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Marion Davies as ingenue Peggy Pepper watches herself on screen for the first time in Show People (1928), directed by King Vidor.

I thought the 1920s would be an easy decade to cover since I had already seen many of the “classics” before, either long ago in grad school or more recently as I began to undertake this project. But the problem is, like with so many things, once you start looking more closely at something, the more you realize you don’t know. So, when I first sat down to finalize a “canon” for the decade, I realized I needed to add a few more unseen films, along with a few I had blocked from my memory and, while not eager to revisit, decided I must do so in order to accurately represent the decade. At the end of the day, I found myself with a list of a dozen films I felt I absolutely had to watch, including seven I had never seen. And that is not even counting the myriad other “minor” films I wanted to squeeze in. So, yeah, I was already weeks behind schedule and still took the full month of March and some of April to get through these. [Side note: Right now, the tentative plan is to catch up by covering the 1930s through the 1960s in May and June. I have a good start on the 1930s, but, as always, we’ll see.]

In any case, let’s jump right in!

Buster Keaton’s projectionist character imagines himself literally getting into the pictures in Sherlock Jr. (1924).

To start with, here is my original essentials list for the 1920s:

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) (Weine, 1920)
Way Down East (Griffith, 1920)
Häxan (Christensen, 1922)
Nanook of the North (Flaherty, 1922)
Nosferatu (Murnau, 1922)
Safety Last! (Newmeyer & Taylor, 1923)
Greed (Stroheim, 1924)
The Thief of Bagdad (Walsh, 1924)
Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (Niblo & Brabin, 1925)
The Big Parade (Vidor, 1925)
Body and Soul (Micheaux, 1925)
Bronenosets Potyomkin (Battleship Potemkin) (Eisenstein, 1925)
The Gold Rush (Chaplin, 1925)
Lady Windermere’s Fan (Lubitsch, 1925)
Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (The Adventures of Prince Achmed)
      (Reiniger, 1926)
The General (Keaton, 1926)
Konets Sankt-Peterburga (The End of St. Petersburg) (Pudovkin, 1927)
Metropolis (Lang, 1927)
Napoléon (Gance, 1927)
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (Murnau, 1927)
Wings (Wellman, 1927)
La Coquille et le clergyman (The Seashell and the Clergyman) (Dulac, 1928)
La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc) (Dreyer, 1928)
Chelovek s kino-apparatom (The Man with a Movie Camera) (Vertov, 1929)
Un chien andalou (An Andalusian Dog) (Buñuel, 1929)

Harold Lloyd hangs on for dear life in an iconic image from the cinema of the 1920s. But does that make Safety Last! an essential film?

About half of these selections came directly from the AFI Top 100 and the Sight & Sound 250.* In fact, the only films on those lists that didn’t make the cut are The Jazz Singer (1927) (AFI) and The Last Laugh (1924) (S&S), both of which I had already seen (and rejected as essential) before establishing my own list. In the case of The Jazz Singer—the first “talkie”—the overall quality is just not there. In the case of The Last Laugh, I felt that having three films by the same director (F.W. Murnau) would be antithetical to my goals with this project.

As for the rest of the titles, they mostly came from books on cinema history. All in all, except for a few titles, I’d say this would be fairly close to the standard response you would get if you were to ask for a canon of twenty-five films from the 1920s. In fact, I recently added a tab for the “1001 Movies You Must Watch Before You Die” films to my “all-time lists” spreadsheet, and, although I didn’t have it for reference when I created this list, all twenty-five of my selections can be found among the forty-five films from the 1920s on that list.* [Side note: Although I have numerous quibbles with the lists that appear in various books in the 1001 series, I think this one will prove to be very helpful in establishing more balanced essentials lists going forward.]

In any case, there’s really no doubt that the above list is a good beginning if one wants to explore and get a sense of the cinema of the 1920s. To start with, it highlights the three strongest national film industries of the period—those of Germany, the Soviet Union, and the United States. It also features a number of key “first” features and experimental films: animation, documentaries, and surrealist films. In fact, as I sat down to write up the decade, I wondered if I would change it at all. But then, as I looked closer, I started to see the gaps and flaws.

Marion Davies, Jane Winton, and Marie Dressler examine their own gaps and flaws in The Patsy (1928), directed by King Vidor.

The biggest obvious gap is that there are no sound pictures—after all, the “talkie” emerged as early as 1927. Although early talkies were rather crude, they represent the surmounting of extreme technical challenges and therefore can rightly be considered cinematic achievements worthy of essential status. This is a gap that needs to be remedied somehow.

Beyond the glaring oversight of sound, now that I’ve watched all the films on the original list, the lack of genre diversity has become more obvious. For example, there are three similar types of comedies, one each from those who are often seen as the “big three” comic geniuses: Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd. While I enjoyed their films above, they are not necessarily my favorite, or the best, examples from these comedians. More importantly, do we need all three to accurately represent this decade in film? In a similar vein, do we need three horror films? Even if all of them are solid selections, that seems a bit much. And there are six war films—that’s one quarter of the list! What about musicals? Or thrillers? Or westerns?

Finally, and this is somewhat related to the above paragraph, why all the dudes? I don’t just mean in terms of directors, but the leading roles in almost all of these films are men. And the women that are prominently featured are fairly one dimensional. Lots of martyrs and witches. Sometimes literally. Where are the comediennes? Where are the complex women?

Seeing so many dudes makes me almost as mad as Francis X. Bushman and Ramon Novarro in Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.

So, even though every choice on the above list is a fair one, it was clear I was going to have to rethink this to accurately represent the decade in film. I started by thinking about what worked together and what could definitely go.

First to go were Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ and Wings. Even this was a difficult decision. These are both solid films that I enjoyed, but I just don’t think they are essential if one is limited to only twenty-five films. However, I want to note here that I actually prefer the 1925 Ben-Hur to the 1959 version, which is the one on the AFI list. Wings was just one war film too many for me, but it merits a viewing if only to admire its incredible technical work, including astounding aerial combat sequences and this bravura shot:

Let’s see, what’s next? Well, speaking of bravura, I think it’s safe to say that Safety Last! is only known for one extended stunt (pictured above). While it’s a great stunt, this rom-com is not even my favorite Harold Lloyd (that would be Girl Shy), so I can’t say I regard it as a must-see beyond that. In fact, since we are losing Clara Bow’s presence in Wings, I would much rather see It (1927)—another rom-com based in a department store—on the list. After all, the original “It girl” really should to be included somewhere.

Another film that is pretty much known for one sequence is Way Down East. But, as with Bow, I think if I take that one off, I would definitely want to put another Lillian Gish vehicle in the mix, probably either Orphans of the Storm (1921), also by D.W. Griffith, or The Wind (1928), a western by Victor Sjöström. Or maybe both, if there’s room.

Preparing to shoot the thrilling “ice break” climax of Way Down East, directed by D.W. Griffith.

So, I guess I need to decide if there is room. How many films do I really want to add?

After thinking long and hard about the gaps I wanted to fill, and what I had seen so far from the 1920s, I came up with the following list:

The Grub-Stake: A Tale of the Klondike (Shipman & Van Tuyle, 1923)
It (Badger & Sternberg, 1927)
The Wind (Sjöström, 1928)
Blackmail (Hitchcock, 1929)
A Cottage on Dartmoor (Asquith, 1929)
Hallelujah (Vidor, 1929)
The Love Parade (Lubitsch, 1929)

The only problem with this list is that it adds seven films when I’ve only made room for four so far. To find out what I finally kept and what I didn’t, and why, read on.

An intertitle from A Cottage on Dartmoor, a silent crime thriller with an extended sequence at the “talking” pictures.

Breaking the Sound Barrier

As noted above, the biggest problem with my list is that there were no sound pictures. I only watched seven early talkies for this project, but they all had some sort of technical merit whereby I could see adding them to this list. Those I considered—but ultimately rejected—were The Broadway Melody (1929), the first sound film to win the Best Picture Oscar; Applause (1929), one of the first sound films to shoot on location around Manhattan; In Old Arizona (1928), nominated for five Academy Awards, and the first major western to use sound and the first talkie filmed extensively outdoors; and Hell’s Heroes (1929), another western and the first sound production of William Wyler.

The three I selected for inclusion—Blackmail, Hallelujah, and The Love Parade—were all a cut above, although I added all three for very different reasons.

When I realized that I had no Alfred Hitchcock on my list, Blackmail sort of became inevitable. I contemplated The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927), Hitchcock’s first thriller and my favorite of his silents, but I soon realized that Blackmail was a better choice since it is one of the best representations you can find of the transition from silent pictures to talkies. In fact, the film began life as a silent but morphed into a sound picture early on in its production. Like a number of films of the era, two versions (silent and sound) were made, since many theaters had not yet converted to sound. In any case, it’s a decent thriller with some fantastic sound cues.

Another director who mastered the transition from silent films to sound was Ernst Lubitsch. One of his first sound films was The Love Parade, a musical starring Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald, one of many he would go on to make with the pair in the early 1930s, but I think this first outing is their best. Among other accolades, it received six nominations for the third Academy Awards, the most of any film to that point. While I don’t love The Love Parade quite as much as Lubitsch’s silent adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan, I can accept that it should replace that film on the list as one of the first movie musicals with integrated songs (rather than a backstage musical, which was a prevalent subgenre in the early sound period).

Another musical I decided to add is Hallelujah, King Vidor’s first sound film. Hallelujah is not only an early MGM musical, but also one of the first films by a major studio with an all-Black cast. Vidor, who grew up in the South, was so interested in telling this story that he invested his own salary in the production when MGM balked at producing it. He would go on to be nominated for a Best Director Oscar for the film. Though it does rely on and perhaps perpetuated common stereotypes, the songs and singing are really quite beautiful and I appreciated that they were integrated into the storyline in a very natural way. And I am going to keep an eye out for Nina Mae McKinney going forward, she had a tremendous energy about her.

Daniel L. Haynes admires Nina Mae McKinney in Hallelujah, an early musical with an all-Black cast, directed by King Vidor.

So that more than takes care of both sound and a missing genre, the musical. It also adds a thriller into the mix and gets us another empty slot on the essentials list by (unfortunately) removing Lady Windermere’s Fan. Though, really, if you like Lubitsch, I definitely recommend you seek that one out. He somehow manages to keep the spirit of Wilde while keeping almost none of Wilde’s original text—the “Lubitsch touch” strikes again.

While we’re switching out films by the same director, another “essentials” exchange I decided to make was replacing Oscar Micheaux’s Body and Soul for Within Our Gates (1920). I definitely think there needs to be at least one “race film” on the list and Micheaux is the obvious director to represent this genre—films made from the mid-1910s to the early 1950s featuring Black casts and produced for Black audiences. Not only was Micheaux the first major African American feature filmmaker, but he was a “triple threat”—writing, producing, and directing more than forty films during this period. While both these titles have qualities to recommend them, I thought Within Our Gates had a better, more cohesive plot: The main narrative tells the story of a young southern woman who travels north on multiple occasions, finding romance and a wealthy benefactor for a southern school along the way, but also uses a series of flashbacks to show her tragic background, including her adoptive father being falsely accused of murdering a white man and the resulting lynching of her parents. It’s a powerful tale of race and racism in the early twentieth century.

Charles D. Lucas romances Evelyn Preer in Within Our Gates, directed by Oscar Micheaux.

All the World Loves a Clown

Some other exchanges I considered making were in the comedy category. When I began this project and came up with my list of essentials for the 1920s, it seemed obvious to include an example each of the work of Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd. So, I put the usual suspects (The Gold Rush, The General, and Safety Last!) on my essentials list. However, as I watched more movies starring these comedians, in addition to discovering that none of these selections represents my favorite of their films (see rankings below), I also realized that this was a rather odd way of looking at things. For one, is there any other decade where I would say we have to list one film by each of three comedians as an “essential”? I don’t think so. Even if I think that comedy generally doesn’t get the respect it deserves, that seems a bit much when you are choosing only twenty-five films to represent a decade in cinema.

Moreover, if we are going to put three comedies on the list, what about the great comediennes of the silent era? Of course, Clara Bow would be represented by including It, but what about The Extra Girl (1923) with Mabel Normand or Show People with Marion Davies? Both are hilarious send-ups of Hollywood and the Hollywood system. Or, for a different side of Davies, how about The Patsy, where Davies displays her incredible gift for mimicry? The issue is further complicated by the fact that I think that City Lights (1931) is far and away the best representation of Chaplin’s work, but obviously that would be on the 1930s list. Is there room for two Chaplins if we are ignoring these women?

Top 20 Comedies of 1920s
Sherlock Jr. (Keaton, 1924)
The Patsy (Vidor, 1928) (Davies)
The Kid (Chaplin, 1921)
The General (Keaton & Bruckman, 1927)
It (Badger & Sternberg, 1927) (Bow)
Girl Shy (Newmeyer & Taylor, 1924) (Lloyd)
Our Hospitality (Keaton & Blystone, 1923)
The Circus (Chaplin, 1928)
Safety Last! (Newmeyer & Taylor, 1923) (Lloyd)
Show People (Vidor, 1928) (Davies)
Steamboat Bill, Jr. (Keaton & Reisner, 1928)
The Gold Rush (Chaplin, 1925)
The Extra Girl (Jones & Sennett, 1923) (Normand)
The Navigator (Keaton & Crisp, 1924)
The Flapper (Crosland, 1920) (Olive Thomas)
Seven Chances (Keaton, 1925)
The Kid Brother (Wilde, 1927) (Lloyd)
The Cameraman (Keaton & Sedgwick, 1928)
The Freshman (Newmeyer & Taylor, 1925) (Lloyd)
Champagne (Hitchcock, 1928) (Betty Balfour)

All this is to say that, in addition to bumping Safety Last!, I seriously considered replacing The Gold Rush altogether. One reason I almost did so is that there was another “tale of the Klondike” that I wanted to put on the list far more: The Grub-Stake (1923). Not only does this film by female filmmaker Nell Shipman add another action adventure into the essentials mix, one could also consider it a western. More importantly, like The Gold Rush, it also features a bear! And this one gets far more screen time. While lacking the comic touches of Chaplin’s film, the story was far more interesting to me: A young woman is lured to the Yukon with promises of marriage and a grubstake and only realizes she has been tricked when she ends up for sale in a Dawson City dance hall. Instead of meekly accepting her fate, she escapes with her ailing father and an old miner by stealing the dogsled from her erstwhile “husband” and heading into the wilderness where she gets lost in a snowstorm, finds shelter in a bear’s den, and stumbles upon a long-lost gold mine. It all ends with a western-style shoot-out and a literal cliffhanger. You can see why I might have hesitated for so long as to which one to keep, until I thought, why not both?

But keeping both would mean a few more cuts to my initial list if I was also going to add The Wind and A Cottage on Dartmoor, which I really wanted to do. Could I be as strong as Nell Shipman taking on a bear and get the job done? I like to think so.

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

Getting Down to Brass Tacks

First off, why add The Wind and A Cottage on Dartmoor? Well, to start with, The Wind adds a western and a female lead to a list lacking both. It also makes sure another major star and director of the era are represented (with Lillian Gish and Victor Sjöström respectively). The British film A Cottage on Dartmoor does not tick off any obvious boxes, but combines the best of Soviet and German styles (fast cutting, facial close-ups, atmospheric lighting, asymmetrical camera angles) while also providing a story straight out of the works of Graham Greene. Both films are tense melodramas that get down and dirty with the psyche of their protagonists while also being incredibly cinematic and inventive. One example of this inventiveness, and why A Cottage on Dartmoor truly deserves to be on the essentials list, is the theater scene—when the protagonist follows the subject of his romantic obsession and her date to the cinema. This extended set piece in the middle of the film tells us everything we need to know about these characters, but also manages to serve as a commentary on the arrival of talkies and a master class in editing. It is nothing short of amazing.

The audience watches the movie while Uno Henning as Joe watches Sally and her date in A Cottage on Dartmoor, directed by Anthony Asquith.

To keep these two films as essentials, I decided to eliminate (Shock! Horror!) Nosferatu and Un chien andalou. Or should that be (Shock!) Un chien andalou and (Horror!) Nosferatu? Because that is essentially what these two films represent and I think I have that covered elsewhere.

Surrealism and the Avant-Garde

As I said back in the days of The Great Unseen, one reason I resisted silent cinema for so long is that most of my exposure to it was in graduate school. Because my coursework focused on French culture, this generally meant the early films of the Lumière brothers and Georges Méliès (discussed in A Century+ of Cinema: The Early Silents, 1895–1909) and the surrealist cinema of the 1920s, including René Clair’s Entr’acte (1924), Fernand Léger’s Ballet mécanique (1924), Germaine Dulac’s La Coquille et le clergyman (The Seashell and the Clergyman) (1928), and Un chien andalou (An Andalusian Dog) (1929) by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí. However, while I can appreciate the technique and artistry of these films, they just aren’t of particular interest to me and I don’t enjoy watching them.

Nevertheless, I felt I needed to include at least some of them on my essentials list, so I chose La Coquille et le clergyman, which, at just over forty minutes long, qualifies as a feature film, and Un chien andalou, the ultimate surrealist classic whose opening scene has haunted me since my grad school days. [CW: Don’t watch it if, like me, you have issues with incisions of any kind.] I also watched Melville Webber and J.S. Watson’s The Fall of the House of Usher (1928),** both because I love Edgar Allan Poe and because it was on one of the “Treasures” DVDs that I had out from the library.

While this type of film is just not my jam, I did find things to appreciate in both La Coquille et le clergyman and The Fall of the House of Usher. I particularly liked some of the visuals in the latter. However, watching Un chien andalou again after all these years, the only thing that struck me (besides the infamous opening) is just how misogynistic and hyper-violent it really is. Of course, surrealism is meant to shock, but I just don’t see a value in doing only that. To me, it’s like Pixar and nostalgia:
—It made me cry!
—Ok, and…?

So my vote in terms of what should stay on the essentials list was for La Coquille et le clergyman, widely recognized as the first surrealist film and which the British Board of Film Classification famously banned, stating “If there is a meaning, it is doubtless objectionable.” Today, the British Film Institute lists La Coquille et le clergyman as one of the best feminist films calling it “a visually imaginative critique of patriarchy—state and church—and of male sexuality.” In short, while I considered having Dulac’s La Souriante Mme Beudet (The Smiling Madame Beudet) on the essentials list, I am happy to represent this pioneering writer, critic, and filmmaker with La Coquille et le clergyman instead.

La Coquille et le clergyman (The Seashell and the Clergyman), literally.

The horror! The horror!

While I actually enjoy Nosferatu quite a bit, as one of two films by F.W. Murnau on the list, the most conventional of the three horror films included, and one of four German films, it just made the most sense for it to be the one taken off.

As noted in my previous post on the 1910s, Scandinavian cinema was particularly strong in the silent period and I wanted to be sure to include at least one Danish or Swedish film for the 1920s. I considered Körkarlen (The Phantom Carriage) (1921) by Victor Sjöström, which is notable for its special effects and advanced narrative structure, but I knew I would probably have another Sjöström somewhere, and Häxan, which I just watched for the first time quite recently, is absolutely astounding. Part documentary essay, part horror film, it charts the history of witchcraft and the superstitions surrounding it, beginning in the Middle Ages through to the present day of the film. It was the most expensive Scandinavian silent film ever made and was banned or censored in a number of countries for its graphic nature.

Why Caligari over Nosferatu, you ask? (Well, you ask if you are familiar with my post on silent horror.) After all, they are both German and you really dislike Caligari. That’s true, but I also dislike Metropolis and yet here we are. Some films are just so influential, you can’t deny them their place on the essentials list. I mean, if I was only including works by German directors I liked, The Cat and the Canary (Leni, 1927) and Diary of a Lost Girl (Pabst, 1929) would be on the list instead.

The Cat and the Canary is one of my favorite silents and yet still didn’t make it on the essentials list. Truly shocking and horrific.

That’s right, I said it. I don’t like Metropolis. It may be “important” and it may have some great visuals, but the acting leaves a lot to be desired, as does the plot and script. If you like Metropolis, I’m glad it’s there for you, but if you don’t, know there are many other entertaining silent films that may be more to your liking.

For starters, any number of the many films I’ve already discussed, or perhaps some of my other favorites on the essentials list that I don’t have time to go into, which includes Erich von Stroheim’s Greed, an adaptation of McTeague: A Story of San Francisco, one of my favorite novels; Raoul Walsh’s The Thief of Bagdad, starring the original swashbuckler, Douglas Fairbanks; Lotte Reiniger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed, considered to be the oldest surviving animated feature film; King Vidor’s The Big Parade, the most successful film of the 1920s and noted for its realistic depiction of warfare; Abel Gance’s epic masterpiece Napoléon, one of the most creative uses of the cinematic form ever; and F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, one of the most expressive films of the silent period and one of my favorite discoveries from The Great Unseen.

The innovative silhouette animation technique of Lotte Reiniger’s Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (The Adventures of Prince Achmed).

Not to mention some great films that didn’t even have a hope of making the list, including the aforementioned The Cat and the Canary (Leni, 1927); but also The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Worsley, 1923), with its impressive sets and Lon Chaney’s performance as the titular character; The Lost World (Hoyt, 1925), or the fantastic Wallace Beery in a King Kong before King Kong; Chess Fever, a hilarious 1925 short from the director of the much more serious Konets Sankt-Peterburga (The End of St. Petersburg); Paris qui dort (The Crazy Ray) (Clair, 1925), a sci-fi romp through the empty streets of Paris; The Unknown (Browning, 1927), another incredible Chaney performance, this time alongside a young Joan Crawford; The Docks of New York (Sternberg, 1928), a proto-noir from the master of visual style; The Garden of Eden (Milestone, 1928), an underseen rom-com from the underrated and incredibly diverse Lewis Milestone; and Spione (Spies), a Fritz Lang silent I very much like.

Gerda Maurus does what spies do, at least in Spione (Spies) (1928), directed by Fritz Lang.

And, with that, my final list of twenty-five essentials for the 1920s:

Essential Films of the 1920s
Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) (Weine, 1920)
Within Our Gates (Micheaux, 1920)
Häxan (Christensen, 1922)
Nanook of the North (Flaherty, 1922)
The Grub-Stake: A Tale of the Klondike (Shipman & Van Tuyle, 1923)
Greed (Stroheim, 1924)
The Thief of Bagdad (Walsh, 1924)
The Big Parade (Vidor, 1925)
Bronenosets Potyomkin (Battleship Potemkin) (Eisenstein, 1925)
The Gold Rush (Chaplin, 1925)
Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (The Adventures of Prince Achmed)
      (Reiniger, 1926)
The General (Keaton, 1926)
It (Badger, 1927)
Konets Sankt-Peterburga (The End of St. Petersburg) (Pudovkin, 1927)
Metropolis (Lang, 1927)
Napoléon (Gance, 1927)
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (Murnau, 1927)
La Coquille et le clergyman (The Seashell and the Clergyman) (Dulac, 1928)
La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc) (Dreyer, 1928)
The Wind (Sjöström, 1928)
Blackmail (Hitchcock, 1929)
Chelovek s kino-apparatom (Man with a Movie Camera) (Vertov, 1929)
A Cottage on Dartmoor (Escape from Dartmoor) (Asquith, 1929)
Hallelujah (Vidor, 1929)
The Love Parade (Lubitsch, 1929)

In short, there are a lot of great silents out there. Have fun! Explore!

For previous posts in this Century+ series, click below:

Film 101—A Century+ Silent Film Resources
A Century+ of Cinema: The Early Silents, 1895–1909
A Century+ of Cinema: Considering the Essentials
A Century+ of Cinema: The 1910s

For more on Battleship Potemkin, Safety Last!, Sunrise, and other silents, see The Great Unseen 1: Matinée Idle.

For my film lists, click below:
A Century+: The Essentials
A Century+: Female Filmmakers
A Century+: Silent Films
Movies of the Decade: 1920-1929

*The movies from the 1920s that I considered for this post are:
AFI Top 100 (1998): The Jazz Singer (1927)
AFI Top 100 (2007): The Gold Rush (Chaplin, 1925), The General (Keaton, 1926), Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (Murnau, 1927)
Sight & Sound 250 (2012): Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) (Weine, 1920), Nosferatu (Murnau, 1922), Sherlock Jr. (Keaton, 1924), Greed (Stroheim, 1924), Bronenosets Potyomkin (Battleship Potemkin) (Eisenstein, 1925), The Gold Rush (Chaplin, 1925), The General (Keaton, 1926), Metropolis (Lang, 1927), Napoléon (Gance, 1927), Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (Murnau, 1927), La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc) (Dreyer, 1928), Chelovek s kino-apparatom (Man with a Movie Camera) (Vertov, 1929), Un chien andalou (An Andalusian Dog) (Buñuel, 1929)

Additional films from 1001 Films You Must See Before You Die (all editions): Way Down East (1920), Within Our Gates (1920), Körkarlen (The Phantom Carriage) (1921), Orphans of the Storm (1921), Foolish Wives (1922), Häxan (1922), Nanook of the North (1922), La Souriante Madame Beudet (The Smiling Madame Beudet) (1923), Our Hospitality (1923), Der Letzte Mann (The Last Laugh) (1924), The Thief of Bagdad (1924), The Big Parade (1925), The Phantom of the Opera (1925), Seven Chances (1925), Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (The Adventures of Prince Achmed) (1926), The Kid Brother (1927), The Unknown (1927), The Docks of New York, Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928), Blackmail (1929)

Other feature films from the 1920s:
1920: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Flapper, Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (The Golem: How He Came into the World)
1921: The Ace of Hearts, The Affairs of Anatol, The Blot, The Kid, Schloß Vogelöd (The Haunted Castle), The Sheik, Tol’able David
1922: Blood and Sand
1923: The Extra Girl, The Grub-Stake: A Tale of the Klondike, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, A Woman of Paris
1924: Girl Shy, He Who Gets Slapped, The Marriage Circle, The Navigator, Orlacs Hände (The Hands of Orlac)
1925: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, Body and Soul, The Freshman, Go West, Lady Windermere’s Fan, Little Annie Rooney, The Lost World, The Monster, Paris qui dort (The Crazy Ray), Parisian Love, Stella Dallas
1926: The Son of the Sheik, The Winning of Barbara Worth
1927: The Cat and the Canary, Chicago, It, Konets Sankt-Peterburga (The End of St. Petersburg), The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog, Tretya meshchanskaya (Bed and Sofa), Underworld, Wings
1928: Beggars of Life; The Cameraman; Champagne; The Circus; The Garden of Eden; In Old Arizona; The Last Command; Laugh, Clown, Laugh; The Patsy; Show People; Spione (Spies); West of Zanzibar; The Wind
1929: Applause, The Broadway Melody, A Cottage on Dartmoor, Hallelujah, Hell’s Heroes, The Love Parade, Tagebuch einer Verlorenen (Diary of a Lost Girl)

** This 13-minute short should not to be confused with another surrealist adaptation of The Fall of the House of Usher, a feature film also released in 1928, Jean Epstein’s La Chute de la maison Usher.