James Harrison

Programmer, South West Silents/Film Noir UK

Voted for

Shoah1985Claude Lanzmann
Once upon a Time in the West1968Sergio Leone
Raging Bull1980Martin Scorsese
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp1943Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
The General1926Buster Keaton, Clyde Bruckman
Double Indemnity1944Billy Wilder
The Third Man1949Carol Reed
The Battle of Algiers1966Gillo Pontecorvo
Seven Samurai1954Akira Kurosawa
Blade Runner1982Ridley Scott



1985 France

For me, still one of the most important documentary film projects ever undertaken by anyone. I’m still in awe of what Claude Lanzmann and his team were able to achieve over the course of a number of years, showing us the sheer evil that can be found within humanity. There are so many strong and incredible titles which cover this subject, but Shoah still continues to haunt me. (On a side note, Lanzmann’s memoir, The Patagonian Hare, is worth a read.)

Once upon a Time in the West

1968 Italy, USA

If ever there were a perfect film to end a genre, it's Leone's love letter to the western. Every aspect oozes the traits we have come to love about the classic American western. And it’s not all down to Tonino Delli Colli’s camerawork or the less-is-more dialogue or Ennio Morricone's music. When it comes to playing this for an audience… play it loud!

Raging Bull

1980 USA

I first saw Raging Bull in college; it was my first taste of the work of Scorsese and I was hooked. The impeccable editing by Thelma Schoonmaker, the incredible connection of the camerawork with the music and sound is spellbinding. Add the superb performances, improvised or not, and you have one of the great films of the 20th century.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

1943 United Kingdom

A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes are all Powell and Pressburger masterpieces. But The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is the one that stands out for me the most. It's beautifully crafted – but in the end it’s the subject matter which hits home. The essence of who we are, where are we going, how world events impacts on our lives and on those we love or hate – and that final outcome which doesn’t change for any of us, whoever we are. The shot of the lone leaf near the end of the film (especially after watching the recent restoration of the film) really gets me. After watching The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, we will all know where we are going!

The General

1926 USA

Yes, Keaton is on the side of the Confederacy, but as the film tells you at the beginning, it’s all down to the love of a boy and his train and not where he is or what side he is on.

People talk about the best chase sequences in cinema history and the lists will be dominated by car chases. The General is one great chase from start to finish and never backs down or allows you to relax; that’s what you want from a film, thrills all the way, and The General gives you that 100%.

Double Indemnity

1944 USA

I wish Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler had written more screenplays together, but the pair just didn’t get on. Yet out of their disagreements came a masterpiece.

Double Indemnity’s script is a witty, bitey, very poisonous piece of writing. Much like Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrichson, the film manipulates its audiences from the get-go and doesn’t let us breathe until the very end. It may not be the first film noir, but it can be classed as the calling card for this ever-influential dark cinematic world. I love it!

The Third Man

1949 United Kingdom

Another incredible film which brings a witty and humorous script to dark subject matter. You have beautiful cinematography by Robert Brasker and probably the best cast I can think of. I can’t help but smile when I hear Anton Karas's first zither chords, or when Welles’ face first appears in the shadow of that doorway. Who says we Brits can’t do noir?

The Battle of Algiers

1966 Italy, Algeria

Still as cutting-edge as it was in the 1960s, Gillo Pontecorvo’s masterpiece continues to surprise me every time I watch it (which is basically every year since college). Back then, the college had a really bad copy with poorly translated subtitles and yet, even with the translation issues, we could all tell this was a film you had to pay attention to. It's not only an important piece of cinema but an important piece of history.

Seven Samurai

1954 Japan

This was the first film I ever introduced to an audience – being 20 of my fellow classmates at college. Having enjoyed it so much in the months before the screening, I hadn't realised how long it was – far longer than the 90-minute window I had. We had to spread it across a second day, when somehow even more people showed up – so I must have chosen well.

Where would cinema be without Akira Kurosawa?

Blade Runner

1982 USA, Hong Kong

We know what makes the film unique: the music by the late, great Vangelis, the cast, the costumes, the look and style by Douglas Trumbull and Lawrence G. Paull and the rest of the art direction and visual effects teams are just spectacular. I'd watch any of the versions again. Just stunning!

Further remarks

I had visions of me sticking tons of postage notes across a large wall to somehow come to terms with finding the perfect top 10 for my sanity. In the end, I typed out a rough outline of titles and started adding and subtracting.

I had a sudden change of heart; very much at the last minute in fact and I threw Blade Runner back into the list again. There are a number of reasons; I had recently introduced and re-watched it with a really large audience in Bristol and had forgotten what a monster of a film it was (This is another film you need to play really loud.)

I think the other reason Blade Runner returned to my list at the last minute was that it's still a warning shot of the many battles directors have had with producers and studios before and since its release 40 years ago. We're now seeing studios cancel or shelve completed film projects because, they believe, it's not necessary for film fans to see them, whatever the issue. We audiences should be the ones to decide a film’s fate, not the studios. Fingers crossed that changes for the better by 2032.

This list is in no particular order. On any other day or week, it would have been slightly different.

That said, there are so many directors and films which should be up on my list that I'm already beginning to worry about not including them. But it has been a great honour to be asked to do this poll. And with that... I need to go for a lie down!