Rear Window (1954)

The quintessential voyeur’s movie, and one of Hitchcock’s classic films, starring James Stewart as a housebound photojournalist with a gammy leg who just can’t resist poking his nose into other people’s lives. Set entirely on one massive studio set, and told almost entirely from Stewart’s point of view (largely seen through a pair of enormous binoculars), Rear Window brings together many of Hitchcock’s hallmark obsessions: voyeurism, murder, mistaken identity, violence, repressed sexuality, loneliness and emotional isolation, all stitched together with a jet-black thread of Hitchcockian humour. Fascinating, provocative and still the one to watch. OB

To be watched with: Blowup (1966)

The Truman Show (1998)

Peter Weir’s hugely imaginative tale of Truman Burbank, a man whose entire life has unwittingly been constructed for the purposes of a 24 hour television show, was perhaps one of the most underrated films of the 1990s. It’s a film that grows stronger with every viewing – a funny, intelligent and surprisingly moving story of one’s man journey of self-discovery and his desire to take control of his own destiny. Peter Weir plays all kinds of intriguing tricks on his audience, using cutaways to hidden cameras to make sure that we all feel complicit in the act of watching Truman’s struggles for the purposes of entertainment; the moving finale, in which Truman quite literally sails to the edge of his world in search of his creator (an omnipotent TV director played by Ed Harris) is an audacious and playfully profound way to end a mainstream Hollywood film, especially as we never find out what happens to Truman once he makes it into the outside world. OB

To be watched with: Edtv (1999)

The Conversation (1974)

The greatest spying movie of them all: a morality tale about what happens when you listen too much and interpret what isn’t there. Gene Hackman was never better as the ‘best bugger on the west coast’ hired to tape a conversation between two people who may or may not be having an affair. Without giving too much away, this is a film in which nothing can be taken a face value. The set pieces are clammily terrifying – hotel bathrooms have rarely been so gut-wrenching – while watching Hackman at work is a fascinating insight into the minutiae of surveillance. Check out the opening scene – one long, slow zoom – and the desperately dispiriting finale, where Hackman realises that even he is not above being watched and listened to. BM

To be watched with: Night Moves (1975)

The Insider (1999)

For many, director Michael Mann’s magnum opus. Based on a true story, Russell Crowe plays a scientist who blows the whistle on a tobacco company, and heads to 60 Minutes producer Al Pacino with his story. A film less about surveillance or Deep Throat revelations; more a compelling study of male professionalism, business ethics and detrimental courage. Pacino is restrained, Michael Gambon oleaginous, Christopher Plummer stoical, Diane Venora the very epitome of the uncomprehending wife. Bestriding them all is Crowe’s career-making performance – sweaty, fidgety, reserved, humble – a wonderful human face on the back-stabbings and betrayals of modern corporate America. Look out for the crucial scene on the all-night golf driving range, in which paranoia builds to claustrophobic proportions. BM

To be watched with: All The President’s Men (1976)

The Enemy of the State (1998)

The Conversation for the MTV generation. Tony Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer redefine the hitherto redundant techno-thriller, filling this ‘Will Smith in North by Northwest’ riff with impressive gadgets, set piece chases and nonsensical explosions. Smith plays an Ordinary Joe who gets caught up with a rogue National Security Advisor, the Mob and Gene Hackman’s dyspeptic CIA operative. A film full of CCTV-caught murders, bugging devices, double-and triple-crosses, it’s a great ‘being watched’ film – the technology showcased is frighteningly close to home – and Jon Voight is excellent as the man who can literally erase your life with the switch of a button. There’s a great cast too – Jason Robards, Tom Sizemore and Gabriel Byrne flex convincingly, while Smith does his usual auto-pilot shtick with gusto. BM

To be watched with: Hackers (1995)

My Little Eye (2001)

Far from essential viewing, but this CCTV-inspired teen horror made by British director Marc Evans has some merit, mainly thanks to its decision to tell the story entirely using fixed Big Brother style cameras. A group of obnoxious and profoundly dislikable teenagers are locked up in a remote country house for six months in competition for a $1m dollar prize – the only condition being that none of them can leave. But when one of the protagonist’s grandfathers dies, and he asks to attend the funeral, the group have to make a decision – do they forfeit the prize and retain their moral integrity, or go for the cash and give into their baser selves? Predictably enough, the film soon turns into a rather nasty mix of Shallow Grave and various haunted house horror films, but it has some interesting things to say about the rise of reality TV and its logical end. OB

To be watched with: Series 7: The Contenders (2000)

feardotcom (2003)

Somewhere in rainy New York, Stephen Dorff and Natascha McElhone are blandly watchable as a ‘cop-and-doc’ team hired to track down the origins of a website (feardotcom) whose devotees die 48 hours after logging on. It may or not have something to do with a serial killer who tortures his victims and broadcasts their drawn-out deaths on the internet, and comes across as a rather uninspired version of The Ring. Like so many other serial killer and evil technology rehashes, filmmaker William Malone mistakes clumsy sound and set design for atmosphere, and employs stock clichés of vengeful victims as a narrative motor. There are some half-decent touches along the way – victims die by bleeding from the eyes and a wonderfully miscast Stephen Rea as the end-of-level killer. The very notion of snuff websites is in itself deeply unsettling – alas, this film is less being ‘watched’ than ‘botched’. BM

To be watched with: Ringu (1998)

Conspiracy Theory (1997)

Mel Gibson stars in this Hollywood thriller as a paranoid New York taxi driver with enough conspiracy theories to keep the X-Files going for several series, who’s in love from afar with a top-flight Justice Dept attorney (Julia Roberts) investigating the mysterious death of her judge father. Against all the odds one of Gibson’s pie-eyed theories hits a little too close to home, and before you know it, shadowy military types in dark glasses are pumping him full of truth drugs when they’re not too busy trying to kill him. Expect plenty of action, a playfully-paranoid script and some stylish chase sequences – but the truth is most definitely still out there. OB

To be watched with: Capricorn One (1977)

Saw (2004)

Two middle-class men wake up in a beaten-up bathroom to find their ankles chained to wall pipes, with a dead man on the floor between them no knowledge of how they – or he – got there. In their pockets are audio tapes recorded by their captor, the daftly-titled Jigsaw Man, which lead them through a series of clues to the conclusion that they’ll have to saw through their ankle bones in order to escape, and avoid the murder of one of the men’s wife and child, who are being held hostage by the Jigsaw Man. This gritty, nasty suspense tale pays more attention to the mechanics of making its audience squirm than stimulating their brains, but it’s got a certain sang-froid style that makes it worth watching.

To be watched with: The Game (1997)

The Watcher (2000)

Keanu Reeves plays a serial strangler, a rather affable killer who spices up the fun and games by sending the police photographs of his intended victims 24 hours in advance. James Spader plays the washed-up cop with the kind of nasal burnt-out quality that has characterised his career for two decades, while Marisa Tomei is on hand as ‘expert’ psychological profiler. It’s a rather empty film that has some interesting moments. Chicago is filmed as an eerie urban wasteland, and MTV director Joe Charbanic edits his chases to pop soundbites. Best of all is the killer POV, represented by CCTV-style grainy pixels. It’s a cute metaphor for surveillance and urban survival that doesn’t really deserve inclusion in a rather derivative film. BM

To be watched with: Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)