I thought it would be a fun exercise to try and bring together some of my favorite films from the decades, once a week for November. It’s a good opportunity to revisit some classics while also showing you wonderful folks some films you may or may not have seen. I will try and combine a mix of both more mainstream classics (like, “you’ve got to watch this one at some point in your lifetime”) and the ones that snuck under the radar, aka the “didn’t even know this existed, but it’s kind of a gem” type.
Ah the 70s, a time I wish I was a teenager in so, so, so badly for the massive cultural upheaval, dramatic world events and most prominently, the birth (or continuation) of some of my absolute favorite music and artists that I listen to today (and many others do too). Anything from Allman Brothers to Little Feat, Pink Floyd to Zeppelin, the Who, etc. I have spoke with many an individual who grew up during this decade who spoke of the massive opportunity ahead, the challenges the world faced, and the the general passion for the arts that that dominated American (and international) society and altered cultural norms, particularly in the West. While the Cold War raged on and Vietnam was still at the top of many minds, politics drove conversation and social issues were pressing, something was happening within the studios of the ever-growing film industry. Changes that that began to make a dramatic transformations to quality, editing, sound, cinematography, scope and overall success at the box office that would set the stage (pun intended) for years to come.
Let’s dive into some great films from this decade and a few gems you may have missed.
The Classics (aka, you need to see):
The Godfather, The Godfather Part II (10/10): Two of the finest films ever made, widely regarded as such. The story of the Corleone family from Italy to America, their exploits and everything involved in the forming the Italian-American mafia.
Chinatown (10/10): What begins as a routine job for Los Angeles private eye Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) goes from zero to a hundred all too quickly. A case of infidelity transforms into an investigation into corruption, lies and secrets that goes further down the rabbit hole than you’d ever expect. This has it all: mystery, drama, suspense, Nicholson and Faye Dunaway.
The Sting (10/10): Two of the finest actors of their time, Robert Redford and Paul Newman, are legendary con men looking to settle a score with a notorious crime boss. The ever-crafty pair comes up with an elaborate scheme that goes off the walls and has a five star conclusion you won’t want to miss. Great acting, great story.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (10/10): One of the earliest films my father showed me that made me realize what a quality movie really is. Jack Nicholson stars as a criminal who pleads insanity and is admitted to a mental institution, where he rebels against the oppressive nurse and bonds with the patients. Hilarious, suspenseful, sad, happy – this movie gets it all, and it does everything so beautifully right. Masterpiece.
Star Wars (8.5/10): The birth of one of the most profitable movie and commercial franchises of all time, A New Hope was the start of the stuff childhood action dreams are made of: laser guns, lightsabers, spaceships; all bundled in a nice drama-filled, action-packed movie. It’s campy and the dialogue is cheesy at times, but it forever changed the world of film and must be recognized as such.
Monty Python’s The Life of Brian + The Holy Grail (10/10): Bundling these two works of comedic genius into one, the UK’s Monty Python crew compiled two of my personal favorite (and widely regarded as excellent) comedies during the 70’s that portray history in a different light. Cult classics, and must viewings for any comedy buff.
Anne Hall (& Manhattan) (10/10): A comedy/drama/romance unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, with some of the most clever dialogue and unforgettable one-liners, acted and directed by the brilliant Woody Allen. Anne Hall is my favorite and considered by many to be his magnum opus, but Manhattan is also excellent.
Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (9/10): A childhood classic for many, and taking on deeper interpretations as I’ve aged, Roald Dahl’s writing is transformed in shining color into this magical piece of filmmaking which follows a young, poor boy who wins a chance to visit the legendary, but secretive, chocolate factory of Willy Wonka (the ever-memorable Gene Wilder, who was born to play this role).
Jaws (9.5/10): If you haven’t seen it yet, you owe it to yourself to watch this classic piece of Americana filmmaking that spawned everyone’s irrational fear of sharks and changed how we see blockbuster films. Iconic Spielberg and one of the defining films of a generation.
Martin Scorsese – Mean Streets (9/10) & Taxi Driver (10/10): Gritty, realistic, dramatic and captivating, these movies were part of the launchpad that turned Scorsese into a legendary Hollywood filmmaker. Taxi Driver in particular, starring Robert De Nero as a mentally unstable taxi driver in New York City, compelled by the crime and disgust in the world around him to take action, is incredible.
The Deer Hunter (10/10): A long, dramatic and heart-wrenching tale of the grittiness of war and what it means to move on, the Deer Hunter left its mark on me as I think it does with everyone who sits through it. De Niro is outstanding as always, but his contemporary, Christopher Walken, is really who makes this movie outstanding for me. It captures the horrors of the Vietnam war and the lives soldiers lead back home in amazing detail. This film took home five Oscars including best picture in 1979.
What You May Have Missed
Blazing Saddles (10/10): A legendary comedy, one of Mel Brook’s finest, featuring the equally legendary Gene Wilder and Cleavon Little as Bart, the first black sheriff in an old western town soon to be destroyed by the railroad company.
The Exorcist (8/10): For me, this is the birth of modern horror. The scenes in this film stick with you forever and are genuinely terrifying, even for the time in which it was made. If you are into horror, this is a classic.
Amadeus (9/10): The Oscar-winning story of a young Mozart, dazzling audiences, changing the way music was played and ultimately impacting composition for all of time. It’s filled with plenty of humor and drama, of course.
Alien (9/10): One of the finest works of Sci-Fi/Horror you will ever witness, Alien follows a crew aboard a deep-space shuttle are awakened from their cryo-sleep capsules halfway through their journey home to investigate a distress call from an alien vessel, uncovering a nest of strange eggs inside the ship that are more than malicious. Sigourney Weaver is brilliant as ever in this terrifying classic.
Stanley Kubrick – A Clockwork Orange & Barry Lyndon (9/10): Two masterpieces in their own right, directed by one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Very different tales, one about corporal punishment, one about and Irish con-man of sorts, what is really worth watching here is the incredible attention to detail and subtle filmmaking techniques that (sorry, I keep saying this but it’s true) changed the way movies were made for decades to come in terms of dialogue, angles, lighting, atmosphere, etc.
Network (9/10): A brilliant parody of mainstream media – the story of a raving madman who is accidentally cast on primetime cable news and becomes a nation-wide sensation for his rantings about life, politics, the “system” and everything you can think of that is remotely controversial. Funny, incredibly interesting, and one you must see in 2020.
Apocalypse Now (9/10): Francis Ford Coppola (of the Godfather Trilogy) directs this hard-nosed, dramatic Vietnam masterpiece which follows the perfectly cast Martin Sheen as Captain Willard on a increasingly strange journey upriver to find and terminate Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a once-promising officer gone AWOL.
Dirty Harry (8.5/10): Clint Eastwood, taking the wild west justice to the modern streets in this thriller is a wild ride, full of action and classic Eastwood at some of his best.
Rocky (8/10): Americana at it’s finest and a cultural staple, Rocky deserves credit for being integrated into all of our daily lives in some small way. It’s not about the dialogue, the cheesiness or the sequels, but the trials and tribulations of an average joe doing the best he can, that makes this film what it is.