best film: Mean Streets marked the announcement of Scorsese a major new talent. It’s not a perfect film but a film with such much genius in it that it’s impossible to deny it’s status. Scorsese’s taxi driver IS a perfect film and the full realization of one of cinema’s great auteurs. Scorsese’s direction, De Niro’s performance, Paul Schrader’s script, and Bernard Herrmann’s score are all talked about as amongst the best in their given category and rightly so. It’s an unquestionably one of the top 50 films of all-time, a hallmark of American cinema and since I don’t have another 1976 film in my top 100 (though we have many other great films)- it’s an easy choice for me as the best film of 1976.
most underrated: Roeg’s photographical brilliance captures a completely unique and ambitious work that deserves to be closer to #300-400 of all-time and not way back at #925 where the TSPDT consensus has it. It’s an audacious film and I can see why it’s so divisive but it’ll haunt you for weeks after seeing so despite the potential flaws (mostly surrounding narrative and character transformation speed) it’s worthy of praise and frankly closer to a masterpiece than the film I’d just slap at the back end of a top 10 of the year. It’s sublime.
most overrated: in the realm of the senses sits at the consensus #307 according to the critics. I’m probably closer to #900-1000 but the real discrepancy is when you compare it to other films from 1976. The consensus has it as #3 (behind taxi driver and kings of the road) of 1976 and I can’t find a spot for it in my top 10 (probably 12). I think it was a breakthrough more for some of the rawness of the content than anything regarding style, art or form but I could be wrong and look forward to revisiting.
gem I want to spotlight: There are three amazingly rewatchable films that I think are very good films artistically, aside from being just entertaining as hell, so I’m ticked I can’t find room for them in my top 10. They would be rocky, bad news bears and the omen. The omen has a fantastic jerry goldsmith score (maybe his best) and continues the tradition of truly great horror films this decade. The Bad News Bears is entertaining comedy at its best with a terrific performance by Walter Matthau and rocky is a top 10 of the year quality film that deserved to be praised, even if it didn’t belong anywhere near taxi driver if we’re talking about the actual best film from 1976 (rocky won the oscar of course).
trends and notables: We have another American auteur making the best film of the year. Take a look at this- that makes for six years in a row (1976-1971) and 9 of the last 10. Those films are the graduate, 2001, two peckinpah films (skip year is 1970 with the conformist from Antonioni), a clockwork orange, two godfather films, and Nashville. If you compare this with the prior decade we had 4 foreign films in a row from 1966-1963 and 7 of the last 8 if you go back to the 400 blows in 1959 bumping up against vertigo. Such a shift. Sadly, the Hitchcock era has come to an end with his last archiveable film: family plot. You could argue it really came to an end with marnie in 1964 (his last top 10) but frenzy in 1972 is really good as well. I’m much higher than the consensus on the auteuristic worth of Sidney Lumet and the crux of my argument on him is his work in back to back years in 1975 and 1976 with two masterpieces- dog day afternoon and network. Nicholas Roeg continues to be on fire with another top 10 in the decade—his 4th. With wim wenders’ kings of the road in the top 10 here we have the official arrival of the third leg of the german new wave. Brian De Palma gave us two archiveable films in 1976—carrie and obsession. Carrie is the first of many Stephen king adaptations (and one of the best) and obsession is basically a remake of vertigo. 1976 was the first archiveable year/film for John Carpenter with assault on precinct 13 and it would be the premiere for david lynch with eraserhead. I’m probably still underrating Carpenter overall and of course Lynch would become one of the greatest auteurs over the next 30 years. With Bertolucci’s 1900 we’d have the first archiveable film for the great French actor Gérard Depardieu. They didn’t quite make the cut below but I want to recognize the work of Burt Lancaster and Donald Sutherland here. Lancaster with 1900 and altman’s buffalo bill gives us two archiveable films—just about 30 years after his debut—and Sutherland gives us great performances in wonderful films from bertolucci and fellini. Lastly, it’s a sad farewell but the shootist from 1976 would be the last archiveable film for both John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart—two iconic all-time great actors.
best performance male: As much as I like William Holden in network it didn’t take long to decide to go with De Niro for his work in taxi driver. If he’s the new brando and raging bull is his on the waterfront than taxi driver is his streetcar named desire. Behind him is Holden’s performance in network. Peter Finch (who I’m also putting up here as one of my 6 choices from 1976) won the oscar but Holden’s is the better performance—his scenes with finch and dunaway are moving and it ranks amongst the best work of his career. Half of the credit goes to Roeg for casting but I’m putting David Bowie’s work in a man who fell to earth in probably the #3 slot. You cannot take your eyes of Bowie in this performance—certainly otherworldly and odd. Ben Gazzara in the killing of a Chinese bookie gives the best performance of his career and it’s worthy of a mention here for sure. Lastly, he’s not Laurence Olivier and certainly doesn’t have much range, but Sylvestor Stallone is perfect as Rocky and he’s excellent here. I enjoyed several of his other films throughout the years but he’s never been as good an actor as he is here.
best performance female: Two good options here: Faye Dunaway in network and Sissy Spacek in carrie. I think ultimately I’ll go with Dunaway for her work and slot spacek as a close second. Spacek deserves credit for the guts to take on such a role which couldn’t have looked like much on the page. She brings the character some humanity. Behind those two great performances that lead 1976 I’d give mention to Piper Laurie as carrie’s mother. If you’ve seen the film you know it’s a wild character and laurie is up to the task. Lastly, talia shire gets yet another mention for me here for her work as Adrian in rocky. She’s shy and soft-spoken (take about a complete 180 from dunaway’s dynamo in network) and the scenes with her and stallone are tender and authentic.
- Taxi Driver
- The Man Who Fell to Earth
- Kings of the Road
- All the President’s Men
- The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
- The Outlaw Josey Wales
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|All the President’s Men- Pakula||MS|
|Assault on Precinct 13- Carpenter||R|
|Bound For Glory- Ashby||HR|
|Buffalo Bill and the Indians- Altman||R|
|Carrie- De Palma||MS|
|Face to Face- Bergman||R|
|Family Plot- Hitchcock||R|
|Fellini’s Casanova- Fellini||HR|
|I Only Want You To Love Me- Fassbinder||R|
|In the Realm of the Senses- Oshima||HR|
|Kings of the Road- Wenders||MS|
|Man of Marble- Wajda|
|Marathon Man- Schlesinger||R|
|Mikey and Nicky|
|Murder By Death||R|
|Obsession- De Palma||R|
|Robin and Marion- Lester||R|
|Small Change- Truffaut|
|Taxi Driver- Scorsese||MP|
|The Bad News Bears||HR|
|The Front- Ritt||R|
|The Innocent- Visconti|
|The Killing of a Chinese Bookie- Cassavetes|
|The Last Tycoon- Kazan||R|
|The Man Who Fell To Earth- Roeg||MS|
|The Marquise of O.- Rohmer|
|The Missouri Breaks- A. Penn||R|
|The Outlaw Josey Wales- Eastwood||MS|
|The Seven-Per-Cent Solution- H. Ross||R|
|The Shootist- Siegel||R|
|The Tenant- Polanski|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives