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Best Films of 1970
Best Films of 1971
Best Films of 1972
Best Films of 1973
Best Films of 1974

Best Films of 1975
Best Films of 1976
Best Films of 1977
Best Films of 1978
Best Films of 1979

Mean Streets
Spirit of the Beehive
Edvard Munch
Desert of the Tartars

Minnie and Moskowitz
That Obscure Object of Desire
Nosferatu the Vampire

BEST FILMS OF 1974 - List in Progress
by Mike Lorefice

Black Christmas
Bob Clark


Edvard Munch
Peter Watkins


Full Movie Review

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Robert Breer

Experimental animation artist Robert Breer delivers this memorable, highly imaginative short that demands your attention for every frame of its runtime. In the most reductive terms this is a film of a woman and conductor on a train riding past Mt. Fuji, but Breer constantly reinvents it by alternating depth, perspective, shape, color, and so on, creating one of the most exhilarating cinematic experiences. Breer intends to make any image or part of an image equally important to the rest. Not only does he refuse to tell any specific story, he constantly interrupts his sequences and rhythms, which don't last more than a few frames to begin with. Even within those few frames, he's changing perspective and dimension, texture and color, still and flowing motion. His interruption techniques run the gamut from the projection flicker to a good old hand in the frame. The result of constantly reorganizing and reimagining itself is a film of endless surprises, exploding from the various base drawings into abstract forms and back again, offering new perspectives on the world that transform our imagination so the old perspectives don't seem the same anymore. Breer utilizes very broad and paired down drawings - lines, shapes, and dots - usually hand drawn and colored with magic markers on 4 x 6 index cards. Though Rotoscoping is used here and the humans are shown briefly at the beginning and end, Breer is not going for realism by and stretch of the imagination. The technique provides a more lifelike rhythm to the movements while at the same time acting as another of his self-referential elements. The soundtrack is mostly just the noise of the train moving, but because the images transform so frequently it ads a good deal of tension as well as aiding the contrast between static nature and turbulent machinery. [7/10/06] ****


Lacombe, Lucien
Louis Malle

An opportunistic apolitical peasant in occupied France becomes involved in the war at home due to being in a situation where everyone winds up taking sides whether they realize it or not. As he is indifferent to the issues he joins the Gestapo after the resistance turn him down; the affiliation doesn't make him think twice about falling in love with a Jewess. Malle applies Robert Bresson to the vacant emotionless lead performance of non-professional Pierre Blaise as the titled 17-year-old. Blaise's face is the film, and the performance lies in not projecting emotions. Malle refuses to let us understand Lucien, and that denies the audience the ability to judge him. Lucien essentially doesn't react to anything. He is unfazed by political torture and murder; to him it's no different than shooting a rabbit for supper. Lucien makes no outward displays of passion toward his girlfriend France Horn (Aurore Clement), and only kills the man who comes to take her and her grandmother away because he was personally wronged by him, stealing the watch Lucien gave to (and just reclaimed from the late) Mr. Horn. Malle's take on politics is people are immensely selfish and hide behind a cause they don't even understand as a way to serve no one but themselves. The film is not particularly political though, it's more about the way people can be corrupt without even realizing it because they function on a primary level, having never developed their emotional core. Lucien isn't good because he should be or bad because he doesn't care, he just is because he can be, feeling no guilt or remorse about anything he does or doesn't do. This is another daring controversial film from a director who specialized in them, though it's not one of his most assured. Malle seems to discover the film along with the audience, which allows him to avoid moralizing and trying to explain or justify/condemn Lucien's actions. However, this tactic creates a certain vagueness and scattershot quality to the proceedings; it's as if Malle just lets the story go wherever it may take him in an effort not to give Lucien his own logic or seat of passion. This problem particularly destroys the Mr. Horn character, whose last shred of dignity is robbed early on when this once high class tailor is forced to allow Lucien to move into his home and sleep in his daughter's bed, with her. Not much happens from here to put him over the edge, but at some point Malle realizes he can't complete Lucien's story in Horn's house, so Horn is suddenly taken by an urge so unnecessary and illogical it can really only be described as suicidal. [1/7/07] ***1/2

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The Night Porter
Liliana Cavani

Sensuous elegantly mounted melodrama (in the true sense of the word) exploring the long-term psychological trauma suffered by both victim and captor. Alfio Contini's cinematography and Daniele Paris' score, incorporating Mozart, couldn't be much better. Franco Arcali's editing approaches the level of Sam Peckinpah's best films, regularly crosscutting to grainy flashbacks in a manner that makes them seem more like a parallel universe. Liliana Cavani has been criticized for exploiting the holocaust, but her film is anything but the conventional black and white look at unredeemable nazis and their saintly victims. Nazi abuser Dirk Bogarde is both tormentor and tormented, as all the survivors must repeatedly justify their actions to themselves. Bogarde had his way with Charlotte Rampling during WWII when he pretended to be a doctor so he could do various photographic experiments on his "patients" - gender and style of performance were meaningless to him. From the outset their obsessive-compulsive, sadomasochistic relationship had both as victims, and it only grew more self-destructive as a way of dealing with the pain of the holocaust. They restart it twelve years later because they are prisoners of their past; it never really stopped in their minds. Each relinquish the one thing that provided a slight distraction in the interim, Bogarde's job as night porter and Rampling's marriage to a conductor. What's so uncomfortable is not so much their sexual practices, which sometimes involve broken glass, but the fact everything is spectacle to the people in this film. The spectacles simply change with the times, so people look at Rampling (forced to) sing topless the same way they look at opera. If you are a guy and in the mood to be honest, you most likely prefer the former, which is part of the way Cavani shows that opportunity supercedes morality. The story is a bit silly and sketchy as Cavani was never much of a writer. In this case, the film isn't overwhelmed by her lurid and incoherent tendencies like the disaster Beyond Obsession, largely because she chooses to tell it through looks and gestures. Night Porter isn't a film for those who need to have every tidbit explained to them, and it's often rejected because Cavani goes places the audience may not be willing to. I may not believe in the premise that Rampling is the special specimen and Bogarde is the only nazi with a conscience, giving his life to protect her from elimination by them. However, the performances and filmmaking style are excellent, saying it all with nary a word. Bogarde has never been better, his compulsions second nature to the point we wonder if he even notices them. [1/18/07] ***


Sweet Movie
Dusan Makavejev

A surreal film that's more jubilant than sad, celebrating sex, food, song and dance ("Is there life on the earth? Is there life after birth?") even though it might take several pounds of sugar to mask the bitter taste of the accepted. This subversive bourgeois provocation takes shots against puritanism (associated with cleanliness), capitalism, and communism showing that all get in the way of our ability to love life and coexist. It's a constant contradiction, one of the grossest films ever but also very beautiful, which perfectly fits Makavejev's complex subject of sex. Makavejev described his tactics by saying, "You must use surprise as a psychological weapon." The rarely filmed material is there to force the audience to free themselves from their socialized conditioning and deal with urges, possibilities, and desires. He calls for a return to zero because our political systems and social structures are not only swallowing us up and betraying us, but also preventing us from getting any fun out of life. The audience might be willing to follow him so far, but Dusan goes for the home run and probably winds up striking out (he didn't get another film released for 7 years). For instance, people might finally accept that the elimination of bodily waste is a necessary part of life that is no big deal, but here we get the "joy" of rubbing feces on each other. The audience is so startled and repulsed by such scenes that they tend to miss the point, and even if the free association style makes things more exciting the random and haphazard nature of the film doesn't exactly help in that regard. Makavejev deserves credit for his willingness to be honest in his revolutionary pitch rather than trying to be another sweet alternative to the current systems, another system built on false promises and alluring illusions. It may seem like the only question is whether you can accept that people do these things, that they are a part of life even though they haven't been a part of celluloid? However, the film goes much deeper than that, furthering the exploration of Wilhelm Reich's ideas from Makavejev's previous film WR: Mysteries of the Organism. As the accepted systems of intelligence - particularly political systems and sexual values - are extremely repressive and restrictive Makavejev suggests that by returning to our infantile state we could accept our bodies, unleash our repressed desires, engage in self-gratification, and generally be free again. I'm so tempted to write you'll love it or you'll hate it except I'm not even certain of my own feelings. If nothing else Sweet Movie is an experience like no other and one that, both for better and for worse, you'll never forget. It's exciting because this is truly a film where anything can and will happen, and when was the last time a film came out that you could write that about? [9/3/06] ***

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