1969 Ten Best Movies

wildbunch3A new project for this website: Every Sunday I will post the ten best movies of a different year, unrolling in non-chronological order. A couple of questions come to mind: Why, and Why?

Why list? Critics wouldn’t be critics unless they thrummed to a fundamental feature of art: the ordering of existence, the selection of which bits of reality to line up within a frame — the frame of a paragraph, the frame of a musical meter, or — well, an actual frame. That goes for art that explores randomness, too. Making lists is an ordering in itself, so why wouldn’t critics be attracted to this compulsive exercise? I’d rather admit the compulsion than deny it. Plus, it seems like an enjoyable way to kill a year (or so) of Sundays on the ol’ Crop Duster.

Why 1969 to start with? Maybe the nice 40-year anniversary, maybe the upcoming year-long series of 1969 films at the Northwest Film Forum (for whom I will be introducing a truly epic back-to-back screening of The Wild Bunch and Paint Your Wagon on March 13). Interesting transitional year, too — and The Wild Bunch is one of my favorite films. I saw it for the first time at a tender age when my brother took me to a “Cowboy Classics” revival series. Aside from being a masterpiece on its own merits, the movie’s a mind-blower if you’re thirteen.

Next week: best films of 1932. Awesome year.

Best movies of 1969:

1. The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah)

2. My Night at Maud’s (Eric Rohmer)

3. La femme infidele (Claude Chabrol)

4. Army of Shadows (Jean-Pierre Melville)

5. Topaz (Alfred Hitchcock)

6. Mississippi Mermaid (Francois Truffaut)

7. Une femme douce (Robert Bresson)

8. Z (Costa-Gavras)

9. True Grit (Henry Hathaway)

10. L’amour fou (Jacques Rivette)

That’s a lot of French. I miss Huston’s weird A Walk with Love and Death and Fassbinder’s debut feature, Love is Colder than Death — but I don’t miss Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The Hitchcock and the Truffaut movies are both “problem” films I like a lot: Topaz because Hitchcock is working in a nearly-abstract mode of shape and movement, Mermaid because despite issues with plot and casting, Truffaut so doggedly pursues the subject of l’amour fou. And True Grit? John Wayne.

(Revised 8/09 to accomodate author’s boneheaded move of putting Once Upon a Time in the West in the wrong year. Back to 1968  it goes.)

3 Responses

  1. That’s a good list, even with the generous inclusion of Topaz and True Grit. I feel certain Mr. Benson will bypass the Rivette, Rohmer and Chabrol.

    • True Grit is a somewhat generous inclusion, but I’ll take it over Butch Cassidy (and Wayne wipes the floor with fellow Oscar nominees Hoffman and Voight). I think Topaz is really unusual, a Hitchcock movie that doesn’t try to be liked. It’s almost abstract in its emphasis on design and grid. Nobody cuddles up to Topaz.

  2. Now that I think of it, Benson could mention My Night at Maud’s since it was something of a college town ‘date movie’ at the time of its release, the intellectual’s A Man and a Woman.

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