Fionnuala Halligan

Reviews editor, chief film critic

Voted for

The Piano1992Jane Campion
Harlan County, USA1976Barbara Kopple
KE TU CHIU HEN1990Ann Hui On-Wah
Beau travail1998Claire Denis
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles1975Chantal Akerman
Cléo from 5 to 71962Agnès Varda
The Rider2017Chloé Zhao
American Honey2016Andrea Arnold
Morvern Callar2001Lynne Ramsay
KOIBUMI1953Kinuyo Tanaka


The Piano

1992 Australia, France

I'm interpreting 'the greatest films' all time as 'my personal greatest films of all-time', being an aspiring female film critic looking to find my place at a table where nobody ever vacated their seat and everyone looked the same - and it wasn't like me. I had fallen in love with Campion for An Angel At My Table in 1990 (I didn't get to see her debut, 1989's Sweetie, for a long time after - it got booed in Cannes, and not widely distributed). She made films with prickly, individual, real women, women you could care and fear for and rejoice with. The Piano stepped it up - all that and it swept like the best epics, it was deeply sensual, it was strange, it was, and remains, one of the greatest films ever made and I'm certain of that, because I've watched it over and over again and it has never let me down.

Harlan County, USA

1976 USA

I met Harlan County, USA, years after it was released, when the UK was in its own turmoil. I didn't know docs could be like this. I look at it now and I still think, wow: Barbara Kopple was new to her craft, she went out there into the community, she's a woman, and not at all part of the tough, male-dominated world she was filming, and she did this, she turned documentary filmmaking around, and every time I hear music being used in a doc I still think of what she did here. Such an inspiration and so influential. She won an Oscar for it, which I always want to shout from the rafters whenever the debate comes up.


1990 Hong Kong, Taiwan

Such a personal story from Ann Hui and it bounced around my own life (considerably less dramatic than Ann's, or that of her mother). Fearless, really, with a young Maggie Cheung just so right to play Ann's alter ego. For a mother-daughter story it has really to be rivalled, both in the emotion and the scope of the tale, and I found myself, watching it, in Hong Kong, a world away from my own mother, truly feeling this film and admiring Hui (herself a former journalist, so that's also a part of it).

Beau travail

1998 France

Claire Denis pushes at the boundaries of cinema with every film she makes and she remains consistently daring and influential (I see the ghost of her in many other film-makers). It's so hard to pick one but, of course, Beau Travail. If I had 20 films, White Material would be in here too.

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

1975 Belgium, France

This is in everyone's top ten, I assume? Changed my worldview when I first saw it, back when I just looked at content and wasn't so great on form. Now I know how much better it is than I even realised. The moral of the story being – watch it again.

Cléo from 5 to 7

1962 France, Italy

One of the few films on my list that I wasn't around for at the time. It took me longer than it should have to get through the New Wave to Varda, now hers is my perfect New Wave film that grows with time and with me.

The Rider

2017 USA, Belgium

Liquid cinema.

American Honey

2016 United Kingdom

This film is alive for me, pure living, breathing, dizzying cinema.

Morvern Callar

2001 United Kingdom, Canada

I think it's the combination of Samantha Morton, one of my favourite actors, with Lynn Ramsay, that pushes Morvern Callar to the fore, because choosing 10 films is really, really hard, and picking a Lynn Ramsay title also difficult. As I said, these are my greatest films, the ones that mean to most to me and who I am and how much pride I take in the growth of female-made and -focused cinema in the years I've been working in it. Samantha's own film, The Unloved, should be on a list somewhere too,.


1953 Japan

You've got one melodrama, make it count: the actress-turned-director Kinuyo Tanaka's film places a woman at the forefront of post-war, ruined Tokyo (not just the place, the people). I love it, in the same way I love the Hollywood films of its time and ilk (and Britain – could you talk about Brief Encounter in the same sentence? Perhaps, but Tanaka's film is darker). It gives a terrific insight into Japan at the time, and puts the female in the middle of a lost society – with the shading that comes from a country that was a defeated power. The love letters of the title are written to the women's lost foreign loves. Tanaka's undergoing a rediscovery, thanks in part to Mark Cousins' excellent Women Make Film, so there should be more opportunities to see this going forward – and to appreciate Tanaka. This film competed at Cannes.