Best Films of the 1970s
The Godfather, Parts I & II (Francis Ford Coppola, USA, 1972 /1974)
their examination of faith, family and fidelity, the two halves of
Coppola's seminal epic stand as landmark artistic achievements. The
promise and peril of the 20th century immigrant's American dream
receives a near operatic treatment from the acclaimed director, who took
what should have been little more than a stock gangster formula and
imbued it with an incisive and tragic sublimity.
Chinatown (Roman Polanski, USA, 1974)
Possession -- of land, water and people -- drives this cynical comment
on '70s corruption and excess garbed as a classic detective noir.
Screenwriter Robert Towne cuts to the core of human greed and director
Polanski expertly utilizes jaded, yet honorable investigator Jake Gittes
(Jack Nicholson) as a busted moral filter through which all the world's
Badlands (Terrence Malick, USA, 1973)
Inspired by the 1950s Starkweather-Fugate killing spree, Malick's eerily
poetic and refreshingly non-judgmental film depicts Eisenhower
conservatism butting heads with youthful rebellion, and the violent
outcome that results from two teenagers' desperate search for meaning in
a world that pales in comparison to their hyper-romanticized view of
Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, USA, 1976)
Director Scorsese's -- and writer Paul Schrader's -- grittily urban,
sociopathic fever dream about warped antihero and self-proclaimed "God's
lonely man" Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) is one of cinema's finest
alienated character sketches. Bickle tellingly loses his nerve when
facing the forces representing social order, but is near superhuman when
battling the fringe element with which he's more closely aligned.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Milos
Forman, USA, 1975)
Irresistible force (Free Will) collides head-on with immovable object
(Authority) in Milos Forman's brilliant adaptation of Ken Kesey's novel.
Jack Nicholson's conniving, emotionally volatile Randle Patrick McMurphy
is an iconic representation of the quintessential rebel, whose ultimate
fate brutally symbolized America's disaffected attitude toward
government and the justice system in the mid-'70s.
Last Tango in Paris (Bernardo Bertolucci, France /
Bertolucci's study of a grieving man's cowardly orchestration of
assisted suicide features Marlon Brando's finest performance. More a
film about lashing out against despair than the notorious sex scenes
it's often cited for, Last Tango is a brutally honest film that
doesn't blink in the face of one's man's clumsy stumble toward death.
A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, UK, 1971)
Kubrick's savage critique on society, and the fundamental flaw of a
society wherein punishment is more important than prevention, is
relentless in its assault to the senses. Malcolm McDowell's Alex and his
thuggish band of Droogs chillingly symbolize the need for strong
parenting in any culture and humanity's failed attempt at creating a
more civilized "civilization".
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Luis Buñuel, Spain / Italy / France, 1972)
Buñuel's inventive attack on the appalling ordinariness of the
Middle-Class, represented by a group of friends whose attempt to enjoy a
dinner party is successively interrupted by increasingly bizarre
incidents. The image of the group wandering aimlessly down a deserted
road becomes, through Buñuel's keen surrealistic lens, the embodiment of
their petty, shallow and repetitive lives.
Annie Hall (Woody Allen, USA, 1977)
Allen's refreshingly honest take on the Me Generation, wherein character
flaws are openly challenged and the difficulty of finding that "special
someone" in a selfish and self-centered world is humorously, yet
maturely, examined. Allen's decision to break the fourth wall and
address the audience directly proves a most effective and engaging
Zerkalo (Mirror) (Andrei Tarkovsky, USSR, 1974)
Tarkovsky's intimately subjective study of a dying middle-aged Russian
man's remembrances of his youth before, during and after the Second
World War feels akin to the experience of walking through a spectral
hall of mirrors, where things clearly aren't what they appear and
reality bends in bizarre and unexpected directions.
|Notable near misses
- Amarcord (Federico
Fellini, France / Italy, 1974) Fellini's zest for life, and his obsession
with pivotal memories of his childhood growing up in fascist Italy, are
exquisitely captured in this dreamlike, sinuously engaging tale.
- Apocalypse Now
Ford Coppola, USA, 1979) The hubris of Coppola, from the unrealistic
demands made on his actors to his spiraling budget, carries over onto
the screen in this malarial fever dream of a film. The madness of war
has rarely been personified so artfully, or with such concentrated
- Barry Lyndon (Stanley
Kubrick, UK, 1975) Kubrick's adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray's
novel, concerning an Irish scoundrel/gentleman experiencing the highs
and lows of 18th-century living, proves a fascinating, sumptuously
mounted and flawlessly executed examination of mannered barbarism and
the price one pays for displaying true emotion.
- The Conversation (Francis
Ford Coppola, USA, 1974) Like some paranoid self-destruct sequence,
Coppola's take on information control, and those who make a living
compiling and selling what others want to know, is a smart, nervous and
fascinating look at modern culture.
- Five Easy Pieces (Bob
Rafelson, USA, 1970) There are no easy answers in this film about one
man's quest for identity. From Rafelson's unobtrusive direction to Jack
Nicholson's note-perfect take on a man who has turned his back on his
well-to-do family in an effort to find the true music of life, be it
working in an oil field or venturing off to the great unknown of
- The French Connection
(William Friedkin, USA, 1971) Friedkin's greatest achievement in this
poetically gritty crime drama, aside from the jazzy fluidity of its
jaw-dropping action sequences, is the smart observation that detective
work is mostly long stretches of monotony broken by explosive moments of
- Hearts and Minds (Peter
Davis, USA, 1974) A searing documentary examining the folly and tragedy
of the United States' messy involvement in the Vietnam conflict. One of
the most powerful anti-war films ever made.
- Jaws (Steven Spielberg,
USA, 1975) Spielberg's first blockbuster, and the film that established
summer as the time for studios to roll out the big-ticket entertainment
fare, is a relentlessly jarring and gory reminder that nature will have
its way, no matter how disruptive it is to mankind's carefully planned
- The Last Detail (Hal
Ashby, USA, 1973) A study in freedom and the many joys it brings for one
poor sap about to lose his works as well as it does because there is no
last minute getaway. By film's end those outside prison feel just as
incarcerated as the men behind bars.
- The Last Picture Show
(Peter Bogdanovich, USA, 1971) Bogdanovich's adaptation of Larry
McMurtry's novel concerning the isolation and quiet desperation of the
people living in a small, dying Texas town. The film's greatest
achievement is that it never once passes judgment on its characters or
their often-foolhardy decisions.
- The Last Waltz (Martin
Scorsese, USA, 1978) The Band's final performance at Bill Graham's famed Winterland Arena in San Francisco stands as not only the best rock concert movie ever
made, but also one of the most passionately filmed efforts Scorsese ever
framed. The music is top notch, aided in no small part by the talented
friends who stop by to perform with the group. Play this movie loud!
- The Life of Brian (Terry
Jones, UK, 1979) The Monty Python troupe's peak film, a wicked satire on
religious zealotry and the bureaucracy that would callously choose to
oppress it. None are spared in this stinging assault on hypocrisy and
the senseless bloodshed wrought by sheer ignorance.
- M*A*S*H (Robert Altman,
USA, 1970) Altman's brilliantly freewheeling look at American doctors
during the Korean War manages to comment on the Vietnam conflict without
turning into a direct assault. This hilariously chaotic film, more than
any other, set the tone for acerbic,
critical cinema in America during the 1970s.
- Manhattan (Woody Allen,
USA, 1979) Allen's beautifully photographed (courtesy of the great
Gordon Willis) love letter to Manhattan, and insightful examination of the messiness of sexual
politics stands as one of his least sardonic, most
emotionally committed works.
- Nashville (Robert Altman,
USA, 1975) Despite the intriguing but too-obvious celebrity
assassination aspect, the whole of Nashville offers a masterful,
quintessentially American mosaic. One of Altman's best films.
- Patton (Franklin J.
Schaffner, USA, 1970) A towering, iconic performance by George C. Scott
is the primary reason to see this big-budgeted ode to the overweening
zeal and impassioned force one man can bring to the theater of war.
- Solaris (Andrei
Tarkovsky, USSR, 1972) Tarkovsky's patiently-crafted, deeply meditative
take on the acclaimed story by Stanislaw Lem tackles issues of science,
faith and what it means to be human, against the backdrop of a
mysterious, possibly sentient planet.
- The Sorrow and the Pity
(Marcel Ophüls, Switzerland / France / West Germany, 1971) Ophüls'
collection of first-hand testimonials and arresting period footage taken
during the Nazi occupation of France during World War II stands as one
of the greatest documentaries ever made. At four-and-a-half hours, and
dealing with intensely painful subject matter, it's not an easy film to
watch, but that's precisely the point. Ophüls raised a harsh mirror to
his country's recent past, and it provided a reflection many Frenchmen
were not yet willing to gaze upon.
- A Woman Under the Influence
(John Cassavetes, USA, 1974) This moody examination of a blue collar
housewife rebelling against stifling conditions stands as one of the
great, fearless riffs on the perils and rewards of matrimony. Gena
Rowlands and Peter Falk embody their respective roles with an almost
painful sincerity that elevates the film far above mere domestic drama
- Young Frankenstein (Mel
Brooks, USA, 1974) Brooks' finest hour, a hilarious tribute to
Universal's horror films of the 1930s, skewers yet never disrespects the
oft-hokey conventions of the genre. Gene Wilder gives his best
performance in what stands as one of the funniest comedies ever made.
Five Easy Pieces (1970)
(1971), The Last Detail
(1974), One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
Key films: The
The Godfather Part II
and Death (1975),
Ford Coppola -
Key films: The
The Godfather Part II
(1974), The Conversation
(1974), Apocalypse Now
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