Bell Bottom jeans.  Platform shoes.  Lava Lamps.  Public "streaking."  Disco dancing.  Pet rocks.  The social and cultural mishap that was The Village People...

 

Ah yes...this was the 70's.

 

Many who have lived through this decade have cried foul and stated that nothing memorable happened in it.  Yet, it was easily one of the more polarized decades.  From the Watergate cover-up and resignation of U.S. President Richard Nixon, to the end of the Vietnam War with the fall of Saigon, to the "Son of Sam" mass murders, to massive oil embargos, to the Iran Hostage Affair, to the murder of students on the campus of Kent State University...the 70's were "memorable", if not a bit disheartening.  Socially, North America matured in many ways, just look at the beginnings of the Earth Day and conservationism, as well as the equal rights amendment to the U.S. constitution and the beginning of the Woman Lib movement.  Other areas of growth were a bit more controversial - such as the Supreme Court decision in 1973 that legalized abortion to the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976 -  left many people scratching their heads and voicing their views.  Hey, it was not all downhill or bleak in the 70's, as it was the decade that saw the birth of the modern home video game machines with the incredibly minimalistic Pong, but it also saw a series of embarrassing events in the entertainment industry, most notably in the form of 8 track cassettes, The Bee-Gees (that's the "Brother's Gibb, to you and me), and The Village People.

 

Well, considering the fact that I only lived through exactly half of the this "groovy" decade, there's a debate as to whether or not I'm articulate or knowledgeable enough to compile my list of the TEN BEST FILMS from this period.  Although I don't actually recall seeing any films, per se, in the 70's, I still maintain to this day that it was one of the best decades for the cinema of the last four thus far.  Some of the offerings on my list I experienced as a wide-eyed child and continue to take great pleasure in watching today, whereas others I was exposed to as I approached young adulthood when my appetite and exposure to great cinema flourished.

 

So, despite the fact that I only lived five years of my life in the 70's, I'm still feel confident enough - after digesting countless films from this great decade - that I'm equipped well enough to provide my take on the best offerings of films it had to offer.  So, blow dry your hair, put your mood rings and wide-collared shirts on, and let's take a time machine back to look at the great films of the decade.  And remember, much as I have mentioned with my TEN BEST FILMS OF THE 1980's and 1990's,  I tried to be as eclectic with my picks as possible.  

 

 

WATCH me talk about some of my picks on CTV:

 

1.    STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE (1977) 

(TIE for FIRST)

 
 

Was there any real doubt in the world that this film would make my list, folks?  George Lucas' original first film that began his STAR WARS sextet is a milestone work if there ever was one.  His space fantasy irrevocably change the film industry in so many countless ways, and the special effects advances that it pioneered fundamentally altered most of the populist entertainment that was made since (hugely cherished adventure trilogies like THE TERMINATOR, THE MATRIX, and, yes, THE LORD OF THE RINGS, all owe Lucas a huge debt).  Not only that, but few films were the jolt of pure, whimsical escapist fun that this film (and its sequels and prequels) was; it's a wonderful concoction of the classic science fiction movie serials of the 30's and 40's, the motifs of the sprawling John Ford Westerns, and the mythological and historical archetypes of the past.  A NEW HOPE, to use it's modern day title properly, is the absolute benchmark by which all other films that try to achieve a sense of endless wonder aspire to be.

 
 

1.    TAXI DRIVER (1976) (TIE for FIRST)

 
 

I have written here on my site, far too many times to mention, that I think that Martin Scorsese is the finest American director working today.  He most certainly directed one of the best films of out current decade in THE AVIATOR, and most assuredly made the best film of the 1990's in GOODFELLAS, not to mention the best film of the 1980's in RAGING BULL.  But alas dear readers, let's not forget one of the seminal works of the 1970's in the form of TAXI DRIVER.  This is one of the best films about isolation, desperation, internal pathos and paranoia, and sexual dysfunction ever made, and it is all designed with the sure-fire combination of style, edginess, and confidence that would later define Scorsese's other great works.  Travis Bickle is the ultimate anti-hero, an emotionally battered and isolated man from a society that he both simultaneously lives in and despises.  When he can't achieve a modest degree of social success with the woman of his dreams, his own cathartic release of his vented up sexual energies is to plot an assassination of a presidential candidate, which inevitably leads him down a path to help "save" a young street prostitute from her pimp.  TAXI DRIVER is cinema of the bold and fascinating, and one of the great character pieces of the 1970's, one that clearly helps reiterate the harsh sentiments that many had during the time without acting on the impulses that Travis Bickle eventually does. 

 
 

2.    APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)

 
 

Is APOCALYPSE NOW the best film about the Vietnam War ever made?  No, but it surly is one of the most ambitious, surreal, and unforgettable war films ever made.  Francis Ford Coppola always seems to be remembered for THE GODFATHER in terms of his noteworthy works of the 1970's, but I think that his gutsy, stylish, provocative, daring, and large scale Vietnam War opus is his finest work he has ever committed to.  From its hauntingly beautiful cinematography, to its expansive and robust action set pieces, to its quieter and more evocative characters moments, to its final confrontation with a crazed former Army Colonel now religious jungle zealot (played in one of the great performances of monosyllabic and incoherent rambling that only a method man like the late Marlon Brando could pull off), APOCALYPSE NOW is a great allegory on madness that just happens to be set in the Vietnam War.  "The horror" indeed.

 
 

3.    AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973)

 
 

The 1970's were undoubtedly a Golden Age of not only the cinema, but of a new breed of Hollywood filmmaker, which is clearly evident with the rise of such prominent and influential directorial talent such as Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Brian DePalma, Francis Ford Coppola, and, yes, Mr. George Lucas himself.  As of 2005 Lucas has stepped behind the camera only six times, but three of his efforts are among some of the finest works of the 1970's - THX-1138, STAR WARS, and one of his least appreciated films - AMERICAN GRAFFITI.  This film serves as a wake-up call, of sorts, to those that believe that Lucas (a) can't write great screenplays, (b) can't direct actors, and (c) can't make films without extravagant and otherworldly themes.  GRAFFITI remains a glorious throwback film that's wonderfully painted with simple strokes - it's ostensibly about the teenage cruising culture of Lucas' own youth and growing up as a teenager in  Modesto, California in the early 60's.  GRAFFITI still remains one of the great coming-of-age films about a seemingly care-free time before later, harsher realities of the world would forever alter its innocence.  GRAFFITI may not be as flashy or flamboyant as some of the other films of the 70's, but it gets its message across succinctly and simply.

 
 

4.   CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977)

 
 

George Lucas' best film buddy, Steven Spielberg, was another one of the wonder kids that populated the new, emerging Hollywood of the 70's, and to this day he remains one of the most successful filmmakers of the last three decades.  With great masterstroke works like his 1977 sci-fi drama  CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND he quickly cemented his reputation as not only a great blockbuster filmmaker, but a great filmmaker.  Long before he crafted other films about aliens (as he did with 1982's E.T. - THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL), Spielberg made an intelligent, thoughtful, sensitive, and endlessly fascinating tale of what a visitation by alien life would be like for humanity.  CLOSE ENCOUNTERS is not in the slavish culture of the more modern, special effects laden blockbusters that are more about explosions and visual opulence.  Yes, his film is a visual effects masterpiece (it really has not dated much at all), but Spielberg feels more motivated in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS with the more subtle aspects of human psychology and intrigue than with spaceships and aliens themselves.  A smart and crafty screenplay, the assured and confident eye of the director, and a menu of great performances led by Richard Dreyfuss' best thoroughly allows CLOSE ENCOUNTERS a decent place on the list of the best films of the decade.

 
 

5.    SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE (1978)

 
 

Some may question the foresight of my inclusion of this film so high on my list, but I really should not have to justify or explain myself with this adventure gem.  SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, to this very day, is the single greatest superhero/comic book film ever made, and its inclusion here is self-evident because of that.  Adapting to the big screen what is one of the most integral and noteworthy popular American mythological icons of all-time was no easy task, but under the caring eye of director Richard Donner and with an equally cogent and endearing performance by the late Christopher Reeve in the title role, SUPERMAN really soared.  This is a rare super hero film with heart and compassion, and one that carefully balances semi-satiric and self-referential laughs with drama in one unique package that resonates with a level of verisimilitude that other super hero flicks completely lack.  Funny, but a film about a man that could fly has never made me believe more in its character than this one.

 
 

6.    A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)

 
 

No film list of this decade's best would be complete without a dash of some good ol' "ultra violence".  Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece of social satire has never felt more topical.  With our society plunging more heavily into staggeringly high youth crime rates, I find the film's content and themes as alarming and revealing today as much as they were when it was released.  The film is an Orwellian nightmare into the savage and barbaric wasteland that is youth hooliganism, but it also is a swift and pointed essay about how society sort of feeds the mouth that bites it.  In other words, what is worse, the criminals that walk the streets mercilessly and kill for the sake and pleasure of killing or the society that later "programs" the same said criminal to be a docile simpleton and with decidedly mixed results?  It is this sort of social commentary that makes A CLOCKWORK ORANGE a timeless classic, not to mention that wonderfully sociopathic performance by Malcolm McDowell as the lecherous droog that is a singing and dancing Jack the Ripper. 

 
 

7.    THE GODFATHER (1972)

 
 

Okay, there was no way I was going to leave Coppola's other major work off of this list.  Yes, I have been adamant by saying several times that I do not think that THE GODFATHER is the best mob or gangster film ever made (I find SCARFACE to be imminently more enjoyable on repeated viewings and GOODFELLAS to be more focused, introspective and real), but there is no denying the worth or importance in this film.  THE GODFATHER is the grandfather to all other modern mob flicks, and is a work populated by several great performances (Marlon Brando is mostly remembered for his role of Don Corleone, but I still feel that Al Pacino steals the show), a wonderfully crafted screenplay, and by a sweeping and quietly epic flow that really engulfs you in its universe of lowlifes until you feel like an objective bystander to the proceedings.  THE GODFATHER still is as revealing and invigorating as ever.

 
 

8.    THE EXORCIST (1973)

 
 

"The power of Christ compelled me" to put this infamous horror flick on my list the 1970's best works.  THE EXORCIST sure was a jarring and polarizing film-going experience when it opened (media reports ran rampant of audience members fainting from the intensity of the scenes of gruesome horror).  Yet, if you quickly overlook the film's artifice, THE EXORCIST remains one of cinema's all-time great chilling and unnerving masterpieces of tensions and mood.  Aside from its controversial overtones, the film is an undying and unflinching journey into the eerie and macabre, and it is also a textbook example on how to make the type of thriller/horror picture that are never made anymore.  THE EXORCIST, to be sure, is graphic and unsettling, but it works on a level of visceral chills and tension that modern fright films supplement with ridiculous gore and mayhem.  It's sure is frightening two hours, and you just may need a young priest and an old priest after you watch it!

 
 

9.    THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971)

 
 

Gene Hackman sooooo owns this movie, which I think is one of the best police procedurals ever made.  THE FRENCH CONNECTION is one of those cop films that serves as an everlasting reminder of how to make edgy, gritty, and urban action pictures that are not the watered-down, brainless and witless films that are served up to us with increasing prevalence.  THE FRENCH CONNECTION is down 'n dirty, in-your-face, and stylish, and with a fiery and cagey performance by the great Gene Hackman, not to mention one of the greatest car chase scenes in cinematic history, there's no mistaking it for one of the 1970's most exciting and involving films.  When you think "hard-boiled" and "tough as nails" cinema, this immediately comes to mind.  You go, Popeye!

 
 

10.    ANNIE HALL (1977)

 
 

Is there a filmmaker that knows New York, backwards and forwards, better than Woody Allen?  I sure don't think so.  The Big Apple is the backdrop for one of the best romantic comedies ever in ANNIE HALL, a whimsical, light-hearted, congenial, and intelligent look at hopeless love that only Allen can conjure up.  Sure, some of the elements from this film have dated, but the writing is as good as ever and I have yet to see a film that details the self-destructive manner in which a man can obsess over and ruin a perfectly good relationship better than this one.  It is the film's fantastic mixture of pathos, overt neurosis, and pointed commentary about the best and worst of human nature that makes it work so famously, and Diane Keaton and Allen have yet to be as good as they were here.  I guess that the best way to describe the film is that it's a "deconstructivist" romance, and one that modern great films with similar themes (like WHEN HARRY MET SALLY) owe their livelihood to.

 
 

 

 

 

 
     
 

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