As an aside in this week’s essay, I mentioned that To Catch A Thief wouldn’t rank in Hitchcock’s Ten Best films. Then I started thinking…what would his ten best films be? Not my favorites, mind you…that’s a different list. But the Top Ten films, ranked, that best show his genius and skill. Here’s what I came up with, starting at #10 and ending with #1.
10. Shadow of a Doubt (1943). Flawless execution of a gripping and horrific story, exposing the seedy underbelly of the Greatest Generation. A kind of Blue Velvet 40 years before the fact.
9. Rebecca (1940) First Hollywood picture and a stunning leap forward in technique, elevating a creaky ghost story into something for the ages.
8. Notorious (1946) Impossible to go wrong with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, but Hitchcock crafts a nail-biting spy thriller that’s actually rooted in real feelings and emotions. Plus that crane shot at the end…
7. The Birds (1961) For a horror follow-up to Psycho, this is a surprisingly strange, personal film that feels almost avant-garde. My favorite thing is Hitchcock’s stubborn refusal to explain why the birds are attacking; modern cinema is too hung up on “Why?” It doesn’t matter – just run for your life!
6. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) Not just Peter Lorre’s first English-language film, but a scrappy, low-budget thriller bursting with wicked ingenuity and talent.
5. North by Northwest (1959) One of Hitchcock’s boldest experiments, a film where the plot makes no sense but no one cares. A career-topping performance by Cary Grant combined with the perfect balance of wit and show-stopping sequences. His most singularly fun film to watch.
4. The 39 Steps (1935) The template for all the wrong-man stories that followed, a precisely plotted, perfectly acted, brilliantly shot film that would set the standard for much of Hitchcock’s career.
3. Psycho (1960) Feeling out-of-touch after watching Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Diabolique, Hitchcock took a crew from his TV show, a lurid pulp novel, some lesser-known stars, and threw away all of his bag of tricks. The result is that rarest of things: an older filmmaker challenging his younger rivals and besting them at their own game.
2. Vertigo (1958) Hitchcock’s most personal and most challenging film, a movie that requires multiple viewings yet remains as elusive as the point of view in the film itself. When filmmakers shoot dream sequences they often resort to cliches. Here, Hitchcock crafts a dream state for the entire film that looks and feels like our own subconscious.
1. Rear Window (1954) What else could it be? Two of Hitchcock’s greatest stars, a daunting technical challenge, a man drawn into a horrible crime, an explicit exploration of voyeurism and the editing process itself — it’s a collection of Hitchcock’s most potent themes, wrapped up in the most thrilling film of his career. If you can watch the ending and not be on the edge of your seat, you don’t love movies.
I’m sure you have your thoughts on this list and I’d love to hear them! Let me know what you think!
(Sadly, there wasn’t room on the list for any of his silent films…honestly, while his silent work is energetic and captivating, it doesn’t demonstrate his mastery, especially when compared to the films being produced by Murnau or Fritz Lang.)