Monday, November 7, 2016

Five Favorite Films of 1961

As a whole, I preferred 1960 over '61. The very best movies were better, and the movies that barely missed out on that list were probably better than the ones that missed it this time. That being said, I actually probably had a harder time narrowing this list down to 5 than I did last time around. This was another good year for movies, though I didn't have many horrors make this list. Unless you count...

5. Hercules In The Haunted World
Directed by Mario Bava

Being a fan of Bava, it's hard for me not to want to include his movies on my lists. But, honestly, I could see why this wouldn't be one most people would like. It's a weird blend of styles that could easily slip through the cracks, seeing as how Bava is mostly known for being a pioneer in Italian horror. So seeing him make a movie that strays so far from what you might expect is both alienating and impressive. Released just one year after his unforgettable black and white masterpiece, Black Sunday, this bizarrely-lit and surreal Hercules film is more of a sword-and-sandal action adventure than you could ever expect from Bava, and the result is as uneven and mindblowingly unique as it could possibly have been. It's not a conventionally great movie, but it's stuck with me due to its striking images and otherworldly atmosphere.

4. The Hustler
Directed by Robert Rossen

I was raised watching a fairly good mix of movies, new and old. Among my first favorite actors, Paul Newman stood out the most. Though I've always preferred Cool Hand Luke and Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, The Hustler was one of the best movies I had watched for quite a long time. It has not held up for me quite as well as a few others, but watching this one is far more than a nostalgia trip for me. The crisp visuals, memorable characters, and remarkably intense billiards scenes make this a movie I can still watch frequently. The choice to allow Paul Newman's Fast Eddie Felsen to be such a complex and unlikable character that you still somehow root for was risky, but Newman was the kind of actor who could turn in performances like that in his sleep. But it's not just his performance that stands out among the cast, with Jackie Gleason and George C. Scott giving some of the best performances of their careers as well. This is easily the best pool movie ever made -- unless you count The Swimmer, nyuk nyuk.

3. Viridiana
Directed by Luis Bunuel

Bunuel is not the kind of director who's afraid to get a little weird. And while this movie isn't as "weird" as several of his other films, it still possesses his trademark style and cynicism. Though it's hard to call a movie this twisted a comedy in any capacity, Bunuel's tendency to satirize organized religion makes for some very darkly amusing entertainment. There aren't many filmmakers (especially not from this era) that could handle material this inflammatory, but Bunuel did this on a regular basis. While Bergman was nihilistic in his approach to the topic of religion, Bunuel was more specifically anti-Catholic. It's been a while since I've seen this one, so I can't really go into specifics in a lot of ways, but I still have very vivid memories of moments in this film. It's stuck with me for a long time, and while not my favorite Bunuel, this is still one of the best he'd ever done.

2. Judgment At Nuremberg
Directed by Stanley Kramer

I almost didn't include this movie on my list at all. I very nearly threw Yojimbo, Through A Glass Darkly, or The Innocents on here, but then I really started to think about what happens here. And I'm not just talking about subject matter - we all know the Holocaust was a tragedy. I'm referring to how effectively Maximilian Schell was able to defend the Nazis. As a performance, Schell is among the greatest I've ever seen, passionately arguing his side and somehow making these war criminals defensible. A less capable actor would have just been the bad guy, no questions asked, and the movie would have played out almost the same. But the fact that Schell is able to pull off what he does is reason enough for me to include this movie on the list; he was so effective in his performance, I found myself rooting for him to win just because of how incredible he was at arguing his points. Pair that with the ensemble work from an incredible cast and the powerful emotional moments found throughout the rest of the film, and you have one of the most effective courtroom dramas I've ever seen. With the events of the film taking place so closely after its release, it feels much more fresh and relevant than almost any other Holocaust drama.

1. Last Year At Marienbad
Directed by Alain Resnais

Making this list was hard for the bottom half and condensing everything down to 5 movies, but there was one certainty going into it that I never doubted for a second: Last Year At Marienbad is on top. I usually have to work from the bottom up on these lists, but this is one that I started top-down. So yeah, I kinda love this movie. But to explain it could never do it justice, and wouldn't make any sense at all. I've tried to describe the plot to several people, but I always wind up sounding like a kindergartner. If you found Inception mindbending, this movie will probably make your brain explode. A movie featuring memories inside of memories, narrated by the described of said memories... I guess it makes sense to say it, but it really needs to be seen to be fully understood. I was sucked in by the first frame, and haven't been able to fully shake this movie since I watched it then, about 5 years ago. Easily among my favorite French films of all-time, Resnais takes his visual artistry and cranks it up to the max here, poetically weaving together a complex and ingenius story with fantastic cinematography and set design. Resnais was never able to top this one.

Alright, there's my top 5 favorite movies of 1961. I apologize if I have trouble clarifying my thoughts, I've had a bit of a headache today and it's been distracting having to deal with that, but I hope you all enjoyed this post, and I hope I'm able to crank out a few more of these within the next month or so. So check back later, and I might have some more of these done. See you next time.

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