Rather than arranging a list based on recommendation, I’ve tried to pull together the films which hold the deepest significance to me personally. Nevertheless, I’d be honoured if I managed to inspire you to watch any of these for the first time.
#10 High Hopes (1988) dir. Mike Leigh
High Hopes, set in Thatcher’s Britain, follows the lives of Cyril, a weary communist and his girlfriend Shirley, who try to cling on to their humanity in this political landscape. An evident contrast is portrayed with Cyril’s highly strung sister Valerie and her odious nouveau riche husband Martin, with matters coming to a head when she tries to host a birthday party for their depressed elderly mother. Mike Leigh is my favourite director this classic exemplifies the hilarious and awkward political chaos that pervades much of his filmography.
#9 The Tale of the Fox (1937) dir. Ladislas & Irène Starevich
One of the first animated features ever made, The Tale of the Fox’s pulsating rhythm puts most contemporary fare to shame. The charming Maître Renard continually bullies the subjects of the kingdom until the King (foolishly) attempts to stop him. The antics of this stop-motion fox are reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, but this character is more of an antisocial reprobate, an aspect that I find endearing. This true expression of creativity is a testament to the labour of love from Polish pioneer animator Ladislas Starevich and his daughter Irène.
#8 Vera Drake (2004) dir. Mike Leigh
Vera Drake is a kind-hearted working-class woman in 1950s London who, unbeknownst to her family and community, provides illegal abortions for desperate women. She adeptly balances her two lives until they collide disastrously. This film demonstrates the conflicting attitudes people had (and still have) about abortion and juxtaposes them with the realities of the lives of people who have needed it. The soul of this film is in Imelda Staunton’s deeply human performance as Vera and the way her relationship with her family evolves throughout the film.
#7 I, Daniel Blake (2016) dir. Ken Loach
This tear-inducing Palme d’Or winning film follows a Newcastle carpenter named Daniel Blake as he struggles to navigate the welfare system after suffering a heart attack and still somehow remaining ‘fit to work’. He befriends a single mother named Katie who is forced to choose between feeding herself and providing her daughter with shoes. This film serves as a passionate critique at the damage done to so many lives due to austerity and is a must watch for anyone with aspirations of entering politics.
#6 The Company of Strangers (1990) dir. Cynthia Scott
The Company of Strangers is the wonderfully wholesome story of a group of 8 (mostly older) women who get stranded at a remote Canadian cottage after their bus breaks down. We see them become friends and find joy in the little community they create. We learn about their histories and witness the minutiae of their days together. Each character was heavily based on the actress playing her so there’s a profound level of authenticity enriching every moment of the film. If you ever find yourself scared of growing old, then give this a watch.
#5 Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) dir. Céline Sciamma
An incredibly moving love story about a lady, Héloïse, soon to be married and Marianne, an artist who is assigned to paint her portrait for her husband-to-be. This film is chiefly about the power of seeing. The relationship between the leads emerges firstly through glances and then, only when Marianne begins to truly see Héloïse and let herself be seen in return, does the painting begin to honestly capture her. The film’s beauty resonates deeply, underscored by the astonishing chemistry between Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel.
#4 Threads (1984) dir. Mick Jackson
A kitchen-sink drama about a family in Sheffield that transforms into a grisly struggle for survival in a nuclear wasteland. We see in detail the collapse of all systems designed to protect the public as a new world takes shape. Produced for a remarkably tight budget for broadcast on BBC Two, Threads is a time capsule of the terror that the policy of mutually assured destruction inflicted on the world.
#3 12 Angry Men (1957) dir. Sidney Lumet
Unquestionably one of the best films of all time, this masterpiece unfurls as twelve jurors must decide whether a boy is guilty of murdering his father. On the hottest day of the year, eleven jurors initially vote to convict and it’s up to Henry Fonda’s Juror 8 to argue in the boy’s favour, all whilst the heat intensifies. All twelve jurors have distinct but equally compelling perspectives, with the most minute details of their discourse being endlessly fascinating. Each voyage into this cinematic masterpiece unveils new layers.
#2 It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2012) dir. Don Hertzfeldt
For 60 minutes we are guests inside a mind falling apart. Don Hertzfeldt, in his strikingly idiosyncratic animated style, arranges vignettes from the life of a man named Bill as he struggles with an unnamed neurological illness. We see his family history, his childhood, cow-headed strangers, and leaking pipes. This film is sure to be a transformative experience.
#1 Children of Men (2006) dir. Alfonso Cuarón
Humanity faces permanent infertility. Governments have collapsed, wars have raged and the last of the world’s children have grown up into a society slipping into fascism and despair. The only chance left is one miraculously pregnant refugee woman and a broken man who must learn to hope again. Children of Men masterfully realises this world through extensive visual storytelling and contains some truly hypnotic one take sequences with insane choreography. Having seen this masterpiece at just twelve, this experience was the genesis of my love of film.