The 1960s weren’t just about peace, love and people dancing around in the mud you know? Some people had work to get on with. In fact looking through my list, most of them represent the darker recesses of human nature with people behind them that would have been considered ‘real drags maaan’ if they had turned up at Woodstock.
In doing some brief research for this list I realized that there are still so many I have yet to watch which probably should be on this list such as Planet of the Apes, The Apartment and Bullitt. Of the films that I have seen though these are my top ten in descending order
10. Peeping Tom
Nowadays Michael Powell is rightly lauded as a voyeuristic genius of British Cinema but in the early 60s his career was in the gutter and it was largely due to this film. It tells the story of a sexually repressed loner who works at a movie studio who has twisted his urges into murder which we witness through the point of view of his camera. It’s an unflinching look at the a descent into madness and has been overlooked for far too long.
9. Lawrence of Arabia
Had to get an epic on the list somewhere so it might as well be THE epic and arguably David Leans finest film. It has everything you’d expect from a Lean film: sweeping gorgeous shots of beautiful landscapes, brilliant performances from Peter O’Toole and Alec Guiness, running time that exceeds the 3 hour mark and a truly fascinating story.
8. Midnight Cowboy
You’ve never seen Dustin Hoffman quite like this before or since playing Ratso a hustler outcast living down and out in New York who teams up with Jon Voights Joe Buck, a stud from Texas who’s planning on getting by as a male prostitute. The pair form an unlikely alliance which is anything but your typical buddy movie which manages to be moving without being overly-sentimental.
7. To Kill A Mockingbird
I was originally made to watch this at school after reading the famous Harper Lee novel with which it shares its name so the power of it was lost on my unappreciative young mind. Having recently revisited it I can confirm that it is a truly powerful study of racism in the deep south of America which was made when race relations were particularly tense. Atticus Finch is the role that Gregory Peck was born to play starring in one of the most famous and thrilling courtroom scenes ever put on film.
6. Once Upon A Time in the West
The first of two Sergio Leone’s to feature on this list, OUATITW features what I think is the finest opening to a Western ever made. A scene in which three men wait around at a train station without speaking to each other while a fly buzzes around has no right to be as electrifying and tense as it is. Also features one of the coolest Charles Bronson roles ever:’Harmonica’ a character so badass he stops to play you his theme music before he kills you.
Alfred Hitchcock famously took a huge gamble when he decided to adapt the trashy gratuitous novel ‘Psycho’ to the big screen and to say it paid off would be the understatement of the century. How could he kill off his main character a mere 30 minutes into the film leaving the audience mortified and baffled as to where the story could take them next? The famous shower scene is one of the best pairing of music and image with the harsh strings gelling perfectly with the stabbing motion which culminates in a shot of blood trickling into a drain. Absolute genius.
4. Dr Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
Peter Sellers and Stanley Kubrick were close friends and had worked together previously on Lolita but this is without a doubt their finest pairing with Sellers playing three different characters (apparently Kubrick originally wanted him to do four roles but because Sellers feared the audience would get sick of the sight of him they decided against it.) Originally filmed as straight nosed Cold War thriller Kubrick decided that the way to make the message of the film the most clear and memorable was to convert it into a comedy. ‘You can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!” is still one of the finest ever film quotes.
3. Bonnie and Clyde
Playing the ‘Based on a True Story Card’ long before it was hip and trendy Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway play the most famous lawless couple ever to tear across our screens. Bonnie is a bored waitress living in small town America who is charmed by the effervescent Clyde who tells her that she can really be somebody if she decides to drop everything and go with him. They proceed to leave a pile of bodies and robbed banks on their journey across the country in this masterpiece which dares to be extreme and over the top without sacrificing story and characters.
2. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
The finest western ever made. This was the capper in the trilogy that Sergio Leone had started with Clint Eastwood and Ennio Morricone which started with ‘Fistful of Dollars’ and ‘For A Few Dollars More.’ These three people completely revitalized a genre who’s popularity was starting to wane make it more visceral and powerful than it was previously considered possible. Seeing a closeup of Eastwood’s ‘The Man With No Name’ with Morricone’s timeless score playing in the background on the big screen is worth the ticket price alone.
1. 2001-A Space Odyssey
The film that confirmed that Kubrick was no mere mortal but rightly deserving of a throne on Mount Olympus is of course my favourite film of the 60s. So ahead of its time in term of its creativity and its long stretches with no dialogue completely rewired my brain in relation to what can be achieved by cinema. The revolutionary use of classical music of Strauss combined with slow shots of spaceships orbiting creates mind boggling images which are never less than spellbinding. There seem to be countless ways that people can interpret the plot but the main theory seems to be that the monolith is a metaphor for the stages of human evolution which traces our history from apes into the distant future. If you haven’t seen this film stop whatever you’re doing, close all the windows and prepare for the experience of a lifetime.