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Best Films of 1950
Best Films of 1951
Best Films of 1952
Best Films of 1953
Best Films of 1954



Best Films of 1955
Best Films of 1956
Best Films of 1957
Best Films of 1958
Best Films of 1959



The Gunfighter
The Steel Helmet
High Noon
The End
A Man Escaped



BEST FILMS OF 1951
by Mike Lorefice


Ace in the Hole
Billy Wilder

***1/2

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Along the Great Divide
Raoul Walsh

***

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Bullfighter and the Lady
Budd Boetticher

***

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Day of the Fight
Stanley Kubrick

A young Look Magazine photographer named Stanley Kubrick entered the film industry by turning a simple News on the March style documentary of boxer Walter Cartier on the day he has a middleweight title shot into a template for creating anxiety. This short is nothing more than Cartier's pre fight preparation and routine, but the way Kubrick constantly emphasizes time makes even the weigh in become interesting, important, and especially tense. The main point is the wait is more excruciating than the fight itself. Secondarily, we see an unusual nice guy transforming into a ferocious beast once the bell rings. The timeline of the day and the voice-over narration lead to Kubrick's first masterpiece The Killing, and the stress the main character is under is mirrored or varied in most of Kubrick's body of work. The one round fight itself is anticlimactic, though Kubrick comes up with a few unique camera angles from just above the canvas such as shooting through the stool in one corner to show the opponent in the other. Kubrick would improve upon this aspect in his first feature Killer's Kiss, but the main problem here is not a lack of experience or talent but the fact Kubrick and friend/future producer Alexander Singer only have one chance to capture the bout at all. To make things worse, the fight turns out to be little more than a bunch of misses then a flash knockout. [10/8/06] ***

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Diary of a Country Priest
Robert Bresson

***1/2

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Fixed Bayonets!
Samuel Fuller

***

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His Kind of Woman
John Farrow

***

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Jim Thorpe - All American
Michael Curtiz

***

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The Man in the White Suit
Alexander Mackendrick

***

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Miss Julie
Alf Sjoberg

You'd never guess this was an adaptation of a play if you didn't already know it. August Strindberg's writing is given full visual treatment in this elaborate Cannes grand prize winner. Sjoborg is able to make most of it very stylish, there's always some motion - dancing, horse riding, running, rowing a boat - that's brought to life with elaborate tracking shots. The narrative structure is also intricate, jumping through time to show the immense effect events that happened before Miss Julie was born had in determining her life. But excellent lighting and a few neat superimpositions ultimately don't get over the fact that there's something lacking in drawing the viewer in. I imagine it's not the story, but the rendering of it which for all its visual glory perhaps underminds Strindberg's prose. I'm far from a Strindberg expert, but it seems logical that he would have made it one of his many expressionist plays if there weren't a reason for it to be in the realist vain. The cast seems to be lacking something in the way of demanding your attention. At least for me, the film never came close to achieving the weight that's been applied to Miss Julie's life. There's much to admire in a film with impeccable cinematography and staging, but still it left me cold. [10/20/05] ***

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Pandora and the Flying Dutchman
Albert Lewin

***

The River
Jean Renoir

Jean & Claude Renoir's first attempt at color sets one of the all-time highs in the genre. Ironically, the exemplary quality is due to its simplicity. Rather than trying to attain subtlety and nuance the process wasn't meant for, the Renoirs provide consistently lush and saturated colors. Renoir had a terrible time getting the film financed. The tightwads defined India so narrowly that the country was only good for showing elephant boys, tigers, and bengal lancers, but Renoir lucked into, of all people, a florist looking to get into the business. Renoir was the first to bring India to the west, shooting the entire film on location, and he did it through documentary footage interspersed with the main story. The flaw of the film lies in its colonialism, as Renoir exploits India for all it's worth visually. While their Ganges river is a continually flowing character, unfortunately there are really only two Indians that have any kind of role, one a servant and another who is half British (though the potential of her romantically mixing with a foreigner provides a daring element that may not have been apparent to outsiders). India is used for it's meditative quality, and is basically an exotic fantasy. Part of what makes Renoir great is his call for innocence, the idea that the world is for children but we hand them down all our baggage thus quickly robbing them of their ability to simply enjoy things. The autobiographical story is told through the eyes of a 13-year-old British girl, so the foreign and somewhat naEe eyes are justifiable if not called for. The story of her first love, competing with older and far more attractive women for the same man has the uncommon honesty of a novel. Rumer Godden's work is probably better than most to begin with, though she drastically altered it for the film. Renior uses the documentary footage not only to show India but to give a voice to several thoughts, ideas, and feelings of the girl that would otherwise have had to be scrapped, and that gives the transfer a rare depth, a poetic textuality that cinema with it's overreliance on interpersonal dialogue rarely rises to. Though there could be more to the family drama, there's an uncommon honesty to it because Renoir, as always, is able to understand and sympathize with all the young girls. They don't get what they want, don't live happily ever after, but they learn life has it's ups and downs and ultimately just continues. Part of the authenticity is in mixing professional and nonprofessional actors, the man the girls are after lost his leg in combat, and Renoir's use of a real one legged man, the character the movie revolves around though he's not even part of the book, provides startling results. We can sense he's the real thing even though there's no exploitive shot to prove it, and the scene where he injures himself trying to deny his handicap is the most moving in the film. River is certainly a flawed masterpiece, outsiders looking in despite a story that could have been set anywhere, but somehow Renoir seems to be able to make everything that's bad about it also positive, even more of a positive, and this odd and sometimes experimental mix is what ultimately makes the film memorable and one to enjoy repeatedly. ****

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The Steel Helmet
Samuel Fuller

Early Fuller masterwork is one of the top few war films, and one of the only that's actually fairly worthy of the anti-war tag. One of the most remarkable things about Fuller is he could move between tone so well, sometimes the film is loud and bombastic others times it's an astute minimalist masterpiece. Fuller let's the absurdity of war speak for itself, and the situation dictate, but in his anything goes pull no punches fashion that made him arguably the most intelligently radical filmmaker ever to succeed in the Hollywood system. In doing so he creates a work that's both witty and truthful, in my opinion a far more entertaining and worthwhile film than more famous entries like Stalag 17 and M.A.S.H.. It's the first Korean war movie, one that came out during the war yet is anything but the usual flag waving kill the enemy of the year propaganda and even slyly works in criticism of some of our most dubious acts of racism like the Japanese internment and racial segregation. The soldiers have nothing in common except that they are fighting on the same side, a side that for various reasons considers them to be second class rejects. The people they are fighting for and against are indiscernible to them, all "gooks". Gene Evans, in his screen debut, is brilliant as the raw battle weary survivalist sergeant who winds up leading the rag tag group for a box of stogies. Tagging along with him is a Korean boy, who befriends Evans despite his obvious racism, and winds up in battle because of what his religion teaches him. Adding to the preposterousness, the soldiers pick the sacred site in the country they are fighting for, the Buddhist temple, for an "observation post" and though they of course intend to leave it as they found it, well, you can guess. The film is very pro soldier, making them dignified and proud, willing to fight for what they believe in even if it doesn't believe in them. It's pro humanity, that's why it's anti-war. As important as identity is, the message is what's important is survival. But to survive they have to not only be lucky but be able to shut off the very things that makes them worthwhile, their emotion and humanity, and perhaps that's more than anyone can ask. ****

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The Story of 'Rapunzel'
Ray Harryhausen

The third entry in Ray Harryhausen's quartet of experimental stop motion animation fairy tale shorts that were intended to be shown in public schools. Harryhausen used the time and money he had after working with his idol, stop motion pioneer Willis O'Brien (King Kong), on Mighty Joe Young to carefully hand craft visuals that would bring readings of famous children's stories to life. His depiction of human emotions through facial expression, creating countless different heads to animate the movements, is better than you'll get from most of today's name "actors". The key special effect is Rapunzel's long golden hair magically plaiting itself in order to be used as a rope. The environment is very colorful and the animation is smooth. The main problem is the story is a bit tough to take when you actually see what the reader is describing, but if like most classics of children's literature it's better in its intended format it's not for lack of loving effort. [12/11/06] ***

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Strangers on a Train
Alfred Hitchcock

****

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A Streetcar Named Desire
Elia Kazan

****

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