When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1961, it gave its Best Picture award to West Side Story, a musical with vivid cinematography, an excellent score, and a lousy script. I prefer these:
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 managed, impressively, to be better than both.
Written and directed by Jacques Demy
The Short Cuts of the French New Wave.
Directed by Servando González
Written by González, from a story by Jesús Marín
I'm not sure if this 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. Chronicle of a Summer
Directed by Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin
A documentary thorough enough to include a scene where the cast critiques the movie.
6. 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."
7. 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 flick inspired by The Turn of the Screw.
8. The Exiles
Written and directed by Kent MacKenzie
Life in L.A.'s Bunker Hill before the planners tore it down.
9. The Ladies Man
Directed by Jerry Lewis
Written by Lewis and Bill Richmond
If you really want to know 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.
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. That inventive spirit is on display in this surreal ABC special, which obviously owes a lot to the silent era but looks forward much more than it looks back.
11. Blast of Silence (Allen Baron)
12. Viridiana (Luis Buñuel)
13. Il Posto (Ermanno Olmi)
14. Underworld U.S.A. (Sam Fuller)
15. Accattone (Pier Paolo Pasolini)
16. Mother Joan of the Angels (Jerzy Kawalerowicz)
17. One-Eyed Jacks (Marlon Brando)
18. Last Year in Marienbad (Alain Resnais)
19. Killers on Parade (Masahiro Shinoda)
20. Zoo (Bert Haanstra)
Of the films of 1961 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in La Notte.