best film: the wild bunch stands above the other films in 1969. The narrative alone is enough to make it a top 5 of the year film but the aesthetic choices Peckinpah makes, particularly in the editing and the use of slow-motion and action is the transcendent element that make this a top 50 of all-time film. The wide angle lense shot (borrowed, I suspect from the graduate) of the four men talking to their gunfight and certain death is another transcendent cinematic moment/scene. Peckinpah is clearly influenced by Kurosawa with the nihilism and slow-motion action. The Wild Bunch is deserving of its spot in the cannon and its statement on Vietnam, and the meditation on violence, is really unparalleled.
most underrated: Somehow a gentle woman cannot find a spot in the TSPDT top 1000. I know—it’s an UNDERRATED bresson film. Haha. Bresson’s storytelling here is hauntingly forthright and direct- and, like many of the great masters, is first foray into color is well worth the wait. Bresson found a perfect marriage here in a Dostoevsky short story- his deliberate storytelling is tailor-made for the novella.
most overrated: I love Ken Loach’s kes but can’t get behind the consensus here who have it at #195 (and the 2nd best film of the year). It’s influenced by the 400 blows and I do, absolutely, admire the social realism- I just can’t put it quite this high.
gem I want to spotlight: They don’t make up the best film of the year but before I even think about the wild bunch when I think about 1969 I think about the trio of buddy movies: butch cassidy and the sundance kid, easy rider, and midnight cowboy. All three are brilliantly acted, with terrific narratives, but also have stylistic flourishes that make them essential films if not flat out masterpieces (with butch cassidy we have the iconic freeze-frame ending and with the other two the drug trip montages are an absolute triumph of editing).
trends and notables: 1969 is when the rating system changed. Don’t get caught up in midnight cowboy being rated “X” and winning best picture- the rating system has changed since then and “X” is really “R” but this is the first year when we could have gratuitous violence, nudity, drug use to this effect, realism and rawness in subject matter we hadn’t seen since the hays code was institute din the 30’s (and even then it wasn’t like this).. Fellini dives head first with Satyricon, maude and kes capture a realism unattainable prior to 1969 and even something like bob and carol and ted and alice covers wife/partner swapping. We’re starting to see the counter-culture (in larger numbers—I mean yes we saw blow up in 1966 but we have the hippie culture here in easy rider and alice’s restaurant). We have many firsts in 1969. We have the first archiveable film from Woody Allen with take the money and run. Bob Fosse transitions from choreographer to director (and burgeoning auteur) with sweet charity. As I mentioned above 1969 would give us the first archiveable film from Ken Loach with kes. He actually came from a background directing television (which we’d see a lot of in the 60’s). Sidney Pollock was never a great actor (great work in tootsie and eyes wide shut withstanding) but he would become a great director and 1969 was his first archiveable work with they shoot horses, don’t they. Elliot Gould would give us his first archiveable film in bob and carol and ted and alice. It wasn’t a first or a debut for Robert Redford but with both downhill racer and butch Cassidy he’d be on an absolute roll to close out the decade. Truffaut would also “bounce back” from a box office disappointment with his English language debut Fahrenheit 451 in 1967 to give us two archiveable films in 1968 and one here in 1969 with mississippi mermaid. Charbol is killing it in 1969—he’d not only give us this man must die but he’s on a 4 year stretch from 1968-1971 in which he’d give us one archiveable film a year. It’s a remarkable year for Trintignant with two archiveable films including maude and Z. Also, and this isn’t a footnote, I have to acknowledge the work of Strother Martin. Martin is a great character actor who stole scenes in everything from liberty valance to cool hand luke but 1969 would be his banner year appearing in 3 top 10 of the year worthy films (butch cassidy, the wild bunch, and true grit. He’s a worthy honorable mention for a top performance in butch cassidy.
best performance male: John Wayne won the oscar in 1969 for true grit but with all due respect to the duke there were 6 superior male performances from the year. I think Holden’s work in the wild bunch dwarves the work of wayne and I have holden in a virtual tie with dustin hoffman for performance of the year. Hoffman’s cdisappearing act into his character, thru method (his famously improved “I’m walking here” scene) is such a counter-point to Wayne’s screen presence performance and star persona. Right behind Holden and Hoffman is Jon Voight, essentially a newcomer (one archiveable film in 1967) who is magnificent as joe buck. It’s a career-defining role/performance. Paul Newman exudes charisma and affability in butch cassidy and the sundance kid and Trintignant is superb in a mostly interior, restrained performance my night at maude’s. Lastly, though he isn’t lead, Jack Nicholson becomes Jack Nicholson and walks away with the performance of the film in easy rider (easy rider is 1/3 soundtrack/travelogue, 1/3 trippy editing montage finale, and 1/3 nicholson). It’s the beginning of an amazing run for Jack.
best performance female: With the wild bunch, kes, army of shadows and 3 male buddy movies, the year is clearly dominated by men. There are, however, some great performances from women in 1969. Jane Fonda continues her streak of great performances and although I hate reaching outside of my top 10 films for a mention, I do have to give her work in they don’t shoot horses don’t they? the nod as the best female performance of the year. Katharine Ross surfaces for the second time in three years with her work with redford and newman in butch cassidy. Deneuve continues her utter dominance of the decade with her work in Mississippi mermaid. This is the 4th time I’ve mentioned her as one of the best performers of the year since 1964. Liv Ullman’s volcanic monologue in the passion of anna is more than enough for her to find a spot here and my last two mentions go to Simone Signoret as Matilde in army of shadows and Françoise Fabian as the title character in my night at maude’s.
- The Wild Bunch
- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
- Midnight Cowboy
- Army of Shadows
- Easy Rider
- My Night and Maude’s
- Fellini’s Satyricon
- A Gentle Woman
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|A Gentle Woman- Bresson||HR|
|A Touch of Zen||R|
|Alice’s Restaurant- Penn||R|
|Anne of A Thousand Days||R|
|Army of Shadows- Melville||MS|
|Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice- Mazursky||R|
|Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid||MP|
|Fellini’s Satyricon- Fellini||HR|
|Midnight Cowboy- Schlesinger||MP|
|Mississippi Mermaid- Truffaut||R|
|My Night and Maude’s- Rohmer||MS|
|On Her Majesty’s Secret Service||R|
|Sweet Charity- Fosse||R|
|Take the Money and Run- Allen||R|
|The Damned- Visconti|
|The Passion of Anna- Bergman||R|
|The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie||R|
|The Wild Bunch- Peckinpah||MP|
|They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?- Pollock||R|
|This Man Must Die- Charbol|
|True Grit- Hathaway||HR|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the