5 Best Movies to Watch by Michael Palin

Staff & contributors

, 1985

In the movie Brazil, our hero Sam Lowery (Jonathan Pryce) lives in a dystopian world that relies on the cold productivity grind of machines. He’s in a constant battle between the high-level dominating powers that be and the low-level beatdown scums of society. Saving him from complete misery is a recurring dream he has of a beautiful woman. There, nothing else matters but love, which fills his draining soul and makes his life seem worthwhile. 

The way director Terry Gilliam handles a serious matter in such a comedic way is fantastic, and the amount of thought and effort he puts into creating every single bit of existence in this film is mind-boggling. With Brazil, he succeeds in establishing his own style, making a mark for himself in an age when plenty of auteurs compete for mere recognition.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Science Fiction

Actor: Ann Way, Barbara Hicks, Bill Wallis, Bob Hoskins, Brian Miller, Bryan Pringle, Charles McKeown, David Gant, Derek Deadman, Derrick O'Connor, Don Henderson, Elizabeth Spender, Gorden Kaye, Harold Innocent, Howard Lew Lewis, Ian Holm, Ian Richardson, Jack Purvis, James Coyle, Jim Broadbent, John Flanagan, John Grillo, John Pierce Jones, Jonathan Pryce, Katherine Helmond, Kathryn Pogson, Kim Greist, Michael Palin, Myrtle Devenish, Nigel Planer, Oscar Quitak, Patrick Connor, Peter Vaughan, Ralph Nossek, Ray Cooper, Robert De Niro, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Russell Keith Grant, Sheila Reid, Simon Jones, Terence Bayler, Terry Gilliam

Director: Terry Gilliam

Rating: R

This is a hilarious political comedy starring the ever-great Steve Buscemi. Set in the last days before Stalin's death and the chaos that followed, it portrays the lack of trust and the random assassinations that characterized the Stalinist Soviet Union. Think of it as Veep meets Sacha Baron Cohen's The Dictator. Although to be fair, its dark comedy props are very different from the comedy that comes out today: where there are jokes they're really smart, but what's actually funny is the atmosphere and absurd situations that end up developing.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, History

Actor: Adam Ewan, Adam Shaw, Adrian McLoughlin, Alla Binieieva, Andrea Riseborough, Andrey Korzhenevskiy, Andy Gathergood, Cara Horgan, Dan Mersh, Daniel Booroff, Daniel Chapple, Daniel Fearn, Daniel Smith, Daniel Tatarsky, Daniel Tuite, Dave Wong, David Crow, Dermot Crowley, Diana Quick, Elaine Caxton, Ellen Evans, Emilio Iannucci, Eva Sayer, Ewan Bailey, George Potts, Gerald Lepkowski, Henry Helm, James Barriscale, Jason Isaacs, Jeffrey Tambor, Jeremy Limb, Jonathan Aris, Jonny Phillips, June Watson, Justin Edwards, Karl Johnson, Leeroy Murray, Luke D'Silva, Michael Ballard, Michael Palin, Nicholas Sidi, Nicholas Woodeson, Oleg Drach, Olga Kurylenko, Paddy Considine, Paul Chahidi, Paul Ready, Paul Whitehouse, Phil Deguara, Richard Brake, Ricky Gabriellini, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Rupert Friend, Sebastian Anton, Sheng-Chien Tsai, Simon Russell Beale, Steve Buscemi, Sylvestra Le Touzel, Tim Steed, Tom Brooke, Yulya Muhrygina

Director: Armando Iannucci

Rating: R

A recent holiday classic you likely haven't seen, Arthur Christmas uses its premise of the North Pole as a massive spy organization to touch on how commercialization tears people apart. It's a surprisingly smart film with a fascinating dynamic among its family of Santas, with an incredibly funny script full of dry, British wit. And while the animation may already look dated at first glance, Arthur Christmas more than makes up for its looks with truly imaginative art direction and director Sarah Smith's fast-paced set pieces. This is that rare Chirstmas movie that doesn't just surrender to schmaltz; the lessons learned by the characters here are unique, complex, and timeless.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family, Kids

Actor: Adam Tandy, Alistair McGowan, Andy Serkis, Ashley Jensen, Bill Nighy, Brian Cummings, Bronagh Gallagher, Clint Dyer, Cody Cameron, Danny John-Jules, David Menkin, David Schneider, Deborah Findlay, Dominic West, Donnie Long, Emma Kennedy, Eva Longoria, Hugh Laurie, Iain McKee, Ian Ashpitel, Imelda Staunton, James McAvoy, Jane Horrocks, Jerry Lambert, Jim Broadbent, Joan Cusack, Julia Davis, Kerry Shale, Kevin Cecil, Kevin Eldon, Kris Pearn, Laura Linney, Marc Wootton, Michael Palin, Peter Baynham, Ramona Marquez, Rhys Darby, Rich Fulcher, Rich Hall, Robbie Coltrane, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Sarah Smith, Seamus Malone, Seeta Indrani, Stewart Lee, Tamsin Greig

Director: Barry Cook, Sarah Smith

Rating: PG

That one of 1990’s scariest movies is a kids’ movie makes sense when you know it’s an adaptation of a Roald Dahl story (and directed by horror legend Nicolas Roeg, no less). The Witches dispenses with most of the trappings of kids’ films, swapping bright bubbliness and cute animal CGI for macabre thrills and uncanny valley puppetry courtesy of Jim Henson. It’s astonishingly scary, given its PG certification — not just for its intended audience but for adults, too. Death, grief, and evildoers who prey on children all make an early appearance and never leave the film’s frame, stalking young Luke (Jasen Fisher) and his grandmother (Mai Zetterling) across countries as they try to make a new start in England following a family tragedy in Norway. In typical Dahl style though, The Witches — with its creepy premise and high camp touches — finds a clever balance between being nightmare-inducing and deliciously fun, a tonal blend that harks back to the twisted appeal of traditional fairy tales.

Genre: Comedy, Family, Fantasy, Horror

Actor: Angelique Rockas, Anjelica Huston, Annabel Brooks, Anne Lambton, Anne Tirard, Arvid Ones, Bill Paterson, Brenda Blethyn, Brian Hawksley, Charlie Potter, Darcy Flynn, Debra Gillett, Emma Relph, Grete Nordrå, Jane Horrocks, Jasen Fisher, Jenny Runacre, Jim Carter, Leila Hoffman, Mai Zetterling, Michael Palin, Nicolas Roeg, Nora Connolly, Ola Otnes, Roberta Taylor, Rosamund Greenwood, Rose English, Rowan Atkinson, Serena Harragin, Sukie Smith, Sverre Røssummoen, Vincent Marzello

Director: Nicolas Roeg

Rating: PG

As long as you don’t take it too seriously and see it for the silly ‘80s comedy that it is, then A Fish Called Wanda comes as a pleasantly hilarious way to pass the time. The heist doesn’t make much sense but the farce the characters put on is as delightfully silly as they come. There are traces of Cleese’s Monty Python sketch humor here, as you’ll see in the puns and the wild physical gags he makes, and Curtis proves that comedy is her true calling. But some of the best parts of the movie are when the British characters rib with the Americans—it’s a classic feud, one you won’t help but laugh at, regardless of where you’re coming from.

Genre: Comedy, Crime

Actor: Al Hunter Ashton, Andrew MacLachlan, Cynthia Cleese, David Simeon, Geoffrey Palmer, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jeremy Child, John Cleese, Kate Lansbury, Ken Campbell, Kevin Kline, Llewellyn Rees, Maria Aitken, Mark Elwes, Michael Palin, Michael Percival, Neville Phillips, Pamela Miles, Patricia Hayes, Peter Jonfield, Robert Putt, Roger Brierley, Roger Hume, Roland MacLeod, Sharon Marino, Stephen Fry, Tom Georgeson

Director: Charles Crichton

Rating: R