1963 Ten Best Movies

With Rob Marshall’s Nine pole-dancing its way to historical obscurity, the time seems right to look at the year topped by Nine‘s source material: a little number called 8 1/2, the magnum opus from Federico Fellini. I can’t claim to be the most ardent Fellini fan in the world (though he did bag another #1 in my year-by-year accounting), but with the kaleidoscopically ambitious 8 1/2, the maestro had all the circuits a-quiver, all his concerns and fantasies emerging unblocked – unblocked, but not random.

Ironically, the movie is about artistic block: a famous film director finds himself clueless about what his next project will be, even as the teeming horde around him breathlessly awaits his next move. The movie’s about lots of other things too – it’s both very specific and general – and like other great films it creates a suspended mood, a world so completely imagined you feel jarred by the re-entry into ordinary existence when it’s over. And Marcello Mastroianni gives a lesson in movie-star transparency, something that (for all his extraordinary skills) Daniel Day-Lewis can’t summon up in Nine.

Beyond that, a curious year. If 1962 is one of the best years in movie history, I guess 1963 is the inevitable falling-off, a somewhat thin year for old masters and new guard alike. Contempt is one of Godard’s great ones, and The Birds, although it has issues, is fascinating for the way Hitchcock explored techniques and attitudes imported from the European films that had been recently shaking up the movie landscape. It’s his Antonioni movie, I think. The ten best movies of 1963:

1. 8 1/2 (Federico Fellini)

2. Contempt (Jean-Luc Godard)

3. The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock)

4. America, America (Elia Kazan)

5. Shock Corridor (Samuel Fuller)

6. The Nutty Professor (Jerry Lewis)

7. The Leopard (Luchino Visconti)

8. Charade (Stanley Donen)

9. High and Low (Akira Kurosawa)

10. The Servant (Joseph Losey)

The Kazan film is rarely screened and doesn’t seem much appreciated, but it is a remarkable picture: a three-hour tale of a Greek lad’s journey to a new life in the U.S., full of Kazan’s knack for shaping dramatic situations and his fierce survival instinct. The Nutty Professor gives the world Buddy Love, Charade shows you how it’s done right, The Servant is the granddaddy of the mindfuck power-game movie. A long piece on High and Low here.

Just missing the cut: Ingmar Bergman’s The Silence (I’m not sure I ever recovered from seeing that in adolescence), Jacques Demy’s Bay of Angels, Alain Resnais’ Muriel, and Martin Ritt’s Hud, the latter a gorgeous piece of black-and-white widescreen Americana (with Paul Newman in a very theatrical performance). The Haunting has a deserved reputation; Tom Jones, not so deserving. And The Great Escape, of course.

If I were making this list out at age 11, The Great Escape would have to play second fiddle to Jason and the Argonauts, it goes without saying. Some things are sacred.