Editor, Metro magazine
|Céline and Julie Go Boating
|Hiroshima mon amour
|La Maman et la Putain
|PERCEVAL LE GALLOIS
|Je, tu, il, elle
|2001: A Space Odyssey
|Valerie a tyden divu
Céline and Julie Go Boating
No film has brought me more joy than Celine and Julie Go Boating. It's funny, playful, full of tiny details that you only notice on subsequent viewings. It's rather like a bedtime story invented on the spot; the teller doesn't have the faintest clue where it will end up at the beginning, but disparate elements gradually build up and intersect until, finally, the whole thing comes alive. I love its internal metaphor for cinema: you sit down with your friend, chew on the boiled sweet, and peer through the window at other people's lives, trying to figure out what's going on, what's going to happen, what it all means – only, in this world, you get to climb through the screen at the end.
Literature's most famous dream is, perhaps for the one and only time, adapted as a dream on film. Somewhat of a showcase for (and culmination of) the unparalleled animation work that Švankmajer had honed over two and a half decades of shorts, his debut feature's most brilliant coup is to stage all this in the mundane setting of an apartment block and amongst everyday paraphernalia. So many films get dreams all wrong, but Alice gets as close as any work of cinema to an approximation of their logic, flow and construction.
Hiroshima mon amour
This first feature by Alain Resnais is a beautiful film for many reasons – not least for its fierce, humanistic outcry against war and its attendant cruelties – but the thing that really makes it special is the film's breathtaking editing, the collision of images and music giving the poetry of Marguerite Duras its perfect cinematic counterpart. It's a film you can't tear your gaze from.
La Maman et la Putain
An open wound of a film, like a therapy session without catharsis, digging around in the gaps between constructed presentation and the inescapable self. Here we have sexual desire and its consequences, emotional suppression and ugly release, the emotional cruelty that can be inflicted when people are intimate and vulnerable with one another, and the painful realisation of responsibility.
PERCEVAL LE GALLOIS
A radically modernist immersion in a different world – one resembling not a real past but a nostalgia-laced funhouse mirror of the thirteenth century. It's fitting, then, that this tale of Camelot should be treated so lovingly and yet artificially, as if it were a pageant or school play, and made with the most rudimentary and matter-of-fact visual language. After all, "It's only a model."
Je, tu, il, elle
It feels wrong somehow to have to pick just one title within Akerman's vast, eclectic and brilliant oeuvre, but this first feature feels like the locus around which everything else in her career revolves: a diary entry written for the benefit of artist and audience alike, warm and cold, radical in its simplicity, and fearless in a way that only the work of a young artist can be. A new kind of cinematic language was born here.
The film that has most insistently found its way into my dreams over my adult life. That lengthy trolley-car ride early on in the film is like a ferry across the River Styx, or the moment in sleep between the real world blurring away and the appearance of the counterfeit images that our brains manifest. Only a director like Tarkovsky could take this mysterious, slumbering landscape and fill it with metaphysical currents; the result is that every pebble, blade of grass, bridge and power line seems like the fingers and toes of a sleeping giant.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Cinema has long offered physical and emotional close-ups into other people's lives, but rarely has it zoomed out to consider the human species collectively, in terms of our past, present and future – and no film has done that more effectively than 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kubrick's film is aiming for something bigger and perhaps more esoteric than that, but what lingers is the fragility of those tiny human beings carried through the vast and mysterious expanse of space. A bold and confident work that makes no apologies for its bombast, and nor should it: this is cinema at its operatic peak.
Valerie a tyden divu
Both the pinnacle and (arguably) last gasp of the Czechoslovak New Wave, almost magically emerging after the repressions of 1968 when so many of Jireš's compatriots had already had their artistic expressions curtailed. Both sublime and camp, mesmerisingly edited and scored (Luboš Fišer's soundtrack is a knockout) and often very funny. Film as dream, poem, pagan fertility ritual. The final shot is one of the greatest in cinema.
A filmed nightmare, tapping into the (male?) psyche's darkest corridors in ways that most other films can only hint at. Lynch has produced a number of masterpieces, particularly late in his career, but this is his purest vision, unencumbered by any commitment to conventional narrative or genre riffs.
It's exciting that this poll has come around again, and a real pleasure to have been able to contribute. Some people tend to dismiss listing and the formation of canons, but I believe these exercises serve extremely useful purposes: both for stopping for a moment to look back and take stock of those films we have cherished most (as individuals, and collectively), and to promote those titles that make the final list – because it's near guaranteed that nearly every contributor, no matter how well versed in cinema, will find titles there that they either haven't seen or are at the very least overdue to revisit and reappraise. Perhaps most of all, the final list is bound to be a great introduction to cinema: those beginning their journeys into cinephilia could do a lot worse than to use it as inspiration for what to discover next.
For my part, it's been a privilege to be able to revisit some of my favourite films while working on this list and put into words why they have had such an impact on me. As with any exercise of this nature, the hardest decision was what to leave out: on that note, honourable mentions go to Faust (Jan Švankmajer, 1994), Scenes from a Marriage (Ingmar Bergman, 1973), Edvard Munch (Peter Watkins, 1974), Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (Sergei Parajanov, 1964), Du côté d’Orouët (Jacques Rozier, 1971), Slacker (Richard Linklater, 1991), Out 1 (Jacques Rivette, 1971), Daisies (Věra Chytilová, 1966), Last Year at Marienbad (Alain Resnais, 1961) and Post Tenebras Lux (Carlos Reygadas, 2012), all of which would have been worthy additions, and any of which I would be delighted to see appear in the aggregate poll. I can't wait to see how it looks.