If you want the gravy…

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100 Films I Most Need to See (UPDATED – 2017 Edition)


Considered one of the greatest war films ever made. But I've never seen it. (Source)

Considered one of the greatest war films ever made. But I’ve never seen it. (Source)

As many films as I’ve seen, there are a lot I have yet to watch. And this list is by no means a definitive record of the films I need to see, so much as an overview of some of the biggest gaps in my cinematic education. I’m sure there are films I left off, and some of my choices may not be perfect–filling a list of 100 is tricky–but drawing on the various best-films lists of critics, awards groups, and even my cousin, I compiled a good checklist against which I can measure myself.  Films marked with a single asterisk (*) are films I own but have not seen.

I was reminded of this post the other day when its anniversary came around, and decided to update it to reflect the films I’ve seen or added to my collection in the interim. I have to say, I’m not sure how I compiled this list–some of these films, excellent as they are, have never strongly been on my radar (Au Revoir Les Enfants in particular comes to mind).

I was reminded yet again of this post, once again right around the anniversary of its publication. I’ll update it yet again. I’ll probably try and make this a yearly thing.

3/25/17 I’ve seen a few more of this since the last update, and I had a few tweaks to make. So here you go.

  1. All Quiet on the Western Front*
  2. Au Revoir Les Enfants
  3. The Battle of Algiers*
  4. The Best Years of Our Lives*
  5. Bicycle Thieves
  6. The Birth of a Nation*
  7. Bonnie and Clyde*
  8. Boyz N the Hood*
  9. Breathless*
  10. Brief Encounter
  11. Bringing Up Baby It’s got some very funny moments, but I found Katherine Hepburn’s character awfully hard to take. I never gave it a score, but it’d probably be in the mid-high 70s. Enjoyable but not a masterpiece.
  12. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
  13. Charulata (The Lonely Wife)
  14. Children of Men*
  15. Children of Paradise*
  16. Chimes at Midnight Just saw this in a theater, in the new restoration which Criterion will be releasing in August. I’ll see it again at that time, taking advantage of the subtitles; between the poor sound quality and the Shakespearean dialogue, the film can be a touch hard to understand at times. That said, if I don’t put it in the top rank of Welles’ films – in part because the technical issues serve to distance one emotionally from the material – there’s much in it that’s great, especially Welles’ performance as Falstaff and his stark imagery, which often reminded me of Eisenstein. When I update this list again I’ll provide my refined thoughts. (Well…)
  17. City Lights
  18. City of God*
  19. The Color of Pomegranates
  20. Come and See
  21. Cries & Whispers
  22. The Crowd
  23. Day of Wrath
  24. Dead Ringers*
  25. The Decalogue****
  26. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie Loved this. The surreal anti-humor and the skewering of the upper classes remain fresh and delightful 45 years on. Hopefully Criterion reissues it at some point. (89 – ****)
  27. Double Indemnity*
  28. Fanny and Alexander
  29. The Fountain* I hated this. What a pretentious mess. Points, I suppose, for being its own thing, but on the whole I found it just insufferable. Another one I never rated (since I grudgingly admit I probably ought to see it again), but I’d go around 45 for now.
  30. The 400 Blows
  31. A Generation**
  32. Godzilla (1954)*
  33. The Gold Rush*
  34. The Gospel According to St. Matthew
  35. The Graduate
  36. The Grapes of Wrath*
  37. Greed
  38. Halloween (1978)
  39. High and Low
  40. Hiroshima Mon Amour
  41. Hoop Dreams*
  42. In the Mood For Love I didn’t watch it quite closely enough to form a firm opinion of it. I was impressed by the cinematography, and it seemed to be a reasonably moving tale of unfulfilled longing, but it didn’t blow me away or anything.
  43. Intolerance
  44. It Happened One Night*
  45. The Jazz Singer (1927)*
  46. Jules and Jim
  47. Kes*
  48. The Killing Solid early Kubrick. It’s not on the level of his greatest work; the voice-over is tiresome and some elements feel a bit amateurish (the bit with the little dog at the end is pretty weak stuff). But the editing, the presences of Timothy Carey and Kola Kwariani, and the ample evidence of Kubrick’s budding genius make it well worthwhile. (83 – ***½)
  49. King Kong (1933)*
  50. The King of Comedy One of the scariest films I’ve ever seen, yet it won’t have that effect on most. But Rupert Pupkin is everything I’ve ever feared becoming, and to see his obliviousness drive everyone in sight up the wall is one of the most gut-wrenching cinematic experiences I can think of. De Niro is incredible, Jerry Lewis is great, Sandra Bernhard is great, and Scorsese is at his best. One of the greats. (93 – ****)
  51. L’Atalante*
  52. L’avventura
  53. La Dolce Vita*
  54. La Strada
  55. Last Year at Marienbad
  56. Late Spring
  57. The Leopard* Striking film. Takes a while to get going, but it’s worth it. And on an aesthetic level, it’s absolutely stunning. The production design and cinematography are jaw-dropping. A fascinating look at the decline of aristocracy. (87 – ****)
  58. M
  59. Mahanagar (The Big City)
  60. Malcolm X*
  61. A Man Escaped*****
  62. Mean Streets* Forgot to check this off the list. It’s very, very good; if it falls short of perfection, mostly because it feels a little too plotless, it’s impressive how close it comes. Johnny Boy is as unnerving in his recklessness as Rupert Pupkin is in his obliviousness. And there’s some vintage Scorsese direction on hand–the “Rubber Biscuit” scene is incredibly vivid. (85 – ***½)
  63. Modern Times
  64. M. Hulot’s Holiday*
  65. Mulholland Dr.*
  66. Nights of Cabiria
  67. Pan’s Labyrinth
  68. Pather Panchali I saw this along with the rest of the Apu Trilogy when Janus put them into theaters in anticipation of the Criterion release (which, of course, I own). They’re all great, **** films; Pather earns an 89 from me (Aparajito earns an 87 and The World of Apu a 91). Beautifully crafted in all departments. I’ll say no more; now that Criterion has done them justice there’s no reason for you not to see them.
  69. Paths of Glory
  70. Persona
  71. The Philadelphia Story Great fun. Maybe a few jokes haven’t held up, but Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant are at their best, and James Stewart, while not earning his Oscar (he felt the same way) is hard to resist either. I don’t have an official score for it, but I’d put it mid-to-high 80s.
  72. Rashomon
  73. Rome, Open City
  74. The Rules of the Game*
  75. The Sacrifice Obviously I don’t have a firm opinion of it–you can’t really judge a Tarkovsky on the first viewing–and I’d put it below Stalker and Andrei Rublev (and maybe The Mirror), but as with all his films it’s quite stunningly made. Luckily, it’s on Netflix, so I can return to it sooner rather than later.
  76. Sansho the Bailiff
  77. Scenes From a Marriage
  78. Shadows
  79. Shoah*
  80. Sophie’s Choice
  81. The Spirit of the Beehive
  82. A Streetcar Named Desire I watched this while recovering from surgery, so I was probably not at my sharpest. My impression from that viewing, however – it’s good. I didn’t necessarily think it was great, and I confess Brando didn’t blow me away like I expected, but I owe it another viewing.
  83. Sullivan’s Travels This, however, I really liked. It’s a shame Preston Sturges flamed out so quickly, but he made some great comedies while he could. (89 – ****)
  84. SunriseReally enjoyed this for the most part. There were some weak points (the whole thing with the pig was just…weird), but on the whole, it’s a really beautiful film (that final shot gets me every time) and I mean to see it again. (86 – ***½)
  85. Tender Mercies* Saw this and reviewed it here.
  86. The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
  87. The 39 Steps*
  88. To Be or Not to Be (1942)
  89. Tokyo Story
  90. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre*
  91. Ugetsu
  92. The Usual Suspects*
  93. Walkabout
  94. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Another post surgery watch. I liked it quite a bit, but I’m not prepared to offer up an opinion beyond that. I’ll go back to it someday (maybe when I take back up my long-waylaid All-Time Film Awards project).
  95. Wild Strawberries*
  96. Wings of Desire*
  97. Within Our Gates
  98. A Woman Under the Influence*
  99. Xala
  100. Yojimbo

So that’s 7 8 films off the list. Let’s see what I can replace them with:

  • Grave of the Fireflies* (A friend and I once planned to do this as part of a “Depressing Animation Day” along with The Plague Dogs, Where the Wind Blows, and Ringing Bell. Sad that never happened.)
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (This and the other Brat Pack/John Hughes films. I’m not that interested in them, but they’re cultural touchstones, so I probably should. Doubt I’ll like any of them as much as Planes, Trains and Automobiles or Home Alone, however.)
  • Akira*
  • Earth (there are a lot of Soviet films from the 20s and 30s I need to see, but this and Mother are pretty damn high on the list; I’d say Potemkin, but I’ve technically seen it–it was just years and years ago)
  • Top Hat (along with The Gay Divorcee and the other major Astaire-Rogers films)
  • Taste of Cherry (I need to see a lot of Abbas Kiarostami’s films, but this, while not universally beloved, seems to be a good starting point)
  • The Lavender Hill Mob (and a great many other Ealing comedies–the only one I know I’ve seen is The Ladykillers)
  • Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (I haven’t seen any Fassbinder; this seems like a good representative work, but what I really want to tackle is Berlin Alexanderplatz.)

** Also Kanal and Ashes and Diamonds.
**** Technically a set of 10 hour-long films, but most sources consider it as one film.
***** Also Diary of a Country Priest, Pickpocket, Mouchette, etc.

3/25/17: I won’t update this list again. I’ll prepare a v. 2.0 at some point in the coming months. 


2 thoughts on “100 Films I Most Need to See (UPDATED – 2017 Edition)

  1. You HAVEN’T seen Children of Paradise? Isn’t that your dad’s favorite movie or something?

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