|Do the Right Thing
|Far from Heaven
|The Big Sleep
More relevant than ever - it’s Trump, it’s Boris, it’s Bolsonaro - every faux-populist who champions the cause of “working people” for self-aggrandizement and personal profit. The structure is still revolutionary, the film language, tirelessly inventive - Citizen Kane lines its sights on the pompous masculinity of the "Great Man" and scores an eternal bullseye.
A drama of caregiving in a post-war Japanese family somehow manages to describe, precisely and universally, what is important in life - and what isn’t. Tokyo Story masterfully demonstrates the power of cinematic restraint as a series of small actions and off-hand comments build into an emotional tsunami. Setsuko Hara smiles politely throughout but at a moment of disillusionment, she can smash your heart into a thousand pieces.
Do the Right Thing
From Rosie Perez dancing to 'Fight the Power' to the most widely-debated end cards ever rolled, everything in this film remains hot as a Brooklyn July; on a couple of blocks in Bed-Stuy we see economics, politics, prejudice - everything relevant to post-George Floyd America. The story is told with seriousness and humour, reverence and irreverence, playfulness and truthfulness. Spike Lee made a film so full of insight that decades later it describes exactly what is happening now.
Far from Heaven
For a film made in the style of a Sirkian melodrama to be so incisive about contemporary racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism is beyond astonishing. Julianne Moore gives a masterclass in the melting of the American Dream as Todd Haynes shows us what is truly meant by the queering of cinema.
Cabaret is technically a musical but one that explores the genre way beyond previously defined limits, focusing on sexuality, gender, and anti-semitism. Liza Minnelli is all aces here - her performance, a mix of conscious camp and breath-taking vulnerability. Fosse captures it all with a delirious mise-en-scène and integrates seamlessly the love story, the musical performance, and the rise of the Nazis. What you end up with is a dark and complicated moment in German history, lensed through an astonishing and vital moment in American cinema - a divinely decadent combination.
A masterful interweaving of absurdism, comedy, drama, and class consciousness. Parasite's relatively recent release may be seen to count against it in a poll such as this but classics have to be born some time! To me, this film is perfect.
In Fish Tank, Andrea Arnold manages to completely reinvent British Social Realism and create something entirely fresh. Stylistically daring from its camerawork to its palette to its editing, the film connects viscerally to the story of a young woman following her romantic and career dreams in a brutally exploitative world. I find it the most significant British film of the 21st Century.
The Big Sleep
A film that more than any other describes the geography of a Noir Los Angeles with all its glamour, deception, and mystery. Bogart, of course, is king but nearly all the characters crackle with intelligence - their conversations constantly operating on multiple levels. The Big Sleep perfectly combines a slick sexy surface, a rotting underbelly, and a creeping feeling that no matter how long you think about it, like a child in a room of adults, you will never fully understand.
Midnight Cowboy is often described as a 'dark' and 'disturbing' film. Yet, for me, it also contains so much hope and optimism. The early sequence of Jon Voight's Joe Buck traveling from small-town Texas to New York City in the late 60s is perhaps the best cinematic capturing of the experience of "travel" I have ever seen. From there on, the treats come thick and fast - a cornucopia of scenes, many of which possess their own individual cult status. There have been recent attempts to dismiss this film as homophobic… STOP! When a queer filmmaker chooses to explore the internalized homophobia of a character in a gray-area on the Kinsey scale, it may include self-hatred, violence, and guilt. This is all part of LGBTQ+ history. Midnight Cowboy is a trenchant poem to a time, a place, and an imperfect but very real state of consciousness.
Minutely observed and deeply potent, Kelly Reichardt reinvents the period piece without any of the usual ornament or contrivance. The film shows the imposition of capitalism upon the natural world of the American North West with all its attendant injustices and discrimination. Yet it still allows space for an unexpected and beautiful friendship to flourish. Rigorous in visual style, sound design, and period detail, First Cow gives us a profound insight into the original flaws of the American project.
When I was invited to vote in the Sight and Sound poll it immediately started me thinking about what constitutes a 'great film' and how a film's cultural relevance changes over time. Upon checking out the list from a decade ago, it struck me that the 'Classics Club' is a hard one to get into. Very few movies on there were made during the last forty years. And many of these time-honoured films struck me - on my imaginary desert island - as a bit of a hard sit.
But there are seismic shifts taking place in contemporary cinema. More diverse voices behind the camera are starting to have a phenomenal and invigorating impact. And new great films are being produced as a result.
So I respectfully believe it necessary for some of the old classics to move over and allow for this landslide of new inspiration. I have a gut feeling that some of the more recent selections on my list will stand the test of time and rise to hold their place in the pantheon along with the others. And that's the way the world changes.