10 Best Films of All Time: Joseph Wade

2. Before Sunrise (1995)

Cinema is filled to the brim with stories about young people being touched by love at the wrong time in their life. It could be that they’re not ready to accept their repressed feelings (a theme often explored in non-heterosexual romances) or that they’re simply too attached to other goals in life (such as in many classic Hollywood romances). It could even be that they’re inevitably separated by disaster (as was the case in Titanic, the most lucrative romance of all time and a vastly underrated classic in critical circles). In the case of Before Sunrise, it is that the leads are just too young and too dumb to realise that love like this comes around just once in a lifetime. They may be the kind of pretentious post-university people that think they know everything – the kind of person I was – but they can never know what retrospect can teach them: that not everything in life is still to come. 

Ethan Hawke plays Jesse, an American graduate, who meets Julie Delpy’s Frenchwoman Céline on a train between Budapest and Paris. Jesse is to disembark in Vienna to catch a flight home the next day and invites Céline to join him for the night as he walks the streets of one of Europe’s most picturesque cities. The pair spend the afternoon, evening and night exchanging philosophies, sharing their hopes and their dreams, through a series of complex dialogue exchanges and prolonged monologues. Before Sunrise is, effectively, two people walking and talking for 101 minutes, and it is absolutely beautiful. 

The writing is remarkable in how it captures the very essence of realistic dialogue and transposes it into the typical setting of a classic romance: a unique location that seems designed for love – a place in which strangers are unrealistically kind, in which the streets themselves seem to push our prospective lovers closer. As Jesse and Céline exchange words, we discover new things about them and about their dynamic. As a university student, I saw myself in each of them, but particularly in Jesse, the failing artist filled with ideas and philosophies who wants to learn and teach and discuss anything he can. As I’ve grown older, I’ve realised how young and impressionable Jesse is. How desperate he is to find meaning in this encounter, to impress the girl he met on the train – he’s more embarrassing now, because I see that same hopelessly romantic man-child in my former self. That’s the beauty of the realism and relatability present in Before Sunrise: it captures some innate unspoken truth that transcends the screen. 

The acting of both Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy is once in a generation. Their youth, combined with the complexity of the work of their young writer-director, the exceptional Richard Linklater (who would later make Boyhood and, surprisingly to many, School of Rock), make it almost impossible to imagine them being so great at everything they manage to be great at here. They share words as if in the midst of the passion fuelled by the warm summer air, and they express these words so naturally that you feel almost voyeuristic for watching them spill themselves onto each other. And yet, in a film so focused on dialogue, their biggest achievements are what they do without words – how they reach for the other person when they’re not looking, how they exchange nervous side glances, how they magically portray the gravity that seems to bond any two people when they are young and in love. Linklater deserves a lot of credit for each of these elements, of course, his direction famously detail-orientated and this production featuring a lot of rehearsal, but Hawke and Delpy are simply fantastic nonetheless. 

Before Sunrise has been rightly tagged as a North American version of a French New Wave film in its dialled back and at times simplistic methods – minimalism obviously doesn’t come naturally in Hollywood – and there is credence to any claim that much of its structure can be owed to great city-spanning romances by more problematic filmmakers, but Before Sunrise exists in such a unique sweet spot in the mid-90s that it can feel modern without any of the limitations of real-life technological advances, like freely accessible internet or easily accessible mobile phones. There’s a classicism to its once in a lifetime, Cinderella-esque romance, and yet it doesn’t feel old – it is believable that these two people could meet and fall in love and not express those feelings as well as we wish for them to, but it is also believable that they could go their separate ways and potentially never find one another again. 

For all that cinema has offered in more than a century of great work across the silent era, sound, black and white, colour, Panavision, 3D, 4D, Steadicam and CGI, it remains quite appropriate to me that my favourite movie of all time (and arguably one of the very best, or at least most emotionally resonant) presents itself as a naturalistic movie about the simple act of two people meeting, chatting, and falling in love. 

Recommended for you: Ravished by Romance – Before Sunrise’s Antithetical Approach to Love

1. Kes (1969)

Bong Joon-ho is one of the greatest directors to emerge in the 21st century. Martin Scorsese is one of the greatest directors of all time. Both of them are from opposite sides of the world, and yet both list Kes director Ken Loach as an inspiration. 

The director I would class as one of the greatest British directors of all time alongside Alfred Hitchcock, Mike Leigh, and David Lean, was just thirty-three when he adapted “A Kestrel for a Knave” by Barry Hines. Kes was, and still is, the very best of a selection of socially-conscious films from the 1950s to the 1970s known as Kitchen Sink Dramas including greats like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Look Back in Anger, and a personal favourite from fellow British icon John Schlesinger, Billy Liar

Kes is a tale singularly focused on a South Yorkshire boy from a single parent family struggling to make sense of an unfair world designed to imprison him in poverty by eliminating his opportunities for growth. At school he is troublesome if visible at all, and at home he is the subject of his older coal-mining brother’s aggressions. His is a life dismissed before it ever began, he is a child with the face of an old man.

Young Billy is sensationally portrayed by David Bradley, who at the time was just a teenager and offered an all-time great child performance. His tired face, his skinny frame, and his awkward and frustrated demeanour, embody the trials and the pains that his character has been through. Ken Loach captures all of this in his usual naturalistic style reminiscent of work by the likes of Yasujirō Ozu and in Delbert Mann’s revolutionary American drama Marty (1955), observing the unjust systems present in society – and therefore reinforced through school, work, social housing, etc. – that can drain hope and life from even the most innocent of eyes. 

Kes was the first film I ever saw that captured how hopeless it felt to be a child living with burdens beyond your years (money, trauma, hopelessness). And is one of the only films that has ever made me feel visible (for my accent, where I was born, the type of family I grew up in). For a film released more than twenty years before my birth to capture that bleakness, that unique kind of sorrow, remains remarkable, but its influence as a piece of art speaks to its universal qualities.

Kes and the wider work of two-time Palme d’Or winner (and further 13-time nominee) Ken Loach have influenced some of the greatest working class British dramas of all time, from The Full Monty to Brassed Off to Rita, Sue and Bob Too. Kes and Ken Loach captured a broken system, a forgotten people, through realism and metaphor, in a way that many beloved post-studio system American movies did in the 1970s, only earlier and about the people of my own nation. Ken Loach is one of cinema’s few grandmasters, and Kes is his magnum opus, the most influential and greatest film the United Kingdom has ever produced.

There are of course many films that I would have liked to include on this list, and many that I’m sure I would have included on another day. There are genres, filmmakers, even entire movements and eras that I have overlooked or simply dismissed, any of which could have made a list such as this at another time. The filmmaker I tell everyone is my favourite director in history, Martin Scorsese, hasn’t made the list, nor have two of my Letterboxd Top 4 (favourite films). I am very conscious of the many great films I haven’t seen, so many of which are present in lists elsewhere on this site. I am disappointed to have not included more diversity amongst the directors listed here, and have regretted not bringing more attention to animated films. Even the order of this particular ten could change within a year or two. But I hope that this list has been valuable nonetheless. 

I founded The Film Magazine because I wanted to create a space in which budding writers could find a home to discuss what they love; a space in which they could learn new skills and develop their writing ahead of going onto new things. In our time, we’ve had writers go on to write for Empire Magazine and work for Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), earn Master’s degrees and study for PHDs. Those who remain are, in my opinion, among the very best writing about cinema today. They are not handicapped by having to write hate-click articles for the sake of their careers, nor are their opinions shaped by fancy press screenings or studio-endorsed thank you hampers… they’re honest and (this is no exaggeration) brilliant. Together, they hold more qualifications in the realm of film than I’m willing to bet exist at most top universities and I know are present on the writing teams at most old media companies. Their 10 Best Films of All Time lists are eclectic, interesting, and well considered, and I suggest you read each of them from the links on our Team page. 

I believe in cinema. I believe in the theatrical experience. I believe that publications such as The Film Magazine should be striving every single day to find truth in this great art form and to honestly dissect, analyse, critique and evaluate the form just as writers of prior generations did. Cinema is dying, and even publications with “film” in their name are covering TV to earn clicks and thus satisfy shareholders. We won’t be doing that – it’s killing our industry, and it’s hurting the industry we cover. For the films listed here, and the thousands that are released each decade – for the filmmakers and students and writers that watched a film one day and decided to make cinema their life – The Film Magazine will stand steadfast in the face of change, covering cinema and only cinema to the day we die. It’s in our name.

I know that to many of you reading this article I am an imagined person – I bet that most of you didn’t even know I existed at all – but I hope that my personal journey through cinema, and my explanation of why I consider some films to be the most important ever released, brings your attention to some new films that you can add to your watchlists, some new perspectives to explore. We are all here because we love this great artform, and because we have all felt the majesty that these magnificent artists are capable of presenting to us. Let’s enjoy that together. Let’s keep cinema safe.

Pages: 1 2 3 4


  • <cite class="fn">Jacob</cite>

    I was shocked Malick didn’t make number one!

  • <cite class="fn">Margaret Roarty</cite>

    I hate to admit that I went through a phase where I didn’t like #10 at all for some ridiculous reason. I have since, thankfully, grown out of that and was super happy to see it appear on your list. Also, #1 wasn’t on my radar AT ALL, but I’m very intrigued now.

  • <cite class="fn">Holly</cite>

    It is a joy to read this, the whole list plays out beautifully and it is just so special to have these insights into your life through films. I particularly enjoyed reading about Singin in the Rain :)

Leave a Comment