Top 100 Movies

Yasujiro Ozu

Yasujirō Ozu

Critics are asked which is their favourite film, by somebody or other, about once a week. I’ve had my soup curdled at a good many dinner parties that way. I used to vary my reply according to mood until, tired of that, I got into the habit of simply saying Ozu’s Tokyo Story. Most people who know their cinema nod with some approval, since Tokyo Story is indeed a masterpiece — probably the best, most human film ever made about family relationships. The vast majority of people, however, just shut up, since they’ve never heard of Yasujirō Ozu and haven’t seen the film. l don’t blame them at all. Britain has one of the most restrictive exhibition systems in Europe, and there’s little or no hope of seeing an enormous amount of world cinema, even on video or the internet.

This is the main reason I’m writing this list — to remind people that the cinema didn’t start with Star Wars and that, during its hundred or so years of existence, it has produced as many major artists as any other art form during that time. Indeed probably more. These people should be remembered and their films shown. If they were, those fed on a remorseless diet of Hollywood pap might get a considerable shock. In my opinion, if you don’t know who Ozu was, it is rather like saying: ‘Who’s Bach?’ If you think I’m exaggerating, let me tell you of the head of the British branch of a major American company who once rang me up and asked if I’d ever heard of a director called Brunel. ‘Brunel?’ I said, ’What did he make? The Bridge?’ he replied, “It’s a film called The Discreet Charge of the Light Brigade’. So much for Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. The ignorance extends wider and deeper than you think.

Any critic, however, who claims to know exactly which are the 100 best films ever made is either very brave or very foolish. Whatever some may claim, criticism is a subjective art, and even if it weren’t the flowers in cinema’s garden are so various that there’s no such thing as one standard by which to judge them. My series in the Guardian, of which I was film critic for some 30 years, was indeed called ’The 100 Best’. But that was journalistic licence. My purpose was different It was to select 100 films, seen over those thirty years, either as brand new offerings or as revivals, which I could not contemplate never seeing again. A better if more cliched title might under the circumstances have been ‘Desert Island Movies’.

I did not choose the films as a group before writing about them, but gradually forged my list week by week. Clint Eastwood once told me that Don Seigel, one of his favourite film-makers, used to direct his films by osmosis. Well, that the way I selected my 100. I only had one rule, which was to select the directors I admired most and then decide which of their films was most appropriate. Each film-maker could only have one film — otherwise my favourite directors might well have landed up with four or five. It wasn’t just their most famous films, but either their most typical or their most surprising. I’m aware this binds me rather tightly to the old-fashioned auteur theory. But though I believe that film is a co-operative art, and that often films are made good by their actors, cinematographers, producers and, perhaps most of all, their editors, each of the films I have selected depends first and foremost on its director.

Of course, every time I look at my list I have regrets. Why did I leave out this in favour of that? But that’s inevitable, and my apologies to the British film-makers in particular whom I have failed to put in. All I would claim is that, taken together, the films I have selected will give readers a reasonable idea of what the cinema can do. Not only that, but an idea too of the huge number of countries that have produced marvellous films. The multiplexes of this country may feed us a diet of what I call McDonald’s culture. But world cinema is capable of so much more than that. I’ll be happy if, in between cursing me for what I’ve left out, readers of this have their appetites whetted for more ambitious work and their curiosity stimulated about some of the directors I have chosen who are by no means as well known as they deserve. I believe the general run of filmgoers is rather more intelligent that the distributors and exhibitors fancy. That they often want to know more but can’t find out, or at least don’t know where to start. I hope a few of them start here, and keep going.

My top 100 films, in no particular order:

  1. Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958)
  2. The Music Room (Satyajit Ray, 1958)
  3. Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1959)
  4. The Marriage of Maria Braun (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1978)
  5. L’Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1926)
  6. The Band Wagon (Vincente Minnelli, 1953)
  7. Madame De (Max Ophuls, 1953)
  8. Fires Were Started (Humphrey Jennings, 1943)
  9. Throne of Blood (Akira Kurosawa, 1957)
  10. Paths Of Glory (Stanley Kubrick, 1957)
  11. The Rise to Power of Louis XIV (Roberto Rossellini, 1966)
  12. Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1953)
  13. Viridiana (Luis Buñuel, 1961)
  14. The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)
  15.  (Federico Fellini, 1963)
  16. Freaks (Tod Browning, 1932)
  17. La Femme Infidele (Claude Chabrol, 1968)
  18. Ashes and Diamonds (Andrzej Wajda, 1958)
  19. Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945)
  20. Mysteries of the Organism (Dusan Makavejev, 1971)
  21. Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
  22. LBJ (Santiago Alvarez, 1968)
  23. Young Mr Lincoln (John Ford, 1939)
  24. La belle et la bête (Jean Cocteau,1946)
  25. Shock Corridor (Sam Fuller, 1963)
  26. The Wind (Victor Sjöström, 1928)
  27. Pandora’s Box (GW Pabst, 1929)
  28. Monsieur Verdoux (Charles Chaplin, 1947)
  29. Pakeezah (Kamal Amrohi, 1971)
  30. Pickpocket (Robert Bresson, 1959)
  31. Sons of the Desert (William A Seiter, 1934)
  32. The Tree of Wooden Clogs (Ermanno Olmi, 1978)
  33. La Collectionneuse (Eric Rohmer, 1967)
  34. The Spirit of the Beehive (Victor Erice, 1973)
  35. Kind Hearts and Coronets (Robert Hamer, 1949)
  36. Greed (Erich von Stroheim, 1924)
  37. Closely Observed Trains (Jiri Menzel, 1966)
  38. Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944)
  39. Fantasia (Walt Disney, 1940)
  40. The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (Werner Herzog, 1974)
  41. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
  42. Les Enfants du Paradis (Marcel Carné,1945)
  43. The General (Buster Keaton, 1926)
  44. The Birth of a Nation (DW Griffith, 1915)
  45. The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1939)
  46. Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980)
  47. Cuba Si! (Chris Marker, 1961)
  48. McCabe and Mrs Miller (Robert Altman, 1971)
  49. The King of Marvin Gardens (Bob Rafelson, 1972)
  50. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
  51. Burden of Dreams (Les Blank, 1982)
  52. Broadway Danny Rose (Woody Allen, 1984)
  53. A Night at the Opera (Sam Wood, 1935)
  54. Memories of Underdevelopment (Tomas Gutierrez Alea, 1968)
  55. Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986)
  56. A Short Film About Killing (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1988)
  57. A Bout de Souffle (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960)
  58. Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966)
  59. The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949)
  60. Man of the West (Anthony Mann, 1958)
  61. Raise the Red Lantern (Zhang Yimou, 1991)
  62. Day of Wrath (Carl Dreyer, 1943)
  63. Nanook of the North (Robert Flaherty, 1921)
  64. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (Powell and Pressburger, 1943)
  65. The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor, 1940)
  66. Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu, 1953)
  67. Jules et Jim (François Truffaut, 1962)
  68. Blanche (Walerian Borowczyk, 1971)
  69. Swing High, Swing Low (Mitchell Leisen, 1937)
  70. The Scarlet Empress (Josef von Sternberg, 1934)
  71. The Passenger (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1975)
  72. The Travelling Players (Theo Angelopoulos, 1975)
  73. Kes (Ken Loach, 1970)
  74. Behind the Green Door (The Mitchell brothers, 1972)
  75. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (John Cassavetes, 1976)
  76. Le Samouraï (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1967)
  77. The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1965)
  78. Oh, Mr Porter! (Marcel Varnel, 1937)
  79. The Time to Live and the Time to Die (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 1985)
  80. Fat City (John Huston, 1972)
  81. Antonio das Mortes (Gauber Rocher, 1969)
  82. Love (Károly Makk, 1971)
  83. Last Tango in Paris (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1972)
  84. Boudu Saved from Drowning (Jean Renoir, 1932)
  85. Trash (Paul Morrissey, 1970)
  86. Boy (Nagisa Oshima, 1970)
  87. Strike (Sergei Eisenstein, 1924)
  88. The Round-Up (Miklós Jancsó, 1962)
  89. Kings of the Road (Wim Wenders, 1975)
  90. The Gospel According to St Matthew (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1964)
  91. Sullivan’s Travels (Preston Sturges, 1941)
  92. The Leopard (Luchino Visconti, 1963)
  93. Welfare (Frederick Wiseman, 1973)
  94. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (Fritz Lang, 1956)
  95. Witchfinder General (Michael Reeves, 1968)
  96. Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 1985)
  97. Xala (Ousmane Sembene, 1974)
  98. Salvatore Giuliano (Francesco Rosi, 1961)
  99. Manila: In The Claws of Darkness (Lino Brocka, 1978)
  100. The Bitter Tea of General Yen (Frank Capra, 1932)