Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Best Songs of 1964 – Nos. 20 to 16

Sorry it took so long to get a new post out. I have just spent the last week celebrating my tenth wedding anniversary camping out amongst the redwood trees of Northern California. It was a tremendous experience and I highly recommend it for everyone. Anyway, on with the list…

20. All Day and All of the Night – The Kinks (All Day and All of the Night)

The Kinks made it to number seven on the US charts and number two on the UK charts with their fourth single, All Day and All of the Night. Ray Davies sang with abandon and Dave Davies shredded his guitar with one of the finest guitar solos of the year. Those Kinks got fairly introspective in their later work, but in their early days they rocked with a savagery rarely seen till the days of punk.

19. Do Wah Diddy Diddy – Manfred Mann (The Manfred Mann Album)

Manfred Mann made it to number one on both sides of the Atlantic with this amazingly catchy number. It had a great call and repeat cadence that was perfect for its early eighties revival in the classic Bill Murray comedy Stripes. Manfred Mann had a really interesting keyboard playing style and Paul Jones had a strong, soulful voice.

18. Remember (Walking in the Sand) – The Shangri-Las (Remember (Walking in the Sand))

This was the debut single by the incredibly influential girl group, The Shangri-Las. It rose to number five on the charts. Mary Weiss sang with a toughness and attitude that belied her years. The eerie atmosphere and unusual production by Shadow Morton made this song into a strange foreshadowing of gothier chicks in the far future.

17. Pain in My Heart – Otis Redding (Pain in My Heart)

This classic soul ballad from Otis Redding only made it to number sixty-one on the charts, but it really should have done better. Otis gives another amazing vocal performance. He always sang about heartbreak with such passion. Otis was setting a new standard for soul singers for generations to come.

16. It’s Over – Roy Orbison (It’s Over)

Another operatic beauty from Roy Orbison, it went to number nine on the US charts and number one in the UK. This story of lost love begins very softly but builds and builds into such a phenomenal crescendo that you can hardly imagine it can hold itself together.

Comments and opinions are encouraged and appreciated.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Best Songs of 1964 - Nos. 25 to 21

25. The Times They Are A-Changin’ – Bob Dylan (The Times They Are A-Changin’)

Bob Dylan captured his time like almost no other songwriter, especially with this protest song. Few songs more perfectly evoke the feeling of the beginning of the youth movement of the sixties. It was a truly moving number that really inspires the urge to go out and work for social change. I’m not sure if that was really Dylan’s intention, but it was certainly the result.

24. Baby, I Need Your Loving – The Four Tops (The Four Tops)

The Four Tops make their first appearance on the list with this, their first hit, which made it to number eleven on the Pop charts. Levi Stubbs belts out a beautiful love song that set a standard for many future hits from this terrific Detroit band. They were wonderfully representative of the Motown sound that was becoming so popular at the time.

23. Don’t Worry Baby – The Beach Boys (Shut Down, Vol. 2)

Sure, he’s still singing about cars, but those arrangements are getting amazing. Brian Wilson’s fantastic falsetto shows up again as the B-side to the song at number twenty-six takes a spot a few slots ahead. The song was meant as response to the Ronettes’ hit of the previous year, “Be My Baby”. It was successful in that regard as Ronnie Spector’s group eventually covered this song.

22. Can’t Buy Me Love – The Beatles (A Hard Day’s Night)

On April 4th, 1964, This song became the Beatles’ third consecutive number one song. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was replaced at number one by “She Loves You” which was replaced by “Can’t Buy Me Love”. While it sat at number one, the entire top five were also Beatles songs. No other artist has ever held all five spots at the top of the US Pop charts and it is unlikely that the feat will ever be duplicated.

21. Under the Boardwalk – The Drifters (Under the Boardwalk)

The Drifters created a real classic here. This song is so evocative of a certain era’s summer in the city that it makes me feel like I grew up in New York in the fifties and sixties even though I actually grew up in Alabama in the seventies and eighties.

Comments and opinions are encouraged and appreciated.

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Best Songs of 1964 - Nos. 30 to 26

30. I’m Crying – The Animals (I’m Crying)

The Animals were a group that was most well known for their covers of great blues songs. This one has that same sound, but it’s an original by Eric Burdon and Alan Price. These guys played a hard-edged blues that only the Rolling Stones could match at the time among British bands. Eric Burdon sings it forcefully and with soul. It only made the top twenty in the States, but it should have done better.

29. She Loves You – The Beatles (The Beatles’ Second Album)

This was a massive number one hit for the Beatles, both in the UK and in the States. In fact, it was the best-selling single in Britain for fourteen years. After the band’s famous appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, the song shot to the top of the charts in the US. It is widely considered to be the quintessential song of the early-period Beatles. The British Invasion starts here.

28. Dancing in the Street – Martha & the Vandellas (Dance Party)

This modest little dance number that listed off city names in a time-honored rock tradition of trying to get lots of play on those same cities’ radio stations took on a life of its own when it was adopted as an anthem by the Civil Rights Movement. Martha Reeves sang it very well and the backing music, particularly those drums, was incredible. The Motown sound was great American competition for that British Invasion.

27. Viva Las Vegas – Elvis Presley (Viva Las Vegas)

Elvis Presley’s sixties output wasn’t a match for what he did in the fifties, but he certainly did record several great songs during his sojourn in Hollywood. This song had a tremendous beat and terrific lyrics. It was only a minor hit at the time, but over the years it has grown to be one of the most popular tracks in the Presley catalog. It’s been covered several times, notably by The Dead Kennedys.

26. I Get Around – The Beach Boys (All Summer Long)

Brian Wilson really had a beautiful falsetto, didn’t he? This was the first number one hit for The Beach Boys and the arrangement really showed amazing growth for Wilson as a songwriter. While remaining within his milieu of hot rods and cool kids in Southern California, he showed amazing originality. This was the beginning of a run of tremendous work.

Comments and opinions are encouraged and appreciated.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Best Songs of 1964 - Nos. 36 to 31

36. Downtown – Petula Clark (Downtown)

This number one hit for Petula Clark was the Grammy Winner for Best Rock and Roll Song in 1965. She had been a huge star in England since World War II, sort of a British Shirley Temple. It wasn’t until this single was released that she became famous in the United States. I really enjoy the crisp clean quality of her voice and the song evokes some pretty great imagery.

35. Where Did Our Love Go? – The Supremes (Where Did Our Love Go?)

This pretty little song was the first number one hit for The Supremes. They followed it with another four number ones in a row. It was originally written for The Marvelettes, but they turned it down. The Supremes balked at getting a second-hand song, but their previous inability to record a big hit made them feel that they had little choice. They were very surprised by the success of the song which made them international stars.

34. Baby Love – The Supremes (Where Did Our Love Go?)

The Supremes got their second number one hit with Baby Love, which turned out to be their most successful single ever. It spent four weeks in the number one spot. Diana Ross had a very sweet quality to her voice that came out particularly well on this track. They were well on their way to becoming the top band at Motown. The saxophone work was also really nice.

33. The Way You Do the Things You Do – The Temptations (Meet The Temptations)

The Temptations took this collection of pick-up lines to number eleven on the pop charts. Eddie Kendricks took the lead on this single, which was the first Temptations song to reach the charts. Smokey Robinson and Robert Rogers wrote the number and started a great working relationship between Smokey and the band. I have always loved the innocent quality of the song as well as the great backing track by the Funk Brothers.

32. Leader of the Pack – The Shangri-Las (Leader of the Pack)

Mary Weiss and her group of tough chicks from Queens, the Shangri-Las, took this, the quintessential ‘death disc’, to number one. It was a very popular song thanks to the sound effects of revving motorcycles and breaking glass as well as the wonderfully melodramatic performance of lead singer Mary Weiss. She was only fifteen years old at the time, but she became one of the great rock vocalists of the era and developed a strong cult following amongst punk rockers in the 1970s.

31. Rock Me Baby – B.B. King (Rock Me Baby)

Rock Me Baby was the first top 40 hit for the legendary bluesman B.B. King. It peaked at number 34 and inspired a great many covers including a notable version by Jimi Hendrix. I particularly love the lyrics. Rock me like my back ain’t got no bone. Damn! That’s just awesome!

Comments and opinions are encouraged and appreciated.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Movies of 1964

The Top Grossing Films of 1964

10. Father Goose

9. The Pink Panther

8. The Unsinkable Molly Brown7. A Hard Day’s Night6. A Shot in the Dark5. From Russia With Love4. The Carpetbaggers3. Goldfinger2. My Fair Lady1. Mary Poppins

The Top Stars of 1964

10. Jerry LewisIn 1964, Jerry Lewis starred in The Patsy and The Disorderly Orderly.

9. Paul NewmanIn 1964, Paul Newman starred in What a Way to Go! and The Outrage.

8. Ann-MargretIn 1964, Ann-Margret starred in The Pleasure Seekers, Kitten with a Whip, and Viva Las Vegas.

7. Shirley MacLaineIn 1964, Shirley MacLaine starred in What a Way to Go! and The Yellow Rolls-Royce.

6. Elvis PresleyIn 1964, Elvis Presley starred in Roustabout, Kissin’ Cousins, and Viva Las Vegas.

5. Cary Grant

In 1964, Cary Grant starred in Father Goose, the tenth highest-grossing film of the year.

4. John WayneIn 1964, John Wayne starred in Circus World.

3. Rock HudsonIn 1964, Rock Hudson starred in Man’s Favorite Sport? and Send Me No Flowers.

2. Jack LemmonIn 1964, Jack Lemmon starred in Good Neighbor Sam.

1. Doris DayIn 1964, Doris Day starred in Send Me No Flowers with Rock Hudson.

The Top Stars of Tomorrow for 1964

10. Joey HeathertonJoey Heatherton’s first credit was a 1960 appearance on an episode of Route 66. Soon after, she began appearing regularly on The Perry Como Show. She was more famous as a singer than as an actress, although she did have some notable film roles early on in her career. In 1964, she appeared on episodes of Channing and Breaking Point, both on ABC, and in the film Where Love Has Gone opposite Susan Hayward and Bette Davis. Her career slowed down considerably in the seventies and she’s only been seen in three films and a nude Playboy pictorial since the end of that decade.

9. Nancy SinatraNancy Sinatra began her career with appearances on her father Frank’s television specials in 1960. She appeared in two films in 1964; For Those Who Think Young and Get Yourself a College Girl, but she was always more well known and successful for her singing career than her acting career. Her most famous film role was when she starred opposite Peter Fonda in Roger Corman’s 1966 motorcycle epic The Wild Angels. Her last film was 1968’s Speedway with Elvis Presley. Her music career remained strong throughout the sixties and she had several chart hits. Her songs are still popular today. Interestingly, like Joey Heatherton, she also appeared in a nude pictorial in Playboy in the nineties.

8. Keir DulleaKeir Dullea started his career in 1960, appearing in various television parts throughout the early part of the decade. In 1962, he made a splash with the lead role in the Oscar-nominated film David and Lisa. In 1964, he starred in three films; The Thin Red Line, Mail Order Bride, and the Italian film Le Ore Nude, as well as appearing in episodes of Channing and The Wednesday Play on television. He had his biggest hit in 1968 when he played Dave Bowman in Stanley Kubrick’s classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey. He never did match the success of that film, but he has worked consistently in film, television, and on stage to this day.

7. Dean JonesDean Jones made his first film appearance in 1956 with an uncredited role in Somebody Up There Likes Me. He then proceeded to work a lot. He had amassed 30 credits by 1964 when he was placed on this list. Strangely, he only had one credit in 1964; he was one of the leads in the film The New Interns. In 1965, he appeared in That Darn Cat! starting a run of starring roles in popular Disney films, including his most famous role as the race car driver in The Love Bug series. He continued to work steadily through the 70s, 80s, and 90s and is currently semi-retired.

6. Harve PresnellHarve Presnell had his first film role in 1964, playing the male lead in The Unsinkable Molly Brown. He was a towering presence with a booming operatically trained voice. Unfortunately, the Golden Age of the Hollywood musical had come to an end and there weren’t very many roles available to showcase his considerable talents. He spent the next three decades mostly focusing on stage work. In 1996, he began a new career as a character actor with his memorable performance as William Macy’s father-in-law in the Coen Brothers’ magnificent Fargo. He’s appeared in more than a dozen films since including Saving Private Ryan, Old School, and Flags of Our Fathers, as well as appearing on several TV series. He is currently in the cast of Andy Barker P.I. on NBC.

5. Stefanie PowersStefanie Powers’ film career began in 1960. She appeared in a number of television series and was in movies like The Interns and McLintock!. In 1964, her only credit was for the film The New Interns. She worked steadily throughout the sixties and seventies. In 1979, she took the role of Jennifer Hart on ABC’s Hart to Hart. She would eventually receive five Golden Globe nominations and two Emmy nominations for her work as this character. She is still working steadily to this day.

4. Elizabeth AshleyElizabeth Ashley began appearing on television in 1960. In 1962, she won the Best Actress Tony for the play Take Her, She’s Mine. She was nominated for the award two more times after that. Her only credit in 1964 was for her first film, The Carpetbaggers. The part got her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She’s worked steadily in Hollywood and on Broadway up to the present day, but is probably best known today for her time on the early 90s sitcom Evening Shade.

3. Susannah YorkSusannah York’s first credit was in a British TV production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible starring opposite Sean Connery. She took on several impressive roles in the early sixties, including Sophie Western in 1963’s Best Picture winner Tom Jones. In 1964, she starred opposite William Holden in The 7th Dawn. She continued her quality work throughout the sixties and seventies earning an Oscar nomination and a Best Actress win at the Cannes Film Festival. She is still working steadily today.

2. Annette Funicello

I find it very unusual that Annette Funicello made this list in 1964, considering that she had been famous for nine years and certainly should have been a contender before. The Mickey Mouse Club debuted in 1955 and Annette was the most popular cast member. In 1963, she starred in Beach Party with Frankie Avalon and became even more popular. She appeared in several films in 1964 including Muscle Beach Party, Bikini Beach, and Pajama Party. She worked steadily through the sixties, but she slowed down her career considerably in the following decades. She hasn’t appeared in a film since 1987’s Back to the Beach.

1. Elke SommerGerman actress Elke Sommer began appearing in Italian movies in 1959. She did six Italian films that year and continued to be quite prolific throughout the sixties. In 1964, she appeared as Maria Gambrelli in the funniest film of the Pink Panther series, A Shot in the Dark. She still acts occasionally today, but mostly concentrates on painting.

The Oscars of 1964

Best Supporting Actor nominees –

John Gielgud (Becket)Stanley Holloway (My Fair Lady)Edmond O’Brien (Seven Days in May)Lee Tracy (The Best Man)
And the winner was… Peter Ustinov (Topkapi)
I didn’t see The Best Man, so I can’t comment on Lee Tracy. John Gielgud gave a likable performance in Becket, although he had very limited screen time. Stanley Holloway was one of the most entertaining things about My Fair Lady and his big musical number, “Get Me to the Church on Time,” was a highlight of the film. Edmond O’Brien gave a strong performance in Seven Days in May, although I think there were several stronger supporting performances in that film. Of the nominated actors, Peter Ustinov did give the best performance. Although I wouldn’t have given him the award he is the only one of the nominees who I would have nominated.

If it were up to me, I would have made the following nominations. As I said, I would have nominated Peter Ustinov for his hilarious portrayal of a cheap hustler in over his head in the heist film Topkapi.Herbert Lom deserved a nomination for his turn as Clouseau’s boss, Chief Inspector Dreyfus in A Shot in the Dark. Although he took the character way over the top in later films, he struck a perfect note with his first shot at him. His final breakdown where he is reduced to biting Clouseau on the leg in his vain attempt to destroy him is side-splitting.Walter Matthau gave an Oscar-worthy performance as a hawkish professor who favors a pre-emptive attack on the Soviets in the cold war drama Fail-Safe. He is remembered much more for his comedic performances, but Matthau was a considerably talented dramatic actor as well.Dr. Strangelove contained two performances that were worthy of this award. Sterling Hayden gave a performance that was simultaneously hilarious and terrifying as Gen. Jack D. Ripper, the insane general who initiates the nuclear assault on the Soviet Union essentially because he blames communist agents for his erectile dysfunction.

In the end though, I would have given the statue to George C. Scott for playing Gen. Buck Turgidson in the same film. This gung-ho fighting man was the perfect counter-point to Peter Sellers’ low-key President and an interesting parallel to his later work as George Patton. From his dialogue with Pres. Muffley to his wrestling match with the Soviet ambassador, he gave a thoroughly funny and compelling performance.
Best Supporting Actress nominees –

Gladys Cooper (My Fair Lady)Edith Evans (The Chalk Garden)Grayson Hall (The Night of the Iguana)Agnes Moorehead (Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte)
And the winner was… Lila Kedrova (Zorba the Greek)
Unfortunately, I’ve only seen two of the nominated performances. So, I can’t comment on Edith Evans, Grayson Hall, or Agnes Moorehead. Gladys Cooper had a very small role in My Fair Lady and I can’t really figure out why she was nominated when there was a better supporting actress in the movie. Mona Washbourne who played Prof. Higgins’ housekeeper was better although I wouldn’t have nominated her either. Lila Kedrova, the winner of the award, was definitely worthy of the nomination, but not the win.

If it were up to me, I would have given out the following nominations. First of all, Lila Kedrova was exceptional as a French innkeeper who doesn’t quite fit in with her community on the island of Crete and she would have been my second choice for the award.Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore was one of the best of the Bond girls and I think her performance was worthy of a nomination.Anne Vernon was very sympathetic as the concerned mother in the French musical, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and I would have thrown a nomination her way.Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie contained two worthy performances. Diane Baker was captivating as the sister of Sean Connery’s deceased first wife. I never could quite figure out what her intentions were where her brother-in-law was concerned, but it certainly was entertaining to watch.I would have given the award to Louise Latham. Her portrayal of Marnie’s mother, a woman with deep, dark secrets that have weighed her down for years was devastating and I don’t think any of the other contenders were even close.
Best Actor nominees –

Richard Burton (Becket)Peter O’Toole (Becket)Anthony Quinn (Zorba the Greek)Peter Sellers (Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb)
And the winner was… Rex Harrison (My Fair Lady)

Rex Harrison was very good in My Fair Lady, but I don’t think he was worthy of this award. In fact, I wouldn’t even have nominated him. Richard Burton gave a terrific performance in the title role of Becket, but I would have skipped him over as well. I’ll address O’Toole, Quinn, and Sellers in the next paragraph.

If I were picking Oscars this year, Best Actor would have gone like this. Sean Connery had two excellent films come out this year and, while I really enjoyed him in Marnie, I would have given him the nomination for playing James Bond in Goldfinger. It was arguably the best of the Bond films and he was definitely the best of the Bonds.Fredric March gave an Oscar-worthy performance as the embattled American President in Seven Days in May. He would have deserved the nomination for his final scene with Burt Lancaster, where he accused Lancaster’s General Scott of plotting against the government, even if he had done nothing else in that film. It was a brilliant scene and a brilliant performance.Anthony Quinn was amazing as Zorba the Greek and absolutely deserved his nomination. The character was so full of life and passion that even when he disappointed you, you couldn’t help but like him.

Now we come to the two Peters. Peter O’Toole was funny, witty, petulant, tragic, childish, compelling, infuriating and about a thousand other adjectives as King Henry II in Becket. As good as Burton was, O’Toole towered above him in one of his greatest performances. He would have been my choice for the award, if the other Peter hadn’t turned in such a tour de force.Peter Sellers played three very different characters in Dr. Strangelove and he did it magnificently. The British officer Lionel Mandrake had to contend with the madness of America in general and a mad American General, he kept his British reserve and his stiff upper lip throughout. Dr. Strangelove himself, the insane Nazi scientist, seemed like a refugee from a different movie and raised the surrealistic bar very high. The topper, though, was President Merkin Muffley. His one-sided telephone conversation with the Russian Premier stands among the funniest performances ever put to film. It was one of the greatest travesties in Academy Award history that Peter Sellers did not win the Oscar for this classic film. Amazingly enough, this was the same year that he fully fleshed out his signature character of Inspector Jacques Clouseau in A Shot in the Dark. 1964 was really Peter Sellers’ year.

Best Actress nominees –

Anne Bancroft (The Pumpkin Eater)Sophia Loren (Marriage, Italian Style)Debbie Reynolds (The Unsinkable Molly Brown)Kim Stanley (Séance on a Wet Afternoon)
And the winner was… Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins)
I am greatly ashamed to say that I have only seen one of these nominated performances; Julie Andrews winning turn in Mary Poppins.

I would have nominated Julie Andrews, but I wouldn’t have given her the award. Mary Poppins was quite a character and she did a wonderful job with the songs, the dancing, and her interplay with the children and Dick Van Dyke, but I liked two actresses better this year.I would have given Elke Sommer a nomination this year for A Shot in the Dark. If nothing else, she held her own with Peter Sellers which is no mean feat.I understand why Audrey Hepburn was snubbed by the Academy. Her singing was dubbed in by Marni Nixon and many people felt that the role of Eliza Doolittle should have gone to Julie Andrews who did such a good job with the part on the stage. However, I disagree with the Academy. Audrey Hepburn’s performance in My Fair Lady deserved a nomination.My second favorite performance by an actress in 1964 was for an altogether different musical. French actress Catherine Deneuve was sublime in the totally original musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Her emotional journey through feelings of love, abandonment, fear, and resignation was deeply moving and certainly Oscar-worthy.My ultimate choice for Best Actress is Tippi Hedren for Marnie. The character of Marnie is not really likable, but she is tremendously compelling. Switching back and forth between being intensely cold and just plain intense, she remains an enigma. When she finally has her breakdown on the stairs in her mother’s house, reverts back to childhood and all her old repressed memories come flooding back, the performance reaches a level of brilliance that demands the Oscar. It was the best performance by an actress in 1964.
Best Director nominees –

Michael Cacoyannis (Zorba the Greek)Peter Glenville (Becket)Stanley Kubrick (Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb)Robert Stevenson (Mary Poppins)
And the winner was… George Cukor (My Fair Lady)
I would have nominated Jacques Demy for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,Guy Hamilton for Goldfinger,Sergio Leone for A Fistful of Dollars,Richard Lester for A Hard Day’s Night,and Stanley Kubrick for Dr. Strangelove.

I would have given the award to Stanley Kubrick.

Best Picture nominees –

BecketDr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the BombMary PoppinsZorba the Greek
And the winner was… My Fair Lady
Leo’s Top Ten Films of 1964

10. Fail-Safe (d. Sidney Lumet)Fail-Safe is, essentially, Dr. Strangelove without the humor. Through a series of errors, a nuclear attack is launched on the Soviet Union and the President, played superbly by Henry Fonda, must convince the Russians that it was a mistake to avert a full-scale nuclear war. The methods by which this crisis should best be handled are debated by the characters throughout the movie. Walter Matthau’s hawkish professor suggests following up the accidental attack with a more comprehensive one. However, the President goes the other way, helping the Soviets to destroy the rogue planes and in the end making an unfathomable sacrifice. 1964 was quite a year for political films.

9. Marnie (d. Alfred Hitchcock)Alfred Hitchcock called Marnie a “sex mystery.” It was that, and a whole lot more. Tippi Hedren gave an extraordinary performance as a frigid woman and compulsive thief whose repressed memories continually haunted her life. When she tries to rob Sean Connery he proves to be too clever for her, but rather than having her arrested, he marries her. In his obsessive quest to understand her psychosis, they wind up in her mother’s home where the true mystery of her life is finally and surprisingly revealed. This movie was highly underrated when it was released, but it is now considered to be one of Hitchcock’s true classics.

8. Becket (d. Peter Glenville)Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton, two of the most highly-regarded actors of their time, were teamed up for this adaptation of Jean Anouilh’s Tony Award-winning play. Their performances, as well as John Gielgud’s were all Oscar nominated. The story of the great early friendship and later animosity between King Henry II and Thomas Becket went from humor to tragedy through the course of their lives. O’Toole’s portrayal of the king was a great testament to his abilities. His charisma as an actor knows no bounds. The screenplay was incredibly well-written and won a much deserved Oscar.

7. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (d. Jacques Demy)

Jacques Demy created a musical unlike any other. Most musicals have a few songs that cut in between the dialogue. However, in this film, every word of every conversation, no matter how mundane, is sung, and sung beautifully. The score, the cinematography, the costumes and set design, and the performances are all impeccable. The story can be very sad in places, but overall it is a truly beautiful film. It was deeply moving emotionally and visually resplendent. I’ve seen very few films in my life with such intensity of color. I highly recommend this one if you haven’t seen it. I was playing those songs over and over in my head for days after seeing it.

6. Seven Days in May (d. John Frankenheimer)Seven Days in May is another of the many great political thrillers made in 1964. Rod Serling’s excellent screenplay tells the story of an attempted coup d’etat by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to remove the President. Fredric March’s Pres. Lyman is preparing to sign a disarmament treaty with the Soviets. This idea greatly disturbs the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Burt Lancaster’s Air Force General James Matoon Scott. Kirk Douglas, playing Lancaster’s chief aide, discovers the conspiracy and, despite the fact that he disagrees with Lyman’s plan, goes to the President to help him. This movie was far better than I expected it to be and I suggest that you see it, if you haven’t already. It’s worth it just for the final confrontation between March and Lancaster. That scene was just brilliant.

5. A Fistful of Dollars (d. Sergio Leone)

Sergio Leone’s westernized version of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo was the first of many “spaghetti westerns” to hit American shores in the 1960s. It was the first part of an incredible trilogy that made a huge star of Clint Eastwood. Eastwood’s character rides into a small Mexican town where two families are at war with each other over the control of the territory. Eastwood decides this is a good opportunity for profit and manipulates both sides to his advantage. Clint’s coolness factor was completely off the charts at this point in his career and Sergio Leone was also on the way to becoming legendary. I also have to mention the indelible score by Ennio Morricone.

4. A Shot in the Dark (d. Blake Edwards)

I gotta tell you, I really didn’t care much for the first Pink Panther film. It was in the second film of the series, A Shot in the Dark, where Peter Sellers really developed the character of Jacques Clouseau. A series of murders occur involving the very wealthy Ballon family and all evidence points to the maid, Maria Gambrelli, played by the gorgeous Elke Sommer. Clouseau is smitten with her and refuses to accept that she had anything to do with it. Good luck for him that despite his incompetence, he turns out to be right. He also has almost supernatural luck as every attempt to kill him fails through pure chance. This drives his boss, brilliantly played by Herbert Lom, quite insane. This film is filled to bursting with classic scenes and is one of the greatest comedies ever produced.

3. Goldfinger (d. Guy Hamilton)

Goldfinger may be the best James Bond film. This is strange, because the plot is really quite silly. Auric Goldfinger wants to detonate a dirty bomb inside the vaults at Fort Knox. This would irradiate the American gold supply and render it useless, thereby greatly increasing the value of his own gold holdings and throwing America’s economy into chaos. Yeah, that’s ridiculous. The good thing is that Bond movies aren’t about plot; they are about action, gimmicky devices, outrageous villains, hot chicks, and the coolness of Bond. This film has all of those elements in spades. Sean Connery is as cool as he’s ever been. Goldfinger and Oddjob make great villains. Pussy Galore is a great Bond girl. This is the quintessential James Bond film.

2. A Hard Day’s Night (d. Richard Lester)

You gotta love The Beatles. They were just so witty and endearing. This film is filled with great dialogue and the Fab Four just running around, being themselves, and having a real good time. The soundtrack is one of the best ever. Well, of course it is, it’s filled with Beatles songs. Wilfrid Brambell, who played Paul’s “very clean” grandfather, deserves special mention. He was a very appealing character and came within a hair’s breadth of being added to my list of nominees for Best Supporting Actor. This is one of those great films that make you giddily happy from beginning to end. There really aren’t enough of those.

1. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (d. Stanley Kubrick)

If you look up the term “black comedy”, you should find a picture from this movie. It is the very definition of the term. Stanley Kubrick, as he moved from genre to genre over the course of his career, tended to take these genre films and make them classics that towered over every other available example. This story seemed to find every ridiculous aspect of our Cold War ideology and shine a bright light upon it. The movie just oozes brilliance from every frame. I have no problem declaring this the best movie of 1964 and the film that should have won the Oscar for Best Picture.

Other Films released in 1964

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster

A great Japanese monster movie featuring the likes of Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan.

The Incredible Mr. Limpet

Don Knotts turns into a fish and helps win World War II.

Mothra vs. Godzilla

More Japanese monstery goodness!

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

One of the worst movies ever made, but so campy it has to be seen to be believed. Pia Zadora was one of the child actors.

Two Thousand Maniacs!A gore classic from Herschell Gordon Lewis.

Viva Las Vegas

Elvis in Vegas with Ann-Margret!


Michael Caine’s first movie. A great adventure film about the British defense of a small fort against countless waves of Zulu warriors.

Comments and opinions are encouraged and appreciated.