Saturday, July 2, 2011

Upon Turning 44 Today, My Top 10 List for the Year of My Birth

Yes true believers, your humble narrator is 44 today.  Born in the so-called Summer of Love (conceived in the Winter of Our Discontent) this seems to be as good a time as any to talk about the films of that long ago year and give the readers my choices for the ten best films of said year.  Actually any time is a good time to concoct a movie list - the birthday celebration just gives it a bit more legitimacy.   So without further ado, here are my choices for the ten best films of 1967.

1. Bonnie and Clyde
One of the first films I ever saw (probably around sixteen in a high school film class) that made me think perhaps that this thing called cinema had more to it than what one saw on the shiny surface.  Brilliant and subversive (and unbeknownst to my still uneducated mind at the time, one of the most important films that would revolutionize American cinema) there was something about this film that got me all quivery inside.  Perhaps it was Faye Dunaway and her sexy, brazen comehitherness, perhaps it was Warren Beatty and his rebellious anti-hero image, perhaps it was the violence that was like none I had seen at the time - whatever the case, the film has haunted me from the beginning as much as it still does today.  Not only the best film of 1967 but one of the ten greatest films ever made.

2. Playtime
Ever since seeing M. Hulot's Holiday, Jacques Tati's bumbling yet dapper Mr. Hulot has always been a favourite character of mine.  With each subsequent adventure, Tati places his intrepid hero and alter-ego into a more and more modernist nightmares of dangerous gadgets and disgruntled gadflies.  The pinnacle of this almost dystopian comic effect (in the most fun and giddy un-dystopian way of course) is the film Playtime.  Hulot let loose on a modern society way ahead of his own old fashioned comprehension is a hoot to watch as they say.  And the gags - the ones that have come to define Tati's bumbling alter-ego over the course of half a dozen films, are as sharp-witted as any dialogue anyone would attempt in such a film.  I suppose it all ends up being a screwball comedy of pantomime.  Genius.

3. The Graduate
A cinematic sign of its deeply disenfranchised times, Mike Nichols paean to teenage disillusionment, and the film that made stars out of both Dustin Hoffman and Katharine Ross (one's stardom has held up a bit better), is a deadpan comedic look at the youth in America not only at this quite turbulent time, but I believe the youth of all generations that have come after it.  Sort of the grandaddy of Mumblecore in a way (but don't hold that against it) The Graduate has passed the test of time and is still loved by the even more disillusioned (and quite a bit more jaded and quite  a bit less innocent) youth of this post-9/11 world we live in now.  Plus how can you beat that soundtrack?

4. Week-end
This was actually the first Godard I had ever seen (yes, even before Breathless) and I was immediately taken in by the Nouvelle Vague auteur's use of colour as well as his way of using the camera to as full effect as possible - and then taking it further.  Many consider this to be the director's final film of his so-called early days (I mean if you are going to call it a New Wave, it has to end sometime lest it become an Old Wave again) and thus it is a dividing point between Godard's early ultra-cinematic pieces and his later more essayaic pieces.  It is this more visually cinematic earlier period which I like the best and Week-end was a great introduction to it indeed.  Brash, bold and without reservations, Week-end is Godard at his visual apex.

5. Belle de Jour
Sexy, stunning and scary as hell.  These adjectives can be used to describe either star Catherine Deneuve, the film itself or in a strange kinda way, the entire oeuvre of director Luis Bunuel.   The story of a young wife who takes up the art of prostitution one day, Belle de Jour is more than meets the eye.  Taking on, as Bunuel is apt to do, the morality of society, pitting the bourgeois against the proletariat but never in the way one would expect a semi-surrealist, anarchist auteur to do, the film has been hailed as both a brilliant masterpiece and panned as a pretentious bore.  Why can't it be both in a way?  Probably a bit beyond my rather naive grasp when I first saw the film (around eighteen but still quite innocent in mind) it has however grown deeply into my psyche.  And then you have Deneuve - ooh la la indeed.

6. Point Blank
Let's face it, Lee Marvin was the epitome of cool in his day and that assessment is no different in John Boorman's gangster exercise in cool cinema, Point Blank (incidentally the first film to be shot on location on Alcatraz after the prison's 1963 closing).  Marvin is tough as nails and love interest Angie Dickinson has never looked better.  Throw in Keenan Wynn and a wonderful turn from Carroll O'Conner (the man could do more than Archie Bunker ya know) and Point Blank just gets cooler and cooler and tougher and tougher.  How tough was Marvin you ask - so tough that when he and John Vernon were practicing a fight scene, Marvin hit Vernon so hard that Vernon fell to the floor crying.  'nuff said.

7. Wait Until Dark
I first saw this film in a film class I took in my senior year of high school.  Dissecting the film piece by piece in class (I had never done such a thing before) one could see the many layers that were going on in Terence Young's superb psychological thriller.  Still to this day, when I am watching the film and I see the demented Alan Arkin tormenting the seemingly helpless blind damsel-in-distress Audrey Hepburn, I feel a twinge of fear for the poor girl trapped in the dark,, I can feel her terror as this brutal and unknown force terrorizes her, even though I know full well she's going to wind up the victor in the end - and Arkin will get his much-deserved comeuppance.

8. Terra em Transe
This brilliantly subversive film was one of the highlights of the Cinema Novo, or Brazilian New Wave of the 1960's.  Directed by one of the movement's brightest talents, Glauber Rocha, the film is a look at the political and social turmoil going on in the hypothetical Latin-American country of Eldorado (which of course could stand in for just about any country in that part of the world at that time in history).  Rocha's unique sense of filmic timing and the way his camera's eye roves and weaves and delves into every nook and cranny of screen space, along with his obvious political bent and skills as a social satirist make for a movie that works as a blend of rousing satiric adventure and sardonic art film.

9. Mouchette
Along with Au hasard Balthazar the year before, this is Robert Bresson at his sentimental best.  A jarring and dangerous film (as is per usual with a filmmaker such as Bresson) about the tragic life of a young girl, Mouchette still manages to reach out from such pyschosexual depths with an undercurrent of strangely esoteric humanism.  I first saw this film (having seen just three Bresson's prior) after seeing it referenced in Bertolucci's The Dreamers and this drama of faith helped to solidify my already growing worship of the French auteur.  Someone once said that to not get Bresson is to not get cinema, and they may very well be true - even in what is probably one of the director's least cinematic films (and no, I do not mean that as an insult).

10. The Fearless Vampire Killers
This Roman Polanski comedy-thriller's full title, a la Dr. Strangelove, is The Fearless Vampire Killers or: Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck - how can one go wrong with that.  Sardonic, with more than a touch of that classic Polanski humour (and featuring the director's wife Sharon Tate in one of her final roles before that brutal night in the summer of 1969), this film is a multi-layered romp of devilish delights.  Starring the elfin director himself in one of the title roles (years before any tabloid headlines would creep their way into his world) this may be one of the un-scariest vampire movies ever made, but still it has a comic sense of dread that is palpable throughout its strangely partially-pantomimed two hours.



Special Mention: Wavelength
Experimental filmmaking icon Michael Snow's Wavelength consists of one shot (basically) that lasts for 45 minutes.  As time goes on, the camera edges, ever-so-slowly from one end of what appears to be a mostly empty warehouse to a picture hanging on its far wall.  Seriously, that is it.  Sure, the colour will fluctuate and every once and a while someone will walk into and out of the shot, but basically that is all it is.  I saw this film at MoMa a few years back and was oddly riveted to the screen for the entirety of the aforementioned 45 minutes.  I could hear people grumble in the background behind me (I of course was front and center) and several get up and leave in what I must assume is frustration, but my eyes stayed glued to that strangely mesmerizing screen.  Granted, this is not a film I will likely revisit on many occasions, which is why it does not make the list, but it is still a fascinating experimental work that needs to be made mention of.

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A few films that did not make the list but can serve as runners-up (in no particular order) are: Jacques Demy's The Young Girls of Rochefort; John Huston's Reflections in a Golden Eye; Melville's Le Samourai; Pennebaker's Don't Look Back; Richard Brooks' In Cold Blood and Vigot Sjoman's infamous I Am Curious (Yellow).

And then, as is always the case, there are those films that I have yet to see, but that could realistically take a crack at the top ten.  They are (again in no particular order of preference): Cool Hand Luke; Two for the Road; Ulysses; War and Peace; The Stranger (Visconti) and A Countess From Hong Kong.

9 comments:

100 Years of Movies said...

Happy Birthday! Fully expected to see Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate but never even heard of a bunch of these. I am intrigued which is the hallmark of a great list. Thanks for sharing.

Kevyn Knox said...

Thanx. Yes, to be honest I actually only first saw The Fearless Vampire Killers last night - just before finishing this list. Otherwise The Young Girls of Rochefort would have been number ten - sorry Jacques.

Castor said...

Happy birthday Kevyn! Can't say I have seen anything from the list except for The Graduate (hangs head in shame)

Kevyn Knox said...

Thanx for the birthday wishes. Now as a gift to me you should go watch Bonnie and Clyde. ;)

Alex DeLarge said...

Happy birthday Kevyn! 44 is a great number, it worked for Reggie Jackson and Hank Aaron, though for us it keeps increasing every year...

I've seen every film except TERRA EM TRANSE and will add to my ever growing "must see" list. You and your wife have an open invitation to see COOL HAND LUKE in high-def in the Korova:)

Michaël Parent said...

I'm late but whatever it's the gesture that counts I guess! Happy Birthday Kevyn! 1967 was sure a great year moviewise and for your birth too! As a Godard admirer, and I know you are one too, I think you forgot 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle! Also my Disney favorite as a kid The Jungle Book.
Happy birthday once again and be sure to hit Le Mot du Cinephiliaque on August 2(my birthday) I will be revisiting my Top 5 list of the movies of 1983!!!

Kevyn Knox said...

I did not forget JLG's 2 or 3 thrings - it is one of my least favourite Godards so it did not make the list. Jungle Book is my favourite Disney film but alas did not reach the Top 10.

Thanx for the B-Day wishes - and I will be sure to check out your Best 0f 1983 on your birthday - wow I suddenly feel old (not really).

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