Top Ten Movies: 1966

Blow Up 2

Ah, such were the days when college freshman ransacked art house theaters, lurking in cramped little rooms full of budding green-horned intellectuals searching for discussion springboards in critical studies courses. And what a time! Up on screen they encountered pinnacles of sorts, movies tearing apart at the screen in radicalizations. It’s not an exaggeration then to read down at this list and note that any of these titles on any other given year could have easily ranked at the very top. But alas, the days of Persona and Au Hasard Balthazar are misty-eyed over. Not that there aren’t bona fide masterpieces – whatever that means – today. It’s just not the same scene, man. Far too many wonderful outlets prohibit a singular, dogmatic mentality to rule supreme. No Godardian deity to enshrine en masse or Sarris/Kael arena to pit oneself against as fervent cineastes nervously flip through the pages of Cahiers du Cinéma in defense of Louise Brooks and Allan Dwan. Hell, I wasn’t even born yet and I miss it. But we do still have the movies. And at the top are two of the best damn pieces of celluloid we’ll always have around. Masculin-Féminin captures said youth thriving in said habitat, all raised fingers in opinions, chugging down coffee, and chain smoking-cigarettes en route to bed for both sex, and, most importantly, more bon mots. The movie’s ethnographic (yeah), iconoclastic, and fun. Perhaps Godard’s most disarming, not that it isn’t dark (just picture a Disney star today casually discussing abortion). But then there’s Blowup, which takes it one step ahead by stripping away post-adolescent energy and leaving the remains, nihilism, knowing damn well that that’s where the generation was headed to anyway. Pretty hard to top that, don’t you think? And so at number one Antonioni stands in a hellishly impressive year.

1. Blowup (Michelangelo Antonioni)
2. Masculin Féminin (Jean-Luc Godard)
3. Persona (Ingmar Bergman)
4. Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky)
5. Au Hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson)
6. Chimes at Midnight (Orson Welles)
7. Seconds (John Frankenheimer) and The Face of Another (Hiroshi Teshigahara)
8. The Birds, the Bees and the Italians (Pietro Germi)
9. Cul-de-sac (Roman Polanski)
10. The Taking of Power by Louis XIV (Roberto Rossellini) and Nayak (Satyajit Ray)

A sucker for buxom 60’s blonde expatriates dabbling in glitz town, – and who isn’t!? – The Birds, the Bees, and the Italians was a wonderful discovery for me in the Virna Lisi cannon, and, quite possibly, the very best of the commedia all’italiana genre. It speeds way through three story lines on crack, with each premise topping the one that preceded it until it reaches a mother of a politically incorrect conclusion. Seconds is the All That Heaven Allows with Rock Hudson playing the Jane Wyman role, while Hiroshi Teshigahara’s The Face of Another shares an eerily similar premise to the Frankenheimer drama, which nevertheless is executed just as, get this, surgically. Cul-de-sac has always given me the impression of being Polanski in “pure” form and The Taking of Power by Louis XIV is remarkable in its nonchalant take on a period piece. Seriously, it’s so relaxed that it feels like you’re watching a cinéma vérité reel that just so happened to be filmed in the 17th century.

Those that missed the top include The Battle of Algiers, which on many days is better than most of the stuff I’ve got up here. Seriously, I’m beginning to regret its omission. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, whose reputation I’ll let speak for itself. And Black Girl, Ousmane Sembéne’s claim to international recognition and an incisively frigid piece that’s less than an hour long. Oh! And Monte Hellman’s The Shooting for several reasons, one being Jack Nicholson’s Byronic-like wardrobe and Will Hutchins, ah Will Hutchins. But the list keeps rolling off. There’s John Ford’s oddity Seven Women, somber and strange, really strange. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, an actor’s workshop dandy. Closely Watched Trains and Daisies, Czechoslovakia’s outlets. Wings, Larisa Shepitko’s outstanding debut. Who Are You, Polly Magoo?, a stamp of the time, along with Modesty Blaise, Alfie, and Georgy Girl. Roger Corman’s surprisingly perceptive The Wild Angels. Shohei Imamura’s The Pornographers. Alfred Hitchcock creating a tense scene on how hard it is to truly murder someone in Torn Curtain. And Seijun Suzuki with two wild tales of – surprise, surprise – youth in Fighting Elegy, and, my personal favorite of his, Tokyo Drifter. Lastly, I’d like to make a comment about Robert Downey Sr.’s Chafed Elbows. The comment being that if you like midnight movies here’s one hell of a way to sleaze still-photo storytelling. I wonder what Ken Burns would do with that.

I’ll be on hiatus for a couple of months but will return with 2010. In the meantime, enjoy some Chantal Goya and the wonderful Yé-Yé music I so passionately adore.

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Top Ten Movies: 1967

1967 Le Samourai

What a year for French cinema! While those wunderkinds of the New Wave continued to hack away at the content and form of film, one even going so far as to disown the medium, you had seasoned veterans producing some of their most distilled and finest work. And distilled is exactly the word I’d use to describe Robert Bresson’s Mouchette and Jacques Tati’s Playtime, both lauded masterpieces that produce a certain kind of purity in their directors’ visions. The same could also be said about Belle de Jour, a movie that has always struck me as the Buñuel film to initiate one unfamiliar with his sensibilities, foot fetish and all. But it is Jean-Pierre Melville’s lean and stoic crime drama that nabs the top spot with its astonishing balance of both quiet urgency and its counterintuitive weariness. Melville, caught between the French pre-war traditional method of filmmaking and its enfants terrible successors, always seemed to mirror a combination of the two. With Le Samouräi, he just so happened to also produce his most stylish and iconic gangster movie of them all. And in Melville’s world, that kind of detail makes every bit a difference.

1. Le Samouraï (Jean-Pierre Melville)
2. Belle de Jour (Luis Buñuel)
3. Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn)
4. Mouchette (Robert Bresson)
5. Playtime (Jacques Tati)
6. Accident (Joseph Losey)
7. Weekend and Two or Three Things I Know About Her (Jean-Luc Godard)
8. Point Blank (John Boorman)
9. The Young Girls of Rochefort (Jacques Demy)
10. Cool Hand Luke (Stuart Rosenberg)

Even American films began to exude with an invigorated youthfulness that had rubbed off from overseas. Bonnie and Clyde and Point Blank, the former initially orchestrated to be directed by Francois Truffaut, brimmed with an energy knowingly produced by French gangster movies like Breathless and Shoot the Piano Player, movies themselves influenced by, what else, but older American gangster pictures. I guess we Yankees just didn’t know how good we had it. But we did have Cool Hand Luke, an Americana piece of classical craftsmanship that beats out another peer amongst its class, El Doroado.

Those that just missed the cut include Mike Nichols’ little known comedy The Graduate (have you heard of it?), which unfortunately conventionalizes in its second half when it should have jabbed deeper into the Braddock-Mrs. Robinson affair. D.A. Pennebaker showed the world that Bob Dylan could be a not so very nice guy in Don’t Look Back, and Robert Blake gave the performance of a lifetime – even though Scott Wilson’s is better – in In Cold Blood, eerily foretelling a future all too familiar to Blake’s movie character. Then there’s Shirley Clarke’s fly-on-the-wall Portrait of Jason, which, along with David Holzman’s Diary and Titicut Follies, makes for an astounding case of exceptional documentaries that emerged in 1967 – if Diaries could be considered that.

Czechoslovakia had the breathtaking Marketa Lazarová and The Firemen’s Ball, Sweden gave us the *ahem* mature I Am Curious (Yellow), and Brazil offered up the spellbinding Terra em Transe. More great French films included Éric Rohmer’s La Collectioneuse and Godard’s La Chinoise (which makes three!), while Britain bestowed the… what would you call it? Somber? Somber cinematic year with an underrated and still clever comedy, Bedazzled, that, come to think of it, could take a spot on the top ten any day of the week. Now where do I sign?

Next time it will be the year 1995. “There’s a snake in my boot!”

Top Ten Movies: 1960

1960 Psycho

Much to my many failed attempts, it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on this site. A year-and-a-half as a matter of fact. It’s safe to assume that Waterfront Cinema was beginning to look like quite the drought (and here’s hoping that it continues to rain for the one that actually matters in California). So I thought it would be interesting to develop a project, one inspired by a blog page I frequent. Robert Horton’s “The Crop Duster,” which is a collection of beautifully written reviews by the Seattle-based film critic who has a knack for wit to compliment his ingenious sense of film analysis. And just like his “Year by Year Best Movies” list, this one will be a categorization of films from a given year that have left the biggest impression in my viewing experience. Of course, it’s all subjective and you can take it anyway you’d like, but I always find myself attracted to lists. I feel like the need to create order is something innate in us all, like cleaning up a cluttered room. In the end, we might realize that the carpet is a different color than what we had originally imagined, or that an object we had given up for lost was actually stashed away amidst the mess. In other words, making lists can reveal a little bit more about us than what we originally thought composed our taste and outlooks. That and this project is one heck of a way to prevent getting rusty. Write. Write. Write!

So I’ll start off with the year 1960. Seminal in its transition from an older mode of filmmaking into one of complete freedom and experimentation. This is the decade where the “Waves” flourished (i.e The Japanese New Wave, the Czech New Wave, and of course, the French New Wave already kicking it off the year before). The studio system was beginning to collapse. And yet, my number one pick comes from a master of the craft who thrived under studio discipline. Psycho is as honed a genre piece as you can get; perfected through the expertise of artists and technicians taught, where else, but the on blood, sweat, and tears of the backlots in Hollywood. Still, Psycho is different. The shift in protagonists midway through the plot, the dark and disturbing psychological subject it chooses to portray, and of course, that infamous shower scene, are characteristics that would have been unheard of in the movies just a couple of years before. You can even compare Rebecca, Hitchcock’s first film in Hollywood, with this one and see how far movies had truly come. So here it is, solidly cemented as my number one spot.

1. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock)
2. L’Avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni)
3. Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard)
4. La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini)
5. Rocco and his Brothers (Luchino Visconti)
6. Shoot the Piano Player (Francois Truffaut)
7. Peeping Tom (Michael Powell)
8. The Apartment (Billy Wilder)
9. Wild River (Elia Kazan)
10. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (Karel Reisz)

A couple of Italian landmarks at the top challenging those brazen and restless French directors catching their first wind (this was also the year of the wonderful Les Bonnes Femmes and Zazie Dans Le Métro). And as assured as I am that Rocco and his Brother is one of my absolute favorite films – of all time, so the saying goes – there it sits at number five.

Those that were close but didn’t quite make the cut include the kinetic Cruel Story of Youth and the not-so-kinetic When A Woman Ascends the Stairs. Strong turns by bonafide masters (Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well, Ozu’s Late Spring, and Bergman’s The Virgin Spring) and Purple Noon, adapted from a Highsmith staple that I believe holds up even better than Minghella’s very good 1999 film version.

Below that tier are two Robert Mitchum vehicles (Minnelli’s Home from the Hill and Zinnemann’s The Sundowners) that prove that the studios still had it in them (See The Apartment and Wild River). And then there’s Spartacus, which apart from being very entertaining, also made for one hell of a funny Pepsi commercial.

Next week (I sound like an old episodic show) will be the year 1991. Think again before taking a bite of those fava beans and nice chianti.