22. Jeremiah Johnson (1972)
Directed by Sidney Pollack
Featuring Robert Redford
Jeremiah Johnson: “How does the war go?”
Lt. Mulvey: “Which war?”
Jeremiah Johnson: “The war against the President of Mexico.”
Lt. Mulvey: “Why, it’s over.”
Jeremiah Johnson: “Who won?”
A guy escapes the Mexican war around the middle of the 1800’s and decides to live in the mountains where he builds up a family until his local native bride and child get brutally murdered. That to make a long story short, the film actually takes its power from the cinematic richness between and around those incidents. However the first plan was for Sam Peckinpah to direct with Clint Eastwood as protagonist, Redford urged Pollack to take on the project, with success. Its subtle and indirect criticisms on the Vietnam war, its beautiful Utah landscapes and its deepening of a complex character put the movie next to profound revisionist westerns like McCabe & Mrs. Miller (Altman, 1971) and the next one in this list, Little Big Man (Penn, 1970).
Certainly, Jeremiah Johnson (1972) must be Sidney Pollack’s best film and almost Robert Redford’s among Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Roy Hill, 1969), The Sting (Roy Hill, 1973) and All the President’s Men (Pakula, 1976) as pretty tough contenders. That said, I have to state the greatness of Redford as an actor in the seventies, elevating himself to the ‘Brad Pitt’ of that period.
21. Little Big Man (1970)
Directed by Arthur Penn
Featuring Dustin Hoffman and Faye Dunaway
“The movies have changed: there’s now this wonderful storyteller Spielberg making benign movies that are enormously successful, while I’m known mainly for making movies about people shooting and cutting each other up. I love his work, but I could never make stuff like that.” (Arthur Penn, 1982)
After making one of the iconoclastic masterpieces of movie history, Bonnie and Clyde (1967), he delivered a revisionist western in the same groundbreaking vain. Little Big Man (1970) tries to get rid of clean-shaven western macho types like the patriotic, narrow-minded John Wayne. The revising of westerns in the seventies gave way to more gruesome realistic views of the Wild West showing real violence and true blood. For instance Sam Peckinpah loved to demonstrate, preferably in slow motion, the many different ways to kill and get killed. Look at the final shoot out in Bonnie and Clyde or The Wild Bunch (Peckinpah, 1969) and you will know what those filmmakers were aiming at.
In Little Big Man, we observe a white guy who grew up in an indigenous tribe thereafter gets confronted with the cruelty of the ‘superior’ white race. Hoffman’s character has hard times staying alive during the indian wars, therefore switches side when he has to, ‘Barry Lyndon style’. Marlon Brando was presumably the first with the idea to turn this book into a movie but ultimately Penn surpassed him and nailed it. The whole Indian rights moral behind it seemed pretty big at the time, especially with Brando, who refused his Godfather oscar in 1972 and sent a protesting Indian girl to collect instead.
20. Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
Directed by Brian De Palma
Featuring Paul Williams and William Finley
“My films deal with a stylized, expressionistic world that has a kind of grotesque beauty about it.” (Brian De Palma)
When people say De Palma’s long career is just a complete Hitchcockian suspense bastardization, they probably did not see everything and presumably do not have any taste. As Godard once said, “it’s not where you take things from, it’s where you take them to.” Along the side of masterful thrillers like Carrie (1976), Dressed to Kill (1980) and Body Double (1984), he also made excellent tributes to the gangster genre with Scarface (1983) and Carlito’s Way (1993). Further, he pulled of Blow Out (1981) as a compliment to Antonioni’s Blowup (1966) and Coppola’s The Conversation (1974). As a creative postmodern film director, he ‘ripped off’ a lot of his idols gloriously and did not care about that (why should he?). Besides the already mentioned before, his first two significant films, Greetings (1968) and Hi, Mom! (1970), are certainly worth the watch. They introduced a very young De Niro and contained hit-and-miss sketches of which the ‘Be Black, Baby’ sequence is perhaps the boldest, with its allusion to cinéma vérité.
But his most forgotten and underrated venture is Phantom of the Paradise (1974), an outrageous parody on Phantom of the Opera, Faust and The Picture of Dorian Gray. With its grotesque and over-the-top style, it surely can stand next to the more famous Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) as a subversive musical, accompanied by an inventive ‘glam rock opera’ soundtrack.
19. Vanishing Point (1971)
Directed by Richard C. Sarafian
Featuring Barry Newman
“This radio station was named Kowalski, in honour of the last American hero to whom speed means freedom of the soul. The question is not when’s he gonna stop, but who is gonna stop him.” (Super Soul)
The silent existential lone drifter and tough muscle cars represent cool artifacts of seventies New Hollywood that made their way to contemporary postmodern cinema like for instance Refn’s Drive (2011) or Tarantino’s Death Proof (2007). Kowalski is the name and he is ahead of his game when he has to deliver this awesome car in a certain amount of time from point A to B. On the way, he experiences a lot of adventures, surrounded by cinematographic beauty. One of the great cult hits of the era.