Monday, September 14, 2009

The Top Ten Movies of 1966

This is my list of the ten best films of 1966. The top five represent the five films that I would have nominated for best picture.

10. Georgy Girl

Georgy didn’t think very highly of herself. The daughter of the domestic servants of wealthy Mr. Leamington, she found herself to be too plump and too plain. However, she was filled with life and love and when she found the confidence to let herself go, her beauty and talent shined through. This story of an innocent girl seeking love and happiness in 60s London was very touching. Lynn Redgrave gives us a character worth rooting for in her first starring role. The supporting cast also gives memorable performances including; James Mason’s reserved Mr. Leamington, Charlotte Rampling’s narcissistic and cruel Meredith, Alan Bates’ eccentric Cockney Jos, and Bill Owen as Georgy’s discouraging father. Silvio Narizzano, the director, skillfully brought out the feel of the city during this vibrant era. The film is inspiring and enjoyable throughout with an ending that will have you smiling all day.  

9. The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming

Norman Jewison directed a wonderful comedy about a very dangerous situation. A Russian submarine commander patrolling near the U.S. border decides that he wants to take a closer look at the coast of America and gets himself stuck in a sandbar near a small New England island town. He sends Lt. Rozanov (Alan Arkin) and a small party to the island in search of a boat that can drag the sub off the sandbar. When rumors of a Russian invasion spread amongst the townsfolk, hysteria ensues. Carl Reiner and Alan Arkin are exceptional in their leading roles and there are great performances from Brian Keith and Jonathan Winters as the local police. It was one of the top comedies of the year and it carried a powerful message about the need for us all to be a little less paranoid and a little more understanding.

8. Hawaii

George Roy Hill’s vision of James Michener’s novel was epic, a grand tale of a young Calvinist minister who takes a wife and goes off to the Hawaiian Islands to convert the natives in 1820. Hawaiian history from 1820 to 1841 is covered and I don’t know how accurate it was but it was certainly convincing. Max Von Sydow was memorable as a very stiff and strict man who is upset when the natives don’t immediately convert to his ways. Julie Andrews was wonderful as his wife. Jocelyne LaGarde was a revelation as the Queen in her only acting role. Manu Tupou was also a strong presence as the converted native returning home after living amongst the whites. A sweeping epic full of moments both comic and tragic; if you haven’t seen it, you should. It was the highest grossing film of the year for good reason.

7. Closely Watched Trains

Closely Watched Trains is one of those beautiful little foreign films full of quirky and lovable characters. It is set during the German occupation of Czechoslovakia near the end of World War II, but it isn’t about the war. It is about a young man working at a small train station who desperately wants to lose his virginity. A bad experience inspires a botched suicide attempt. Our young hero enlists the help of the train dispatcher, a notorious ladies man. He has a great many failures on the road to his goal, but things finally resolve themselves in unexpected fashion. The film was beautifully shot and so enjoyable that I wish it were longer. It won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film at the following year’s Oscar ceremony. I really wish this hidden gem of a film were better known today. 

6. The Fortune Cookie

This was the best American comedy of the year. Billy Wilder, one of the all-time great directors, teamed up Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau for the first time. They both gave Oscar-worthy performances. Lemmon plays a TV cameraman who suffers minor injuries from a sideline tackle while filming a Cleveland Browns game. Matthau is his brother-in-law, a lawyer who convinces Lemmon to fake more serious injuries so they can both benefit from a big lawsuit. Matthau is hilarious and won a well-deserved Oscar. Lemmon also gave a tremendous performance as his guilt started to catch up with him, especially when he discovers that the guy who hit him is an incredibly nice guy eaten up with his own guilty feelings who does everything he can to make sure that Lemmon is comfortable.

The actual nominees for Best Picture were…


The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming

The Sand Pebbles

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

The winner was…

A Man for All Seasons

My nominees for Best Picture are…

5. The Battle of Algiers

“The Battle of Algiers” covers the period from 1954 through 1960 in the city of Algiers during the Algerian War of Independence. It was a brilliantly produced film that is very relevant in today’s world. One of the great things about the film was the neutrality of the story. They show the atrocities that were committed by both the French military and the French colonizers as well as those committed by the Algerian FLN. The film also shows how overwhelming force and the use of torture may win short-term goals, but only serves to harden the opposition. In winning Algiers, the French lost Algeria. Pontecorvo’s direction was masterful. Only one cast member was a professional actor, all other cast members were regular Algerians. The power of the crowd scenes in particular was very impressive, especially when you consider that the events being portrayed had happened on those very streets not more than ten years earlier and many of the people in the crowd being filmed were probably also in the crowd being portrayed. This moving and still pertinent movie should have been a contender for Best Picture.

4. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

This was a groundbreaking film with amazing performances. There were only four characters and each actor was awarded with an Oscar nomination (two were winners). Burton and Taylor’s verbal sparring was riveting and Segal and Dennis were also very impressive as the young couple along for George & Martha’s wild ride. As Hollywood was finally moving into its maturity and abandoning the restrictive Hays code for Jack Valenti’s new ratings system, this film was one of the first to present mature themes with realistic language. The producers were opposed to changing even a word of Edward Albee’s Tony winning play. Mike Nichols, in his directing debut, displayed tremendous aptitude in adapting the play to film. This was a well-deserved nomination for Best Picture.

3. King of Hearts

The madness of war has rarely been more convincingly illustrated than it was in this film. Alan Bates gives a fine performance as a WWI-era Scottish soldier sent into a small French town to defuse a bomb that was set by the retreating German forces. When leaving a small asylum where he was hiding from enemy soldiers, he leaves the gate open. The “lunatics” walk out and begin to populate the town, taking over the storefronts and costuming themselves as the people of the city. As our protagonist searches for the hidden explosive, he must also deal with these townspeople who have proclaimed him to be the new king. When more soldiers reach the town and sad reality hits the idyllic community, it begs the question, “Who are the real lunatics?” This funny and moving classic deserved the recognition of an Oscar nomination.

2. The Sand Pebbles

“The Sand Pebbles” takes us to 1920’s China on the USS San Pablo, a US Navy gunboat patrolling the Yangtze River. It’s the story of a machinist’s mate named Jake Holman, who was portrayed brilliantly by Steve McQueen in, arguably, the finest performance of his career. The film is incredibly deep with several memorable characters played by Mako, Richard Attenborough, Candice Bergen, and Richard Crenna. Robert Wise, the veteran director, did a masterful job of intertwining Holman’s story, a couple of interesting subplots, and the larger conflict that was happening in Chinese society at the time. Filled with action, romance, and intrigue, this film thoroughly deserved the nomination it received and was, in my opinion, the best of the nominated films. It would have been my choice for Best Picture, if not for one overlooked masterpiece.

and the winner is…

1. The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

My choice for the Best Picture of 1966 is “The Good, the Bad & the Ugly”. In fact, I’ll go even further. I consider this film to be the best ever made in the Western genre. Sergio Leone basically invented the “spaghetti western” and reinvigorated the genre with his earlier classics; “A Fistful of Dollars” and “For a Few Dollars More”. The final film in this trilogy would prove to be the best of them. With iconic performances from Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach in the title roles, he couldn’t go wrong. The story of three men on a search for buried Confederate gold who eventually wind up in a Mexican stand-off at the climax is captivating from beginning to end. There are more great scenes and memorable lines than I can recap in this space, so let me just say this. If you haven’t seen it, see it. If you have seen it, you know exactly what I’m talking about. This was the best movie of 1966.


Uncle Scoopy said...

Nice job, Leo, as usual.

Mike said...

Very nicely done, Leo. I look forward to future updates.

Anonymous said...

Awesome coverage of the entire year. I can't wait for '67