The Film Cheltenham Poll

I asked a few people to tell us their favourite Films of All Time and Films of The Year and, if possible, to provide explanations for their choices. We didn’t get as many as Sight and Sound, but these are all heartfelt recommendations. Lots to enjoy here.

Interestingly nobody could be bothered with Films Of The Year, which tells me something about the current state of the industry.


Jane and David Smith (CFS Selection Panel)

Pulp Fiction (1994)

The English Patient (1996)

Last of the Mohicans (1992)

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

The Third Man (1949)

Black Cat, White Cat (1998)

You may not know this one. A splendidly Felliniesque comedy by Emir Kusturica, about a Gypsy chancer and his family, set in the former Yugoslavia. (JM)

Mon Oncle (1958)

1917 (2019)

Rear Window (1954)

Holy Motors (2012)

Another one you may not know. A wild, somewhat discombobulating trip around modern Paris, by Leos Carax. ‘Surreal and often disturbing and sometimes poignant and always mesmerizing. Mission accomplished,’ wrote Rick Groen in The Globe and Mail of Toronto. (JM)

John Morrish (journalist, editor, irritant)

LIsts are arbitrary. I’ve picked the ones that came to the forefront of my mind when I had a few minutes to think about it. That’s a pretty good filter, I think. I’ve obviously left out a lot of great stuff, but there will be other occasions. Also, I’m a great believer in the Collective Consciousness: lots of films I forgot turned up in other people’s lists. Given this is my swansong, I’ve tried to explain how films work for me: yes, it’s about the filmmaker, but it’s also about what I, as a human being with my own history and cultural baggage, bring to it. Roland Barthes’s famous essay about ‘The Death of the Author‘ launched a tsunami of pseudery, but it’s common sense really. A tree may fall with no-one watching it, but a work of art like that has no meaningful existence.

Tokyo Story (1953)

Slow, static, but to me utterly involving: the antidote to the aesthetic of modern Hollywood. The most subtle play of light, shadow, gesture, voice and facial expression you can imagine in a simple story of family obligations. And who does not adore Noriko (Setsuko Hara)?

Hamlet (1964)

Directed by Grigoriy Kozintsev, from the translation by Boris Pasternak. Spoiler: the gigantic armour-clad Ghost that strides across the battlements is Uncle Joe Stalin. I think.

Barry Lyndon (1975)

I watched this in an ABC cinema in Cambridge when I was 18. I was formulating a theory about the tautological nature of the soft-focus effect as a device for invoking tender emotions when I suddenly disengaged my brain and found my eyes filling with tears: a response to the soundtrack as much as Stanley Kubrick’s images, but also to the circumstances of my life. Catharsis.

Shadowlands (1993)

I never cared about C.S.Lewis (played here by Anthony Hopkins with soft-edged charm); and, having been to the state-funded shrine to his memory in horrible Newtownwards, East Belfast, I like him less, although, like Jesus, he can’t really be blamed for what people made of him after his departure. But this romantic portrait of Oxbridge life, with its choirs and quads and sherry parties, along with the tragedy of his American wife Joy Davidman, played by Debra Winger, once again made me cry. Our first son had not long been born, he was very difficult, and my Cambridge days, the last time when I had theoretically been free, had not been like Lewis’s lovely medievalist idyll at all. Strong emotions and not simple ones. in 1956, Lewis published a memoir, Surprised by Joy, about his conversion to muscular Christianity. Davidman, Jewish, American and a former communist, edited it. But Lewis always maintained that the use of her name was a coincidence: ‘joy’ had been central to his thought for many years, as it is to mine. I think he protested too much.

Walkabout (1971)

Rotten Tomatoes calls this a ‘peculiar survival epic’. It certainly is that, but Nic Roeg’s film also speaks to me about ‘civilisation’ and its cruelties. For a long time, I rather wanted to be the aboriginal boy who saves Jenny Agutter, falls for her, and then goes to where all good warriors go, out in the Great Southern Land.

West Side Story (1961)

I adore this musical, the result of a series of cultural and economic clashes. No pearls without grit. I’ve written about it at absurd length on the main listings page. Bernstein, Sondheim, Robbins and a lot of anxious studio executives doing what executives do: except they were interested in bums on seats. No nostalgic trigger for my adoration, because I was only four: but the soundtrack was one of the dozen or so LPs my parents had in the cupboard of their valve radiogram.

Annie Hall (1977)

Woody Allen’s comedy was a revelation. It proved that it was possible to be cinematically clever and funny at the same time: the cameos, the breaking of the third wall, the fantasy sequences, the slices of Jewish life. Diane Keaton was utterly charming, free and defiant. At 20, I very much wanted one of those women in my life. Unfortunately, most of the women I knew wore dungarees and wanted to talk to me about Simone de Beauvoir before shaving their armpits and going off with a future Conservative cabinet minister. I don’t blame Simone, by the way. She’s great.

Day For Night (1973)

Obviously, there is something a little bit lazy about making a film about the making of the film, but Truffaut was under incredible economic pressure and some sort of deal had been struck to make him use of an existing set. On this unpromising infrastructure, he constructs a wonderful edifice of romance, deception and self-deception. I believe you could pretty much make a film after watching this carefully. It’s all there: the money, the vanities, the fragility and the eroticism. What happens on set stays on set. Or used to. Georges Delerue’s main theme is irresistible.

Bicycle Thieves (1948)

Italian neo-realism, like the French new wave, is a kind of miracle. A man has his bicycle stolen. He has to explain it to his young son and endeavours to get it back. That’s it. The neo-realists benefitted from the fact that the Americans can’t go to war without filming themselves winning it (see Citizen Kane). Conseqently, there was lots of film and equipment hanging about. The neo-realists made the films in the streets, but the performances and scripts benefit from a strong theatrical tradition and the presence of non-professionals. Very real, very human.

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

Well, I like most of the Coen brothers’ films but this one wins because it is about a pivotal era in music history, and music is everything to me. It portrays the struggles of a folk singer called Llewyn Davis, who has given himself a Welsh name, like one Bob Zimmerman, and is painfully sincere in his efforts to get his personal vision into the marketplace. Other people are less scrupulous, including a monstrous manager (John Goodman) and Llewyn has a terrible time. Some people say, ‘But it’s so sad’. Well it is. That’s the essence of Jewish comedy, to me. Something bad happens, and then it gets worse, and worse, and worse. The higher kvetching: very funny and an ingrained cultural survival mechanism. Splendid music, here, too.

Dave and Maz Reynolds (Cheltenham film makers)

Dave died earlier this year and Maz has contributed this list of their favourites. Chicago is more hers than his, she tells me.

Jaws (1975)

Fargo (1996)

Play Misty for Me (1971)

The Abyss (1989)

Psycho (1960)

The Ladykillers (1955)

Jigsaw (1961)

The Terminal (2004)

Alien (1979)

Chicago (2022)

Pamela Weaver (Film Cheltenham writer)

I don’t really have an all-time Top Ten – too many variables involved, like the state of the weather, what I’ve had for breakfast and all that sort of thing – but there is a consistent core of three or four films that would always figure in any of my lists. After that I have taken the Desert Island Discs approach rather than the pseudo-cerebral line of Sight and Sound.

Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz).

Needs no further comment.

Nashville (1975, Robert Altman).

Multi-stranded narratives which interlink and finally combine to demonstrate the souring of the American dream. Has a gallery of stars including Lily Tomlin, Shelley Duvall, Geraldine Chaplin, Karen Black, Ned Beatty – all the great character actors of the 1970s.

The Battle of Algiers (1966, Gillo Pontecorvo).

Masterly portrayal of the brutal conflict between the colonial power and the colonised people who desire independence. It is unromantic and objective but despite that was not screened in France until 1971.

Taking Off (1971, Milos Forman)

Czech black comedy meets New York family dysfunction, with the late Buck Henry as the bemused father. Hilarious at the time, though I’ve not watched it for a while – maybe it doesn’t have the same impact now.

The White Balloon (1995, Jafar Panahi)

A seven year old girl negotiates a Teheran market, determined to buy a goldfish. Brilliant in its observation and perception, which could well account for why Panahi has recently been sentenced to a further period of house arrest by the government of Iran, and is forbidden to make films. He’s still doing it though.

A Bout de Souffle (1960, Jean-Luc Godard)

A classic of the French new wave, written by Truffaut and Chabrol, directed by Godard, and starring Jean-Paul Belmondo. Arguably kicked off the whole style.

Five Easy Pieces (1970, Bob Rafelson, died 2022). Jack Nicholson, in the days when he could act and before he became a parody of himself, plays a former concert pianist who prepares to return home to his privileged family after a 20 year estrangement.

Oklahoma! (1955, Fred Zinneman)

The songs! The politics!! Rod Steiger!!!

Caché/Hidden (2005, Michael Haneke)

A complex psychological/political thriller, of a sort, examining individual and collective memory, guilt and denial. Disturbing.

Local Hero (1983, Bill Forsyth)

Offbeat comedy about a village on the west coast of Scotland refusing to be bought off by the Yankee Dollar. The village phone box became something of a pilgrimage site – but I wonder what happened to Peter Capaldi?

Martin Harris (youth wing of Film Cheltenham. He even has a blog:

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
The most challenging, revolutionary and influential sci-fi, with the greatest of all directors, Stanley Kubrick, making no effort to pander to an audience.

Amadeus (1984)
The sumptuous story of the rivalry between Mozart and his closest competitor Salieri, realised very nearly perfectly with one of the great lead performances, from Oscar-winning F. Murray Abraham.

Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Even after watching this four times in one week, I still could not forget it. Perhaps more truly great scenes in this than in any other film (at least four by my count).

Chinatown (1974)
I love the look, the score and the refusal to offer easy answers from Roman Polanski at his very best. Every scene offers plot advancement and adds to the mystery.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
A favourite of almost everybody. It is utterly emotionally engaging and has a superbly realised environment and performances.

Vertigo (1958)
Ingenious from the very first frame to the last. Hitchcock never played the audience with quite this much control again.

Goodfellas (1990)
Scorsese took his most quotable work so close to being overcrowded and unbalanced, but used all his experience to pull it off and create a gangster touchstone for the ages.

There Will Be Blood (2007)
To quote my own review ( ‘Best, most complete film of the last 20 years’

La Haine (1995)
A cinematically adventurous tale of three racial minority youths living through and surviving political strife in Paris. The inventive filming alone is almost enough to get it on the list, add in great performamces and a compelling plot and you have a winner.

Magnolia (1999)
A stunning examination of kaleidoscopic life and its influences, through one day in the San Fernardino Valley, from the greatest of modern mainstream directors, Paul Thomas Anderson.

Sim Fox (Film Cheltenham writer and friend from my teenage days)

The Third Man (1949)
My longtime number one. The disparate talents of Carol Reed, Graham Greene, Anton Karas and Orson Welles combined to create something greater than the sum of the parts; a timeless masterpiece of writing, performance, visual style and music. The transcendent final shot impacts with the force of myth. Pure cinema and pure emotion. 

Psycho (1960)
My Hitchcock choice. Perkins gives tormented Norman great humanity and Hitch creates a gothic, visual masterwork of skin-crawling dread. Bernard Herrmann helped too. 

La Strada (1954)
Fellini’s relentless & powerfully moving psychodrama of three mismatched outsiders. And Nino Rota’s greatest score. 

The Great Escape (1961)
My childhood Xmas comfort movie. A stiff-upper-lip POW classic, lifted to greatness by two unruly Americans, an irreverent Aussie and a moody Pole (Charles Bronson, tremendous). Steve McQueen’s heroic defiance dominates but there are countless great scenes,  great one-liners… “How many were wounded??” 

The Rebel (1961)
My comedy choice, with Tony Hancock, heroic idiot and Everyman, in Galton & Simpson’s hilarious put-down of art world pretensions: their definitive statement on the tragi-comic Hancock persona. Lucian Freud said it was the best film ever made about modern art. Irene Handl is magnificent. 

Solaris (1972)
Tarkovsky’s haunting metaphysical scifi, with an ending of shocking hallucinatory power. A great meditation on science, art, music, love, politics and … traffic. 

Alphaville (1965)
Godard’s best and most accessible film. A dystopian poem to Paris, B-movies, pulp scifi and Anna Karina. 

Fahrenheit 451 (1966)
Truffaut’s poetic adaptation of Bradbury’s dystopian nightmare.  A companion piece to Alphaville: as an oblique nouvelle vague take on Scifi, haunting and strange. Complete with contemporary monorail and Julie Christie in a double role. 

Double Indemnity (1944)
My classic Hollywood choice is a triumph of correct casting. A string of A-listers turned down the role of hapless insurance salesman Walter Neff, but Billy Wilder knew he needed Fred MacMurray, known at the time for light comedies. He paired Fred with Edward G. Robinson and Barbara Stanwyck, co-wrote with Raymond Chandler … and achieved breakthrough realism and movie history. 

The Shining (1980)
My Kubrick choice. Not revolutionary like 2001, but the one I always revisit now. It grows in stature and power, is fabulously entertaining, scary, mesmerising; and the ballroom scene alone is worth the price of admission. 

John Russell (Film Cheltenham writer: another Cambridge crony and my best man, when I got married in 1991. )

Chinatown (1974)

Roman Polanski’s 30s noir masterpiece, set in a corrupt and seductive LA, with Jack Nicholson playing a private eye who thinks he’s seen it all before but finds he definitely hasn’t.

Dark Water (2002)

Stands out from other great Japanese horror films by virtue of having consistent chills throughout, an eerie urban locale and above all, enormous humanity.

Local Hero (1983)

Bill Forsyth channels Ealing comedy, trans-Atlantic opportunism and a heartbreaking soundtrack in an idyllic Scottish coastal community, where the locals turn out not to be as gullible as expected. It was also my wife Sue’s favourite film.

Alien (1979)

As much art movie as space horror, but brilliant and innovative at both, and with the added extras of a cat, a steely female lead and some stomach-churning special effects.

Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud (1995)

Emmanuelle Béart in prime form as amanuensis and muse to retiree Michael Serrault in Claude Sautet’s subtle inter-generational drama.

Kaos (1984)

Beautiful adaptation by the Taviani Brothers of a series of stories by Pirandello, set in Sicily and culminating in a chapter about the writer’s mother and her liberating childhood visit to a pumice island.

The Apartment (1961)

Billy Wilder’s last great film, a bittersweet comedy about life in a New York insurance company, with pitch-perfect performances by Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine as the will-they, won’t-they couple.  

Broken Mirrors (1984)

Marlene Gorris’s superb and unflinching drama about the lives of women working in a Dutch brothel, set against the background of a series of unsolved abductions.

Play It Again Sam (1972)

Woody Allen (as actor not director) pays homage to Casablanca while searching ineptly and neurotically for a new partner, all the while overlooking the obvious.

House of Games (1987)

David Mamet’s first directorial feature, setting a high bar for any future film about con-men and toying relentlessly with the audience, with very satisfying results.