American Graffiti (1973)

graffiti

Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat (his film debut), Charlie Matt Smith, Cindy Williams, Candy Clark, Mackenzie Phillips (her debut), Wolfman Jack, Harrison Ford

Director: George Lucas

Summary: Four high school seniors in 1962 face an uncertain future as they try to live through their last big school dance

Other Nominations: Director, Supporting Actress (Clark), Original Screenplay, Film Editing

Positives

-The soundtrack was a huge focus of the film and it does play like a greatest hits version of music from the mid 50s-early 60s (with the exception of Elvis because RCA wouldn’t sell the rights at a reasonable price). However cheap a tactic it might be (and one that has been repeated by numerous movies since), it does invoke the era well and the music itself is good for my tastes at least.

-The movie does a good job of juggling all four stories it wants to tell and giving them each the time they need to feel like they have a real beginning, middle and end (even if the female characters have no depth to them, something George Lucas generally had problems with). I especially liked  Le Mat and Phillips’ story which had quite a bit of charm to it. I also thought Richard Dreyfuss was very good in general and I can understand why this movie was a springboard for him to being a future star in the industry.

Negatives

-This movie is very much about white people’s nostalgia, a celebration of a simpler and less complicated past when the biggest problems for teenagers were girls and looking cool, while lamenting changing times (especially at the very end in a very good coda). However, I think this is a film mostly relies on connecting with you on a personal level based on your own experiences either 1) because you were a white high schooler from that era, or 2) because it reminds you of your high school experiences in some positive way; for me, I have no nostalgia for high school, like at all, nor was I somebody who did a lot of cruising or girl chasing. I think the lack of an experience to appeal to limited my overall enjoyment and I thought this was just pretty good instead of great.

Overall

I thought it was pretty good, although I feel like I’m not the target audience. However, it does a pretty good job of telling its character’s stories and I liked Dreyfuss. Hey, at least the success of this film led to some pretty awesome movies from its director over the next 16 years.

Rating: B-

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Cries & Whispers (1973)

cries

Starring: Ingrid Thulin, Liv Ullmann, Harriet Andersson, Kari Sylwan

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Summary: A woman’s impending death leads to painful memories and confrontations for herself and her two sisters

Other Nominations: Director, Original Screenplay, Costume Design, Cinematography*

Positives

-This is certainly the most abstract film I’ve watched for this project-it relies heavily on visuals to get its points across, with minimal story and not a lot of dialogue; however, the visuals do a great job of telling a lot and the film looks gorgeous. It uses color very effectively-red is heavily used and the shade of it or lack of it indicates the mood of the scene or the state of minds of the characters, and the color itself invokes passion/life. The cinematography is also great, using numerous close-ups of characters to show the finer emotions on their faces (which is key with there not being a lot of dialogue), and makes good use of shadow.

-Hey, any movie that’s effective and gets in and out in 91 minutes is a positive in my book.

Negatives

-This is a film about visuals and feel, with the movie being about the anguish and emotional isolation of these characters, with the maid character being a contrast despite her having as good a reason to retreat from human contact as any of them; the problem is that I didn’t feel all that emotional impact from the movie which is a huge issue. Maybe the problem was how it doled out information out the characters’ backstories in individualized chunks through the course of the movie (and even then leaving out huge gaps), and I just couldn’t get that much of a feel for the characters and therefore didn’t care that much about them? For whatever reason, at some level the movie failed at what it is fundamentally trying to be for me.

Overall

I enjoyed the visuals and admired how it used its medium to tell a story as well as it did (i.e. through visuals). At the bottom line through, I never got sucked into the emotional turmoil that was central to the movie and therefore appreciated it more than I enjoyed it.

Rating: B-

The Exorcist (1973)

exorcist

Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Jason Miller (his debut), Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb

Director: William Friedkin

Summary: A priest battles to save a young girl possessed by demons

Other Nominations: Director, Actress (Burstyn), Supporting Actor (Miller), Supporting Actress (Blair), Adapted Screenplay*, Sound Mixing*, Art Direction, Cinematography, Film Editing

Positives

-The makeup by the legendary Dick Smith is some of the best you’ll see in any movie and marks the first of a number of times on this project where I will lament the death of practical effects. Compare the makeup for a movie like this to Harvey Dent’s stupid CGI face in The Dark Knight, a movie that came out 35 years later, and you see my point. It’s not even just Linda Blair’s, it’s also the old age makeup on Max Von Sydow that was so good that a lot of people didn’t realize it was old-age makeup (he wasn’t a big name in America at the time even if he had a lot of international success).

-The sound editing especially and sound mixing is fantastic and probably the best of the project so far. In no other genre of film is sound design as important as it is in horror movies, and here you have some really incredible guttural and visceral sounds coming out of Blair that fit the scenario perfectly and are extremely memorable. It’s also a credit to the sound mixing that you can clearly hear all the dialogue coming from the demon despite it’s rough, low quality, yet it still keeps its effect completely.

-It wasn’t written for the movie, but the song “Tubular Bells” will forever be associated with the movie for obvious reasons; whatever the originally intended effect and feeling of the song was, in the context of the movie, it’s haunting yet classy.

-In some ways, many horror films have taken a lot from The Exorcist (and possession films are back in vogue the last decade or so), but it feels very different from most others of the last 30 years or so. First, I was struck by how slowly it builds over the course of the movie-things only start going off the rails in the last 45 minutes, and the exorcism itself is only the last 30 minutes. It relies instead on what most good horror films do-growing escalation and a feeling of helplessness and things going out of the characters’ control. Second, there’s no schlock here-this movie is 100% committed to its premise and plays things as seriously as human possible and it has a greater attachment to some kind of reality than most. Third, it actually cares about its characters-we spend a lot of time on Miller’s crisis of faith and Burstyn’s growing frustration and terror, and we see enough of Blair at the outset for us to care about what happens to her later.

-Even if a lot of credit goes to Mercedes McCambridge for providing the voice of the demon, you’re still asking a heck of a lot of a 14 year old to do what Blair has to do in this movie, and she’s as big a reason as any of the actors for why the movie is as effective as it is. I thought Burstyn was good as well, although maybe not as much as some others do.

Negatives

-Some of the pure shock value that made this film so remarkable at the time has been lessened somewhat even if its quality and overall effectiveness in other aspects hasn’t. That, and I’m not that big of a horror fan, or at least the kind of horror that you tend to see from the 70s on.

Other Stuff

-I watched the original theatrical version and not the 25th Anniversary version that came out in 1998 or any of the other later cuts of the movie. The interesting thing is that one of the most famous scenes in the movie, the spider-walk scene, isn’t actually in the original cut of the movie and only appeared on the 1998 versions on; this is because the effects didn’t look great (the wires were too obvious) and because Friedkin felt it happened too early in the movie (which I agree with).

Overall

It’s reputation as one of the greatest horror films to come out of Hollywood is deserved: its makeup, sound and total commitment to its tone and genre make it effective even today.

Rating: A-

*The Sting (1973)*

sting

Starring: Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Robert Shaw, Charles Durning, Ray Walston, Eileen Brennan, Dimitra Arliss, Robert Earl Jones (James’ father)

Director: George Roy Hill

Summary: Two con men hit the big time to take on a gangster in 1930’s Chicago

Other Nominations: Director*, Actor (Redford), Original Screenplay*, Adapted Score*, Sound Mixing, Costume Design*, Art Direction*, Cinematography, Film Editing*

Positives

-This is just a really fun, entertaining caper movie. It has a great script with plenty of charm, twists and turns and keeps things consistently light for most of the movie. Even though I knew the ending before I came in (the only thing I remembered from the first time I watched it about a dozen years ago), it still packs a punch and is very well-done.

-Everybody’s good in this, but it’s hard to beat Redford and Newman as a team with their easy charm and likeability-you forget that they’re con-men and not exactly the kind of people you should be rooting for (although the fact that they’re going up against someone even worse helps).

-Even if the score is anachronistic (The Entertainer was written in 1902 and the movie takes place in 1936, although Alexander’s Ragtime Band was made in 1938 so maybe it had a surge of popularity at that moment), but who cares when it fits the feeling of the movie so well. It adds a lot to the movie and is deservedly one of the things people remember most about it.

-The art direction is very good, everything feels like 1930’s Chicago from the buildings, sets and costumes.

Negatives

-This movie is pure entertainment without any greater aspirations, and that’s great, but usually for me, an “A” movie has to be something a little more substantive or meatier than this, or has to blow away other movies of the same genre in some aspect.

Overall

An extremely entertaining movie with a great script and one of the best screen duos of all-time at the height of their powers.

Rating: A-

A Touch of Class (1973)

class

Starring: George Segal, Glenda Jackson, Paul Sorvino, Hildegarde Neil

Director: Melvin Frank

Summary: Romantic comedy about a pair of clandestine lovers in a London-Spain tryst

Other Nominations: Actress (Jackson)*, Original Screenplay, Original Score, Original Song (“All That Love Went to Waste”)

Positives

-Both of the leads had great chemistry with each other and seeing them go back and forth during the first is half is great because of it. As good as Jackson is though, I’m still surprised Jackson won the Oscar for this because 1) she already had one, 2) she’s the secondary of the two leads (the movie is from Segal’s perspective) and 3) this is a romantic comedy (although Keaton also won in this decade for one).

-The first half is a really good romantic comedy that feels very British with joke cul-de-sacs (a series of events that lead to absolutely nothing in the end), the humor is dry, and everything that could go wrong does.

Negatives

-The movie really tails off in 2nd half, where it transitions from romantic comedy to just mostly romance and the entire time you’re waiting for the moment of decision where Segal finally has to make a choice because the situation is untenable. This part falls especially flat because the characters are pretty lightly drawn and the strength of the movie was in the leads’ personalities which don’t get a chance to shine in the second half.

-This is the first movie that’s felt like it was from the 70s from a fashion and music perspective in a bad way, mainly the music which is like bad easy listening.

Overall

I’m surprised it got a BP nomination-since the 1950s, how many Romantic Comedies have? Regardless, this gets the comedy part right, but not the romance and the good start it had fizzled out and disappointed me.

Rating: C

1973 in Review

Other Notable Films from 1973

Badlands: This was Terrence Malik’s debut film and put him on the map as one of the big directors of the 70s (even if he only made two films in the decade and only those two until 1998); it also served as Sissy Spacek’s breakout film. In the National Film Registry.

Enter the Dragon: Bruce Lee’s last completed film and easily his best in my opinion-the action is great, I like tournament-format action movies in general, Bruce Lee is at his best and beyond him, Jim Kelly and John Saxon are great, and Bolo Yeung is one of the best evil henchmen ever (pre-dating his most famous role in Kickboxer). In the National Film Registry.

Mean Streets: The movie that put Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro (along with Bang the Drum Slowly) and Harvey Keitel on the map; it was heavily based on Scorsese’s real experiences growing up in New York and was a portent of things to come from the director. In the National Film Registry.

Don’t Look Now: Excellent thriller starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier (Rebecca, The Birds). It’s about a couple who move to Venice because of Sutherland’s work and because they’re trying to get away from their daughter’s recent death; however, Sutherland starts seeing what he believes is his daughter in her red raincoat and things go from there.

The Wicker Man: The original, not the infamous Nicholas Cage remake; this one co-stars Christopher Lee who considered it his best film, even above the Lord of the Rings films. It’s about a man who is investigating a remote pagan island civilization about the disappearance of a young girl and turns into one of the classier and most haunting horror films ever made.

Coffy: One of the best Blaxploitation films ever made and the one that made Pam Grier a star. It has everything you want in in a Blaxploitation film- it’s incredibly entertaining and ridiculous, but it’s also fundamentally depressing and downbeat like so many others in the genre.

Serpico: From 1973-1978, Sidney Lumet had an incredible run as a director (including two movies we’ll be seeing for this project and a total of 24 Oscar nominations for his films) and this one kicked it off, with Al Pacino playing an honest cop who goes undercover to expose corruption within the NYPD.

1973 Nominees in Review

The Sting: A- (Won Best Picture)

The Exorcist: A-

Cries and Whispers: B-

American Graffiti: B-

A Touch of Class: C

Good year, although slightly disappointing because I enjoyed Cries and Whispers and American Graffiti less than I expected to even if they’re still good. This is the second straight year where the best movie did indeed win Best Picture and with one exception, can’t really complain about any of the nominees being undeserved. Good stuff keeps coming and next year feels like a year with four great movies and then one “huh?” nominee

1974 has two of my favorites movies of all-time (at least based off previous viewings) so I’m excited. We have: Roman Polanski’s final film made in the United States; Two Francis Ford-Coppola films; The rare black and white film out of Hollywood post-1967; and a movie with two people who later were accused of murdering their wives in it. Also, 2 films that take place in San Francisco out of the 5 (with a third partially taking place there) which is interesting.