Join us in our decade-based film retrospective, as we delve backwards all the way from 2009 to 1910. Most decade-based best movie lists grant you a whooping 50-100 entries, which makes perfect sense given all the years you have to take into consideration. But what if you were defining a decade in just ten films? Which movies would you recommend to somebody who might only watch a handful from a given decade? This week, we look back at the Seventies.
The seventies holds a reputation for being the best period for a working writer/director, a time when those young kids fresh out of film school – kids like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese – began to take over the multiplexes. These were kids who had grown up watching and learning from the motion pictures of the past, and they were ready to express their love of cinema through the process of making their own films. Gone were the days of the “director for hire” – now it was personal.
This great period of freedom would end with Michael Cimino and his overblown flop Heaven’s Gate, when studios became scared out of their wits and took back the free rein they’d granted their directors. But there was an entire decade of miraculous, inventive and gritty cinema to be had. Seventies movies were cool, after all – slick, adventurous and leaning on a more realistic approach to storytelling, often mirroring the aesthetic qualities of documentary filmmaking. Here, too, was where the blockbuster was born in Spielberg’s Jaws, a motion picture that would change the face of cinema forever. Here’s our pick of the best 10 films of the seventies – though you’re certainly sure to have a list of your own personal favorites.Next
10. Manhattan (1979) (Dir. Woody Allen)
Woody Allen’s most highly-regarded picture of his “great period” is the wonderful Annie Hall, though Manhattan - which Allen made two years later - is arguably a more complex and accomplished cinematic work. Throwing out the fragmented structure he employed for the latter, Allen tells the story of TV writer Issac Davies against the wondrous backdrop of black-and-white New York (shot by Gordon Willis) – his characters are deluded, neurotic and searching for answers, though the picture succeeds both dramatically and comedically, and shows Allen working at the top of his game as an actor, writer and director. The film’s final sequence – in which he races through the streets of New York to proposition a lost love amidst the sounds of George Gershwin – is exactly the kind of thing that cinema was invented for.Previous Next
9. Alien (1979) (Dir. Ridley Scott)
For best Ridley Scott movie, it’s usually a toss-up between Blade Runner and Alien, his sci-fi horror masterpiece that went on to scare the living wits out of everyone who saw it. Alien succeeds brilliantly as an exercise in terror, but in Scott’s careful approach to set design and detailed aesethics, it doubles up as a certified visual masterpiece, too. Aboard the space cruiser Nostromo, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) must battle against a horrifying beast from another world who stows away inside (of all places) John Hurt’s chest. As her crew are slowly killed off one by one, it’s up to Ripley to find a way to rid herself of the beast. Without question, Alien remains the greatest blend of sci-fi/horror to have hits theatres in any decade.Previous Next
8. Deliverance (1972) (Dir. John Boorman)
John Boorman’s famously uncomfortable thriller about a river-rafting trip that goes horribly wrong in the dangerous Georgia back country is one of the greatest “feel bad” movies of the seventies: the key here is in the casting, with three uptight city boys (Jon Voight, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox) and their delusional, apocalypse-craving guide (Bert Reynolds) played to perfection by four accomplished actor at the top of their game. James Dickey wrote the screenplay – based on his novel – without making many changes, though the film never feels like an adaptation, but a vibrant, terrifying and utterly realistic portrait in the hands of director John Boorman. The “squeal like a pig” scene has become the butt of many a joke (including that one), though for those who have actually seen Deliverance, the film has never lost its strange, otherworldly power.Previous Next
7. McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971) (Dir. Robert Altman)
Robert Altman was renowned for his overlapping, realistic dialogue cues and free-wheeling filmmaking style, none of which was put to better use than in his 1975 anti-western McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Described by late film critic Pauline Kael as “a great pipe dream of a movie” and by Roger Ebert as “perfect”, Altman’s best film tells the story of a “famous” gunslinger (Warren Beatty) who starts up a business in an Old Mining Town in the snow-drenched hills of Presbyterian Church, somewhere in the Northwestern United States. Altman resists all temptation to stick with the established rules of the genre, resulting in a sad, strange and ultimately haunting film that won’t fall out of your memory anytime soon. McCabe and Mrs. Miller is without a doubt the most accomplished revisionist western ever made – just like a photograph, it seems to somehow transcend all time and place.Previous Next
6. The Godfather, Part II (1974) (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
Though the first Godfather film is an undeniably rich cinematic accomplishment, The Godfather Part II is the rare sequel that takes the spirit of the orignal and broadens the horizon. That’s to say, The Godfather Part II works with the same, sweeping majesty of its brother movie and uses its seeds to create arguably the greatest sequel of all-time, one that feels so necessary and essential to the understanding of the film that came before it. Everything here is measured for quality: the cinematography is gloomy, dark and haunting, the soundtrack soars, and both Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro grant two of their best-ever performances. The themes explored here, between father and son, and of family responsibility, are immortal, but ultimately The Godfather Part II succeeds because it never feels like it shouldn’t exist: not for a single solitary frame.Previous Next
5. Star Wars (1977) (Dir. George Lucas)
George Lucas fashioned Star Wars out of a personal love for shows like Flash Gordon and the endless array of sci-fi serials he watched as a kid, though somehow (perhaps even by accident, as his later efforts suggest), the young filmmaker managed to craft his own version of said space tales that appealed to an entire generation of children and adults alike. For all its inherent campiness, Star Wars remains immune to criticism: standing tall (even today, where special effects have improved greatly) as the ultimate fantasy adventure, the movie has managed to connect with audiences through its child-like understanding of the power of imagination. The special effects were legendary at the time, of course, but Star Wars works because it’s a movie about great, diverse characters working together, and clings to a world that comes with a rich and complex history.Previous Next
4. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) (Dir. Milos Forman)
Jack Nicholson gives his greatest ever performance as R.P. McMurphy, a convict who pretends to be insane so that he can skip prison and get a cushy sentence in a mental hospital. As a drama and comedy film combined, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest attains heights that others in the genre could only dream of reaching. Be it because we feel we get to know each patient individually over the course of film, or the fact that Jack Nicholson has never been more likeable than he is here, Forman’s film is absolutely riveting from start to finish, driven by a sense of honesty grounded in the director’s amicable approach to the material. But as well as being hilarious, Cuckoo’s Nest is a heartbreaking and tender film, one that asks its audience to find the good in every man. Nurse Ratched, of course… well, she remains one of cinema’s greatest ever villains. A powerful, life-affirming masterpiece, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest has it all.Previous Next
3. Jaws (1975) (Dir. Steven Spielberg)
What should have been highly laughable remains cinema’s most accomplished blockbuster – it just so happens to have been the first one of its kind, too. Jaws is a masterclass in filmmaking from almost every avenue. Steven Spielberg, taking his cues from the novel of the same name by Peter Benchley (who also co-wrote the script), transformed a relatively average throwaway thriller into one of cinema’s great adventure movies – a feat he could not have pulled off without composer John Williams at his side, who racked up the tension with his brilliantly subtle score. What audiences got, then, was firstly a slasher flick built like a Hitchcock movie, followed by a high sea-bound second half that treats its wonderful characters like the crew on a pirate ship: the three leads still seem – after all these years – completely irreplaceable. Yes, Jaws is the pulp Moby Dick – and is arguably a better slice of fiction than that very famous Melville novel.Previous Next
2. Taxi Driver (1976) (Dir. Martin Scorsese)
Taxi Driver is a true movie-lover’s movie: Martin Scorsese’s brilliant meditation on loneliness, insanity and alienation is one of the all-time great films, a motion picture that balances small tender dramatic moments and sudden explosions of rage and violence with an enviable precision. As Travis Bickle, DeNiro embodies one of cinema’s most iconic characters, a former Vietnam veteran who returns to New York, suffers from insomnia and keeps himself going through working a never-ending taxi shift. Everything from Scorsese’s skilled use of his camera, DeNiro’s nuanced performance, and Bernard Herrmann’s noir-inspired score, sit perfectly: truly, there’s not a moment of Taxi Driver that doesn’t match up. Though it aches to be studied and examined as a defining work of seventies cinematic endeavor, Taxi Driver is near unmatched from a basic entertainment perspective. Here’s a movie with all the cogs working in perfect synchronization, something that Scorsese would come to achieve several more times over the course of his great career.Previous Next
1. Apocalypse Now (1979) (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
The story behind Apocalypse Now is almost as great as the movie itself, and has since become the stuff of legend: Francis Ford Coppola threatened to shoot himself; Martin Sheen suffered from a heart-attack half-way through filming; Marlon Brando turned up overweight, demanded heaps of cash and told his director that he hadn’t even read the script. But oh boy was it all worth it: a movie that Coppola himself thought destined to fail emerged as the greatest epic of the seventies, a Vietnam movie that somehow managed to encompass the entire spectrum of that troubling war as its filmmakers went through their own personal hell making the damned thing.
Based loosely on Joseph Conrad’s dark and powerful novella Heart of Darkness, Coppola transfers the story to Cambodia and sends Cpt. Wilard, a Vietnam veteran, on a dangerous mission to assassinate a renegade Green Beret who has set himself up as a God amongst a local tribe. Be it that this movie haunts your dreams, shakes your expectations, or gifts you with great performances from every member of its huge cast, Apocalypse Now remains the definitive masterpiece of the seventies because Coppola lived it thoroughly: it’s there in every frame. It is the ultimate advertisement for perseverance, a hellish and beautiful experience from start to finish, and a war movie that feels both relevant and wholly cinematic all at once.
Next time: The Sixties get our top 10 film treatment… stay tuned!
Do you agree with our choices for the 10 best films of the Seventies? Let us know in the comments below.Previous