DOG DAY AFTERNOON (Sidney Lumet)
He was known as an “actor’s director” and he worked with all of them, including Brando. Cutting his teeth on the early days of live television, Sidney Lumet (like John Frankenheimer) could shoot fast and loose. That was just fine for actors who liked to improvise, experiment and play off of each other. Here he’s got a high-octane Al Pacino and a fabulous supporting cast.
JAWS (Steven Spielberg)
If there was one thing that typified the new young filmmakers of the New Hollywood of the 70’s, it was their ability to make movies the way that they themselves would like to see them. From the set-up of the shot to the final editing, they had specific results in mind and quickly mastered the methods to achieve them. If their instincts were correct, the results could be golden.
Despite a production beset by problems (including a defective mechanical shark), Steven Spielberg was able to deliver one of the greatest thrillers ever made. The structure and the pacing are textbooks on how to make an action/adventure/mystery film. The success of JAWS created the “summer blockbuster” and from then on all the studios wanted BIG (even if that didn’t mean better). Indie filmmakers have been complaining ever since. JAWS simply set the bar a little to high to hit every time out.
ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (Milos Forman)
It was just the perfect time in Jack Nicholson’s career to score big in the feel good/feel sad movie of the year. Everybody cleaned up at the Oscars. Credit to Milos Forman for keeping it all together.
THE PASSENGER (Michelangelo Antonioni)
In an Antonioni film, you know it’s going to be his game, his vision. Here’s Jack again, this time melding perfectly in what would be Antonioni’s last great film. Mise-en-scene is the French word for directing, and it’s the perfect description for how Antonioni operated. And THE PASSENGER is just dripping with mise-en-scene. It is a seductive and commanding example of how to blend character with surroundings. How does each relate to each other? And what of identity? Can we just change it and change our lives accordingly? Or are we just passengers; within our own lives and the lives of others?
SHAMPOO (Hal Ashby)
When you’re hot, you’re hot. And in 1975, Robert Towne was hot. Fresh out of CHINATOWN, Towne writes another original screenplay with Hollywood’s bad boy, Warren Beatty and creates a wickedly funny character study of an L.A. hair stylist with a wandering eye who just can’t get out of his own way. Some of the best dialogue ever written. Hal Ashby’s leisurely direction sets the perfect tone for this under-rated classic.
BARRY LYNDON (Stanley Kubrick)
Few could warm up to it on its initial release, but time has been kind to this, Kubrick’s least “sensational” film. A 20th-century film of a 19th-century novel in an 18th-century setting, BARRY LYNDON remains unique for its natural lighting (only candles for the night interior scenes) and its beautiful use of period music. What prevents it from being merely a really good Masterpiece Theater series (or like any other elegant well-appointed period film) is Kubrick’s unwavering focus and ability to ground the drama. One could quibble with the choice of Ryan O’Neal in the title role, but one could also understand Kubrick’s thinking as well. Barry Lyndon is rather a blank state everyman. He is a hapless hero, both the victim and the beneficiary of his circumstances; a consistent theme in Kubrick protagonists.
THE STORY OF ADELE H (Francois Truffaut)
They say that you become who you are. For Truffaut, once in the vanguard of the French New Wave, this film was not only his best in a while, but also for some time to come. It was also a summation of what he was really all about. THE STORY OF ADELE H is a tribute to a bygone era, an endorsement of a romantic sensibility, and an insistence that these kind of movies should be made and seen — period movies that resonate. If the test cases were to remain as good as this, then Truffaut could have argued that the promise of the New Wave was being fulfilled. He could have combated with his fellow New Waver Godard, who two years later (after seeing Truffaut’s DAY FOR NIGHT) lambasted Truffaut for making movies no better than the studio-driven crap they both once criticized. Oh, and incidentally……this one made Isabelle Adjani a deserved international star.