1955 Ten Best Movies

nightposter2My #1 film for 1955 is one of my favorite movies, period, and I write at length about it here. The Night of the Hunter stands alone — it isn’t like anything else — and has a timeless feel, whereas some of the other American pictures on my list are completely of their moment. The presence of James Dean, for instance, in two of my top movies, helps define the era, as does All That Heaven Allows, possibly the strongest of Douglas Sirk’s 1950s melodramas. Elsewhere, the great career of Satyajit Ray begins with his beautiful debut, and Jean Renoir delivers a bounteously entertaining movie that also sketches the self-portrait of an artist.

Look at the movies of ’55, and it’s a strange year — things seem to be going every which way, like the plot of Orson Welles’ Mr. Arkadin: some late noir, a great deal of reflection, a few jagged bolts of something new (Preminger’s Man with the Golden Arm, Kubrick’s Killer’s Kiss). Hitchcock took a vacation (To Catch a Thief) in the midst of a great run, and Ingmar Bergman made a classic comedy (Smiles of a Summer Night). All contenders. But in the end it comes down to personal preference, place in history, and a certain urgency. So the best of 1955:

1. The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton)

2. Pather Panchali (Satyajit Ray)

3. French Cancan (Jean Renoir)

4. All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk)

5. Rebel Without a Cause (Nicholas Ray)

6. The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz (Luis Bunuel)

7. The Man from Laramie (Anthony Mann)

8. Lola Montes (Max Ophuls) and Picnic (Joshua Logan)

9. East of Eden (Elia Kazan)

10. The Big Combo (Joseph H. Lewis) and Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich)

Missing films by Dreyer (Ordet), Mizoguchi (Princess Yang Kwei-Fei) and Naruse (Floating Clouds) mostly because I’ve had only single looks at them too long ago. At the last minute I piggybacked Picnic on there with Lola Montes, the justification being widescreen color movies with hanging colored lights (what can I say? I get to make up the rules here). Good French noir includes Melville’s Bob le Flambeur and Clouzot’s Diabolique, and less so Rififi. David Lean’s Summertime is a special film, which I talk about in a Lean overview piece, here. Best picture Oscar that year? Marty. Well, at least it was different.

Next week: surprise.

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