10. Elevator to the Gallows (1958, directed by Louis Malle)
Jules and Jim, here uses her strangely attractive features in a wonderful performance of a woman hoping and searching and afraid for the safety and whereabouts of the lover she can't find, almost going mad with worry. Because, after the murder of her husband, Julien spends the night trapped in the elevator of the building in which he'd just committed the crime.
Gorgeously shot, tautly directed (by just a 24-year-old Malle), expertly acted and painfully tragic, it has all the hallmarks of the great noirs of years past and deserves to be remembered alongside them, above most.
9. Some Like It Hot (1959, directed by Billy Wilder)
Curtis and Monroe are both pretty and charismatic enough that their story is engaging (Monroe in particular, no matter what problems there were getting her to this performance), but it's Jack Lemmon who makes this movie really shine. His flawless comic timing and fearless work opposite pervy Joe E. Brown that takes things over the edge. The absolutely perfect ending "Well, nobody's perfect", despite knowing that that was the ending line, had me rolling on the floor laughing (not figuratively) at this Billy Wilder masterpiece.
8. The Night of the Hunter (1955, directed by Charles Laughton)
It's sad that The Night of the Hunter was a massive flop when it was released. Laughton had been Hollywood royalty, having already won an Oscar (Best Actor for The Private Life of Henry VIII) and married to fellow Oscar nominee Elsa Lanchester, and this was his first shot at directing. His weird, disquieting, dark little movie rejected by both critics and audiences, he never directed again and was dead 8 years later, of cancer of the kidneys. Still, it stands as a remarkable achievement in atmosphere and screen horror, and one of the great movies of the 1950's.
7. Rio Bravo (1959, directed by Howard Hawks)
John Wayne is terrific here, even if his juicier role in The Searchers is his best work as an actor. He feels like he really would be the sheriff of this small town about to be under siege. Dean Martin should've had a Supporting Actor Oscar for his work as the drunken deputy Dude. Walter Brennan adds some wonderful comic relief, and even Ricky Nelson is wonderful as the quick shooting Colorado. When he and the boys have a little musical interlude before the carnage of the finale, it doesn't feel shoehorned in because Nelson was a teen idol at the time and Martin a legendary singer, it works for these characters. It's simply terrific all around and one of those movies I'd gladly watch any time anywhere.
6. Singin’ in the Rain (1952, directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donnen)
I could focus on the overlong "Broadway Melody" dance sequence, but Kelly did this in most of his movies, having a big show stopping dance number near the end of the movie. But no, the moments that stick out to me are Kelly's iconic title song and dance number, O'Connor's "Make 'Em Laugh", and the moment when it's revealed that Reynolds was the voice all along. Embarrassed, she tries to run out of the theater, but I never fail to tear up as Kelly calls out "Hey, stop that girl! She's the real star" Roger Ebert has called that a perfect moment of cinema, and I don't disagree.
5. Seven Samurai (1954, directed by Akira Kurosawa)
4. Rififi (1955, directed by Jules Dassin)
3. On the Waterfront (1954, directed by Elia Kazan)
Occasionally pieces of cinema become such parts of pop culture that people forget even where it came from or the piece loses its power from repetition. Upon first viewing On the Waterfront, I expected the climactic "I coulda been a contenda" speech to be one of those for me. Instead, I found myself weeping at the loss and disappointment Terry Malloy felt in himself and in his brother Charlie. "I coulda been a contenda" isn't even the important part of the speech, it's when Terry says "You was my brother, Charlie, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit so I wouldn't have to take them dives for the short-end money." It's a devastating scene, and delivered by Marlon Brando in what I believe is the greatest screen performance ever given.
There's plenty of backstory to the movie, about how Elia Kazan named names so he wouldn't get blacklisted, and made this movie as a sort of sticking up for himself. But I don't really care about all that. I care about Terry and Charlie and the other characters in the movie. Kazan set up real and idealistic people and all the actors are flawless. It's overall one of the best acted movies I've ever seen, even with Brando taking such deserved accolades for his work.
2. Throne of Blood (1957, directed by Akira Kurosawa)
The most famous sequence of the movie is the finale, where instead of dying in a duel as MacBeth does, Washizu perishes in a hail of arrows in a scene that might be my favorite from any Kurosawa movie. Washizu is able to dodge many of the arrows, some only inches from his head, but he's not able to dodge them all. Someone once told Toshiro Mifune that his acting in the sequence was terrific, that he actually seemed scared. Mifune replied that he was terrified, Kurosawa had people shooting real arrows only 2 feet or so from his face. He said he was not really acting at all. Whatever he was doing, it works. And the culmination of the scene is an image burned into the brains of many a film fan.
1. Vertigo (1958, directed by Alfred Hitchcock)
The almost trance-like sequences early in the movie as Scottie follows and ultimately falls in love with Kim Novak's Madeleine, gives way to the startling descent into madness that Scotty experiences in the final section. Hitchcock's presentation of this is somehow still infused with his trademark tension, while never feeling contrived for suspense. He gets us wired through building our central character and following him as he falls in love first with a woman, and then with an idea. We don't need planes flying at us, or scenes of murder in the shower to ratchet up our involvement with this movie. It's Hitch's crowning achievement and one of the truly great movies ever made.