The top 100 films… and what they say about our changing society

It is 2 May 1945 and an airborne fighter pilot is reciting poetry with the clipped delivery of the British upper class. His plane is going down fast over the English coast as he offers his last words to June, an American wireless operator he has never met, stationed on the ground below. This is the memorable opening of A Matter of Life and Death, a British romance which, despite its 76 years, continues to hold its critical standing alongside the world’s top films.

Made by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and starring David Niven, it is part of the canon of world cinema. And yet many British filmgoers will never have watched its vivid glories.

Three nights ago, after a decade-long wait, the results of an influential poll of the world’s greatest films prompted shock and joy in equal measure. Both Citizen Kane and Vertigo, established as bywords for the best the big screen has to offer, were dislodged from the top of the chart. The new winner, a comparatively little-known…

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This article was written by Vanessa Thorpe and originally published on