I hope Orson Welles got used to seeing his name on top-ten-films-of-all-time lists. He became a mainstay as soon as critical consensus declared his debut Citizen Kane probably the most important motion picture ever made, and some cinephiles give special notice to his subsequent works, such as The Lady from Shanghai, Touch of Evil, F for Fake, and — for true contrarians only — The Trial. So what does a man whose projects appear on so many top-ten lists from critics and other filmmakers alike put on his own?
“I don’t like cinema,” goes one perhaps-apocryphal Welles quote. “I like making cinema.” (Sometimes-heard variation: “I don’t like cinema unless I shoot it.”) But even if he actually said and believed that, he still managed to put together the following list of favorites in the early 1950s, about a decade after having entered the filmmaking game but with most of the cinema he would make still to come:
- City Lights (Charlie Chaplin)
- Greed (Erich von Stroheim, 1924)
- Intolerance (D.W. Griffith, 1916)
- Nanook of the North (Robert Flaherty, 1992)
- Shoe Shine (Vittorio De Sica, 1946)
- The Battleship Potemkin (Sergei Eisenstein, 1925)
- La Femme du Boulanger (Marcel Pagnol, 1938)
- Grand Illusion (Jean Renoir, 1937)
- Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939)
- Our Daily Bread (King Vidor, 1934)
If Citizen Kane opened up the possibilities of cinema — and to get an idea of just how much influence it has had from its release to this day, simply watch any film made before it — the pictures Welles puts onto his list, in large part a classicist’s even in the 50s, gave cinema its form in the first place. If you plan on doing a self-administered course in film history, you could do much worse than beginning with the favorite films of Orson Welles — then moving on, of course, to the films of Orson Welles.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture as well as the video series The City in Cinema and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.