When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1954, it gave its Best Picture award to On the Waterfront. That movie made it onto my list, but it isn't at the top:
1. Rear Window
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by John Michael Hayes, from a story by Cornell Woolrich
The first time I saw this, I thought it was a comedy. The second time, I thought it was a thriller. The third time, I mostly thought the Jimmy Stewart character was kind of creepy. I was right each time.
2. Seven Samurai
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Written by Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, and Hideo Oguni
"Since it's impossible to kill them all, I usually run away."
3. Johnny Guitar
Directed by Nicholas Ray
Written by Ben Maddow, from a novel by Roy Chanslor
One good thing about the films of the '50s is how weird the westerns could be.
4. Wuthering Heights
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Written by Buñuel, Julio Alejandro, Dino Maiuri, and Pierre Unik, from a novel by Emily Brontë
I would not be unhappy if every adaptation of a highbrow literary classic was made by a surrealist slumming in the Mexican-melodrama market.
5. On the Waterfront
Directed by Elia Kazan
Written by Budd Schulberg
There's a strong drama beating beneath all that political controversy.
6. Sansho the Bailiff
Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
Written by Fuji Yahiro and Yoshikata Yoda, from a story by Mori Ōgai
"Humans have little sympathy for things that don't directly concern them. They're ruthless."
7. Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome
Written and directed by Kenneth Anger
Aleister Crowley's home movies.
8. Illusion Travels by Streetcar
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Written by Luis Alcoriza
Let me reiterate my fondness for Buñuel's Mexican movies. They're sort of a crazed populist cousin to his arthouse stuff.
9. Track of the Cat
Directed by William Wellman
Written by A.I. Bezzerides, from a novel by William Van Tilburg Clark
Another offbeat western, though here the western elements mostly serve as a shell for a '50s family psychodrama. Beulah Bondi steals every scene she's in.
10. La Strada
Directed by Federico Fellini
Written by Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, and Ennio Flaiano, from a story by Fellini and Pinelli
It's uneven, as Fellini often is, but the good parts are good indeed.
If that last blurb sounds a little unenthusiastic, well, in a better year La Strada would be down in the honorable mentions, not the top 10. Or maybe this isn't a subpar year; maybe I just haven't watched the right pictures from it. I like a lot of movies released in 1954, from Beat the Devil to Robinson Crusoe and from Senso to Sabrina. But that substantial supply of good movies is not matched, as far as I've seen, by a strong supply of great ones. So I'll skip the honorable-mentions list this time.
The operative term there, of course, is "as far as I've seen." Of the films of 1954 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Journey to Italy.