|Singin' in the Rain
|Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen
|Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
|Children of Men
|Guillermo del Toro
|A Ghost Story
|Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Singin' in the Rain
What’s not to love about this exhilarating musical starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds? Along with the colourful humour and intricate song and dance numbers is a savvy, wry and forward-thinking look at Hollywood itself; particularly its reluctance to accept any change to the status quo.
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
Thanks to Sidney Poitier’s ferocious performance and a blistering screenplay from William Ross, this exploration of multicultural romance - and the problematic issue of race relations in America - makes as powerful, insightful and damning a statement today as it did 55 years ago.
Over four decades since its release, Ridley Scott’s space-set creature feature rightly remains a high benchmark for science fiction cinema. His vision of the future is not gleaming chrome and teleportation, but grubby run-down spaceships, exhausted space travellers and a bitter fight for survival against one of the most terrifying monsters ever committed to screen. A mix of Western, body horror and old-school creature feature, anchored by an unforgettable performance from Sigourney Weaver as one of cinema’s most incredible action heroes, and it’s little wonder that it has been an inspiration for so many filmmakers that have followed in its wake.
As a firm believer in the power of genre cinema as social commentary as well as stellar entertainment, I’m a huge fan of the way in which vampire (and zombie) movies force us to look inwards at the worst, and most vulnerable, elements of ourselves. Out of many on my longlist, Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark stands out as the best, and most enduring example. This Western-inspired road movie about a reluctant young man who joins a group of blood suckers after he is bitten eschews traditional vamp cliches to effectively explore issues of the loss of innocence, the disaffection of youth and the enduring power of human connection. A stunning debut from a filmmaker who would continue to raise the bar.
Children of Men
If Alfonso Cuaron’s futuristic thriller today feels more like fact that science fiction, that’s a credit to the vision and realistic tone of this story set in a 2027 where all women have become infertile. Clive Owen puts in a commanding performance as the disillusioned activist who must transport a miraculously pregnant woman to safety through a nightmarish dystopian world devoid of much hope or optimism. While it has much to say about issues of humanity and our relationship to our planet, the film also makes for fantastic entertainment thanks to some excellently choreographed action sequences - including one of best, most balletic in-car sequences ever filmed —and an excellent cast at the top of their game.
From one of modern cinema’s most visionary directors Guillermo del Toro comes this beautiful piece of cinema; a mesmerising fusion of fantasy and Grimm fairy tale. Just as in his 2001 masterpiece Devil’s Backbone, del Toro harnesses what is beautiful and what is terrifying to present an unforgettable imaginary world into which the story’s young protagonist escapes her sadistic father; an army office in mid-1940s Spain. Drawing on horrors both real and imagined, Pan’s Labyrinth remains a distinctive, singular piece of filmmaking which reveals new wonders on each repeated viewing.
What a brave and blistering debut from Australian filmmaker Jennifer Kent. Harnessing genre elements to make some insightful and intimate observations about the nature of human emotion, this story of a recently-widowed single mother who finds her home invaded, and young son threatened, by a terrifying evil entity mines the dark heart of grief, parental responsibility and mental distress. A stellar performance by Essie Davis as the troubled woman anchors the film, while Kent conducts some truly masterful cinematography, sound design and editing to play with audience expectations and pull us deep within this disturbing, deeply moving family portrait.
A Ghost Story
A ghost story with Casey Affleck playing an apparition dressed, literally, in a sheet? The premise for David Lowery’s belies the depth and power of his elegiac mediation on love, grief and the ability of human connection to endure beyond death. Rooney Mara is outstanding as the grief-stricken widow who is never aware that she is being haunted by the person she longs for the most; a scene in which she wordlessly devours an entire pie on the kitchen floor saying more about love and loss than any wordy soliloquy ever could. Expert craft choices underscore this beguiling narrative, which expands out beyond the personal to explore ideas about the past, the future and the nature of time itself.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
With films including Tomboy, Girlhood and the recent Petite Maman, French filmmaker Celine Sciamma has revealed herself to be one of the most insightful and intimate storytellers when it comes to the female experience. Never is this more true, or more cinematic, than with Portrait Of A Lady On Fire, sumptuous period love story with a keen, yet subtle, modern outlook. The romance between Marianne (Noemie Merlant) and Heloise (Adele Haenele) is a secretive, slow burn affair — as it must be on an isolated Brittany island at the end of the 18th century — but Sciamma and her actors make the most every sensuous second of their illicit relationship. Painterly in style yet intimate and human in approach, it’s an exquisite piece of filmmaking that is rich in narrative, bold in craft and utterly devastating in its emotional impact.
As a huge fan of regional British cinema, I had a vast number of exceptional films on my longlist. Among luminary company, Ross Glass’s 2019 debut Saint Maud is truly something exceptional; a tightly crafted and confident film which makes the most of its genre trappings without ever allowing them to overwhelm the narrative. As Glass sensitively explores the effects of guilt, isolation, mental illness and religious awakening on her titular protagonist, she draws a braruva performance from her lead actor Morfydd Clark, and utilises the evocative power of her windswept, decaying North Yorkshire location of Scarborough. It’s a complex and involving narrative unspooled by an expert hand, and makes for an unforgettable British film that transcends its horror trappings to become something very special indeed.
Choosing 10 best films of all time proved an almost impossible task; not least because one’s definition of “best” is perhaps as personal as the films we choose to file under that category. From an unwieldy long list and too many near-misses to count I settled on these 10, drawing on the idea that ”best” films should successfully communicate themselves to a viewer, should demonstrate exceptional craft, should inspire further thought — and, in all of these cases, demand further viewings and live rent-free in my head — and, crucially, should have left their indelible mark on me personally. As an avid fan of genre, it’s no surprise that films of this ilk feature heavily in my list; for which I make no apology.