Helen Petts


Voted for

The Conversation1974Francis Ford Coppola
Thelma & Louise1991Ridley Scott
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles1975Chantal Akerman
The Big Lebowski1998Joel Coen
Sleepless in Seattle1993Nora Ephron
At Land1944Maya Deren
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes1953Howard Hawks
Some Like It Hot1959Billy Wilder
The Piano1992Jane Campion
Nomadland2020Chloé Zhao


The Conversation

1974 USA

The first film to really make an impression on me owing to the way that the sound is edited. Walter Murch's sound design has been a huge influence on many people. I also rather identify with Gene Hackman's solitary listener.

Thelma & Louise

1991 USA

A great feminist film - even if it is directed by a man. Susan Saradon and Geena Davies star in the all-time girl-buddy movie. The screenplay is by Callie Kourie, someone whose scripts I look out for. (She was brought in to liven up the TV series Nashville - not the Altman film - and it became quite brilliant and subversive for a while. Then they sacked her.)

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

1975 Belgium, France

A seminal feminist film exploring the mundane details of the domestic life of a housewife who is a part-time prostitute. It's also innovative because of its extreme slowness, and very long takes. DOP Babette Magnolte shoots close-up details of the domestic interior, empty spaces, shadows, in the domestic environment, and holds the shots so long the tiniest movement becomes fascinating.

The Big Lebowski

1998 USA, United Kingdom

Just the most fun ever. Jeff Bridges is brilliant. A film which has a huge cult following, but also deserves serious critical acclaim. The parody of the pretensions of the art world totally nails it.

Sleepless in Seattle

1993 USA

A modern equivalent of the great traditional Hollywood romantic comedy. One of my all-time fave heartwarming films. And directed by a woman.

At Land

1944 USA

The ultimate classic feminist experimental film. I think the close-up footage of the natural landscape might be an influence on my films. And I like spotting John Cage in it.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

1953 USA

I love Howard Hawks and could have chosen many of his films. But in the end this is a marvel of the Hawksian comedy world where women are smart (even if some pretend not to be) and men are stupid. Great frocks, great musical numbers, and Jane Russell's song routine in the swimming pool - with a bunch of synchronised body builders - is one of the campest scenes in the history of cinema.

Some Like It Hot

1959 USA

One of the greatest films of all time - subversive, hilarious and Monroe is brilliant.

The Piano

1992 Australia, France

I am a great lover of strange, wild landscapes and this film depicts one, physically and emotionally. An epic.


2020 USA

My original list of films included many about people living outside of respectable society. In the end, Badlands and Vagabond got left off in favour of Nomadland, as I think it is just as good and will become a classic. Frances McDormand's performance makes her just as much the author of the film as Chloé Zhao. It's an extraordinary collaborative piece with many lost human beings in the cast.

Further remarks

It's a hard one, picking 10 best films. All-time best? My best? The best in the history of cinema on all continents? It's impossible - and I suspect leads to a great white male genius mythology. I started out listing Citizen Kane, the Godfather, Vertigo, etc. then thought actually if I could only ever see 10 films again for the rest of my life which would they be? That way I decided to just stick to my own personal favourite films. Then the second problem arose. I discovered re-watching what I considered my all-time faves - that some no longer were. Films I adored after first seeing in my 20s seemed less interesting on re-viewing in my 60s. Though thinking about why I had loved them gave me interesting new insight into my life at the time. So I have ended up putting some quite recent films in as well. This is an attempt to help them enter the canon of great films. And my choice is definitely towards the feminine and the camp.

So there you go.