Sean Cubitt

Professor of Screen and Cultural Studies

Voted for

La Règle du jeu1939Jean Renoir
The General1926Buster Keaton, Clyde Bruckman
Duck Amuck1951Chuck Jones
Nostalgia for the Light2010Patricio Guzmán
Pyaasa1957Guru Dutt
Whale Rider2002Nicola Caro
La Rue Cases-Nègres1983Euzhan Palcy
YEELEN1987Souleymane Cissé
Wong Fei-Hung1991Tsui Hark
The Story of the Kelly Gang1906Charles Tait


La Règle du jeu

1939 France

Realist and fantastical, psychological and social, immortal and historically specific, formally close to perfect yet deeply affecting, the lucidity of the camerawork and editing, even across the otherwise anomalous hunting scene, hauls this into the pantheon in an period (the 1930s) and a country (France of the Popular Front) that prodiced more than its share of masterpieces

The General

1926 USA

"My bridges have a tendency to blow up" said Sergio Leone: this is where catastrophe enters cinema - as crisis,as turning point - to show us how utopia remains a possibility in the darkest times, such as the US Civil war, where Johnny Grey fights for the wrong side. Perfection of editing.

Duck Amuck

1951 USA

Every technique you need to understand in order to understand cinema is here. Bugs plays the Hitchcock role, maleficent puppeteer whose misanthropy Avery makes comical instead of, as in Hitch's American (and final English) films, cruel and unrelenting. A microscope on film's capacity for savagery, yet a masterpiece of comic timing, characterisation and dynamism.

Nostalgia for the Light

2010 France, Germany, Chile, Spain, USA

Singled out from Guzman's The Pearl Button and The Cordillera of Dreams, the first part of the loose trilogy it forms with them, Nostalgia, as documentary essay film not only documents the last ruins of Pinochet's Chile: it demonstrates the articulation of time and - most remarkably - space that cinema can achieve, in this instance between the Atacama as place traversed by history, the precise position of a gragment of bone, and the cosmic space-time of the calcium within it. The modesty of its universal sweep, the passion and detachment of tone, its care for mica flakes drifting in sunlight as for the last seekers of the desparecidos ... harrowing, haunting, lovely in its tragic light


1957 India

Some of the loveliest songs in cinema, one of the best comic routines, the magically unrealised love between Vijay and Gulab in the rooftop scene, and the climactic renunciation make Pyaasa one of the most spiritual of all movies, alongside and even exceeding the transcendental best of Bresson. Like renoir in Rules of the game, Dutt directs himself with gentle misunderstanding and a tranche of mockery that ultimately allows film, director and audience to share the glory of striving to become human, and failing

Whale Rider

2002 New Zealand, Germany

Caro's adaptation of Witi Ihimaera's novel nowhere shows its sensitivity more than in its delicate collaboration with Weta Workshops to produce whales that fit the realist and spiritual narratives of a film that articulates more than any other the permeability of humans, nature and technologies, from lenses to the sacred techniques of Maori. Pai and Koro's conflict, generational and gendered, is richer than their reconciliation: the injustices of both tradition and modernisation remain caught, like a sob caught in the throat, in ambivalently fatal plunge into the ocean. Myth exceeds its containment in narrative: cinema can be mythic.

La Rue Cases-Nègres

1983 Martinique, France

The profound literary heritage (Fanon, Césaire, Glissant) of Martinique explored and exposed in Palcy's adaptation of Joseph Zobel's novel de-articulated through a coming-of-age caught between the rote learning of the European classroom and the oral culture of old man Médouze, who remembers slavery days. The cliche of child as figure of hope, tangled in the cicular fate of Meedouze's parable, grounds the uplift, nails aspiration's feet to the floor, makes realism a two-way mirror into what drags us down and what motivates flight.


1987 Mali, Burkina Faso (Upper Volta), France, German Democratic Republic

At the very edge of comprehensible for those of us unfamiliar with Bambara lore, Cissé's film speaks of the cinema through the parable of the Komo blacksmiths. Still shocking is the revelation that this is an origin story, origin of the desert, and prophesy of slavery. We must be confronted, in cinema, with the inexplicable: not only as story but in cinematography, which Yeelen makes serve the peeled-back levels of historical and pre-historical times. A cinema where things and places signify, more than words.

Wong Fei-Hung

1991 Hong Kong

From The Butterfly Murders (1979) to Detective Dee, Tsui Hark has moved deftly between cinematic art and popular genres with the panache of a Hawks. Once Upon a Time, the first of three Wongfei Hong films starring Jet Li, at the time the handsomest man on the planet (a decade before his role in Zhang Yimou's Hero) is a pinnacle of wuxia, most of all in the ladder fight, which reassembled the rules of continuity for a genuinely three-dimensional action. Astaire would have loved this film.

The Story of the Kelly Gang

1906 Australia

Like Bill Morrison's Decasia (2002), the restored Kelly Gang celebrates what Giovanna Fossati calls the archival life of film, but with more focus than Morrison's redeployments. Fragments of 'the world's first feature film' now boil and bubble between chemical soup and photographic order. The restoration involved computational tools: the result is a hybrid of analog and digital – not just a record but a projection of what cinema can become, while its record of parks and bush around Melbourne, in this decayed and remade state, makes allegries for a new environmentalism. The materiality of the film strip seen in, through and because of its dematerialisation as pixels, the past and future of film in a single artefact.

Further remarks

I regret not including the Lumières' Workers Leaving the Factory, Scorsese's The Departed; Woyzek Has' Sanatarium pod Klepsydra Jan Svankmeyer's Alice and Ruy Guerra's Malandro (barring Pyaasa, there are no musicals in my selction) among many others. Forbidden Planet drew me into the cinema and still keeps me going back to seek that primal scene.The patina of time makes it easier to form a canon: there have been great films in the last five years, longer and shorter: they will supplant even Tokyo Story, a film I love too much, and which will no doubt once more be among the Olympians. Ubiquitous video cameras mean a new generation will lisp in shots and sequences. New Himalayas will rise.