The B+ Movie Guide: Part XXXIII
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:
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Everyone should see this movie once in their lives. I probably should go so far as to say they should see it during one of those midnight showings of it. But either way. See this. It’s a cult movie. Some people won’t like it. But it should be seen. It’s one of those movies that’s really iconic in a lot of ways. And the songs are incredible. (3)
Confession. Full disclosure. Every goth kid and theater reject I went to school with was obsessed with this movie and would sing it at the top of their lungs in an unbecoming way. Maybe I hate joy, but I built up a disliking for this movie before I saw it. We all have that movie, and this is mine. Turns out I really don’t love camp for camp’s sake — it’s a pretty major turn-off. I’ll admit, I was lukewarm until Meatloaf showed up, at which point I got a little excited. Then he was gone within ten minutes and I never recovered. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:
I’m not one of those weirdos who knows about leather.
This is a pure 70s comedy. Warren Beatty is a hairdresser who fucks just about any woman that moves. It’s about the carefree attitudes of the people just before Nixon got elected president. The irony being that this came out just after Watergate. It’s kind of like what Cabaret is to Nazi Germany. But for fucking. (3)
This was pretty interesting, because it’s a guy who has a decidedly feminine job and decides to take advantage of that fact by hopping into bed with women whose husbands don’t suspect him, in doing so contradicting the femininity of it all. So to get that out of the way first, Warren Beatty sleeps with like everyone in this movie.
I definitely see the Cabaret Watergate connection, but this also led to later films in which guys have less masculine roles and use that to their advantage sexually. People were drawing connections between this movie and Magic Mike XXL, which I still haven’t seen. But I guess I could see that you’ve got a semi-submissive working male character whose world is populated with female clients and how he deals with that.
The Sunshine Boys (1975)
What a great all-time comedy. It’s hard not to enjoy this one. Walter Matthau and George Burns were a comedy tag team from back in the Vaudeville days. They’re best known for “the doctor sketch.” Which is their “Who’s on First?” So now, a TV program is airing a tribute to Vaudeville and wants them to reunite and perform the sketch. Only, they haven’t performed in years, and they hate each other. Or, more appropriately, Matthau hates Burns. Burns is happily retired and doesn’t give a shit anymore. It’s hilarious. Two old men bickering, written by Neil Simon. This is a perfect movie. (3)
This is the quintessential movie about old Jews telling jokes, which is one of my favorite premises ever. It starts slow, and then becomes one of the funniest, most poignant things you’ll ever see.
I once said that line with Matthau’s delivery in the office when I wanted to do something my boss had told us we weren’t going to do. It took a few seconds, and there was a quizzical look, but one of my coworkers got it and cracked up. This is why we watch movies.
Three Days of the Condor (1975)
The 70s were the best decade for political thrillers. This is a perfect movie. It’s so well-done. Robert Redford is a CIA librarian, essentially, and he gets caught up in whole murder plot. It’s great. Faye Dunaway is amazing, and it’s not only one of those movies that keeps you on the edge of your seat and entertained, but it also ends like a 70s movie, which is the best kind of ending you can have, really. (3)
This is how Captain America: The Winter Soldier was supposed to go. One of my absolute favorites of all time, seriously. My dad brought it home when I was in elementary school, and there was no way I was understanding what was going on. In fact the first few times I saw it, I didn’t get it. I thought the three days in the title were referring to how long you had to let it stew before you got it. Watching it again in high school, it finally made sense, and I realized how perfect this movie is.
The idea is that Robert Redford is part of a CIA branch office in New York where the whole team just reads books and anything printed anywhere, looking for secret codes. He’s sort of onto something, goes out for lunch, and when he comes back, the place has been hit and everyone’s dead. He can’t trust anyone, so he’s on the run as people are trying to kill him, and he knows the CIA is in on it, so he basically has to assume everyone is a hostile and tries to survive as he figures out what the hell is happening. The cool part is that he’s not a field agent, but he knows how to do stuff because he reads everything. In fact, that’s a line that Cliff Robertson has as the deputy director of Redford’s office — everyone’s wondering how Redford knows how to do stuff and Robertson goes, “He reads EVERYTHING.” Something about that was always so badass to me, because it sort of makes him a realistic kind of superhero who’s been accidentally thrust into a situation where he needs to use all of this knowledge for the first time. Then there’s Max von Sydow, the amazingly collected hit man who immediately transcends the good-bad binary and establishes himself as a three-dimensional player in the larger mystery afoot.
That’s what makes this better than new movies and why they failed with all the Marvel stuff. This movie thrills you while keeping everything in the dark until the very end. That’s the 70s ending for you — knowing isn’t half the battle, it’s the whole battle. You wait until the very end to find out what the hell is going on, instead of rushing to a midpoint reveal and then gearing up for a final showdown. This is the formula I love, and Pollack executes it magnificently. Really, I can’t recommend this movie highly enough.
Rock operas are the best. This is sort of blending over into music, because everyone should hear Tommy the album at least once in their lives. But still, this is a really famous movie, it’s terrific, and features great cameos (did you know Jack Nicholson is in this movie?), and is just a real experience.
I was torn between whether to put a gif of Pinball Wizard here, and all that Elton John-ness, or Ann-Margret and the beans. I’ve decided to put neither and to let you experience this movie for yourself. (3)
This is pretty much forgotten by our generation, isn’t it? Someone signed my 8th grade year book, “I’m that deaf, dumb and blind kid who sure plays a mean pinball.” And I didn’t know til like two years later that the line had come from lyrics. And then I found out in college that there was a rock opera with the song in it. And then after college, I watched the movie. Probably my favorite rock opera, though I really like The Wall.
All the President’s Men (1976)
A perfect movie. Plain and simple. It’s so not what you’d expect for a movie like this. It’s about Woodward and Bernstein tracking down the truth behind Watergate, and taking it all the way to the White House. It’s riveting. This movie is so good. They don’t make them any better than this. (2)
This has to be on any journalist’s list of favorites, even though Bob Woodward is a jerk now. Hoffman and Redford, first of all, but what about Jason Robards as Ben Bradlee? Man, those were performances. I’ve worked in newsrooms and they don’t really work that way anymore, as much as I wish they did. Chain smoking and typewriters and legal pads and stuff. Now it’s mostly MS Word and iPhone chargers.
This came out so soon after Watergate, at a time when the country was really still coming to terms with what had happened. Keep in mind that we’ve got Jimmy Carter coming into office at this point, which is not happening without a devastating betrayal by the GOP. So that’s where the nation’s collective head is when this comes out, and it documents just how far they had to go to get the story in sequence. And how messed up the people involved were. The most interesting thing to me, though, is how human most of them are portrayed as being. I don’t get why they talked in many cases, but it’s still amazing to watch. If you don’t know about Watergate…this is it.
This movie starts with a naked girl showering. It… does not end there. Most people know about Carrie and why you should see it. What I think separates this from other horror movies is the second act. It plays like a fairy tale, for the most part. And I like that. Because that ending… (3)
Be nice to weird girls, I guess? When I heard that Chloe Moretz was doing the remake, I got excited. She fun.
Marathon Man (1976)
Another great thriller. Dustin Hoffman had a really great 70s. Laurence Olivier as a Nazi dentist. “Is it safe?” They really don’t make them like this anymore. (3)
Dustin Hoffman Had A Really Great 70s.
The man isn’t lying. Especially when you consider that he made this and All the President’s Men in the same year! That’s unbelievable. So yeah, Dustin Hoffman’s brother is a government agent tracking Olivier as a fictionalized Josef Mengele. Diamonds, murder, Nazis. What more could you want in a 70s thriller? Awesome.
Murder by Death (1976)
You see the movie Clue? This is the movie they stole the plot from. But that’s beside the point. This movie is hilarious. Neil Simon wrote it. Here’s the premise: Truman Capote (he seriously is the Mr. Boddy of this movie) invites all the famous detectives to his house to solve a murder — his own. The detectives are Sam Diamond (basically Sam Spade. Peter Falk doing a perfect Bogart parody), Miss Marbles (Elsa Lanchester doing Miss Marple), Milo Perrier (James Coco doing Hercule Poirot), Dick and Dora Charleston (David Niven and Maggie Smith doing Nick and Nora), and Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers doing Charlie Chan). Eileen Brennan plays Falk’s long-suffering girlfriend/secretary, Estelle Winwood plays Lanchester’s 90 year old nurse, James Cromwell (in his first film) plays Coco’s manservant, and the butler is played by none other than Alec Guinness. This movie is fucking funny. Not just because you’re seeing parodies of all the famous detectives in novels, but because Neil Simon wrote it. Everyone should see this. It’s so good. (3)
This is a hidden gem if ever there was one. I want to recommend this one on Peter Falk alone. I’m currently writing this with Columbo paused on Netflix, the episode where Leonard Nimoy plays the heart surgeon who murders his boss. Point is, I love Peter Falk, and he was incredible in this movie as a fake Sam Spade. I lost it when everyone’s talking and he fires his gun at the ceiling. “I’m going to the can again! I don’t wanna miss nothing.” Or probably the best moment of his. “The gas only cost $5 and I gave you $50, I couldn’t take that chance, Angel.” “Can’t you trust me, Sam?” “Trust ya? The last time I trusted a dame was in Paris in 1940. She said she was going out to get a bottle of wine. Two hours later the Germans marched into France!”
But yes, a wholly enjoyable movie apart from even him. And Peter Sellers gives Mickey Rooney a run for his money on yellow-face racism.
This movie is The Newsroom meets A Face in the Crowd. Effectively. You’ve all seen it, right? I don’t really know how to describe it, other than it being one of the most cynical pictures of television you’ll ever see.
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Why can’t the 70s come back? Stop making superhero movies, and start taking chances again.
That should be referring to Three Days of the Condor. But man, what a Hoffman day, huh? That man did have a good 70s, after all. If I can take a moment — first to plug Murder by Death — to appeal to your better sensibilities, I’d ask that you watch stuff like Marathon Man and Three Days of the Condor and recognize that thrillers are more thrilling than action movies, and that there’s a clear distinction between those two. I think what’s wrong today is that everyone’s trying to make action movies and nobody’s trying to make thrillers anymore. They really should. This is the decade to look to, if you’re interested.
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More movies tomorrow.