Saturday, June 13, 2015

20 Reasons Why 1962 Could Be the Best Cinematic Year Ever!

So, I've been doing a lot of digging into the year that was 1962 lately (yes, the Fist Awards for 1962 are coming very soon) and in the process of doing so, I realized something; 1962 may actually be the greatest year in cinematic history.  Now, I know that this is a really big title to lavish onto any given year, and personal taste is going to play in a lot here, but in condensing my ballots and trying desperately to make heads or tales of what films I was inevitably going to snub, I realized that it was actually paining me to leave off such spectacular films.  The variety this year as well is so beautiful.  From comedies (such rich comedies) to crushing dramas to inventive science fiction and sweeping epics, controversial tales (ahead of its time in some respects) and memorable coming of age tales, foreign and even short films; 1962 has it all.

And this isn't even including Oscar's Best Picture winner, because it wouldn't make my Top Twenty!

So, while I may have to snub so many great titles from my personal ballots (and even my extended Top 12), I wanted to give them their due.  So, here are the 20 best films of 1962* and all the proof you need to be convinced that this is the greatest year for cinematic know, until I explore another great year in this much depth. 

Also, these are in alphabetical order because I'm trying to leave some mystery in my personal ballots coming later. 

*Due to release dates for some foreign films, I understand that some of these films will not be considered 1962 releases by everyone, but for me they are counted in this particular film year.

Truffaut's sequel to The 400 Blows, this short film (which was part of a collection of shorts known as Love at 20) picks up a few years after the close of the first film and finds Antoine attempting his hand at love with a girl he meets in a record store.  It's brisk and yet heartfelt, earnest and so honest; and that finale seems like a beautifully rendered (yet brutally honest) springboard for the films to come (Truffaut explored this character in a total of 5 films). 

Mastroianni had a real knack for portraying seemingly despicable men in a light and endearing way, capitalizing on his tremendous charm (sex on a stick, with a grin to make you weak at the knees) to make these men feel likable.  It doesn't hurt that he was often handed delicious dialog and sharp screenplays that helped him develop these men, making them more than just a series of stereotypes.  This is yet another example of how sharp writing paired with a sharp actor can pierce through an audiences initial inclinations. 

Stabs at society in the form of satire (sometimes even macabre) was not uncommon in the 60's, but there are few films that stick out as memorably as The Exterminating Angel.  The way that Bunuel attacked the 'upper crust' with this slickly centered character study is remarkably inspired, and in the end creates an experience unlike any other I've had with cinema.  Bizarre is one way to describe this.  Brilliant is another.

Buddy comedies are a dime a dozen these days, but there is something so sharp about the way that Dino Risi and his stars (Vittorio Gassman and the incredible Jean-Louis Trintignant) spin this tale is something special.  I think a lot of that has to do with how well these two actors compliment each other here.  Gassman's childish charm and suave ability to command a situation matched perfectly with Trintignant's sheepish reluctance and almost adolescent wonder makes for such an enjoyable adventure, and one you won't soon forget!

I've mentioned many times that films that explore childhood are often very close to my heart, to my soul.  This is one of those films that unearths something in me.  It is rare to find a film that so accurately captures that thin line that runs between a child's innocence and an adult's corruption, but Ivan's Childhood does just that.  This film very much explores an adult's world through the eyes of a child, and in the process us adults can learn a thing or two.

If I've said it once, I've said it a million times; Jules and Jim is perfect cinema.  It's charming, funny, witty, honest, heartbreaking, bold, controversial, progressive, cautionary, poignant; such weight told with a light air that causes the film to settle so beautifully on the viewer.  Truffaut had a great year in 1962, delivering such remarkably astute depictions of love that are still so relevant today.

Science Fiction is a genre that is quite popular.  It's not always smart, but it's always at the box office.  What Chris Marker does with this genre in about 30 minutes is more than most any other director has ever done with it, period.  In this short film (and mostly using photographic imagery and nothing else), Chris Marker redefined an entire genre of film!

A blogger recently poised the question; "Can you love a movie you don't understand?"  This is the answer to that question, because I'm still processing just what the fuck is happening in this movie and yet I love it to pieces!  So atmospheric, so organic, so fluid, so dreamy; this film is just a slice of cinematic heaven from start to finish.  It lingers, which is something any great film desires to do.

Intense, frenetic, chaotic, explosive, dynamic, unforgettable; those are all words I'd use to describe with crime thriller with serious edge.  It also doesn't hurt that it's French!

There is a beautiful ease about Lola, a film that explores a love triangle that turns into a love square that continues to splinter due to the differing variations of love explored, and yet it always feels so tightly focused regardless of all the areas it attempts to flesh out.  One thing it nails, though, is tone.  It's so effortlessly watchable!

I'm not sure how this movie got made, but it did.  Thank god for that.  This controversial subject was a daring topic for Kubrick to undertake (the novel was banned and still is banned in many places) and yet, Kubrick is known for being controversial, so it fits.  Sharp, witty, daring and poignant, Lolita does more than exploit a fetish or play to a gimmick, relying solely on it's 'subject' to carry it through, but this film is anchored by a real drive and magnificent storytelling.  It could have been trashy, but instead it's thought-provoking genius.

Stage to screen stories were not uncommon in the 60's.  There were so many plays that got their cinematic due, and so many of them suffered from feeling too cramped, too stilted, too condensed.  Long Day's Journey Into Night thrives because of those very aspects.  It's a searing family portrait, and it takes full advantage of it's setting, creating such tensity in the air and delivering unforgettable dynamics that haunt long after the film has ended.

A mother's love.  Many films try and capture just what that means.  Few films are this successful.  Anchored by a tremendous performance by Anna Magnani, Mamma Roma feels like the 1960's version of Xavier Dolan's Mommy, and we all know how I feel about that movie!  No, this film is not as good as Dolan's masterpiece, but watch this movie and I dare you not to find the similarities.

Sweeping Hollywood epics came and went.  They were, at one time, a huge draw.  If only we could capture that feeling of old.  Swashbuckling films are even rarer these days.  There is something timeless about this particular presentation, though, and something so rewarding about how well it's been preserved.  The performances, the sets, the cinematography, the whole package just glistens with such authentic Hollywood wonderment and awe.

There is such earthy heart here, such desperation seeping into this tragically beautiful presentation of a man lost in his profession and unable to break out of it.  It feels, in texture and scope, much like Aronofsky's The Wrestler, but with the harshness of a film like The Harder They Fall to round out those edges.  It's dire.  It's depressing.  It's honest.

Here we go with the effect that children have on me, but Sundays and Cybele wrecks me.  It literally breaks me down.  There is such organic honesty here, such beautiful rendering of the childlike innocence and the way that the heart of a child can mend a broken soul.  The ending will destroy you, so be forewarned, but the beauty on the screen is not to be denied.

There was a time when I was obsessed with Tennessee Williams.  His point of view was so expressive and controversial and so unique.  He said things and exploited things and got to the heart of things that so many others were afraid to broach.  This is probably the most 'cinematic' or 'Hollywood' of any of the adaptations of his work.  It's sensationally played and so watchable; indulgent even.  And, like, Page and Newman are a perfect pair!

Whenever I realize that To Kill a Mockingbird didn't win Best Picture in 1962, I'm kind of shocked.  I know that I'm in the minority when it comes to my feelings about the actual winner, but this film has reached such iconic status that it almost feels like the winner, even though it wasn't.  It's a beautiful and touching coming of age story that broaches a, sadly, still relevant subject (racism) with such grace and delicacy.  Like being read a bedtime story from a parent, this film tucks us in nice and easy and assures us that there is good in the world, even if we have to dig to find it.

Before you balk, I have a personal connection to this film, as it was the first 'horror' film my mother introduced me to, and so it colors my love of this a little richer than for others, possibly.  That being said, I think most would agree that this is such a splendid example of camp-horror, especially with Davis's deliciously demented turn and the incredible backstory of seething hatred between the film's stars.

Oh, Ingmar Bergman.  Always bringing the heightened drama in such a restrained and deliberate way, and the inflections of religious torment (like, this guy's relationship with God must have been very...confused) are always played out so effectively.  Couple that with two of the decades finest performances (like, for real) and you have a film that is impossible to shake.

So there you have it, 20 reasons why I feel 1962 could be the greatest year for film in the history of cinema.  Sure, there have been some great film years (1939, 1999 and 2007 often get cited as top tier years for cinema), but no one really talks about 1962, and they need to.  I mean, I didn't even have room for films like Harakiri, The Miracle Worker, The Music Man, How the West Was Won, Billy Budd, Cape Fear and Viridiana, all of which are strong representations of the variety and quality of the year.

And yes, for many Lawrence of Arabia is also great.

So, let's talk Fisti Awards for a minute, because they are coming soon!  Out of the 83 nominations, 60 of them are from these 20 films, and out of the 17 wins, only 3 go to films not on this list.  So, which films do you think land on my Best Picture ballot?  Any guesses as to my acting winners?  Who/what do you think I'll be snubbing?  My Best Picture winner snags 8 nominations and only loses one of them.  Any ideas?  Be on the lookout, for they should be up within the week!


  1. I've seen 9 of those films from the posters you showed. What a year it was in cinema.

  2. I've seen half of these. I'm practically positive I know your BP winner but I'll wait until you post to say. I also think I have an inkling of your actress winner, I don’t think we’ll agree though my winner is in one of your top 20 so we’ll see. The film I'm shocked not to see on the list is The Manchurian Candidate.

    I’m glad to see I’m not alone in finding the well-acted, beautifully photographed Lawrence of Arabia an unworthy winner. I’ve never seen it in a theatre which I know has changed some people’s opinion but the thought of that is akin to a root canal without Novocain. It’s visually impressive but thunderingly dull.

    This is an incredibly rich year, a best year distinction is a tough call though. Even without seeing 50% of yours I had a surfeit to make a list of twenty, although a couple of mine aren’t necessarily “the best films” of the year they are ones I have a great deal of affection for, those won’t end up in my final five though.
    Here’s my twenty:

    Advise and Consent
    All Fall Down
    The Birdman of Alcatraz
    Cape Fear
    The Chapman Report
    The Counterfeit Traitor
    Experiment in Terror
    How the West Was Won
    Knife in the Water
    Lonely Are the Brave
    The Manchurian Candidate
    The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
    The Miracle Worker
    The Music Man
    Requiem for a Heavyweight
    Ride the High Country
    Sweet Bird of Youth
    Walk on the Wild Side
    Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

    Even with the twenty I had to exclude among others- Two for the Seesaw, Five Finger Exercise, To Kill a Mockingbird, Dr. No, Light in the Piazza, If a Man Answers and Jules and Jim.

    I’m glad to see you liked How the West Was Won. When you did the post of favorite shots I said I love one from it with Carroll Baker and George Peppard and you mentioned that you were about halfway through the film. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it now that you’ve seen the whole thing.

    1. Oh, guess!!! I want to know what you're thinking. I won't say if you're right, so don't worry about spoiling anything. I'm interested to know what you're thinking.

      I really kind of hate The Manchurian Candidate. It just feels so stuffy and silly and I just never cared for it. That said, there is one aspect of that film I find delicious...and it reaps a Fisti win for it, too!

      And yes, I'm glad that someone agrees with me on Lawrence. It's so pretty and dull and rather empty. It never did anything for me, never reached me.

      Yeah, this year is a bounty, and to further prove that, I haven't seen 8 of your listed films!

      I really liked, admired I guess is a better word, How the West Was Won, but I didn't love it. It's such a beautiful film, handsomely made and ambitious as hell, but it doesn't all come together how I'd like, to be honest. I can feel the weight of the segments feeling someone singular, and in those singular parts I really like it, but overall it just didn't strike me as a film I could love. Admire and respect, yes.

    2. Okay, I'd be SHOCKED if Jules & Jim isn't your BP winner and I suspect Jeanne Moreau will be your actress but to me this is the year and performance Kate Hepburn should have won for, she is so incredibly raw and really digs deep in Long Days Journey.

      My guess for the component in Manchurian that you find noteworthy is Angela Lansbury's deeply disturbing Mrs. Iselin.

      I can see your point about HTWWW and occasionally the different directorial styles of each segment can cause a disconnect but it's so sprawling and for me involving that factor never bothers me. I just let it sweep me along, and of course I'm a sucker for the cast, especially the surprisingly simpatico pairing of Debbie Reynolds and Gregory Peck. Then of course there's Thelma Ritter, and Richard Widmark and Agnes Moorehead and Carroll Baker get the idea.

    3. I'll say this, I love Katherine Hepburn (and really the entire cast of Long Day's Journey Into Night), and of Oscar's nominees...I wholly agree she should have won. In all honesty, it's possibly her finest performance ever.

      That is all I will say at the moment.

  3. First off wtf, if you'd mentioned Lawrence of Arabia at the beginning I would agree with you that the year is one of the best, second I guess that Gregory Peck will be nominate for best actor, Bette Davis will be nominate for actress, Lolita for screenplay, Andrei Tarkovsky for director and that Jules et Jim will win 7 awards.

    1. You can add Lawrence to my list of films as further proof that this year is amazing. Like I said, it is just not a film I really cared for, but many love it and so I respect that. Even taking that film out though, the year is AMAZING!

      And you got two of your four guesses correct, but I won't say which two ;-)

    2. No, just that Lawrence is an icon of this year. It's constantly on the best of all-time but I'm not a big fan of it. It's good but not my type. But you didn't mentioned Dr. No. How you can forget to mention one of the best spy movie ever?

    3. Ah, ok. Dr. No is a great James Bond film, but not one of my personal favorites of the year, but further proof that this was the best year for film ever :-D

    4. Oh and what do you think about L'Eclisse?

    5. I like it...up until that finale where it all kind of goes off for me. I know it was some kind of art house statement, but it was tonally jarring for me. Outside of that, I really do like it!

    6. Oh but have you heard of a Japanese film Sanjuro?

    7. Yup, saw that one. Didn't love it as much as I was hoping, considering that I was a big fan of The Lower Depths. Still, a pretty great film.

      See...this year is just incredible!

  4. Well, I love Laurence and the epic ness of it but there are films that are better and "To Kill A Mockingbird" is one of them. I have not seen most of the foreign films but I love the "series" from Truffaut that started with the "400 Blows". Jules and Jim is a film that has stuck with me even though I was irritated by it because of the main gal. It is for that reason that it should be here. Who can't love "Baby Jane" especially the swagger of Bette Davis in this film plus the fact that she did wallop Joan Crawford a few times. (Joan got her back by sewing some weights in her dress when Bette had to lift her). Joel mentioned "The Counterfeit Traitor" which is a hidden gem. "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" always makes me cry and it has so much soul in it. "Ride The High Country" is another gem that is directed by the maverick Sam Peckinpah (spelling) who showed tenderness in this film.

    1. Truffaut's 'series' is tremendous.

      I love all of the off-screen backstory to Baby Jane. It's delicious!

      I need to see this The Counterfeit Traitor and Ride the High Country apparently!

  5. So...surprising absolutely no one...I've seen zero of these. But I'm willing to.

    Hmm...where to start?

    (Oh, and great f--king post, by the good)

    1. I'd tell you to start with the foreign films, for sure, simply because this year was so rich with them, but really you can throw a dart at this stack and land on a film you need to see.

      See Lolita. It's Stanley Kubrick, it's sexual tension, it's black comedy, it's taboo, it's genius.

      See To Kill a Mockingbird. It's iconic for a reason.

      See Jules and Jim. It's perfect.

      See La Jetee. It's only like 30 minutes and it redefines what sci-fi really means.

      See Mutiny on the Bounty. It's Brando, it's swashbuckling, it's brazen, it's epic, it's consuming.

      Start there.

  6. Brilliant post! I'm a fan of all the ones I've seen.

    Wow! That one film gets 7 wins? Love it!

    So glad you loved Mutiny on the Bounty. Like, it's bloated, but in the best way.

    The performances in Winter Light are amazing, especially Bjornstrand's, which is still in my top 5 performances of all time.

    I still need to watch La Jetee, The Exterminating Angel, Antoine et Collette, Lola, Requiem for a Heavyweight, Le Doulos, and Sundays and Cybele. I'm getting there! :)

    For fun, here are my winner predictions (because the noms would be even harder, LOL):

    Picture: Jules and Jim
    Director: Truffaut, Jules and Jim
    Actor: Bjornstrand, Winter Light
    Actress: Moreau, Jules and Jim
    Supporting Actor: Sellers, Lolita
    Supporting Actress: Lansbury, The Manchurian Candidate
    A. Screenplay: Jules and Jim
    O. Screenplay: Il Sorpasso (unless you count The Exterminating Angel as Original)
    Art Direction: Lawrence of Arabia
    Cinematography: Last Year at Marienbad
    Costumes: The Music Man
    Editing: Jules and Jim
    Score: Jules and Jim
    Song: "Le Tourbillon" from Jules and Jim
    Makeup: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
    Sound: How the West Was Won
    Visual Effects: Mutiny on the Bounty

    LOL. Those are probably VERY wrong. :P

    1. I...don't want to say have to will myself to stay silent right now!