best film:  The Godfather: Part II from Francis Ford Coppola

The Godfather: Part II is a miracle of structural editing and narrative storytelling that surpasses the original in terms of size, scope and ambition (if not originality)—and that’s not half of it. It features brilliant lighting, montage editing (including another fantastic closing killing montage) and individual sequences (the Fredo kiss scene, the roof stalking scene and the tremendously heartbreaking final scene) that rank amongst the best in cinema history. Below the best actors part of the 1974 page (from either sex) I picked five from The Godfather Pari II and could’ve easily went for six or seven.

  • It is a massive production. I forgot about that over the years. It has hundreds of extras, vast production detail, five locations- Miami, NYC, Tahoe, Cuba and Sicily… the scope reminds of Griffith, von Stroheim, David Lean and it never feels overlong or bloated.
  • The opening Lake Tahoe confirmation celebration certainly mirrors the wedding for the first film
  • De Niro won the Oscar for supporting. He’s superb as is every other secondary character from Diane Keaton to John Cazale to Michael Gazzo as Frankie Pentangeli and Lee Strasberg as Hyman Roth
  • Pacino is the show though- as good as De Niro or anyone else is, it’s his film—it’s disciplined and probably his best work

Like all of Coppola’s best films it’s wonderfully edited- dissolves galore here

The film’s décor and lighting have a remarkably consistent look. The natural lighting is sublime- what an era and year for Gordon Willis (see more on him below in the “most underrated” section)

magificent- this might be the darkest page on the website between this and Pakula’s work– trying to enjoy these screenshots with any sunlight on your computer is like trying to watch the movie in the daytime…

Guardian says it’s the greatest single final scene in Hollywood history- Time Out says it’s one of the saddest movies ever made

 

most underrated:  The TSPDT consensus has seventeen (17) films from 1974 in the top 1000—and Alan Pakula’s The Parallax View is not among them-vexing Pakula’s middle film in the paranoia trilogy should be in the top 500. Warren Beatty is great and the opening Space Needle section (pure Hitchcock- a monument set piece) is just one of the many great set pieces (the dam sequence and finale may be even better).  It’s also the second of two films here on this page to feature the work of Gordon Willis as director of photography (The Godfather: Part II).

the opening Space Needle scene- pure Hitchcock- a monument set piece

like Antonioni’s best work- modern architecture overpowering Beatty here

ceiling as mise-en-scene with the angles— a rat in a maze

  • Pakula’s paranoia trilogy includes Klute (1971), this (1974) and All the President’s Men (1976)
  • Rightly so, this films comes up often when critics talk about the best political or paranoia films of all-time

After the breathtaking prologue- the forward dolly “Warren Commission”-like statement shot and finishing free-frame is wonderful’

  • The eerie score certainly adds to the atmosphere

a simple but devastating frame- There’s a long brainwashing video sequence that certainly made me think of A Clockwork Orange

  • There is just one wonderful set piece after another ( space needle, gorge dam, the yacht, the parallax corporation building (the architecture here looks like it’s from Tati’s Playtime))
  • Long silent chase sequence, followed by a Manchurian Candidate and JFK inspired finale… it’s a stunning ending with the long shot of the tables at the convention
  • Reverse-dolly warren commission finale shot is a wonderful bookend to the opening and a massive middle finger to the establishment
  • One of Warren Beatty’s best films

 

 

most overrated: There are a few options here. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre should not be in the top 200 of all-time and it currently sits at #179 on the TSPDT consensus. Celine and Julie Go Boating from Rivette at #213 may be an even bigger miss.

  • Rivette’s fifth film- a 193-minute comedy shot in a grainy crude 16mm
  • Mixes the comic whimsy of Juliet Berto and Dominique Labourier (they have an undeniable chemistry), mystery and magic, and an airy self-awareness (they are having some laughs watching a film (albeit not a good one)
  • Repeated titles “but in the next morning…”
  • There’s some debate on how much of the film is improvised
  • Sloppily edited, and I don’t think this is the equivalent of Godard’s jump cuts skipping the fluff in Breathless– this is Rivette with a very long form and he’s piecing it all together
  • Fragmented splice editing- sometimes a cutaway and sometimes a simple, black frame

 

gems I want to spotlight:  Bob Fosse is best known for Cabaret and All That Jazz and that’s fine—but Lenny – the biopic on Lenny Bruce starring Dustin Hoffman as the famous comic- should not be overlooked. It is overlooked by the consensus for sure- it isn’t in the top 1000 on the TSPDT list. Bob Fosse’s Lenny was proof that he could direct the hell out of a non-musical (though music plays an important role in the film). It’s in gorgeous black and white and Hoffman and Valerie Perrine are absolutely fantastic in the two leads. It has a faux documentary style and structure with the interviews of those close to Lenny Bruce. If you want to go outside of the top 10 (and these two are a ways down the list)- though it isn’t an amazing film- there’s something about The Towering Inferno. It is like genre (disaster film) comfort food—and there are big stars galore (McQueen, Newman, Dunaway, Holden, Astaire- wow).

by 1974 we’re long past the dominance of black and white films or even the era in the 1960’s with the 50/50 split– but once in awhile still a film like Fosse’s Lenny reminds you of the power of monochrome photography

the harsh streetlights help create a beautiful frame here

biopics can become a tired genre– but the structure here is different in Fosse’s Lenny— and Dustin Hoffman is mesmerizing during this stretch in the late 1960’s and 1970’s

trends and notables:

  • As strong as Chinatown is, 1974 is Coppola’s year. It is bigger than even 1972 with The Godfather or 1979 with Apocalypse Now because in 1974 delivered on not one, but two masterpieces. The sheer ambition of The Godfather Part II makes it seem like that should have been a project that took years to create– and to pull off The Conversation almost simultaneously is… well… ridiculous. Both films are auteur driven (not to say he didn’t benefit from talented collaborators) and wonders of film montage and editing.

Francis Ford Coppola reinvents Antonioni’s Blow-Up in The Conversation— and it is meditation on privacy and surveillance

Francis Ford Coppola is at the absolute height of his powers in 1974

 

  • Whether it is the documentary or the book- The Kids Stays in the Picture is worth checking out for a look at Paramount producer Robert Evans. 1974 is Paramount’s zenith as well (Evans had a run of success going back to The Godfather and Love Story in 1970). Evans is the producer behind both The Godfather Part II and Chinatown.

Polanski showed off his range and penchant for period detail in Chinatown– and many consider Robert Towne’s script to be the greatest of all-time

  • The Germans are here- The New German cinema has a big year in 1974 with Fassbinder (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul), Herzog (The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser), and Wenders (the beginning of his Road trilogy- Alice in the Cities)

a miraculous frame in Fassbinder’s masterpiece: Ali: Fear Eats the Soul

yet another from Fassbinder’s Ali-– using doorways as a frame within a frame

color and detail from Fassbinder– I’m utterly gobsmacked by his ability to work so quickly– he isn’t even 30 years old in 1974 and this is already nearly his 20th film

the staring tableaus from Fassbinder…

…twin cinematic paintings

  • It isn’t Kurosawa/Mifune or what would become Scorsese/De Niro—but it is worth recognizing and praising the work of Altman and Gould as a collaboration—MASH in 1970, The Long Goodbye in 1973 and here with California Split. There’d be a quick cameo in Nashville for Gould but it is too bad this collaboration didn’t continue. Altman is crushing it—two more genres taken down in 1974 with Thieves Like Us as well.
  • In his own way Mel Brooks is taking on genres as well in 1974- it is massive year for Brooks. I prefer the work of Woody through the early 1970’s but you can’t deny Brooks’ 1974- both Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles. These films are not only hilarious, but they are two of the biggest box office smashes in the US.
  • The disaster film is going very strong- Earthquate, Towering Inferno and Airport 1975 are all in the top seven at the box office
  • Michael Cimino’s Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is the big 1974 archiveable debut for auteurs—talk about young star power with Eastwood and Jeff Bridges- they’re trying to recreate the Newmna/Redford and it didn’t wholly work- but still an interesting film
  • As far as acting firsts in the archives, I remember Jodie Foster but I think if you blink you’ll miss Laura Dern’s first archiveable film—both in Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (actually I think Laura Dern has a quick role as an extra in 1973’s White Lightning which also features her mother Diane Ladd (her dad is Bruce Dern) as well but whatever- they’re both just tiny little extra roles). Dern and Foster would go on to be two of the better actresses from the 1980’s to contemporary era—clearly child actors and very young here. Jeff Goldblum would also appear in the archives twice in Altman’s California Split and as a villain in a quick scene in Death Wish. Goldbloom would have very, small roles in Nashville and Annie Hall in subsequent years in the 1970’s but wouldn’t get his big break until 1983’s The Big Chill– talk about paying your dues

Jodie Foster working with Scorsese before Taxi Driver here in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. The film opens with a gorgeously saturated-in-red-studio backlot sequence

 

best performance male: This category is just spilling over again because I have to recognize some of the supporting work in The Godfather: Part II.  Robert De Niro won the Oscar for supporting in 1974 and deservingly so (back-to-back years in this category) and John Cazale may win every scene he’s in but I’m giving the performance of the year in this category to Al Pacino for his brilliant performance as perhaps cinema’s greatest single character: Michael Corleone (I think you could also argue it’s Vito Corleone as cinema’s greatest single character just to show you how momentous these Godfather films are). Nicholson in Chinatown continues his dominant run—he’s here in 1969, 1970, 1971 and now 1974– impressive.  Gene Hackman gives such an atypical (important for Hackman’s resume/range) introverted, silent rage performance in The Conversation. Hackman’s work is so nuanced. Lastly, Dustin Hoffman continues his streak run of terrific work in Lenny.  I do think Warren Beatty benefits a little from casting here with Pakula’s The Parallax View– but Beatty deserves credit for that. Picking the right role or the right director to work with is more important than acting talent.

perhaps the finest scene of The Godfather: Part II

talk about betting on yourself– De Niro deciding to take on the role of playing a young Vito Corleone. I love Coppola and Willis’ work with shadows here hiding his eyes

NIcholson, Pacino, De Niro… three of the six greatest who ever lived doing brilliant work in top 100 all-time films

this is an important role for Gene Hackman in The Conversation– showing off his range

best performance female: Gena Rowlands’ performance in A Woman Under the Influence is one of the greatest performances in the history of cinema so despite some worthy competition (especially from Dunaway) she’s far and away my choice here for this category in 1974. It is a ballsy performance—tightrope walking without a net. Faye Dunaway is another very easy choice for this category and her key mother/sister scene would probably be enough to win top honors in most years that don’t have Rowlands’ tour-de-force. Behind Rowlands and Dunaway we have the supporting work of Talia Shire and Diane Keaton in The Godfather Part II.  They are not on screen for a lot of time but their work in key scenes with Pacino make them both worthy in this category. Valerie Perrine may not be a household name  especially in comparison with these other four actresses here.  She is best known for the Superman films as the sidekick to Gene Hackman’s Lex Luther, but her best work is here in 1974– she’s so tragically sad in Lenny alongside Hoffman.

Gena Rowlands is simply a tour-de-force in A Woman Under the Influence— a brilliant and prolonged exercise in discomfort

 

top 10

  1. The Godfather: Part II
  2. Chinatown
  3. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
  4. A Woman Under the Influence
  5. The Conversation
  6. The Parallax View
  7. Lenny
  8. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
  9. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia
  10. California Split

 

another sublime shot from Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore— echoing his inner Bergman or Varda– Scorsese had already shown in Mean Streets that he admired Varda’s work with the triple, elliptical editing opening (taken from Cleo From 5 to 7)– this frame here in Alice is a variation of the face blocking composition from La Pointe Courte 

 

Archives, Directors, and Grades

A Woman Under the Influence- Cassavetes MP
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul- Fassbinder MP
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore – Scorsese R
Alice in the Cities- Wenders R
Black Christmas – Clark R
Blazing Saddles- M. Brooks R
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia- Peckinpah HR
California Split- Altman HR
Celine and Julie Go Boating – Rivette R
Chinatown – Polanski MP
Conrack- Ritt R
Conversation Piece – Visconti HR
Death Wish-Winner R
Harry and Tonto- Mazursky R
Juggernaut- Lester R
Lacombe, Lucien- Malle R/HR
Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance – Fujita R
Lancelot of the Lake- Bresson
Lenny- Fosse MS
Murder On the Orient Express- Lumet R
Phantom of Liberty- Bunuel
Promised Land- Wajda
The Conversation- F. Coppola MP
The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser – Herzog
The Front Page- Wilder R
The Gambler- Reisz R
The Godfather: Part II – F. Coppola MP
The Great Gatsby- Clayton R
The Night Porter- Cavani R
The Odessa File- Neame R
The Parallax View– Pakula MS/MP
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three- Sargent R
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – Hooper HR
The Towering Inferno- Guillermin R
The Yakuza – Pollack R
Thieves Like Us- Altman R
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot- Cimino R
Young Frankenstein- M. Brooks R

 

 

*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