Guillermo del Toro

Hellboy; Pan's Labyrinth


Voted in the directors’ poll

Voted for


Federico Fellini

Belle et la Bete, La


Jean Cocteau



James Whale



Tod Browning



Martin Scorsese



Erich von Stroheim

Los Olvidados


Luis Buñuel

Modern Times


Charles Chaplin



F. W. Murnau

Shadow of A Doubt


Alfred Hitchcock


Frankenstein is a film – and a tale – that touches the very essence of what I am and all that I believe in. Whale's superb eye and tonal command are matched by a Karloff performance that manages to transmit both fragility and power.

Full of iconic moments of pure cinema, pulp horror, carny noir, perverse melodrama – Freaks is still unclassifiable after many decades. Still sick, twisted, perverse and profoundly human. Pickled in a jar of bile, it contains Browning's view of the world at its purest.

Shadow of the Doubt is one of the perfect Hitchcocks – the very first true American Gothic he made, and an eerie portrait of the world of the past being transformed by the touch of evil. As quintessentially American as Edward Hopper or Harper Lee.

An exquisite engraving of human perversity, Greed is a monumental fable that will continue to influence cinema for decades to come. As modern and brutal today as it was the day it was released. A perfect reflection of the anxiety permeating the passage into the 20th century and the absolute dehumanisation that was to come.

Modern Times: ballet, pantomime and absolute command of the cinematic medium. Chaplin manages to entertain and move the audience. In a sense it is the flip side of Murnau’s Sunrise.

La Belle et la Bête is the most perfect cinematic fable ever told. After Méliès, only Cocteau has understood that perfect simplicity is required to tell a fairytale – and that nothing but the power of pure cinema is needed to create awe and wonder.

With Goodfellas Scorsese gives birth to the 21st century in one of the most influential films of the last two decades. A movie that can be rewatched endlessly and remain fresh and surprising. Perfect in every aspect, behind and in front of the camera.

I am certain that my favourite Buñuel is the Mexican period Buñuel and of all his films, Los olvidados and El (1953) shine the brightest. His surreal, anarchist spirit cuts the deepest when used against a conventional genre or a commercial constraint. This example of the golden era of Mexican cinema packs a punch, never flinching in depicting innocence suffocating by rules and concrete buildings. Ruthless Dickens as regurgitated by an atheist.

Nosferatu is a symphony of fear indeed – and a symphony of perfect visual storytelling. The hypnotic nature of the film engrosses the audience into a trance. Along with Dreyer’s Vampyr (1932), it’s one of the two pillars for every vampiric film ever made. Whereas Dreyer concerns himself with the spiritual, Murnau's film has a tangible, physical component of corruption that makes evil immediate and real.

A true classic has to be both intimate and universal. To speak about cinema through cinema requires a voice unwavering in its passion and purity. 8½ speaks as much about life as it does about art – and it makes certain to connect both. A portrait of the teller and his craft – a lustful, sweaty, gluttonous poem to cinema.

Latest from the BFI

  • Latest from the BFI

    Latest news, features and opinion.

More information

Films, TV and people

  • Films, TV and people

    Film lists and highlights from BFI Player.

More information

Sight & Sound magazine

  • Sight & Sound magazine

    Reviews, interviews and features from the international film magazine.

More information

Back to the top