When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1958, it gave its Best Picture award to Gigi, a musical so mediocre that even Maurice Chevalier couldn't save it. In fact—and I say this in sorrow, as a Chevalier fan—he wasn't very good in it himself. Maybe if they'd cast Harpo Marx hiding a phonograph under his coat instead...
1. Touch of Evil
Directed by Orson Welles
Written by Welles, from a novel by Whit Masterson
"A policeman's job is only easy in a police state."
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Samuel Taylor and Alec Coppel, from a novel by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac
I'm not exactly in the minority here. Six decades after the fact, most critics are going to pick either this or Touch of Evil as the best American movie of 1958. So I'll just take this opportunity to remind you that the Oscar went to Gigi.
3. Ivan the Terrible, Part 2
Written and directed by Sergei Eisenstein
Completed in 1946, but suppressed by Stalinist censorship until the Khrushchev thaw.
4. Mon Oncle
Directed by Jacques Tati
Written by Tati, Jacques Lagrange, and Jean L'Hote
Slapstick vs. technocracy.
5. Elevator to the Gallows
Directed by Louis Malle
Written by Malle and Roger Nimier, from a novel by Noël Calef
By the way: Who took those older photos that were "lying around" at the end? Better not to think too hard about that, I suppose.
6. Man of the West
Directed by Anthony Mann
Written by Reginald Rose, from a novel by Will C. Brown
The last entry in Mann's series of layered, psychologically complex westerns.
7. Murder by Contract
Directed by Irving Lerner
Written by Ben Simcoe
"There are a lot of people around that would like to see lots of other people die a fast death, only they can't see to it themselves. They got conscience, religion, families. They're afraid of punishment here or hereafter. Me, I can't be bothered with any of that nonsense. I look at it like a good business. The risk is high, but so is the profit."
8. Broadway by Light
Directed by William Klein
An abstract tour of Broadway.
9. Diary of a Pregnant Woman
Written and directed by Agnès Varda
One of Varda's favorite subjects is her own neighborhood in Paris. Here she looks at it from the perspective of a pregnant woman—that would be Varda herself—as she goes about her day, takes in the sights, and sometimes lets her imagination run wild.
10. Ashes and Diamonds
Directed by Andrzej Wajda
Written by Jerzy Andrzejewski, from his novel
Another product of the Khrushchev thaw, or more precisely the Gomulka thaw, which is what you get when you combine Khrushchevism from above with labor unrest from below. The film's ambiguous attitude toward the Communists is handled delicately, but there's no doubt about where a lot of the Polish audience's sympathies lay.
11. Bridges-Go-Round (Shirley Clarke)
12. The Magician (Ingmar Bergman)
13. Endless Desire (Shohei Imamura)
14. Glass (Bert Haanstra)
15. The Big "O" (Carmen D'Avino)
16. A Movie (Bruce Conner)
17. Chansons Sans Paroles (Yoram Gross)
18. Du Côté de la Côte (Agnès Varda)
19. Le Beau Serge (Claude Chabrol)
20. The Fountain of Youth (Orson Welles)
Of the films of 1958 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in The Fabulous World of Jules Verne and I Want to Live!