The Best Movies of the 1960s – Paste – Paste Magazine

The old ways were on the way out in the 1960s film world. The cynical noirs and escapist epics were slowing down, replaced by ambitious formal experiments like those found in the French New Wave. Around the world, Japanese cinema flourished and Italy found itself making a name in horror and—somewhat inexplicably—Westerns.
Easy Rider and 2001: A Space Odyssey would signal a change in cinema as the decade came to a close, but over the course of the 1960s, everyone from Kubrick to Kurosawa to Hitchcock to Bergman to Leone to Ford to Godard were making masterpieces. Fighting back against the rise of TV with subject matter and artistry not yet found on the small screen, filmmakers found a welcoming youth audience and an environment that allowed them some flexibility with the advent of the MPAA. One of the most exciting decades in the history of movies, it tracked the evolution of design, story, theme and production impacting the artform around the globe.
Here are the 100 best movies of the 1960s:
Director: Herk Harvey
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Carnival of Souls is a film in the vein of Night of the Hunter: artistically ambitious, from a first-time director, but largely overlooked in its initial release until its rediscovery years later. Granted, it’s not the masterpiece of Night of the Hunter, but it’s a chilling, effective, impressive little story of ghouls, guilt and restless spirits. The story follows a woman (Candace Hilligoss) on the run from her past who is haunted by visions of a pale-faced man, beautifully shot (and played) by director Herk Harvey. As she seemingly begins to fade in and out of existence, the nature of her reality itself is questioned. Carnival of Souls is vintage psychological horror on a miniscule budget, and has since been cited as an influence in the fever dream visions of directors such as David Lynch. To me, it’s always felt something like a movie-length episode of The Twilight Zone, and I mean that in the most complimentary way I can. Rod Serling would no doubt have been a fan. —Jim Vorel
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Science fiction isn’t particularly suited to Godard’s gaze—so erratic and tongue-in-cheek, so uninterested in the exigencies and peculiarities of world-building is the legendary French director—but there is also no better visionary to attack the mind-fuck that is this weirdo Lemmy Caution adventure. Alphaville is as much an experimental noir as it is speculative fiction, steeped in the tropes of the former while blissfully tinkering with the world of the latter, never quite justifying the hybridizing of both but never quite caring, either. As such, the pulpy story of a secret agent (Eddie Constantine) who’s sent into the “galaxy” of Alphaville to assassinate, amongst a few, the creator of the artificial intelligence (Alpha 60) which runs all facets of Alphavillian society by pretty much outlawing all emotion—meanwhile falling in love with the daughter of the inventor (Godard muse Anna Karina)—is as goofy as it is compelling, fully committed to the confusing premise and aware, as most Godard films are, of the leaps required of the audience to follow the meandering plot. Saturated with anachronism and stylized to the point of parody, Alphaville isn’t interested in immersing a viewer in a not-so-distant dystopian future as it is in laying bare science fiction as a genre which demands we dramatically re-conceptualize everything about the genre we take for granted: Language, humanity and a future we’ll at least kind of understand. —Dom Sinacola
Director: Luchino Visconti
Boxing is an accidental vehicle to fame and riches in this masterful Italian melodrama. Luchino Visconti’s 1960 film starred Alain Delon as one of four Southern Italian farm boys who relocate to Milan with their mother. These country boys in the big city are soon lured in and spoiled by the thrills of the big city—girls, crime and the fight racket. The film features boxing not only as representative of the dangers (and spoils) of urban life, but as a litmus test for moral strength. When Rocco’s brother Simone becomes a lazy boxer, lacking discipline and moral rigor, Rocco himself—a better, kinder human being—steps in and soars to success.—Christina Newland
Director: Robert Downey Sr.
Supposedly inspired by director Robert Downey’s experiences in advertising, Putney Swope would be a bleakly cynical expectoration of the bile inherent to the machinations of capitalism—that is, were it not so funny. In Downey’s most popular film, life means nothing next to the rhythms of language and the poetry of farce, telling the story of an agency in thrall to a complete overhaul care of the new democratically chosen Chairman of the Board, token African American Putney Swope (Arnold Johnson, with Downey dubbing in his comical voice, adding an extra shade of cartoon chaos to an already surreal scenario). Swope purges the company of most of its “lilys,” replacing them with Black Panther acolytes and Five Percenters and assorted blue collar Black workers to resist the tide of empty corporatism taking over America. In turn, Swope takes on the personae of various revolutionaries—sometimes dressing in NOGE garb, sometimes suiting up like a Castro impersonator—navigating the many strains, violent and not, of anti-establishment thinking at the tail end of the ’60s, but ultimately unable to escape the lure of capitalist power. Swope is a bad leader, in other words, stealing ideas from his underlings and generally embracing every hypocritical behavior he can, but the genius of Downey’s vision is that his idea of corruption corrupts absolutely, no regards for race or inequality. A sort of pre-Zucker Brothers bounty of slapstick and absurdity, Putney Swope portrays people floundering through these many layers of power (and, therefore, oppression), unsure of how best to get what they want from society—unsure if that’s even possible. Replete with a series of offensive, uncomfortable and super-weird commercial spots seemingly tapped into America’s horrifying Id, Putney Swope has a lot to say, but doesn’t really seem all that concerned with being heard. —Dom Sinacola
Director: Wolfgang Reitherman
The last animated feature produced during Walt Disney’s lifetime, The Jungle Book premiered in theaters 10 months after his death. It was also the last universally acclaimed Disney classic until The Little Mermaid, over 20 years later. It’s easy to see why: this might be the breeziest, most purely fun of all the Disney features. Between the fantastic voice cast, the unforgettable music, and the intoxicating charisma of Phil Harris’s Baloo, The Jungle Book trades in the solemn imperialism of Rudyard Kipling’s original stories for a jazzy, freewheeling joie de vivre. There’s absolutely a discussion to be had about children’s entertainment downplaying the toll of colonialism, but taken on its own, The Jungle Book is a lively, deeply entertaining treat.—Garrett Martin
Director: Mario Bava
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You can credit films such as Psycho or Peeping Tom for laying the groundwork for the slasher genre, and 1974’s Black Christmas for first bringing all the elements together into what is undeniably a “slasher movie,” but Mario Bava’s foundational 1964 giallo is so close as to almost merit that title as the first “true” slasher in almost every way that matters. Blood and Black Lace is an absolutely gorgeous, sumptuous movie that is all the better to see on the big screen, if you can, featuring dramatic splashes of primary colors used to maximum impact. The story is a blend of darkly comic murder mystery and titillation-tinged exploitation, featuring a gaggle of female models stalked by a mysterious assailant whose face is covered in an impenetrable stocking mask with blank features—a killer who looks for all intents and purposes like the DC Comics character The Question. It’s an immediately iconic image that seared its imprint into an entire Italian genre, and subsequent killers would reflect so many of this character’s features, from the black gloves and long coat to the mask itself. Although many tried to ape its visuals, very few could match the decadence and the sense of luxurious (and deadly) excess that Bava captures in Blood and Black Lace.—Jim Vorel
Director: Orson Welles
It’s difficult to classify Orson Welles’ The Trial; it’s certainly not of this world, instead seemingly the product of some muted parallel universe. A cynical blend of defeatist anti-thriller and jet-black comedy set in a sparse, loveless city draped in perpetual dusk, the film stars Anthony Perkins (despairingly comical) as Josef K, an office drone who’s put on trial without knowing the nature of his crime. Fluctuating between satire and full-on nightmare, The Trial is dense with ideas and themes for the viewer to wade through along with K, as he’s seduced by harpies and taunted by oddballs on his way to discovering there’s no straight answer to why he’s on trial, and that for a man to ask the question “Why?” in such a world is in itself a crime. The term “ahead of its time” is often applied to the films of Welles, and is more so as we reevaluate his body of work and realize there’s so much more to the other-than-Citizen Kanes in his back catalog. There’s a feeling, though, that The Trial will forever seem ahead of its time—it is nearly impenetrable more than 50 years later. It’s also absolutely unforgettable. —Brogan Morris
Director: John Sturges
Even if you know nothing about The Magnificent Seven, I’d bet money you can hum its theme song. Outside of the title track to The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, the theme from The Magnificent Seven is one of the most recognizable theme songs from a Western, if not from movie music period. It’s fitting that such an enjoyable and seminal film would have a great soundtrack. From its origins as a straight-up remake of Akira Kurosawa’s epic, The Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven evolved into something else, a fitting homage to its source material, but also a classic in its own right. The basic story is fairly simple: A group of handpicked gunfighters is hired to protect a small town from a gang of marauders led by the flamboyant and dangerous Calvera (Eli Wallach, in his first Western role). Making it clear they are only in it for the paltry cash, the mercenaries, led by Chris Adams (Yul Brynner), slowly grow to admire the peasants of the small Mexican village, and ultimately find a greater moral purpose in defending the town from the bandits. The highly stylish film was a major boost for the careers of several cast members, including Wallach, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn. Its swaggering action sequences, majestic choreography and use of the more cynical plot point of “hired guns defend a town” over the more traditionally acceptable “one man stands alone to uphold justice” set the basic template for the Western for the rest of the ’60s onward. —J.P.
Director: Hiroshi Teshigahara
In some ways Hiroshi Teshigahara was a proto-Cronenberg, a sharp intellectual with a taste for pulp and the ability to dissect our affinities for the filth we drape around us. Body and psyche are always depicted in pulsing communion in Teshigahara’s films, and if Woman in the Dunes operated as a disarming vision of the sacrifice of transcendence to the hungers of human need (a thematic cousin to Cronenberg’s Shivers), then The Face of Another is about how the outer determines the inner—about our modularity, malleability and mundanity. It’s Teshigahara’s Dead Ringers. And in Armageddon / Deep Impact mode, it came out the same year as the very similar Seconds. No bother, both movies rule: They are the Dead Ringers to each other, echoes of echoes about the echoes that make up our identity. Maybe that’s all identity ever was: A memory of a word that one’s body once spoke, that it still speaks, but maybe not always in the same voice, and maybe the word’s not what you once thought it was. In the beginning was the Word? “Yup,” says The Face of Another, barely stifling a scream. Teshigahara’s rendering of Kobo Abe’s story strips a man of his face and gives him a new one. At some point we realize the man is gone, but also realize that we never knew him to begin with. In 2014’s Phoenix, Christian Petzold uses a similar premise to construct a melodrama. Nothing of that sort interests Teshigahara, however. At their harshest, his pictures are cold, still horrors; at their most tender, elegies for the existential. The Face of Another is both. —Chad Betz
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
At the start of Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Doulos, a handy dandy intertitle card kindly lets us know that the film’s name refers either to a style of hat or a police informant. Once the picture commences, we get plenty of both plus the oozing-cool style of Melville, whose tendency to play down everything in his frame makes even his use of shadow and light seem aloof. Le Doulos is the most-least French contribution to this list; it’s Melville’s adaptation of a novel by Pierre Lesou, but he blends Lesou’s words with twists on symbols and staples of American noir. A purist might argue that combining a French novel with American sensibilities is an implicit rejection of the filmmaking model he and his fellow Rive Gauche comrades established in the 1950s. In truth, that synthesis produces a celluloid slurry that’s uniquely Melville, minimalist and slick. —A.C.
Director: François Truffaut
François Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player feels like the tragicomic reverse of Melville’s Le Doulos. Instead of adapting French literature through an American lens, Truffaut does the reverse, turning David Goodis’ crime yarn Down There into an altogether unpredictable story about commercialism, artistic purity, and the ways our pasts catch up with us. Shoot the Piano Player keeps its tongue firmly in cheek as Truffaut oscillates between absurd slapstick and heartbreak. A man swears to his honesty on his mother’s soul, and the camera cuts away to dear old mom as she falls down dead in her kitchen; Truffaut’s protagonist, Charlie (Charles Aznavour), plays a ditty in the dive bar where he works, haunted by the death of his wife as well as his rising career as a concert pianist. The film is a romp until it’s a downer. —A.C.
Director: Blake Edwards
Amazing to think that when the first film in the Pink Panther series was made, it was intended as a vehicle for its top-billed star David Niven. Wisely, director Blake Edwards realized the true star of the show was the bumbling French policeman Inspector Clouseau, as embodied by the brilliant Peter Sellers. So, they rushed another film into production (it was released in the States a mere three months after The Pink Panther) and comedy greatness was born. Ever the sport, Sellers quite literally threw himself into the part, crashing and stumbling through his investigation of murder and mangling the English language each step of the way. Try as they might to recapture the fire of this first sequel, nothing quite matched the freewheeling spirit of A Shot in the Dark. —Robert Ham
Director: Eiichi Yamamoto
Created by Mushi Productions, the studio behind such classics such Astroboy, Kimba the White Lion and Dororo, and produced by none other than anime patriarch Osamu Tezuka, One Thousand and One Nights was the first installment in what would later come to be known as the Animerama series, a trilogy of thematically linked experimental erotic films created for adult audiences. Directed by Eiichi Yamamoto and written by Tezuka with the assistance of Kazuo Fukasaka and Hiroyuki Kumai, the film’s initial release in Japan was championed for its abstract animation, experimental live-action footage, adult storyline, and psychedelic rock music score. One Thousand and One Night would later be dubbed and receive an American release, predating the adult animated film phenomenon sparked by Ralph Bakshi’s 1972 Fritz the Cat, only to flop and receive a limited release. The English dub of One Thousand and One Nights is thought to be lost to the annals of history, with only the film’s original subtitled version to stand as a testament to one of the most bizarre and intriguing experiments in Japanese animation.—Staff
Director: George A. Romero
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What more can be said of Night of the Living Dead? It’s pretty obviously the most important zombie film ever made, and hugely influential as an independent film as well. George Romero’s cheap but momentous flick was a quantum leap forward in what the word “zombie” meant in pop culture, despite the fact that the word “zombie” is never actually uttered in it. More importantly, it established all of the genre rules: Zombies are reanimated corpses; zombies are compelled to eat the flesh of the living; zombies are unthinking, tireless and impervious to injury; the only way to kill a zombie is to destroy the brain. Those rules essentially categorize every single zombie movie from here on out—either the film features “Romero-style zombies,” or it tweaks with the formula and is ultimately noted for how it differs from the Romero standard. Night of the Living Dead is essentially the horror equivalent of what Tolkien did for the idea of high fantasy “races.” After The Lord of the Rings, it became nearly impossible to write contrarian concepts of what elves, dwarves or orcs might be like. There hasn’t been a zombie movie made in the last 48 years that hasn’t been influenced by Romero in some way, and you can barely hold a conversation on anything zombie-related if you haven’t seen it—so go out and watch it, if you haven’t. The film still holds up well, especially in its moody cinematography and stark, black-and-white images of zombie arms reaching through the windows of a rural farmhouse. Oh, and by the way: NOTLD is public domain, so don’t get tricked into buying it on a shoddy DVD. —Jim Vorel
Director: Kineto Shindo
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Kaneto Shindo’s Onibaba will make you sweat and give you chills all at once, with its power found in Shindo’s blend of atmosphere and eroticism. It’s a sexy film, and a dangerous film, and in its very last moments a terrifying, unnerving film where morality comes full circle to punish its protagonists for their foibles and their sins. There’s a classicism to Onibaba’s drama, a sense of cosmic comeuppance: Characters do wrong and have their wrongs visited upon them by the powers that be. (In this case, Shindo.) But what makes the film so damn scary isn’t the fear of retribution passed down from on high, it’s the human element, the common thread sewn in a number of modern horror movies where the true monster is always us. Did demons, or demonic idols, foment the civil war that serves as Onibaba’s backdrop? Are spirits culpable for the ruthless survivalism of the film’s two main characters? Nope and nope. Put a checkmark next to “mankind” in reply to both questions, and then wish that demons and spirits were real, because that’d be preferable to acknowledging reality. Back a human into a corner, and they’ll throw you into a ditch, leave you for dead and steal your shit, and what’s more unsettling than “better you than me” as a guiding principle for living? —Andy Crump
Director: Antonio Pietrangeli
Ever wonder what La Dolce Vita would look like if Federico Fellini had shot it through a feminine perspective? Wonder no longer. I Knew Her Well, an unsung masterpiece from Commedia all’italiana director Antonio Pietrangeli, is essentially what the sweet life looks like from the point of view of a young woman, Adriana (portrayed in a stunning lead performance by Stefania Sandrelli, whose video interview is a must-watch among the Blu-ray’s supplemental features). Adriana’s a country girl who self-relocates to Rome in pursuit of fame, celebrity and all the spoils that notoriety afford those who are able to capture it; she has no greater aspirations than to bask in stardom’s scintillating warmth, or at least none that are articulated explicitly through text. Either unwittingly or not, I Knew Her Well—a title whose suggestion of familiarity reminds us that we’ve all read about a person like Stefanie in tabloids or seen her on television—flips the male gaze inhabited and critiqued in Fellini’s masterpiece on its head. Pietrangeli shows his audience what it is to be manipulated and used, rather than what it is to be the manipulator or the user. The results are equally as shocking as they are revelatory. —Andy Crump
Director: Roman Polanski
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Roman Polanski’s landmark psychological horror was the start of his so-called “apartment trilogy,” which also contained Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant, but Repulsion is the most stark and intimate of the three. We spend much of the film with a single woman, Carole (Catherine Deneuve), cloistered in a cracking, crumbling apartment that represents the slow erosion of her sanity. Carole is disgusted—repulsed—by modern society, sexuality and the shallowness of interpersonal relationships, relying on her sister’s presence to get by and keep her grounded. But when her sister leaves on an extended trip to Italy, Carole’s fragile ties to reality quickly become unmoored. Repulsion’s minimal plot moves glacially, taking quite a long while to reach a conclusion that viewers will be aware from the beginning is headed their way. But at the same time, the dream sequences and hallucination scenes are the stuff of nightmares, a sort of evolution of the expressionist horror of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and others that deftly use both imagery and especially sound design to slowly ratchet up the intensity. It’s not a horror film for the multiplex crowd, but students of film will find something in Repulsion that sticks with them for a long time.—Jim Vorel
Director: Daniel Petrie
Opportunity takes different forms depending on who you ask about it. For some, opportunity means securing your present by creating financial stability for yourself, sort of similar to how it’s recommended that you put your own oxygen mask on first before helping fellow passengers. For others, opportunity means securing the future, again either for yourself or for the future in its purest form: the upbringing of the next generation. In A Raisin in the Sun, the Younger family—Walter Lee (Sidney Poitier), Ruth (Ruby Dee), Lena (Claudia McNeil), Beneatha (Diana Sands) and Travis (Stephen Perry)—agonize over how best to spend the $10,000 insurance check left them following the death of Lena’s husband, Walter Lee’s father. Walter Lee wants to sink it into a liquor store for income’s sake, thinking that the investment would help steady the family’s finances. Lena wants to buy a house in accordance with the dream she and her husband had together but never achieved. Ruth sides with Lena, while Beneatha wishes to use the money to pay for tuition for medical school. The back and forth over the fate of the check begins right at the movie’s outset, and sustains it for its duration. But A Raisin in the Sun isn’t just a movie about dollars and how best to spend them in a family of five, and it certainly isn’t about avarice or greed. It’s about, yes, opportunity, and also about crafting a portrait of Black American life in its era, about the innate struggle of simply being a non-white person in a country set up not to serve your interests. Petrie adapted his movie from Lorraine Hansberry’s stage play of the same name, and hews closely to her original blueprint, knowing that her words, her intellect and his cast can carry the film’s messages. He directs with not caution, but respect, never forgetting that he’s a filmmaker but never allowing his ego to override its vision of America as seen through a Black American lens. He has the director’s credit, but the true storytellers here are his actors. —Andy Crump
Director: Ken Annakin, Darryl F. Zanuck, Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki, Gerd Oswald
The most impressive of the multinational, star-studded WWII recreation epics to come out of Hollywood in the ’60s and ’70s, The Longest Day—a hulking product of collaboration between no less than five filmmakers, approaching D-Day from the British, French, German and American sides—takes a sweeping yet thorough cross-section look at what happened in Normandy on June 6, 1944, across land, sea and air. As Operation Overlord was a massive display of military might, so The Longest Day is a spectacle of the wealth and power of the ’60s studio system, and the reserves Hollywood kept for the war movie back when the genre was at the peak of its popularity. For the French-speaking portion of the film, there is an espionage mini-thriller and a thunderous Commando assault on a seaside town. For the English-speaking portion, the biggest stars money could then buy, including John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Richard Burton and Robert Mitchum, and a large-scale storming of Normandy’s beaches unrivaled in scope even by Saving Private Ryan’s feted opening scene. And for the German-speaking segments, a surprisingly even-handed (and occasionally even lighthearted) portrayal of ill-prepared officers, out-of-their-depth Luftwaffe and the ordinary soldiers who from that point on would be forever in retreat. —Brogan Morris
Director: Georges Franju
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I remember seeing my first Édith Scob performance back in 2012, when Leos Carax’s Holy Motors made its way to U.S. shores and melted my pea brain by dint of its surreal meta-text commentary. I also remember Scob donning a seafoam mask, every bit as blank and lacking in expression as Michael Myers’, in the film’s ending, and thinking to myself, “Gee, that’d play like gangbusters in a horror movie.” What an idiot I was: At the time of my Holy Motors viewing, Scob had already appeared in that movie movie, Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face, an icy, poetic and yet lovingly made film about a woman and her mad scientist/serial killer dad, who just wants to kidnap young ladies that share her facial features in hopes of grafting their skin onto her own disfigured mug. (That’s father of the year material right there.) But of course nothing goes smoothly in the film’s narrative, and the whole thing ends in tears plus a frenzy of canine bloodlust. Eyes Without a Face is played in just the right register of unnerving, perverse and intimate as the most enduring pulpy horror tales tend to be; if Franju gets to claim most of the credit for that, at least save a portion for Scob, whose eyes are the single best special effect in the film’s repertoire. Hers is a performance that stems right from the soul. —Andy Crump
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
“What will he find out there, doctor?”
“His destiny”
That’s what the conservative ape scientist Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) tells compassionate ape “veterinarian” Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter) at the end of the original Planet of the Apes, as misanthropic astronaut George Taylor (Charlton Heston) sets out into the Forbidden Zone of this topsy-turvy planet—where intelligent, talking apes are the dominant species and humans are dumb beasts—in order to find out what really happened to his species. Unless you were living under a rock for the last 50 years, you know exactly what he will find. But why does Zaius call this literally earth-shattering revelation Taylor’s destiny, and not his past, which is technically the case? The answer for that lies within Zaius’s role in the ape society. Unlike all other apes, Zaius knows the history of the painful and complex relationship between apes and humans. He knows how humans’ natural attraction to war, persecution, prejudice and cruelty sealed their eventual doom, and is (perhaps vainly) attempting to keep that “intellectual virus” from spreading to his beloved apes. He knows that once an intelligent human like Taylor has a chance to restart yet another attempt at civilization for his species, the same ugliness and destruction that comes with his inner nature will certainly plague his descendants. Therefore, he knows that Taylor will find both his past and his future on that beach. Today, the Planet of the Apes franchise is still going strong. The timeless appeal of these films stems from the fact that they explore high-concept themes, like the inherent viciousness and frailty of human nature, with brutal clarity, told with a refreshing lack of condescension and philosophical hand-holding. By presenting a fable world where what we now consider to be animals are dominating humankind, they hold a mirror to our ugliness, arrogance and, just maybe, our chance for redemption. Every installment and reiteration of the franchise contains a handful of characters who struggle to go against their basest urges and strive to bring compassion and peace to their kind. Yes, these films never forget to cultivate the value of hope for a peaceful world, but they’re never naïve enough to attempt to sell the audience on the idea that it’s an easy feat—as evidenced by the unfortunately yet appropriately bleak endings found in most of them. The one that started it all is still the epitome of the Planet of the Apes experience. Co-written by Twilight Zone co-creator Rod Serling, the sci-fi fable structure of the novel’s adaptation fits Serling’s sensibilities so impeccably that the original Planet of the Apes might be the closest we’ll ever get to a single-story, feature-length Twilight Zone movie, creating a kind of balanced synergy between pure genre excitement and level-headed morality tale. —Oktay Ege Kozak
Director: King Hu (with Sammo Hung)
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With a female protagonist (Cheng Pei-pei) at the head of an army of warrior women and the Shaw Brothers’ stamp early on in the production company’s run, Come Drink With Me not only broke the wuxia mold, it practically created it. Without the film, there would have been no Kill Bill (Quentin Tarantino has even been rumored for years to have a remake in his docket); in fact, without this film’s meager success in the U.S., later bolstered by the Weinstein Brothers’ commitment to bringing martial arts classics to cult-inclined Western audiences, there are few other films of its ilk that would have ever been embraced outside of China and Hong Kong. Achingly tender in moments, with fight scenes that more resemble sophisticated, choreographed dance than realistic brawls, the influence of Come Drink With Me can’t be overstated. Even if you’ve never seen it, when you think of martial arts film, you think of something akin to this. —D.S.
Director: Mel Brooks
In the ’50s and ’60s Mel Brooks was just a comedian, albeit a particularly brilliant one. He wrote for TV shows like Your Show of Shows and Get Smart, and had a hit comedy duo with Carl Reiner that spawned three records in two years. But in writing and directing The Producers—the now-iconic story of a Broadway producer known for his flops (Zero Mostel) and a meek accountant (Gene Wilder) who team up to rob investors by deliberately sinking a musical about Adolf Hitler—Mel Brooks may have become the prototypical comedian-director as we currently understand the phrase (for talkies, at least.). The Producers is just as funny as ever, though amusingly tame in comparison to the uproar it caused and the producers who refused to touch it. It’s also completely different from the meta-gag-fests of Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles. But it announced Brooks as the champion of weird comedy on film for the rest of the 20th century, and, due to its release as an arthouse film, made him a new kind of auteur. —Graham Techler
Director: Peter Watkins
In the final moments of this film, a child, dripping with blood and coated in ash, says, “I don’t want to grow up to be nothing.” Based on interviews with leading professionals, extensive research and a heady dose of well-educated speculation, Peter Watkins’ The War Game exists in a sort of interstitial reality between documentary and drama. Using mostly non-actors to portray Watkins’ estimation of what a nuclear holocaust in the UK would be like, the film conjures up an alternate reality in which an unsuspecting population freefalls into total annihilation. What’s scarier than the images Watkins depicts of people burning alive or of a riot erupting in the midst of the desperate institution of martial law—all (obviously) dramatized but all very difficult to watch—is also one of the film’s most trenchant truths: The lack of awareness most citizens have of the devastation our elected leaders have at their disposal. If we became suddenly aware that our future generations could grow up to be nothing—to mean nothing in the grand scheme of things—we’d have no idea how to prevent it. —D.S.
Director: William Greaves
Symbiopsychotaxiplasm meta-weaves three interconnected parts into one unnerving synthesis: 1) a documentary of the casting process for an unmade film called Over a Cliff; 2) a documentary of the documentary of the casting process for an unmade film called Over a Cliff; and 3) a documentary about the documentary of the documentary of the casting process for an unmade film called Over a Cliff, wherein the director of the first documentary also happens to be directing the third documentary to capture additional footage of people in Central Park that has something tangentially to do with “sexuality,” which may or may not be what Over a Cliff is about. That the first documentary seems to be only the repeated filming of different actors having the same offensively tone-deaf conversation is but one point of contention; that the crew can’t seem to possibly grasp what’s going on, let alone get any sort of coherent idea about what they’re supposed to be doing from director Bill Greaves, makes much of the film feel like an inchoate disaster. Which of course compels the crew to gather, apart from Greaves, in a sort of mutiny room to discuss whether they should continue with the production, filming that meeting with full intention of giving the footage to Greaves at the end of whatever it is they’re doing, whenever it is that will happen—all the while debating if, somehow, Greaves orchestrated the whole thing, because there’s no way the audience will know what’s staged and what’s not. And we don’t. So when later Greaves gathers the crew to hear their dissent and then—shutting them down like the genius badass he is—plainly tell them that he did orchestrate all of this, we immediately call into question how easily any kind of film, whether it’s fictional or not, can manipulate our experience of truth—no matter what side of the camera we happen to find ourselves on. —Dom Sinacola
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Depending on who you ask, The Guns of Navarone is a work of pure artifice, historical fiction that’s all fiction and no history. True, its source work, Alistair MacLean’s 1957 novel of the same name, was inspired by the Battle of Leros during World War II, but J. Lee Thompson’s film feels like its own beast, beholden to neither MacLean’s novel nor the war itself. Guess what? That’s fine. The Guns of Navarone is a stunner, no matter where it draws the pieces of its “men on a mission” plot from. Not incidentally, it’s also the first (one of, anyway) of many such movies to emerge during the 1960s, a niche in the war movie genre that multiplied over the course of the next 20 years following its release. You may cite the film’s cast, which starts with Gregory Peck, continues with Anthony Quinn, and fills out with Anthony Quayle and David Niven (among many others), as well as its character development, as the two key ingredients to its success; you may instead single out the action scenes, each as fluid and thrilling and as varied as the others; or you may choose to cheer for Thompson himself, whose second-to-none pacing keeps the film on rails without ever flagging or dragging or otherwise growing repetitive. Whatever. The truth is that you can’t take one of these elements away without affecting the others, and ultimately, that signifies The Guns of Navarone’s excellence as a harmonized piece of top-drawer action filmmaking. —Andy Crump
Director: Leonard Kastle
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In a film that acted as something of a spiritual antecedent to the sensibilities of John Waters, Terrence Malick’s Badlands and the exploitation films of the ’70s, Leonard Kastle delivers greatness with The Honeymoon Killers. Shot with absolute care—in a verite style, unafraid to show gruesome details—and a wonderful attention to detail amidst long, lingering frames, this marks the only foray into directing for Kastle, an artist who knows the most power can be held in what he doesn’t show. Kastle’s sense of lighting is one of the film’s strengths, not to mention the rather great performances by Shirley Stoler and Tony Lo Bianco, playing the real couple of Martha Beck and Ray Fernandez, whose story unravels more and more through every passing act of grotesqueness and horror, their bickering throughout one of this low-budget shock classic’s highlights. —Nelson Maddaloni
Director: Richard Lester
That opening chord of “A Hard Day’s Night” is iconic on its own, but when it’s paired with scenes of the Fab Four gleefully outrunning a crowd of screaming fans? Forget about it. The first Beatles movie—a mockumentary filmed at the height of Beatlemania—also happens to be their best; it’s funny, silly, weirdly melancholy at times (it’s hard not to see the foreshadowing when Ringo temporarily quits the band after feeling unappreciated) and full of some fantastic early performances. It manages to poke fun at the fame machine from the inside, and we always get the sense that no one found it funnier than John, Paul, George and Ringo.—Bonnie Stiernberg
Director: Masaki Kobayashi
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Ghost stories don’t get much more gorgeous than the four in Masaki Kobayashi’s sprawling Kwaidan. Between two acerbically political and widely lauded samurai epics, Hara-kiri (1962) and Samurai Rebellion (1967), Kobayashi led what was then Japan’s most expensive cinematic production ever, an anthology film with its parts loosely connected by Lafcadio Hearn’s collection of Japanese folk tales and Kobayashi’s intuitive penchant for surreal, sweepingly lush sets. In “The Black Hair,” a selfish, impoverished ronin (Rentaro Mikuni) abandons his wife to marry into wealth, only to realize he made a dire mistake, plunging him into a gothic nightmare of decay and regret. “The Woman of the Snow” follows a craftsman (the always welcome Tatsuya Nakadai) doomed to have everything he loves stolen from him by a patient bureaucratic specter. The movie-unto-itself, “Hoichi the Earless,” pits the titular blind monk musician (Katsua Nakamura) against a family of ghosts, forcing the bard to recite—in hushed, heartbreaking passages on the biwa—the story of their wartime demise. Rapt with indelible images (most well known, perhaps, is Hoichi’s skin completely covered in the script of The Heart Sutra to ward off the ghosts’ influence), “Hoichi the Earless” is both deeply unnerving and quietly tragic, wrung with the sadness of Kobayashi’s admission that only forces beyond our control hold the keys to our fates. The fourth, and by far the weirdest, entry, “In a Cup of Tea,” is a tale within a tale, purposely unfinished because the writer (Osamu Takizawa) who’s writing about a samurai (Noboru Nakaya) who keeps seeing an unfamiliar man (Kei Sato) in his cup of tea is in turn attacked by the malicious spirits he’s conjuring. From these disparate fairy tales, plenty of fodder for campfires, Kobayashi creates a mythos for his country’s haunted past: We are nothing if not the pawns of all those to come before. —Dom Sinacola
Director: John Frankenheimer
Made when Cold War tensions were rising, the Vietnam War just saw its second tripling of U.S. ground troops and the political atmosphere was stifling with Communist allegations, Frankenheimer’s film feels relevant even in 2016. Rich with strong political commentary, and bolstered by powerful performances (Sinatra giving, perhaps, the greatest performance of his career, supported by an especially frightening Angela Lansbury), the film is still thrilling as it shoulders such heavy themes as individual liberty versus the nature of freedom. Gorgeously shot and framed, especially in the final scenes at Madison Square Garden, The Manchurian Candidate ranks alongside Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove and Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, leaving no stone unturned in its examination of conspiracy and tensions between political ideologues.—Nelson Maddaloni
Directors: John Ford, Henry Hathaway, George Marshall
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A vestige of MGM’s traditional epic Western era, this multi-chapter, multi-director classic spans 50 years, four generations, a cross-country saga and a legacy cast featuring Henry Fonda, Karl Malden, Gregory Peck, John Wayne, Richard Widmark, Eli Wallach, Jimmy Stewart, Walter Brennan, Debbie Reynolds, Lee Van Cleef and George Peppard (for starters), and narrated by no less than Spencer Tracy. Malden is the patriarch of the Prescott family, who ventures west from the Erie Canal and through 19th-century American history, including the Civil War, California Gold Rush, the Pony Express and the railroad boom. John Ford, Henry Hathaway and George Marshall co-direct, filming in the spectacular (but intricately problematic) curved-screen three-strip Cinerama process that made such a monumental narrative undertaking even more grandiose onscreen. Life and death, cowboys and Indians, riverboats and stagecoaches, frontiers and cities, How the West Was Won leaves no genre motif unturned—there’s even a 1960s-set epilogue to drive home the themes of expansion and industrialization, American-style. James R. Webb’s screenplay deservedly won an Oscar, as did the editing—consider a story and production of such scale assembled into a cohesive and riveting two and three-quarter hours—and Alfred Newman’s score is among film’s most iconic. For Wayne, Fonda and Stewart onscreen together for the first and only time, for the insanely detailed Cinerama, for the accomplishments of cast, crew and plot, this is once-in-a-lifetime filmmaking. —A.S.
Director: John Sturges
The nonfiction, real-life mass escape from a Nazi detention camp in Poland was presumably nowhere near as charismatic as John Sturges’ awesomely cast film adaptation, but that’s okay. The film doesn’t bring anything especially new to the cinematic examination of the war. That’s okay. It’s escapism? Well, it’s about escaping. What makes this film a high-stamina classic is largely its amazing ensemble cast, which includes Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, James Garner, James Coburn and Donald Pleasance. This band of POWs work together as a film ensemble as well as they work together to execute their impossible escape—each character bringing a different skill set and a different viewpoint to an effort that can only succeed if they all accept their differences and work together. The film has a rather slow start, which some people feel is a weakness, although it’s arguably valid for the character development and relationship development that are key to our desire to see these guys succeed. Despite its laconic pacing in the first half (which one could argue is a thematic underscoring of the frustrating and frightening suspension of being a POW, only diffused and channeled into action when they see a potential path to freedom), it remains a masterpiece of the action genre. It was also the film that put Steve McQueen on the map. I’m sure uncountable numbers of young men walked out of the cinema determined to buy a motorcycle after watching McQueen’s iconic escape ride. They don’t all make it, but they sure make you feel invested in their plan. —Amy Glynn
Director: Robert Drew
Here begins the stuff of legends: The unheralded celebro-presidency of JFK; the careers of iconic filmmakers D.A. Pennebaker and Albert Maysles; the legacy of a sort of pre-gonzo filmmaking that embedded the audience face-first into the fray of history. While Primary is a relatively quaint hour of man-on-the-street insight into one of the most important elections in American history—capped by a stump speech that illustrates, in a brisk couple minutes, why John F. Kennedy became the figure we now intuitively know him as—the influence this film has is incalculable. From 20/20 to To Catch A Predator, Primary, in following the Wisconsin primary between JFK and Hubert Humphrey, has helped us define that uneasy gray area of our personal politics, giving heft and vitality to the weird feeling we all have in “knowing” the people who we willingly choose to make the most important decisions of our public lives. —D.S.
Director: Lindsay Anderson
Malcolm McDowell stars as an errant schoolboy in If…, one of the legendary British films of the ‘60s. This send-up of boarding school values pushes back against the dictatorial and suffocating standards of the English ruling classes, Lindsay Anderson directs McDowell as an incorrigible loon—and the locus of the unfolding student rebellion. Disaffected teens and guns are never a good combination, and in some ways the film eerily presages the school shooting age. But in 1968, this satirical allegory was much more about anti-authoritarianism and the urge to ruffle the feathers of the old guard. With its gleeful anarchy, it’s a proto-punk movie if ever one existed.—Staff
Director: Mike Nichols

In the undisputed king of movies for those headed out into the real world, a hyper-accomplished recent grad (Dustin Hoffman) panics at the prospect of his future and falls into an affair with the much older wife of his father’s business partner (Anne Bancroft). It helped define a generation long since embalmed by history, but the sense of longing for an alternative hasn’t aged. —Jeffrey Bloomer
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
By the standards of his New Wave years, this was a “lesser” Godard film—more absurd, more confusing and perhaps a sign of the disjointed Marxist period to come. As Roger Ebert wrote back in 1966, ”…the parts don’t fit together—but they add up to an attitude.” Precisely: This is a film to watch after you’ve become familiar with Godard, after you’ve given yourself over to his rhythms and eccentricities, and after, perhaps, your fourth or fifth Godardian epiphany. (Don’t go straight from Breathless to Pierrot, in other words.) But once you cross that threshold, you’ll find ample reward in this road movie starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina, loosely tied together by a gangster-heavy plot (Pierrot is saturated with violence) and the theme of lost love. To experience it purely as metaphor, too, is to find a way in to Godard’s earlier, more accessible films. —Shane Ryan
Director: Jack Clayton
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There are few sights in gothic horror more instantly iconic than the female protagonist, dressed in a flowing nightgown, wandering the halls of a pitch-black Victorian country mansion at midnight, flaming candelabra in hand, brushing cobwebs out of the way as she searches for the source of a mysterious sound. That’s Deborah Kerr in The Innocents, one of the greatest of all gothic chillers. Based on Henry James’ Turn of the Screw, it concerns the young governess with a love for children as she finds herself in a challenging new locale, caring for two orphaned kids whose rich uncle has no room in his heart for family members. From the opening moments, the ghostly presence of the past is palpable, and the stage is set thematically by the repeated musical motif of “O Willow Waly,” which is chilling to hear even without the context of the film. There’s a mystery to be unraveled here, but The Innocents is a cinematic feast even if you’re watching on mute, featuring cinematographer Freddie Francis’ experimentation with deep focus and loving shots of the country mansion that hides a secret past. The child actors, meanwhile, are nothing short of phenomenal—it may be the best performance by a couple of kids in the entire history of the genre. Martin Stephens in particular, as the troubled and oddly mature young boy Miles, is spellbinding, forcing Kerr’s Miss Giddens to question the possibility of supernatural influence from beyond the grave. It’s a beautiful ghost story best viewed by candlelight. —Jim Vorel
Director: Sam Peckinpah
“Brutal” is the word that comes to mind. Despite incalculable advances in onscreen violent special effects, 50 years still hasn’t diminished the overwhelming gut punch delivered by the orchestrated onslaught of the opening and closing set pieces. After a series of commercial failures, projects plagued by insistent studio meddling, director Sam Peckinpah wanted to make a film closer to his own artistic vision, one that depicted a more authentic view of the Old West than that supplied by the traditional Western, that focused on the outlaws, “people who lived not only by violence, but for it.” Deliver he did. The Wild Bunch is a cry in the wilderness, lambasting Hollywood’s hypocritical sanitization of the West and every Western that ever mythologized it in the first place. The heroes of the piece are low-down dirty men who claim to have a code of honor but only stick to it when circumstances suit them. Only after their options narrow, after being made a fool of by corrupt political forces, do they find a shred of dignity. Taking matters into their own hands, they plunge into a no-win shoot-out to avenge their fallen comrade, Angel, and hell, just because it’s a good day to die on their own terms and at their own choosing. If by some fluke you haven’t seen The Wild Bunch, the director’s cut is definitely the way to go. Steel yourself though. It packs a wallop. —J.P.
Director: Ralph Nelson
As its title suggests, few boxing films are quite so unrelentingly melancholy as this Rod Serling-penned story. Anthony Quinn is a roughed-up old heavyweight whose final head injury in the ring incapacitates him for further fights. Forced to the unemployment office after decades of boxing, he realizes he has little to show for his years of dedication but a cauliflower ear and an empty pocket. This is a film which makes a pointed effort to show the way prizefighters are cruelly put out to pasture once they no longer serve their purpose; Quinn’s turn as the punch-drunk dope is so kindly it’s difficult not to watch without fierce empathy. Jackie Gleason, in a serious guise, is fantastically conflicted as Quinn’s longtime manager, and Julie Harris equally formidable as a sweet unemployment office clerk. Requiem for a Heavyweight is one of the greats.—Christina Newland
Director: John Frankenheimer
Of all the sci-fi films on this list, one of those with the world closest to ours can be found in John Frankenheimer’s Seconds. Setting the tale from coast to coast in prosperous ’60s America, Frankenheimer casts an eye through a thin veil of science fiction to what he sees as a failingly lonely way of life. Approached by a mysterious outfit known as “the Company,” middle-aged family man Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) is given the opportunity to fake his death and start over as bohemian California-based painter Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson). Tapping away to the existential core, however, “Tony” only finds his new life as hollow as his old one, a construct populated by Company actors and other “reborns” who just want to sustain the illusion. James Wong Howe’s shadow-infused cinematography and Jerry Goldsmith’s anxious horror score apply the paranoid sheen to what is really a bleak examination of the contemporary domesticated worker—bleak because, minus the presence of the elusive, amoral Company, Seconds’ dystopian Earth is really our own. —Brogan Morris
Director: Richard Brooks
Richard Brooks’ adaptation of In Cold Blood is a hallucinatory nightmare from
which there is no escape. Brooks has always been a masterful filmmaker with entries such as Elmer Gantry and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, so it comes as no surprise that he could capture the sheer range that Truman Capote’s nonfiction novel offers. Robert Blake and Scott Wilson give performances of a lifetime, although it is Blake’s Perry Smith that shines. The shock and frenzy of this troubled man seep through the frames, as Brooks uses both hallucination and flashback to capture such a fragile psyche. Quincy Jones’ jazz score also elevates the action on screen and creates a smooth mood not unlike most noir masterpieces. The performances are poetically underplayed; no one shows off here. Juxtaposed with the jarred and fractured, yet linear, narrative, we see the psychological framing of our two protagonists shatter, reform, shatter again, and culminate in a truly moving and intense film.—Nelson Maddaloni
Director: Alain Resnais
Claude (Claude Rich) can’t successfully commit suicide, so instead he commits himself to the abyss of time. As in the case in Chris Marker’s La Jetée and, later, in Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (which Gondry admitted was inspired in part by Resnais’ film), the passage of time is experienced as the sum total of one’s memories—splayed like guesstimated data points across the illusory y-axis of our lives—and so beholden to the whims and tenuous subjectivity of our neuroses, our chemicals and, most of all, our nostalgia. Depressed and sunk into a kind of existential shock after the death of his wife, Claude submits to an extremely experimental time travel device concocted by a shadowy, private research cadre. Like Marker’s time machine, Resnais’ technology seems to take place mostly in the head of the protagonist, crafting his vessel more like a desert yurt ripe for a vision quest (replete with bean bag chair and administered “medicine,” presented as perhaps only semantically distinct from something like Ayahuasca) than a transportational pod—though Claude’s body does physically un-stick in time. Intended to only go back for minutes to experience small shards of space-time, Claude does not, as is usually the case, experience the sojourn the scientists meant him to, recycled and regurgitated through ever-random moments in his life which, taken together, flesh out the truth and tragedy behind the truth and tragedy Claude’s convinced himself is real. A master class in film editing, Je t’aime, je t’aime wallows in the impermanence of love, all the more painful, and all the more timely, for it. —Dom Sinacola
Director: Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin
The Maysles’ ode to the can-do attitude of the so-called “Greatest Generation” is an ever-saddening study in charisma: Who has it, what it is and just how deeply, unintentionally ingrained it is in our whole model of the American Dream. In following four Bible salesmen, each with an animalistic nickname to handily keep them apart, we’re able to observe the pitch process from seemingly every persuasive angle. Some salesmen are wise and respectful, others enthusiastic and joking, and still others resort to bullying nervous stay-at-home moms or emasculated husbands into signing a pay stub. Couple that ethical conundrum with the product they’re hocking—the original “Good Book,” apparently—and it’s no surprise when one of the salesmen (Badger, who hits a streak of shitty luck, never living up to his name) loses all hope in his vocation and spends every night in his shared hotel room complaining to his fellow salesmen that what they’re doing is existentially bound to fail. And yet, Rabbit has no trouble keeping his sales up, and the Bull always walks out with scribbled-on chits. Badger just happens to be a dying breed of salesman, a guy whose charisma refuses to adapt. What’s worse: He’s got no one to blame but himself. —D.S.
Director: Billy Wilder
Filmmaker Billy Wilder had perhaps one of the greatest, most diverse track records in film history from 1944 to 1960. In this period, he tackled an Oscar-winning drama about alcoholism (The Lost Weekend), two well-regarded film noirs (Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard), a war drama (Stalag 17), two light-hearted rom-coms (Sabrina, Seven Year Itch) a gripping murder-mystery (Witness for the Prosecution) and perhaps the funniest American movie of all time (Some Like It Hot). Yet, of all these golden credits, one Wilder’s most beloved and memorable achievements was 1960’s The Apartment. Jack Lemmon plays C.C. Baxter, an ambitious office worker who, desperate to climb the corporate ladder, allows his bosses to use his apartment to carry on discreet affairs with their mistresses. Things get complicated, however, when he discovers that his office crush, quirky elevator operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), is one of his bosses’ mistresses. While it actually gets quite dark at times, The Apartment strikes a perfect balance between laugh-out-loud comedy and emotionally honest drama. Following the career highlight that was his drag-heavy performance in Some Like It Hot, Lemmon here proves that he can play the low-key, straight man with equal dexterity. Likewise, MacLaine’s charming portrayal as the damaged, yet lovable Kubelik would provide the model for manic pixie dream girls for years to come. —Mark Rozeman
Director: Masahiro Shinoda
While Seijun Suzuki and Nagasi Oshima were blowing up Japanese film’s stylistic traditions, Masahiro Shinoda’s Pale Flower is a much subtler and in some ways more timeless film, attempting to destroy the clichés of the Yakuza genre not by reinventing them but by diving deeper into their meanings. Pale Flower sits comfortably as one of the darker noir films ever made, beginning with a gangster’s release from prison after serving a three-year term for murder. He immediately heads back to his old haunts and connections but much of his lust for life is gone except when it comes to gambling. He meets a femme fatale with the same passion and the two begin playing together, amidst which Yakuza violence is heating up. It’s a film couched in nihilism that deglamorizes Japanese gangsters in the same way that Martin Scorsese would deglamorize American ones a decade later in Mean Streets—the honorable thieves that were such a part of earlier depictions of Yakuza are replaced with thugs and low-lifes.—Sean Gandert
Director: Haskell Wexler
Elusive, sly, and dazzlingly shot, Haskell Wexler’s directorial debut is one of the great American counterculture films. Starring Robert Forster as an ambitious young news cameraman who gets caught up in the riots at the ’68 Democratic Convention, Medium Cool is focused on the slow politicization of an initially disinterested youth. Traveling through the company of Black radicals, Nixon supporters, indifferent television executives and impoverished single mothers, Wexler slowly proves that the personal is deeply political. When the carnage of the Chicago riots unfold in one searing, hypnotic long take—actual footage filmed by Wexler on the day—the transition is complete. This is a quietly revolutionary odyssey through the turmoil of a divided nation.—Staff
Director: Seijun Suzuki
After directing nearly 40 films inside the Nikkatsu studio system, turning pulp into art house splashes of sharp color and surreal super-cool, Seijun Suzuki made Branded to Kill, a kind of perfect culmination of everything he’d been trying to do with Youth of the Beast, Tokyo Drifter, and even Gate of Flesh. In it, Japan’s “#3 Killer” Goro Hanada (Joe Shishido) murders his way towards #1, concocting a series of assassinations as illogical as they are balletic, in the process falling in love, going ever-insane, and influencing a generation of cult directors, from John Woo and Chan-wook Park to Quentin Tarantino and Jim Jarmusch (who loving lifted one of the assassination setpieces for his Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai). Sometimes vulgar, and yet always seethingly gorgeous, Branded to Kill epitomizes the kind of brilliant work directors of Suzuki’s caliber were churning out within stiflingly commercial systems—they weren’t so much destroying tradition as just totally owning it, upping the stakes of the studio game in Japan by almost effortlessly transcending it.—Dom Sinacola
Director: Monte Hellman
Filmed back-to-back with The Shooting, an equally superb Western, Ride in the Whirlwind is the more traditional movie on the surface. Written by actor Jack Nicholson, who also stars in The Shooting, Whirlwind’s story focuses on three cowboys riding the range back home who seek shelter for the night with a gang of outlaws. When a posse of vigilantes circle the cabin and a gunfight ensues, Nicholson and Cameron Mitchell flee into a canyon for safety, chased by the vigilantes who believe they’re members of the outlaws. They find temporary sanctuary with a family of homesteaders, including Millie Perkins as the daughter, but Nicholson and Mitchell’s quest for freedom is cast in existential despair. Nicholson’s script is filled with fantastic, well-researched details of life in the West, and director Monte Hellman tightens his characters’ dire predicament with an almost unbearable dread. For all of its modest low-budget production, Ride in the Whirlwind is masterful in its naturalistic straightforwardness. The Shooting, also brilliant and featuring many of the same actors, weirds things up and has the reputation of being the better movie. Don’t believe it. Both are exceptional, but Ride in the Whirlwind is one of the true gems of the post-classic American Western. —D.H.
Directors: Jean Rouche, Edgar Morin
In a post-Catfish world, Jean Rouche and Edgar Morin starring in their own documentary seems almost quaint. But at the time, their questions about the documentary form warranted plenty of investigation: If you stick a camera in a person’s face, doesn’t that violate the truth you’re trying so fervently to free? This they ask by joining their subjects in conversation, attempting to capture France—with all of its political turmoil, social upheaval and artistic transmutation—during the Summer of 1960 in a single cinematic snapshot. And so Chronicle of a Summer joins a Holocaust survivor who attempts to couch her racism towards Black people in the context of her own suffering; an African admittedly ignorant of the Holocaust; a factory worker who fully admits to the futility of modern life; and a young couple trusting in love over the hopelessness of their economic situation. There’s no question that the directors fail in their ambitious plan, but they do stumble upon beauty in that failure. By opening up the final act of their film to a showing of the film they’ve made up until that point—played for a crowd of the subjects starring in the film they’ve made up until that point—they leave themselves totally vulnerable to their own creation destroying them, like Frankenstein’s monster driven berserk by its own reflection. It’s thrilling and sad and infuriating all at once, and it’s documentary filmmaking distilled down to its most essential function. —D.S.
Director: Robert Aldrich

The “psycho biddy” subgenre of horror has never been one that has seen a ton of exploration, but with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, it can at least claim to have a rock-solid foundational text. This is a genuinely unnerving psychological horror film, sometimes wrongly referred to by cinema fans as a mere “thriller.” That word simply doesn’t cut it in describing Bette Davis as “Baby Jane” Hudson, a withered performer who makes Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond look positively well adjusted by comparison. You’ll have to forgive the Sunset Boulevard reference, but it’s one of those cases where comparison between two movies is inevitable and impossible to ignore. They both revolve around forgotten starlets who live in crumbling Hollywood mansions, clinging to the past in desperation as their sanity leaves them behind. In “Baby” Jane’s case, though, there’s the unpleasant matter of Blanche as well. Paralyzed from the waist down decades earlier, in an accident that may or may not have been masterminded by her jealous sister, Joan Crawford portrays Blanche Hudson as a sweet, rather gullible, middle-aged ingenue who chooses to delude herself rather than admit that a quickly deteriorating and delusional Jane wants her dead. And of course, by the time this becomes inarguable, it’s already far too late. The film’s horror often lies in Blanche’s realization of her powerlessness—as a paraplegic confined to a wheelchair on the house’s top floor, she has literally nowhere to go, and escape always seems both maddeningly close and impossibly far. It’s agonizing to watch her sit in her chair at the top of the stairway, weighing the likelihood of injuring or killing herself by trying to throw herself down the stairs to freedom. Few films capture the feeling of being trapped so well, or the indifference of those who might be able to help. Even in the film’s conclusion, as Blanche lays near death on the beach, she’s often only feet from those who might be able to help her—if only they would pay attention to her obvious plight. Instead, though, they just go on living their lives. Jane’s methods of torture toward her sister are all the more shocking for the fact that we often don’t understand much in the way of their purpose—and nor does she, most likely. It’s not always clear whether she even knows what she’s doing to Blanche, but other scenes make it perfectly clear that she’s reveling in each opportunity to remind her sister that she holds her life in her hands. Still, as she slips further into delusion, and begins focusing more on reviving her long, long dead career, the film steadily changes tacks, giving us as many reasons to pity Jane as we have to fear her. The relationship between the two sisters is ultimately revealed to be both more and less complicated than we’ve been led to believe. To modern audiences, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is likely best known simply as a backdrop, against which the personal feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford played out. Be this as it may, it remains an extremely effective, Hitchcockian thriller, ripe with pathos, and deserves to be evaluated on its own merit, rather than as a footnote in a classic bit of Hollywood gossip.—Jim Vorel
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
Flip a coin to decide whether Le Samourai or Le Doulos is the coolest Melville film of them all; odds are, it’ll land upright, because that’s an impossible distinction to make. Melville films pulse with ineffable cool. In the case of Le Samourai, proof of Melville’s dedication to brewing substance from style lies in the film’s enormous influence: Everybody from Jim Jarmusch to Madonna recognizes Melville’s flair, and they’ve been imitating it, or mixing it with their own trademarks, for years. There are hitmen movies, and there are hitmen movies, and standing head and shoulders above most of them there’s Le Samourai, a movie that makes the lethal discipline of knocking people off into fine art. It’s as much a study of human isolation as it is a paean to the magnetic pull of a sleek aesthetic. —A.C.
Director: Ousmane Sembène
Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène grew up a French citizen in the final throes of his country’s centuries-long period of colonialism, almost 40 when Senegal joined French Sudan to gain independence. Made six years after France transferred power, Black Girl, Sembène’s first feature-length film as writer and director (based off of his own short story), aches with wounds still lifetimes away from healing, worsened by the shallowness of a people (French) who just want to move on and with the humiliation and resentment of a lot more people (Africans) who physically live everyday—in their language and social structures and economic lots—surrounded by the reminders that they for so long were not their own. Sembène makes this divide dreadfully clear, telling the story of quiet Diouana (Mbissine Thérèse Diop), hired by a French family to serve as their nanny in Dakar, until they move back to the Riviera and encourage (expect) Diouana to go and live with them. Of course, once she arrives, the bitter, malicious Madame (Anne-Marie Jelinek) expects her to cook and clean, callously stretching the bounds of Diouana’s duties as nanny into a kind of indentured servitude, exacerbated by Diouana’s inability to read and lack of money. She is, literally, stuck in France. Meanwhile, Sembène cuts to memories of Diouana’s life before she left Senegal, in which she lived in relative poverty but had family and boyfriend (Momar Nar Sene) to support her, telling her not to leave but still needing the money she could potentially earn. Juxtaposing these two realities, Sembène slowly crafts a vision of post-colonial slavery in a post-war world, building a tension that gives Diouana no choice but to tragically get out the only way she knows how. Despite whatever the Madame and her family had in mind, Diouana’s story could have ended no other way. —Dom Sinacola
Director: Marcel Ophüls
With tragedy still stinging, and wounds still fresh across Europe, Marcel Ophüls crafted something of a four-hour harangue about the Vichy government’s collaboration with Nazi Germany during the bulk of World War II. Assembled from interviews with officers, sympathizers, resistance fighters and bystanders—perspectives originating from every angle—The Sorrow and the Pity reveals many excruciating truths about France during the occupation, but none more plangent than the idea that war has no sides, no good guys, no winners. There’s only the sorrow, and then the pity—and everything else is just a series of long, heartsick discussions about right and wrong and how there’s pretty much no difference. —D.S.
Director: George Roy Hill
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The top-grossing film of 1969 and four-time Oscar winner was an anachronistic wonder that poked at the stoic bravura of the traditional Western: Consider the broad buddy humor between its pitch-perfect leads, Paul Newman and Robert Redford; the poppy, Burt Bacharach-Hal David-penned score and that theme song, “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head”; and William Goldman’s wry, self-aware script. From the first sepia-saturated moments of George Roy Hill’s take on the Old West, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid rewrote history, literally: Author Goldman famously wanted to tell the story of the titular outlaws’ flight to South America but didn’t want to do sufficient research for a novel-length treatment. And thus, “Most of what follows is true,” the film winks at its start. Gorgeously shot by Conrad Hall, the film is a deftly balanced mix of reverential genre elegy and sometimes deadpan, sometimes slapstick comedy. At its heart is then box office superstar Newman and comparatively small-potatoes actor Redford, the latter taking over after Steve McQueen backed out, balking over whose name would be billed first in the credits. As the Kid’s girlfriend, Katharine Ross complicates the duo’s relationship and lends nuance to what is essentially a love story. Curiously, Butch and Sundance’s posse, the Hole in the Wall Gang, was known as the Wild Bunch in real life but was changed for the screen to avoid confusion with another Western set for release a few months prior to its own premiere. —A.S.
Director: Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Wolfgang Reitherman
Despite ushering in a few new cost-cutting techniques to keep budgets down, One Hundred and One Dalmatians has style. A lot of that comes down to Cruella De Vil, of course; her alabaster skin, skunk hair, and love of big fluffy coats makes her one of the most strikingly designed characters in the Disney canon. It’s more than just her, though; the way the movie uses bright splashes of color to both make its characters pop against the background but also to reflect their emotional states is inspired. Some of the dynamics feel off today, as happens with almost any movie from 60 years ago—it portrays a motivated, outspoken, unmarried woman as an almost literal devil who wants to murder puppies, in contrast to Roger’s wife Anita, who is pretty and docile and a complete non-character. It also has surprisingly sly humor you might not expect from an old Disney animated feature, like the TV game show where a panel has to guess a criminal’s crime, or the shrill, saccharine, unending jingle in a dog treat commercial. There’s so much to recommend here, from De Vil’s fantastic theme song, to the legitimately hilarious banter of her lackeys, to the exciting Twilight Bark sequence. It earns its rep as a true Disney classic.—Garrett Martin
Director: Akira Kurosawa
One of the recurring themes of Kurosawa’s dramatic work is compassion, namely how little of it exists in our world, and how much even a single individual can affect change for good with the simplest of deeds. Roger Ebert even wrote in his “Great Movie” review of Red Beard, “I believe this film should be seen by every medical student.” The story, a sprawling drama struck by black-and-white, widescreen cinematography, is centered on a young, self-important medical intern (Yuzo Kayama) learning to connect with his patients on a personal level, but not without the help of a small town doctor (Toshiro Mifune) with a dogged passion for healing the poor. The doctor, affectionately nicknamed Red Beard, doesn’t let anything stand between him and the opportunity to tend to a patient, even if it means kicking mucho gangster ass to do so. That sequence, the film’s sole martial arts set piece, also works as the clearest reminder of the film’s lesson of compassion being an omnipresent quality: After beating up the gangsters, Red Beard provides them with assistance in healing the wounds he created.—Oktay Ege Kozak
Director: Robert Aldrich
Imitated by many and bettered by none, Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen is the greatest men-on-a-mission movie not because it has the coolest action sequences—though the final showdown between the dozen and German forces at the French chateau is a fine bit of mayhem—but because it so capably finds a balance between nihilistic fun and viewer investment in its characters’ welfare. The first two-thirds is full of goofery, as a none-more-Lee-Marvin Lee Marvin whips a group of unrepentant criminals (including Charles Bronson and John Cassavetes, stealing every scene with his jackal’s grin) into shape for a mission in Nazi-held France, but the final third has the film take an abrupt turn, as our charming reprobates are picked off whilst slaughtering a house full of partying Germans—officers, their wives and all. A snappy, studio-lot, heroes-and-villains war movie with a wickedly subversive tone and that nasty finale, The Dirty Dozen fascinatingly straddles the Old and New Hollywood eras. 1967 was the year things started to really shift in American cinema, and The Dirty Dozen’s queasy, morally murky climax announces the sea change in spectacular fashion. —Brogan Morris
Director: Gillo Pontecorvo
A perfect meeting of story and style, Gillo Pontecorvo’s guerrilla warfare drama The Battle of Algiers reflects in its grainy docu-style the scrappy tactics of the combatants: the revolutionary Algerian National Liberation Front, executing police and civilians in cafes and in the streets, and the French governors and counter-insurgents, struggling to combat a threat to their existence in a land they rule but don’t fully understand. Like a great documentary would, The Battle of Algiers takes a coolly balanced and non-judgmental view of its subjects, coming down neither on the side of the radicals nor the colonialists, but in another way Pontecorvo’s raw newsreel design is deceptive: what appears improvisational is actually meticulously arranged. The director’s great achievement is that not a second of his film is without purpose, yet it unfolds as a constant surprise, almost as though the footage was not shot but discovered. —Brogan Morris
Director: D.A. Pennebaker
“When I made Dont Look Back with Dylan, we just shook hands,” documentary icon D.A. Pennebaker said in 2011. “It was 50/50 … I think that bond means you will be fair about money, but it also means you’re not making the film just for yourself. You’re making it for the subject because it’s all he’ll ever have of that experience, and it should be as true for him as it is for you.” Far from a disposable fan item, Don’t Look Back is a bracing portrait of an artist colliding headlong with both his growing fame and the confusion of those in the press who don’t know how to approach this mercurial young man—or the generation he represented. Most famous for its iconic, much-parodied non sequitur opening—Dylan flipping white cards with lyrics from “Subterranean Homesick Blues”—Dont Look Back somehow manages to capture the promise of the decade’s counterculture movement, all embodied in a willful little genius who loved tormenting reporters and Donovan with equally bratty gusto. Explaining the movie’s eternal appeal, Pennebaker used an analogy. “In the ’60s, every kid would buy certain records,” he once explained. “To their parents, the record covers were just pictures. But for [the kids] it was a whole secret symbolic language that told them what kind of dope to smoke, where things were hidden, where to go and all kinds of things they naturally needed to know. Film is one more way you can convey secret information. Dont Look Back provided coded information for people who didn’t want the other generation to know what they were really into. When the older generation looked at it, all they saw was out-of-focus, shaky pictures they weren’t used to.” —Tim Grierson
Director: Norman Jewison
The racial animosity depicted in director’s Norman Jewison’s Best Picture winner, about Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier), an African-American homicide detective from Philadelphia who stumbles upon a murder mystery in a podunk Mississippi town, tips over into a poignant commentary on art imitating life. Poitier refused to shoot on location, fearing retaliation from southern racists, and even a quick pickup shoot in Tennessee was cut short after Poitier began receiving threats. The genius in Sterling Silliphant’s adaptation of John Ball’s novel, then, is in the borderline anal manner in which he balances social commentary and plot progression. Pretty much every scene contains a new piece of information towards solving the murder case, as well as a damning portrait of racial animosity. The contentious working relationship between Virgil and the local chief of police, Gillespie (Rod Steiger), never resolves cleanly; In the Heat of the Night is smart enough to know that prejudices entrenched within multiple generations will not disappear overnight, if at all. Even moments of bonding between colleagues never steer clear of the racial divide between them. There’s a glimmer of hope in the very final moments, but Jewison always has a handle on his uncompromising tone.—Oktay Ege Kozak
Director: Stanley Kubrick
While attempting to adapt Peter George’s novel Red Alert for the big screen, director Stanley Kubrick found that he kept needing to cut out certain real-life details about the emergency nuclear bomb procedures because they were simply too absurd to work in a serious drama. Deciding to rewrite the project as a dark comedy, he recruited renowned satirist Terry Southern to help pen the script. From there, it’s all history. To this day, Peter Sellers’ three very different (and very funny) performances remain a feat by which few actors have matched. Moreover, the image of Slim Pickens riding the bomb to its destination as well as the final montage of destruction set to the wistful “We’ll Meet Again” are the stuff of movie legend. Worldwide Armageddon has never been so hilarious.—Mark Rozeman
Director: Robert Wise
I don’t have to tell you that The Sound of Music is a classic. In fact, I have no reservations saying it is one of the best, most moving films in the entire canon of musicals. The 1965 film, starring the young starlet Julie Andrews and a dreamy Christopher Plummer, was adapted from the Broadway music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, respectively, and book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. It has everything you could want in a drama: love, loss, betrayal, humor and curtains that double as playclothes. It’s one of those rare stories (a true one, at that, based on the real-life Maria Von Trapp’s memoir, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers) that brings an intensely personal narrative to the forefront of international conflict. With World War II raging on in their native Austria and across Europe, the Von Trapp family must decide what’s important to them and, ultimately, how to survive. And having one of the best soundtracks of all time doesn’t hurt, either: From the goofy “Maria” to the cutesy “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” to the heartbreaking “Something Good” and prettiest goodbye “So Long, Farewell,” these are songs we’ve been passing down and sharing with our families for decades now, and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon. —Ellen Johnson
Director: John Ford
In the hands of any director other than John Ford, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance would probably read as Western navel-gazing. This is a film that directly interrogates the themes and tropes that give the genre its identity while celebrating both at the same time. On paper that sounds self-indulgent to the point of abhorrence. In practice, at least under the mastered hand of Ford, it plays. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is one of the last great Westerns to come out of Hollywood in the genre’s classic mode, one with clearly drawn good guys and bad guys who resolve their frontier beef in the designated courtroom of their time and place: their town’s main drag. But Ford isn’t interested in boilerplate cowboys and varmints having a good old-fashioned shootout as bystanders look on like a crowd watching a tennis match. He wants to do more than pit revolver against revolver. With The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, he instead presents a clash of ideologies at the center of a changing world, all while dissecting the mythmaking that is so central to what makes Westerns so satisfying. It’s a contest between the rule of law vs. rule of arms, discourse against brute force. You can savor the performances of James Stewart and John Wayne, co-starring alongside each other in a Western for the first time, or Lee Marvin, a man seemingly born to play ruthless and brutal heavy types; you can relish the supporting efforts by the film’s excellent secondary cast, which includes the likes of Woody Strode, John Carradine, Lee Van Cleef and Edmond O’Brien. But the names, big and small alike, all fall under the umbrella of Ford, who asserts himself as the film’s true principal with the authority of his peerless craft. —A.C.
Director: Jacques Tati
Excepting people with rural dispositions, we’ve all visited unfamiliar cities at one time or another, puttering about their streets in discombobulated states. That experience is the core of Jacques Tati’s Playtime, his fourth venture as his most famous character, the bumbling Monsieur Hulot, here taking a jaunt to Paris and finding it unrecognizable on his arrival. He understands Paris as an abstract idea and as a place in his memories, but he can’t get his head around the Paris of the film’s present tense. In Playtime, any metropolitan city in Europe could stand in for Paris. Only fleeting glimpses of La Ville-Lumière reminds us of Tati’s chosen backdrop, and in those instances we feel, as Hulot does, a deep melancholy, a wistfulness for a locus of culture and romanticism long sentimentalized by the movies, and utter despondency at the implications of its cold modernization in Playtime’s frames. If this can happen to Paris, it can happen to any city we hold dear in our hearts. Make no mistake, this is an uproarious comedy and a towering work of cinema, but it’s Tati’s embedded sense of loss that echoes the loudest. —Andy Crump
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Tarkovsky fan Jean-Paul Sartre observed that, for the prepubescent veteran of Ivan’s Childhood, the world has become “a hallucination.” It’s why we view the film through an oneiric lens: it’s the only way our boy hero can interpret his Russia in the midst of war. An orphan whose family was executed by the Germans, a former Partisan and now a scout for the Soviet army, Ivan is coddled by the other soldiers in his unit, but they hope to nurture innocence in a child already made preternaturally old by war. This minimal story of Ivan’s Childhood’s is just the canvas on which Andrei Tarkovsky can arrange his luminous photography, around which the director can wrap his cosmic musings on existence. Beguiling long takes force us to ponder the trees, the water, the swamps between the German and Soviet outposts, always rained on by flares in the night. Tarkovsky’s compositions are magic, so perfectly calibrated and dense with thought they each carry the weight of an essay. No other war film looks and feels like this. No other war film ever will. —Brogan Morris
Director: Sergio Corbucci
Ah, Django. Who can say no to that soundtrack? Who can pass up the grizzled mug of Franco Nero, or the filmic stylings of Sergio Corbucci? Quentin Tarantino certainly couldn’t, and thus we have Django Unchained as a delightfully violent relic of 2012. More importantly, we have Django and we have Django, a righteous, coffin-dragging, gunslinging, erstwhile Union soldier wandering the United States-Mexico border who winds up caught between tattered remnants of the Confederacy and Mexican revolutionaries. Django cuts a figure of cool reserve, the kind we’ve come to associate with the Spaghetti Western’s antihero archetype; he’s out for a cause, his own cause, and he sees his cause realized through the subterfuge and manipulation favored by his forebears (A Fistful of Dollars, and by extension Yojimbo). But as great as the character is, it’s Django’s level of violence plus Corbucci’s gifts as a craftsman that make the film indelible. If it’s tame by our standards today, then consider that Django was a new ceiling in screen bloodshed back in 1966, and rife with pissed-off political and social subtext to match. Corbucci’s pastiche of spiritual hypocrisy, unveiled rancor for the Ku Klux Klan, and contempt for glorified misogyny make for a dizzying, surreal genre experience against his mud-caked, bloodstained backdrop. Django isn’t just one of the best Spaghetti Westerns of all time. It’s one of the best Westerns of all time, period. —A.C.
Director: Miklós Jancsó
One of the most gorgeously fluid films ever made, Miklós Jancsó’s Russian Civil War snapshot is a Soviet production by way of a fiercely independent Hungarian auteur—all the opulent production and Herculean skill with the camera that characterized the best of the Communist Bloc’s filmmaking, minus the didacticism of its worst. Mosfilm for some reason agreed to finance it (before later re-editing, then banning it); it’s hard to see how the film’s fatalistic conceit, the narrative baton constantly passing from one faction and one character to the next as soldiers die at the hands of their “red” or “white” enemy, could ever have been viewed as anything other than explicitly anti-war. It’s a gallery of horrors—officers jumping to their deaths rather than being taken prisoner, captive soldiers used as moving target practice, civilian women forced to dance for their captors—made hypnotic by Jancsó’s sheer technique. Better than perhaps any other, Jancsó’s film makes the case for the utter wastefulness of war. All this death, and after 90 minutes, not a lesson learned. —Brogan Morris
Director: Robert Stevenson
As portrayed by the iconic and formidable Julie Andrew, Mary Poppins has never met a problem a song can’t solve. She whips the Banks children into shape while helping their father understand that what children need most from their parents is their time and attention. There are so many delightful musical numbers but I have a soft spot for Dick Van Dyke’s Bert and his fellow chimney sweepers tap dancing on the roof tops of London in “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” Released over 55 years ago, songs like “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Super-cali-fragil-istic” still feel fresh and new. There’s a joy to this movie that is infectious. I would say they don’t make movies like this anymore but 2018’s Mary Poppins Returns came very close to capturing the spirit of the original. Would that we all had a nanny like Mary Poppins. —Amy Amatangelo
Director: Hiroshi Teshigahara
It may be best when viewing Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Woman in the Dunes to divide the picture into two separate and distinct sides. The first side, which we’ll refer to as its whole wheat side, is made up of the film’s artistic achievements, embodied in gorgeous compositions wrought by Teshigahara and cinematographer Hiroshi Segawa. The second side, which we’ll lovingly dub the frosted side, is sprinkled generously with surreal eroticism and existential allegory of Grecian dimensions. Woman in the Dunes, a movie where an entomologist is trapped in a sand quarry by a band of perverse villagers and forced to play house with the widowed young woman who dwells there, is an unsexy film about sex and, depending on where you’re sitting when you watch it, either an exploration or deconstruction of human identity. Who are we in context with the self? What about in context with the collective? These are common thoughts we all tend to chew on, and they’re both far less troubling to consider than the big question Teshigahara poses in his premise: If you disappeared overnight, would anybody really care? Maybe we’re just better off collecting bugs than mulling that one over. —A.C.
Director: Luchino Visconti
Fine lace curtains blow in the breeze as Prince Don Fabrizio Salina and his family gather to say their prayers. Suddenly shouts from outside their plush mansion announce that a dead soldier has been found in the garden, a victim of the encroaching rebellion. So begins Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard (1963). The film is both broad in its scope and meticulous in its detail, tracing the decline of the Italian aristocracy during the Risorgimento in the person of the aging prince (portrayed with mannerly control by Burt Lancaster) as he attempts to maintain his position amid political tumult. Meanwhile, his upstart nephew (Alain Delon, exuding rakish charm) splits his loyalties between a life of privilege and the glory of fighting for populist freedom. All this plays out in gorgeously decorated settings, from sumptuous dinners in rococo villas to bloody battles in the dusty city streets. While the film is a feast for the eyes, Visconti’s languid pacing and careful exploration of the aristocracy’s pomp and circumstance might drag for some viewers during the three-hour running time.—Tim Sheridan
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
“I … is someone else,” confesses Nana (Anna Karina) during a police inquiry, echoing the century-old sentiment of French poet Arthur Rimbaud. In the next scene, she transforms from a meek record-store clerk with suffocating debt and a child that she (and the audience) never sees, to a prostitute with a new set of problems. The 1961 film is classic Godard in its exploration of the economics of pleasure, a topic he’d investigate again in 1967’s more agitprop 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her. After A Woman is a Woman, his previous kaleidoscopic musical with Karina, this is a more downbeat flick: moody, sparse, noir-ish. The camera feels withdrawn, relying on back-of-the-head shots and mirrored surfaces to capture Nana’s conflicted state. With his insouciant and jarring pop-and-pinball films still to come, this resonant picture remains a singular entry in Godard’s oeuvre. —Andy Beta
Director: Dennis Hopper
Nineteen sixty-nine was a year of upheaval for Hollywood: The studio system had more or less collapsed, and independent production companies were intent on making their mark however they could. One such company was Raybert/BBS Productions, run by Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson (whose epic story of drugs, violence, and subversive cinema is told in full in Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls), and Easy Rider was their first film. It was also Dennis Hopper’s first as a director—and the results are shockingly forward-thinking, both visually and thematically. Easy Rider’s barely-there story focuses on two hippies (Hopper and Peter Fonda) as they ride their motorcycles to New Orleans. Theirs is a rambling journey, but not a purposeless one: Hopper clearly set out to capture a specific moment, when a growing counterculture clashed with an increasingly fearful American populace. Appropriately, the film is full of contradictions, at once tragic and stoic, frivolous and hard-hitting. It radiates immediacy, so much so that when a character (George Hanson, played by Jack Nicholson) utters a line like “Don’t ever tell anybody that they’re not free ‘cause then they’re gonna get real busy killin’ and maimin’ to prove to you that they are,” it feels like something that could’ve been written yesterday.—Staff
Director: François Truffaut
Widely regarded as a French touchstone, François Truffaut’s classic WWI-era love triangle is based on a semi-autobiographical novel of the same title by Henri-Pierre Roche, which Truffaut stumbled across in a Paris bookstore in the 1950s. The adaptation tells the tragic story of Jim (Henri Serre), a French Bohemian, Jules (Oskar Werner), his Austrian friend, and Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), Jules’ girlfriend/wife. The two men are besotted with Catherine, who bears an eerie resemblance to a statue they both love. She marries Jules. The war breaks out, and the two men, on opposing sides of the conflict, struggle with the fear that one might unwittingly kill the other in battle. (What actually happens is arguably worse.) Both survive, and later, Jim visits Jules and Catherine in their Black Forest cottage. Jules confides he’s miserable, that Catherine has constant affairs, has left him and their baby, Sabine, for months at a time, and that he lives in terror of losing her. Catherine tries to seduce Jim. The three try an experimental situation where Catherine is with both men, but tragedy only ensues from there. Perhaps a definitive example of the French New Wave, the film incorporates a vast lexicon of cinematic techniques—newsreel footage, stills, wipes, panning shots, freeze-frames, voiceover narration (by Michel Subor)—though shades of its towering influence in subsequent films, television and music are almost innumerable. —Amy Glynn
Director: Sergio Leone
Arguably the greatest of the Italian Westerns, but also one of the finest Westerns ever made. Leone’s penchant for turning the genre’s sacred themes and obsessions inside out goes full tilt here. Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef are back for this third Dollars movie, but the addition of Eli Wallach adds a significant amount of caustic humor and even more cynicism to the mix. Set during the Civil War, though in a dry, barren landscape resembling the surreal panels of a Krazy Kat cartoon more than historical reality, Leone’s epic is the sublime, gloriously cinematic creation that he was always gunning for. Composer Ennio Morricone’s score ties it all together, particularly in the orgasmic “Ecstasy of Gold” finale. The director may have gone even more baroque with his subsequent Once Upon a Time in the West, but this is still his greatest achievement. Pop culture and the genre were never the same. —D.H.
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Band of Outsiders features the ephemeral Anna Karina as one of a trio of novice outlaws (a common theme with Godard) which makes plans to rob a villa outside Paris, resulting in a sepia-toned, melancholic drama punctuated by bouts of comedy. As in the seminal Breathless, Godard shows remarkable deftness in juggling the casually absurd aspects of his film with dead-serious social commentary, capturing it all in the framework of an compelling story with severe stakes for its protagonists. (Aside: Has any director been better at showing the humanity of criminals?) This is an almost impossible balance to strike, as Godard himself proved in his Marxist period to follow, but here it all meshes effortlessly in what stands as an unlikely stalwart of the French New Wave. —Shane Ryan
Director: Akira Kurosawa
In the case of High and Low, pretty much any procedural that’s centered on a kidnapping, from Ransom to episodes of Law & Order, can trace their roots back to this impeccably executed and tightly-wound adaptation of Ed McBain’s novel, King’s Ransom. Kurosawa skillfully splits his film into two distinct sections, the first an intense chamber drama about a shoe mogul (again: Toshiro Mifune) who is pressured into paying the ransom to rescue his chauffeur’s son after the kidnapper snatches the wrong kid, and the latter a painstakingly detailed focus on the police’s hunt for the kidnapper. The most tension-filled ransom exchange sequence ever filmed works perfectly as the midpoint break between the two halves, which eventually begin to converge as a potent study on the psychological effects of income inequality disguised as a straight genre piece.—Oktay Ege Kozak
Director: John Schlesinger
In this film by British director John Schlesinger, Jon Voight plays a Texan with a troubled past who comes to the big city trying to make a career as a gigolo. Enter his pal, Ratso Rizzo, played by the great and grating Dustin Hoffman. Midnight Cowboy was rated X upon release for homosexual content that would hardly raise an eyebrow today, and remains the only film of that category to ever win an Oscar, much less the Best Picture award it captured in 1970. (The only other X-rated film to be nominated was Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.) Second on the list of the decade’s greatest actors is Dustin Hoffman. Along with Midnight Cowboy, he starred in the seminal The Graduate, the western epic Little Big Man, Sam Peckinpah’s terrifying classic Straw Dogs, the controversial Lenny (a hopeless Best Picture nominee in the 1974 class with The Conversation and The Godfather, Part II), All the President’s Men, Marathon Man and Kramer vs. Kramer. But his incredible turn as Ratso Rizzo is still the greatest performance of his career, and the chemistry between him and his physical opposite is one of the best and most unusual friend dynamics in film history, hilarious and ultimately heartbreaking. —Shane Ryan
Director: Masaki Kobayashi
Masaki Kobayashi’s near ten-hour monolith requires commitment. One must prepare not just for the epic length, but for the film’s relentless assault on the notion of human goodness, by the end obliterated by a mountain of evidence to the contrary as experienced by one man. Newly married and fresh out of university, Kaji (Tatsuya Nakadai) soon discovers it’s a lonely world for a righteous utopian. On his journey through the cold, authoritarian quarters of Asia in WWII, Kaji unsuccessfully tries to bring his socialist ideals to his role as supervisor of Chinese prisoners at a Manchurian forced labor camp; suffers through all manner of indignities and physical trauma when he’s conscripted into the Japanese army; and finally finds himself wandering through a war-ravaged China into a Soviet POW camp, his body frail and his soul corrupted. It’s all realized in ravishing monochrome, but Kobayashi’s film can’t help but be a difficult watch, as is to be expected from a filmmaker committed to covering the proverbial life, death and everything in between over the course of 579 minutes. Renowned British film critic David Shipman called The Human Condition “unquestionably the greatest film ever made,” which is a matter for debate, but anyone willing to invest the time and energy will indeed find an unparalleled experience. —Brogan Morris
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
When I think of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1963 Contempt, my mind immediately goes in two directions. First, to the lovely, melancholy theme by George Delerue (which I often seek out like a favorite memory), and second, to the images of the startlingly blue Mediterranean and the sheer cliffs on the Italian coast. On some level this is a superficial recollection, because there is so much more to this subtly structured film-within-a-film, and the “contempt” of the title is what the (agonizingly beautiful) Camille Javal (Brigitte Bardot) feels for her screenwriter husband (Michel Piccoli) when he seemingly offers her companionship to a gauche producer (played with terrific sleaze by Jack Palance) in order to improve his position. But like the best Godard movies of the New Wave period, the emotion of loss pervades, and in that sense the persistence of the music and the Capri coastline makes sense: When the details fade, the poetry remains, and in his prime Godard could capture the intangible, fleeting sense of lost time like nobody else. —Shane Ryan
Director: Roman Polanski
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The banality of evil isn’t a concept new to the horror genre—look to recent shock-plagued entries like The Eyes of My Mother, or, say, Mickey Keating’s interminable Psychopaths to watch bad things happen for no other reason than that they can—but in Roman Polanski’s troubled hands, that banality is an unadulterated expression of a deep-seated, institutionalized horror, one so ingrained in our society it becomes practically organic. With Rosemary’s Baby, the body of young Rosemary (Mia Farrow) is the institution through which Satan’s malice gestates, a body over which everyone but Rosemary herself seems to have any control. At the mercy of her overbearing neighbors (played by a pitch-perfect Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer), her Ur-Dudebro husband, Guy (John Cassavetes), and the doctor (Ralph Bellamy) recommended by her high society cadre of new friends, Rosemary is treated as if she’s the last person who knows what’s best for her and her fetus—a position she accepts as a matter of fact. She’s only a woman, a homemaker at that, so such is her lot. Of course, the worse she feels and the more fraught her pregnancy becomes—as well as the recurring flashes of a ghastly dream she can’t quite shake—the clearer Rosemary begins to suspect she’s an unwilling pawn in something cosmically insidious. She is, is the absurd truth: She is the mother of Satan’s offspring, the victim of a coven’s will to worship their Dark Lord much more fruitfully. More than the director’s audacious Hollywood debut, not to mention the omen of what New Hollywood would be willing to do to tear down tradition, Rosemary’s Baby is a landmark horror film because of how ordinary, how easy, it is for everyone else in Rosemary’s life to crush a woman’s spirit and take her life. “It’s alive!” Rosemary screams, echoing Frankenstein with outsize aplomb, her declaration hardly one of triumph, but of disbelief that such a nightmare is the life she’s just going to have to accept. —Dom Sinacola
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
After honing his craft as a filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni arrived on the international scene in 1960 with a loose trilogy: L’Avventura, La Notte and L’Eclisse, three films about privileged people so bored with their lives that they have little to do but wander the city and lament their failing relationships. But Antonioni—counter to expectations—watched those people with extreme precision. His camera moved as if it were choreographed down to the millimeter because, while the characters in the films may have been bored, the man watching them was not. He was riveted. And he transferred his fascination to the audience, not telling them tales or teaching them lessons, but raising questions, big ones about existence—why we move around the earth, why we interact with other people, and who we are.—Robert Davis
Director: Kenji Misumi
Blind, doddering and soft-spoken, the masseur Ichi (Shintaro Katsu) doesn’t look like he can butcher entire gangs of swordsmen. The fact that he can, that his meekness is just a deception hiding an unstoppable, righteous whirlwind of dismemberment, is the reason The Tale of Zatoichi spawned 26 films, the vast majority of them starring Katsu in the title role. The stories wallow in the dirt and danger of the Edo Period, when crime and intrigue replaced the war and treachery of the samurai as the greatest dangers to the common folk. The zato, or anma (masseurs, a role traditionally for the blind), of feudal Japan were considered lowly and servile. If Toshiro Mifune’s famous Sanjuro samurai-with-no-name is the genre’s strutting badass, Katsu’s Ichi is a far more deceptive and cunning champion of the underdog. This inaugural romp sees Ichi hired by local toughs as the ringer in a gang war, and introduces the world to his humble-looking walking stick and the nasty blade it conceals. It’s a slashing, clashing, gritty start to a cinema phenomenon. —Kenneth Lowe
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Godard is arguably the most prolific, impactful French director of all time, and Breathless is his first New Wave film: To some, it spawned a revolution, and even if you object to that narrative, its influence on his home country and the New Hollywood period in 1970s America is undeniable. Breathless stars Jean-Paul Belmondo as an incompetent criminal in love with an American student named Patricia (Jean Seberg) in Paris. When he murders a cop, the film turns from a light Parisian affair to a tense love story, and the question that hangs in the balance is whether Patricia will betray her criminal beau. —Shane Ryan
Directors: Frederick Wiseman
“At the time, I was teaching classes in legal medicine and family law,” Wiseman once recalled. “And in order to make the things more interesting for both me and the students, I took them on field trips. I thought I would make the cases a bit more real by taking them to trials, parole-board hearings, probation hearings and mental hospitals. One of the places I took them to was Bridgewater, a prison for the criminally insane. … It seemed fresh material from a film point of view and visually very interesting.” From that came Titicut Follies, his 1967 documentary about Bridgewater State Hospital. Writing a proposal for the film, Wiseman stated that he wanted to “give an audience factual material about a state prison but also give the film an imaginative and poetic quality that [would] set it apart from the cliché documentary about crime and mental illness.” He succeeded: Titicut Follies is a harrowing look at the treatment of the prisoners—including scenes of one naked inmate being force-fed intercut with the same inmate’s body undergoing preparation for burial—although Bridgewater’s overseers initially didn’t have a problem with the depiction of their facility. That changed once Titicut Follies was shown to reviewers, who mentioned the inmates’ harsh treatment. It was then that the governor of Massachusetts blocked the release of the film, citing invasion of privacy for the Bridgewater prisoners and violation of an oral contract that the state would have final approval over the film. (Wiseman, for his part, insisted no such agreement was ever in place.) “Making the film was one thing, and the litigation was something else,” Wiseman told Filmmaker in 2012. “The litigation was basically a farce, because the effort to ban the film—even though they succeeded for quite a while—was just an example of political cowardice and stupidity. I always thought of it as political theatre.” After appealing to the Massachusetts Supreme Court, he was able to show the movie in certain places, but only under incredibly strict conditions. “They decided that the film had value but could only be seen by limited audiences: doctors, lawyers, judges, health-care professionals, social workers, and students in these and related fields, but not the ‘merely curious general public,’” Wiseman recalled to Vice. “And this was on condition that I give the attorney general’s office a week’s notice before any screening and that I file an affidavit after that everyone who attended was, of my personal knowledge, a member of the class of people allowed to see the film.” —T.G.
Director: Arthur Penn
There was a short period in American film history just after the general public got sick of the mundane, cloying dramas and comedies the ‘60s, but before the studios discovered the lucrative benefits of franchises like Jaws and Star Wars that could pile sequel upon sequel, rake in merchandise proceeds, and guarantee a steady stream of big money regardless of artistic merit. In that odd little interval, studio executives had no better idea than simply throwing money at talented directors and hoping to get lucky. Movies like Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde possess a gritty kind of realism that is every bit as clever and wise as the French New Wave, but infused with the freewheeling American spirit that hadn’t yet been stifled by a corporate agenda.—Shane Ryan
Director: Costa-Gavras
Fifty years before political trolling became a day-to-day activity, Greek-French director Costa-Gavras, patron saint of political thrillers, perfected the art with his timeless French-language masterpiece, Z. Just how timeless? By opening with a twist on the usual disclaimer found at the front of most movies, stating with undeniable fury that the events within are based on real people and real actions, Gavras shows the audience that he’s not fucking around from frame one, especially considering that Z is about how an authoritarian right-wing party bullied and killed its way to power as it destroyed his native country of Greece, leading to an oppressive military coup. Throughout, Gavras showcases a deviously methodical control over what appears on the surface to be fly-on-the-wall camerawork, complete with handheld footage, jump cuts and grainy photography, until we gradually realize that his anger about the political atrocities committed in his home country has permeated Z with a satirical tone mercilessly mocking those in power as petulant children. Based on Grigoris Lambrakis’s novel, the film begins as a left-wing leader, also Grigoris Lambrakis (Yves Montand), tries to protect himself from the violent attacks of right-wing thugs secretly on the payroll of right-wing politicians. He doesn’t succeed. By casting the instantly likable Montand in the part, Gavras encourages us to sympathize with the protagonist’s motivations, only to abruptly rip him from us. This, in turn, has the audience feel the pain of the loss the way Lambrakis’s supporters do, creating an intractable connection to the narrative. The rest of the film focuses on the ensuing investigation of Lambrakis’s murder, with a solid performance by Jean-Louis Trintignant as the chief examiner in charge of the case, until it results in an epilogue that’s equal parts morbidly satirical, tragic and inevitable. —Oktay Ege Kozak
Director: Ingmar Bergman
A masterful, theatrical work from Ingmar Bergman, Through a Glass Darkly began his spiritual period and his relationship with the distinctive island of Fårö. Bergman and cinematographer Sven Nykvist convey stark stagnation on the remote locale, where the family vacationing there—author David (Gunnar Björnstrand), his son Minus (Lars Passgård), his schizophrenic daughter Karin (Harriet Andersson) and her doctor husband Martin (Max von Sydow)—languishes in religious, mental, sexual and creative decay. Much of the plot surrounds the malaise afflicting David and his children, reflected in two-faced responses to gift-giving and play-acting, and in Karin’s audiovisual hallucinations, seared into our hearts by Andersson’s tortured face. Few scenes of Lovecraftian horror and masculine critique in cinema history have been executed so successfully. Fewer without us seeing a thing. Coyly using Bergman’s play experience for both its structure and a pivotal story-within-a-story, Through a Glass Darkly’s beauty is in its unassuming surface and existential depths. A representation of Nordic cinema so perfect as to be close to parody (aside from a somewhat ill-fitting sunny ending), the arthouse classic remains one for a reason.—Jacob Oller
Director: Luis Buñuel
In one of Luis Buñuel’s most acclaimed and popular films, Séverine Serizy (Catherine Deneuve) has a loving but sexless marriage, and so becomes a high-end call-girl while her husband is at work. Instead of a “Belle de Nuit” or “Lady of the Night,” Séverine takes the alias “Belle de Jour” (which is also the French name for the daylily, a flower that only opens during daylight), and for a while she seems to come to life in a whole new way (even finally being able to have sex with her husband), until things inevitably get…complicated. Always a filmmaker preoccupied with the intersections of the opulent and the grotesque, the elegant and the surreally nasty, Buñuel found a pretty perfect muse in the icily beautiful Deneuve, whose turn as a bored and un-turn-on-able housewife with BDSM fantasies is stunning in its contrasts of calculation and sentiment, seducer and seduced, humanity and commodity. At times it’s unclear what’s happening in Séverine’s mind and what’s happening in real life—Belle de Jour is a brilliant piece of erotica, a richly detailed treatise on the power of fantasy, a radically ambiguous and artistically masterful film that hasn’t lost an ounce of allure or relevance since it was released. —Amy Glynn
Director: Jacques Demy

Jacques Demy’s masterpiece is a soaring, vibrant, innately bittersweet story of love lost, found and forever disbanded, another wartime casualty in a country scarred by military conflict. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is lived-in, a story derived from Demy’s life experience, and that keyword—“experience”—is essential to making the film click. Take away its musical cues, and you’re left with a narrative about a young man (Nino Castelnuovo) and a young woman (Catherine Deneuve) who fall deeply in love with one another, only to be torn apart when he’s drafted to fight overseas. The story remains rooted in Demy’s pathos, and pathos gives Umbrellas’ gravity. The music, of course, is a critical part of its character, a dose of magic Demy uses to buttress the rigors of life in wartime with grandeur and meaning. It’s a film about people in love falling out of love, and then falling in love all over again with new partners and altered sentiments, a beautiful picture as likely to make you swoon as to crush your heart. —Andy Crump
Director: Masaki Kobayashi
During a time when chambara films were pretty much getting churned out regularly, their factory settings still showing, heralded auteur and political firebrand Masaki Kobayashi won the Special Jury Prize at Cannes with his heartbreaking take on the “sword-fighting” genre, Harakiri. Many Japanese filmmakers were at a commercial crossroads in the ‘50s and ‘60s: The studios paying for their projects were built on the bread and butter of genre expectations—particularly of the jidai-geki, or “period piece,” of which the chambara is a subset—which could no longer provide the emotional and political bandwidth for the kinds of deeply felt stories they were trying to tell. A few of his contemporaries became icons: Seijun Suzuki, Yosujiro Ozu, and Akira Kurosawa all broke free from their expectations as studio filmmakers to exercise a new creative freedom apart from tradition. They created their own traditions, building myths from the ruins of their reality. And so, in Kobayashi’s tale of poor ronin Hanshir? (Tatsuya Nakadai), who sets out to take elaborate revenge on the feudal ruler who essentially forced his son-in-law to commit ritualistic suicide using nothing but a bamboo sword (in perhaps one of the most grueling scenes of chambara cinema), the director rails against the institutions of his time. Hanshir? isn’t just fighting a clan of samurai, he’s fighting the hierarchical structures that drove massive wedges between Japanese political and social groups in the ‘50s and ‘60s. He’s fighting the zaibatsus, or corporations, that set up their own kind of modern mid-century feudalism. He’s fighting the film industry that takes a singular vision and stamps it beneath consumerism. He’s fighting the hypocrisy of codes and systems that do anything but foster community. And, in tune with the best chambara the decade had to offer, his fight is a spectacularly beautiful one.—Dom Sinacola
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
A story of those French citizens who for five long years resisted Nazi occupation, Army of Shadows is a black-and-white film made in color, Jean-Pierre Melville’s predominantly gray-blue color palette lending a chilly air to a decidedly bleak and minimalist saga less about the heroism of defiance and more about surviving the consequences of resistance. The film is as subdued as the phantom-like men and women fighting for reclamation of their land, visually as murky as the actions perpetrated by either side of the fight. Melville’s tenth feature was virtually unknown until 2006, when Army of Shadows—widely derided at home in a divided France upon initial release—finally opened in the United States to critical acclaim. In the wake of its relatively recent re-evaluation, it stands, along with Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped and Louis Malle’s Lacombe, Lucien, as one of the defining films about the French resistance. —Brogan Morris
Director: Agnès Varda
Halfway through Agnès Varda’s sophomore film, the titular Cléo (Corinne Marchand), a pop singer awaiting the potentially devastating results of some sort of medical test, looks directly into the camera, weeping as she sings a song during an otherwise typical practice session. It’s a revelatory moment: Varda addresses her audience directly through her character addressing her audience directly, all while on the precipice of total dissolution. Cléo, a beautiful, burgeoning celebrity, seems to understand that she may be empty without her looks, just as she rails against the forces that put her in such an untenable position. In other words, realizing in that moment of melodrama, of the heightened emotion she knows all too well is the stuff of pop music at its most marketably patronizing, that her attractiveness may be soon over, she’s driven to tears, unable to reconcile her talent with her face, or her fragility with her livelihood, leaving it to the audience to decide whether she deserves our sympathy or not. If not, Varda wonders, then why not? Shot practically in real time, Cléo from 5 to 7 waits along with our character as she waits for life-changing news, floating from coffee shop to home to park to wherever, not doing much of anything with the life she has, the life she may find out she’s losing soon enough. She watches a silent film featuring cameos by Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina, meets a soldier on leave from the Algerian front (Antoine Bourseiller) who confesses he believes people are dying for nothing, drives past a murder scene and senses that the universe maybe has misdirected her bad luck towards another soul. One of the defining films of the Left Bank branch of the French New Wave (as opposed to those of the “Right Bank,” the more famous films of Truffaut and Godard, the movement’s more commercial, cosmopolitan cinephiles), Cléo from 5 to 7 is a fever dream of the ordinary, a meditation on the nothingness of everyday living, as existential as it is blissfully bereft of purpose. —Dom Sinacola
Director: Sergio Leone
Let’s get this out of the way: Once Upon a Time in the West is as great as they come, and one of the most influential Westerns of its day. But after the film’s opening 20 minutes or so dribble by, it’s hard not to wonder how the remaining 150 will match them. Sergio Leone’s film is so deliberately paced and so unhurried in getting where it needs to that as soon as the moment passes when we first meet Charles Bronson’s harmonica-playing gunman, we feel as though we’ve already sat through an entire feature. That doesn’t sound like much of a compliment, but Leone’s talent for stretching seconds into minutes and minutes into hours is made all the more amazing by how little we feel the passage of time. Once Upon a Time in the West is truly cinematic, a wormhole that slowly transports us into its world of killers and tycoons, bandits and landowners, revenge and rightness. There’s a reason that Leone’s masterpiece is considered one of the greatest movies ever made and not just one of the great Westerns: Once Upon a Time in the West is an enduring monument of its era, its genre and filmmaking itself. —A.C.
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Ingmar Bergman didn’t seem to have any answers to the questions he raised in this film or those raised in many of his others. But he kept asking them, and he had a knack for bringing his stories to an appropriately dramatic conclusion without cauterizing all of his characters’ wounds. He was a smooth, precise director, but one who—unlike Antonioni—worked within the conventions of film grammar rather than pressing at the medium’s edges…most of the time. My favorite Bergman film, Persona, not only acknowledges this medium but rips it wide open. Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson—two actresses who worked with Bergman many times—play a stage actress and a nurse, respectively. The actress has had a breakdown and been rendered mute in the middle of a performance, and she’s recuperating at a seaside cottage. This simple plot is the skeleton for a very complex examination of identity and psychology. The two women seem to merge at certain points—perhaps they’re two sides of the same woman—and their histories bleed into the present through a variety of cinematic techniques, from the first shot of a projector lighting up and being threaded with film, and the moment in the middle, when the film seems to burn and run in reverse, to the famous, dazzling montage that seems to unearth the unconscious. Persona doesn’t reveal its meaning easily, and it’s open to a number of interpretations. But it’s noteworthy that the actress in the film works on the stage. Bergman was forever balancing the world of the theater with the world of film; he was an artist with a split personality.—Robert Davis
Director: David Lean
“And introducing Peter O’Toole.” Talk about a debut. Look up the word “epic” and you just might find David Lean’s marathon masterpiece about T.E. Lawrence in the Arabian Peninsula in WWI. Its run time is 222 minutes, so if you’ve somehow managed to get to this point without having seen it, plan accordingly but do see it, because there are really good reasons why this film was nominated for 10 Academy Awards (of which it won seven). Though somewhat romanticized and with some conflated or added or subtracted characters, this is a fairly nonfictional account of Lawrence’s story, in which he finds his loyalties divided between the Arab tribes and the British Army (Clashing cultures was a noteworthy preoccupation in Lean’s films, and opinion is somewhat divided on how successful he is at depicting them). A kooky maverick as far as the British are concerned and an untrustworthy outsider to the Arabs, he wins the favor of Prince Faisal (Alec Guinness), and leads a dangerous and daring attack on the Turkish military Aqaba with a multitribal Arab force led by Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif). And that’s all before the intermission. Lean was a director’s director with a fascinating visual sensibility, and the brutal, lethal Arabian desert is not only captured brilliantly by cinematographer F. A. Young, but in large part by composer Maurice Jarre’s brilliant score. There’s not a bad performance from the powerhouse cast, but what one has to wonder is what would have happened if the studio’s first choice had accepted, and Lawrence had been played by Albert Finney. O’Toole was an unknown when he was thrust into a demanding and intense lead role, and he is so riveting it’s hard to imagine anyone else under those robes. By turns bold and shattered, insouciant and wild, refined and desperate, he remains above all believable and deeply human-an unapologetically flawed hero (and wow, not too hard on the eyes, either). Yes, Lawrence of Arabia is an important, canonical film for its scale, its score, its technical achievements. But what really matters about it in the end is pure, and utterly masterful, storytelling. —Amy Glynn
Director: Akira Kurosawa
A usually nameless, gruff but charming antihero strolls into a crime-ridden hellhole, helping poor denizens out of selfish reasons at first, but gradually reveals his long-hidden compassion to sacrifice his life for the greater good. Every post-1964 western ever made, every gritty superhero movie of the last three decades, an installment of the Mad Max franchise—it all owes some due to Kurosawa’s immensely entertaining and flawlessly executed badass samurai flick. Toshiro Mifune, in his most effortlessly charismatic turn on screen, plays a mysterious ronin who manipulates both sides of a war between two rival criminal families both terrorizing a small town. Will he destroy them all, or perish in the process? With its cool jazzy score, widescreen framing that uses the negative space to its full advantage and a patient rhythm that finds just as much excitement out of the quiet moments as it does when the swords start clashing, Yojimbo first proved that a “western” need not be tied to the West. —Oktay Ege Kozak
Director: Robert Bresson
Robert Bresson may have a rep for being one of the most forbidding French arthouse auteurs, but the idea that the filmmaker is somehow cold or inaccessible is far from the truth. Even if the worlds he depicts are cloistered and sometimes cruel, there’s always at least a hint of warmth and grace. In Au Hasard Balthasar, a Catholic allegory of shocking, pure visual power, Bresson records the travails of a lowly donkey, passed from owner to owner in the French countryside and living a life of humiliation and abuse at the hands of mankind. With his detailed close-ups of hands, eyes and the donkey’s mournful snout, Bresson implies movement and feeling rather than explicitly showing them. Following that allusive and time-generous approach, the result is absorbing and a little bit overwhelming: Au Hasard Balthasar gives plenty of time for its audience to meditate on man’s cruelty to this beast of burden. The donkey Balthasar is silent witness to malicious goings-on between humans, until he is ultimately transformed by the love of a young woman (Anne Wiazemsky) and sacrificed in a Christ-like conception of suffering and martyrdom. A masterpiece packed with spare imagery and dense ideas about doubt and faith, infused with as much religiosity as a medieval painting, Au Hasard Balthasar must be seen on its own terms, with an open mind. It almost single-handedly proves cinema is an enduring, world-shaking art-form—and might even be able to convert some atheists. —Christina Newland
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
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The big one. The biggest one, perhaps, though if not, it’s still pretty goddamn big. 57 years after Alfred Hitchcock unleashed Psycho on an unsuspecting moviegoing culture, finding new things to say about it feels like a fool’s errand, but hey: We’re fools. Five decades and change is a long time for a movie’s influence to continue reverberating throughout popular culture, but here we are, watching main characters lose their heads in Game of Thrones, their innards in The Walking Dead, or their lives, in less flowery language, in films like Alien, the Alien rip-off Life, and maybe most importantly Scream, the movie that is to contemporary horror what Psycho was to genre movies (and to the movies in total) in its day. That’s pretty much the dictionary definition of impact right there (and all without even a single mention of A&E’s Bates Motel). But now we’re talking about Psycho as a curio rather than as a film, and the truth is that Psycho’s impact is the direct consequence of Hitchcock’s mastery as a filmmaker and as a storyteller. Put another way, it’s a great film, one that’s as effective today as it is authoritative: You’ve never met a slasher (proto-slasher, really) like Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), and no matter how many times the movies try to replicate his persona on screen, they’ll never get it quite right. He is, like Psycho itself, one of a kind. —Andy Crump
Director: Federico Fellini
With Fellini we wander through a shadow of his psyche, wondering where his memories begin and where Guido’s (Marcello Mastroiani) psychoses end. Perhaps Fellini’s most impressive blending of dreams and fantasies, of moral truth and oneiric fallacy, of space and time, 8 1/2 tells its story in Möbius strips, wrapping realities into realities in order to leave audiences helplessly buried within its main character’s self-absorption. Guido’s obsession is so inward-looking he can’t help but destroy every single close relationship in his life, and yet, in hanging the film’s narrative on the struggle of one filmmaker to make his latest film—the title refers to the fact that this was Fellini’s eighth-and-a-half feature—the iconic Italian director seems to claim that artistic genius practically demands such solipsism. It’s a brazen statement for a film to make, but Fellini does so with such grace and vision, with such seamless intent, 8 1/2 becomes a bittersweet masterpiece: Clear, aching and steeped in nostalgia, it celebrates the kind of glorious life only cinema can offer. —Dom Sinacola
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Fifty years ago, Stanley Kubrick told the story of everything—of life, of the universe, of pain and loss and the way reality and time changes as we, these insignificant voyagers, sail through it all, attempting to change it all, unsure if we’ve changed anything. Written by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke (whose novel, conceived alongside the screenplay, saw release not long after the film’s premiere), 2001: A Space Odyssey begins with the origins of the human race and ends with the dawn of whatever comes after us—spinning above our planet, god-like, a seemingly all-knowing, hopefully benevolent fifth-dimensional space fetus—spanning countless light years and millennia between. And yet, despite its ambitious leaps and barely comprehensible scope, every lofty symbolic gesture Kubrick matches with a moment of intimate humanity: the sadness of a mighty intellect’s death; the shock of cold-blooded murder; the minutiae and boredom of keeping our bodies functioning on a daily basis; the struggle and awe of encountering something we can’t explain; the unspoken need to survive, never questioned because it will never be answered. So much more than a speculative document about the human race colonizing the Solar System, 2001 asks why we do what we do—why, against so many oppositional forces, seen and otherwise, do we push outward, past the fringes of all that we know, all that we ever need to know? Amidst long shots of bodies sifting through space, of vessels and cosmonauts floating silently through the unknown, Kubrick finds grace—aided, of course, by an epic classical soundtrack we today can’t extricate from Kubrick’s indelible images—and in grace he finds purpose: If we can transcend our terrestrial roots with curiosity and fearlessness, then we should. That the end of Kubrick’s odyssey returns us to the beginning only reaffirms that purpose: We are, and have always been, the navigators of our destiny. —Dom Sinacola
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