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.

1957 Ten Best Movies

Here they come, those subtitled masters of the Golden Age of the imported foreign film: Fellini and Bergman, and Kurosawa and Antonioni too, although the year was strong enough in bold American films that the latter boys didn’t get Top-Ten this time. #1 slot finds the nuzzly Mediterranean humanist Fellini outpointing his severe Scandinavian colleague Bergman by a neck, but it’s close.

cabiria3

Masina/Cabiria

Nights of Cabiria, my Best for 1957, is buoyed up by the irrepressibly “on” performance by Giulietta Masina, her character — a prostitute in Rome’s night world — always plugging away for an unseen audience, hoping that at some point, someone will finally notice her glory. Of course, we do. Which is how the movie forges one of the great connections between audience and protagonist, maintained through the classic final shot.

If Bergman’s scoring two titles on the list is an impressive achievement, how about Samuel Fuller? Here’s the ten best accounting for 1957:

1. Nights of Cabiria (Federico Fellini)

2. Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman)

3. The Bridge on the River Kwai (David Lean)

4. Paths of Glory (Stanley Kubrick)

5. The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman)

6. The Tall T (Budd Boetticher)

7. Sweet Smell of Success (Alexander Mackendrick)

8. Run of the Arrow and Forty Guns (Samuel Fuller)

9. Men in War (Anthony Mann)

10. A Face in the Crowd (Elia Kazan)

Kwai I find haunting beyond its adventure-movie appeal (some reasons are explained in a Lean piece here); Men in War is a much lesser-known title, but equally forceful on the subject — and just as existentially somber as The Seventh Seal (a much-lampooned movie that holds up really well these days, by the way). Boetticher and Fuller provide two very different approaches to the Western, but both feel new. I left off some good ones: Love in the Afternoon (Billy Wilder) — a somewhat problematic but still scrumptious film — 12 Angry Men (Sidney Lumet), Kanal (Andrzej Wajda), The Cranes are Flying (Mikhail Kalatozov); Throne of Blood (Akira Kurosawa). Plus fine genre work in Night of the Demon (Jacques Tourneur) and The Incredible Shrinking Man (Jack Arnold).

Next week: 1939.