40. L’avventura (1960) Dir. Michelangelo Antonioni, 141 mins.
Helping to signal both the definitive demise of neo-realism and the arrival of new art cinema, L’Avventura was developed from a story by Antonioni about a young woman’s disappearance during a boating trip in the Mediterranean. During the subsequent search for her an attraction grows between her lover (Gabriele Ferzetti) and her best friend (Monica Vitti). Shot entirely on location and beset by constant logistical and financial problems, the film was greeted with catcalls from sections of the audience at Cannes, but was passionately defended by a handful of critics and, with its innovative aesthetics, has gone on to be seen as one of the most influential films ever made. The appeal of the film was also enhanced, no doubt, by the dazzling performance of the then unknown Vitti. More…
39. Fanny and Alexander (1982) Dir. Ingmar Bergman, 188 mins.
Bergman made a triumphant return to form, and to his roots, with this colourful, expansive family saga, that follows the well-to-do Ekdahls, and is set in turn of the century Uppsala. With a surprising amount of warmth and generosity, it’s Bergman at his most visually ambitious. Watch
38. Harakiri (1962) Dir. Masaki Kobayashi, 133 mins.
Kobayshi’s remarkable Japanese drama, set in the 17th century, explores the cult of the samurai as warriors fight each other in their search for a master in the wake of a Shogun-mandated decentralisation. When a young Samurai is forced to perform ritual suicide using a bamboo sword (a scene that brought some notoriety on release), his family tries to cover up his degrading demise. Shot in black and white widescreen, Harakiri is a criminally overlooked epic that’s darker than much of Kurosawa’s work of this period and unflinching in its brilliantly choreographed violence. Watch
37. The Seventh Seal (1957) Dir. Ingmar Bergman, 96 mins.
A film that came to epitomise not just Scandinavian cinema but the European art movie in general, The Seventh Seal is a metaphysical allegory that follows a medieval knight (Max von Sydow), who, having returned from the Crusades, journeys across a plague-ridden landscape, and plays a game of chess with the personification of Death (Bengt Ekerot). One of the film’s that shifted Bergman’s focus from comedy to more serious themes, and elevated his status to preeminent cinematic artist. Watch
36. Stalker (1979) Dir. Andrei Tarkovsky, 163 mins.
The film depicts an expedition led by a figure known as the “Stalker” (Aleksandr Kaidanovsky) to take his two clients, a melancholic writer (Anatoli Solonitsyn) seeking inspiration, and a professor (Nikolai Grinko) seeking scientific discovery, to a mysterious restricted site known simply as the “Zone,” where there is a room which supposedly has the ability to fulfill a person’s innermost desires. Watch
35. Alien (1979) Dir. Ridley Scott, 117 mins.
The crew of the commercial towing spaceship Nostromo are stalked and killed by a highly aggressive extraterrestrial creature while on a return trip from Thedus to Earth. Acclaimed for its brilliant aesthetic work that adds to the realism. Watch
34. Persona (1966) Dir. Ingmar Bergman, 85 mins.
The story revolves around a young nurse named Alma (Bibi Andersson) and her patient, well-known stage actress Elisabet Vogler (Liv Ullmann), who has suddenly stopped speaking. They move to a cottage, where Alma cares for the traumatised Elisabet, confides in her and begins having trouble distinguishing herself from her patient. One of the most analysed films of all time, some will find it dated and others too ambiguous, but Bergman’s use of close-ups helps to exert a hypnotic intensity that along with the superb performances of the two female leads, propels Persona into the realm of cinematic genius. Watch
33. Barry Lyndon (1975) Dir. Stanley Kubrick, 184 mins.
The film follows the exploits of an 18th century Irish adventurer, Barry Lyndon (Ryan O’Neal). Kubrick turns Thackeray’s novel into a chilling theorem on the illusions of the Enlightenment and the ontological limits of the human condition. Watch
32. The 400 Blows (1959) Dir. Francois Truffaut, 99 mins.
Reacting against the supposed formulaic and studio controlled mainstream films of the 1950s, outspoken Cahiers du Cinema critic, Francois Truffaut helped trigger the New Wave with a film revolving around an ordinary adolescent in Paris, Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud) who is thought by his parents and teachers to be a trouble maker. His teacher singles him out for criticism and punishment, while his mother is cold and demanding, and frequently argues with her husband (Antoine’s stepfather). The 400 Blows has elements of autobiography as the precocious Truffaut was incarcerated as a teenager for failing to pay debts while in the film the young protagonist is jailed for stealing a typewriter. Showing an allegiance to the visual style of filmmakers such Renoir and Welles, Truffaut uses moving camera shots and long takes to create an open fluid mise-en-scene. However, it’s the performance of Leaud, who provides an intelligent yet innocent portrayal of the troubled but often humorous youth during his initiation into a callous adult world, that gives the film its brilliant pathos and is ultimately the key to its success. More…
31. Goodfellas (1990) Dir. Martin Scorsese, 146 mins.
The satirical film follows the rise and fall of three gangsters, spanning three decades. The protagonist Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) admits, “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” Outstanding story telling from Scorsese and a great performance from Liotta that became something of an albatross for his career. Watch
30. Chinatown (1974) Dir. Roman Polanski, 131 mins.
Having left Poland and then made several quirky horror films for the European and U.S. markets, Polanski took a large stride forward with this revisionist work, set in Los Angeles in 1937, and inspired by the historical disputes over land and water rights that had raged in southern California during the 1910s and 20s. The film stars Jack Nicholson, in one of his finest roles as cynical private investigator J.J. “Jake” Gittes, who is out of his depth in a world of politics, sexual power and corruption. Watch
29. A Clockwork Orange (1971) Dir. Stanley Kubrick, 136 mins.
Set in the future, the film concerns Alex (Malcolm McDowell), a charismatic, psychopathic delinquent whose pleasures are classical music, rape, and what he refers to as ‘the ultra-violence’. He spends his nights as the leader of a youth gang, that speaks an argot combining Russian and English word forms, and, as well fighting amongst themselves, commit robberies, assaulting anyone they find in the vicinity. Captured after a murder, the hooligan undergoes behavioural modification treatment designed to make him sick at the idea of violence. Managing, once again, to bring to life a world of ambiguity, Kubrick brilliantly combines flamboyant and inventive visuals with the choreography of violence to create a grotesque attack on utopian beliefs. More…
28. Ran (1985) Dir. Akira Kurosawa, 162 mins.
Made possible by more of the overseas funding that helped reignite Kurosawa’s career in the 1970s and 80s, Ran tells the story of the ageing Warlord Hidetora Ichimonji who makes the decision to retire from his position as head of his family faction and split his kingdom between his three sons. Tragedy follows amid a visual splendour that helped to reinforce Kurosawa’s reputation as one of the greatest and most influential filmmakers of the 20th century. More…
27. A Brighter Summer Day (1991) Dir. Edward Yang, 237 mins.
Set in Taiwan during the year 1960, a talented but self-centred student refuses to compromise his moral standards with anyone, teachers, friends, parents or girlfriend. Watch
26. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) Dir. Sergio Leone, 165 mins.
To get his hands on prime railroad land in Sweetwater, crippled railroad baron Morton (Gabriele Ferzetti) hires killers, led by blue-eyed sadist Frank (Henry Fonda), who wipe out property owner Brett McBain (Frank Wolff) and his family. McBain’s newly arrived bride, Jill (Claudia Cardinale), however, inherits it instead. Both outlaw Cheyenne (Jason Robards) and lethally mysterious Harmonica (Charles Bronson) take it upon themselves to look after Jill and thwart Frank’s plans to seize her land. With Ennio Morricone’s notable melodic score, that’s in stark contrast to the brutality of the action, as well as great performances and masterful visual detail, Once Upon a Time in the West is an epic western masterpiece. More…
25. Pulp Fiction (1994) Dir. Quentin Tarantino, 154 mins.
Directed in a highly stylised manner and drawing on a mixture of cinematic sources (such as American B pictures and the French New Wave), Pulp Fiction joins the intersecting storylines of Los Angeles mobsters, fringe players, small-time criminals and a mysterious briefcase. The film reinvigorated the career of John Travolta and features a brilliant ensemble cast, particularly Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis. Tarantino confidently deploys an ingenious structure, rapid fire rhetoric and graphic violence with a surprising playfullness and exceptional intelligence. More…
24. La Dolce Vita (1960) Dir. Federico Fellini, 180 mins.
Marking a watershed moment in the history of Italian cinema as neo-realism moved to a new art cinema, La dolce vita is the three hour epic story of a passive journalist’s week in a morally decaying Rome, and his search for both happiness and love that will never come as he declines into decadent sexual play. Also seen as a crucial turning point in the battle for freedom of expression against censorship, the film’s sexual candor helped make it a sensation, La Dolce Vita depicts an absurdist spectacle of contemporary life and is deemed one of the great triumphs of post war art cinema. Buy
23. There Will Blood (2007) Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 158 mins.
Inspired by Upton Sinclair’s novel ‘Oil!’ There Will Be Blood tells the story of a silver miner-turned-oilman, Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) on a ruthless quest for wealth during Southern California’s oil boom of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s a real work of art with Anderson managing to bring to life a lost era with a staggering aesthetic clarity. Day-Lewis’s relentlessly focused portrayal of the often unfathomable and greedy oil man saw him rightly awarded with a Best Actor Oscar. While the final scene and confrontation between Plainview and his nemesis Eli (Paul Dano) polarised critics, like it or loathe it, it provides one of most memorable moments of 21st century cinema. More…
22. Rashomon (1950) Dir. Akira Kurosawa, 88 mins.
Decisively breaking away from the Japanese studios ‘Hollywood’ narrative model, Rashomon is set in feudal Japan and depicts the rape of a woman and the apparent murder of her samurai husband, through the widely differing accounts of four witnesses. By presenting these conflicting views of the same event, the film explores the imperfections of humanity and was probably the first in Japanese cinema that featured such ambiguity, allowing the audience to make their own judgements rather than being provided with a single truth. The film is also notable for the emotive acting, Kurosawa’s mastery of mise-en-scene and the sentimental but compelling ending. Winner of the grand prize at Venice and best foreign film at the Academy awards, Rashomon helped propel Japanese film toward world recognition and is now widely regarded as one of the premiere works of art cinema. More…
21. Once Upon a Time in America (1984) Dir. Sergio Leone, 229 mins.
Sergio Leone was by far the most talented director of spaghetti westerns, but arguably his best film is this gangster epic that he made having earlier turned down the chance to direct The Godfather. The long but always fascinating story chronicles the lives of Jewish ghetto youths who rise to prominence in New York City’s world of organised crime, particularly David “Noodles” Aaronson, initially a poor street kid struggling to survive in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the early 1920s. One of the few great Italian films of the 1980s and featuring a remarkable reproduction of New York’s Lower East Side, Once Upon a Time in America is visually stunning, violent and desperately sad. More…