Ian Christie

Historian and critic

Voted for

The "?" Motorist1906W.R. Booth
Carmen1915Cecil B. DeMille
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans1927F.W. Murnau
Meshes of the Afternoon1943Maya Deren, Alexander Hackenschmied
A Matter of Life and Death1946Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Le Mépris1963Jean-Luc Godard
Le temps retrouve / Time Regained1999Raul Ruiz
Mirror1975Andrei Tarkovsky
Nomadland2020Chloé Zhao


Having started with the firm intention of putting aside past Top Ten lists, I found the old choices kept creeping back in. Actually not creeping, but loudly demanding to be honoured. Who am I to set aside Eisenstein, Tarkovsky, Powell and Pressburger, Scorsese, all absolutely requiring to be part of any credible personal pantheon? And of course the need to advocate for those in certain danger of being forgotten or ignored, like DeMille, Ruiz and even Godard. In the past, I've argued against the tyranny of the dramatic feature - the invariable currency of such lists - with documentaries and short animations. But no room this time, if I'm to honour some other priorities. Early film fares badly in polls, but having unearthed Robert Paul as Britain's, and in many ways the world's true film pioneer he has to be present with what's his most surprising extant work (although I'd have preferred to go out on a limb with A Soldier's Courtship, the real hit of 1896). Avant-garde film also fares badly, with many supporters scorning such list-making. But Maya Deren's debut, made with her then husband Alexander Hackenschmidt, remains a landmark, and a lasting inspiration to many film-poets. And finally, one early challenge I managed to keep: why doesn't anyone name a recent film? Remember how L'avventura stormed up the lists in 1962, just over a year after it was released? Well, one of the films that gripped me as it arrived simultaneously in cinemas and online, and amid the pandemic, was Chloe Zhao's Nomadland. Will it stand the test of time? - who knows, but I feel the need to celebrate a film boldly navigating our uncertain multiplatform present. (And if you want to know how I think streaming may change canonising, see my Gresham College lectures on the film canon at https://www.gresham.ac.uk/watch-now/streaming-film).

Listing who didn't make the final cut (or trying to pitch in more titles than allowed) has become a ritual in such polls. What didn't survive for me includes: Chaplin's The Gold Rush, Jennings' A Diary for Timothy, Lye's Rainbow Dance, Snow's Wavelength, Frampton's Zorns Lemma, and Akerman's D'Est.