Starting in the late 19th century, film has been one of the most captivating types of media in the world. What began as a few experiments among a select number of people has grown into an international business and phenomenon.
Each year, thousands of films are produced and released worldwide. In turn, these films are critiqued and compared to releases that share the same year and features that were released prior to them.
While it may be easy (or relatively easy) to identify a film as the best of its year, this cannot be said about identifying the best years in film. This requires deeper analysis of the whole of a year’s releases. While some years may boast some of the greatest films of all time, they might not be supported by films of an equal measure or scale.
Other years may not have any one clear top release but are strengthened by having several near-equal films that outweigh the years held up by one spectacular release. Here is a list of the ten most impressive years in cinema, narrowed down from a list of thirty-two serious candidates.
Each year will feature a list of the ten best from that year, the films that received acclaim during their initial release year, how the years have held up when compared to the rest of film history, and a further list of other notable releases from that year. Let the countdown commence.
The Top 10
1. Some Like It Hot, directed by Billy Wilder
2. Eyes Without a Face, directed by Georges Franju
3. Black Orpheus, directed by Marcel Camus
4. Hiroshima Mon Amour, directed by Alain Resnais
5. Kaagaz ke Phool, directed by Guru Dutt
6. Ben-Hur, directed by William Wyler
7. North by Northwest, directed by Alfred Hitchcock
8. The Human Condition I: No Greater Love, directed by Masaki Kobayashi
9. Le Trou, directed by Jacques Becker
10. Ballad of a Soldier, directed by Grigori Chukhraj
The Big Winners for 1959:
Oscar for Best Picture- Ben-Hur; Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival- Black Orpheus; Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival- General della Rovere (directed by Roberto Rossellini) and The Great War (directed by Mario Monicelli); Golden Bear and the Berlin International Film Festival- Les Cousins (directed by Claude Chabrol)
1959 was both the end of a great era and the beginning of a great movement. Historically, it is often designated as the final year of Classic Hollywood. It is also recognized as one of the first years of the French New Wave.
Among this year’s releases are three of Hollywood’s most beloved films (the comedy Some Like It Hot, the Hitchcock classic North by Northwest, and the epic Ben-Hur), one of most unsettling and powerful horror films the world has seen (Eyes Without a Face), revered Indian director Guru Dutt’s masterpiece and swan song (Kaagaz ke Phool), and the first part of Masaki Kobayashi’s impressive and massive trilogy (The Human Condition I: No Greater Love).
Other classics from 1959 include The 400 Blows (directed by François Truffaut), Imitation of Life (directed by Douglas Sirk), Pickpocket (directed by Robert Bresson), Rio Bravo (directed by Howard Hawks), Shadows (directed by John Cassavetes), and The World of Apu (directed by Satyajit Ray).
The Top 10
1. A Separation, directed by Asghar Farhadi
2. The Turin Horse, directed by Béla Tarr
3. Melancholia, directed by Lars von Trier
4. The Tree of Life, directed by Terence Malick
5. The Artist, directed by Michel Hazanavicius
6. This Is Not a Film, directed by Jafar Panahi & Mojtaba Mirtahmasb
7. Drive, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
8. Midnight in Paris, directed by Woody Allen
9. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
10. Le Havre, directed by Aki Kaurismäki
The Big Winners for 2011
Oscar for Best Picture- The Artist; Palme d’Or- The Tree of Life; Golden Lion- Faust (directed by Alexander Sokurov); Golden Bear- A Separation
As time passes, 2011 will prove itself as one of the finest years the cinema has ever had. Supported by tour de force productions from all over the world, 2011 was full of fascinating and great films. Led by the best film of the 21st century, A Separation, many of the best films from 2011 came from proven directors who made films that sit atop or near the top of their personal bests. Béla Tarr (The Turin Horse), Lars von Trier (Melancholia), Terence Malick (The Tree of Life), and Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris) all strengthened their places among the world’s best directors with these additions to their filmographies.
Other future classics from 2011 include The Descendants (directed by Alexander Payne), Hugo (directed by Martin Scorsese), Margaret (directed by Kenneth Lonergan), We Need to Talk About Kevin (directed by Lynne Ramsay), and Weekend (directed by Andrew Haigh).
The Top 10
1. The Big Sleep, directed by Howard Hawks
2. It’s a Wonderful Life, directed by Frank Capra
3. Paisan, directed by Roberto Rossellini
4. The Best Years of Our Lives, directed by William Wyler
5. My Darling Clementine, directed by John Ford
6. Black Narcissus, directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
7. La Belle et la Bête, directed by Jean Cocteau
8. A Matter of Life and Death, directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
9. Shoeshine, directed by Vittorio de Sica
10. The Killers, directed by Richard Siodmak
The Big Winners of 1946:
Oscar for Best Picture- The Best Years of Our Lives; Palme d’Or- Several winners, including the 1946 releases Men Without Wings (directed by František Čáp), Neecha Nagar (directed by Chetan Anand), and La Symphonie Pastorale (directed by Jean Delannoy)
1946 was the first complete year of the post-World War II world. Italian Neorealism was in full swing and the production levels of post-World War II Europe and the United States were returning to and surpassing their production levels before the war. 1946 saw the release of two of the finest film noirs (The Big Sleep and The Killers), the two most impressive films from the directing duo Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (Black Narcissus and A Matter of Life and Death), and two of the most acclaimed products of Italian Neorealism (Paisan and Shoeshine).
Other classics from 1946 include Duel in the Sun (directed by King Vidor), Gilda (directed by Charles Vidor), Great Expectations (directed by David Lean), Ivan the Terrible, Part 2 (directed by Sergei Eisenstein), Notorious (directed by Alfred Hitchcock), and Under the Bridges (directed by Helmut Käutner.
The Top 10
1. La Dolce Vita, directed by Federico Fellini
2. L’Avventura, directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
3. Breathless, directed by Jean-Luc Godard
4. Psycho, directed by Alfred Hitchcock
5. The Cloud-Capped Star, directed by Ritwik Ghatak
6. The Apartment, directed by Billy Wilder
7. Late Autumn, directed by Yasujiro Ozu
8. The Housemaid, directed by Kim Ki-young
9. Spartacus, directed by Stanley Kubrick
10. When a Woman Ascends the Stairs, directed by Mikio Naruse
The Big Winners of 1960:
Oscar for Best Picture- The Apartment; Palme d’Or- La Dolce Vita; Golden Lion- Le Passage du Rhin (directed by André Cayatte); Golden Bear- El Lazarillo de Tormes (directed by César Fernández Ardavín)
A lot was going on in 1960. It is acknowledged as the first year of modern Hollywood, saw a meteoric rise in Italian cinema, and French New Wave continued to grow in importance. 1960 features four of the cinema’s very best films: La Dolce Vita, L’Avventura, Breathless, and Psycho, which are the strongest films made by legendary directors Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Jean-Luc Godard, and Alfred Hitchcock, respectively.
The year also features some very impressive works from the Asian film markets India (The Cloud-Capped Star), Japan (Late Autumn and When a Woman Ascends the Stairs), and South Korea (The Housemaid).
Some other classics from 1960 include The Naked Island (directed by Kaneto Shindo), Peeping Tom (directed by Michael Powell), Rocco and His Brothers (directed by Luchino Visconti), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (directed by Karel Reisz), and Shoot the Piano Player (directed by François Truffaut).
The Top 10
1. Mulholland Dr., directed by David Lynch
2. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, directed by Peter Jackson
3. Spirited Away, directed by Hayao Miyazaki
4. Y Tu Mamá También, directed by Alfonso Cuarón
5. Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India, directed by Ashutosh Gowariker
6. The Piano Teacher, directed by Michael Haneke
7. Promises, directed by Carlos Bolado, B.Z. Goldberg, and Justine Shapiro
8. Amélie, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
9. Waking Life, directed by Richard Linklater
10. La Libertad, directed by Lisandro Alonso
The Big Winners of 2001:
Oscar for Best Picture- A Beautiful Mind (directed by Ron Howard); Palme d’Or- The Son’s Room (directed by Nanni Moretti); Golden Lion- Monsoon Wedding (directed by Mira Nair); Golden Bear- Intimacy (directed by Patrice Chéreau)
The 21st century started off with a bang, as both 2000 and 2001 were chock-full with great films. Between the two, 2001 has the more impressive résumé. Although the big award winners may not be the most familiar, the other big releases from 2001 are internationally known and acclaimed titles.
2001 saw the release of the first film in one of the most popular and best film trilogies (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) and one of the most popular French films of all time (Amélie). It also saw the release of two magnificent animated films, Spirited Away and Waking Life. Directors David Lynch and Alfonso Cuarón also had big years, releasing their masterpieces Mulholland Dr. and Y Tu Mamá También, respectively.
Other films from 2001 that are well on their way to being classics include A.I. Artificial Intelligence (directed by Steven Spielberg), Donnie Darko (directed by Richard Kelly), In Praise of Love (directed by Jean-Luc Godard), La Ciénaga (directed by Lucrecia Martel), Moulin Rouge! (directed by Baz Luhrmann), and The Royal Tenenbaums (directed by Wes Anderson).