Roy Grundmann

Contributing Editor, Cineaste Magazine; Associate Prof. of Film Studies, Boston University

Voted for

Citizen Kane1941Orson Welles
Army of Shadows1969Jean-Pierre Melville
Vertigo1958Alfred Hitchcock
Tongues Untied1989Marlon Riggs
The Chelsea Girls1966Andy Warhol
Grosse Freiheit2021Sebastian Meise
The Perfumed Nightmare1976Kidlat Tahimik
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes1953Howard Hawks
The Battle of Algiers1966Gillo Pontecorvo


Citizen Kane

1941 USA

For someone like me, who teaches American film history, Citizen Kane remains the ultimate commentary on American culture since the early 20th century. The film has only gained in significance with the rise of Trump and the increasing power of pseudo-journalistic media owned by Rupert Murdoch. It conveys America's inherent polarities (individualism vs. collective impulses; libertarianism vs. puritanism; innocence vs. corruption; the underdog mentality to rebel against oppression vs. the impulse to rule over the masses through duping strategies) through a deft synergy of form and content. It has never been more rewarding to screen and talk about this film than in our current political moment.

Army of Shadows

1969 France, Italy

One of the best films about the French Resistance and of the most devastating analyses of moral complexity with deeply existential implications. This film has no weak element. The script, the actors, the direction are all first rate. It is also of high pedagogical value. It gives my students a lot to think about.


1958 USA

A deeply philosophical thriller. Since I am in agreement on this film with most of my colleagues you've polled, I won't elaborate and would just refer you to them.

Tongues Untied

1989 USA

A unique video essay (I hope the term video does not disqualify this film--it was shown at film festivals and in cinemas in the U.S., even though it was made on video for television). While owing to the unique artistic vision of its filmmaker, the film transcends its subject matter and becomes one of the most important avant-garde films ever made. While partially building on the queer American avant-garde (Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger), its synergy of form and contents charts completely new ways for filmic expression.

The Chelsea Girls

1966 USA

The ultimate film about the 1960s in America and a rare example of a commercially successful avant-garde film (it made $273,000 in its first year of release). Radically innovative both on the level of form and contents. Plus, the film is highly interactive. In the tradition of so called Happenings, the film makes every projectionist who projects it a co-creator of the film, because its projection instructions (when to start the next reel in its double screen projection line-up) make two identical projections impossible.

Grosse Freiheit

2021 Austria, Germany

What Army of Shadows does for the French Resistance, Great Freedom does for gay life under Germany's Paragraph 175. The innovative temporal structure achieves a narrative and thematic complexity that makes this film one of the best films about male homosexuality in Germany I have ever seen. It achieves a Jean Genet-like depth with its ruminations about freedom vs. incarceration.

The Perfumed Nightmare

1976 Philippines

The film is highly innovative in its experimental handling of self-reflexive ethnography and its audience address. A film that is highly critical of American imperialism, yet is able to articulate this criticism with a wistfulness that keeps it from becoming preachy.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

1953 USA

This will simply always be a personal favorite of mine. It is one of the most insistently utopian films I have ever seen, because it turns its subject matter into a larger meditation on human interrelations in an inherently capitalist world, and it does so in a genre that does not often qualify for "greatest films of all times": comedy. In addition to the perfect casting, the film also makes use of a prop/setting--the ocean liner--that lifts the latter out of its background function and elevates it to a cultural significance the cinema has otherwise accorded only one other means of transportation--the train.


1979 Federal Republic of Germany, Italy

A unique blend of essay film and fiction film with one of the most innovative approaches to chronicling history I have ever seen. All of Schroeter's films are great art, but this one stands out for its blend of the main artistic tendencies that make Schroeter one of the great filmmakers of all time: a passion for the arts (opera, classical music, cinema, theater); a queer sensibility that is about the unquestionable dignity of human desire; a keen understanding of the historical suffering of women; and a subtle understanding of world politics and history. All this is woven together in the film in masterful manner, making this one of the most complex, most illuminating, and most beautiful films about a city and its history.

The Battle of Algiers

1966 Italy, Algeria

This film has lost nothing of its timeliness. An absolutely essential document of its time and also of utmost importance in its approach to depicting violence in the context of colonialism. One of the most important political films ever made, and one of the most courageous ones.

Further remarks

As you know, ten-best-lists are futile because their parameters necessarily ignore a million other greatest films. The only good thing about them is that it forces the person who compiles them to periodically re-assess their findings and rankings and judgments.