VOLUME #1-The Best Films of the 1960s

I have been gone a while…but I am hoping to restart the blog with more activity fairly soon and I figured a good way to start would be by doing more lists.

People seem to love lists and I am no exception to that. With us now at the end of yet another decade, I decided it might be fun to do lists of what my favorite films were for multiple past decades.

I am still in the process of seeing a few films from this year (that being 2019) but I do think I am at a good place to do my top 10 for this decade. However, I will be fair and start by posting from the 1960s and work my way up to the present.

This will be a list that is inspired by both favorite AND best by my objective opinion. I think very highly of these films and feel that they are worthy of being selected.

The 1960s were an interesting decade because American cinema, to be blunt, actually kind of sucked. Aside from a few shining beacons here and there, this decade was quite bleak…especially in the earlier half of the decade.

It was foreign cinema that really continued to take off after gaining a stronghold during the 1950s and it really isn’t until the late 60s and especially the 1970s that American cinema actually caught up.

With that in mind, what are my top 10 films of the 1960s?

I will start with a few HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Rosemary’s Baby

Blowup

The Manchurian Candidate

Lawrence of Arabia

Night of the Living Dead

________________________________________________

#10-Z (1969-Costa Garvas)

-The first of what will be a few foreign films on this list considering the rest of the world was killing it while the United States was killing it in an entirely different way. This particular film doesn’t seem to get as much discussion nowadays, which is a shame. Most of the buzz from this particular year went to the eventual Best Picture winner MIDNIGHT COWBOY and the highly popular BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. However, it was Z by Greek/French filmmaker Costa Garvas that stood out for me. It is essentially a thinly fictionalized account surrounding the assassination of the democratic Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis. What makes this film particularly thrilling for me is its use of dark humor and its own blunt stance on the dictatorship that was ruling Greece at the time. In many ways, it feels more in line with the edgier ways of storytelling in film that have become more common place today and wasn’t quite yet “in vogue” at that time…especially with American cinema.

#9-Dr Strangelove (1964-Stanley Kubrick)

-The greatest American director to have ever lived is Stanley Kubrick, in my humble opinion. Beginning with his fourth film (The Killing) going all the way up to his final (and 11th) film (Eyes Wide Shut), Kubrick managed to make a string of truly great films to full-out masterpieces. One of the masterpieces was easily DR. STRANGELOVE, which might be the best example of satire or dark comedy in all of cinema. Set during the height of the Cold War, it involves a crazed US Air Force General who orders a first strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union and the meetings had to try to stop such an event from occurring. It is a strong ensemble but it is especially fun to watch George C. Scott in rare comedic form (he did not want to give this kind of performance but Kubrick lied by having him do ‘goofy practice takes’ before more serious ones and then used the goofy takes instead) and Peter Sellers being the genius he is playing three roles, including the title character who comes in for a great final scene. One of my former coworkers once expressed that she found the film highly boring and very unfunny…and truth be told, it is one of those films where I feel like despite my love for it, I can see why it doesn’t hold up for newer generations….they can be wrong though.

#8-La Dolce Vita (1960-Federico Fellini)

-Fellini was a master…and his films brought forth such a luscious surreal flavor that I was drawn to from the moment I first saw one. In this case, my first viewing of a film of his was LA DOLCE VITA, which involves journalist named Marcello Rubini, played by one of Fellini’s favorites, Marcello Mastroianni, who is on a quest over the course of a week trying to find love and happiness in Rome. Legendary film critic Roger Ebert considered the film to be his personal favorite film of all time and always listed it as his best film selection on the Sight & Sound poll that was conducted every 10 years from 1972 up until his death in 2013. I can understand why he would choose it…even though another Fellini film will get a higher vote from me coming up.

#7-The Graduate (1967-Mike Nichols)

-In the year in which THE GRADUATE came out, I feel like that was sort of the true beginning of Hollywood finally shifting in the direction of the rest of the world when it came to truly embracing new styles in cinema. While THE GRADUATE might not have been as brash as something like BONNIE & CLYDE or another film that will be making an appearance on this list shortly, I do find it to be incredibly important in its style and approach and a lot of that has to stem from relatively new film director Mike Nichols (who will also be making another appearance on this list). I also find that THE GRADUATE has become highly iconic in a way that some of these movies haven’t. People know the songs by Simon and Garfunkel or quote the lines (“Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me…aren’t you?”) and know that it is the story about a lost young man recently out of college who is seduced by the older wife of his father’s business partner only to fall in love with their daughter. It was the film debut of character actor Dustin Hoffman, who would eventually go on to prove how incredibly versatile he was by portraying the skeevy Ratso Rizzo in MIDNIGHT COWBOY two years later.

#6-L’avventura (1960-Michelangelo Antonioni)

-When it comes to Italian filmmakers, it is typically Fellini that gets the bulk of the praise and discussion…and he deserves to be discussed, but there is also Michelangelo Antonioni, who made some truly masterful films that include 1961’s LA NOTTE, 1962’s L’ECLISSE, a foray into English-cinema with 1966’s BLOWUP, and my #6 selection, 1960’s L’AVVENTURA. This film revolves around the disappearance of a young woman while on a boating trip in the Mediterranean and the search for her by both her lover and her best friend. A lot of what made this movie so fascinating was its pacing, which often felt slow and meandering and a lot of that was due to how the film focused a lot on its character beats rather than a lot of typical filmmaking tropes. Of all of the films on my list, I would argue that this one is the film that tends to get discussed the least, which is a shame. I feel that it is a truly underrated film but for those who have seen it, it often ends up ranking among the best films of all time.

#5-Psycho (1960-Alfred Hitchcock)

-If you haven’t seen PSYCHO, all I can ask is why haven’t you? Also, if you haven’t seen it, you probably already know its two biggest iconic moments: the shower scene which is accompanied by what may be the most recognizable piece of film score of the latter half of the 20th Century (those shrieking violins). PSYCHO was an interesting film for Alfred Hitchcock to tackle at this point in his career, especially after coming off of the rather sumptuous efforts he made the previous two years like 1959’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST and his masterpiece and one of my favorite films of all-time, 1958’s VERTIGO. Shot in black & white and on an incredibly low budget, PSYCHO was something of a gamble for Hitchcock and it ended up paying off tremendously. I think one of the more interesting aspects of PSYCHO is its story structure in that it is probably the famous use of the term that Hitchcock would refer to as a “macguffin” in that the movie begins with us thinking it will be about the character of Marion played by Janet Leigh only for the film to kill her off less than half way through the movie and switch most of its focus to the character of Norman Bates played by the stunning Anthony Perkins, who is so good in this role that he essentially never truly recovered from typecasting after the fact. After making PSYCHO, Hitchcock’s film output greatly diminished as did the quality of most of those efforts, and despite how much I enjoy 1963’s THE BIRDS, his last true crowning achievement was PSYCHO.

#4-Persona (1967-Ingmar Bergman)

-If I am asked who my favorite film director of all time is, I usually say Ingmar Bergman. While his films won’t necessarily flood my decade lists like other directors will receive, a lot of the time I feel like his work is just in a class by itself and it is hard to differentiate between them. I do also feel Bergman was at his consistent best during the 1950s so it was easy for me to choose PERSONA as a prime selection to honor him for the 60s. PERSONA contains one of cinema’s greatest performances: Bibi Andersson as Alma the nurse (who recently passed away in April 2019) along with another great performance by another frequent muse of Bergman’s: Liv Ullman. The main premise revolves around Ullman’s character Elisabet, who is a well-known stage actress who suddenly chooses to stop speaking and no one is sure as to why. The nurse, Alma, begins to care for her and soon she begins to become fairly obsessed with Elisabet. A lot of the film’s major controversy at the time stemmed from the character of Elisabet attempting a self-induced abortion which failed and now she has a son whom she despised and he desperately craves her love. A lot of the film is rife for analysis and I feel like discussing it here also wouldn’t give the film any justice. Bergman films are often not easy to handle…which is why I feel like he is a true genius.

#3-Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966-Mike Nichols)

-After a successful career as a stage director, Mike Nichols gave us what may have one of the greatest film directorial debuts ever with this adaptation of Edward Albee’s magnum opus WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRIGNIA WOOLF? First of all, the film surprisingly doesn’t succumb to its stunt casting. It makes sense why they’d want to cast the infamous power couple of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor as the mercurial George and Martha but the former was perhaps slightly too old while the latter was about 20 years too young and was also too thin. However, Taylor specifically wanted someone like Nichols to direct because she knew this was a stretch (to say the least) and she wanted a director who would be bold with her and help shape the kind of performance that was needed. The final result was quite stunning…and even though Albee did only find Taylor to be “quite good”, he did find Burton to be “incredible”. George and Martha are the epitome of a “couple on the rocks” and to watch them spar for an evening while a younger couple they barely know, Nick and Honey, watch in horror…it is a marvel to behold. George Segal as Nick does well with what is perhaps the least interesting character in the piece, but credit also must be given to Sandy Dennis, one of the most fascinating character actresses to have ever lived who gives Honey such a bizarre edge that you can’t help but love her.

#2-2001: A Space Odyssey (1968-Stanley Kubrick)

-America’s greatest director (who primarily lived and filmed in England for most of his career) returns to my list with what also happens to be his magnum opus as well. When you look something like STAR WARS or STAR TREK or ALIEN or anything that involves space, they all owe a debt of gratitude to what Kubrick achieved here with 2001: A Space Odyssey. In fact, this movie is also a prime example of how groundbreaking movies often get mixed responses at the time they are released only to become legendary in the passing years. Despite nominations for its screenplay and direction (and a win for Visual Effects for Kubrick, the only Oscar he would sadly win in his career), the film was snubbed for Best Picture and had quite a fair share of detractors. As it stands now, to say the film is iconic and important is an understatement. Even watching the film now, I am amazed that Kubrick was able to pull some of his effects off in 1968…and sure, while the film may not exactly have a script that sparkles as if it were written by Sorkin or Mamet, the film truly relies on its atmosphere and visuals; something that other filmmakers like David Lynch would strongly adhere to.

#1- 8 ½ (1963-Federico Fellini)

-In the 1982 Broadway musical NINE, the character of Guido Contini is trying to appease a rather indulgent producer by coming up with a plot for a film on the spot but she keeps protesting that the film sounds “absurd” and “depressing” and eventually that it is not what she wants. That musical, which is loosely based on 8 ½, also mirrors the same kind of resistance Fellini himself got when he was coming up with the film as he wasn’t entirely sure what he wanted to do, so he randomly scouted Italy for inspiration while producers bemoaned his lack of focus and a title…thus came to him just calling the film 8 ½ which is a self-referential jab at how many films he made up to that point. Marcello Mastroianni plays Guido in the film (with the last name Anselmi and not Contini), a film director entering middle age but he is still very much an adolescent psychologically who suffers from a strong attachment to women due to an event where his mother shamed him as a young boy when he visited a brothel. After his most recent efforts as a filmmaker flopped (something that was not related to Fellini in any way nor is this film autobiographical), Guido is lost trying to find inspiration and he is distracted by his wife Luisa, his mistress Carla, and his muse and former lover Claudia. Eventually, he is talked into making a big Science Fiction film with Claudia as the star before all of his faults cause things to crash down. I feel like Fellini is a filmmaker who truly gets you to feel the atmosphere that he is creating…and there has always been something about 8 ½ that I have found relentlessly alluring and truly divine. It is surreal and lush and vibrant and incandescent and…perhaps I should just save myself some time and just say it is a masterpiece beyond measure and one of the greatest films ever made.

And with that, I end my list of the best films from the 1960s. Coming up soon will be my list for the top 10 films of the 1970s, plus a few honorable mentions. That list is going to be incredibly hard for me and I will explain why then so stay tuned!

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