James Mottram


Voted for

Apocalypse Now1979Francis Ford Coppola
Le Salaire de la peur1953Henri-Georges Clouzot
Once upon a Time in America1983Sergio Leone
Blue Velvet1986David Lynch
M1931Fritz Lang
Stalker1979Andrei Tarkovsky
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb1963Stanley Kubrick
Out of the Past1947Jacques Tourneur
The Passion of Joan of Arc1927Carl Th. Dreyer
High and Low1963Akira Kurosawa


Apocalypse Now

1979 USA

A film I've been watching and re-watching for 30-odd years. The original cut, Redux, the Final Cut; it doesn't matter: Coppola's poetic, powerful war movie casts an enormous spell. From that opening – a remarkable piece of editing – to the final, haunting climax, it hasn't lost its hypnotic hold in all the time I've been watching it.

Le Salaire de la peur

1953 France, Italy

One of the greatest thrillers ever made, not just for the scenes dripping with tension but for its bleak depiction of humanity, greed and desperation. The impact it made on other films – most recently Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk – is staggering.

Once upon a Time in America

1983 USA, Italy

Very hard to pick which Leone film to include, but this epic hoodlum tale just tipped it for me. The Ennio Morricone score is a thing of beauty, as is the photography and the performances – De Niro and Woods especially. But it's the film's timeless, time-defying quality that truly holds. Another film to wrestle with again and again.

Blue Velvet

1986 USA

Watching Twin Peaks: The Return in 2017 was a true reminder of what a unique filmmaker Lynch is. The rumours this year (2022) that he was back with another movie in Cannes were cruel – who doesn't want to see one more Lynch movie? Blue Velvet was a holdover from my list 10 years ago, just edging out Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive (all are brilliant). But in terms of significance, this remains key for me – a psychological mystery/thriller like no other. A twisted, perverse, dream-nightmare.


1931 Germany

Lang called this his magnum opus, and it's hard to disagree. A masterful example of German Expressionism that made a huge impact on the crime genre. Everything from the use of sound to Peter Lorre's haunting turn as the child killer leaves a devastating impression. And that 'kangaroo court' scene just has to be seen to be believed.


1979 USSR

Once seen, never forgotten. Tarkovsky's ouvre is unlike any other filmmaker's, and this philosophical sci-fi allegory is the jewel in his crown. Not a film that is easily absorbed or explained, but there's a magnetic quality to those scenes in 'The Zone' – an utterly unique exploration of human desire that looks like no other film ever made.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

1963 United Kingdom, USA

Choosing one Kubrick film for this list is a fraught task. Last time I selected Barry Lyndon, but this time, his endlessly watchable nuclear war satire slightly edges it out – perhaps because recent world events show it hasn't lost an ounce of its bite. Peter Sellars' genius also remains untouchable, as does Ken Adam's war room design. And the final scene cut to 'We'll Meet Again'… stunning.

Out of the Past

1947 USA

How do you choose from the great film noirs of the 1940s? Impossible. But this lean tale with Robert Mitchum simply feels like a near-perfect example of the genre. Fate, cynicism, corruption, duplicity and, of course, the femme fatale – it's all here.

The Passion of Joan of Arc

1927 France

The Joan of Arc story has been retold countless times, but none more divinely than in Dreyer's version. Renée Jeanne Falconetti gives a searing, mesmerising as Joan, while everything from the camerawork to the film's architecture and use of space feels revolutionary.

High and Low

1963 Japan

Another director whose body of work makes it almost impossible to choose – and another film I couldn't drop from my list of 10 years ago. Mifune is masterful in this – a film that's almost Shakespearean in its depiction of avarice, extortion and corruption.