The Cahiers du Cinéma Names the 10 Best Films of the Year, from 1951 to 2014



It’s hard to over­state the impact of Cahiers du ciné­ma on film his­to­ry.

In the ear­ly ‘50s, the great crit­ic André Bazin led a small coterie of film fanat­ics – guys with names like Jean-Luc Godard, François Truf­faut, Eric Rohmer and Jacques Riv­ette — who hung out at the Ciné­math­èque française. The­aters were flood­ed with Hol­ly­wood movies, real­ly for the first time since the begin­ning of World War II, and this group took the oppor­tu­ni­ty to watch any­thing they could get their hands on, from high brow art films to cut rate West­erns. They would watch any­thing.

In 1951, Bazin found­ed Cahiers and this band of cin­e­mat­ic out­siders became famous­ly bru­tal and uncom­pro­mis­ing icon­o­clasts. They praised low­ly genre films – film noir espe­cial­ly – as mas­ter­pieces while slam­ming the mid­dle­brow flicks the French film indus­try was crank­ing out at the time. Truf­faut was famous for being par­tic­u­lar­ly harsh, earn­ing the moniker “The Gravedig­ger of French Cin­e­ma.” His reviews were so acer­bic that he was the only French film crit­ic not invit­ed to cov­er the 1958 Cannes Film Fes­ti­val. (The fact that he then turned around and won the fest’s top prize the next year for his mas­ter­piece 400 Blows might be one of the great­est feats of badassery in cin­e­ma his­to­ry.)

Per­haps the Cahiers’ great­est con­tri­bu­tion was an arti­cle, writ­ten by Truf­faut in 1954, called “A Cer­tain Ten­den­cy of the French Cin­e­ma,” which was a man­i­festo for what would lat­er be called auteur the­o­ry – an idea that cer­tain direc­tors have such a com­mand of the medi­um that they impress their indi­vid­ual vision on a film, in the same way an author does to a book. This idea has been so com­plete­ly absorbed into pop­u­lar con­scious­ness that it’s hard to see just how rev­o­lu­tion­ary it was at the time. Before Cahiers, peo­ple gen­er­al­ly thought about movies in terms of the stars, not the direc­tor. Most would refer to Rear Win­dow, say, as a Jim­my Stew­art movie, not an Alfred Hitch­cock film. The con­cept result­ed in a basic reorder­ing in the way film­mak­ers thought about their art.

Truf­faut and com­pa­ny obsessed with film­mak­ers they con­sid­ered auteurs. Their top 10 list for 1955, the year after “A Cer­tain Ten­den­cy” was pub­lished, shows who in par­tic­u­lar they con­sid­ered auteurs – art house icons (Carl Drey­er and Rober­to Rosselli­ni), Hol­ly­wood rene­gades (Robert Aldrich and Nicholas Ray) and, of course, Hitch­cock.

1. Voy­age To Italy (Rober­to Rosselli­ni)
2. Ordet (Carl Drey­er)
3. The Big Knife (Robert Aldrich)
4. Lola Montes (Max Ophuls)
5. Rear Win­dow (Alfred Hitch­cock)
6. Les Mau­vais Recon­tres (Alexan­dre Astruc)
7. La Stra­da (Fed­eri­co Felli­ni)
8. The Bare­foot Con­tes­sa (Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
9. John­ny Gui­tar (Nicholas Ray)
10. Kiss Me Dead­ly (Robert Aldrich)

1960 was the year that seem­ing­ly the entire edi­to­r­i­al staff at Cahiers du ciné­ma took cam­era in hand and became film­mak­ers, launch­ing the French New Wave. Truffaut’s 400 Blows in 1959 was fol­lowed up by Chabrol’s Les Bonnes Femmes and Godard’s ground­break­ing assault on cin­e­mat­ic form, Breath­less. Yet for their top 10 list, Cahiers put Japan­ese mas­ter Ken­ji Mizoguchi’s San­sho the Bailiff at the top. Hitch­cock also makes the list, num­ber 9, with a lit­tle film called Psy­cho.

1. San­sho The Bailiff (Ken­ji Mizoguchi)
2. L’avven­tu­ra (Michae­lan­ge­lo Anto­nioni)
3. Breath­less (Jean-Luc Godard)
4. Shoot The Piano Play­er (François Truf­faut)
5. Poem Of The Sea (Alexan­der Dovzhenko/Julia Sol­ntes­va)
6. Les Bonnes Femmes (Claude Chabrol)
7. Nazarin (Luis Buñuel)
8. Moon­fleet (Fritz Lang)
9. Psy­cho (Alfred Hitch­cock)
10. Le Trou (Jacques Beck­er)

Start­ing from 1968 until the late-70s, the jour­nal became a Maoist col­lec­tive and renounced bour­geois con­cepts like “best of” lists, nar­ra­tive cin­e­ma and, y’know, fun. But in the ear­ly ‘80s, Cahiers shift­ed its edi­to­r­i­al focus back to the world of com­mer­cial film. They laud­ed movies by Nou­velle Vague vet­er­ans like Godard and Rohmer, film fes­ti­val dar­lings like Hou Hsiao Hsien and, to a per­verse degree, Clint East­wood. You can see all of Cahiers du ciné­ma’s top 10 lists here, includ­ing the most recent list for 2014 here.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Alfred Hitch­cock on the Filmmaker’s Essen­tial Tool: ‘The Kuleshov Effect’

Jean-Luc Godard Gives a Dra­mat­ic Read­ing of Han­nah Arendt’s “On the Nature of Total­i­tar­i­an­ism”

Jef­fer­son Air­plane Wakes Up New York; Jean-Luc Godard Cap­tures It (1968)

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing lots of pic­tures of bad­gers and even more pic­tures of vice pres­i­dents with octo­pus­es on their heads.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.

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  • Dick Hartzell says:

    I’ve always won­dered whether Truf­faut got his title for “Shoot the Piano Play­er” from an anec­dote Oscar Wilde once told about a west­ern stop he made on a lit­er­ary tour of Amer­i­ca. I’m guess­ing Wilde was vis­it­ing a rather rough-and-tum­ble saloon with a honky-tonk piano, because next to it was post­ed a sign read­ing “Please don’t shoot the piano play­er. He’s doing the best he can.”

  • Dick Hartzell says:

    Cor­rec­tion: in “Impres­sions of Amer­i­ca”, Wilde actu­al­ly por­trays the sign he saw in Leadville, Col­orado. It reads:


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