Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Top Ten Films of the Decade - The 1970s

I'm continuing on with the listing of my top ten films of each decade, going all the way back to the 1920s. We've already covered 1990s and the 1980s, and today we're going to look at a decade which many consider to be the last truly great period of American film. This was definitely one of the toughest eras to whittle down to a top ten.

The 1970s

10 - Manhattan - Directed by Woody Allen - I know, I know, Annie Hall is the more popular film. It's certainly easier to watch than this film, which focuses on the lives of bored entitled pseudo-intellectuals. However, Manhattan achieves a wider scope because it savagely comments on a group of people that previously were the heroes of his films; intellectual, well-off, over-educated New Yorkers. At the same time, however, the film is more nakedly romantic and more visually self-assured than any of his previous films. It's the first of Allen's mature works.

9 - A Clockwork Orange - Directed by Stanley Kubrick - A Clockwork Orange is simply one of the most courageous films ever made. As a commentary on morality and free will, it does the unthinkable; it makes us sympathetic to, and even root for, a brutalizing and sadistic rapist and murderer. Anchored by Malcolm McDowell's frankly astounding performance, the film retains its freshness and relevancy decade after decade. Strip away the furor from most controversial films, and you're often left with nothing at the core, but this film remains one of the most singularly original cinematic experiences.

8 - Taxi Driver - Directed by Martin Scorsese - Three artists at the peak of their powers (Robert DeNiro, Martin Scorsese, and screenwriter Paul Schrader) combine to tell the twisted story of cab driver Travis Bickle, the definitive "lone nut". Bickle is a ticking time bomb of rage; a sociopath looking for some way to escape what he sees as a morally bankrupt and hopelessly corrupt society. What's remarkable is with how many people his viewpoint connects. It's all too easy to view the world as Travis does, which is part of what makes his story so compelling. He's a man disconnected from other people even though he's surrounded by a multitude, and his only response is violent, bloody explosion.

7 - Star Wars - Directed by George Lucas - Such is Star Wars' importance to American film that Hollywood can be divided as being pre-Star Wars or post-Star Wars. No matter whether you think that's a good thing or not, you cannot deny that experiencing the film in a theatre is an amazing thing indeed. A combination of ancient myths, pulp sci-fi, movie serials and the cutting edge of visual effects, Star Wars redefined what blockbusters could be and raised the bar for high-flying adventure and spectacle.

6 - The Conformist - Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci - A case study on the effects of fascism and repression, The Conformist is also one of the most visually beautiful films ever made. The cinematography by Vittorio Storaro moves into the realm or art itself. The central story is of a man with a conflicted sexual and class identity who is so desperate to conform in Fascist Italy that he sacrifices all of his values to attain normalcy within the state.

5 - Cries and Whispers - Directed by Ingmar Bergman - It is like no other film he made before, but Cries and Whispers is one of Bergman's great masterpieces, a tale of two sisters watching over a third while she dies of womb cancer, helped by a servant woman. It is a wrenching, horrifying examination on death, love, passion and tenderness. It's a difficult film precisely because it gives no escape from its relentlessly tragic subject matter, but one achieves a sense of peace at its end.

4 - Network - Directed by Sidney Lumet - Lumet was at the top of his game here, and was aided by a script by Paddy Chayefsky, one of the greatest screenplays ever. It's outrageously, cruelly funny in its satire of television and media, although as time has gone on, it has become nearly prophetic. The performances are all top notch, and Lumet's understated direction is a perfect match for the script's wild humour. The comedy, however, never overwhelms the fact that there is an extremely serious story going on here; the main conflict is for the human soul, which is in danger of being swallowed up by the various forces of the modern age. It now has the feel of a warning that was sadly ignored.

3 - Chinatown - Directed by Roman Polanski - This great neo-noir serves as a dark comment on the disillusionment of the common man in the face of modern injustices. Private Eye Jake Gittes is haunted by his past as a cop in Chinatown, a place where one could never be sure of allegiances or motives and where crimes could not be prevented or even investigated because the society itself was too alien. When he becomes involved in a massive crime involving the very pillars of Los Angeles, he is confronted by horrific corruption that he will not be able to ever bring to light. The final line, "Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown" serves to reinforce the idea that the common man is ill-equipped to battle the entrenched forces that control his world.

2 - The Godfather Part II - Directed by Francis Ford Coppola - Like its predecessor, this sequel surpasses its rather turgid subject matter in every way. It continues to elevate the story of the Corleone family to Shakespearean levels as it focuses on the downfall and loss of humanity of the central character of Michael, played with incredibly skill by Al Pacino. Beautifully shot, exquisitely paced, The Godfather Part II is an absolute, unqualified masterpiece.

1 - The Godfather - Directed by Francis Ford Coppola - It's a mob movie crossed with King Lear. The film combines old Hollwood with the modern sensibilities and desire for experimentation of the fillmakers of the era. It's immensely rich in performances, containing some of the best acting in American film. It is not only the best film of the decade, but may be one of the best films in the history of American cinema. What more is there to say?

Back soon with 1960s!

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