A few months back, I wrote a little bit about list obsessions and the never-ending stream of choices we have, as movie-watchers. I’ve currently developed an obsession of my own, partially list-related. One of my favorite articles each year is the annual 50 Greatest French Films of All-Time list that I write the week of Bastille Day. It’s less than a month away, and now I’m cramming furiously like some college kid at midnight the night before an exam. In the past 3 weeks, I’ve seen 14 French films because I want to be as comprehensive as possible. And I am having so much fun doing it, even if my brain is slowly turning to French toast.
Each year when I make the list, I try to conclude with a list of popular French films that I haven’t seen. First of all, it gives me a nice checklist of homework for the next year before updating the list. Second, it works as a preemptive “I haven’t seen that movie yet” when commenters ask why their favorite French film didn’t make the list. In the past year, in addition to my own homework, I’ve discovered two lists that will help me along the way. The first is the indispensable Films de France Top 100. It’s such a good list that they didn’t stop at 100. They kept going to 102. There aren’t enough superlatives for this list. It’s extremely diverse, including many silent films and obscure, hard-to-find titles. The folks who created that list did a lot of homework. And while I’ve done well with the list, having seen 64 of the 102, there’s room to grow. That leaves 38 more for me to see. Of the 64 that I’ve seen, they all deserve the plaudits and inclusion in a French top 100. There aren’t many that they’ve excluded that I would include myself.
The other list… well, I’m not sure what to make of it. It’s from The Times, and the original source isn’t even available anymore. Commenters on the icheckmovies version of the list destroy this list, rightly pointing out that it’s missing a LOT of great cinema. The list also fixates a lot on recent cinema, with far too many films coming from the past 30 years or so. But here’s the rub. I want my list to be as comprehensive as possible. If I’m going to make the list and make it the best possible, I need to see those recent films to accurately determine if they’re worthy. I’m skeptical, and the few recent films that I’ve seen from their list don’t give me much hope, but it’s all about due diligence.
As I’ve been feverishly tackling all of these films, there’s really no end in sight. The next 21 selections in my Netflix queue are French films. From July 14th through the 29th, a local university is having a French film festival, and I plan on seeing at least eight films on the big screen. I’ve only just scratched the surface with French filmmaking luminaries like Claude Chabrol, Agnes Varda, Eric Rohmer, and Max Ophüls. My exposure to French silent films is almost exclusively limited to the films of Abel Gance.
Once all of the smoke clears, there’s still the problem of subjectivity. Just because I say that Gance’s Napoléon (1927) is the best French film ever made doesn’t make it true. No matter how much I try to be objective, all of these films are gauged through my own personal prism. I’m quick to point out and I can’t emphasize it enough- I am no authority on this. I’m just a Francophile schmuck who’s very passionate about movies, French movies in particular.
It’s a good thing I’m enjoying this so much. Without that level of enjoyment, I would’ve burned out a week ago.
As a quick reference guide, here’s what I’ve seen since June 1: J’Accuse (1919); The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964); Le Boucher (1970); The Red Balloon (1956); I Stand Alone (1998); Au Bonheur Des Dames (1930); A Nos Amours (1983); The City of Lost Children (1995); Bande a Part (1964); Ma Nuit Chez Maud (1969); Jean de Florette (1986); Manon des Sources (1986); Look at Me (2005); Time Out (2001)