Cinema curator, Barbican
|Some Like It Hot
|2001: A Space Odyssey
|Paris Is Burning
|BA WANG BIE JI
Some Like It Hot
The gayest screwball ever told, with the happiest happy ending in all of cinema, all the more delightful for its unexpectedness. If I can only take one film with me to the afterlife, it’ll be this one.
2001: A Space Odyssey
I still can’t get over the fact that the BBFC gave this film a U certificate. It’s utterly overwhelming, even terrifying, especially in the cinema. It’s a film whose mysteries are genuinely fun to unpack and explore – I never doubt that Kubrick knows what he’s doing, even if it’s a puzzle I may never solve.
There are some scenes in If…. that become increasingly problematic with each year that passes, not least the school shooting that ends the film. British cinema had never seen anything like it – over five decades later, it remains a dangerous and extremely provocative film.
In a just world, Wertmüller would be as famous as Fellini. Her dissection of fascism and machismo is utterly unflinching and heroically grotesque. Giancarlo Giannini is tremendous as the cowardly crook who will do anything to survive in Fascist Italy, while the scenes in the concentration camp are brutal satire at its bleakest.
To borrow Riggs’s own phrase, he made Tongues Untied as a time when queer cinema was 'immersed in vanilla'. Tongues Untied dissects racist and homophobic stereotypes with devastating ferocity, and is one of cinema’s great essay films.
Paris Is Burning
I think I have seen this film more than any other. Can any other documentary boast such a brilliant cast? Its dozens of memorable lines are still quoted today, and almost every one of its subjects, many of whom died within years of its release (or, in the case of Venus Xtravaganza, during its filming), remain legends.
I revisit this film every couple of years and each time I hate to leave its company. It bounds through time, shedding lovers and genders with every leap. Tilda Swinton is magnificent as our hero, whose final, unbroken gaze at the camera at last expresses contentment after centuries of searching for love.
It was between this and Palcy’s earlier Rue Cases-Nègres (1983), but her 1992 musical is even better, a magnificent, colourful ghost story set in the West Indies, featuring some of the best concert footage captured on film. It makes me smile from its opening drum battle to its end credits, and deserves to be far better known.
BA WANG BIE JI
Decades of complex, tumultuous history are experienced through the eyes of two Chinese male opera singers in Chen Kaige’s magnificent epic. Leslie Cheung is quite extraordinary as one of cinema’s most unforgettable victims of unrequited love.
A gay romance shapeshifts into a wonderful, utterly immersive quest for a lover spirited away. Its final moments, as the hero encounters the tiger in the jungle, is as intoxicating as anything in cinema. I swoon every time.
Some of my favourite directors don’t lend themselves to a ‘greatest film’ – if bodies of work counted, then ‘the films of Pedro Almodóvar’, ‘the films of Terence Davies’, ‘the films of Maya Deren’, ‘the films of Derek Jarman’, ‘the films of Douglas Sirk’, even the ridiculous, wonderful ‘films of Teuvo Tulio’ might have made the top 10.
These are films that have been great friends to me throughout my life. Some have been with me since adolescence, as Some Like It Hot became my gay best friend and If…. gave me my first taste of rebellion, making me realise that, yes, something was (and still is) rotten in England. Some, such as Siméon, are more recent acquaintances who reminded me of the thrill of discovering something new, a feeling that gets rarer and rarer as the years go by.
The 1992 Sight & Sound poll gave my 12-year-old self a canon of films to explore, to embrace and, in some cases, to reject. I hope this year’s poll gives the same excitement to every young film lover who reads it.