"I'm sure my son has a very good reason for paralyzing the country."
-Mrs. Daphne Flatow (Wild in the Streets)
Seeing as it's been a while since I've made any lists, I thought I'd have another go at it. And because I occasionally like a challenge, I decided to make a comprehensive list of my all time favorite movies. This proved to be an enormous undertaking, however, so I decided to separate the list into my favorite movies from each decade. I will start with the sixties and then move in turn to the fifties, the seventies, the forties, the eighties, the thirties, the nineties, the twenties, etc. [Side note: I will not make a list per week. I wish I could give you a time-line on the rate at which I will pump these out, but I don't like to give dates on such shit. They'll get done when they get done.]
Since my favorite movie was made in 1962, it seemed only appropriate to begin with this decade. Of course, the sixties is also an appropriate starting point in that it proved to be a watershed decade for film. A generation of French filmmakers weened on American films started a movement that would violently shake the underpinnings of popular film. Frequently examining genre films through a decidedly French mindset, these films redefined the potential for the medium. Italy's neo-realist movement of the previous decade and a half gave way to the formalist surreal experimentation of Fellini and the austere existential examinations of ennui by Antonioni. Gaining some international attention in the previous decade through the work of such directors as Kurosawa, Ozu, and Mizoguchi; Japanese cinema continued to flourish in the sixties. Indeed many other national cinemas (Czech, Swedish, Polish) came into their own during this decade. In America, the various revolutions bubbling throughout the culture began to seep into the mainstream films. And with the gradual destruction of the Production Code in the states, boundaries continued to be pushed. As Linda Williams points out in her comprehensive book Screening Sex, this was the decade in which American Cinema came of age sexually. The decade in which American movies went all the way.
I know I'm sure to get some flack for this piece, if for no other reason than that, Jules and Jim excepted, it doesn't contain any French New Wave films. While I understand the importance of this film movement, and admire the inventiveness of many of these films (as well as the new life they breathed into a staid film world), I simply could not point to any (with the exception of Jules and Jim) that I would consider among my favorites. If this had been a list of what I considered to be the most important movies of the sixties, French New Wave films would make up half of it. Rather, this is just a list of my favorite pictures from the decade.
I should point out, though, that the absence of a particular movie from this list does not necessarily mean that I would not consider it among my favorites. I may very well have some favorites that I didn't include here for the simple reason that I forgot. I am only one man, after all, and my memory is slightly shite. Speaking of which, please forgive any occasional inaccuracies in my descriptions of the films. I cover a lot of ground here and did not have time to rewatch all of these pictures before writing this piece. [Wow, way to cover my ass.]
Incidentally, when I compiled this list, I realized that it would be damn near impossible to rank these films. I like and appreciate them all for various differing reasons, so to rank them seemed pointless. In the end, I decided to order them in the only way that seemed logical to me, chronologically.
The Apartment (1960)
dir. Billy Wilder
Billy Wilder's mature tale of adultery remains one of the few films that I saw as a child that still remains watchable after innumerable viewings. Told from the perspective of a schmuck who lets the higher ups in his company use his apartment as a secret bangin' pad, this story, despite its tawdry trappings, retains an innocent charm. This innocence is due largely to Jack Lemmon's performance as the aforementioned schmuck C. C. Baxter. Lemmon, unsurpassed in his portrayals of put upon losers, imbues his character with depth and relatability, making it all the more heartbreaking when it is revealed that his love interest is having an affair with his boss. Avoiding the schmaltziness that would become de riguer in Hollywood romantic comedies, Wilder still treats us to a feel good ending that is both earnest and earned.
dir. Alfred Hitchcock
What can be said about Psycho that hasn't already been stated more eloquently elsewhere by reviewers more experienced than I? Although it might be an overstatement to claim that Hitchcock's thriller was single-handedly responsible for the horror film output of the next few decades (particularly the slasher genre) there is no denying its massive influence. Yes, some of its bite has been lessened by the sea of imitators, and more gruesome, though less artful, depictions of murder in subsequent horror pictures, but Psycho remains one of the most masterfully crafted horror pictures ever made. This is one that never fails to astound me.
Le Trou (1960)
dir. Jacques Becker
Detailed processes depicted from start to finish have always been one of my favorite things to watch in film. Whether it's building a house, committing a jewelry heist, or preparing for an attack, I just love seeing people complete tasks. It is not surprising therefore that Jacques Becker's prison escape flick, Le Trou would be one of my favorite movies. Seeing as the entirety of Becker's picture is a depiction in detail of every step of a prison escape (the planning, the tunneling, etc.), this film is basically process porn. One can't help but become wrapped up in this nail-biting tale.
Underworld U.S.A. (1961)
dir. Sam Fuller
Trained as a crime reporter in the early years of the twentieth century, Fuller is one director who never lost his edge. His hardbitten journalistic past informed all of his work. Most importantly, his experience helped him understand the importance of a compelling hook. As he states in his autobiography, "If a story doesn't give you a hard-on in the first couple of scenes, throw it in the goddamned garbage." Underworld U.S.A. like all fuller pictures starts with a bang. As a boy, main character Tolly Devlin witnesses the murder of his father at the hands of brutal thugs. Scheming his vengeance over an extended period of time, Devlin grows up to join the ranks of the very criminal organization whose members had a hand in his father's death, so as to gain the confidence of his future victims. Fuller's film is notable as being one in a series of crime pictures that attempted to portray the criminal world in the same manner as the business world.
dir. Akira Kurosawa
One of the more frequently adapted tales in film, Kurosawa's Yojimbo remains my favorite version of Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest. Toshiro Mifune (who else) plays a wandering samurai who happens into a town divided between two warring gangs. Offering to help both sides, he plays them against each other. It is immediately apparent, of course, that the only faction he has any interest in is himself.
One, Two, Three (1961)
dir. Billy Wilder
Hands down, the most entertaining, fast paced comedy of the post 1930s screwball era. James Cagney plays a Coca Cola executive operating in West Berlin, intent on keeping the Coca Cola formula secret from scheming Soviets. Wilder, a native German, superbly captures the fractured mindset of Berlin at this point in time, while simultaneously skewering Germany's collective amnesia concerning its barbaric past. Cagney's kinetic performance belies his advanced years. Because of the reams of witty dialogue that he was tasked to memorize and spout in a fast-paced manner, this film was so demanding for the aging actor that he retired from motion pictures momentarily, appearing again two decades later in Milos Forman's Ragtime. Although not usually lumped among Wilder's other masterpieces One, Two, Three is one film that I can never tire of.
Jules and Jim (1962)
dir. Francois Truffaut
The love triangle movie to end them all, Jules and Jim is also director Francois Truffaut's most accomplished picture. Spanning decades, the film follows two lifelong friends, Jules and Jim as they become romantically involved with Jeanne Moreau's carefree Catherine. Of all the French New Wave pictures, this was the most perfect synthesis of style and substance. Of his group of filmmaking compatriots, Truffaut proved the most adept at playing with film conventions without alienating viewers.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
dir. John Ford
Read my review here.
Hell Is for Heroes (1962)
dir. Don Siegel
Along with Robert Aldrich and Sam Fuller, Don Siegel helped reshape the boundaries of the American action picture. Containing an unlikely cast, including Bob Newhart and Bobby Darin, Siegel's World War II picture does not let up. Truth be told, Siegel was not the first choice to direct this picture, which was originally intended as a black comedy. Although it does include some humor (most notably through the use of one of Newhart's signature phone routines), Siegel's picture is anything but a farce. Because the studio did not have enough funds to finish the picture, Siegel was unable to film the closing scene. In any other hands, this could have resulted in a truncated, sloppy conclusion. In Siegel's (and the editor's) hands the anti-conclusion feels like the only logical ending for such a relentless picture.
Carnival of Souls (1962)
dir. Herk Harvey
A masterpiece of low budget film-making, Herk Harvey's sole directorial effort still has the power to send chills down my spine. Almost functioning as an extended twilight zone episode, Carnival of Souls is an expertly crafted and beautifully shot horror film. The surprise twist at the film's conclusion may have lost some of the shock in subsequent years and numerous imitations, but this film is more about the creepy journey than the payoff. It would not surprise me to learn that M. Night Shyamalan watched this film before writing each of his screenplays.
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
dir. John Frankenheimer
The overstatement of John Frankenheimer's importance to the film world is due mostly to his work on The Manchurian Candidate. Although he directed a few other gems (one of which is on this list), this is the film that cemented his place in film history. Capitalizing on Cold War paranoia, The Manchurian Candidate tells of a young man brainwashed by the Soviets for use in a political assassination. The film was timely, indeed even more timely than Frankenheimer intended. With the assassination of JFK the following year, this film quickly went into hiding, as its themes hit a little too close to home. It wasn't until it was unearthed some years later that it developed a renewed following.
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
dir. Robert Aldrich
Any people unfamiliar with the works of Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, who wonder why these two became such cult gay icons need only watch What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? to understand. Robert Aldrich's picture is a masterpiece of tawdry intrigue and queeny bitchiness. A master of both action pictures and high camp, Aldrich's one rule seemed to have been more, more, more. A former childhood star, Bette Davis's titular Jane is a woman still living in the bubble, deluded to the point of insanity. Joan Crawford plays the Queen Bitch's crippled sister, a woman at the mercy of the crazy one's whims. Part character study, part Hollywood critique, part thriller, this film is all kinds of awesome.
The Exterminating Angel (1962)
dir. Luis Bunuel
Luis Bunuel is perhaps the only director that has defied Sick Boy's rule of the inevitable downward trajectory of artists, in that he continued to get better with age. Indeed, he made some of his best pictures after the age of sixty. Perhaps this is due to the stifling nature of being stuck in the film-making ghetto of Mexico throughout the forties and fifties. Although he did make some gems during this period, it wasn't until he returned to Spain in 1960 to make Viridiana that he was both rediscovered and reinvigorated with a new life and sense of purpose in his filmmaking. Responsible, along with Jean Cocteau and Salvador Dali, for the short lived anarchic surreal film movement of the twenties, Bunuel never stopped throwing bombs, he never lost his surreal edge. He always aimed to offend our sensibilities. Indeed, many of the films he made until his death could be mistaken for the works of a much younger prankster revolutionary. The Exterminating Angel is perhaps the crowning achievement of his late period renaissance. His last Mexican film, this picture follows a bourgeois group of fancy dinner party guests who, for no explicable reason, are unable to leave once the party is over. Succumbing to starvation and thirst these people struggle to survive while being confined in a room that has no ties binding them there. The Exterminating Angel is a triumph of both absurdity and frustration.
The Trial (1962)
dir. Orson Welles
By far the most whacked out of Welles' output, The Trial is a masterpiece of photography in a career that has some of the best. This unflinching adaptation of Franz Kafka's masterpiece of alienation, persecution and bureaucracy (is there any other kind of Kafka story?), stars Anthony Perkins as an individual unfairly persecuted by the government for a crime that he had no part in and that he does not understand. Instead of working toward a coherent explanatory conclusion, this film delves deeper and deeper into madness, until finally climaxing with an explosive finale.
8 1/2 (1963)
dir. Federico Fellini
Perhaps time and countless imitations have robbed this film of its impact, but 8 1/2 still remains one of the most revelatory examinations of the artistic process. Like most of his pictures, Felinni's 8 1/2 is highly autobiographical. This portrait of a director suffering from filmmaking block as he struggles to come up with a follow up to his previous highly acclaimed picture is achingly personal. Containing a series of flashback, dream, and fantasy sequences; Marcello Mastroianni's character relives key moments of his life and his loves, struggling to make sense of it all--all while his present world spirals into one chaotic revelatory mess.
The Haunting (1963)
dir. Robert Wise
Robert Wise was a studio director extraordinaire. While competent in the production of studio and audience pleasing Hollywood fare, he always managed to toy with conventions, sometimes imperceptibly so. With The Haunting he made a haunted house picture in which no ghosts are ever seen. He achieves his scares through inventive camera and sound-work. Wise, wisely realized that the unknown can be scarier than all of the fancy effects you could ever think to throw at an audience.
dir. Martin Ritt
Larry McMurtry is the preeminent chronicler of sadness in the American West. Based on a McMurtry novel, Hud stars Paul Newman as the title character, an amoral, self-destructive (hell, just plain destructive) fellow rebelling against God knows what. Newman's character proves an interesting flip-side to many of the non-conformist, anti-authoritarian, anti-heroes that would appear in the films of the following decade or so. Winning us over with his charms, Newman's character soon alienates us with his non-stop devotion to all things self.
The Great Escape (1963)
dir. John Sturges
John Sturges worked out a steady career as a director of competent, entertaining action pictures. Like most competent craftsmen, when presented with extraordinary material, he was able to surpass his abilities. Rushing along at a lightning pace, the just under three hour The Great Escape contains not an ounce of fat. In this star studded action tale of a an attempted escape from a Nazi prison camp, Sturges makes every moment count. It is a stirring example of big budget studio spectacle done right. Remembered mostly for such spectacles as Steve McQueen's motorcycle chase, this film was also not afraid to linger on the little moments (such as a scene in which Donald Pleasance's legally blind passport forger sets up a scenario to convince his comrades that his sight is still intact).
Shock Corridor (1963)
dir. Sam Fuller
Like all of Fuller's films, Shock Corridor is deliriously over the top. Given that its subject matter is an insane asylum, it was only appropriate that Fuller cranked this shit up to eleven, imbuing the film with a delirium far in excess of his other pictures. Peter Breck stars as a journalist sent on a mission to examine a murder in an insane asylum. Going undercover as on of the inmates, he must discover the mystery of this crime before succumbing to madness. Like many crazy house pictures, this film functions as an examination of the lunacy of the modern world. Fuller examines such subjects as racism and nuclear proliferation without ever leaving the confines of the asylum. The murder mystery plot is really just an excuse for Fuller to examine other social issues of deep importance to himself.
High and Low (1963)
dir. Akira Kurosawa
On the surface, a by the books police procedural, High and Low, Kurosawa's film about kidnapping also functions as a potent examination of class divisions. When a criminal kidnaps the son of a wealthy shoe tycoon's servant, the business man (played by Mifune, of course) must decide between the life of his servant's child and his own career. Seeing as the other shareholders in his company are on the verge of buying him out, Mifune will loose his company if he pays the ransom. In this cold, calculating business world, Kurosawa shows the ease with which a price tag can be put on an individual's life.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
dir. Stanley Kubrick
As with many of the other film's here, Dr. Strangelove may seem a tad obvious. Sometimes the obvious choices are obvious for a reason, however. This comedic take on the insanity of the arms race has lost almost none of its bite over subsequent years. Peter Sellers, ever the chameleon, shines in the three roles he performs here. [For an interesting dramatic take on the same subject, Sidney Lumet's Fail-Safe, released the same year, is well worth a watch.]
The Last Man on Earth (1964)
dir. Ubaldo Ragona
The first and best adaptation of Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend, this film was also something of an inspiration for Night of the Living Dead, among many other pictures. Vincent Price stars as the titular man. Living in a post apocalyptic wasteland, he spends his days wandering the deserted wasteland and his nights fending off slow-moving zombie-like vampires. More than anything, this film is an examination of loneliness, and the ways in which people come to grips with and adapt to a world of forced isolation.
The Killers (1964)
dir. Don Siegel
How many directors other than Don Siegel would open a film with a gangland slaying at a school for the blind? It is not surprising that, although originally made for TV, this picture would be deemed to violent for the medium and thus released to theaters instead. The third film based on Hemingway's short story of the same name (after Robert Siodmak's 1946 noir and a Tarkovsky short), this one bears the least resemblance to the original. Siegel's version eschews everything from the Hemingway's story except for one element, the mystery of a man who seems all too willing to accept his fate at the hands of hired gunmen. This film follows two hitmen as they put the pieces together and examine why they were sent to kill a former race car driver.
A Hard Day's Night (1964)
dir. Richard Lester
It is a testament to Richard Lester's prowess as a comedy director that a movie produced with the intention of quickly cashing in on a seemingly ephemeral new fad, would long stand the test of time. Much of this film's staying power is also due to The Beatles long lasting popularity, of course. Were they to have faded away as a one hit wonder, this film might exist as nothing more than an interesting cultural artifact. Updating the anarchic sensibility of the Marx Brothers, this surreal comedy abandons all the rules. It was one of the first mainstream English language pictures to embrace the spirit and experimentation of the French New Wave. It announced the arrival of the British Invasion, a new generation of soon to be rebellious youth, and long shaggy hair. Most importantly, of course, it's a damned funny movie.
Lady in a Cage (1964)
dir. Walter Grauman
Read my review here.
Woman in the Dunes (1964)
dir. Hiroshi Teshigahara
Hiroshi Teshigahara's Woman in the Dunes is a simultaneously nerve-wrackingly repetitive and deeply sensuous/beautiful motion picture. Although the tale told here, as with The Exterminating Angel, is initially frustrating it soon takes on a hypnotic quality. In this Sisyphian tale, a man wandering through the desert is conned into staying with a woman living in a house surrounded by impenetrably large sand dunes. He soon finds that he is trapped here with this woman and must spend the rest of his days shoveling sand from the ever collapsing pit. He soon succumbs to Stockholm Syndrome and develops a sexually charged relationship with this woman. Due to the
beautiful desert photography, this is the most sensuous tale of repetition you could ever want to see.
The Naked Kiss (1964)
dir. Sam Fuller
Fuller's final masterpiece (well, it was until the Director's Cut of The Big Red One was released a few years back), The Naked Kiss tackled previously taboo subjects head on. Constance Towers is a hooker with a heart of gold, who escapes her former life after beating the shit out of the pimp who tried to cheat her out of her hard earned money. Starting life anew in an all too perfect small town, she soon becomes involved with a man who seems to good to be true. After witnessing a horrifying event, the new life she worked so hard for comes crashing down. Functioning as a critique of so called good old fashioned small town values, this film also explores the idea of the possibility of redemption.
I Am Cuba (1964)
dir. Mikhail Kalatozov
Those watching Kalatozov's film for its story and/or messages, will no doubt be put off by its didactic, laughably naive political propagandizing. Those watching this film for its camera work, however, will cum in their pants. Sent to Cuba to make a film celebrating the recent revolution, the accomplished Soviet director Mikhail Kalatozov, instead used it as an opportunity to further experiment with his already impressive camera techniques.
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)
dir. Russ Meyer
Speed, sex, and action -- perhaps the most apt description of Meyer's crowning achievement. Because Meyer's oeuvre is remembered more for the breastular achievements of the starlets, few people remember that this perv extraordinaire was also a master craftsmen of dialogue. Such exchanges as:
"Look, I don't know what the hell your point is-"
"The point is of no return and you've reached it."
are pure trash poetry. The plot is simple enough. A group of strippers goes on a crime spree throughout the Southwest. Under the guise of such a titilating premise, Meyer manged to toy with our notions of sexuality and gender relations. This cunning exploitation director managed to sneak some quality in under the radar.
The Loved One (1965)
dir. Tony Richardson
Tony Richardson's The Loved One is is one of the only filmic examinations of the funeral industry. This brutally funny film is a comedy of the darkest sort. Like some other films on this list, some of the comedy here has become dated, though no less biting.
Simon of the Desert (1965)
dir. Luis Bunuel
I am breaking a small rule here, in that Simon of the Desert, Bunuel's wonderfully sacrilegious picture, which runs at 45 minutes, is technically not a feature length movie. For Bunuel, however, I am willing to break this rule. In the most whacked-out manner possible, this film follows the life of Saint Simon, a forth century ascetic who climbs a pillar so as to be closer to God. Incidentally, this film is notable as having the best Satan-in-a-hip-New-York-night-club sequence in film history (Yes, you heard me).
The Battle of Algiers (1966)
dir. Gillo Pontecorvo
The Battle of Algiers is Gillo Pontecorvo's unflinching depiction of the Algerian revolution against French occupation. Although it is obvious where Pontecorvo's sympathies lie, his film does not bludgeon the viewer with pompous didacticism. He presents in a relatively straightforward manner, the realities of the conflict here. He manages to present the conflict in a relatively unbiased manner, depicting brutalities committed by both sides. The film is rooted in a documentary reportage aesthetic. With such works as The Corner, The Wire, and Generation Kill, David Simon is one of the few artists whose work has come close to Pontecorvo's in documentary realist approach to examining a subject.
dir. John Frankenheimer
Read my review here.
dir. Michelangelo Antonioni
Antonioni is one of the few directors who could take a tale of an oversexed, mod photographer and turn it into an existential examination of modern ennui. Those unaccustomed to Antonioni's style might find Blow-Up cold, boring, or even worse, obnoxiously hip. Although, it might be seen as reveling in the coolness of its subject, Antonioni's film is a more a critique of the vapid, empty lives of the characters. Oh yeah, this film also contains something of an accidental murder mystery, one that is never solved and which may not even exist.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)
dir. Sergio Leone
Although the first two entries in Leone's "Man with No Name Trilogy", were excellent works, it was with The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, that the Italian director came into his own.
The Dirty Dozen (1967)
dir. Robert Aldrich
Action war pictures rarely get more exciting than The Dirty Dozen. Lee Marvin leads a ragtag group of jailed American soldiers on a suicide mission behind enemy lines to a Nazi chateau in order to kill as many German officers as possible and disrupt the enemy. Nazis getting killed--is there anything more fun to watch in film? I don't think so.
Le Samourai (1967)
dir. Jean Pierre Melville
Alain motherfuckin' Delon is an assassin for hire.
Cool Hand Luke (1967)
dir. Stuart Rosenberg
Paul Newman rebels against authorities while in a motherfuckin' chain gang.
The Incident (1967)
dir. Larry Peerce
Martin Sheen and his buddy terrorize the passengers on a subway train.
In Cold Blood (1967)
dir. Richard Brooks
In Cold Blood, Richard Brooks' adaptation of Truman Capote's true crime novel, pulls no punches in its retelling of the murder of the Clutter family and pursuit of the killers. This film is a perfect symbiosis of subject matter and style. Brooks aims for verisimilitude in his recreation of events. Conrad Hall's crisp, stark, and at times beautiful black and white photography lends the film an appropriate air of gravity.
The Graduate (1967)
dir. Mike Nichols
Dustin Hoffman sexes on slightly older MILF Anne Bancroft.
The Shooting (1967)
dir. Monte Hellman
The Shooting, Monte Hellman's revisionist, Spaghetti Western influenced take on the Western genre is one of the sparest, bleakest of the genre to emerge from the sixties. Having a dreamlike quality, the fairly simple plot can still confuse after a single viewing. Jack Nicholson and a few others join Warren motherfuckin' Oates' bounty hunter as he searches for the killer of a partner. To be honest, I don't think I have ever fully understood this film. Understanderin', however is not necessarily what this film is all about (unless I'm understanding it wrong). What Hellman has achieved here is a perfect sense of time and place. His West is one relentless, unforgiving bitch. With The Shooting, tone is everything.
Spider Baby (1968)
dir. Jack Hill
Jack Hill was the Howard Hawks of exploitation movies. Excelling in genres as diverse as action, comedy, women in prison, blaxploitation; with Spider Baby he proved an excellent horror director. This film tells the story of a crazy inbred hillbilly family whose members become more childlike and murderously psychotic as they age. Although a delicious piece of camp, Spider Baby also foretold much of the move toward the more brutally realistic horror of such seventies films as The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Planet of the Apes (1968)
dir. Franklin J. Schaffner
Charlton Heston versus Apes. 'Nuff said.
Wild in the Streets (1968)
dir. Barry Shear
Read my review here.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
dir. George Romero
For many years my favorite movie, Romero's triumphant debut, Night of the Living Dead, still remains my favorite horror film. The film that revolutionized and introduced the modern zombie (later to be replaced by the annoying fast zombie), Romero's picture is more than just a horror movie. As with his other pictures, he was also concerned with other social, political issues--in this case race relations and to a lesser extent the Vietnam War. Unlike some of his later works, which could be quite blunt in their critiques of American society, Night of the Living Dead introduces these topics in a sly manner. Without ever emphasizing the point, the smartest character in this movie is the black hero. The violent rednecks roaming the countryside, in many instances are seen as indistinguishable from the flesh eating zombies.
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
dir. Sergio Leone
Every so often a movie comes along that makes you clap your hands and shout, "Goddamn, now that's a fucking movie!" Although not my favorite Western, it is one that, more than any other, inspires me to want to make movies. The plot is a smorgasbord of the hundreds of Westerns that Leone had viewed over the course of his lifetime. Most importantly, this film is unabashedly, unapologetically beautifully cinematical. Whereas most filmmakers will try to submerge their style, so as to let viewers forget they are watching movies, Leone's technique (extreme closeups, odd angles) constantly reminds the viewers that they are in the hands of an expert filmmaker. The filmmaking calls attention to itself in the best manner possible.
dir. Albert and David Maysles
Frederick Wiseman has stated that all documentaries are subjective. The decision to cut two images together is a choice on the part of the filmmaker meant to elicit a reaction. The director also chooses what to shoot. No matter how minimal the style, an un-biased documentary is something that simply does not exist. Champions of the "direct cinema" documentary style, the Maysles proved that a documentary as austere as their Salesman, is not without a point of view. Following a group of bible salesmen throughout the Northeast the Maysles examine capitalism and the commodification of all aspects of our lives. Everyone and everything has a price tag. Mercenary motives underlie even the most seemingly mundane conversations. The hustle never ends.
[Incidentally, if I had seen any of Wiseman's sixties films, I would have undoubtedly included them on this list. Wiseman, unfortunately, has made his movies frustratingly hard to obtain. The only one of his that I have seen is the epic tragedy Welfare. It will, of course be included on my favorite movies of the seventies list.]
The Italian Job (1969)
dir. Peter Collinson
Although The Italian Job remake was an enjoyable heist film, it lacked two ingredients integral to the awesomeness of the original, a Quincy Jones score and Michael motherfuckin' Caine. Sure, to some, the original may be a slight piece of mod-sploitation but it is one fucking entertaing movie.
The Wild Bunch (1969)
dir. Sam Peckinpah
With this film, Peckinpah introduced graphic violence to the American West. Although definitely not the first of the Western revisionists, Peckinpah was certainly the bloodiest. A group of anachronistic outlaws fights against a changing world in its attempt at one last big score. This film, more than anything, is a swan song for the American West. Rather than ending with a peaceful dignified death in bed, however, the West goes out guns a blazin', taking out as many motherfuckers as possible before succumbing to the march of time.
Army of Shadows (1969)
dir. Jean-Pierre Melville
Long unreleased in the United States, Melville's espionage/war picture Army of Shadows is perhaps his most personal. Undoubtedly drawing on his own experiences, Melville gives an in depth look at the French resistance of World War II. With a blunt, matter of fact style, this film pulls no punches in its depictions of the cruelties of war and the often tenuous relationships among spies.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
dir. George Roy Hill
Paul Newman and Robert Redford rob banks and trains. What's not to love?
Putney Swope (1969)
dir. Robert Downey Sr.
After the executive of a Madison Avenue ad agency suddenly dies, the other suits hold a quick vote for a new leader, accidentally electing the token black man at the company, Putney Swope. Swope soon revolutionizes the firm. Director Robert Downey Sr.'s crowning achievement is an examination of race relations and the business world. He takes particular glee in skewering the ad world. Indeed much of the film is a series of commercial parodies. Although much of the humor and politics in Downey's film have become dated by this point, it will always appeal to my inner teenage, fuck the system, anarchist.