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.
most underrated: The Bad Sleep Well from Kurosawa is the most underrated film of 1960. The TSPDT consensus list 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.
- 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
- 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
- This is an expansive saga—151 minutes, a massive cast/ensemble, suicide, scandal—tale of revenge. It is a powerful story.
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 Sunday– a 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.
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).
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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’Avventura. The 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.
- La Dolce Vita
- The Bad Sleep Well
- Shoot the Piano Player
- Rocco and His Brothers
- The Virgin Spring
- Letter Never Sent
- The Apartment
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|Black Sunday- Bava||HR|
|Butterfield 8- Daniel Mann||R|
|Classe Tous Risques – Sautet|
|Comanche Station- Boetticher||R|
|Elmer Gantry- R. Brooks||R|
|Escape By Night- Rossellini||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|
|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|
|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