My train-obsessed nephew is suddenly starting to speak in sentences (he is 2) after a long period of saying very little. "Thomas has a branch line," he announced to my sister. In order to treat him after he had been good all day, she took him to a toy shop. "I want a turntable!" he kept saying. Not the record-player type, but the type that lets trains turn round on the track. They are coming to visit next month so I intend to spoil him rotten by buying him loads of presents and over-exciting him (his other favourite thing apart from Thomas the Tank Engine is to be chased round the room). I am the uncle equivalent of E-numbers. Still, I spend a lot of my time acting like a grown-up, so it is refreshing to just be silly around him. And no doubt in a few years he'll just be embarrassed so I am enjoying his company while I can.
It's so nice when you discover an actor or genre of film that you haven't really paid that much attention before, and then realise that there's a whole canon of stuff to watch. I've been addicted to Clint Eastwood movies for the last six months. He's the sort of actor I've kind of passed over in the past, thinking you had to be a heterosexual man to enjoy them (my Dad was a big fan). However, despite the fact that he's got slightly leathery skin and crows-feet from squinting in the sun, his hair looks like it's made of polyester and he's a bit tall and gangly, he is The Man! He has a laconic acting style, a voice I could listen to all night (though he's a man of few words), and he sure knows how to ride a horse. Forget Brokeback Mountain: here are 5 of my favourite Clint films. (I could do 10, but reckon 5's about as much as anyone can take hearing me rave about Clint). The films he made in the late 60s/early 70s are the ones I like best.
1. Two Mules for Sister Sarah. (1970)
An unusally talky film for Clint, and he also gets a humorous romantic lead in Shirley MacClaine (another rarity). It's one of those opposites-attract films - he's the hard-bitten gun-slinger, she's the scatty nun. He interrupts a gang of men who are trying to rape her and they become friends. Sort of. Just like in The African Queen, they embark on a wartime journey which leads to a series of bizarre adventures where they have to work together - at one point they start counting how many times they've saved each other's lives. There's a nice twist at the end, which I'm sure you'll spot a mile off (I didn't), and you find out why Sister Sarah needs those two mules. There's a fab soundtrack too, by Lalo Schifrin.
2. The Beguiled (1971)
A weirdly dream-like, cult film where Clint plays a wounded solider, hiding out in a prim school for girls - although he's on the enemy side, almost all the females in the film want to get into his pants, leading to an explosive situation. There's so much backstory to this, told with flashbacks, that it feels like a sequel to a film that never got made. Geraldine Page is the repressed Headmistress (her extra-curricular interests include lesbianism and incest). Clint also kisses a pre-teen girl in the first couple of minutes. Shocking! And don't get too attached to the turtle either.
3. Hang em High (1968)
A Western that rises above the usual run-of-the-mill shoot em ups to tackle the issue of capital punishment - in a time and place where lawlessness is rife. Clint is left hanging for dead for a crime he didn't commit at the start of the picture. Luckily, he's rescued and sets about tracking down the posse who presumed his guilt and sentenced him without a trial. There are some pretty tense scenes involving public hangings and the film doesn't answer all the questions it raises.
4. Play Misty for Me (1971)
Clint is a slightly promiscuous DJ who gets himself a crazy lady stalker who keeps asking him to play Misty. This is a tense thriller - rather different from his usual police/western genres. Watch out for the stereotypically flamboyant gay neighbour who lives by the docks so he can meet sailors.
5. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966)
A lot of people think this is one of the greatest films of all time, and I'm inclined to agree. It's an epic story of three men who are after buried treasure amid the backdrop of the Civil War. It's the last of the Spaghetti Western trilogy and Clint's character is a bit less robotic than in the other two films (he's called Blondie and plays with a kitten at one point). The last 20 minutes or so are some of the most beautiful ever filmed, and it ends with a fabulous three-way Mexican stand-off. I can watch this over and over again and never get bored of it.