It’s being asked which of this year’s Best Picture nominees will be watched by film buffs 50 years hence. Just as I’ve watched (and will watch again) a 50 year-old Korean War film called Pork Chop Hill, I can’t imagine The Hurt Locker not being a fascinating timepiece for those looking to absorb what the Iraq War was for U.S. troops. And just as Ben-Hur is a necessary flick to own (especially when it finally comes out on Blu-ray) or at least see once, who can imagine Avatar not being a essential sit in 2060?
But the general rule of thumb about the truly enduring films not having been nominated or awarded by the Academy will also apply, I’m sure.
The 1959 Best Picture nominees were Ben-Hur, Anatomy of a Murder, Room at the Top, The Diary of Anne Frank and The Nun’s Story. Of these, only Ben-Hur and Anatomy are regarded as truly worth your time. Absolutely no one has looked at The Nun’s Story in decades — it’s been virtually forgotten. Anne Frank is out on Blu-ray now, and nobody much cares. Room at the Top is a highly respected kitchen-sink drama, but it hasn’t been decently mastered for DVD over the last ten years (and has not been Blu-rayed) so it seems to have fallen off the radar for now.
What 1959 films are truly respected and considered necessary viewing in today’s home-video realm? The short list would have to include (in this order) Alfred Hitchcock‘s North by Northwest, Billy Wilder‘s Some Like it Hot, Robert Bresson‘s Pickpocket, Howard Hawks‘ Rio Bravo (although I’m only a middling fan), Lewis Milestone‘s Pork Chop Hill, Francois Truffaut‘s The 400 Blows, William Wyler’s Ben-Hur, Jack Clayton‘s Room at the Top, (which Criterion really should remaster and re-issue), Ingmar Bergman‘s Wild Strawberries, John Ford‘s The Horse Soldiers, Otto Preminger‘s Anatomy of Murder, Yasujiro Ozu‘s Floating Weeds, Douglas Sirk‘s Imitation of Life (although I can’t stand Sirk’s soap-opera wallowings), Grigori Chukhrai‘s Ballad of a Soldier, Stanley Kramer‘s On The Beach and Ed Wood‘s Plan 9 from Outer Space (obviously for ignoble reasons).
1959 films that are respected but half-forgotten and sinking-into-obscurity include Henry King‘s Beloved Infidel, Richard Fleischer‘s Compulsion, Robert Stevenson‘s Darby O’Gill and the Little People, Guy Hamilton‘s The Devil’s Disciple, Mel Ferrer’s Green Mansions, Frank Capra‘s A Hole in the Head, Basil Dearden‘s The League of Gentlemen, Jack Arnold‘s The Mouse That Roared, Val Guest‘s Expresso Bongo, John Sturges‘ Never So Few, Robert Wise‘s Odds Against Tomorrow, Carol Reed‘s Our Man in Havana, Budd Boetticher‘s Ride Lonesome, John Cassevettes‘ Shadows, Joseph L. Mankiewicz‘s Suddenly, Last Summer, Michael Anderson‘s Shake Hands With The Devil and and J. Lee Thompson‘s Tiger Bay.
The rest are either gone from the public mind or considered too negligible or embarassing to discuss (i.e., Operation Petticoat, The Mating Game, Blue Denim, The FBI Story, The Hanging Tree, It Happened to Jane, Solomon and Sheba, Career, Pillow Talk, It Started With a Kiss, John Paul Jones, etc.).