John Baxter

Free lance author

Voted for

The Leopard1963Luchino Visconti
The Bad and the Beautiful1952Vincente Minnelli
The Magnificent Seven1960John Sturges
Persona1966Ingmar Bergman
Fantasia1940Ben Sharpsteen, Samuel Armstrong, Samuel Armstrong, James Algar, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield, Hamilton Luske, Jim Handley, Ford Beebe, T. Hee, Norman Ferguson, Wilfred Jackson
Shanghai Express1932Josef von Sternberg
La dolce vita1960Federico Fellini
They Were Expendable1945John Ford
The Third Man1949Carol Reed
Les Demoiselles de Rochefort1967Jacques Demy


The Leopard

1963 Italy, France

A Hollywood producer of the 1920s said the essential difference between American and European cinema was "Europe has EYES." THE LEOPARD has American production values and an American star but it lives on the way it looks. Tancredi's farewell as he goes to war, the family gathering to watch, the Rota music swelling, is one of those indelible moments where the way a film looks and sounds, and what it says, are indistinguishable. And THE LEOPARD is full of them.

The Bad and the Beautiful

1952 USA

The archetypal "insider" film about Hollywood. Everyone who knows the community loves THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL. It's at once a hommage to the industry and a satire on its eccentricities. Most of the characters are absurd and the acting is nothing much, yet Minnelli is sufficiently skilful to give his people a nobility that excuses their excesses. Time after time, he evokes the mystery and glamour of film-making, then brings us down with a bump, only to lure us back into the dream. A film for believers.

The Magnificent Seven

1960 USA

THE SEARCHERS is a better film about the west but THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, like WINCHESTER '73, is a better western in the classic sense. It obeys the rules as strictly as any sonnet, yet manages to decorate and elaborate them, investing the characters with heroism at the same time as it shows their human weakness. One can argue about its relative merits as compared with the Kurosawa film but they really aren't comparable. Bernstein and Newman and Roberts and Sturges have transmuted it into something spacious, exciting and funny - what Stephen Vincent Benet called "the true, the American thing."


1966 Sweden

Most arthouse successes of the sixties tend to age but there's a quality of the perennial about PERSONA, probably because it disposes of the irrelevant. Mostly it's women talking in those clean Nordic interiors and other women listening. Some of the talk is about sex, and manages to be more erotic than if the actual acts were depicted visually. The essence of Bergman; probably of the Swedes too.


1940 USA

Your previous Greatest list didn't include a single animated film. One need not be a champion of animation to see that as a glaring omission. FANTASIA is almost a random choice, since it's hard to think of a classic Disney film that hasn't fundamentally influenced not only its audience but those audiences that followed. As an introduction to classical music, to dinosaurs, to ballet, its influence reverberates still.

Shanghai Express

1932 USA

Sternberg and Dietrich is one of those immortal pairings that only the cinema seems capable of confecting. What they created together transcended what either could have achieved individually, but add the visual bravura of Lee Garmes and the weight of the Paramount machine and you have a film that, however often it's remade, remains defiantly sui generis.

La dolce vita

1960 Italy, France

LA DOLCE VITA was not so much a film as an event. Fellini dragged the day's headlines into cinema in a way that had never been attempted before, encouraging us to see current events as fodder for the imagination. Into the mix he stirred elements of his own life, giving the film a special poignancy. OTTO E MEZZO may be more overtly personal but for the real Fellini, bombastic and tentative, devout and rebellious, look no further.

They Were Expendable

1945 USA

Maybe not the greatest Ford film and certainly not the most fashionable, but I don't know of another film of his that is so unashamedly respectful of the chain of command and the necessity for men and women to obey orders, no matter what the cost. The final scene, of the remnants of the tiny torpedo boat command straggling away along a Pacific beach into inevitable imprisonment or death, goes to the heart of Ford's work.

The Third Man

1949 United Kingdom

As a director, Carol Reed hasn't aged well, but this film, perhaps because he had the help of Orson Welles and Graham Greene, stands almost alone in his work. No film has captured so skilfully the weariness of post-war Europe and the sense that the first casualty of the conflict was the values it was supposedly fought to preserve.

Les Demoiselles de Rochefort

1967 France

The fashionable choice for Demy's best film used to be LOLA, then LES PARAPLUIES DE CHERBOURG but increasingly it's this film that's most revived, imitated, discussed. Unlike PARAPLUIES, it's a true musical, even down to having Gene Kelly as proof of authenticity. For Michel Legrand's music, the blonde sexuality of the young Deneuve and one of our last looks at poor Francoise Dorleac, it's truly treasurable.

Further remarks


Hopefully the survey’s focus will never be as narrow as it became in the 70s, when a Maoist element in the French critical community ensured that THE RED DETACHMENT OF WOMEN gave a run for their money to LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS and OCTOBER - both of which, admittedly, do make the current list, while Zhou Enlai’s dancing infantry have gone the way of the Chairman director himself.

The predictable presence of CITIZEN KANE at the top became wearisome, as irrelevant as the playing of the national anthem at theatrical events. We all stood up dutifully but often with a sidewise glance, a raised eyebrow or a shrug. Its replacement by VERTIGO doesn’t so much honour Hitchcock as reflect that fatigue.

The remaining choices of the current list are very much the usual suspects – which is not to say that they include Bryan Singer’s THE USUAL SUSPECTS despite that film’s oblique look at narrative and the recycling of the phrase from CASABLANCA having given it a pop culture currency out of proportion to its modest ambitions. The fact that such recent works are not considered eligible, at least by those making the selection, is part of what’s wrong with the list.

In self-limiting themselves, those voting excluded vast swathes of cinema. The yardstick appeared to be critical acceptance. Nothing crude or camp (unless you count SOME LIKE IT HOT, nothing catchpenny, nothing vulgar. Well, almost nothing. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE sneaked in, probably because someone called it “the CITIZEN KANE of meat movies”. But the SAW series, THE RING or THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT? Forget it.

One knows from conversations and correspondence that not all contributors maintained so high-minded a critical stance. But one can understand their rationale. What does it say about them if they include MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE or PRETTY WOMAN or PORKY'S? And worse, what if they are the only one to vote for them? Better play it safe with Campion or von Trier.

Hence a list that includes numerous films by alumni of the Roger Corman stable but not one of his own productions, let alone those he inspired; noLITTLE SHOP OF HORROR or EASY RIDER, for example. No music or concert films – not real films. No Ken Russell, Robert Parker or Adrian Lyne – nix THE DEVILS, FAME and FLASHDANCE. No SILENCE OF THE LAMBS or GODZILLA or JAWS. No serials. No RAIDERS OF THE LOS ARK. Nor any von Stroheim or von Sternberg. Seek in vain for GREED, SHANGHAI EXPRESS or THE BLUE ANGEL.

Most glaring of all, the list has only one animated film: Pixar’s WALL-E. No Chuck Jones? No Walt Disney? No FANTASIA, no BAMBI, no PINOCCHIO - no MICKEY MOUSE?

In a race to the middle ground, it’s easy to forget the expressed intention of the survey – to acknowledge which films are truly great. Greatness is a more significant and elusive attribute than modishness. Film-makers considered great today were more iconoclastic in their choices than their present-day admirers. Stanley Kubrick included CITIZEN KANE, WILD STRAWBERRIES, LA NOTTE, CITY LIGHTS and I VITELLONI in his top ten but also THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, THE BANK DICK and ROXIE HART. Federico Fellini liked CITY LIGHTS too, but also Laurel and Hardy in FRA DIAVOLO , as well as STAGECOACH and FRANKENSTEIN.

Greatness does not reside simply in survival. It shouldn’t be enough that a film has been honoured by retrospectives and reissued by Criterion. That qualifies it for Eminence. Greatness demands what James Mason calls in A STAR IS BORN “that little something extra.” And one reliable index of greatness is the degree to which something has influenced those who came after. By that yardstick, Cukor’s film with its numerous progeny surely deserves inclusion. In fact, since the 1954 version was a re-make, should we not rather honour its Ur text, the 1932 WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD?, also Cukor-directed?

“Let us now praise famous men,” urges Ecclesiastes, then adds, significantly “…and our fathers that begat us.” Quentin Tarantino acknowledges Phil Karlson’s protean KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL as the source of RESERVOIR DOGS but few science fiction film-makers credit the BUCK ROGERS and FLASH GORDON serials, just as the makers of TAKEN, JOHN WICK, THE TRANSPORTER and their many sequels and imitators never mention – again with the exception of Tarantino - Bruce Lee and the school of martial arts that coalesced around him. Who watches Satyajit Ray or Dovzhenko today? For good or ill, they belong to history – while Feuillade’s LES VAMPIRES, a century after it was made, is reincarnated on Netflix as IRMA VEP and, 70 years after he first shuffled ankle-deep through Tokyo, Godzilla still roams the earth.