10. Masque of the Red Death (1964, directed by Roger Corman)
Price is simply phenomenal, oozing danger and evil while having his trademark sense of humor (which makes him and that smile all the more frightening). It's opulently made, or at least appears so, reusing sets from the Peter O'Toole/Richard Burton starring medieval movie Becket. Looking terrific (shot by the legendary Nicolas Roeg), coupled with Corman not turning away or cheapening the darkness of Poe's original material, it's absolutely a terrific movie, and very worthy of its inclusion on this list.
9. High and Low (1963, directed by Akira Kurosawa)
The movie is split almost in half, with the first dealing with the kidnapping, and the second dealing with the search for the kidnappers. It's to Kurosawa's credit that even though Mifune is one of the most charismatic and watchable leading men the movies have ever known, when the cop characters take over the second half of the film, the quality never dips. It's a tremendous movie, and one whose reputation (rightfully) grows year after year.
8. The Silence (1963, directed by Ingmar Bergman)
Intended as the final entry into Bergman's "Faith Trilogy", starting with 1961's Through a Glass Darkly, and continued with 1963's Winter Light, The Silence evokes its title in many ways. Of course, if an artist refers to something as a "Faith Trilogy" and there's an entry called "The Silence", you can bet that the silence of God will be an issue in that piece. But Bergman always dealt with heavy issues like that in his work. On a much simpler level, The Silence is a very low key movie, with not a ton of dialog. The thing I actually came out remembering most was all of those great shots in and out of the hallway as the young boy searches through the hotel. It felt like an expansive journey of a movie, I was surprised to find out that it is only an hour and a half long. It feels longer, in a weirdly good way.
7. The Haunting (1963, directed by Robert Wise)
It's not complicated. A team of people goes to investigate the alleged haunting of Hill House. Two men, Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson) and Luke (Russ Tamblyn), two women, Eleanor (Julie Harris) and Theo (Claire Bloom). Finding simple things in the house like unexplainable cold spots, the tension ratchets up until we have things like "HELP ELEANOR COME HOME" scrawled on the walls and (naturally) Eleanor, who seemed initially to have the least connection to the project, starts to unravel. The movie has some great set pieces, like the door bowing into the room where the girls sit frightened on the bed, but the SFX are always in service of the story, and Wise never forgets that this is the story of these people, Eleanor in particular, not the SFX. Made between his huge successes of 1961's West Side Story and 1965's The Sound of Music, you wouldn't think this was made by the same filmmaker, but that's what makes Wise one of the underappreciated great directors of all time.
6. Blowup (1966, directed by Michelangelo Antonioni)
I think he's after a couple of things. 1.) He shows his main character, Thomas, bored with the mundanity of his fashion shoots and longing to be artistically motivated again. Antonioni had not really been going through a dry spell as an artist, but I think all artists feel bored and feel a need to reconnect or rechallenge themselves again. But to what end? Thomas almost becomes stuck in his project, not sure of how to get out (or if he even wants to) 2.) Antonioni is commenting on the nature of reality and perception. The famous ending scene with the mimes playing tennis as Thomas watches is a perfect distillation of Antonioni's asking of the question "what is reality? How is it different from perception? IS it different?" Few thrillers have ever challenged us to ask such deep questions before.
5. Red Beard (1965, directed by Akira Kurosawa)
The movie is the journey of arrogant young doctor Yasumoto (Yuzo Kayama), who for his post-graduate job is sent to work for the enigmatic Akahige, or "Red Beard", Dr. Niide (Mifune). Brash and uppity about his fancy Dutch medical training, Yasumoto believes he has nothing to learn from the small hospital Niide runs, and certainly not from the man himself. Over the course of the movie, though, Yasumoto's guard comes down and Niide forces him to grow up and realize that there's much more to medicine than the latest technological training. Sometimes you simply need to bear witness to the life of someone you can't save, and sometimes you have to work harder than you thought possible to save someone who doesn't think they can be saved.
Red Beard is probably Mifune's triumph as an actor. Gruff, no-nonsense, intimidating, but caring, philosophical, and strong and smart in every possible way, he's a fascinating character, expertly underplayed by the sometimes over-the-top Mifune. Sadly, it was allegedly the reservations of one of the writers saying that Mifune's performance was "all wrong" that led Kurosawa to question his leading man and ultimately never work with him again. While it was the financial stress put on Mifune by having to wear a natural beard and be available for sporadic shooting for more than two years, ultimately losing out on upwards of 10 movie roles in the process that caused Mifune to not want to work with Kurosawa again. Sad though it was that this was their swansong, it's a remarkable movie and a satisfying finale to the greatest actor/director combo in all of cinema.
4. Psycho (1960, directed by Alfred Hitchcock)
On a side note, the controversial "shot-by-shot" remake that Gus Van Sant made in 1998 is one of the most fascinating pieces of experimental cinema I've seen. When asked why he did it, he said "so no one else would have to." He was trying to see if recreating a magical movie like Psycho shot-by-shot would retain all of the cinematic greatness, or if there's something deeper and unexplainable that makes a certain movie special. Sadly, it's obvious from seeing his version that the movie doesn't work, and there is indeed something deeper and unexplainable going on here. But since so much vitriol has been spit at Van Sant over the years for this project, I actually wanted to voice my support of his artistic balls, even if I think he failed to make a good movie.
3. The Apartment (1960, directed by Billy Wilder)
The description of the plot doesn't sound like there's much room for comedy either, but you must remember that this was the creative team just coming off of the great Some Like It Hot the previous year. Lemmon, Wilder, and co-writer I.A.L. Diamond were all at the top of their games and crafted one of the most complex, interesting movies to ever win a Best Picture Oscar, a fitting cap on the unabashed greatness that's permeates this masterpiece.
2. Persona (1966, directed by Ingmar Bergman)
The story then gets more odd and abstract, as we later see a monologue delivered once with the camera completely on Liv Ullmann's face, and then cut to Bibi Andersson's as the monologue is redelivered. After this comes the famous scene where Bergman take half of Ullman's face and half of Andersson's and mashes them together to show a truly frightening image of one face. Despite the bone chilling feeling of watching these two come together, my interpretation of the movie has always been that Alma and Elisabet are simply the same person, with Alma breaking off into her own character as Elisabet refuses to speak out loud.
Interpretations of movies like this are fun, but nothing compares to the visceral feeling of actually watching it. The moment when the two faces of these absolutely gorgeous women come together to make this monstrous looking face is a chilling psychological horror feeling I've not ever felt from another movie. I almost had to turn it off it was so disturbing to me. So great is Bergman that a simple act like this (something Bergman superfan Woody Allen later used in his comedy Love and Death) could have such an impact. Less than an hour and a half long, it's the epitome of the movie that you may not quite be sure what each piece means upon your viewing, but you're sure that you've seen greatness that must be dissected and examined.
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, directed by Stanley Kubrick)
The movie really is driven by technology, the apes in the opening sequence discovering the use of bones as tools and weapons really being the first technology. We jump ahead to spaceships and all this crazy cool tech stuff that has become so commonplace it's boring to the characters. Next, the most conventional (and entertaining) section, with the HAL9000 and its crew on their dangerous mission to Jupiter. And the final section where our technology is irrelevant, but our evolution keeps going. A fascinating look on every level, with all the questions it raises stimulating our minds, while the still nearly flawless SFX holding our eyes, 2001 is really an amazing achievement on every level.
Not necessarily easy to get through, I turned it off just a few minutes after the opening "Dawn of Man" sequence was over during my first attempt to watch it. But I went back and am glad that I did, as seeing it as a whole let me see what Kubrick was going for. Really the only complaint I have about this movie (which is in my all-time top 10) is the "Beyond the Infinite" sequence, where Dave goes through the wormhole into universes and planets and surfaces we could never imagine and can't really even process in our minds (this subject was a the focus of a section in Clarke's earlier masterpiece Childhood's End). The sequence goes on long after the point has been made, but even though it becomes monotonous after a bit, that makes the eventual sudden cut to Dave's face all the more shocking and effective. Kubrick's greatest movie, and the best movie of the 60's, 2001: A Space Odyssey.