Five Film Favorites: The 1970s, when Art Houses Ruled

Cybill Shepard in "The Last Picture Show."

Some film buffs like to convince anyone who will listen that the 1970s was the best decade for filmmakers. Does that mean it was the best decade for audiences, too?


By the ‘70s, many who had grown up watching old movies on television had learned to worship important movie directors. As the American studio system withered, the fashion of the day elevated certain foreign movies, selected American classics, a few films from the underground scene, etc., to a level above most of their more accessible Hollywood counterparts. Thus, the ‘70s was the decade for repertory cinemas/art houses.

In that pre-cable TV age, much of the current-release domestic product was viewed by the film aficionado in-crowd as laughingly naive or hopelessly corrupt. For better or worse, it was an indulgent era. It was a time in which the so-called “auteurs” of filmdom offered up what evidence they could to support the notion that the best directors of the day were visionary impresarios who could control the production of their work from start to finish.

To pick just five favorites from this horn-of-plenty time is too tough, even for cynical old me. The category is too broad. So, I’m splitting it between foreign and domestic product — five of each. All 10 I’ve seen several times over the years.

Conveniently, by offering up 10 titles this time around, it makes up for my skipping last week. Whether that will realign my dented karma for the holiday season remains to be seen. (No, I won’t be making a list of my favorite Christmas movies next month.)

My five favorite American films of the 1970s are:

“Chinatown” (1974): Directed by Roman Polanski; Cast: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston

“The Conversation” (1974): Directed by Francis Ford Coppola; Cast: Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Cindy Williams

“The Last Picture Show” (1971): Directed by Peter Bogdanovich; Cast: Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd

“Manhattan” (1979): Directed by Woody Allen; Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Mariel Hemingway

“Wise Blood” (1979): Directed by John Huston; Cast: Brad Dourif, Harry Dean Stanton, John Huston

Yes, I left a lot of very good movies off the list. This isn’t easy. But it‘s just a game, so don’t feel bad if your favorite wasn’t mentioned. Instead, make your own list.

My five favorite imported films of the 1970s are:

“Aguirre: The Wrath of God” (1972): Directed by Werner Herzog; Cast: Klaus Kinski, Helena Rojo, Del Negro

“The Conformist” (1970): Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci; Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Stefania Sandrelli, Gastone Moschin

“Day for Night” (1973): Directed by François Truffaut; Cast: Jacqueline Bisset, Valentina Cortese, François Truffaut

“The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” (1972): Directed by Luis Buñuel; Cast: Fernando Rey, Paul Frankeur, Delphine Seyrig

“Seven Beauties” (1975): Directed by Lina Wertmüller; Cast: Giancarlo Giannini, Fernando Rey, Shirley Stoler

Now it’s up to the reader to leave off a list of favorites from the film-rich ‘70s in the comments section, to expand the conversation. Happy Thanksgiving Day.

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