Isabella Rossellini’s Top 10


“Blue Velvet” actress and Lancome model Isabella Rossellini picks the films that have brought most joy into her heart. Listed here courtesy of Time Out, she explains each of her choices as she presents a diverse and eclectic mix of movies.

Incidentally, Isabella only lists her top 8 films, which appear below.

1. Some Like It Hot (Wilder, 1959)
She says: “I think Marilyn Monroe was never in sexier form than here in her third-last film playing the uber-zaftig Sugar Kane Kowalczyk. As wonderfully as Orry-Kelly made the gowns for this doomed comic genius, I can’t help but wish I could shred them off her hot body with my avid fingers, especially that number that’s already half fallen off during her wild little run with the ukulele. The darkness Marilyn constantly steps into and back out of, even during her comic scenes in this movie, never quite conceals her nakedness, and her willingness to give this much – or inability to give anything but – gave me courage to tackle my most personally frightening work in Blue Velvet.”

Fancy watching Isabella Rossellini’s favourite film of all time? Click here: Some Like It Hot – Special Edition on DVD from

2. Bellissima (Luchino Visconti, 1951)
She says: “Visconti, a contemporary of my father’s, made this film – my favourite film about show business and the beauty industry. Starring Anna Magnani (father’s bed was still warm from Anna when mother arrived on the scene, and both women practised the same profession – that’ll never make for a solid friendship!) as the ultimate backstage mother who is willing to bankrupt her family in order to pursue her illusory dreams of success for her daughter. This film may have been responsible as anything for my long-delayed – considering my curious pedigree – attempted entry into movies.

3. Notorious (Hitchcock, 1946)
She says: “My personal favourite of all my mother’s movies. I think even the title opens up so many emotional compartments for me, for I was born during my mother’s notoriety as Hollywood infidel and continental usurper. When I was old enough to understand Hitchcock’s movie, I felt Carey Grant was victimising mother as much as the rest of the film public was. Later I conveniently chose to understand film industry hostility as the same species of lust and jealousy which inflamed Grant’s character. I felt less a victim on my mother’s behalf and more proud of her, and of her character, for doing what she believed in – what was only right to do. After all, how is daughter to resent her own mother for falling in love with her father? Anyway, this movie blurred the boarders between movies and real life, and confused me in all the right ways for as long as I’ve lived. And, I pray, will continue to do so. It’s also a really good movie.”

4. The Circus (Chaplin, 1928)
She says: “I love circuses, and always try to get myself and my kids out for at least one afternoon under the big top every year – but maestro Charlie Chaplin’s “The Circus” I watch with a rapture that exceeds pleasure and pushes into exquisite agonies. I read somewhere that Charlie Chaplin didn’t care for this movie – I know he had a nervous breakdown during or just after production – but sometimes he was just wrong about his own work: why did he re-edit his silent masterpieces decades later when improvement upon such loveliness was simply impossible? The Little Tramp’s high-wire act with a swarm of sadistic monkeys crawling all over him seems to distil “1001 Nights” under one big top, and the ending is as poignant as anything this side of “City Lights”.

5. One Hundred and One Dalmations (Geronimi/Luske/Reitherman, 1961)
She says: “I know Walt Disney didn’t direct this, but who remembers this legendary man’s directors when his producer’s imprint is so obvious. I think my love of animals was cemented when I saw this as a child, and hundreds of odd pets and two children of my own later, I still love this movie, and I think I’m still scared of the Cruella de Vils of this world – I’m on a number of charitable boards fighting her type to this day. I even bought a piglet for my daughter once, simply because it reminded me of one of those animated puppies, and we all had such a great time with it until it grew into a giant, furniture-raping boar. Luckily, it passed away before I had to make any Cruella decisions of my own.

6. Paisa (Rossellini, 1946)
She says: “This was the first film by my father that I remember seeing. I saw it as a child and I remember some friends of mine said they were bored so I was ashamed. Then later I heard some adults saying the same thing. But when I revisited the picture as a teenager I got to make up my own mind. I could barely contain the emotional surprise that accompanied the knowledge that my father new what he was doing. I had secretly and shamefully been short-changing him for years, and now, without saying a word to me, he was telling me through this film that he was a force to be reckoned with, a force that for me would never go away.

7. La Strada (Fellini, 1954)
She says: “I was lucky enough to meet La Strada’s star Giulietta Masina often when I was growing up. What lightness and sadness were in her! She was literally a female Chaplin – the Littlest Tramp – both on and off screen. Her Gelsomina here is even a silent movie invention! Did Woody Allen ever admit to stealing the plot for “Sweet and Lowdown” from Fellini’s “La Strada” (right down to the mute played by Samantha Morton). If it was a tribute, it was a sweet one, but if he was trying to fool the ghosts of Giulietta and Federico, there will be some strange thumping and rattling in Mr Allen’s house for the rest of his days.

8. Raise The Red Lantern (Zhang, 1991)
She says: “How the gasp-inducing beauty of Gong Li can succeed in as many different kinds of role as she has, how she even worked up the nerve to attempt this array, is one of the awesome mysteries with which film history confronts me. People have compared Gong and director Zhang Yimou to Dietrich and Sternberg, but for me the Chinese couple is even more impressively cryptic in their design, and this movie is their best. It feels like the history of a country, a culture and even a gender are all present in any randomly chosen frame of this serene and gorgeous poem.

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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    Martha Reply

    If you like classical music like this, you HAVE to watch Josh Wright play La Campanella on two grand pianos!

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