Editor’s Note: In light of Sight & Sound’s film poll, which, every decade, queries critics and directors the world over before arriving at a communal Top 10 list, we polled our own writers, who didn’t partake in the project, but have bold, discerning, and provocative lists to share.
It’s hard not to get a little nostalgic while trying to determine one’s favorite films of all time. Memories of first viewings come flooding back, even thoughts of long lost friends who shared those moments with you. In this sense, these 10 films have sculpted my life as a cinephile, programmer, and writer, some even in ways that I’m still discovering years later. While their initial impact was undeniably potent, each one continues to influence how I think about cinema as art, entertainment, and a mirror to human nature. If narrowing this list to 10 entries has taught me anything, it’s that great movies evolve over time, and as I’ve grown older each one has become more personal, more essential to my existence. Not surprisingly, many are concerned with the detailed process of aging, or more specifically the juxtaposition of physical deterioration and emotional vitality. Others even dynamically examine heightened memory and inevitable, sometimes forceful change. But all of my choices waver between visions of lyrical, horrific, and sometimes heart-wrenching transition. They are keys to my decidedly intimate canon, one when taken as a whole acts as a reminder that movies aren’t always everything in this fragile life.
10. Ikiru (Akira Kurosawa, 1952). Ikiru, represents Akira Kurosawa, my favorite Japanese director, at his most resolutely humane and vulnerable. There are no samurais, no cops, just a good man working a noble profession realizing how short life can feel when suddenly faced with an imminent countdown to mortality. It is a universal story seeped in melancholy, longing, and self-forgiveness. Like so many great films, Ikiru might prove that life isn’t fair, but it also shows how even the doomed can transcend unimaginable depression and honor a most important living will: purity of heart.