Top Ten Masterpieces of World Cinema?

Having an idle conversation with a friend. What are the, oh say ten, greatest masterpieces in the history of cinema? Not personal favorites, necessarily; not ones you pull out every time someone comes over, or when you’re stuck inside on a rainy sunday. What ten movies do you think that anyone who takes “cinema” seriously as an art form should see? Maybe we’ll boil it down to a poll after some discussion. My nominations, without really a lot of consideration so I reserve the right to revise:
The Passion of Joan of Arc
City Lights
Battleship Potemkin
The Searchers
Open City
The Earrings of Madade de
The Godfather
Tokyo Story

Yeah I know it’s too many. Nothing I can trim though, and I left some biggies off. Maybe ten is impossible without being somewhat arbitrary.

That’s a fine list (though I have never heard of “Open City” before, and the only reason I’ve heard of “City Lights” is a previous list of yours), but arguments could be made for “The Apu Trilogy”, “2001: A Space Odyssey”, and “Citizen Kane”. I also think something by Fritz Lang should be represented (I would personally put “M”, but I think more would put “Metropolis”) and maybe some musical (“West Side Story”?).

Definitely Metropolis.

I’d also put something like Time Of The Gypsies or When Father Was Away on Business, or maybe Come and See.

I’d want to see something from Powell & Pressburger on such a list. Hard to settle on just one but probably The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. I’d probably want to see **Gone With The Wind **on there too as a representation of the perfect blockbuster. I’d like to see something from Tarkovsky on there even if I don’t always understand his movies, I nonetheless often find them inexplicably, yet unbearably moving. Maybe Solaris ?

Hitchcock’s **Vertigo **is a masterpiece for me too.

I had similar thoughts: I tried to think of a P&P title, but great as all of their films are, they seemed a notch below the rest of the titles on the list. Ditto Tarkovsky. Although Solaris would be my choice to represent him, it’s ultimately I think a half notch below the ones I chose. Subjectively of course. I’d sooner put The Mirror on the list, though I’d sooner watch *Solaris *again.

And again subjectively, I can’t see GWTW or Vertigo on such a list. Also, while I agree Come and See is a masterpiece, it doesn’t knock out any of these titles for me. I might sooner include The Ascent.

Titles that made me want to lengthen the list include:
The Wind Will Carry Us
Children of Heaven
I Am Cuba
The Apu Trilogy

. . . and I’m sure more will come to me.

Sheesh. Sorry for not proofreading:

I think Renoir, Bergman, Bunuel and Antonioni are conspicuously missing, from a “master class” perspective (though Keaton, Resnais, Fellini, and Bresson also have a strong claim).

Hitchcock, Kubrick, Kurosawa, Powell & Pressburger, and Tarkovsky, too (though they’ve already been mentioned by others).

I love The Godfather, but to have it be one of two American sound pix–at the expense of Welles, Hawks, Sturges, Lubitsch, and Night of the Hunter–seems incredibly wrong.

I’d echo Kane, 2001, Vertigo, Blimp & Apu, though I’d pick Andrei Rublev for the Tarkovsky. Add to that Trouble in Paradise, The General, The Rules of the Game, Children of Paradise, Persona, 8 1/2, L’Avventura, The Big Sleep, Au Hasard Balthazar, Viridiana, The Lady Eve and Hiroshima, Mon Amour.

Great call on the Ophuls, though.

Agreed, mostly. Not a huge Fellini fan, but then again I only left *Night of the Hunter *off because that felt like a personal choice and I was going for a more global list.

Yeah. I think we should go to 25 titles; this really is not possible at 10.

Again, agreed agreed agreed. (See above.) But Sturges: global? He’s on MY top ten list, but he didn’t seem to fit in the list as I conceived it. Maybe I was too much in thrall to gravitas. And for me, Hawks’s masterpiece is Rio Bravo, but it seemed overlappy with The Searchers.

All titles I considered (although I’d go Palm Beach above Eve).

If I can go back and plead for Gone With The Wind. I will happily acknowledge that is lacks the depth and the profundity of many of the other masterpieces on the list. The direction is variable, the cinematography only sometimes stunning (presumably down to the change of directors).

But… I cannot think of a film that more defines the Golden Age of the Hollywood Studio System and more than that, the romance of cinema itself. (It also fascinates me that it is one of those occasions where it is regarded as the producer being the auteur rather than the director.) Nuts, I feel I’m letting the film down - I just feel it has magic. And I don’t just mean I like it a lot, I really think it has something unique. One of those occasions when I see a film and think my GOD, this is what the medium was invented for - spectacular settings, epic love stories, characters seared onto the screen and the indefinable sense of being somehow so much greater than its parts. GWTW just GOES for it, full throttle and it all works. I think it has earned its place at the table. There’ll certainly never again be anything quite like it.

PS: I’m also delighted and thrilled to see so much shared love for Powell & Pressburger :slight_smile:

Well, GWTW is actually pretty unique in HW history; it’s only representative by sheer numbers. And it’s just not very good. Subjective, of course. But I don’t see this list as a spectrum of samples, so much as the very best of the best. The sampling factor only comes into play–for me at least–in a tiebreaker type situation.

One word: Casablanca.

I think this is where the whole Elite-meets-the-Street argument comes in. Is GWtW great art or great commerce? Is the Curtiz landmark cinema or just a marriage of expert storytelling and planet-alignment fortuitousness? Is there enough poetry, whimsy, and artfulness in Kelly’s tap shoes to argue that Singin’ in the Rain belongs? Or Astaire with Top Hat?

Why can’t Sturges be global? or Fields or the Marx Brothers? The tradition, of course, has been that “great” cinema be dour, serious, melancholy, or–if mirthful–foreign and arty (surprised we haven’t seen Vigo’s name yet). It’s a tough call, maybe because most people cry at the same stuff but laugh at things completely different.

Here are the top 12 from Sight & Sound’s list in 1952:
The Bicycle Thief
City Lights
The Gold Rush
Louisiana Story
Le Jour se Leve
The Passion of Joan of Arc
Brief Encounter
Le Million
The Rules of the Game

And 2002:
Citizen Kane
The Rules of the Game
8 1/2
The Godfather
2001: A Space Odyssey
Tokyo Story
The Godfather, Part II
The Seven Samurai
Singin’ in the Rain

Not a fan of Singin. I’d far sooner nominate Meet Me in St. Louis or The Bandwagon. But again, this list is not supposed to be my personal list, and I certainly acknowledge the global love for SitR. But some good titles there. Maybe we’ll let this thread meander for a day or two and then do a poll.

I’m biased (going through a phase of trying to watch all of his movies), but I’ll put another vote in for Bergman. Persona is my favourite so far, but Seventh Seal is the one with so many iconic visuals - just think about how often the ‘death/chess’ image has been used.

I think the problem with lists like this is distinguishing between (1) movies that broke new ground and had a tremendous impact on movies that followed and (2) movies that are simply great entertainment. Potemkin is a landmark movie, but I don’t think anyone today seeing it for the first time and not knowing anything of its history would think it was a great film. Casablanca, on the other hand, even though it broke no new ground, would be enjoyed by almost anyone. Which is the greater masterpiece?

I agree to an extent, but I specifically didn’t ask about most influential movies; otherwise The Great Train Robbery and Birth of a Nation would have to be on the list, for example.

And even though “greatness” is inherently subjective, entertainment value is not wholly irrelevant to the discussion. The titles on the list are, for me, the greatest examples of a confluence of “greatness” across all aspects of filmmaking, define those how you will. Again, entertainment value (although keep in mind that one man’s mindless distraction is another man’s convoluted exegesis) is not outside the pale of this equation.

Here are the big ten I’d name (trying to focus specifically on “world cinema”):

A Brighter Summer Day
Two or Three Things I Know About Her
Two-Lane Blacktop
In a Year with 13 Moons
Too Early, Too Late
Inland Empire
Singin’ in the Rain

Seeing your later post about the impossibility of narrowing it down to a mere ten, here’s another fifteen that I think are equally essential:

Berlin Alexanderplatz
Out 1: Noli Me Tangere
Opening Night
Some Came Running
Red Psalm
Syndromes and a Century
Last Year at Marienbad
Still Life
In Vanda’s Room
Chelsea Girls

Again, purely subjectively, and haphazardly, Nostalghia is my fifth favorite Tarkovsky. It doesn’t have the sweep, the depth, of his other films. Some Came Running, awesome, but no St. Louis, or even Father of the Bride. Opening Night, essential, but global top 25? ditto Nashville (although it’s my top Altman) and Tenebrae (my third Argento), 2LBT, my second favorite Hellman after The Shooting. I’d much sooner pick Vinyl, or even Blowjob, over Chelsea Girls. And Wanda, an astonishing, overlooked American masterpiece, but global 25? Given an ultimatum I’d choose Ladybird, Ladybird first, for a similar film. Again, WHOLLY subjective; just a response.

Aactually, I think I want to add “Meshes of the Afternoon” to my master list.

It’s a fun and provocative tally, but brings up the notion of canon and how more recent directors fit into it. In addition to your inclusions of Fassbinder, Cassevetes, Lynch, Rivette, Altman, Tarr and Yang (among others), where do Angelopoulos, Scorsese, Leigh, Kieslowski, Varda, Wiseman, and Cronenberg (just to name a few) fall? Does a masterpiece need to stand the test of time? Or do certain canonical films need re-evaluating? And in a lot of those cases of prolific filmographies, is there a general consensus to their “best” film? My preferences for The Bitter Tears of Petra van Kant or Yi Yi or McCabe & Mrs. Miller or Mulholland Dr. or The Killing of a Chinese Bookie are just as idiosyncratic and non-definitive a choice.

In 1962 & 1972, the Sight & Sound polls included films in the Top 10 that hadn’t even been released when the prior poll was taken. But you’d be hard-pressed to find movies now that have such an immediate and universal reaction as “one of the best ever”. I guess that’s a good thing (casting a wider net and appreciating a deeper pool), but it also makes any widespread agreement on relatively recent nominees that much more difficult.

  • Nostalghia is by far my favorite Tarkovsky - something so wrenching about its mournful tone and intercultural dialogue
  • Some Came Running, just for the craziness of its performances (Shirley McLaine!) and those colors (even Godard liked it! remember that bathtub scene in Contempt?)
  • Opening Night, hell yeah - since Cassavetes certainly belongs on any such list, I agonized over this vs. Love Streams, but this in the end is the film that means more to me for a lot of personal reasons
  • Nashville - the first Altman I really loved, and I suppose I could have picked many different titles of his, but I didn’t want to be perverse and name Images or 3 Women
  • re: Tenebre: what are your first two Argentos?
  • 2LBT: another perverse choice, but I had to get proto-structuralism in there somewhere (same with Wanda) without actually citing such turn-off names as James Benning or Michael Snow.
  • Chelsea Girls: I don’t even care about whatever aesthetic advances it represents, I’m just in love with the performances and the milieu. Mary Woronov in the “Hanoi Hannah” scene is among the best performances I’ve ever seen, and the charm is that it all seems so inadvertent, which was always Warhol’s way of doing things.