Catherine Bray

Filmmaker / Critic

Voted for

The Age of Innocence1993Martin Scorsese
When the Wind Blows1986Jimmy Teru Murakami
Les Diaboliques1955Henri-Georges Clouzot
Ran1985Akira Kurosawa
Multiple Maniacs1970John Waters
Don't Look Now1973Nicolas Roeg
Il DECAMERONE1970Pier Paolo Pasolini
Aaaaaaaah!2015Steve Oram
Onibaba1964Kaneto Shindo
American Psycho2000Mary Harron


The Age of Innocence

1993 USA

A film at once painfully gorgeous and gorgeously painful, this is for me the most emotionally acute of Scorsese’s endlessly varied filmography. Visually playful and inventive, and infused with Edith Wharton’s devastating paper-cut wit (never better than when trained on the absurdities of life in the “hieroglyphic” world of high society in late 1800s New York), it's the kind of film that has the power to sidle up and disembowel you before you really realise anything is wrong. Daniel Day-Lewis is on brilliant form, quietly setting about the business of making us fall in love with Newland Archer, a man who is essentially a coward, but in Day-Lewis’s hands a remarkably sympathetic coward, whose tragedy is that he is just perceptive enough to notice the bars of the invisible prison he inhabits, without being bold enough to do anything much about it.

When the Wind Blows

1986 United Kingdom

It's hard to think of a film more relevant to contemporary life in the UK than this peculiar and heartbreaking animation. With the voicework from veteran British stars John Mills and Peggy Ashcroft dovetailing perfectly with vivid onscreen depictions of Blitz nostalgia, it looks backwards to the roots of contemporary Middle England, and forwards to the apocalypse, as armageddon unfolds in the 1980s. With music from David Bowie and Pink Floyd's Roger Waters, both adept in their different ways at conjuring gloomy futures, the film has a strange and disjointed power, deriving in part from Murakami's use of a deliberately dissonant mixture of animation styles, which underlines the impossibility of the cosily cartoonish lead characters comprehending the nuclear threat building in the background, and, once the bomb has dropped, the impossibility of their survival.

Les Diaboliques

1955 France

A lot of ink has been spilled over the idea that films are a machine for generating empathy, but if it's true that film can bring us closer to wholesomely empathising with the situations and mental states of fictional characters, then the same must also be true of film's power to align us, however briefly, with some right old rotters. Watch Les Diaboliques repeatedly and you may find yourself enjoying a temporary sojourn on the side of the wrong 'uns. The original 1955 Sight and Sound review described Clouzot's impeccable thriller as "sickeningly macabre", and I don't disagree, but to me that's an endorsement. Indecently good fun.


1985 France, Japan

It feels fitting in a poll of the Greatest Films to include a nod to one of the greatest writers in any medium, and one often best realised onscreen by filmmakers bold enough to wander far from the source. Shakespeare's plays have flourished as the basis for everything from American teen rom-coms, to, in this instance, a war epic set in 16th-century Japan. This is my favourite version of King Lear, and it didn't even start out as King Lear: Kurosawa was hoping to adapt Japanese legend, before later deciding to blend the English tragedy into the mix. The result is unique: a sweeping war epic of breathtaking scale, combined with some of the most haunting close-ups in cinema, and the thematic weight to back up all those breathtaking and influential visuals.

Multiple Maniacs

1970 USA

Welcome to the Cavalcade of Perversion. It's very hard to single out a particular John Waters film, given they are all Waters to their core, stamped through like a stick of rock with his artfully provocative worldview, but I've chosen Multiple Maniacs because in some ways it is the least polished, allowing the raw talent to sparkle, a trash diamond in the rough, and one of the most successful examples in cinema of the idea that if you have access to a gang of weirdos and a camera, you too can make a movie. I also felt, on reading Waters' recent novel, Liarmouth, that the lead character, Marsha, came full circle and recollected Divine's character in Maniacs, with both works functioning as a lurid love letter to a certain type of scam artist. Long live the Dreamlanders.

Don't Look Now

1973 United Kingdom, Italy

Maybe you’ve seen Don’t Look Now. See it again. It’s a film that’s made to be watched again and again. The more that you remember about it, and the more familiar you are with its beats and images, the greater the hallucinatory sense of premonition that is already baked into its bones.


1970 Italy, France, Federal Republic of Germany

This is the first Pasolini I ever saw and it unlocked more than just the work of Pasolini to me: it is a sublime example of narrative as multi-stranded tapestry. Following in the footsteps of the Boccaccio work on which it is based, it isn’t experimental or non-narrative, but nor is it one single story. It is a collective, and we need more collective narratives, I think – cinema can be ruthlessly single-minded and seductively subjective. Here we microdose different fragments of different people’s lives, all with satisfying outcomes and resolutions and overlaps. All of which is a relatively analytical way to talk about a film that I find appealing because of its fragrant, earthy, muskiness. When I think of The Decameron, despite its director's insistence that the most important thing about it was its anti-capitalist politics, I think of terracotta, sunshine on warm skin, and close-ups of imperfect teeth.


2015 United Kingdom

It’s impossible to represent all cultures and languages in just ten films, but I’m very pleased to make the case for a film that isn’t in any human language at all and isn’t depicting a culture that actually exists. Steve Oram’s ape film is, on the one hand, deliberately crude and absurd, and on the other, one of the most profound films I’ve ever seen, given that at the end of the day, it’s hard to think of something more typical of the behaviour of human beings en masse than that they are crude and absurd. A truly singular and primal cinematic experience.


1964 Japan

I honestly don’t think it’s possible to put this better than the critic Joan Mellen, who said that “for Shindo, our passions as biological beings and our ambitions as members of social classes, which give specific and distorted form to those drives, induce an endless struggle within the unconscious.”

American Psycho

2000 USA, Canada

There is a direct line running from one of my other choices, The Age of Innocence, to this film. But where The Age of Innocence is all about convention and surfaces riding roughshod over the inclinations of the heart, American Psycho, set just over 100 years later in similarly fashionable bits of New York, is about what happens when underneath all of that convention and surface, there is simply absence. Perhaps like any muscle, if a heart is not used, it wastes away, and Patrick Bateman is the evolutionary end point of a century of Newland Archers. Be that as it may, this is a sensationally funny and well-observed film – I don't think Christian Bale has ever again worked with a director who knew precisely how to draw out of him what Mary Harron manages to elicit here: a monster for the ages and very much the hero America deserves.

Further remarks

I was going to write something long here about how different my top ten might look in 2032, but you know what? Ask me again next month, next week, tomorrow, and I'll send you a completely different set of ten films. I think that's a good thing.