Recently, my uncle -- a film buff to put most other film buffs to shame -- sent me a clipping from the Seattle Times, in which critic John Hartl celebrated the greatest movie year of all time. Not 1939, as is generally accepted, but 1959. And I have to agree with him. It was an amazing time when the old Hollywood guard was winding down and creating their final masterpieces, new upstarts were coming in with fresh new films and the most outrageously artistic of European cinema was getting released (and being watched) in America. Not taking into account any weird release patterns -- such as the fact that Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries (1957) was released here in 1959 -- and based on the IMDB's list of 1959 movies, here's my top ten list for that great year.
1. Rio Bravo. On most days, this is my favorite Western, with its combination of breathless suspense sequences and easy camaraderie among its bizarre, almost deliberately mismatched cast (and especially for Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson's duet). Howard Hawks directs with fluid grace, but best of all is that exchange of dialogue between Ward Bond and John Wayne. Bond: "A game-legged old man and a drunk. That's all you got?" Wayne: "That's what I got."
2. Good Morning. This is Yasujiro Ozu's lightest, warmest and funniest film, about two boys who -- fed up with the polite, meaningless conversation of adults -- take a vow of silence until their father buys them a television set. Their father refuses, having heard that television will produce "100 million idiots." (He may have been right.) Even if you don't like this one, Ozu also delivered the equally great Floating Weeds the same year.