The B+ Movie Guide: Part XXVIII
In May of 2012, Colin said I should make a list of movies that need to be seen, because he felt there were huge gaps in what he’d seen, and wanted something to do. The idea was that I’d make up a list, as “homework” for him, and he’d use that as things to watch.
So we came up with a giant list of 500 movies that worked, and Colin went about finishing it. And now that it’s finished, we’re gonna write it up. Because you don’t watch a giant list of movies without documenting that you did it.
We’re going through the entire list, little by little, for posterity’s sake. And here’s the next set:
Easy Rider (1969)
This is a special moment for the movie quest. Look who we get to start enjoying for the rest of the list. And he’s full Nicholson from day one. This is the movie that convinced like a shit zillion people to buy motorcycles and ride around doing whatever, including my father.
Midnight Cowboy (1969)
“Everybody’s talkin’ at me.” – Helen Keller #ThemeSongsForPeople (2)
This was not the movie I thought it was. For whatever reason, I just never got around to seeing this until I was watching list movies and I thought it was a lot of different things that weren’t…what it actually was. I thought it was a dark, gritty crime movie or something. And then I was mixing it up with Midnight Express, which — you shouldn’t mix things up with that. And then I finally saw it and was pretty surprised about what it actually was. What a sad movie about two guys not making it in life. And Dustin Hoffman would have liked to have seen Florida.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Oh, I forgot I put this on here. This is a Bond movie that’s almost the anti-Bond movie. Also — well… most people know what happens, but I won’t spoil it if you don’t. It’s really a great movie. It’s one of those movies where the weakest link about it is George Lazenby (who’s actually not even that bad). But yeah, I’m glad I put this on here. Everyone should see this one. (3)
This is important because it’s the James Bond myth all wrapped up into one movie, doing what Casino Royale did for the reboot. The whole love story while on the job thing, and explaining why he becomes the character we all know who can’t ever let a woman get close to him again.
George Lazenby is the weakest part of this, though some of that is just the year. I mean, how frilly can one tuxedo shirt get? I love how trim everything was for most of the 60s, so when the 70s happened (really starting in ’69) and fashion started to get exaggerated with the wide lapels and fat ties and frilly clothes and stuff, it feels like a shame. Also, he wore a kilt in this movie. Sean Connery did all those movies, and they put the kilt on an Australian actor. Wow.
But, it’s shot in great locations and Telly Savalas is a pretty awesome Blofeld. And there are a few nice cars, particularly with how the opening scene is conducted. You need to see it, among Bond films.
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969)
I always go on about this one. I love it. It’s one of those movies you’ve probably heard of because of the title, and is one where it’s good enough to where, even if you don’t love it, you’ll feel it was worth your while. It’s about a dance marathon. A bunch of people sign up for this marathon for different reasons (mainly the prize money). And we watch as they all compete. And by marathon I mean — between certain hours a day, say 9 and 5, they all have to continue dancing, or else they’re out. And whoever lasts wins. And they make it interesting as shit. This is an early Sydney Pollack movie. It’s like his fifth film, but it’s his first that got major traction at the Academy. It got the most nominations of any film to not be nominated for Best Picture in the history of the Oscars. Also, the fascinating thing about this movie is how — it’s one thing, and that one thing is really interesting. You don’t think it will be, but it is. And they get you into that, and then out of nowhere, it turns on a dime. You know how From Dusk Till Dawn is this interesting crime movie and then, all of a sudden, vampires? Well this is the drama version of that. There’s a twist (of sorts) that happens in this movie, and all of a sudden it’s this completely new movie. And it’s fascinating. (3)
Big surprise, this movie. Every so often you get a movie that’s about just one thing, one group of people, one thing. Of those, some are pretty good, and a lot of them fall short because of their limitations. Once in a great while, you get one that is just terrifically captivating because they succeed in making you think that the whole world is in whatever tiny sliver of humanity you see onscreen. This is one of those movies.
It’s the Depression, and most of the people signing up for this challenge are just doing it for the free food and place to stay while they dance. At the very least, it’s a living while they’re still at it. So much happens throughout the course of this movie as they’re dancing that you really care about who’s going to win, until the filmmakers decide that you’ve been focused on that long enough and snap you out of the trance you’re in.
This movie was all about Jane Fonda. It’s weird because she’s a beautiful, young woman who manages to look and act down and out the way someone twice her age might look and act. You need to believe just how down and out she is for the ending to work, and man, does it work. I was in awe of this movie when I finished watching it, and nobody talks about it anymore.
The Wild Bunch (1969)
Sam Peckinpah brought real violence to the western. This shit is brutal. And graphic. Opens with the famous “if they move, kill ’em” exchange, and then shows a poor, down and dirty western with all the grime on it. Nothing is glamorous, and bullets rip through you. Iconic movie. Of cinema, not just the western genre. (2)
This was the top-grossing film of the year, too. Last time that ever happened with a Western. Funny thing about this movie — it came out in June of the same year that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid came out in October, and Butch Cassidy’s actual gang was called “The Wild Bunch.” Our Western film professor told us a great story about how he went to see The Wild Bunch expecting Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and made it like five minutes into the movie before he started asking, “Why is this happening?” This is a bloody, gruesome movie that can only be seen through the lens of American involvement in Vietnam. It takes the general premise of The Magnificent Seven and twists it to reflect reality. While that movie was about Americans going to Mexico as heroes and defeating the enemy with superior skills, this is the version where Americans go to Mexico with less pure motives and find themselves outmatched by hordes of brown people. The whole thing is perfectly illustrated by a shot in the beginning of the film, depicting a fight between some large, white scorpions and swarms of tiny, brown ants. Great foreshadowing.
The movie is a violent and twisted look at a number of Western conventions, too. We’ve got the buddy thing going with Holden and Borgnine, we’ve got religion, complete with a scene featuring John Ford’s perennial hymn, “Shall We Gather at the River?” and Mexican warlord involvement like the kind we see in movies like Vera Cruz. This movie had to be the beginning of the end for the genre because you look at what Peckinpah does with these conventions and realize just how messed up the traditional thinking had been for so long. It’s a brilliant movie, and you could make the case that it effectively made it impossible to then go back to the more traditional Western that was still popular like five years before.
Five Easy Pieces (1970)
Classic. Nicholson. Not my favorite in terms of entertainment, but you can’t deny that this is a classic. Contains the famous “I want you to hold it between your knees” line. (2)
Not super entertaining, to be sure. But it is Nicholson in one of those counterculture roles that show a man who just drifts from place to place because he can’t be happy with the hand he’s been dealt or the way people around him behave. I was watching this movie and thinking, “Jesus, his life isn’t that bad, but… why does it also somehow suck this much?”
Nicholson gives a memorable performance all the way through the final scene, which had me shaking my head like, “Did he really just do that?” One of those that’s VERY much of its time. This might not have been your father’s 1970, but this is the 1970 that your father might like to think was his 1970.
Little Big Man (1970)
This is one of the best westerns of all time. This perfectly takes western conventions and has such fun with them. It’s so good. Arthur Penn, Dustin Hoffman — just see this. If you’ve seen enough westerns, and love westerns, you’ll find this hilarious. Also, Chief Dan George is the fucking man. (3)
Oh man. Where do I even begin? This and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were the two Westerns that I probably watched most growing up, which is weird when you think about it because both of those take Western conventions and play with them for comedy and tragedy. That is to say, they’re both commentaries on the genre as a body of work at a time when America was grappling with most of the values that Westerns had helped to define and develop.
That’s why I now look back on watching these movies as a kid and feel as though it’s the Western equivalent of having seen Spaceballs before seeing A New Hope or Alien or all the other movies it was parodying. You can enjoy the film, but there are going to be moments when you watch the original source material where you go, “….oh.” Stuff like Faye Dunaway singing “Shall We Gather at the River?” while bathing Dustin Hoffman, or Hoffman doing the John Wayne/Yakima Canutt horse jumping stunt during the Stagecoach chase spoof. Or him going to search for his kidnapped wife as a parody of The Searchers. It does just about everything, but always with a twist, particularly because this 1970, so we’re going to identify with the Dustin Hoffman model of masculinity more than the John Wayne model.
So once again, tragedy and comedy, each time. You’re laughing for half of the movie and crying for the other half. It’s a beautiful Western that anyone can enjoy, but if you watch and love Westerns, it’s even more enjoyable because you’re going to catch everything.
Love Story (1970)
This was the biggest movie in the history of Paramount until The Godfather. This revived Paramount from dying in 1970. It’s now considered sappy as shit. I know Harvard has screenings of it every year where they berate it and laugh at how corny it seems. But I love this movie. I think it’s terrific. I saw this at age 21 and couldn’t believe it took me that long to see it. Either way, everyone should see it. Respond to it how you will. (3)
Sappy, but probably only because this was the prototype for a whole subgenre of movies that followed. I think if you were watching this in 1970, you’d feel differently. It’s also really well done and genuinely heartbreaking, at least to me. Also, get a load of those haircuts. The 70s are here.
Two minor things with the cast — Tommy Lee Jones has a small part (he was young once!) and her father is played by John Marley, who played Jack Woltz in The Godfather. So you know, he’s playing the sweet dad and all I can think of is severed horse heads. But that’s pretty normal, I guess.
This came before the show, in case you were unaware. This brought about the show. Robert Altman’s style isn’t the most accessible for a lot of his films, but for this one, you can watch it and enjoy the hell out of it. It’s a great all-time comedy. (3)
I hadn’t seen the show when I saw this in high school, so it took me a really long time to get used to that cast when I finally did watch it. I like Donald Sutherland as Hawkeye and Elliot Gould as Trapper. And come on! Robert Duvall as Frank Burns!
The movie has a very different feel to the show, for obvious reasons. I think I prefer it, despite everything they did on the show. Either way, you have to give it to the movie for launching one of the most successful TV runs of all time.
It’s a character study of one of the greatest generals in modern American warfare. George C. Scott is amazing. It’s a long movie, but totally worth it. Also a Best Picture winner (in fact, four of the five Best Picture nominees from this year are on this list). (2)
There are a lot of World War II movies I love. It’s my favorite war for films. Patton is way up there on the list, and I’m scared to think of how many times I’ve seen it, despite its length. You’ve got a fascinating character in George S. Patton, leading troops throughout the most destructive war in history, and often succeeding in spite of himself. The little character flaws (well, the big character flaws) are drawn out expertly, so you’re left with this impression that the guy was a national hero who had some serious defects and personal issues to deal with. Most of that gets dealt with by Karl Malden in a fantastic performance as General Omar Bradley.
You mostly need to watch this for George C. Scott, who’s yelling and ranting and raving for the whole movie. There are a bunch of quotable lines, starting with the speech that he gives to open the film, which I hope everyone remembers. Iconic, historic film.
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Now we’re getting into the sweet spot. Some good years coming up. Also, yes, you need to see everything in this section. (Again, these are Colin’s articles. I’m just here for logistical purposes. So if everything is essential, I’ve got nothing to add. No need to say how great they are. I think we know that. Plus that’s not the point of the list, in most cases.)
The only thing here that you might be able to say wasn’t absolutely essential was They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and that was the one from the movies I hadn’t seen from this group of films that I enjoyed most. I hadn’t seen the Nicholson stuff, Love Story, or Midnight Cowbody either, but They Shoot Horses was my favorite of the bunch that I hadn’t seen, and it’s still probably the one you’re least likely to watch. The rest are great — there’s no question about that. But we’re here for coverage of awesome stuff, right?
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More movies tomorrow.