Sarah Lutton

BFI London Film Festival Programme Advisor; Film Programmer and Researcher

Voted for

Meshes of the Afternoon1943Maya Deren, Alexander Hackenschmied
Pickpocket1959Robert Bresson
BLAISE PASCAL1972Roberto Rossellini
Taxi Driver1976Martin Scorsese
Heaven's Gate1980Michael Cimino
The Shining1980Stanley Kubrick
Manhunter1986Michael Mann
Under the Skin1997Carine Adler
Festen1998Thomas Vinterberg
Magnolia1999Paul Thomas Anderson


Meshes of the Afternoon

1943 USA

Meshes of the Afternoon is such a foundational and iconic piece of work. I'm constantly reinvigorated by the audacity of the piece in terms of the way form, space and time are presented. I find the looping narrative and lyrical movement hypnotic, both in terms of Maya Deren's balletic movements within the film and the movement created through editing. The piece appears to reinvent itself over and over. I love the way dreams, memory and desire are explored.

I can see the film has been so influential to other filmmakers whose work I enjoy. I see traces and echoes across a breadth of film and TV works (there's an episode in David Lynch's 2017 Twin Peaks TV series which seems so heavily inspired by Meshes of the Afternoon - as is much of Lynch's work around female identity).


1959 France

A minimalist maximalist film. I've always found Pickpocket such a spare and economic film and yet it deals with enormous ideas and emotions. A masterpiece of direction, editing and performance. A beautiful and deeply affecting film.


1972 Italy, France

I saw Blaise Pascal for the first time when I was an undergraduate studying film, and was completely overwhelmed by it. It's so strange, unusual and yet deeply affecting. The drama is rooted in a very real world, a world distant to ours and yet filled with everyday rituals and activities. Rossellini conveys such a convincing sense of the reality of the past and the powerful intimacy of personal revelation and faith. One of the most exquisite historical dramas.

Taxi Driver

1976 USA

It's so hard to choose a greatest film when it comes to Scorsese. I've chosen Taxi Driver because it's near perfect. There's just so much to love and admire in this film - Scorsese's spectacular direction, Paul Schrader's script, Bernard Herrmann's score, the soundtrack, Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster's performances. It's such a beautifully constructed and eminently watchable film.

Heaven's Gate

1980 USA

A truly elegiac film. Lyrical, haunting, beautiful, melancholy, tragic. I could watch (and listen to) the roller dancing sequence over and over again.

And, a pretty much perfect dream cast - Isabelle Huppert, Kris Kristoffersen, Christopher Walken, John Hurt, Jeff Bridges.

The Shining

1980 USA, United Kingdom

The perfect horror film.


1986 USA

I was introduced to Manhunter when I attended a day course 'Serial Killers at the Movies' led by Mark Kermode and Nigel Floyd at Cornerhouse, Manchester (now Home) in the early 1990s. I had already seen The Silence of the Lambs (which I adore, and was on my Greatest Films of All Time longlist), so I thought seeing this first iteration of Hannibal Lecktor (before the character was re-named Lector) would be more of a curio than anything else. Suffice to say I was astonished by Manhunter. I love the crime thriller/ procedural view Michael Mann uses to adapt and re-frame Thomas Harris's novel 'Red Dragon'. For me Manhunter is a perfect film. Spare when it needs to be and excessive and involving elsewhere. Not one frame or one line of dialogue is wasted. The film is perfectly shot, performed (William Petersen and Tom Noonan have never been better) and edited. The score and soundtrack choices are impeccable. It really is a masterclass in film-making.

I return to Manhunter again and again, watching it at least once every year.

Under the Skin

1997 United Kingdom

Carine Adler’s sublime rendering of grief, desire, identity, sexuality and family. She explores deep ideas and emotions in the most profound and affecting ways. Samantha Morton’s performance is fearless. An incredibly brave and beautiful film.


1998 Denmark

Inventive and confrontational, Thomas Vinterberg’s Festen (The Celebration) was an epoch-changing film. The selection of Vinterberg’s Festen in Competition at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival alongside that of his fellow Dogme 95 ‘brother’ Lars von Trier’s The Idiots was a hugely significant moment in cinema, effectively validating and celebrating Vinterberg and von Trier’s filmmaking ‘manifesto’ Dogme 95.

Dogme 95 brought a reinvigorating wave across Danish, Nordic, European and international cinema. Established in the early days of digital filmmaking, the playful and inventive Dogme ‘rules’ opened up creative possibilities, and far from limiting creativity gave many filmmakers ‘permission’ to explore new ways of storytelling and filmic communication. Its most powerful effect was on filmmaking mentality, opening up ideas around what and how to tell stories on film. The legacy and effect it has can still be felt today.


1999 USA

Again it is hard to choose a greatest film when it comes to Paul Thomas Anderson- there’s many reasons why Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood or Punch Drunk Love could and should be on this list. Magnolia wins out for me in the end, because of the intricate plotting, wealth of performances and exquisite character interplay. April Grace is outstanding as Gwenovier, the reporter interviewing Tom Cruise’s Frank T.J. Mackey. Their exchange is quite extraordinary, she’s so strong, insistent and still in the face of his popping, exploding and his desperate masking of his truth. The interchanges between Philip Seymour Hoffman’s devoted nurse Phil Parma and Juliane Moore’s brittle Linda Partridge are so carefully scripted and powerfully performed. Likewise the fragile romance between Melora Walters’ damaged Claudia and John C. Reilly’s police officer Jim Kurring plays out so tenderly. And William H. Macy has never been better or more heart-breaking as Quiz Kid Donnie Smith, spiralling out in his search for love.

Further remarks

It has been fascinating if also a little maddening to whittle down to a list of ten titles. Dreyer’s Ordet, Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, Robert Altman’s Nashville, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs; Michael Man’s Heat, Mary Harron’s American Psycho, Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man and Michel Franco’s New Order were all on my longlist. It was hard to cut each and every one of these titles. It will be very interesting to see the spread of others’ lists and the final overall top ten. I wonder how different they will be to the 2012 lists, and what this might tell us about the evolution of taste, criticism and film-making?