Well, I certainly didn’t expect this. You have to go all the year forward until 1981 to find a year from which I’ve seen so many movies. And there’s quality too: the top 8 or 9 are all great, and every movie on the list is pretty good.
19. The Jungle Book
18. Barefoot In The Park
17. In The Heat Of The Night
16. Who’s That Knocking At My Door?
15. You Only Live Twice – One of my earliest film memories is going to see a James Bond quadruple feature at the local drive-in. Goldfinger was the first movie, and I stayed awake through that. I think I fell asleep during this one, which was the second film. I did manage to stay awake long enough to think that the evil redheaded girl was hot. Anyway, this is one of the very best Bond films, as he teams up with ninjas to save outer space, or something. The screenplay was by Roald Dahl, of all people.
14. Casino Royale – Speaking of Bond movies, this all-star parody film is bizarrely prescient as the plot hinges on their being a number of different actors playing James Bonds (including Woody Allen). A mess of a film, behind the camera as much as one it. IMDB lists the following with uncredited writing on the film: Woody Allen, Ben Hecht, Joseph Heller, Terry Southern, Billy Wilder and Peter Sellers. The cats includes: Allen, Sellers, Orson Welles, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Deborah Kerr, Jaqueline Bisset, Ursula Andress, David Niven, John Huston, Charles Boyer, George Raft, William Holden, David Prowse, Peter O’Toole and Anjelica huston’s hands. The newest Bond movie is also Casino Royale, but they’re playing it seriously this time.
13. Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner – Social problem film in which Upper middle class white people are shocked when their daughter brings home a black fiance. Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy play the old couple, Hepburn’s neeice Katharine Houghton and Sidney Poitier play the young couple. It’s the kind of film that doesn’t age very well, but the brilliance of the performers still stands up.
12. Cool Hand Luke – Nobody can eat 50 eggs. Paul Newman created his definitive antihero character, the type he’d been playing for almost a decade in this movie about a non-conformist on a chain gang. It’s a lot like One Flew Over The Cukoo’s Nest, come to think of it, but with a more quotable screenplay. Frank pierson cowrote the screenplay. he also wrote Cat Ballou, Dog Day Afternoon and Presumed Innocent.
11. The Fearless Vampire Killers – Very strange little horror-comedy by Roman Polanski. He also co-stars as the assistant to a vampire-hunting professor. A weird and funny movie made poignant by the fact that Polanski’s love interest in the film is played by his wife, Sharon Tate, just a couple years before she was murdered by the Manson Family.
10. Samurai Rebellion – Toshiro Mifune stars as a aging samurai who’s first commanded to have his son marry his lord’s mistress, and then give her back after the two have fallen in love. He, predictably (thanks title!) refuses to do so, with lots of bloody samurai fun to result. Tatsuya Nakadai also stars. Directed by Masaki Kobayashi, who also did Harakiri, Kwaidan and The Human Condition Trilogy, none of which have I seen.
9. The Dirty Dozen – All-star World War II action movie about a group of criminally insane misfits who get assigned a suicide mission to kill a bunch of Nazis. We follow them from their selection, through their training at the hands of the great Lee Marvin and finally their attack on a house full of German generals. The cast is ridiculously good: Marvin, John Cassavettes, Robert Ryan, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland, Charles Bronson, Ernest Borgnine, Jim Brown, George Kennedy and Ralph meeker. Director Robert Aldrich also did The Longest Yard, What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?, The Big Knife, Vera Cruz and one of my all-time favorite films noir, Kiss Me Deadly.
8. Belle De Jour – Luis Buñuel’s satire of bourgeois repression is also a loving tribute to perversion. Catherine Deneuve plays a bored housewife who decides to become a prostitute in her spare time. One of her clients, of course, falls in love with her, but that’s not the point. The film is full of little jokes. It’s not as weird as some of Buñuel’s other work, but there are a few surrealist touches here and there.
7. Le Samouraï – Jean-Pierre Melville made a whole series of films noir in the 60s, and this is the only one I’ve seen. Alain Delon plays a very cool hitman in this very cool movie about very cool people double crossing each other and such. Did I mention this movie was cool? Parts of this film were a big influence on John Woo, especially for The Killer (#6, 1989), just as American noir was an influence on Melville. Delon’s hitman is named Jeff, just like Chow Yun-fat’s in The Killer and Robert Mitchum’s in Out Of The Past.
6. Point Blank – John Boorman directed this stylish neo-noir revenge tale in which Lee Marvin comes back from being betrayed and left for dead by his friend and his cuckholding wife. Also stars Angie Dickenson, Keenan Wynn and Carroll O’Connor. It’s a dark, violent film told in a flashy New Wave style, with lots of weird cuts and flashes forward and backward in time. Marvin, as always, is terrific in the lead role. It was remade by Mel Gibson as Payback, a dreadful film, I rated it dead last, the #54 film of 1999.
5. The Graduate – Mike Nichols’s classic film about a disaffected young man and his affairs with a rich housewife and her daughter. If you haven’t seen it, you’ve probably been in some kind of tragic coma for the past 40 years, but I’m glad to see you’ve come out of it and have your priorities straight by reading this before doing anything else. It hasn’t really dated at all, despite what I’ve heard multiple times in the last month or so, instead it really only works if you’re close to the same age as Dustin Hoffman’s character. You have to be young for the aimlessness and angst to really make sense.
4. Don’t Look Back – One of the best and most influential documentaries ever is this DA Pennebaker film about Bob Dylan. It chronicles Dylan’s 1965 tour of England, the one right before he went electric and freaked out the lunatic folkies. It’s one of the pioneering cinema verité documentaries, where the filmmaker appears to leave his opinion out of the film, giving the impression that the audience is just a fly on the wall. Dylan’s hilarious, young, cocky, mean, sarcastic and brilliant. The are several extended sequences of him just toying with other people: reporters, annoying fans, Donovan. It also starts with a proto-musical video, for Subterranean Homesick Blues. A must see whether you’re a Dylan fan or not (and of course, you should be.)
3. Bonnie And Clyde – One of the more influential films in history, this film marks the end of the studio system and the rise of the independent-minded, personal studio films of the early 70s. Both Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut were both slated to direct it at one time, but eventually producer/star Warren Beatty settled on Arthur Penn to direct. Penn also directed Little Big Man (#7, 1970), The Chase, Alice’s Restaurant and the great Paul Newman/Billy The Kid movie The Left-Handed Gun. The cast was largely unknown at the time, including Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons, Gene Wilder and Michael J. Pollard, with Morgan Fairchild, of all people, as Dunaway’s double. The screenplay was by David Newman and Robert Benton who both also wrote Oh Calcutta, What’s Up, Doc? and Superman: The Movie. Newman went on to write Superman II and III, along with Santa Claus: The Movie, while Benton became a successful writer/director with Kramer vs. Kramer and Nobody’s Fool.
2. Week End – Jean-Luc Godard’s fractured road movie about a bourgeois couple lost in an apocalyptic rural highway system. Along the way to try to kill one of their parents to inherit some money, they meet singers, cannibals, revolutionaries, poets, actors and more lunatic rich people. The long tracking shot of the traffic jam is one of the greatest scenes in all of film. It’s not a perfect film, but even the episodes that seem dull (a long justification for terrorism against capitalism) or silly (the revolutionary cannibals at the end) can’t overcome the sheer audacity and brilliance of the film. The movie ends with Godard’s famous proclamation of The End of Cinema, which I can’t wait to open someday.
1. Playtime – Jacques Tati hated his famous character M. Hulot, but audiences just wouldn’t accept him as anything else. So, with this film, instead of Tati alone as Hulot, everyone becomes Hulot: a regular guy, maybe a bit clumsy, a bit oblivious, trapped in a modern world that, chaotic as it is, as much as it appears that he doesn’t fit in, in fact is perfectly interconnected, seamless and maybe even purposeful. The effect of the film is difficult to describe. . . . if it was possible to combine the best parts of the silent comedies of Chaplin and Keaton with the grace and musicality of an Astaire and Rogers film. Tati creates a symphony of movement without any actual music, just the sounds of an office, a roundabout, or a crowded restaurant. If you’ve ever wondered what that cliché about the ‘poetry of motion’ is all about, this film is the purest expression of it I’ve ever seen. The movie’s currently unavailable on DVD, and I’ve only seen it one time on video, but Criterion’s rereleasing it later this year, and I’ll be buying it as soon as possible. One of my all-time favorite movies.
Some good stuff I haven’t seen this year, including a Jacques Demy musical, a couple Godard films, a Bresson , a Hepburn and George Lucas’s first movie.
Wait Until Dark
In Cold Blood
To Sir With Love
In Like Flint
Magical Mystery Tour
Branded To Kill
The Young Girls Of Rochefort
Two Or Three Things I Know About Her
I Am Curious (Yellow)
Hour Of The Gun