best film: Early Summer from Ozu. The Japanese master made one of the best films of 1949 (Late Spring) and two years later he improves upon it ever so slightly (he’d do the same thing again two years later here with Tokyo Story in 1953). One noticeable major advance in Ozu’s style is his heavy use of Japanese Shoji panel doors/walls to frame and layer his mise-en-scene. It’s a thing of beauty that I haven’t read previously from any critic. Early Spring is the middle film in the Noriko trilogy (Late Spring the first one, Tokyo Story the third).
most underrated: It is Wyler again in this category with Detective Story. Welles’ Otello is ranked at least 400 slots too low by the consensus and Early Summer is another option, too. On top of being the best film of the year the TSPDT consensus has Ozu’s work at #515 of all-time and I have it in my top 100 (#80). Yet, Detective Story can’t find a home at all on the consensus critic’s list (even in the expanded top 2000) so that’s ultimately my choice for the category here for 1951.
most overrated: Miracle in Milan from De Sica at #544 is far too lofty for me. My disclaimer here is that I’ve seen the film once—and after one pass, I thought it was a fine film, but couldn’t help but feel tremendously disappointed that he had taken such a stylistic vacation from his neo-realist roots. This is a fantasy film.
gem I want to spotlight: I’m cheating and picking three films here that I couldn’t find a spot for in my top 10 but are films are go back to very often. The Thing From Another World is inferior to the 1982 remake by Carpenter but it is wildly entertaining I’d be fine putting it in the back half of any year’s top 10. A Christmas Carol from Charles Dickens has been adapted to the screen countless times and this is easily the best version and I come back to it over during Christmas. Many fine actors have tried to top it (and come before it) but Alastair Sim is the best Scrooge. Lastly, I’m a big admirer of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland and think it is a perfect marriage of source material and adapted film. It’s underrated in the Disney pantheon and doesn’t get mentioned often enough with the likes of the films from Disney’s early heyday (1930’s/40’s), the resurgence in the 90’s, and Dreamworks era beyond that.
trends and notables:
- The headline for 1951 is the continued dominance of Japan. For 1949 Late Spring could have easily been the best film of the year, 1950 was Kurosawa, 1951 it is Ozu… and.. spoiler alert—but this will continue on in the early 1950’s
- Secondly to Ozu topping the year in cinema is Marlon Brando and the shift in the paradigm for acting technique. Clift (here as well in 1951 with a great performance) may have started it—but Brando in the early 1950’s is the straw that stirs the drink. It is method acting, emotion over technique, and heavy improvisation. Brando in Streetcar is important.
- I still have some work to do on his 1940’s films but as of 2020 when writing this 1951 film (Summer Interlude) marks the first archiveable film for Ingmar Bergman. He would basically go on to show up every year in the yearly archives for the next 30 years (with Saraband following later). He makes a strong claim to the title of “greatest director of all-time”.
- 1951 is an important year for color cinema. 1950 had zero near the top of the year and 1951 gives us three of the top eleven films of hte year including works from Renoir, Minnelli (these two really use the growing technical innovation as an artistic tool) and Huston (who made a great film but really didn’t).
- 1951 marks the end of The Archers – Tales of Hoffman is their last archiveable film together after an absolutely dominant run. Powell would be back with Peeping Tom in 1960 but this is still worth noting.
- With all due respect to Olivier– Welles’ Othello is the greatest Shakespeare adaptation to date in 1951– jaw-dropping visuals
- Wilder – another top 10 and another bitterly cynical film- Ace in the Hole is magnificent
- It doesn’t quite rise to the level of Bergman’s importance- but 1951 also marks the first archiveable film for Budd Boetticher (Bullfighter and the Lady)
- 1951 also give us the debut of a stunning beautiful and stunningly talented Audrey Hepburn in The Lavender Hill Mob – that film also marks the first trip to the archives for Robert Shaw as well
best performance male: As I mention above in the trends section (it is rare an acting performance is worthy of a trend but this most definitely is) Marlon Brando in Streetcar is a watershed moment. His work here is genius and it dwarfs the others in this year (and most performances of any other year for that matter). Having said that, Robert Walker is chilling in Strangers on a Train. Kirk Douglas gets extra points here for being so commanding (and downright nasty) in both Ace in the Hole and Detective Story. These are very lead-performance driven films—and both are in the top seven of the year. I think there’s enough room here to also praise Montgomery Clift for his work in A Place in the Sun. He humanizes George Eastman— a difficult task. Karl Malden also deserves some love for his work alongside Brando in Streetcar. Malden is always working in the shadow of great performances (Brando here and in On the Waterfront, or George C. Scott in Patton) but that’s no excuse to overlook Malden’s talent and effort.
best performance female: Setsuko Hara takes top honors here in 1951 for her work in Early Summer and continued collaboration with Ozu in the Noriko trilogy. Her quiet style makes for a perfect match for Ozu—there’s a heartbreaking scene where Hara accepts the marriage proposal from her future mother in law. The other four actors worth mentioning in this category are actually split between just two seperate films. Vivian Leigh is worth mentioning. It may seem like a practiced performance compared to Brando (what isn’t?) but she’s good at being so irksome in this film and it just has more weight to it then the wonderful, but smaller performances like Kim Hunter in the same film and both poor Shelley Winters and Elizabeth Taylor (absolutely luminous) in A Place in the Sun.
- Early Summer
- Strangers on a Train
- A Streetcar Named Desire
- Detective Story
- A Place in the Sun
- The River
- Ace in the Hole
- An American in Paris
- Diary of a Country Priest
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|A Christmas Carol- Desmond Hurst||R|
|A Place in the Sun- Stevens||HR/MS|
|A Streetcar Named Desire- Kazan||MS|
|Ace in the Hole- Wilder||HR|
|Alice In Wonderland- Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson|
|Along the Great Divide – Walsh||R|
|An American In Paris- Minnelli||HR|
|Brave Bulls- Rossen|
|Bullfighter and the Lady- Boetticher||R|
|Death of a Salesman- Benedek|
|Detective Story- Wyler||MS|
|Early Summer – Ozu||MP|
|Fixed Bayonets! – Fuller||R|
|His Kind of Woman – Farrow||R|
|Miracle in Milan- De Sica||HR|
|On Dangerous Ground- N. Ray||R|
|Othello – Welles||MS|
|Outcast of the Island- Reed||R|
|Pandora and the Flying Dutchman- Lewin||R|
|Quo Vadis- LeRoy|
|Royal Wedding- Donen||R|
|Show Boat- Sidney||R|
|Strangers on a Train- Hitchcock||MS/MP|
|Summer Interlude- Bergman||R/HR|
|The African Queen- J. Huston||HR|
|The Day the Earth Stood Still- Wise||R|
|The Diary of a Country Priest- Bresson||HR|
|The Enforcer- Windust||R|
|The Idiot – Kurosawa||R|
|The Lavender Hill Mob- Crichton||R|
|The Man in the White Suit-Mackendrick||R|
|The Mating Season- Leisen||R|
|The Prowler- Losey||R|
|The Red Badge of Courage- J. Huston||R|
|The River- Renoir||HR|
|The Steel Helmet – Fuller||R/HR|
|The Tales of Hoffman- Powell, Pressburger|
|The Thing From Another World- Nyby, Hawks||HR|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-See- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives