Now this is a great year. Four indisputable classics, along with plenty of other pretty good movies. It’s also got the most moves I’ve seen since 1972.
12. Romeo And Juliet – This gauzy adaptation is far inferior to the lively Baz Luhrman film that ranked 11th in 1996. It’s directed by Franco Zeffirelli, who also directed the Mel Gibson version of Hamlet (#8, 1990), which too is much better than this film. Both the leads are very pretty.
11. The Love Bug – The best movie about a sentient car ever made. Director Robert Stevenson did almost all the truly great live-action Disney films: Mary Poppins, Darby O’Gill And The Little People, Old Yeller, The Absent-Minded Professor, The Misadventures Of Merlin Jones, and so on.
10. The Odd Couple – The movie version of the play that turned into a TV series. Neil Simon wrote the screenplay and Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau start the legendary onscreen collaboration that would ultimately lead to the genius of Grumpier Old Men (#75, 1995).
9. Planet Of The Apes – One of the greatest of all camp classics. It lead to a second career peak for star Charlton Heston. The man who played Moses and Ben-Hur soon become the greatest of all crappy SF movie actors in films like this, The Omega Man and Soylent Green. Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter co-star. You remember Hunter as the Stella that Brando was yelling about in A Streetcar Named Desire. She won and Oscar for that, but not for this.
8. Winnie The Pooh And The Blustery Day – The second of three animated Disney Pooh movies. This is the one that introduces Piglet and Tigger. I read the Tao Of Pooh in high school and it’s a great book. I never got around to reading The Te Of Piglet though, so I don’t know what that’s about.
7. Bullitt – The ultra-cool Steve McQueen stars in this otherwise unremarkable cop movie. It’s got one of the all-time great car chases, right up there with The French Connection (#8, 1971) and Ronin (#15, 1998). And it co-stars Jaqueline Bisset, Norman Fell, Robert Vaughn and Robert Duvall.
6. Night Of The Living Dead – A transitional film between the old b-movie horror films of the 50s and 60s and the splatter films of the late 70s and 80s. George Romero’s first Zombie movie is also the best. It’s ultra low-budget, more taught and suspenseful than the latter three films (Dawn Of The Dead, #7, 1978; Day Of Thee Dead, #24, 1985; and Land Of The Dead, #30, 2005) which are more about social satire and action than anything else. First a hysterical woman, then a heroic black men, then a lunatic family hide from the zombies in a farmhouse and are surrounded. The scenes are intercut with the coverage of the zombie attacks on TV, in a kind of homage to 50s sci-fi films. It’s a perfect example of it’s genre, as scary as any horror film ever.
5. Barbarella – The movie that gave Duran Duran their name. Jane Fonda plays a secret agent (in space!) who must track down a missing and evil scientist who wants to destroy the universe, or something. Along the way, she often finds herself in various states of undress, falls in love with a pretty blind angel and must confront the dangers of the evil scientist’s Excessive Machine. The best movie about sex ever made.
4. Rosemary’s Baby – The other side of the sex coin is this film, wherein Mia Farrow becomes impregnated with Satan’s baby. Farrow’s terrific, as is John Cassavetes as her husband. Ruth Gordon won an Oscar for playing the annoying neighbor, but I really just find her annoying. Maybe director Roman Polanski’s best film, though most would claim Chinatown is better. Certainly one of the creepiest movies I’ve ever seen.
3. Once Upon A Time In The West – Sergio Leone’s masterpiece is this summation of everything the Western genre represents. It’s the story of how civilization came to be imposed upon chaos. All Westerns are about that conflict, some more explicitly than others. In this sense, this film is the purest expression of the genre. Henry Fonda famously plays against type as the villain, in one of the better performances of his career. In his character, the twin evils of murderous outlawry and rampant capitalism are united. Opposed to him are Jason Robards, as the honorable thief type perfected by Eli Wallach in The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, and Charles Bronson, also playing somewhat against type as the nameless harmonica-playing, revenge-seeking hero. Claudia Cardinale plays the widow of a visionary man who wanted to build a town in the middle of a desert, which, like I said, is what it’s all about. If Unforgiven (#1, 1992) represents the thematic end of the Western, then this represents its pinnacle.
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey – Speaking of genres, I once wrote a paper about 2001 in which I argued that science-fiction is not a genre, but rather a mode or a setting. It makes sense really: what does films like Star Wars, Alien, Solaris, Blade Runner and 2001 have in common but being set in the future with as yet undeveloped technology? It’d be like calling Gone With The Wind, Ben-Hur, All Quiet On The Western Front, Caligula and The Life Of Brian all part of the same genre simply because they all take place in the past.
Anyway, 2001’s a great movie, on of the few pre-Star Wars films whose special effects still hold up over time. It’s split in thirds: the first section, about the monkeys, is my favorite; the second, about the computer, is the most accessible, it’s often remarked how Hal is the most human character in the movie; the third, about, well, that depends. It’s weird and trippy and it is what you make of it. I think it’s supposed to be about the evolution of humankind into a purer consciousness, unbound by physical limitations (which is why you can’t see the aliens). But it’s not really clear.
1. The Lion In Winter – An idiosyncratic pick for the top spot to be sure. I can’t objectively argue that this is a better film than the previous two, but there’s no doubt which among them is my favorite. Being essentially a filmed play, the movie doesn’t have any of the stylistic elements you look for in a great film, but it does have a plethora of fantastic performances and one of my favorite scripts of all-time. At Christmastime 1183, the royal family of England gathers to figure out who’s going to be the new heir to the throne. King Henry wants troglodyte John to succeed him, Queen Eleanor (of Aquitaine) wants Richard (the Lion-Heart), and nobody likes Geoffrey. Joining the party are Henry’s girlfriend Alys and her brother Philip, the King Of France. Whoever marries Alys gets to be King. The dialogue is a retro-screwball-comedy dialogue, which makes a nice anachronistic contrast with the period-specific grimy sets and props. The actors are uniformly outstanding. Katherine Hepburn won her third Oscar as the Queen, Peter O’Toole was robbed, again, for playing the King. Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton make their film debuts as Richard and Philip and Nigel Terry plays John (he was Arthur in Excalibur (#7, 1981). It was written by James Goldman (William’s brother) and based on his play. One of my all-time favorite films.
Some pretty good Unseen movies this year, most notably the ones by Truffaut, Brooks, and Cassavettes. though I hear the Russian version of War And Peace is really good. It can’t be worse than the Hollywood one with Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda playing Russians.
Where Eagles Dare
Hang ‘Em High
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
The Green Berets
The Thomas Crown Affair
If . . . .
Ice Station Zebra
The Bride Wore Black
War And Peace