Finishing the Seventies
With “Christ stopped at Eboli” I am now done with not only 1979 but the seventies as a decade. This took me 3 years and 4 months.
The seventies represent my earliest childhood. I was born in 73, so actual memories from this decade are scarce and I do not remember actually watching any movies until the eighties, but I still feel a a familiarity with the decade. As a child, the seventies were considered a depressing decade. Two oil crises, rampant inflation and a social consciousness aimed at taking the joy out of anything. Watching things from the seventies was dull, brown and depressing. This impression has been stuck with me for years, but slowly, starting some time in the nineties, all the cool stuff that the seventies also were, started coming back. Music and fashion (well, some of it…) to begin with but over time many other things. The seventies was also the innocent period before HIV, the counterculture was still strong and a lot of what we take for granted was borne out of the seventies: The computer I am writing on just now, the renewable energy that is my job and a consciousness that the resources of this Earth are finite.
In cinema, the seventies were also the period where many of the filmmakers and actors who have dominated cinema this past fifty years, were formed. Most of these came out of independent cinema with unique and innovative approaches to filmmaking. Directors like Spielberg, Lucas, Scorsese and Lynch are just the top of the iceberg. Sure, some of these started out in the sixties already, but it was the fertile environment of the seventies that gave them their shot. There may not be as many great movies in the seventies as in the eighties, but the creativity and the growth layer are probably the most interesting in movie history. When I made my top-10/20, I listed the movies I like the most, but had the criteria simple been for being interesting and inventive, this might have become a very different list.
That brings me to the traditional top list of the decade. As usual it was incredibly hard to select the 20 best movies and even harder to narrow it down to 10 movies. My main criteria for selecting one movie over another on the top-10/20 is that I would watch it again, maybe even several times. Which of these is the very best of the decade, uhmm, ask me in 10 minutes and I would suggest something else, so I think will abstain from making a choice there.
In chronological order the top 10 is:
1. Harold and Maude
Comedies are more formulaic than most genres, so to see something go so far outside the templates and be funnier than most comedies, is a marvel. One of the funniest movies ever made and the second funniest of the seventies, but certainly the smartest.
2. The Godfather
While I am not as sold on the Godfather as most people seem to be, there is no denying its status as a masterpiece. Not admitting it into a top-10 would be a travesty.
3. The Exorcist
The mother of all possession movies, this horror movie succeeds not only in scaring its audience but also drives a compelling story. I am not a fan of horror, but I love The Exorcist.
4. Spirit of the Beehive
Maybe a surprising choice, but was one of the greatest surprises of the seventies. The charm and the insight of this movie plus the amazing Ana Torrent makes this a winner. Loved it.
Chinatown is a throwback to the noir movies of the forties and does everything right in the process. One of Jack Nicholson’s best roles ever and Polanski at his best.
6. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
I am a BIG Monty Python fan and The Holy Grail is everything I love about them. It is anarchic and mad and absolutely wonderful. My son and I swap quotes from this movie and never tire of it. The funniest movie of the seventies.
Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece is a masterclass in exploiting a condensed scope. It is a very narrow story that manages to go very deep into its subject matter and who cares if the shark does not look real?
8. Close Encounters of the third kind
Spielberg’s UFO movie is still seminal of its kind and maintains its original magic. There are quite a few First Contact movies out there, but they all have to refer to this one.
9. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Do I really have to argue for placing the original Star Wars movie in the top-10?
Alien is the ultimate confined space monster movie. The monster is not under the bed. It is dripping saliva just behind you.
The 10 movies that just did not make the cut are still excellent movies and another day I would swap a number of them with top-10 movies.
In chronological order:
1. Dirty Harry
2. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
3. American Graffiti
5. Taxi Driver
7. Life of Brian
8. Breaking Away
9. Apocalypse Now
10. Christ stopped at Eboli