Born in the late 60s.
A former student in English literature and film history (in
Maybe it is worth mentioning that I did also some film subtitling (for TV channels and DVD editions) a few years ago, alas too briefly.
When establishing this list, my rule was only one film per director, or else I would have mentioned at least 10 films by Kurosawa or 5 films by Billy Wilder (I obviously failed with Jean Renoir).
The result was a little surprising to me : what ? No Ozu ? No
In no particular order :
- City Lights (1931) .. Charles Chaplin
This choice may be the hardest, since Chaplin has directed only great films. “City lights” wins over “The great dictator”, “The gold rush”, “Modern times” or “The kid” just because I have been always moved to tears by the last scene, which is one of the most poignant ones in film history, along with the very last minutes of “Bicycle Thieves” (see below).
- La Belle et la Bête (1946) .. Jean Cocteau
Poetry made film. A visual marvel. My favourite one among all these favourites ? Perhaps.
Oooh, and how much I love the arm-candelabras !
- The Collector (1965) .. William Wyler
I never could get over “The Collector”, as strange as it may seem. I was 17 and I fell madly in love with Terence Stamp when I first watched this film. Then Terence and I have had this love affair for over a year (in my dreams of course). This is what happens when you are what I would call “an early film buff” : you don’t have fantasies over pop singers or teen-age idols, but rather over Terence Stamp, Charles Boyer or Gérard Philipe. Please shoot me.
Entry # 3, and I know already that some of the films are in this list only for reasons of personal taste.
- Manhattan (1979) .. Woody Allen
Of all W. Allen’s films, “Manhattan” still remains my favourite one, after all these years, for its sumptuous black and white photography, for its sweetness, for its actors, for its wonderful opening scene (ah, “Rhapsody in blue”…). And you can see the WTC in some scenes, the place where I eventually celebrated my 20th birthday. Ah, nostalgia.
- 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) ..
My favourite Kubrick, along with “Barry Lyndon”. I never quite liked “Dr. Strangelove”, and “A Clockwork Orange” has turned into something incredibly kitsch. All other Kubrick’s works are great, if not wonderful.
- Bicycle Thieves (1948) .. Vittorio De Sica
Heartbreaking last scene. But before that scene, there is so much more. OK, this is not exactly a very original choice (as other films in this list), but I gather it is one of the few films that can actually change a life. And yet it is a very simple story : a father and his son, and a harrowing search of work. That’s it.
Or else, give me “Paisa” or “
, Open City” by Rossellini. Rome
- La Grande Illusion (1937) .. Jean Renoir or
The River (1951) .. Jean Renoir
If you ask me which film is Renoir’s best, I will answer “La grande illusion” without hesitation. I never enjoyed “Rules of the Game” – to me, “La Grande Illusion” is above it and I always watch it with great pleasure. Gabin and Renoir were a wonderful pair (see also “The Human Beast”). But if you ask me which film is my personal favourite, then my answer is “The River”. Three teenage girls and a young wounded man. The pain of unfulfilled love.
right after the British Raj. A flamboyant photography. A little bitch named Valerie. Enough said. India
- The Damned (1969) .. Luchino Visconti
Ah, Helmut Berger in stockings.
All right. I know. Sometimes there are preposterous reasons to fall in love with a film. Then there is also a young and beautiful Charlotte Rampling and a wonderful cast (Dirk Bogarde, Ingrid Thullin…). When I watched this for the first time, I was a teenager and I began to understand the nature of Nazism. Of course I was wrong, but this was the start of a lifetime interest in WWII.
- Alien (1979) .. Ridley Scott
In space no one can hear you scream. I was much too young when it first came out on the French silver screens, so I discovered it on TV. Nevertheless, it is one of the most powerful sci-fi films I’ve ever seen, the type which never ages. The alien ? Acid instead of blood. Jaws inside jaws. And above all, it looks real.
A classic ? No, a milestone.
- The Party (1968) .. Blake Edwards
In a posh party no one can simply hear you. The alien ? Peter Sellers in great shape, as Hrundi V. Bakhshi, the most hilarious walking calamity I ever saw on screen. A real phenomenon !
Unlike other films I have selected here, “The Party” is not perfect. I find the last 15 minutes really boring. But no film has to be perfect to appear in this selection.
Entry # 10, and I realize that in spite of some flaws, some films are more meaningful or more enjoyable than absolute masterpieces.
- Rashomon (1950) .. Akira Kurosawa
It is hard to pick just one Kurosawa film. I wouldn’t say that “Rashômon” really stands out in such a rich filmography. However, it is exactly the sort of “never seen before” film which remains in your memory once for good. I close my eyes and I see undergrowths in black and white, and the figure of a lady passing by.
- Chikamatsu Monogatari (1954) .. Kenji Mizoguchi
This is the second Mizoguchi film I saw (after “’Street of shame”) and it produced a lasting impression on me. I think it encompasses most of Mizoguchi favourite themes without being as famous as “Sancho the Bailiff”, “Tales of a Pale and Mysterious Moon After the Rain” or “The Life of Oharu”. And yet, what a story ! Set in medieval
, this tale of two ill-fated lovers is a universal one. Japan
Entry # 12, and I find I have selected most of the films in this list precisely because they tell universal stories.
- Nosferatu (1922) .. F.W. Murnau
Immortal – which seems to be the least about a film on living deads.
And yet, if you consider that there is no camera movement, some overacting and what seems to be an undeveloped cinematography, you may wonder what makes “Nosferatu” so special. The answer is, well, its old age (and Max Schreck). They knew how to make mysterious, creepy films in the 20s. Here, even Nosferatu’s shadow is scary. Even his nails are scary. Now, try to find that in any modern film.
- The Thin Red Line (1998) .. Terrence Malick
I’m not into war films, but “The Thin Red Line” is an exception. Note that the three war films in this list are not typical. Take Malick’s film, for instance. To me, it is much more a reflection on war than anything else. I was literally enthralled when I saw it in a theatre, so much enthralled indeed that I didn’t want it to stop. Although it is very long, I could have taken two or three more hours !
As the other war films I have chosen, “The Thin Red Line” is filled with micro stories, unforgettable characters and scenes, a philosophical or even metaphysical content and present a disenchanted depiction of the human kind.
- Lift to the Scaffold (1958) .. Louis Malle
At the other end of his career stands his other masterpiece : “Farewell, children”. Maybe the only real French film noir. Jeanne Moreau wandering in the streets of
, the rain and Miles Davis’s music. This is how you make it. Paris
- Singin' in the Rain (1952) .. Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly
You get never tired of it. Never, ever. My favourite number ? Maybe “Fit as a fiddle”. No, wait ! “Make ‘em laugh”. Uh, and what about “Good Morning”, or the title song, “Singin’ on the rain” ? Or “Gotta Dance” ballet ? …I love them all.
- An American in Paris (1951) .. Vincente Minnelli
Why not « The Band Wagon » ? Just because the finale of “An American…” is Minelli’s true masterpiece, an homage to the French painters he admired so much. It seems that Technicolor was created just for that sequence !
- Morocco (1930) .. Josef von Sternberg
And at the very end, Marlene Dietrich takes off her shoes to follow Gary Cooper in the Moroccan desert. If you don’t know what passion is, this scene is its very symbol. Magical. Josef von Sternberg at his best (but you could say the same thing about two or three other films, like « Blonde Venus » or «
express ») : exoticism, mystery, (sexual) ambiguousness and flamboyance. Shanghai
All right, Marlene was even more stunning in “The Scarlet Empress” directed by the same von Sternberg, but there is no Gary Cooper in “The Scarlet Empress”…
Entry # 18, and I grow aware that some actors do make a difference.
- In the Mood for Love (2000) .. Wong Kar Wai
Just for him. Just for her. Perfect cinematography and music. Gives the word “tasteful” its full meaning.
- Raise the Red Lantern (1991) .. Zhang Yimou
I remember a French newspaper exclaiming on it front page : “A Chinese film !!!”. Yes, “Raise the Red Lantern” made it big in
. No wonder why : a good cast (talented Gong Li, Kong Lin and He Caifei), a good story of betrayal and tragedy, and a rich, sumptuous photography (not to mention the costumes, also noteworthy). France
- Dead Man (1995) .. Jim Jarmusch
As soon as I saw the trailer in a film theatre, I knew it would be a film for me. Hypnotic black and white, mesmerizing music. One of the most original journeys you can make. The closest definition of ukiyo-e I could find (and it had to be an American indie film !) : truly these are images of the floating world.
- The Quiet Man (1952) .. John Ford
Ford’s return to his roots. I always found this Irish ballad nice and charming. “The Searchers” may be Ford’s best effort, profound (but also bitter). However, I prefer this Irish version of “The Taming of the Shrew”, probably because it meant so much to the guy who directed it.
- Il Sorpasso (1962) .. Dino Risi
Always have an Italian comedy in your film selection. I could have chosen as well “Profumo di donna (Scent of a Woman)” by the same Risi with the same Vittorio Gassman (but in this one there is also Jean-Louis Trintignant). Both films are the best from this magnificent pair. Gassman was the hell of an actor : handsome, talented, and classy. Even if he had a tendency to overact, sometimes he was also a pure genius.
- Citizen Kane (1941) .. Orson Welles
Like every film buff I know, I put this one in my list…
- The Night of the Hunter (1955) .. Charles Laughton
Like every film buff I know, I put this one in my list ! Entry # 24 and 25 are not exactly surprising. But hey – I can’t help it : these are masterpieces from geniuses. Period.
Entries # 24 & 25, and it seems that some masterpieces can’t be ignored after all.
- Some Like It Hot (1959) .. Billy Wilder
I never get tired of this one either, especially thanks to Jack Lemmon who has never been as hilarious as Daphne. While I’m at it, let’s mention the other highlight of the fabulous Wilder/Lemmon duet : “The Apartment”.
- Les Visiteurs du Soir (1942) .. Marcel Carné
Why select « Les visiteurs » over « Le jour se lève » or « Hôtel du Nord » and other timeless classics by Carné and Prévert ? Perhaps because it was my first Carné/Prévert. Perhaps because I like the subtext (an allegory of the French Resistance). Oh, and I love Arletty’s sexual ambiguity. That was bold.
- Les Diaboliques (1955) .. Henri-Georges Clouzot
I had to pick a film featuring Simone Signoret, perhaps the greatest French actress of all times. Why this one and not, say, “Casque d’Or” or “Dédée d’Anvers” or “Manèges” ? Because I admit I have a taste for scary psychological tales when they are true originals.
- Brazil (1985) .. Terry Gilliam
The third insane film of the list (with « The Cabinet of Dr Caligari » and “Alice in Wonderland”). This is the stuff dreams (or rather, nightmares) are made of. “
” is like no other. Brazil
Entry # 29, and sure some nonsense every now and then is good for you. Right,
(see below) ? Alice
- Lost in Translation (2003) .. Sofia Coppola
I have seen it already half a dozen times. And this is only the beginning.
- Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983) .. Nagisa Oshima
I certainly had to like this film to write a 70-page essay about it when I was a university student. As I wrote above, I’m not a huge fan of war films. But this is not a war film, in spite of its “Bridge on the River Kwai”-like story. I always compare it to a multi-layered cake as it encompasses numerous themes : the clash between civilizations, the homosexual subtext, the references to Mishima, the nods to “…River Kwai”, the nature of war, cultural superiority, and so on…
Entry # 31, and I admit I like multi-layered stories.
- Apocalypse Now (1979) .. Francis Ford Coppola
Again, I’m not a war film addict (got it ?). Again, this film is not simply a war film or just a baroque adaptation of Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”, but rather a film about madness (certainly not about
!). Or better, a film on the damages from within. Vietnam
- Farewell My Concubine (1993) .. Chen Kaige
When it was co-awarded the Palme d’Or with “The Piano” (see below) at the
film festival, it was half as successful at the French box-office. What a shame. I enjoyed both films. I couldn’t decide which film was the best. I still can’t. Captivating story over several decades of Chinese turmoils. Cannes
- The Piano (1993) .. Jane Campion
Many pictures are indelible : a piano left on a wild shore, gorgeous landscapes, a little girl with angel wings, a woman in Victorian dress sat at a piano with a man at her feet… Michael Nyman’s score is a good reason too to love this film. Now, that’s what I call romantic ! And sensual !
- Alice in Wonderland (1951) .. Clyde Geronimi & Wilfred Jackson &
The first film I saw in a theatre. I was five. I never forgot it.
Now, I was really shocked years later when I found out that the real
(photographed by Charles Dodgson, a.k.a. Lewis Carroll) was a brunette. What ? You mean that Disney recreated the character ? Alice
Speaking of (re)creation, my favourite character is the Cheshire Cat. What a crazy and bizarre troublemaker ! The most intriguing character of them all.
Entry # 35, and I come to think that some of the very first films I saw on the big screen definitely shaped my tastes.
- Delicatessen (1991) .. Marc Caro & Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Mix poetic realism à la Marcel Carne with (very) dark humour and you’ll obtain “Delicatessen”. I saw this film (twice) when I came back to France after a year spent in the U.S.A., and it was so good and refreshing to lay my eyes on something of this kind after months of American blockbusters (and nothing but), something that was small and clever, mischievous and creative. I have rarely seen films which convey to this point feelings of familiarity and impressions of novelty.
- The Shop Around the Corner (1940) .. Ernst Lubitsch
“So it was you ?… — Yes, it was me. Are you disappointed ?” Yes, yes indeed, at some point it becomes very moving, and you find yourself almost crying. “The Shop Around the Corner” is not just a light-hearted comedy. Precisely.
One more from Lubitsch, which would be worth mentioning ? …Why just “one more” ?
- The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) .. Robert Wiene
What a stylish, crooked piece of art. Sorry Fritz Lang for not choosing one of the many wonders you directed in the 1920s. To me, German cinema dominated the 1920s like French cinema dominated the 1930s. You can always object that the
USA, Great Britainand the Soviet Unionalso produced fine films in that period. I totally agree. But German films were then a little superior, thanks to expressionism. And “The cabinet of Dr Caligari”, along with “Nosferatu”, is the epitome of German expressionism. And what a psychotic, paranoid, insane screenplay, my God !
- Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) .. Werner Herzog
According to some people, “Aguirre” has the best opening scene in cinema history. I agree ! That incredible shot over the steep mountains of the
Andesand the eerie music by Popol Vuh make it fascinating. The rest of “Aguirre” is worth the trip, a gripping parabola on greed and power.
- Reservoir Dogs (1992) .. Quentin Tarantino
I was the only woman in the cinema theatre when I first watched it. I remember clearly the all-male audience. Quite a memory. The film itself is still in my eyes Tarantino’s best. He was very promising then. He has always disappointed me a little ever since.
- Casablanca (1942) .. Michael Curtiz
“Play it again Sam” and all that. Bergman and Bogart, a magical pair.
- Brief Encounter (1945) .. David Lean
David Lean before his bigger-than-life films. Simple, realistic and very moving. The last scenes are unforgettable.
- The Silence of the Lambs (1991) .. Jonathan Demme
Believe me, there is a love story between Clarice and Hannibal. OK, OK, it is suspenseful too, well directed, well acted, not to the mention the superb screenplay. But don’t forget, there’s a love story there. Look for the few seconds when Clarice’s hand brushes against
’s hand. You see what I mean ? Hannibal
- The Elephant Man (1980) .. David Lynch
A true masterpiece. Of course the reference is “Freaks”, but “The Elephant Man” conveys more emotions and perhaps goes a little further than its glorious ancestor. Only few films stir warm feelings and morbid curiosity at the same time.
Entry # 44, and I find that the more unsettling they are, the more powerful they are (most of the time).
- Wings of Desire (1987) .. Wim Wenders
A vivid memory from my student days. Both visually stunning and highly literary, it presents an ethereal vision of a
Berlinthat doesn’t exist any longer. There was a time when Europe was divided in two (and the sky over was the only thing that kept these two parts together), and it seems it was ages ago. But no, this film was made a little more than 20 years ago. Only two more years, and the Berlin Wall was torn down. Berlin
I can’t forget the very first picture (an angel overlooking
Berlinin a glamorous black and white), the hypnotic and breathtaking camera movements, the poetry of some dialogues, the music
It scores high, very high, on every criteria.
Entry # 45, and I have to confess I tend to prefer black and white films, as they form a majority in this list !
- Andrei Rublev (1966) .. Andrei Tarkovsky
I was about 12 when my father made me watch this film. A John Ford expert, he is not exactly the kind of man who would watch intricate Soviet films about icon painters. Nevertheless, he knew the film and made me watch it. Since it’s a long film and it started late at night I had to fight sleep during most of it (that was before my parents bought their first VCR). What a memory. When I watched it for the second time, many years later, I discovered many scenes which looked new to me – I must have been sleeping the first time ! Anyway, it is to me the less cryptic Tarkovsky’s work, along with “Ivan’s Childhood”. In a class by itself.
- That Man from Rio (1964) .. Philippe de Broca
The best action/comedy film ever ? Spielberg doesn’t have to adapt “Tintin” for the big screen, everything is there already : adventure, humour, rhythm, real villains, a cool and athletic lead, exoticism… And a wonderful, beautiful bonus named Françoise Dorléac.
Oh, I would like to mention “Le Magnifique” by the same director, also with Jean-Paul Belmondo. Maybe not as good, but extremely funny.
- Alexander Nevsky (1938) .. Sergei M. Eisenstein
Don’t get me wrong : I love “The Battleship Potemkin” and feel that everyone should see it at least once. I think also that “Ivan the Terrible” is great. But perhaps because “Alexander Nevsky” is less well-known, I had more pleasure at viewing it for the first time.
- Monsieur Hulot's Holiday (1953) .. Jacques Tati
Watching this is like imagining what my parents’ holidays at the seaside were when they were young. The perfect feel-good film : it has charm, it is funny without being nasty… I just love it (and happen to know each scene by heart) !
Entry # 49, and the fact that I know some films by heart is clear enough.
- Psycho (1960) .. Alfred Hitchcock
Yes, having selected “The Collector”, “Les Diaboliques”, “Alien”, “The Silence of the Lambs”… I admit I like creepy stuff. There is little doubt that it still remains one of the greatest psychological horror films. Perfect score by Bernard Herrman.
The other Hitchcockian work I revere is “Vertigo”.
More films ?
“The Red Shoes” or “A Matter of Life and Death” by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
“The 400 Blows”, François Truffaut
“Smiles of a Summer Night”, Ingmar Bergman
“The Postman Always Rings Twice”,
“Intolerance”, D.W. Griffith
“Seppuku” by Masaki Kobayashi
“Vampyr”, Carl Theodor Dreyer
“The Draughtsman’s Contract”, Peter Greenaway
“Cria cuervos”, Carlos Saura
“Taxi Driver”, Martin Scorsese
“A Special Day”, Ettore Scola
“Head On”, Fatih Akin
“Matador”, Pedro Almodovar
“The Big Lebowski”, Joel and Ethan Coen
“Pi”, Darren Aronofsky
“La Belle Equipe”, Julien Duvivier
“Eyes without a Face”, Georges Franju
“El”, Luis Bunuel
One documentary ?
"Shoah", Claude Lanzmann
One more for the road :
"Toto the Hero", Jaco Van Dormael