Need a movie recommendation? Try one of the many, many "top 100 films of all time" lists out there. You could look at the IMDB top list, or the AFI list. But if you want to know what various film critics would say, this list has a good claim at being your best bet.
Created by 78 film critics, this top 100 countdown originally appeared in 2008 in Les Cahiers du Cinéma, arguably the world's most respected film publication. (It's either this or Sight & Sound, which has its own famous top films poll.)
As Jonathon Crow points out at Open Culture, Cahiers transformed not only the direction of cinema history, but also the popular understanding of film.
"If you think of The Shining as a Stanley Kubrick movie instead of a Jack Nicholson flick," writes Crow, "you can thank Cahiers du Cinema." In fact, it was a 1954 article in Cahiers that introduced Auteur Theory, which revolutionized the way directors made and thought of their films.
The films that made it onto the top 100 list include obvious picks, like Citizen Kane and Vertigo, but also some surprising titles, like Tod Browning's 1932 horror film Freaks, or even lesser-known films, like Yasujirō Ozu's Tokyo Story, or Kenji Mizoguchi's Sansho the Bailiff.
The list is incredibly varied, drawing from several countries — though primarily France, America, and Germany — and including directors whose styles range from from silent clown Charlie Chaplin and musical expert Vincente Minnelli to Italian master Frederico Fellini and Soviet great Sergei M. Eisennstein.
Here's the top 10.
- Citizen Kane, Orson Welles: Citizen Kane is almost always voted the greatest film in history. With its innovative use of chronology and groundbreaking camera work, the movie tells the story of Charles Foster Kane, a rich newspaper publisher based on William Hearst.
- The Night of the Hunter, Charles Laughton: Though not initially a hit, critics eventually came to praise this dark film, with Roger Ebert even calling it one of the greatest American films there is. Hunter is partly based on the life of Harry Powers and tells the story of a traveling preacher who sees it as his vocation to kill rich widows.
- The Rules of the Game (La Règle du jeu), Jean Renoir: This 1939 comedy of manners offers a timely critique of upper-class French society just before the outbreak of WWII.
- Sunrise, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau: Before he came to Hollywood, German director Murnau created Nosferatu, his own adaptation of Dracula. But it's his American debut, Sunrise, about a man involved in an illicit love affair, that made this top 10 list.
- L'Atalante, Jean Vigo: This 1934 French film tells the story of a woman who marries a barge-captain and is later stranded in Paris while she explores the romantic city.
- M, Fritz Lang: This German thriller tells the story of a child murderer, and stars Peter Lorre as the villain.
- Singin' in the Rain, Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly: Considered by many to be the quintessential American musical, this toe-tapping film offers a comedic glimpse into Hollywood's transition from silent films to talkies.
- Vertigo, Alfred Hitchcock: James Stewart plays a private investigator afflicted with vertigo and an extreme fear of heights. In 2012, Vertigo replaced Citizen Kane as the top film of all time in the Sight & Sound poll.
- Children of Paradise (Les Enfants du Paradis), Marcel Carné: Set in the early 19th century, Children of Paradise tells the story of a beautiful French theatre actress and the four would-be suitors who love her.
- The Searchers, John Ford: The only Western to make the top 10, The Searchers stars John Wayne as a war veteran on the hunt to find his kidnapped niece, played by Natalie Wood. Though he praised the overall film and Wayne's performance, Ebert did question some of the racist opinions that surface throughout the movie.
You can read the complete list here.
(H/t Open Culture)