Culture Notes: 1969 Again; John Hughes

1969: The Encyclopedia Britannica blog is turning loose author/professor Raymond Benson on a gradually-unfolding ten best list for 1969. Maybe because I am doing my own ten-best project (including 1969), the Britannica people invited me to leave comments about Benson’s choices, which could lead to much debate if Mr. Benson’s 1968 list is any clue (The Lion in Winter at #4?). The Britannica series intro is here, and new entries appears daily beginning Monday 8/10.

sixteen2John Hughes: The generation born around 1969 is mourning Hughes – not that plenty of other people didn’t enjoy his movies, but his high-school pictures came along at just the right moment for that particular graduating class. I liked his films, generally, and when Sixteen Candles came out it seemed like the revelation of a delightful new comic talent. As it turned out, he only hit that level once again, with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which was kind of a teen version of a James L. Brooks movie, but faster and poppier (except for Hughes’ gifts for snappy one-liners and caricature, The Breakfast Club always struck me as a great idea for a movie rather than a great movie). Planes, Trains and Automobiles is a hilarious formula for comedy, even if its turn toward sentimentality feels like the stuff of a long-form TV commercial.

That superficial advertising-man talent kept emerging, rounding things off neatly so that Ally Sheedy got cleaned up at the end of The Breakfast Club and Jon Cryer got left out at the end of Pretty in Pink. Hughes always put the genie back in the bottle he had himself uncorked, as though he wanted to be Ferris Bueller but had to pull back at the last minute. Maybe the fact that he could walk away from movies indicates his level of commitment to them. Still (and I think I reviewed just about every movie he had a credit on), he brightened my job back in the often dreary moviegoing of the 1980s, so for that I’m grateful.

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.)