Now, lists tend to tell us more about the list-maker than anything else, so any omissions or questionable inclusions are a reflection of my own idiosyncrasies. Also, I have questions about who is a "French" director. Maurice and Jacques Tourneur, whom I both love, made the bulk of their films in America. Is Max Ophuls a French director? I think not, but I deem his son as one. What about expatriate Joseph Losey? American, English, or French?
And where are Resnais, Rohmer, Tati, Demy, etc.? Well, dammit, I don't LIKE them, so they're not on the list. And -- do you hate Luc Besson? I don't. I love Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and hate "Amelie." And so it goes.
As well, each significant director is represented with one film, as an entry point to that person's work. I can and have watched all of Renoir, Truffaut, Vigo, Cocteau, Melville, and Varda, multiple times, and am working on the others. Good stuff here! If you can't find the specific film listed, there are plenty of other choices in each director's list of films.
Plus, these will teach you life skills. I watched enough French gangster films to be conversant in French when I went to Paris -- although I was best able to say things like: "look out for the cops" and "roll me another cigarette."
Napoleon (Abel Gance, 1927)
L’Age d’Or (Luis Bunuel, 1930)
A nous la liberte (Rene Clair, 1931)
Les Miserables (Raymond Bernard, 1934)
L’Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934)
Pepe le Moko (Julien Duvivier, 1937)
Grand Illusion (Jean Renoir, 1937)
Children of Paradise (Marcel Carne, 1945)
Beauty and the Beast (Jean Cocteau/Rene Clement, 1946)
The Wages of Fear (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1953)
Touchez pas au grisbi (Jacques Becker, 1954)
Rififi (Jules Dassin, 1956)
A Man Escaped (Robert Bresson, 1956)
The 400 Blows (Francois Truffaut, 1959)
Contempt (Jean-Luc Godard, 1963)
The Sorrow and the Pity (Marcel Ophuls, 1969)
The Red Circle (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1970)
The Butcher (Claude Chabrol, 1970)
Sunless (Chris Marker, 1983)
A Sunday in the Country (Bernard Tavernier, 1984)
Shoah (Claude Lantzmann, 1985)
Au revoir les enfants (Louis Malle, 1987)
City of Lost Children (Jean-Pierre Jeunet/Marc Caro, 1995)
Beau Travail (Claire Denis, 1999)
The Gleaners and I (Agnes Varda, 2000)
Nikita (Luc Besson, 1990)