Saturday, June 30, 2007

Top 10 Movies of 1967

1. Point Blank - Instead of a muscle-flexing line-growling action hero, Lee Marvin's revenge obsessed thug is more menacing for his economy of movement and relative silence. And director John Boorman gives this ultra-cool (and ultra-violent) vengeance film a non-linear new wave treatment that leaves enough ambiguity to invite an intriguing supernatural interpretation.

2. Le Samourai - Jean-Pierre Melville's film introduces a meticulous hit man, played by Alain Delon, who unexpectedly invokes our sympathy as an extremely competent professional whose attention to detail is so impressive we almost forget how unsavory those details are. Our respect is validated when his basic decency is revealed in the film's unforgettable ending. Also, check out Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai; a film that seems to be directly influenced by this one.

3. Cool Hand Luke - A fiercely independent prisoner bucks authority everywhere he encounters it (appropriately, he is incarcerated for vandalizing parking meters), first he challenges his alpha-male prison mate, then the prison bosses, and ultimately, God himself. Each defiant action, both successful and failed (mostly failed), earn him the admiration and loyalty of his fellow prisoners. Biblical allusions that liken him to both Moses and Jesus suggest a sort of anarchist Messiah, or a Christ-as-Libertarian parable.

4. Reflections In A Golden Eye - A year after Liz Taylor played the bratty, defiantly trampy wife in the overwrought Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, she played a similar role in John Huston's depiction of repressed sexuality and dysfunctional marriage. The ensemble of quirky characters (the tramp, the closet case, the nut case, the voyeur, and the eunuch) keeps the story so lurid that the promise of murder in the opening scene is quickly forgotten (one of several similarities between this film and American Beauty).

5. In Cold Blood - A near-documentary recreation of a well-documented murder of an entire family. It's disturbingly immersive; enough to make me question the ethics of watching it. Is it really appropriate for this very real atrocity be offered up as entertainment? Is it insensitive to the friends and family of the victims for us to be rehashing every sensational gory aspect of the crime? Maybe so, maybe not, but no other film has ever brought me to this place, albeit a chilly and unpleasant place.

6. The Young Girls of Rochefort - Jacques Demy's unapologetically romantic old-school musical is a love letter to the very same cheery, brightly-colored Hollywood tradition that his contemporaries in the French New Wave (including his wife Agnes Varda) react against. Ballet influenced choreography and light jazz give the standard formula a classy and unmistakably French flair - sort of like what Cirque du Soleil does for Vegas glitz.

7. Play Time - Few filmmakers have a cinematic voice as unique and distinctive as Jacques Tati's. It's physical comedy that unfolds at a deliberate and rhythmic pace with little or no dialogue. The gags are often subtle, or develop slowly over time. Play Time is set in a modern Paris, and Tati's protagonist, Mr. Hulot, is a throwback to a simpler era who is baffled by the alien world he finds himself wandering through. It makes a good companion to Chaplin's Modern Times.

8. Two For The Road - As The Graduate and Bonnie And Clyde ushered in a new generation of movie-making, Stanley Donen's innovative romantic comedy proved that the old guard wasn't entirely irrelevant yet. It features standard classic movie elements: it's shot on exotic European locales with glamorous A-List movie stars, the banter is quick and witty, and Audrey Hepburn's designer fashions are always crisp even while road tripping across Europe. Despite its breeziness, it has some insightful things to say about the way real life married couples interact, and it demonstrates this brilliantly through clever non-chronological editing.

9. The Graduate - This influential coming-of-age story is somehow dated and timeless at the same time. The conventional wisdom of the time was that this film heralded a new generation's rejection of their parent's out-dated values and hypocrisies. 40 years later, this same generation is working in plastics, and driving their SUVs to their homes in the suburbs. But this doesn't invalidate the movie; it just proves that the alienation and insecurities of youth are not unique to Boomers.

10. How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying - A fun and surprisingly cynical take on corporate culture. Set on the same campy sixties planet that Austin Powers came from, and featuring some typically jazzy choreography by Bob Fosse, and a pitch-perfect comic performance by Robert Morse as the naive-yet-scheming J. Pierpont Finch (that's F-I-N-C-H).