Truffaut. No frogs in the top 10? Blasphemy, right to a country with such a rich tradition in cinema? I know. I’m actually more bullish on Truffaut than most cinephiles. Playful and largely accessible- he’s very different from like Kubrick, Bergman and Tarkovsky.  He arrived on the scene with three big masterpieces, gave us the first masterpiece of the French New Wave (as an important a movement as any in film history), basically invented the freeze frame (from his mentor and hero Hitchcock but it was not alive in 1959), gave us the closest thing to “catcher in the rye” there is on film (and it isn’t even his best film). Sadly, Truffaut never made another masterpiece after his first three films and that’s the blemish—his next highest rated film is Day for Night at #415 but he was very prolific and he did make another 16 archiveable films before his early death at age 52. Over 25 years from The 400 Blows to his death he made 19 archivable films). He will, of course, always be linked to Godard and the way it looks now, historically, he will be second fiddle to most cinema devotees- but not in my book. He’s also a little overshadowed because of the overt influences of Hitchcock and Renoir on his own work (Truffaut was a massive film buff and critic himself).

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A masterful shot in The 400 Blows , the start of the New Wave and the third greatest debut film of all time behind Welles’ Citizen Kane and New Wave co-lead Godard with Breathless

Best film:  Jules and Jim. Although The 400 Blows has grown on me over the years I still think this is clearly his best film and I have it right there with Breathless as the best of the new wave.

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Truffaut’s masterpiece
Jeanne Moreau in drag from Jules and Jim 
three of cinema’s greatest freeze frames are courtesy of Truffaut including this one from Jules and Jim

total archiveable films:  19

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one of the most over homages to Hitchcock and his thrillers- The Bride Wore Black

top 100 films: 3 (The 400 Blows, Jules and Jim, Shoot the Piano Player)

top 500 films: 6 (The 400 Blows, Jules and Jim, Shoot the Piano Player, Day for Night, The Wild Child, Two English Girls)

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Truffaut was a gifted editor- a beautiful dissolve here in The Story of Adele H.

top 100 films of the decade: 6 (The 400 Blows, Shoot the Piano Player, Jules and Jim, Day For Night, The Wild Child, Two English Girls

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a perfect shot composition marrying the narrative in Jules and Jim

most overrated:  The Woman Next Door. Truffaut doesn’t have any really overrated work but TSPDT has this as his 6th best film and I wouldn’t start here. Not in my top 10.

most underrated :  Shoot the Piano Player is #73 for me and #378 all-time on TSPDT. This is woefully underrated. It’s an homage to American film noirs and it’s packed with flair and panache.  It is gloriously and unapologetically style-over-substance and I adore it for that.

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creative angles– playful camera and editing in Shoot the Piano Player
incredibly underrated work- solidly in my top 100 of all-time

gem I want to spotlight:  Day for Night and The Wild Child are two of the more entertaining movies in foreign film history. They are slyly simplistic and straightforward but are quite brilliant and they grow on you days and weeks after watching and upon revisiting. The Wild Child is for everyone and Day for Night is for cinema lovers.

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not quite like his peak work in the early 60’s- but the filmography has incredible depth including The Wild Child from 1970

stylistic innovations/traits:

It’s editing with Truffaut so the still-frames are harder to find. He’s a master with freeze frames (2 of the 4-5 best uses of it all-time are by Truffaut) but he’s much more than that. Again, I wish he had continued to be as experimental through the rest of his career but check out Piano Player or Jules and Jim for the full display. He uses cutaways (the mother dropping dead when the gangster swears on her grave in Shoot the Piano Player) and creative transitions for almost every edit.

with all due respect to Goodfellas and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid– this is cinema’s great– freeze frame here to end The 400 Blows

top 10

  1. Jules and Jim
  2. The 400 Blows
  3. Shoot the Piano Player
  4. Day For Night
  5. The Wild Child
  6. Two English Girls
  7. The Story of Adele H.
  8. The Last Metro
  9. Mississippi Mermaid
  10. Stolen Kisses
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19 archiveable films in 25 years from 1959 to his death in 1984

By year and grades

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Truffaut dives into color in Fahrenheit 451
1959- The 400 Blows MP
1960- Shoot the Piano Player MP
1962- Jules and Jim MP
1967- Fahrenheit 451 R
1968- Stolen Kisses R
1968- The Bride Who Wore Black R
1969- Mississippi Mermaid R
1970- Bed and Board R
1970- Wild Child MS
1971- Two English Girls MS
1972- Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me R
1973- Day for Night MS
1975- The Story of Adele H HR
1976- Small Change
1977- The Man Who Loved Women R
1978- The Green Room
1979- Love on the Run R
1980- The Last Metro R
1981- The Woman Next Door R


*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives