Thursday, 5 January 2017

Finishing the fifties

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)

High Noon

Bad Day at Black Rock

The Night of the Hunter

The Ladykillers

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



  1. Can't quarrel with any of your picks! It was a fantastic decade. I'm pretty excited about 1960 as well.

    1. Indeed. It was terrible to pick only ten movies.
      1960 is getting a slow start. Rocco and His Brothers is almost three hours long and there is like five hours or so of extra material.
      On the List 1960 is a year of international films. I think I wil get to every corner of the world.

    2. For some reason Rocco, which I rated 10/10 when I saw it several years ago, is not on Netflix or any of my streaming services and the DVD is out of print. Amazing! Looks like I will have to break down and buy it.

    3. Meant to say break down and buy a used DVD.

    4. My version is the Eureka version. It is a double DVD and seems to be good value. Recommended.

  2. While I object to where you put North by Northwest, I'm happy to see it in the top ten.

    Actually, I think I like all of the movies you named here.

    1. Well, the list is chronological, not according to preference. I have not decided on a ranking, I simply could not, only that all ten qualifies to top ten. On any given day each one of them could be my winner of the decade, including North by Northwest.
      What really pains me is that I could not include 1 to 20 in my top 10. That took a while.

    2. Okay...I feel better about it's placement now. I missed the line (that I see now) about chronological order.

  3. So happy you mentioned the wonderful films from Japan from this time. And completely agree with your top ten, (though one of them I haven't yet seen!).

    And yes, Wilder is a genuis.

    1. I have yet to be disappointed with a wilder movie. He always delivers and he was so friggin' versatile.
      Japanese 1950'ies movies were quite a discovery. Lot of good stuff there.

  4. Great choices, I couldn't fault a one of them.

    I really like Singin' in the Rain and it is justly beloved and venerated but I just can't embrace it as wholly as many. Can't even put my finger on why exactly, maybe the praise has just given it a bit of overkill feeling to me. As much as I think it's a fine film there are other 50's musicals I love more, for instance I adore the Ava Gardner Show Boat much more though it's not as technically proficient a film. However I feel about the film though my love for Debbie Reynolds is immense.

    There's so many ways to look at a top ten. The most technically proficient, the ones you love the most, the most influential etc. Sometimes they converge but often not.

    I did one with the ten (plus five extras) that I think have stood the test of time and stayed relatable. I love them all even if I had to leave off some that I love equally and probably watch more often, titles like The Big Heat, Woman's World, the Judy Garland version of A Star is Born, but don't have quite the same agency. I followed your lead and did them by year.

    Top 10:
    All About Eve
    Sunset Blvd.
    Ace in the Hole
    The Wages of Fear
    Rear Window
    All That Heaven Allows
    The Searchers
    Wild Strawberries
    Some Like it Hot

    The Breaking Point
    In a Lonely Place
    The Lusty Men
    Night of the Hunter
    A Face in the Crowd

  5. A top ten would always be subjective, no matter how many objective arguments to give. Exceptions are of course budget and tickets sold, but if you want to rate Best pictures that is just a fraction of the story. Therefore the only kind of rating that makes sense is that of personal preference. The good thing is that nobody can argue against it because it is *your* personal preference.
    The movies on your list all have something going for them, but not neccesarily my picks.
    The thing with Singing in the Rain is that I actually do not like Gene Kelly musicals at all. All that dancing does nothing for me and the picture they paint are kitch of the worst kind. Western musicals are even worse. My taste goes much more in the direction of A Star is Born, but Singing in the Rain goes across all that and it all works, even the extended dance sequence at the end that Kelly never could keep out of his movies. Overrated, maybe, but that goes for all his movies. In my opinion.

  6. well done on getting this far with your project. I've seen 19 of your top 20 of the 1950s(except The Ladykillers)

    I'll play along and here are my top 10 of the 1950s (today), unranked. Not necessarily the best or most acclaimed, the ones I consider favorites:

    Imitation of Life
    On the Waterfront
    The Naked Spur
    The Wages of Fear
    North by Northwest
    A Streetcar Named Desire
    A Place in the Sun
    Ace in the Hole
    The Day the Earth Stood Still

    10 HMs;
    Mr. Hulot's Holiday
    Ordet (The Word)
    Magnificent Obsession
    Ben Hur
    Café Paradis
    The Defiant Ones
    Touch of Evil
    Wild Strawberries
    12 Angry Men

  7. There are so many great movies in this decade that it is hard to make a pick. I would have loved to include Ordet and Ace in the Hole, but that would have been at the expense of something else.