Film Critic & Entertainment/Mass Culture Journalist
|Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
|BOM, TEOREUM, GAEUL, GYEOWOOL, GEURIGO, BOM
|Francis Ford Coppola
|Distant Voices, Still Lives
|Meghe Dhaka Tara
|Taste of Cherry
A monumental cinematic achievement, Satantango bears testimony to the purity of the director's artistic vision and the perfection of his craft. On a canvas that is both dark and deep, Bela Tarr paints with light, movement and the palpable passage of time to create a portrait of Hungary at a crucial historical inflection point. Satantango is as transfixing a film as any that there has ever been.
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
An intimate, moving, exquisitely realised observation of life, Jeanne Dielman... weaves time and space into an unforgettable cinematic experience. Chantal Akerman's crowning glory is a staggering accomplishment because of its universality and its unwavering commitment to a unique way of seeing and revealing. This is a film that nearly fifty years after its production continues to be contemporary and deeply affecting.
The film that put India on the world cinema map and gave a young Satyajit Ray an instant and perpetual ticket to greatness, Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road) depicts, in a way that is at once heart-breaking and life-affirming, a desperately poor family and its struggles to survive in rural Bengal. The repose and beauty at the heart of the film still speaks to us all these years later - the hallmark of a true-blue masterpiece.
BOM, TEOREUM, GAEUL, GYEOWOOL, GEURIGO, BOM
Poetry, philosophy and the power of ideas, images and human gestures meld into a masterful whole in Kim Ki-duk's piece de resistance. A difficult to classify work, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring uses the seasons, the floating monastery that it plays out in and the rippling waters as telling metaphors for the transience of life and the unpredictability of human existence. More than just a film, this is a beguiling meditation on the temptations that the human flesh is heir to.
Apocalypse Now is more than just a war film. It addresses larger psychological and civilisational themes with unflinching force. Powerful performances, Vittorio Storaro's incredible cinematography and unwavering directorial focus add up to make it not only Coppola's best work, but also the greatest American film of all time. Cinema as artistically ambitious and unsettling as Apocalypse Now is rare in the domain of big-budget, star-driven Hollywood productions.
Sensual, texturally tactile and visually unique, Beau Travail has few parallels in cinema. It would be difficult to find a film about soldiers from anywhere in the world that is of comparable quality. Beau Travail probes war, masculinity and the repercussions of jealousy through a story set among men of the French Foreign Legion stationed in Djibouti. The austerity and the rigour that Claire Denis brings to the film are indicative of a filmmaking style that thrives on doing things in ways that have no patience for the normative and underline the essential flexibility of the medium.
Tokyo Monogatari, universal and timeless, owes its phenomenal longevity as a widely accepted cinematic masterpiece to its steadfast eschewal of emotional manipulation of the audience. Using minimalistic storytelling methods, it is as interested in conveying the physical attributes of the spaces in which it is set as it is in the detailing of the plot and the characters who people it. Even as it tells a story that, on the face of it, might appear to be primed for melodrama, it relies on its vivid framing and deliberate pacing to delivewr a muted, even detached, depiction of human motives and choices.
Distant Voices, Still Lives
A magnificently crafted film that oozes beauty from every frame, Distant Voices, Still Lives could live on for all time on the strength of the music on its soundtrack alone. But there is so much more to the film that it yields a surprise or two on every viewing. In evoking the life of a working class family under the shadow of an overbearing father in post-World War 2 Liverpool, Davies creates a tapestry that blends personal history with collective memories of a time and place. Shot through with truth and insight, it is a piece of cinema as good as any the world has ever seen.
Meghe Dhaka Tara
In a turbulent career, maverick Indian writer-director-polemicist Ritwik Ghatak made only a handful of films. Meghe Dhaka Tara (The Cloud-Capped Star) was his finest, a work packed with emotional heft and marked by a deep understanding of the plight of a woman carrying the weight of a family grappling with the consequences of displacement and financial crisis - a theme that Ghatak obsessively dealt with in his film. Megha Dhaka Tara employs melodrama not merely as a form. It reveals the immense potential of the genre (when handled right) to unearth deeper truths about the human condition.
Taste of Cherry
Taste of Cherry is a masterclass in minimalism in which Abbas Kiarostami ruminates, without resorting to any visual adornments, on life and death and many other things in between. The dry, dusty hills around Tehran provide a perfect setting for the story of a middle-aged man who is about to kill himself and drives around in a Range Rover looking for somebody who would agree to bury him when he is dead. The film has many of the defining characteristics of the unshowy but precise Kiarostami style that the world loves. In Taste of Cherry, these are stitched together with uncanny seamlessness.
Selecting the "Greatest Films of All Time" cannot but be a tricky exercise, more so if the number is limited to only ten. Inevitably, I have had to leave out many a film that has had an impact on me. I have made an effort to strike a balance between films that I have personally liked (in a career of watching and assessing cinema that began in the mid-1980s) with works (like Tokyo Story or Song of the Little Road, for instance) that I simply could not have left out to accommodate a favourite that I keep returning to because of the joy it unfailingly gives me. I would have included L'avventura, Landscape in the Mist and Ikiru, to name a few, had been longer, but the ten titles here are films that excite me more than any others at this point. Needless to say, I might come up with a completely different list in a year or two from now. That I guess is the nature, and beauty, of the game. But what I am absolutely sure of is Satantango and Jeanne Dielman will show up every time I draw up my Top Ten.