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The NBR Project: The Top 10 Lists, 1959-1973

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  • The Nun’s Story
  • Ben-Hur
  • Anatomy of a Murder
  • The Diary of Anne Frank
  • Middle of the Night
  • The Man Who Understood Women
  • Some Like It Hot
  • Suddenly, Last Summer
  • On the Beach
  • North by Northwest

8 of these films make perfect sense. And then you’ve got Middle of the Night, a largely forgotten Paddy Chayefsky drama, and The Man Who Understood Women, a comedy with a pretty weak reputation, even then. No Room at the Top, no Pillow Talk, but those two? I don’t get it.


  • Sons and Lovers
  • The Alamo
  • The Sundowners
  • Inherit the Wind
  • Sunrise at Campobello
  • Elmer Gantry
  • Home from the Hill
  • The Apartment
  • Wild River
  • The Dark at the Top of the Stairs

Psycho and Spartacus are missed, and it’s interesting that they picked the most obscure and the weakest, respectively, of the Best Picture nominees as their #1 and #2, but Inherit the Wind and the underrated Home from the Hill are very welcome inclusions. Wild River being here annoys me, but I’ll explain why under 1961.


  • Question 7
  • The Hustler
  • West Side Story
  • The Innocents
  • Hoodlum Priest
  • Summer and Smoke
  • The Young Doctors
  • Judgment at Nuremberg
  • One, Two, Three
  • Fanny

The NBR and Elia Kazan have a weird relationship; they city Gentlemen’s Agreement, Boomerang!, A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, and East of Eden, then skip Baby Doll and A Face in the Crowd, then cite the pretty good Wild River, then this year ignore the excellent Splendor in the Grass and in 1963 ignore the beautiful America, America. Then in 1976, after Kazan had been only spottily productive for some time, they cite his final film, The Last Tycoon, which isn’t that great. Very annoying.

Also: Question 7 may the most obscure #1 film in the NBR’s entire history. It’s a film about a boy in East Germany who wants to go to a musical conservatory but refuses to renounce his religious faith on an application questionnaire. It is available from Amazon Instant, but still.


  • The Longest Day
  • Billy Budd
  • The Miracle Worker
  • Lawrence of Arabia
  • Long Day’s Journey Into Night
  • Whistle Down the Wind
  • Requiem for a Heavyweight
  • A Taste of Honey
  • Birdman of Alcatraz
  • War Hunt

Ever heard of War Hunt? It’s a Korean War drama starring John Saxon and Robert Redford (in his debut). Saxon is a psychopathic soldier who goes on clandestine nighttime raids. It’s not great, but it’s interesting. I kind of wish they’d found room for The Manchurian Candidate on here (Ride the High Country was, I’m sure, not so well regarded at the time). Oh, and where’s The Music Man?


  • Tom Jones
  • Lilies of the Field
  • All the Way Home
  • Hud
  • This Sporting Life
  • Lord of the Flies
  • The L-Shaped Room
  • The Great Escape
  • How the West Was Won
  • The Cardinal

The Cardinal is a largely forgotten film I tend to champion (it’s also one of only three Globe winners for Best Motion Picture – Drama not to get an Oscar nomination for Best Picture), so I’m glad it’s here, and Lord of the Flies is a slightly surprising but satisfying pick. But to put the massively overrated Tom Jones at #1? The Academy made the same mistake.


  • Becket
  • My Fair Lady
  • Girl with Green Eyes
  • The World of Henry Orient
  • Zorba the Greek
  • Topkapi
  • The Chalk Garden
  • The Finest Hours
  • Four Days in November
  • Séance on a Wet Afternoon

No Dr. Strangelove? Really? Point to the Academy on that one. Two documentaries make this list—The Finest Hours, a WWII documentary mostly profiling Churchill, and Four Days in November, which deals with the Kennedy assassination.


  • The Eleanor Roosevelt Story
  • The Agony and the Ecstasy
  • Doctor Zhivago
  • Ship of Fools
  • The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
  • Darling
  • The Greatest Story Ever Told
  • A Thousand Clowns
  • The Train
  • The Sound of Music

A documentary at #1. Interesting. Feels almost like a throwback. I’m a little surprised The Agony and the Ecstasy and The Greatest Story Ever Told got on, since both were flops and neither have ever had the strongest reputation. Also, no mention of The Pawnbroker, which is a shame.


  • A Man for All Seasons
  • Born Free
  • Alfie
  • Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
  • The Bible: In the Beginning
  • Georgy Girl
  • John F. Kennedy: Years of Lightning, Day of Drums
  • It Happened Here
  • The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming
  • Shakespeare Wallah

Yet again, the NBR makes some obscure but intriguing picks: It Happened Here, a low budget alt-history drama made over several years by future film historian Kevin Brownlow, and Shakespeare Wallah, one of the earliest Merchant-Ivory films. The Kennedy film marks the end of the period when the NBR regularly cites documentaries. After this, I think only one more makes the list.


  • Far from the Madding Crowd
  • The Whisperers
  • Ulysses
  • In Cold Blood
  • The Family Way
  • The Taming of the Shrew
  • Doctor Dolittle
  • The Graduate
  • The Comedians
  • Accident

That Dolittle got a Best Picture nomination is generally considered the result of studio bribery of voters. And yet the Board cited it too, and I can’t imagine they were a major target for such attention. Far from the Madding Crowd is a pretty weak #1, but I like that the adaptation of Joyce’s Ulysses made the cut. However, Best Picture winner In the Heat of the Night and major hit Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and iconic classic Bonnie and Clyde all fail to make the list.


  • The Shoes of the Fisherman
  • Romeo and Juliet
  • Yellow Submarine
  • Charly
  • Rachel, Rachel
  • The Subject Was Roses
  • The Lion in Winter
  • Planet of the Apes
  • Oliver!
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey

They better the Academy by putting the greatest film ever made on their list, and then stick it at #10, giving #1 to an interesting and underrated, but nonetheless inferior film. But the inclusions of Yellow Submarine and Planet of the Apes are delightful. So it evens out—almost.


  • They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
  • Ring of Bright Water
  • Topaz
  • Goodbye, Mr. Chips
  • Battle of Britain
  • Isadora
  • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
  • Support Your Local Sheriff!
  • True Grit
  • Midnight Cowboy

Another strange list. The #1 is the record holder for most Oscar nominations without a Best Picture nomination. Ring attempts to do for otters what Born Free did for lions (with the same stars, even). Topaz is one of Hitchcock’s worst films and a terrible choice; Battle of Britain is a boring mess and not much better. Support Your Local Sheriff! is nice to see here, but I would rather have had Oh! What a Lovely War—and others would rather have The Wild Bunch. And to leave off Butch Cassidy is just ridiculous.


  • Patton
  • Kes
  • Women in Love
  • Five Easy Pieces
  • Ryan’s Daughter
  • I Never Sang for My Father
  • Diary of a Mad Housewife
  • Love Story
  • The Virgin and the Gypsy
  • Tora! Tora! Tora!

The NBR betters the Academy by recognizing Kes, while the Academy has, as far as I know, never cited any film by Ken Loach. Glad to see some Tora! Tora! Tora! love, and Ryan’s Daughter is certainly a good deal better than its reputation suggests, but…no MASH? No Little Big Man? How?


  • Macbeth
  • The Boy Friend
  • One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
  • The French Connection
  • The Last Picture Show
  • Nicholas and Alexandra
  • The Go-Between
  • King Lear
  • The Tales of Beatrix Potter
  • Death in Venice

How, exactly, you cite The Tales of Beatrix Potter (a ballet film enacting the stories of Peter Rabbit and his acquaintances) and not A Clockwork Orange is beyond me.


  • Cabaret
  • Man of La Mancha
  • The Godfather
  • Sounder
  • 1776
  • The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds
  • Deliverance
  • The Ruling Class
  • The Candidate
  • Frenzy

An amazing list—they even cite 1776, a great musical which was not hugely successful at the time. But putting the financial and critical dud Man of La Mancha above The Godfather? I’m not sure what that was about (though I’m not sure just how much weight the NBR put on the order of these lists).


  • The Sting (AA)
  • Paper Moon
  • Bang the Drum Slowly
  • Serpico
  • O Lucky Man!
  • The Last American Hero
  • The Hireling
  • The Day of the Dolphin
  • The Way We Were

A very strange list. Only 9 films (one source puts The Exorcist on this list, but no other sources do), and several odd picks: O Lucky Man!, a three-hour-long black comedy with surreal touches (though one with a strong reputation), The Last American Hero, a racing biopic that has been mostly forgotten since (I couldn’t even find it in stores, so I had to order it—it’s not a particularly notable film, either, so I don’t know what they were thinking), and The Day of the Dolphin, a serious political thriller which involves talking dolphins (and George C. Scott), and which bombed with critics and audiences.


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