I've said it in my past 3 countdown posts, and it applies again here: this was a really hard list for me to narrow down to 5. Like, damn. I know this is why I chose to do top 5 lists instead of top 10s, but still, this is really hard for me to do. But that means you should know that I recommend these 5 very strongly. Because these are absolutely great movies.
Directed by Martin Ritt
I've made my love of Paul Newman very clear over the past 10-15 years (and to people following this blog, I put him really high on my original top 100 favorite actors list from 5 years ago), and apart from my dedication to Cool Hand Luke, this is probably my favorite performance of his entire career. Newman was a charming, magnetic leading man with serious talent. But when most leading men would choose roles that would paint them in a positive light, Newman seemed to flourish in the darker side of acting. This one is about as unlikable as he got, and he was amazing. Now, I know I've put all my emphasis on Newman, but I don't want that to overshadow the amazing Oscar-winning performances by Patricia Neal and Melvyn Douglas, but seeing as how they both won, I don't think they need any more attention here. As a whole, this movie relies on the acting, and it put its faith into one of the best ensembles of the 1960s. All about character interaction and exploring the darkest aspects of human nature, this plays out a lot like a western Tennessee Williams play.
4. The Haunting
Directed by Robert Wise
One of the best horror movies of the '60s, The Haunting manages to be both incredibly spooky as well as totally understated. One of the things I find the most interesting about this movie is how it was directed by the same man who made one of the least subtle musicals I've ever seen, West Side Story, and he did that only 2 years previous to this. Not that Wise had no prior experience in horror to making this, but I still find it interesting when a director can so successfully bridge the gap between such radically differect genres like that, especially in such a short period of time. As for the movie itself, this is all about atmosphere and letting your imagination go wild in anticipation of what might be lurking on the other side of that door. Deeply psychological and magnificently shot and edited, this isn't the kind of horror movie that will give you nightmares from its imagery as much as leave you feeling like you've just watched an exceptional film that knows how to suck you in without ever needing to show you much of anything at all. I love when horror films can do that.
3. Winter Light
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
I personally believe that anyone who holds (or has ever held) religious beliefs has experienced in some capacity doubts and fears that challenge their faith. Ingmar Bergman uses Gunnar Bjornstrand (one of the most underrated actors who has ever lived) as a catalyst for this nihilism, fully embodying the conflict of a man of the cloth who has lost his faith. Now, this might sound like the set-up to a Kirk Cameron movie, but the cynical outlook and overwhelming sense of existential dread is nothing like what you would get from one of those shallow religious propoganda pictures. If you are aware of Bergman and his generally depressing outlook on life and faith, you will know that a super happy ending totally devoid of any gloom would be wildly uncharacteristic, and this movie doesn't do anything to change that. So I'll say it here in case it wasn't already obvious: this is not a happy-go-lucky religious movie that will improve your outlook on life. And it's all the better for it. Also Bjornstrand gives the best performance of his career here, and that's really saying something.
2. Jason And The Argonauts
Directed by Don Chaffey
I can't believe how long it took for me to finally watch this movie, as it sat on my list for years before I got around to it. But in ways, I'm glad I waited this long before seeing it, because without my knowledge of the influence of Harryhausen and a more full appreciation for stop-motion animation, I doubt I would have been able to really understand what makes this movie so great. We all go through phases and take a while to learn more about film, so it's nice to know that movies I've seen within the past year can still amaze me like this. It's been said many times already, but the stop-motion animation really is the highlight of this movie, which is brought to the screen interacting with real-life actors in a way that's both convincing and magical. It's one of the only truly great films based on Greek mythology (at least that I've ever seen), and manages to transition from one set to the next with ease, giving Harryhausen plenty of material to work with. Most of his greatest feats of animation can be found in this movie, ranging from the statue Talos, to the hydra, harpies, and of course the skeleton warriors. I very nearly put this as my #1, but it missed due to how relatively recent it's been for me as a film experience. Also, because one of the best movies I've ever seen is...
Directed by Federico Fellini
Yeahhh, this was always realistically going to be number 1. And honestly, I don't know if anyone could really argue with that, even if this wasn't an opinion list. Where to begin about a movie that's received more critical praise than almost any other film of the 1960s? For starters, Marcello Mastroianni is one of the coolest actors of all-time, and this is probably his best role, taking on Fellini's semi-autobiographical character. He practically oozes charisma and swagger, but he isn't even the highlight here. Fellini's flawless direction, combining fantasy with reality and memories manage to take what could have been a fairly hollow film about film and turn it into an absolute gem of world cinema. The opening scene(s) set up the movie perfectly, creating images that I still have stored in my memory even after several years without watching it. The story that follows is at times humorous, introspecive, and even slightly unsettling. It's a combination of a lot of difficult genres and themes that work together flawlessly due to the exceptional direction and editing. It's one of the best movies of the 1960s, and my favorite of 1963.
Alrighty, there's my list. I know, 4 foreign movies hitting number 1 in a row might seem a little samey, especially considering the experimental nature of them all, but I promise next time to have something a little more palatable as my top pick. BUT don't think I'm compromising my lists at all by doing this, these really are my favorites of each of these years. It's just a weird coincidence that the early '60s gave us so many great and weirdly experimental foreign movies. But again, 1964 is gonna be a little bit different. You will see...