Nick Davis

Professor and Critic

Voted for

Andrei Rublev1966Andrei Tarkovsky
The Battle of Algiers1966Gillo Pontecorvo
Harlan County, USA1976Barbara Kopple
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles1975Chantal Akerman
Modern Times1936Charles Chaplin
The Piano1992Jane Campion
Sansho the Bailiff1954Kenji Mizoguchi
Shoah1985Claude Lanzmann
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans1927F.W. Murnau
The Thin Red Line1998Terrence Malick


Andrei Rublev

1966 USSR

For constructing a distant past that also feels palpably present, and for endowing history, artistry, and belief with such scale and such mystery.

The Battle of Algiers

1966 Italy, Algeria

For so fully synthesising creative rigour with political conviction, and for retaining every joule of its white-hot energy for more than half a century.

Harlan County, USA

1976 USA

For indelible sounds, images, and fractious storytelling captured in real time, and for pushing so far past mere sympathy with its subjects and modelling courageous solidarity.

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

1975 Belgium, France

For a monumental vision that still feels rightly scaled to an all-but-invisible life, and for painting an epic canvas where few had even attempted a pencil sketch.

Modern Times

1936 USA

For releasing the human body into such kinetic chaos and comic élan, defying so many forces that would browbeat our bodies, our dreams, our movies into conformity.

The Piano

1992 Australia, France

For restoring so much insolence, eccentricity, and sensuality into how we imagine our pasts and our desires, and for fusing pleasure and discomfort in both story and style.

Sansho the Bailiff

1954 Japan

For chronicling unhappiness as a conspiracy of systems and accidents, and for somehow staging the unbearable in ways that elicit compassion, inspire protest, and allow possibilities of grace.


1985 France

For demanding that the 20th century's defining art form, so often debased, confront the same century's defining abyss, and for showcasing the patience, expansiveness, and steeliness required for real truth-telling.

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

1927 USA

For being as sexy, as slippery, as gorgeous and inventive now as it was then, and for refusing to take sides simplistically between pastoral nostalgia and bewitching novelty.

The Thin Red Line

1998 USA

For its miraculous conjuring of poetry amid violence, speculation amid urgency, shining amid spoilage, and for making a tense conclave of taciturn men as porous and shimmery as a reef.

Further remarks

Looking at this list, I see myself perfectly and also miss myself entirely. Drop me into your biggest multiplex, and I'll reliably head toward the screen where the most women, in speech and in behavior, are engaged in the most complex conversations with each other. By that standard, within the theater of my own list, my deepest tastes stand at serious risk of starvation!

At the same time, I like that my list startles me and makes me reassess. I've always preferred windows to mirrors, particularly in the cinema. I buy tickets in hopes of being tested and surprised. I yearn for contradictions and counter-intuitions. All the movies I named shook and unsettled me, and they still do—not just in their narratives but in their styles and textures, their shapes and their ruptures.

Yet how could it be my list without Persona or Diary of a Country Priest (my last two cuts), or Ballad of Narayama, Bush Mama, His Girl Friday, Nashville, Singin' in the Rain, and Taste of Cherry (which also came so close), or Aliens, Atlantics, Morvern Callar, or When Harry Met Sally..., all of which broadcast more often from my television than most of the titles I named as my delegates? I'm sure most contributors to this project found it elating but also weirdly estranging, as it should be. I wouldn't want to be a disciple of any art form in which I could readily list a tidy bundle of peak achievements, or where I'd more easily know my own mind.