In an effort to make money by selling fancy books, the venerable Cahiers du Cinéma surveyed 76 French film experts to determine which 100 films most deserved to be featured in a fancy book. Setting aside certain reliables, the results are surprising in good ways, bad ways and most often perplexing ways.
"Citizen Kane" takes its predictable and hard-to-argue-against spot at number one, but the vote totals revealed that it did so by only one measly vote. Yes, had any single voter decided to bump Welles's masterpiece off his or her ballot to make a point about how "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" doesn't get enough respect, "Kane" would have split first place with Charles Laughton's "The Night of the Hunter" and Jean Renoir's "The Rules of the Game."
While a few nice surprises placed in the top 10, things only really get weird in the lower rankings, where many directors' best-known works were overlooked in favor of other efforts. Surrealist mischief-maker Luis Buñuel, one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, only makes one appearance on the list with "El," the 1953 tale of jealousy and obsession from his Mexican period. The film, which tallied the minimum number needed to make the list, is certainly a worthy inclusion, but one wonders what happened to "The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie," "The Exterminating Angel" or—well, it's Buñuel, so I could go on listing films for quite a while. That Buñuel received the eighth most votes of any director and only had one film on the list testifies to the extreme quality of his remarkable body of work.
I certainly didn't expect to see my favorite Ernst Lubitsch film, "To Be or Not To Be," all the way up at number 12, with the better known "Trouble in Paradise" at 58. But that was the least of the oddities. Elia Kazan narrowly made the list, but not with his canonized "On the Waterfront" or even "A Street Car Named Desire." He did it with "America, America." Joseph L. Mankiewicz didn't make the list with "All About Eve," but "The Barefoot Contessa" (a good film with some inspired moments, but not one I expected to see on a top 100 list). And instead of recognizing Martin Scorsese for "Taxi Driver" or "Raging Bull" or "Goodfellas" or "Mean Streets" or "After Hours" or "The Last Temptation of Christ," uh… Oh. Hrm. Scorsese didn't make the list at all. And Leo McCarey placed with "An Affair to Remember" rather than "The Aw—
Wait a minute. "An Affair to Remember" made the list, yet no Scorsese film did? The fuck?
Italian Neo-Realism suffered a setback at the hands of the Frenchies, who relegated "Bicycle Theives," "Rome, Open City" and "Senso" to the lower tiers while ignoring "Rocco and His Brothers" entirely. But that's nothing compared to what happened to the entire country of Great Britain. No Powell and Pressburger, no David Lean, no Mike Leigh, no Carol Reed—yes, including "The Third Man!"
"An Affair to Remember" made the list but "The Third Man" didn't? Neither did anything by Kieslowski, Herzog, Malick or Fassbinder? Or "Last Year at Marienbad?" The fuck?
Fortunately, silents were well represented on the list, including "The Crowd," "Greed," "The Wind," "Intolerance" and three films by the great F.W. Murnau, including "Sunrise" at number 4. The French voters were apparently too busy trying to list every Charlot film they could think of to surprise us with an unexpected Keaton, and so only voted on "The General." How 1960s of them. It's time to wake up and realize that Keaton made quite a few other masterpieces, folks. Remember the one where the house falls on him or when he walks into the movie screen? Oh, mais regard!: Charlot habillé comme Hitler et joue avec le monde!
Anyway, here's the list. It's not bad, as far as lists like this go, but it is a bit confounding with its combination of obvious picks and out-of-nowhere inclusions. The Cahiers page is kind of confusing and other sites decided to just assign each film a numerical ranking, using the alphabetical ordering of the French title as the tie-breaker. I've formatted it with the intent to reflect the list's many ties (especially towards the bottom of the list), yet still make clear where each film ranks.
Rank 1 (48 Votes) Citizen Kane - Orson Welles
Rank 2 (47 Votes) The Night of the Hunter - Charles Laughton The Rules of the Game (La Règle du jeu) - Jean Renoir
Rank 4 (46 Votes) Sunrise - Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau
Rank 5 (43 Votes) L’Atalante - Jean Vigo
Rank 6 (40 Votes) M - Fritz Lang
Rank 7 (39 Votes) Singin’ in the Rain - Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly
Rank 8 (35 Votes) Vertigo - Alfred Hitchcock
Rank 9 (34 Votes) Children of Paradise (Les Enfants du Paradis) - Marcel Carné The Searchers - John Ford Greed - Erich von Stroheim
Rank 12 (33 Votes) Rio Bravo - Howard Hawkes To Be or Not to Be - Ernst Lubitsch
Rank 16 (27 Votes) Tales of Ugetsu (Ugetsu monogatari) - Kenji Mizoguchi City Lights - Charlie Chaplin The General - Buster Keaton Nosferatu the Vampire - Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau The Music Room - Satyajit Ray
Rank 21 (26 Votes) Freaks - Tod Browning Johnny Guitar - Nicholas Ray The Mother and the Whore (La Maman et la Putain) - Jean Eustache
Rank 24 (25 Votes) The Great Dictator - Charlie Chaplin The Leopard (Le Guépard) - Luchino Visconti Hiroshima, My Love - Alain Resnais Pandora's Box (Loulou) - Georg Wilhelm Pabst North by Northwest - Alfred Hitchcock Pickpocket - Robert Bresson
Rank 30 (24 Votes) Golden Helmet (Casque d’or) - Jacques Becker The Barefoot Contessa - Joseph Mankiewitz Moonfleet - Fritz Lang The Earrings of Madame de… - Max Ophüls Pleasure - Max Ophüls The Deer Hunter - Michael Cimino
Rank 36 (23 Votes) L'Avventura - Michelangelo Antonioni Battleship Potemkin - Sergei M. Eisenstein Notorious - Alfred Hitchcock Ivan the Terrible - Sergei M. Eisenstein The Godfather - Francis Ford Coppola Touch of Evil - Orson Welles The Wind - Victor Sjöström
Rank 43 (22 Votes) 2001: A Space Odyssey - Stanley Kubrick Fanny and Alexander - Ingmar Bergman
Rank 45 (21 Votes) The Crowd - King Vidor 8 1/2 - Federico Fellini La Jetée - Chris Marker Pierrot le Fou - Jean-Luc Godard Confessions of a Cheat (Le Roman d’un tricheur) - Sacha Guitry
Rank 50 (20 Votes) Amarcord - Federico Fellini Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et la Bête) - Jean Cocteau Some Like It Hot - Billy Wilder Some Came Running - Vincente Minnelli Gertrud - Carl Theodor Dreyer King Kong - Ernst Shoedsack & Merian J. Cooper Laura - Otto Preminger The Seven Samurai - Akira Kurosawa
Rank 58 (19 Votes) The 400 Blows - François Truffaut La Dolce Vita - Federico Fellini The Dead - John Huston Trouble in Paradise - Ernst Lubitsch It’s a Wonderful Life - Frank Capra Monsieur Verdoux - Charlie Chaplin The Passion of Joan of Arc - Carl Theodor Dreyer
Rank 65 (18 Votes) À bout de souffle (Breathless) - Jean-Luc Godard Apocalypse Now - Francis Ford Coppola Barry Lyndon - Stanley Kubrick La Grande Illusion - Jean Renoir Intolerance - David Wark Griffith A Day in the Country (Partie de campagne) - Jean Renoir Playtime - Jacques Tati Rome, Open City - Roberto Rossellini Livia (Senso) - Luchino Visconti Modern Times - Charlie Chaplin Van Gogh - Maurice Pialat
Rank 76 (17 Votes) An Affair to Remember - Leo McCarey Andrei Rublev - Andrei Tarkovsky The Scarlet Empress - Joseph von Sternberg Sansho the Bailiff - Kenji Mizoguchi Talk to Her - Pedro Almodóvar The Party - Blake Edwards Tabu - Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau The Bandwagon - Vincente Minnelli A Star Is Born - George Cukor Mr. Hulot’s Holiday - Jacques Tati
Rank 86 (16 Votes) America, America - Elia Kazan El - Luis Buñuel Kiss Me Deadly - Robert Aldrich Once Upon a Time in America - Sergio Leone Daybreak (Le Jour se lève) - Marcel Carné Letter from an Unknown Woman - Max Ophüls Lola - Jacques Demy Manhattan - Woody Allen Mulholland Dr. - David Lynch My Night at Maud’s (Ma nuit chez Maud) - Eric Rohmer Night and Fog (Nuit et Brouillard) - Alain Resnais The Gold Rush - Charlie Chaplin Scarface - Howard Hawks Bicycle Thieves - Vittorio de Sica Napoléon - Abel Gance
Top Directors Charles Laughton only directed one film in his career, but with the votes for that film he managed to beat out Preminger, McCarey, Cukor and Tati in the rankings for most votes. Well done, Chuck. (One wonders if Laughton would have split his vote had gone on to direct 10 more projects. But we'll never know.)
Jean Renoir 155 Alfred Hitchcock 146 Fritz Lang 143 Charles Chaplin 128 John Ford 124 Orson Welles 114 Ingmar Bergman 113 Luis Buñuel 110 Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau 108 Howard Hawks 105 Jean-Luc Godard 99 Federico Fellini 99 Ernst Lubitsch 98 Luchino Visconti 90 Robert Bresson 90 Kenji Mizoguchi 87 Akira Kurosawa 86 Max Ophuls 83 Alain Resnais 82 Carl Theodor Dreyer 76 François Truffaut 75 Stanley Kubrick 75 Vincente Minnelli 73 Joseph Mankiewicz 73 Roberto Rosselini 73 Josef von Sternberg 69 Michelangelo Antonioni 67 S. M. Eisenstein 65 Marcel Carné 64 Billy Wilder 61 Buster Keaton 61 Yasujiro Ozu 60 Eric von Stroheim 60 John Huston 59 Elia Kazan 55 King Vidor 53 David Wark Griffith 53 Maurice Pialat 52 Jean Vigo 51 Nicholas Ray 49 Jacques Becker 48 Woody Allen 48 Francis Ford Coppola 47 Jacques Demy 47 Charles Laughton 47 Jacques Tati 46 Otto Preminger 45 Leo McCarey 45 George Cukor 44 Raoul Walsh 44