When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1956, it gave its Best Picture award to Around the World in 80 Days, a fairly entertaining but not particularly memorable adaptation of Jules Verne. Here are some films I like more:
1. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Directed by Don Siegel
Written by Daniel Mainwaring, from a novel by Jack Finney
The fact this works as a metaphor both for Communism and for McCarthyism tells you something about the era.
Directed by Satyajit Ray
Written by Ray, from two novels by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay
What feels liberating for the son can seem selfish to the mother. Ray shows the truth in both perspectives.
3. Baby Doll
Directed by Elia Kazan
Written by Tennessee Williams, from his play
"Mrs. Meighan, your husband sweats more than any man I know and now I can understand why."
4. Night and Fog
Directed by Alain Resnais
Written by Jean Cayrol
The standard against which to measure all other Holocaust films.
5. The Searchers
Directed by John Ford
Written by Frank Nugent, from a novel by Alan Le May
Invasion of the Body Snatchers: The Western.
6. Death in the Garden
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Written by Buñuel, Luis Alcoriza, and Raymond Queneau, from a novel by José-André Lacour
Buñuel had the kind of politics where the oppressive state is venal, so you sympathize with the revolutionaries; but the revolutionaries are kind of venal too; and the kindly priest who means well is also pretty unbearable; and the charming rogue who knows the score is an unbelievable asshole.
7. Crazed Fruit
Directed by Kō Nakahira
Written by Shintaro Ishihara, from his novel
Starts like a teen sex comedy, ends like a noir.
8. Bob le flambeur
Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
Written by Melville and Auguste Le Breton, from a story by Melville
"With a really good lawyer, I could sue for damages."
9. A Man Escaped
Written and directed by Robert Bresson
One of the great jailbreak movies.
10. Number 10
Directed by Harry Smith
I swear I didn't go out of my way to put this one in the #10 slot. Not way out of my way, anyway.
11. Seven Men from Now (Budd Boetticher)
12. Toute la mémoire du monde (Alain Resnais)
13. Mirror Animations (Harry Smith)
14. The Man Who Knew Too Much (Alfred Hitchcock)
15. The Wormwood Star (Curtis Harrington)
16. The Silent World (Jacques Cousteau, Louis Malle)
17. O Dreamland (Lindsay Anderson)
18. Symphonie Mécanique (Jean Mitry)
19. Bigger Than Life (Nicholas Ray)
20. The Wrong Man (Alfred Hitchcock)
Speaking of The Silent World, I've got to get something off my chest. At one point, by accident, Cousteau and his men mortally injure a baby whale. They then kill it to put it out of its misery. Some sharks show up to eat the carcass, and so the crew decides to avenge the whale’s death by slaughtering the sharks, even though it’s the crew that killed the damn thing and the sharks are just there to feed. What the hell, people?
(By the way: All this time I thought The Seventh Seal came out in 1956. But apparently it's from 1957. So don't ask me where The Seventh Seal is. We'll get to it.)
Of the films of 1956 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Elena and Her Men.