There are very few consecutive modern decades that share as little in common as the 50’s slowly transformed into the 60’s, going from the largely stoic and static 50’s to the kinetic and highly expressive 60’s. Indeed the paradigm shift between the two distinct eras is rather jarring. When someone tries to sum up the 1960’s the obvious images of JFK, drug use, Beatles, civil rights, hippies all form an era progressiveness come to mind. However, it was also the era of Mad Men and rampant paranoia over Nuclear War that acted as the antithesis to the progressivism that has come to define the era. Thus the conflicts and social unrest over the issues of the time came to a head many times throughout. Indeed, the socio-political turmoil hardly ever subsided throughout the dangerous decade of change and reform. As always, the films of the era came to reflect the changes in feelings and perspectives of the times.
Make no mistake this is my favorite single decade for film for many reasons, chief among them are the filmmakers that populated and defined this time period. Kubrick, Bergman, Goodard, Truffaut, Resnais, Antonioni, Leone, Fellini, Polanski, Frankenheimer, Kurosawa, Teshigahara, and Tarkovsky to name a few all made indelible contributions to this fantastic and game changing era of filmmaking. Taking cues from the Brando school of acting the most prominent actors started to change in their performances along with the decade. On-screen characters were steadily being brought back down to earth, no longer the larger than life caricatures and one-note heroes of old, but of flesh and blood people with real-world concern and weariness. However, studios also banked on older audiences still yearning for the old-fashioned light fare, leading to a clash of pushing the medium further against remaining stagnant and safe (not a problem resigned to only the 60’s, mind you). With all that settled, there are so many names, stories and scenes to get I’ll waste no more time setting things up.
60). “Get Your Hands Off Of Me You Damn Dirty Apes!”
Charlton Heston’s immortal words ring loudly in the Sci-Fi Classic Planet of the Apes. Franklin J. Schaffner’s trippy commentary on class systems and animal rights centers on a team of astronauts crash landing on a remote Planet ruled by intelligent apes largely remembered in part due impart to the twist ending where Heston’s Astronaut Taylor discovers which planet he has really been the whole time. Penned by TheTwilight Zone’s creator Rod Serling the movie certainly could’ve been an extended episode from the seminal T.V series, complete with all the surreal and thought-provoking elements. Although today considerably more campy and over-the-top than the ‘serious’ purpose piece that it was intended to be, nonetheless, it is a Sci-Fi staple and as rooted in pop culture as any other from the 1960’s.
59). Robert Redford and Paul Newman In Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Paul Newman was already an established super-star for more than a decade by the time Robert Redford made his Feature Film debut in the mid 60’s, and the two’s first team-up was in the western staple Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Their chemistry undeniable from frame one helping to propel the legendary story of the two iconic outlaws to the big screen. Director George Roy Hill keeps the pace moving at a brisk clip utilizing the star-power of his two leads to full effect as the duo tears through the old west trying to stay one step of the authorities. Capturing the need to rebel against the rules and free spirited nature of the decade as well.
58). Kurosawa’s High and Low Raises Social Awareness Of A Horrific Crime And Contemporary Class Struggles
In the great Akira Kurosawa’s contemporary thriller finds a business executive dealing with the accidental kidnapping of his chauffeur’s son. Kurosawa regular the great Toshiro Mifune plays Kingo Gondo with much more restraint than his usual Samurai roles for the legendary director. At the time a purpose piece focused on realistically depicting the severity of kidnapping cases in Japan at the time that were not prosecuted as serious crimes of the state. The director sought out to make a purpose piece and in the process made one of his finest films, ironically this time set in contemporary Japan. Subtly adding social commentary on the economic classes present in Japan at the time, the Filmmaker proved empirically that he didn’t need epic battles or Samurai Swords to get his messages across.
57). Salesman Outlines the Lonely Road of a Career
The Maysles brothers Albert and David are icons of the documentary art form, and one of their first probing real-life works was with depicting the highs and lows of over-priced Bible Salesmen while on the lonely and isolating road trying making a living going door to door. Together “The Badger” “The Gipper” “The Rabbit” and “The Bull” as they call themselves work to make their targets sign on the dotted line at all costs. Able to get at the heart of the isolating and lonely nature of their existence Salesman was one of the first contemporary American documentaries to show real-life unblinkingly and without a hint of sentiment. The documentary form today owes much to the efforts like this one for laying the groundwork for depicting the human condition in it’s rawest form.
56). The Haunting andThe Innocents Help To Define Psychological Horror
The 60’s redefined the horror genre for the better influencing future filmmakers today, exemplified by Jack Clayton’s The Innocents and Robert Wise’s The Haunting. Both depicting psychosis of the feminine mind and the horrific and surreal effects thereof. Horror films are rarely as starkly and bleakly depicted as they were in these two screen adaptations finding their leads beleaguered by the seemingly increasing terrifying hallucinations in the secluded and eerie homes they are residing in. The psychological turmoil the lead women face has served to inspire other understated horror films all the way to today with Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook scaring audiences world-wide with it’s influence clearly centered on films like these two.
55). In The Heat of the Night Highlights Social Unrest In The Civil Rights Era
Sidney Poitier already broke new ground by winning a lead actor Oscar for Lilies of the Field in 1963, with the Best Picture Winning In the Heat of the Night he pushed social issues to the forefront of movie screens around the country. Philadelphia detective Virgil Tibbs is detained on suspicion of murder while while waiting at a train station out of sheer prejudice profiling of the small Mississippi town law enforcement. Remarkable for its frank depiction of everyday racism, bias and the adverse effects thereof, the unfortunate reality is that many of the racial problems in this ’67 piece still remain in subtle and overt ways. A reminder of either how far we haven’t progressed or of how far we need to go.
54). The Manchurian Candidate Captures Political Fears And Paranoia
Shooting to movie stardom with his Oscar-winning role in From Here to Eternity Frank Sinatra continued to perform in more daring films such as John Frankenheimer’s tense and gripping political thriller The Manchurian Candidate. Released at the height of the cold-war, in a time of great political tension between East and West portraying an American war-hero turned presidential candidate brain-washed by Chinese agents could make any western audience members nervous with real-world fears about the spread of communist insurgency to the highest levels of office in the land. Furthermore, there is the infamous scene of “Old Blue Eyes” attempting Kung-fu which will never grow old.
53). Introducing Anna Karina
Armed with a set of two of the most expressive eyes in cinema history, Anna Karina shot to the forefront of French New Wave cinema teaming up with Auteur and then-husband Jean-Luc Godard. The former Danish model made her film debut in the colorful, lively and indelible film musical A Woman is a Woman playing Angela, a young club dancer trying to convince her reluctant husband to start a family together. Energetic, playful and endearing it was only a hint of what Karina would bring to the screen all the while making quite the first impression on audiences world-wide.
52). Michael Caine in Alfie
Though his first film role is technically in Zulu, legendary acting icon Michael Caine rose to A-list status with his turn in the bittersweet dramady Alfie in 1966. As the titular sex-addicted limo driver Caine’s presence and confidence is undeniable from frame one while breaking the forth-wall in outlining his dalliances with women, or ‘Birds’ as he calls them, around London. Cocky, glib and irreverent to a fault, Alfie goes through life unimpeded by attachments and obligations to any other person. Caine’s command of the screen is impeccable as he goes through his numerous escapades, until a dark shift in the third act forces Alfie to reconsider his outlook on his life. The first in a long and continuing first-rate performances by the all-time great performer.
51). Ozu’s Cinematic Swan Song
Legendary filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu was as seminal to Japan and it’s culture as any filmmaker, past or present, to their native country with his last movie 1962’s An Autumn Afternoon, marking the end of an era for the classical style of Asian films and film in general. Rather than Samurai epics and mystery thrillers that his fellow country-man Akira Kurosawa focused on, Ozu concerned himself on human manners, interaction and subdued emotion in his methodically paced dramas centered on everyday common problems in contemporary Japan. An Autumn Afternoon is as appropriate a conclusion to the man’s resonating career as can be, centering on the issues of tradition vs. modernization, changing attitudes of the times and above all family. Humorous, deliberately paced, sad and truthful encapsulating all the traits and themes of a masterful career.
And that is all for the first installment, keep refreshing for the next top greatest movie moments that defined this decade and remarkable era of filmmaking. To get to Part 2.