With garlands and glamour, cinema’s spirit of self-congratulation has long fascinated, allowing great works to gain recognition and reach wide audiences.
The famous example is Kurosawa’s Rashomon, which astounded Venice and thrust Japanese cinema on the world stage. But awards still have the power to elevate films and help secure their place in the pantheon. Our collection highlights the films that have won the praise of peers over the years, from Palme d’Or recipients to prize-winners from the BFI London Film Festival.
Drama201699 minsDirector: Shubhashish Bhutiani
This gentle, tender and award-winning Indian comedy follows the ordeal of an over-worked modern son forced to accompany his 77-year-old father to the holy city of Varanasi, where he plans to end his days.
Drama2009100 minsDirector: Stéphane Brizé
When a happily married man decides to volunteer at his son’s school, he begins to form a romantic bond with a teacher in this intimate French drama.
Historical drama1981157 minsDirector: Werner Herzog
One of Werner Herzog's most acclaimed and audacious films, Fitzcarraldo tells the incredible story of Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, an opera-loving fortune hunter who dreams of bringing opera to the heart of the Peruvian jungle.
Drama194889 minsDirector: Vittorio De Sica
Vittorio De Sica’s story of a father and son searching for a stolen bicycle on the streets of Rome is a classic of post-war Italian cinema.
Drama1947101 minsDirector: Michael Powell
Tensions grow when a group of nuns open a convent in the Himalayas in Powell and Pressburger’s remarkable melodrama, starring Deborah Kerr.
Drama2011105 minsDirector: Pablo Berger
Pablo Berger’s imaginative black-and-white ‘silent’ movie relocates the story of Snow White to 1920s Spain – complete with bullfighting dwarfs
Buena Vista Social Club
Documentary1999101 minsDirector: Wim Wenders
Cuba’s rich and colourful past comes vividly to life in this legendary, Oscar-nominated documentary from director Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas, Wings of Desire).
Breathless / À bout de souffle
Film noir196090 minsDirector: Jean-Luc Godard
Jean-Luc Godard’s extraordinary debut feature, an insouciant and iconoclastic crime film that paved the way for the French New Wave.
By the Time It Gets Dark
Drama2016106 minsDirector: Anocha Suwichakornpong
Anocha Suwichakornpong's mesmerising and innovative treatise on memory, politics and cinema.
Drama2014116 minsDirector: Chaitanya Tamhane
Hailed as a modern classic channelling the spirit of Satyajit Ray, Chaitanya Tamhane's film is an absurdist portrait of injustice in contemporary India.
Comedy1990100 minsDirector: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Jeunet and Caro's endlessly inventive and wildly enjoyable post-apocalyptic black comedy, about a sinister butcher and the circus clown who becomes his nemesis.
Distant Voices, Still Lives
Biopic198881 minsDirector: Terence Davies
Terence Davies' debut feature is a remarkable evocation of working-class family life in the 40s and 50s and a visionary exploration of memory.
Drama200993 minsDirector: Yorgos Lanthimos
Yorgos Lanthimos' scary, witty tale of a dysfunctional Greek family is original, ingenious and sadly relevant as a study of parent-child relationships
Drama1970140 minsDirector: Akira Kurosawa
Akira Kurosawa’s first colour film is an eccentric and joyous account of a group of disparate people living in a city dump.
The Elephant Man
Biopic1980124 minsDirector: David Lynch
David Lynch's moving true-life tale of the severely deformed Joseph Merrick and his rescue from the hell of a Victorian circus sideshow.
Drama200797 minsDirector: Sarah Gavron
Sarah Gavron’s subtle and intelligent adaptation of Monica Ali’s acclaimed novel charts the experiences of a Bangladeshi woman in London.
For Those in Peril
Drama201392 minsDirector: Paul Wright
An intense and mysterious drama about the lone survivor of a strange fishing accident who’s outcast and persecuted by his fellow villagers.
Crime200893 minsDirector: Courtney Hunt
Nominated for two Oscars (Best Actress – Melissa Leo - and Best Original Screenplay) Frozen River is a riveting thriller that raises questions about the borders we construct, between countries, communities and each other.
Period drama1947118 minsDirector: David Lean
The first of David Lean’s two Dickens adaptations is one of the finest British literary interpretations and one of the most acclaimed of all British films.
Drama2006107 minsDirector: Ryan Fleck
Ryan Gosling received his first Oscar nomination for his performance as an inspirational inner city high school teacher, in this moving story of redemption in an unforgiving world
Historical drama1944131 minsDirector: Laurence Olivier
Laurence Olivier rouses an all-star cast and an imperiled nation with his magnificent adaptation of Shakespeare's warrior monarch.
Thriller2010107 minsDirector: Im Sang-soo
An enigmatic housemaid and her wealthy, totalitarian employer begin an affair that will have disastrous consequences for them both.
Drama2007124 minsDirector: John Sayles
Acclaimed writer-director John Sayles brings the birth of rock 'n' roll to life with electrifying effect, with Danny Glover heading up a stellar cast.
How I Ended This Summer
Drama2010124 minsDirector: Alexei Popogrebsky
Alexei Popogrebski's taut psychological drama depicts two Arctic meteorologists (a veteran and a novice); secrets, lies and isolation take their toll
In a Better World
Drama2010113 minsDirector: Susanne Bier
Susanne Bier’s sumptuous, Oscar-winning drama explores the duality of a doctor working in a Sudanese refugee camp and his troubled family life in rural Denmark.
Drama2012111 minsDirector: Thomas Vinterberg
Mads Mikkelsen stars in a distressing examination of a false indictment, and the collective hysteria that ensues, in this electrifying drama from Festen director Thomas Vinterberg.
Biopic201090 minsDirector: Clio Barnard
Clio Barnard's film about Bradford playwright Andrea Dunbar mixes reconstruction, interviews (performed by actors) and scenes from the plays.
Drama1977144 minsDirector: John Cassavetes
John Cassavetes’s emotionally charged film stands as one of the great American movies about theatre and the art of performance.
My Brother the Devil
Drama2012107 minsDirector: Sally El Hosaini
Sally El Hosaini's feature debut tells of the love and disenchantment of two British-Egyptian brothers. Gangs, drugs and sexuality come between them
Biopic2007136 minsDirector: Peter Greenaway
Martin Freeman’s hearty turn as Rembrandt anchors one of Peter Greenaway’s most accessible films, charting the creation of the Dutch master’s key work, ‘The Night Watch’.
Drama1984145 minsDirector: Wim Wenders
The late, great Harry Dean Stanton's finest role came as the near-mute Travis, on a journey across America to reunite his family, in Wim Wenders' moving tale of loss and redemption.
Drama1955125 minsDirector: Carl Th. Dreyer
Carl Theodor Dreyer’s beautifully photographed tale explores the religious intolerance and familial tensions within a Danish farming family.
Thriller2006110 minsDirector: Andrea Arnold
Andrea Arnold’s highly acclaimed film, winner of top prizes at Cannes and the BFI London Film Festival, is a haunting drama about a woman confronting past demons.
Drama1954207 minsDirector: Akira Kurosawa
Farmers hire a band of samurai to defend them against marauding bandits in Kurosawa’s influential epic, a touchstone for action movies ever since.
Drama1965180 minsDirector: Akira Kurosawa
Kurosawa’s episodic, poignant story of a 19th-century doctor (Toshiro Mifune) working in a clinic for the poor and his tumultuous friendship with young intern.
She, a Chinese
Drama200999 minsDirector: Xiaolu Guo
British-Chinese director Xiaolu Guo’s story of a young woman's journey from a remote Chinese village to London, in an attempt to realise the Western consumer dream.
Spanking the Monkey
Comedy199495 minsDirector: David O. Russell
David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) made his feature debut in 1994 with this biting black comedy, which caused a stir with its incestuous subplot and portrayal of adolescent restlessness.
Drama197883 minsDirector: Jerzy Skolimowski
Cannes’ Grand Jury Prize was awarded to this unnerving drama about a man who claims to be able to kill people with a ‘terror shout’ learned from an Aboriginal shaman.
A Simple Life
Drama2011118 minsDirector: Ann Hui On-Wah
A wealthy film executive reconnects with the nanny who raised him, in a touching drama from the great humanist of the Hong Kong New Wave, Ann Hui.
The Tree of Wooden Clogs
Period drama1978186 minsDirector: Ermanno Olmi
Ermanno Olmi’s Palme d’Or-winner, about the hardships faced by peasants in late 19th-century Lombardy, is a masterpiece of neorealism.
Drama1953136 minsDirector: Yasujiro Ozu
A constant fixture in critics' polls, Yasujiro Ozu's most enduring masterpiece is a beautifully nuanced exploration of filial duty, expectation and regret.
This Sporting Life
Sport1963129 minsDirector: Lindsay Anderson
Lindsay Anderson’s fantastic first feature masterfully dissects the brutal life struggles of a rough-edged rugby footballer on and off the field.
Crime1961111 minsDirector: Akira Kurosawa
Kurosawa’s classic about a drifting samurai who plays two gangs off against each other, famously remade as A Fistful of Dollars.
The Village Church
Documentary194714 minsDirector: Carl Th. Dreyer
Carl Theodor Dreyer recounts the history of churches in Denmark, in this hypnotic and powerfully realised short.
A Woman Under the Influence
Drama1974146 minsDirector: John Cassavetes
John Cassavetes's powerful drama stars Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk as a blue-collar couple struggling to cope with the wife's slide into mental illness.
All in Good Time
Comedy201194 minsDirector: Nigel Cole
A pair of newlyweds endure a honeymoon staying with the groom's parents in a comedy from East Is East writer Ayub Khan-Din.