Belén Vidal

Reader in Film Studies

Voted for

Midnight1939Mitchell Leisen
The 400 Blows1959François Truffaut
La dolce vita1960Federico Fellini
Cléo from 5 to 71962Agnès Varda
The Battle of Algiers1966Gillo Pontecorvo
Opening Night1977John Cassavetes
Arrebato1979Iván Zulueta
The Age of Innocence1993Martin Scorsese
Beau travail1998Claire Denis
Petite maman2021Céline Sciamma



1939 USA

A towering example of the “genius of the system”. If I had to save just one Hollywood comedy, it would be this one.

The 400 Blows

1959 France

The film that launched one thousand stories in the first person.

La dolce vita

1960 Italy, France

Sprawling, infuriating, profoundly inventive - a film world populated by beautiful and sinister creatures that never ceases to surprise.

Cléo from 5 to 7

1962 France, Italy

A woman’s walk across the city can be a life journey in itself.

The Battle of Algiers

1966 Italy, Algeria

Cinema as weapon for revolution and solidarity.

Opening Night

1977 USA

A cinema where the Actress reigns supreme, as a force for creativity and crisis.


1979 Spain

A heartfelt tribute to those who wilfully confuse cinema with life – often with catastrophic results.

The Age of Innocence

1993 USA

A film that rewards a hundred viewings, and which hits you every time with a sense of heartbreaking inevitability.

Beau travail

1998 France

When cinema does not need words, just bodies and landscapes to exist.

Petite maman

2021 France

A film that contains past, present and future - and every other great film about children ever made. As close as cinema gets to perfection - in under 80 minutes.

Further remarks

It has become almost de rigueur to preface lists such as this with a caveat about how entitled, despotic and nonsensical the very attempt at list-making is. My response to this invitation comes as an admission of defeat, and from a place of partiality. Cinema is too vast, and the impossibility of lists is a joy in itself: there’s always MORE we need to watch. Ultimately, any list says far more about the list-maker than about the object under scrutiny and classification. My proposed list is made of films that have been with me for a long time, and which have been the object of rich discussions with others. It leans heavily towards the mid-20th century, the moment in which cinema seems to become aware of its own history, whether to embrace it or reject it. It is the moment in which cinema falls a bit in love with itself too – call it narcissism, or cinephilia.

My ideal list (which is not necessarily this one) contains the seeds of hundreds of past and future films, whether through influence, citation, dialogue or contestation. It includes films that invent new vocabularies of feeling; films where form and subject come together in miraculous fusion. It also includes films that show us the word anew, and which build worlds in which the spectator can live. Films to see us through the most testing of times. And a couple of provocations (otherwise, where’s the fun?).