Look no further! This is the definitive list of best French movies of all time.
We surveyed far and wide, spent countless hours in movie theaters and in front of various screens for the past 30 years, taking notes and comparing merits. In the end, we also listened to our hearts.
We checked and double-checked all the comprehensive catalogs of French movies out there, carefully reviewed such reputable sources as the Times’100 Best French Films and the lesser known yet respectable efforts of would-be rankers such as TheTruthAboutMovies or BestFrenchFilms, to name a few. Let’s just say that we didn’t find much common ground with the other guys.
Not that we would be the kind to look down on the other guys, but to compile a list of a 100 titles is for intellectual wimps. To attempt a top 10, as we did, requires grits, nerves of steel and a real sense of self. Because we have that kind of courage, we triple-dog dare you to come up with solid objections and credible contenders for a spot in our air tight line-up of winners (you may use that comment box down there).
For your convenience – think of your next Netflix queue -, our good friends at IMDB will provide the classic overview of plot, cast and trivia, while we are concentrating on the achievement that really stole our hearts and minds.
#10 – Les Valseuses | Going Places (1974) Bertrand Blier
Why??? Seriously insane. So sexy it’s not sex anymore, it’s metaphysics. Very funny too. If you like that one, don’t miss Tenue de soirée | Ménage (1986) by the same director.
Favorite scene Pierrot and Jean-Claude chill-out by the lake. Marie-Ange experiences her first orgasm.
#9 – Mon Oncle | Mon Oncle (1958) Jacques Tati
Why??? Antidote to cynicism. Cure against pessimism. Mockery of all -isms. Ode to the little nothings that make life tolerable, then interesting, and sometimes even beautiful.
Favorite scene A chain reaction destroys the seemingly perfect synchronization of appliances in the pristine house of the 21st Century
#8 – Tandem | Tandem (1987) Patrice Lecomte
Why??? Portrait of the Artist as a has-been. Failure never felt so real nor so poetic
Favorite scene Michel suddenly brought down by a stroke while he’s talking to his wife from a public phone booth. Rivetot rushes to save him and picks up the dangling phone… Also, why did the big red dog cross the road?
#7 – Quai des Brumes | Port of Shadows (1938) Marcel Carné
Why??? Jean Gabin rules. The entire movie proves that seaports where specifically designed to induce melancholy and remind everyone that geographic dead ends sometimes don’t just seem to echo the limitations of destiny.
Favorite scene “T’as d’beaux yeux tu sais” – Seriously, I prefer the scene where Jean and Nelly walk by the sea. It’s fresh and hopeful. Then, pathetic hoodlums come and ruin the mood. Then Jean beats the crap out of them. Feels great.
#6 – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind | Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) Michel Gondry
Why??? Two small details of the human experience had yet to be described accurately on film: Love and Time. Gondry took them on and delivered the definitive picture. Ok, technically it’s supposed to be an American movie. Let me ask you: have you ever heard Gondry’s accent when he speaks English?!?
Favorite scene Can’t remember.
#5 – Un Eléphant ça trompe énormément | Pardon Mon Affaire (1976) Yves Robert
Why??? One of the truly great films about midlife crisis, infatuation, infidelity, and the grandeur and misery of friendship. Hilarious, yet deep… and even maybe a little accurate.
Favorite scene Charlotte enters a parking lot. Much later on, Etienne is found standing on her balcony only wearing a bathrobe. Is it really cheating if you do it on camera for the benefit of 30 million viewers?
#4 – L’homme qui aimait les femmes | The Man Who Loved Women (1977) François Truffaut
Why??? It’s the novel you wanted to write, the words you needed to talk about women, and the death every man probably wants.
Favorite scene As a child, Bertrand Morane discovers that prostitutes don’t read. Also, if you ever experience a major delay while riding the metro, Bertrand has a plan for you.
#3 – A bout de souffle | Breathless (1960) Jean-Luc Godard
Why??? Who needs a reason to want to spend 90 minutes in the streets of Paris and in bed with young Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg?
Favorite scene Michel greets you with a huge smile from behind the wheel of his stolen convertible: “You don’t like the mountains? You don’t like the city? Why don’t you go fuck yourself, then?”
#2 – Les Tontons Flingueurs | Les Tontons Flingueurs (1963) Georges Lautner
Why??? The best dialogues ever filmed. The best cast. The best faux film noir ever shot. The most consistent soundtrack. Georges Lautner, a brilliant director already, is backed-up by the best French film writer there ever was and will ever be. Any self-respecting Frenchman has memorized an average 30 lines from this movie. Anything else?
Favorite scene Once upon a time in a kitchen somewhere in the outskirts of Paris.
#1 Best French Movie of All Time
Que la fête commence | Let Joy Reign Supreme (1975) Bertrand Tavernier
Why??? Let’s put it this way: Que la fête commence never makes it to the other lists of Best French Movies of all time. Not even close. Why? Well, that’s where I have to suspend judgment, stare into the eyes of my fellow humans and marvel at the mysteries of taste. (Although, at least one IMDB reviewer agrees with my selection here, which gives me hope. Thanks Kalala, whoever you are.) This movie is complex, darkly funny (is that the definition of “wit”?), altogether desperate and composed, tragic and decadent. The cast is flawless, dialogues are sublime, sex is effortless (see the poster). It’s Ridicule (also an excellent movie, by the way) with guts, a soul, and meaning.
Favorite scene Le Marquis de Pontcallec hides in a bathtub, Philippe d’Orléans’ right hand appears to reek of death, l’Abbé Dubois doesn’t want to play tonight, oh, wait, that’s already 3 scenes.