The 60s weren’t the first decade of great films, however it was the time where filmmakers truly started consistently making great art, instead of just great films. The 60s paved the way for future films; and modern-day filmmakers are still being inspired and mirroring what they saw in this amazing decade. This list could easily be the list of greatest ever films made, as was the quality with a lot of films made in the 60s.
- Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – 1966
An adaptation of one of my favourite plays, this film is an excellent demonstration of pitch-perfect dialogue. A film set in one house (apart from that little random bit in a bar) with only four actors sounds like a recipe for boredom, but the toxic relationship between Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) and George (Richard Burton) sucks you in and keeps you hooked as you try to figure out whether they despise each other or love each other. With a handful of twists and shocking moments, this is pure drama at its finest and features two of the greatest acting performances ever captured.
- West Side Story – 1961
Greatest film musical of all time? It’s definitely in the top 3. This adaptation of Romeo and Juliet moves the action to New York and instead of rival families, the main action takes place between warring gangs, the Sharks and the Jets. The songs are beautiful, the dances are exquisite, and the blend of a love story with gang violence is touching. Whether you’re feeling sad and want a pick me up, or are in the mood for a tear jerker, West Side Story delivers both in spades.
- Rosemary’s Baby – 1968
This film is a lesson to all filmmakers on how to make a creepy film without relying on genre clichés. Polanski makes even the most mundane of scenes ooze tension, from the overbearing neighbours to the gothic apartment, even a simply party or game of scrabble, can set the nerves jangling. Rosemary and her actor husband move into a creepy old New York building that is inhabited by lots of elderly, well-meaning neighbours. When Rosemary falls pregnant after a terrifying nightmare she soon becomes ill and fears what may be growing inside her. The film is one of the greatest horror films ever made and is a masterclass in horror cinema.
- The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly – 1966
Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone are quite possibly the greatest pairing in cinema history. Leone’s direction combined with Morricone’s film scores have created some of greatest films in movie history. The Spaghetti Western trilogy comprising of A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and this entry is one of the best series of films, and in my opinion, the best Western films ever made … and they are Italian made and not American, which is noteworthy. The music combined with the artistic cinematography and editing creates a balletic display of pure perfection … plus Clint Eastwood … what more do you want?
- Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb – 1964
As a child watching this, the film went completely over my head and I didn’t realise it was a comedy. I thought it was a very bizarre war thriller until I re-watched it as an adult and realised it is one of the most hilarious films ever written. Across his career, Stanley Kubrick proved himself a master of many genres including comedy, horror, thrillers, and sci-fi, a feat that is rarely repeated nowadays. Dr Strangelove is very relevant to today’s politically charge world as it features a crazed general who initiates a nuclear war. Featuring incredible multi-role performances from Peter Sellers, this political satire is one of the best out there. The ending took so long to film because the camera crew were laughing too hysterically at Sellers’ performance, that they couldn’t do their job properly.
- Midnight Cowboy – 1969
This best picture winner from the end of the decade is the only X-Rated movie to win the prestigious award (although has since been changed to an R) and is all about friendship and failed dreams. Jon Voight’s character, Joe Buck, is a small-town Texan man who moves to New York to make it big as a gigolo before realising he’s a moron (basically). During his time in New York he meets Dustin Hoffman’s swindler character, Ratso, who is, for me, one of his greatest on-screen creations. The two forge an unlikely pairing as they try to navigate New York’s seedy underbelly together. Funny and touching, this is the way good dramas should be.
- The Graduate - 1967
Speaking of Dustin Hoffman, two years before Midnight Cowboy he made his fame and name as Benjamin in Mike Nichols’ (who also did Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) sublime ‘dramedy’. Following the titular Benjamin as a recent graduate as he returns home and tries to settle back into home life and make something of himself. At his return party, he ‘reconnects’ with his parent’s friend Mrs. Robinson, played by the terrifying and alluring Anne Bancroft who seduces him and they start a clandestine affair before chaos ensues when Benjamin falls in love with her daughter. The film is equal parts comedy and drama and it balances both genres to perfection. The film is iconic and features songs from the songbook of Simon and Garfunkel, one of the first ever films to feature pop songs instead of a composed score.
- 2001: A Space Odyssey – 1968
This one is going to be contentious as it almost falls into purely ‘art’ territory and often forgets it’s also supposed to be an enjoyable sci-fi film. At times, the endless views of space threaten to become boring, however they are so bloody beautiful, you don’t mind. Thanks to Kubrick’s genius, the film looks as good now, even with all of our modern CGI masterpieces and the operatic score combine to create a cinematic experience like no other. Ostensibly about the evolution of mankind, the films central ‘plot’ concerns itself with a rogue AI called Hal, who may or may not be planning on killing the two-man crew of the space ship.
- Psycho – 1960
The only Alfred Hitchcock film that makes the list (although, I really wanted to put Rear Window on here too) is also his scariest. Hitchcock is known as a horror director, but he actually made thrillers as he never directed films about supernatural events as he believed humans were scarier. With this in mind, Psycho is still a horror movie through and through, plus it’s one of the best. Marion Crane randomly steals a bunch of money and heads to her boyfriend’s house across the country, but before she can get there she stays at the Bates Motel where terror follows. One of the most masterfully directed films of all time, even though it was done on a small budget and with a TV crew (as the studio felt Hitchcock was past his best and wouldn’t give him the big budgets, even though he then went on to direct such classics as The Birds, Marnie, Torn Curtain, and Frenzy). Probably Hitchcock’s finest film and definitely one of the best horror movies ever made.
- Lawrence of Arabia - 1962
The most stunning film ever made? The setting of the Arabian desert is such a feast for the eyes that it’s hard to stay focused on the film as you’re too busy watching the scenery (especially if you get a copy of it on blu-ray). Telling the true story of T.E. Lawrence and his campaign against the Ottoman Empire during World War I, this film is ‘epic’ in all senses of the world. The battle sequences featuring hundreds of extras are truly mind-boggling as no modern-day director would ever undertake such a feat. The music is excellent, the set-pieces are excellent, and the … to be honest everything about it is truly excellent. You can’t call yourself a film fan until you’ve marvelled at Lawrence of Arabia.
Disagree with me? Would you have included The Great Escape, The Sound of Music, or The Apartment? Let me know on Twitter @MugwumpBlog