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: 1979

1979 The Marriage of Maria Braun

Last time I had promised 1995… again. But hey, I get to make the rules here. It’s been a while since I’ve watched several of the films from that year, so I’d rather wait and revisit a couple before I take on the challenge of, you know, listing them. 1979, however, is as fresh in my mind as Hanna Schygulla’s smeared lipstick. After a trailblazing decade of drug-fueled machine-gun paced work, Rainer Werner Fassbinder finally got the kind of budget he’d always admired when watching Hollywood soap dramas from the 1950’s. The Marriage of Maria Braun is a compact little epic about survival in post-war Germany as told through the experiences of one single woman. It’s trashy, at times overwrought, and perfectly sinister in its commentary about West German plight turned opportunism. Basically, it’s all of the things that make Fassbinder’s work so chillingly pleasurable. Enough so, in fact, to knock out a couple of bona fide classics off the top spot. I mean how much more could really be said about Apocalypse Now or Alien? Movies that still sell out tickets at retrospect screenings like Super Bowl games. And although as popular as Maria Braun is when discussing Fassbinder’s work, that’s still a claim that it sadly can’t achieve. Which is a shame because it’s one heck of film. Oh well. You can’t win ’em all.

1. The Marriage of Maria Braun (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
2. Manhattan (Woody Allen)
3. Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky)
4. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola)
5. Tess (Roman Polanski)
6. Vengeance is Mine (Shōhei Imamura)
7. Alien (Ridley Scott)
8. Nosferatu the Vampyre (Werner Herzog)
9. Life of Brian (Terry Jones)
10. Camera Buff (Krzysztof Kieślowski)

Stalker is one of Tarkovsky’s lesser known works and, as we speak, still unavailable in the U.S. in a decent print. C’mon Criterion! But hey, they at least gave Tess and Vengeance is Mine the Blu-ray treatment, two art house films that continue to demand high praise. The latter is also a good first-billing in a double feature with The Silence of the Lambs, which always conjures up the theory in my mind that there is movie violence and then there is Japanese movie violence. And that’s a whole other category. And thank the Gods for Manhattan and Life of Brian, which lighten things up here. The former is a personal favorite of mine and one of Allen’s best, while the latter makes an audacious attempt at satire that only Monty Python could have the cajoles to get away with.

Movies that trail just behind include Francois Truffaut’s final installment in his Antoine Doinel series, Love on the Run, and idiosyncratic turns by Huston and Ashby with Wise Blood and Being There respectively. Oh! And throw in Winter Kills, too! Another oddball of a movie that’s truly unforgettable. Blake Edward’s had 10, with Bo Derek doing the Baywatch thing, and Bob Fosse had All That Jazz, with Roy Scheider doing the Marcello Mastroianni thing. David Cronenberg was finally in his “groove” with The Brood, and George Miller introduced a dystopian world we have yet to forget – and I hope we never do – with Mad Max. Cram in a couple of Oscar favorites like Kramer vs. Kramer and Norma Rae, along with some forgotten gems like Saint Jack, Going in Style, Breaking Away, and The Wanderers, and 1979 ain’t looking too shabby.

Next time: Who knows! I’ve been lying to you anyway, so why pretend? But I’ll leave you with this clip from Quadrophenia as an apology of sorts. I know, I know. Apology accepted.