Saturday, November 5, 2016

Five Favorite Films of 1960

I always, always, always overdo it with massive countdowns, so instead of making a billion top 10 and top 25 lists (as tempting as that may be) I've decided to make some challenging top 5 lists. Why challenging? Well, it was hard enough for me to even narrow this down to 10, let alone 5. So I might include some honorable mentions at the end, but this is still just a top 5. So here we go, let's talk about my favorite movies of 1960.

5. Peeping Tom
Directed by Michael Powell

1960 was a fantastic year for horror, with me needing to cut out several others from this list entirely. It's sad, for sure, but that does leave us with the best of the best. Michael Powell, most known for his collaborative efforts with Emeric Pressburger (who together directed classics like Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes), risked his career making this twisted horror gem, which was very controversial at the time and ultimately led to a major downfall for his future filmography. He only made a small handful of films after this, and while it's sad that it did effectively end his career, it was an uncompromising and disturbingly effective way to do that. Few horror movies have held up as well as this proto-slasher, which has found second life as part of the Criterion Collection.

4. The Apartment
Directed by Billy Wilder

Don't you just love it when a Best Picture winner is an undisputed classic? This wasn't a year they handed out the Oscar to some throwaway musical like they did in '58 and '61, but rather a tragi-comedy from one of the greatest directors of the era, Billy Wilder. Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine give what I would probably call the most well-rounded performances of their careers, handling both the comedic and dramatic sides of their complex characters with ease. This is an emotional and hilarious movie that plays off the strengths of its actors by revealing their weaknesses. These are believable, damaged people, but not always in the most tragic sense. I can't think of any other movie with a main character who spends most of the movie with a cold. This movie walks the fine line between comedy and tragedy, and picks up all the best elements of each side.

3. Black Sunday
Directed by Mario Bava

Mario Bava is perhaps my favorite Italian director of all-time, which is high praise indeed. Leone, Antonioni, Fellini, Argento, Rossellini, and De Sica all have moments of greatness, but none of them have complete control of their craft quite like Bava, who is such a master of visual artistry he can bring vibrancy to black and white films in a way few directors ever could. Though most of his more well-known films are done in color (a look which suits him wonderfully, I might add), it's this B&W film that caught me the most off-guard and really blew me away. While most Italian horror directors flourish in technicolor, Bava combines the minimalism of his more dramatic contemporaries and the striking style and approach that would later become the norm for Italian horror. Creepy, but subdued, Black Sunday is the perfect balance between old and new, and still stands as one of the finest horror movies of the decade.

2. Psycho
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

This is on the surface an obligatory pick, but its inclusion is not due to any sense of duty - it's just really damn good. Such a hot take, I know. To fully explain and describe the impact this movie made and the risks Hitchcock took when making it would take way too long, and honestly, it would almost be pointless. EVERYONE knows this is a great movie and that it has stood the test of time as one of the greatest films of the 1960s. But since I'm here, let's mention a few great things about Psycho, because I'm the first person who has ever done it: The choice to kill off the main character halfway through the movie, using the stolen money as a sort of MacGuffin, the development and reveal of one of the greatest screen villains of all-time, the incredibly violent and well-edited shower scene, Anthony Perkins' performance as Norman Bates, the psychology behind the final twist, and the fact that it basically laid the groundwork for the slasher film genre. There are plenty of reasons to love this movie, but those are some of the better ones. I watched this movie for the first time probably 15-20 years ago, and it has stuck with me my whole life.

1. The Virgin Spring
Directed by Ingmar Bergman

Ultimately, my number one couldn't have been anything else. As much as I enjoy La Dolce Vita, House Of Usher, The Magnificent Seven, Breathless, and Devi, it's Ingmar Bergman's unforgettable revenge drama that still holds up as my favorite movie of 1960. Intense, infuriating, powerful, and tragic, The Virgin Spring tells a fairly simple story that's handled with precision by one of the greatest filmmakers who has ever lived. As much as I would love to talk about the plot of this film, taking away from the impact of the story and its outcome would be a shame, so I will try to resist. Max Von Sydow, one of my favorite actors and among the greatest in history, gives what I consider to be his strongest performance ever, portraying a religious man who is faced with a deep crisis of morality, justice, and pain. This is a difficult movie to sit through, but one that is rewarding in more ways than most. Though I would still call The Seventh Seal his best movie (one that's sat high on my top 10 favorite movies of all time for years now), this would still land in the #2 slot on my favorite Bergman films ever. Movies this powerful and uncomfortably intense are few and far between, and when you pair flawless execution with the disturbingly plausible nature of this story, the result is an emotionally complex and compelling masterpiece that demands your attention from the very first frame, never letting up even after the film is long over. It lingers in the mind, and calls into question the deeper meaning of religious morality in the kind of way only possible by a master like Ingmar Bergman.

So there you have it. Keep in mind these are just my favorites, so if your favorites are nowhere to be found, that shouldn't come as a surprise. Hope you all enjoyed it, and I'll see you next time.

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