Personal Faves: The Best of the Early ’70s on Film

This past year, I have seen roughly 200 films. As my job requires me to see a plethora of movies, a good chunk of them were new releases. But as I am a hermit on the weekends, many were older films I always meant to see but for some reason or another let slip between the cracks. For me, watching a film is always experiential; I love nothing more than the physical response to viewing a great film you’ve never seen and the cinematic high that follows. But I always look at my constant film watching as an education, leaving the theater or shutting off my computer as if I’ve just done a close reading of an important text, feeling as if I’ve gained insight into a time and a place in the world that I ever knew existed. And when it comes to Hollywood in the 1970s, that for me has always been the most enthralling and the most informative.

1. Zabriskie Point, Michaelangelo Antonioni (1970)

What lacks in dialogue is completely made up for in cinematography and sound thanks to Pink Floyd’s disjointed psychedlic meets ethereal soundtrack. The beginning scenes in Los Angeles with all the 1960s aggressive advertising juxtaposed with the bare desert and the final blowup/breakdown just killed me. Of course, Antonioni plus Sam Shepard would only naturally equal the dustiest choreographed orgy scene of bodies and sounds.

2. Alice in the Cities, Wim Wenders (1974)

I love everything about this movie, from the pacing to the polaroids and exterior driving shots (that reminded me of Dennis Hopper’s early photographs). Wenders’s films are filled with so much yearning and so much restlessness; people aching so badly to find that thing or feeling they’ve never even been able to name. They’re all so hungry for love and connection and something to make them feel alive, and what could be more universal?

3. The Landlord, Hal Ashby (1970)

Here’s a really great 1970s New York race-relations film. It was endearing and funny while also being insightful and guttural. Hal had a really bizarre tone to all of his films and this one takes a little bit to get situated but when it does, it feels like how his others end up—living in this weird world between the absolutely ridiculous and extreme reality. Beau Bridges boyish face was the perfect canvas to project against this urban world.

4. Five Easy Pieces, Bob Rafelson (1970)

If I could be reincarnated as anything it would be Jack Nicholson’s left eyebrow in 1970. His performance in really established his maniacal acting style that is just so good it makes me wonder if modern actors of this callibar even exist anymore. The film is brilliantly written and directed, showing a tragically ambivalent man’s existential crisis that leads down a road to nowhere in the style of New Wave art film.

5. Shampoo, Hal Ashby (1975)

A hazy satire of late ’60s sexual politics and great hair. It’s interesting to set a film as a period piece—seven years earlier—with a political backdrop that only keeps the mood light. If the script had fallen into another director’s hands with lesser actors, I’m sure a good deal of magic would have been lost, but this was wonderful. Warren Beatty’s haircut and Julie Christie’s backless sequined dress are really the other leads of the film.

6. Husbands, John Cassavetes (1970)

Troubled men, troubled world. This one is wonderfully shot, of course; Cassvetes is the master of holding the camera close to bodies and faces to expose interiors in a way that’s as haunting as it is aesthetically beautiful. The dynamic between Cassavetes, Falk, and Gazzara cannot be beat. Cassavetes’s maniacal laugh will be playing on repeat in my head for days. The film displays the immature idocy of men but also the knowledge that they recognize their ways and attempt to change—but is it only out of shame or guilt?

7. Sunday Blood Sunday, John Schlesinger (1971)

What the film does best is speak to the sentiment that we’re drawn to that which will never be fully attainable despite all our efforts. It’s not a film about what it is like to be a gay man in love or the struggles that coincide, but a film about what it’s like to be a person in love—male, female, whatever. If the film is still progressive to this day, it’s for the way in which it does not treat the homosexuality of the characters as something different or subversive. Both Daniel and Alex’s stories feel ultimately tragic because perhaps their desire for him was merely a projection.

8. The Parallax View, Alan J. Pakula (1974)

Every film in his political paranoia trilogy is perfect. Gordon Willis’s cinematography kills me and is at its best when in these kinds of stories. So much inching tension and unrest. So psycholoigcally stimulating and well-acted. Sidenote: Is it a requirement for all the leads in this trilogy to have the same brunette haircut?

9. Performance, Donald Cammell, Nicolas Roeg (1970)

No one does out-of-focus, sparkling-chandelier-light haze reminiscent of fantastical winter nights of intoxication better than Roeg. Jesus, this movie is a fucking brilliant depiction of indentity and the power to transform oneself. As usual, sexuality and violence go hand in hand that seduces you with it’s lustful danger. And obviously, the music is half the pleasure.

10. The Long Goodbye, Robert Altman (1973)

Elliott Gould is perfect as the wisecracking and fumblingly adorable Marlowe. Altman’s version captures an essence of ’70s easy cool LA that’s breezy and charismatic yet haunted by it’s darkness lurking beneath the surface. Takes noir and makes it natural. Great sounds.

The Stunning Covers of Midnight Maurader’s Criterion Collection Series

More than just possessing the best in international, avant-garde, rare, and classic cinema, the Criterion Collection provides us with an artifact. We get to enjoy a beautiful mastering of a film, bonus materials and critical analysis of the work, with the actual casing of the film a treasure in itself. The covers for Criterion films are a unique art, visually stunning, small-scale works of graphic design intended to entice and highlight the visual and thematic aspects of the film. And designer Midnight Marauder has used his own creative muscle to give us another look at Criterions films from his unique perspective—covers that could have been and those that may never be.

With a sharp vision that encapsulates the essence of the films, Midnight Marauder has a deep love for cinema, and calls his imagined Criterion Collection covers an "artistic exercise" that allows him to work through different aesthetics and have fun in the process. When I asked Midnight Marauder to describe what fuels his work, he replied, "I get my kicks from truly great filmmakers and their enduring legacy on us all—directors who curse at a studio head to get their final cut." We’ve put together some of our favorites from his series. Click through and enjoy.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller

"Hands down one of my favorite films of all time. It’s so beautiful, so pure and so poetic."

The Conversation

"It’s as much a Walter Murch film as a Coppola film. The music is divine! 

Fight Club

"I was blown away the second I saw the trailer. What shocked me the most was not the blood and the fights; it was the idea of mental disorder and how you can reinvent yourself in the chaos of it all."

Wild at Heart

"I love the energy of the film, the music is magical, and Dafoe is grotesque."

Revolutionary Road

"Decaprio’s finest hour."

All the President’s Men

"I love journalism and the power of the press. They can bring down the most powerful of crooks."

Mean Streets

"The first student film from a big studio. I think it’s even more powerful today then when it first was projected in New York."

Planet Terror

"A pretty bold move from Robert Rodrigez and Quentin Tarantino. They took a massive gamble on the entire Grindhouse film. Planet Terror is a fun ride for all of us who grew up on cheap VHS Horror Films."

Network

"Sidney Lumet gave us a satirical look into television programming. The first five minutes of the film leave you speechless."

Rosemary’s Baby

"Roman Polanski at his most devilish, and he paid the ultimate price for making it."

Annie Hall

"The ultimate romantic experimental comedy. When I hear Diane Keaton singing at the end…I cry."

No Country for Old Men

"The Coens gave us a modern Western masterpiece. Those brothers can do no wrong."

Jackie Brown

"It’s Quentin Tarantino’s most complete film to date: an adaption of Elmore Leonard’s famed Rum Punch. The characters are whole and seem to sing Tarantino’s dialogue."

Drive

"It’s a modern-day Jean-Pierre Melville picture, with Gosling reminiscent of Alain Delon’s Samurai."

The Exorcist

"Friedkin in my opinion is the most misunderstood director of the ’70s."

Dressed to Kill

"Pure Brian De Palma. I wonder if he’s over his obsession with Hitchcock?"

The Long Goodbye

"I am convinced that the Coen brothers watched this while writing The Big Lebowski."