Top 100 Films (Centenary)
(in four parts)

from Time Out Film Guide

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Top 100 Films:

Time Out's Centenary Top One Hundred was compiled in 1995 to mark the Centenary of Cinema. Descriptions of the films below were excerpted from the Time Out Film Guide (Seventh Edition)

Facts and Commentary About the List:

  • The Time Out Film Guide is a collection of capsule reviews written originally for the London magazine Time Out.
  • Directors, producers, actors, programmers and critics were polled to name their top ten films which they felt had been the high points of the last 100 years in world cinema. The resulting list was drawn up from that poll.
See also: Time Out's Top One Hundred (Readers)

Time Out Film Guide
Top 100 Films (Centenary)

from Time Out Film Guide

(part 1, ranked)

(1) Citizen Kane (1941), d. Orson Welles, US
The source book of Orson Welles, and still a marvelous movie. Thematically less resonant than some of Welles' later meditations on the nature of power, perhaps, but still absolutely riveting as an investigation of a citizen - newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst by any other name - under suspicion of having soured the American Dream. Its imagery (not forgetting the oppressive ceilings) as Welles delightedly explores his mastery of a new vocabulary, still amazes and delights, from the opening shot of the forbidding gates of Xanadu to the last glimpse of the vanishing Rosebud (tarnished, maybe, but still a potent symbol). A film that gets better with each renewed acquaintance.

(2) The Godfather (1972) , d. Francis Ford Coppola, US
An everyday story of Mafia folk, incorporating severed horses' heads in the bed and a number of heartwarming family occasions, as well as pointers on how not to behave in your local tratoria (i.e., blasting the brains of your co-diners out all over their fettuccini). Mario Puzo's novel was brought to the screen in bravura style by Coppola, who was here trying out for the first time that piano/fortissimo style of crosscutting between religious ritual and bloody machine-gun massacre that was later to resurface in a watered-down version in The Cotton Club. See Brando with a mouthful of orange peel. Watch Pacino's cheek muscles twitch in incipiently psychotic fashion. Trace his rise from white sheep of the family to budding don and fully-fledged bad guy. Singalong to Nino Rota's irritatingly catchy theme tune. Its soap operatics should never have been presented separately from The Godfather, Part II (1974).

(3) La Regle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game) (1939), d. Jean Renoir, Fr
Banned on its original release as 'too demoralizing', and only made available again in its original form in 1956, Renoir's brilliant social comedy is epitomized by the phrase 'everyone has their reasons.' Centering on a lavish country house party given by the Marquis de la Cheyniest and his wife Christine (Dalio, Gregor), the film effects audacious slides from melodrama into farce, from realism into fantasy, and from comedy into tragedy. Romantic intrigues, social rivalries, and human foibles are all observed with an unblinking eye that nevertheless refuses to judge. The carnage of the rabbit shoot, the intimations of mortality introduced by the after-dinner entertainment, and Renoir's own performance are all unforgettable. Embracing every level of French society, from the aristocratic hosts to a poacher turned servant, the film presents a hilarious yet melancholic picture of a nation riven by petty class distinctions.

(4) Vertigo (1958), d. Alfred Hitchcock, US
Brilliant but despicably cynical view of human obsession and the tendency of those in love to try to manipulate each other. Stewart is excellent as the neurotic detective employed by an old pal to trail his wandering wife, only to fall for her himself and then crack up when she commits suicide. Then one day he sees a woman in the street who reminds him of the woman who haunts him... Hitchcock gives the game away about halfway through the movie, and focuses on Stewart's strained psychological stability; the result inevitably involves a lessening of suspense, but allows for an altogether deeper investigation of guilt, exploitation, and obsession. The bleakness is perhaps a little hard to swallow, but there's no denying that this is the director at the very peak of his powers, while Novak is a revelation. Slow, but totally compelling.

(5) Seven Samurai (1954), d. Akira Kurosawa, Jap
Kurosawa's masterpiece, testifying to his admiration for John Ford and translated effortlessly back into the form of a Western as The Magnificent Seven, has six masterless samurai - plus Mifune, the crazy farmer's boy not qualified to join the elect group, who nevertheless follows like a dog and fights like a lion - agreeing for no pay, just food and the joy of fulfilling their duty as fighters, to protect a helpless village against a ferocious gang of bandits. Despite the caricatured acting forms of Noh and Kabuki which Kurosawa adopted in his period films, the individual characterisations are precise and memorable, none more so than that by Takashi Shimura, one of the director's favorite actors, playing the sage, ageing, and oddly charismatic samurai leader. The epic action scenes involving cavalry and samurai are still without peer.

(6) Lawrence of Arabia (1962), d. David Lean, GB
Presented virtually as a desert mirage, this epic biopic of TE Lawrence constructs little more than an obfuscatory romantic glow around its enigmatic hero and his personal and political contradictions: Lean has obviously learned the 'value' of thematic fuzziness from the success of Bridge on the River Kwai, and duly garnered further Oscar successes here. Somewhere between Robert Bolt's literariness and Freddie Young's shimmering cinematography, there should be direction: all there is is a pose of statuesque seriousness.

(7) Raging Bull (1980), d. Martin Scorsese, US
With breathtaking accuracy, Raging Bull ventures still further into the territory Scorsese has mapped in all his films - men and male values; in this case through the story of 1949 middleweight champion Jake La Motta. De Niro's performance as the cocky young boxer who gradually declines into a pathetic fat slob forces you to question the rigid and sentimental codes of masculinity which he clings to even as they destroy him, like a drowning man clutching a lead weight. The anti-realism of the fights prevents them sinking back into the narrative, and instead creates a set of images which resound through Jake's personal confrontations: their smashing, storyless violence is relentlessly cut with domestic scenes until you learn to flinch in anticipation. This film does more than make you think about masculinity, it makes you see it - in a way that's relevant to all men, not just Bronx boxers.

(8) Touch Of Evil (1958), d. Orson Welles, US
A wonderfully offhand genesis (Welles adopting and adapting a shelved Paul Monash script for B-king Albert Zugsmith without ever reading the novel by Whit Masterson it was based on) marked this brief and unexpected return to Hollywood film-making for Welles. And the result more than justified the arrogance of the gesture. A sweaty thriller conundrum on character and corruption, justice and the law, worship and betrayal, it plays havoc with moral ambiguities as self-righteous Mexican cop Heston goes up against Welles' monumental Hank Quinlan, the old-time detective of vast and wearied experience who goes by instinct, gets it right, but fabricates evidence to make his case. Set in the backwater border hell-hole of Los Robles, inhabited almost solely by patented Wellesian grotesques, it's shot to resemble a nightscape from Kafka.

(9) Tokyo Story (1953), d. Yasujiro Ozu, Jap
Ozu's best known (because most widely distributed) movie is a very characteristic study of the emotional strains within a middle class Japanese family that has come to Tokyo from the country and dispersed itself. All that happens in dramatic terms is that the family grandparents arrive in Tokyo to visit their various offspring, and grow painfully aware of the chasms that exist between them and their children; only their daughter-in-law, widowed in the war, is pleased to see them. Ozu's vision, almost entirely un-inflected by tics and tropes of 'style' by this stage in his career, is emotionally overwhelming; and arguably profound for any engaged viewer; it is also formally unmatched in Western popular cinema.

(10) L'Atalante (1934), d. Jean Vigo, Fr
Mesmeric movie mutilated by Gaumont distributors on its first release, but subsequently restored to the form its devoted maker (the avant garde-ish son of an anarchist) intended. Not a lot happens: a sailor and his young bride share a barge home with an old eccentric , fall out, and fall in love again. But the aesthetic appeal lies in the tension between surface realism (the hardships of working class life on the canals) and the delicate surrealism of the landscapes (desolate Parisian suburbs bestraddled by pylons) and of the justly celebrated sequence where the sailor searches for his lost love.

(11) The Night of the Hunter (1955), d. Charles Laughton, US
Laughton's only stab at directing, with Mitchum as the psychopathic preacher with 'LOVE' and 'HATE' tattooed on his knuckles, turned out to be a genuine weirdie. Set in '30s rural America, the film polarizes into a struggle between good and evil for the souls of innocent children. Everyone's contribution is equally important. Laughton's deliberately old-fashioned direction throws up a startling array of images: an amalgam of Mark Twain-like exteriors (idyllic riverside life) and expressionist interiors, full of moody nighttime shadows. The style reaches its pitch in the extraordinary moonlight flight of the two children downriver, gliding silently in the distance, watched over by animals seen in huge close-up, filling up the foreground of the screen. James Agee's script (faithfully translating Davis Grubb's novel) treads a tight path between humor (it's a surprisingly light film in many ways) and straight suspense, a combination best realized when Gish sits the night out on the porch waiting for Mitchum to attack, and they both sing 'Leaning on the Everlasting Arms' to themselves. Finally, there's the absolute authority of Mitchum's performance - easy, charming, infinitely sinister.

(12) The Conformist (1969), d. Bernardo Bertolucci, It/Fr/WGer
Like The Spider's Stratagem, a subtle anatomy of Italy's fascist past, but here the playful Borgesian time-traveling is replaced by a more personal drive which heralds the Oedipal preoccupations that haunt Bertolucci's later work. Stripping Moravia's novel of all its psychological annotations except one - as a child, the hero suffered trauma at the hands of a homosexual - Bertolucci presents him simultaneously as a suitably murky protagonist for a film noir about political assassination, and as a conformist so anxious to live a normal life that he willingly becomes an anonymous tool of the state. Juggling past and present with the same bravura flourish as Welles in Citizen Kane, Bertolucci conjures a dazzling historical and personal perspective (the marbled insane asylum where his father is incarcerated; the classical vistas of Mussolini's corridors of power; the dance hall where two women tease in an ambiguous tango; the forest road where the assassination runs horribly counter to expectation), demonstrating how the search for normality ends in the inevitable discovery that there is no such thing.

(13) Les Enfants du Paradis (Children of Paradise) (1945), d. Marcel Carne, Fr
A marvelously witty, ineffably graceful rondo of passions and perversities animating the Boulevard du Crime, home of Parisian popular theatre in the early 19th century, and an astonishing anthill of activity in which mimes and mountebanks rub shoulders with aristocrats and assassins. Animating Jacques Prevert's script is a multi-layered meditation on the nature of performance, ranging from a vivid illustration of contrasting dramatic modes (Barrault's mime needing only gestures, Brasseur's Shakespearean actor relishing the music of words) and a consideration of the interchangeability of theatre and life (as Herrand's frustrated playwright Lacenaire elects to channel his genius into crime), to a wry acknowledgment of the social relevance of performance (all three men are captivated by Arletty's insouciant whore, who acts herself out of their depth to achieve the protection of a Count, establishing a social barrier which Lacenaire promptly breaches in his elaborate stage management of the Count's murder). Flawlessly executed and with a peerless cast, this is one of the great French movies, so perfectly at home in its period that it never seems like a costume picture, and at over three hours not a moment too long. Amazing to recall that it was produced in difficult circumstances towards the end of the German Occupation during World War II.

-- A Matter of Life and Death (aka Stairway to Heaven) (1946), d. Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger, GB
One of Powell and Pressburger's finest films. Made at the instigation of the Ministry of Information, who wanted propaganda stressing the need for goodwill between Britain and America, it emerges as an outrageous fantasy full of wit, beautiful sets and Technicolor, and perfectly judged performances. The story is just a little bizarre. RAF pilot Niven bales out of his blazing plane without a chute and survives; but - at least in his tormented mind - he was due to die, and a heavenly messenger comes down to earth to collect him. A celestial tribunal ensues to judge his case while, back on earth, doctors are fighting for his life. What makes the film so very remarkable is the assurance of Powell's direction, which manages to make heaven at least as convincing as earth. (The celestial scenes are in monochrome, the terrestrial ones in color: was Powell slyly asserting, in the faces of the British documentary boys, the greater reality of that which is imagined?). But the whole thing works like a dream, with many hilarious swipes at national stereotypes, and a love story that is as moving as it is absurd. Masterly.

(15) 8 1/2 (1963), d. Federico Fellini, It
The passage of time has not been kind to what many view as Fellini's masterpiece. Certainly Di Venanzo's high-key images and the director's flash-card approach place 8 1/2 firmly in its early '60s context. As a self-referential work it lacks the layering and the profundity of, for example, Tristram Shandy, and the central character, the stalled director (Mastroianni), seems less in torment than doodling. And yet...The bathing of Guido sequence is a study extract for film-makers, and La Saraghina's rumba for the seminary is a gift to pop video. Amiably spiking all criticism through a gloomy scriptwriter mouthpiece, Fellini pulls a multitude of rabbits out of the showman's hat.

-- The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), d. Orson Welles, US
Hacked about by a confused RKO, Welles' second film still looks a masterpiece, astounding for its almost magical recreation of a gentler age when cars were still a nightmare of the future and the Ambersons felt safe in their mansion on the edge of town. Right from the wryly comic opening, detailing changes in fashions and the family's exalted status, Welles takes an ambivalent view of the way the quality of life would change under the impact of a new industrial age, stressing the strength of community as evidenced in the old order while admitting to its rampant snobbery and petty sense of manners. With immaculate period reconstruction, and virtuoso acting shot in long, elegant takes, it remains the director's most moving film, despite the artificiality of the sentimental tacked-on ending.

(17) Apocalypse Now (1979), d. Francis Ford Coppola, US
Film-as-opera, as spectacular as its plot is simple: Vietnam in mid-war, and a dazed American captain (Sheen) is sent up a long river to assassinate a renegade colonel (Brando) who is waging a brutal, unsanctioned war in Cambodia. Burdened by excessive respect for its source novel (Conrad's Heart of Darkness), this is a film of great effects (a flaming bridge, Wagnerian air strikes) and considerable pretension (quotes from TS Eliot!?). The casting of Brando is perhaps the acid-test: brilliant as movie-making, but it turns Vietnam into a vast trip, into a War of the Imagination.

-- North By Northwest (1959), d. Alfred Hitchcock, US
From the glossy '60s-style surface of Saul Bass' credit sequence to Hitchcock's almost audible chortle at his final phallic image, North by Northwest treads a bizarre tightrope between sex and repression, nightmarish thriller and urbane comedy. Cary Grant is truly superb as the light-hearted advertising executive who's abducted, escapes, and is then hounded across America trying to find out what's going on and slowly being forced to assume another man's identity. And it's one of those films from which you can take as many readings as you want: conspiracy paranoia, Freudian nightmare (in which mothers, lovers, gays and cops all conspire against a man), parable on modern America in which final escape must be made down the treacherous face of Mount Rushmore (the one carved with US Presidents' heads). All in all, an improbable classic.

(19) Chinatown (1974), d. Roman Polanski, US
Classic detective film, with Nicholson's JJ Gittes moving through the familiar world of the Forties film noir uncovering a plot whose enigma lies as much within the people he encounters as within the mystery itself. Gittes' peculiar vulnerability is closer to Chandler's concept of Philip Marlowe than many screen Marlowes, and the sense of time and place (the formation of LA in the '30s) is very strong. Directed by Polanski in bravura style, it is undoubtedly one of the great films of the '70s.

(20) La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life) (1960), d. Federico Fellini, It
The opening shot shows a helicopter lifting a statue of Christ into the skies and out of Rome. God departs and paves the way for Fellini's extraordinarily prophetic vision of a generation's spiritual and moral decay. The depravity is gauged against the exploits of Marcello (Mastroianni), a playboy hack who seeks out sensationalist stories by bedding socialites and going to parties. Marcello is both repelled by and drawn to the lifestyles he records: he becomes besotted with a fleshy, dimwit starlet (Ekberg), he joins in the media hysteria surrounding a child's alleged sighting of the Virgin Mary, yet he longs for the bohemian life of his intellectual friend Steiner (Cuny). There are perhaps a couple of party scenes too many, and the peripheral characters can be unconvincing, but the stylish cinematography and Fellini's bizarre, extravagant visuals are absolutely riveting.

-- The Searchers (1956), d. John Ford, US
A marvelous Western which turns Monument Valley into an interior landscape as Wayne pursues his five-year odyssey, a grim quest - to kill both the Indian who abducted his niece and the tainted girl herself - which is miraculously purified of its racist furies in a final moment of epiphany. There is perhaps some discrepancy in the play between Wayne's heroic image and the pathological outsider he plays here (forever excluded from home, as the doorway shots at beginning and end suggest), but it hardly matters, given the film's visual splendor and muscular poetry in its celebration of the spirit that vanished with the taming of the American wilderness.

(22) The Wild Bunch (1969), d. Sam Peckinpah, US
From the opening sequence, in which a circle of laughing children poke at a scorpion writhing in a sea of ants, to the infamous blood-spurting finale, Peckinpah completely rewrites John Ford's Western mythology - by looking at the passing of the Old West from the point of view of the marginalized outlaws rather than the law-abiding settlers. Though he spares us none of the callousness and brutality of Holden and his gang, Peckinpah nevertheless presents their macho code of loyalty as a positive value in a world increasingly dominated by corrupt railroad magnates and their mercenary killers (Holden's old buddy Ryan). The flight into Mexico, where they virtually embrace their death at the hands of double-crossing general Fernandez and his rabble army, is a nihilistic acknowledgment of the men's anachronistic status. In purely cinematic terms, the film is a savagely beautiful spectacle, Lucien Ballard's superb cinematography complementing Peckinpah's darkly elegiac vision.

(23) The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), d. Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger, GB
At a time when 'Blimpishness' in the high command was under suspicion as detrimental to the war effort, Powell and Pressburger gave us their own Blimp based on David Low's cartoon character - Major General Clive Wynne-Candy, VC - and back-track over his life, drawing us into sympathy with the prime virtues of honor and chivalry which have transformed him from dashing young spark of the Nineties into crusty old buffer of World War II. Roger Livesey gives us not just a great performance, but a man's whole life: losing his only love (Deborah Kerr) to the German officer (Walbrook) with whom he fought a duel in pre-First War Berlin, then becoming the latter's lifelong friend and protector. Like much of Powell and Pressburger's work, it is a salute to all that is paradoxical about the English; no one else has so well captured their romanticism banked down beneath emotional reticence and honor. And it is marked by an enormous generosity of spirit: in the history of the British cinema there is nothing to touch it.

-- Some Like It Hot (1959), d. Billy Wilder, US
Still one of Wilder's funniest satires, its pace flagging only once for a short time. Curtis and Lemmon play jazz musicians on the run after witnessing the St. Valentine's Day massacre, masquerading in drag as members of an all-girl band (with resulting gender confusions involving Marilyn) to escape the clutches of Chicago mobster George Raft (bespatted and dime-flipping, of course). Deliberately shot in black-and-white to avoid the pitfalls of camp or transvestism, though the best sequences are the gangland ones anyhow. Highlights include Curtis' playboy parody of Cary Grant, and what is surely one of the great curtain lines of all time: Joe E. Brown's bland 'Nobody's perfect' when his fiancee (Lemmon) finally confesses that she's a he.

-- Taxi Driver (1976), d. Martin Scorsese, US
Taxi Driver makes you realize just how many directors, from Schlesinger to Friedkin and Winner, have piddled around on the surface of New York in their films. Utilizing, especially Bernard Herrmann's most menacing score since Psycho, Scorsese has set about recreating the landscape of the city in a way that constitutes a truly original and terrifying Gothic canvas. But, much more than that: Taxi Driver is also, thanks partly to De Niro's extreme implosive performance, the first film since Alphaville to set about a really intelligent appraisal of the fundamental ingredients of contemporary insanity. Its final upsurge of violence doesn't seem to be cathartic in the now predictable fashion of the 'new' American movie, but lavatorial; the nauseating effluence of the giant flesh emporium that the film has so single-mindedly depicted.

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