Ten Best!: Movies of the 1970’s
Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Mario Puzo’s brilliant novel defined the epic crime drama. Brilliant performances by Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, James Caan and newcomer Al Pacino highlight this period drama about the Corleone family’s ascension to power in the ranks of the New York Cosa Nostra, otherwise known as the Mafia.
The French Connection
Featuring one of the most amazing chase scenes in movie history, The French Connection set the standard for urban crime dramas. Gene Hackman’s performance as Popeye Doyle is scintillating, and won him an Oscar. Based on the true story of two NYPD narcotics detectives who uncovered a massive heroin smuggling ring in the late 1960s, The French Connection electrifies its audience with its gritty, documentary-like feel. Director William Friedkin puts the audience in the center of the action. The raw emotional power of the chase scene where Hackman hijacks a car and chases an elevated train to catch an assassin, has not been duplicated in the age of computergenerated images and fancy special effects.
Legend has it that George Lucas had an idea for what he called a “space opera,” but the story seemed so unwieldy, he was having difficulty writing it. Enter Joseph Campbell, the mythology scholar, whose seminal work The Hero with a Thousand Faces had a profound influence on Lucas and his contemporaries, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and John Milius. Star Wars ultimately proved to be Chapter Four in the saga of the fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker. The film destroyed every box-office record while creating a legion of young fans all over the world, and made Lucas a billionaire in the process.
The Godfather Part II
Rarely does a sequel improve upon the original, but The Godfather Part II fits the bill. The first film depicts the rise of the Corleone family. Godfather II documents the fall, while brilliantly telling the entire breadth and length of Vito Corleone’s personal story. Robert De Niro plays Vito Corleone as a young man, with the power and honesty that became his trademark as an actor.
Any list of ’70s movies has to include at least one cult classic. Vanishing Point is one in a long line of anti-establishment films released early in the decade as a subtle protest to the war in Vietnam. The premise is simple: A washed-up racecar driver, played with quiet strength by Barry Newman, bets a friend he can drive a supercharged Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco in 12 hours. Along the way, Kowalski encounters allies like the disc jockey named “Super Soul,” played with verve by Clevon Little, and enemies, namely the highway patrols of Utah, Nevada and California. Featuring one of the best endings ever to any film, the 1971 version of Vanishing Point is worth a spot in your Netflix queue.
Saturday Night Fever
John Badham’s 1977 cultural touchstone marked the big screen debut of John Travolta. At the tender age of 23, Travolta commanded the screen in a tour de force performance that earned him an Academy Award nomination for best actor. Saturday Night Fever chronicled the age of disco and told the tale of a tough Brooklyn kid blessed with great dancing skills trying to find his place in the world. The soundtrack — loaded with Top 10 hits performed mostly by the Bee Gees — held the distinction of being the best-selling movie soundtrack for 20 years. For years, I could often be heard doing my best Brooklyn accent and asking the burning question, “Can you dig it? I knew that you could!”
If the chilling effect of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror film Psycho was an irrational fear of taking showers, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws changed the way we felt about swimming in the ocean. It’s been well documented that the film went over schedule and over budget due to issues with the mechanical shark. Granted, the shark looks a bit robotic, but it’s the film’s early scenes where you only see the shark’s point-of-view that are the most terrifying. After its 1975 release, Jaws broke all previous box-office records and ushered in the era of blockbuster. Over the years, Spielberg proved his mastery of the blockbuster genre with hits like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park and Saving Private Ryan.
No Top 10 list of great 1970s films would be complete without Woody Allen’s 1977 masterpiece Annie Hall. Told entirely in flashback sequences, Allen recounts the story of the ill-fated romance between Alvy Singer, a character based in great part on himself, and Annie Hall, played marvelously by Diane Keaton. Allen’s creative touch can be seen in hilarious childhood sequences, subtitles to reveal what characters are thinking rather than saying, and Allen often breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the audience. “I would never belong to a club who would have someone like me for a member,” Allen says at the beginning of the movie. He carries that theme brilliantly throughout the film as he confesses his failings as a lover.
One of the most memorable movie lines of all time appears in Sidney Lumet’s 1976 satire Network. Newsman Howard Beale, played by Peter Finch, loses his mind after being forced to retire as anchorman of a national newscast. Dressed only in pajamas and a raincoat, Beale implores his audience to get up from their chairs, go to the window and yell at the top of their lungs, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.” Soon, Beale is a national sensation and network executives Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall tried to exploit his illness to improve ratings. Writer Paddy Chayefsky delivers one of the most biting satires of the media in a script that is essentially flawless.
The Deer Hunter
Director Michael Cimino’s portrait of three friends (Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Savage) from western Pennsylvania who endure the horrors of the war in Vietnam culminates in one of the most heartbreaking yet powerful scenes ever recorded on film. Cimino won the Academy Award for best director, and Walken won his first Oscar for best supporting actor in a story that deals with the consequences of violence, and the lasting impact on friendship, family and personal honor.