Jonathan Owen

Freelance writer, researcher and commentator

Voted for

The Crowd1928King Vidor
Der blaue Engel1930Josef von Sternberg
It's a Gift1934Norman Z. McLeod
Ordet1955Carl Th. Dreyer
If....1968Lindsay Anderson
Spalovac mrtvol1968Juraj Herz
W.R. - Mysteries of the Organism1971Dusan Makavejev
Céline and Julie Go Boating1974Jacques Rivette
Az EN XX. SZAZADOM1989Ildikó Enyedi
Tropical Malady2004Apichatpong Weerasethakul


The Crowd

1928 USA

King Vidor's social-realist drama is eternally relevant and still packs a huge emotional punch. The film is superbly realised in its use of locations, its moving camera, and its influential stylised compositions, while the everyman drama at its heart remains luminously accessible.

Der blaue Engel

1930 Germany

I'm a big admirer of all Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich's collaborations, and while The Scarlet Empress is undoubtedly the most brilliantly visually realized, I chose The Blue Angel because of its connections to the German Expressionist cinema - which I wanted to represent on my list somehow - and because it is for me the most immediately compelling of all von Sternberg's studies of sexual obsession. Professor Rath's descent into self-abasement and madness remains the stuff of nightmares.

It's a Gift

1934 USA

I debated long and hard with myself which of my two favourite classic sound comedy acts to put on the list - W.C. Fields or the Marx Brothers - but finally plumped for this, in part because Fields feels a little forgotten these days. A slow-burn comic masterpiece of petty but excruciating torments, this shows Fields at his most put-upon and relatable, and his comedy at its most stripped-down and deceptively simple.


1955 Denmark

This film is the high watermark of spiritual or transcendental cinema. Strangely atmospheric and exceptionally intense, this discomforting meditation on the nature of real faith is served by Dreyer's masterful handling of camerawork, staging, physical detail and sound, and builds to a climax that is arguably the most astonishing and moving in all cinema.


1968 USA, United Kingdom

Lindsay Anderson's study of boarding-school rebellion is a brilliant synthesis of richly observed detail and bravura poetry. Superbly controlled in its gradual infusion of fantasy into its authentically drawn environment, and blessed with the wit of David Sherwin's dialogue and the dynamism and flair of Miroslav Ondříček's camera, this is a beautiful, funny, provocative and always exhilarating confrontation of ritual and (revolutionary) romance.

Spalovac mrtvol

1968 Czechoslovakia

The ultimate in dark historical satire from the former Czechoslovakia's undisputed cinematic master of the macabre, this is a chilling insight into the deranged mindset of totalitarianism, as incarnated in one of the screen's most eccentric, disturbing and ingratiating villains. The film's clammily horrifying effect is aided by necessarily excessive monochrome visuals, insidiously smooth scene transitions, and a masterful score of perversely ethereal beauty by the great Zdeněk Liška.

W.R. - Mysteries of the Organism

1971 Yugoslavia, Federal Republic of Germany

A kaleidoscopic tour through the worlds of Yugoslav and Soviet communism and the US counterculture, as guided by the quizzical, critical presence of Dušan Makavejev. This documentary-cum-fictional essay on sexual and political revolution is a dazzling realization of the possibilities of montage, creating juxtapositions between disparate images to provoke the senses and stimulate a wide range of ideas.

Céline and Julie Go Boating

1974 France

Rivette's breezy study of a female friendship gone down the rabbit-hole of fairy-tale and melodrama conventions is perhaps the most truly enchanting film I have ever seen. Its radical structure is all part of the enchantment, as the very openness and reversibility of the story seem to beckon the viewer to join in a game that never ends.


1989 Hungary, Federal Republic of Germany

Appropriately shot around the pivotal year of 1989, this Hungarian film is an utterly unique and anarchically imaginative comic-poetic fantasia of identical yet radically different twin sisters in the early 1900s. I feel it's a particularly apt choice for this list, as a late-twentieth-century tribute to (and interrogation of) the utopian dreams and dazzling achievements of the early twentieth century - including the breakthrough of cinema itself.

Tropical Malady

2004 France, Thailand, Germany, Italy, Switzerland

This is my favourite of Apichatpong's films - his most romantic and authentically dream-like, and the most blithe and offhanded in its experimentation. The closing images are, for me, the most sublimely beautiful in contemporary film.