B Ruby Rich

Professor, University of California, Santa Cruz


Voted in the critics’ poll

Voted for

Born in Flames


Lizzie Borden



Vera Chytilová

Darwin's Nightmare


Hubert Sauper

In The Mood For Love


Wong Kar Wai

Looking for Langston


Isaac Julien

Man with a Movie Camera


Dziga Vertov

Memories of Underdevelopment


Tomás Gutiérrez Alea

Nostalgia for the Light


Patricio Guzmán



Sally Potter

Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song


Melvin van Peebles


This is a personal list. They all are, of course – for all our vaunted and very special cinephiliac sensibilities, the importance of films is fixed in the moment in our lives at which we see them, whether in a classroom, a drive-in, a rep house, a festival or on a plane, a computer screen or, gasp, an iPhone. Our age at that moment is crucial: I was imprinted with Vertov and with Daisies at a moment when cinematic language was changing radically, and these films from the former Soviet Union were key to fusing artistic bravura with political reach. As I came of age as a film addict, a feminist and a lesbian, attuned to the aesthetics of my age, Potter, Julien and Borden were equally crucial in demonstrating how thrillingly cinema could write the templates of identity. Of sexuality too, though here Wong Kar-wai and Dennis are equally influential on that front. Ah, Tilda Swinton in a sleigh, Maggie Cheung in a cafe, and Honey on the radio dial! For my generation, Latin America was the great battleground and the land of promise. Gutiérrez Alea’s long-misunderstood masterpiece defined a new Latin American cinema, just as Guzman’s more recent essay film did all over again. And Sweet Sweetback? In that there’s a manifesto to be written. Raw and scabrous and packed with too many ideas and energy for one film, it’s the cornerstone of the modern American independent film movement; while it’s Cassavetes who always gets the credit, it’s Van Peebles who is its uncredited founder, linking together low-budget production, non-union crews, sexploitation and the French New Wave into one combustible whole. OK, I’m broken hearted now. No Fassbinder? No Claire Denis? No Tsai Ming-liang? No The Third Man? No Lucrecia Martel? No Yvonne Rainer? No Tropical Malady? No Teknolust? Gus Van Sant, missing? Todd Haynes? Varda? Beau Travail? This is truly hopeless. It is for this very reason I usually turn down these wretched list-making opportunities. I have reluctantly given in, this time, and I regret it already. Please forgive me.

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