It's hard to believe that 1964 was half a century ago. Although I wasn't alive yet, the number itself doesn't seem like it should be so ancient (sorry dad, who was born in 1964...you're now ancient). It's been long enough that films from that year are no longer considered "modern classics" but are now actual film classics. It was a good year for cinema, as you'll see below, plus a great year for the talent that was born. That's right, Sandra Bullock, Nicolas Cage, Keanu Reeves, Guillermo del Toro, Russell Crowe, Rob Lowe, Marissa Tomei, Clive Owen, Djimon Hounsou, John Leguizamo, Bridget Fonda, Vivica A. Fox, and Courtney Love are just a handful of talented (a stretch of the word for some of them) people turning 50 this year.
Here's a look at some of the movies that have become classics 50 years later:
10. ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS
Directed by Bryan Haskin
Starring Paul Mantee, Adam West, Victor Lundin, The Woolly Monkey
No, this is not a joke. The story follows Commander Kit Draper (Mantee) and Colonel Dan McReady (West) as they orbit Mars. A ship malfunction causes them to have to abort the mission and eject from the spacecraft. Draper and monkey named Mona are the only survivors, but then must fend for themselves as they try to adapt to Mars' atmosphere and surroundings. While this is no 2001: A Space Odyssey, it is an artfully-realized story of peril, adventure, and survival. The genius behind the Mars landscapes (actually filmed in a California desert) and the static dialogue used without definitely inject this film into the mod time period in which it was released. Stylized perfectly and worthy enough to receive the Criterion treatment recently, Robinson Crusoe on Mars is a little seen gem worth your time.
Directed by Peter Glenville
Starring Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole, John Gielgud
At first a story of loyalty, Becket becomes a story of the struggles between identity and destiny. Burton plays Becket, a saint in most regards. O'Toole plays King Henry II, the close friend of Becket's who, growing up, determines their futures are not synonymous. As the two destinies drift further and further apart, the friends become enemies and their plight becomes King Henry's emotional demise. The film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, but walked away with just one: Best Adapted Screenplay. Burton and O'Toole are both Hollywood legends in their own right (with O'Toole recently receiving an Oscar nod for Venus), but this is, arguably, each of their respective careers most-prized turns.
8. ZORBA THE GREEK
Directed by Mihalis Kakogiannis
Starring Anthony Quinn, Alan Bates, Irene Papas
Winning 3 Oscars out 7 nominations (including Best Picture), Zorba the Greek is a beautifully shot and inspired adventure story in the grandest of schemes. Bates plays an English writer traveling to the island of Crete on assignment. While there he happens upon Alexis Zorba, played to perfection by Quinn, a life-loving Greek with a huge sense of adventure. The two seek out some of Crete's finest offerings and the unhappy recluse of a writer realizes that life has more to offer. In this day and age it's hard to appreciate an life-changing story without vivid colors, but the cinematography alone is enough to turn any frown upside down.
7. THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA
Directed by John Huston
Starring Richard Burton, Ava Gardner, Deborah Kerr
Based on the Tennessee Williams play, Huston's drama centers on a down-on-his-luck man struggling with faith, stability, and life. This is Burton's second entry on the list, just going to show that the limelight-loving star had the talent to boost. Gardner and Kerr show up as two of the women on the busload of Baptists taking a tour with Burton's defrocked minister around Mexico. Burton's Rev. Shannon has to come to terms with his own failures before he can truly grasp the beauty before him. The film boasts some great drama. Love. Lust. Life. The three L's to any great Williams' drama. The film received a handful of Oscar nods, with Dorothy Jeankins' costuming winning a gold man.
6. A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS
Directed by Sergio Leone
Starring Clint Eastwood, Gian Maria Volonte, Marianna Koch
Sergio Leone is a master director of his time. The filmmaking trends set up with this cool western make this a classic on its own, not to mention the genius portrayal of Joe by Eastwood. Pop culture has plenty of reasons to thank Leone for this film about a wandering gun-slinger who uses his smarts to outwit two families, pitting them against each other, and walking away the man on top. Eastwood is tough as nails and the epitome of manhood. At the time the film was just one of many similar films in Eastwood's filmography. It may have gotten lost in the mix at the time (even though it was a fan favorite upon its release), but, like a fine wine, it's only gotten better with time. It's one of Hollywood's greatest westerns just as much as it's one of Hollywood's greatest films.
Directed by Guy Hamilton
Starring Sean Connery, Gert Frobe, Honor Blackman
James Bond! Maritnis! Women! Fort Knox! Goldfinger may the standard for which every Bond film must meet. Even though Daniel Craig's bond is debonair in his own way, Connery's turn as England number one secret agent is what made Bond one of cinema's most memorable characters. In Goldfinger, our hero uncovers a plot to contaminate and destroy Fort Knox. The evil Goldfinger, one of the series' best villains, is played to perfection by Frobe. Blackman, as Pussy Galore, set the precedent for every Bond girl that followed. Basically, the official James Bond book of rules was written after this film. It was current, edgy, and exciting when released and is still one of the best thrillers of all time.
4. MY FAIR LADY
Directed by George Cukor
Starring Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, Stanley Holloway
Hepburn had already cemented her fame thanks to films like Breakfast at Tiffany's and Roman Holiday, which meant that her in My Fair Lady should have been a no-brainer. Unfortunately, a relative newcomer, Julie Andrews, had originated the role on Broadway to much fanfare. Andrews was filming a movie called Mary Poppins, which we'll get to soon, so she was unable to take on the iconic role of Eliza Doolittle. Hepburn did her best, but there's a loss in magic when your star doesn't even sing her own songs. Despite that little fact, My Fair Lady is a great work of theatrical film. Hollywood doesn't quite make movies on the same scale or grandeur, which is a shame. The film was a surprise Best Picture winner. While it wasn't necessarily the year's absolute best, it wasn't completely undeserving of the win.
3. DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Starring Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, James Earl Jones
A quick disclaimer: it was almost impossible to rank these top three films. Kubrick is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time and his vision will hardly ever be matched. Dr. Strangelove not only boasts one of the longest film titles ever, but is also one of the best tongue-in-cheek, political films ever made. A possible nuclear holocaust by a crazed general throws a whole room full of political forces into a madhouse of great proportions as they try to stop the impending doom. Sounds funny, right? The film is a great testament to the power of conspiracy and terror. It's also over-the-top enough to speak its mind without offending any one set of politicos. Sellers is brilliant and the film could've easily been named the Best Picture of the year over My Fair Lady.
2. A HARD DAY'S NIGHT
Directed by Richard Lester
Starring John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr
This is definitely one of those films that defined its time perfectly. It's also a great example of a movie that's only gotten better as the years have gone by. The premise is simple: a casual following of a normal day in the life of The Beatles. Any notion you may have that this is just an old music doc you can push to the side. The music alone is classic enough to chart this high above other projects. From Liverpool to London, the Fab Four get caught up in many hijinks and adventures. It's a groovy tale of far out awesomeness wrapped up in a nicely shot package. The Criterion treatment the film recently received preserves the classic turbulence of the rise of fame and serves as a beautiful time capsule for a true movie classic. It's also a change in focus for a scripted film, using people playing versions of themselves (Alun Owen even received an Oscar nod for his screenplay). Many people may argue, but can you truly go wrong with The Beatles? The answer can sometimes be yes, but here it is a clear no. This is a classic.
1. MARY POPPINS
Directed by Robert Stevenson
Starring Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, David Tomlinson, Glynis Johns
Andrews had yet to sing among the hills to the sound of music, but she was quickly taking over the world after her star-making turn as the beautiful, magical, and perfect Mary Poppins, a nanny brought in to work for an uptight banker's family. As we learned last year in Saving Mr. Banks, Poppins' story has much more to it than initially seen, which may be why this film resonates so well no matter your age. Van Dyke's Bert is a goofball in the perfect sense. The Sherman brothers' musical numbers are classics in and of themselves, outside of just the film. There are so many things here that have signature Disney brushstrokes that it's easy to forget that this is the film that started it all. There's enough whimsy here to delight children and enough heart to brighten the grumpiest of adults. The film was a huge success and catapulted Andrews to fame. It also changed the game for family films and musicals. You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't smile at the first inklings of "A Spoonful of Sugar" or a kid who hasn't tried to memorize the spelling of "Supercali..." (I'm not even going to attempt). Simply perfect in every way.