best film:  The Conformist from Bernardo Bertolucci. The Conformist is a visual showcase of set pieces, lighting, and overall mise-en-scene. It features unending sequences of jaw-dropping architectural design. It is a feat of costume design as well. It is Bertolucci’s best film, and quite easily the best film of 1970.

a common choice by many cinephiles as the most beautiful film ever made…

…with plenty of evidence to support

It is astonishing is that even at this grand of scale, such detail and elegance, Bertolucci actulally had two archiveable films in 1970

After The Conformist in 1970, hypothetically if you had asked me where I thought Bertolucci (29 years of age at the time) would land on the all-time directors list when he was done?  I would’ve guessed top 10.

The Conformist influences everything from Blade Runner to Brazil

the film has roughly 50% of the best cinematic paintings from the entire year total year- all the rest of the films from 1970 combined

most underrated: There are a bunch of candidates here. Both Patton and Little Big Man are omitted completely from the TSPDT consensus top 1000. I was shocked by Patton especially. George C. Scott’s performance combined with that screenplay (both Oscar winners) by Francis Ford Coppola should land somewhere in the back half of the top 500 at least. Sure, Patton is evidence that a 70mm film shot by Franklin Schaffner is not the same as a 70mm film shot by David Lean or Stanley Kubrick- but still. MASH at #911 on the TSPDT list bugs me the most though probably. It isn’t Altman’s best work- but all of the Altman auteur trademarks are there already: the zooms, the overlapping dialogue, the sharp satire, the genre revisionism.

most of Altman’s style (zooms, overlapping dialogue) doesn’t translate to a single frame- but his take on Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper does- as Bunuel did nearly a decade before in Viridiana

most overrated:   I’m a great admirer of the work of John Cassavetes from Faces to A Woman Under the Influence to The Killing of a Chinese Bookie– but I can’t get behind 1970’s Husbands at #299 on the TSPDT list. Cassavetes is sort of a one-man indie film movement in 1970 and is a needed and welcomed counterpoint to Hollywood cinema but Husbands doesn’t give you much to latch on to or much to admire (relatively of course- I mean I have it in my archives below) except for the acting. The #299 ranking is #3 for 1970—so that would put Husbands ahead of Five Easy Pieces and MASH of course- that’s a miss by the critics.


gems I want to spotlight:  I really have three films here to choose from. For cinema diehards, I think Performance is the film to watch if you haven’t seen it (I’m assuming people have seen The Conformist). I talk a lot about the surrealism/doppelganger work and influence of Bergman’s Persona (Bunuel, Lynch, Rivette, Aronofsky) but we have a bizarre male counterpoint here with Nicolas Roeg’s Performance.  The film’s “Memo From Turner” sequence and music video is powerful filmmaking. For those movie-goers who are less experimentally inclined, Arthur Penn’s Little Big Man is just about as entertaining a yarn as there is. I love this film, its strong narrative, and the performances (led by a white hot in 1970 Dustin Hoffman). If you’re just getting into cinema and are looking for a foreign language film or a black and white film (or both) that is very accessible (and maybe can get you over thinking about reading subtitles or watching something in black and white) go with Truffaut’s The Wild Child. It is a very easy transition- a very laidback watch.

doubling and inversion in Roeg’s Performance

Roeg is an editing wizard– and an important figure to early 1970’s cinema- both he and Altman are just about as good as it gets from 1970-1976/1977


trends and notables:

  • Bertolucci is 29-years old when The Conformist comes out. At this point maybe you may say Kubrick (still a young man at 42), Leone (41) or Tarkovsky (38) had a better future? Maybe the two princes of the French New Wave? But it sure felt like this was the beginning of something. Bertolucci made some great films after this- but sadly never delivered on the overwhelming promise of The Conformist
  • The top four films are from new faces in the top 10. For years it seems like we always have a Kubrick, Bergman, etc—but here it is Bertolucci, Nicolas Roeg, Robert Altman and Bob Rafelson—auspicious early films for all of them. To add to that we have the first archiveable films for Hal Ashby (The Landlord), Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo) and Dario Argento (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage)

from Jodorowsky’s El Topo

the Chilean auteur manipulates both form and genre (the western)

  • New Hollywood vs. Movie brats – it is an important distinction—the Movie Brats (De Palma, Lucas, Spielberg, Scorsese) haven’t really arrived yet- this New Hollywood is more about Mike Nichols and Arthur Penn at this point—it really worth watching every film of these two during this period- good or bad. I mean even Catch-22 from Nichols isn’t a complete success- but still a captivating film
  • The end of an era for the wider screen format that came about in the late 1950’s– Ryan’s Daughter and Patton, both in 1970, were really the last bastion for 65/70mm films for quite some time

the above iris from The Wild Child. We’re past the French New Wave at this point— but it is still worth keeping tabs on Truffaut and Godard. If you’re going to make the case Truffaut is superior (not that it ultimately matters much- they’re both geniuses)- this period is crucial. We now have five archiveable films from Truffaut (including two in 1970, one in the top 10) since Godard’s last one- Weekend in 1967.

  • It is big year for actors in terms of their first archiveable films as well. With the true Altman era starting here in 1970 you’d have Shelley Duvall’s (Brewster McCloud) start as well. She’s just one of the many talented trope of actors he’d work with again and again. Ryan O’Neal would be very important to the first half of the 1970’s and he’s here with Love Story (he has a tiny second on screen in The Graduate prior). Tommy Lee Jones is also in Love Story and Susan Sarandon is in Joe. Take a look at those two names around here in 1970—so early—they would both have a long climb to winning Oscars and becoming two major stars in the 1990’s. If you compare O’Neal with like Tommy Lee Jones you just never know how stardom is going to go. I mean O’Neal is a massive star from 1970-1977 (Love Story is a huge hit). I mean he gets the lead in a Kubrick film. Tommy Lee Jones’ peak wouldn’t really happen until 12-15 years AFTER O’Neal really stopped getting work.


best performance male   Jean-Louis Trintignant is astounding understated actor who has archiveable films that go as far back as 1962 (Il Sorpasso) and as recent as 2017 (Haneke’s Happy End)- but his greatest single moment is in Bertolucci’s The Conformist. This gives him back to back mentions in the category after My Night At Maud’s in 1969. It did not take long for Nicholson to go from scene-stealing support in Easy Rider to full fledge lead in a powerful film here in Five Easy Pieces. Nicholson is volatile, intelligent and cocky in the film. It is an impeccable character study and it is impossible to picture it without Nicholson. His “hold the chicken” order at the diner is justifiably legendary. George C. Scott more than up to the momentous task in Patton. Those are big boots to fill, so to speak, playing the towering controversial general. These are the big three performances for 1970. A half-step back is Dustin Hoffman (Little Big Man– and that’s three in four years for him in this category), Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould. The latter two play hilarious surgeons in Altman’s MASH.

Nicholson’s “hold the chicken” order at the diner is justifiably legendary– from Five Easy Pieces

George C. Scott’s finest hour, the words from Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation, and a wonderful opening set piece gigantic flag

so if the two major films that started The New Hollywood are Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate– here you have the director of the first (Penn), teaming up with the star of the second (Dustin Hoffman) for total revision of the western epic


best performance female: It is another rough year for this category in 1970. As much as I love The New Hollywood era, the era and the auteurs of the era, really failed to create as many good roles for female as they did for their male peers (think back to Vitti or Karina working with Antonioni and Godard). There are only three actresses here I think you can make the case for in 1970. One is Karen Black in Five Easy Pieces. It is a loud, bold character—and I think Black comes away looking very good next to Nicholson. The only others, and they really don’t hold a candle to Trintignant’s accomplishment in the same film, are both Dominique Sanda and Stefania Sandrelli in The Conformist.


top 10

  1. The Conformist
  2. Performance
  3. MASH
  4. Five Easy Pieces
  5. The Wild Child
  6. Little Big Man
  7. Patton
  8. Zabriskie Point
  9. Le Cercle Rouge
  10. Ryan’s Daughter


stunning super panavision 70mm photography from David Lean’s Ryan’s Daughter

Lean’s style is totally out of vogue in 1970– but time has been kind to Lean’s incredible work

Ryan’s Daughter and Patton, both in 1970, were really the last bastion for 65/70mm films for quite some time sadly… Kurosawa with Dersu Uzala technically (that’s  Sovscope 70) but most it was used for special effects short bursts only in the 1970’s and 1980’s… it isn’t until 1982 with Tron where we had some more sustained use, I mean Ron Howard used it for Far and Away in the early 1990’s

from a content standpoint you wouldn’t put Melville with Fassbinder, Todd Haynes or Wes Anderson- but going back to the bathroom in Bob le Flambeur– wallpaper and decor is extremely important to the French auteur best known for gangster and war films- this from Le Cercle Rouge

again here- wallpaper, and the muted blue, green, gray color design

from Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point – I adore the shot of the secretary with the machine collapsing on top of her—this is set design or mise-en-scene bliss and architecture as character… think of the building swallowing Moreau up in La Notte

17 camera set-ups in final explosion montage – we get the explosion at least 14-15 times followed by a great avant-garde expressionistic ending. Slow-motion explosions of consumer products flying in the air—this is the end game—recalls Godard’s Weekend tracking shot- a highly ambitious finale from Antonioni


Archives, Directors, and Grades

Bed & Board- Truffaut R
Brewster McCloud- Altman R
Catch-22- M. Nichols R
Claire’s Knee- Rohmer
Companeros – Corbucci R
Dodes’ka-den – Kurosawa R
Donkey Skin- Demy R
El Topo- Jodorowsky R
Five Easy Pieces- Rafelson MS
Husbands- Cassavetes R
I Never Sang For My Father- Cates R
Joe- Avildsen R
Landscape after Battle- Wajda
Le Boucher – Chabrol R
Le Cercle Rouge – Melville HR
Little Big Man- Penn MS
Love Story- Hiller R
MASH- Altman MP
Monte Walsh- Fraker R
Patton- Schaffner MS
Performance- Roeg, Cammell MP
Ryan’s Daughter- Lean HR
The Ballad of Cable Hogue- Peckinpah R
The Bird With Crystal Plumage- Argento R
The Confession- Costa-Gavras HR
The Conformist- Bertolucci MP
The Garden of Fitzi Continis- De Sica R
The Great White Hope- Ritt HR
The Honeymoon Killers – Kastle R
The Landlord- Ashby R
The Pizza Triangle-Scola
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes- Wilder R
The Spider’s Stratagem – Bertolucci R
The Wild Child- Truffaut MS
Tristana- Bunuel HR
Two Mules For Sister Sara- Siegel R
Zabriskie Point – Antonioni HR




*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