Movies Of The Year: 1973

Another pretty good year is 1973, but not nearly in the same class as 74. For some reason I’ve seen almost as many movies from this year as from the next two years combined.

16. Shaft In Africa – I think the title pretty much covers it.

15. Save The Tiger – Jack Lemmon won the best actor Oscar for his pretty good performance in this otherwise totally unremarkable film. Businessman has a midlife crises in the 70s, yipee. Dirceted by John Avildson, who did Rocky I and V, The Karate Kid I, II and III, and 8 Seconds, which I haven;t seen, but made one of my friends cry.

14. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving – Another revelatory title.

13. Live And Let Die – Roger Moore’s first is also his best Bond movie, and one of the best in the series. There’s a spooky voodoo vibe as Moore teams up with Jane Seymour’s psychic tarot-reader to defeat Yaphet Kotto’s heroin-dealing Mr. Big. And the title song is by Wings!

12. The Paper Chase – Decent coming-of-age type movie about first year law students at Harvard Law School. John Houseman gives an iconic performance as a professor, a character he would further develop in the classic TV series Silver Spoons.

11. The Exorcist – Ridiculously overrated horror film from self-promoting doofus/fascist William Friedkin. It’s hurt by the mediocre (at best) performance of Jason Miller as Father Damien. Miller would go on to star in a whole bunch of movies you’ve never heard of. But he eventually played the coach in Rudy 20 years later, so that’s nice.

10. The Sting – Newman and Redford, the “Brangelina” of the early 70s reunited for this entertaining period caper film about Depression Era con-men. Not as complex or insightful as the similarly set The Cincinnati Kid from 1965, but then, it certainly isn’t meant to be. Inexplicably won the best picture Oscar for 1973.

9. The Last Detail – Prototypical road trip movie in which Jack Nicholson and Otis Young are Navy guys who decide to show convict Randy Quaid a good time while transporting him to prison. Directed by Hal Ashby, one of the fine directors of the 70s, and written by Robert Towne (Chinatown). One of Nicholson’s defining roles, despite the porn star mustache (it was the 70s, after all.)

8. High Plains Drifter – Clint Eastwood directed and stars in this twisted take on the Red Harvest/Yojimbo/Fistful Of Dollars story in which a Stranger (Eastwood) rolls into town, gets attacked by outlaws, is insulted and the hired by the townspeople, and exacts his fiery revenge on all of them. A terrifically dark film, though not nearly as serious as Eastwood’s Unforgiven (#1, 1992), the darkest (and perhaps best) Western of them all.

7. Day For Night – I can’t really give this a fair rating, since I’ve only seen it in a old, dubbed, VHS version. Regardless, it’s a fine, if somewhat generic, movie about the making of a movie. I can’t say if this was the first of that particular genre, but off the top of my head, I can’t think of any earlier ones.

6. Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid – Director Sam Peckinpah’s version of the Billy The Kid story is the best I’ve seen, and a fine counterpart to Arthur Penn’s 1958 The Left-Handed Gun, which starred Paul Newman. This one stars Kris Kristofferson as Billy, James Coburn as Garret and, quite strangely, Bob Dylan as Alias, a quiet guy who just shows up at verious times throughout the film and doesn’t say anything. Dylan also did the score for the film, you know the song Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door? That’s from this movie. It isn’t nearly as nihilistic as Peckinpah’s earlier The Wild Bunch, but it’s still quite entertaining.

5. Enter The Dragon – Bruce Lee’s greatest film takes a little while to get going, but once the fighting starts, you’ll know what all the hubbub is about. The plot is essentially that of every fighting video game ever made: an evil rich madman holds a fighting competition, and if you lose, you die! Mmwahahaha! Bruce Lee’s good guy is there investigating as a cop or trying to avenege his brother’s death or earn money for his sick grandma or soemthing. The dubbing and cheesy sound effects haven’t aged well at all, but they do have their nostalgia value. What makes the film work, however, is Lee’s performance. There simply has never been an action star with his combination of intensity and believability. Watch quickly to see Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung in very small roles.

4. American Graffiti – If you had only seen George Lucas’s last three movies, you’d be amazed to watch this one and see that not only can he actually make movies about humans, he can even write convincing dialogue for them to speak (he did have help with the screenplay, but that didn’t help in Episodes 2 and 3). It’s a night in the life of high school kids, a familiar genre (though again, I’m not sure how familiar it was at the time), this time it’s set in the early 60s small town California childhood that Lucas experienced. It’s closest analogue is Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, which is essentially the same film set 15 years later, right down to the cast of soon-to-be-famous people and immense soundtrack of period pop hits. The future stars here: Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Cindy Williams, Suzanne Somers and Harrison Ford.

3. Sleeper – In this, the greatest of Woody Allen’s pure comedies, he gets himself unfrozen at some point in the future, impersonates a robot, woos Diane Keaton and attempts to overthrow the 1984-esque dictatorship. It’s the same as his other early comedies in that the plot is but a series of setups for his one-liners and some minor slapstick. It’s the consistently high quality of those jokes that distinguishes this film from the others.

2. Badlands – Terrance Malick’s first film is, like his others, a typical genre picture that’s made transcendent by his unusual storytelling style: voiceover monologues; long, beautiful shots of nature; and slow, meditative pace. Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek are terrific as the Bonnie and Clyde-esque criminal couple on the run (the story is based on the real-life exploits of Charles Starkweather). If the plot seems somewhat familiar, that because Quentin Tarantino used it as the foundation for his original screenplay of Natural Born Killers (before Oliver Stone took it over). You’ll also recognize the theme song from another film Tarantino wrote, True Romance.

1. Mean Streets – Martin Scorsese’s first big film is also my favorite of all his films. And it’s also the only one of his films to rank #1 in any year on my lists, a fact which I can’t quite believe, though I’ve checked a couple of times. It’s also the last film he co-wrote until Goodfellas in 1990, another surprising fact given how consistent Scorsese seems in examing themes of violence, guilt and redemption. Anyway, Harvey Keitel stars here as a small time hood with a crazy cousin, Robert DeNiro. The dynamic is much the same as the Liotta-Pesci and DeNiro/Pesci relationships of Goodfellas and Casino, but for the fact that DeNiro’s 100 times the actor that Joe Pesci is. Screech as he might, Pesci could never capture the laziness, the fun, the attractiveness of psychotic nihilism the way DeNiro did. Larenz Tate’s O-Dogg from Menace II Society (#7, 1993) comes pretty close though. Anyway, my favorite scene in the film, perhaps in all of Scorsese, is the scene in the pool hall. All of Tarantino can be found in that one scene, from the anarchic play of violence to the classic “What’s a mook?” self-consciously ironic dialogue.

Not so many Unseen movies this year, but still there’s some I definitely need to watch.

Scenes From A Marriage
La Maman Et La Putain
Amarcord
Papillon
The Day Of The Jackal
Serpico
Paper Moon
The Long Goodbye
The Wicker Man
Don’t Look Now
The Way We Were
Soylent Green
Westworld
Scarecrow
Bang The Drum Slowly
Flesh For Frankenstein
Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars

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