Former film critic of Financial Times. Author of 'True Myths: the Life and Times of Arnold Schwarzenegger' and 'Jaws'.
|The Godfather Part II
|Francis Ford Coppola
|Aguirre, Wrath of God
|The Act of Killing
|The Nutty Professor
Hitchcock's greatest - and the greatest of all films about passion's macabre, murderous spell. This is 'Tristan and Isolde' morphed into a modern-dress noir-in-colour with James Stewart's detective falling for Kim Novak's fatal blonde. The film migrates from the rollercoaster streets of San Francisco to the giddying spirals of a tower staircase in a Spanish mission - and from love to death twice over. Unforgettably eerie images: from the mission staircase that concertinas expressionistically in Stewart's dizzied eyes to the green glow in a hotel bedroom that surrounds the Novak character's second self-revelation.
The ultimate in movie baroque. Welles's film is a twisted pearl - glorious, florid, overweening - about crazed ambition and the virtues and innocences it crushes in its wake. It's almost a one-man Orson show (actor-star, director, co-writer), though later critics have tried to reclaim credit for the contributions of writer Herman Mankiewicz and photographer Gregg Toland. You can't keep count of the +coups de cinema+. My favourite is the camera magically and 'impossibly' travelling through the neon sign on the roof above singer Susan Alexander's nightclub dressing-room and then right down into it.
The greatest animation film of all. Miyazaki's orphaned heroine meets monsters, gods and princes in a gravity-free, gorgeously imagined tale of growing up. It begins with loss and a lived-out nightmare - a scene of comical tragical horror involving the heroine's parents in an abandoned amusement park - and then fast-forwards with inexhaustible invention into its themes and developments: love, greed, the gaining of wisdom, the loss of illusions, the understanding of oneself, the acquisition of insight into others.
You don't need claustrophobia and expressionist artifices to create Gothic horror. Two years after Robert Wiene's 'The Cabinet of Dr Caligari' (1920), Murnau made this extraordinary version of Bram Stoker's 'Dracula'. He filmed it in real woods, mountains, castles, towns - made nightmarish only by his surreal vision. The eerie angles; the lighting; the cutting; the tempi (slow and fast motion); the presence - omnipresence - of Max Schreck's hideous, bat-eared, bony-faced vampire. You understand why the heroine falls under the spell of terror and the terrifying. We all do, as this film goes on its mesmerising, necromantic way.
The Godfather Part II
The second instalment of Coppola's great dynastic saga, serpentining between time spans and crime clans, is the film most often invoked to argue that sequels can excel originals. Intercutting between the present - Al Pacino's empire-building Michael - and the past - Robert De Niro's empire-founding Vito - Coppola (with Mario Puzo) makes this Corleone family chronicle as complex as 'Buddenbrooks' and as guilt-edged and hypnotically foredoomed as 'The Brothers Karamazov.' A magisterial epic working out themes of loyalty, greed, violence and brotherhood.
A film that has often hovered at the edge of Ten Best lists surely deserves its year, or decade, in the sun. A Ukrainian director creates a complex hymn to nature, its script combining a critique of Soviet collectivisation (for which the movie was banned in Moscow) with a series of renegade tableaux, some captivatingly cryptic, some teasingly or caustically emblematic. Farmhands urinate in a tractor; a scapegoated man is murdered in a village; peasants dance; a naked woman is shown in the spasms of childbirth. The sheer beauty of the shots of nature at beginning and end, contrastingly, take the breath away. Dovzhenko survived to outlive Stalin. His gifted cameraman Danilo Demutsky was less lucky, sent to the gulags as the USSR purged its arts and artists.
Aguirre, Wrath of God
In a visionary South American jungle odyssey Werner Herzog finds his own artistic El Dorado: a place of glittering surrealism and poetic madness. Klaus Kinski's crazed conquistador brings shades of Richard III to the Amazon. This is the movie (more than 'Fitzcarraldo') where Herzog the explorer meshes with Herzog the artist. Who can forget the galleon mysteriously stranded atop a tree? Or the whirlpooled river alive with a troupe of monkeys and one man's passion-blinded monomania?
The Act of Killing
A documentary so laceratingly focused, yet so slyly mandarin at times, that it acquires a scary beauty. This is a tribunal conducted with a finality at once impassioned and impassive. The director draws devastating truths and revelations in his interrogation of Indonesian political history. Past persecutors are brought blinking into the sun; past victims - or those still surviving - are foregrounded and honoured, their accusing memories drawn out in details sometimes hard to bear. A few surrealist touches in the staging, daring and surprising, reconjure the heyday of Latin American revolutionary cinema.
Science fiction cinema is transformed forever in the furnace of production design. Ridley Scott (with designer Lawrence G Paull) turns Los Angeles 2020 into a place weirder and more otherworldly even than Fritz Lang's Metropolis: a doomy Heaven ablaze with rain, neon and flying ships. Babel skyscrapers gaze down on drenched and darkened streets harbouring Deco-Egyptian palaces. Inspired music-of-the-spheres is provided by composer Vangelis. There is a plot too: a kind of one. But it's lost in, or rather magically at one with, the dream-mazes of the decor.
The Nutty Professor
What's a Top Ten without a comedy?
'The Nutty Professor' proves the French right. Jerry Lewis at his height was a filmmaker so spookily gifted that this Jekyll-Hyde makeover with autobiographical trimmings - its Mr Hyde a suave and sleepy-eyed lounge singer in the Dean Martin mould - deserves to be called his '8 1/2'. As with Fellini, the supporting characters are a deadpan-zany army in which each has his or her perfect cameo moment. The slowburn slapstick scenes are the best outside Laurel and Hardy.