When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked at 1961, it gave its Best Picture award to West Side Story, a musical whose fine cinematography and score are undermined by an aggravating script. I prefer these:
1. Yojimbo Directed by Akira Kurosawa Written by Kurosawa and Ryûzô Kikushima, from a novel by Dashiell Hammett
It was based on Red Harvest, it inspired A Fistful of Dollars, and it manages, remarkably, to be better than both.
2. Lola Written and directed by Jacques Demy
The Short Cuts of the French New Wave.
3. Yanco Directed by Servando González Written by González, from a story by Jesús Marín
I don't know if this brilliant but barely-known Mexican movie is available with English subtitles, but that doesn't really matter: There's hardly any dialogue, and when the characters do occasionally talk the words aren't all that important. The movie's sound, on the other hand, is very important indeed.
4. The Fabulous Baron Munchausen Directed by Karel Zeman Written by Zerman, Josef Kainar, and Jiří Brdečka, from a story cycle by Rudolf Erich Raspe
This film feels like it's set in a Cornell box.
5. The Hustler Directed by Robert Rossen Written by Rossen and Sidney Carroll, from a novel by Walter Tevis
"You have the best excuse in the world for losing. No trouble losing when you got a good excuse. Winning, that can be heavy on your back, too, like a monkey."
6. The Innocents Directed by Jack Clayton Written by William Archibald, Truman Capote, and John Mortimer, from a novel by Henry James
A slow-burning horror movie inspired by The Turn of the Screw.
7. The Exiles Written and directed by Kent MacKenzie
Life in Bunker Hill, Los Angeles, before the planners tore it down.
8. The Ladies Man Directed by Jerry Lewis Written by Lewis and Bill Richmond
If you wonder why the French love Jerry Lewis, this is the picture to watch. The sets could have come from a Tati film, the story shatters more narrative conventions than anything by Godard, and tracking all the Freudian undercurrents could serve as a cineastes' full employment act. Beyond that, it's pretty damn funny. I could do without a couple of sappy scenes with Pat Stanley, but otherwise this is Lewis in peak form.
9. Eugene Written and directed by Ernie Kovacs and Joseph Behar
Kovacs was the first genius of TV comedy, experimenting with television the way an earlier generation of clown-artists experimented with film. You can see that inventive spirit at work in this surreal ABC special, which obviously owes a lot to the silent era but looks forward much more than it looks back.
10. Blast of Silence Written and directed by Allen Baron
11. Viridiana (Luis Buñuel) 12. Il Posto (Ermanno Olmi) 13. Underworld U.S.A. (Sam Fuller) 14. Accattone (Pier Paolo Pasolini) 15. A Woman is a Woman (Jean-Luc Godard) 16. One-Eyed Jacks (Marlon Brando) 17. Last Year in Marienbad (Alain Resnais) 18. Zoo (Bert Haanstra) 19. Substitute (Dusan Vukotic) 20. Nowy Janko Muzykant (Jan Lenica)
Of the motion pictures of 1961 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Spike Milligan Offers a Series of Unrelated Incidents at Current Market Value.