Top 10 Award Winners at the London Film Festival

Top 10 Award Winners at the London Film Festival

The Academy Awards were five years old when the first film festival was held in Venice in 1932. It took another quarter of a century before London hosted its launch event and a further year elapsed before the festival introduced its first award. There are now several prize categories at LFF and Cinema Paradiso looks back on the standout titles to have impressed the London juries since 1958.

We have become so used to film festivals showcasing the best cinema from around the world that it's hard to remember that the earliest events were statements of triumphalist nationalism rather than encouragements of international accord. The world's first screen gala was held as part of the Venice Biennale in 1932 under the auspices of Giuseppe Volpi whose name still adorns the cup given to the winner of the Best Actor award. In response to Mussolini's initiative, Joseph Stalin sanctioned the Moscow Film Festival in 1935 and these two remained the foremost jamborees until after the Second World War, as Hollywood so dominated the international market that it was reluctant to contribute to cine-showcases in major American cities that might expose the domestic audience to foreign films. Having been forced to postpone its maiden edition when war was declared in 1939, the Cannes Film Festival finally got underway in 1946. The same year saw events launch in Locarno in Switzerland and Karlovy Vary in Czechoslovakia, while Britain got its first annual screen event in 1947, when a cinema component was included in the inaugural Edinburgh Festival.

Film-makers started travelling between festivals to present new works, receive retrospective accolades and raise funds for new projects. Critics followed in their wake to catch the latest premiers and report on the industry gossip, as prizes like the Palme d'Or, the Crystal Globe and the Golden Bear became coveted for their prestige and the commercial boost they gave the recipient. But where was London in this brave new world?

From Small Beginnings

In a rather British way, the London Film Festival came about because of a conversation at a dinner party. Sunday Times film critic Dilys Powell and James Quinn, the Director of the British Film Institute, were appalled that a city the size of London didn't have an annual celebration of cinema. So, a day after Laurence Olivier, Kenneth More and Gina Lollobrigida watched Princess Margaret open the National Film Theatre near the site of the Telekinema that had operated during the Festival of Britain in 1951, the inaugural London Film Festival was held in October 1957.

Only 15 features were shown after Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood launched proceedings. But, as the founders wanted LFF to be a 'festival of festivals' that allowed UK audiences the chance to see the best films from Cannes, Berlin and Venice, the programme was pretty special. Nowadays, only aficionados will remember titles like Helmut Käutner The Captain From Köpenick and Leopoldo Torres Nilsson's The House of the Angel. But Elia Kazan's A Face in the Crowd, Andrzej Wajda's Canal, Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal, Satyajit Ray's Aparajito and Federico Fellini's Nights of Cabiria are all undisputed classics and all are available to rent from Cinema Paradiso.

While the slate also included offerings from France, East Germany, Hungary and Norway, the press latched on to the fact that the only British films on show were some shorts that had been commissioned by Pearl and Dean. In fact, audiences had to wait a few years before Karel Reisz's adaptation of Alan Sillitoe's kitchen sink saga, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), became the first home-produced picture to screen at LFF. It's fair to say that the festival got off to a slow start, as Jacques Demy's Lola (1961) and Jean Renoir's The Vanishing Corporal (1962) are the only memorable opening night choices from the event's infancy. The PR side of things also left a little to be desired, as nobody had a clue who François Truffaut was when he turned up to a screening of the landmark nouvelle vague feature, The 400 Blows (1959), and NFT staff had to find him a seat after a flustered conversation in improvised Franglais.

Banging a Gong

Although the organisers resisted instituting a grand prix to add a competitive element to the festival, they did introduce an award to reward the most innovative first or second feature shown at the NFT during the previous year. The Sutherland Trophy was named after BFI patron George Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, 5th Duke of Sutherland. But those entrusted with bestowing the inaugural prize had either not read the memo or didn't know much about Japanese cinema, as the recipient was Yasujiro Ozu for Tokyo Story (1953), which was his 41st feature. Indeed, nobody seemed too bothered about the wording of the citation, as only two of the next seven winners were 'first or second' features, Ermanno Olmi's Il Posto (1961) and Jacques Rivette's Paris nous appartient (1962). That said, the quality of Satyajit Ray's The World of Apu (1959), Michelangelo Antonioni's L'avventura (1960), Alain Resnais's Muriel (1963), Grigori Kozintsev's Hamlet (1964) and Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le fou (1965) was undeniable.

Not every Sutherland winner went on to become an instant classic, although André Delvaux's The Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short (1966) certainly doesn't deserve to be forgotten. Neither do Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet's masterly variation on the biopic, The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (1968). However, Masaki Kobayashi's Samurai Rebellion (1967) is the only other 1960s winner currently available to rent on disc. But Cinema Paradiso users are more in luck when it comes to some of the films that opened and closed the LFF during the Swinging Sixties, as Harold Lloyd's World of Comedy (1962), Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), Lindsay Anderson's If... (1968) and Eric Rohmer's My Night With Maud (1969) are all on offer.

The number of new wave titles showing in prestige slots is notable and three of the key pictures from the Czech Film Miracle were chosen in the middle of the decade: Miloš Forman's A Blonde in Love (1965) and The Fireman's Ball (1968), and Vera Chytilova's Daisies (1967), which became the first film directed by a woman to close the London Film Festival. In the midst of this celebration of subversion, the organisers opted to open the 1967 event with Jean Renoir's La Marseillaise (1938), an account of how the stirring national anthem arose during the French Revolution that anticipated the wave of demonstrations that would paralyse France during the May Days of 1968. Amusingly, a whiff of that Gallic fury would be unleashed at the NFT that autumn, as Jean-Luc Godard stormed the stage to punch producer Iain Quarrier for changing the ending of his Rolling Stones documentary, Sympathy For the Devil (aka One Plus One).

Shifts in Emphasis

The new waves of the 1960s sparked an arthouse boom among British cinema-goers, with the result that distributors started picking up prize winners from the major European festivals and releasing them before London's annual October fest. As a consequence, programmers moved away from showcasing the latest releases from world cinema's leading players and began favouring works by debuting and emerging talents. This scarcely excited the press hoping for Hollywood celebrities on the red carpet and there were accusations of elitism, as mainstream cinema was scantly represented at LFF and was rarely accorded a gala slot, let alone a prize.

It says much for the type of picture selected for the Sutherland during the 1970s that over half of the decade's winners are unavailable to rent - Robert Bresson's Four Nights of a Dreamer (1971), Giorgi Shengelaia's Pirosmani (1973), Mark Rappaport's The Scenic Route (1978) among others - even though they are all fine films. Directed by more familiar arthouse names, the other victors were more accessible and Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist (1970), Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Martha (1974), Theo Angelopoulos's The Travelling Players (1975) and Nagisa Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses (1976) can all be seen through Cinema Paradiso.

The latter caused something of a stir with its graphic depiction of sexual violence and the British Board of Film Censors restricted access to this and other contentious titles like Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Walerian Borowczyk's The Beast and Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom (both 1975) to BFI members only. It shows how much times have changed that all four features are now on disc, albeit with an 18 certificate. More controversy flared during the screening of Werner Herzog's Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970) when a member of the audience with dwarfism protested against the still relatively unknown director's stance.

Despite the fact that it also tackled a sensitive issue, that year's opening feature, François Truffaut's The Wild Child (1970), attracted less fuss. But changing tastes mean that only a handful of the decade's gala features are available to armchair viewers. Among them are such wonderfully diverse outings as Jacques Tati's Trafic (1971), Peter Hall's Akenfield (1974), Kevin Brownlow's Winstanley (1975), Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900 (1976), Gillian Armstrong's My Brilliant Career, and Peter Yates's Breaking Away (both 1979).

The latter pair's inclusion reflected LFF's acknowledgement under director Ken Wlaschin of the Australian New Wave and the rise of independent film-making in America, following the realignment of the Hollywood studio system. The decision to end the 21st edition with a new print of Charles Chaplin's A Woman of Paris (1923) also revealed the growing popularity of restored classics. But this was also the era of the Movie Brats and it's instructive to note that London followed festivals around the world in opting not to shower garlands on such blockbusters as Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather (1972), Steven Spielberg's Jaws (1975) and George Lucas's Star Wars (1977), even though they were changing the ways in which movies were produced, distributed, exhibited and promoted.

Southbank and Beyond

Something rather odd happened at the 1980 London Film Festival. A British film won the Sutherland Trophy. At least, it shared the award with Xie Jin's Two Stage Sisters, which had been released in 1965, but barely been seen because of the Cultural Revolution. Scored by Michael Nyman, Peter Greenaway's The Falls presents biographical details of the 92 people directly affected by the phenomenon known as the Violent Unknown Event. Ingenious and infuriating in equal measure, this dazzling picture is available to rent on The Early Films of Peter Greenaway, Volume 2.

But, while LFF branched out to reflect the growing importance of global cinema by presenting its main prize to directors from the Philippines (Lino Brocka, This Is My Country, 1984), China (Chen Kaige, Yellow Earth, 1985), Taiwan (Edward Yang, The Terrorizers), Mali (Souleymane Cissé, Yeelen, both 1987) and Norway (Nils Gaup, Pathfinder, 1989), the films have rather slipped through the home entertainment net. The same is true of Helma Sanders-Brahms's No Mercy, No Future (1981), which was the first Sutherland winner to have been solo directed by a woman. It is possible, however, to catch up with the decade's other victors, as Adoor Gopalakrishnan's Rat-Trap (1982), Chris Marker's Sans Soleil (1983) and Bill Douglas's Comrades (1986) are available to rent.

Ironically, the 1980s saw film critic Derek Malcolm and NFT programmer Sheila Whitaker take positive steps to modernise the London Film Festival and make it more relevant to the city's ever-more cosmopolitan population. The bookending galas reflected this trend, with Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha and Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull opening and closing the 1980 edition in style, while ex-Beatle George Harrison's HandMade Films received a timely boost with the selection of Richard Loncraine's The Missionary and Michael Blakemore's Privates on Parade in 1982.

The previous year had seen LFF celebrate its silver jubilee and the programme expanded to showcase 124 features, including the gala pair of Peter Weir's Gallipoli and Christopher Miles's Priest of Love, which starred Ian McKellen as novelist provocateur, DH Lawrence. This expansion prompted the BFI to seek partnerships with various West End cinemas, as the Odeons in Leicester Square and the Institute of Contemporary Art became perennial venues. Needing to fill such large spaces, the programmers went on a populist binge, as Joe Dante's Gremlins (1984), Jim Henson's Labyrinth (1986), Martin Stellman's For Queen and Country (1988) and Ron Howard's Parenthood (1989) all occupied gala slots alongside more traditional festival fare like François Truffaut's Finally, Sunday! (1983), Akira Kurosawa's Ran (1985).

Once established, the glitz gala with jostling paparazzi and autograph-hunting fans in attendance became the norm in the 1990s. Worthy obscurities disappeared in the twinkling of a flashbulb, as LFF gave its seal of approval to such commercial prospects as Peter Bogdanovich's Texasville, Bernardo Bertolucci's The Sheltering Sky (both 1990), Kenneth Branagh's Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994), Ridley Scott's Blade Runner: The Director's Cut (1992), Luc Besson's Leon (1994), Martin Scorsese's Casino (1995), Hugh Wilson's The First Wives Club (1996), Mike Figgis's One Night Stand (1997), Warren Beatty's Bulworth (1998) and Sam Mendes's American Beauty (1999) among others.

The latter became the first London closer to go on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. But, while LFF demonstrated a sure touch for spotting flashy box-office hits, it still didn't offer much time in the spotlight to women directors or film-makers of colour. Similarly, LGBTQ+ pictures received short shrift at the showpiece events. Amidst all the change, the Sutherland Trophy juries kept coming up with eclectic choices like Steve Kloves's The Fabulous Baker Boys (1990). Indeed, the prize went to some charming pictures around this time, including a couple that aren't on disc - Elaine Proctor's On the Wire (1991) and Moufida Tlatli's The Silences of the Palace (1995) - and a clutch that are: Jocelyn Moorhouse's Proof (1991); Julio Medem's Vacas (1993); Tran Anh Hung's The Scent of Green Papaya (1994); and Jevon O'Neill's Bob's Weekend (1996). But the rules governing LFF's sole award were about to be revised.

New Rules and New Prizes

In 1997, Adrian Wootton and Sandra Hebron were appointed the director and chief programmer of the London Film Festival. One of their first acts was to change the criteria for awarding the Sutherland Trophy, which was now presented to the best debut feature actually screening during the event. The first winner under the tweaked terms was Bruno Dumont's The Life of Jesus, which was followed by a pair of remarkable films by female film-makers, Samira Makhmalbaf's The Apple (1998) and Lynne Ramsay's Ratcatcher (1999). These will both feature in our LFF Top 10, as we are limiting our choice to scheduled Sutherland titles, as well as those that have triumphed in the new categories that have been added over the last 15 years.

Not everyone was happy with the Sutherland switch, however, with some critics complaining that the award invariably went to worthy titles with a political or cultural agenda rather than to genuine crowdpleasers. As the new millennium dawned, the disparity between the prize winners and the gala selections became increasingly evident. But, in keeping with the majority of film festivals worldwide, LFF has never been a shop window for the latest blockbusters. Instead, it has sought to highlight pictures with a distinctive quality that comment on the contemporary world and a growing number of Sutherland winners have been picked up for wider UK distribution.

So why not see whether you agree with the Sutherland judges about garlanding Kenneth Lonergan's You Can Count on Me (2000), Asif Kapadia's The Warrior (2001), Siddiq Barmak's Osama (2003), Jonathan Caouette's Tarnation (2004), Andrea Arnold's Red Road (2006), Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis (2007), Sergei Dvortsevoy's Tulpan (2008) and Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani's Ajami (2009).

Two of the most notable things about these titles is the larger number of women directors and a growing focus on the world's trouble spots in the aftermath of 9/11. Indeed, it's interesting to see how these factors also impacted upon the selection of gala material, as more socio-politically committed items like Stephen Frears's Dirty Pretty Things (2002), Mike Leigh's Vera Drake (2004), George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), Alejandro González Iñárritu's Babel (2006), Ron Howard's Frost/Nixon, and Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire (both 2008) rubbed shoulders with more escapist entertainments like Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous (2000), Robert Altman's Gosford Park (2001), Thaddeus O'Sullivan's The Heart of Me (2002), David O. Russell's I Heart Huckabees (2004), Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr Fox, and Sam Taylor-Wood's John Lennon biopic, Nowhere Boy (both 2009).

This change in emphasis coincided with the introduction of new award categories. Formed to commemorate the Scottish documentary pioneer, John Grierson, the Grierson Trust had been presenting annual awards since 1971, although only John Akomfrah's Handsworth Songs (1987), Nick Broomfield's Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer (1993) and Pawel Pawlikowski Tripping With Zhirinovsky (1995) have enjoyed much of an afterlife. In 2005, the trust teamed with LFF to reward the best actuality on show during the festival and the inaugural prize went to the much-lamented Austrian Michael Glawogger for the magnificent Workingman's Death. Rather shockingly, as documentaries have a relatively short shelf life, only a few titles are currently available on disc. But Cinema Paradiso can offer you Yoav Shamir's Defamation (2009), Janus Metz's Armadillo  (2010), Werner Herzog's Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life (2011) and Alex Gibney's Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (2012).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a larger percentage of the LFF's Best Film winners are available for hire. This prize was instituted in 2009 when Hebron introduced an end-of-festival awards ceremony to bring it into line with its major competitors. Frenchman Jacques Audiard followed an inaugural win for A Prophet (2009) with another for Rust and Bone (2012) and his feat has since been matched by Russian Andrei Zvyagintsev for Leviathan (2014) and Loveless (2017). Compatriot Alexei Popogrebsky also landed the award for How I Ended This Summer (2010) and he has since been followed by Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin, 2011), Pawel Pawlikowski (Ida, 2013), Athina Rachel Tsangari (Chevalier, 2015) and Kelly Reichardt (Certain Women, 2016).

Once again, it's noticeable how many more women film-makers have taken the top prize. But the arguments persist that the juries reward films designed to tug the conscience rather than entertain. Perhaps conscious of this, new honcho Clare Stewart sought to blow away some of LFF's cobwebs, as she had done during her tenure of the Sydney Film Festival. One of her initiatives was to divide the programme into themes like Love, Debate, Laugh, Dare, Thrill, Cult, Journey, Create and Family in order to entice newcomers to sample what the festival has to offer by highlighting a title's genre rather than its place of origin or the reputation of its director. Stewart also retained the popular Experimenta and Treasures From the Archive strands. But opinion was divided as to whether LFF had dumbed down and sold its soul by increasing the number of stellar galas to provide stars and auteurs with the photo opportunities they crave to sell their films.

During the 2010s, the gala emphasis veered between movies destined for the multiplex and the arthouse, although there was a decisive shift towards British film-makers like Danny Boyle (127 Hours, 2010), Terence Davies (The Deep Blue Sea, 2011), Mike Newell (Great Expectations, 2012), Ben Wheatley (Free Fire, 2016), Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, 2017), and Jon S. Baird (Stan & Ollie, 2018). With the exception of Norwegian Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game, 2014), the remaining gala recipients have been Americans some of them being Mark Romanek (Never Let Me Go, 2010), John Lee Hancock (Saving Mr Banks, 2013), and David Ayer (Fury, 2014). In all this time, however, only two women - Sarah Gavron (Suffragette, 2015) and Amma Asante (A United Kingdom, 2016) - have been chosen for this honour, although Valerie Faris did co-direct Battle of the Sexes (2017) with husband Jonathan Dayton.

It's worth contrasting these discrepancies with the breakdown of the Sutherland Trophy winners, as the sole British winner is Clio Barnard for The Arbor (2010), while the only other female victor is Julia Ducournau for Raw (2016). But Cinema Paradiso users can enjoy such diverse offerings as Pablo Giorgelli's Las Acacias (2011), Benh Zeitlin's Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012), Robert Eggers's The Witch (2015) and Lukas Dhont's Girl (2018), which caused something of a furore with the casting of male actor/dancer Victor Polster as a trans teenager named Lara.

We await to see what headlines are created by the 63rd London Film Festival, which is set to run between the screening of Armando Iannucci's The Personal History of David Copperfield on 2 October and Martin Scorsese's The Irishman on 13 October. In all, new programmer Tricia Tuttle has curated 229 features and 116 shorts from 78 countries, with a laudable 40% of the titles being directed or co-directed by women. Fittingly, the Sutherland jury is also headed by a woman, Austrian Jessica Hausner, who will have to choose her winner from the following enticing nominees: Mati Diop's Atlantics, Shannon Murphy's Babyteeth, Nick Rowland's Calm With Horses, Bora Kim's House of Hummingbird, Halina Reijn's Instinct, Joe Talbot's The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Claire Oakley's Make Up, Mariko Minoguchi's Relativity and Shahad Ameen's Scales.

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  • Raw (2016) aka: Grave / Freaking

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    1h 34min

    Writer-director Julia Ducournau's feature bow is not a film to watch with your supper. Allusions to Brian De Palma's Carrie (1976) and John Fawcett's Ginger Snaps (2000) abound, as 16 year-old vegetarian Garance Marillier follows in the footsteps of her parents and older sister, Ella Rumpf, by enrolling at a prestigious veterinary school. Disappointed to be snubbed by Rumpf, Marillier finds herself craving meat and sex after being forced to eat a raw rabbit kidney during an initiation ritual. Gay roommate Rabah Naït Oufella sympathises, but Marillier realises this is a life-changing transformation she is going to have to resolve by herself. Gory, gutsy, graphic, and gripping, this instant genre classic requires a strong stomach.

  • Leviathan (2014) aka: Leviafan

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    2h 15min

    Notwithstanding the plaudits he regularly receives abroad, Andrei Zvyagintsev is barely tolerated by the regime he satirises in this simmering drama, which takes its title from the biblical story of Job. Mechanic Alexei Serebriakov lives in a blue wooden house overlooking the Barents Sea with his wife, Elena Liadova, and teenage son, Sergei Pokhodaev. However, the town's corrupt mayor, Roman Madianov, has set his heart on the property and Serebriakov lives to regret summoning old army buddy-turned-lawyer Vladimir Vdovitchenkov from Moscow to fight the requisition order when he makes an unwelcome discovery that shatters his happy home. Impeccably played and evocatively photographed by Mikhail Krichman, this is clearly the work of a master.

  • Ida (2014) aka: Sister of Mercy

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    1h 20min

    Jean Renoir's maxim that everyone has their reasons underpins Pawel Pawlikowski's meticulous monochrome melodrama, which would follow its success at LFF with the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Co-scripting with playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Pawlikowski reflects upon the role that Poles played in the Holocaust and the strains placed upon a population forced to live under the successive occupations of the Nazis and the Soviets. Shortly before taking her vows to become a nun, Agata Trzebuchowska is ordered by her Mother Superior to spend time with her aunt, Agata Kulesza, a high-powered and hard-drinking judge whose conscience is troubling her. Exceptionally designed and photographed, this classy road movie contrasts religious and political dogma to a 1960s jazz score.

  • Armadillo (2010)

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    1h 41min

    Resembling Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington's Oscar-nominated Restrepo (2010), Janus Metz's harrowing documentary follows four Danish soldiers, Mads, Kim, Daniel and Rasmus, on a 2009 tour of duty at the Forward Operating Base Armadillo in Afghanistan's infamous Helmand Province. There's plenty of bantering braggadocio during the unit's downtime and boredom proves as relentless an enemy as the Taliban. But, following the loss of three comrades, a mission to flush out the militants hiding in a nearby village causes a scandal back home. With Metz and cameraman Lars Skree risking their lives alongside the troops they are profiling, this is a stark account of what it means to fight an invisible enemy who doesn't respect the standard rules of engagement.

    Janus Metz Pedersen
    Janus Metz Pedersen
  • The Arbor (2010)

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    1h 34min

    Discovered at 15 and dead at 29, playwright Andrea Dunbar took the Royal Court Theatre by storm in the Thatcherite era under the direction of Max Stafford-Clark. However, as Clio Barnard reveals in this audacious experiment in verbatim cinema, Dunbar's rapid rise and fall gravely impacted upon her daughters, Lorraine and Lisa. Having interviewed the sisters, as well as Dunbar's family and friends, Barnard has her cast lip-sync to the recordings in the same Brafferton Arbor locations on Bradford's notorious Buttershaw Estate, where Dunbar had lived. Manjinder Virk and Christine Bottomley are outstanding as the traumatised daughters, while George Costigan knowingly riffs on the character he played in Alan Clarke's Dunbar-scripted Rita, Sue and Bob, Too (1987).

  • A Prophet (2009) aka: Un prophète

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    2h 29min

    Jacques Audiard reined in the stylistic flourishes that had characterised his earlier work in this imposing study of prison routine, which shows how illiterate 19 year-old small-timer Tahar Rahim is sentenced to six years and becomes a hardened criminal after murdering a fellow Arab on the orders of Corsican mobster Niels Arestrup. With Michel Barthelemy's oppressive design setting the forbidding tone and Stéphane Fontaine's handheld visuals and Juliette Welfling's punchy editing conveying the novice's nervy need for vigilance and quick wit, Audiard manages to combine Cagneyesque swagger with Bressonian rigour to make Rahim's rise through the ranks feel more like an indictment of a failing system than another macho paean to a self-made anti-hero.

  • Ratcatcher (1999)

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    1h 34min

    Echoes of The Bill Douglas Trilogy (1972-78) can be detected throughout Lynne Ramsay's debut feature, which fulfilled the promise shown by her Cannes-winning shorts, Small Deaths (1996) and Gasman (1998). Set in strike-ridden Glasgow in the mid-1970s, the action centres on 12 year-old William Eadie, who is waiting to move from the tenement he shares with parents Tommy Flanagan and Mandy Matthews to a new council house. He spends much his time with the animal-loving John Miller and the affection-starved Leanne Mullen. But he's haunted by the role he played in another boy drowning in the canal. With Rachel Portman's lyrical score counterpointing Alwin Kuchler's stark imagery, this is social realism at its most poignant.

    Lynne Ramsay
    Tommy Flanagan, Mandy Matthews, William Eadie
  • The Apple (1997) aka: Sib

    1h 24min

    This affecting debut is very much a family affair, as Iranian maestro Mohsen Makhmalbaf wrote and edited a story that is directed with disarming wit and wisdom by his 17 year-old daughter, Samira. At its heart are 11 year-old twins Massoumeh and Zahra Naderi, whose 65 year-old father, Ghorbanali, is so piously conservative that he refuses to let the girls out of the house they share with their blind mother. Everything changes, however, when they are discovered by a social worker, Azizeh Mohamadi. Despite being acclaimed for Blackboards (2000) and At Five in the Afternoon (2003), Samira hasn't directed since the Afghan set of Two-Legged Horse (2008) was attacked by a man with a grenade.

  • Tarnation (2003)

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    1h 31min

    Made for just $218.32 and edited with the iMovie software that came free with his Apple Mac, Jonathan Caouette's first film was executive produced by Gus Van Sant and John Cameron Mitchell. They might have reined in some of the editorial flamboyance that exacerbates an already difficult watch. But this is a compelling and recklessly honest account of Caouette's relationship with his mother, Renee LeBlanc, the Texan model who was tipped into schizophrenia following 200 bouts of electroshock therapy. Seemingly living his life in preparation for this picture, Caouette makes instinctive use of the letters, photographs and home movies he has been amassing since he was a boy. The result is deeply unsettling, but also hauntingly indelible.

  • Persepolis (2007)

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    1h 31min

    Adapted from her four-volume series of graphic novels and superbly voiced by Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve and Danielle Darrieux, Marjane Satrapi's animated memoir follows a young girl's alternately amusing and confusing rite of passage during a time of traumatic change. Co-directing with Vincent Paronnaud, Satrapi uses her personal experiences to comment on the transition that Iranians underwent after the Shah was overthrown by the Islamic Revolution that brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power. Recalling being forced to wear the veil and hide her love of Bruce Lee and heavy metal music, Satrapi drolly digresses to her schooldays in Vienna before returning to share the burden of acclimatising to Muslim law with her mother and adored grandmother.