Monday, November 26, 2007

No. 43 - California Split

George Segal is Bill, an anal retentive, overly cautious magazine writer who has recently separated from his wife due to a gambling addiction. Elliott Gould is Charlie, a happy-go-lucky cardsharp who lives with two call girls. Bill and Charlie happen to occupy the same table at a Los Angeles poker club, and a brief but intense friendship begins. They win big at the track, blow it all at the poker tables, then split for Reno, where they pool their respective savings for a climactic high-stakes poker game. In the end, winning big turns out to be an empty experience.

Robert Altman's California Split expertly captures both the euphoria and the seediness of the professional gambler's lifestyle. Altman was known to gamble in his free time, and he understands the rush of taking crazy risks.

Altman refuses to ratchet up the tension in a conventional way. He simply kicks back and observes with an air of detachment and an eye for atmosphere and characterization. He is the master of the telling detail that is plucked out of a densely layered mise en scene. He also lets Segal and Gould fully explore their respective characters. Altman has always favored the details of characterization over the demands of dramaturgy. Even so, by the time the final poker match rolls around, we are drawn into the story and we feel the tension, the elation and the let-down of risking it all, playing and winning.

Fun fact: Steven Spielberg was attached to this film, before Altman came on board. Also, Jeff Goldblum made his film debut here (Goldblum is one of many noteworthy actors who were discovered by Altman).

The final poker match was filmed at the Mapes Hotel in my home town of Reno. The Mapes was imploded in 2000, so it's nice to see it captured on film.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

No. 42 - Cannonball

A year after his cult classic Death Race 2000, director Paul Bartel returned to the highway with his 1976 car-chase epic Cannonball. Once again, David Carradine returns to the driver's seat, and he's competing in a California to New York cross-country race. Carradine plays "Cannonball" Buckman, a fast driver who needs to win the prize money to get his brother out of hock with mobsters.

Bill McKinney, the hillbilly rapist in Deliverance, is Cade Redman, Carradine's venal arch-rival. Other racers are portrayed by Robert Carradine, Bartel veteran Mary Woronov, Gerritt Graham and Dick Miller. Martin Scorsese and Sylvester Stallone appear in a scene together playing goombah flunkies.

Cannonball was written by Don Simpson, who later attained fame co-producing Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop with Jerry Bruckheimer. Five years later, The Cannonball Run would use a very similar concept in depicting a coast-to-coast race. Another cross-country race film, The Gumball Rally, was released the same summer as Cannonball.

Sylvester Stallone sidebar: Stallone graduated from thug roles in Prisoner of Second Avenue, Farewell My Lovely and Bananas to become a huge star with Rocky, then he wrote, directed and starred in 1978's Paradise Alley, a movie about wrestlers in which Stallone warbled the theme song "Too Close To Paradise" over the opening credits (a song which he also wrote).

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

No. 41 - Bad Sequels

The 70's saw its share of sequels. After The Godfather Part II won the Best Picture Oscar, sequels were no longer considered disreputable. The floodgates were opened, and the deluge has yet to subside.

Here are some of the more noteworthy sequels:

The Trial of Billy Jack: Remember the famous book 50 Worst Films of All Time? This film made the list. Tom Laughlin also wrote, produced, directed and starred in Billy Jack Goes to Washington, which barely got released. Other Laughlin productions included The Master Gunfighter, in which Laughlin attempted to play a taciturn Eastwood type of anti-hero, with dismal results. Worst of all was Train Ride to Hollywood, one of the unfunniest comedies of the decade.

Beyond the Poseidon Adventure: Michael Caine began his habit of doing five movies a year just for the paycheck with this Irwin Allen disaster flick, a needless sequel to the classic Poseidon Adventure. Caine had previously starred in Allen's 1978 killer bee movie, The Swarm. He would go on to appear in one of the sequels to Jaws, and eventually won two Oscars. This was Sally Field's first movie after her Oscar-winning turn in Norma Rae.

Butch and Sundance: The Early Days: The characters were killed in the first one, and Redford and Newman were unavailable, so Fox invented the prequel with this Richard Lester film. William Kaat and Tom Berenger fill in for Newman and Redford. Years later, George Lucas took the prequel concept and gave us Episode I, featuring Jar Jar Binks.

Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat: Ralph Bakshi's lack of involvement in this sequel to Fritz the Cat didn't keep AIP from releasing it to drive-ins back in 1974.

Walking Tall Trilogy: The first Walking Tall was a crudely effective redneck classic. Joe Don Baker was great as tough Sheriff Buford Pusser. Then, the inevitable Part Two: Walking Tall was released, with Bo Svenson replacing Joe Don Baker. Pusser's demise at the end of the second film didn't prevent the production of a third installment, Final Chapter: Walking Tall. Then came the remake, Nine Lives of Buford.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

No. 40 - Sextette

Mae West was the Queen of Camp, and she went out with a bang in 1978's Sextette. Based upon West's original script, Sextette stars West as an aging sex siren loosely based on herself. She still enjoys the attention of numerous male admirers (including a pre-Bond Timothy Dalton). She still delivers sexually tinged zingers -- "It's not the men in my life, it's the life in my men."

My, what a cast. Dom DeLuise brings his own campy energy to the proceedings, as he sings The Beatles' Honey Pie. West and Dalton duet on the Captain and Tennille's Love Will Keep Us Together. 70's rock superstars Alice Cooper, Ringo Starr and Keith Moon pop up, along with such noteworthy names as George Hamilton, George Raft, Regis Philbin and gossip maven Rona Barrett. Tony Curtis, who has made several unwitting appearances in Damon Packard's films, is another Hollywood legend who shows up in Sextette.

Barely released in 1978, Sextette proved to be a difficult film to market. It survives today as a great camp artifact of the 70's.

For further Mae West campiness, rent 1970's Myra Breckenridge, which co-stars Raquel Welch, a camp icon in her own right.

No. 39 - Liza With a Z

Bob Fosse won an Oscar (for directing Cabaret), a Tony (for Pippin) and an Emmy, all in the same year, 1973. His Emmy was for directing the TV special Liza With a Z, a one-woman show featuring 70's icon Liza Minnelli.

Liza puts on quite a show, one hour's worth of song and dance routines. She belts out the blues standard God Bless The Child by herself, then is joined by a chorus of dancers for I Gotcha and Son of a Preacher Man. Fosse's flamboyant choreography and staging are complemented by Minnelli's live-wire energy level.

Minnelli would later camp it up in Stanley Donen's Lucky Lady, and then explore new emotional heights and depths in Martin Scorsese's depressing New York, New York. But Liza With a Z is the perfect 70's musical artifact.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

No. 38 - Breezy

Clint Eastwood's third film as a director defied all expectations. For one thing, he didn't appear in it. Second, it's a romantic drama, a genre he had never undertaken as an actor. Breezy belies Eastwood's macho image. It also reveals for the first time his ambition as a filmmaker to explore genres outside of his wheelhouse.

Breezy, like many 70's films, is a mid-life crisis movie. It's a May-December romance, with burned out real estate executive William Holden falling for hippie-chick Kay Lenz (in the titular role). Breezy brings our man back to life, and surprisingly, the relationship grows from one-night stand to something permanent.

It was a 70's convention to have 55 year old male protagonists boning 25 year old women (Holden peformed similar duties with Faye Dunaway in Network). While it might not sound promising on paper, Breezy works well on the screen. Eastwood allows Holden and Lenz to go through all the incremental phases that lovers go through -- from distrust to curiosity to bickering to a deeper bond. Eastwood returned to similar terrain with Bridges of Madison County twenty years later.

No. 37 - The Choirboys

Macho director Robert Aldrich (The Longest Yard, The Dirty Dozen) turned his attention to police officers in his 1977 film The Choirboys. Based upon Joseph Wambaugh's novel, The Choirboys shows how LAPD's finest blow off steam after a stressful day of keeping the streets safe. It's Animal House with a body count.

The great Charles Durning gets to play the lead in a talented ensemble of actors. Durning, who is usually relegated to supporting roles, makes the most of his part as a good cop trying to hang on to his sanity until he can retire. James Woods makes one of his first screen appearances (almost as great as his turn as a dweeby bank executive in The Gambler who gets strangled by James Caan). Perry King, who appeared in such critically lambasted 70's films as Lipstick and A Different Story, co-stars, along with Burt Young, Randy Quaid, Lou Gossett, and the brilliant Tim McIntire, who memorably plays a psychotic cop named Roscoe Rules.

Excoriated by critics at the time of its release in late 1977, and ignored by audiences who preferred softer fare such as The Turning Point and The Goodbye Girl, The Choirboys holds up today as a great study of hard-working men in an urban pressure cooker. Also, in true 70's fashion, uproarious comedy is interrupted by horrible tragedy.

No. 36 - The Mechanic

Charles Bronson was a true 70's icon. Two years before his huge breakthrough Death Wish, Bronson played a professional hit man who teaches the tricks of his trade to a willing young acolyte (Jan-Michael Vincent, fresh from Disney's World's Greatest Athlete).

In one memorable scene, Vincent returns home to find that his girlfriend has tried to commit suicide. Vincent throws her the car keys and tells her that if she hurries, she might make it to the Malibu Sheriff's Station in time to save her life. By comparison, Bronson's character is a lovable Care Bear of a guy. The ending is a hoot.

The Mechanic plays like a Tarantino film, with its focus on moral relativity in a criminal world. Michael Winner directed, and he would grace 70's cinema with such films as Death Wish, Won Ton Ton The Dog Who Saved Hollywood, The Sentinel, and Love and Bullets. Bronson subsequently contributed Mr. Majestyk, St. Ives and Telefon to 70's cinema.

No. 35 - The Wild Party

The Wild Party is the surreal shotgun marriage between arty Merchant/Ivory Productions and Samuel Z. Arkoff's American International Pictures. AIP, as it was fondly known, specialized in drive-in exploitation fare, with heavy portions of violence and nudity thrown in.

Director James Ivory has subsequently directed more genteel period pieces, such as Remains of the Day. In The Wild Party, Ivory re-creates the decadent Hollywood of the late 20's. A Fatty Arbuckle-esque performer, Jolly Grimm (James Coco), throws a lavish party at his estate in order to screen his latest silent comedy feature. Unfortunately, sound pictures have arrived, and made Grimm an instant anachronism.

Grimm's wife Queenie (played by the ultimate 70's sex symbol, Raquel Welch) hosts the party, which goes awry with the arrival of a Valentino-esque matinee idol, Dale Sword (Perry King, who also starred in the 70's camp classic Mandingo). When Dale seduces Queenie, murder is in store.

There is camp value aplenty in this unheralded classic from 1975. Raquel Welch shows off her singing and dancing chops in the elaborately staged musical numbers, with a score of original songs. Ivory supplies the requisite AIP nudity and violence, along with his attentive eye for period details in the decor and costuming. There is also the air of pure 70's decadence hovering over the entire enterprise, a sense of doom at the end of the orgy.

In the 90's, two Broadway musicals were staged using the same source material, a long narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March. Both productions flopped.

No. 34 - The Front Runner

Paul Newman plays a track coach who falls in love with one of his runners. The Front Runner would have been one of the first Hollywood films to deal with homosexuality, if it had actually been made. But Newman got cold feet, and did the decidedly macho Slap Shot instead. A Variety headline from 1976 summed it up: "Front Runner on back burner."

There are other lost films from the 70's. Steve McQueen starred in a cinematic version of Ibsen's Enemy of the People in 1978. It saw a very limited release, and was quickly withdrawn. I didn't even know this film existed until it happened to play on the late show a long time ago. If only McQueen had starred in The Driver in 1978 instead.

One other tantalizing title is These Bases Are Loaded, a comedy about drug abuse, groupies and gambling in major league baseball that was set to star Charles Durning, Richard Gere and Billy Dee Williams. Too bad the plug was pulled at the last minute.

No. 33 - Oates & Fonda Trilogy

Warren Oates and Peter Fonda must have enjoyed working together. They did three films during the 70's:

The Hired Hand: The sort of existential, laid-back Western that could only be made in the early 70's. Fonda directs, and shows the sort of sensitivity to natural beauty that director Dennis Hopper displayed in Easy Rider.

Race With The Devil: How 70's can you get? Oates and Fonda take their wives on vacation in an RV, and they are chased by Satan worshippers. One of the wives is played by Loretta Swit, Hot Lips on TV's MASH. This one is ripe for a remake.

92 in the Shade: Off-beat does not begin to describe this crime melodrama set in the Florida Keys, which was written and directed by noted author Thomas McGuane. Fonda plays a fledgling tour guide whose career aspirations disrupt the livelihoods of two old-school guides (Oates and the wonderful Harry Dean Stanton). Oates plays a semi-psychotic, hard-drinking ex-con who would not be out of place in a Warren Zevon or Jimmy Buffett song. Features such 70's stars as Margot Kidder and Elizabeth Ashley.

No. 32 - Real Life

Long before reality TV, Albert Brooks wrote, directed and starred in this mock-documentary about a slick Hollywood filmmaker who moves in with a typical American family in suburban Arizona. Brooks simply wants to record the family in its day to day existence, but the presence of Brooks and camera operators disrupts the family's routine, with hilarious results.

Brooks, who initially attained fame as a stand-up comic, made a series of short films for Saturday Night Live before graduating to features with Real Life. The mock-documentary approach would be often imitated, and Brooks' comic persona first took shape in this film. He would play a variation on this neurotic character in subsequent films like Modern Romance and Lost in America.

However, Real Life is stolen by Charles Grodin, who plays the put-upon family man perfectly.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

No. 31 - Sunn International Classics

Sunn International Classics specialized in documentaries about uncanny and mysterious subjects. Their first hit was the film version of Chariots of the Gods, which theorized that advanced civilizations from distant galaxies arrived on earth many centuries ago to help shape ancient human societies. In the 70's, public curiosity about UFO's, the occult and other unexplainable phenomena created a thriving market for Sunn's speculative documentaries.

Other big hits included In Search of Noah's Ark, The Lincoln Conspiracy, and Beyond and Back. The success of these films led to imitators, such as In Search Of... on TV, and other films such as The Late, Great Planet Earth and Outer Space Connection.

Sunn mastered the marketing tactic known as four-walling, in which theaters were rented by the week so that Sunn films could be screened "for one week only." Unlike the big studios, Sunn released films on a limited and regional basis. Their films were produced at a very low cost, and returned huge profits.

Sunn also turned out dramatic films such as Grizzly Adams, Frontier Fremont, Hangar 18 and The Boogens in the 80's.

No. 30 - Fantastic Planet

One of the trippiest films of the 70's, Fantastic Planet is a surreal, animated science-fiction parable set on a distant planet Ygam, which is ruled by the Traags, a race of blue-skinned giants. The Traags have enslaved and domesticated human-like creatures known as Oms. There are also untamed Oms lurking on the outskirts of civilization.

One day, a domesticated Om named Terr escapes and leads a rebellion of wild Oms to topple the Traag's tyrannical empire.

Director Rene Laloux creates a truly unique world, with strange landscapes, odd plant life and bizarre creatures. Best of all is the use of vibrant colors. Great stoner movie.

No. 29 - Sheba, Baby

No 70's list is complete without a Pam Grier film. She was the foremost female star to emerge from the blaxploitation movement, and she is still a busy actress.

Back in the day, nobody could kick butt like Pam. She was a beautiful as a fashion model, and as deadly as Dirty Harry. She could seduce a man and use a gun without blinking

Sheba, Baby finds Pam playing a cool Chicago private eye who heads down to Louisville, where toughs (led by that bad D'Urville Martin of Dolemite fame) threaten her dad's loan company. Needless to say, Pam gets to play her lethal game, in between the wardrobe changes.

According to some accounts, director William Girlder pitched this movie to American International, and they gave him the green light. There was just one slight problem -- there was no script. So, Girdler and another writer churned out a script literally overnight.

Girdler went on to direct the 70's cult classics Grizzly (a Jaws knock-off) and The Manitou. Tragically, Girdler died in a helicopter accident while scouting locations.

No. 28 - Sky Riders

Long before Homeland Security, a crack team of anti-terrorist operatives kept the world safe for democracy -- the Sky Riders!

The Sky Riders steer their hang gliders with Rogallo wing designs into a monastery perched among precipitous Grecian cliffs, where terrorists hold Susannah York and her children for ransom. James Coburn is at his best as a tough guy who leads the daring expedition, and he certainly has a solid motivation -- York is his ex-wife. Long before CGI effects, the airborne stunt flying is quite impressive.

In the 70's, hang gliding was a phenomenon, and Sky Riders enshrines this Ford Administration leisure activity forever on celluloid.

Co-written by Garry Michael White, who wrote Scarecrow.

No. 27 - Burt Reynolds Six-Pack

In 1975 alone, Burt Reynolds made no less than four films -- W.W. and The Dixie Dancekings (surprisingly good), At Long Last Love (execrable), Lucky Lady (underrated), and Hustle (don't do it). In other words, he churned out a lot of films in the 70's.

I would like to highlight Burt's best of the 70's:

Deliverance: Great banjo music, friendly locals and pristine Georgia wilderness lure four Atlanta men for a weekend they'll never forget.

White Lightning: Burt gets behind the wheel for the first of his classic redneck car chase flicks. This time, redneck sheriff Ned Beatty is on his tail.

The Longest Yard: So great they remade it with Adam Sandler.

W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings: Burt as a charming good-old-boy (did he play any other kind) who robs filing stations with a squirt gun. Director John Avildsen's next film was about a boxer from Philadelphia who has a girlfriend named Adrian.

Lucky Lady: Burt's first teaming with 70's icon Liza Minnelli. They would later do Rent-a-Cop in the 80's.

Starting Over: Burt should have been Oscar-nominated in this mid-life crisis classic from 1979 (the year that gave us those other great mid-life crisis movies, 10 and All That Jazz).

No. 26 - Play Misty for Me

Clint Eastwood made a fine debut as a director with Play Misty For Me. There is a laid-back quality to this film, which begins in a casual way, and then tightens the screws later as the stalking plot kicks in. The film beautifully captures the Edenic qualities of Carmel and Monterey, and Eastwood has a great eye for the particular scenic details of the Northern California coast. Most movies today have a "cut to the chase" mentality, in which everything has to move at warp speed, so it's refreshing to see a movie take its time to establish the setting and the characters.

It is also interesting to note that Eastwood went outside his comfort zone for his first film as a director. He gained fame in Westerns and cop movies, but Play Misty for Me is a Hitchcockian thriller. He also allows Jessica Walter to steal the movie as a woman who refuses to be cast aside after a one-night stand.

This film is an interesting rebuke to the sexual revolution of the late 60's and early 70's. Jessica Walter's character may be acting in an extreme way, but there is some justification for her rage -- Eastwood's character is a ladies' man who likes to rack up as many conquests as he can, and then move on, but here's one woman who refuses to be discarded. The point is, there are repercussions to all our acts. Also, being a public figure brings its share of grief and misery (just ask John Lennon).

Fatal Attraction in 1987 was a de facto remake of Play Misty for Me. Eastwood would also direct but not star in the under-appreciated Breezy in 1973.

No. 25 - Little Fauss and Big Halsy

This is the only time Robert Redford played a bad guy. He's Big Halsy, a charming rogue who races motorcycles, steals food, sleeps with various women, and drifts from one racetrack to the next. Little Fauss (the great Michael J. Pollard) is a mild-mannered, introverted mama's boy who tags along as Halsy's mechanic. Halsy is a bad influence, and soon gets Fauss into trouble. In one memorable sequence, Fauss and Halsy drive their motorcycles through a herd of sheep, and barely escape the shotgun blasts of some pickup driving rednecks.

Redford and Pollard make for an off-kilter pairing, even by the standards of 70's oddball buddy films (such as Scarecrow and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot).

Johnny Cash contributes a score of songs that comment troubadour-like on the events depicted, and director Sidney J. Furie's semi-documentary approach to the hardscrabble existence of motorcycle racers gives the film an effectively gritty feel. Screenwriter Charles Eastman depicts the lives of society's oddballs with affection and humor.

It is great to see Redford playing the bad guy with such relish. Halsy is really a cad, and Redford has fun with it. If you want to see a different facet of Redford's under-rated acting talent, Little Fauss and Big Halsy is must viewing. Sadly, the film has yet to be released on DVD. In fact, as far as I know, it was never even released on video.

No. 24 - Saturday Night Fever

Saturday Night Fever might not be the very best film of the 70's, but it is arguably the best film to put in a time capsule to represent its decade. It is the 70's, just as Easy Rider is the 60's in one film.

It is not merely the obvious trappings of Saturday Night Fever that make it so seminal. The Bee Gees, the Angel's Flight couture, the blow-dried hair, the colored lights that flash underneath the dance floor -- all of these details add to the overall impact. What I find significant watching this film 30 years later is how it charts the cultural sea-change that occurred in the 70's.

In sum, if Easy Rider was basically about hippies, Saturday Night Fever heralded the arrival of yuppies. The characters in Saturday Night Fever might use drugs, but they are just trying to escape from the harsh reality of their Brooklyn neighborhood -- there is no pretension to expanding consciousness as in the 60's. The 70's was about hedonism, not idealism. The kids of Fever are not politically minded, they are focused on the self. It was the Me Decade in full swing.

Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney), a local girl from Brooklyn who has moved across the river to Manhattan, is not a hippie chick. She cares about getting ahead and making money. She's a prototype of the 80's yuppie, and she motivates Tony (John Travolta) to get his act together and aspire to a similar escape from Brooklyn. The film doesn't condemn the characters for being shallow. But it struck me as interesting that the concerns of 60's characters (such as for expanded awareness, philosophical exploration, and political commitment) have all but disappeared.

Friday, November 2, 2007

No. 23 - Bad News Bears

Bad News Bears is noteworthy for two reasons. It was the first film I ever saw at the Chinese Theater (Black Sunday was the second, The Shining was the third). Also, Bad News Bears accomplished something that no film had previously achieved -- it told the truth about Little League.

Anyone who has survived Little League will relate to Bad News Bears. Writer Bill Lancaster and director Michael Ritchie get all the details right -- the obnoxious parents in the bleachers who take the games too seriously, the coaches who make the players' lives miserable, the conceit of sportsmanship that evaporates in the heat of competition. Best of all, the kids here are not the impossibly angelic cherubs of Disney films, but rather foul-mouthed punks who smoke and drink beer. The film even touches upon such un-Disney subjects as divorce and birth control.

Two sequels were produced, both without Walter Matthau and Tatum O'Neal -- Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, and Bad News Bears Go To Japan (with Tony Curtis, who "introduced" Damon Packard's Reflections of Evil). But the first Bears is the best.

No. 22 - Inserts

Before Boogie Nights, there was John Byrum's 1976 film Inserts. Byrum wrote the Diana Ross vehicle Mahogany, then turned to the bygone world of Hollywood film making in the 1930's for his directorial debut. In his first film since Jaws, Richard Dreyfuss is Boy Wonder, a wunderkind auteur from the silent era who has fallen upon hard times with the inception of sound. He churns out stag films in order to stay afloat in booze.

What is noteworthy about this film is that it's an X-rated film that was released by a major studio, United Artists. And it certainly deserves its classification. This is not a film that Michael Medved would want to show to his grandma.

There were a number of 70's films that were set in 30's Hollywood, including Day of the Locust, W.C. Fields and Me, Gable and Lombard and Won Ton Ton, The Dog Who Save Hollywood. Perhaps the success of The Sting prompted this deluge of 30's-set films. Perhaps there was a feeling that the 70's had some sort of kinship with the 30's. In any event, this particular sub-genre came to a close by 1976. Inserts might be the last major studio film to carry the dreaded X, which was replaced by the equally dreaded NC-17.

No. 21 - One on One

I remember when One on One came out. I was still in high school, and I really hated basketball. I mean, really hated it. I hated playing it in P.E. I was terrible at it. So in the summer of 1977, the last thing I wanted to see was a basketball movie. Also, Robbie Benson not only starred in it, he wrote it. In the wake of Rocky, all of a sudden actors started writing their own movies (Burt Young's Uncle Joe Shannon in 1978 is an example). Even a positive review in Time from Richard Schickel, a critic I respected, didn't get me to the multiplex.

A year later, I watched One on One on HBO. Against Rocky-like million-to-one odds, I actually enjoyed it. Even though it was about basketball. But, you see, like most good sports movies, it's not really about sports.

It was directed by Lamont Johnson, who also directed the 70's racing classic Last American Hero. Benson gives a good performance, and his script is good. G.D. Spradlin, a classic 70's actor, is great as the coach. Annette O'Toole plays the love interest. The film explores the milieu of collegiate sports much like a Michael Ritchie movie. It is certainly a much better basketball movie than Drive, He Said. And to top of the 70's-ness of it all, Seals and Crofts warble the mellow theme song.

No. 20 - Roller Boogie III

Underground filmmaker Damon Packard is obsessed with the 70's. His Reflections of Evil intercuts footage of trailers from 70's films like White Line Fever with sequences of a mentally imbalanced, homeless watch salesman (played by Packard himself) roaming the mean streets of L.A. Packard's character flashes back to childhood memories of the 70's, and the juxtaposition of that seemingly more idealistic and innocent time with our current era is startling.

Roller Boogie III is one of Packard's shorter works. Packard takes the story of a young man who aspires to stardom as a roller skater and intercuts footage from the 70's cult classic Roller Boogie (which featured Linda Blair). Then, Packard overlays classic disco songs, such as Donna Summer's On The Radio, and inserts footage from The Exorcist. The end result is jarring, and hilarious, as we cut from Blair on roller skates to Blair possessed by the devil, spewing split-pea soup.

The roller disco movie was a short-lived sub-genre. Beyond Roller Boogie, there was Skatetown U.S.A., and Xanadu (or as I like to call it, Xana-don't). It would be decades before Roll Bounce revived the sub-genre.

No. 19 - All That Jazz

What could be more 70's than Bob Fosse's flamboyant semi-autobiographical All That Jazz? Only in the 70's could a musical feature a graphic open heart surgery sequence. Dig that Kiss makeup for the backing band that plays "Bye Bye Love" during the climactic dance number. The sequined costumes, the George Benson and Peter Allen songs, the Brooke Shields-clone daughter, the stylistic nicks from Fellini. Soundtrack on Casablanca Records (the folks who brought you Thank God It's Friday).

Like many 70's films, All That Jazz is a mid-life crisis movie. A middle-aged man takes stock of his life, has flings with much younger women and tries to come to terms with impending mortality (see 10 and Middle-Age Crazy for other examples). In Joe Gideon's case, death is welcomed, and choreographer/director Gideon envisions his own demise as an elaborate (and very 70's) musical finale.

As it turned out, All That Jazz represented the end of an era (and appropriately, was released in December of 1979, at the tail end of the 70's). 1980 gave us Can't Stop the Music and Xanadu, and the movie musical was dead, until Chicago (staged on Broadway by Fosse in 1975) hit the big screen.

No. 18 - Dazed and Confused

Dazed and Confused was released in 1993, but it is set in 1976. It captures the time period impeccably not only in terms of decor, clothing, cars and music, but also in its cinematic style. Dazed and Confused feels like a 70's film - it is an Altman-esque ensemble piece, and it has the languid, observational feel of a lot of 70's films. Best of all, unlike all the bad teen films of the 80's, Dazed and Confused does not present any obvious lessons for the drug-taking and beer-drinking characters to learn. No one is punished, there are no big epiphanies. It simply focuses on high school kids who are partying on the first night of summer. Director Richard Linklater deploys a kick-back style that refuses to overemphasize moments that lesser directors would milk for more humor or pathos. Events feel caught rather than staged.

I also admire Linklater's refusal to play the story for camp value. The characters do not have the self-awareness of posterity. They take themselves seriously, and we look beyond the 70's perms and flared jeans simply to see a universal experience -- this is what kids go through everywhere, in every decade. Dazed and Confused reminds me of Our Town, a play that was set in a specific place and time but ultimately transcended its origins. Dazed and Confused is timeless.

No. 17 - Straw Dogs

Sam Peckinpah's most intense film, and that's saying quite a lot. Dustin Hoffman is at his best as David Sumner, a timid American mathematician who moves to a small, quaint English village in order to escape the violent, chaotic culture in the U.S. Of course, mayhem eventually ensues, partly because of Sumner's tone-deafness to social mores in a tight-knit community. His English wife (Susan George) arouses the unwanted attention of some village roughs, which results in one of the most disturbing rape sequences ever filmed.

Peckinpah allows Straw Dogs to unfold slowly, and he tightens the screws on the audience until the tension becomes almost unbearable. The final siege of Sumner's house is one of the greatest action set-pieces ever filmed. Hoffman brilliantly charts Sumner's transformation into a violent man capable of tapping into primal survival skills he didn't realize he even had.

No. 16 - Five Easy Pieces

Jack Nicholson gives his best performance in this Bob Rafelson road picture/character study. Nicholson plays Bobby, a talented classical pianist who rebels against his culture vulture family by working on an oil rig and living in a trailer with a waitress (Karen Black). This is an incisive portrait of a difficult and demanding personality, and Nicholson superbly captures Bobby's mercurial mood changes. One of the best films ever made about a tormented, self-destructive artist.