Sarah Street

Professor of Film, University of Bristol UK

Voted for

Tokyo Story1953Yasujirō Ozu
The Innocents1961Jack Clayton
The Lodger A Story of the London Fog1926Alfred Hitchcock
Citizen Kane1941Orson Welles
Black Narcissus1947Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Mildred Pierce1945Michael Curtiz
Taxi Driver1976Martin Scorsese
All about My Mother1999Pedro Almodóvar
Don't Look Now1973Nicolas Roeg
Orlando1992Sally Potter


Tokyo Story

1953 Japan

This film is truly inspiring. Those long takes, redolent with meaning and so evocative for its poignant depiction of age differences and fractured family loyalties. These are gradually exposed in the film’s longue durée which also encompasses how city living accelerates class and cultural differences. The film’s astute observational qualities never cease to impress after repeated viewings; the film speaks to us all about age, patience, love, strained familial loyalties, and the fragility of care and duty.

The Innocents

1961 USA, United Kingdom

The beautifully crafted cinematography, in conjunction with Deborah Kerr’s astute performance as the governess, makes this film a horror classic which still intrigues and disturbs even though it lacks the effects-driven conventions seen in horror films of today. Its monochrome starkness delivers many images and scenarios that linger for their shocking power – the beetle emerging from the mouth of a stone cherub statue; the fleeting suggestion of an evil adult in a child’s facial expression. The use of music, particularly the repetition of a haunting lullaby ‘O Willow Waly’. These make the film a classic psychological horror that uses its source material (Henry James) to embody its own evocative cinematic registers.

The Lodger A Story of the London Fog

1926 United Kingdom

A silent film of supreme quality, The Lodger remains a fascinating early imprint of Hitchcock’s recurrent themes and styles. Its tinted and toned frames explicate a narrative about suspicion and violence against women which reflects anxieties about city living explored in different ways by other celebrated silent films such as Sunrise and Pandora’s Box. The Lodger’s iconic frames include Novello’s initial menacing appearance in the doorway of his new lodgings; his desperate clinging to a street’s railings towards the end of the film when he is chased by a baying crowd, and the visual trick of a transparent ceiling to show traces of the lodger’s footsteps as he paces up and down the floor from the perspective of the people below who have begun to suspect him as a possible murderer. If Hitchcock had not made any more films after The Lodger, the film would surely still be regarded as a classic of silent cinema.

Citizen Kane

1941 USA

The assumptions behind this film’s consistent high rating in the polls haven’t really lost their impact. It still amazes for its formal bravado, the newspaper magnate’s life told from different perspectives with a barrage of stunning cinematographic strategies which retain their innovative resonances today. The film’s reputation as representing the apogee of an ossified ‘canon’ of outstanding films should not minimise its qualities – it deserves to be so recognised. It combines the restless energy of its subject with formal experimentation which, as scholars have rightly pointed out, demonstrates the artistry of filmmaking as a collaborative enterprise at a time when new technical approaches were being explored.

Black Narcissus

1947 United Kingdom

As an end of empire fiction based on Rumer Godden’s novel, Black Narcissus remains a stunning example of Technicolor cinematography at the height of its quality. The film is a celebration of studio filmmaking at Pinewood, where a convent in the Himalayas was created entirely on sets based on the technical artistry of émigré set designer Alfred Junge. This fabrication delivers very precise, controlled impressions of ‘the east’ which graphically underscore the film’s meditation on the contradictions of empire, the futility of the nun’s westernising enterprise, and the collapsing of boundaries between east and west, past and present. The resonating, memorable performances of Deborah Kerr and Kathleen Byron complete this iconic imprint of Powell and Pressburger’s supreme Technicolor filmmaking in the 1940s.

Mildred Pierce

1945 USA

This film has inspired, and continues to inspire, many writers, film theorists and filmmakers. Its mixture of melodrama and noir, together with Joan Crawford’s compelling performance, showcases the artfulness of Hollywood genre filmmaking. The pleasure of Mildred’s rise as a businesswoman and the pain of her own child’s ruthless snobbery and rejection, deliver a combination of emotions that Michael Curtiz marshalled so effectively for the screen. It has generated critical commentaries from multiple perspectives over the years and continues to do so. Why some films achieve this rather than others is a question Mildred Pierce resolutely answers.

Taxi Driver

1976 USA

This film stays in my memory as cinematic at a time when it seemed those qualities were being revived and amplified by the so-called ‘new’ Hollywood of the 1970s. It made me think about how colour and lighting in particular could be used to evoke the strangeness of the city, of their power to depict a disturbing urban locale in the context of the aftermath of the Vietnam War; a war zone indeed which formed the backdrop to Travis Bickle’s loneliness, accumulating isolation and violence. The film still disturbs; the alienating city is a 1970s version of Murnau’s Sunrise. Bernard Hermann’s soundtrack is also an important element of the film’s longevity, announcing as it does in the very first frames that ominous, fascinating and even terrifying psychological depths are going to be explored.

All about My Mother

1999 Spain, France

This film typifies Almodóvar’s unique ways of producing truly absorbing drama, edged with humour and with deep, humanist compassion. The way the film uses its luscious aesthetic sensibilities and turbulent, emotionally affective registers respects both genre filmmaking and the history of cinema. It’s a film that never ceases to impress new audiences and is an essential title for any course on melodrama. Even though it was released in 1999 its themes have endured, speaking to us about love, respect for difference, tolerance, families, gender and sexuality. Many subsequent Almodóvar films have been preoccupied with similar themes but what is remarkable is when and how All About My Mother did this so well.

Don't Look Now

1973 United Kingdom, Italy

This film’s distinctive, time-fracturing opening montage is only one of its many intriguing formal attributes with affective resonances that are still powerful after many viewings. The inexplicable seeping red across an otherwise inert photographic slide being examined by a church restorer announces that red and colour might be key to its many ambiguous narrative threads concerning the aftermath of a child’s tragic death by drowning. The bleakness of the film’s winter Venetian location speaks to the city’s own history of flooding, ‘Venice in Peril’ as the water gives it both life and death. When visiting Venice the film is there, in labyrinthine alleys that may or may not lead where you want to go, in its misty horizons and dimly lit churches. Added to this, the music and performances make this film truly remarkable.


1992 United Kingdom, Russian Federation, Italy, France, Netherlands

This film is remarkable for its vivid sweep of history and bold exploration of gender and sexuality. All told with stunning colour cinematography and with brilliant, witty insights into its many themes which reach far beyond the confines of its immediate narrative contexts. The literary grounding in Virginia Woolf’s novel is treated with respect but the film also develops its own cinematic spectacle to display a multitude of costumes, natural physical environments, and architectural structures.