1966 Ten Best Movies

Crowded at the top in 1966: this is a year of flat-out masterpieces, a lot of which appear to be coming apart at the seams (or at least dismantling the pieces of what people generally call a movie). Well, it was the era. I first saw Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup on prime-time network TV in the Seventies, aware that it was an acknowledged great movie/head trip with some possible hotsy content, which was of great interest to me as an adolescent male.

blowup2I still remember that (edited-for-television, obviously) viewing, especially the way the movie snapped into gear as soon as David Hemmings’ photographer takes the shots that might contain evidence of a murder. Couldn’t understand then why the mystery bit frittered away. Now I love how skillfully Antonioni builds and walks away from that conventional suspense, as though to say, “Yes, you see how superbly I could make this kind of movie if I wanted to? But we’re doing this instead….” (And in the bargain, the whole movie now puts you on the edge of your seat, for different reasons.) Hemmings’ aimless character is like a movie audience, waiting to be grabbed by a story, as his black-and-white stills, laid end to end, appear to offer. Except maybe there’s nothing there – maybe we glimpse a story because we just really want to have the story. But it won’t work out that way.

Orson Welles’ Chimes at Midnight is by turns spiky and lyrical; ditto Masculin-Feminin. Absolute beauties. And in the rest of the list you merely get Robert Bresson delivering a remarkable fable of sacrifice, starring a donkey; Ingmar Bergman checking in with one of his most furious chamber pieces; and Sergio Leone blowing the lid off the Western. That’s a year. The best of 1966:

1. Blowup (Michelangelo Antonioni)

2. Chimes at Midnight (Orson Welles)

3. Masculin-Feminin (Jean-Luc Godard)

4. Au hasard, Balthazar (Robert Bresson)

5. Persona (Ingmar Bergman)

6. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Sergio Leone)

7. Cul-de-Sac (Roman Polanski)

8. Intimate Lighting (Ivan Passer)

9. The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo)

10. Seconds (John Frankenheimer)

The #10 slot proves the year’s boundary-pushing qualities: it’s the only actual U.S. film on there, and even Rock Hudson was capable of starring in a hallucinatory mind-bender. Any of a half-dozen movies could’ve gotten in those final two slots, including Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls – a real happening – Shohei Imamura’s The Pornographers, Monte Hellman’s Ride in the Whirlwind, or Ousmene Sembene’s first feature, Black Girl. Or one of many uneven but interesting items such as Seven Women, Andrei Rubelev, Torn Curtain, or Fahrenheit 451. All released in 1966!

One Response

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