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Berlinale classics: Our favourite ever Golden Bear winners

The Berlin International Film Festival has officially opened and there are some great films vying to win the Golden Bear, but how to they stack up against past winners?

La Notte (1961). Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. Nepi Films.

Lately, you get the feeling that the Berlinale’s prestigious Golden Bear has lost something of its bite. It’s true, the past few awards have recognised some stunning films, but stood up against the festival’s winners of the past, you can see how cinema has shifted its axis time and time again.

Magnolia (2000), directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Magnolia (1999). Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Ghoulardi Film Company.

Perhaps the film that really announced Paul Thomas Anderson, Magnolia was his answer to Robert Altman’s Shortcuts. A complex film with interweaving narratives about everyday coincidences, it is a movie that washes over you with pure ease. He’d go on to make movie after movie that would cement him as one of our greatest living directors yet Magnolia – despite its mind-bending cast of Hollywood A-listers – remains overlooked and underrated. Accepting his award at Berlinale, PTA mentioned his next film was going to be a romantic-comedy with Adam Sandler – the audience were laughing, he wasn’t. He followed up this golden bear winner with the off-kilter masterpiece Punch Drunk Love –  a film without which there would be no Uncut Gems.

The Thin Red Line (1999), directed by Terrence Malick.

The Thin Red Line (1999). Directed by Terrence Malick. Fox 2000 Pictures.

Malick’s Golden Bear remains were for a war film which married his signature metaphysical meditations and the brutal bloodiness of war. As diverse as ever with Malick this is a film which for many is his strongest (and perhaps most accessible), whilst also being seen by vast movie heads as one of his weaker works.   

Intimacy (2001), directed by Patrice Chéreau

Intimacy (2001). Direct by Patrice Chereau. Studio Canal

An overlooked gem of an erotic thriller: horny yet utterly heartfelt. Kerry Fox (Shallow Grave) stole the headlines in that 00s way with the unsimulated philacio scene with Mark Rylance – but Berlinale judges seen through the hysteria and understood the beauty and brilliance of this film. 

Spirited Away (2002), directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Spirited Away (2001). Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Studio Ghibili

The film that changed animation forever and brought Studio Ghibli to the masses. The only animated film to win the Golden Bear, but oh boy, if you were going to choose one then could there be anything more deserved? Funnily enough, this year’s Competition section features the first animated film to feature in that category since Spirited Away

A Separation (2011), directed by Asghar Farhadi

A Separation (2011). Directed by Asghar Farhadi. Asghar Farhadi Products

A Separation really put Asghar Farhadi’s on the map for western audiences – and what a work! Yet, Farhadi has been churning out masterpieces for decades. The Iranian filmmaker’s recent work A Hero a testament to his prolific and consistent mastery. A tip for those interested – About Elly, his work which preceded his Golden Bear winning A Separation, is a real gem. Go check it out! 

La Notte (1961), directed by Michelangelo Antonioni 

La Notte (1961). Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. Nepi Films.

La Notte, is the middle film from Antonioni’s, “Trilogy of Decadence” which sets out to explore modernity and its discontents. The glowing black and white postmodern bourgeois of La Notte  is a soul destroying exploration of the upper middle class dismantling of one another’s hearts. Antonioni changed the spectrum of cinema with this trilogy run.  

Cul-de-sac (1966), directed by Roman Polanski  

Cul-de-sac (1966). Directed by Roman Polanski. Compton Films

A wonderful score by Krzysztof Komeda, stunning cinematography by Gilbert Taylor and a  brilliant cast. Here Polanski is stripped back like Pinter or Beckett in one of his most thrilling rides!

Wetherby (1985), directed by David Hare

Wetherby (1985). Directed by David Hare. Film Four International

Alongside the very best of Merchant and Ivory, Wetherby is one of the best British films to come out of the 80s, with incredible performances from Ian Holm, Judi Dench, Joely Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave. Playwright David Hare’s mystery drama is a hidden British gem. 

Rain Man (1988), directed by Barry Levinson 

Rain Man (1988). Directed by Barry Levinson. MGM.

A staple of 1980s cinema, a flash in the pan of all things fast and fun and saves the sentiment for underneath. That is unless your family comes knocking and you have to switch your route up. Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise are brilliant here, as Cruise’s abrasive ice cold facade is broken down by Hoffman’s autistic genius. Cruise sets out for the inheritance and finds something much deeper at the end of his Las Vegas road trip through Hoffman’s vision. Hans Zimmer’s score works as a perfect companion. 

The People vs Larry Flint (1996), directed by Miloš Forman

The People vs Larry Flint (1996). Directed by Miloš Forman. Sony Pictures

Watching The People vs Larry Flint now makes for interesting viewing, as the culture wars of the 1990s become somewhat twee in comparison to the incel-doomed hyped up 2020s mania from which nothing is simple and everything chaotic. The cast is superb and the cinematography and set design epic, generation X in a trial film. Worth the revisit.