Note: Since writing this, I've one of the top five has been knocked out, but I'm going to keep it here.
6. North By Northwest- One of Hitchcock’s most unequivically fun movies, North by Northwest features an absurd screenplay and would have been a laughable movie if it were handled by a lesser talent. But Alfred Hitchcock knew what he was doing, and the result is a tightly made and enjoyable thriller.
5. Ace in the Hole-- Billy Wilder's deliciously cynical and quite entertaining attack on media sensationalism and all of its component parts remains unfortunately astute more than sixty years after its release. I know for a fact that David Simon has seen one of lead Kirk Douglass' later great films from the 50s, Paths of Glory, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he's seen this one as well. It's the sort of work that does him proud.
4. Vertigo (top 100)- Another Hitchcock movie (he peaked as a filmmaker during the 50s), Vertigo is a twisty and altogether involving mystery. Jimmy Stewart plays a darker character than he’s known for, and the movie in general is much more noir-y (so what if that isn’t a word) than most of Hitchcock’s thrillers.
3. On the Waterfront (top 100)- Elia Kazan’s apology (in the Greek sense) for informing to HUAC, Waterfront is one of the earliest movies I’ve seen that features a mediocre-to-good screenplay and direction but a fantastic lead performance, here Marlon Brando (other recent examples include movies like The Queen with Hellen Mirren and There Will be Blood with Daniel Day-Lewis). Brando was a phenomenal actor, and he was never better than in this movie.
2. 12 Angry Men (top 100)- The ur-example of a courtroom drama. Lumet’s classic takes place almost entirely within one room, but manages to craft a compelling narrative. Henry Fonda and a strong supporting cast help, but the real strength of the movie comes from an expertly paced unraveling mystery.
1. Rear Window (top 100) –My vote for Hitchcock’s best movie (of course, I’ve actually only seen, *ahem*, four). Rear Window does a fantastic job at keeping the viewer guessing without having to resort to any cheap tricks or manipulation. It also ratchets the tension up at an expertly measured pace, starting out as a fairly lighthearted picture before incrementally descending into a much darker place. Hitchcock milks all possible drama and potential from the conceit of the protagonist (Stewart again) being trapped in one room, due to a busted leg. It’s an example of a great director with a great cast at the peak of his powers.
What I Haven’t Seen:
Maybe it’s because the 50s were a long time ago, but a surprisingly low number of movies from that decade are what I’d call “must see”s. I’m sure there are plenty of good movies from that time that no one has heard of outside Cannes, but I’ll deal with those later. Still, there are a few I need to see: Internationally Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood and Hidden Fortress, and a few others like The Wages of Fear. Domestically there are a few, like All About Eve,Sunset Boulevard,Singin’ in the Rain, Rebel Without a Cause, A Streetcar Named Desire, and The Bridge on the River Kwai.