The 1960s marked a new era for cinema. As did the 1950s... and the 1970s.... and the 1940s... and just about every other decade. But the 1960s marked a new age as well, making them every bit as valuable to the evolution of film as any other decade, so why not continue my little list there?
And seeing as how I have started this list-set, I am now forced to make more and more of them until the end of time, because I'm a slave to my lists. And now, because I can't control myself, I will count down my top 10 favorite male acting performances of the 1960s, commercial-free and without any interruption -- excluding the brief advertisements for Tide laundry detergent Axe body spray... I've gotta make money somehow.
#10 - Paul Newman in Hud
To start my list, I have what I believe to be one of Newman's most under-appreciated roles. He earned an Oscar nomination for his performance, but it seems to have since been largely forgotten. At number 10, Paul Newman as Hud Bannon in Hud. Probably the most unlikable character Newman has ever portrayed, Hud is a bitter man with few redeemable qualities. He drinks, gets in bar fights, and sleeps with married women without even the slightest remorse. Distant, amoral, and conflicted, this is one of Newman's best roles, and subsequently one of his best performances. You just might hate him by the time the movie is over, but that's part of what makes it so impressive.
#9 - Gregory Peck in To Kill A Mockingbird
Generally considered one of, if not the greatest movie heroes of all-time, Gregory Peck's performance as Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird is certainly one of the greatest performances I've seen, earning it's place on my list. Peck won the Best Actor Oscar back in 1962 for this performance, playing a southern lawyer caught up in a racially-biased court case against a black man he believes to be innocent. Despite being mistreated and tormented by his racist townfolk, he does his best to fight his way through the case to the end. Peck approaches his role with sincerity and humility, easily making Finch one of the best heroes in film history.
#8 - Anthony Perkins in Psycho
At number 8, Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. To write about how great this performance is practically requires the use of spoilers, but being as widely-known and influential as this film's twist is, I doubt I will be spoiling much of anything by revealing it. Starting out as a seemingly innocent Motel owner with mother issues, Bates eventually is revealed to be a psychopathic killer with a split personality. The perfect thing about the casting of Perkins is how well he can pull off both sides of the role. To look at him, he appears very docile, but to look deeper you can see his darker nature hidden just below the surface. His absence from the 1960 Best Actor list is often considered one of the greatest Oscar snubs in history -- a claim easily justified.
#7 - Peter O'Toole in The Lion In Winter
At number 7, following up his 1964 performance in Becket as a younger King Henry II, O'Toole reprises his role in a much tamer performance in The Lion In Winter, a more mature king filled with deep regret. Though he loses the presence of Richard Burton from Becket, he gains Katharine Hepburn and a young Anthony Hopkins, both of whom he plays off of perfectly. Though he is considerably more reserved here than he was in Becket, O'Toole's occasional outbursts show the passion and rage of a tortured soul whose regrets now overwhelm his thoughts. Earning O'Toole his third Oscar nomination, this is the performance that should have won him Best Actor, but sadly it was given to Cliff Robertson instead for a movie no-one cares about. I don't usually gripe about actors being "due", but after 8 nominations without a win, O'Toole clearly deserved something; and hindsight tells me this is where he deserved it.
#6 - Alan Arkin in The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter
Number 6. Few performances are able to pack the emotional punch of Alan Arkin's portrayal of John Singer in The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, which I personally feel is one of the most powerful performances of all-time. Taking into consideration the fact that his character is a deaf-mute makes it all the more impressive. To effectively express the emotions of a man without ever saying a word is a rare feat for an actor, and Arkin pulls it off perfectly. His chemistry with the usually-appalling Sondra Locke is genuine and touching without seeming forced, and Arkin manages to make you feel more anguish for his character than you would have ever expected. Compare this to his performances in Wait Until Dark and The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming and you'll hardly believe it's the same actor. A deeply moving performance in an otherwise forgettable movie, also would have been a deserving candidate for the Oscar back in 1968 (alongside the aforementioned performance by Peter O'Toole).
#5 - Paul Scofield in A Man For All Seasons
Though most of his performances later on were essentially of the same nature as this, Paul Scofield's performance as Sir Thomas More in the Oscar-winning A Man For All Seasons is one of the most coolly calculated performances I've ever seen, and a very deserving selection to start out my top 5. Scofield's performance here is simply effortless. His character is perfectly in-tune with every action he must take, yet not once does he seem like a character. Scofield truly embodies his role, making what could easily seem like a rehearsed, convoluted, over-thought character into exactly what he was -- a human being. Which explains why Scofield was so often type-cast in this type of role, as he pulls it off with such ease it's hard to ever imagine anyone else managing these roles as effectively. He won the Oscar for this performance in 1966, and you won't hear me complain.
#4 - Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke
At number 4, Paul Newman as Lucas Jackson in Stuart Rosenberg's Cool Hand Luke. I had originally intended on not allowing any actor to make it onto these lists with more than one performance (note: for the 1950s list, I restricted Brando and Mifune to one slot each), but for Newman I just couldn't resist. In contention for the title of the coolest movie character of all-time, Paul Newman's rebellious performance is one of my personal favorites. I can't really explain what it is I love so much about this performance, but whatever that mysterious "it factor" may be, Newman has it in great supply. Newman sadly did not win an Oscar for this performance, but that doesn't stop this from being one of the best I've ever seen.
#3 - Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb
Tackling three very different roles with great results, coming in at number 3 is Peter Sellers as Lionel Mandrake, President Muffley, and Dr. Strangelove in Stanley Kubrick's classic black comedy Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb. Comedic roles are very hard for me to place, considering the drastic differences between the natures of comedic and dramatic territory, but few could argue Sellers does not deserve great recognition for his performance(s) in this movie. When I first saw this movie as a kid, I didn't realize the three characters he portrayed were all the same actor, and still to this day I find it impressive to say the least. Easily one of the greatest comedic performances in history in one of the most iconic comedies of all-time.
#2 - Richard Burton in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?
Number 2, Richard Burton as George in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? Not putting this as number 1 on this list is very difficult for me, as this may very well be my single favorite performance of all-time, but I already did the order to this list and since the exact order doesn't mean very much to me anyway, it can stay. Delivering some of the best-written dialogue I've ever witnessed in a movie, Burton's mild-mannered performance as the submissive husband of the overbearing Elizabeth Taylor (who is also exceptional) is absolutely incredible. Though he starts out quiet and non-aggressive, as the film draws near conclusion, we witness years and years of pent-up rage for his inadequate life rise to the surface. The vicious dialogue between Burton and Taylor in this movie is absolutely phenomenal, cutting to the core of the characters as a young couple are drug into the middle of their little "game" and forced to play along. Though Paul Scofield was a perfectly acceptable Best Actor winner that year, Burton would have easily been my pick. Which now leads us to my number 1, a selection that as I think about Burton's performance in this film, I grow less and less sure of...
#1 - Maximilian Schell in Judgment At Nuremberg
When I see lists of great acting performances, I rarely see Maximilian Schell's performance as Hans Rolfe in Judgment At Nuremberg among the names listed, which I find genuinely surprising. As the attorney defending Nazi judges convicted of war crimes, every moment he's on the screen your eyes are instantly drawn to him. And Schell's commanding presence is not wasted as he delivers well thought-out, passionate monologues defending the Nazis in a very convincing manner. In a performance that could have easily crippled this movie beyond repair, Schell's incredible work here often has you rooting for the defense to win, as he presents his case with such force and intensity, having you question who is the real protagonist of the film. Schell was awarded the Best Actor trophy for his performance, yet has somehow managed to slip through the cracks of the public conscious. When naming the greatest performances of all-time, certain names can expected to be seen (Marlon Brando in The Godfather, Anthony Hopkins in The Silence Of The Lambs, Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, etc.), and I genuinely believe Schell easily deserves to be held alongside these other performance, in what I believe to be the single greatest male acting performance of the 1960s.
And so concludes my third entry on this list-set. Any thoughts/disagreements? Share your opinions in the comment section below, I'd love to hear what you think!