1962 Ten Best Movies

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Serre, Werner, Moreau: Jules and Jim

As I write this the Brooklyn Academy of Music is just wrapping up a film series devoted to 1962, a tribute to the New York Film Critics Circle (’62 being the only year the group did not give out awards in its 75-year history, due to a newspaper strike). The thrust of the series is not only making up for a lost opportunity but also highlighting the riches of that year in movies, which NYFCC chair Armond White argues is at least on a par with the fabled 1939. On the latter point, there can’t be much debate. 1962 was a monster.

My #1 slot was never seriously in doubt, and yesterday I posted a vintage piece on it here. The rest of the field is crowded: one of Godard’s finest films, two classic elegaic Westerns, a David Lean super-production concerned with an enigma, three films directed by John Frankenheimer (including a scathing political satire), and a heady tide of the best of a dizzying era in foreign films. The ten best of 1962 and then, inevitably, more:

1. Jules and Jim (Francois Truffaut)

2. Vivre sa vie (Jean-Luc Godard)

3. Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean)

4. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford)

5. The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer)

6. Ride the High Country (Sam Peckinpah)

7. Winter Light (Ingmar Bergman)

8. Knife in the Water (Roman Polanski)

9. The Exterminating Angel (Bunuel)

10. Freud (John Huston)

The #10 title sneaks above a bunch of very deserving films, mentioned below. Partly this is because Freud is overlooked, partly because I’ve been fascinated by it (and Montgomery Clift’s performance) since childhood, and partly because it’s an ingenious approach to a biographical film that also manages to be very characteristic of its director, who is now in critical eclipse. Polanski’s debut feature definitively serves notice that attention must be paid. Winter Light, a devastating work, has gone up in my estimation in recent years.

I am posting a piece on The Manchurian Candidate next weekend; I get into Lawrence of Arabia here.

Man, look at the also-rans; these titles make the absurdity of list-compiling crystal clear. Kubrick’s Lolita? How can I leave that off? And To Kill a Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan)? Then we have great films by Ozu (An Autumn Afternoon),  Antonioni (The Eclipse), Kurosawa (Sanjuro), Varda (Cleo from 5 to 7), plus Chris Marker’s La Jetee. On any given day any of those claims a spot on the Ten; that’s like an entire alternate best list. Toss in Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood, Melville’s Le Doulos, and Pasolini’s Mamma Roma, and you’re getting the depth of the year in film. There are MIA Americans, too: Otto Preminger’s Advise and Consent, Sam Fuller’s Merrill’s Marauders, Arthur Penn’s The Miracle Worker, and Howard Hawks’s traveling party, Hatari! For a gothic touch, include Robert Aldrich’s Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Orson Welles’ The Trial. And you run out of room.

Except for one more title, arguably the film most remembered from childhood by schoolkids of a certain generation. That would be Robert Enrico’s half-hour classic An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, and I think we can agree that finishes off a head-snapping year.

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