best film:  Barry Lyndon from Stanley Kubrick

  • There are a few films that may be equal to Barry Lyndon’s visual beauty (from Days of Heaven, In the Mood For Love, others– including works from the great Kubrick himself) – but none that I’d say are comfortably superior.
  • Many aspects of Kubrick’s masterpiece are worthy of praise, but I want to get to the main point quickly- the film is driven by a rigorous, formal, visual approach using technology (the zoom lens) on masterful compositions. The Shining is largely driven by tracking shots (through the advent and development of the Steadicam) and here it is the camera zoom, and it has never been used better (though Altman in the other massive 1975 masterpiece Nashville is close). In 50+ compositions, Kubrick either starts in a close-up and slowly zooms out to reveal a gorgeously mounted cinematic landscape painting, or, he starts in the wider shot with the gorgeously mounted cinematic painting, and slowly zooms in for a closer look.
  • Kubrick uses the purposefully trivial titles for his two-part (with epilogue) epic
  • brilliant use of Piano Trio in E Flat by Schubert
  • Filming took place over the course of two years and 300 days—many shots taking 25, 50, 100 times- certainly more David Fincher (Kubrick predates Fincher obviously) than Eastwood

The opening frame is a duel—which is fitting. It is a frame Kubrick holds, there are varying depths of field on display– different natural level elevations and obstructions giving it a rich complexity

  • The wry voice-over from Michael Hordern lets Kubrick’s camera zoom in and out (there are a few camera movements but not many) and there isn’t honestly that much in-scene dialogue to catch for a 3+ hour film. The lack of in-scene dialogue lets the lens float in and out on the models holding poses. Certainly, it feels like it has to be an influence on Roy Andersson. Von Trier is a big admirer of the film. We have the savage voice-over (Dogville) and those establishing shots that he uses as chapter breaks in Breaking the Waves. Kubrick is clearly influenced by the work of Thomas Gainsborough with those landscapes.
  • Kubrick constantly defuses the narrative by letting Hordern’s voice spoil the story– giving away the plot points before they happen. “as you’ll soon see”. Kubrick even cuts off his own narrator mid-sentence during an obituary (telling you how he feels about death) just before the intermission
  • It is all a charade to Kubrick- the cold, pristine, instructive way he delivers the life of this man—the absurdity of the seven-year war backdrop, love, lust, greed, it is all undercut by his caustic sense of humor and nihilistic worldview. Cynically, the ups and downs of Barry Lyndon’s life are revealed, “wandering” used in the text several times. A chilly randomness to this life

Much has been made of the triumph of natural lighting and Kubrick’s work with candles and the praise and hype is all warranted…makes for a companion piece to Eyes Wide Shut — Christmas lights in Eyes Wide Shut and the work with candles here

  • There are too many sublime cinematic paintings to grab. the 75th best frame in Barry Lyndon is stronger than the best composition from most films. There are somewhere between 50 and 100 and most held for an enjoyably long duration. . The introduction of Lady Lyndon hallway through the film almost exactly at 92 minutes with the tracking shot and the zoom in on here didn’t make the cut, the shot of the pool and the gardens at 98 minutes that looks like it is out of Last Year at Marienbad didn’t either. The shot of two in close-up with O’Neal smoking at 105 minutes doesn’t either.
  • Several times we get the magnificent castle reflecting off the pond shot establishing shot
  • Awe-inspiring costume work and period detail and specificity—this has passed every film before it in this regard and influenced every period film since from Marie Antoinette to The Favourite
  • Makes for a companion piece with A Clockwork Orange and not just because of the camera zooms. This novel (from Thackeray) is said to be the first one without a hero and that had to appeal to Kubrick

At the 140-minute mark- the shot of his son on his lap with the massive painting backdrop is a jaw-dropper

  • At 143- minutes the dining table natural light pouring in composition — spectacular

There is a one-minute long tracking shot of his step-son walking into the bar to challenge him to a duel at the 160 minute mark. O’Neal is passed out on the chair with other drunks posing. It is one of the greatest single frames in cinema history

  • Starts with a duel, ends with a duel—we get the windows with the light pouring in for the final battle

 

 

most underrated:  Fox and His Friends from R.W. Fassbinder. Fox and His Friends from Fassbinder features not only his immaculate direction and work behind the camera (indeed this is Fassbinder’s third time in four years with at top 10 of the year film) but a brilliant lead performance from him as well. The melodrama itself is a tragic fable clearly influenced by Douglas Sirk- but frankly this is even more depressing and despairing than anything Sirk made. It is not in the TSPDT consensus top 1000 and should be.

it isn’t just the melodrama genre that is Sirkian, the obscuring of the frame here on the left, the interior design work. Visconti is another hero of Fassbinder. And this shot would be at home in any number of the great Italian master’s films

don’t be fooled by the denim and bell-bottoms, this is a beautiful tragic pose flanked by a sea of deep cobalt blue

 

most overrated:  There are a few ways to go here. I’ve seen Jeanne Dielman once and didn’t archive it- so that is probably the choice (it is #85 on the TSPDT consensus). I hope with a second viewing I’ll find more to admire. I think it borders on the experimental line of where I divide fiction cinema. There are films on the experimental side of that line (the Stan Brakhage/ Maya Deren space) and this could be one. I certainly praise and appreciate slow cinema (I admire Tarkovsky and Bela Tarr amongst others) and glacial formal rigor is up my alley as well, but this is hours of a woman cleaning a house and I couldn’t pick up on the stylistic, cinematographically or visual rhythms and interesting shots/editing. As I said I’ll watch again but for now I can’t get behind it. The ranking for Angelopoulos’ The Traveling Players is also high on the TSPDT list (#204) for a film that does not land in my top 10 of 1975. I’ve seen the film, but it was fifteen years ago on some terrible bootleg copy—so there’s no grade and I really can’t count it.

 

gems I want to spotlight:  Nashville is a massive artistic achievement and the crown jewel in the Altman oeuvre. It has a large ensemble, overlapping dialogue, wonderfully used camera zooms to capture exactly what Altman wants to eavesdrop on and edit in scene. It is ambitious filmmaking and clearly has influenced everyone from PT Anderson (there’s no Magnolia without Altman) to John Sayles (Lonestar, Matewan). Nashville is comic, tragic, and politically potent.  If you want a few recommendations off the top 10 list both Three Days of the Condor and The Day of the Locust are worth seeking out.  Condor is a taut political thriller just a notch below The Parallax View with stellar performances from Redford, Dunaway and a few key scenes with von Sydow. Schlesinger’s gloriously messy Day of the Locust has some exceptional cinematography from Conrad Hall and a big, blowout massacre climax that has certainly stuck with me.

Sydney Pollack was never the artist Pakula was, but this is inspired direction and camera placement here in Three Days of the Condor

one of the best shots of 1975 comes off the top 10 of the year– this shot from The Day of the Locust from John Schlesinger (making interesting films for more than a decade now in 1975) and Conrad Hall (DP)

trends and notables:

  • 1975 is another magnificent year. The front-half of the decade is superior to the back-half. 1975 alone includes eight (8) films in the top forty (40) roughly of the 1970’s decade.

The year features two rare-bird sightings here with both a Tarkovsky (Mirror here) film and a Kubrick film in a single year. There’s no way anyone could’ve known it at the time (ok maybe Kubrick’s 300 day shooting schedule was an indicator) but each of these masters would only have three films remaining after this

truly a cinematic painting here in Tarkovsky’s Mirror. Spielberg and his DP Vilmos Zsigmond would echo this shot in 1977’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind

  • I mention this above in the gem section but 1975 is the top of the summit for the great Robert Altman

Jaws clearly has a big impact on the box office (unlike The Godfather and The Exorcist he avoids the R-rating), the summer movie. It is great artistic and stylistic achievement in its own right- a breakthrough for the young prodigy Spielberg (who still isn’t 30).

the famous dolly zoom

Salo is Pasolini’s last film- it was supposed to be the first in a three-part series (trilogy of death)- he was murdered weeks before the premiere

Pasolini had his debut in 1961, Accattone– one of his strongest efforts, and Teorema is a worthy candidate, but with the astonishing artistry on display in Salo– it is clearly his magnum opus.

The wallpaper use is sublime throughout but in particular the wild wallpaper used when the pianist jumps out of the window

repeated shots of characters in profile looking out the window in jaw-droppingly splendid interior-designed arrangements

1975 marks the height of the “early, funny” films of Woody Allen with Love and Death. He’d take 1976 off behind the camera (a rarity for him) and when he’d emerge in 1977 he’d have a new sort of tone and style in a little film called Annie Hall

three very noteworthy auteurs make their first foray into the archives in 1975: David Cronenberg (Shivers), Terry Gilliam (co-directing Monty Python and the Holy Grail) and Peter Weir (Picnic at Hanging Rock)– shown here

this shot, from Weir’s film, is a precursor to the shot del Toro uses in Pan’s Labyrinth link here

 

best performance male: What a year 1975 is for Jack Nicholson. It is really the culmination of an impressive run that started back in 1969 with Easy Rider. Nicholson would be in great films before 1975 (Chinatown for one) and after (The Shining)- but to be both the center of a masterpiece Antonioni film (and like Red Desert with Vitti—Jack really dominates the screen solo here as far as acting goes) and gives the ultimate, “Jack” large-persona performance and Oscar-win in Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Jack gives two of the best three performances of 1975. The other, is the remarkable Al Pacino, who is having quite the decade himself. Pacino’s work in Dog Day Afternoon is so polar opposite to The Godfather: Part II. Here in Lumet’s film he’s frazzled, spitting—with the great “Attica” scene. Pacino now has mentions in this category in 1972, 1973, 1974 and 1975—obviously more that most great actors have in a lifetime. Robert Shaw is next.  I actually think the first half of the film is stronger than the second but the first half is all Spielberg showing off (and I’m not complaining)—the second half is almost all Shaw and the capper is the USS Indianapolis monologue. I think Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider can sort of split a mention here- both are great—and I’ll give a split mention to the two-hander in John Huston’s The Man Who Would Be King. James Bond (Sean Connery) and Harry Palmer (Michael Caine) are very good. Lastly—the curious case of Ryan O’Neal. He’s in just about every scene of a three-hour Kubrick masterpiece and the best film of the year. I think I’m going to omit O’Neal here. You could write an entire paper on Ryan O’Neal and whether he’s the right actor for the job, or it is a good performance. I’ve seen the film five times and I don’t think it is either a brilliant performance or a horrible one. I do wish another actor was in the role and that’s not a sign of being worthy of a spot here. Apparently, Warner Brokers told Kubrick he has to have a top 10 star at the time of financing to back the film and given the age of the character it was either going to be O’Neal or Redford and Redford turned it down. With a lesser budget and better actor I don’t think we have the same film. O’Neal certainly doesn’t ruin the film (far from it given the masterpiece status) but he isn’t one of the major reasons it is on that level either.

this from The Passenger, part of Jack’s unassailable 1975 1-2 punch that included his Oscar-winning performance in Once Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as well. PTA would modify a version of this shot for The Master with Phoenix overhanging the ship

Pacino’s “Attica” moment from Dog Day Afternoon. It is rarely rare that acting alone can give me cinematic chills

best performance female: It is frustratingly quiet here. Of course, I don’t blame the actresses, there were so many with immense talent during this era, I blame the system—but regardless- there simply isn’t much here. I’m going to agree with the Academy here and go with Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Her adversary in the film, Nicholson, is all color and animation—but Fletcher’s more thankless role is poised and iron clad– Fletcher is brilliant at it. She’s the establishment. Behind her the capable Lily Tomlin gives the best single performance in Nashville (an ensemble so deep it’s really hard to pick from for these categories).

Lily Tomlin here in Altman’s Nashville. Altman’s camera dives in via his patented zoom in the single greatest acting moment of Altman’s masterpiece

top 10

  1. Barry Lyndon
  2. Nashville
  3. The Passenger
  4. Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom
  5. Jaws
  6. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  7. Dog Day Afternoon
  8. Mirror
  9. The Man Who Would Be King
  10. Fox and His Friends

 

The finale of  The Passenger is genius—you cannot escape fate—slow moving tracking shot, there are bars which create the framing, the old man, the dog, the kid, Maria showing up again, police coming in, the sound design is impeccable- it had to influence Cuaron’s Roma— we have the beautiful structure as a backdrop. The camera moves out into the street through the bars, pivots, goes back through the bars to show death, fate, certainty—it is one of cinema’s greatest single shots. It lasts seven minutes. And this shot is one of the reasons I know what the world “penultimate” means.

a sublime frame here from Antonioni– Almodovar actually has a similar shot in 2019’s Pain and Glorylink here

from Dario Argento’s Deep Red-– this masterful shot is just one of many from from the film

another here from Argento. For horror enthusiasts it is often cited as the first slasher film– somewhere between Powell’s Peeping Tom and Carpenter’s Halloween

the meeting of high art and genre cinema from Argento yet again

 

from Truffaut’s The Story of Adele H.– quietly, Truffaut has two films already from the 1970’s in the top 10 of their respective year (The Wild Child, Two English Girls) and two films very close to their years’ top 10 (Adele H, Day For Night)

 

Archives, Directors, and Grades

Barry Lyndon – Kubrick MP
Cousin cousine – Tacchella R
Deep Red- Argento HR
Dersu Uzala – Kurosawa R/HR
Dog Day Afternoon- Lumet MS/MP
Fox and His Friends- Fassbinder HR
French Connection II– Frankenheimer R
Hard Times- W. Hill R
Jaws- Spielberg MP
Love and Death- Allen HR
Monty Python and the Holy Grail – Gilliam, T. Jones R/HR
Nashville- Altman MP
Night Moves- A. Penn R
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest- Forman MP
Picnic at Hanging Rock- Weir
Rollerball – Jewison R
Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom – Pasolini MP
Shampoo-Ashby HR
Shivers – Cronenberg R
Smile- Ritchie R
The Day of the Locust- Schlesinger HR
The Fortune- M. Nichols
The Man in the Glass Booth- Hiller R
The Man Who Would Be King- Huston HR/MS
Mirror – Tarkovsky MS
The Passenger – Antonioni MP
The Story of Adele H.- Truffaut HR
The Sunshine Boys- Ross R
The Traveling Players- Angelopoulos
The Wilby Conspiracy – Nelson R
The Wind and the Lion- Milius R
Three Days of the Condor- Pollack 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