When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1949, it gave its Best Picture award to All the King's Men, a thinly veiled account of the career of Huey Long. It's one of those "serious" Hollywood movies that doesn't live up to its pretentions, but I still couldn't help enjoying it -- I think Long is, hands down, the most interesting political figure in American history, and it's fascinating to watch Hollywood react to him when he was still a relatively fresh memory. Still, I don't respect it enough to give it a spot on the list.
1. Orpheus Written and directed by Jean Cocteau
Dreams, death, mirrors, mysterious radio transmissions, and the underworld.
2. The Third Man Directed by Carol Reed Written by Graham Greene
"Death's at the bottom of everything, Martins. Leave death to the professionals."
3. Stray Dog Directed by Akira Kurosawa Written by Kurosawa and Ryuzo Kikushima
Not just a riveting film noir, but a meditation on how much responsibility the ordinary Japanese citizen bears for the crimes of the militarist government. It has relevance beyond Japan.
4. White Heat Directed by Raoul Walsh Written by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts, from a story by Virginia Kellogg
I never understood the Cagney cult until I saw this movie.
5. They Live By Night Directed by Nicholas Ray Written by Ray and Charles Schnee, from a novel by Edward Anderson
This planted the seed for virtually every other film about a couple on the lam, from Bonnie and Clyde to True Romance. It's based on the same novel that spawned Robert Altman's Thieves Like Us, and the two adaptations would make an interesting double feature.
6. Little Rural Riding Hood Directed by Tex Avery Written by Rich Hogan and Jack Cosgriff
The high point of Avery's Riding Hood cycle.
7. Kind Hearts and Coronets Directed by Robert Hamer Written by Hamer and John Dighton, from a novel by Roy Horniman
A dark comedy from Ealing Studios, which specialized in this sort of small, understatedly funny film.
8. Les Enfants Terribles Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville Written by Melville and Jean Cocteau, from a novel by Cocteau
More of a Cocteau movie than a Melville movie.
9. Passport to Pimlico Directed by Henry Cornelius Written by T.E.B. Clarke
Another Ealing effort. This one may be the most Chestertonian comedy I've ever seen. "We've always been English and we'll always be English; and it's precisely because we are English that we're sticking up for our right to be Burgundians."
10. Thieves' Highway Directed by Jules Dassin
11. The Set-Up (Robert Wise) 12. Bad Luck Blackie (Tex Avery) 13. Long-Haired Hare (Chuck Jones) 14. I Was a Male War Bride (Howard Hawks) 15. Blood of the Beasts (Georges Franju) 16. Señor Droopy (Tex Avery) 17. Twelve O'Clock High (Henry King) 18. Flamingo Road (Michael Curtiz) 19. The Heiress (William Wyler) 20. Begone Dull Care (Norman McLaren, Evelyn Lambart)
Of the films of 1949 that I haven't seen, the ones that interest me the most are Max Ophuls' The Reckless Moment, Thorold Dickinson's The Queen of Spades, Jacques Tati's Jour de Fête, and Alexander Mackendrick's Whisky Galore!