best film:  La Dolce Vita from Fellini. La Dolce Vita is Fellini’s sprawling tour of the seven deadly sins (and sacraments and creation days) through Marcello Mastroianni and modern Rome. And in Rome—Fellini crafts some of the best set pieces cinema has ever produced.

even at 174-minutes- Fellini’s epic has no shortage of museum-quality single frames

Fellini cements himself as one of the best directors on the planet in 1960

Anita Ekberg in the fountain — one of the many memorable scenes and set pieces

most underrated:   The Bad Sleep Well from Kurosawa is the most underrated film of 1960. The TSPDT consensus film has it all the way down at #1356. I’m not sure how I will be able to keep it out of my top 100.

Kurosawa’s loose take on Hamlet (about corporate corruption in contemporary Japan) is simply one of the great master’s finest works. The first 20 minutes- the wedding reception- gives the opening reception in The Godfather a run for its money and may be the greatest 20-minute stretch in any Kurosawa film

  • The story certainly is Kurosawa’s worldview- even the title- a dog-eat-dog nihilistic world. Cynical.  The remarkable mise-en-scene frame set-ups fly at you almost too fast to take note of them all in the first 20 minutes- there’s symmetry in the wedding reception line. At 7 minutes you get a great shot of three rows of depths of field: the first row is the reporters in the foreground facing back, the second row is the two detectives, and the background you have the two men from the corporation implicated in the crimes. At 8 minutes you get a row of people at long dining table eating at an angle with the host or emcee of the reception in the foreground in profile- stunning deep focus

Not to get too Tarantino “I think this might just be my masterpiece” on us here but at the end of the wedding scene two reporters say “this is the best one act I’ve ever seen” and the other goes “no, it’s just a prelude”- as four reporters staggered throughout the frame at different depths so brilliantly

  • Near constant deep focus triangulation in the frame with faces and bodies—heads blocking corners of the frame, creating a frame within a frame, obstruction and design

Again there are 40-50 of these deep focus, wide angle spectacular shots– but at 90 minutes we get one of the best in the film- Mifune in the foreground in profile and two men, at each side of him, in the background. Kurosawa knew he had something here and holds this one for four minutes- I wish it were longer- haha- a standout

  • This is an expansive  saga—151 minutes, a massive cast/ensemble, suicide, scandal—tale of revenge. It is a powerful story.

At 111 minutes at the munition factory—like Rossellini’s use of rubble in Germany Year Zero—strong work—and then to top it off Mifune has two men at the side in the foreground and Mifune climbs up a little manmade landfill in the deep background—marvelous

 

most overrated:  The Apartment from Billy Wilder. I hate to call any film that is a Must-See “overrated” (I hold that rating and all the films given that rating in a very high regard) but the TSPDT consensus has it at #56 all-time—and like Some Like It Hot the year before, I’d be hard-pressed to put The Apartment at #56 for the decade list (1960’s in this case) here.

gems I want to spotlight:   1960 is too loaded to pick just one. I want to mention exemplary Hollywood filmmaking in John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven with a great Elmer Bernstein score, Steve McQueen becoming a superstar before your eyes and an all-around excellent entry-point into the western genre (and an ensemble cast that includes Brynner, Eli Wallach, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn). I’d love to also mention Mario Bava’s Black Sundaya jaw-dropping standout in any other year.  Ultimately, if forced to single out one “gem”-  I’d have to pick Bergman’s The Virgin Spring. It’s a severe film-even for Bergman- but I think one of his strongest on a purely visual level. Clearly it influenced many films and filmmakers including Wes Craven’s pure horror read of the film in The Last House on the Left. It’s poetic and devastating, along with being the first Bergman film to be shot entirely by Sven Nykvist. 

the influence of 1950’s Kurosawa doesn’t just pertain to Leone and Lucas— this here from John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven

in any other year Mario Bava’s Black Sunday would be a among the year’s elite films

austere beauty in Bergman’s The Virgin Spring

another immaculate composition from the Swedish auteur

trends and notables:

  • It is cinema’s single finest year. When I update my top 100/500/1000 there will be at least five films from 1960 in the top 100 (the most of any year) and as many as seven (probably more realistic than five). It is the single greatest top 10 of the year list and I believe the best top 15 of the year (we have films like Peeping Tom, Purple Noon, Two Women that have Must-See grades (which usually means top 5-ish) that can’t land in the top 10 of 1960).

from Wilder’s The Apartment– the set decoration/design by Alexander Traune. Traune’s massive room (shot in widescreen b/w) recalls King Vidor’s 1928 The Crowd– making a statement with its sheer size. Lemmon’s C.C. Baster works at desk 861 on the 19th floor

  • It is full swing French New Wave (masterpieces- top 100 films– from the two godfathers, Godard and Truffaut). Godard’s film is a landmark in jump-cut editing and editing as a technique in general—absolutely jarring and brilliant. I’m surprised Shoot the Piano Player doesn’t have a stronger reputation than it does- Truffaut is brimming with confidence coming off of The 400 Blows and his sophomore effort here is a big bold stylistic exercise.

Seberg and Belmondo in Breathless– Godard’s debut.- a revelation that trails only Citizen Kane on my all-time list of the best debut films

perhaps the strongest stand-alone shot from Truffaut’s 1960 masterpiece– his second year in a row with one…

…Truffaut is brimming with confidence coming off of The 400 Blows and his sophomore effort here is a big bold stylistic exercise.

  • You’d think that it would be impossible to top the French this year, but if forced to choose- I think I’d rather have the films from Italy in 1960 —towering masterpieces from Fellini, Antonioni (1960 is the beginning of his Trilogy of Decadence), and Visconti— and De Sica a few paces behind

Andrew Sarris- “every shot is the result of calculation of the highest order” — the vertical lines breaking up the frames in the park bench perfect final shot

L’Avventura from Antonioini– the first leg of the unofficial trilogy of decadence- La Notte the following year and L’Eclisse in 62’

Visconti uses character blocking and depth of field to design the frame like Welles or Kurosawa

Rocco and His Brothers is a story of industrialization and migration—this is a spiritual sequel to Visconti’s 1948 closest-he-ever-came-to-Neorealism film La Terra Trema– this family could be from that village. It has been compared to Grapes of Wrath and I see that as well. Nino Rota did the score—harrowing—it is just one of the many parallels with The Godfather (the story of a single Italian family and brothers, the rise and fall, the leader of the brothers (Alain Delon’s Rocco here) doing a stint in the army. This is clearly an important text to Coppola and Coppola shares Visconti’s almost operatic style and influence of Greek tragedy

  • It’s just peak European art-house cinema – films with open endings, complex characters, stylistic ambition
  • The debut of Godard with Breathless. He is a revelation that trails only Citizen Kane on my all-time list of the best debut films
  • Mario Bava’s first archiveable film (Black Sunday)—a sort of debut- as his 1950’s work was uncredited

another from Bava’s Black Sunday— obstruction of the mise-en-scene

  • Roger Corman is more of an influencer, producer, and outlier/anti-Hollywood figure in cinema history than a director but we have his first archiveable film here as a director with House of Usher
  • With Godard’s first, it’s also his star’s Jean-Paul Belmondo’s first archiveable film (Belmondo has three archiveable films in 1960 including Two Women)
  • French actor Alain Delon explodes on the scene in 1960 with both Rocco and His Brothers and Purple Noon. Two strong performances in top 500 films- it’s arguably a greater achievement than even Belmondo’s

Delon in Purple Noon– he’s sublime as Tom Ripley

  • Albert Finney has his first two archiveable performances in 1960—both in the British New Wave, kitchen sink “angry young man” movement. The Entertainer is a small role for him, but his work in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is a staggering work and it kills me not to include in my top male performances below—but again—this year is loaded.

Finney has his first two archiveable performances in 1960—both in the British New Wave, kitchen sink “angry young man” movement– here in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

  • Michael Powell steps out on his own, away from the Pressburger collaborative effort- with Peeping Tom. It’s smashing artistic success but such a disaster on the commercial side (perhaps Pressburger, more the producer, could have helped) that it essentially kills Powell’s career.

Powell’s Peeping Tom is an feat of dark lighting- years before Gordon Willis– a great lighting flourish here

even with the abundance of riches in 1960- Powell’s shot here is among my favorite single frames– a cinematic painting indeed

  • It is worth noting just how dark many of these films are in 1960—and I’m not talking about the visual color, shadowy or even the playful fatalism in the French masterpieces—but films featuring suffering and even rape like Virgin Spring, Rocco and Two Women
  • I mention both above in expanded sections but Kurosawa perfecting the widescreen/Tohoscope view and depth of film accomplishment is worth noting as a stylistic milestone
  • I should do a better job tracking and noting the career of DP’s but I’ll start here with Sven Nykvist working with Bergman on The Virgin Spring
  • It doesn’t quite the resonance of Delon, Belmondo, and Finney—but 1960 marks the first archivelable film for Bruce Dern (Wild River– yes another debut with Kazan). This is the start of an impressive 60-year career for dern

best performance male:   It is a glorious year for screen acting on both sides here. I’m singling out nine performers—which honestly feels light for a year where you could proudly split the top 20 in half and make it two years and have two really strong years. Jean-Paul Belmondo’s performance in Breathless is transcendent- I can picture the film without Jean Seberg (no offense to her)- but not without Belmondo. Marcello Mastroianni is every bit Belmondo’s equal in La Dolce Vita. I actually think Alain Delon is the third actor that would have a rightful claim to the top slot. Delon isn’t here because of the combined efforts of Rocco and His Brothers and Purple Noon– he’d be here for either. Behind those top three are Anthony Perkins in Psycho, Charles Aznavour in Shoot the Piano Player and Jack Lemmon in The Apartment. It may not be their best work- but that’s a compliment to their best work and not an indicator of whether Mifune or von Sydow deserve mention for 1960 in The Bad Sleep Well and The Virgin Spring respectively. The last mention goes to Laurence Olivier for the combined effort of Spartacus and The Entertainer. These are two top 10 of the year-level films and Olivier excels in both. He plays an absolute bastard in The Entertainer– showing off Olivier’s range- and he gives the single best performance in Kubrick’s film- a film loaded with some of the era’s finest actors.

as if there wasn’t enough going on in 1960 with the French New Wave and the Italians– the great Hitchcock delivers on Psycho

best performance female: You could go in a few directions here and not have the wrong answer. Annie Girardot’s work in Rocco and His Brothers would be a fine choice. Girardot’s Nadia character a tragic Greek character if I ever saw one on screen- and a breathtaking performance from Girardot – along with Delon- the finest in the film. Monica Vitti starts her unparalleled four-year run as Antonioni’s muse as Claudia in L’AvventuraThe Academy Awards aren’t always right (sometimes it seems like they rarely are)—but eventually (I think like 2-3 years later) when they screened De Sica’s film they awarded the best actress award to Sophia Loren and that would be a fine choice for best female performance of the year as well. Shirley MacLaine would be second to none in 1960 as well for her work in Wilder’s The Apartment. Jean Seberg isn’t as vital to Breathless as Belmondo but that is more a compliment to Belmondo than an insult to her- she’s very good in Godard’s masterpiece. Tatyana Samoylova teams up again with Kalatozov in Letter Never Sent and like 1957’s The Cranes Are Flying, she ends up with a mention in this category. Screen time is not always everything- Janet Leigh is mesmerizing in Hitchcock’s Psycho– even if she disappears half-way through the film.

Annie Girardot in Rocco and His Brothers– the very strong cathedral set-piece sequence– rooftop of Milan’s Duomo—Visconti creating an angle with the camera to focus on foreground and background depth of field- magnificent– sort of a cousin to the shot of Mifune near the end of Throne of Blood

Sophia Loren in Two Women— the last great film from De Sica

Tatyana Samoylova teams up again with Kalatozov in Letter Never Sent and like 1957’s The Cranes Are Flying, she ends up with a mention in this category

 

top 10

  1. La Dolce Vita
  2. Breathless
  3. Psycho
  4. The Bad Sleep Well
  5. Shoot the Piano Player
  6. L’Avventura
  7. Rocco and His Brothers
  8. The Virgin Spring
  9. Letter Never Sent
  10. The Apartment

Kalatozov — one of the most creative visual directors of this or any era

Hitchcock’s voyeurism

a massive hit for Hitchcock — yet the film has some of his most avant-garde scenes and sequences

just one of the handsome matte paintings in Kubrick’s Spartacus

Kubrick’s epic is the single biggest box office hit in 1960– and you could’ve told me this is from Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia – a massive compliment- which would follow a few years later

 

Archives, Directors, and Grades

Black Sunday- Bava HR
Breathless- Godard MP
Butterfield 8- Daniel Mann R
Classe Tous Risques – Sautet
Comanche Station- Boetticher R
Elmer Gantry- R. Brooks R
Escape By Night- Rossellini R
Exodus- Preminger R
Eyes Without a Face- Franju HR
House of Usher- Corman R
Inherit the Wind- Kramer R
La Dolce Vita- Fellini MP
La Joven- Bunuel
Late Autumn – Ozu HR
L’Avventura – Antonioni MP
Letter Never Sent – Kalatozov MS
Never on Sunday- Dassin R
North to Alaska- Hathaway R
Ocean’s 11 – Milestone R
Peeping Tom- Powell MS
Psycho- Hitchcock MP
Purple Noon- Clement MS
Rocco and His Brothers – Visconti MP
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning- Reisz HR
Sergeant Rutledge – Ford R
Shoot the Piano Player- Truffaut MP
Spartacus- Kubrick HR
Swiss Family Robinson – Annakin R
The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse – Lang
The Alamo- Wayne R
The Apartment – Wilder MS
The Bad Sleep Well – Kurosawa MP
The Entertainer – Richardson HR
The Facts of Life- M. Frank R
The Fugitive Kind- Lumet R
The League of Gentlemen – Dearden R
The Magnificent Seven – J. Sturges HR
The Sundowners- Zinnemann R
The Testament of Orpheus- Cocteau R
The Time Machine- Pal R
The Virgin Spring- Bergman MS
Tunes of Glory – Neame R
Two Women- De Sica MS
Village of the Damned- Rilla R
Wild River – Kazan R
Zazie dans Le Métro- Malle R

 

 

*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 top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives