15. Breathless (1960)
Jean-Luc Godard’s crime classic is the quintessential movie of the French New Wave.
Jean-Paul Belmondo, a whole new style of movie star with his boxer’s nose and thick lips, is Michel, a petty thief who kills a cop down south and heads for Paris to look up Patricia (Jean Seberg), an American student less naïve than she looks.
Michel’s US-gangster pose is lifted straight from Jean-Pierre Melville (who takes a cameo role) but the jump-cuts, hand-held camera, improv jazz score and quirky shifts of pace and mood are all Godard.
“Modern movies begin here,” said Roger Ebert.
Killer Scene: The long, unbroken tracking shot that follows Belmondo’s stricken Michel down a Parisian cobbled street.
14. Le Samourai (1961)
Melville’s gangsters stalk the Parisian backstreets in trenchcoats and trilbies, shoulders weighted with existential angst.
They’re chic though: even on the run, Alain Delon’s hitman looks like he’s just stepped out of a Paris Match photoshoot.
Terser than the director’s earlier hoodlum flicks, it regards criminal activity – like Delon stealing a Citroën in the virtuoso opening – with an obsessive eye for detail.
Tarantino’s a fan: “Melville’s movies were basically the Warner Brothers Bogart-Cagney films set to this French-Parisian rhythm.”
Killer Scene: Eluding gendarmes in a dash through the Paris Metro.
13. Salvatore Giuliano (1962)
French critic Michel Ciment reckoned this documentary-tinged portrait of the Sicilian bandit-cum-political terrorist established Francesco Rosi as “the greatest political filmmaker of his time”.
Dead as the film opens, his subject rarely even appears in the ensuing flashbacks. Rosi scrupulously assembles facts and reports pertaining to Giuliano’s death, but suggests the cover-up renders the truth unknowable.
Society, the Mafia and politicos share culpability in Rosi’s crime film-as-political exposé.
Killer Scene: An assiduous beginning: Giuliano’s corpse is described in an official report that reveals diddly-squat.