Philip Kemp

Film historian

Voted for

The Grand Budapest Hotel2014Wes Anderson
Ikiru1952Akira Kurosawa
Charulata1964Satyajit Ray
Vredens dag1943Carl Th. Dreyer
The Man Who Would Be King1975John Huston
The Third Man1949Carol Reed
Cléo from 5 to 71962Agnès Varda
My Neighbour Totoro1988Hayao Miyazaki
The General1926Buster Keaton, Clyde Bruckman


The Grand Budapest Hotel

2014 USA, Germany

For me, the most consistently dazzling and enjoyable of all Wes A's films - for the inventiveness, the script, the lighting, the sets, the cast - and for giving Ralph Fiennes his first real chance to show his masterly command of comedy.


1952 Japan

An anomalous entry in Kurosawa's filmography - no crime, no killings, not a samurai to be seen - and of the 16 films he made between 1948 and 1965, the only one not to star Mifune Toshiro. But it features the greatest performance by his other favourite actor: Shimura Takashi, as the routine bureaucrat who "has never admired a sunset in 30 years" but suddenly finds he has only a few months to give his life some meaning. "Sing the song," Kurosawa told Shimura, "as if you are a stranger in a world where nobody believes you exist". And he does.


1932 France

This deliciously subversive 1932 social comedy kicked off Renoir’s strongest period. A Parisian bookseller, M Lestingois, sees a disreputable tramp throw himself into the Seine. He dives in, saves him and nobly takes him into his own household. But Boudu (played by the great eccentric of French cinema, Michel Simon) proves singularly ungrateful. He spits in first editions, cleans his shoes on the bedspread, seduces his host’s wife and makes a pass at the maid, Lestingois’ mistress. In some quarters this was taken as a virulent attack on bourgeois values; but that’s to miss the genial exuberance of Renoir’s comedy.


1964 India

Ray's own favourite among his own films - "the one with the fewest flaws" - is the subtlest and most delicate of his chamber dramas, with Madhabi Mukherjee enchanting as the neglected Bengali wife, and Soumitra Chatterjee (in perhaps the finest of his 15 performances for Ray) as her husband's cousin with whom she finds herself unconsciously falling in love.

Vredens dag

1943 Denmark

The prevailing mood is sombre, lowering and intense; the narrative pace is steady and deliberate, presenting horrific events with chilling restraint; and the film deals with all Dreyer's prime concerns: religious faith, the supernatural, social intolerance, innocence and guilt, and the clash between society and the individual. In its visual texture it presents the supreme example of his use of light and darkness to express moral and emotional concerns, with severe, black-garbed figures set against stark white walls, and opposing lines of force creating tensions within the frame.

The Man Who Would Be King

1975 USA, United Kingdom

For once, the often-misused term 'epic' is wholly appropriate. Huston's script (written with his long-term assistant Gladys Hill) expands Kipling's story but remains wholly faithful to its spirit (including the implicit critique of British imperialism), while further exploring the director's perennial theme of the quest and the destruction of those possessed by it. Connery and Caine are perfectly teamed, with Saeed Jaffrey in deft support.

The Third Man

1949 United Kingdom

A film of shrewdly chosen detail, with even the smallest bit-part perfectly cast. Welles doesn't even appear until over an hour in and is on-screen for barely 15 minutes, but his spirit dominates the action. And it's aptly set (and shot) in the shattered, divided city of Vienna, its professional charm worn perilously thin, its once grand buildings now shabby and tottering. Anton Karas’s solo zither score vividly captures the wheedling, brittle mood of the defeated city.

Cléo from 5 to 7

1962 France, Italy

As always, Varda shows infinite compassion for her characters, even the less lovable ones. Here, Cléo is a petulant blonde singer suddenly brought up hard against reality: she may have cancer, and results of her test are due this evening. Varda’s achievement is to make us care about this pouty princess as she wanders distractedly around Paris awaiting the worst.

My Neighbour Totoro

1988 Japan

Ah, which Miyazaki to choose? I think it has to be this one. True, it lacks the darker undertones of Princess Mononoke (1997) or Spirited Away (2001) - but who could resist the enchanted forest-world revealed to the wide eyes of two small girls? And I still remember the shriek of joy with which the audience greeted the sudden magical apparition out of rain and darkness of the manically grinning cat bus.

The General

1926 USA

Surely the most satisfying of all Keaton's films. Apart from anything else, its sense of period is flawless. Asked years later why his depiction of the Civil War era looked so much more authentic than that shown in Gone with the Wind, Keaton replied, “They went to a novel; I went to the history books.” The narrative line runs clean and uncluttered from start to finish; all the gags – and they include some of his best – work to further the dramatic action.

Further remarks

The 'greatest'? Well, who can possibly decide that - and what does it mean anyway? So instead, what I've done is choose ten films that I could watch time and again without ever tiring of them - even though I know them almost by heart. So for me - yes, perhaps they are the greatest.