Andrew Simpson

Critic and Programmer

Voted for

BARIERA1966Jerzy Skolimowski
News from Home1976Chantal Akerman
YEELEN1987Souleymane Cissé
Who Framed Roger Rabbit1988Robert Zemeckis
Distant Voices, Still Lives1988Terence Davies
U.S. Go Home 1994Claire Denis
Dong1998Tsai Ming-liang
The New World2005Terrence Malick
MIAMI VICE2006Michael Mann
La Flor2018Mariano Llinás



1966 Poland

Any of Skolimowski's early work could have made this list, but this is where the great Polish filmmaker feels like he really hit his stride. His third feature in two years, Barrier completed a triptych of films - along with Walkover and Identification Marks: None - that are as formally disruptive and jazzily alive as they were in the 1960s.

Balancing the personal and the political, this portrait of a young man trying to rid himself of all constraints only to come unstuck due to that old-fashioned thing called love is one of the great New Wave films. Billowing towards us in a dreamlike haze, Barrier is both a document of contemporaneous societal (and generational) rupture in 1960s Poland, and a thrillingly restless, living evocation of existential itchiness, one that's as fresh, vibrant, and alive to the universe as it was 60 years ago, with an arrhythmic energy that crackles off the screen with the help of Krzysztof Komeda's wondrous jazz score. Skolimowski may be more famous for the films he would go on to make in Britain in the 1970s and 80s – but this is where the juice is.

News from Home

1976 France, Belgium

Overlaying static and travelling shots of the city grid with narration reciting letters sent to her from back in the old country, Chantal Akerman’s evocative formalism conjures notions of alienation; belonging; displacement; the iconography and lived reality of New York City (the filmmaker’s home at the time); public/private space; and the psychological projections that haunt our experience of moving though the world. Completely enveloping, graceful, maudlin, and spikily class conscious… but what's just as thrilling about Akerman's film is that it is also a bitingly caustic comedy centred on the parent-child relationship (Tagline: “And you thought *your* parents were bad!”), and a film as much about how attempts to flee the nest can easily be thwarted by relentless passive-aggression as it is an exploration of place and the coexistence of layers of time. As such, its stunning 10-minute final shot, filmed from the back of a ferry leaving New York, can be read either as a poetic conflation of past and present – the city of Akerman’s imagined future receding as she is borne back ceaselessly into the past – or as a deadpan, weary surrender to her mother’s seemingly endless capacity for emotional blackmail.


1987 Mali, Burkina Faso (Upper Volta), France, German Democratic Republic

Opening and closing with the image of the sun hovering over the surface of the earth, Yeelen is one of cinema's great evocations of the circularity and oneness of things, and was my original gateway to the greatness of West African cinema. Full of wondrous, spectral imagery, Niankoro's spiritual quest to assert his power and defeat his father in battle is both an evocation of the ways in which the relationship between the Bambara and the world around them is mediated through magic, and how all life is defined by a continuous circle of birth, rebellion, self-realisation and death. Yeelen is therefore a film that balances the culturally specific and the universal in perfect harmony: Cissé's fableist image-making may have a visual grammar and a temporal cadence that's unmistakably African; but Yeelen's evocation of the circularity of time, and the cosmic vastness to which we all eventually return and where life begins again, feels like a profound truth, one that's as humanist as it is spiritual.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

1988 USA

I've loved this film throughout my life, first as an amazing, hilarious spectacle which both mesmerised and terrified me as a child; then as a neo-noir (of which it's still one of the best) and work of pastiche, which introduced me to and reflected back on a genre I grew to love; next as a pioneering work of studio filmmaking – it's hard to emphasise what a breath-taking technical achievement this film is, a folly the scale of which would never be repeated now, the daftness of this being Looney Tunes rather than the straight-faced big canvas filmmaking of, say, Lawrence of Arabia, only adding to the pleasure of it all; and lastly as a kind of cinematic simulacrum, one of the most brilliantly manic examples of Hollywood reflecting back on, and eating, itself, its barrage of in-jokes and layers of reflected histories a veritable Derridean playground. Zemeckis briefly discovered a sweet spot between slapstick genius, technological mastery and spiritual nihilism in the late 80s and early 90s (see also: Death Becomes Her). The result is one of Hollywood's most (accidentally?) texturally rich, creatively inspired, entertaining, just plain weird masterpieces.

Distant Voices, Still Lives

1988 United Kingdom, Federal Republic of Germany

The greatest film by Britain's greatest filmmaker, Distant Voices, Still Lives is both a primer on the thematic preoccupations of Terence Davies, and their starkest, most emotionally naked realisation. Social and religious oppression, the haunting pull of memory, overbearing authority figures (especially fathers), a focus on the lives of women as well as young men wrestling with gay desire, a private cultivation of selfhood, and the release of our innermost feelings, often through poetry and song – all of it is here in Davies’ rapturous debut feature, which unleashes the whirlpool of emotion lying beneath the surface of this autobiographical story of a haunted Liverpool family with some of the most expressive flourishes in cinema. Full of pain, joy, laughter, and heartbreak, Davies’ use of stark portraiture, that gorgeous travelling camera, and the music that signals both emotional release and the intrusion of memories into the present, is simply extraordinary. It’s hard to think of some of the scenes in this film without becoming emotional. A work of staggering empathy for those – including Davies himself – who yearn to be free.

U.S. Go Home


As deceptively simple and attuned to character as cinema can be, Claire Denis’s masterful US Go Home is ostensibly the story of a young woman looking to lose her virginity in the outer Parisian suburbs of the 1960s. A night of party-hopping slowly unfolds, yielding only frustration, until a chance meeting eventually intervenes. The destination is not what she expects, and she, her brother, and her friend end the film suspended in the dawn morning, experiencing what might be emptiness, or the edge of a realisation.

Beneath the surface of this deceptively simple story is a tale of emergent identity, told through gesture, atmosphere and impressionistic encounters, with Alice Houri, Jessica Tharaud and Grégoire Colin offering perfectly calibrated portraits of teenagers teetering between hope and epiphany. Denis, meanwhile, conjures a world of pregnant atmosphere, gloomy hookups and erotic charge, in a film with a deep, melancholic understanding of the energy between people, and of life’s hopes and disappointments. Evocative, and perfect.


1998 France, Taiwan

Cinema’s great emo titan of modern loneliness, yearning and urban hauntology could easily have provided four or five films for my list. The Hole is Tsai Ming-liang’s most lilting, romantic, even hopeful film, in which two lost, isolated souls endure a world on the brink of environmental and epidemiological collapse – with every passing year, Tsai’s vision of where society is headed becomes more prescient – only to find each other through sheer romantic will, Grace Chang, and a hole in the floor. The River, Vive l’amour, Goodbye, Dragon Inn, What Time Is It There? and Stray Dogs are just as good. But The Hole is an act of love.

The New World

2005 USA

The boundless possibilities of Eden and humankind’s destiny to destroy it lie at the heart of Terrence Malick’s rapturous conflation of myth, history and natural wonder. A cacophony of wildlife and wilderness acts as a counterpoint to the arrival of the brutal, oppressive force of British colonialism in America in 1607, with the settlement of Jamestown acting as a locus for an elemental struggle between two modes of existence. John Smith and Pocahontas (Colin Farrell and a truly extra-ordinary Q’orianka Kilcher) are pure representations of two worlds meeting, briefly (exquisitely) exploring the possibility of paradise, and then relenting to the reality of one destroying the other. In The New World’s equally profound second act, the caging of Pocahontas within the strictures of British society becomes the vehicle for Malick’s lamentation for a death of innocence that tragically superseded the boundless possibilities of what was once the New World. The result is one of cinema’s great works of elementalism, told almost from the perspective of nature itself, as alive to the wonder of existence as anything Malick has made since.


2006 Germany, USA

Pushing the possibilities of emergent digital filmmaking to breaking point, Michael Mann used his 2006 ‘remake’ of his touchstone 1980s detective show Miami Vice to create what might be the most avant-garde blockbuster ever made. Dissolving the forensic detail of his meticulously researched cops-and-robbers world into a sea of pixelated imagery, the blurred line between the two sides of the law in Miami Vice found its perfect analogue (ahem) in Mann’s radically inscrutable, dissolving aesthetic. Combined with the most elemental, staccato action sequences of his career, labyrinthine plotting, and delightful silliness (“I’m a fiend for mojitos”), the result is both a thrilling work of crime fiction, and that rare thing in 21st-century cinema: a true formalist landmark.

La Flor

2018 Argentina, Netherlands, Switzerland

A 14-hour meta-pastiche of genre thrills, self-indulgent auteurism, Borgesian storytelling and the trees of rural Argentina, La Flor (The Flower) could be a message of hope, or an end point for cinema. The most thrilling and extraordinary experience of my (cinemagoing) lifetime, that film is capable of producing something as challenging, enlivening, and exploding with ideas as this should give us all considerable hope. Llinás's excitable recreations of B movie spy stories, Jean Renoir, occult horror pictures, musicals, conspiracy thrillers and reflexive essay films bombard the viewer with a cavalcade of ideas, many of which are introduced by an unreliable narrator played by the director himself, or delivered in manic, overlapping voiceover. What emerges is a tribute to the act of storytelling and a loving collaboration with the Piel de Lava troupe that may just encompass all of cinema (or at the very least, everything I love about it). But can film do anything else after this? Time will tell.

Further remarks

As every other contributor will no doubt relay, it is impossible to present a comprehensive list of one's favourite films, or indeed those that might be considered cinema's greatest (whatever that means) in a list of just 10 selections. I've largely sidestepped any of these considerations and picked a list of films which is personal; which speaks to me; which hopefully makes the case for a few films unlikely to land high up on the poll, but which I think are masterpieces worthy of inclusion; and crucially, which feels like it makes sense to me, this week at least.

Honourable mentions: Design for Living, Ruggles of Red Gap, The Shop Around the Corner, The Red Shoes, Romance on the High Seas, Sansho the Bailiff, Lola Montès, The Insect Woman, Black God, White Devil, Red Desert, Mother Joan of the Angels, The Woman in the Dunes, Land in Anguish, The Face of Another, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Wanda, The Devils, A Touch of Zen, Céline and Julie Go Boating, Mirror, Barry Lyndon, Personal Problems, The Thing, The Green Ray, Fire Walk with Me, Bad Lieutenant, Sátántangó, Mother and Son, Beau Travail, Eve's Bayou, The Tree of Life.