Justin Johnson

BFI Lead Programmer

Voted for

The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover1989Peter Greenaway
Pinocchio1940Ben Sharpsteen, Hamilton Luske
Blue Velvet1986David Lynch
Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance1983Godfrey Reggio
La Belle et la Bête1946Jean Cocteau
Spirited Away2001Hayao Miyazaki
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly1966Sergio Leone
In the Mood for Love2000Wong Kar Wai
Paprika2006Satoshi Kon
The Wizard of Oz1939Victor Fleming


The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover

1989 United Kingdom, France

It's hard to imagine a film that delivers on so many different levels; the script, the cast, the costumes, the music, the cinematography, the production design - all superb. Every frame could be a work of art in its own right and amongst all this beauty, some of the most brutal and disturbing images committed to film. A feast for the senses and a film that rewards multiple viewings, always on a cinema screen if possible.


1940 USA

The greatest animated film of all time is as joyful and dark as anyone could hope for. With no redemption for the bad boys who end up working in the mines transformed into donkeys and with Pinocchio falling prey to all manner of crooked enterprise, it's a miracle that it's also an uplifting, magical tale that anyone of any age can enjoy. It is also one of the most groundbreaking animated films in terms of technical achievement and artistic flair, with the ocean a particular achievement.

Blue Velvet

1986 USA

Suburban America, freshly mowed lawns and the tweeting of an artificial robin sitting alongside a dark underbelly represented by a severed human ear and a run in with a psychopath; it's the stuff of dreams and nightmares. Taking the form of a surreal noir and as entertaining as it is horrifying, this is a film that is impossible to forget.

Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance

1983 USA

The slow motion and time-lapse footage in this experimental documentary is accompanied by an extraordinary score by Philip Glass and shows life out of balance (which the film's Hopi title translates as). Its non-narrative approach doesn't hold the film back from producing a powerful punch and it's an absorbing visual journey that has been extremely influential.

La Belle et la Bête

1946 France

It's difficult to imagine a more magical experience than watching La Belle et La Bete - the meticulous, elegant design of the sets, the sheer spectacle of the costumes, rich metaphor, fairy tale; it's a dream you never want to wake from.

Spirited Away

2001 Japan

Miyazaki's films are all worthy of inclusion on this list but Spirited Away stands out for its depiction of shinto spirits at rest in a bathhouse. There may be parallels with Alice in Wonderland (no bad thing in my book) but it feels fresh and original. The scene with Chihiro and the No-Face spirit on the train is a masterclass in stillness and creativity. This is an exceptional film.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

1966 Italy

Leone's Dollars trilogy concludes with the glorious three-way duel between Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach which has stayed with me since I first saw it on TV with my father. Morricone's innovative non-traditional score, the wide shots, the extreme close up on their eyes and faces, the lack of dialogue (if only there was space to include Once Upon a Time in the West). It's funny too, very funny in places despite the extreme violence. Positively operatic.

In the Mood for Love

2000 Hong Kong, France

It's hard to imagine a more beautifully constructed film than In the Mood for Love - visually stunning with so little said verbally. The faultless depiction of 1960s Hong Kong, the lighting, Chris Doyle's cinematography, Tony Leung smoking, saying goodbye without speaking, the beauty of Rain and of course the glorious Maggie Cheung. It's all there and it is mesmerising.



All of Satoshi Kon's films are classics in their own right and his passing away in 2010 at the age of 46 has deprived us of many other films that would have inevitably landed in Sight and Sound polls of the future. Having selected Spirited Away, The Wizard of Oz and Blue Velvet on this list, it demonstrates that I clearly have a leaning to the surreal and Paprika is a perfect companion piece to all of these works with its incredible parade sequence ranking among my favourites. Who wouldn't love the opportunity to view dreams? Paprika gives us the chance to dream that such a thing were possible.

The Wizard of Oz

1939 USA

When push came to shove, I just couldn't leave The Wizard of Oz out of my list. It is such a joyous, fascinating, curious piece of cinema that continues to provide a source of interest for the behind the scenes stories as much as what we see on the screen. When it comes down to it though, its the film itself that is loved by so many; the moment when Dorothy leaves the black and white world of Kansas and steps into the glorious Technicolour of Oz, the costumes, the songs, the flying monkeys, munchkins with huge lollipops and so much more. It's pure nostalgia for those of us who have grown up with it being a constant in our lives and it will never grow old.

Further remarks

So many films that couldn't make the final 10 and who knows if it might be a different list if I was writing it next month or next year. So many films and film makers that didn't make it; The Elephant Man (could I allow myself the luxury of having a second David Lynch film)?, the comedies from Life of Brian to Serial Mom that made me laugh so much from start to finish, The Ice Storm, Pan's Labyrynth, The Godfather, Mike Leigh, Terry Gilliam, David Cronenberg, Jane Campion, Douglas Sirk, Todd Solondz, Whit Stillman, Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, all the animated titles from Aardman, Laika, Pixar, Dreamworks, When the Wind Blows, Watership Down, Isao Takahata, Michael Ocelot, Jannik Hastrup, Makoto Shinkai, Mamoru Hosoda and the big classics from Hitchcock, Kubrick and so many others.

But what an honour to be part of this list's composition. Some of my choices may not be repeated by anyone at all but this is the list of the films that I keep coming back to. The great films that are part of my DNA as a viewer and having been through the experience, I've learnt a few things about myself too.