best film:  2001: A Space Odyssey from Stanley Kubrick.

  • A supreme visual and aural achievement—when combined with the utmost formal exactitude— it leaves us with one of the best three films of all-time
  • If you still need more evidence of Kubrick’s genius— how about his post-production decisions on the soundtrack and casting for HAL. He changed it from a more Spartacus– like- adventure-like Alex North score to Strauss—brilliant. (North is great by the way- he did Spartacus as I mentioned- but also A Streetcar Named Desire, Cleopatra, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?—it just doesn’t fit here)– Kubrick had Martin Balsam doing the voice of HAL and replaced him with the incalculably valuable Douglas Rain.

The film is one of the greatest examples of formal perfection. Kubrick was fanatical. Things line up correctly in the opening (even before the “Dawn of Man” sequence)- the earth, moon, and sun—later the monolith joins. Theme and variation as this alignment is repeated.

  • Another key aspect of the formal elements is the reoccurring shot of the red light for HAL—it’s mind-blowing that Kubrick was able to craft such a great character here out of a voice and red light
  • The dismantling of HAL- the reds and blacks- make up one of the 10 most beautiful sequences in cinema history. In fact, when talking about the most beautiful film ever made—many of them feature nature and exterior photography (whether it’s Lawrence of Arabia or the works of Malick)- 2001 is a candidate, perhaps the leading one, for the “most beautiful” award and it’s mostly man-made- it stands alone here as most of those are travelogue-like exterior heavy films
  • Strauss’s “Blue Danube”—poetry and grace- acoustic brilliance— such a pairing of the music and the detailed miniatures making of the visual (presented in 70mm photography by an ex-photographer)
  • The austerity and coldness in the human interactions is purposeful from Kubrick
  • There is a lineage here of the tracking shot from Paths of Glory to this to The Shining. It’s a mark of a supreme auteur- I’d love to see that supercut again- someone put that together and I’ve seen it at one point.
  • There are three Keir Dullea characters at the end- trilogy that comes up again and again. Three is the number for the film.
  • Gorgeous 70mm landscapes shown with elliptical editing in dawn of man
  • “Requiem for Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, 2 Mixed Choirs and Orchestra” György Ligeti—pairs with the monolith in a long crescendo. Haunting. Shot of the three aligned again- a wormhole to evolution is the monolith, advancement, destruction
  • The famous graphic match edit- the bone to floating spacecraft- maybe the most famous cut in film history

The postmodern set décor- red chairs- utterly dazzling mise-en-scene and photography in 70mm

  • Primary colors in the suits- yellow, blue, red
  • Moon set piece is astonishingly detailed- so is the singular shot of the dome opening on the moon from the inside- wow
  • Walking down to the monolith excavation- again- alignment and the “requiem” music
  • The film is broken into three sections– Kubrick combines the Dr. Heywood Floyd sequence and the dawn of man and then goes with 2. Jupiter 18 months later as the second portion and the 3. Jupiter infinite and beyond as the third section. I think there are actually four parts (you have to break up the moon and the dawn of man sequence) but Kubrick seems fixated on the trilogy and keeping it with three sections even if the first two are divided (and the intermission- which is placed well) isn’t between the three
  • To open the “Jupiter: 18 months later” section we have the gorgeous tracking shot of Frank Poole jogging. It mirrors Kirk Douglas in the trenches or Danny later on the bike in The Shining.
  • It’s odd- I’ve watched hundreds if not thousands of films from this era and have never seen these actors in anything else (Keir Dullea is in the 2010 sequel). I take that more of a sign of Kubrick’s brilliance than the weakness of the acting here.

An all-timer of a shot is the shot of Dullea in red suit walking through to replace the unit with white paneling- it’s no surprise they used it for the IMAX re-release poster

  • The famous reflecting of the panels onto the face
  • For a film that isn’t known for its screenplay/dialogue and certainly that isn’t Kubrick’s focus- there are a number of wonderful stand-alone lines like HAL’s “this conversation can no longer serve any purpose” and the ominous “human error”

The death of HAL—- what else can you say about it—a masterstroke of lighting and photography and a thematically haunting scene with the voice fading and dying to “Daisy”

  • HAL as IBM moving the letters one
  • The third section is “Jupiter: infinite and beyond”- again- alignment and order in the monolith (which now joins the moon/earth/sun. The worm-hole freeze-frames show distortion on Dullea’s face- so avant-garde

The lighting under the floor in the future world finale—it’s gorgeous lighting as mise-en-scene (like Welles, Pakula, Fincher and Soderbergh but it’s the floor instead of ceiling)

We have three Dullea’s or David’s—the man in the suit, the man eating and the man dying

The last alignment includes the star child as the last evolutionary link in the chain

 

most underrated:   Bullitt from Peter Yates

Bullitt not being in the consensus TSPDT top 1000 is a travesty. It’s one of the best cop or action films from the era, wonderfully restrained and understated with flourishes of cinematic brilliance like the famous chase sequence (Oscar winner for best editing). It read like a routine synopsis on paper, but it plays out an operatic way– almost like a minor version of Michael Mann’s Heat. Great car chases have become part of film lore and cinephile discussions and debates and this one is deserving of the praise (and the one that started it all). Whether it is more recent in Baby Driver (2017), the brilliance of 1971’s The French Connection, or something like James Gray’s We Own the Night, the chase through San Francisco here in Bullitt (which with its elevation changes is its own set piece) ranks amongst the best.

Great car chases have become part of film lore and cinephile discussions and debates and this one is deserving of the praise (and the one that started it all).

 

most overrated:  I’m not blind to the talents of Blake Edwards (eight archiveable films) or Peter Sellers (listed on the site as the best actor of 1964) but The Party at #621 on the TSPDT consensus list baffles me- I’d be 1,000 spots lower.

 

gems I want to spotlight:  Teorema from Pasolini caught my eye recently and sort of changed my opinion on 1968. I had always thought there was a sizeable drop off after the top three films (from Kubrick, Leone and Polanski– the images from these three films account for 15 of the 28 total). To that end, I appreciate Hour of the Wolf from Bergman more every time I see it (I absolutely hated it the first time I saw it). I’ll also take a minute to single out the acting on display in A Lion in Winter. Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn (surrounded by a great supporting cast which includes a very young Anthony Hopkins) verbally spar like Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Virginia Woolf in 1966. It isn’t the best work from anyone involved (except for director Anthony Harvey- who I never heard of before or since) but I actually have this ranked as O’Toole’s second best performance, and Hepburn’s third- certainly worthwhile.

Pasolini’s sixth feature Teorema, second in the “mythical cycle” following Oedipus Rex in 1967. Along with his debut Accattone, Teorema is Pasolini’s greatest achievement thus far in his career in 1968. It is a very controversial film

Hour of the Wolf– a film just to be absorbed– haunting imagery from Bergman

bleak– even by Bergman’s standards

but a jaw-dropping achievement in black and white photography

Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn in one long, loud, captivating argument in The Lion in Winter

 

trends and notables:

  • A big year for genre cinema- it is tough to talk “best of” lists without 1968’s 2001 (sci-fi), Once Upon a Time in the West (western) and Rosemary’s Baby (horror)

Polanski’s camera brilliantly peeking around the corner in Rosemary’s Baby

  • Wyler and Barbara Streisand’s Funny Girl is technically the biggest box office film of 1968 but the fact that Kubrick’s 2001 is runner up in terms of money blows me away—never before or since has a film so avant-garde been that big of a hit

Kubrick’s arrival as the best is the story of 1968- and he’s not really part of The New Hollywood movement. He’s a singular artist that I’m not sure cinema has been before at this point. I think in many ways Dreyer is the closest. 2001 is so drastically different from his previous films in many ways. And it is a game-changer—undoubtedly you have to see Kubrick through a whole new light in 1968 after 2001 as good as his previous efforts were—I’m not sure anyone could’ve seen this coming.

 

  • Big year for horror films- Rosemary’s Baby and Night of the Living Dead (first archiveable film for George Romero)

Night of the Living Dead– From the outset Romero has an excellent and far-reaching subtext—the US flag in the cemetery (in that really well-done and haunting opening) in the center of the frame. You pair that with the distressing still-frame montage ending over the credits—powerful

  • It is also a banner year for smaller budget or independent filmmaking as well with Cassavetes Faces and Romero’s work. Romero has almost no budget, Cassavetes makes his on 16mm.

Cassavetes with Gena Rowlands in Faces- just a few years before their best work together in the 1970’s

  • Leone’s incredible run culminates and ends- he has made one of the best films of the year in 1964, 1965, 1966 and 1968 – sadly, Leone would only make two more total films- and only one more time (1984) would he make one of the best films of the year.

it would make sense that the man who remade Yojimbo — would put together compositions similar to Kurosawa’s finest

one of the many cinematic paintings in Leone’s work

full use of the 2.35 : 1 aspect ratio and frame

with reoccurring shot choices showing off the epic size of the canvas

  • 1969 is the year of the MPAA rating system change—but the sea change has started– already in 1968 adult content, language, nudity is more predominant — more than just Bergman, Pasolini and Europe now
  • I mentioned in 1966 that John Ford and Howard Hawks had made their last archiveable film—well here it is Wyler’s turn – a career that includes 20 archiveable films, and 14 with a HR grade or better. There is a changing of the guard.
  • Whether he was New Hollywood or not is up for debate (he’s just so damn old fashioned) – but either way 1968 marks the first archiveable film for Peter Bogdanovich (Targets). Bogdanovich is a film historian, critic, and was always more interested in looking back at his cinematic influences than being a revolutionary. Targets stars Bela Legosi- and they play part of Hawks’ The Criminal Code in the film. Bogdanovich would make a John Ford film (The Last Picture Show) and a Howard Hawks film (What’s Up, Doc? is a remake of Brining Up Baby)
  • Future star of Bogdanovich’s What’s Up, Doc? Barbara Streisand gets her start in 1968. How’s this for a true debut? She wins the 1968 Best Actress Oscar (ties with Katharine Hepburn) and is in the biggest box office movie of the year? It isn’t her actual debut, but this is Mia Farrow’s first time in the archives as well—more on her below.
  • First archiveable film for Werner Herzog with Signs of Life – about to become part of a “new wave” of his own in Germany
  • Ingmar Bergman keeps firing- two more archiveable films in 1968 including another easy top 10. This would be 14 archiveable films since 1951.
  • 1968 brings the first archiveable film for young Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins would become a star in the 1991’s with The Silence of the Lambs but he’d do very little from here until then strangely enough—mostly television work during that time.
  • Lastly, I don’t always have to talk about the Oscars, but it’s still hard for me to fathom that Oliver! won best picture in a year with 2001—especially given the success at the box office for Kubrick’s film. That’s still staggering to me.

 

best performance male   Twenty-eight years after playing Tom Joad, Henry Fonda’s sadistic “Frank” rips up the screen with the best male performance of 1968. It is a major coup for Fonda at this stage in his career (he’s over 60 years old) and a testament to his range (don’t forget he played one of the genre’s greatest heroes Wyatt Earp in Ford’s My Darling Clementine). It is one of the great against-typecast performances in cinema history– Fonda is chilling. Behind Fonda I need to recognize Jason Robards and his work in the same film. Steve McQueen does the best work of his career in Bullitt. McQueen is a “less is more” physical actor. He was known for cutting out lines of dialogue and saying it with his face. It works brilliantly here. Max von Sydow has yet another banner year collaborating with Bergman (and this time with Liv Ullman- Bergman’s best male and female actors together) in Hour of the Wolf and Shame. Their time together is coming to an end—in total von Sydow made eleven (11) films with Bergman- the last archiveable one is in 1969.

McQueen was famous for taking dialogue, throwing it away, and just doing the work physically

the great Max von Sydow in the foreground (this is from Shame)- 1968 would be the first time Liv Ullman (Bergman’s finest female actor) and von Sydow (his finest male actor) would work together

best performance female: Mia Farrow gives one of the best female acting performances of all-time in Rosemary’s Baby. I’m not sure I could get past five listing better. Claudia Cardinale comes in runner-up here for her work in Leone’s epic masterpiece. Ruth Gordon isn’t far behind Cardinale for her work in Polanski’s film as well. Gordon is a fascinating story. She’s 74 years old here, wins best supporting actress and I’m pretty sure this is her first archiveable film as an actor. She was a three-time nominated screenwriter (a few of the Hepburn/Tracy vehicles- Adam’s Rib, Pat and Mike). The last mention here in 1968 is for Ullman working alongside von Sydow and with Bergman. She’s in both Shame and Hour of the Wolf.

Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby — the single best work from one of cinema’s most underrated actors

Ruth Gordon – she steals every scene she’s in– here in Polanski’s already trademark shot spying through the door of the apartment — Polanski uses it in Repulsion, here and The Tenant a few years later– The Apartment Trilogy

 

top 10

  1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
  2. Once Upon a Time in the West
  3. Rosemary’s Baby
  4. Teorema
  5. Bullitt
  6. Faces
  7. Hour of the Wolf
  8. Night of the Living Dead
  9. The Great Silence
  10. Profound Desire of the Gods

 

from Profound Desire of the Gods– the first color film from Imamura- magic hour bliss here

the shock of Planet of the Apes

one of the truly great shots of 1968- the final image from The Swimmer with Burt Lancaster

 

 

Archives, Directors, and Grades

2001: A Space Odyssey – Kubrick MP
Bullitt- Yates MS
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – Hughes R
Dark of the Sun – Cardiff R
Faces- Cassavetes HR/MS
Firecreek- McEveety R
Funny Girl- Wyler HR
Hang’em High – Post R
Hour of the Wolf- Bergman HR/MS
If… – L. Anderson HR
Memories of Underdevelopment – Gutiérrez Alea HR
Night of the Living Dead – Romero HR/MS
Oliver!- Reed R
Once Upon a Time in the West- Leone MP
Petulia- Lester R
Planet of the Apes- Schaffner HR
Pretty Poison- N. Black R
Profound Desires of the Gods – Imamura HR
Rachel, Rachel- Newman R
Romeo and Juliet- Zeffirelli R
Rosemary’s Baby- Polanski MP
Shame – Bergman R/HR
Signs of Life- Herzog
Stolen Kisses- Truffaut R
Targets- Bogdanovich
Teorema – Pasolini MS/MP
The Boston Strangler- Fleischer R
The Bride Wore Black- Truffaut R
The Fixer- Frankenheimer
The Great Silence – Corbucci HR
The Lion in Winter- Harvey HR
The Mercenary – Corbucci R
The Odd Couple- Saks R
The Party- Edwards R
The Swimmer – Perry R
The Thomas Crown Affair- Jewison R
Yellow Submarine – Dunning 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