101 hidden gems: the greatest films you’ve never seen

As chosen by Mike Leigh, Benny Safdie, Ngozi Onwurah, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Laura Mulvey, Abel Ferrara, Radu Jude and more.

4 December 2023

Sight and Sound

Below is a list of 101 of the greatest films of all time – but not the kind of list that you might expect from that description. No Citizen Kane. No Vertigo. Not even Jeanne Dielman.

Each of these films is one of the greatest according to just one voter in our recent Greatest Films of All Time poll; they are some of the hidden gems among the more than 4,300 films voted for by more than 2,000 participants. (For the pedantic reader, the films that got one vote each – more than we can fit in here – are all technically joint 1,956th greatest film of all time, combining the tallies of our critics’ and directors’ polls.)

It’s clear, looking through this list, that cinema is more accessible than ever: the keys to the gate have been thrown away, and at the same time the advocacy work of archivists and restorers has been making its way through the festival circuit and on to discs and streaming services, helping to satisfy a public ever hungrier for new kinds of cinema. Hailing from every continent but Antarctica and spanning more than 120 years, this selection is, in its way, as representative of the riches of cinema history as that other list we released at the end of last year. Fiction rubs shoulders with nonfiction, films made by collectives sit alongside hand-crafted animation, and a healthy dose of comedy sidles up to heartbreaking drama – and then there are the films that defy all categorisation.

That’s not to say that these films will never trouble the higher rankings of our Greatest Films poll. Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust (1991) wasn’t even a one-vote wonder in our 2012 poll – it didn’t receive a single vote – and yet it placed joint 60th in the 2022 poll. When, nearly 16 years ago, we asked contributors to pluck out films “unduly obscure and worthy of greater eminence” (‘75 Hidden Gems’, S&S, August 2007), Amy Taubin selected Barbara Loden’s Wanda (1970) – since then, with the help of a 2010 restoration by UCLA Film & Television Archive, it has made it into the poll’s top 50. It’s far from impossible that some of our new cohort of one-vote wonders will be in the top 250 when we repeat the poll, in 2032.

So why did these 101 films receive just one vote rather than the dozens needed to make it into the official top 100 pantheon? Perhaps they are little-seen or hard to find; perhaps they have been overshadowed by a different film from the same director or the same movement; perhaps they aren’t the sort of film people think fit into discussions of the canon – too unusual, too light-hearted, too low-budget; or perhaps their appeal is simply too particular. Why isn’t Fear (1954), voted for by Michelangelo Frammartino, the best-loved of Roberto Rossellini’s films? Why isn’t the Māori anthology film Waru (2017) – picked by Alisa Lebow – deemed a modern classic, or Mike Leigh’s choice How a Mosquito Operates (1912) canonised for its importance to early animation?

Whatever the reasons, we hope that presenting them here alongside the heartfelt recommendations of their lone voters encourages you to delve further into the darker recesses of cinema history, and maybe even to reconsider what makes a film the ‘greatest’.

— Thomas Flew

One-vote wonders from Sight and Sound’s Greatest Films of All Time poll

 

1. Le chat qui joue (1897)

Auguste Lumière and Louis Lumière, France

For me, this Lumière brothers film is perfect: complete cinema on a miniature scale. For 40 seconds, a kitten plays with a dangling toy on a window sill. Crouching, pouncing, missing, catching, in a complete gamut of typical gestures, with a final leap it falls, disappearing out of frame. It performs against a grid-like pattern: a sliver of wall plus of three panes of glass that also frame the exterior. There, steam from a chimney and leaves tossed by the wind are a reminder of two tropes that fascinated the spectators of these first films. Le chat qui joue plays with time as only cinema can, with chance and narrative, but also the filmic uncanny of a distant moment fossilised.

Chosen by Laura Mulvey

2. Léontine’s Electric Battery (1910)

Unknown, France

A French slapstick comedy about a prank electrocution, Léontine’s Electric Battery features everybody’s favourite enfant terrible, an actress who was twice as funny as Charlie Chaplin but who remains unknown. In this dastardly gem, Léontine steals an inventor’s high-voltage battery and then all hell breaks loose. Her victims include two sweet old ladies and the local police department. The mysterious ‘Léontine’ starred in 24 episodes of her irresistible comic series; whether she’s flooding her house to sail her toy boat or shattering dishes in the act of cleaning them, she embodies that utopian spirit of destructive slapstick comedy: to make way for tomorrow. Long live Léontine!

3. How a Mosquito Operates (1912)

Winsor McCay, US

Plot: A mosquito infects a sleeping man. Running time: six minutes. Visual style: black-and-white line drawing. Narrative style: a remarkably sophisticated blend of heightened comic and real-time naturalistic. Drawn and directed by Winsor McCay, legendary print strip cartoonist (Little Nemo, 1911) and pioneer animator (Gertie the Dinosaur, 1914). The mosquito may doff its little top hat and carry its poison in a small attaché case, but we do actually learn how the insect does its dastardly deed. An enduring masterpiece of early cinema. Watch it with no soundtrack.

Chosen by Mike Leigh

4. Carmen (1915)

Cecil B. DeMille, US

Forget what you may think about Cecil B. DeMille’s ponderous Biblical epics, this early version of the world’s most popular opera delivers a drama that’s more compelling than most staged versions, despite being a ‘silent’. It’s helped by a sensational performance by future Met opera star Geraldine Farrar (who hadn’t yet sung the role), great Californian locations and a finale that’s truly tragic. Try to find the version taken from DeMille’s own tinted print, with its original music score conducted by Gillian Anderson. Astonishingly, this was just one of 14 films that the hyperactive DeMille directed in his first year in Hollywood.

Chosen by Ian Christie

5. Ménilmontant (1926)

Dimitri Kirsanoff, France

Ménilmontant, Dimitri Kirsanoff’s poetic Parisian street drama, begins with one of the most dazzling and horrific opening sequences of any film ever made. Orphaned by this bloody act of violence, two sisters travel to the city, where further dangers lurk in the quarter that gives the film its name. With narrative ellipses and no intertitles, but a cavalcade of impressionistic silent cinema techniques from montage edits to double exposures, Ménilmontant tells a heartbreaking story, with room for some disturbing ambiguity, in just under 40 minutes. Little wonder that Pauline Kael acclaimed this, Kirsanoff’s second film, as her favourite of all time.

6. Sarah and Son (1930)

Dorothy Arzner, US

An immigrant actress living in New York is separated from her son by her drunken lover, who sells the baby to a rich family, in this heartbreaking pre-Code melodrama, directed by Dorothy Arzner with both a firm hand and a light touch. The film embraces a balance between realism and artifice that humanises its characters with intelligence, humour and care. Ellipses are irreverent, actions are cruel and tender at the same time and every shot of Arzner’s mise en scène portrays its characters with a humanist understanding, an ambiguity that leads emotion, inevitably, to bloom. At one point, when Sarah knows she has lost her son, she is asked what she is going to do next. She answers, with the brave confidence of the desperate and the bitter-sweetness of a classical cinema that knows how to surpass its limitations: “I will wait.” Time makes Sarah (and Dorothy) win back their deserved place in this vile, beautiful and foolish world.

7. Me and My Gal (1932)

Raoul Walsh, US

If Raoul Walsh’s action films are imbued with poetry, his comedies are charged with anarchy. A prime example of the latter is this pre-Code wonder in which a New York cop (Spencer Tracy) fights to bring order to the waterfront and win over a blonde waitress (Joan Bennett). It’s a madcap, riotous affair with a contempt for the rich; a proletarian air runs through its deep-focus cinematography (easily lost on the eye if not viewed on 35mm). Walsh turns vulgar jokes into unassuming art and mocks the world. It is as much about the joy of cinema as it is about the artistry of it.

8. The Dentist (1932)

Leslie Pearce, US

Editor’s note: This was the first of four 20-minute shorts that resulted from a collaboration between writer and star W.C. Fields and Paramount’s legendary comedy producer Mack Sennett. A sharp-toothed tale about an irascible dentist, it clearly made an impact on documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, who included it in his 2022 ballot for the Greatest Films of All Time poll. He comments:

The Dentist is a great porno film because it leaves everything to the imagination of the viewer.

9. Scenes of City Life (1935)

Yuan Muzhi, China

The pinnacle of youthful experimentation in the Shanghai film industry of the 30s, this early talkie was the directorial debut of the great actor Yuan Muzhi, best known for Street Angel (1937). Overexcited country folk waiting for a train to Shanghai are treated to a kaleidoscopic preview of the city, framed as a virtual lexicon of cinema’s possibilities: social realism, animation, song and dance, tragicomedy, social-climbing satire, gags about sound, you name it. Yuan was clearly aware of Vertov, Eisenstein and Hollywood movies, but this is a still-scintillating original and a fabulously inventive work of left-wing art.

Chosen by Tony Rayns

10. César (1936)

Marcel Pagnol, France

César is the outlier of Marcel Pagnol’s Marseille trilogy. Taking place 20 years after the events of Marius (1931) and Fanny (1932), the film is the only one that wasn’t adapted from a stage play, and the only one that Pagnol directed himself. Among these beloved characters, nothing has apparently changed for some time. The already-briny band of dock-dwellers, led by the bar proprietor César, has somehow become even saltier, while the once-young lovers Marius and Fanny have resigned themselves to the consequences of earlier decisions. But the wind unexpectedly stirs. Pagnol opens up the confines of filmed theatre to the city outside; you can practically smell the sea air. There’s even a pair of tracking shots of portly César huffing up a steep hill, hat in hand, to fetch the priest for an ailing friend. The camera feels heavy, as though it might give way and roll back down. But like César, who never breaks his laboured stride, it is unusually determined. After all these years, the film insists, change is still possible

Chosen by Genevieve Yue

11. Aniki-Bóbó (1942)

Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal

Aniki-Bóbó, Manoel de Oliveira’s first feature, was filmed in 1941, during World War II. It can be seen as a precursor to neorealism with its non-professional casting, its focus on the inhabitants of the poor neighbourhoods of Porto and its location shooting in the riverside areas of the city. It combines several filmic influences: the constructive power of rapid editing from Soviet directors, German expressionist shadows in the night sequences and French poetic realism in its best-known scenes.

But the importance of Aniki-Bóbó goes far beyond its formal innovation: since 1932 Portugal had been ruled by António Salazar, who did not tolerate subversive content. To evade the censorship imposed by the dictatorship, de Oliveira brilliantly transposed an adult story into the world of childhood, masking its irreverent content and turning the film into a unique object.

Chosen by Regina Pessoa

12. The Halfway House (1944)

Basil Dearden, UK

A challenging film to categorise, The Halfway House is often cited as an example of British horror. It’s more accurately viewed, however, as a brilliantly original Ealing mix of ensemble social drama, spiritual and philosophical inquiry, and World War II propaganda. As a disparate group of troubled characters assemble at a Welsh inn, the film gradually reveals the location to be a supernatural space for transformation after trauma. The WWII context is crucial, but the film’s greatness is evident in its ability to continue to address an audience’s anxieties: rewatched during lockdown, the film’s evocation of suspended temporality proved particularly powerful. Itself occupying a liminal realm between realism and fantasy (one beautifully conveyed in the art direction of Dearden’s long-term creative partner Michael Relph), The Halfway House’s exploration of the value of “a pause in time” remains as resonant as ever.

Chosen by Alex Ramon

13. Desire Me (1947)

Several uncredited, US

It’s a film starring Robert Mitchum, Richard Hart and Greer Garson, of all people. It had a big budget and a troubled production. And its costs kept doubling and tripling every time its directors quit. George Cukor was one of them, as were Mervyn LeRoy, Jack Conway and Victor Saville – all good directors. And all of them were foolish enough to take their names off this thing because it’s pretty wild. It’s beautifully written – talk about mad love, I think Buñuel would’ve been happy to inscribe his name in the credits. It’s probably a kissing cousin to the Buñuel title on my top ten list, Abismos de pasión (1954), his Wuthering Heights. Desire Me is engorged with mad love, but it strangely is an American picture so it has the laid-back intensity of Robert Mitchum at its centre. It doesn’t have a Mexican telenovela, high-burning flame. It’s got this cool guy, but he’s just as mad somehow and creates interesting tensions, plus the madness of not one but four directors removing their names from the film… I don’t know, it’s something that needs to be better known. It’s just great, really great.

Chosen by Guy Maddin

14. Devil in the Flesh (1947)

Claude Autant-Lara, France

This film, based on Raymond Radiguet’s eponymous 1923 novella, scandalised post-war France with its depiction of the passionate affair between Marthe (Micheline Presle), the young wife of a World War I soldier at the front, and a 17-year-old student, François (Gérard Philipe). Symbols of the new generation, the young couple defy their parents, the church and the army. With superb cinematography and performances, the astonishing modernity of Marthe and François’s doomed liaison and Autant-Lara’s acerbic wit, Devil in the Flesh proves how wrong François Truffaut was to dismiss en bloc the ‘Tradition of Quality’ of the pre-New Wave French cinema.

15. Possessed (1947)

Curtis Bernhardt, US

Along with Mildred Pierce (1945) and Humoresque (1946), Possessed features one of Joan Crawford’s best performances. It is a story told in flashback of her character Louise’s decline into madness. The film begins with her being taken into a psychiatric hospital. These scenes were shot very early in the morning and America has never seemed bleaker or less romantic. For most of the opening sequence the camera is used subjectively, until the reveal that Louise is seriously mentally ill.

The best sequence, shortly after the halfway point, is when Louise goes to a concert with her stepdaughter. She leaves early but then imagines a confrontation with her stepdaughter wherein Louise accidentally kills her. The other great sequence is at the beginning when Crawford’s character is having an affair with Van Heflin’s David. This scene is played with light romanticism but has darker undertones. I really do think it is a marvellous performance by Crawford.

Chosen by Terence Davies

16. Olivia (1951)

Jacqueline Audry, France

In Olivia, Jacqueline Audry, a former assistant director to G.W. Pabst and Max Ophuls in the 1930s, tracks the eponymous teenager at a girls’ boarding school, where she becomes the epicentre of a web in which pedagogy, power and desire criss-cross. Olivia’s sexuality is awakened by school mistress Mlle Julie (an effortlessly dominant Edwige Feuillère). Its brilliance resides in the clunkiness of the girl’s desperation. The film, considered perverse in its day, now raises questions about abuses of power, but nevertheless operates in non-judgemental good faith and is a dynamic rendering of the educational establishment: an important site of nascent sapphic desire.

17. Wait till the Sun Shines, Nellie (1952)

Henry King, US

Henry King was a trusty contract director whose career spanned the classic Hollywood era, mostly working at Fox. His work didn’t go unrecognised, but today his name lacks the recognition of his contemporaries. Yet, no post-war Hollywood film has managed to capture the tragic complexities of American idealism quite like Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie. David Lynch cites it as the first movie he remembers watching. Without moralising, it is an indictment of the solipsistic dreams upon which families are built; a portrait of small-town existence shrouded in darkness produced by its own guiding light.

18. Carrie (1952)

William Wyler, US

There are two outstanding films made from Theodore Dreiser novels: George Stevens’s A Place in the Sun (1951) and William Wyler’s Carrie. Both, like nearly all great American films, are about class. You need to get away from the street when you climb up through society towards respectability, but when you get there, you encounter nothing but loss. At the end of the 19th century, Chicago restaurateur George Hurstwood (Laurence Olivier) has his heart ripped out and life destroyed by his passion for Carrie Meeber (Jennifer Jones), a machine worker in a shoe factory who wants to be a showgirl. One rises, the other falls. Olivier gives the greatest film performance of his life.

Chosen by David Hare

19. Love Letter (1953)

Tanaka Kinuyo, Japan

You’ve got one melodrama, make it count: the actress turned director Tanaka Kinuyo’s film, which competed at Cannes, places a woman at the forefront of post-war, ruined Tokyo (not just the place, the people). I love it, in the same way I love the Hollywood films of its time and ilk, and those of Britain – could you talk about 1945’s Brief Encounter in the same sentence? Perhaps, but Tanaka’s film is darker. It gives a terrific insight into Japan at the time and puts a woman at the centre of a lost society – with the shading that comes from a country that was a defeated power. The love letters of the title are written to the women’s lost foreign loves. Tanaka is undergoing a rediscovery, thanks in part to Mark Cousins’s excellent 2018 documentary Women Make Film, so there should be more opportunities to see this in the future – and to appreciate the director.

20. Fear (1954)

Roberto Rossellini, West Germany/Italy

If Rossellini’s ‘trilogy of solitude’ (Stromboli, 1950; Europe ’51, 1952; Journey to Italy, 1954) was characterised by a very intense relationship between the characters and the surrounding environment, in Fear the Munich landscape is instead reduced to a mere narrative frame, in favour of the emergence of a landscape that has become internal. This manifests itself in the metaphor of a guinea pig’s heartbeat graph, during a scene shot in the pharmaceutical lab, in which Rossellini ‘draws’ a mountain skyline on the paper of the electrocardiograph.

In Fear it is no longer possible to hope for any kind of comfort or disturbance or miracle that could come from reality: Irene (Ingrid Bergman), Albert (Mathias Wieman), Erich and Johanna are all truly desperately alone. Fear is perhaps the darkest and most hopeless film from the master forerunner of modernity.

21. After the Curfew (1954)

Usmar Ismail, Indonesia

During one of the most difficult periods in the history of Indonesia, Usmar Ismail established his own film company, Perfini, to produce films with a clear vision: telling stories of the youth in post-colonial Indonesia. After the Curfew (1953) is one of his most important works, in which a former freedom fighter, Iskandar (A.N. Alcaff), faces the bitter reality of Indonesia’s leadership and struggles to reintegrate into a city – Bandung – that is still under curfew. I, like many, believe that writer/director Usmar Ismail, cinematographer Max Tera and art director Chalid Arifien were among the first generation of the Indonesian ‘new wave’. This film is filled with authentic characters, effective use of mise en scène and the right dose of neorealism.

Chosen by Riri Riza

22. Windfall in Athens (1954)

Michael Cacoyannis, Greece

Windfall in Athens is often given short shrift when it comes to both Hellenic cinema and the work of Michael Cacoyannis, whose subsequent films Stella (1955), A Girl in Black (1956) and Zorba the Greek (1964) all displayed a propensity for tragedy, which was at odds with the seemingly saccharine frivolity of his 1954 debut. Centred on a stolen lottery ticket and its quarrelling claimants, Ellie Lambeti and Dimitris Horn are riotously pitted against each other as the mismatched lottery players, yet their emphatic double-act transforms what is a straightforward enough yarn into a joyfully astringent romantic comedy. It’s also a rhapsodic eulogy to a rejuvenated Athens after the horrors of Axis occupation, famine and civil war. The 1950s saw Greece soar from the ashes, only to be swatted once again with the junta the following decade. In a historical context, as a film sandwiched between national calamities, Windfall in Athens could be seen as yearning for lightness. And yet, beneath its fragrant surface, there are fissures that reveal the darkness that Cacoyannis would later come to embrace, especially with his Euripidean trilogy.

23. Madame Freedom (1956)

Han Hyungmo, South Korea

Film history is never merely a history of cinema; a film’s cultural reception can be as noteworthy as its aesthetic merits. In that sense, Han Hyungmo’s Madame Freedom is a fascinating work within the context of South Korea’s celluloid history.

The premise of a married woman who follows her desires scandalised audiences at the time of its release in 1956, so much so that it became a cultural phenomenon. Released just three years after the end of the Korean War, it has many remarkable aspects, including daring camera movement, provocative dialogue (“You need to enjoy life!”) and powerful acting. Despite its conservative ending, it is often seen as one of the first feminist works in Korean cinema.

Chosen by Eugene Kwon

24. Mayabazar (1957)

K.V. Reddy, India

Mayabazar broke many rules. Films made before it had a formulaic approach to portraying gods. But Mayabazar reinvented the wheel by making the deities relatable rather than aspirational; for example, the actors who played the deities spoke casually rather than in a bookish Sanskrit way. To the shock of traditionalists, the audience loved it.

The writers also introduced an array of new words, which ultimately became a part of the culture and everyone’s vocabulary. Although the characters are derived from the Mahabharata, the plot was an entirely fictional and social story and it was one of the first films to do this.

The film featured leading actors working with a larger-than-life scale and budget, which was a monumental breakthrough for Indian cinema at the time. Certain special effects and shots still leave modern audiences awestruck about how a film like this was made in those days.

Mayabazar’s screenplay, and how it approaches conflict among multiple characters, is simply phenomenal. The songs continue to sit on everyone’s playlists as well. Typically, it would have taken a lot of screen time to introduce the characters and establish the relationships among them, but the director, Mr K.V. Reddy, pulled it off seamlessly with just one celebration song.

I made the children in my family watch it a while ago. They laughed, smiled and sat through the entire film without blinking an eye. The fact that today’s generation are entertained by a film made nearly 70 years ago proves it is a timeless classic. Mayabazar is truly the greatest film India has ever produced.

Chosen by S.S. Rajamouli

25. Macario (1960)

Roberto Gavaldón, Mexico

Long before the animated realms of The Book of Life (2014) and Coco (2017) popularised the celebration of Day of the Dead, director Roberto Gavaldón and cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa had already examined this tradition and Mexican culture’s peculiar relationship with the afterlife. Macario (Ignacio López Tarso), a starving peasant who dreams of eating a whole turkey by himself, befriends Death, personified as just another humble man, who grants him miraculous healing powers. Years later, in a visually splendorous and narratively ingenious scene where every human life is represented by a candle inside a cave, Death teaches him about the fragility of our mortal existence. Mexico’s first Oscar-nominated film, Macario remains a landmark fable.

Chosen by Carlos Aguilar

26. Diferente (1961)

Luis María Delgado, Spain

Diferente is the kind of film that common sense would tell you can’t exist: an openly gay movie made in the midst of Franco’s dictatorship without censor interference at any stage of its production or distribution. True, Diferente isn’t blatant about its homosexual (sub)text: dancer-choreographer-writer Alfredo Alaria makes his character, Alfredo (!), divergent from social norms on many levels, which includes a kind of masculinity très apart. But Diferente is also formally a unique case in the Spanish cinema of the time: it’s a full-blown Hollywood-style musical, which puts it at odds with the various local genres of films with music; plus, it is camp avant la lettre done with a serious budget. It’s eye-popping. It’s brain-frying. It’s unique. It’s a true pioneer.

Chosen by Olaf Möller

27. Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962)

Ralph Nelson, US

Requiem for a Heavyweight is one of those films that catches you totally off-guard. It is about Mountain (Anthony Quinn), a boxer who is coming to terms with the end of his career, and his manager Maish (Jackie Gleason), who owes money to the Mob; those two things inevitably intertwine and, from the opening fight scene featuring a young Muhammad Ali, you are thrust right into the film’s world. The acting by both Quinn and Gleason is so natural and lived-in that you can’t help but succumb to your emotions. The sadness and pathos of Mountain cuts deep and the movie’s impact is long-lasting and beautiful. It’s a surprisingly modern film in so many ways and I can’t recommend it more!

Chosen by Benny Safdie

28. The Parallel Street (1962)

Ferdinand Khittl, West Germany

An unjustly forgotten masterpiece of the so-called New German Cinema. Khittl was one of the signatories of the 1962 Oberhausen Manifesto and Die Parallellstraße, his only feature, is a compelling and extraordinary odyssey, combining documentary sequences filmed across the globe with a bizarre, Kafkaesque trial. The result is a kind of existentialist essay film. As Robert Benayoun wrote in Positif in 1968: “It is films such as The Parallel Street which give contemporary cinema its intellectual dignity and bestow on it a true function. The film is a philosophical thriller, a meditative Western, which makes up for a whole year of unavoidable manifestations of idiocy.”

Chosen by Martin Brady

29. The Little Prince and the Eight-headed Dragon (1963)

Serikawa Yūgo, Japan

Not many audiences outside of Japan will be familiar with this, but it’s such an influential, beautiful epic. Sourced from ancient Shinto mythology, it tells the adventures of Susanoo, the son of creator gods. He defies his father to search for his mother, but first he must complete a series of tasks, culminating in an encounter with a horrible dragon. The distilled artistic vision of director Serikawa Yūgo is a beauty to behold. Susanoo is not just brave but is also able to cry with complete abandon for over a minute of screen time. That’s extra brave! It reminds me of an exquisite sequence in Takahata Isao’s The Tale of the Princess Kaguya as the princess runs through a moonlit forest. Takahata was also assistant director on this film.

Chosen by Nora Twomey

30. The Organiser (1963)

Mario Monicelli, Italy/France/Yugoslavia

Monicelli’s epic tragicomedy about the birth of the labour movement is the greatest treatment of his favourite subject: a group coming together for a common cause, and failing. The film’s sweeping scale is anchored by textured, tactile realism and a Dickensian relish for individual characters, especially Marcello Mastroianni’s complex, ambiguous, delightfully unheroic professor. The Organiser angered some leftists who were offended by the comic, non-idealised treatment of class struggle and collective action. But Monicelli’s comedy is intrinsic to his humanism: he sees people not ennobled by suffering, but irrepressible in their foolishness, imbued with the director’s own vitality, tenderness and pessimism.

31. Of Stars and Men (1964)

John and Faith Hubley, US

An early entry in the philosophy-of-science documentary field, Of Stars and Men ponders the universe and our place in it through the form of a kid navigating structural phenomena in the abstract. Narrated by Harlow Shapley, the astronomer and author of the book it’s based on, the film adapts his unique point of view on cosmology, our knowledge of space and time, the planets and even the periodic table. It provides some solace to believers in both science and stardust.

Chosen by Owen Kline

32. On the Road: A Document (1964)

Tsuchimoto Noriaki, Japan

This film was commissioned by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department to publicise the importance of traffic safety in the lead-up to the 1964 Olympics. In preparation for the Games, Japan constructed not only athletic facilities but an entire urban infrastructure, including massive motorways and the world’s first bullet train. Navigating a city newly criss-crossed with roads was perilous, not least for the taxi drivers upon whom Tsuchimoto focused. An act of exposure and empathy, On the Road: A Document maps the terrifying space-time compression of speeding traffic and automated signals that organised the city along axes of efficiency and control. Using oblique angles, high contrast shots and abrupt cutting, Tsuchimoto materialised the alienation and fracturing of everyday life in this age of acceleration. Interspersed with action sequences on the road are scenes of a young taxi driver returning home with low pay and high stress levels. While Tokyo announced construction and growth, Tsuchimoto chronicled car crashes and social misery. Predictably, the film angered police commissioners and was shelved.

Tsuchimoto worked with a drivers’ union while filming On the Road: A Document and shared the film as a tool for politicisation and empowerment. This act of allyship characterised his entire career.

Chosen by Becca Voelcker

33. Guide (1965)

Vijay Anand, India

Guide is a musical masterpiece by director Vijay Anand, based on a book by R.K. Narayan. It stars Dev Anand, a singular movie star with an acting style all his own, and the enigmatic Waheeda Rehman in a love story between a tourist guide and an archeologist’s wife, with both characters finding a higher purpose through each other. Guide uses the musical form not just to entertain but to explore the wilderness inside the characters, and every song is beautiful.

Chosen by Ritesh Batra

34. The Sky of Our Childhood (1966)

Tölömüsh Okeyev, Soviet Union

This is one of the masterpieces of the so-called Kyrgyz Miracle, the period of great films from the 1960s to 1980s in Kyrgyzstan. Shepherd Bakai must leave his mountain pasture because the Soviet authorities have arrived to build a road. Two key words characterise Soviet power: ‘build’ and ‘blow up’: Kyrgyzstan is collapsing as the Soviet empire is being built. The work terrifies horses and kills fish in the rivers, while the Russians defile a sacred statue by using it to boil a kettle on. Today the film looks like a protest against the colonisation of Central Asia.

35. The Tied-up Balloon (1967)

Binka Zhelyazkova, Bulgaria

This film had a run of just a few days before being banned for nearly a quarter of a century. The Bulgarian socialist government, rumour has it, was offended by a metaphor read into the figure of a donkey, which supposedly satirised the party leader. Binka Zhelyazkova was not known as an allegorical filmmaker, but The Tied-Up Balloon survives as one of the major surrealist films of the 20th century, heavy on symbolism but light on humour. The ingenuity of its script and style made history for European filmmakers at the time, not just women – thanks to not only the balloon character but the donkey.

Chosen by Savina Petkova

36. 6 et 12 (1968)

Ahmed Bouanani, Mohamed Abderrahman Tazi and Abdelmajid Rechiche, Morocco

This urban symphony has the enduring poetical, radical, experimental and musical beat of post-independence Morocco etched into every cut: a masterpiece of Moroccan cinema. Inspired by the experimental films of the 20s and 30s by Dziga Vertov, Jean Vigo, Boris Kaufman and Walter Ruttmann, Bouanani and co set out to make a cine-poem, free from state interference, to celebrate a living memory of the true faces of Casablanca, from dawn in the medina to midday in the emphatically modern metropolis. Making a film of so many disparate moments hang together is an art in itself, and the masterful interweaving of free jazz (Ornette Coleman, Archie Shepp) and contemporary hits (James Brown, Billy Joe Royal) is a joy. A meta film that grows in power with each viewing.

Chosen by Suzy Gillett

37. Macunaíma (1969)

Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, Brazil

There can be no recording of world cinema without paying attention to Brazil’s cinema novo movement. Yet no novo films – even one as renowned as Glauber Rocha’s Black God, White Devil (1964) – appear in the top 250 of the Sight and Sound Greatest Films of All Time poll. Of all the novo films, Macunaíma floats to the top for me, for everything it did to play around with form. The story of a Black miracle boy who drops in and out of Blackness and whiteness in his journey from the forests of Brazil to Rio de Janeiro, it is a comedy, a fantasy, a tragedy and a fantastic allegory about Brazilians but also people in general and their unquenchable greed. Grande Otelo, who plays the Black Macunaíma, is a legend, and this film is the perfect vehicle for his genius to play out.

38. Don’t Cry, Pretty Girls! (1970)

Márta Mészáros, Hungary

We have all at one point or another been frustrated by life and love. We have been wild and withheld, dreadfully lost and obnoxiously certain. I did not know it at the time but this film gave me the courage to think of my selves; the artist and person. Don’t Cry, Pretty Girls! sees Juli, on the eve of her wedding, embrace freedom by instead following the touring band managed by a man she’s in love with. It is an unassuming tale of rebellion in desire that’s quietly bold and unfailingly true.

Chosen by Chuko Esiri

39. Heroic Purgatory (1970)

Yoshida Yoshishige, Japan

John Ford, played so entertainingly by David Lynch in Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans (2022), opines: “When the horizon’s in the middle it’s boring as shit.” No other director has ever used the top and bottom of the frame to more exciting ends, to do what Ford labels “interesting”, than the experimental Japanese New Wave director Yoshida Yoshishige in his infinitely puzzling avant-garde classic Heroic Purgatory. The remarkable compositions, every single sequence a dazzling investigation via camera movement and use of space, showcase Yoshida’s unique style but crucially also delineate his deeply held concerns with the central storyline – the failure of political radicalism – while crafting a hymn to his wife, who was also the film’s star, Okada Mariko.

Chosen by Tony Paley

40. Quick Billy (1970)

Bruce Baillie, US

Any of Bruce Baillie’s films would be my choice. Quick Billy is part of his vast contemplative output. It is both intimate and public, large and microscopic. Each reel exists in its own realm. Muybridge’s horse resurrected, experiencing death, rebirth and death once more. I like his attempt to portray the cosmic link through transformation, which requires entering a waking dream state. The film conveys freedom, but I believe it also expresses his frustration at being so attached to images and memories. Perhaps this film is a means of exorcising or questioning the dilemma of being an image-maker.

41. Runs Good (1970)

Pat O’Neill, US

There were two major influences on my own filmmaking: Peter Kubelka, who taught me the value of the individual film frame; and Pat O’Neill, who showed me the inexhaustible possibilities of superimposition. I first encountered Pat’s 16mm films in the early 1980s, during my student years in Berlin. Among these, Runs Good was (and still is) my favourite. It’s a wild mixture of all kinds of moving superimposed images – mainly found footage and abstract colourful patterns – merging in a unique melting pot that demonstrates the uniqueness of the Art of Cinema. It’s impossible to translate into any other medium of human expression!

42. Bang Bang (1971)

Andrea Tonacci, Brazil

This film is a cornerstone of Brazilian cinema marginal and, in the director’s own words, a “Maoist detective story”. I didn’t know either of these pieces of context when I watched it as part of an evening paying tribute to the director, who had recently died. It was a lucky, unplanned viewing of a film whose unpredictable rhythms seemed weirdly familiar and intuitive; at one point, I thought, “The only way this movie could improve is if the car to which this camera is strapped would start moving” – and it did! Nearly impossible – by design – to synopsise, it’s the prototypical old film that’s fresher than any new one, and served as an energising reminder for me of how much we all still have to discover.

Chosen by Vadim Rizov

43. Absences Répétées (1972)

Guy Gilles, France

Guy Gilles seems one of the least known filmmakers in all cinema history, yet he is one of the greatest. Was it because of his nonconformist sexuality, which clashed with his straight French New Wave compagnons de route? He is a much better filmmaker than Truffaut, Rohmer, Rivette or Chabrol, but remains unjustly forgotten. Gilles died in 1996 of complications from Aids; he was only 57 years old.

Absences répétées is perhaps his masterpiece. A film where editing meets musicality, where music meets silence, where emotion meets death. Dark clear beauty. And I remain speechless, in tears, the words of Jeanne Moreau’s title song echoing forever in my head: Plages désertes / Membres inertes / Dégoût de vivre / Paupières mouillées / J’écoute ton cœur effrayé… (“Deserted beaches / Inert limbs / Disgust of living / Wet eyelids / I listen to your frightened heart…”).

44. Stone Wedding (1972)

Mircea Veroiu and Dan Pita, Romania

Stone Wedding comprises two medium-length films based on the writings of Ion Agârbiceanu (1882-1963) and takes place in the western Carpathian Mountains at the turn of the last century. The two films complement one another through the incandescent black-and-white photography of Iosif Demian and a belief in the singular power of the image, with a minimalist narrative almost entirely conceived without words. Both films reveal a strong sense of the tragic with a tone closer to that of the folk ballad. The music, piercingly sung by Dorin Liviu Zaharia accompanied by an unearthly women’s chorus, comments on the drama to an almost mythologically predestined level of when, how and who will die. This is now a canonical Romanian film, having  screened in Critics’ Week in Cannes in 1972 and later being acquired by MoMA.

Chosen by The Quay Brothers [Stephen Quay and Timothy Quay]

45. Imagens (1972)

Luiz Rosemberg Filho, Brazil

Among the films made in opposition to Brazil’s dictatorship (1964-85), Imagens, though silent, screams loudest. Through a series of abstract gestures and acts of violence against the body, punctuated by experimental Eisensteinian montage, it confronts the regime’s brutality and the silence imposed on anyone who spoke out against it. After completing Imagens, Rosemberg Filho, whose films had already been subject to censorship, returned to exile in Paris with a 16mm print hidden in his case. It was thought lost until José Quental and Hernani Heffner of the Cinemateca do MAM tracked it down at the French archive Collectif Jeune Cinéma in 2014.

46. Little White Dove (1973)

Raúl Ruiz, Chile

One month before Little White Dove was supposed to premiere, the Chilean coup d’état forced Ruiz into exile. Believed lost, the film was discovered and released after almost 20 years in hibernation. It is based on a right-wing novel, a sort of Romeo and Juliet story about a poor teenage girl falling in love with an upper-class rich boy. Ruiz deconstructs the novel, setting it in the aftermath of Salvador Allende’s rise and leaving as a backdrop diverse political positions observed with his characteristic irony and what Ruiz’s disciple Cristián Sánchez termed his “diagonal” thinking. One of Ruiz’s first works, it demonstrates his permanent experimentation with language and his passion for formal audacity, detours and digressions.

47. The Principal Enemy (1974)

Jorge Sanjinés, Bolivia

Shot in Peru during Jorge Sanjinés’ exile from military dictatorship in Bolivia, The Principal Enemy is the finest example of Latin American revolutionary cinema. In this fictional depiction of true events, an Indigenous farming community joins a guerrilla group to fight the oppressors after one of the farmers is murdered by his landlord. For Sanjinés, revolutionary cinema could only exist as a collective experience. Hence, he collaborated with the community in all stages of the creative process, and developed a methodological and aesthetic approach that would later be recognised as ‘guerrilla filmmaking’. Fifty years later, the film still stands tall as the highest expression of cinema as a participatory experience, rather than a passive one.

48. Ankur (1974)

Shyam Benegal, India

Ad man turned filmmaker Shyam Benegal’s first feature brought about a fundamental shift in Hindi cinema: it injected a strong sense of the political into what used to be referred to as films on ‘social subjects’. Oppression by the landed upper castes and the ‘hero’ who challenged their hegemony was a recurring theme in Benegal’s early work (he made the equally powerful Nishant the following year), but Ankur (‘The Seedling’) created a new kind of cinema in which trained actors from the Film and Television Institute of India, hungry for good work, found the right directors.

Chosen by Shubhra Gupta

49. Behindert (1974)

Stephen Dwoskin, Germany

Among the great filmmakers, Stephen Dwoskin (1939-2012) is surely one of the most criminally overlooked. His work always confounded easy categorisation: abstract but never entirely without narrative; highly personal but also deeply political; rigorously formal but also piercingly emotional. Dwoskin generally resented being reduced to the tag of ‘disabled filmmaker’, but in the achingly intimate Behindert (‘handicapped’) – a re-enacted chronicle of his relationship with actor Carola Regnier – he unflinchingly stages the wear-and-tear brought about by the physical and psychological challenges of his situation. A masterpiece.

Chosen by Adrian Martin

50. Filmemigration aus Nazideutschland (1975)

Günter Peter Straschek, West Germany

The Austrian-born anti-fascist Günter Peter Straschek (1942-2009), having been expelled alongside other politically engaged students from the DFFB [German Film and Television Academy, Berlin] in 1968, embarked on a massive research project about the huge wave of film business emigrés forced to flee the Nazis towards an uncertain exile. His five-hour documentary Filmemigration aus Nazideutschland (broadcast in five parts on German TV in 1975) remains unsurpassed, the key filmic work on the subject, made with uncommon intelligence, insight and intransigence. Its rare interviews with survivors are an invaluable trove, but there is a deeper commitment – in the end, Fritz Lang is allowed to sum up the ‘tragedy of emigration’ by quoting Börries von Münchhausen: “And when he finally returns / He’s a stranger at home.

51. Mouth to Mouth (1975)

Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, US/South Korea

Mouth to Mouth swallowed me whole. But watching it also felt like breathing it in. Korean-American artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s eight-minute video is a visual poem on the mother tongue and displacement. After a patient pan across written English and Korean, video static fills the screen. A mouth appears to enunciate but no words can be heard; instead, streams of running water and brushes of wind fill the soundscape. The noisy screen surface inhales the mouth; erotic and abject co-exist from moment to moment. With simple ingredients, Cha sinks into a well of emotions: home might be far away, but always with us.

Chosen by Julian Ross

52. Gerdy, the Wicked Witch (1976)

Ljubomir Šimunić, Serbia

Best known in his native Belgrade as a maverick photographer of erotic subjects, Ljubomir Šimunić also hand-crafted a few spectacular Super 8 shorts in the 1970s. His method was arduous, shooting intermittently over several years and editing in-camera, randomly rewinding to forge unplanned multiple exposures. Gerdy, the Wicked Witch mainly samples TV broadcasts (including the feature films Mahler, 1974, and Fantastic Voyage, 1966, and a Tina Turner variety special), its nine and a half minutes scored by two tracks by Aphrodite’s Child, the prog band led by Vangelis – the first haunting, the second rocking. Seldom screened, this work of savagely uncompromising virtuosity is reportedly under restoration following Šimunić’s death, aged 79, in 2021.

Chosen by Neil Young

53. My Survival as an Aboriginal (1978)

Essie Coffey, Australia

Essie Coffey’s film is often hailed as the first documentary directed by an Aboriginal woman – a distinction that says less about her than about Australia. But if My Survival as an Aboriginal had been made yesterday, it would still feel groundbreaking. Coffey begins by boldly reciting the history of her tribe, the Muruwari, and the colonial assaults it has suffered; then she passes on to kids in her community crucial knowledge of how to live off the bush; at the end, she declares, “I will not live a white-man way – and that’s straight from me, Essie Coffey.” In under an hour, she demonstrates every iteration of political cinema: as a corrective to the past, as an archive for the future and as a defiant planting of the flag in the present.

Chosen by Devika Girish

54. Daughter Rite (1978)

Michelle Citron, US

Daughter Rite never lies to you. Michelle Citron stitches together rephotographed home movies, with performances from two adult women, and lets the viewer interpret as they will. The film recreates our own experiences with memory and perception, distorted by trauma from a patriarchal society, forcing us to question what we have seen both in our viewing experience and more broadly. Its use of a feminist lens to challenge our assumptions about capitalist narratives of motherhood and family – and about media in general – makes the film even more vital today, as the same lies from four decades ago continue to dominate society.

55. The Kingdom of Naples (1978)

Werner Schroeter, Italy/West Germany

A unique blend of essay film and fiction, with one of the most innovative approaches to chronicling history I have seen. All of Schroeter’s films are great art, but this one stands out for its blend of his main artistic tendencies: a passion for the arts (opera, classical music, cinema, theatre); a queer sensibility that captures the dignity of human desire; a keen understanding of women’s historical suffering; and a subtle understanding of world politics and history. The Kingdom of Naples weaves all this together masterfully to make one of the most complex, illuminating and beautiful films about a city and its history.

Chosen by Roy Grundmann

56. The Terror and the Time (1978)

The Victor Jara Collective, Guyana

In 1953, the colony of British Guiana elected its first, progressive, internal government. Back in Britain, the government of Winston Churchill, convinced (with no proof) that this administration had Soviet ties, suspended the colony’s constitution, jailed its leaders and staged a military invasion. Made by a collective of first-time filmmakers out of Cornell University, The Terror and the Time is a documentary about the events of 1953, a spellbinding mosaic of archival material, testimony and imaginative sequences set to the verse of Martin Carter, independent Guyana’s great poet. It’s consistent with the classic ‘liberation films’ of Third Cinema and deserves to be equally well known.

Chosen by Jonathan Ali

57. Shepherds of Tusheti (1978)

Soso Chkhaidze, Georgia

It’s impossible to find a film that resembles Shepherds of Tusheti; it is cinema as pure as one could dream of. The film has a clear story but if you were to attempt to retell it, it would say nothing about the film; it has a clear cinematic language but if you were to describe it you would fail. The film is 240 minutes long and every second is simultaneously highly realistic and dreamlike. Just like astrophysics, it’s an attempt to look at the biggest things through the smallest ones, and vice versa.

58. Family Nest (1979)

Béla Tarr, Hungary

The film starts off with some perfunctory exterior shots (in that behind-the-Iron-Curtain black-and-white that we so adore), then we follow someone inside – and you are suddenly confronted by a family so real that their lives are happening not on the screen but in the theatre itself, 3D without the glasses. The bullying father, so real and familiar… All you sense is a desperate urge to escape this family and their funky apartment and the kitchen table you feel you were born on. Béla’s handheld cameras push closer and closer… you ​​feel like one more victim of the mad father and his director driving him further into your head and everyone else’s.

I never wanted to get out of anywhere as badly as this house. Narrative, documentary, experiential – these words are meaningless to describe this movie that I will never forget. It’s the nuclear family as the ultimate weapon of mass destruction; the origination and obliteration of all life and drama.

Chosen by Abel Ferrara

59. Raining in the Mountain (1979)

King Hu, Hong Kong

Monks, thieves and visiting dignitaries compete for possession of a priceless Buddhist scroll secreted in a mountain temple – that is one way to encapsulate King Hu’s masterpiece. But the real calligraphic scroll is the film itself, a fabric of feints, flights, encirclements and concealments extending through the temple’s seemingly infinite interior spaces and into the gorges, mists and forests beyond. From the thieves’ balletic forays to the constant and stunning shifts of scale that expose the pettiness of human intrigues, Raining in the Mountain sustains a mood of exhilarated surprise, flavoured by comic observation and imbued throughout with an overwhelming yet formal grace.

60. The Loveless (1981)

Kathryn Bigelow and Monty Montgomery, US

Impressively camp and homoerotic, this biker movie shot in 1981, set in a generic 1950s Americana landscape, is saturated with libido, candid charm and formal invention. Kathryn Bigelow’s own Scorpio Rising is Willem Dafoe’s debut, and their mutual emergence in cinema is a milestone. Does the emotion come from the unforgettable motel scene between him and a young-looking Marin Kanter, or from a female filmmaker’s need to gutsily embrace a phallic arena for her first film?

61. Blind Spot (1981)

Claudia von Alemann, Germany

Why has Claudia von Alemann’s Blind Spot fallen through the cracks of film history? It is sadly ironic that this melancholic and inventive film about a historian’s pursuit of a forgotten woman – the socialist-feminist writer and activist Flora Tristan (1803‑44) – has itself remained tragically underappreciated. Von Alemann’s first feature is a languorous work of urban wandering, showing occasional shades of Duras and Akerman while remaining entirely sui generis. Her search for a feminist approach to the feminist past foregrounds the place of subjectivity and creativity in the writing of history, and suggests that it is high time to play by different rules and to remember in new ways.

Chosen by Erika Balsom

62. Crystal Gazing (1982)

Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen, UK

An astutely observed snapshot of London intelligentsia in the 1980s, Mulvey and Wollen’s feature feels at odds with much of British cinema through its adoption of the ideals of the radical political cinema made in the wake of the late 1960s. This mixture of experimental techniques and politically informed formal approaches creates a feel of post-nouvelle vague Godard, resulting in a unique object, one that is closely attuned to the changing face of the city, but which avoids many of the styles commonly adopted by British filmmakers. It also contains possibly the greatest sequence of a PhD examination in cinema history!

63. The Wind (1982)

Souleymane Cissé, Mali

An encounter between a descendant of a traditional chief and the daughter of a representative of the new elite turns the power dynamics of a village in Mali upside down. Bah and Batrou want to change the world, change their world and, a little bit, perhaps ours, too. Through Souleymane Cissé’s sensitive portrayals, the youth call for resistance: to undo the established order through the story of the film, to also rethink the world, the structures put in place by a majority, and do it in a sumptuous way.

Chosen by Miryam Charles

64. Hajji Washington (1982)

Ali Hatami, Iran

Loosely based on the mission of the first Iranian ambassador to the US, Hajji Washington is partly a satire about the inept and hopeless Hajji being overwhelmed by his encounter with “Americs” and partly a surreal journey showing his slow degradation in solitude and melancholy. What makes this all more particular is the experience of seeing the Western world through the lens of the Iranian psyche of the 19th century. Apart from its astounding formal qualities, the movie is really about nostalgia; about the longing for a home that ceases to exist once you leave it.

Chosen by Ali Abbasi

65. Diary (1983)

David Perlov, Israel

By being absorbed by an unsought thirst for truth and guided by an irrepressible need to find his place in the world; by seeking to strike the right balance between reality and fiction in an attempt to piece together the fragments of memory that shape his disquietude; by acknowledging himself to be overwhelmed by the violence of history and choosing to mirror his hectic flow of thoughts; by letting himself be enchanted by the ineffability of existence and the imperceptible fragility of the ordinary,

Perlov succeeds in wrenching himself from the eternally benighted epicentre of all the vanities of the artist and presents himself to us, his “hypocritish readers”, as a man – generous, inquisitive, compassionate and serene – in harmony with himself, the world and his own act of confession. This, to me, is the very condition and ‘roadmap’ of the filmmaker. And this is why I consider Diary the overlooked manifesto of the film d’auteur.

Chosen by Cristi Puiu

66. The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

Lau Kar-Leung, Hong Kong

The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter arrived in the last gasps of the cycle of golden age kung fu movies made at Shaw Brothers Studio. While its director Lau Kar-leung still had another two decades of gas in the tank as one of Hong Kong action cinema’s most inventive choreographers, actors and filmmakers, this mid-career masterpiece is steeped in the kind of spiritual exhaustion that would befit a late-period reckoning with a genre he was instrumental in creating. Lau’s apprenticeship under the great Chang Cheh was never more evident than in the nihilism on display here, which Lau finally transcends in the film’s immortal closing moments. Little wonder it’s been described as kung fu’s answer to The Searchers (1956).

Chosen by Matthew Thrift

67. Leila and the Wolves (1984)

Heiny Srour, Lebanon

This remarkable and unclassifiable film follows the eponymous Leila (Nabila Zeitouni), a Lebanese woman living in modern-day London who, in a series of subtle editorial slippages, time-travels through the 20th century into the 1980s, with each visit focusing on the crucial yet overlooked role of women in Lebanese and Palestinian resistance movements. Truly sui generis and genuinely radical, Leila and the Wolves is a formal feast, blending archival material with hard-hitting re-enactments and imaginative fantasy sequences. I’ve never seen anything like it, and its director Heiny Srour (who also made the brilliant 1974 documentary The Hour of Liberation Has Arrived) should be far better known.

Chosen by Ashley Clark

68. Topos (1985)

Antoinetta Angelidi, Greece

The experimental sensibility of Antoinetta Angelidi’s cinematic language has meant her oeuvre has largely been relegated to the margins of Greek cinematic history. Her 1985 film Topos (‘place’ in Greek) contemplates the depiction – as well as the omission – of women within the Western canon of art, weaving female heterotopias into animated tableaux vivants to expand the boundaries of cinematic representation. Angelidi’s feminism is brought to the fore through her use of spatiality; her merging of the architectural with the uncanny results in a cinematic language that’s complex, experiential and unbeholden to narrative. The whole project subverts not only the androcentric authorship of art history, but the very foundations of perspective altogether.

Chosen by Marina Ashioti

69. Bintang Kejora (1986)

Chaerul Umam, Indonesia

Bintang Kejora is a peddler of all kinds of ointments and remedies. In a modern cosmopolis like Jakarta, he might be regarded as a charlatan of sorts. Our story begins when he arrives in a small village that has not felt rainfall in years. Rusdi, a local widower with three children, has suffered greatly from the drought, which has diminished his family’s dreams and stood in the way of their future. So, with all his savings, Rusdi decides to commission Bintang Kejora to Make It Rain. Bintang Kejora accepts the challenge. But he has two conditions: he needs to see a cow walk backwards to the beat of a drum, and a beautiful flower blossom out of a patch of dry earth inside Rusdi’s family home. Clearly these are no small feats, and the family’s efforts take them through some major changes in their daily lives.

Bintang Kejora first screened in 1986, when President Suharto had been reigning uninterrupted in Indonesia for 18 years. Cinema was regulated by the Department of Information, and the government relied on this system to promote compliance and conformity, which they needed to stay in power. Even under these stringent conditions, filmmakers tried to make their voices heard, albeit subtly. I feel that films like Bintang Kejora existed for this countercultural purpose: to voice protest and dissent. Chaerul Umam used comedy as the perfect vehicle to depict a shackled society. This is one of the times I am thankful for the dull-bladed scissors (and minds?) of the state censorship board when it evaluates films with more ‘artistic’ cinematic nuances.

Bintang Kejora is never loud or even verbal about its opposition to the Suharto regime. But for an audience that was living in a similar drought of humanity under the dictatorship, Rusdi’s frustrated intentions to order rainfall and Bintang Kejora’s irrational promise that he can deliver it can be seen as a reflection of a desperate yearning for opposition and resistance.

Rain eventually did fall in the drought-stricken village. Not because the cow could walk backwards, nor because of the flower that could blossom without a single drop of water or a ray of sunshine, and most certainly not because of the shamanic prowess of Bintang Kejora. The sky truly began to pour when the people of the village arose and put real effort into their love, hope and dreams, instead of just waiting in despair for the raindrops to fall.

Chosen by Edwin

70. Ngati (1987)

Barry Barclay, New Zealand

A hugely important intervention in the history of New Zealand filmmaking – the first fiction film solely directed by an Indigenous filmmaker. Ngati depicts a rural Māori community in 1940s New Zealand as it asserts its right to self-determination. What makes the film innovative is the ways in which it embraced its storyline in its own making: Barclay and the producers made the shoot a communal activity, seeing the production as a process of giving back to the community the stories it offered. The first screening was in the small North Island coastal location in which it was made (Barclay believed that filmmakers should show their films for free to the people who inspired them). Such aesthetics and processes are increasingly common now, but Ngati set the precedent.

Chosen by Stuart Murray

71. Blind Chance (1987)

Krzysztof Kieślowski, Poland

Overshadowed by Dekalog (1989) and The Double Life of Véronique (1991), Blind Chance is Kieślowski’s true masterpiece. It shows three different outcomes of young Witek running for a train: he catches it and becomes a Communist official; he misses it and becomes a dissident; there is no train and he settles down to the apolitical life of a doctor. The idea of mere chance determining the outcome of a man’s life was unacceptable to both Communists and their opposition. The point, however, is not simply how our life depends on pure chance: in all three universes, Witek basically remains the same decent and considerate person who tries not to hurt others.

Chosen by Slavoj Žižek

72. Dreaming Rivers (1988)

Martina Attille, UK

How much can be told from the way light bathes a body? The actress Corinne Skinner-Carter expresses a legacy of migration, hardship and sacrifice through subtle combinations of stillness and movement in this marvel by Martina Attille of the historic Sankofa Film & Video collective. Here the evocation of a British-Caribbean woman’s anguished inner life singularly marks the alienation of removal and the politics of signification. For its importance in the lineage of Black experimental film, Carter’s command of her striking contours and an ineffable quality of spiritual grace, Dreaming Rivers deserves a place in the canon so long as canons prosper.

Chosen by Inney Prakash

73. Mapantsula (1988)

Oliver Schmitz, South Africa

Mapantsula explores the chaotic life of Panic, a small-time Johannesburg crook pulled between life as an informant for the police and a growing admiration for the activists he met in prison. It was the first anti-apartheid film with a Black protagonist at its heart and devoid of white liberal ‘bridge’ characters. White director Oliver Schmitz and the brilliant Black writer/lead actor Thomas Mogotlane jointly developed it – Schmitz started his life in documentary and the cinematography has a vérité feel. Only Come Back, Africa (Lionel Rogosin, 1959) comes close in its depiction of South African apartheid.

Chosen by Sean Jacobs

74. Measures of Distance (1988)

Mona Hatoum, UK/Lebanon

This short video work quietly reveals itself to be a deeply intimate autobiographical reflection on exile, in particular on the generational and geographical distances that can only induce a constant kaleidoscope of emotions and recurring feelings of displacement. I love the epistolary premise of the film: letters written in Arabic by Hatoum’s mother in Beirut appear as text over photographs she took with her mother and are at the same time read aloud in English by Hatoum, a spoken ‘translation’ that situates the film so distinctly in the 80s – a time of ‘assimilation politics’. With distinctive grain and voice, it is subtle in its big questions, deceptive in its simplicity.

75. Surname Viet Given Name Nam (1989)

Trinh T. Minh-ha, Vietnam

This is an intricate and beautiful work which synthesises so many exciting and daring approaches to the filmmaking process – nonfiction, ethnographic and otherwise. The use of text, translation and archival images is full of purpose and integrity, as the multitude of voices and the way they’re represented on screen move from measured recitation to emphatic interplay and conversation. The measured introduction of certain formal strategies underscores the shifts and turns towards autobiography, leaving us to question the nature of story, fiction and memory. I wouldn’t call it cacophonous, but rather polyphonic – like a motet, or a revelation

Chosen by Sky Hopinka

76. Without You I’m Nothing (1990)

John Boskovich, US

The single greatest performance film of all time. Nothing is funnier, stranger, wilder or more charming than what Sandra Bernhard created here with Dada artist/filmmaker John Boskovich. In 1990, Roger Ebert described it as set in “lounge act hell” – the most epic compliment that man could conjure from the no-fun director’s chair he liked to fart in. This fresh hell finds Sandra in nonstop revolving-door glamour, dipping alter ego deep into raw aggression, and mishmashing bitter stand-up with raunchy divatude, heartfelt confessional and a mic-drop sex appeal that defines the word legendary. The final number – a homage to Prince that is worthy of kings – is one of the most iconic endings of any film, ever.

Chosen by Amanda Kramer

77. Two Sisters (1991)

Caroline Leaf, Canada

This tour de force is scratched directly on to 70mm film, frame by frame, which gives the animation a palpable vibrancy and luminosity. The film explores the relationship between two co-dependent sisters through domestic vignettes of their daily routine: making coffee, brushing hair, often with no backgrounds so your imagination has to work harder and pulls you further into their dark, closed-off world. When an unexpected male visitor suddenly opens the normally locked door, the sun pours into their dark solitude and almost hurts your eyes. You can physically feel the distress and disruption this causes. A masterpiece.

Chosen by Joanna Quinn

78. Samba Traoré (1992)

Idrissa Ouédraogo, Burkina Faso

Idrissa Ouédraogo, one of the greatest directors of the modern era, has created a body of work that’s impressive, even sublime, in its humanistic, dry compassionate approach to the ‘human condition’. In Samba Traoré, a man-on-the-run tale, we are welcomed into a village that’s full of affection, guilt and love, with the director’s unflinching, poetic style.
Who are we to judge where Samba’s money comes from? And what is the price of the ‘liberal wealth’ that brings modernity where it hasn’t yet encroached?

Scintillating, with towering performances and with a great musical scene in it, Samba Traoré is truly one of my favourite films.

79. Siméon (1992)

Euzhan Palcy, Martinique

Siméon is a hard film to classify. It’s a musical, a comedy, a romance and a ghost story. It’s a family film to some extent, although few kid-friendly movies would dare to have child leads who quote Rimbaud or an early scene in which the lovable hero falls to his death while drunkenly trying to reach the moon, likening it to the perfect breast… This is a film that wants every viewer to have a good time from the outset and leave the cinema on a high. The opening credits show a thrilling drum battle between two boys. Palcy’s gift for crowd scenes is at the fore throughout… [her] camera plunges into the thrill of the spectacle, and the audience is invited in like a beloved relative.

Chosen by Alex Davidson

80. Bad Boy Bubby (1993)

Rolf de Heer, Australia

If you can get past the incest and violence in the first 45 minutes of this film, it is an achingly powerful story about love and it urges the audience to never give up on anyone. Ever. Healing, salvation, connection, belief and intimacy can all be attained even if you are damaged and have experienced trauma. Love can still blossom as long as you remain open to experiencing the world. And Bubby’s great triumph is just that – he remains open even after everything he has been through. This film taught me that you can take an audience to the very edge of what they can handle as long as you know precisely what it is you want to say.

Chosen by Henry Blake

81. BeDevil (1993)

Tracey Moffatt, Australia

The first feature film directed by an Australian Aboriginal woman, this anthology of ghost stories is modelled partly on Kobayashi Masaki’s 1965 film Kwaidan. From the tale of an American GI who drowned in a swamp during World War II to a haunted railroad somewhere in the Outback, these are weird, eerie tales tied to place and the land. Formally inventive in its layering of history and incorporating the use of vivid theatrical studio sets that recurred in Moffatt’s wider artistic practice, it has a unique atmosphere that only serves to emphasise its focus on female and other marginalised voices.

Chosen by Ben Nicholson

82. I Was a Teenage Serial Killer (1993)

Sarah Jacobson, US

Broadly remembered as a 1990s music phenomenon, riot grrrl – like punk – is an ideology-driven sensibility that manifests across the arts. Kathleen Hanna from the band Bikini Kill encapsulated its ethos with her “girls to the front” mantra, demanding literal and symbolic safe spaces for young women. This is at the heart of Sarah Jacobson’s groundbreaking no-budget underground masterpiece I Was a Teenage Serial Killer, shot in 16mm and with a blistering score by riot grrrl band Heaven to Betsy (an early project of Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker). It stars Kristin Calabrese as Mary, who is on a downward spiral and determined to take those who pushed her over the line down with her; fed up with male harassment and abuse, Mary turns to murder as a necessary corrective. Raw, fierce and unflinching, I Was a Teenage Serial Killer is a gut-punch feminist manifesto whose urgency refuses to wane.

83. Human Being (1994)

Ibrahim Shaddad, Sudan

Master Sudanese filmmaker Ibrahim Shaddad’s 27-minute short Human Being is a work that is sui generis. The experimental narrative film ostensibly follows a man who leaves his wife and village to find prosperity in the big city. The filmmaker and actor El Rashid Ahmed Issa Umayma communicates the action, the protagonist’s interior world and the cruelty of circumstance without the use of dialogue. It is remarkable to consider that Human Being was made in the shadow of Sudan’s Islamist government by a filmmaker whose previous works were banned and who was harassed into exile. Yet it exists in its defiance and as a testament to the liberatory power of a truly free, poetic cinema without reference to the Western, commercial cinema-machine.

84. Cold Water (1994)

Olivier Assayas, France

What The Catcher in the Rye is to literature, Cold Water is to cinema. At once romantic and raw, Olivier Assayas’s ode to the anguish, the passion, the purity of adolescence renders the intensity and confusion of those years with reverent empathy. Doubling as an elegy to the ’68 revolution, the film takes place in the early 1970s, but the first time I watched it, only a little older than the characters, I didn’t register the period setting; I saw myself, my own teenage experience projected on to the screen. If the most noble objective in cinema is truth, Assayas attains it here.

85. An Unforgettable Summer (1994)

Lucian Pintilie, Romania/France

The film appeared during the nationalist wars that took place in the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia. This is not a coincidence: Pintilie wanted to show how nationalism leads, in his own words, to “the massacre of the innocents”, and how in our region nationalist violence has deep roots. By telling a story about how the Romanian army killed Bulgarian civilians in the 1920s, Pintilie made the first film in which the interwar period is not seen as the golden age many people considered it to be after the fall of communism. The film has a beautiful classical mise en scène, it looks like a mix of a John Ford western and a Miklós Jancsó film and it offered Kristin Scott Thomas her best part ever.

Chosen by Radu Jude

86. Revolver (1994)

Stig Bergqvist, Martti Ekstrand, Jonas Odell and Lars Ohlson, Sweden

Beetles crawl over a throbbing heart; a clownish fisherman hauls wailing babies from the sea; robotic simians twitch in an underwater chamber. These and other absurdist vignettes play in a sequence that may depict a dream, or the garbled thoughts of a dying man. Clocks and hourglasses appear throughout, but this animated short unsettles our sense of linear time by presenting each scene as a loop – a technique particular to its medium. Revolver was prescient: animated loops now thrive online, an environment to which their pithiness is suited. More importantly, with its diabolical repetitions, the film generates a claustrophobic horror that is utterly its own.

87. Marks (1995)

Sai Yōichi, Japan

I attended a screening of this film at the National Film Theatre in London over 25 years ago and have never forgotten it. Based on a novel by Takamura Kaoru (she of Lady Joker fame), what begins as a police procedural concerning the possibly linked murders of a mobster and a Ministry of Justice official soon opens out into an existential, decades-spanning tale of blackmail and revenge. One wonders how many other great Japanese films continue to languish in obscurity – cf, Uchida’s Straits of Hunger (aka A Fugitive from the Past, 1965), or Nomura’s The Demon, 1978 – while the same old dusty titles continue to be trotted out, ad infinitum.

88. Bread Day (1998)

Sergei Dvortsevoy, Russia

The Kazakh-born filmmaker of Russian descent, Sergei Dvortsevoy, burst on to the film festival circuit in the 1990s with a series of meticulously observed, perfectly formed ethnographies. Bread Day is the most expansive and communal of the four – in length (clocking in at a broadcast hour), subject matter (the social net of an entire rural village, including its animals), and cinematic surprise (an unflinching, handheld 10-minute-long shot following elderly men and women pushing a train car by hand – to where? For what? – opens the film). Even more significantly, Bread Day presages two major movements affecting documentary film: the rise of slow cinema and the debate du jour on filmmaker-subject ethics. After observing that his fortunes as a filmmaker increased with the misery of his subjects, Dvortsevoy swore off documentary filmmaking forever, switching to realist fiction dramas.

Chosen by Abby Sun

89. There Are Many Things One Can Talk About… (1997)

Omar Amiralay, Syria

Omar Amiralay is one of the masters of documentary. I was 19 when I watched this, and couldn’t believe such a powerful film had come from my own country and that I could finally see my city on film with a strong message against the regime. As with most of Omar’s films, this was banned in Syria. We watched it covertly as theatre students and afterwards, we decided not to go other classes, as nothing would be as powerful as watching Saadallah Wannous (a revered Syrian playwright) suffering from cancer, while talking about the Palestinian cause, and a dying city suffering from a cancerous regime.

Chosen by Soudade Kaadan

90. Chekhov’s Motifs (2002)

Kira Muratova, Russia/Ukraine

In her late sixties, discrepant Ukrainian filmmaker Kira Muratova made this, her 16th film, and it’s a(nother) masterpiece. In the first half, a family squabbles around a table. One of their grown children constantly asks for more money for college. Part two is a long wedding scene, as beautifully filmed as von Sternberg’s black-and-white movies. But the groom’s dead ex-girlfriend is there, and it’s Fellini-Buñuel absurd. Muratova did bravura like Orson Welles did. The cacophony spirals upwards, dialogue overlaps, and you almost feel queasy. She was always provocative. Her best films, like this one, make you want to fall in love and run away.

Chosen by Mark Cousins

91. Qabyo 2 (2003)

Ibrahim Abdulkadir Ibrahim and Abdulrahman Issa Kahin, Somalia/USA

Qabyo 2 is the quintessential example of the sequel being better than the original. Written and directed by, and starring, a legendary cast of multi-hyphenated Somali artists, this cult classic combined unconventional filmmaking techniques, kinetic editing and a fascinating interpretation of mise en scène that’s since become an easily digestible visual grammar for its intended audience. This bombastic socio-comic musical about diaspora and assimilation in America ushered in a new era of national cinema that followed the Somali cinematic tradition’s steadfast belief in the ‘by us, for us’ philosophy.

Chosen by Ruun Nuur

92. Czech Dream (2004)

Vít Klusák and Filip Remunda, Czech Republic

In the early 1990s, Mikhail Gorbachev decided to end the Cold War, dissolve the Soviet Union and free the peoples of Eastern Europe from the yoke of communism and dictatorial rule, which would no longer be enforced from Moscow.

Suddenly, people were free! A new hope arose that perhaps countries like Poland and Hungary and Czechoslovakia could be more like America and Britain and West Germany – and that capitalism was the path forward to even more freedom. The freedom to make profits. The freedom to buy stuff, to own lots of shiny things, to become not just citizens but – even better – consumers.

Yet, a decade or so after the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, few working people there were getting rich, most homes did not have a two-car garage or a backyard in-ground swimming pool. The services that they used to enjoy in the former socialist economy – free health care, free child care and free education – were either disappearing or being ‘repurposed’ into for-profit endeavours. Where was the American Dream they were promised?

In 2003, two young Czech film students, Filip Remunda and Vít Klusák, decided to make a satirical documentary about the Czech people’s insatiable desire to have what the West has, to have the money the French make and to live like the Americans they see on TV. So what if we are free to vote – I want to be free to drive a Cadillac and go on an ocean cruise!

The filmmakers, pretending to be pro-capitalist businessmen, announce the upcoming grand opening of the Czech Republic’s first Walmart-style superstore – a ‘hyperstore’ that will have everything you have ever dreamed of owning. They hold press conferences. They saturate Prague with TV ads, billboards and a growing excitement. The government gives them a grant. ‘Construction’ starts in a guarded field just outside the city. On opening day, thousands of Czech citizens/consumers rush to the store, called Czech Dream, in a stampede. The filmmakers are there with their big surprise. They want to show their fellow Czechs what the arrival of free enterprise has done to their souls.

Czech Dream is not only a stinging look at the transition from communism to capitalism – it is one of the funniest documentaries I’ve ever seen. Which may not sound like much, considering most documentary filmmakers are loath to use humour as a means of revealing the greater truths. Best to stick to sad reportage of orphans or celebrations of rock-climbing. The genius of young Klusák and Remunda in making this movie is that, with their debut film, they fired a brutal, comic broadside at the very thing most filmmakers are afraid to avenge – the system that funds us and distributes our art for profit.

And, I suppose, in part because of this exact reason, few people have seen this brilliant movie. Which is too bad. We need more films that are dangerous; literally, in the case of Czech Dream. By the end of the film you are on the edge of your seat, fearing for the lives of these two filmmakers who have done a bad, bad thing: placing their hot poker of a camera lens into the eyes of the people they love and are trying to save from a future of credit card debt, income inequality and shopping, shopping, shopping just to score more points on the Czech Dream loyalty card, which promises you that, someday, if you buy enough things, you’ll be on that miserable ocean cruise.

Chosen by Michael Moore

93. I Am the One Who Brings Flowers to Her Grave (2006)

Hala Alabdalla and Ammar al Beik, Syria

Before I saw this film, I found the term ‘poetic’ to be abstract and elusive when used to refer to film; poetry takes many different forms, which are as nuanced as cinema itself. But Alabdalla and Al Beik certainly approach their process as a form of poetry, one which uses cinematic language as free verse. Spliced between recitations of the late Syrian poet Da’ad Haddad’s work and ruminations on their own journeys as filmmakers, Alabdalla and Al Beik interview three women exiled from their home country of Syria; women whose stories parallel their own. The result is an intimate scrapbook of memory, a film which evades any single analysis; it is reminiscent of Agnès Varda’s later, more autobiographical work. The film has rarely been screened since its initial release, despite winning the Doc/It Award at the Venice Film Festival in 2006.

Chosen by Carly Mattox

94. La Morte Rouge (2006)

Víctor Erice, Spain

Made for an exhibition, Erice’s half-hour essay is a triumphant example of modest resources leading to marvellously rich rewards. Ostensibly a simple soliloquy in which the director revisits – through narration, archive footage, photos and staged re-enactment – his first visit to the cinema (as a five-year-old, to see a Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movie, 1944’s The Scarlet Claw), the film is actually a wise, witty, wide-ranging meditation on the relationships between life and art, reality and the imagination, war and peace, innocence and experience. At once a hymn to the enduring magic and mystery of the movies and an elegy for time’s passing, it’s archetypal Erice.

Chosen by Geoff Andrew

95. The Aerial (2007)

Esteban Sapir, Argentina

In an urban steampunk dystopia, a despotic media mogul has stolen everyone’s voices. Argentinian writer/director Esteban Sapir’s monochrome melodrama is rooted in the mute modes of cinemas past – in particular Méliès’s early experiments and the silent thrills of German expressionism – while also drawing on works by more recent filmmakers such as Franju, Gilliam and Lynch. In The Aerial, characters are able to communicate with subtitles that paradoxically form a physical part of the story world’s texture, as Sapir reinvents the language of film for his own peculiar broadcast. The resulting sci-fi fantasy is like watching film history not just rewritten, but screamed aloud.

Chosen by Anton Bitel

96. Viva Riva! (2010)

​​Djo Munga, Democratic Republic of Congo/France/Belgium

Viva Riva! showed that it was possible to make an entertaining picture about an African country with style, verve and seriousness. Djo Munga created what didn’t exist and made it recognisable to the people who knew his country, while being true to his characters. He did the latter so well that the former was immaterial, showing nous that belied his first-timer status. His film massaged genre elements into a vivid portrait of Congo – and beneath the first-rate entertainment, there was a political subtext concerned with life in Kinshasa. This was to be the film to inspire young filmmakers to greatness. But the nature of the distribution network meant not a lot of Africans saw it back in 2010. And then the director disappeared from the industry. We hope he’ll be back.

97. Under Snow (2011)

Ulrike Ottinger, Germany

​​Under Snow takes its name from the long white winters that visit a province in northern Japan, where locals yomp through waist-high snow for months on end. It’s a landscape, a way of life that was vividly memorialised in Bokushi Suzuki’s book Snow Country Tales (1837), and it attracted German-born director Ulrike Ottinger, who has made not a few eccentric, painterly films set in Asia (among them Joan of Arc of Mongolia, 1989). What results is a mythic odyssey by two kabuki performers, a dreamy ethnography of rural Japan where time is both labile and ritualistic, and a flow of unforgettable nature images. Resistant to synopsis, it’s unfashionably gorgeous, undiluted Ottinger.

Chosen by Sukhdev Sandhu

98. Casting Blossoms to the Sky (2012)

Ōbayashi Nobuhiko, Japan

In the aftermath of the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami of 2011, a reporter travels to Nagaoka and witnesses preparations for the annual fireworks and the staging of a new play, each commemorating the city’s devastation by American bombs in 1945. The first of a late-career anti-war trilogy from the director still best known for his wacky ghost story Hausu (1977), Ōbayashi Nobuhiko’s 160-minute masterpiece fathoms layers of historical trauma and collective memory with a dumbfounding combination of documentary enquiry, heart-on-sleeve pacifism and faux-naïf digital aesthetics – all over-saturated colours and shoddy green screen. Dedicated to “the children of the future from adults who lived the past”, it’s a film about scars, but it culminates in a great cloudburst of hope.

Chosen by Sam Wigley

99. Waru (2017)

Ainsley Gardiner, Casey Kaa, Renae Maihi, Awanui Simich-Pene, Briar Grace-Smith, Paula Whetu Jones, Chelsea Winstanley and Katie Wolfe, New Zealand

Waru is a collectively made, feminist, Māori feature which takes the omnibus film to another level. Far from being a disparate, fame- and ego-driven portmanteau project, Waru creates an entirely new model for fiction filmmaking grounded in a collectivist and communally minded cultural paradigm. Its eight directors worked with a tight brief: make a ten-minute segment with a woman as the protagonist, shot in a single take, set at the exact same hour and day, the day of the funeral of the eponymous young Māori boy, Waru. All eight pieces loosely relate to his death at the hands of a negligent caretaker. Waru is exemplary of what Kiwi filmmaker Barry Barclay has termed ‘Fourth Cinema’. It reflects the values and priorities of the Indigenous community about which it was made and, in turn, offers a powerful alternative to the hierarchical and patriarchal filmmaking structures that have been inherited from the industry.

Chosen by Alisa Lebow

100. The Burial of Kojo (2018)

Blitz Bazawule, Ghana

Esi lives with her parents in a village built on stilts in the middle of a lake. Her mother, Ama, is the main breadwinner and while she toils, Esi spends time with her father, Kojo, on his boat. As they float atop the shimmering lake, Kojo regales his young daughter with stories where the beginnings don’t make sense until the end and the endings are never what you expected.

Similar to the brilliant, melancholic Aftersun (2022), The Burial of Kojo is told through the lens of an adult woman trying to unravel the mystery of a beloved father lost in childhood.

In its dreamlike haze, everything is fluid. The camera glides along the water, through Esi’s memory and into the spirit world. Startling modern images are set against ancient landscapes and made timeless. The Burial of Kojo is beautiful, magical filmmaking. A bold cinematic poem that also satisfies the viewer narratively.

Chosen by Ngozi Onwurah

101. The Names Have Changed, Including My Own and Truths Have Been Altered (2019)

Onyeka Igwe, UK

​​Onyeka Igwe has made a series of short films over the last six years that interrogate the colonial archive. The Names Have Changed, Including My Own and Truths Have Been Altered is the most personal in the series as it delves into Igwe’s family history in Nigeria and its encounters with the slave trade. The film is a tour de force through its elegant construction of looping rhythms with archive material, dance sequences, sound and voices. As the title suggests, objective truths are eschewed in favour of beguiling and poetic storytelling that places Igwe at the forefront of British filmmaking.

Chosen by William Raban

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