best film:  Annie Hall from Woody Allen.

Annie Hall leads the way in 1977 just every so slightly over Dario Argento’s Suspiria. Annie Hall is a breakthrough for Woody. He emerges as an exciting formal artist and the film is an important work for the comedy genre and it certainly has become highly influential (it feels like its own subgenre). It’s also Woody’s first collaboration with Gordon Willis who would become his Sven Nykvist over the next decade (Allen would actually work with Nykvist on three features from 1988-1998).

 

Dario Argento’s Suspiria is neck and neck with Woody’s film for the very best of 1977– extremely different films and artistic accomplishments. Horror sub-genre “Giallo” (gore, eroticism, emphasis on visuals over story/dialogue, dubbing, paranoia, beautiful women, elaborate deaths)

Argento borrows from Bava and Hitchcock  (not to mention a whole heaping of German Expressionism) but this is it- a full-fledged masterpiece of the highest order and surely one of cinema’s most beautiful films

the neon lighting and the rock score by Argento and the band Goblin set it apart- apparently Argento played it full blast on the set of the film to petrify the actors and create atmosphere

  • Gordon Willis’ work in Annie Hall from a photographical standpoint isn’t quite the achievement it is in The Godfather films or his work with Pakula (or even  Manhattan with Allen two years later)- but it’s a great governing balance throughout capturing both NYC and LA in the short segment—he does show off once during the post-dusk Brooklyn bridge scene – really beautiful.
  • It’s an important film for Allen—influenced by European art cinema of the 50’s and 60’s- Fellini and Bergman (both heavy in the text) but not forgetting his comedic Marx Brothers’ influences either. The film is hilarious and filled with gags (the cocaine sneeze could easily be from Bananas) throughout. Allen would build upon the art-house cinema influences for his future films including the subsequent film Interiors (1978) and then Manhattan (1979) the following year after. His previous directorial effort to Annie Hall in 1977 is the hilarious Love and Death in 1975—so this is a major revelation.
  • Keith Uhlich from Time Out—“This is the link between Allen’s “earlier, funnier” stuff and more probing works like Interiors and Manhattan. Would that we all could build such masterful bridges.”
  • Again—the narrative ingenuity—he starts with addressing the camera- reflexive narration throughout – this plays to Allen’s talents and experience as a standup comic. He gets insights from people on the street, his parents via flashback, the child version of himself, the kids in his old class—wild stuff.
  • The playful nostalgia is absolutely Fellini’s Amarcord – growing up in Brooklyn under a roller coaster. Woody would delve deeper here into this mode in 1987’s Radio Days.
  • Like most of Allen’s work the running time is tight- 93 minutes here—and we’re back to back throughout with ingenious sequences – the long tracking shot with Tony Roberts as they walk down the street.
  • Hilarious lines about the French soldiers being really brave because they had to listen to Maurice Chevalier sing so much— Allen’s writing has rarely (Hannah, Crimes and Misdemeanors), if ever, been so good.
  • The film is plotless essentially- just a tale of their relationship—but the narrative rolls. We have stream of consciousness flashbacks, the Marshall Mcluhan pop-in, the JFK conspiracy theory, the cartoon sequence (which reminded me of Tarantino’s anime in Kill Bill), the split screen of the dueling psychiatrist sessions and families, the creative genius of the subtitled dialogue exchange on the roof with Keaton, Allen using a play of his relationship within the film repeating dialogue (he gives it the happy ending he doesn’t give the film which is brilliant). There are more ideas here than in ten other archiveable films from other directors.

Allen is absolutely flexing here formally– it reminds me of Godard’s confidence in the 1960’s– flouting narrative conventions and brimming with creativity– here’s the Marshall Mcluhan pop-in

There are more ideas here than in ten other archiveable films from other directors- breaking the 4th wall reflexivity throughout while splitting the screen

  • It’s a shame I’ve gone on this long without praising Keaton’s work (her Oscar win and it’s justified). Allen is good as an actor here, he’s the same throughout the film- funny—the constant pessimism—but she has growth here and her performance must capture that. When she sings “It Had To Be You” there’s a lack of confidence in her voice (it helps that Allen’s direction does a bit of a Tati Playtime joke with the noises in the crowd). When she sings later, she’s changed—grown.
  • There are no small performances here in the ensemble- Christopher Walken with his oncoming traffic deadly serious monologue—haha. Shelley Duvall with the “transplendent” and calling sex with Allen “Kafkaesque”- jesus. Haha. Jeff Goldbloom “I forgot my mantra” moment. Nothing is thrown away.
  • The photography again isn’t the highlight- but it does have its moments—the heavy shadows- the scene as simple as unpacking groceries.
  • The ending is magnificent—Allen uses natural barriers to tell their story through shot choice and photography—they’re disconnected. This Antonioni’s L’Eclisse. The montage of their good times is a bit of a cheat—I don’t love that—and a reminder of all of the great moments in this 93 minute film—tragic though as they part on the street nonchalantly for the finale.

breaking up the frame with natural barriers — like Antonioni in L’Eclisse

the finale shot– melancholic perfection

 

most underrated:   The American Friend from Wim Wenders. Maybe I’m just a sucker for the Tom Ripley/Patricia Highsmith adaptations but Wim Wenders’ The American Friend is categorically underrated. Actually this just one of three Ripley novel adaptations that are severely underrated by the TSPDT consensus-  Wenders film here is joined by Purple Noon (1960) and Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley in 1999 . Bruno Ganz is our everyman and Dennis Hopper creeps us all out.  Wenders gives the film a dark and tragic look-  it should definitely be somewhere in the top 1000 on TSPDT and currently isn’t.

with all due respect to Argento and Suspiria (which may have six of the other ten best cinematic paintings of 1977)- Wenders’ work here may very well take the top slot

sublime use of lighting here blanketing the frame and Hopper’s eerie Tom Ripley

 

most overrated:   Unlike 1976, 1977 is loaded with films overrated by the consensus. I have them all in the archives but Cassavetes’ Opening Night (#463), Bresson’s The Devil, Probably (#555) and Saturday Night Fever (#834) should all move down and make way for superior films.

 

gems I want to spotlight:  The Duelists from Ridley Scott is certainly a startling debut that impresses. If you want to grab one here outside of the top 10 of the year I’ve always been enthralled by the wild ride of John Frankenheimer’s Black Sunday.

Ridley Scott’s debut film The Duelists. Scott and his brother Tony had been cutting their teeth in British advertising for years.

images here that belong on the wall in a museum– clearly inspired (and worthy of comparison) by Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon

 

trends and notables:

  • 1977 lacks the depth that many of the years in the 1970’s have. In years like 1973 and 1975 the top 10 of the year is just spilling over with deserving films. You have to dig a little at the back-half of the top 10 of 1977.
  • Woody Allen had five very funny films under his belt coming into 1977 but Annie Hall changed his trajectory as an artist
  • Star Wars is the 1977 headline. When box office is adjusted for inflation in the US it still sits behind only Gone With the Wind. It spawned sequels, prequels, changed the sci-fi genre, merchandising, marketing. But it is key to remember it is also, still, a magnificent piece of cinema. Star Wars features a brilliant narrative achievement and original work (yes I know the sketch of the idea isn’t new -Kurosawa is probably the biggest influence but Kurosawa borrowed liberally from John Ford and others as well). It is a ways off (both in impact and artistic achievement)—but Spielberg is here again in the top 10 in 1977 along with Lucas in the sci-fi genre. Both Lucas and Spielberg are boosted by the great John Williams– what a year he had in 1977.

yes, Lucas tapped into the zeitgeist– but there is also some tremendous world-building to go with the narrative genius

one of the strongest images of 1977

a work with miniatures that deserve comparison to Kubrick’s 2001

sure, Spielberg is borrowing from Tarkovsky’s Mirror, but it is a dazzling shot nonetheless from Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Vilmos Zsigmond may actually be the most talented cinematographer Spielberg has ever worked with

a marvelously blocked frame here

  • I’m singling out Richard Attenbourogh’s A Bridge Too Far to point out that trends and movements don’t move in straight lines. This is a spiritual sequel to 1962 The Longest Day with an all-star cast (Caan, Caine, Connery, Gould, Hackman, Hopkins, Olivier, O’Neal, Redford, Schell, Ullman, Elliot, Bogarde) assembled. It doesn’t really belong in 1977- but here it is anyways.

I mentioned Ridley Scott’s debut The Duelists in the gem section—1977 would also give us the birth of David Lynch as an auteur, artist, and bizarre world-creator (Eraserhead).

  • 1977 is the year we first caught glimpse of Meryl Streep in the archives.  Christopher Walken is in about three minutes of Annie Hall if that- but boy does he make an impression. We’d hear much more from both Streep and Walken in 1978 with The Deer Hunter.
  • 1977 is another showcase for the continuation of the Bunuel French renaissance. Bunuel has been making archiveable films since 1930 and has made films all over the place from Spain to Mexico, but his period from 1967 with Belle de Jour to 1977 is  his strongest stretch of work. That Obscure Object of Desire in 1977 would be his last archiveable film.

Three Women is not Atlman’s best film but it is significant because it is the end of his ridiculous run from 1970-1977. He’d take a five-year break from the archives (Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean  in 1982 after a few bruises and failures) and a fifteen year hiatus from the top 10 (The Player in 1992). During his 1970’s run, Altman would direct ten archiveable films in eight years with seven of those landing in the top 10 of their respective years. Wow.

 

best performance male: It’s not a strong year here either. There have been several years (1976 included) where’d I’d have at least two-three options better than any single one in 1977. Richard Dreyfuss is as good as any of the options in 1977 with his work in Close Encounters. His possessed everyman taps into Dreyfuss’ energy. It is actually kind of miraculous that you have enough sympathy for his character to stick it out with him when he abandons rationality (and his family)—it’s a tough role — and Dreyfuss is perfect for it. Woody Allen would be a fine choice for 1977 as well as Alvy Singer creating his single most memorable character. Bruno Ganz does some superb work in Wenders’ The American Friend so he’s my third choice. I think there’s enough meat on the bone for both Harrison Ford and Alec Guinness in Star Wars.  Guinness steadies the ship every time it feels like it could float out into parody—and even though I’ve seen the film at least a dozen times, I’m always still so impressed at the lift Harrison Ford gives the film when arrives on screen.

Dreyfuss here in the foreground- a perfect use for the split diopter deep focus

Woody Allen playing himself here- an undoubtedly important performance in the year’s best film

 

best performance female:  I am going to agree with the academy and give the best performance to Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. She’s great at playing naïve and awkward—she’s a talented comedienne– but clearly she goes through a transformation throughout the film and is more than just a Woody Allen puppet.  Behind Keaton, the two performances in Altman’s Three Women by Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek (another mention for Spacek which gives her three in five years with Badlands and Carrie) round out my choices here. This is the best vehicle for Duvall in the six archiveable films she’s already made with Altman here in the decade.

Shelley Duvall here in Altman’s Three Women- a film, and shot, that has a great counterpoint in Altman’s 1972 film Images 

 

top 10

  1. Annie Hall
  2. Suspiria
  3. Star Wars
  4. Eraserhead
  5. Three Women
  6. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  7. The American Friend
  8. New York, New York
  9. The Duelists
  10. That Obscure Object of Desire

 

it never reaches the heights of Mean Streets or his work from the previous year 1976, Taxi Driver, but even in an “down” year (for him), Scorsese dazzles

Unlike the “But the World Goes ‘Round” (where he leaves Liza alone)– Scorsese directs the hell out of the title song sequence- great imagery here

The fake woods studio backlot backdrop is handsome- reminds me of Joshua Logan’s Camelot. Liza Minnelli is a massive star in the 70’s after Cabaret (1972) and a major talent—but she’s also the daughter of Vincent Minnelli and the film here, with the beautiful artifice of the production design, is a nod to that Hollywood era. The narrative/content however, is very 1970’s—raw and typical of Scorsese and De Niro’s work on borderline sociopath characters with obsessive or domineering (Raging Bull) tendencies—Scorsese himself when talking about the film talks about the “artifice and truth”

 

Archives, Directors, and Grades

A Bridge Too Far- Attenbourogh R
A Special Day- Scola
Annie Hall – Allen MP
Black Sunday- Frankenheimer R
Close Encounters of the Third Kind- Spielberg HR/MS
Demon Seed – Cammell R
Equus- Lumet R
Eraserhead – Lynch HR/MS
Jabberwocky – Gilliam R
Julia- Zinnemann R
New York, New York – Scorsese HR
One Sings, the Other Doesn’t – Varda R
Opening Night- Cassavetes
Padre Padrone – Taviani R
Providence-Resnais
Rabid – Cronenberg R
Riddles of the Sphinx- Mulvey, Wollen
Rolling Thunder- Flynn R
Saturday Night Fever- Badham R
Sorcerer- Friedkin R
Star Wars- Lucas MP
Stroszek- Herzog
Suspiria – Argento MP
The American Friend- Wenders HR/MS
The Ascent – Shepitko R
The Duelists- R. Scott HR
The Goodbye Girl – Ross R
The Last Wave- Weir R
The Late Show- Benton R
The Man Who Loved Women- Truffaut R
That Obscure Object of Desire- Bunuel
The Spy Who Loved Me – Gilbert R
Three Women- Altman HR/MS
Twilight’s Last Gleaming- Aldrich 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