To hear it from The Limey‘s Terry Valentine (i.e., Peter Fonda), 1966 was the only year in which “the ’60s” were fully in flower. There were countless manifestations — spiritual, creative — and hints of coming disturbances. April ’66 saw the famous Time magazine cover that asked “Is God dead?”, which was used by Roman Polanski during the filming of Rosemary’s Baby a year later. The following month saw the release of Bob Dylan‘s Blonde On Blonde (and the coughing heat pipes in “Visions of Johanna”) and Brian Wilson‘s Pet Sounds, and three months later Revolver, the Beatles’ “acid album” which turned out to be their nerviest and most leap-forwardy, was released. All kinds of mildly trippy, tingly, unnerving things were popping all over.
But you’d never guess what was happening to go by the mood, tone and between-the-lines repartee during the 39th Oscar Awards, which honored the best films of 1966 but aired in April ’67, or roughly seven weeks before the release of Sgt. Pepper. Bob Hope‘s opening monologue is punishing, almost physically painful to endure. And look…there’s Ginger Rogers!
Fred Zinneman‘s A Man For All Seasons won six Oscars that night — Picture, Director (Fred Zinneman), Actor (Paul Scofield), Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Art Direction — and there’s no question that it still “plays”. Well acted, beautifully written by Robert Bolt. But it also feels a bit smug by today’s standards, a little too starchy and theatrical.
What 1966 films play best by 2018 aesthetic standards? Certainly The Sand Pebbles, which should have won Best Picture, and which contained Steve McQueen‘s most open-hearted, career-best performance. The second best ’66 film by my yardstick was and is Michelangelo Antonioni‘s Blowup (that London-based film completely absorbed and reflected what was going in in late ’65 and ’66). The third finest was Richard Brooks‘ The Professionals, a crafty, ace-level western actioner that plays beautifully by today’s measure and which contains Lee Marvin‘s second-best performance (after “Walker” in ’67’s Point Blank).
Other ’66 hotties: Mike Nichols‘ Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Lewis Gilbert‘s Alfie, John Frankenheimer‘s Seconds and Grand Prix, Milos Forman‘s Loves of a Blonde, Billy Wilder‘s The Fortune Cookie, Norman Jewison‘s The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming, Claude Lelouch‘s A Man and a Woman, Gille Pontecorvo‘s The Battle of Algiers, Richard Lester‘s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Pier Paolo Woody Allen’s What’s Up, Tiger Lily?, Pier Paolo Pasolini‘s The Gospel According to St. Matthew, Karel Reisz‘s Morgan!, or a Suitable Case for Derangement.