Thursday, July 12, 2012

1967: It Was a Very Good Year

The following is my contribution to The Movie Waffler's The Year I Made Contact Blogathon, wherein we the contributors discuss the cinematic year of our birth.  As I just turned forty-five last week, that would make this contribution about the cinematic year of 1967, and me being me (ie: an obsessive list monger) I have decided to give you my ten favourite films of this very same year.  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 (I was just sixteen in a high school film class at the time) 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 greatest films of any year.

2. Playtime - Ever since seeing M. Hulot's Holiday, Jacques Tati's lovable bumbling M. Hulot has always held a soft spot in my cinematic heart.  With each subsequent adventure, Tati places his intrepid hero and alter-ego into an ever-increasing modernist nightmare of dangerous gadgets and disgruntled gadflies. The pinnacle of this almost dystopian comic effect (played out in the most giddy undystopian 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, as they say, to watch.  And the gags - the ones that have come to verily define Tati's hapless alter-ego over the course of half a dozen films - are as sharp-witted as any dialogue anyone would attempt in such a film.  And it all comes off as a genius-level screwball comedy of pantomime.

3. 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.

4. 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.   Tossed off as a hipster movie by many critics, the film does go a lot deeper than this criticism makes you think, and its long term influence (many teens and young adults still see it as if were speaking to them personally) is what makes a classic a classic.  Plus, how can you beat that soundtrack.

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 Buñuel.   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 Buñuel 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 very 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. Two For the Road - The best of Stanley Donan's solo directorial work (Singin' in the Rain, co-directed with Gene Kelly, being the best overall) this quite acerbic non-linear tale of a marriage both coming together and falling apart is a revelation of dark comedy blended with giddy tragedy.  Shooting back and forth from present to past to future to past again and back (a trait that could be quite disorienting to a casual moviegoer), this way-ahead-of-its-time motion picture stars George Segal and Audrey Hepburn in what may be both actor's best performance.  Hepburn, usually more fairy tale-esque in her acting, opens up a whole new side of her ability here and proves to the world (or at least the handful of people who have seen this woefully forgotten film) that yes Virginia, she can act.

8. 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).

9. 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 multilayered 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 unscariest vampire movies ever made, but still it has a comic sense of dread that is palpable throughout its strangely partially-pantomimed two hours spent inside what seems like a beautiful yet quite macabre snow globe.

10. 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 when the end credits roll - and I know too that Arkin will get his much-deserved comeuppance as well. 

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 I heard 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. 

A Few Runners-Up (in no particular order) - Jacques Demy's The Young Girls of Rochefort; Miklós Jancsó's The Red and the White; John Huston's Reflections in a Golden Eye; Jean-Piere Melville's Le Samourai; D.A. Pennebaker's Don't Look Back; Glauber Rocha's Terra em Transe; Luchino Visconti's The Stranger; Richard Brooks' In Cold Blood; Vigot Sjoman's infamous I Am Curious (Yellow) and Mark Robson's Valley of the Dolls (yeah, that's right).


The Movie Waffler said...

Welcome aboard, we now cover four decades!

Dave Enkosky said...

I feel conflicted about Tati. I think he was a brilliant visualist, and an outstanding director overall, but I've never once laughed at any of his movies.

Kevyn Knox said...

Thanx. Glad to be aboard - and act as elder statesman. That sounds better than old guy, right?

Dave - Really? Never? I go into fits of laughter at the guy. My favourite is actually the first, M. Hulot's Holiday, but Playtime acts as my second fave.

100 Years of Movies said...

Glad you got on board too. I am now edging slightly down the age list.

Of course, you have also given me a nice to do list above. I've only seen 40% of your faves.

Murtaza Ali said...

A very informative list (I have made a note of them for future viewing) for someone like myself who hasn't seen many of the movies in the list. Among the ones I have watched, The Graduate happens to be my favorite.

Also, please do checkout my list for the year 1988:

Chip Lary said...

I haven't seen several of those yet. I have seen Wavelength. You didn't mention the tone that gets higher pitched and more annoying as the "film" goes on, too. No one should ever pay money to see that.

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