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.
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 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.
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)
- 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
- 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.
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.
- The Conformist
- Five Easy Pieces
- The Wild Child
- Little Big Man
- Zabriskie Point
- Le Cercle Rouge
- Ryan’s Daughter
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|
|I Never Sang For My Father- Cates||R|
|Landscape after Battle- Wajda|
|Le Boucher – Chabrol||R|
|Le Cercle Rouge – Melville||HR|
|Little Big Man- Penn||MS|
|Love Story- Hiller||R|
|Monte Walsh- Fraker||R|
|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|
|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
Whoo boy… MASH is a film I did not like whatsoever. When MASH began, I thought that its trio of main characters were high school bullies. By the end of the first act I believed them to be sociopaths. At the midpoint I realized they were plain psychopaths and threw up my hands in frustration. I understand, in theory, why this film is supposed to be funny…but it’s not. It’s a black comedy that forgot to add in the comedy. I don’t root for any of the protagonists. I don’t care about how they interact with one another or what is driving them. The film is also deeply misogynistic. The only major female character is Hot Lips who gets the name Hot Lips after someone sneaks a microphone into her tent while she’s having sex, which is bad enough. But then the film becomes inhuman when the guys decide to yank the tent up while she is showering. They all cackle and heckle while she screams, naked and horrified, in front of them. That was supposed to be…funny? And then, inexplicably, after she has sex with Duke for no apparent reason, she turns into a completely mindless cheerleader during the climactic football game. It’s not even the same character, and there is no transitory scene where she begins to root for them. The fact that the movie simply has her shack up with one of the surgeons and then appear brainless for the rest of the movie sickens me. MASH seems to reward the assholes and misogynists while punishing the actually good characters. And I haven’t even mentioned the presence of toxic masculinity where Walter pretends to commit suicide just so he could have sex with Maria. The whole thing feels like a poorly made Adam Sandler movie.
@Kidman69 — I’m sorry to hear we’re not on the same page in regards to MASH. Altman is a very important and brilliant filmmaker and MASH certainly a landmark film (for him and the American movement of the time– The New Hollywood) and where it all starts for him. Counting laughs for one person vs. another and what may offend one person and not another is one thing— (I’d hate to go back and litigate films from Bunuel, Lars von Trier, The Marx Brothers and others if we’re talking toxic masculinity, misogyny, what films have fully developed female characters, etc)— but Altman’s style here can’t be denied. I wrote the below about MASH when I did the Altman page last year:
Right off the bat in the 70’s Altman is firing with overlapping dialogue, zooming all over the place, and a big middle-finger at the establishment. I’m guessing the slapstick football ending is what isn’t aging well for some viewers… I mean it’s very good slapstick- if people don’t like slapstick that is a taste preference. It’s certainly in step with the film’s form, that genre’s great history (winking at everyone from Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman to the Marx brothers’ Horse Feathers with the football slapstick) and the greater point and criticism Altman is trying to get across (the absurdity of all of this).
Is Franklin.J.Schaffner close to making your best directors list?
@Chris– he’ll be coming up– not right away but the collection of films from Schaffner is too good to deny
Do you think Bob Rafelson has any other good films? or do you think he is those directors of just one great movie?
@Lucas Henriques – So 1972’s The King of Marvin Gardens is pretty good– it is in the archives from Rafelson. But there is a major drop off from Five Easy Pieces. One great movie.
I’ve seen El Topo once and thought it was a HR after that. I could go lower upon a rewatch if I don’t see enough true visual mastery (a lot of the reasons I thought it was so good were because of how different Jodorowsky was from just about anyone else) but I’m fairly confident it’s a HR. You did move The Holy Mountain up to MS from an R at least.
Doesn’t Karl Malden deserve a mention for Patton? It is not upto the level of George.C Scott’s accomplishment in the same film but still he is very good.
@Anderson- I’m a big admirer of Malden’s work- not just in 1970 but throughout his career- but I think it is a stretch to include him with the best actors in 1970. It is a pretty quiet performance supporting performance in the seventh best film of the year.
While it’s definitely not the best film of his career I think there’s a case to be made for Five Easy Pieces being Nicolson’s best performance. Few character’s have such a wide emotional range as he’s essentially playing a character who is almost 2 completely separate people as he is playing a character who is not comfortable in his own skin but it’s far more nuanced and complex than a standard “outsider” character. While Chinatown and One Flew… are superior films I think this performance is on par with anything he’s done. And while it has scenes of Jack demonstrating his bravado it is the quieter scenes that really hit you, the scene where he is alone with his father is one of the toughest scenes to watch in any film and I mean that as a compliment, the display of vulnerability is incredible, not an easy watch but what a performance.
Does Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point has the best ending of any film of 1970?
@Anderson. No I don’t think so. I’d take either Godfather, Apocalypse Now, Chinatown
No I mean in 1970 not the whole 1970’s.
@Anderson- maybe, Five Easy Pieces might take this one though
Performance is so bizarre, I’m about to watch for the 2nd straight time, so confused the 1st time but fascinating enough that for another watch
Completed a 2nd watch and this was quite an experience. The Memo from Turner scene was incredible. I get the feeling that even after 50 viewings there would probably be a lot I still don’t comprehend. Awesome seeing Mick Jagger, I’m a big Stones fan.
Here’s an interesting article on Nicolas Roeg movies:
I still don’t quite know what even happened to Roeg. I mean Don’t Look Now has to be one of the best products of the 70s horror boom. And if you read about him, nobody really seems to address the question of what caused the decline in his career after the 70s.
@James Trapp— thanks for sharing this article. I love that you saw it, and went back for one more!
Shouldn’t Five Easy Pieces be a MS/MP because you have Five Easy Pieces over Carnal Knowledge in your top 500 and Carnal Knowledge is a MS/MP.
@Malith- Nope, not in this case
@Drake-Have you seen Islands in the Stream(1977)?
The reunion of actor and director of Patton.
@Anderson- Interesting- I have not. I’d like to check this out
Drake, Have you seen the Italian film Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion?
It’s an unusual film that is a combination of a satire, political commentary, and character study with a sort of Kafkaesque atmosphere like Well’s film The Trial. Except here its more like an inverse version of it. A Police Chief commits a murder then deliberately plants clues that will lead back to him.
@James Trapp- I have not- sounds intriguing. Thanks for surfacing. I’ll try to seek it out.
The fact that The Conformist was Billy Wilder’s favorite film should give one an idea of its quality.
@Philip Tone- Interesting- I did not know this- fascinating for a great director to say that about a film to come out while he’s still working or even after he’s past his prime a little- almost every director picks something older – maybe a film that helped shape them or get interested in cinema.
According to you who gives the second best performance in The Conformist after Trintignant, Sanda Or Sandrelli?
@MASH – I’m not Drake but I did rewatch The Conformist two nights ago and I’d say its close but I’m going with Sanda
@MASH @Harry- agreeing with Harry here