When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1959, it gave its Best Picture award to Ben-Hur, a tedious epic containing exactly one good scene (the chariot race). Here are some better movies:
1. The Four Hundred Blows Directed by François Truffaut Written by Truffaut and Marcel Moussy
The high point of the French New Wave.
2. North by Northwest Directed by Alfred Hitchcock Written by Ernest Lehman
Hitchcock's most paranoid picture, though Cary Grant's charm might distract you from absorbing just how conspiratorial its worldview is.
3. Some Like it Hot Directed by Billy Wilder Written by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, from a story by Robert Thoeren and Michael Logan
Of the other male stars of the period, only Bugs Bunny was this comfortable wearing women's clothes on camera.
4. Rio Bravo Directed by Howard Hawks Written by Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett, from a story by B.H. McCampbell
You know a director is in control of his material when he can stick a Ricky Nelson/Dean Martin duet in the middle of an action-packed western and make it feel like the most natural thing in the world.
5. Warlock Directed by Edward Dmytryk Written by Robert Alan Aurthur, from a novel by Oakley Hall
"I ain't backin' him, because you're my brother, and I ain't backin' you, because you're wrong."
6. Nazarin Directed by Luis Buñuel Written by Buñuel, Julio Alejandro, and Emilio Carballido, from a novel by Benito Pérez Galdós
Buñuel had a knack for turning the liturgical drama on its head.
7. Ride Lonesome Directed by Budd Boetticher Written by Burt Kennedy
It never really hit me til now that Rio Bravo, Warlock, and this all came out the same year. We may have just stumbled on a golden age of the Hollywood western.
8. The World of Apu Directed by Satyajit Ray Written by Ray, from a novel by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay
The last and arguably best entry in the Apu trilogy.
9. Anatomy of a Murder Directed by Otto Preminger Written by Wendell Mayes, from a novel by John D. Voelker
"Just answer the questions, Mr. Paquette. The attorneys will provide the wisecracks."
10. Science Friction Directed by Stan van der Beek
Mr. Gilliam, where do you get your ideas?
11. A Bucket of Blood (Roger Corman) 12. Fires on the Plain (Kon Ichikawa) 13. Odds Against Tomorrow (Robert Wise) 14. Cat's Cradle (Stan Brakhage) 15. A Midsummer Night's Dream (Jiří Trnka) 16. Shadows (John Cassavetes) 17. Wedlock House (Stan Brakhage) 18. Floating Weeds (Yasujiro Ozu) 19. Suddenly, Last Summer (Joseph L. Manckiewicz) 20. Plan 9 from Outer Space (Ed Wood)
Yes, Ed Wood. If you've been following this blog for a while, you may recall that Wood's Glen or Glenda finished first in my 1953 list, so there's precedent for the picture's presence. Plan 9 isn't as consistently mad as Glenda -- that one was an inadvertent outsider-art masterpiece, whereas this one merely has bursts of Bulldada brilliance. But those bursts are transfixing enough to guarantee the picture a spot on the list. Middlebrow critics may deride it as "the worst movie ever made," but I'll take it over Ben-Hur any day.
Anyway. Of the films of 1959 that I haven't seen, the one that interests me the most is Jean-Pierre Melville's Two Men in Manhattan.