24 Hour Party People was never meant to be on this list. When I first put together together the longlist of seventy-or-so films to be pruned down, it was nowhere to be seen. It wasn’t even on the final list, as I wrote the first entry. Why? Because I only watched it in January, having already written and published the first entry. The FFoF project was already out there, with a solid list of forty-nine films ahead of it to chew through.
People have been asking me about the process of making a list this long, that stretches a full year into my own future. Largely this has meant them challenging my hubris (fair enough), and asking: ‘Yeah, but, what if you see something new that becomes your 23rd favourite a film while you’re doing it?’ And I explain my philosophy, that favourite films need time to settle, and give the example that – spoiler! – there are no films from the entirety of last year in the list.
But this is the dirty truth, 2011: I’d sneak it in and you’d never know.
Unless, of course, I decided to use a cheap trick to draw your attention to it. Because, really – and this is the truth that lists like these are never meant to admit, out of fear that it will make them irrelevant – lists like this are arbitrary. My favourite dozen or so films are fairly set, probably for life. But the full list of 50? Is 24 Hour Party People really, exactly, my 44th favourite film, precisely 6 places better than The Wrestler? Of course not.
What its presence here, where it was never supposed to be, actually means is that 24 Hour Party People had a profound enough effect on me to barge its way into the 40s of this list without me even noticing. It might not been able to get away with that in the more ossified strata of the 20s but… With a friendly don’t mind me, lads, it elbowed its way in, in its cheery, brash way, and pushed some other film aside, tumbling with a Wilhelm Scream into the abyss.
The reason it’s here now is down to how the film affected me, post-credits. I noticed how, like the better class of drugs represented within, it changed my mood, speech and the way I walked as I went upstairs, ostensibly to bed: this was, after all, a school night, the first of the year, and I was being responsible.
But 24HPP is not the kind of the film you go straight to sleep after watching. And so I went to my bedroom and started dancing, with an energy and lack of self-consciousness unseen in the most drunken club-night. (There are series of embarrassingly earnest Tweets from the night I watched it, actually, if your inner stalker bends that way.) It was miracle: here was a film which had got me dancing.
Which … what? I should probably talk about the film? Yeah, probably. Okay, the dancing was fitting because of 24 Hour Party People’s subject matter. It tells the story of Manchester’s music scene, from the end of punk to the opening salvos of Britpop. It follows Factory record label/Hacienda club founder Tony Wilson – more accurately, is presented by Tony Wilson, as Coogan’s Wilson spends a lot of the film talking to camera about the events you’re watching – and a supporting cast including the Happy Mondays, and Joy Division/New Order, respectively plus and minus Ian Curtis, whose depiction is a counterpoint to that of Anton Corbijn’s Control. (Note: I am blagging here. I have never watched Control but I have an idea how it goes.)
So: a perfect fit of (subject) matter and manner (of telling). Especially because it wasn’t the film’s music that actually got me dancing. The soundtrack is a fine one, but it was the film’s style, which adapts that ‘Mad-chester’ swagger, that got my feet moving.
There’s just something in the way the film buzzes with energy. The way characters talk and act. The documentary-intrusive shaky cam. The acid-green titles, apparently melting under the heat of sheer projection. The complete lack of pretense in the block-colour backgrounds of car scenes. The tongue firmly in post-modern cheek.
24 Hour Party People is unpretentiously smart and inviting in pulling back the curtain. Tony Wilson treats us like a mate he hasn’t seen for years, jovially pointing out cameos or inaccuracies. It could easily collapse the film, removing the narrative drive, like a writer deflating the notion of any serious canon in his own list, but instead it lends the film a charismatic personality as huge as its subject matter’s music and characters. And as Jules Winnfield puts in it in Pulp Fiction (…on the list? ooh, wouldn’t you like to know): “personality goes a long way”.
Will it work for me? There’s only one way to find out.