French Follow-Up: More About the 2012 Edition of the 50 Greatest French Films

Whenever you make a list featuring the 50 greatest of anything, there are bound to be a lot of tough decisions, at least if you take the endeavor seriously. Unless it’s a list of the 50 greatest Journey songs, which would be really easy. But I digress. Along the way, there are sure to be a lot of extra thoughts about the process that lead to the decisions you make. In other words, this article is a DVD bonus feature for The 50 Greatest French Films of All-Time.

-The two biggest newcomers this year are Georges Méliès and Jean Vigo. I will fully admit that I’m overstating the case, but both directors are 100% essential to the development of both French cinema, and film history on the whole (regardless of nation of origin). It’s hard to ignore when two filmmakers have such tremendous, wide-sweeping influence. Méliès was so damned impressive that he changed my point of view about Buñuel, Vigo, Buster Keaton, and Abel Gance, all who register as some of my favorite filmmakers (with Buñuel and Keaton at the top of the mountain).

Underrated, probably

-There are two selections that make me feel guilty. Vigo’s L’Atalante is almost universally loved more than Zero for Conduct, and Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game gets more critical acclaim than Grand Illusion. The truth of the matter is that the genius of Grand Illusion and Zero for Conduct resonates more with me than their more critically acclaimed counterparts. It’s a case where my own subjectivity had to come into play.

-The biggest jump came from Children of Paradise, which came in at #28 last year and bounced all the way up to #13 this year. If you really want to know what changed, go here.

-Contrarily, the biggest fall happened with The Fire Within, which went from #10 to #24. I don’t love the film any less. It’s still my favorite film ever made. The important discrepancy here is between “best” and “favorite”. The film resonates with me for many reasons, but the reality is that it’s not objectively as good as the films above it. That’s mostly due to influence- it lacks much influence, especially in relation to many of its peers in slots 1 through 23. It’s still an amazing film, and #24 on the list of greatest French films is a really impressive slot.

Chabrol’s Le Boucher is really good, even if it’s not top 50.

-Making a list like this is brutal. There are so many movies that didn’t make the cut, and yet I still hold them in very high esteem. I feel like I’m choosing favorites amongst my children. I may not have deemed them worthy of the top 50 but they’re still great films. And so I’ll be listing numbers 51 through 75 here in this article, although without the write-ups. Even beyond the top 75, there are a lot of amazing films. Choosing 100 may be the goal for next year. I assure you there are at least 100 French films that I wish more people would see.

-Last year, I promised that I’d check out more from a handful of notable film directors. The list was Agnes Varda (I watched one more- her debut); Claude Chabrol (four films in the last year, all enjoyable, but not quite good enough for the top 50); Erik Rohmer (I still need to tackle a lot more); and Jean Vigo (obviously scored well). I also need to take a good look at Cinéma du Look moving forward.

-The list of filmmakers I’ll check out in the next year still includes Rohmer and more Chabrol. More than anything, I’ll dip into this list. If you like my list, check out that one, because whoever put the Films de France list together knows more than I do.

-Clearly not as strong as Vigo or Méliès, another filmmaker made a very strong impression on me in the last year, and only in two films- Maurice Pialat. He’s this year’s Varda- a lesser known director I want to know much more about.

-I got around to the Trois Couleurs trilogy from Kieslowski. I found it a mixed bag. Blue was technically impressive, bordering on extraordinary. White lacked the technical sizzle but had a great story. I can see why it’s the least critically acclaimed of the three, even if I found it the most enjoyable. Red actually disappointed me a great deal. I’m sure I’ll revisit it at some point, but it all felt very forced.

-I feel like there’s one director who didn’t make the list with many films, and deserves mention. I’m talking about Alain Resnais. He has two on my list. But he has several others that are damned good, too, just on the outside of the top 50.

-If you’re a hardcore fan of French cinema, then you’ve heard of most of the stuff on my list. But the one that doesn’t make a lot of these lists that I think deserves the most attention is La Grand Bouffe. I wish more people would see that movie.

-In case you can’t tell from the list, I think very highly of Abel Gance.

Here are numbers 51 through 75.

51. Vampyr (1932)
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer

52. The Piano Teacher (2001)
Director: Michael Haneke

53. Jules and Jim (1962)
Director: François Truffaut

54. Forbidden Games (1952)
Director: René Clément

55. My Night at Maud’s (1969)
Director: Eric Rohmer

56. The Wages of Fear (1953)
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot

57. The Bride Wore Black (1968)
Director: François Truffaut

58. I Stand Alone (1998)
Director: Gaspar Noé

59. The Butcher (1970)
Director: Claude Chabrol

60. Diary of a Country Priest (1951)
Director: Robert Bresson

61. Hiroshima mon amour (1959)
Director: Alain Resnais

62. A Woman is a Woman (1961)
Director: Jean-Luc Godard

63. Three Colors: Blue (1993)
Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski

64. Diary of a Chambermaid (1964)
Director: Luis Buñuel

65. Belle de jour (1967)
Director: Luis Buñuel

66. The Chess Player (1927)
Director: Raymond Bernard

67. The Green Room (1978)
Director: François Truffaut

68. L’Age d’Or (1930)
Director: Luis Buñuel

69. Wooden Crosses (1932)
Director: Raymond Bernard

70. Muriel (1963)
Director: Alain Resnais

71. Léon Morin, Priest (1961)
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville

72. La Guerre est Finie (1966)
Director: Alain Resnais

73. Le Doulos (1962)
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville

74. Danton (1983)
Director: Andrzej Wajda

75. The Wild Child (1970)
Director: François Truffaut


12 Comments

Filed under Foreign Film, French Film, Movies

12 responses to “French Follow-Up: More About the 2012 Edition of the 50 Greatest French Films

  1. I’m really pleased to see I Stand Alone in here at #58. That is one of my favourite films. It is so damn underrated. Also, this may be blasphemy, but I prefer L’Age D’Or to Un Chien Andalou. I just do. For me it’s far more daring and incredible.

    Did you see Claude Chabrol’s La Ceremonie? I saw it recently and holy fuck if it isn’t fucking amazing. Perhaps not enough to place on this list but I’m still reeling from the powerful effect of that movie.

    Of the 25 you’ve listed here I’ve seen 12, which brings my grand total up to 47/75. That means I have 28 films to get tackled before the next list, and I’m going to try my best to do just that. Great work as usual John!

    • From Chabrol, I did This Man Must Die, Le Boucher, Les Biches, and I have La Rupture at home right now. I’ll try to snag La Ceremonie soon.

      L’Age D’Or is amazing, although I tend to give bonus points for economy. And Un Chien Andalou does many of the same things with far less time. Call it a personal weakness.

      I’ve liked all of the Noe that I’ve seen, but I have to confess that I Stand Alone has been my favorite. It knocked my socks off in ways the others didn’t.

  2. goregirl

    One sleep til zombie walk! I’m obsessing over my costume, having second thoughts on what I chose. My right eye started twitching…it was time for a French film break!
    Journey?
    White is my favourite of the trilogy too.
    I have to make watching horror my priority so getting through my queue of non-horror titles is a bit of a slow process these days. Loved so many of the ones I’ve seen from your list though. It gets me all giddy with excitement about checking out the ones I haven’t. The list shall be conquered! …eventually.
    Stick Figure Friday…just saying.

    • I saw your nun choice. Those costumes are amazing. You really have a penchant for those.

      And… you’re right. It’s time for more stick figures.

  3. …and I haven’t seen any of these. Nice to see Noe represented, though. While I haven’t seen I Stand Alone, I found Irreversible and Enter the Void to be very impressive, albeit hard to watch.

    • I Stand Alone is right in that same ballpark. I don’t know if it’s any more difficult to watch than Enter the Void (and I found it easier to watch than Irreversible) but as long as you’ve seen some Noe, you know what you’re getting yourself into.

      If you’re interested in getting into French film, you really can’t go wrong by hitting up the Criterion Collection’s list of films, and sorting by country. Or, all of the Melies shorts and Un Chien Andalou, probably some others, are available on Youtube (and many of them are very short).

  4. Vladdy

    How weird. I thought I was the only one who liked White best of the Three Colors trilogy. I need a re-watch, too. Watching Red, I kept waiting for that overwhelmingly transcendent moment I was promised by so many, but it never came. Nice list, though. Where does one see Napoleon, btw?

    • I was lucky enough that one of my friends had a copy of Napoleon, and he loaned it to me. It looks like Facets has a VHS copy that you can rent (fair warning- VHS rentals through Facets mean you have to pay to return the item, and come with steep fines if you lose it or damage it).

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  6. My Night at Maud’s! I hope this film will jump into the top 50 next year,also Three Colors: Blue.

    Maurice Pialat is a tough name for me,only seen his Under the Sun of Satan,I could not finish it,maybe I chose the wrong one to start.

    Maybe the competition is too fierce,but I’d like to nominate two after-90s films : Ameli and The Lovers on the Bridge.

    • I admit, I haven’t seen Under the Sun of Satan, so it’s tough to judge. But I highly recommend both A Nos Amours and L’Enfance Nue. They have tough subject matter, but it wasn’t enough to scare me away or anything.

      I like Amelie quite a bit, and it would be a top 100 film.

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