The Best Films of 1958


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January 7, 1959, Vol. IV, No. 11

The Year’s Best

By Jonas Mekas

This is the time for movie awards, “Ten Best” lists, evaluations of the year’s achievements in film. Also this is the time for the criticism of these awards and lists. How many, for instance, will agree with the New York Film Critics’ (of the daily press) 1958 selection of “The Defiant Ones,” “Separate Tables,” and “I Want to Live” as the best American movies, and “My Uncle,” as the best foreign film?

Since for a daily movie critic, who has to look at too many bad films, it isn’t easy to maintain a proper sense of cinema, I have asked four of the independent film critics who write for leading film magazines here and abroad, and whose opinions I respect, to present to readers of The Village Voice their lists of the half-dozen or so better films they have seen last year. Here are their selections and comments:

HERMAN G. WEINBERG: “Pather Panchali,” “He Who Must Die,” “My Uncle,” “Touch of Evil,” “The Seventh Seal.” The comment: “These five seem to me to have made the greatest departure from the almost stupefying banality of most of the other films, particularly American, seen here this past year. I can’t recall a pedestrian moment in any of them. This in itself is getting to be so rare as to be enough—aside from these films’ decided positive qualities of originality.”

ANDREW SARRIS: “The Seventh Seal,” “Le Rouge et le Noir,” “Roots of Heaven,” “Pather Panchali,” “Horse’s Mouth,” “Indiscreet.” The comment: “Although some of these movies have major flaws, the list as a whole contains most of the creative excitement of a relatively disappointing year. I might note in particular the impressive, if at times uneven, direction of Orson Welles’ ‘Touch of Evil,’ Rene Clement’s ‘This Angry Age,’ and Carol Reed’s ‘The Key’; the brilliant scores by Nino Rota for ‘This Angry Age’ and by Gerry Mulligan for ‘I Want to Live’; topped off by Ingmar Bergman’s profound analysis of death and existence in ‘The Seventh Seal,’ the year’s supreme achievement.”

WILLIAM K. EVERSON: “Paths of Glory” [if it’s 1958], “Curse of a Demon,” “Touch of Evil,” “Seventh Seal,” “My Uncle,” “Old Man and the Sea.” The comment: “Almost certainly the worst film year in memory, with almost no one great film. For the really great film one had to look to the scattered theatrical reissues (“Modern Times,” “The Birth of a Nation,” etc.) and to the abundant crop on television, specifically, ‘Citizen Kane’ and William Deiterle’s ‘Last Flight’ (1931).”

EUGENE ARCHER: “The Seventh Seal,” “The Horse’s Mouth,” “Le Rouge et le Noir, “Pather Panchali,” “Gigi,” “I Want to Live,” The Goddess.” The comment: “Few good films from abroad were released in 1958: few good American films were made. Creative direction was rare, with no new films from Stevens, Bresson, Renoir, Kazan, Fallini, or Lean, and disappointing (though sometimes arresting) work from Huston (‘The Roots of Heaven’), Reed (‘The Key’), Clement (‘This Angry Age’), Wyler (‘The Big Country’), and Welles (‘Touch of Evil’). It should be noticed, however, that the quality of the season could have been greatly improved by the presentation of such European successes, still unknown in this country, as ‘Lola Montez,’ ‘Senso,’ ‘Notti Bianchi,’ ‘Canal,’ and the 14 unreleased films of Ingmar Bergman, whose ‘Seventh Seal,’ for intellectual content, cinematic technique, and dramatic effectiveness, was clearly the year’s outstanding achievement.

MY OWN SELECTION: “Seventh Seal,” “My Uncle,” “Touch of Evil,” “He Who Must Die,” “Another Sky,” “Pather Panchali.”

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