Maria Delgado

academic, critic,

Voted for

Tokyo Story1953Yasujirō Ozu
The Headless Woman2008Lucrecia Martel
All about My Mother1999Pedro Almodóvar
Orphée1950Jean Cocteau
The Spirit of the Beehive1973Víctor Erice
Nostalgia for the Light2010Patricio Guzmán
Cléo from 5 to 71962Agnès Varda
Rashomon1950Akira Kurosawa
Mandabi1968Ousmane Sembène
Portrait of a Lady on Fire2019Céline Sciamma


Tokyo Story

1953 Japan

A brilliant film on generational change, a society in transition and what it means to feel you are no longer needed. Ozu is always the filmmaker to turn to if you want to see how to do more with less - the filmmaker of the quotidian, melding economy and intensity to extraordinary effect. Ozu is also a wonderful director of actors - the legacy of Ozu is everywhere from Martín Rejtman to Abbas Kiarostami, Claire Denis and Hou Hsiao-hsien (among many many others).

The Headless Woman

2008 Argentina, Spain, France, Italy

A film that captures how dictatorships erase that which they need to dispense with. The tale of a middle-class dentist who may have run over a child and the ways in which the men in her family cover up the 'accident' to ensure no trace remains is a brilliant dissection of how social responsibility is dispensed with in the name of a silence of complicity. Martel's skilful delineation of how a culture of collective silencing is implemented across an entire social base remains shocking and resonant.

All about My Mother

1999 Spain, France

How to pick the 'greatest' of Almodóvar's films? This remains for me the most personal of his films and the one I most identify with - bringing together an array of different genres, different types of performer, different types of story and somehow fuse it together through a narrative that feels credible, extra-ordinary and important. A film about moving on after a terrible trauma, a film about what it means to help those in need, a film about motherhood and care. High theatrics, bold melodrama, and a wonderfully political undertone create a film of immense humanity where the marginalised literally take centre stage. Theatre and the theatrical are never far from the surface in All About My Mother as performances of works by Federico García Lorca and Tennessee Williams further comment on the film’s key motifs - the film feels very Spanish but very resonant beyond the Spanish context also as his work always does.


1950 France

There will always be a film with Maria Casarès in the 'greatest' films poll because she was my favourite actress - an actress I always return to because she combined the feisty, the cool, the otherwordly and the multicultural in one embodied presence. And here in Orphée she was probably never better. I love the ways in which the film is at once highly contemporary - set in post-War France -- but also mythical in its refashioning of the story of Orpheus. The poetics of the absurd runs through the film alongside a vein of humour that never seems out of place. The film looks gorgeous, still.

The Spirit of the Beehive

1973 Spain

A film about loss, about gaps and silences, about the scars left by conflict. Erice's film offers a devastating portrait of a country grieving without ever mentioning the Civil War directly. A film about the cinema, about the monsters we create and the power of cinema to animate and challenge and to offer a narrative that contravenes or challenges that imposed by dictatorial regimes.

Nostalgia for the Light

2010 France, Germany, Chile, Spain, USA

Most films are about searches - even if these take many different shapes and forms. Here two searches are juxtaposed in Chile's Atacama Desert — the driest place on earth — to powerful effect that of families of the disappeared for the bones of their loved ones and that of astronomers looking up at the skies. The film's ambition, its scope and scale, its reflections on the past and how we remember it and historicise it as well as its relationship to memory make it a key work of twenty-first century cinema. Guzmán makes films about the key issues of our time - linking past and present in ways that feel prescient, immediate, ethical, and necessary.

Cléo from 5 to 7

1962 France, Italy

Where to start with Varda? There has to be one film in the list but there could be many. In the end have opted for Cléo from 5 to 7 because of the way it captures a fear of death through a sensibility that feels complex, rounded and layered. Storytelling that feels rooted in a time and place and character-centred in ways that never feel simplistic or reductive. It feels ever more important every time I see it.


1950 Japan

Truth is always complex and subjectivity is always part of the equation. No film does this better than Kurosawa's Rashomon demonstrating how gender and class come into play as formative elements in hierarchies of 'truth' and who is believed and why.


1968 Senegal, France

One of the great satires on bureaucracy - and the ways in which it disenfranchises an already disenfranchised population. Remains one of the most devastating films of the toxic legacy of colonialism.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

2019 France

A film of incredible sensibility that dispenses with cliches in search of a new language for articulating desire on screen. Part detective story, part romance, part contemplation on the gaze in cinema, this is a woman-centred film that feels hugely pertinent. A film about the role that art can play and has played in crafting an understanding of self and other. A film that made me return to her earlier work and to Bergman - whose work is referenced in the film. Whether the film will be on my list in a decade remains to be seen but it is there now, one of those films I haven't been able to stop thinking about since I saw it.

Further remarks

I looked at my list for 2012 only having composed this list. Some were there in 2012, some are new additions. It's not that the films that have 'dropped' off the list aren't great, they perhaps just feel not quite as great as they once did. And 'great' is always relative, always comparative, always subject to change. A list like this always about a moment in time and it captures how ideas of 'greatness' change and shift over time. I guess these are films that speak to me now at a time in history that has seen seismic shifts over the past 3 years and where issues of mortality and loss have come more keenly into play in my life. There are many other films vying for inclusion - Parasite, Beau Travail. La Flor, Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Daisies, Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, The Wizard of Oz, The Conversation, Zama - but in the end, this is the 10, at least today…