best film: I Am Cuba or Soy Cuba from Mikhail Kalatozov. It took me a long time to get to Kalatozov’s I Am Cuba. I didn’t get to it until 2016 and when I did, I saw it again the next night I was so blown away. It is a landmark work of art in terms of camera movement. Its roots can be found in Murnau, Renoir and Ophuls—yet this is different—even more muscular– less about invisibility. The film has had a long lasting influence- you can see it in contemporary cinema– directors like Iñárritu (specifically Birdman and The Revenant), PTA (I mean the pool scene in Boogie Nights) Chazelle (La La Land). In fact, it’s kind of wild how much Chazelle’s masterpiece is influenced by two different masterpieces and films of 1964: I Am Cuba and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Not trailing far behind (I had them in consecutive slots on my top 100 of the 1960’s list) Kalatozov’s film is Gertrud from Dreyer and Red Desert from Antonioni. Dreyer’s work is a miracle of meticulously designed mise-en-scene. I was wrong on it for years and that is readily apparent in the first 10 minutes of the film— this is one of the most assured artistic examples of mise-en-scene in cinema history. While praising a poet character in the film, the Gertrud character actually says “each sentence is well-constructed and considered”—that is describing Dreyer to a T. Antonioni, like Bergman, Fellini, Kurosawa, Ozu and the other early masters who started in black and white, uses color like a weapon- expressive. Antonioni actually painted part of the landscape here (red of course), goes for very bold primary, a blue shack, yellow smoke from the factory. Antonioni is wrapping up a five-year run (1960-1964) that includes four films easily in the top 10 of their respective years– in the most competitive/loaded stretch of films as far as top 10’s are concerned.
most underrated: There are numerous options here for 1964 sadly. Both My Fair Lady and A Fistful Of Dollars are left off the TSPDT consensus top 1000 altogether. That’s a shame. But I had to single one out it would be Imamura again with Intentions of Murder – completely left off the TSPDT top 1000 as well and ranked slightly higher than Cukor and Leone’s film on my list.
- Imamura isn’t undone by the longer running time which is pretty special—150 minutes—it’s almost unfathomable how he did this the year after The Insect Woman in 1963—this is long, detailed, and so carefully and beautifully crafted in nearly every frame
- The lamp in the foreground during the robbery and rape—(there is where style and content break with Imamura being in the Ozu style)—this is seedy, brutal, ugly—typical Imamura
- Imamura actually uses Welles’ low-angles with some foreground background work as well. Kô Nishimura in the foreground, Harukawa in the background tied up—we have the shoji door creating a frame and giving depth—and then a hanging light swinging back and forth in an otherwise dimly lit room giving occasional light to her
- A dazzling overhead 360 camera movement shot of Harukawa in the aftermath of the crime
- Sparsely used experimental score
most overrated: I was not able to locate a decent enough copy to study it properly- but my recollection of Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew is that it is not deserving of #144 of all-time (current TSPDT ranking)—for now that may be the single most overrated film of 1964 though I look forward to finding it again and rewatching.
gems I want to spotlight: Charulata from Satyajit Ray
- Amongst Ray’s best work
- Brilliant shot of camera attached to a swing to capture Madhabi Mukherjee’s face- this would be picked up by others including Truffaut and Wes Anderson
- A long gorgeous tracking shot going up from the ground to Charulata’s unblinking eye which turns into a long dissolve montage mix of her getting ideas to write her great article
- The film doesn’t have the devastating form and symmetry of The Music Room
- Ray does his own music—which is wonderful and re-used in Darjeeling Limited from Wes Anderson
Blood and Black Lace from Bava is another one to highlight from 1964
- Mario Bava’s work is a fascinating blend of high and low art. The script is putrid, and the acting is just straight bad, but Bava’s gliding camera, and especially his use of color, is a major artistic achievement
- He often uses neon lighting and heavy shadow work in the same mise-en-scene. It’s gorgeous
- Heavy neon with posing characters for the intro title montage—jazz score—it’s a very inspired opening
- The story is a slasher and a who-done-it set in the fashion industry (which gives Bava plenty of excuses to go nuts (and I love it) with the décor
- Flashing neon green from Vertigo
- The film is proof a good director can make an archiveable film from any source material
- The fast motion photography sequences are unfortunate choices
- The second murder set piece, about 20 minutes in, is the main spectacular sequence- it’s about five minutes—there’s another one at the end with a superb tracking shot long take through a neon lit house filled with colorful mannequins… if these sequences had been more than 15 minutes of the 90 minutes or so we could’ve been talking about a top 5 film of 1964—its about ratio here and there are 20 minute chunks here and there where it’s a really weak movie filled with bad acting—even without the dubbing—some of the bad dubbing, simple genre story stuff with spectacular visuals remind me of John Woo’s work
trends and notables:
- If we’re tracking stylistic cinematic moments- I Am Cuba is one of the most important 5-10 films to discuss when talking about camera movement—and Gertrud does the same on the mise-en-scene side
- With The Umbrellas of Cherbourg below this marks the fifth straight year we have a French New Wave film in the top five of the year. In 1959 it was #1, in 1960 it was #2 and #5, in 1961 it was #2, in 1962 it was #2, and in 1963 it was #4. As you can see it would continue below at #4 and for a quick preview of 1965—the streak will continue.
- I mention it above but Antonioni experimenting in color is worthy of noting— he certainly isn’t alone. Demy’s Umbrellas is a color-bomb—spectacular. Bava’s use of neon is important, Hitchcock is very color-focused in Marnie.
- From a political/global standpoint- the threat of an atomic bomb is clearly having an impact on cinema with both Dr. Strangelove and Lumet’s Fail Safe
- It does feel like sort of the end of an era for Hitchcock- this is his final top 10 of the year film– his final film with DP Robert Burks (Rear Window, Vertigo, North By Northwest, The Birds) and final film with the great Bernard Herrmann
- It is worth observing that this is really the beginning of a 35-year run for Kubrick which ends in his death in 1999– Paths of Glory is genius, but then Spartacus and Lolita are a little less exceptional (certainly in comparison with what is to come from Kubrick). But starting in 1964 with Dr. Strangelove Kubrick (with often long gestation periods between) goes MP, MP, MP, MP, MP, MS, MP
- It was also a very big year for acting firsts (which makes me think the lack of them in 1963 was just happenstance). We have Catherine Deneuve in Umbrellas, Gene Hackman in Lilith, and the great Michael Caine in Zulu. Perhaps with not quite that level of impact, we also have the first archiveable film for Maggie Smith who would go on to be in at least one archiveable film in six straight decades. This may be a record it if weren’t for Caine himself who with Tenet has his count extended to seven consecutive decades
best performance male: Peter Sellers gives the best male acting performance of the year in Dr. Strangelove. Of course, he actually gives three performances in the film (playing three different characters) and they’re all perfect. Morphing into roles like this isn’t new– Lon Chaney back in the silent era– even Alec Guinness had been doing it for a long time— but none of Guinness’ vehicles were quite to this level. Sellers has A Shot in the Dark as well- and there’s paper to be written comparing Sellers (portrayal of a Frenchman) being a big hit in the US/UK and Jerry Lewis being a smash in France (sort of portraying a buffoonish American). One of the major competitors for this top slot in 1964 is Strangelove co-star George C. Scott who steals every scene he’s in. He usually plays a straight actor so to see him cut loose like this is a treat to see. Rex Harrison gives the best performance of his career in My Fair Lady. Also worthy of recognition here in 1964 is Sean Connery in both Marnie and Goldfinger. Goldfinger (along with maybe Skyfall about fifty years later) is peak Bond. I also have to tip the cap to Eastwood with his striking work in the first leg of the man with no name trilogy. Lastly, and again I don’t like to dip to HR-level films or lower, but Rod Steiger gives the performance of his career (his work in On the Waterfront is right there) in The Pawnbroker. It’s a tragic and devastating performance and film. Steiger didn’t get a mention in 1954 for Waterfront and he’s also fantastic in 1965’s Zhivago so I feel good about getting him at least one mention here among the best performers of the year.
best performance female: 1964 is a big year for female led films and strong female characters. Monica Vitti is sublime wandering through Antonioni’s Red Desert in a post-traumatic (think of every Lynne Ramsay film) haze. This is Vitti’s fourth mention in five years in this category and this is her finest single performance. Madhabi Mukherjee in Charulata is next- I mean all three leads in the film are good but Mukherjee in particular gives a spectacular performance- there many standout scenes—but when she realizes that she loves her cousin-in-law and she is in trouble—very fine acting. Catherine Deneuve is an instant star in Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Anna Karina is here for the second time in three years with Band of Outsiders and though it is a very different performance that takes some adjusting (and is the boiler plate for every Roy Andersson film)- I’m giving a mention to Nina Pens Rode in as Gertrud in Gertrud. Next, I have Audrey Hepburn and Julie Andrews in My Fair Lady and Mary Poppins respectively. Those two roles will always be tied together because Hepburn got the role everyone thought should’ve gone to Andrews (I think she played Eliza on stage) and Andrews ended up winning the Oscar for Poppins to get the last laugh. The last mention is for Tippi Hedren in Hitchcock’s Marnie. Hedren isn’t an overly talented actress (and she is green- Hitchcock scooped her up—this is only her second real performance after The Birds in 1963) and no- she’s not Grace Kelly- but she certainly deserves a combined mention here for being the central role in the last two last great Hitchcock films.
- I Am Cuba
- Red Desert
- The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
- Intentions of Murder
- Dr. Strangelove
- My Fair Lady
- A Fistful of Dollars
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|A Fistful of Dollars- Leone||MS|
|A Hard Day’s Night- Lester||R/HR|
|A Shot in the Dark- Edwards||R|
|Band of Outsiders- Godard||HR/MS|
|Before the Revolution- Bertolucci||R|
|Black God, White Devil – Rocha|
|Blood and Black Lace – Bava||HR|
|Charulata – S. Ray||MS|
|Diary of a Chambermaid- Bunuel||R|
|Dr. Strangelove – Kubrick||MP|
|Gertrud – Dreyer||MP|
|Goldfinger – Hamilton||HR/MS|
|Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte- Aldrich||R|
|I Am Cuba- Kalatozov||MP|
|Intentions of Murder – Imamura||MP|
|Marriage, Italian Style- De Sica||R|
|Mary Poppins- Stevenson||HR|
|My Fair Lady- Cukor||MP|
|Onibaba – Shindô||HR|
|Red Desert – Antonioni||MP|
|Robin and the 7 Hoods- Douglas||R|
|Seven Days in May- Frankenheimer||R|
|Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors – Parajanov||HR/MS|
|The Americanization of Emily- Hiller||R|
|The Best Man- Schaffner||R|
|The Gospel According to St. Matthew- Pasolini||HR|
|The Man From Rio – de Broca||R|
|The Naked Kiss – Fuller||R|
|The Night of the Iguana- J. Huston||R|
|The Pawnbroker- Lumet||HR|
|The Pumpkin Eater – J. Clayton||R/HR|
|The Tomb of Ligeia- Corman||R|
|The Train- Frankenheimer|
|The Umbrellas of Cherbourg- Demy||MP|
|Woman in the Dunes – Teshigahara||HR|
|Zorba the Greek- Cacoyannis||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
how do you feel about richard lester’s hard days night. a masterpiece in my opinion. visually crisp, nothing too ‘mise en scene’ but still. i feel it should be in the archives considering it isnt a documentary but a fictional version of the beatles.
oh sorry i didnt see it. i was checking under h instead of a (A hard days night).
Today I finally got to see your recommendation on best use of color in movies Red Desert, and I can’t agree with position 9, in the absence of watching “I am Cuba” is the best movie of the year, by a slight margin beat “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”
I also do not know the name of the protagonist of Red Desert, but it must be in the mentions of best performance, she is at the center of the film and she does it very well.
Regarding the movie, i wasn’t sure of the recommendation until the scene of the story, in the sea, there convinced me of the true unfolding of the colors, displays the entire range from this point. I also noticed that they use the objects (pipes) as mise en-scene recurrently, they make good use of the industrial area and the ships.
Do you think Peter Sellers should have won for best actor for Dr.Strangelove(or How I Learned to stop worrying and love the bomb)?
Have you seen Pale Flower? (This question is to everyone on the blog).
Ok, so I just saw the movie. It has a 88 percent on rotten tomatoes and it is on Ebert’s great movies list.
It’s not on the consensus top 2000 so I’ll give you reasons why you may want to check it out still. The movie was made by Shinoda during the Japanese new wave (which also includes Immamura). Sinoda worked as Ozu’s assistant so naturally the mise en scene and framing is superb in this stylish film. It works perfectly as a noir, love story, a movie about the Yakuza (Japanese mafia) and as a character study about a man trapped in the underworld. Muraki is a complex character who tries to change and live a decent life after he meets Seiko (his love). However Muraki’s weaknesses and violent lifestyle lead to his downfall.
There are some nice wipe edits in the film. It is also shot in gorgeous black and white. It has some great scenes like the opening, the gambling scenes, the bowling scene, the dream sequence, the operatic killing scene and the ending amongst more.
I think it’s absolutely a film worth watching and it is very easily a film that’s worth archiving.
Great! After you’ve seen it, can you say(on the website or the 1964 archives) if you liked it or not? I’d like to know your thoughts after you’ve seen it.
I think you will like it!
I watched Pale Flower (1964) for the 2nd time recently and I am with you, fascinating film. Ebert points out that Shinoda worked as an assistant to Ozu which explains some of the similar framing and angles
I agree it works on several levels, noirs are my favorite of all genres and this definitely works as a noir – great use of shadows, takes place almost exclusively at night, constant rainfall
the plot is really secondary to the character study
main character gives off nihilism vibe – accepts his role without much thought and does not question tasks he’s asked to perform
similar to world of Shōhei Imamura’s films – seedy underworld of Japan
I know i said this yesterday, but today i saw a movie called Gertrud and it’s perfect, just to clarify no not every movie i watch is perfect haha.
I’m sorry to see that you have it as it is more overrated, because it’s an incredible movie, I’ll try to explain.
The mise-en-scene it’s beautiful and perfect, i don’t know if it is, but it’s one of the most beautiful black and white movies i’ve seen.
Tracking shots that frame, move and then reframe, track and reframe in the same shot, this happens almost in all the scenes, crazy, in one scene it does it more than 5 times, i lost count haha.
Although I personally have a problem with acting except for the one who plays Gertrud, it seems that i am seeing dolls or puppets, i think the girl who plays Gertrud should get a performance mention
You should give it another try, well at least i think so
Isnt Gertrud in Drake’s top 50 of all time? Drake, did you think highly of Gertrud first and then drop it or was it the other way around? Is this 1964-page ranking of Gertrud more recent than the top 500?
If I mean the passenger, i’ve only seen aliens.
The last 5 I’ve seen.
The red shoes (I did not finish this)
All of those are very good, but only Gertrud and the passenger seemed perfect
Here i have a question for you @Azman or Drake. I was watching the red shoes, i was already halfway there, but the power went out, come back in 20 min, well i cut my rhythm, should i resume where it left off? or leave it for another day (as I did)?
I would leave it for another day personally. However, it’s your choice.
What’s your favorite Powell and Presburger movie? Mine is A Matter of Life and Death.
Only one, I was struck by his style,a few weeks ago went to the page and added the first 4, I found 3 (Peeping Tom The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus) i also added the one you mention but i couldn’t find it.
As for Presburger, I don’t think I’ve heard of him, I didn’t find his page on the site.
@Aldo, What ‘perfect’ movie that you saw yesterday are you referring
To? The passenger?
The last 5 movies I saw were
World of Tomorrow
Dawn of the Dead
Run Lola Run
I liked them all.
Have you seen these movies Aldo? What were the last few movies you saw recently and what did you think of them? Were they as good as The Passenger and Gertrud?
@Aldo, Pressburger was assistant director to Powell. They directed almost all movies together. You cant mention Powell without at least thinking about Pressburger. Pressburger did after all co direct most of Powells movies. (However Powell was the main driving force)
Well Drake doesn’t think very well of him haha “I usually only consider Powell, not only because he has a very accomplished solo work (Peeping Tom) but because it is pretty well known that he did the bulk of the directing”
Yes, that’s what I said. “Powell was the main driving force”.
You said you didn’t know who Pressburger was and I said that he co directed almost all of Powells work. Yes Powell did most of the directing, but they were known as a team (Powell and Pressburger).
I would recommend a matter of life and death directed by them. It feels very very modern for a 1940s film and it is shot in gorgeous color and Black and White. It may seem a bit strange at first, but it is absolutely amazing.
So I saw you revisited Salo a few weeks ago and called it a MP. Have you done the same yet for Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew? Since you are pretty far behind the consensus on the film, though I cannot say anything about it personally since I have yet to see it myself.
@Zane- yeah this 1964 page is up to date – in the overrated section I have a little not on The Gospel According to St. Matthew. I haven’t been able to locate a decent copy of it— the amazon prime version is ugly so I decided to skip it altogether for now. I look forward to eventually revisiting
I caught both I Am Cuba and Gertrud just a few weeks ago. The former just blew me away. I’m not sure I have seen anything quite like it, and it makes me really want to see more of Kalatozov’s work. It wasn’t just the majestic visuals and moving camera, but even the editing was really something special. Since then I’ve been thinking about how much editing has played a role in some of the most significant political films in history – Battleship Potemkin, JFK, The Passion of Joan of Arc for example. I’m sure there’s a paper on this waiting to be written, if there isn’t one already.
As for Gertrud, I was impressed but I think I’m closer to where you used to be than where you are now. I wasn’t so taken with it on first watch, but I’ll give it some time and return to it again at some point. Hopefully I’ll have the revelation you had with it.
@Declan- thanks for sharing on both– that’s great about I Am Cuba- it floored me as well the first time- and yes- try to check out Letter Never Sent and The Cranes Are Flying if you were impressed by I Am Cuba
If you have not already seen, Nomadland has won Best Motion Picture – Drama and Best Director at the Golden Globes. Interestingly, Frances McDormand did not win Best Actress – Motion Picture: Drama, losing to Andra Day for the generally poorly-received biopic The United States vs. Billie Holiday (which I have literally never even heard of until now). I don’t know why these musical biopics win the acting awards so often. It happened recently with Bohemian Rhapsody and Judy, both of which are rather mediocre films.
@Zane- I did see the results but haven’t given much thought to them until your comment here. You certainly have a point about the biopics– frustrating
Great page, it’s a great year, any year where something as impressive as Gertrud is # 2, although i’m not completely convinced that I am Cuba is better than Gertrud.
Truly these two films are one of the few that have such impressive images throughout the entire course of the film
I mean I am Cuba has some of the most impressive sequences you’ll ever see, seems out of this world, but Gertrud is the definition of perfection if there ever was one. I’ve also mentioned it before, but Dreyer made Gertrud at the age of 75, impressive.
I really liked that you included Nina Pens Rode as Gertrud, i remember reading a review in which a critic called it one of the best performances in history, not that i necessarily agree, but it seemed worth mentioning.
I already lamented on another page about Dreyer’s bad luck, so my regrets this time are towards Kalatozov. I don’t know if you know Drake, but it’s quite sad how Kalatozov was forced to make propaganda films (after all I am Cuba is propaganda) and ended his days working as a taxi driver after making another propaganda movie.
He really seems like a top 10 director, few directors have done things as impressive as I am cuba, after all it’s from another planet. I am cuba has the best camera work in the history of cinema.
Here’s a point that bothers me i’ve talked to quite a few people who believe that the genius of Kalatozov movies is Urusevsky, and i have tried to deny this but it is difficult, i thought that Letter never sent was not photographed by Urusevsky but in the 3 main films he participates.
Urusevsky directed some films but they are impossible to find, so there is no way to check, and some previous Kalatozov propaganda films do not look good.
@Aldo- thanks for the kind words on the page. Interesting. I’m hoping to get my hands on The Red Tent (1969) at some point. That’s a Hollywood film, there are actual totten tomato and metacritic reviews (which means some people can actually find the movie) so it should happen at some point. Maybe that will tell us more about Kalatozov vs. Urusevsky (Leonid Kalashnikov shot The Red Tent)
There is a Kalatozov documentary that i have seen, it shows some of the features of his three films, especially the slanted angle and those claustrophobic close-ups.
I don’t generally watch documentaries, but i made an exception for it, although i found it somewhat disappointing but i think it proves his genius a bit.
Here is an article that I like about the movie
Probably my favorite image of I am cuba (of the many there are)
By the way, Drake, what happened to Pasolini’s study? I think you have not covered all the Pasolini films.
I noticed you couldn’t see The Gospel According to St. Matthew again (you mention it in the overrated section).
Is considered a masterpiece, i managed to get a copy, i will probably see it in a few days.
I would have liked to hear what you thought about the movie
@Aldo- How is your copy? I have a copy as well– it just wasn’t suitable. I watched all the available (to me) Pasolini films. I’ll keep an eye out for them in the future- I hope TCM will show some, or criterion will cover them. For example, I’m long since past my Visconti study (which I did January 2020-March 2020). However, later in 2020 both Ossessione and Rocco and His brothers (August and September) came available. And just this morning I saw that Criterion streaming has The Damned starting today- March 1. I’ll get to it in March. So- I’m doing the best I can I guess is what I’m saying.
I played it and it looks good, it’s a blu-ray.
So did you get to see the trilogy of life (the Decameron, Canterbury Tales, Arabian Nights)?
If i remember correctly they are in criterion.
@Aldo- I did not see the trilogy of life– it looks like there is a criterion version but they weren’t on the criterion channel
There are usually some images in the best performance male section. So why not in 1964? At least one of Peter Sellers in Dr Strangelove. Maybe Rod Steiger in Pawnbroker as well. It feels incomplete.
Don’t you think so?
@Malith- no, not in the case
But I don’t think there is an image of the Pawnbroker.So why not have one?
@Malith- at some point I have to stop – there are like 30 images on this page already. I’m working on something else now
Kubrick’s film name is Dr. Strangelove not Strangelove like you mentioned inside the top 10.
@Malith- should be fixed now, thanks
So does Monica Vitti only has 4 archivable films?
@Malith- I have six unless I missed something:
1961- La Notte
1964- Red Desert
1970- The Pizza Triangle
1974- The Phantom of Liberty
Does anyone know where I can watch I am Cuba (1964)?
@James – Hate to break it to you but I haven’t been able to find it on any kind of streaming and I know you too well at this point to know you’re not dumb enough to buy it on DVD for $140 on Amazon or the like $250 Blu-Ray from Milestone Films so really the only way to watch it is on a free site like I did. On the other hand, his earlier two films The Cranes Are Flying (which I have ranked 8 spots ahead of I Am Cuba actually but I’m not certain it’s better) and Letter Never Sent (also fantastic) are both on the Criterion Channel and The Cranes Are Flying is on HBO Max as well. I would go through his work chronologically if I were you especially since you’ll be starting and ending with two of the stone-cold greatest films of all time.
@Zane – “I know you too well at this point to know you’re not dumb enough to buy it on DVD for $140 on Amazon or the like $250 Blu-Ray from Milestone Films”
– much appreciated lol, yeah it’s not looking too promising
If you have a VPN, it’s on Australian Mubi.
Looks like it’s just uploaded to youtube (at least in my region): https://youtu.be/lt-RbV8KiC0
@James Trapp- Turner Classic Movies is where I am been able to catch it. So it has played at least twice in the last five years- probably not what you want to hear but not it does happen
I appreciate all the responses, @Harry – I can’t access that link where I live it appears
I found a free version with questionable quality. As much as I want to watch it I’ve decided that I have plenty of other films on my plate. I guess I’ll just have to wait until a version becomes available in good quality, I think that’s generally the best way to handle it.
I think THE CHALK GARDEN needs at least a R … I would dare to say 9th-10th place of the year …
@Mike- Thanks for the recommendation. I have not yet had a chance to see The Chalk Garden. 9th or 10th place in 1964 would be quite an accomplishment.
Should Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors be on the 1965 page? I can’t see anywhere else that lists it as a 1964 film.
@DeclanG- quite right- thank you.
The Gospel According to St. Matthew should be on Criterion now by their recent post about the March 2022 lineup.
@Zane- Very exciting- these are a few other Pasolini films I missed ruing my study. The Decameron and Porcile. I hope to get to them both soon. It is not Pasolini- but happy to see Mephisto is available as well.