My Year in 100 Films

Once upon a 100 films ago… my list of must-see films comprised mainly French flicks. I was looking forward to a holiday in the Dordogne and so, keen to reconnect with French culture and language, I searched through both The Times’ and Time Out’s 100 Best French Films lists – knowing I’d missed out on some of the classics: the Three Colours Trilogy (Dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski), Les Vacances de M. Hulot  (Dir. Jacques Tati) and Les Diaboliques (Dir. Henri-Georges Clouzot) – to name a few. One of my best discoveries was comic book artist Sylvain Chomet’s Bellleville Rendez-vous. Unexpectedly entertaining, visually exuberant and quintessentially French, it is about a young boy, Champion, who is abducted by some sinister mafia types whilst competing in the Tour de France and later rescued by his super-heroic granny Mme de Souza and faithful pooch, Bruno. Watching it, I fell in love with the country all over again.


Belleville Rendez-Vous opened up the world of animated movies to me and from there, I went on to watch and be impressed by the more serious, Perspeolis (Dirs. Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud) – a movie based on Franco-Iranian Marjane Satrapi’s comic book series. It tells of Satrapi’s coming of age in Iran and France during and after the Islamic Revolution and is told with bold simplicity and elegance. Watching it, I was reminded of Rithy Pahn’s The Missing Picture, which depicts the horrors of his childhood under Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge through the use of clay figurines and newsreel footage. Philospher Ludwig Wittgenstein once said, “Whereof one cannot speak; one must be silent.” Directors Pahn and Satrapi have first-hand experience of living under brutal regimes and are both seeking a new filmic language to express the otherwise inexpressible.

By contrast, some of my favourite recent films take an unflinching stare at human tragedy. Laszlo Nemes’ Saul Fia (Son of Saul), about an Hungarian-Jewish prisoner forced to work in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau, has the most gut-wrenching opening sequence I think I’ve ever seen; going where few other films have had the audacity to take us: into the gas chamber itself. So many of the scenes are profoundly unforgettable because of the horrendous subject-matter, the tight close-up of Saul’s grief-stricken face (the atrocities are glimpsed in shallow focus) and the intensity of Saul’s unremitting mission: to give his murdered son a dignified, Jewish burial. At no point is the emotion contrived; the soundtrack is paired right back, for example. It is hard to believe that this is Nemes’ first feature and is a hugely deserved winner of the Best Foreign Oscar film, 2016.


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Two poignant documentaries, Fuoco Ammare (Dir. Gianfranco Rosi) and A Syrian Love Story (Dir. Sean McAllister), also deserve attention. Both record the daily lives of those affected by the refugee crisis – documenting islanders on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa (where 400,000 migrants from Africa and the Middle East have arrived in the last 20 years) and a refugee family leaving Syria for Paris respectively. Both documentaries give unhurried – but politically pressing and anger-fuelled – insights into the human stories behind news headlines. With considerable pathos, the documentaries juxtapose the quotidian with scenes of intense trauma and upheaval, showing the two are irreconcilable. Welcome (Dir. Philippe Lioret) also offers an affecting dramatisation of the insurmountable obstacles facing many refugees. It focuses on Bilal, a Kurdish teenager who, having escaped torture in his homeland, ends up in Calais, willing to swim the Channel to find refuge in England. I liked the way the way this film included the perspective of one local man and the risks he took to help Bilal.

Although not a documentary, Jacques Audiard’s Palme D’Or-winning Dheepan also takes immigration as its subject-matter. Shot in the social-realist tradition, non-professional Anthonyhasan Jesuthasan (himself a former Tamil Tiger), plays the lead role as Dheepan, a Sri Lankan Tamil freedom fighter who claims asylum in Europe as the Civil War reaches its end. Dheepan takes along two strangers, who pose as his wife and daughter. Together the ‘family’ are allocated a house in a run-down housing block in a tough Parisian suburb. Dheepan is given publicly-funded work as a caretaker on the estate and his ‘wife’ Yalini becomes a housekeeper in the family home of a local gangster. Their ‘daughter’ Illayaal attends the local school and, being the most proficient in French, helps them to make sense of their chaotic new surroundings. Audiard is successful in humanising and exploring the dreams, hopes and frustrations of Dheepan and his family. His aim was to  broaden the diversity in French cinema. Girlhood (Dir. Celine Sciamma) and The Class (Dir. Laurent Cantet) also tackle life in the banlieues, but from a young adult perspective and collectively these films extend the French ‘hood’ sub-genre which began with La Haine (Dir. Matthieu Kassovitz).


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The underbelly of city life fascinates me and so I was completely wowed by Sebastien Schipper’s Victoria; a thriller shot for over 2 hours in 22 locations around Berlin, from 4.30am. As well as the film’s impressive technical mastery, I was mesmerised by the relationship between Victoria (Laia Costa) and Sonne (Frederick Lau) as it develops over one unforgettable night. However, If rural life is more of interest to you, then check out La Vie Moderne (France), Tangerines (Georgia), Rams (Iceland), Timbuktu (Mali) and Shell (Scotland) – which offer five unique portraits of trouble in beautiful but remote parts of our world.

Looking back over the last 100 films, I see that there’s been a film for every mood. From the feel-good musicals, Sing Street (Dir. John Carney ) and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Dir. Jacques Demy) and the equally big-hearted adaptation of Colm Toibin’s novel, Brooklyn (Dir. John Crowley) through to some edge of your seat thrillers, Bridge of Spies (Dir. Steven Spielberg) and Eye in the Sky (Dir. Gavin Hood) or the equally gripping two-part French gangster biopic, Mesrine (Dir. Jean-Francois Richet). My film list includes dashes of absurdity, surrealism and dystopia: The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos), The Master (Dir. Paul Anderson) and Melancholia (Dir. Lars von Trier), as well as modern-day exposes: Citizen Four (Dir. Laura Poitras ), The Big Short (Dir. ) and social critiques: The Lesson (Dirs. Kristina Groseva, Petar Valchanov) and Dog Pound (Dir. Dir. Kim Chapiron). And then, of course, there were what my husband calls the “Ooh, la, la!” weekends I spent ‘researching’ Romain Duris’s back catalogue. However, what my heart really skips a beat for is a well-rounded drama which explores the tenacity and vulnerability of the human spirit under emotional duress.

As for the next 100 movies… I’m going to Iceland in January and know hardly anything of their national film output. I’m also keen to see more work from the directors whose films made it into my top places in 2016.

I’m less keen on these…


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And here’s the complete list, in order of preference…

  1.  Saul Fia (Son of Saul) – Dir. Laszlo Nemes, 2015
  2. Victoria – Dir. Sebastian Schipper, 2015
  3. La Graine et Le Mulet (Cous Cous) – Dir. Abdellatif Kechiche, 2007
  4. Belleville Rendez-vous – Dir. Sylvain Chomet, 2003
  5. La Classe Entre Les Murs (The Class) – Dir. Laurent Cantet, 2008
  6. Dheepan – Dir. Jacques Audiard, 2015
  7. Fuoco Ammare (Fire at Sea) – Dir. Gianfranco Rosi, 2016
  8. A Syrian Love Story – Dir. Sean McAllister, 2015 (Documentary)
  9. Eye in the Sky – Dir. Gavin Hood, 2015
  10. Room – Dir. Lenny Abrahamson, 2015
  11. Persepolis – Dirs. Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud, 2007
  12. Whiplash – Dir. Damien Chazelle, 2014
  13. Bridge of Spies – Dir. Steven Spielberg, 2015
  14. Suzanne – Dir. Katell Quillevere, 2013
  15. De Battre Mon Coeur s’est Arrete (The Beat that My Heart Skipped) – Dir. Jacques Audiard, 2005
  16. Tangerines – Dir. Zaza Urushadze, 2013
  17. Welcome – Dir. Philippe Lioret, 2009
  18. Shell – Dir. Scott Graham, 2012
  19. Sing Street – Dir John Carney, 2016
  20. Mesrine: L’Instinct de Mort, Enemi Public No.1 (Mesrine: Killer Instinct, Public Enemy No. 1)  – Dir. Jean-Francois Richet,  2008
  21. Urok (The Lesson) – Dirs. Kristina Groseva, Petar Valchanov, 2014
  22. Etre et Avoir (To Be and To Have) – Dir. Nicolas Philibert, 2002 (Documentary)
  23. Que Horas Ela Volta? (The Second Mother) – Dir. Anna Muylaert, 2015
  24. Hrutar (Rams) – Dir. Grimur Hakonarson, 2015
  25. Amy – Dir. Asif Kapadia, 2015 (Documentary)
  26. The Big Short – Dir. Adam McKay, 2015
  27. La Famille Belier (The Belier Family) – Dir. Eric Lartigau, 2014
  28. Une Nouvelle Amie (The New Girlfriend) – Dir. Francois Orzon, 2014
  29. Grand Central – Dir. Rebecca Zlotowski, 2013
  30. The Revenant – Dir. Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu, 2015
  31. Citizen Four – Dir. Laura Poitras, 2014
  32. Brookyln – Dir. John Crowley, 2015
  33. Tomboy – Dir. Celine Sciamma, 2011
  34. Timbuktu – Dir. Abderrahmane Sissako, 2014
  35. Les Vacances de M. Hulot (Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday) – Jacques Tati, 1953
  36. Trois Couleurs: Bleu (Three Colours: Blue) – Dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1993
  37. Bande de Filles (Girlhood) – Dir. Celine Sciamma, 2014
  38. Les Diaboliques (The Devils) – Dir. Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1955
  39. Clouds of Sils Maria – Dir. Olivier Assayas, 2014
  40. La Vie Moderne – Dir. Raymond Depardon, 2008 (Documentary)
  41. The Master – Dir. Paul Anderson, 2012
  42. Pina – Dir. Wim Wenders, 2011 (Documentary)
  43. Dialogue avec Mon Jardinier (Conversations with My Gardener) – Dir. Jean Becker, 2008
  44. El Labarinto Del Fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth) – Dir. Guillermo Del Toro, 2006
  45. Mia Madre (My Mother) – Dir. Nanni Moretti, 2015
  46. Red Road – Dir. Andrea Arnold, 2006
  47. Dog Pound – Dir. Kim Chapiron, 2010
  48. La Regle Du Jeu (The Rules of the Game) – Dir. Jean Renoir, 1939
  49. 45 Years – Dir. Andrew Haigh, 2015
  50. Dark Horse: The Indcredible True Story of Dream Alliance – Dir. Louise Osmond, 2015
  51. Joy – David O’Russell, 2015
  52. Mood Indigo – Dir. Michel Gondry, 2013
  53. Catch Me Daddy – Dir. Daniel Wolfe, 2014
  54. Sufragette – Dir. Sarah Gavron, 2015
  55. Comme Un Avion (The Sweet Escape) – Dir. Bruno Podalydes, 2015
  56. Microbe et Gasoline – Dir. Michel Gondry, 2015
  57. Steve Jobs – Dir. Danny Boyle, 2015
  58. Belle et Sebastien – Dir. Nicolas Vanier, 2013
  59. The Martian – Dir. Ridley Scott, 2015
  60. French Can-Can – Dir. Jean Renoir, 1954
  61. The Big Picture – Dir. Eric Lartigau, 2010
  62. L’Auberge Espagnole (The Spanish Apartment) – Dir. Cedric Klapisch, 2002
  63. Casse-tete Chinois (Chinese Puzzle) – Dir. Cedric Klapisch, 2013
  64. Les Poupees Russes (Russian Dolls) – Dir. Cedric Klapisch, 2005
  65. Le Week-end – Dir. Roger Michell, 2013
  66. Un homme idéal – Dir. Yann Gozlan, 2015
  67. Paris Je T’aime (Paris, I Love You) – Dirs. Various, 2006
  68. Sunset Song – Dir. Terence Davies, 2016
  69. L’Illusionniste (The Illusionist) – Dir. Sylvain Chomet, 2010 (Animation)
  70. Pickpocket – Dir. Robert Bresson, 1959
  71. Sans Soleil (Sunless) – Dir. Chris Marker, 1983
  72. All the Pretty Horses – Dir. Billy Bob Thornton, 2000
  73. Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) – Dir. Jacques Demy, 1964
  74. Suite Francaise – Dir. Saul Dibb, 2014
  75. Comme Une Image (Look at Me) – Dir. Agnes Jaoui, 2004
  76. Trois Couleurs: Rouge (Three Colours: Red) – Dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1994
  77. Plein Soleil (Purple Noon) – Dir. Rene Clement, 1960
  78. Ma Nuit Chez Maude (My Night at Maud’s) – Dir. Eric Rohmer, 1969
  79. Star Wars, The Force Awakens – Dir. J. J. Abrams, 2015
  80. Populaire – Dir. Regis Roinsard, 2012
  81. The Lady in the Van – Dir. Nicholas Hytner, 2015
  82. The Lobster – Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos, 2015
  83. L’Annee Derniere a Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad) – Dir. Alain Resnais, 1961
  84. Inherent Vice – Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014
  85. Trois Coleurs: Blanc (Three Colours: White) – Dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1994
  86. Et Dieu Crea la Femme (And God Created Woman) – Dir. Roger Vadim, 1956
  87. Mon Roi (My King) – Dir. Maiwenn, 2015
  88. Meek’s Cutoff – Dir. Kelly Reichardt, 2010
  89. Paris – Dir. Cedric Klapisch, 2008
  90. Melancholia – Dir. Lars von Trier, 2011
  91. Les Adoptes (The Adopted) – Dir. Melanie Laurent, 2011
  92. Une Famille a Louer (Family for Rent) – Dir. Jean-Pierre Ameris, 2015
  93. Les Emotifs Anonymes (Romantics Anonymous) – Dir. Jean-Pierre Ameris, 2010
  94. Café de Flore – Dir. Jean-Marc Vallee, 2011
  95. The Jetty (La Jetee) – Dir. Chris Marker, 1962
  96. Theeb – Dir. Naji Abu Nowar, 2014
  97. Les Anarchistes (The Anarchists) – Dir. Elie Wajeman, 2015
  98. Fidelio: L’Odyssee d’Alice (Fidelio: Alice’s Journey) – Dir. Lucie Borleteau, 2014
  99. La Charme Discrete de la Bourgeoisie (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoise) – Dir. Luis Bunuel, 1972
  100. Blue Ruin – Dir. Jeremy Saulnier, 2013