Gemma Files


Voted for

The Devils1971Ken Russell
The Night of the Hunter1955Charles Laughton
Princess Mononoke1997Hayao Miyazaki
Black Narcissus1947Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Sweet Smell of Success1957Alexander Mackendrick
The Thing1982John Carpenter
Angel Heart1987Alan Parker
Vertigo1958Alfred Hitchcock
The EAST IS RED1993Ching Siu-tung, Raymond Lee Wai-man
Portrait of a Lady on Fire2019Céline Sciamma


The Devils

1971 USA, United Kingdom

A stunning mixture of politics, melodrama, sexual obsession and historicity of the highest water, played at 11 throughout. Also: I was named after Gemma Jones, so seeing her young and naked with Oliver Reed was a fascinating experience. I want a restored Blu-ray with the Rape of Christ option, and I want it now.

The Night of the Hunter

1955 USA

A mystical slice of Americana noir that slides constantly back and forth between the macro- and microscropic, this Depression-era magical realistic fable about the innate unreliability of adults and the tragic spectrum of human nature sticks in the memory like a stone in the craw. "It's a hard world for little things."

Princess Mononoke

1997 Japan

Startlingly epic, yet still full of the small, quiet moments and attention to naturalistic detail studio Ghibli is rightly celebrated for. The English dubbed screenplay by Neil Gaiman is one of the best cross-cultural translations I've ever come across, never sacrificing poetry for clarity, or vice versa. The bloodiest animated film I'd still show to children (of a certain age).

Black Narcissus

1947 United Kingdom

The combination of lush Technicolor, glorious acting and erotic strangeness, all used in the service of exposing the way that a colonisation exploits and curtails both sides of the human equation, makes this film a masterpiece by any standard.

Sweet Smell of Success

1957 USA

What a tour de force. The screenplay hits like jazz, the performances sizzle, the underside of America's obsession with fame has never seemed so dirty, desperate and utterly morally bankrupt. I could watch it every week and never get bored.

The Thing

1982 USA

I fell in love with this movie the first time I saw it, and I still love it unabashedly. A foregone conclusion, a creeptastically physical exploration of paranoia over identity, practical effects so cutting edge they're literally dissolving as you watch.

Angel Heart

1987 United Kingdom, USA

"How terrible is wisdom when it brings no profit to the wise, Johnny." Perhaps the two oldest questions or horror: do we have a soul, and can we lose it, perhaps without knowing we already have? For some people, the movie that best captures this post-Christian brand of existential angst is The Exorcist; for me, it's this.


1958 USA

Hitchcock can't be denied, and this is probably the best pick if you have to choose.


1993 Hong Kong

I had to choose at least one Hong Kong film of a particular era, ie, the era I first started watching films from Hong Kong. This insane epic encapsulates everything I love best about the experience: romantic yearning, surreal imagery, Brigitte Lin Chin-Hsia playing a man who emasculated himself to master the world of martial arts, thus becoming something like a saint, a demigod or a killing angel. "Even you've to die for seeing me, does it worth?" "It's worth!"

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

2019 France

Art, freedom (even within incredibly proscribed boundaries) and love are the main themes of this story, explored with immaculate technique. Potentially the most explicitly feminist film I've ever seen, in the best ways possible.

Further remarks

As a critic, I was known and perhaps dismissed for my love of genre, but I make no bones about it now – opera is my very favourite, blood and thunder and painful, violent emotions, salvation and damnation. I've also seen thousands of films over the years, and would probably choose a completely different roster if you asked me tomorrow. For today, however, here they are.