2001: A Space Odyssey
1968 USA, United Kingdom
In the last decade, Kubrick's 1968 masterpiece has become the film I've seen the most times on the big screen. The reason I keep coming back is that the further we travel away from it in time and space, the more impressive it becomes. It was groundbreaking in its day, but if anything it's even more confounding now. When a docking spaceship is soundtracked by the Blue Danube, I'm in heaven. Will we ever see a major studio film like it again?
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
It's appropriate that an Italian version of an American genre would give us filmmaking at its most operatic. Sergio Leone's marriage of visual storytelling with composer Ennio Morricone's score becomes utterly divine in this film's climax, elevating a scene of three men standing in a cemetery to transcendent art. It was one of the first movies I saw again once cinemas reopened during the pandemic and it left me reeling and levitating at the sheer beauty of cinema.
Perhaps the most influential and indelible film of them all, with its then-shocking subversions of the genre becoming well-worn tropes ever since. Yet even sixty plus years later, it still has the power to hypnotize. And it’s not just the shower scene. Psycho lures you into a lucid dream from the first bleakly beautiful monochromatic frame.
Singin' in the Rain
Undeniably magical cinema, leaving every single audience member who watches it delighted and transported. It's fascinating that what is ostensibly both a satire of the tricky transitional period from silent films to talkies, and a celebration of the back catalogue of songs from that era, becomes perhaps the most famous Hollywood film of them all.
Don't Look Now
1973 United Kingdom, Italy
A horror masterpiece that marries its theme of precognition to the beguiling wonders of associative editing. Colours, shapes, patterns, action and sound all merge to create a beautifully nightmarish palindrome.
An existential trip into hell so vividly depicted that you are not only transfixed by the fates of the characters, but concerned for the wellbeing of everyone involved in the making of it. The enduring enigma of Taxi Driver is how such a dark and ugly spiral is so electrifyingly compelling, pulling the mesmerised viewer willingly into a waking nightmare.
1953 France, Italy
To only be dazzled by Max Ophüls’ exquisite Fabergé eggs of the screen is to deny not just their sincere emotional power but countless other facets as well. Madame De… is a film about love, loss and wild chance that is, all at once, romantic, playful, tragic, strikingly self-reflexive and (yes) about as ornate and breathtakingly elaborate as cinema gets.
An American Werewolf in London
1981 USA, United Kingdom
I'm fully expecting to be the only person to pick this film for their top ten and that would make it a more subjective choice as 'the greatest film of all time.' However, this would be denying the idea that a perfect movie is sometimes the result of sheer alchemy. It's not clear to me why a film that mixes comedy, horror, pathos, groundbreaking effects, vivid gore, terrific location work, inspired casting, Buñuel-inspired dream logic, moon related soundtrack choices and jokes about British TV would merit being the pinnacle of the art form, but I've never spent a more enjoyable 97 minutes at the cinema and that alone earns a place on my list.
Making comedy is hard. When a film is very funny, the word 'effortless' is often used. But this denies the fact that any great comedy is a Herculean task that requires screenwriting, performance, direction, composition, astute editing and, frankly, every department of the crew to hit a bullseye on a moving target. That Raising Arizona also features exceptional action raises that difficultly level to ‘insanely ambitious’. Let's please describe this, and any classic comedy, as 'supernaturally funny'.
Mad Max: Fury Road
2015 USA, Australia
We are in an era where most films released by major studios are so homogenised in their tone and execution that the use of the word 'content' to describe them feels sadly apt. And then, racing out of the desert, comes a wildcard masterpiece that is so idiosyncratic it seems miraculous that it even exists. George Miller's visual wonder of an action movie is both thrillingly modern and a glorious tribute to engines of pure cinema like The General and Stagecoach. We should all be grateful that this film was made at all.
While I am more than honoured to contribute to this list a second time, the joy of being asked again was immediately overwhelmed by searching questions of the differences between the objective and the subjective, greatest and favourite, as well as the pressures to change one’s list, so as not to just be the same person you were a decade ago, and the resulting pain of having to seemingly invalidate the films you threw off.
But of course, individual taste and any personal attachments are inherently subjective, so rather than wrestle with the ultimately incomparable merits of acknowledged classics, I found myself creating a list of films that were perfect in my eyes. The list could change tomorrow and feature a whole other ten films, but this is not any fickleness on my part. It's more due to the whole galaxy of other classics out there to enjoy, as this 100-strong list will no doubt prove.