Movies Of the Year: Best Of The 60s

Time for the next decade in the Best Movie Years project, the 1960s, a decade defined by both an explosion of world cinema and the death of the Hollywood studio system. As always, the years are ranked by both peak (the quality of the best films of the year) and depth (the volume of good films in the year).

10. 1969 – For every other year this decade, I’ve seen an average of almost 22 movies. But somehow, for 1969, I’ve only managed to see ten. I don’t know if that’s just random chance, or a blind spot on my part, or if it just wasn’t a very good year. Regardless, despite the fact that the year is lead by one of my all-time favorites (Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev), and one of the very best martial arts films ever made, King Hu’s A Touch Of Zen, the year is severely lacking in both peak and depth. Best: Andrei Rublev. Most Underrated: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Most Overrated: Easy Rider.

9. 1965 – Led by what are arguably the two best films by two of my favorite directors (Chimes At Midnight and Pierrot le fou), 1965 has a very fine peak and some solid, if unspectacular depth. To personal favorites of mine (The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and A Charlie Brown Christmas) and fun films by Jean-Luc Godard and Otto Preminger easily push this year ahead of 1969. Bonus points for ninjas. Best: Pierrot le fou. Most Underrated: The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. Most Overrated: The Sound Of Music or Dr. Zhivago.

8. 1960 – A huge leap forward for what is nonetheless the eighth best year of the decade. Led by classics like Psycho, Shoot The Piano Player, L’Avventura and Breathless, with some solid depth in films by Yasujiro Ozu, Stanley Kubrick, Michael Powell, Federico Fellini, Billy Wilder, Akira Kurosawa and Budd Boetticher. A good year, but this is a great decade. Best: Psycho. Most Underrated: Late Autumn. Most Overrated: La Dolce Vita or The Magnificent Seven.

7. 1966 – The first of seven truly amazing years this decade is led by masterpieces from Robert Bresson, Sergio Leone, Gillo Pontecorvo, Michelangelo Antonioni and Jean-Luc Godard. there’s also John Ford’s final film, 7 Women, one of his best and most neglected, King Hu’s revolutionary wuxia masterpiece Come Drink With Me, and possibly the greatest pure (ie, non-satirical) samurai film ever made, Kihachi Okamoto’s Sword Of Doom. Not to mention fine films from Seijun Suzuki, Jiri Menzel, Charles Schultz, Chuck Jones and Dr. Seuss, Doris Day and Frank Tashlin, Mike Nichols and Woody Allen’s first great comedy. Best: Au hasard Balthazar. Most Underrated: 7 Women. Most Overrated: Persona.

6. 1968 – The craziest year of a crazy decade sees a half dozen masterpieces at the top along with a handful of other fine films. Stolen Kisses, Barbarella, Kill!, The Immortal Story and Bullitt make for decent depth, but it doesn’t compare to the years higher up on the list. This year’s case is made by it’s peak: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Once Upon A Time In The West, Rosemary’s Baby, Night Of The Living Dead, Hell In The Pacific and personal favorite The Lion In Winter. Best: Once Upon A Time In The West. Most Underrated: Hell In The Pacific. Most Overrated: The Producers.

5. 1962 – Four masterpieces at the top, with The Manchurian Candidate, Lawrence Of Arabia, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and L’Eclisse, solid depth with films from Luis Buñuel, Akira Kurosawa, Robert Bresson, Jean-Luc Godard, Orson Welles, Masaki Kobayashi, Don Siegel, Sam Peckinpah, Stanley Kubrick, Howard Hawks, and François Truffaut. Best: The Manchurian Candidate. Most Underrated: Sanjuro. Most Overrated: Jules And Jim.

4. 1963 – At least six more masterpieces here and arguably nine. Old Hollywood holds its own against the onslaught of foreign art directors, with John Sturges’s The Great Escape, Stanley Donen’s Charade, John Ford’s Donovan’s Reef, Samuel Fuller’s Shock Corrider and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds matched up against Fellini’s 8 1/2, Kurosawa’s High And Low, Godard’s trio of Contempt, Les Carabiniers and Le petit soldat and Visconti’s The Leopard. There’s even the best james Bond movie (From Russia With Love) and possibly the best Jerry Lewis movie (The Nutty Professor). Best: 8 1/2. Most Underrated: Donovan’s Reef. Most Overrated: The Nutty Professor.

3. 1961 – Arguably the deepest year of the decade, with a whopping 19 quality films ranging from certified classics like Yojimbo, Last Year At Marienbad, Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Viridiana, The Hustler, and West Side Story to auteur favorites A Woman Is A Woman, La Notte, Cleo From 5 To 7, The End Of Summer, Two Rode Together, One, Two, Three and Underworld, USA to more obscure gems like Jacques Demy’s Lola, Nicholas Ray’s King Of Kings and Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s Mother Joan Of The Angels. Best: A Woman Is A Woman. Most Underrated: Lola. Most Overrated: West Side Story.

2. 1967 – Not quite as deep, but even stronger at the top is this year, led by Jacques Tati’s masterpiece Playtime, Jean-Luc Godard’s era-ending Week End, Jacques Demy’s apotheosis The Young Girls Of Rochefort, DA Pennebaker’s genre-defining Don’t Look Back and Arthur Penn’s Hollywood-killing Bonnie And Clyde. Great films also include America’s The Dirty Dozen, Point Blank, The Graduate, Cool Hand Luke and Who’s That Knocking At My Door?; Europe’s 2 Or 3 Things I Know About Her, Le Samouraï, Belle de jour, and The Fearless Vampire Killers; and Asia’s Samurai Rebellion and The One-Armed Swordsman. Perhaps the most impressive thing about this year (that, or just an odd coincidence) is that there isn’t a single film out of the 22 I’ve seen that I’d classify as bad. At the bottom of my list are Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? and In The Heat Of The Night, two Oscar-nominated films starring Sidney Poitier that deal with race in rather problematic ways but are nonetheless not terrible movies at all. Best: Playtime. Most Underrated: The Young Girls Of Rochefort. Most Overrated: In The Heat Of The Night.

1. 1964 – Similarly, there isn’t a bad film in the 21 I’ve seen from this, the best year of the decade. It’s the amazing peak value that pushes ’64 to the top of the list, with somewhere between nine and fifteen masterpieces, depending on how you look at it. Starting from the top, there’s Stanley Kubrick’s best film Dr. Strangelove, Jacques Demy’s classic New Wave musical The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg, Mikhail Kalatozov’s flashy yet stunning I Am Cuba, arguably the best war movie of all-time: Cy Endfield’s Zulu, possibly Jean-Luc Godard’s most crowd-pleasing film (Band Of Outsiders), perverse classics from Alfred Hitchcock, Hiroshi Teshigahara and Samuel Fuller (Marnie, Woman In The Dunes, The Naked Kiss) and Carl Theordor Dreyer’s final film, the magisterial Gertrud. On the second tier are the second best Bond film (Goldfinger), A Hard Day’s Night, A Fistful Of Dollars, Mary Poppins, John Frankenheimer’s The Train, Roger Corman’s Poe adaptations Masque Of The Red Death and The Tomb Of Ligeia and Blake Edwards’s A Shot In The Dark and John Ford’s Monument Valley farewell Cheyenne Autumn. At the bottom of my list is George Cukor’s My Fair Lady, a beautiful film that isn’t bad at all. Best: Dr. Strangelove. Most Underrated: Zulu. Most Overrated: My Fair Lady.

Director Roundup:

Starting a new feature, adding up which directors have the most films in the top tens for each year of the decade. Here’s every director with at least two:

Jean-Luc Godard: 11
Akira Kurosawa: 4
Michelangelo Antonioni: 4
Stanley Kubrick: 3
Alfred Hitchcock: 3
John Ford: 3
Jacques Demy: 3
Orson Welles: 2
François Truffaut: 2
Sam Peckinpah: 2
Yasujiro Ozu: 2
Kihachi Okamoto: 2
Sergio Leone: 2
Samuel Fuller: 2
Federico Fellini: 2
Luis Buñuel: 2
Robert Bresson: 2
John Boorman: 2
Woody Allen: 2

And since I missed it last time, here are the numbers for the 50s:

Alfred Hitchcock: 7
Yasujiro Ozu: 6
Akira Kurosawa: 5
Kenji Mizoguchi: 4
John Ford: 4
Billy Wilder: 4
Nicholas Ray: 4
Anthony Mann: 4
Stanley Kubrick: 3
Douglas Sirk: 3
Orson Welles: 3
Vincente Minnelli: 3
Samuel Fuller: 3
Budd Boetticher: 2
Federico Fellini: 2
Max Ophuls: 2
Jacques Tati: 2
Stanley Donen: 2
Robert Bresson: 2
Howard Hawks: 2
Jean Renoir: 2
Roberto Rossellini: 2
Joseph L. Mankiewicz: 2

Movies Of The Year: 1950

The pace has slowed significantly, but this is the 59th Movies Of The Year list I’ve done here, more than two-thirds of the way to completion. I find I’ve been a lot less motivated to write them since I figured out and posted all the lists in one spot (well, three spots) as The Big List. A large part of my motivation before was finding out what films would have to be ranked against each other with each new year. On the other hand, I really like having them all there for my own reference, if nothing else. Plus, I’ve already written about a lot of these older films in the roundups, which makes it more difficult as I’d try to not repeat myself. So I’m going to try quoting myself more and see if that speeds things up.

1950’s not a bad year, but it’s still only the 8th best of the decade.

15. Cinderella – Generic Disney movie, annoying comic relief animals, lame songs, though the animation manages to be nicely abstract at times.

14. Where Danger Lives – I wrote about this a little over a year ago:

Decent enough John Farrow noir starring Robert Mitchum as a doctor who gets suckered by a crazy woman. Her husband ends up dead and the two of them try to flee to Mexico, while Mitchum’s got a concussion and the girl gets crazier and crazier. Great supporting actors are largely wasted in much too small roles, namely Claude Rains and Farrow’s wife, Maureen O’Sullivan.

Honestly, I don’t really remember much more than a wild car chase that was filmed such that the car actually looks like it’s driving really fast.

13. The Baron Of Arizona – Transitional Sam Fuller film with a restrained performance from Vincent Price. The story is crazy enough to be true and the lynch mob scene at the end is funny, chaotic and exciting, like the best of Fuller.

12. DOA – Killer premise for a noir (guy gets poisoned and has a limited amount of time to find out who did it and why), but I didn’t like Edmond O’Brien as the hero and the whole thing felt overlong despite being less than 90 minutes. Some great set pieces and the film is often visually stunning, director Rudolph Maté had been a great cinematographer (he shot Dreyer’s The Passion Of Joan Of Arc).

11. Born Yesterday – I wrote this, which pretty well sums it up, I think:

Corrupt capitalist hires four-eyed journalist to tutor his ditzy blonde girlfriend so she’ll be less embarrassing in high society. Blonde learns a thing or two and realizes her tycoon is a crook and outs him, while running off with the geeky writer, who turns out to be William Holden. An iconic performance from Judy Holliday is the highlight, and director George Cukor never quite allows the film to descend into the filmed-theatre genre it so desperately wants to join.

10. The Father Of The Bride – Very pleasant light comedy from Vincente Minnelli and starring the always great Spencer Tracy and the very cute Elizabeth Taylor. Much better than the remake, of course. I want Tracy to make me a martini.

9. Rio Grande – The third part of John Ford’s Cavalry Trilogy (it’s not really a trilogy, just three films about the cavalry, but whatever) is the least of the three. Not as deep as Fort Apache, nor as entertaining and pretty as She Wore A Yellow Ribbon. Still, it’s Ford and it stars John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, who are always great together. Wayne’s training new recruits, one of whom turns out to be his son. Complications ensue when mom shows up to take him home. And there’s a war on.

8. Sunset Blvd. – Billy Wilder’s very noir Hollywood satire has the classic performance from Gloria Swanson as the washed-up loony silent film star, and a clever opening with narration by the dead guy in the pool and great supporting work from directors Erich von Stroheim and Cecil B. DeMille and even a cameo for Buster Keaton. The problem is, as it often is, William Holden. I really don’t like him, and the movie falls apart whenever Swanson’s not there chewing things up.

7. The Asphalt Jungle – John Huston heist film that manages to be both overrated and underrated at the same time. Overrated because it’s considered one of the best noirs ever by a lot of people who haven’t seen a lot of noir. The characters are cardboard, hackneyed and cheesy (think Sterling Hayden and his horses), the direction textbook noir with little style and the plot silly. Underrated because while all those things are true, it’s nonetheless very entertaining: the actors are terrific and Marilyn Monroe is at her most adorable in her small role.

6. In A Lonely Place – Nicholas Ray’s film is the second show business noir on the list (I don’t think you can make a case for there being three, but you’re welcome to try). Humphrey Bogart plays a screenwriter with writer’s block and an anger management problem who becomes the lead suspect in a murder case. Gloria Grahame plays the hot neighbor he becomes involved with, but it all ends, inevitably, in tragedy. One of Bogart’s greatest performances, the anger and the drinking feel very real. This is a movie I’ve seen, I believe, three times, but I still don’t fell I have a firm grasp on how great it really is. James Harvey writes about it at length in his great book Movie Love In The 50s. You should read it.

5. Stromboli – First saw this almost two years ago, it was my first Roberto Rossellini film and this is what I wrote:

stars Ingrid Bergman as a WW2 refugee who marries a young Italian man to escape the refugee camp. The young man takes her to his home island of Stromboli, a conservative little village dominated by an active volcano. The volcano metaphor isn’t exactly subtle, but neither is Bergman’s performance as she becomes increasingly hysterical in her struggle against the provincialism of small-town life. But somehow, teetering on the edge of camp, it manages to be sincere and moving.

Since then, I haven’t been able to get the film’s eerie final sequence out of my mind: Bergman staggering hysterically across the smoking volcano, as apocalyptic an image as anything in film.

4. Winchester ’73 – Most schematic of the Anthony Mann-James Stewart Westerns, but a lot of fun nonetheless. Stewart has the titular gun stolen from him, and has to track down the guy who took it along the way wandering through every Western plot point you can think of. As definitive a Western as Stagecoach, and as perfectly constructed. Even if Mann doesn’t fill his film with the quite flair for iconic imagery that Ford does, he ain’t bad.

3. Harvey – For those who wonder how I could contemplate placing these two entertaining, yet slight, James Stewart movies over the previous two auteur classics, I have this to say: In this world, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant. Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. My love for this film may be wholly irrational, but I love it nonetheless.

2. All About Eve – Very difficult choice for the top spot this year, with two films that are not only among my all-time favorites, but also films that mark definitive stages in my cinephile life. Eve, Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s film about Broadway and all its insecurities and manipulations is perfect: with an interesting structure, a brilliant script and a graceful visual style. Bette Davis’s iconic leading role is justly famous, but Anne Baxter’s Eve is just as good and George Sanders gives the most George Sandersy performance of his life. That the two other male actors are merely decent and not good as the leads (or Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter or Marilyn Monroe at her second most adorable either) is about the worst I can say about it. I remember very clearly being blown away by this film when I first saw it my freshman year in college, when every new movie was a revelation and I never knew old films could be so smart, so funny, so twisted and so . . . well, perfect.

1. Rashomon – This film, on the other hand, is not without its flaws. The hyperbolic acting (from Toshiro Mifune and Michiko Kyo particularly) can be off-putting, the Bolero-esque score is at best functional (it makes Donald Richie cringe at Kurosawa’s generic taste in classical music, but my taste is just as bad, so it doesn’t really bug me), and the addition of the coda (changing the original story) makes the film more uplifting and humanist and/or sentimental and cheesy, depending on how cynical you are. But I love it despite all these faults. I prefer the loud and crazy Mifune to the more normal, restrained Mifune, though all Mifunes are always awesome. Michiko Kyo and Masayuki Mori aren’t as good as they would later be in their Mizoguchi films, but they don’t bother me either. Takeshi Shimura is is usual brilliant self rounding out one of the greatest collections of actors ever in a single film. The puzzle of the film, about the nature of truth and whether or not everybody lies, to themselves and to others, is endlessly fascinating, and I’m simply not depressed enough to hate the ending. But the reason I owe Rashomon the top spot on this list is because it is the film that opened up foreign films for me. I’d seen The Seventh Seal before, and while I really liked it, it didn’t make me rush out and watch a bunch of non-English language films. Rashomon did. I watched it one afternoon and immediately after drove to the store and rented an armful of Kurosawa and spent the next several weeks doing nothing but watching his films, along with Fellini and Bergman and Truffaut and Eiesenstein and Renoir and before long, I wasn’t in college anymore. But I was much better off.

Some great Unseen Movies again this year. I sort of watched Wagon Master, but I need to see it again before I can properly rank it. Orphée I own but haven’t watched. I don’t know why I don’t have The Flowers Of St. Francis yet. It’s been near the top of my netflix queue for a couple of years now and there are reportedly great DVDs of it from both Criterion and Masters Of Cinema.

Stars In My Crown
Los Olividados
Stage Fright
Broken Arrow
Night And The City
No Way Out
Where The Sidewalk Ends
Les enfants terribles
The Flowers Of St. Francis
La Ronde
The Sound Of Fury
Panic In The Streets
The Gunfighter
The Flame And The Arrow
Annie Get Your Gun