Nightman’s Top Films Of The 1960s

I continue my summary of my favourite films by year and by decade with this, my favourite films of the 1960s.

10: Yojimbo (Japan 1961)

While Kurosawa and Hitchcock dominated my favourites of the 1950s, the two directors feature less here. This is another Kurosawa answer to a Western favourite, which would again be borrowed and remade in America. Toshiro Mifune is awesome (of course) as a Samurai who decides to pit the two warring sides of a small town against each other for his own gains. There are epic one liners, visuals, and the odd spot of action to keep even the most vocal foreign movie detractor happy.

9: The Jungle Book (Disney 1967)

People of my generation, growing up in the 80s and 90s, saw this on a yearly basis during childhood. I’m not sure why, but it always seemed to be there. It’s still one of the most satisfying and purely entertaining Disney movies – for us boys there was none of that romantic nonsense, just arsing about in the jungle with animals. Great songs, plenty of laughs, and many memorable characters make this one of the best Disney films ever.

8: The Birds (1963, USA)

Hitchcock’s final huge hit, and another departure for the director who spent most of the decade moving away from the sort of films he used to make. This is one of the few with a female protagonist/antagonist as we follow Tippi Hedren to Bodega Bay for the sake of some foreplay pranking. It isn’t long before things get weird, with minor bird attacks becoming widespread, massive, and terrifying. I love every performance here, and I love how almost nothing is explained, unlike most Hitchcock films. Sometimes birds just shit on you for no reason – other times they go for the throat.

7: Psycho (USA, 1960)

Hitchcock brought the horror film kicking and screaming into the modern world with Psycho. No longer was it ghosts or other worldly creatures to fear, but it was a friendly, helpful face – a neighbour, or someone you may have known your entire life. Decades ahead of its time from a technical and thematic standpoint, Psycho was not only a revelation upon release but remains shocking in today’s world of blank faces and faux reactions. If you’re reading this post then you’ve already seen the movie – it spawned a bunch of sequels and a pretty decent TV prequel series, and it has been parodied perhaps more than any other single horror film. Even with all of that, it can still be watched and enjoyed for its many merits.

6: Jason And The Argonauts (USA/UK, 1963)

Probably the only film on my list that purists will sneer at, and that’s fine – it’s a personal list. I’ve wrote about it before, but I’ve always loved myths and legends. Those are what probably got me into reading and writing, and from an early age I was obsessed with the adventures, the heroes, the quests, and monsters. When I wrote stories in school I would borrow plots, places, and character names from these stories. I studied Latin in school for seven years because of this. I did a year of Classical Studies at University because of this. I still say the perfect Greek Legend movie has yet to be made, but when I was young films such as Jason And The Argonauts were eye-opening – someone else clearly shared my obsession and wanted to see the stories put on film. This has it all for me – the adventure, the story about fulfilling one’s destiny and making a perilous journey, the disparate characters thrown together in vignettes – all those things which also made me first enjoy film as a form.

5: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly (Italy/Germany/Spain/US, 1966)

The pinnacle of the Western and it’s not even a ‘true Western’. When I was young I was not a fan of Western movies. If I wanted action I would turn to Arnie, and if I wanted nice shots of wide expanses I would look out my window. It was Spaghetti Westerns which changed my mind – they seemed more realistic, they had more violence, and things were less black and white. When you grow up in a war zone of sorts you either join a side or you get sick of the whole thing and realize that there are no sides – only death. The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly has sides, but it has layers and blurring boundaries. It also has one of the best scores ever, it also looks spectacular, and it has three of cinema’s best bad-asses being bad ass.

4: The Great Escape (USA, 1963)

I don’t really know how this is viewed in America, but in Britain watching this is a tradition. Everything about this film is perfect – score, cast, story. The first time I watched this, it was probably one of the oldest and longest films I had chosen to sit down and get through. It zipped by and each time I watch it, it never seems to get any older or slower. Again, if you’re here you know the story – a bunch of Allied Troops in a German POW camp decide to escape – that’s it. Again you have the assembly of characters introduced in near vignette style, each with their own particular skill or use, and the whole film builds up to (insert title here) where the troops make a break for freedom. It’s wonderful how it all builds, and how the last thirty minutes show the various groups and individuals outside the camp trying to evade capture. Probably my favourite War film ever.

3: The Magnificent Seven (USA, 1960)

I mentioned above how I never really liked Westerns when I was young. This is my favourite Western of all time, and really pulled me towards the genre. In many ways it’s one of the films which made me interested in ‘older’ movies. When I was younger – and I mean my early teens or before – I didn’t pay much attention to films which were made before I was born. There were exceptions of course, Star Wars, Jaws, The Bond Series, and Martial Arts movies. The Magnificent Seven was one of the first gateway films for me – a film made twenty three years before I was born that had more bad-ass moments and characters than a hundred other movies combined. Again as I’ve stated before, this film perfects the whole assorted group of characters introduced in vignette style, coming together for a shared purpose. That purpose is basically a suicide mission – protecting a group of poor and elderly farmers from a group of violent schemers led by the great Eli Wallach. What’s not to like? Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner, Charles Bronson, a terrific Bernstein score, laughs, action, one-liners, even a tacked on romantic sub-plot. It’s fantastic, and another one of those films which never fails to entertain and that you can enjoy from any point of its running time if you happen upon it while channel hopping.

2: You Only Live Twice (UK, 1967)

My favourite Connery Bond movie, by quite some distance, and one of my top five favourite Bond films, You Only Live Twice is a lot more fun than most of the early outings. It ticked a lot of boxes for me when I was young – Japan, Ninjas, secret bases, epic fights and stunts, dogfights, piranha death, and more. It’s maybe the first instance of showing Bond in a tragic light – he gets married and his wife is promptly killed, something which would become commonplace in the series, and even though it’s a sham wedding it reinforces the fact that this is a solo, solitary life of little more than constant sacrifice and danger. This has some of the best sets in the series and many of my favourite moments.

1: The Night Of The Living Dead (1968, USA)

What else can I say about the best horror movie of the decade, and one of the best ever? Would I like there to have been a bigger budget, perhaps bigger actors? I don’t think so – it’s perfect as it is, and just as chilling as it ever was. This is where it all began. A brother and sister are visiting a graveyard apparently situated some distance from the nearest large town. Within moments they are attacked randomly, with one seemingly being killed and the other escaping to a nearby farmhouse. From there, the horror truly begins as reports of the dead coming back to life and attacking the living emerge and a group of assorted survivors converge in the house and try to survive the night. Just like real life, opinions differ, tempers flare, and… well, if you haven’t seen it I’ll just let you experience it for yourself. This is horror, this is is film at its most relevant, potent, filmmaking at its most raw and honest, and an absolute must for anyone calling themselves a film fan.

Let us know in the comments what your favourite films of the 1960s are – do you have any hidden gems or do you stick to the mainstream? How many films are a product of Hollywood, or do you have any non-US entries?

Tell it like it is!

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