Annette Kuhn

Annette Kuhn

Professor Film Studies, Queen Mary University of London
UK
Voted in the critics poll

Voted for:

400 Blows, The 1959 François Truffaut
Conversation, The 1974 Francis Ford Coppola
Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles 1975 Chantal Akerman
Last Laugh, The 1924 F. W. Murnau
Leopard, The 1963 Luchino Visconti
Listen to Britain 1942 Humphrey Jennings/Stewart McAllister
Man with a Movie Camera 1929 Dziga Vertov
Searchers, The 1956 John Ford
Tokyo Story 1953 Ozu Yasujirô
Wavelength 1967 Michael Snow

Comments

Choosing ten great films (as opposed to the ten greatest films) does take away a tiny bit of the pressure, and this is what I have done. I resisted the temptation to look at previous top ten lists first, though I did have a reasonable recollection of the kinds of titles that feature on them: a tendency towards auteur films; a prominence of Euro/North American work, of fiction films, feature-length films, ‘serious’ subjects and ‘poetic’ treatments; and of course the enduring prominence of Citizen Kane. I don’t think my list departs greatly from this overall trend, though it does include a couple of examples of types of film that rarely feature. And there are obvious omissions: no musicals or comedies, for example; only one film by a female director; none from parts of the world (India and Latin America, particularly) with longstanding traditions of filmmaking; and from those key decades for experimental filmmaking and popular cinemagoing, the 1930s and 1940s, just one documentary short. Several of my chosen titles are ones that sprang to mind right away. Others, after some thought and sifting, emerged as key exemplars in critical categories like national cinema, genre, period or auteur. I avoided including personal favourites solely because I love them (ie there had to be other reasons for inclusion), and have not ruled out any film merely because I dislike it. Since, it seems to me, the jury is still out on more recent work, my final list of ten is — a little conservatively, perhaps – confined to films made before 1980. It’s too soon to tell, of course, but a listing of the greatest films made since that date would likely, given the increased visibility of world cinema, feature a greater proportion of non-western titles. My own (provisional) choice might include, say: Yellow Earth (China, 1984), Distant Voices, Still Lives (UK, 1988), Beau Travail (France, 1998), Caché/Hidden (France, 2005), Syndromes and a Century (Thailand, 2006), and A Separation (Iran, 2011). There are a number of directors whose body of work, taken as a whole, surely qualifies them as being among cinema’s greatest auteurs (Hitchcock, Eisenstein, Ray, Bergman and Bresson, for example), but for whom I’d feel hard pressed to pick out individual films to put on the list. Many think that Hitchcock’s Vertigo is his best, but forced to choose, I would probably go for Rear Window. Ray’s best, in my view, is possibly Charulata, though Pather Panchali has a strong claim. Bergman’s oeuvre is so extensive that it is near impossible to fix on one film – I would (hesitantly) put forward Fanny and Alexander. For different reasons, Eisenstein is equally tricky: Ivan the Terrible, perhaps? Bresson’s films convey a distinctive and inspiring cinematic vision, but again it seems impossible to choose any one title over others. Ozu, I would maintain, transcends authorship: like many westerners, I discovered his work through the subtle and intensely moving Tokyo Story, only much later getting to know his other films (Late Spring particularly impresses). In fact, Tokyo Story was one of my immediate choices. The 1920s surely produced some of the very greatest films ever, with the late silent cinemas of Scandinavia and Germany excelling. Metropolis, for example, could qualify on the grounds of its influence on subsequent world cinema. But, as cinema, a worthier inclusion, I believe, is The Last Laugh, and accordingly this film appears on my list. As with directors, so with significant film movements: among the European ones, my vote goes with the Nouvelle Vague, and with Les quatre cents coups as its greatest representative. Outside Europe, New Hollywood must figure as well, represented by either The Conversation or Raging Bull, I think, with the former nosing slightly ahead. If only to make a claim for the potential greatness of fiction films that aim for lightness and entertainment, I intended to include a comedy or a musical among my ten. However, the final cut came down to a tough choice between the incomparable Some Like It Hot and Jeanne Dielman, an altogether different sort of film, but an essential inclusion for its aesthetically and politically groundbreaking qualities. The only Hollywood genre film in my final ten (and another of those on my immediate list) is The Searchers, a Western that, for all its flaws, exemplifies, embraces and above all transcends its genre, a rare piece of cinema that arguably merits a place in the wider pantheon of American art. Documentary and experimental films are often overlooked in greatest films polls, and I want to put in a strong claim on behalf of a bold, exciting and dazzling piece of experiment that embodies both: Man with a Movie Camera, another of my immediate choices. The poetic documentary Listen to Britain is one of two personal favourites that I include among my ten greatest; the other being the ever-astonishing avant-garde piece Wavelength (preferably on 16mm). And last, The Leopard is included because it is a towering, magnificent, wonderful aesthetic and political achievement