Chief sub-editor, Radio Times
|Once upon a Time in the West
|Francis Ford Coppola
|North by Northwest
|Singin' in the Rain
|Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen
|Toy Story 2
|Stop Making Sense
|A Matter of Life and Death
|Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
|In the Mood for Love
|Wong Kar Wai
Once upon a Time in the West
No mere cheap carbonara copy, this is Sergio Leone’s western masterpiece – scored to perfection by Ennio Morricone and shot around the Monument Valley locations so beloved of John Ford. It’s also sublimely cast, especially the normally heroic Henry Fonda as the money-grabbing, child-killing villain whose violent past catches up with him.
The original and best of the crime saga, still shocking for its screen violence and brimming with quotable dialogue (“Leave the gun, take the cannoli”). Marlon Brando physically dominates the film as the honourable Don Corleone, but it’s Al Pacino’s performance as Michael – and his sad but inevitable absorption into the family business – that captivates.
North by Northwest
Hitchcock kept returning to his “innocent man on the run” theme, but with North by Northwest he perfected the formula. Cary Grant is at his urbane best in a tale that effortlessly blends menace with romance and sly humour. The wordless cropduster sequence is the master at his most suspenseful.
With its pioneering use of “bullet-time” camerawork and gravity-defying blend of martial arts and gun-fu, writer-director siblings the Wachowskis rebooted Hollywood action cinema with this cyber-infused trip down the rabbit hole.
Singin' in the Rain
This is the ultimate musical, with heart, soul and humour, a cast to die for and a soundtrack to treasure.
Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek are the everyman Bonnie and Clyde in a killers' coming-of-age film that announced debut director Terrence Malick as a major player.
Toy Story 2
The little film that went big, with ground-breaking visuals, heart-bursting characters and a story that speaks to the child in all of us.
Stop Making Sense
More than just a great concert movie, this not only documents Talking Heads’ innovative 1984 stage show; it swells under Jonathan Demme’s direction into a kinetic film statement all its own, in which the unseen camera operators become performers as much as the band. The decision to “ignore” the live crowd may have been practical, but it certainly helps the movie: David Byrne’s avant-garde theatrical narrative, with its articulate statements and ambient politics, is brought that much more directly to us – and so becomes, no matter one’s prior experience with the band, one of cinema’s ultimate crowd-pleasers. Lisa Day’s editing seamlessly weaves four different shoots together and expresses the nine on-stage personalities with precision and generosity, while allowing Jordan Cronenweth’s perfectly lit photography to, seemingly, remake the world in the music’s image. This film – a palpable testament to its own collaborative assembly – is a nonpareil blend of modes and ideas: a consummate demonstration of the camera’s ability to exist in and capture the immediate moment; of the power of dance, certainly; and of cinema’s unique, profound ability to both document and express, and to rock you to your core.
A Matter of Life and Death
A most peculiar and potent cocktail of romance, theology, global bridge-building and national tub-thumping, Powell and Pressburger’s thoughtful drama about one pilot’s deferred mortality towards the close of WWII remains, if nothing else, a definitive monument to the power of Technicolor. Where would the story – itself so beautifully written – be without such vivid images as David Niven and Kim Hunter’s dreamlike first date in a forest clearing, or their grand, climactic appeal in the name of love, at the base of the staircase betwixt Earth and the “Other World”? Or, more crucially, the perfect contrast between these so sweetly constructed scenes and the imposing monochrome modernism of that imagined immortal dimension? The vivid imagery, and the cine-literate style(s) deployed by a creative team at the top of their game (Jack Cardiff on camera, Alfred Junge on production design, Percy Day stitching things together with wild technical wizardry), express the film’s intricate worldview. This is why it still works so well: it searingly conveys a world grappling with uncharted new places, trying to pick up the pieces after unimaginable calamity.
In the Mood for Love
Wong Kar Wai’s elliptical near-romance pulls off a rare sensory feat, both slipping woozily through its story and zipping along at a rather nice clip, rarely pausing to patronise its audience with obvious exposition – and it only gets less explicit as it proceeds through its cramped streets, offices, corridors and bedrooms. Scenes, weeks, years roll into one another with the unplaceable pacing of a dream, sometimes subtle, other times abrupt, while its sumptuous frames largely last just as long as the moment demands – which is often, for the compulsive cinephile, nowhere near long enough. This, of course, is rather the point for a picture all about longing, loss and repression, in which even the soundtrack seems to taunt its star-crossed leads with what – quizás, quizás, quizás – could be, or could have been. Devastating as both a lament for love and missed connections, and a post-Handover memorial to a vanished Hong Kong, this wholly unique drama is, on every level, as elegant and haunting as cinema comes.
What an honour it is to be included among the contributors to the Sight and Sound Greatest Movies poll!
Although I personally head up the film department on Radio Times, the voting has very much been a group effort. The final ten selections met with the approval of the whole film team (in most cases!), but a few classics ended up being knocked out right at the end, including Raiders of the Lost Ark, 2001: a Space Odyssey and Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Hopefully these will be included by other voters.
It's been very enjoyable pulling together our list. But if you were to ask us to submit our selections again in a few months' time, I'm sure we'd come up with different choices. Such is the nature of film-watching: there's always some exciting and new coming out; or something recommended to us that we may have missed; or something older deserving of re-appraisal.
I guess that's why we're all in love with cinema.
Jamie Healy and the Radio Times film team: Calum Baker, Tom Folley and Josh Winning.