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Cinema legend: 10 must-see Alan Parker movies to celebrate his life

Alan Parker, the cutting-edge British director who was known to film and music fans alike, died at age 76 on July 31. Capping his directorial career with 2003’s “The Life of David Gale,” Parker leaves behind a canon that defined the look and feel of the four decades in which he was active. Whether you were a lifelong fan or are just learning about his oeuvre, below are 10 films that showcase Parker at his best.

‘Bugsy Malone’ (1976)
Parker’s first produced screenplay, “Melody,” depicted young love from the point of view of two children who want to get married (and featured a soundtrack by the Bee Gees, kicking off a long career combining Parker and popular music). For his directorial breakout film, Parker took that child’s perspective to the next level.

“Bugsy Malone” tells a classic tale of gangsters in the era of Prohibition, but with a cast entirely of children. While the actors try to play this as seriously as they can (which just makes it more adorable), every other element of this comedy revels in its silliness, from the pint-sized cars to the guns that shoot whipped cream. A very young Scott Baio plays the title role with an also very young Jodi Foster as his ex. The film was nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Score.

‘Midnight Express’ (1978)

John Hurt, from left, Brad Davis, Billy Hayes, and Alan Parker appear in Cannes, France, for the screening of their film “Midnight Express” at the 31st International Film Festival on May, 18, 1978. (Associated Press)

Moving on to decidedly more adult fare, “Midnight Express” is adapted from the true story of American Bill Hayes who was imprisoned in and escaped from a Turkish prison for attempting to smuggle drugs out of the country. The film features intense sequences of psychological and physical torture as the desperate Hayes gets pushed farther toward his escape.

The film won two Oscars, one for original score and Oliver Stone’s first win for his screenplay, and Parker was nominated for Best Director. The movie’s unfavorable depictions of the Turkish prison guards remains controversial, but the filmmaking on display is widely regarded as epitomizing the dark realism of prestige cinema in the 1970s.

‘Fame’ (1980)
It’s hard to imagine the 1980s without this soundtrack. A sort of adolescent version of “A Chorus Line,” the story follows eight teenagers who enroll at a school for the performing arts. The film covers all four years of the students’ high school careers, ending with a mix of tragedies and successes.

‘Pink Floyd: The Wall’ (1982)
Parker continued blending modern music and narrative in this adaptation of psychedelic rock icons Pink Floyd’s epic concept album, “The Wall.” The story, as much as there is one, centers on Bob Geldoff as Pink, a rock star with a fascist persona and some serious mental issues.

Animation and disturbing imagery are used to capture Pink’s increasing inner turmoil, along with some fine, if brief, performances from some notables including Bob Hoskins and Eleanor David. Working from a screenplay by Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, Parker puts his full imagination on display.

‘Birdy’ (1984)

Matthew Modine plays the title role in “Birdy,” based on the novel by William Wharton. (Courtesy of Tristar Pictures)

Matthew Modine and Nicolas Cage play a pair of close friends who return home from Vietnam to wrestle with the psychological and physical scars the war left on them. In what might be an unexpected twist for people who only know him for his later outlandish performances, Cage plays the popular straight man to Modine’s disturbed, institutionalized friend.

Parker took home the Grand Prize of the Jury at the Cannes Film Festival with this war drama. And while it didn’t win any Oscars, the instrumental score is still notable as the first collaboration between songwriter Peter Gabriel and producer Daniel Lanois.

‘Angel Heart’ (1987)
Audiences had seen Robert DeNiro play some tough customers before, but few of them hold an evil candle to DeNiro’s Louis Cyphre, an unsubtle take on the devil himself. The movie also features Mickey Rourke and Lisa Boney in her breakout role from “The Cosby Show.” (Bill Cosby would later be very critical of her depiction in the movie.)

‘Mississippi Burning’ (1988)

“Mississippi Burning”

Peter Biziou took home his only Oscar (so far) for Cinematography for this loose adaptation of the story of the 1964 murder investigation of two Civil Rights activists in rural Mississippi. The film also garnered nominations for Best Actor and Best Actress for Gene Hackman and Frances McDormand.

‘The Commitments’ (1991)
“The Commitments” returned Parker to his true forte: music. In this comic drama, a young working-class Irish man creates the soul band of his dreams. The film follows their ups and downs as members clash, dropout and reunite.

‘Evita’ (1996)

Madonna in a scene from “Evita.”

Taking an Oscar for Best Original Song (“You Must Love Me”), “Evita” was the first attempt at a film adaptation of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical since 1973’s “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Madonna took on the lead role of Argentina’s Eva Peron opposite Jonathan Pryce and Antonio Banderas.

‘Angela’s Ashes’ (1999)
Parker’s penultimate film as a director, “Angela’s Ashes” adapts Frank McCourt’s bleak memoir about growing up in Ireland with an alcoholic father. With a score by John Williams, this tome of a movie is less experimental than much of the rest of Parker’s career, but it includes moving performances from Robert Carlyle and Emily Watson.