In the 1970’s young and hungrier directors were reigniting originality, testing the language of cinema through the influence of The French New Wave. Director’s like Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola were on their way to greatness with numerous masterpieces appearing in the decade like The Godfather (1972) and Taxi Driver (1976) respectively, whereas their film school compadres Steven Spielberg and George Lucas would bring to life the existence of the blockbuster with masterpieces of their own. American movies became grittier, more honest, and would pounce on the conspiracy narrative that was so enticing in the wake of the Watergate scandal.
Despite such youth and upcoming influence on the way, the 1970’s was a special time for cinema because of the people working. It’s a beautiful crossover of legendary lasts and iconic debuts all while such powerhouses like Kubrick, Fellini, Godard and even Hitchcock, continued making films that would hopefully add to their own legacy. It is one of the strongest decades in film, and while the classics are continuously talked about we hope to honour those that may not have seen as much limelight over the years.
Director: Jerry Schatzberg | Runtime: 1h 52mins | Drama
Max (Gene Hackman), a broad-shouldered ex-con with a temper, and Lion, a sweet and immature sailor, become partners when they agree to open a Car Wash together.
There are few actors that exemplify 70’s cinema more than Gene Hackman and Al Pacino, their stature is widespread across a lot of the decades greatest films. The French Connection (1971), The Conversation (1974) and The Godfather films (1972/1974) are all top tier in terms of quality, but one that sees both of them together is Schatzberg’s Scarecrow. An ode to the misplaced ‘American Dream’, and the sole reliance people have on it to keep them going.
The ‘American Dream’ is somewhat overplayed nowadays, with The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and John Steinbeck’s overly referenced novel Of Mice and Men being the ideal examples, but what Scarecrow does so wonderfully is find pleasure in building a relationship between two heavily flawed men that are just looking for a way out of their crumby existence. Max’s role as a ham-fisted loose cannon is wonderfully countered by Lion’s lust for joking and immaturity, as well as Lion’s inability to cope with the physicality and reality of real-world confrontation.
The two balance each other out so well, and at first what feels like a mismatch pairing turns into a dream bromance because of the pitch perfect performances by two of the greatest of all time. As the two amble their way through foggy streets and states, there’s both the longing for their destination and the wonder of the here-and-now, and the film’s ability to be melancholy and joyous in the flick of a switch make it one of the most unique takes on an already played out ‘American Dream’.
All the President’s Men (1976)
Director: Alan J. Pakula | Runtime: 2h 18mins | Drama, History, Thriller
Real-life reporters Carl Bernstein (Robert Redford) and Bob Woodward (Dustin Hoffman) investigate the Watergate scandal, leading to one of the most infamous stories in American history.
This is one of the only films on this list to be a poster-child for 1970’s cinema because of it’s attachment to such a weighty and important story, as well as two performers that are just as important as Hackman and Pacino, making it essential storytelling even 45 years since it’s release. But the reason All the President’s Men was so revered back then (and now) is how it doesn’t succumb to the cheap entertainment that conspiracy movies spawn but rather stays true to the journalistic reality of it’s characters.
Despite the reality in it’s story though the film understands the predictably of the ending, but Pakula and screenwriter William Goldman manage to find the tension and precision that’s built into the discovery. The sources, phone calls and dead ends are made with tension, something that has only really been matched by Spotlight (2015) in recent years, making All the President’s Men just as unique as it is important.
The blend of the 70’s conspiracy and the grounded approach to it’s journalism do so much justice to the historic story it’s telling. While the style might wear out some people because of it’s lack of action Pakula’s subtle tension in filming journalism, as well as a sublime cast, make this engaging from it’s start to it’s well-known ending. It’s a movie that has a lot of responsibility, but it seems to take that pressure in it’s stride and give you reality in such an entertaining way.
All That Jazz (1979)
Director: Bob Fosse | Runtime: 2h 3mins | Drama, Musical
Professional Choreographer and Director Joe Gideon (Roy Schneider) tries to deal with the stress of romance, his profession and the relationship with his daughter. With substance abuse and chain-smoking added to his problems, life begins to take a toll on Joe’s health.
Bob Fosse’s semi-autobiographical film is one that walks (or dances) a fine line between pretentious and genius, and I like to think it that it does enough to be the latter. Fosse’s confidence in himself allows for a story that also makes his weaknesses pivotal. The character of Joe Gideon is a creative genius, but his lack of commitment to the people around him, as well as the way he treats his colleagues, make him incredibly flawed – which makes him so complete as a character.
Fosse allows himself to be evaluated through his own eyes, but what’s wonderful is the creative expression that cannot be denied. Cabaret (1972) is another great example of the director’s forte but All That Jazz makes it personal, blending the flamboyance of musical with the reality of the human flaw. This amount of depth is beautifully handled by it’s leading man Roy Schneider, who’s confident and commanding performance is one of the decades best. He’s charming in the face of death (literally) and fragile in his solitary moments of reflection, and it’s one of the reasons All That Jazz is one of the finer films to come from the decade.
It’s a film that allows itself to be fantastical and flirtatious in it’s musical numbers (see the final dance as well as the steamy “Take Off With Us”), but it’s in the directors self-evaluation that creates depth. Fosse’s self-aware cracks in character are met with his genius, and that’s why this film dances along the line of pretentiousness but never crosses it.
Fantastic Planet (1973)
Director: Rene Laloux | Runtime: 1h 12mins | Animation, Fantasy, Sci-Fi | Language: French
On the planet of Ygam, a baby human-like creature (known as Oms) is raised as a pet of the planets most dominant creature, the Draags. When he finds a chance to escape, he takes a Draag learning device with him and uses it to teach his own kind.
One of the most intriguing and bizarre films you’ll ever watch, Rene Laloux’s cult animation is one of the most enticing 1 hour and 12 minutes you’ll ever sit through. You quickly build understanding of the world’s core relationships between it’s creatures, but yet the film continues to baffle you with it’s surroundings. The floor bends and whirls for no reason, there are meditations that leads to dancing, and strange bat creatures that terrorise the ‘Oms’.
For some context, the ‘Draags’ are giant blue creatures who’s intelligence has lead to their superiority on Ygam, and their teachings and meditations are vital to their civilisation. But their biggest threat are the ‘Oms’, human creatures that are the size of mice in comparison to the Draags, but threaten Draag-life in a parasitic way rather than one of force. The film focuses on the heated existence of both creatures, showing you pain and struggle, as well as misplaced entitlement.
So is this a movie about racism? Animal cruelty? There are arguments for both but it shouldn’t really matter, Laloux makes it’s clear that we are being exposed for how we treat both people and animals. But what’s staggering is that despite such a surfaced and heavy subject, the film’s world never gives up on the bizarre, giving us something new with every frame. The world of Ygam may be alien, but Fantastic Planet‘s core is undeniably real.
Director: Robert Altman | Runtime: 2h 40mins | Drama, Music
A number of country music folk’s lives intertwine as they build towards a political rally in Nashville, Tennessee.
With M.A.S.H. (1970) Altman’s legacy really did begin, a thoughtful and playful director who’s abilities stretched further than the conventional. With Nashville he gave us a mediation on the Nashville music scene with political overtones, using countless characters to tell human stories with no real sense of narrative direction. He would replicate the success with Short Cuts (1993), but Nashville stands as one of the directors greatest achievements.
Director’s like Paul Thomas Anderson would take a slicker approach to the intertwining story much later, but what makes Nashville so great is it’s raw presence. People pop-up conveniently in different stages of the film, whether it be the pinnacle of country music stardom, or the hopefuls chasing their dreams. But Altman knows what he wants from every scene, he choses to attach subtle power to them, using the films overloaded soundtrack to weave beautifully with the characters stories, finding time to tackle heartbreak, fame and even loneliness (especially in a highlight scene with Keith Carradine and Lily Tomlin).
You notice as the film reaches it’s climax that the film really has been building to something, and without spoiling it, let’s just say it’s important to really watch how Altman presents his characters. This is undoubtedly a staple of American cinema in the 1970’s, one that gladly shows you the rough edges of the human experience, but more importantly emphasises the collaborative effort it takes to deal with life itself.
Director: Federico Fellini | Runtime: 2h 3mins | Comedy, Drama | Language: Italian
Following the civilians of a coastal Italian town, we get to see the events and occasions that shape their year from one Spring to the next.
Similar to Nashville, Fellini’s episodic tale about his hometown is one that never has a distinct direction. It would rather show you the importance of little moments, finding so much beauty the memories of town-folk, and also the sugarcoating we generously give such memories. The adage of “writing what you know” stands for most work, but Amarcord benefits from it’s directors overwhelming identity. beaming through it.
It seems easy to say this movie is beautiful, as anyone in their right mind could capture the naturalistic glamour of one of the most beautiful places on earth, but what Fellini does is focus on not just the setting, but the people filling the screen in all their glory. With no real main characters (maybe a young teenager named Titta and his squabbling family), Fellini would rather relive his own history, and does with the exaggeration and fantasy that comes with reminiscing.
The teenage obsession for girls, the division of opinion during Mussolini’s Fascist Italia, as well as the events that shape our recollection of home. With no distinct narrative in place Fellini lets his movie flow from nostalgia to fever-dream, all while allowing us into such a personal part of his own life. It’s a landmark in the climax of his career, and he leaves so much of himself on screen it’s hard not to admire the passion that oozes from Amarcord.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Director: Sidney Lumet | Runtime: 2h 5mins | Drama, Biography
Sonny (Al Pacino) and Sal (John Cazale) attempt to rob a bank in broad daylight, but when the police catch wind of their attempt it turns into a hostage situation.
To finish of the list we have picked another fantastic Pacino performance, in a movie by one of the strongest American directors of all time in Sidney Lumet. So many times we’ve seen the ‘everyday man’ put into extraordinary circumstances, by Dog Day Afternoon does it while subtly changing direction. Using it’s great characters in Sonny and Sal to grab your affections as people just attempting to make something for themselves in a world that has given them nothing.
Hostage situations usually involved fear and anxiety but the kind hearted heroes of the movie turn it into a wonderfully sleek interpretation of what happens when people are pushed the wrong way. Not only is it based on a true story but also accepts real-life referencing in the form of Pacino’s iconic “ATTICA!” line, and eventually making it clear just how sharp it’s awareness is. Lumet does a fantastic job at balancing the pulpy entertainment factor of a crime thriller with the reality of it’s true life characters, making the film much more mature than your basic crime archetype.
The film convinces you to root for it’s heroes so convincingly by the end that there is a genuine hope and devastation, especially if the real-life story isn’t a familiar one. It’s such a great example of the director’s talent, but also highlights everything you love from a 70’s Pacino film – commanding yet humble and continuously entertaining.