Suburbs of Lille, France.
Born in the late 60s.
Born in the late 60s.
I was asked by Iain Stott some months ago to list 50 films I consider to be the 50 greatest films of all times. So I did – I established a list of 50 films that are great in my eyes, meaning that some of my choices were very personal (yes, “The Collector”), when most of them were… well, what you would expect from a cinema lover like me.
Now, for this new list, I have taken Iain’s request quite literally, for I have selected 100 films that have been under-represented in most film anthologies (in my opinion). Since it is really “beyond the canon”, the films here are globally much more recent than on my “greatest” list, and almost every film genre you may think of is represented below. Working on this list was often easier than for the previous list (although it took me much more time) ; there were however a couple of hard choices to make (my apologies to some Eastern European directors).
Here you will find indeed “minor” films and even some “minor” directors (I know that someone like Van Warmerdam cannot hold a candle to Scorsese or Welles), but I sincerely believe that all these films listed below are worth watching, if you think of cinema as something more than mere entertainment. They may not be all among my very favourites, but be sure I have enjoyed them all.
In no particular order:
- The Damned (1969) .. Luchino Visconti
Greek tragedy meets the rise of Nazism in Germany. Say “Visconti”, and “Rocco and his brothers”, “The leopard” or “Death in Venice” pop immediately in your mind. Too bad for “The Damned” or “Ludwig” which are also grand contributions to the 7th art.
- Chikamatsu Monogatari (1954) .. Mizoguchi Kenji
I think this film 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 Japan, this tale of two ill-fated lovers is a universal one.
- The Northerners (1992) .. Alex van Warmerdam
A nod to Dutch cinema, with this bizarre small film, perhaps his author’s best (with “The dress”).
- The Scarlet Empress (1934) .. Josef von Sternberg
Having seen most of the films Von Sternberg and Dietrich made together, I have to say that this luscious portrayal of Catherine the Great, tsarina of Russia, is probably their best joint effort (although it may be not my favourite film featuring Dietrich). Gives the word “magnificence” its full meaning.
- In the Mood for Love (2000) .. Wong Kar Wai
Perfect cinematography and music…
- 2046 (2004) .. Wong Kar Wai
…and I can’t really mention “In the mood of love” without mentioning this one ! A fabulous, hypnotic, mesmerizing pair.
- Raise the Red Lantern (1991) .. Zhang Yimou
A good cast (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). Yes, the photography – for this matter only, “Raise the red lantern” should be studied in every film school.
- Les Visiteurs du Soir (1942) .. Marcel Carné
“Les visiteurs…” is my favourite film from Carné and Prévert. I know it is hard to select just a film or two in Carné’s filmography. But this one and the following item in the list are both worth mentioning, when most film-lovers prefer “Les Enfants du Paradis” or “Hôtel du Nord” over them.
- Le Jour se Lève (1939) .. Marcel Carné
Only four words: Jean Gabin the Great.
- The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) .. Woody Allen
- Farewell My Concubine (1993) .. Chen Kaige
When it was co-awarded the Palme d’Or with “The Piano” at the Cannes film festival, it was half as successful at the French box-office. What a shame. Both films are equally great. Captivating story over several decades of Chinese turmoils.
- A Special Day (1977) .. Ettore Scola
“A Special Day” is what I call a minimalist film: it doesn’t show much but says a lot. A good example of a perfect blend between History and people’s ordinary lives.
- El (1953) .. Luis Buñuel
- That Man from Rio (1964) .. Philippe de Broca
Maybe the best action/comedy film ever. Spicy and exotic adventures, humour, rhythm, a touch of fantasy… Belmondo at his best and the ever charming Françoise Dorléac.
- Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) .. Ingmar Bergman
OK, this time I have a Bergman film in my selection! While I do agree that “The seventh seal”, “Cries and whispers”, “The wild strawberries” and many others are timeless classics, it bothers me to see that “Smiles…” is almost always neglected, while it is a real gem.
I already wrote somewhere else “Always have an Italian comedy in your film selection” (to know a little bit more on the human kind). As I can mention more than just one film, here is a selection of fine Italian comedies everyone should see:
- Divorce - Italian Style (1961) .. Pietro Germi
- The Birds, the Bees and the Italians (1966) .. Pietro Germi
- Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958) .. Mario Monicelli
- La Grande Guerra (1959) .. Mario Monicelli
- Il Sorpasso (1962) .. Dino Risi
- Fifteen from Rome (1963) .. Dino Risi
- That Female Scent (1974) .. Dino Risi
Perhaps Risi and Gassman’s best.
- Ugly, Dirty and Bad (1976) .. Ettore Scola
- Les Diaboliques (1955) .. Henri-Georges Clouzot
I had to pick a film featuring Simone Signoret, perhaps the greatest French actress of all times.
- Casque d'Or (1952) .. Jacques Becker
Another one with Simone.
- Lift to the Scaffold (1958) .. Louis Malle
Maybe the only real French film noir. Jeanne Moreau wandering in the streets of Paris, the rain and Miles Davis’s music.
And speaking of films noirs… If you ever want to know what myths are made of:
- The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) .. Tay Garnett
- Detour (1945) .. Edgar G. Ulmer
- Laura (1944) .. Otto Preminger
- Gilda (1946) .. Charles Vidor
- Night and the City (1950) .. Jules Dassin
- The Killing (1956) .. Stanley Kubrick
- The Honeymoon Killers (1970) .. Leonard Kastle
One of a kind. Not a “real” film noir, but under which category would you file this film ?
Now, a selection of a few animated films – because there is much more than Walt Disney in life:
- The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) .. Lotte Reiniger
…And only not because this was the first animated feature film.
- Fantastic Planet (1973) .. René Laloux
- The King and Mister Bird (1980) .. Paul Grimault
- Persepolis (2007) .. Vincent Paronnaud & Marjane Satrapi
- Spirited Away (2001) .. Miyazaki Hayao
- Stella (1955) .. Mihalis Kakogiannis
Melina Mercouri shouldn’t be forgotten. Much better than “Never on Sunday” but not as widely known. (Note that Melina M. and Simone S. are among my favourite actresses.)
Here’s my new principle: always have a martial arts film in your selection! Often neglected in film anthologies, the martial arts film genre has nevertheless produced a couple of gems. “A touch of zen” is rather famous (and rightly so), “Raining in the mountain” is less known, but quite as enjoyable. If you tend to think that “martial arts” films are just about pure action or sword-fighting and all that, then you should really watch these:
- A Touch of Zen (1969) .. King Hu
- Raining in the Mountain (1979) .. King Hu
- Harakari (1962) .. Kobayashi Masaki
A pair of twin films (or almost). Strangely enough, while “Cria cuervos” remains perhaps Saura’s most famous and most celebrated film, “Dulces horas” has fallen into oblivion:
- Cria Cuervos (1976) .. Carlos Saura
- Dulces Horas (1982) .. Carlos Saura
Saura deals with the same themes as in “Cria cuervos”, using the same type of narration (as the hero tries to resurrect his past memories in order to come to terms with them once and for all, with present and past, reality and fantasy deliberately fused together).
- The Immigrant (1917) .. Charles Chaplin
Funny and moving as usual when Chaplin is at his best.
- Mother India (1957) .. Mehboob Khan
I don’t understand why film selections almost never include Indian films (except for Satyajit Ray’s works). Because they are not good enough? Well, see for yourself. You can’t really say you love films until you have experienced Bollywood. That is why I put one of the epitomes of Indian cinema in my list.
On my “Canon” list, I didn’t put any western. This time, I suggest:
- River of No Return (1954) .. Otto Preminger
- Forty Guns (1957) .. Samuel Fuller
Not a typical mainstream western? I agree. This is precisely why I have enjoyed it a lot ! It is wonderful to see how Fuller breaks the rules and reverse stereotypes with this flick. Barbara Stanwyck riding a white stallion and followed by her men at the very beginning and the final shootout are simply unforgettable.
- Duel in the Sun (1946) .. King Vidor
- Winchester '73 (1950) .. Anthony Mann
- A Fistful of Dynamite (1971) .. Sergio Leone
I admit Morricone’s beautiful score influenced me ! However, this film is often forgotten when it comes to speak about Leone’s career, and I really wonder why…
Two films by one of the most prominent British directors:
- The Draughtsman's Contract (1982) .. Peter Greenaway
- The Pillow Book (1996) .. Peter Greenaway
Some years ago, I was really infatuated with Peter Greenaway, and I’d watch religiously each one of his films. Today, I’m not as crazy about him any longer, but I have to say that I still consider “The draughtman’s contract” and “The pillow book” as two outstanding pieces of art.
- Head-On (2004) .. Fatih Akin
Two films by Julien Duvivier, an often neglected French director (in comparison to Renoir and Carné, to name two directors of more or less the same generation) yet an important one, often praised for his dark but honest vision of mankind:
- La Belle Équipe (1936) .. Julien Duvivier
Speaking of a dark vision of mankind…
- Poil de Carotte (1925) .. Julien Duvivier
Seen very recently, I didn’t expect much from this version of “Poil de Carotte”, Jules Renard’s great and moving classic. But I soon changed my opinion. Stunning visuals and a superb acting from the kid who plays Poil de Carotte make it all. A hidden gem of the silent era.
- La Souriante Madame Beudet (1923) .. Germaine Dulac
- Outskirts (1933) .. Boris Barnet
There is much more to Soviet cinema than Eisenstein, Vertov and Pudovkin!
- Ivan's Childhood (1962) .. Andrei Tarkovsky
- Delicatessen (1991) .. Marc Caro & Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s best (maybe thanks to Caro who brought the inspiring dark humour). Poetic realism à la Marcel Carne, post-apocalyptic settings and black comedy: I have rarely seen films which convey to this point feelings of familiarity and impressions of novelty. In the same league as Brazil.
- Red Beard (1965) .. Kurosawa Akira
A few sci-fi, fantastic and horror films worth mentioning:
- War of the Worlds (2005) .. Steven Spielberg
The best definition of the word “nightmare”. It would have been perfect without the last five minutes.
- The Thing from Another World (1951) .. Christian Nyby
Good old sci-fi, a bit old-fashioned and not too scary – but hey, that’s what people call “charm”. I may have watched it about 30 years ago but never forgot it.
- Pan's Labyrinth (2006) .. Guillermo del Toro
When imagination is really at work.
- Let the Right One In (2008) .. Tomas Alfredson
A future classic.
- The Dead Zone (1983) .. David Cronenberg
Speaking of “lesser” films… I know, “The fly” is perhaps better or “The dead zone” may be too straightforward’s for Cronenberg’ fans, but I have always liked the subtle and somewhat depressing atmosphere of the film.
- The Host (2006) .. Bong Joon-ho
- Eyes Without a Face (1960) .. Georges Franju
- Trouble Every Day (2001) .. Claire Denis
One of the very few realistic horror films. Pretty much like “The dead zone”, it has a subtle and a depressing atmosphere, adding to the main characters’ moody state of mind.
- π (1998) .. Darren Aronofsky
- After Life (1998) .. Koreeda Hirokazu
Probably not your typical fantastic film, “After Life” is one of those effectless, “small” films that make a lasting impression on you, simply because of their originality and affecting minimalism.
- People on Sunday (1930) .. Curt Siodmak & Robert Siodmak & Edgar G. Ulmer & Fred Zinnemann
What you experience when watching “People on Sunday” is a sort of nostalgia, as you stroll the streets of a gentle and warm Berlin, right before the rise of Nazism.
- Mulholland Dr. (2001) .. David Lynch
- Missing (1982) .. Costa-Gavras
“Z” and “The confession” by the same director are a little bit old-fashioned now. Try this one instead.
- Time of the Gypsies (1988) .. Emir Kusturica
The only film directed by Kusturica I have really liked. Generally I can’t stand his way of filming, his stories and his tiring use of brass bands in his scores. But here, everything works fine and the film is simply compelling, blending tragedy with comedy, realism with poetry.
Three fine examples of what documentaries should always be:
- Titticut Follies (1967) .. Frederick Wiseman
- Shoah (1985) .. Claude Lanzmann
- The Gleaners and I (2000) .. Agnès Varda
- Padre Padrone (1977) .. The Taviani Brothers
- Matador (1986) .. Pedro Almodóvar
I chose “Matador” over “Bad education” because it is less known. “Matador” was the first feature from Almodovar I watched when I was still a teen-ager, and it made a really lasting impression on me, probably because the blend of sex and murders had some unusual appeal to a girl aged 18 or so.
I won’t forget the musical genre:
- It's Always Fair Weather (1955) .. Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly
The magic pair (Donen/Kelly) has done something else than “Singin’ in the rain”, although this film may be not as likeable. Yes, musicals can be dark.
- Top Hat (1935) .. Mark Sandrich
“Old school” musical… and a milestone. Come on, you have to watch Astaire and Rogers at least once in your life.
- In the Realm of the Senses (1976) .. Oshima Nagisa
Should be mentioned in every film anthology, for I don’t think that there are many films which show graphic sex without being pornographic in such an artful way. You may not like the film, but you’ll have to admit it is a true original.
- Sonatine (1993) .. Kitano Takeshi
- Young and Innocent (1937) .. Alfred Hitchcock
Hitchcock’s films were very often erotic. You can always think about the opening scene in “Psycho”, but if you watch carefully “Young and innocent”, you’ll see many things too (in a much much more subtle way). And oh – did I mention that famous tracking shot at the climax of the film everyone should know ?
- Millennium Mambo (2001) .. Hou Hsiao-hsien
- Tampopo (1985) .. Itami Juzo
A small film but perhaps the best homage to (or one of best allegories of) the 7th art.
- Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) .. Terence Davies
One of the films I would love to see again. I remember I watched it when it opened in France more than 20 years ago and then… Well, nothing. I don’t remember I ever saw “Distant voices…” on French TV nor it was ever released on DVD. Therefore I don’t think alas many people in my country have ever heard of one of the best British films of the 80s.
- The Big Lebowski (1998) .. The Coen Brothers
I am well aware that this is not a too serious film and this is precisely why I like it. I have watched enough depressing films in my life so I can indulge myself once in a while with this sort of flick, “The big Lebowski” being truly hilarious.
- Burnt by the Sun (1994) .. Nikita Mikhalkov
- Short Cuts (1993) .. Robert Altman
If I had to choose between “Short Cuts” and “Magnolia” by P.T. Anderson, I would take both! However, I give Altman a small advantage.
- A Fish Called Wanda (1988) .. Charles Crichton
On the light side, “A fish…” will remain as one of the best comedies ever filmed.
- Mamma Roma (1962) .. Pier Paolo Pasolini
- À Nous la Liberté (1931) .. René Clair
The obvious inspiration for Chaplin’s “Modern times”.
- The Thin Red Line (1998) .. Terrence Malick
I’m not into war films, but “The Thin Red Line” is an exception, although I have never regarded it as a war film but rather as a philosophical reflection on war. Terrence Malick stands among the greatest American directors, along with Orson Welles, Martin Scorsese and Stanley Kubrick.
- 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994) .. Michael Haneke
- Don Giovanni (1979) .. Joseph Losey
- La Chienne (1931) .. Jean Renoir
Watch (almost) everything Renoir has made. Period.
- Thérèse (1986) .. Alain Cavalier
Austerity made film. The lives of the saints on the big screen look almost always preposterous. But then came “Thérèse”, one of the best films dealing with religion.
- There Was a Father (1942) .. Ozu Yasujiro
- Pharaoh (1966) .. Jerzy Kawalerowicz
Peplums are certainly among the most difficult or the most preposterous films to watch (it depends whether you can (or cannot) stand wild wigs, pasty make-ups, tawdry settings, pompous dialogues and guys in skirts for three hours or even more, that is). “Pharaoh” is definitely of another kind, as it is the only convincing re-creation of ancient Egypt I ever saw on screen. Full of political intrigues and powerful, beautiful visuals, I guess you either like it or hate it.
Films I can live without?
I confess I have a problem with most of Michaelangelo Antonioni’s so-called masterpieces.