Film historian, Blu-ray producer
|Buster Keaton, John G. Blystone
|L' Âge d'or
|The Battle of Algiers
|Donald Cammell, Nicolas Roeg
|The Wrong Trousers
|In the Mood for Love
|Wong Kar Wai
|RRR (Rise Roar Revolt)
As far as I'm concerned, Buster Keaton was the single greatest all-round talent ever to work in film, and I could easily have picked at least half a dozen others, but for me Our Hospitality has always come closest to perfection in its integration of sublimely inventive gags (the rackety train ride is a short-film masterpiece in its own right) with a thoroughly worked-out narrative. And the climactic waterfall stunt may be the oldest such footage that I've personally witnessed generating spontaneous applause from an enraptured audience.
L' Âge d'or
As with Keaton and Bresson, many other Buñuels could easily have made the list, but I keep returning to this scabrous masterpiece in which he set out his lifelong creative credo with such force that it kept his reputation thriving for nigh on two decades until his temporarily stalled career resumed in Mexico. Un Chien Andalou may be more eye-slittingly immediate in terms of impact, but L'Age d'Or is the Buñuel film that took up permanent residence in my head.
The Battle of Algiers
Unquestionably the greatest political film ever made, and by such a wide margin that it's hard to think of an obvious runner-up - and anything post-1966 will doubtless have borrowed heavily from it anyway. Riveting as a suspense thriller, rigorously clear-eyed in its presentation of atrocities committed by both sides, and uncannily relevant to this day in its forensically detailed explanation not merely of the reasons why Western occupation of the Middle East is always doomed to failure but also exactly how terrorist cells operate, both then and now.
This massive widescreen medieval epic is the single most convincing depiction of the pre-Enlightenment era in terms of visual and conceptual realisation, underlying psychology and relentless tactility, and it also boasts one of the cinema's most sublimely inventive original scores (courtesy of the great Zdeněk Liška). The Czechs have long regarded it as their supreme film masterpiece, and no wonder.
Mirrors are everywhere in Performance, a reflection of the film's dual nature: the gangster and the rock star, the realistic thriller and the surrealistic freak-out, above all the collaboration between Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg, two of the most formally innovative filmmakers ever to be entrusted with major studio funding and next to no supervision other than from each other.
I saw this on its original UK release at the precocious age of thirteen, courtesy of a populist review that drew comparisons with the then-recent Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and yet far from being disappointed by the lack of conventional sci-fi set-pieces I found myself hypnotised by a film language unlike anything I'd encountered thus far, and which in many ways remains sui generis. At base, it's a classic quest narrative, but one whose philosophical nature warps and fissures into new forms as it progresses.
As with Keaton and Buñuel, I could have gone for numerous other Bressons, but even after three complete-works marathons over the last quarter-century, L'Argent is always the one that leaves me marvelling at the way that every single image and sound has been so meticulously calibrated in the service of its overall thesis about the age-old root of all evil. It's also the only Bresson that I saw on original release, which may be a significant factor in itself.
The Wrong Trousers
Three boxes that aren't ticked in these polls as often as they should be are short films, animation and indeed comedy - all three of which are on glorious display in Nick Park's sublimely inventive comedy about an inventor, his put-upon dog, a pair of "techno-trousers" and one of the cinema's most ineffably sinister villains, a completely silent penguin with a nifty line in makeshift disguises. Hilarious throughout, it also boasts two knockout suspense/action set-pieces - a heist, and a climactic high-speed chase which rivals anything in Steven Spielberg or George Miller's oeuvre despite taking place entirely on the ground floor of an ordinary house.
In the Mood for Love
Like an exquisite piece of chamber music wherein even a single wrong note would wreck the entire mood, Wong Kar-wai's tremulous study of clearly requited but scrupulously unexpressed love between two neighbours whose never-seen spouses are having an affair with each other seems permanently poised on the verge of erupting into the grandest of passions (an impression exacerbated by the lushness of the décor and the ravishing colour scheme), while always remaining impeccably chaste.
RRR (Rise Roar Revolt)
I agonised over this one more than any other entry. Surely it's too recent? Too nakedly commercial? Too unashamedly bombastic? And yet, for an example of cinema as breathtakingly flamboyant spectacle, this is very very hard to challenge, not least for the way that it combines lavish SFX-fuelled set-pieces (the mid-point revelation of a truck's contents being one of 21st-century cinema's absolute high points) with an engrossing story performed by terrifically charismatic leads and a refreshing lack of wise-crackingly self-referential cynicism. And director S.S. Rajamouli's back catalogue includes an immensely affectionate remake of Buster Keaton's Our Hospitality, which neatly brings this list full circle.