While I love every decade in cinema, there’s something about the rebellious, table-turning 1960s that particularly intrigues me. It is at turn of this decade when the cinematic world saw an incoming of movements and “new waves” across Europe, Asia, and other continents – most famously in France. Fresh, new styles of filmmaking reflected such artists’ incessant needs to work against the grain of convention. Much more darker, dissident themes became prevalent in such films, and many “auteurs” rose to prime status. These trends continues all throughout the decade and eventually leaked its way into Hollywood filmmaking. Finally, by the end of the century, the long-running Hays Code was abandoned by the MPAA, allowing for a greater amount of freedom in the production of high budget American movies. Mainstream films became sleeker, sexier, and a whole new artistic vision made its way to popular culture. This breakthrough into an entirely new era of filmmaking – and the overall effect such has had on cinematic culture, even today – is exactly why I love the 60s, in particular, so very much.
I’ve recently devised a list of 100 films on Letterboxd, consisting of the top ten of every year from the 1960s. With these next few posts, I will be sharing every section from this list, one year at a time. First up is 1960.
10) Jungfrukällan (The Virgin Spring) – dir. Ingmar Bergman
In recent years, Bergman has become one of my absolute favorite visionaries in the field of cinema. One could almost always count on his films to consist of an adequate recipe of existential dilemma among haunting, perfectly-framed images. This is greatly aided by his distinct cinematopgrahy, brooding pace, and extraordinary troupe of performers that support his consistent works of art. I have seen ten of his films and absolutely love all but two of them. The Virgin Spring, unfortunately, is one of these films that I did not love as much as I hoped. It is undeniably well-acted and shows a completely decent portrayal of its themes, here regarding morals of vengeance. Yet, this isn’t quite as engrossing as much of Bergman’s more consistent masterpieces. It’s a completely worthwhile film, however.
9) L’Avventura – dir. Michelangelo Antonioni
Regretfully, Antonioni is one of the (many) directors that I have not seen nearly enough films from. Simply from watching L’Avventura, however, its evident that he surely has an eye for framing shots in ways that truly capture the discontent that plagues the individuals in front of the camera. It has been a few years since my lone viewing of L’Avventura and, thus, my memory of it is relatively fuzzy. However, I do remember really loving the acting of Monica Vitti and Lea Massari. Its narrative structure is some of the most unusual I’ve witnessed in film, and I do remember finding it quite emotionally distant at times and, therefore, slightly frustrating to follow. Perhaps I’m due for a rewatch, but for now, I greatly appreciate Antonioni’s style and knack for composing visual statements, and I do plan on watching more from the filmmaker in the (hopefully) near future.
8) Zazie dans le metro – dir. Louis Malle
Zazie dans le metro marks the first film on this top ten list that I could honestly say I “love”. Before my initial viewing, I was a bit wary on witnessing Malle – director of the noiry Elevator to the Gallows (1958) – try his hand at a madcap slapstick comedy. Fortunately, he plays this off rather nicely. The best way I could describe this film is probably as a live-action Looney Tunes cartoon. Its spitfire pace is complemented well by the mind-blowing camera tricks implemented in its narrative which is, overall, rather absurd. Its primary issue probably lies in its script, which slightly struggles in presenting the anarchic wordplay that made the original novel so controversial (this could certainly be due to jokes that are lost in translation from French to English subtitles). Nonetheless, this is a fast, funny film, and while it may lose momentum by the third act, it goes to prove just how versatile of a director Malle truly is.
7) Tirez sur le pianiste (Shoot the Piano Player) – dir. François Truffaut
I can’t help to admit that, given the choice between him and fellow Frenchie Godard, I would gladly prefer the filmic tendencies of Truffaut. His examination of disgruntled, disillusioned protagonists greatly interests me more than the jittery aesthetic of Godard (something I never quite understood the appeal of, but we’ll save that for another post). Shoot the Piano Player intrigued me in its seamless integration of slapstick comedy and genuine romance into a conventional crime drama film, not unlike American film-noir. It has the perfect balance of humor and tragedy, while also being very neatly composed and just super interesting altogether. It’s smart, clever, well-paced, and just an overall mastery of a flick. I’ve watched this film only fairly recently, but it may very well be my favorite from this terrific filmmaker.
6) Little Shop of Horrors – dir. Roger Corman
I am in LOVE with Roger Corman, and only partially for the huge impact he has had upon the cinematic world. The original Little Shop of Horrors was one of the first films I had seen from him and, since then, has become one of my very favorite B-movies. While I surely can appreciate the fun, campy musical remake from the 1980s, it’s hard for me to deny the love I have for the darkly humorous angle taken on the story in the original. Like many low-budget films of this time – and of all times, really – the acting isn’t anything to praise exactly, but I couldn’t care less. The morbidly hilarious spin given to this unique type of monster movie is what I get the most fun out of, and I think it has truly stood the test of time because of this.
5) La Dolce Vita – dir. Federico Fellini
La Dolce Vita doesn’t even rank among my top three Fellini films – those being Nights of Cabiria, La Strada, and 8 1/2, respectably – but I think that only further goes to show just how great of a director he was. It’s hard to deny the seductive quality that permeates the atmosphere of this film as a whole, partially given off by the spitfire performances of Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg, among others. Seemingly structureless and highly expressionist in presentation, many have considered La Dolce Vita to be Fellini’s masterpiece, and it isn’t at all impossible to see how. The picture painted is sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, often very risqué, yet seldom silent and often fierce and relentless. In actuality, such traits are exactly why 60s cinema is so appealing to me in the first place. Bravo, Fellini.
4) Psycho - dir. Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock is one of my all-time favorite directors, and while many consider Psycho his overarching masterpiece, my thoughts on it are slightly different. He was an artist with a truly definitive style, but after a decades-long string of very strong works, I do think that Psycho was the final truly great film he put out (although I’m aware that many would argue The Birds to be). This does not, however, lessen the high regarding opinion I hold for this courageous work of art. I doubt there was any mainstream around quite like this one at the time, and its narrative is chock-full of notions that were rather risky for its time. Most importantly, it has not aged one bit, and I’m just as engrossed watching it today as I would imagine an audience member from 1960 would have been. By definition, I do not consider it a horror film, but by simply taking a look at any slasher film put out since this film’s release, its influence is all the more present and profound.
3) Les yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face) – dir. Georges Franju
As of now, Eyes Without a Face remains the only full-length film that I have seen from director Georges Franju; frankly, I couldn’t imagine any other film topping this stunning masterpiece. I still remember the very first time I watched it, being completely stunned by the rawness and intensity that permeated its narrative, the likes of which I had never quite witnessed before. It moves at a rather slow pace, yet is paced wonderfully so it it never feels dull for a single second. Pierre Brasseur and Edith Scob are chilling in their roles of a medical couple who kidnap young women and surgically remove their face to replace that of their young daughter, whose face was disfigured in an accident. This desperation toward a perfect image of serene beauty – through completely immoral ways – is a completely mad concept, and I think that’s what I love so much about it. The surgery scenes always bring a chill down my spine, and only partially because of how mind-bogglingly realistic they look. The fact that a film so raw in cold imagery and emotion had existed as early as 1960 is simply amazing to me, and this particularly stands out as one of my all-time favorite horror films.
2) Peeping Tom - dir. Michael Powell
The above screenshot is just one of the many I love from Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom. Initially praised for his directorial collaborations with Emeric Pressburger, Peeping Tom proves that the guy is fully capable of conceiving his own masterpiece on his own. And what a film this is. Where P&P films are noted by intense emotion marked by just-as-vibrant cinematography (I’m looking at you, Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes!), this film is characterized by a special kind of bleakness, the likes of which have rarely been perfected so gracefully. Carl Boehm contributes one of my very favorite classic male performances, as a serial killer who performs a particularly complex gimmick of photographing his victims during their final moments of fear. As this is also a macabre-style film of 1960 from a British director, many comparisons have been made between Peeping Tom and Psycho, and understandably so. If given the option, however, I would gladly choose Powell’s film over Hitchcock’s, if mainly for the fact that I’ve always found Peeping Tom more risqué and deliciously sleazy. Plus, I’m a sucker for films treading on themes of voyeurism, as well as those that take on the “bad guy”‘s perspective of situations at hand. Powell is just all kinds of badass.
1) The Apartment – dir. Billy Wilder
For me, it’s really hard to find many films that win me over as much as Billy Wilder’s The Apartment has. I have watched it numerous times and could watch it a dozen times more without tiring of it; moreover, I’d gladly place it in my top ten films of all time. It’s just so wonderfully charming, and basically the pinnacle example of a romantic comedy done right. The main shining element here, obviously, is the terrific writing by Wilder himself. The man must have sold his soul for his talents at some point, since the dialogue presented here flows naturally at such a consistent pace, while also managing to be consistently fresh and clever. It is endlessly quotable, and not without its little quirks; the least of which is provided by the powerful cast. I’ll forever tip my hat to Shirley MacLaine, who is at once completely adorable, yet filled with an utmost pain that is undoubtably human. I could practically feel her heart breaking in the way she utters certain lines (“Some people take, some people get took, and they know they’re getting took, and there’s nothing they can do about it”). Jack Lemmon forever remains one of my favorite comedic actors, and his performance here as average joe C.C. Baxter is career-defining. The usually charismatic Fred MacMurray is shown here as an absolutely manipulative slimeball, and does a great job at making me hate every fiber of his being. As a whole, this film wins me over with its perfect balance of comedy and tragedy, the likes of which could hardly be as gracefully projected. Its themes of heartbreak and death are dealt with in an utmost amount of playful delicacy, and nearly every scene is memorable in its own special way. Truthfully, I could talk for hours about what makes this film so incredible to me, but I think its inexplicable charm that could only come from Wilder himself is its greatest attribute. This is the plain definition of masterpiece.