best film: Rashomon from Kurosawa. Rashomon is a masterpiece on at least two levels: the use of deep focus photography combined with character blocking compositions (that’s one– which rivals Citizen Kane– which is funny because Kane is also the film the subjective, unreliable narration, flashback structure is compared to) – and that aspect of Rashomon is probably overlooked because of the shock wave sent from the film’s audacious formal storytelling structure.
most underrated: La Ronde from Ophuls. Ophuls’ important period of work after returning to Europe from Hollywood begins with this film and it is completely underrated by the TSPDT consensus. They can’t find a spot for it in the top 1000 (they have it at #1295). I’ve got it easily in the top 500 (#318) so there’s a healthy disconnect here. The vignettes in the film are woven in a tremendous pattern and the first one, especially, features some of the best camera movement to date in cinema’s history.
most overrated: Rare for me with his work– but I do think John Ford’s Wagon Master is a tad overrated at #549 on the TSPDT consensus list. I’ve only seen it once, which is never enough for an auteur of Ford’s stature—but for me now I’d have it well outside the top 1000.
gem I want to spotlight: Gun Crazy from Joseph H. Lewis is a near masterpiece that I don’t think many cinephiles have seen. The narrative zips by, the sexualized fixation/fetishizing of violence/gun is an interesting layer to the film, and Lewis’ decision to shoot the entire robbery from the back of the car in a dazzling three and a half minute long-take may be the single greatest highlight from cinema in 1950.
trends and notables:
- A very strong top 10- if you have a year where The Asphalt Jungle is #10 and you can’t find room for Stromboli—that’s a good year
- The depth is there as well- 1950 marks the most films in the archives to date for any one single year (44 total films)—and for just the second time there are over 40 films (1948 being the other). We’d stay pretty steady over 40 films for the rest of the art form’s short history (pandemic year 2020 remains to be seen)
- Mentioned above in the “underrated” section but 1950 marks Ophuls starting to work in France- which is far and away his most artistically rich period. He started his career in Germany where he was born, worked in the US from 1947-1949—but it is from 1950-1955 (dies young at age 54 in 1957) where he does his best work—four of his best five films (ending MS, MP, MP, MP)
- Anthony Mann starts his stretch of westerns after getting his start in film noir—these are part of the famous “psychological westerns’ that would become a trend in the 1950’s (before revisionism in the 1960’s). Jimmy Stewart is a big part of these for sure- Winchester 73’ is the first of eight collaborations between the two. Most know Stewart for his Hitchcock and Capra collaborations- but he actually made more films with Mann
- An incredible 20 archiveable films in the last 17 years for Ford which is astounding and with two in 1948 and two in 1950 that’s 5 in 3 years
- 1950 marks the first of four auteur/muse collaborations between Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman (Stromboli)— their partnership would make more scandal headlines than box office—but it was certainly a great stretch of work for both – it adds a second movement to both of their careers after an astonishing 1940’s for each
- It is not his debut or his first archiveable film—but it has been twenty years since 1930’s L’Age d’Or—so 1950 is a big year for Luis Bunuel with Los Olvidados (and an important year for realism as Bunuel starts to question the form and riff on the subgenre/movement)– for the next 25-30 years starting in 1950 he’d be one of the greatest auteurs working
- The debut film for Antonioni- Story of a Love Affair– the first archiveable film as well for Jean-Pierre Melville- Les Enfants Terribles.
- There is a long list of actors in 1950 making their first archiveable films. There is no actor more important than Marlon Brando—a true debut in The Men from Zinnemann (if you get to be the lead actor in a Zinnemann film in 1950 for your actual debut you’ve caught some people’s eyes prior). Marilyn Monroe makes her first two appearances in the archives (in two top 10 films of the year nonetheless)—small roles in both All About Eve and The Asphalt Jungle (neither a true debut—but she certainly turns your head in both). Others making their first stint in the archives are the great Sidney Poitier (No Way Out), Simone Signoret (La Ronde), (Jack Palance (Panic in the Streets), Charlton Heston (Dark City) and Tony Curtis (Winchester 73’)
best performance male: By a slight edge I’m going to give the best male performance of the year to William Holden in Sunset Boulevard. He’s a historically underrated actor and his Joe Gillis character is as complex as he’d ever play in his career. His sardonic voice-over from the afterlife is hard to top. If it were on a per-minute basis I’d be very tempted to give the best performance of the year to Mifune in Rashômon who absolutely explodes off the screen at you. Other deserving actors this year are Sterling Hayden—in his career best work in The Asphalt Jungle, and stalwarts Jimmy Stewart and Bogart in Winchester ’73 and in A Lonely Place respectively. These two all-time greats that are impossible to keep off this short list every year it seems.
best performance female: Bette Davis’ work in All About Eve is ever so slightly superior to Gloria Swanson (both in iconic career-defining roles) in Sunset Boulevard. This is Davis’ crowning achievement and with the hindsight of history, neither Swanson nor All About Eve co-star Anne Baxter (also getting a mention here) can overshadow her brilliance. I’d probably throw Gloria Grahame in third between Swanson and Baxter actually for her work opposite Bogart in In A Lonely Place. She is calm, measured in her performance….and kudos to her for not getting blown off the screen by Bogart’s ticking time bomb character.
- Sunset Boulevard
- Los Olvidados
- La Ronde
- All About Eve
- Gun Crazy
- In A Lonely Place
- Winchester ’73
- The Asphalt Jungle
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|All About Eve– Mankiewicz||MS|
|Annie Get Your Gun- Sidney||R|
|Black Hand- Thorpe||R|
|Born to Be Bad- N. Ray||R|
|Born Yesterday- Cukor||R|
|Broken Arrow- Daves||R|
|Cinderella – Geronimi, W. Jackson, Luske||R|
|Cyrano de Bergerac- Gordon||R|
|Dark City- Dieterle|
|Father of the Bride- Minnelli||R|
|Gun Crazy- Joe Lewis||MS|
|In a Lonely Place- N. Ray||MS|
|King Solomon’s Mines- Bennett, Marton||R|
|Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye- Douglas|
|La Ronde- Ophuls||MS|
|Les Enfants Terribles- Melville|
|Los Olvidados- Bunuel||MP|
|Night and the City-Dassin|
|No Man of Her Own- Leisen|
|No Way Out – Mankiewicz||R|
|Panic in the Streets- Kazan||R|
|Rio Grande- Ford||R|
|Scandal – Kurosawa||R|
|Stars in My Crown – Tourneur||R|
|Story of a Love Affair – Antonioni||R|
|Sunset Boulevard- Wilder||MP|
|The Asphalt Jungle- J. Huston||HR/MS|
|The Baron of Arizona– Fuller||R|
|The Breaking Point- Curtiz||R|
|The Flowers of St. Francis- Rossellini||HR|
|The Furies- A. Mann||R/HR|
|The Gunfighter- H. King||HR|
|The Lawless- Losey|
|The Men- Zinnemann||R|
|Treasure Island – Haskin||R|
|Union Station- Mate|
|Wagon Master- Ford||R|
|Where the Sidewalk Ends – Preminger||R|
|Winchester 73′- A. Mann||MS|
*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
Swanson didn’t win the Oscar Judy Holliday did.
@Randy– thanks- I cleaned it up. I always forget that. Appreciate the help.
Great list once again! I want to talk about Sunset BLVD which is a MASTERPIECE. Its the gem I want to spotlight . Film noir and script writing perfected
You mention that Tarkovsky,Malick,Kubrick and Coppola looked to make the best film of all time just about every time they set out to make a movie. (I think you mentioned it on Tarkovsky’s page. not sure). Wilder may not be there but his run from 1944-1960 (especially with double indemnity, sunset blvd, witness for the prosecution, some like it hot and the apartment and more) is considered to be remarkable by most critics. I think very highly of it to.
I love screenwriting and there is no one better than Wilder. I believe that Wilder is DEFINITELY top 20. His trademarks (from my observations) are:
Frequently his films began with narration
Feature characters who try to change their identity
Low key lighting (noirish)
Women often represented as dangerous and manipulative
Elegant dramatisation of character through action
Lust and greed
Sweet and sour dialogue
Often cynical but humourous.
His movies include great acting and lighting (cinematography)
Great ending lines (closer than that walter, all right DeMille, I am ready for my close-up, just shut up and deal, nobody’s perfect etc)
You’ve mentioned that you think that Wilder is a good screenwriter but not a good director so you don’t think THAT highly of him. I guess I understand your point of view. I still like his movies A LOT….
@Azman– thanks for the praise on list. To be clear, I adore Wilder (seen 23 of his films, 20 are in the archives)- he’s is a great director, just not one of the absolute greatest (and I have him 39th and that’s still very high praise). 16th or 20th is too high for Wilder.
Im looking for something fun to watch.
I’m thinking of watching The Asphalt Jungle. Is it accessible and fun? Is it somewhat engrossing with good cinematic techniques? Would you recommend it?
@Azman- if I had to guess I think you’d really joy it. The mood is dark– so I hesitate to call it “fun”- but it is certainly a great film, very engaging story. Well done all around.
@Azman, this comment is because you were not answered in 1934? i saw your comment, but i did not find many recommendations.
Here i found a list, but you’ve probably already seen them all.
No I left the comment to see if Drake recommends The Asphalt Jungle as a light fun movie to watch. I was asking for his opinion.
Thanks for the list
I couldn’t find Asphalt Jungle or D.O.A so i decided to watch in a lonely place instead as my 1950 noir.
It’s greatly written- nice story, very good dialouge. Well lit noir. Brilliantly acted (Bogart is absolutely stunning in his role- superb here. He is so, so good). A lot of good black and white shots.
Bogart’s character is complex. This movie is a great character study. Noir often has flawed heros. Bogart is no expection (this is a very unique noir in some ways too). His character is lonely, angry and violent a lot of times. The only time he was happy was with his girl, Laurel (Gloria Grahame is brilliant in her role – maybe deserves a mention). However his anger and rage and violence causes Laurel to leave him which tears him apart – very heartbreaking stuff. I even feel a little bad for Bogart because towards the end he promises Laurel not to be violent but it is too late. A great deal of depth and emotion in this movie.
A brilliant noir but an even better romance (one of the best I’ve seen recently) with such a devastingly nice ending and some great scenes (the beach scene, the kiss scene, the bar/restaurant scene towards the end, the suspensful interrogations, the car scene the ending and more).
“I was born when you kissed me. I died when you left me. I lived a few weeks while you loved me.” is one of the best movie lines there is. simple and so effective. The line repeats – good form and repition. One of the best movie lines.
@drake (and other readers of the blog) what are some reasons you have this movie as a MS?
Hey Drake, how long is a film supposed to be in order to be considered a short?
I’ve heard anything longer than 20 minutes is a feature film.
If so, I’ve a film to recommend that I saw today called A song of Love 1950. It’s such a good black and white silent.
@Azman- thanks for the recommendation. I’d consider anything that length a short.
Great update to the page!
I really like Sunset Boulevard and In A Lonely Place from this year. They would be very near the top for the year imo.
Keep up the great work! I’m not trying to sound like a broken record, but the updates are excellent and keep the site up to date!
Unfortunately, there are very few years in which one can say the two greatest performances were given by actresses. However, I believe 1950 to be an example of this with Gloria Swanson’s haunting portrayal of a fading film star in Sunset Boulevard and Bette Davis’ less extravagant take on a similar character in All About Eve. Some may disagree. Are there other years where this is true? 1996 seems fairly certain. I wonder about 1928, 2010, 1939, 2004, and others, (note that I have not seen many of the most notable films and performances from these years) though I lean towards no on some of those.
@Graham- I disagree. I think the performance of the year is William Holden in Sunset Blvd. followed by Davis and Swanson.
@Drake, Is Jean Marais in Orpheus worthy of a mention? I think he deserves a mention as he was Cocteau’s muse and did profound work with him.
@M*A*S*H- It has been quite a spell since my last viewing- I’ll have to check it out to confirm and appreciate Marais’ work