Even fewer movies this year, but they’re all definitely worth seeing. That might be the only year so far that I can say that about, though 1982, 1981, 1979 and 1978 come close. The worst film this year is probably better than any of those years though.
9. The Aristocats – One of the strangest animated Disney films is this jazzy story about cats in 1910 Paris trying to save an inheritance or something. It’s the trippy visuals and cool music that make this memorable. Eva Gabor, Sterling Holloway and Scatman Crothers are some of the voices. Director Wolfgang Reitherman also directed the two Winnie The Pooh movies, Robin Hood, The Sword In The Stone, 101 Dalmations and The Jungle Book.
8. Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls – Director Russ Meyer’s story of the rise and fall of a girl band in Hollywood features a screenplay by none other than Roger Ebert. When Ebert mentions it, he cites a review that calls it “simultaneously the best and worst movie ever made.” And that pretty much sums it up.
7. Little Big Man – Revisionist Western starring Dustin Hoffman. This isn’t really fair of me to rank it, because the only time I saw it was just after I had my wisdom teeth removed and was full of painkillers. But, it’s my list and I’m not planning on watching it again anytime soon.
6. Catch-22 – Another perhaps unfair rating, considering that I’ve only seen this Mike Nichols film on TV. A few years ago, it seemed Turner ran this every other night on TNT or TBS, so I’ve seen it a lot, I just don’t think I’ve ever seen it from beginning to end uncut and without commercials. It’s got a cast of thousands: Jon Voight, Art Garfunkel, Bob Newhart, Martin Balsam, Buck Henry, Anthony Perkins, Martin Sheen, Bob Balaban, Norman Fell, Charles Grodin and Orson Welles. Alan Arkin is outstanding in the lead role as Yossarian, the WW2 bombardier that gets caught up in the insanity of war and bureaucracy. I’ve been wanting to read the book for years too, but I’ve yet to get around to buying it.
5. Dodes’ka-den – Akira Kurosawa’s first color film is a collection of stories set in a Tokyo slum. The individual stories aren’t particularly memorable, much like the sentimental parts of Dreams (#3, 1990). This film actually has a lot in common with that one, made 20 years later. While the politics are somewhat simplistic and the stories melodramatic, the visual style and beauty of the images is remarkable. The film isn’t so much shot as it is painted.
4. The Wild Child – From what I’ve seen, period films are a rarity among the french New Wave. This film by Francois Truffaut is the only one I can think of off the top of my head. Based on a true story, Truffaut himself plays a doctor who attempts to socialize a young boy who was found raised in the French countryside in the late 18th Century. The story’s very simple, and Truffaut keeps the stylization to a minimum. There’s some cool old fashioned wipes and irises, but as far as I can remember, that’s about it, all of which helps the period feel of the film. A very nice little movie.
3. Woodstock – I’ve been saying for years that Martin Scorsese won an Oscar for helping to edit this massive concert film, but I was wrong. While it was nominated, this film did not when the Best Editing Oscar. He really hasn’t ever won one for anything. Anyway, while this works great as a concert film: great performances from The Who, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Ritchie Havens, Joe Cocker, Santana, Janis Joplin, Sly & The Family Stone and, of course, Jimi Hendrix. But more than that, it’s the record of an era, the Boomer Ideal that they’ve all spent the last 36 years selling out, betraying, and generally making a mockery of.
2. MASH – It’s tough to separate this film from the TV series that was so ubiquitous on TV when I was growing up. I wonder if kids today, or people who’ve just never seen the series have a totally different reaction than I have. It’s a lot better than the TV show, of course, more anarchic, funnier, darker and not nearly as melodramatic. The cast is great: Elliot Gould, Donald Sutherland, Robert Duvall, Tom Skerritt, Rene Auberjonois and Sally Kellerman.
1. Patton – A strange film. George C. Scott is brilliant as the famous general, it’s one of the most famous biopic portrayals ever. Karl Malden is great as General Omar Bradley. It’s not an anti-war film, and it’s not really a pro-war film either. It doesn’t seem to take any position on war at all, just as it doesn’t really take any position on Patton himself. He’s shown as both brilliant and crazy, inspiring, authoritarian, scary, funny and nice to dogs. While confining it to only a few years out of Patton’s life, it still manages to create a whole portrait of the man, in a way that’s always compelling, something that few biopics can manage to do. It’s closest analogue has to be another war movie that is ultimately ambivalent on war itself and features a remarkable lead performance: Lawrence Of Arabia.
During the aftermath of the Oscars, I looked up how many Best Picture winners also managed to be my #1 Movie Of The Year. I came up with six: The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Annie Hall, Amadeus, Unforgiven and Schindler’s List. This will make seven.
A few big Unseen movies this year, mostly lesser films by art directors like Melville, Herzog, Bertolucci and Altman. I’ve made it halfway through Five Easy Pieces twice, does that count as watching the whole thing?
Five Easy Pieces
Tora! Tora! Tora!
Le Cercle Rouge
The Garden Of The Finzi-Continis
The Honeymoon Killers
Bed & Board
Even Dwarfs Started Small