Having been approached and agreeing to contribute I have been mindful of several things, not least the absurdity of attempting to select 50 Greatest anything; I have contributed in excess of fifteen hundred and fifty reviews to imdb.com and I enjoyed far more than I disliked and I disliked far more than I actually regretted wasting time watching. I have also been mindful of something that seems to be totally forgotten in some quarters today, that when those pioneers projected a flickering image onto a sheet, now well over a hundred years ago, they had no greater aim than to inspire child-like wonder in adults. I don’t know about you but I go to the movies primarily to be entertained not to be preached to and/or bombarded with propaganda. I like to believe that I’m a reasonably intelligent adult capable of making choices and if I feel strongly about social conditions I can join an applicable political party – or found one if it comes to that – instead of being conned into watching dogma masquerading as entertainment. I am, of course, in danger of opening a can of worms here for one man’s entertainment is another man’s banjo pics; I wouldn’t see anything entertaining or even mildly funny in say Police Academy, Animal House or the Carry On series in England whilst I would and did find both humour and entertainment in both versions (straight and musical) of The Producers. I’m also aware of the foibles of human nature; asked to nominate the Ten Best Films of all time one person, with a perfectly straight face will place Gidget Goes Hawaiian at number one followed by nine titles from the vineyards of Samuel Z. Arkoff’s AIP, whilst another, with equally straight face will opt for Breathless followed by more new wavelet dross. These are two extremes of a spectrum in which I think of myself as somewhere in the middle, amongst those who put Citizen Kane in first place. I have tried to include every decade since the advent of Sound even though I have only seen examples from the first decades on tv/Festivals/Revival Houses or dvd. I have also tried to include at least one example from every genre including westerns and musicals but excluding sci-fi/horror/cgi. I either own all my selections on dvd, am planning to buy them in that format or would buy them if they were available. I buy dvds of films that I want to watch at regular intervals and that I feel will stand up to multiple viewings rather than flavor-of-the-Oscars (The English Patient, for example) or films cynically aimed at the Festival circuit (Atonement) that quickly lose any appeal they once had, nor have I included those titles that I loved as a child but grew out of as an adult. I’m also aware that for every title on my list I could easily have nominated ten more – and I have ‘cheated’ mildly by counting five titles written by Marcel Pagnol (Marius/Fanny/Cesar and Jean de Florette/Manon des Source) as two films in total so that technically my list contains 53 separate films. There are, of course, several options available to the list-maker; Chronological, Alphabetical, or order of preference. I have gone for a fourth option and listed them in the order they came to me.

  • Citizen Kane (1941)
    Writer(s): Herman J. Mankiewicz, Orson Welles
    Director: Orson Welles
    Actors: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Everett Sloane, Agnes Moorhead

    This is, of course, a knee-jerk response when someone mentions the top Ten Best films let alone top Fifty, Hundred, etc. Even those like myself too young to have caught its initial release quickly become aware they need to seek it out sooner rather than later; first, to see what all the fuss is about, second to gasp in astonishment and third and subsequently forevermore to savour what remains the Best Total film of all time.

  • Marius (1931)
    Writer: Marcel Pagnol
    Director: Alexander Korda
    Actors: Raimu, Pierre Fresnay, Oriane Demazis, Charpin

    Chronologically this is the earliest film on my list, part one of the great Pagnol trilogy celebrating the Human Condition as do all great movies, as does all great literature. It began on the stage where it was a triumph for writer-director Pagnol and the cast, all of whom appeared in the film. With no experience of cinema Pagnol hired Alexander Korda to direct Raimu as Cesar, the bar owner whose son Marius (Fresnay), is torn between his love of the sea and love for his sweetheart (Demazis), who is loved in turn by the much older sail-maker Panisse (Charpin). Having established the principals the film ends with Marius, unaware that Fanny is pregnant, signing on for a long voyage.

  • Fanny (1932)
    Writer: Marcel Pagnol
    Director: Marc Allegret
    Actors: Raimu, Oriane Demazis, Charpin

    Not fully satisfied with Korda and still lacking the experience to direct a film himself Pagnol hired Marc Allegret to bring the second part of the trilogy – also a success in the theatre – to the screen. Fanny is persuaded by her mother to marry Panisse, a man who truly loves her rather than merely lusting after her, and who is aware of her condition. He not only raises her son as his own but loves him as his own and all three are happy for several years.

  • César (1936)
    Writer: Marcel Pagnol
    Director: Marcel Pagnol
    Actors: Raimu, Oriane Demazis, Pierre Fresnay

    Pagnol wrote the third part directly for the screen and directed it himself. The story comes full circle; Panisse dies of natural causes and is truly mourned by his wife and child. Marius has long abandoned the sea and has established himself in a neighbouring town. Cesar contrives to reunite Marius and Fanny. I’ve attempted to state the bones of the story as barely as possible in order to stress the banality but the strength and Joy of this trilogy is in the humanity of the people, the richness of the community created by Pagnol and the almost (Demazis is the weak link) flawless ensemble playing.

  • La Femme du Boulanger (1938)
    Writer: Marcel Pagnol
    Director: Marcel Pagnol
    Actors: Raimu, Ginette Leclerc, Charpin

    There are those who claim Pagnol is a one-trick pony and it is true he tends to write about rural Provence but he has a gift for breathing life into even the most minor character. Here he creates an entire small town thrown into crisis when baker Raimu’s wife leaves him for a shepherd from a neighbouring town. Feeling keenly the lack of his bread when Raimu is so broken he cannot work, the townspeople conspire to return his wife to him. Again a classically simple story yet Orson Welles called this the finest film he had ever seen and named Raimu as the finest actor in the world. Put it this way, it is certainly fit to be mentioned in the same breath as both Welles himself and Citizen Kane.

  • A Common Thread (2004) / Brodeuses
    Writer: Eleanor Faucher
    Director: Eleanor Faucher
    Actors: Ariane Ascaride, Lola Naymark

    This is, quite simply, one of the finest films of recent years, certainly of the new Millenium. Faucher employs her central metaphor of embroidery to weave a tapestry in which two wounded birds, Ascaride and Naymark slowly heal each other.

  • Chimes at Midnight (1965)
    Writers: William Shakespeare, adapted and compressed by Orson Welles
    Director: Orson Welles
    Actors: Orson Welles, John Giellgud, Margaret Rutherford, Jeanne Moreau

    This is the best Shakespeare film I have ever seen. Welles skilfully abridges Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, touches on Henry V and for good measure plays Falstaff himself. This not only eclipse his own Othello and Macbeth but every other Shakespeare adaptation. A masterpiece.

  • Brief Encounter (1945)
    Writer: Noel Coward
    Director: David Lean
    Actors: Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard

    A prime example of what Terence Rattigan called the ‘English’ disease, repressed emotion. Apart from anything else it is a time capsule of an England now as remote as Atlantis with Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard only a whisker ahead of an outstanding supporting cast led by Joyce Cary and Stanley Holloway.

  • The Browning Version (1951)
    Writer: Terence Rattigan
    Director: Anthony Asquith
    Actors: Michael Redgrave, Jean Kent, Nigel Patrick

    Rattigan’s stage version is the finest one-act play ever written by anyone anywhere and in writing his own screenplay he opened it out unobtrusively then he and director Puffin Asquith stood back and let a beyond brilliant Michael Redgrave lead a superb cast – Nigel Patrick, Jean Kent, Wilfrid Hyde Whyte (whose character wasn’t in the play) – to a triumphant celebration of a failure. Avoid the disastrous remake like the plague.

  • All About Eve (1950)
    Writer: Joeseph L. Mankiewicz
    Director: Joeseph L. Manciewicz
    Actors: Bette Davis, Ann Baxter, George Sanders, Eve Arden

    This isn’t all that much superior to Mank’s previous effort, A Letter To Three wives but in passing this is a celebration of the Theatre, chock full of pithy lines and great performances.

  • Le Quai des Brumes (1938)
    Writer: Jacques Prevert
    Director: Marcel Carne
    Actors: Jean Gabin, Michele Morgan, Michel Simon, Pierre Brasseur

    One of the great poetic-realism films of the thirties from the team (Prevert-Carne) who invented the genre. All four leads are beyond praise.

  • Le Jour se Leve (1939)
    Writer: Jacques Prevert
    Director: Marcel Carne
    Actors: Jean Gabin, Arletty, Jules Berry

    The follow-up to Quai des brumes with the same leading man, Gabin, playing another doomed loser this time with the great Arletty and Jules Berry in support.

  • Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
    Writers: Irving Brecher, Fred F. Finkelhoffe
    Director: Vincente Minnelli
    Music/Lyrics: Ralph Blane, Hugh Martin
    Actors: Judy Garland, Mary Astor, Leon Ames, Tom Drake

    The best Musicals invariably have a solid ‘Book’ onto which words and music are then grafted seamlessly. Sally Benson wrote a series of pieces for The New Yorker based on her own childhood in St Louis around the turn of the century. Vincente Minnelli brought his New York stage experience to the party and created a Currier and Ives setting spanning the four seasons and Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin came up with a score that was just about perfect. Judy Garland had the lead but Leon Ames and Mary Astor could hardly be bettered as the parents, Marjorie Main scored heavily as the maid as did Margaret O’Brien as ‘Tootie’ the character Sally Benson based on herself. Timeless.

  • A Star Is Born (1954)
    Writer: Moss Hart
    Director: George Cukor
    Music: Harold Arlen
    Lyrics: Ira Gershwin
    Actors: Judy Garland, James Mason, Charles Bickford

    My second Musical and as different from the first as Cole Porter is from Elton John. Once again there is a strong ‘Book’, originally filmed as a straight drama but now with a brilliant score by Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin. Judy Garland has come a long way from St Louis and acts and sings out of her skin. James Mason complements her perfectly with Charles Bickford and Jack Carson only a whisker behind. Unmissable.

  • Les Enfants du Paradis (1945)
    Writer: Jacques Prevert
    Director: Marcel Carne
    Actors: Arletty, Jean-Louis Barrault, Pierre Brasseur

    Like citizen Kane there is not much more to say about this masterpiece, long considered the Best film to come out of France. Carne and Prevert were at the top of their game and the cast, led by the luminous Arletty, was a dream.

  • La Grande Illusion (1937)
    Writer: Charles Spaak
    Director: Jean Renoir
    Actors: Jean Gabin, Erich von Stroheim, Marcel Dalio

    I prefer this story of honour and gentlemanly conduct in wartime to the much vaunted The Rules Of The Game, Renoir’s other film of social comment. Von Stroheim is majestic as the humane commandant and Dita Parlo is outstanding as the widow who harbours the fugitives.

  • Shane (1953)
    Writer: A.B. Guthrie, jnr
    Director: George Stevens
    Actors: Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin, Brandon deWilde

    Before turning psychological westerns were about Good versus Evil, black and white issues with white/good invariably triumphing over black/evil. George Stevens went back to basics and found in Alan Ladd an actor who embodied decency and was prepared to take a stand against tyranny. At once ambiguous (Shane’s past would almost certainly not stand close scrutiny) and classically simple – decent, hard-working people are being oppressed and need a champion – it has superlative performances from Ladd, Heflin, Arthur and deWilde.

  • Sunset Boulevard (1950)
    Writers: Billy Wilder, Charles Bracket, D. M. Marshman
    Director: Billy Wilder
    Actors: Gloria Swanson, William Holden, Erich von Stroheim

    No list of 50 Best Films can omit Billy Wilder, indeed he could furnish a good half the list single-handed. Films about films, especially Hollywood films, are not new but this is the finest by a country mile and Wilder’s unique blend of cynicism and sentiment informs every frame.

  • Some Like It Hot (1959)
    Writers: Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond
    Director: Billy Wilder
    Actors: Jack Lemon, Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis

    Another Wilder gem, indeed this could only be Wilder; he may have taken the basic plot from an obscure German film but no one else could have gathered together so many disparate ingredients and turned out such a dazzling soufflé.

  • The Apartment (1960)
    Writers: Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond
    Director: Billy Wilder
    Actors: Jack Lemon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred McMurray

    Wilder again with a masterful comedy that switches effortlessly to near-tragedy halfway through.

  • The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
    Writer: Samson Raphaelson
    Director: Ernst Lubitsch
    Actors: James Stewart, Margaret Sullivan, Frank Morgan

    This is one of those films that define ‘entertainment’, at once a romantic comedy and a drama with outstanding ensemble performances all round. Lubitsch excelled himself here and that’s saying something. MGM remade it disastrously nine years later as In The Good Old Summertime but this is the one to see.

  • Les Diaboliques (1955)
    Writer: Henri-Georges Clouzot
    Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
    Actors: Simone Signoret, Vera Clouzot, Paul Meurisse, Charles Vanel

    One of two outstanding suspensers that Clouzot made back-to-back (the other was La Salaire de peur). All four principals are outstanding and again one should avoid the beyond terrible Hollywood remake.

  • The Confession (1970) / L’aveu
    Writer: Jorges Semprun
    Director: Costa-Gavros
    Actors: Yves Montand, Simone Signoret

    Yves Montand is beyond praise and actually becomes rather than acts Artur London is this adaptation of London’s own account (London’s book L’Aveu, the Confession, was published in 1969) of his torture at the hands of his own Communist party in what was then still Czeckoslovakia.

  • Un Carnet de Bal (1937)
    Writer: Julien Duvivier, Henri Jeanson
    Director: Julien Duvivier
    Actors: Marie Bell, Raimu, Louis Jovet, Fernandel

    Just as Cole Porter invented the laundry-list song so Julien Duvivier invented the portmanteau film with this story of a newly-widowed woman coming across the Dance Card for the very first ball she attended and deciding to trace all the men who signed it. Each episode is magical in a different way.

  • Casablanca (1942)
    Writers: Howard Koch
    Director: Michael Curtiz
    Actors: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains

    Like Citizen Kane this is difficult to omit from any list. Crammed with quotable lines and cult performances in which even the smallest roles (‘What watch’? ‘Ten watch’) punctuate the most romantic doomed love story of them all.

  • Burnt by the Sun (1994)
    Writer: Nikita Mikhalkov
    Director: Nikita Mikhalkov
    Actors: Nikita Mikhalkov, Nadia Mikhalkov

    A gorgeously lyrical melancholic film with a definite Chekhovian feel. A lovely summer day in a dacha, a loving family, an old acquaintance, a new order. Unmissable.

  • Bringing Up Baby (1938)
    Writers: Dudley Nichols, Hagar Wilde
    Director: Howard Hawks
    Actors: Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn

    A list like this wouldn’t be complete without at least one ‘screwball’ comedy and this is right up there with the best. As in the best farces one character is deadly serious and single-mindedly pursuing a goal only to be constantly thwarted by a completely frivolous character. Grant and Hepburn were never better and the support is first rate.

  • The Wages of Fear (1953) / Le salaire de la peur
    Writer: Henri-Georges Clouzot
    Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
    Actors: Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Vera Clouzot

    Clouzot’s previous film to Les Diaboliques. Four men, two trucks full of nitro, roads full of potholes and other sundry hazards. Will they make it. We still care 56 years later.

  • Beautiful Memories (2001) / Se souvenirs des belles choses
    Writer: Zabou Breitman
    Director: Zabou Breitman
    Actors: Isabelle Carre, Zabou Breitman, Bernard Campan

    Undoubtedly one of the finest films to emerge from France, land of Great Films, in recent years. It actually feels like a documentary such is the power of Isabelle Carre’s performance as a young girl who develops Alzheimer’s. A triumph for all concerned.

  • Casque d'Or (1952)
    Writer: Jacques Becker, Jacques Companeez
    Director: Jacques Becker
    Actors: Simone Signoret, Serge Reggiani, Claude Dauphin

    Signoret thought of this as her best role and she is luminous as the prostitute ‘Golden Marie’ who finds true love, enjoys a mayfly moment only to see it snatched away. Jacques Becker lovingly recreated a lost period and Signoret’s bravura performance is complemented by the entire cast.

  • Jean de Florette (1986)
    Writer: Claude Berri, Gerard Brach
    Director: Claude Berri
    Actors: Yves Montand, Daniel Auteuil, Gerard Depardieu

    Berri had already turned Truffaut’s childish insult (le cinema de papa) against him by directing Le Cinema de Papa in 1970. Now he addressed Truffaut’s other charge (‘older’ filmmakers spent too much time ‘adapting’ novels instead of creating originals) by adapting Marcel Pagnol’s novel into an International hit. Everything, performances, setting, soundtrack, gels into a magnificent whole.

  • Manon des Sources (1986)
    Writer: Claude Berri, Gerard Brach
    Director: Claude Berri
    Actors: Yves Montand, Daniel Auteuil, Emmanuelle Beart

    Sequel is the wrong word here, rather this is the second part of Jean de Florette and except for the fact that we lose Depardieu and gain Manu Beart it’s the highly successful mixture as before.

  • High Society (1956)
    Writer: John Patrick
    Director: Charles Walters
    Music/Lyrics: Cole Porter
    Actors: Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Celeste Holm, Grace Kelly

    The third musical on my list and once again it benefits from a strong ‘Book’, adapted as it is from Philip Barry’s The Philadelphia Story, the play he wrote for Katherine Hepburn’s return to Broadway and which was adapted for the screen in 1940 (if you watch the non-musical film first and then this musical version you’ll notice that about 75% of the dialogue has been retained). The sophisticated dialogue is complemented by Cole Porter’s sophisticated lyrics, indeed, there was no one more fitted to write about high society than socialite Porter. A Faberge egg.

  • Ninotchka (1939)
    Writers: Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch
    Director: Ernst Lubitsch
    Actors: Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas

    Was there ever a more delicious and potent combination than Wilder and Lubitsch. The jokes may be dated but the comedy is timeless, the cast flawless, the whole, an unalloyed joy.

  • Cinema Paradiso (1988)
    Writer: Guiseppe Tornatore
    Director: Guiseppe Tornatore
    Actors: Philippe Noiret, Jacques Perrin, Salvatore Cascio

    Arguably the ultimate film celebrating Cinema. A wonderfully warm evocation of a lost world when the flickering shadows on a screen could transform a harsh reality into a Utopian paradise. French actor Philippe Noiret made two films in Italy (this one and Il Postino) and both were outstanding.

  • Marty (1955)
    Writer: Paddy Chayefsky
    Director: Delbert Mann
    Actors: Ernest Borgnine, Betsy Blair

    This could be summed up by paraphrasing the Frank Loesser lyric, i.e. Two Lonely People by dawn’s early light, but too much awake to say goodnight. Having stumbled serendipitously across each other Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair learn to overcome shyness and parental and peer disapproval and embark on a relationship.

  • Le Grand Chemin (1987)
    Writer: Jean-Loup Hubert
    Director: Jean-Loup Hubert
    Actors: Richard Bohringer, Anemone, Antoine Hubert, Vanessa Guedj

    An outstanding example of the bildungsroman. Writer-director Jean-Loup Hubert based his screenplay on his own childhood then boldly cast his son, with no acting experience, in the central role of the urban child packed off to the country whilst his mother is having a baby. You can, of course, write it yourself from there but it’s all in the wrist and Hubert extracts magical performances (Best Actor/Actress Cesars for Bohringer and Anemone) all round. Proof positive that even contemporary films don’t need sex and violence to entertain.

  • Roman Holiday (1953)
    Writer: Ian McClellan Hunter, John Deighton
    Director: William Wyler
    Actors: Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, Eddie Albert

    A wonderfully bittersweet Romantic Comedy with the three principals dividing acting honours evenly despite Audrey Hepburn winning all the raves due to her gorgeous breath-of-fresh-air persona. Still holds up 56 years on.

  • Midnight (1939)
    Writers: Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett
    Director: Mitchell Liesen
    Actors: Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche, John Barrymore, Mary Astor

    Billy Wilder claimed that Mitchell Liesen ruined many of his screenplays so much so that he decided the only thing was to direct them himself. It’s difficult to see how Liesen screwed up this delightful confection in which even the usually wooden Ameche contrives to appear humorous. Colbert was never better as the penniless Eve Peabody who lucks in to a Fairy Godmother in the unlikely shape of John Barrymore.

  • La Buche (1999)
    Writers: Daniele Thompson, Christopher Thompson
    Director: Daniele Thompson
    Actors: Sabine Azema, Emmanuelle Beart, Jean-Pierre Darroussin

    Beginning with the smash hit La Grand Vadrouille Daniele Thompson had written some of the finest screenplays in French cinema before turning her hand to directing. It’s difficult to believe she didn’t have her tongue in her cheekhov when she made this story of three Russian sisters living uhappily in Paris. A superb cast wrings every last laugh and tear out of this bittersweet debut.

  • Un Coeur en Hiver (1992)
    Writer: Claude Sautet, Jacques Fiescha
    Director: Claude Sautet
    Actors: Daniel Auteuil, Andre Dussollier, Emmanuelle Beart, Brigitte

    Whilst he was equalled several times it’s probably true to say that no filmmaker got more out of exploring the Human Condition that Claude Sautet and this exquisite Chamber piece – Auteuil makes/repairs violins, Dussollier sells them, Beart plays them - is among his finest with all four players on top of their game.

  • The Army in the Shadows (1969) / L’armee des ombres
    Writer: Jean-Pierre Melville
    Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
    Actors: Simone Signoret, Lino Ventura, Paul Meurisse

    Arguably the finest film to date about the Resistance made by someone who was himself a member. Reeks of authenticity and the entire cast is outstanding.

  • Le Cercle Rouge (1970)
    Writer: Jean-Pierre Melville
    Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
    Actors: Yves Montand, Alain Delon, Bourvil

    Melville followed a Resistance movie with a heist movie and this is amongst the very cream of the genre with an irresistible set-piece, a robbery in a jewellers on Place Vendome that is entirely silent.

  • This Happy Breed (1944)
    Writer: Noel Coward
    Director: David Lean
    Actors: Robert Newton, Celia Johnson, Stanley Holloway

    Super-patriot Coward wrote the play in 1939 as a morale-booster, filled it with laughter and tears and unashamedly made the Gibbons of Clapham a metaphor for England. In the part Coward wrote for himself Robert Newton turns in what is probably his finest screen performace, not quite towering above an excellent cast.

  • The Way to the Stars (1945)
    Writer: Terence Rattigan
    Director Anthony Asquith
    Actors: Michael Redgrave, Rosamund Johns, John Mills

    Coward and Rattigan were the two great masters of the well-made play in England and here Rattigan skilfully adapts and opens out his West End success Flare Path making it one of the two finest – the other being Coward’s In Which We Serve – English films about the second world war.

  • To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
    Writer: Horton Foote
    Director: Robert Mulligan
    Actors: Gregory Peck, Mary Badham

    Gregory Peck spent a lifetime being woefully underrated and finally got the Oscar he should have got for Twelve O’Clock High for his portrayal of the liberal lawyer and humanitarian in thirties Alabama. His Atticus Finch remains one of the most lustrous characters in film.

  • Twelve O'Clock High (1949)
    Writers: Sy Bartlett, Beirne Lay jnr
    Director: Henry King
    Actors: Gregory Peck, Millard Mitchell, Dean Jagger

    Peck and Henry King made two fine films back-to-back in 1950, The Gunfighter and this one. At the time the Stress of Command took second place to battle fatigue among enlisted men as a diagnosable Medical Condition and Peck excels as the martinet turned one of the guys who drives himself to exhaustion. The support is equally excellent and Dean Jagger’s Best Supporting Actor was well deserved.

  • Orchestra Seats (2006) / Fauteuils d’orchestre
    Writers Danielle Thompson, Christopher Thompson
    Director: Daniele Thompson
    Actors: Cecile de France, Suzanne Flon, Valerie Lemercier

    Daniele Thompson followed La Buche with Decalage Horaire, basically a two-hander for Jean Reno and Juliette Binoche but her true metier is the ensemble piece and she returned triumphantly in her third film in which Cecile de France moves to Paris, finds work in a restaurant on Avenue Montaigne and links the world of the Theatre, Auction Room, and Concert stage seamlessly. Unashamedly feelgood.

  • Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)
    Writer: Robert Bresson
    Director: Robert Bresson
    Actors: Anna Wiamzenska

    I don’t as a rule get on with Bresson but this is an exception, a breathtakingly lyrical, simple, heartbreaking film about the short and largely unhappy life of a donkey. Unforgettable.

  • Le Goût des Autres (2000)
    Writers: Agnes Jaoui, Jean-Pierre Bacri
    Director: Agnes Jaoui
    Actors: Agnes Jaoui, Jean-Piere Bacri, Alain Chabat, Gerard Lanvin

    Like Daniele Thompson who began a decade earlier Agnes Jaoui and Jean-Bacri wrote and acted in several plays and films – Cuisine et dependences, Un Air de famille – before Jaoui moved behind the camera and came up with a multiple Cesar winner. Like Thompson the partners specialise in ensemble pieces and no one in this large cast puts a foot wrong making it churlish to single out any one person.

  • Vanya on 42nd Street (1994)
    Writers: David Mamet – based on literal translation of Chekhov
    Director: Louis Malle
    Actors: Wallace Shawn, Julianne Moore, Larry Pyne

    An outstanding version of Uncle Vanya played by a group of actors who actually spent several years rehearsing the play in the abandoned New Amsterdam theatre. The camera follows the actors as they converge on the theatre, exchange small talk and then, imperceptibly and magically, they are performing the play in street clothes. A gem.

  • The Lace-maker (1977) / Le dentelliere
    Writers: Claude Goretta, Pascal Laine
    Director: Claude Goretta
    Actors: Isabelle Huppert, Yves Benyton

    22 year old Huppert was outstanding as the shy, fragile girl who sets up home with a student, Benyton, in the wake of a holiday romance, only to find social and educational differences too big a barrier to overcome. A truly fine film.

  • Laissez Passer (2002) / Laissez-passer
    Writers: Bertrand Tavernier, Jean Cosmos
    Director: Bertrand Tavernier
    Actors; Denis Podalydes, Jacques Gamblin

    Arguably the best evocation of Paris during the Occupation and based on real events this is a great film from a great director. It throws a fascinating light on Continental, the German-owned film company that turned out 31 films between 1941-44. Jean Aurenche (Denis Podalydes), who wrote a couple of Tavernier’s early films, and Assistant Director Jean Devaivre (Jacques Gamblin), actually worked for Continental but not on the same projects and in telling their stories Tavernier studs his film with references to and glimpses of films, actors, writers and directors of the time so that whilst first and foremost a gripping story it is also an invaluable recreation of an important period in French Cinema.

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