The 1960's is a decade that is like the opposite of the month of March, it came in as a lamb and left like a lion. This is a decade that started with musicals and epics and ended with gritty dramas that would become the standard of 1970's cinema. Currently I have seen more films in this decade than others, 43 out of 50 and know of two others that will be aired in the next few months, so think I can offer a better analysis than other decades.
This may be shocking, but I find myself agreeing with the academy this decade, more than the previous decade at least.
Films I have seen - The Apartment (Best Picture), The Alamo, Elmer Gantry, Sons and Lovers, The Sundowners
Films I have not seen - None
Analysis - Another year where I have seen all the films. The Apartment is a classy comedy that is just enjoyable to watch. Also the last full black and white film to win best picture (Schindler's List 1993 had some color scenes). The Alamo is a great John Wayne western about, you got it, the Alamo. Ranks up there with Shane or The Searchers as a great western. Elmer Gantry is a great movie that doesn't get as much notice as it should. Burt Lancaster plays a flim/flam man who discovers that he can make good money being a religious speaker. Sons and Lovers based on the D.H. Lawrence novel is slow at times but Dean Stockwell is good as a young man in early 2oth century England trying to find himself and come to terms with his over protective mother. The Sundowners is about sheep shearers in Australia in the 1920's, it's about as exciting as watching sheep being sheered gets.
Verdict - The Apartment was the best film, it is a well done dramatic comedy that was just done right. I would put Elmer Gantry as a close runner up in second. The Alamo, which I personally loved, is only the third best. Sons and Lovers and The Sundowners finish up the rankings.
Films I have seen - West Side Story (Best Picture), The Guns of Navarone, The Hustler, Judgement at Nuremberg
Films I have not seen - Fanny
Analysis - West Side Story is Romeo and Juliet to music. It is rather comical thinking that gang warfare would be like this, but it is a well produced movie. The Guns of Navarone is a fictional WWII action film with cool explosions. The Hustler with Paul Newman is a good movie, not a great movie, about a two bit pool hustler trying to beat Minnesota Fats. Judgement at Nuremberg is a politically correct post WWII era courtroom movie. Excellent acting by Maximillan Schell who got the best actor, Montgomery Clift with his rebuilt face and Judy Garland in a strong dramatic role.
Verdict - As much as I dislike musicals, West Side Story is a great movie and was clearly the best picture of 1961.
Films I have seen - Lawrence of Arabia (Best Picture), The Longest Day, The Music Man, Mutiny on the Bounty, To Kill a Mockingbird
Films I have not seen - None
Analysis - Lawrence of Arabia is the great classic epic about T.E. Lawrence living in the middle east and fighting with the Arabs during WWI. The Longest Day is another epic about D Day with an all star cast. The Music Man is the well know play made into a movie and done well. Mutiny on the Bounty is a remake of the 1935 best picture winner but much, much longer. To Kill a Mockingbird is Gregory Peck's finest acting. I hope that one day I can have people give me as much respect as the scene when Atticus Finch is leaving the courtroom and everyone stands and looks at him in silent reverence. That scene gets me every time I see it.
Verdict - Nothing comes close to Lawrence of Arabia, it is one of the best epics of all time. To Kill a Mockingbird follows, with The Longest Day, The Music Man and Mutiny on the Bounty last.
Films I have seen - Tom Jones (Best Picture), America America, Cleopatra, How the West Was Won, Lilies of the Field
Films I have not seen - None
Analysis - Tom Jones is a mindless film about an attractive man who seduces women in old England. There is a great eating scene which is rather well know. America America is a terrific movie loosely based on Elia Kazan's grandfather journey to the United States at the turn of the 20th century. Cleopatra is the long over budget drawn out story about Cleopatra which is now remembered as the longest film to be nominated and one of the most expensive of its time that was a major flop. How the West Was Won is another epic western but falls short of great epic status. Lilies of the Field is a good film but does have incredible acting by Sydney Poitier who won the best actor Oscar.
Verdict - As horrible as I though Tom Jones was, I understand why it won. This was only months after President Kennedy was assassinated and in times of crisis happy go luck films will always do better. America America I though was the best of all but it didn't have any major A list celebrities so it didn't get noticed. Lilies of the Field would come in third, How the West Was Won and Cleopatra last.
Films I have seen - My Fair Lady (Best Picture), Dr. Strangelove, Zorba the Greek
Films I have not seen - Becket, Mary Poppins
Analysis - My Fair Lady is a good movie and it bothers me to say that, but even though it is musical, it's really good. I don't get Dr. Strangelove. Lots of people say this is one of the greatest films of all time. I still don't get it. I didn't find it that funny. I didn't think it was well written. It is impressive that Peter Sellers plays multiple parts. But I just don't see what is so great about this film. Zorba the Greek is just as bad. You get frustrated at how incompetent he is and then in the end the person who's life he has pretty much ruined asks him to show him how to dance. Basically the message of the movie is why bother doing something important or good, just be lazy.
Verdict - No brainer here, My Fair Lady is the best picture of 1964.
Films I have seen - The Sound of Music (Best Picture), Doctor Zhivago, Ship of Fools, A Thousand Clowns
Films I have not seen - Darling
Analysis - The Sound of Music is another classic musical that was made into a classic film. Doctor Zhivago is as cheerful as life in the Soviet Union. A good film but very depressing. Ship of Fools is not a good film. The main problem is that is supposed to take place in the 1930's but the script was clearly written knowing how the future would play out after WWII. A Thousand Clowns is an excellent movie with Jason Robards raising his nephew while trying to avoid getting a job.
Verdict - The Sound of Music is a great musical and nothing comes close to it. A Thousand Clowns is a great film I had never knew of before this project and would recommend to everyone to see at least once.
Films I have seen - A Man for All Seasons (Best Picture), The Russians are Coming, The Sand Pebbles, Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe
Films I have not seen - Alfie
Analysis - I had no idea what A Man for All Seasons was about before I saw it, I thought it was a musical. It is one of the greatest dramas ever made into a film, the best best picture of the decade. The Russians are Coming is a cute funny movie, but not best picture material. The Sand Pebbles is a drama/action film about a US gun boat in China during the 1920's when their revolution was getting started. Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe is one of the most powerful films you will ever see. Seriously it is intense. And you thought you had a bad marriage?
Verdict - Nothing was better than A Man for All Seasons. Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe could have won in a different year but not this time around.
Films I have seen - In the Heat of the Night (Best Picture), Bonnie and Clyde, Doctor Dollittle, The Graduate, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
Films I have not seen - None
Analysis - This is the start of gritty dramas taking over the Oscars. In the Heat of the Night is a great intense film with Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger both in great roles. Bonnie and Clyde is another gritty film but just not great. Doctor Dollittle is a fun kids film. The Graduate is an American classic that is still good today. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner was controversial for it's time and a great film, but rather dated today.
Verdict - In the Heat of the Night was clearly the best film and set the standard for many years to come. The rest don't come close but to rank anyway, The Graduate, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Doctor Dollittle and finally Bonnie and Clyde.
Films I have seen - Oliver! (Best Picture), Funny Girl, Rachel Rachel, Romeo and Juliet
Films I have not seen - Lion in the Winter
Analysis - This was a very weak year, probably the weakest of the decade. Oliver is Oliver Twist as a musical, yea. Funny Girl another musical about some vaudeville singer or something, you get bored around the fifth hour and start to forget what you've watched. Rachel Rachel is a good film, would be considered a independent film today. Romeo and Juliet is in color this time as opposed to the 1936 version, but not much more can be said than that.
Verdict - Oliver wins due to the weak competition.
Films I have seen - Midnight Cowboy (Best Picture), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Hello Dolly!, Z
Films I have not seen - Anne of the Thousand Days
Analysis - Midnight Cowboy is the first and only X rated film to win best picture. This is from a time when X did not necessarily mean porno, but adult content (NC-17 today). It is a very good drama, very typical of the type of movies being made around this time. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a modern western getting away from the 40's and 50's standard of Cowboys and Indians in an attempt to make westerns edgy. It should be noted that there are very few good westerns from this era and this one is no different. Hello Dolly is a cute musical, but still a musical. Z is a waste of time about a politician killed and an attempted cover up. The film dragged on and I was able to watch it in double speed since the subtitles were high enough on the screen. If you watch a movie in 45 minutes and still thing it was too long, should it have ever been made? What else do you expect from Costa Gavras, something good?
Verdict - This was an easy year, nothing comes anywhere in the same ball park as Midnight Cowboy. If you need a second place then Hello Dolly would fit. You can tell it's not a good year when I can put a musical second, but thankfully there was at least one great film.