The 12 Best Jean-Luc Godard Films Ranked: A Beginner’s Guide

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The late director not only helped launch the New Wave, he changed the language of cinema forever.

Anna Karina in “Pierrot le fou”

The greatest filmmaker in the world is dead. And it’s a title that Jean-Luc Godard has held for a very long time. His influence on the cinematic form and language of the last 60 years has been fundamental, but Godard’s best films are not museum pieces to be studied: they are vibrant, energetic, sexy, full of color and smoke and twilight shadows enveloping you. They are alive. And they will continue to be so even if their creator is not.

The Swiss-born filmmaker has stripped cinema of its essence – all you need to tell a story about film is “a girl and a gun”, he famously said – with a style of run-and-gun guerrilla warfare that eventually morphed into a finely crafted formalism. Passionate about movies, especially Hollywood genre endeavors (although he hated American politics), he wasn’t just familiar with movies either: painting appears throughout “Pierrot le fou,” the text written in “Vivre Sa Vie”, the music of Marianne Faithfull and the Rolling Stones in other places. The vibrant colors and flat telephoto cinematography of “Made in the USA” bring this movie to life as a comic book better than any comic book movie. His interests were many. And language was a particular concern for him, why we label things the way we do, why everything has to have a word to describe it.

Finding the words to describe Godard’s films can be difficult. When you watch one of his movies, you’ll almost certainly need to watch it again to extrapolate its full meaning and immerse yourself in its pleasures. IndieWire has put together a viewing guide to not only Godard’s 12 best films, but the films that also serve as an introduction to his entire aesthetic. Deeper cuts should then follow: “New Wave”, “Le Petit Soldat”, “Passion”, “Histoire(s) du Cinéma”, “In Praise of Love”. But these films that follow are the introduction to his work that you need.

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