Top Ten Film Noir - According to Me

by John Weagly

Created 07/21/12

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When I decided to do a Top Ten list, I knew I wanted to do one on the great selection of film noir Criterion has put out over the years. I didn’t realize until I started building my list just how hard it would be to narrow all of these movies down.
Here are the ten I came up with. Many great films were left off (I easily could’ve done a Top Twenty), but I guess that’s the nature of these kinds of things. I’m not a scholar or reviewer, these are just some films I like. Also, I play a little fast and loose with the use of the term “noir” (as they say – ask ten film noir fans what “noir” is and you’ll get ten very different answers).

  • Burt Lancaster plans a prison break while dealing with sadistic guard Hume Cronyn. Incredibly well-done with some philosophical touches and some nice flashbacks. Cronyn made a great weasel.

  • A perfect example of a fast-talking loser trying to stay one step ahead while his life spirals out of control around him. Richard Widmark’s best performance, in my opinion. As an added bonus, it’s about professional wrestling.

  • A timeless, cynical look at the newspaper business. Great direction and script from Billy Wilder and an excellent performance by Kirk Douglas.

  • A terrific dark circus tale, bleak and depressing with no glimpse of hope. Maybe not film noir by some standards, but it fits for me.

  • I love anything that shows religious fanatics for what they really are – insane. Plus, beautiful photography, stylish direction and career-high performances (especially from Robert Mitchum).

  • A caper film that has one of the best robbery sequences ever put on celluloid.

  • One of my all time favorites. Another caper. I like capers. I bought a copy of this film with the money I received from the first short story I ever sold.

  • A great example of how low budgets can reap great rewards. This movie looks cheap and that just makes it seem more down and dirty. Lionel Stander’s narration raises it to another level.

  • A punch in the stomach from the first scene to the last. One of my favorite Sam Fuller films.

  • A handyman that works at a brothel takes his prostitute girlfriend with him on a bank robbery. Things don’t go well. Excellent moody existential noir from Austria.

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