Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The 100 Project: Top 50 Movies of the 1970s, Vol. 1


The 100 Project is me publicly going through my process for creating a list of My 100 top movies of all-time. If you've been following along, you know that I've been going through films a decade at a time. Like lots of bloggers embarking on such a quest, I struggled with the idea of whether my list should be objective, subjective, or some mix of the two. In all honesty, I started off with the intent of being fully objective. It was easy, at first. Up through the 1960s, the number of films I've seen per decade is pretty small. We're talking less than 150 movies combined. The majority of those are movies I purposely sought out over the last decade and change because of their status as highly regarded films.

Then I started working on the 1970s.

This is the decade of my birth. Naturally, this is where the number of films I've seen per ten year stretch starts to balloon, even though it's still a pretty small number compared to what's coming as this project rolls on. What makes it difficult is that this is the first decade that includes more than a handful of movies I grew up watching and loved, mixed with films that I would later seek out because I'd heard great things about them. How would I synthesize this?

In the end, subjectivity won out. I realized that if I went with my most objective take, my list would a lot like every other list out there. They would reflect the way I review (most) movies, which is to be as unbiased as I possibly can. What it wouldn't do is reflect me. And I thought it would be a waste of my platform to regurgitate the hundreds, if not thousands, of "greatest movies" lists I've read over the years. To be sure, plenty of the films from those lists will be here, but the order will likely surprise you (unless you know me). Depending on how seriously you take these kinds of things, it might offend you to see that I have Movie X, rated higher than Movie Y. But it's my list. In the end, that's all that matters to me as I work my way through this exercise. However, if you must get inside my head, even a little, it often comes down how often am I willing to return to movie. Sure, Movie Y is probably a "better" movie, but Movie X touches me in some special way that keeps me returning to it, or does something unforgettable it haunts me.

With all that out of the way, let's get started.


My Top 50 Movies of the 1970s
Volume 1 (26-50)

  • As mentioned, this is where the number of films I've watched makes this tough. I'm close to 300. Again, I've watched less than half that number of movies released in earlier decades combined.
  • I continue to amaze myself since I claim I'm not fond of musicals. Four of them, make this half of my top 50 of the decade. One of them, plus another that's not a musical, are here thanks in large part to the use of their soundtrack.
  • Despite this being the first decade of my youth, there's a distinct lack of kiddie flicks. Only one could be called that (on this half) and no animation. Which leads directly to this fact...
  • I was only fortunate to see just one of these 25 movies in theaters (#38), and I probably shouldn't have.
  • Diversity creeps into the project. 11 of these 25 films have a protagonist who is something other than a straight white male. 


50. The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings
(1976)
I've loved baseball ever since I was a kid. Because of it's emphasis on statistics, it's increasingly a nerd's sport, and I've always been a nerd at heart. In fact, baseball taught me math better than any teacher I ever had. However, baseball is also about stories. When it comes to the Negro Leagues, stories are pretty much all we have. And this is a great story. It's funny and charming as can be. It has great supporting performances from Richard Pryor and James Earl Jones, but it's really Billy Dee Williams carrying this wonderful film. Here, he's at the height of his powers as the man men want to be and women want to be with.


49. Bugsy Malone
(1976)
As The 100 Project progresses, my love of gangster flicks will become more and more evident. The same goes for my love of self-aware and clever movies. This one uses its way out premise to be just that. It takes the prohibition era, urban gangland we've come to love in countless movies and populates it entirely with kids on both sides of the law. And it's a musical. It's not a perfect film, but it is brilliant and one of the most unique viewing experiences I've ever had. (My full review)


48. Death Wish
(1974)
As liberal as I am, it's odd how much I gravitate to movies espousing the very right-wing ideal of taking justice into your own hands and giving bad guys their comeuppance. This is the entry point for my relationship with Batman, my all-time favorite character. What if Batman were just a guy with a gun? That's essentially what Death Wish is. And its setting, the grimy New York City of my youth is clearly what the best representations of Gotham aim to be. Though the number of clones it inspired seems infinite, including way too many sequels and a just-released remake, this is still the movie that did it best.


47. The Outlaw Josey Wales
(1976)
This is another revenge flick. At least, it starts off like that. It's a western with lots of tongue-in-cheek humor and a biting critique of a post-Vietnam U.S. government. Those elements mesh seamlessly thanks to the ever-cool presence of Clint Eastwood on both sides of the camera. It's fun, funny, and slyly deep. (My full review)


46. Network
(1976)
As mentioned, self-aware movies have a certain hold on me. The misconception many have is that such movies are all trying to be laugh-a-minute comedies. This movie proves that isn't true. There is certainly humor to be had, but this film has more serious aspirations. It examines the media in a way that is still relevant over forty years later despite the antiquated major network hierarchy in control of things.


45. Halloween
(1978)
I love slasher movies. This is one of the movies that established the template for them. What makes it great, however, is not the number of bodies it piles up, but the patience and restraint of its story-telling. This is antithetical to what the genre has become so it still stands apart from, and above, most of it.


44. Sparkle
(1976)
1970s New York makes its presence felt once again - this time as the backdrop for a Motown-esque story about an all-girl singing group reaching for stardom. It's a fun and emotional roller-coaster ride. However, if I'm being completely honest, and I am trying to be, it's the soundtrack by the amazing Curtis Mayfield that really elevates it onto this list. And it's not the last time, his impact will be felt. (My full review)


43. North Dallas Forty
(1979)
Not only am I a huge baseball fan, I love football, too. This one is based on a book written by a former NFL player and has been praised for being a very realistic portrayal of the lives of professional football players, especially what they put their bodies through in order to be ready to play every Sunday. It does so while giving us a story that non-football fans can connect to, making it one of the best movies ever made about the sport. (My full review)


42. Blacula
(1972)
Ah...all of my movie-watching proclivities are coming to light. Or, in this case, trying desperately to stay in the dark because we're talking vampires. In true Blaxploitation fashion, it's a black take on a popular white trope, complete with a telling moniker. However, for all its flaws, it's better than it has any right to be. It even has a well-earned emotional finale. Classically trained star William Marshall brings a Shakespearean gravitas to the proceedings. He seems aristocratic, yet simultaneously subhuman thanks to his condition. I first saw this in the late-70s, and I've returned to it many times since. (My full review)


41. Harold and Maude
(1971)
Like Bugsy Malone, this one also falls into the category of one of the oddest movies I've ever watched. It's about a relationship between a young man and an older woman, but that's not what makes it odd. What makes it so is the expanse of the age gap at play. Harold is twenty, which is fairly typical for these sorts of movies. Maude is eighty, pretty much double the age of the older character in May-December romances. Still, it's one of the most beautiful.


40. Lady Sings the Blues
(1972)
This biopic about legendary blues singer Billie Holiday pulls no punches. When I saw this as a youngster I thought it was okay, but obviously, most of it went way over my head. I watched it again as an adult and was blown away. The biggest reason for this is the performance of the lead actress, herself known as a legendary singer, but she definitely brings the goods here. I'm talking none other than Diana Ross, earning every bit of her Oscar nomination.


39. Hard Times
(1975)
This tale about a bare-knuckle brawler is one of the first movies I've ever seen that I would categorize as "gritty" and I was drawn to it immediately, thanks to that quality, even though I was only like twelve the first time I saw it. I watched it a number of times since, even own it on DVD, and it holds up for me. However, where I was once enamored with Charles Bronson's monosyllabic brutishness, I'm now dragged along by James Coburn's verbose street hustler.



38. Saturday Night Fever
(1977)

By now, dance movies have evolved into lighthearted displays of athleticism filtered through faux-ghetto attitudes and generic plots. 1977 gave us an honest  and impactful urban coming of age tale about a guy who happens to love disco dancing. The emphasis on story over spectacle makes all the difference, though the spectacle isn't bad, either. And John Travolta sells it for all he's worth. Then there's that soundtrack by The Bee Gees. It's easily one of the ten best ever made and fits its film like a white polyester suit.


37. Super Fly
(1972)
The weary criminal trying to make one last score so he can retire and go straight is a familiar trope and has seldom been done better than in this Blaxploitation classic. I've seen it a few times over the years and each time I'm still somehow surprised by how good a movie it is...not how good a black movie it is, just a movie. And since we're talking soundtracks, we get another mention of Curtis Mayfield. This is his very best work and my second favorite soundtrack of all-time.


36. Brian's Song
(1971)
My sixth grade teacher introduced me to this movie. I think the actual lesson he was teaching had something to do with race relations. I got it. A black guy and a white guy with nothing else in common bond over football. It's all the more appropriate because it's based on a true story. However, I wasn't ready for just how emotional it was. Sure, it gets sappy, but James Caan, and especially Billy Dee Williams land so many blows to your gut they stick with you.


35. Chinatown
(1974)
Unlike many of the films on this list, I didn't see this one until I was in my thirties. It's a good thing because if you had told younger me there was a great movie ostensibly about a water reservoir, I would have laughed in your face. When I finally watched it, I found a modern (neo?) noir of the highest order.


34. The Exorcist
(1973)
Full disclosure: this is the movie solely responsible for the gap between this entry in The 100 Project and my last. I saw it when I was way too young and was deeply frightened. I knew that I would need to rewatch it to honestly assess it for this exercise. It took a while for me to do this, but I did. The whole story is coming this October (plug!). It's slower than I remember, but still amazing and disturbing.


33. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
(1975)
One thing my last decade of movie watching has done is make spoofs one of my favorite genres. Here, the wonderful people of Monty Python just skewer the hell out of the legend of King Arthur. It's funny from start to finish by taking everything to absurdist extremes and then a step further. The gags all work, even when you know they're coming.


32. The Kentucky Fried Movie
(1977)
No, I didn't mean to have two spoofs right next to each other, but here we are. This one takes on 1970s pop-culture, including the grindhouse cinema the decade is known for. It does so through a series of sketches with barely any connective tissue between them. Imagine an episode of Saturday Night Live with all the restraints removed, and no musical guest. These segments include news reports, TV commercials, and movie trailers. It's all wrapped around a "feature presentation," a thirty minute (or so) parody of Enter the Dragon.


31. A Clockwork Orange
(1971)
Stanley Kubrick tends to be hit-or-miss with me. This is most certainly one of his hits. It's pure 70s rebelliousness pushed well beyond an acceptable limit met with an equally egregious authoritarian response. It all works thanks to Kubrick's sure hands and a never-better or more manic Malcolm McDowell, at once magnetic and repulsive.


30. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
(1975)
If you somehow didn't know it, sticking it to "the man" was a huge theme in the 70s. Perhaps no movie epitomized this more than this one. Jack Nicholson gives one of his very best performances as our hero, a guy who simply won't bow to authority. He owns this film, but is more than ably assisted by a wonderful supporting cast.


29. Coffy
(1973)
Pam m'fing Grier. There's an argument to be made for 50 more movies to make this list ahead of Coffy. However, this is an icon of powerful femininity at her very best (even better than the more popular and well regarded Foxy Brown). Sure, it's pure silliness, but like I said a moment ago, Pam m'fing Grier.


28. The Way of the Dragon
(1972)
Some movies have a scene or two that elevates the whole thing to classic status. This is one such movie. I could go through and nitpick this aspect or that one, but that's a fruitless endeavor for me because I can't escape two factors. The first is the star. Bruce Lee has had a hold on me ever since I first laid eyes on him. The other is that scene. It's Bruce Lee fighting Chuck Norris. What could be more epic than that? (My full review)


27. Alien
(1979)
I've always been a fan of slasher flicks. Call me dense, but it took me awhile to figure out that this is, indeed, a slasher flick. Instead of a masked madman chasing co-eds through the woods, we have a xenomorph hunting down space travelers aboard a ship millions of miles from Earth. And man, does it work. It doesn't hurt that it also gives us arguably the most iconic female character in cinematic history.


26. The Wicker Man
(1973)
Here is another film that I did not see until I reached adulthood. And that's a good thing. Where Chinatown would've bored a young Dell, The Wicker Man would have baffled me until I was on the floor quivering and babbling incoherently. As an adult, I appreciate it as one of the most unique viewing experiences I've ever had. It's a horror flick that skewers the group (mob?) mentality of the deeply religious and the resulting autonomous clergy while mixing in lots of sex and doubling as a musical. It's bonkers in a brilliant way, as opposed to bonkers in a very bad way like its 2006 remake.


Click below for more from The 100 Project

18 comments:

  1. Great list! I haven't watched all but 4 movies. I'm in the minority when it comes to Monty Python and A Clockwork Orange; I didn't like them even if I wanted to. Bugsy Malone was entertaining; I don't think a movie like that would work nowadays. Harold & Maude was charming.

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    1. Thanks! Monty Python is a brand of humor that doesn't work for everyone and I fully understand about Orange. Kubrick has so-called great movies that rub me the wrong way, too. And lots of movies made in the 70s won't work nowadays, lol.

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  2. Curious to see your top-25 for this because you've got a few (Network and Chinatown, for instance) that would not only be in my top-25, but my top-10.

    Network is probably top-5 for me.

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    1. Oh, I'm pretty sure you'll be sorely disappointed in my top 25. If I were being strictly objective, a number of these would like be in my top 10, as well.

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  3. YAY! I love these lists. And I am right there with you on the subjectivity vs. objectivity thing - if our lists aren't a little bit subjective, they will be just like everyone else's, and who wants that?!?

    I haven't seen most of these, but the ones I have seen would also be in serious contention for my Best of the 70s list - this was a great decade for filmmaking!

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    1. Thanks! And this was a fabulous decade for filmmaking, no question.

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  4. Halloween and The Exorcist are my favorites on this list. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is great too. I have Monty Python on my Blind Spot list so I'm looking forward to that.

    A Clockwork Orange is one I need to re-watch. I actually saw that film when I was really young, and my sister kept making me cover my eyes during parts of it (because she's a good babysitter) and of course it was during all the rape scenes. Because of that I'm a bit afraid to re-watch it.

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    1. Looking forward to your impression of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Such a fun movie, at least I think so.

      Love that story, but yeah, I hope you get to watch it again.

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  5. I haven't seen Harold and Maude in a very long time but I remember not liking it. I'll give it another chance one of these days.

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    1. Interesting. I'm curious to see how you'd feel about it now.

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  6. At least you liked A Clockwork Orange which is my favorite Stanley Kubrick film. There's 12 films in that list that I have seen as I hope to see more. There's so many films that I missed out and hope to watch soon. I'm already thinking about making a list of the best films of the 2010s but I think I will do it properly in 2020 or 2021 but subtitled "Take One".

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    1. Love Clockwork. By the end of this project (assuming I get it done this year) I will be doing year-by-year top 10s, but it will likely be 2021 before I go for a best of this decade.

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  7. Ambitious of you to take on an entire decade but also really fun to read your picks! Nice to see a few blaxploitation made the cut :) And you can't do the 1970s justice without mentioning Travolta and the horror genre, so good to see those represented too. The parody of Enter the Dragon was the funniest moment in The Kentucky Fried Movie

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    1. I'd be flat out lying if a few blaxploitation flicks didn't make it. And who has a 70s list without Travolta? Is that even allowed?

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  8. That's what I love about musicals - when they're good, they're great. And it probably does speak to your objectivity that you'll admit something is good even when it's not really your thing. Great things come in through our cracks.

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    1. Yes, when they are good, they're great. Thanks!

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  9. GREAT collection of films from my favorite decade. So many classics on this list, can't wait for the next volume!

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