1968 Ten Best Movies

Although 2001: A Space Odyssey is regularly included in that group of films that should be seen in pristine giant-screen glory, it can spellbind in a so-so 16 mm. print (not that anybody would see it that way now) or on TV. But still, try to see it on a large screen. Not only is the immersive experience important, but 2001 is a movie that shouldn’t be paused, or watched in pieces – even if it does contain a built-in intermission (one of the zingiest “to be continued” moments in movie history).

Mad magazine offered a genius-level parody of this movie back in 1968, but people seem to overlook the humor already in the film (the IMDb FAQ page sternly notes that the Zero Gravity Toilet is the movie’s “only intentional joke”). Actually, like so much of The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut, there is something subversively hilarious running beneath many scenes in 2001, and everything with Dr. Heywood Floyd has a weird Strangelovian mirth at the corners. “I’m sure it beefed up morale a helluva lot.” Now that’s funny.

Yeah, so it’s the best movie of 1968. Sergio Leone also creates a great adventure in space (the other kind of space), and Petulia is Richard Lester’s precise survey of people swimming across the Sixties. But Stanley Kubrick has always laid claim to this year. Best movies of 1968:

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick)

2. Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone)

3. Petulia (Richard Lester)

4. Stolen Kisses (Francois Truffaut)

5. Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski)

6. Night of the Living Dead (George Romero)

7. Les Biches (Claude Chabrol)

8. Faces (John Cassavetes)

9. If… (Lindsay Anderson)

10. Play Dirty (André De Toth)

Not really a Cassavetes guy, but Faces is an achievement that can’t be denied. You might not know Play Dirty, but it’s a real sleeper; as somebody says in this Amazon.com editorial review, it’s a post-Dirty Dozen war movie with an even more nihilistic edge – a perfect product of ’68. Next up: Ousmane Sembene’s Mandabi is a bureacratic comedy of Shakespearian proportions, the drive-in double bill of Targets (Peter Bogdanovich) and Witchfinder-General (aka The Conqueror Worm, Michael Reeves) is terrific, and two Andy Warhol offerings are significant moments in that career: Flesh (Paul Morrissey) and Lonesome Cowboys (Warhol, I guess).

In very different realms, Don Siegel’s Madigan goes about its cop work despite what looks like a low budget, and Franklin Schaffner’s Planet of the Apes is what it is in variously fun ways. Further afield, Herzog’s Signs of Life, Oshima’s Death by Hanging, and the two Bergman pictures Hour of the Wolf and Shame (not my faves from Ingmar) contributed a bleak view of the moment.

I like The Bride Wore Black; whenever Truffaut lost his audience, there was something interesting going on. The Producers gave us “Springtime for Hitler,” for which we can only be grateful, Mel Brooks. A doppelganger pair of serial-killer pictures have been linked in my mind since I saw them around the same time in adolescence: The Boston Strangler, a sober true-crime number by the underrated Richard Fleischer, and No Way to Treat a Lady, a truly offbeat black comedy, directed by the hard-working mostly-TV director Jack Smight. And 1968 also brought Yellow Submarine, which was the only one of these movies (other than Planet of the Apes, of course!) I actually saw in 1968.