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Laurence Station's Best Films of the 1970s

Top 10:

1. The Godfather, Parts I & II (Francis Ford Coppola, USA, 1972 /1974)
In 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.
 
2. 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 darkness passes.
3. 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 reality.
 
4. 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. Riveting.
5. 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.
 
6. Last Tango in Paris (Bernardo Bertolucci, France / Italy, 1972)
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.
7. 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".
 
8. 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.
9. 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 narrative device.
 
10. 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 (Alphabetically Listed):
 
  • 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 (Francis 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 skill.
  • 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 Alaska.
  • 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 intense drama.
  • 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 beach-going agenda.
  • 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 fare.
  • 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.
 
Outstanding Actors:
 
Jack Nicholson - Key films: Five Easy Pieces (1970) Carnal Knowledge (1971), The Last Detail (1973), Chinatown (1974), One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)   Diane Keaton - Key films: The Godfather (1972), The Godfather Part II (1974), Love and Death (1975), Annie Hall (1977), Manhattan (1979)
 
Outstanding Director:
 
Francis Ford Coppola - Key films: The Godfather (1972), The Godfather Part II (1974), The Conversation (1974), Apocalypse Now (1979)
 

Much thanks to Filmsite.org for having scans of many of these posters online: http://www.filmsite.org/posters.html

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