best film:  Fellini’s 8 ½ stands above the rest in 1963 but it isn’t by a wide margin. Kurosawa’s High and Low is right there as is The Leopard from Visconti. Kurosawa’s use of the full widescreen (Tohoscope) 2.35 : 1 aspect ratio is astonishing. Deep focus black and white compositions have never been stronger. Welles may not be superior to Kurosawa in this regard. As for Visconti’s work, it features a dogmatic dedication to background set design, décor, costumes, wallpaper as art- hundreds of candles in the lighting- clearly a precursor to Barry Lyndon.

1963 is Fellini at the height of his powers—the best film of the year for the second time in four years (1960- La Dolce Vita)

from High and Low- the first 56 minutes are shot essentially in one room—in his home. Kurosawa has these bodies just posing in the frame like a moving painting. You could just randomly pick any moment in the first 56 minutes—pause the frame—and print it out and hang it on your wall

High and Low may not only be 1963’s best — but Kurosawa’s as well– it clearly deserves serious consideration

At 37-minutes- Mifune is center background facing the camera—four detectives and the back of his head (a shot Kurosawa would do often in his 1960’s work that just isn’t there in the 1950’s)- two of the detectives on each side

incredible blocking in Visconti’s The Leopard– bodies staggered throughout the frame

the compositions are such an artistic feat—it would come up again and is certainly a part of Visconti’s traits as an auteur


most underrated:   Tom Jones from Tony Richardson is the most underrated film from 1963. It won the Oscar for best picture (this is a somewhat common trend as it turns out- same thing happened to Gigi)- and didn’t deserve to—but it certainly deserves a spot on the TSPDT consensus top 1000.

  • It’s British New Wave (clearly Richardson from Look Back in Anger, The Entertainer Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner) taking on some of the expressive, playful style of the French New Wave- mainly Truffaut
  • One of the best edited films of the 1960’s
  • Academy Award wins for picture, writer, director and score
  • It updates Henry Fielding’s for the modern generation—not quite like Sofia Coppola did with Marie Antoinette or Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet but in a similar vein
  • Opens with titles and dialogue-less like a silent film then the omniscient voice-over with a sense of humor winking at the audience saying things like “we’ll leave such scenes (sex scene) for decency and decorum”
  • Film debut for David Warner
  • Prestige period picture/adaptation-but we have comic organ cues for laughing, reflexivity talking to the camera
  • Great comic actors like Peter Bull and Hugh Griffith
  • Wipe editing, freeze frame, it’s wild—the narrative movies and the transitions are genius—Iris in later, very- Truffaut Shoot the Piano Player
  • editing is far superior to any of the five films nominated in that category in 1963
  • Richardson directs the hell out this thing
  • Hugh Griffith was apparently a handful on set- always drunk—I can only say that his performance is excellent- it matches the style of the editing and pace with perfection
  • The freeze frame of Susanna York looking at the camera—long silent sequence after
  • Lines like “civilization my trunk” by Griffith at a costume part wearing an elephant costume
  • Freeze-frame jump cutting as two eavesdrop on a door
  • Freeze frame final shot—years before Butch Cassidy (1969), though four years after The 400 Blows

the first of five Oscar nominations for Albert Finney in Tom Jones- Finney was one faces of the British New Wave- Saturday Night and Sunday Morning– 1960—he’s also a small role in Richardson’s The Entertainer


most overrated:  Muriel from Resnais is the most overrated film of 1963. It isn’t an artistic failure by any stretch, but it does sort of land like a thud after Hiroshima Mon Amour and Last Year At Marienbad. The TSPDT consensus has it solidly in the top 10 of 1963 and at #386 of all-time and they’re off here.

  • Similar to Hiroshima Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad in some regards (meditating on memory, a playful deconstruction of traditional plot and character motivations)—Muriel, of the Time of Return makes the tragic mistake, immeasurably unlike Resnais first two films (this being his third), of being visually unbeautiful and flat
  • Resnais’ third feature fiction film—first in color. There’s no real achievement here in color. I’m not sure the reason for the decision. This is also a disappointment given the work other great auteurs were doing in the era like Antonioni in Red Desert in 1964 and Contempt from New Wave- brethren in 1963
  • About regret, a past love, without the strong editing—Resnais is almost daring the viewer to watch this film of awkward and purposefully unfulfilling conversations
  • Opaque – — a challenge— tough to grab onto –  we go off on tangents like one character dealing with a gambling addition, another debt and loan sharks, the elusiveness of title character (there are a couple people mentioned with the name but the main being Jean-Baptiste Thiérrée’s girlfriend who we don’t really see) is that in microcosm – Resnais sets out to prove this is about deconstruction and the film acts as antithesis to tradition film and narrative but unlike Marienbad there isn’t artistry to admire throughout.


gems I want to spotlight:   If you want to laugh and get a look at the comic talents of Peter Sellars before Dr. Strangelove then The Pink Panther is a gem worth highlighting. The Great Escape is a fine example of an entertaining prison film, heist film, war film, and action film rolled into one. Lastly, Stanley Donen once again proves I may be underrating his body of work a little with Charade—which slipped into my top 10 of 1963.

Steve McQueen doing his own motorcycle work in The Great Escape

from Donen’s Charade— an essential film for Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn

a magnificent frame here from Donen’s work

trends and notables:

  • While international film is thriving (1963 is a major feather in the cap for Fellini, Godard, Kurosawa, Bergman and Visconti) it does appear that the Hollywood machine is breaking down – this big fail will pave the way for The New Hollywood takeover and renaissance which starts really in 1967. The youth culture movement has already started in the other parts of the globe and with music

a stunning pair of paintings from Godard’s Contempt

Godard is in the middle of one of the great stretches for an artist in the medium’s history– his debut was 1960, Contempt in 1963 is already his sixth feature

another stunner from Visconti’s masterpiece

seven of the best eight films of the year come from European auteurs

Cleopatra breaks the record for the most expensive movie ever made (I believe if you factor in inflation it still stands). It is also the #1 film of the year at the box office in the US—and the power couple of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton are massive stars

  • 1963 is Fellini at the height of his powers—the best film of the year for the second time in four years (1960- La Dolce Vita)

again another jaw-dropper from High and Low– Kurosawa’s four-year run to start the decade now includes four films that are either Must-See or Masterpiece level— making it fair to ask if you’d take it over his 1950’s period

At 110-minutes— another immaculate composition—the five heads in the frame facing the high rise window—pink smoke in the skyline. The use of color in a black and white film – this is before Rumble Fish and Schindler’s List obviously

There’s another pretty dazzling 30 minute sequence of cat and mouse with the kidnapper at the jazz club and in dope alley. He’s wearing these striking reflective sunglasses. The photography is so crisp

  • For the second time in seven years (1957)- Bergman releases two films in one year that Must-See grades or better

Stanley Kramer attempts to make the make the definitive comedy with the 70mm massive ensemble cast in It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. It’s 3 ½ hours and features comedians like Milton Berle, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, William Demarest, Andy Devine, Jerry Lewis and others). This is a continuation of what The Longest Day and How the West Was Won tried to do for the war and western genre in 1962.

  • There is an odd lack of auteur debuts and first archiveable films in 1963. I do think 1963 is notable for the stop motion technical skill of Ray Harryhausen in Jason and the Argonauts.
  • 1964 would be her big year with Charulata but 1963 in Ray’s The Big City is Madhabi Mukherjee’s first archiveable film in again an otherwise quiet year for firsts- both for actors and directors—not a good sign


best performance male:   It is Marcello Mastroianni’s world in 1963—year another year with a mention and the probably the performance of the year. He masterfully plays the Fellini surrogate “Guido” in 8 ½. I think Burt Lancaster has a case for the #1 slot as well. The Leopard is gigantic triumph for Lancaster. He’s absolutely perfect here—he strides around his castle, the ball at the end—such poise and pride. He’s stubborn, cunning, self-aware. It is really a three-horse race at the top though with Gunnar Björnstrand’s career-best work in Winter Light. It is an angry performance—the scene where he eviscerates Ingrid Thulin still overwhelms me after multiple revisits. Mifune gets yet another mention for High and Low. Mifune plays Gondo—an intense business executive in a moral quandary–one of his best performances and he’s in less than half the film. Albert Finney also gives one of the best performances of the year in Tom Jones. Finney plays Tom as a bounder— an adventurer and folk hero—grinning in most shots—a large performance. Lastly, Michel Piccoli in Contempt rounds out the category in 1963 sort of playing Godard himself—another film about cinema like 8 ½.

Marcello Mastroianni makes it three mentions in four years in this category– and he has three archiveable films in 1963 alone

apparently Visconti wanted Laurence Olivier for the part– but it is impossible to argue with the resulting performance from Lancaster- I always admired Lancaster’s willingness to go abroad and work with Visconti and Bertolucci

1963 is a year where there is more than one right answer for who gave the best performance of the year- Gunnar Björnstrand in Bergman’s Winter Light would be a fine choice


best performance female: To be clear, if you were to combine all of the actors into one big category for 1963 the best would all be on the male side—this isn’t always the case but certainly is in 1963. Mastroianni, Lancaster, Björnstrand, Mifune and Finney would be 1-5 for sure. But beyond that, right there with Piccoli, would be the five women listed here—many of them are in multiple films that are among the year’s best. We can start with Claudia Cardinale. She’s in both The Leopard and 8 ½ with Visconti’s film being the bulk of the reason for her mention. There’s a sublime showcase of acting talents by both Cardinale and Lancaster as they dance together near the end of the film. The next two are the Sweds: Ingrid Thulin and Gunnel Lindblom. They are both in both The Silence and Winter Light. Thulin, in particular, as Marta in Winter Light, is worthy of praise here. Lastly, Anouk Aimée and Sandra Milo both give small, but lasting performances in 8 ½. Mastroianni’s Guido is sort of our tour guide for Fellini’s world—a passive (again, brilliant) performance- so there are plenty of moments for the ensemble cast to shine.

Claudia Cardinale in both Visconti’s The Leopard (where she manages to steal scenes from Lancaster) and a brief role in Fellini’s 8 1/2

another big year for the Bergman trope of actors- Ingrid Thulin and Gunnel Lindblom in The Silence

a great pair of shots from the Swedish auteur


top 10

  1. 8 ½
  2. High and Low
  3. The Leopard
  4. Contempt
  5. Winter Light
  6. The Birds
  7. The Silence
  8. Tom Jones
  9. The Haunting
  10. Charade


a stunning matte painting or matte shot from Hitchcock’s The Birds

Samuel Fuller’s Shock Corridor– a film just missing the top 10 of the year list

another here- Paul Newman and Brandon De Wilde in Martin Ritt’s Hud

a gorgeous shot from Robert Wise’s The Haunting

from Joseph Losey’s The Servant


Archives, Directors, and Grades

55 Days at Peking- N. Ray R
8 1/2- Fellini MP
America, America- Kazan R
An Actor’s Revenge – Ichikawa R
Bay of Angels- Demy R
Black Sabbath – Bava R
Charade- Donen HR
Cleopatra – Mankiewicz R
Contempt- Godard MP
From Russia With Love – Young R
High and Low – Kurosawa MP
Hud- Ritt HR
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World- Kramer R
Jason and the Argonauts – Chaffey R
Lilies of the Field- Nelson R
Muriel, or the Time of Return – Resnais R
Shock Corridor – Fuller HR
The Big City – S. Ray R
The Birds- Hitchcock MS
The Fire Within- Malle HR
The Great Escape- J. Sturges
The Haunting- Wise HR
The Insect Woman – Imamura HR
The Leopard – Visconti MP
The Lord of the Flies – Brook R
The Nutty Professor- Jer. Lewis HR
The Organizer- Monicelli R
The Pink Panther- Edwards R
The Servant- Losey HR
The Silence- Bergman MS
This Sporting Life- L. Anderson R
Tom Jones – T. Richardson MS
Winter Light- Bergman MS/MP
Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow- De Sica R



*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