Top Dogs (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Puns)

I’ve always had a thing for the underdog, so much so that I used to wish I was one. From the age of four when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would reply: ‘a dog,’ before crawling off, barking. I wore through every pair of trousers I had at the knees.

It was a crushing disappointment, aged roughly six, when I realised it wouldn’t in fact be possible, and to regroup I immersed myself in the world of canine cinema.

I thought choosing my top ten dog films of all-time would be easy, but the more I watched, the more I realised it’s actually a difficult genre to define. We all know that the delightful Jack Russell Uggie stole the show during The Artist, but does that make it a ‘dog film’, or is the title reserved for kiddy cartoons starring our four-legged friends? Then there’s how you define a good work in a genre that covers children’s animations, life action and even dog films with no dogs in them?

To settle it I divided them into cat(sorry)agories:

Kids’ films
I’ve always been fond of 101 Dalmatians, but if it came down to one top dog, I would have to say Lady and The Tramp. This was my first ever VHS (presented to me after I’d fallen into a patch of nettles) and it obviously sparked not only my love of dog themed cinema, but my feminist leanings, as I always wanted to be the Tramp. He seemed to have much more fun sleeping in a railway station and eating spaghetti than Her at Home.

Best scene-stealers
Jack Russells seem built for this category, and while Uggie is the obvious contender, I have a soft spot for wire-haired Arthur from Beginners, who really made the film stick in the mind long after watching. I particularly enjoyed watching Ewan McGregor giving him a guided tour of his apartment, both of them doleful-eyed and loveable, and – fact fans – so strong was their bond that Ewan immediately went and got his own four-legged companion after filming.

Best non-dog dog films
Not a pooch in sight in Reservoir Dogs, Slumdog Millionaire, Dogma, Dog Day Afternoon or Dogtooth. Shame.

The charming, if more than a tad bleak, Swedish film My Life As a Dog has mere glimpses of the main character’s dog, as well as mournful references to Laika, the first dog in space. It’s a brilliant work about a grim childhood, only lightened by boxing and boxers (well, a terrier actually, but that doesn’t sound as good.)

Also, weirdly, Must Love Dogs is surprisingly dog-light…I think they just liked the title. The central characters meet at a dog park, with borrowed pets (including one called Mother Theresa) who are quickly relegated to bit parts. Big mistake in my view, as MT was much more cute and cuddly than John Cusack.

Best in show
A good canine film ought to be funny, endearing and full of character, and Argentine film Bombon El Perro is hard to beat. I’d never heard of an Argentine Dogo before, but if they’re all like Bombon – sign me up! Enormous, slathery-chopped and strikingly white, he’s just what down-on-his-luck former garage worker Coco needs, when he’s given the pedigree specimen. Cue a fantastic shot of the two of them driving through the stunningly barren landscape, en route to various dog shows. It’s charming to see the renewal of Coco’s life, as well as exploring the many sides of dog behaviour – from blind aggression to obedience, all in the most expressive of canine faces.

Red Dog, the little Aussie hit that made it big is well worth a watch too. Following another little known breed – the gorgeous, auburn Kelpie – it’s the story of how one stray dog brought together a mining community. It’s more ‘blockbuster’ than the wonderfully understated Bombon, but if you’re looking for a more mainstream affair you can’t go wrong with Red. Based on a true story, it’s moving, silly and one of very few films with a ginger hero.

I also love adult animation My Dog Tulip, a whimsical reflection on the life of a dog owner. Based on a book of the same name written in 1956 by JR Ackerley about rescuing Tulip, a German Shepard, from an abusive home, this film can’t fail to make you smile and well up in equal measures. Beautifully narrated by Christopher Plummer, you really should see it now.

So, in summary, whether you’re an underdog, top dog, or just dog tired, there’s a canine film to suit every mood. Now in order to be fair I’m going to go and watch cat films for a while.

Out Now – 23rd April 2010

Holy crap there’s loads out today and some of it looks like it might be quite good. I still need to see Cemetery Junction though.

Agora
A Spanish historical drama in English set in ancient Egypt. It’s about Rachel Weisz or at least stars her and is either very good if you believe IMDb or mediocre if you believe Rotten Tomatoes. I’m not a fan of historical dramas so I don’t think I’ll be seeing it.

Centurion
Speaking of historical dramas here we have one filmed in glorious Surrey. If you ever wondered what happened to the missing Roman Ninth Legion go see this! If not then I wouldn’t waste your money.

The Joneses
It’s a family in suburbia who appear perfect but have a secret! If you haven;t seen enough Desperate Housewives lately then someone made a film for you. Sarcasm aside David Duchovney and Amber Heard make me more than a little curious.

Extract
I am almost certain this comes out today. I am even more certain this was written by Mike Judge,who gained god status with Office Space, and stars Jason Bateman and Mila Kunis. If it’s not at least mildly entertaining I’ll eat my hat made of bread.

Cherrybomb (on limited release)
Ooer Ron from Harry Potter is kissing a girl and giving her a naked hug! A film so good it failed to find a distributor until fans campaigned wildly for fear of missing out on the chance to see if Grint’s carpet matches his drapes.

Dogtooth (on limited release)
Supposedly sick and horrifying while being clever and satirical. Expect graphic sex and/or violence presented as a comment on some sort of social ailment. If you see it you’ll have to pretend to understand it or look like a right pervert.

Life During Wartime (on limited release)
Allison Janney! It’s only Allison Janney of the telly box! This may be a terrible film but it has one of my favourite underused actresses in it. Bring back The West Wing.