Soma Ghosh

Film Critic & Podcaster

Voted for

Apur Sansar1958Satyajit Ray
The Virgin Spring1960Ingmar Bergman
Apocalypse Now1979Francis Ford Coppola
Stalker1979Andrei Tarkovsky
Gone with the Wind1939Victor Fleming
Der blaue Engel1930Josef von Sternberg
Midnight Cowboy1969John Schlesinger
Us2019Jordan Peele
Aniara2018Pella Kågerman, Hugo Lilja
Breaking the Waves1996Lars von Trier


Apur Sansar

1958 India

Ray delivers this almost unbearably tender bildingsroman with consummate empathy disguised by everyday language and fluid camerawork. The story combines a Chekovian comedy of manners with Bergmanesque gloom on mountaintops, when a young, aspiring novelist, on a jaunt from the city, is obliged to rescue a strange bride from her wedding to a mentally ill groom, but loses her to tragedy. On the first page of my mental flipbook of great filmic embraces is emblazened that moment in a rickshaw when Apu (Soumitra Chatterjee), having fallen in love with his reluctant wife, turns to her magical beauty in its swinging light and says, "hey, what's is it about your eyes, can you tell me that?," and she replies, "kohl (kajal)."

The Virgin Spring

1960 Sweden

I could have chosen any of Bergman's best: Fanny & Alexander, Wild Strawberries, Cries and Whispers, The Seventh Seal. But this lesser-known medieval piece, with Herzog vibes, haunts me with its aching cruelty and austere beauty. The shittiness and innocence of humanity collide in an often silent morality tale that is paced like an inexorable, pastoral pageant. Awful and wonderful.

Apocalypse Now

1979 USA

If Coppola had never made another film, he would have achieved everything possible with this one.

Gone with the Wind

1939 USA

The most opulent of those flagrantly filmy movies, like The Red Shoes, Orlando, or Vertigo, that couldn't be squeezed into my top ten. Yes, it's a bouffant, rustling, whipcrackaway (and racially patronising) fantasy of 'the gallant South') but Vivien Leigh's mischievous, kittenish Scarlet O' Hara just about beats Bette Davis' mosquito-infested Jezebel and the hormonal moons of Davis' eyes. Alongside my favourite American films for witty script, pace and crackle (Philadelphia Story, Some Like It Hot, All About Eve) and erotic tragedy (The Misfits), this is the big cake with all the jam and cream. It's a Sunday afternoon film treat, pairing gutsy actors with sparklingly-written characters, endlessly quotable, camp dialogue, sweeping sets, a gripping story and equally gripping costume and design. Lush, sentimental and utterly satisfying.

Der blaue Engel

1930 Germany

Von Sternberg would go on, in his partnerhship with Marlene Dietrich, to personally design almost all the aspects of his set. His grotesques are meticulous and the story of the professor's tragic seduction by showgirl Lola is lit with an irony that gleams not only from Dietrich's at that time voluptuous smile but Von Sternberg's bristling attention to the tiny lusts and humiliations that can also be seen in The Scarlet Empress. Thinking of white-hot pairings of diva and role through the decades, I thought of Julianne Moore, Tilda Swinton, Gena Rowlands, Bette Davis, Vivien Leigh, Sharmila Tagore and Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn's animalistic and vulnerable turn in The Misfits is certainly more affecting and real than Dietrich as Lola, but it is the ignorant pitilessness of Dietrich's Lola that makes her so unforgettably terrifying.


2019 USA, Japan

Subversive, blood-soaked, gleeful and eye-smackingly gorgeous, one of my favourite directors taking us back to the horror within us through another of his improbably yet worryingly plausible tale. It could have been Woman in The Dunes (and very nearly was) or Under the Skin, or Donnie Darko, or Primer leaping into this slot but for social commentary, pitch-perfect performances and emotional sass, Peele lands hardest.


2018 Sweden, USA, Norway

I love space films and am bummed not to include Moon, 2001 a Space Odyssey or Solaris, here. Films about final frontiers and quests are essentially films about the loneliness of the ego, that sense of 'I' that relies, for some characters, like one of the queer couple at the heart of this film, on community. The resilient ones, the ones who can people solitude from a wellspring of their own vitality, these are the heroes I love to see in films set in landscapes at the edge, whether in space, or in mountains or desert. Here, the heroine, a tour guide who enables visitors on her spaceship to access their own fertile consciousness, does so with the earthy doggedness of a conscientious spa therapist. Within its action and drama, her quietly sensual love affair isn't vamped up for a heteronormative camera, unlike, say, Juliet Binoche's ludicrous sexy witchlike scientist in a certain Claire Denis film. This is a deeply refreshing and welcome treatment of a LGBTQ love story, my favourite of the last ten years.

Further remarks

How do you define the ‘greatest’ film? Is it an uncompromisingly filmy film, like Metropolis, The Red Shoes, Vertigo, Lawrence of Arabia, or 81/2? Is it an anti-film, like Pink Flamingos? An eye-smacking visual and visceral feast – a Greenaway, an Almodovar, a Julia Ducournu? Should it be philosophically or socially unsettling, like a Goddard or a Mike Leigh, or beautiful and humane like a Max Ophuls? Does the dialogue dazzle with crystaline wit, as in All About Eve? Is it psychologically subtle and tense, in ways that satisfy and surprise, like The Servant, or M, or an Orson Welles? As a critic championing the new and the diverse, am I not obliged to include those most brilliant recent debuts burrowing beneath the lies of art and politics, like Residue by Merawi Gerima, or I Am Not A Witch by Rungano Nyoni? As I drafted and rehashed my choices, over a month of teeth-grinding tension, I hated the thought of simply perpetuating the great white canon. As the producer and host of feminist, multi-cultural podcast, What Goddeses Watch, shouldn't my choices have included more non-English-language films and womxn directors, like Andrea Arnold, Clio Barnard, Cathy Yan, Lynne Ramsay, the Wachowski sisters? As a writer, I'm ravished above all by a penetrating script. And as a performer, I'm in love with intelligent actors. I particularly like films that break the rules of genre while being formally bewitching, like Preparations to Be Together For An Unknown Period of Time, certainly one of my greatest films of the last five years. But it's not in my so-called top Ten. Maybe I'm promiscuous but I didn't feel ten was an adequate number. At some point, as you wade through the crashing glories of decades, countries and genres to reduce fifty to twenty to ten, excellence becomes arbitrary. And many of my favourite directors aren’t even here: Ozu, Herzog, Ophuls, Cassavetes, Sally Potter, Jonathan Glazer, Steve McQueen, Goddard. Ultimately, I conceded it was only honest to include one's desert island film, the one that, despite its flaws and foibles, provides the oozy comfort of spectacle, performance and character (mine’s Gone With The Wind, a big Sunday afternoon cake of movie). Critics are watchers, and our greatest films must still abide by what novelist Henry James called that “primitive, that ultimate test” of liking it. So where are my favourite comedies, like Some Like It Hot, The Philadelphia Story, or scripts, like The Grand Hotel? The thing is, just as small-talk bores me, I like a big intellectual wallop from my watching, yet I feel embarassingly naked seeing the tragic bent of my choices. By the time I got to my ninth choice and realised I hadn’t been able to include my favourite psychological thrillers, fantasy and sci-fi, I was rabidly resentful at being limited to a choice of ten. But being straitjacketed did force me to admit, in the end, that what I most prize is art that requires an active participation on the part of a viewer, so that when the credits roll, you are, at least for a while, transformed. So here are the desperately chosen and rechosen films that have stained my mind and changed me forever. Apologies for the spittle but I'm still foaming.