Finishing the Fifties
Another decade in the bag!
As of last Sunday I am done with the fifties. It has taken me two years and three month and 134 movies.
The fifties was a formative decade that in many way formed the world we live in today. The Second World War was finally behind us and the world was looking forward again. There was growth on the horizon, at least in America where the fifties still seem to be considered a golden age, but also Europe was recovering, planting the seeds of what would eventually become the European Union, heralding an age of prosperity and peace. Yeah, for the record I am strongly pro-EU.
It was a world dominated by the East-West divide and a growing fear of what lurked on the other side. Across the pond that caused the communist scare with the blacklist of anybody with a socialist inclination, which turned out to have a massive influence on the movies produced in this decade. In Europe it marked a crossroad where the Eastern countries took a different way than the West, but also a growing social consciousness that shaped the welfare system and produced movies that defied conventions.
In the world of cinema there was one thing that stood out as the game changer: the television!
Invented in the thirties, in regular operation from the forties, television became commonly available in the fifties and changed the way average people sought entertainment. No longer did cinemas have a monopoly on movies, you could just turn on your home altar and check what was on. For the film studios that meant that they had to provide something else. Color, widescreen, massive budgets, even 3D. Things that would make the cinema experience something special, give you something you could not get at home. The result is a decade that brought increasingly impressive movies. There is nothing like pressure to invigorate an industry.
Hollywood produced some of its most famous movies during this decade and was technical and financially way ahead of the rest of the world. Europe was more like a laboratory of new ideas, often hit or miss, but usually interesting. However, surprisingly, the country that shined on the movie sky in this decade was Japan. Kurosawa, Mizuguchi and Ozu are just a few of the directors the West came to know in this decade.
Anyway, it is time to present the ten movies of the decade I loved the most. As it turned out that was a very difficult exercise. When I was down to twenty movies I had a list of movies that would all qualify and it was a painful process to reduce it even further.
Yet, ten it must be. In chronological order:
1. Sunset Boulevard
A noir classic that never gets old. Last Sunday I went to the cinema to watch “Sing” with my wife and son and, lo and behold, it is still being referenced! Amazing movie.
2. Singin’ in the Rain
I am not your average musical fan, but “Singin’ in the Rain” is simply the best musical ever. Not placing it on this list would be criminal.
3. Roman Holiday
A sweet romantic comedy about a princess that falls in love in Rome, how on Earth did that make my top ten? Well, if you add that the princess is Audrey Hepburn and the script was made by Dalton Trumbo I believe you have your explanation.
4. Rear Window
Why two Hitchcocks on my top ten? Because including every one of them would exclude everything else. I have always loved “Rear Window” and somewhere between the economy of the set and the messing with our heads this is one of Hitchcock’s best movies.
5. The Seven Samurai (Shichinin no Samurai)
“The Seven Samurai” may well be the best movie ever made and I love every minute of it. Kurosawa was more versatile than many people know, but this is why he is remembered as the master of the samurai movie.
6. The Searchers
In a decade madly in love with westerns “The Searchers” stand out as grittier, tougher and more intense than any of its contemporaries. It feels modern in every sense.
7. The Bridge on the River Kwai
Again a top movie of the decade that has stood the test of time. I watch it every few years and love it every time. How can this movie not be on my top ten?
8. My Uncle (Mon Oncle)
This may be a surprising choice, but it was the pleasant surprise of the decade. Hulot was a master of physical comedy and “Mon Oncle” is hysterically funny. What more do you want?
9. Some Like it Hot
Another classic that has stood the test of time. More than fifty years later this is still better than any comedy you can find in the cinema. Wilder was a genius!
10. North by Northwest
Maybe Hitchcock’s best movie ever, certainly his most complete. This movie have to be in top ten.
The rest of my twenty best movies will have to be honorable mentions, but they are still amazing movies. I can recommend every one of them.
To Live (Ikiru)
Bad Day at Black Rock
The Night of the Hunter
A Man Escaped (Un Condamne a Mort S'est Echappe ou le Vent Souffle ou il Veut)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Paths of Glory
12 Angry Men
Touch of Evil