1974: Chinatown (Roman Polanski)
I'm not a writer. I probably will never be a writer. But if I were, I would want my movies to sound like Robert Towne. During his run from Bonnie and Clyde to Shampoo, Towne operated in a zone of moviespeak nirvana. Working somewhere between the literary and spoken word, his dialogue was sharper than the way we speak yet close enough to our rhythms and words as to be utterly recognizable.
Don't get me wrong, I think Roman Polanski is an extraordinary filmmaker. But when I'm honest about why I like Chinatown so much, I have to give just as much credit to Towne. Not only does he manage to create one of the very best of all the noir stories, but somehow he's able to work in a history of Los Angeles at the same time.
The look of the film actually doesn't blow me away. The magic for me, aside from Towne's work, is in the casting (the choice of John Huston has to rival the genius of Brando in The Godfather), the locations, Jerry Goldsmith's incredible score, and Nicholson's dead-on performance. And the ending. Probably my favorite in the history of the medium.
As someone who loves noir and will probably make more of them in his career, this one is a bit of a thorn. I just feel like no matter what I or anyone else does, you can't really top it.
Other contenders for 1974: I still have quite a few titles to see. These include: Robert Altman's Thieves Like Us, Jean Eustache's Mes Petites Amoureuses, Werner Herzog's The Mystery of Kasper Hauser, Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Maurice Pialat's La gueule ouverte, Robert Bresson's Lancelot du Lac, John Cassavetes' A Woman Under the Influence, Monte Hellman's Cockfighter, Louis Malle's Lacombe, Lucien, Abbas Kiarostami's The Traveller, Alain Resnais' Stavisky..., Joseph Sargent's The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, and Peter Watkins' Edvard Munch. I need to revisit both Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein and Jacques Rivette's Celine and Julie Go Boating as it's been too long since I've seen either of them to know where they'd place on this list. From this year though, I really like Martin Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Orson Welles' F for Fake, and Karel Reisz's The Gambler. I love Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation and The Godfather: Part II, as well as Robert Altman's California Split and Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise. And my closest runner-up is Wim Wenders' Alice in the Cities.
6/12/11 I watched Robert Altman's Thieves Like Us. At times, the most sexual of all the Altman pics I've seen and certainly one of the most interesting. Feels like a movie that Altman really cares about; it's extremely unconventional stylistically, just like McCabe, and in a strange way it almost feels like a precursor to the free-form style Michael Mann would take on with Collateral, Miami Vice, and especially Public Enemies. An Altman film I would need to re-visit as it feels extraordinarily complex. And if it's such a cliche at this point that Hollywood doesn't make 'em like they once did during that special period in the seventies then this film is as much an example as any.
10/16/11 I watched Maurice Pialat's La gueule ouverte. Who is Maurice Pialat and what makes him special as a filmmaker? Some have called him the French Cassavetes. But I think that tag is a bit misleading. Pialat, like Bresson, was a painter first before trying his hand at film, and his work is much more visually striking than that of Cassavetes. Where their paths converge is in their raw approach, lack of music, and predilection for loose, extremely natural performances. Pialat only made ten features in his career, and this is the sixth that I have seen. It's the one time he collaborated with the masterful cameraman, Nestor Almendros, and the partnership lends poetry and lyricism to Pialat's heavy, uncompromising cinema. I think this is one of (if not) the strongest film(s) of Pialat that I have seen. And I hardly ever throw the word out there, but I think this film is a masterpiece.
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