Executive Director of Knowledge and Collections
|Tabu A Story of the South Seas
|Daughters of the Dust
|The Long Goodbye
|Djibril Diop Mambéty
|Portrait of a Lady on Fire
|A Touch of Zen
|A New Leaf
Tabu A Story of the South Seas
Even via Murnau's European-meets-emerging-Hollywood eyes the violence, terminal doublespeak, othering and tragedy of colonialism is raw and unavoidable in Tabu. Murnau is a master of cinema; his entire output deserves to be in the 100 greatest list too, but for me Tabu expresses something of its time that, without cinema, might have remained intangible, conceptual and more out of reach.
Daughters of the Dust
Like a manifesto for African diaspora magic realism, the ancestors speak to modern audiences with this film as their medium and their message.
Turning the creeping hypocrisy of modern racism into the scenario of a horror classic was a genius move by Jordan Peele. A parable about never assuming that the other shoe won't drop when you're Black in a majority White society.
The Long Goodbye
Languid, dark, glamorous and seedy. A neo-noir which could not be more suited to Altman's shrewd eye for character and to his almost torturous affection for a slow pace. There is no maximum to the number of times this film can be watched, and then immediately rewatched, and then rewatched again.
Among the most direct transliterations of humanity's inner unseen world, just past the reach of consciousness, to the screen. Tarkovsky's film suggests that there can be hope beyond humankind's trajectory towards apocalypse. This film burrows deep into its audience's psyche and stays with them, barely believable, returning in dreams as glimpses and questions.
African arthouse cinema, which exists purely in the vernacular of Senegal while acknowledging the influence of the colonial period. This film combines comedy, tragedy, road movie tropes and criminal glamour into an elegy for youth and disaffection.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
The genius of Céline Sciamma is proof that the greatest films of all time are still being made, and that many are surely yet to come. Her style evolves with each film, and with it our understanding of what the future of cinematic storytelling might be also evolves. The film industry still adheres to patriarchal hierarchies of value (like top 100 polls), to the extent that there may have been many visionaries with the talent of Sciamma in cinema history who have never been allowed or supported to develop their voice and practice. Sciamma isn't the first such talent, and her career is made possible by the breakthroughs of others (in cis women terms, Denis, Bigelow, Varda, Campion… and many more). Portrait of a Lady on Fire won't even be Sciamma's best work ultimately, but it does act as a reminder that such a powerful and unique voice and eye should be celebrated, nurtured and noticed by the industry, and platformed for audiences everywhere.
A Touch of Zen
The plot is almost as intricate as the choreography. The composition of the set pieces and shots have been paid homage to by Hollywood and Hong Kong auteurs alike. The ending is psychedelic. The stars are iconic, including the excellent performance by Hsu Feng, combining damsel in distress with fierce expert fighter skills. A film that is greater than an epic, and which pushed cinema forwards.
A New Leaf
Really funny, warm, delightful, surprising and smart. Elaine May tried to take her name off the released version of this film as this isn't her preferred edit. As much as I would love to see her edit (currently lost) this version is still, definitively, one of the greatest films I've ever seen. A treasure.
A nasty story about hubris and power, told well and beautifully shot. Not many directors or actors can achieve such an impression of devastating, quiet, panic as Losey and Bogarde pull off with Pinter's screenplay; the noose of entrenched privilege plus envy gradually tightening around the characters until they perform their inevitable downfall. Another Losey/ Bogarde/ Pinter collaboration, The Servant (1963) is a similarly mean tale, but I prefer Accident for its greater ambiguity.
This was really hard. It was fun too, but the silliness of making a list of ten films to rule them all kept occurring to me. Especially when I'd managed to whittle down my personal list to just one British film, a bunch of 70s films, no British-born directors… only one Murnau…
My final list is the list I want. I keep trying to knock films off it so that other amazing films can get back onto it – Vertigo, The Wicker Man, The Third Man, First Cow, Blade Runner, [Andrea Arnold's] Wuthering Heights, Fast 5, Bad Timing… argh!! But I can't budge the ten I have. Which must mean something.
I had many filters: wanting to make sure there was something from the period between the last poll and now, wanting to make sure that women were represented, wanting to make sure that film-makers beyond white ethnicities were represented… moving outside of Hollywood, making sure that there are genre films in there too.
I have ended up with a list of films that have entertained, enriched, challenged and inspired me. And that's ok by me.