Other Notable Films from 1966
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Many consider this Sergio Leone’s masterpiece and one of the best films ever made; I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s one of the best Westerns ever and is my second favorite of his movies. All three of the main characters are extremely vivid and play incredibly well off each other, and it is almost a response to some of the John Wayne Westerns in that it de-romanticizes a lot of the old Western tropes that he helped create. Ennio Morricone’s score is one of the all-time greats (“Ecstasy of Gold” is one of the best songs in film history) and the ending builds off of what he did in “For a Few Dollars More” in a great way.
The Battle of Algiers: Highly acclaimed film about the Algerian War for Independence against France, done in documentary-style. It’s probably the best depiction of guerilla warfare on film (much less guerilla warfare in an urban setting) and features Ennio Morricone’s other great score from 1966. #48 on the Sight and Sound List.
Persona: Possibly Ingmar Bergman’s greatest achievement. Essentially a two-woman movie (as they are the only ones who appear for any kind of measurable screen time) with Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann whose own identities begin to breakdown and shift over the course of the film. Ranked as the 17th Greatest film of all-time on the last Sight and Sound Poll
Au Hasard Balthazar: How can you make the life and times of a donkey compelling and moving? That’s the challenge that this French film from Robert Bresson somehow meets, with its themes of human cruelty yet with a heavy spiritual message. #16 on the last Sight and Sound Poll.
Andrei Rublev: Epic historical drama about the Russian painter and Christianity’s place in Russian history (during a time when, in 1966, religion was outlawed there). #26 on the last Sight and Sound Poll.
Blowup: Michelangelo Antonioni’s first English-language film and was as stylish as Hollywood got at the time-the fashion, art direction, the music (Herbie Hancock did the soundtrack, The Yardbirds actually have a cameo), the total defiance of the production code, everything about it screams 1960s. On paper, the plot sounds interesting: it’s about a photographer who inadvertently captures a murder in a park; in practice, I thought it was pretty aimless and mostly style without substance. However, most people consider it a great film and it might be worth a look for some.
The Endless Summer: One of the seminal surf movies, it’s a laid-back look at two surfers who decide to surf across the world, following the summer season across the equator so that summer for them never ends. In the National Film Registry.
Seconds: John Frankenheimer at the height of his powers teamed up with Rock Hudson in this low-budget, black and white Sci-Fi film about a secret organization that provides people dissatisfied with their lives a “second chance” by having them fake their deaths and assume a new identity through extensive plastic surgery; if this sounds like a familiar plot, it has been lifted in part or full many times since, but this version is the best of the bunch. It features a lot of general eeriness and great and disorienting cinematography. In the National Film Registry.
1966 Nominees in Review
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?: A
A Man for All Seasons: B (Won Best Picture)
The Sand Pebbles: C+
The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming: C-
I said coming in that this year was a two-film race and it was, although I thought the wrong one won. A Man for All Seasons is good, but it drags on too much in the first half, whereas Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? has still held up really well and is consistently great from start to finish. The rest of the films were okay but all had some substantial flaw to them, even if they had some very good central performances.
1967 is where you really start to see the New Hollywood asserting its dominance for the first time, and while Old Hollywood would push back some in the next few years afterwards, the writing was on the wall: things were changing everywhere and there was nothing anybody could do to stop this wave.
In 1967: a film that was groundbreaking in its violence and editing for Hollywood standards; The first film that had extensive merchandising before its release, and its massive failure is probably why the studio would later not think twice about giving George Lucas those rights for Star Wars; One of the most iconic soundtracks of all-time by the legends of folk rock; and two classic films starring Sidney Poitier.