Joseph McBride

Film historian; teacher


Voted in the critics’ poll

Voted for

400 Blows, The


François Truffaut

A.I. Artificial Intelligence


Steven Spielberg

Chimes at Midnight


Orson Welles

Dr. Strangelove


Stanley Kubrick

Late Spring


Ozu Yasujirô

Magnificent Ambersons, The


Orson Welles

River, The


Jean Renoir

Some Like It Hot


Billy Wilder

Trouble in Paradise


Ernst Lubitsch

Wagon Master


John Ford


With A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Spielberg completed Stanley Kubrick’s vision of the end of humanity and its replacement by a robot boy whose innocence transcends the savagery of the species that created him. A film maudit whose searing beauty and honesty confounded and outraged audiences who still are not ready for its bittersweet truths.

It’s especially painful to have to choose one film to represent Ozu’s endlessly rich body of work, but Late Spring, a sublimely beautiful meditation on family, marriage and loneliness, is his most profoundly moving film.

Welles for once laid himself utterly naked as an actor in Chimes at Midnight, the greatest of all cinematic Shakespeare adaptations, playing the tragic clown Sir John Falstaff, father figure to Keith Baxter’s “beady-eyed and self-regarding” Prince Hal, who must betray him to become King Henry V.

When I emerged from the Tosa Theater in my hometown of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin in February 1964 after seeing the nightmarish black comedy Dr. Strangelove twice in a row, I was not the same person who had gone into the theatre. Strangelove was a paradigm changer that finally convinced me, in my misspent Catholic youth, that authority should not be respected.

The Magnificent Ambersons was probably the greatest film ever made before RKO panicked after a bad (or mixed) preview and started mutilating Welles’ more mature follow-up to Citizen Kane, his lamentation for what he felt was the lost Eden of an America destroyed by industrialisation. Ambersons was not a film for 1942 but a film for the ages.

The Four Hundred Blows is the epitome of a personal film, the kind of film I found, to my chagrin, that Hollywood doesn’t want.

The River is the one film that, for me, encompasses all of life. Set in India and suffused with Hindu philosophy, as well as with Jean Renoir’s own western humanist values, this sublime film deals with life and death as a continuum, and its characters transcend limitations of nationality, culture, gender, genre, age, space and time.

Some Like It Hot is quite simply the funniest film ever made. Wilder’s farce educated me and my generation about the strange nuances of adult sexuality and provided the sex craze of my youth, Marilyn Monroe, with her most iconic role.

The cinema’s greatest romantic comedy, Trouble in Paradise is the chef d’oeuvre of the filmmaker whom Truffaut described as a “prince” and Welles as a “giant”. Lubitsch and screenwriter Samson Raphaelson make us love equally all three members of an unlikely love triangle who are doomed not to live in perfect harmony but acknowledging defeat with grace.

Wagon Master is my Platonic ideal of a film – a modest, low-budget production with the director taking a bunch of friends out into the desert and making a deceptively low-key, poetic story (an “avant-garde Western”, in the words of Lindsay Anderson) that reflects his deepest feelings about life.

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