Barry Lyndon (1975)

lyndon

Starring: Ryan O’Neal, Marisa Berenson, Leon Vitali, Patrick Magee, Hardy Kruger, Marie Kean, Murray Melvin, Michael Hordern (narrator)

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Summary: An Irish rogue cheats his way to the top of 18th-century British society

Other Nominations: Director, Adapted Screenplay, Costume Design*, Song Score*, Art Direction*, Cinematography*, Film Editing

Positives

-This is a film epic that feels very different than most in style and tells a really compelling rise and fall of a deeply flawed man whose life feels like a joke played on him by a cruel god who likes getting his hopes up before dashing them. I mentioned something similar in my review of A Clockwork Orange, but it’s even more pronounced here-despite the character himself not really changing or growing over the course of the movie, your attitude towards him changes a number of time, based mainly on the specific situation he’s in at the point in the story. In some ways, you could also say the same about Lord Bullingdon as a character, and in both cases it makes for an interesting story on an intellectual level (should I really be reacting this way right now?) Finally, the dual scene at the end is fantastic and easily some of the best direction Stanley Kubrick ever did.

-The score, all new orchestrations of classical music pieces, is one of the top 10 best from this project so far, especially the main theme (a version of Handel’s Sarabande) and the selections fit perfectly with the mood of every scene.

-Stanley Kubrick was legendary for his attention to detail, and it’s probably more obviously evident here than in any of his other films. The costumes and sets are gorgeous, the exteriors and countrysides were perfectly selected, and every single shot in the film looks fantastic, many of which were purposely done to reference various English paintings of the period. The movie is also famous for its lighting, where almost all light is natural-either filmed during the day with no added light, or by candlelight which required special camera lenses. It gives the film a distinctive look that’s hard to replicate.

-Kubrick got a lot out of a cast comprised mostly of relative unknowns, but the one that really stood out to me was Berenson. She has almost no dialogue in the film (despite being in the movie a lot), but her facial expressions convey this incredible sorrow and melancholy and you always know what she’s thinking.

Negatives

-This is a long movie (just over 3 hours), and it’s not for everybody-it’s pretty audacious in just how cold and unemotional it is for the most part and how detached it feels from its characters.

Overall

I actually watched this film in January but I liked it enough the first time that I felt like watching it again 6 months later; this time, I think I liked it even more, since I could fully appreciate how great the visuals and score are since I already knew the story. This is Kubrick’s least popular film from his golden period (1957-1987) despite being his most awarded at the Oscars, yet it’s one of his best due to its narrative, visuals and score.

Rating: A

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

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Starring: Al Pacino, John Cazale, James Broderick, Charles Durning, Chris Sarandon (his film debut), Sully Boyar, Penelope Allen, Lance Henriksen

Director: Sidney Lumet

Summary: A man robs a bank to pay for his lover’s operation

Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Pacino), Supporting Actor (Sarandon), Original Screenplay*, Film Editing

Positives

-Al Pacino gives what is probably his best performance (yes, even better than in The Godfather movies). He has a lot to work with given he’s playing such an interesting character, but he brings out the humanity and inner-turmoil within the character without going over the top and he feels like a completely real person. I also like Cazale and how his total lack of any emotion for the most part added to the mystery of the character and the surreal quality of the whole situation; that, and his line about Wyoming (which he came up with) and the delivery is perfect.

-I liked how it was a commentary on group causes of the time that still is 100% relevant today. Members of the crowd around the bank either totally support him or are against him because he fits into their individual causes in some way, regardless of this really being the kind of guy you want to get behind as a figure for your movement (he’s still committing armed robbery at a bank regardless of his reasons). This reflects not only the 70s when everybody was anti-establishment and you had tons of individual causes (black power, anti-police, anti-war, gay rights, etc.), but also the way we are right now (occupy wall street, black lives matter, anti-immigrant, anti-muslim, etc.) where our “heroes” or “villains” are all filtered through our own group politics.

Negatives

-I really liked the movie as a character piece, but I never got into it as a tense drama, the other major aspect this film was going for what with the hostage negotiations and the sweltering NYC summer. The movie being almost nothing but one long hostage negotiation wasn’t an issue, but I would be lying if I said it didn’t get a little tired of it towards the end.

Overall

Pacino makes the movie and the script does a great job of balancing humor with poignancy, even if it works more effectively as a character piece than it does as a tense drama.

Rating: B+

Nashville (1975)

nashville

Starring: Ronee Blakley (her film debut), Henry Gibson, Ned Beatty, Lily Tomlin (her film debut), Geraldine Chaplin, Keith Carradine, Keenan Wynn, Barbara Baxley, Shelley Duvall, Gwen Welles, Karen Black, Barbara Harris, Allen Garfield, David Hayward, Michael Murphy, Jeff Goldblum

Director: Robert Altman

Summary: Country music stars get caught up in tangled affairs and an independent candidate’s political campaign

Other Nominations: Director, Supporting Actress (Blakley), Supporting Actress (Tomlin), Original Song (“I’m Easy”)*

Positives

-Few directors were better known for their cynical view of America more than Robert Altman, and this movie certainly fits the bill, but with more depth than MASH. It’s about a lot (and I mean a lot) of musically or politically ambitious people, some of whom have achieved their dream of success, some are seeking it and some will never get it, but none what we do see of success seems pretty hollow (or at least, those who have achieved it feel that way). Those who aren’t in that ambitious seem out of place with the world and feel burned out with their lives, or are just goofy idiots like Chaplin and Duvall’s characters, who are vapid yet are probably the most satisfied with their lives. What’s interesting is that it fully uses the setting to its greatest effect, but music-style aside, it feels like it could have taken place in LA or New York or really anywhere where people go to try and make a big break, and it gives the movie a pretty universal quality in regards to the American dream.

-While this ends up being a net negative in some ways, the movie does a really good job of juggling all these different characters and mini-stories, most of which weave into each other at one point or another over the course of its 160 minute run time.

-The cast on a whole is very good, with Chaplin as a clueless BBC reporter, Blakley as a country music star on the verge of a breakdown and Gibson as a diminutive country music legend being my favorites.

Negatives

-The big problem is that I don’t feel anything about most of the characters the vast majority of the time-there’s some terrific scenes in the last hour or so, but before that, not much. Part of it comes from there being so many characters that you never really get invested with any of them, the other part comes from just how cold the movie is towards its characters most of the time. If it had more of a story, this wouldn’t be as much an issue, but there’s almost none whatsoever and it’s entire about it’s character, place and theme. For me to really like a drama (which this is despite its humorous elements), you usually have to sell me on the story or the characters and this does neither.

Overall

I thought the movie did a great job with it’s theme about the hollowness of the American dream, but the lack of a connection with the characters in conjunction with the lack of a real story make this merely good for me instead of great.

Rating: B

*One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)*

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Starring: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Will Sampson (his credited film debut), Brad Dourif (his credited film debut), Sydney Lassick, William Redfield, Christopher Lloyd (his debut), Danny DeVito

Director: Milos Forman

Summary: A small-time criminal fakes insanity in hopes of doing easy time in a mental hospital

Other Nominations: Director*, Actor (Nicholson)*, Actress (Fletcher)*, Supporting Actor (Dourif), Adapted Screenplay*, Original Score, Cinematography, Film Editing

Positives

-The theme of conformity vs. individuality and the human spirit, and the story of a man challenging all conventions against “the system” (in this case, the rigid head nurse at a mental hospital) is well-done and very timely for the time when everybody was disillusioned from Watergate and the constant culture wars that took place from the mid 60s to late 70s. Honestly, the most interesting and important character in the story is the Chief (who is actually the narrator in the original novel)-he represents the path of least resistance and being angry, but going along with the easiest path, a man beaten down by the system who ends up finding the courage to rebel at the end.

-The casting was excellent. Nobody could play likeable asshole like Nicholson, who won his first of his three Oscars for his performance; even if I thought he was better in Chinatown and Five Easy Pieces, he’s still great here. Fletcher also won an Oscar despite not getting the kind of screen time you might expect for a Best Actress winner (about 35-40 minutes I’d guess), but she is perfect with her cold, smoldering anger that rises up over the course of the film. The movie also has a number of other people who would go on to do great things-DeVito and Lloyd launched their careers on the show Taxi three years later and would do tons of movie and TV work over the next two decades, and Dourif would become best known as the voice of Chucky from the Child’s Play movies.

Negatives

-While it executes its main theme well, there’s not much more than that and the whole movie feels overly simplistic and lacks depth. As said earlier, only the Chief and Dourif’s characters have any kind of arc or change at all, and the rest of the characters can be summed up very easily and either are there to represent the main conflict or simply to be impacted by the conflict. Neither the characters or the narrative itself really stuck out to me, and the theme as simple as it was wasn’t enough to carry the whole movie for me. I also think that, if it’s supposed to be anything more than an allegory for culture wars and is actually supposed to also be some kind of commentary on mental health institutions, it’s overly simplistic there as well, as bad as 1960s mental institutions were-more freedom and having people with mental disabilities try new things isn’t necessarily the best approach, as every person and mental illness is different.

Overall

I liked the movie quite a bit, but I don’t see why it gets the kind of unreal praise it has received since the time of its release.

Rating: B+

1975 in Review

Other Notable Films from 1975

The Mirror: #19 in the last Sight and Sound Poll, this stream of consciousness film was the third in a string of legendary films from Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky (Andrei Rublev, Solaris and Stalker afterwards).

Monty Python and the Holy Grail: One of the most acclaimed comedies to ever come out of Britain (eclipsed only by its successor, although this one is the more popular of the two), it came out a year after the original show wrapped up and is irreverent and consistently hilarious.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Probably the first movie to become a cult movie much less a “midnight movie” with large audience participation (something that would later happen with The Room and Plan 9 from Outer Space). This bizarre, rambling movie features early performances from the always great Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick from Spin City and Megaforce, and Meatloaf two years before Bat Out of Hell. I would be remiss not mentioning the wonderful theme “Science Fiction Double Feature.” In the National Film Registry.

Grey Gardens: One of the most famous documentaries of all time from the Maysles brothers about the eccentric aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy who lived in isolation at a dilapidated mansion on Long Island. It’s depressing, humorous yet somehow still moving. In the National Film Registry.

1975 Nominees in Review

Barry Lyndon: A

Jaws: A-

Dog Day Afternoon: B+

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: B+ (Won Best Picture)

Nashville: B

Did 1975 live up to the hype? Yes and no: I would call it the most consistently good year so far I think, but 1974 had more great movies in my opinion, as I was slightly underwhelmed by Dog Day Afternoon, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Nashville. The two others are masterclass examples of storytelling, with Jaws being an example of a near-perfect screenplay and Barry Lyndon being one of the best directed movies with an outstanding narrative I can think of.

Yet another loaded slate of films coming up in 1976 (4/5 in the National Film Registry again), with a very controversial Best Picture winner (as much as people like it and the whole series it spawned, there’s no way it should have won BP). We have: a movie where they spent $100,000 (in 70s money) on just the desks in the newsroom for accuracy sake; the first movie to use Steadicam; a movie that made back 225x its budget on its original release and spawned 6 sequels; a movie that won Best Director, Actress, Actor and Screenplay at the Golden Globes and Actress, Actor and Screenplay and the Oscars, yet won Best Picture at neither; and the last movie Bernard Herrmann ever scored.