Melanie Williams

Professor of Film and Television Studies, University of East Anglia

Voted for

Sansho the Bailiff1954Kenji Mizoguchi
Brief Encounter1945David Lean
Vertigo1958Alfred Hitchcock
Imitation of Life1959Douglas Sirk
Singin' in the Rain1951Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen
Land of Silence and Darkness1971Werner Herzog
Tokyo Story1953Yasujirō Ozu
De stilte rond Christine M.1982Marleen Gorris
Some Like It Hot1959Billy Wilder
County Hospital1932James Parrott


Sansho the Bailiff

1954 Japan

Harrowing and beautiful, with a heart-breaking ending where none of the terrible things that happen are solved by a final reunion. Unforgettable.

Brief Encounter

1945 United Kingdom

Time and tide wait for no man. Had to include a David Lean, had to include this.


1958 USA

Credit where hallucinatory credit is due.

Imitation of Life

1959 USA

Most of the films I've chosen make me sob uncontrollably, and this is no exception.

Singin' in the Rain

1951 USA

Musical perfection, the genius of the system poking fun at itself while simultaneously shoring itself up. The last film I saw with my mother.

Land of Silence and Darkness

1971 Federal Republic of Germany

I think about this documentary, about deaf-blind people, a lot. It doesn't seem to be that well known, comparatively, but its images are absolutely burned into my brain. An extraordinarily powerful film.

Tokyo Story

1953 Japan

More families. More miscommunication. More love. More death. More regret. And inevitably more crying. There had to be an Ozu and this is a beauty.

De stilte rond Christine M.

1982 Netherlands

Fuck the Patriarchy.

Some Like It Hot

1959 USA

An imperishable entertainment. Monroe perfect. The wellspring of my deep and abiding love for Jack Lemmon.

County Hospital

1932 USA

Hard boiled eggs and nuts.

Further remarks

I've interpreted greatest films in terms of what has made the greatest impact on me rather than trying to draw up a teachable canon of cinema (which is an impossible exercise in any case). I've tried not to overthink it, but the legend of the Sight and Sound poll and the sense of responsibility looms large! In the end, its limitations are my own limitations in terms of cinema knowledge as well as the necessary limitations of the exercise. Shamefully, there are no silents on my list, and there's nothing beyond 1982. It has come out very white and western, and strangely 50s-focussed. Only one woman director (but what a film). Hardly any British cinema, for goodness sake. Some of my favourite, most cherished films didn't make the cut, and I feel aggrieved on their behalf. Ultimately this is an instinctive list, guided by pleasure or by being moved emotionally in some way. And I look forward to picking a completely different group of films in ten years' time (if I'm asked back after this).