Executive Director, Helsinki International Film Festival – Love & Anarchy
|Daughters of the Dust
|La Belle et la Bête
|Meshes of the Afternoon
|Maya Deren, Alexander Hackenschmied
|My Neighbour Totoro
|The Night of the Hunter
A work of such rare empathy and vision just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes and fills my heart with bittersweet joy. Or love, actually. Moonlight is a transformative experience. So maybe the main thing is just to say thank you a thousand times to Barry Jenkins, Tarell Alvin McCraney and the whole remarkable cast and crew for this gift of a film.
How could I not choose this? Star Wars is the film that for over 40 years has made so many of us fall in love with cinema, with the experience of cinema. Every time the first notes of John Williams' score ring out, you cannot help but feel a thrill and smile. It's a film that has become a sort of rite of passage, a story passed from parents to children, from older siblings to younger ones, shared between friends and experienced together. More recently, ugly traits in the fandom have surfaced but also strong resistance to trolling and abuse from the majority. The Empire Strikes Back is perhaps the best film in the series (now suffering from oversupply) but the original brims with adventure, bravado and technical invention. It introduced us to a gallery of lovable and mysterious characters, including a rebel princess not only able to save herself but also carry off the most ridiculous hairdos while doing it.
Daughters of the Dust
Julie Dash's film is that rare thing, a story genuinely both epic and personal. Daughters of the Dust shows the power filmmakers have to bring to life stories and people often sidelined or ignored, as well as the exciting formal possibilities of historical films. A stunning film in its visuals and soundscape, Daughters of the Dust works on you like an incantation with new secrets and treasures to be discovered with each viewing.
La Belle et la Bête
The fairytale film that will leave you spellbound forever.
Meshes of the Afternoon
From the moment the elfin dreamer played by Maya Deren sits in the armchair your pulse starts racing. Where is this going? Who am I in all of this? For its short but intense running time, Meshes of the Afternoon keeps you mesmerized and in the end you just want to go back and watch it again. The film has a tactile feeling, combining the theoretical with the sensual. Clever, threatening and wonderfully weird, it is the work of a true trailblazer and explorer of the art form.
My Neighbour Totoro
From the treasure trove that are the films of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli Tonari no Totoro is, for me, the one to pick. Is there another film so rewatchable? Another filmmaker so skilled in capturing the spirit and attitude of children? And then there are the woodland spirits, fluffy, funny and scary in equal measure. Effortlessly carrying its themes of loss, environmentalism and spirituality, Tonari no Totoro is a truly kind, loving film that will comfort and transport you no matter your age.
Sally Potter's queer classic revamps the costume drama while reveling in it. Tilda Swinton is perfect as Virginia Woolf's time travelling, ageless title character and delightfully seems to have carried something of Orlando with her ever since. More than a straightforward adaptation, the film feels like a dialogue with Woolf's original novel. And in a work brimming with visual pleasures, a special mention must go to the ravishing costumes designed by Sandy Powell and Dien van Straalen.
To find Funny Face on my final list is a bit of surprise even to myself. I wouldn't say it's the best film either Stanley Donen, the Gershwins, Fred Astaire or Audrey Hepburn have done. But it is such fun! The opening number with Kay Thompson and her comrades in pink! The exquisite couture creations by Hubert de Givenchy! The lightness of Astaire! It's often silly and knows it and the fairytale wedding at the end feels superfluous. But underneath it all there is something very pure, and that is Hepburn. So mainly Funny Face is on this list for her. For the way the camera cherishes her. For the way she, by embodying independence, intelligence and grace, supported and inspired a whole generation of especially young women how (to quote Billy Wilder's Sabrina, a strong contender for this list as well) "to be in the world and of the world, and not just to stand aside and watch". She still does.
For the regal, melancholic charm of Burt Lancaster as the Prince of Salina. For the youthful beauty of Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale set against the crumbling splendour of Sicily. For the image of the aristocratic family sitting in their pews covered in dust and sand. And for that breathtaking ballroom scene, never topped.
The Night of the Hunter
It's forever a loss that after his debut feature tanked, Charles Laughton never tried to direct again. But if you only make one film The Night of the Hunter is the way to do it. Audacious, strange and witty, it's a Grimm fairy tale set in the Great Depression-era South. Often told from a childlike perspective, the story unfolds with the logic of a nightmare with fable-like comic elements mixing with moments of mesmerizing beauty and vicious tragedy. The clever use of songs, stylistic techniques inspired by German Expressionism and a career-best performance by Robert Mitchum all add to this heady brew. And, perhaps most memorably, at the film's centre is one of the most magical (in every sense of the word) episodes in all of cinema: the children's flight to the river with the devil on their heels and into the embrace of nature.
What a thrilling, exasperating task! An exercise in wrestling with the canon and the power of “best of” lists, confronting your own ego, blind spots and cinematic taste. Also, a chance to revel in the wealth of film history and to look forward with excitement to all the great films yet to come. But here they are, my final 10, in no particular order. To me these works represent different aspects of greatness in film. However, looking at the list as a whole I also see how many of the titles answer to my love of fairytales and desire to be transported. For sure, there are at least 20 other films that I could almost as easily have picked. There is nothing here from my native Finland (even with Pirjo Honkasalo’s powerful The 3 Rooms of Melancholia becoming ever more prescient), embarrassingly nothing even from the whole of the Nordics. No Ozu, Sembène, Sciamma or Powell and Pressburger either. Only one film from this millennium. And perhaps most astonishing to myself, no Some Like It Hot, a comic masterpiece I adore. But in the end, I just couldn’t fit it in and gave up in the knowledge that it will surely make it to the list. Nobody’s perfect.