acerbic satire of American foreign policy and society that gets more accurate by the day. Verhoeven brilliantly subverts the original material of Heinlein's book and the archetypes of the All American Hero (most of the American audience didn't twig that the characters actually come from Buenos Aires in Argentinia). Ironic, funny, thrilling, thought-provoking and brilliant special effects.

PC Games

One) Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic - did you seriously expect me to pick anything else? I'm now on my SEVENTH full run though the game, and have clocked up more than 220 hours on this by now. Being a Star Wars title obviously helps, but Bioware have done a staggering job on KOTOR. Great characters, great writing, a lovely game engine and gripping story all conspire to make this one of the great gaming experiences of all time.

Two) UFO - Enemy Unknown - my first love when it came to PC gaming. Still the best turn-based strategy on the PC. Like KOTOR, the first time through the game is a voyage of constant discovery and delight, and being able to assign the names of friends to your soldiers really gives the game a personal touch, and makes you form emotional attachments to your men. Not pretty by today's standards, but the depth of the gameplay just demonstrates how graphics aren't the be all and end of of providing the player with immersion.

Three) Grand Theft Auto: Vice City - the game that has it all. Apart from top spot on this list, it would appear. Simply brilliant - a virtual playpen within which you can do what you wish, yet with enough structure to maintain long term interest, and production values that shame half of the videogames industry. The game gives you so much to do, and so much to do it with. Great for a half hour blast or an eight hour marathon, this is a game for all occasions.

Four) The Sims 2 - the virtual life simulator that just got better than life. A game with a staggering attention to detail, and a transparent system to provide direction to the game without curtailing player freedom. A game that thrives on the imagination you bring to it, this is a title with almost limitless potential.

Five) Baldur's Gate II - it was a close call between this and Star Wars: Supremacy, but in terms of hours eaten, BGII shades it. Probably the most popular AD&D RPG ever made, and certainly one of the most accomplished. If AD&D is your thing, it doesn't get much better than this.

Tomorrow - Spectrum games and music.

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