Digital Publishing Coordinator
|A Canterbury Tale
|Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
|The Third Man
|Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
|The Spirit of the Beehive
|Fear Eats the Soul
|Rainer Werner Fassbinder
|Once upon a Time in Anatolia
|Nuri Bilge Ceylan
|Singin' in the Rain
|Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen
A Canterbury Tale
Not always seen as their greatest film, but for me it's the one that best captures their unique style, feeling and sense of the spiritual or mystic. It's deliciously odd but also incredibly moving, and one of the few films that, emotionally speaking, gets me every time.
The Third Man
Arresting black-and-white photography, a noirish air of paranoia and complex moral choices – reflected in the tilted camera angles, a world out of kilter – a tangible sense of place as Vienna reeks of recent history, all along with a great script, iconic performances and justly famous soundtrack. An unforgettable cinematic experience.
Ozu's films always feel deceptively simple, despite their unusual framing and editing structures. But it's not just his mastery of cinema as a form that's so impressive but the sheer humanity and compassion with which he manages to fill his films. Given some of his work’s similarities and resemblances it can be difficult to choose a greatest, but Tokyo Story is just so rich that it always seems to edge it. Perhaps if it makes it to number one this year, I'll finally change my view around life's disappointments.
The French New Wave, but especially Godard, changed the face of filmmaking for good. Breathless may be where it all started, but Le Mépris feels like it's stood the test of time better. It's a film you can appreciate more and more as you get older, a widescreen Technicolor masterpiece about a failing marriage, art vs commerce and the weight of life's compromises. I hadn't seen it for years until the BFI screened it again and was astonished at how bold it still feels.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
2001 may be the more influential film, but Dr Strangelove feels a more complete success. This Cold War satire skewers the ludicrousness of man-made, seemingly logical political systems and short-sighted militaristic thinking in a way that few other films have. It always feels to me like the Catch-22 of the film world (given that the actual adaptations of Catch-22 were much less successful). Add to Kubrick's brilliance the incredible performances of Peter Sellers, and you're left with a film that is possibly the greatest cinematic satire ever.
The Spirit of the Beehive
Justly known as an anti-Franco parable, a coded, symbolic message as arthouse film, The Spirit of the Beehive’s endurance nevertheless owes far more to its poetic capturing of the inner world of a child's fears and imagination – in visually arresting fashion, thanks to Luis Cuadrado’s light-infused cinematography – than to its sociopolitical significance. The famous scene of Ana Torrent watching open-mouthed as Frankenstein screens in the village sums up its quiet, contemplative beauty. In a fortunate, unexpected echo of this scene I was lucky enough to attend a 2003 San Sebastián screening where both Ana Torrent and Isabel Tellería sat in the audience watching their younger selves on screen 30 years later.
Fear Eats the Soul
Both a wonderful demonstration of how film form creates meaning – the isolating framing and composition, the deliberately stiff performance style – and a moving, unusual odd-couple romance that highlights the hypocrisies and prejudices of society, this reworking of Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows manages to be both more emotionally involving (while somehow remaining detached) and much bleaker than the original. Todd Haynes’s Far from Heaven also proves a remake worthy of greatness claims, but Fassbinder's uncompromising style creates the most original take overall.
Still not very widely known, Iván Zulueta’s avant-garde-influenced psychological horror proves a hallucinatory experience of sex, addiction and cinema itself as vampiric force. It's gained a strong cult following, particularly thanks to Almodóvar's support, but for me it's genuinely one of the most original films out there – the title translates as 'Rapture', and it can be a rapturous experience for those willing to succumb to its deeply strange charms. There's nothing quite like it.
Once upon a Time in Anatolia
I've only seen this once, but it made a lasting impression. Once upon a Time in Anatolia, in particular, stands out in displaying Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s skill at creating films that on the surface have seemingly little to them but in practice create hard to define atmospheres that immerse you in their worlds and leave you thinking long after the final credits. Influenced by Antonioni, Tarkovsky and Chekhov, among others, Ceylan is a modern master whose films are intellectual yet stunningly composed and exuding humanity.
Singin' in the Rain
Maybe in part to make up for my lack of silent films and early talkies I'm choosing this giddy musical extravaganza concerning that very transition period. It's Hollywood personified – a dazzlingly enjoyable entertainment – while also good-naturedly biting the hand that feeds it. The dance numbers are full of joy and it still puts a smile on the face 70 years later.
It's a tough ask to choose just 10 great films from throughout film history – and if people are able to simply reel off their top 10s then those people are not to be trusted. Some degree of hesitancy is only decent.
A few of my choices surprised me (Le Mépris, for instance), and many favourite directors (Paul Thomas Anderson, Joanna Hogg, Mia Hansen-Løve, a number of the New Hollywood directors) didn't make the list. I also often found that the accepted 'best' film by a particular director didn't mean as much to me as one of their other titles (Kubrick, Powell and Pressburger).
In terms of final choices I've aimed for a balance between personal preference and titles that have some claim to the word 'great', either as groundbreaking pioneers or exemplars of their kind. In the age of streaming it also reminded me how important it is to experience these films on a big screen. Would the young Ana Torrent in The Spirit of the Beehive have been quite so enraptured if James Whale’s Frankenstein had appeared on a TV screen or mobile phone? It seems unlikely.