1. Two-Lane Blacktop (Monte Hellman): Not the most well known of 70s cinema but worshipped by those who have seen it as a cult classic. This car racing movie which isn’t really about racing but about alienation, misfits, and youth and lonliness. Really what the best of 70s cinema was about. Music star James Taylor hangs out with hitchhiker Laurie Bird and his mechanic Dennis Wilson as they drive for pink slips against Warren Oates. A fatalist poem.
2. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg) I often cite this as Spielberg’s best film though there are many to choose from. This seemed to be the one where Spielberg wasn’t afraid to be Spielberg and put in all the wonder and emotion he is known for into this film. Bright, colorful, and wondrous filmmaking.
3. The Godfather/The Godfather Part 2 (Francis Ford Coppola) Which is better? I can’t decide which is why I’m putting them together. These landmark films aren’t just major game changers in the industry they are the best examples of what a saga should be. Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone is the most complex American character since Orson Welles’ Charles Foster Kane, and the depth and richness of both films remain stunning and so re-watchable.
4. Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick) Probably the most beautiful looking film ever produced in the 70s. Terrence Malick’s old testament look on love, passion, anger, and revenge might still be his best film.
5. Superman (Richard Donner) The joy I get from this film fills me with the sense of a 10 year old kid. The last few years of homogenized super hero movies haven’t dimmed this one’s sense of wonder and excitement.
6. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese) Scorsese’s decent into the hell of a lonely Taxi Driver is a stepping stone for why the 70s were so great. Along with his muse Robert De Niro and a screenplay by Paul Schraeder, it’s an examination of isolation that has not be toppled. Gripping to this day.
7. Chinatown (Roman Polanski) Polanski’s neo-noir is one of the great detective films ever made. Jack Nicholson is perfectly cast, John Huston is one of the great villains of all time. Faye Dunaway is the femme fatale who leaves you guessing what is exactly her story, and for those who have seen it, the results are devastating.
8. Day For Night (Francois Truffaut) No other film has really captured the idea of creating a film, as a piece of community for those who do it. Truffaut’s film is a labyrinth of characters from props and costumes, to the stars, to the assistant director to Truffaut himself as the director creating a film sharing all the joys and heartaches that go with it and why the people love to do it.
9. The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman) Altman’s take on the detective film as it would be in the 1970s. Based on the Raymond Chandler character, this is one of Altman’s great films and my personal favorite of his.
10. Aguirre: The Wrath of God (Werner Hezog) Herzog’s greatest film about a fateful exbidition to find the El Dorado with Spanish explorers. Klaus Kinski is Aguirre, the madmen who threatens to take over the entire expedition for himself and let no one stand in his way. The film is full of dread and full of haunting imagery, as with this decade’s “Taxi Driver” and “Apocalypse Now”, it’s a decent into the darkest reaches of the mind.
Honorable Mentions: Scorsese’s breakthrough film “Mean Streets” as well as his much maligned but underrated masterpiece “New York, New York”. Coppola’s “The Conversation” and “Apocalypse Now”. Spielberg had “Jaws” but he really let himself go in his one bomb but brilliant “1941”. “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” brought back silliness and anarchy to the cinema. Sidney Lumet came out with “Dog Day Afternoon” and “Network”. Stanley Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon” is still his one masterpiece that deserves more attention. Robert Altman was prolific with “MASH”, “McCabe and Mrs. Miller”, “Nashville”, and “3 Women”. Woody Allen gave us “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan”. Of his earlier funnier films I’d add “Bananas” and “Sleeper”. Brian De Palma’s “Carrie” was great. Ingmar Bergman had perhaps his greatest film “Cries and Whispers”. There was Terrence Malick’s first film “Badlands”. Jack Nicholson had great performances in “Five Easy Pieces” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “The King of Marvin Gardens”. Hal Ashby had “Harold and Maude” and “Being There”. “Halloween” was the slasher film we all deserved. “Alien” is still probably the scariest film I have ever seen. Clint Eastwood was becoming an auteur with “High Plains Drifter” and “The Outlaw Josey Wales”, also starred in “Dirty Harry” while John Wayne had a quiet swan song with “The Shootist”. Truffaut also had “Small Change” and “The Story of Adele H”. Steve Martin burst on the scene with “The Jerk”. Mel Brooks had “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein”. “The Last Picture Show”. Also I guess there was that “Star Wars” movie all the kids were into.
I know I probably left some out, but tell me your favorites from this rich decade, I’d love to hear them.