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The 100 best French films: 20-11

Our definitive countdown of the finest French films – as chosen by industry experts


Van Gogh (1991)

Director: Maurice Pialat 

This stunningly photographed and skilfully acted film uses an accretion of naturalistic detail to present an emotionally restrained but utterly compelling account of the last three months of Van Gogh's life. Living in Auvers-sur-Oise with his sensitive and knowledgeable patron Gachet (Sety), Van Gogh (Dutronc)...

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The Green Ray (1983)

Director: Eric Rohmer 

It's July, and Delphine (Rivière), a young Parisian secretary, is suddenly at a loss regarding her holiday; a friend has just backed out of a trip to Greece, her other companions have boyfriends, and Delphine can't bear spending August in Paris...

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Au hasard Balthazar (1966)

Director: Robert Bresson 

Animal as saint: Bresson's stark, enigmatic parable, a donkey (named after one of the Three Wise Men) is both a witness to and the victim of mankind's cruelty, stupidity - and love...

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Les Valseuses (1974)

Director: Bertrand Blier 

A huge hit in seventies France, this offbeat comedy follows two youths waving a finger at society. Their pursuits include car theft, robbery, three-way sex, and general impulsive offensiveness, while their development is limited to the degree of selectivity...

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Mon oncle (1958)

Director: Jacques Tati

Tati's first film in colour. Yes, his contrast of the glorious awfulness of the Arpels' automated Modernistic house with Hulot's disordered Bohemianism is simplistic. Yes, Hulot as champion of the individual is oddly de-personalised...

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La Grande Illusion (1937)

Director: Jean Renoir 

As relevant as ever, Jean Renoir’s 1937 masterpiece, ‘La Grande Illusion’, is a film about common values and decency – the ability in all of us to act with respect and warmth towards those with whom we share bonds stronger and deeper than national boundaries and political divisions...

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The Wages of Fear (1953)

Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot 

Throughout his professional life, France's Henri-Georges Clouzot suffered comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock - the former's critical reputation languished for it, and he took it hard. Clouzot needn't have worried...

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Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967)

Director: Jacques Demy

From ‘Jour de Fête’ to ‘Céline and Julie Go Boating’, there’s an enchanting minor strain in French cinema devoted to visually reproducing the heady sensation of going to the cinema. And so it is with Jacques Demy’s pastel-hued masterpiece ‘Les Demoiselles de Rochefort’, a luminous musical about dreams, romance and destiny...

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Day for Night (1973)

Director: François Truffaut 

If we’re to learn anything from François Truffaut’s delicately cynical, New Hollywood-style satire from 1973 on the joys and pains of movie making, it’s that we must view directors as social and professional chameleons...

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L'Armée des ombres (1969)

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville

Discretion is the better part of valour, they say. And you couldn’t imagine a more discreet tribute to the heroes of the wartime French Resistance than this terrific late-’60s thriller by the ex-Maquis member Melville, the director best known for his gangster masterpieces like ‘The Samourai’... 

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terrible list. terrible taste in movies.

Craig T
Craig T

@Chris Agreed. Jules et Jim? Drivel. L'Annee Derniere a Marienbad? Utter tosh. They've thrown in about 40 appallingly boring artsy movies nobody in their right mind is ever going to watch and left out all the good ones.

Where is 36 Quai des Orfevres? Les Lyonnais? Two of the most gripping, gritty movies ever made.
And if you're talking comedies, I think I saw Les Ch'tis in there, but how about Tais Toi and Le Diner des Cons?

And if you must have old '60s movies in your list, where is La Guerre des Boutons? 

Les 400 Coups isn't moving/genius/whatever, it is a dated, stilted and unwatchable bland and cliched story.

I personally don't rate Nikita, Amelie, Diva or Subway, but those 4 quite poor movies are more original and compelling than the majority on this list.

Was Betty Blue on the list? Le scaphandre et le Papillon?