Manish Agarwal

Edinburgh International Film Festival programmer

Voted for

Point Break1991Kathryn Bigelow
Do the Right Thing1989Spike Lee
The Piano1992Jane Campion
Spirited Away2001Hayao Miyazaki
Wo Hu Zang Long2000Ang Lee
The Matrix1999The Wachowskis
Halloween1978John Carpenter
Paris, Texas1984Wim Wenders
Decline of Western Civilization1980Penelope Spheeris



1994 Hong Kong

Chungking Express is a feeling. Its heady, synaesthetic appeal is captured in a 2015 Letterboxd review by the Canadian critic Willow Maclay:

She writes: "I have this idea of 'Shoegaze Cinema'. It's filmmaking evocative of the same type of mood that music from bands like My Bloody Valentine created."

Nineteen-year-old me was certainly more of a music than film fan in the late '90s, when I bought Hong Kong cinema's answer to MBV's Loveless on an ICA Projects videotape, attracted by its bright design, catchy tagline ("Two Cops, Two Girls, And A Neon City") plus the Quentin Tarantino quote on the cover:

Its giddily rhyming halves and lovelorn / lovestruck characters (name a more iconic quartet!) delivered on that promise with such an intoxicating synthesis of colour, emotion, song, repetition, rhythm, location, chat, repetition that the VHS became as much of a repeat play favourite as any of my CDs. Is it a great film? That was never the intention. Wong Kar-wai just wanted to make "a very light, contemporary movie" during a two-month break from editing his wuxia, Ashes of Time. He succeeded, and then some.

Point Break

1991 USA

I wrote about Point Break for the BFI website in 2018, and my thoughts (below) still stand:

A bona fide hit sandwiched between two of her most underrated genre explorations (feminist cop horror Blue Steel and prescient sci-fi Strange Days), Kathryn Bigelow’s commercial breakthrough is arguably the apex of pre-CGI, high-octane Hollywood action cinema. Point Break delivers kinetic thrills, quotable one-liners and dizzying waves of subtext, inviting viewers to ponder the unspoken love – erotic attraction? surrogate father/son bond? – that exists between two beautiful, wetsuited heroes on opposite sides of the law.

Imperial-phase Patrick Swayze exudes a deadly charisma as surfing, beach philosophy-spouting bank robber Bodhi. Shaggy-haired heartthrob Keanu Reeves becomes neatly-cropped crime fighter Johnny Utah: indisputably an FBI agent, but sensitive as well as sculpted. Befitting a Whitney-educated student of semiotics who’s also unparalleled at staging sick and gnarly skydives, Bigelow’s endlessly rewatchable masterpiece plays equally well to sober theoreticians and the drunkest person in the room.

Do the Right Thing

1989 USA

My only rule when voting in this poll was to not pick any films that made the 2012 list. It was a surprise to see that Do The Right Thing falls into this category! I don't fully subscribe to the idea of greatest films, as it's such a subjective concept, but even the most ardent anti-canoniser can recognise that certain works capture the spirit of their time or push cinema's aesthetic boundaries into bold new territory.

Spike Lee's third commercially released feature is the rare picture that does both, from its punchy opening credits sequence (Rosie Perez dancing to Public Enemy's instant classic, specially composed theme Fight The Power) to a combustible final act. The latter was the source of much implicitly racist controversy in 1989, generated by the type of commentator who values property over the lives of black people.

Sadly, it's not hyperbolic to say that Do The Right Thing has even more political resonance now than it did 33 years ago. Yet beyond its value as a social mirror this is primarily an exhilarating, eye-popping, ear-tickling *movie*: lensed, costumed, scripted and soundtracked with virtuosity, dripping in Brooklyn heatwave atmosphere, and lovingly embodied by a perfect ensemble cast.

The Piano

1992 Australia, France

The Piano is oceanic cinema at its most all-consuming: a singular, senses-stunning wave of eroticism entwined with tragedy, played out on a canvas that simultaneously demands the biggest screen while piercing the heart with tiny details. You feel something new with each viewing...

Jane Campion is also a pioneer in the field of showcasing male nudity in mainstream film, redressing a sexist imbalance that has diminished the art form for decades (and continues to do so). Absolutely wild that this didn't make either the critics' or directors' poll last time!

Spirited Away

2001 Japan

If you'd asked me as a child what was the best film ever, I'd have told you it's The Muppet Movie (1979). And while that's still very much a favourite, it's astonishing how much movies for younger cinephiles have evolved over the past 40 years, thanks largely to the peerless Studio Ghibli (and later their US followers Pixar). My Neighbour Totoro is cuter and arguably more charming, but Spirited Away stands tall as Hayao Miyazaki's most staggering work of boundless imagination. The film is so fecund in its world-building that you could watch it every day of your life and still discover fresh details in the spirits' bathhouse, while also being blessed with a heroine - kind and resourceful 10-year-old Chihiro - that all kids can relate to. It's multilayered in its magic, seamlessly weaving thematic food for thought (eg consumerism versus environmentalism) into a wholly coherent, fantastical tapestry that's all the more breathtaking for being entirely hand-drawn.

Wo Hu Zang Long

2000 People's Republic of China, Taiwan, USA, Hong Kong

The Black Check podcast's exemplary miniseries Podback Mountcast reminded me that we don't, as so-called cinephiles, talk nearly enough about international treasure Ang Lee. I recall NYU classmate Spike Lee affectionately referring to Ang as his "brother from another mother" at a BFI preview screening of BlacKkK Klansman, but the first non-white filmmaker to win the Academy Award for Best Director (twice!) tends to be overlooked in scholarly discussions of contemporary auteurism. It's partly because Lee's genre-spanning range makes him tricky to pigeonhole - aside from the more prolific Steven Soderbergh, there are few marquee name directors with such an eclectic filmography - and partly because some of his best work has successfully brought "external" (to Hollywood) perspectives into the mainstream, which is easy to take for granted but harder to actually do.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is the wuxia that conquered the global box office, but more than that remains an unfathomably sublime union of martial arts thrills and melodramatic chills, its highwire emotional swordplay as incisive as its mind-boggling fight choreography is balletic. Plus this introduced multiplex audiences to Chow Yun-fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi and Chang Chen. What more do you want from a movie?

The Matrix

1999 USA, Australia

If 1999 really was the Best Movie Year Ever, as Brian Rafferty's hugely entertaining (albeit US-focused) book of the same name claims, does that make The Matrix the best movie ever? I don't know, but it's hard to think of another pre-millennial pop culture artefact which both crystallised its own era's very specific technological anxieties, and then continued to permeate the collective consciousness for the next 20 years (and counting).

By merging Jean Baudrillard's hyperreality with John Woo's heroic bloodshed, The Wachowskis' cyberpunk paradigm shift showed that complex theories about simulated reality and the metaverse could be digested like popcorn if delivered in bullet time by leather-coated, PVC-clad avatars played by Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne and Carrie-Anne Moss.

Drawing on such disparate dystopian texts as Alice In Wonderland and Ghost In The Shell, its gun fu-driven storytelling was so effective that alt-right propagandists tried to co-opt The Matrix's bountiful ideas for their own hate-fuelled purposes, in diametric opposition to Lana and Lilly's avowedly antifascist politics. The sisters have happily since confirmed that their queer fans' reading was correct: it's a hopeful (and for many viewers' life-saving) allegory for transformation, prefiguring the filmmakers' own personal journeys as trans women.


1978 USA

It's impossible to overstate the impact of Halloween, but I'll have a go... Director/co-writer John Carpenter and producer/co-writer Debra Hill took the seasonally themed, slasher movie blueprint devised by Bob Clark for his festive horror classic Black Christmas (1974), and birthed a beloved horror subgenre with tropes to be honoured and/or subverted.

Retaining the cult Canadian picture's core values - sympathetic female friends are sequentially murdered by a mysterious male antagonist, with only one "final girl" surviving - Carpenter and Hill's screenplay transposed the trauma from a collegiate setting to Haddonfield's more relatable high school suburbia, swapping out Yuletide for a ritualistic holiday which Gaelic folklore (as Samhain) associated with returning evil, and which subsequently (as Halloween) become synonymous with this film.

Crucially, they gave their terrifyingly blank killer definition - The Shape, as Michael Myers was originally known, is an indestructible boogeyman - without succumbing to motivation. All that mythology came later; hilariously convoluted architecture for a franchise that is itself now seemingly unkillable.

Halloween's taut 91 minutes rank with Psycho and Jaws in cinema's tension/release hall of fame: so brilliantly constructed you're scared witless every time, while still rooting for Jamie Lee Curtis' soulful, empathetic Laurie.

Paris, Texas

1984 Federal Republic of Germany, France, United Kingdom

I was chatting about this poll with my fellow Edinburgh International Film Festival programmer Kate Taylor - who is rightfully opposed to any kind of canonical exercise - and we agreed that it'd be nice to see the Class of 2022 move away from Important Films freighted with meaning, and towards what could perhaps best be described as a cinema of vibes. That is, movies which prompt the question "How did it make you feel?"

rather than "What did you think?"

Vibes are scarce in today's frenzied discourse, with its laserlike focus on what directors are trying to say. Paris, Texas has been subjected to plenty of furrowed brow academic analysis - inevitably, given it's a Palme d'Or-winning European production graced with some of cinema's most potent Americana - and I have nothing insightful to add.

Nope, I'm voting for this hypnotic ambient road movie because the vibes are endless: from Robby Müller's parched, awe-inspiring cinematography to Ry Cooder's impossibly evocative score to the lonesome, transfixing performances by Harry Dean Stanton and Nastassja Kinski. Its multinational cast and crew also prove that the best filmmaking is collaborative not authorial: Wim Wenders directs, but the picture belongs to them all.

Decline of Western Civilization


If we'd been asked for 11 titles my final choice would've been explosive rockumentary This Is Spinal Tap, but as we're stopping at 10 the last spot goes to this even grittier slice of music-focused filmmaking. Los Angeles' leading rock 'n' roll anthropologist, Penelope Spheeris' most successful movie remains hit comedy Wayne's World (1992), but for those of us whose pre-internet adolescent identities were shaped by hardcore punk and/or metal scenes, her trailblazing Decline of Western Civilization documentaries are more vital.

The trilogy's mythical status was enhanced by the fact that, before broadband, none of them were easily available. Spheeris' debut was eventually selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the US National Film Registry, but I first saw this "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" landmark on a bootleg DVD burned by a Californian guitarist friend.

A deeply empathetic view of a defiantly outsider subculture, the first Decline... shines a humanizing light on LA's underground punk community by capturing the growing pains of Black Flag and their snotty offshoot Circle Jerks; romantic-poetic heroes X; comedic provocateurs Fear; plus, most poignantly, doomed youth the Germs, whose closeted singer Darby Crash died from a heroin-induced suicide before its release.

Further remarks

To quote Columbo, my Just One More Thing is this: we need to move on from auteurism - the lone genius with his signature style, a dubious plinth historically reserved for white men - and learn to celebrate filmmaking as a collective endeavour. Three titles I nearly voted for are The Muppet Movie (1979), Moonstruck (1987) and Magic Mike XXL (2015), whose abundant cinephilic pleasures have little to do with their credited directors.

Not looking to take down the big lads per se - Vertigo and Citizen Kane remain great pictures - but they don't need more love, and a canon is only useful if it's in flux. Here's hoping that the 2022 list offers a wider range of perspectives than its ossified predecessor: I refuse to believe that cinema peaked before most of us were born!