The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Saturday, January 16, 2010
THE HALF-CENTURY MARK: In the last few weeks I've listed my favorite films of
1999, 1989, 1979, and 1969. Clever readers may have anticipated what comes next.

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?

Honorable mentions:

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.

posted by Jesse 9:09 PM
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