Michael Koller

Executive programmer, Melbourne Cinematheque

Australia

Voted in the critics’ poll

Voted for

Battle of Algiers, The

1966

Gillo Pontecorvo

Canterbury Tale, A

1944

Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger

Circle, The

2000

Jafar Panahi

Faust

1926

F. W. Murnau

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

1981

George Miller

Merry Widow, The

1925

Erich von Stroheim

Nostalgia for the Light

2010

Patricio Guzmán

Passion of Joan of Arc

1927

Carl Theodor Dreyer

Seventh Seal, The

1957

Ingmar Bergman

Touch of Zen, A

1969

King Hu

Comments

The last time I was asked to compile a top ten list was 20 years ago and it ended up with 150 films on it. To focus and make the selection easier I have set a number of rules. Three films represent the silent era from approximately 1888 to 1928; an additional three black-and-white films represent the time before all-pervasive colour. There is no more than one film per country and each continent is represented. Like many great directors Von Stroheim’s output was small (seven features) but his influence profound. Stroheim’s loose adaptation of The Merry Widow takes half its very long running length to reach the point at which Lehar’s opera begins. Paradoxically made with both an obsessive attention to detail and realism, Stroheim pushes the emotions to the hysterical and sexual brink. Its huge commercial success after the travesties of Merry Go Round (1922) and Greed (1923-4) sent Von Stroheim into a bout of depression but allowed him to continue production of his artistic follies, at least for two further films. Although hounded by US moral guardians and Hollywood (who didn’t know what to do with this eccentric genius) Stroheim’s work stands as an ultimate tribute to Hollywood’s resilience. Faust was the apotheosis of Eric Pommer the Ufa Studio’s overreaching ambition to create an international market for German cinema. The film is a breath taking tour de force of special effects and technical innovation that is subjugated to the human drama at its heart. A pinnacle of bravura filmmaking that is not as iconic as Goethe’s classic, but it is nonetheless a cinematic masterpiece worthy of its filmmaker’s abilities. La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc comes from the time when silence was the international film language and film could also be culturally very specific. Based on the trial transcript, the film ostensibly portrays the psychological torture of a young woman – Model Falconetti’s distress is palpably real and her pained expression is indelibly etched into Dreyer’s film. Dreyer’s austerity and rigour are astounding and, amazingly, this film was patched together from outtakes after the original negative was incinerated in a factory fire. With its Chaucer’s Prologue, where a falcon morphs into a Spitefire, followed by the first scene introducing the main characters, shot in near darkness during a wartime blackout, A Canterbury Tale demands your attention. This eccentric and mystical film is a choice set of vignettes glued together by a barebones narrative, where wish fulfilment in Canterbury is the aim. A near-religious experience, that allows one to understand, better than almost any other wartime propaganda film, why British cultural values are worth the sacrifice. Scandinavian filmmakers have made an underappreciated contribution to the development of cinema. Their cinema is physically and emotionally pervaded by the harsh realities of climate. In The Seventh Seal, a dissertation on existentialism and religion, a ubiquitous and fateful mood of death and despair hangs heavy. The image of the knight playing chess with Death, in order to prolong his quest for answers, is unforgetable. Although Bergman’s critical cache may have waned, enthusiastic audiences still connect with the existential and striking artistic values of one of the bastions of ‘serious, foreign-language’ cinema. The Battle of Algiers is a seminal political film of the 1960s and 1970s, and banned in France as well! Although directed by an Italian director, the film was made in collaboration with the Algerian government and presents an African perspecive on events, marking it an important work in the naissance of African cinema. Its neutral perspective and documentary-style vérité cinematography allegedly made it a manual for armed insurrection, as well as a guide for counter-insurgency. Morricone’s driving score combine with the film’s sly visual style and Pontecorvo’s passion for the cause to produce a lasting impression. The complex, elegant, and labyrinthine A Touch of Zen marks the maturation of WuXia and has remained its template to this day. Hu’s fastidious attention to detail, combined with the dynamic editing and precise choreography of the fighting scenes, creates an exhilarating feast for the senses unmatched in mainstream action cinema, which is immeasureably indebted to this and the other martial arts films of Hu. From small beginnings with the original Mad Max, Mad Max 2 expands and alters the original’s concepts, and with a larger budget takes on Hollywood with a vengeance. Influenced by and modernising the iconography of the Western (and Corman’s car crash movies) this film’s appropriation of the punk aesthetic, a post-apocalyptic vision and no-nonsense, adrenaline-fueled action revitalised the action genre for a several decades. In oppressive regimes artists often resort to allergory, but not in The Circle. Daringly, Panahi goes straight for the jugular. In this heavily atmospheric film, men are the envied other, only sighted in the distance or at the edges of the frame, enjoying the privileges of male society. It is a ‘horror’ film in which Teheran women are subjected to dark and mysterious forces that snatch their bodies and souls, leaving them in a state of constant fear, and at its conclusion, the circle is completed and depressingly, we are back where we started. This is a very original film from a very original filmmaker. Essay films have an enviable tradition and Nostalgia for the Light’s patchwork of seemly disparate elements, from the infinity of the cosmos to the search for human remains in the Atacama Desert, seamlessly links the strands with a quiet rage and cinematic sophistication far exceeding most filmmakers’ aspirations.

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