Mini skirts.  Leather boots.  Fake eyelashes.  Long haired hippies.   The Twist.  Psychedelic and mind altering colors.   Body painting.   Oh...and The Beatles.


Ah yes...this was the 60's.


If my American History degree proves one thing to me then it is this: The decade of the 1960's was one of social, political, and international headlines that involved many firsts, many tragedies, and many moral and ethical roadblocks.  On the level of firsts, the 60's were noteworthy for bringing the modern US Presidential debates into out living rooms for the very first time (Kennedy squared off against Nixon in 1960 which brought the elections and Presidency into the modern media age).  1960 also marked the launching of ECHO, the world's very first communications satellite.  The Soviets followed the newly concocted "space race" by launching the very first human being into orbit and the US soon competed by putting a man into space on their own.  By May of 1961 President Kennedy expressed a desire to have a man on the moon by the end of the decade, and this "one giant leap for mankind" was achieved eight years later by Neil Armstrong.  In 1962 nearly a quarter of a million people gathered in Washington to hear Martin Luther King make a peaceful and emorional speech for equal rights, but his quest was cut short with his assassination later in the decade.  Unfortunately, King was not the only political figure that would not be spared of violent death during this tumultuous decade.  JFK died at the hands of "lone gunman" Lee Harvey Oswald in November of 1963.  The crapstorm would not end there.  In 1964 President Johnson ordered continued bombing in Vietnam which escalated that conflict and only served to promote more civil strife and overall apathy and delusion at home.


The decade was not all downtrodden and dreary.  The first human heart transplant was performed Dr. Christian Barnard in Cape Town, South Africa in 1967.  This was also the first decade to have the common decency and forethought to finally put warning labels on cigarettes for their obvious health risks.  A weekend of music, love, and peace occurred on a 600 acre farm in New York where half a million people gathered for "Woodstock."  Roger Maris hit homerun number 61, a record that would not be broken until the juiced up athletes of the late 1990's smashed it (c'mon, is there any doubt!?).  The first Super Bowl occurred in 1967, as well as the invention of the world's first handheld calculator. 


Oh...and there was a rather small and modest group of five young British men from Liverpool with mop top haircuts that launched a music and cultural phenomenon.


Now comes the films, and I have to say with sincere honesty and humility that this BEST OF LIST was my most difficult to create.  I thought that the 70's were a real Golden Age of the cinema, but I think that the 60's gives that decade a stern run for its money.  I know that there will be many pleased by this list and many that will see some obvious and painful omissions.  However, like my lists of the best films of the 70's, 80's, and 90's, my mission here is twofold.  First, this is a personal list, pure and simple.  Second, my main goal was to make this list as eclectic and broad as possible, and this is a principle that I stridently adhere to when I make any list of great films.  My goal is to create a compilation that is indicative of what a broad range of terrific films the 60's offered.  This decade did mark a huge turning point for the cinema, some for the best (the advent of "Kitchen Sink" cinema and films with real social consciousnesses) and some for the worst (the invention of the multiplex, which killed the grand Theatre Palaces, and bloated and gigantic budgets for films that started trends for modern entertainments).


So, to quote Mr. Sullivan, "Let's get this sheew on the road!"


WATCH me talk about some of my picks on CTV:


1.     2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)


If there was a College course on films that are impossible to intellectually and emotional digest and understand, then I would definitely put Stanley Kubrick's landmark sci-fi opus on the top of the curriculum.  I have seen this film over and over again, maybe 50 times...maybe more...and I still don't thoroughly comprehend what it's trying to encapsulate.  But, I think that's precisely the point.  2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY is a film whose own inherent illusiveness is one of its strongest and most endearing assets.  The film, from a technical standpoint, has not aged a day, and it easily predates George Lucas' STAR WARS by 9 years for the right to claim being the first modern, revolutionary, groundbreaking, and noteworthy special effects film.  The film is bathed in a sort of hauntingly beautiful and poetic imagery, often set to sound, more often not, and Kubrick here demonstrated what a consummate showman he truly was here for crafting a science fiction film that, despite being a breathtaking tour de force of visuals, is one that provokes thought and endless speculation.  There is a sort of non-verbal, impenetrably vast mysticism behind the whole film, whose own possible meanings are wrapped up tightly and recoil on one another to form a labrythinian mosaic of subconscious bewilderment.  Many have left the film in a perpetual state of simultaneous awe and puzzlement.  I was clearly one of them, but it's no small feat when a film that is such a visual marvel such as this one is capable of provoking thought and discussion.  2001 is an auditory and visual feast, and a confident and bold work on how technology and space can dwarf even mankind.




This, my friends, is the film that defined film epics, not to mention that it's the type of grand, sprawling, big-scale spectacle that are not made with the same level of skill, precision, and verisimilitude anymore.  Modern epics are special effects, CGI-laden fair, but David Lean's massive undertaking is a monumental achievement with its majestic, Panavision 70 mm photography, magnificent, colorful, and poetic imagery, and a spectacular story of a larger-than-life hero.  Peter O'Toole was never, ever better than he was here as the enigmatic cult figure, whose own subtle homoerotic tendencies (only hinted at in a early 1960's film, but still there) and zest and obsessive compulsion of Arabia helped the Arabian Bedouins against the Turks (allies of Germany) during World War I. His extraordinary knowledge of the politics and culture of the Mideast allowrd him to organize the various, willful Arab tribes to repel enemies of the British.  The film is lush, broad, and almost mystical in terms of its story, mood, and look, and Lean demonstrates his obvious confidence and command over the material.  In terms of historical biopics, this one is the benchmark for all others, a film about a simple man that wanted to be ordinary, but ironically became a messiah figure who eventually became lost in his own stubborn arrogance and jaded self-importance. 




Only from the mind of Stanley Kubrick could a director forge out a stinging and sarcastic black comedy and harsh satire about Nuclear Holocaust during the heart of the Cold War.  Yes, DR. STRANGELOVE remains not only one of the funniest films ever made, but also one that rings true as being a provocative and critical examination of societal depravity.  This film glows in the type of silly, preposterous, and whimsical Monty Python-esque wit long before John Cleese strolled around for silly walks.  Despite it lunacy, DR. STRANGELOVE emerged as a really brave and crafty satire, one that came on the heels of the paranoia that the 1950's ushered in about Atomic warfare, not to mention the pervasive fears that many had about a possible nightmarish apocalypse at the hands of man-made technology.  As a result, STRANGELOVE is both hilarious and scary, a film that prays upon a nation's fear of war and annihilation and instead holds it up to shameless and inane ridicule.  And not only that, but how can grow adult men even think of fighting in the war room?  Gosh!


4.    PSYCHO (1960)


Make no mistake about, Alfred Hitchcock's legendary horror-thriller is one that is ostensibly taken for granted by many moviegoers.  Yet, to look at this masterpiece of the macabre is to bare witness to the invention of the powerful, complex, psychological cinematic thriller that would become the "mother" of all modern "slasher films."  For better or worse,  this fright-filled feast single-handedly ushered in an era of vastly inferior gross-out pieces of movie mayhem that are almost commonplace now in  our age of gore fests.  If one looks at the landscape of populist horror films over the next few decades then it's unmistakable how much PSYCHO paved the way.  Yet, despite its influences, Hitchcock's masterpiece of mood and dread is powerful beyond its artifice as a work that penetrates and deals deeply with many resonate themes - like corruptibility, confused identities, voyeurism, human vulnerabilities and victimization, the deadly effects of money, not to mention when and where to definitely not to have a shower.  This film is the prime example of manipulating an audience, and with his extremely low budget of $800,000, and frantic editing, well-paced drama, stark black and white cinematography, ingeniously placed scares, and that scene in the shower that became one of cinema's most memorable, Hitchcock easily solidifies his frightening film as one of the more layered and stirring films of the 60's.  And not only that, but it just may be the most undeserving non-winner in Academy Award history (it failed to take home one statuette).


5.    THE GRADUATE (1967)


Oh Mrs. Robinson, how you and this film seduce me!  Mick Nichols' 1967 film about a College grad, the loves of his life, and one of the seminal and key groundbreaking social films of the 1960's.  It is sort of wonderfully indicative of the decade, where a young, idealistic, yet naive and troubled student breaks free from the confines of scholastic endeavors and now must make decisions about his future.  The film works on so many levels - as a nail-biting satire and black comedy about alienation, the differences between the young and old generation, and the promiscuous and troublesome sexual norms.  But, on more serious levels, THE GRADUATE also is a work that tries to speculate on the morals and values of society and how a needy, confused, exploited and mis-directed youth is taken advantage of by a vindictive, uncaring, unscrupulous, and domineering older generation.  In these ways, despite the fact that I am a decade or two removed from this film, Benjamin Braddock remains a figure of isolation, guilt, inner self-criticism, cynicism, and disembodiment that many a Generation X'er feels to this day.  With a great performance by Dustin Hoffman (a breakout role for the then 29 year old who perfectly makes us believe he's 21), flawless direction by Nichols, and an unforgettable and legendary soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel, it's no small wonder why THE GRADUATE has a deserving place on this list.




Yes, you may or may not remember me giving the re-make of this John Frankenheimer's classic political thriller four stars last year, but that still does not make my mind so clouded to forget what an engaging, tense, and terrifically chilling film that was the original.  THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE remains as fresh and scary as ever, a film that is a bit ahead of it's time for its intriguing style (it's part pseudo-documentary, part political satire, part psychological horror story) and contains enough elements of such paranoia and dark surrealism that its an absolute shame that it was withdrawn and suppressed from American movie audiences after the death of President Kennedy.  THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE was so unnerving because of its dangerously close-to-true-life story that it told, one of a decorated soldier that is seemingly brainwashed to assassinate a presidential candidate.  The film became a launching pad and catalyst for the pervasive sense of fear that all conspiracy-addicts had about the rise of Communism in the late 50's and early 60's, and as a parable that tapped into these overwhelming concerns, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE is both indicative of its time and haunting and prophetically brilliant.  The Denzel Washington remake was great, but this original still holds up as the finer of the two.


7.    PLANET OF THE APES (1968)


Hmmmm...a science fiction film about damn, dirty, talking apes making this list?  You betcha.  PLANET OF THE APES gave legitimacy to the science fiction genre long before STAR WARS came and solidified it.  This may arguably be the first really intriguing work of science fiction that was once dominated by childish, one-note, and wooden serials of the 30's and 40's.  The film became a huge smash that spawned a multi-million dollar merchandising explosion into movie related products that many feel Mr. Lucas started.  Yet, PLANET OF THE APES sort of developed a schematic for how future big budget film productions would be made (right down to the numerous sequels, the advertising, and the targeting of specific demographics).  The 1968 original spawned 4 sequels of varying degrees of worth, not to mention a TV series, a cartoon, countless comic books, and toys upon toys.  However, too many overlook the film's success and always forget that it works as an ingeniously insane piece of social commentary and satire.  The film is a sort of twisted hybrid of Orwellian pontification on class struggle, social divisions, mixed with a warped and inane construct of Evolution gone completely ass backwards.  All of this comes with a screenplay that works as a critical allegory about how society can suffer from overt tunnel vision and narcissism, not to mention an eerie, TWILIGHT ZONE-like sense of the macabre which is no more felt then with the film's final moment, a shock twist ending that still remains one of the most jarring and shocking conclusions in history.  Yes, PLANET OF THE APES does it all - it mixes special effects, action, and social satire with equal parts restraint, tact, and resolve, and all with the future President of the NRA kicking intelligent, simian ass.


8.    BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967)


Meet Bonnie and Clyde.  They rob banks!  Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway crafted two of the cinema's most memorable performances as the infamous bank robbing duo in Arthur Penn's controversial, funny, exuberant, bloody, and innovative revisionist gangster film.  BONNIE AND CLYDE is a real American original, one of the first films that I can recall that embraced the overt and viciousness of the violence that surrounded the duo's story and never flinched once (the final shocking shootout remains barbaric in its carnage by today's standards and evoked a new kind or representation of on-screen mayhem that changed Hollywood forever).  The film  is also a wonderfully clever exercise in shifting tonality (often its violent, sometimes funny, whereas other times its downright farcical and slapstick), and it sort of embodies many genres effortlessly (the romance, the buddy picture, the doomed lovers tragedy, the gangster/crime picture, and the whimsical comedy).  This story of husband and wife thieves became the springboard for future stories of affable, yet troubled outlaws, and Dunaway and Beatty were charismatic and had a fiery chemistry.  This is the ultimate story of worthless white trash that manage to command our sympathy and contempt and ridicule at the same time.


9.    A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (1964)


How could I have a respectable list of the finest entertainments of this decade without a film about the Fab Four themselves?  After all, they sort of personified and defined the generation through their music.   A HARD DAY'S NIGHT works like an A-typical rock musical before there was ever such a thing.  It was not that The Beatles were needing in some beefed up PR during the mid-60's (c'mon, over 70 million viewers watched them on their debut on Ed Sullivan), but their eventual breakout into feature films was taken with many incredulous and spiteful concerns by the nation's critics of the time.  What many overlooked what a pioneering film it was, a musical that was as odd as it was irreverent and mishmashed several genres.  It was smart, yet clumsy, witty, but silly, charming, but goofy all at the same time, and it was all shot by a young Richard Lester who made the film in fantastic black and white cinematography that gave the proceedings a sort of mock-documentary style decades before Spinal Tap and "Sex Farm" ruled at the silver screen.  More than that, A HARD DAY'S NIGHT works marvelously as a travelogue into a time of liberation, gleeful contempt for authority, and joyous spontaneity.  It's freshness, originality, and vitality have not aged a day (Lester does not get enough credit as being the father of MTV styled music videos, and his style and editing here would later be found in popular music videos 20 years later).  However, this is not a big, robust, glossy musical, but one of inspired film making economy, shot with quick shots and pans, grainy photography, and a minimalist look and style.  A HARD DAY'S NIGHT remains a work of consequence, a film to revere in its simplicity while engaging in the spectacle of its cultural and musical phenomenon.


10.    MIDNIGHT COWBOY (1969)


John Schlesinger's MIDNIGHT COWBOY just may be the very first, mainstream adult film.  It has the dubious distinction of being the first and only X rated film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, but that sort of overshadows what the X rating was at the time before the contemporary studios all but abandoned it and let it lay to rot in the lurid world of pornography (which most lay film fans readily associate it with).  In hindsight, the film studios and the MPAA had the keen foresight to see that their needed to be a workable ADULTS ONLY film rating that did not preclude sexual explicitness, but rather somber, downbeat, and darker content about mature people for mature people.  Because of this, MIDNIGHT COWBOY goes proudly on my list as a work that has been largely overlooked and forgotten for what a poignant and tragic drama it is.  The film details the often uneasy alliance and friendship between two homeless, downbeat, anti-hero drifters who sort of journey through a story ripe with the type of class struggle, social inequity, and venomous contempt for the division of the classes that made the books of Steinbeck read so bitterly.  Jon Voight has never been better than he was here as the cowboy "hustler" and prostitute, and Dustin Hoffman again created one of the decade's most unique and unglamorous portrayals. MIDNIGHT COWBOY is a great adult entertainment.






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