A Young Jean-Luc Godard Picks the 10 Best American Films Ever Made (1963)


Cre­ative Com­mons image by Gary Stevens

Like most of the Nou­velle Vague direc­tors who remain inter­est­ing today, Jean-Luc Godard has played the role of film crit­ic as often as he has the role of film direc­tor. While his cin­e­mat­ic com­pa­tri­ot François Truf­faut got his start review­ing movies before he decid­ed to make them, Godard nev­er quite under­went the full con­ver­sion; his non­fic­tion works for the screen include the four-and-a-half-hour Histoire(s) du ciné­ma, a thor­ough­ly idio­syn­crat­ic take on exact­ly the sub­ject you would think it cov­ers, and even most of his fea­ture films turn back on their medi­um and “inter­ro­gate” it — to use, I sup­pose, an aca­d­e­m­ic term fall­en slight­ly out of fash­ion. Then agan, Godard him­self has also gone some­what out of style, not that it drains any of the fas­ci­na­tion out of his fil­mog­ra­phy, and cer­tain­ly not that it makes his opinons less rel­e­vant to fel­low cinephiles.

You’ll find a col­lec­tion of these Godar­d­ian judg­ments in the back pages of Cahiers du cin­e­ma, the jour­nal that bred the lion’s share of these French New-Wave crit­ics-turned-film­mak­ers. On a page of crit­ics’ favorites lists main­tained by a cer­tain Eric C. Jon­sh­son, you’ll find Godard­’s top-ten rank­ings, as pub­lished by Cahiers du cin­e­ma for the years 1956 through 1965.

While he does use these lists to give the occa­sion­al (and well-deserved) prop to a col­league — Jean-Pierre Melville’s Deux Hommes dans Man­hat­tan, Alain Resnais’ Hiroshi­ma, mon amour, Truf­faut’s Les Qua­tres cent coups, Claude Chabrol’s Les Cousins, and Agnes Var­da’s Du cote de la Cote come in for hon­ors in 1959 alone — he also pays his respects to the stol­id virtues of Amer­i­can film­mak­ing, espe­cial­ly of the sen­sa­tion­al vari­ety: Orson Welles’ Mr. Arkadin (#1, 1956), Alfred Hitch­cock­’s Psy­cho (#8, 1960), Samuel Fuller’s Schock Cor­ri­dor (#5, 1965.) He even put togeth­er a list of the Ten Best Amer­i­can Sound Films, which runs as fol­lows:

  1. Scar­face (Howard Hawks)
  2. The Great Dic­ta­tor (Charles Chap­lin)
  3. Ver­ti­go (Alfred Hitch­cock)
  4. The Searchers (John Ford)
  5. Sin­gin’ in the Rain (Kel­ly-Donen)
  6. The Lady from Shang­hai (Orson Welles)
  7. Big­ger Than Life (Nicholas Ray)
  8. Angel Face (Otto Pre­minger)
  9. To Be or Not To Be (Ernst Lubitsch)
  10. Dis­hon­ored (Josef von Stern­berg)

I’ve often thought that it takes some­one for­eign to most clear­ly view Amer­i­ca, and by the same token, it prob­a­bly takes an out­sider to most clear­ly view main­stream cin­e­ma. In this list, Godard char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly pro­vides both angles at once.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Quentin Taran­ti­no Lists the 12 Great­est Films of All Time: From Taxi Dri­ver to The Bad News Bears

Woody Allen Lists the Great­est Films of All Time: Includes Clas­sics by Bergman, Truf­faut & Felli­ni

Mar­tin Scors­ese Reveals His 12 Favorite Movies (and Writes a New Essay on Film Preser­va­tion)

Stan­ley Kubrick’s List of Top 10 Films (The First and Only List He Ever Cre­at­ed)

Ing­mar Bergman Eval­u­ates His Fel­low Film­mak­ers — The “Affect­ed” Godard, “Infan­tile” Hitch­cock & Sub­lime Tarkovsky

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, Asia, film, lit­er­a­ture, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on his brand new Face­book page.

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