Sunday, December 20, 2020

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Top Ten of 1970

As I mentioned Friday while discussing the Academy Award nominees for Best Picture, 1970 presented an abundance of great films - even the not-so-good movies are great entertainments! So how does one make a Top Ten? After narrowing the 74 films screened down to 18 based on feeling, I had to consider not only what I would gladly watch again, but what I would have people prioritize. "Oh, you have to see [x]!"

So, due apologies to Alex in WonderlandThe AristocatsThe Boys in the BandCherry, Harry and Raquel!GirlyThe Out-of-TownersPatton and The Traveling Executioner, but these are my Top Ten Films of 1970, in alphabetical order:
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
dir/pr: Russ Meyer 
scr: Roger Ebert, story by Roger Ebert and Russ Meyer
cin: Fred J. Koenekamp

No matter how many times I watch it, I'm still pleasantly surprised by most of its choices: ridiculous, kooky choices, but all of them work! The performances are alien, but undoubtedly sincere. The soundtrack is a blast. The climax is one-of-a-kind, though within its questionable twists are real criticisms against showbiz's mercenary and predatory practices. The movie does not punish our heroines for wanting fame, sex, and money (and grass); indeed, the finger-wagging voiceover at film's end finds flaw with everyone, from the calculatingly evil to the willfully naive. 

Five Easy Pieces
dir: Bob Rafelson
pr: Bob Rafelson / Richard Wechsler
scr: Carole Eastman, story by Bob Rafelson and Carole Eastman
cin: László Kovács

This is the movie I'm thinking about throughout my day. Perhaps it's just the timing: this year, I found myself returning to my childhood home, going through memories and old photographs, reuniting with the full set of siblings, and all because of my dad's health. To be fair, mine died; Bobby Dupea's father is alive, but cannot feed himself, cannot walk, cannot even talk. Bobby tries talking to him, but it's not a conversation, there's no real closure to be had, and he does not become a better man after doing so. What he does is continue his cycle of cutting out when things get bad (or when it looks like people expect anything from him). He's a man running away from home over and over again. I don't know, I just find this movie moving and unshakeable.

The Honeymoon Killers
dir/scr: Leonard Kastle
pr: Warren Steibel
cin: Oliver Wood

A harsh true-crime narrative about an unlucky-in-love woman whose humorless resolve at work and resentment of her mother are but clues, stepping stones in a path that leads to fraud and murder. Martha Beck runs things, that much is clear in her introductory scenes. Con artist Raymond Fernandez thinks she's just another mark, someone to court via personals, manipulate into giving money, abandon for the next. Martha will not be handled. Her love becomes a jealous obsession, and while Raymond marries her and makes her part of his cons of lonely, moneyed women, he can never control her. A straightforward, unblinking dramatization with elements of black comedy, even farce, even after blood is spilled. There is no remorse, just action, vengeance, hurt. And yet, because it's so straightforward, it's not hard to imagine these monsters living near you, maybe even with you...

The Human Condition: A Soldier's Prayer
dir: Masaki Kobayashi
pr: Masaki Kobayashi / Shigeru Wakatsuki
scr: Zenzô Matsuyama & Kôichi Inagaki & Masaki Kobayashi
cin: Yoshio Miyajima

Masaki Kobayashi's closing chapter to his awe-inspiring nine-hour epic took almost a decade to be distributed stateside, by which time we were almost a decade into fighting in Vietnam. That's a different context in which one appreciates a film in which an invading military tries vainly to maintain its grasp on a foreign land; it's also a great context for the second half, in which the last idealism that embraces Communist values is beaten down by the actual practices of the new Communist rulers, who turn out to be just as merciless against POWs as imperialists. Not that regular people are any better: even as refugees, they want to maintain a class system; even amid the horrors of war, the men still want to inflict even more on women and children; even when there's a chance to survive, fear dooms them. A plea for peace it may be, but, too, what is about us that makes brutality our default? The human condition, indeed!

Lovers and Other Strangers
dir: Cy Howard
pr: David Susskind / Ronald H. Gilbert
scr: Renée Taylor & Joseph Bologna and David Zelag Goodman
cin: Andrew Laszlo

What could have been a slight, sketchy anthology film becomes a deeper ensemble comedy that finds human moments within and between the jokes. I love how it captures the massive activity around weddings and receptions - even with five or six storylines to focus on, you get glimpses of other subplots and side characters you'll never really know, all in different stages of their own relationships, all on their own journeys. Even as the film fixes one relationship, holding up the values of traditional marriage, it never finds resolve for some others. Life is messy. Love is messy. It's got my favorite line from any film this year: "I understand wanting to leave, but I can't understand leaving."

dir: Robert Altman
pr: Ingo Preminger
scr: Ring Lardner, Jr.
cin: Harold E. Stine

As problematic as some elements may be by today's standards, its anti-war sentiments and reactionary black humor are timeless. when your work is based around seeing people on the worst days of their lives, multiple times a day, with the expectation that you are the difference between life and death, in an environment where the atrocities you witness are justified as being for the greater good - well, you gotta blow off steam somehow. Moonshine martinis, peeping tomfoolery, blackmail, competitive sports, it's all justifiable when it allows for however brief a respite it can provide from the brutality of your workday. MASH, to its credit, is great fun, never po-faced in its observations, already counting on you to be with it...and if you're not at first, you will be - like Hot Lips, they'll wear you down.

The Molly Maguires
dir: Martin Ritt
pr: Walter Bernstein / Martin Ritt
scr: Walter Bernstein
cin: James Wong Howe

There's a cool ferocity here, most prominently exemplified by Sean Connery's performance as a miner secretly leading a small gang retaliating against the oppressive corporations and their abuses. with its focus on immigrant workers, toiling away generations for next to nothing, it's not merely an interrogation of the American Dream itself, but who gets to actually live it. There are some who find a better life, of course: the strikebreakers, the police, the anti-union spies, the agitators, people who are willing to go along to get along, even if it means betraying their own. Richard Harris, new to town, is caught between what is right, and what is law. A tough, masculine picture; a great American film.

Multiple Maniacs
dir/pr/scr/cin: John Waters

I've written about this movie twice, once in a brief capsule, and before that at length when I first saw it. I still can't believe this unholy marriage of Andy Milligan, Herschell Gordon Lewis and a pre-dawn comedown exists, but thank...whoever...that it does! The rosary scene is a scandal, but you can't say it's ill-informed on dogma, nor is it inconsistent, historically, on the link between religion and sexual hysteria; most importantly, it's a genuine kick, hilarious. The references to Weather Underground and the Tate-Labianca murders are surprising, tasteless, and wonderfully executed. Nothing that happens is predictable, and yet, there's a ranting dream logic. And what a cast, Divine, yes, but also Mink Stole, Mary Vivian Pearce, Cookie Mueller, David Lochary...gosh, they're exciting to watch!

Myra Breckinridge
dir: Michael Sarne
pr: Robert Fryer / David Giler
scr: Michael Sarne and David Giler
cin: Richard Moore

Another showbiz satire, one that takes that subgenre's conventions and goes wild with them. Myra is no cautionary tale waiting to happen; she's a Force, coming into town to raise hell, take out the patriarchy, dismantle the new Hollywood, and put a firm thumb in the eye of The Method, all the more effective and dangerous because she is fantasy-hot. Myra's slow takeover of her uncle-in-law's turgid acting school lays bare the simultaneous superficiality and snobbery of this new generation, one obsessed with being rather than acting, with treating performance as psychoanalysis, and all without giving due credit to the B-picture genre films that tantalized and entertained without pretense. It's a ferocious rebuttal to pretension, but it doesn't worship at the altar of the classics, either - the cheeky splicing in of old film clips to deliver blue jokes is effective in its coarseness, reminding one that, after all, these are entertainments meant to be experienced in the dark... And how to discuss the rape scene, with its eternal buildup and shocking payoff, played for laughs while twisting our perception of our revolutionary heroine? What to make of Mae West as a libidinous agent taking advantage of the casting couch just as emphatically as any other male? What do I even say about the final reveal? Tables turning all over the place, but even as Myra takes the patriarchy down a peg, she does nothing to better the system, merely replaces who gets to do the exploiting. It's a cesspool, this town, this business - isn't it great?

Women in Love
dir: Ken Russell
pr/scr: Larry Kramer
cin: Billy Williams

I think if you watch Women in Love, you find your kink. Could be food, as when the passionfruit is erotically devoured. Could be BDSM - there is a licking longing in Gudrun when Gerald tries strangling her. Or are you more into public or semi-public play, as when Rupert and Ursula make love in the grass...or when Laura and Tibby have their doomed dalliance in the lake. Maybe it's roleplay, as when Loerke and Gudrun pretend to be the homosexual Tchaikovsky and his nymphomaniac wife (a role Glenda Jackson would reprise the very next year in Ken Russell's The Music Lovers). There are those who get turned on by athletics, so the famous nude wrestling scene...actually, that's hot for everyone, I don't care what you're into, it's sweaty and breathless and wow! Homosexuality, heterosexuality, bisexuality, sapiosexuality: Women in Love truly has something for everyone!

Tomorrow, the nominees for the 1970 Retro Hollmann Awards!

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