The 1970s established new standards for the growth of film as an industry and as an art form. Hollywood has produced some of its most critically acclaimed and commercially successful movies since its “golden era” as a result of youthful directors taking bigger chances and the removal of limitations on language and sensuality.
The year 1974 is particularly notable because it marks the commencement of many brilliant and promising filmmakers who continue to have an impact on the industry today and the birth of many films that will go down in history as cinema landmarks. Though A Star is Born, Mikey and Nicky, Voyage of the Damned, and Murder by Death don’t make the cut, barely, the list of the year’s best is still remarkable.
10 ‘Alice in the Cities’
Alice in the Cities is a German road movie and the first installment in Wim Wenders‘ “Road Movie trilogy.” The film follows a German journalist Philip Winter (Rüdiger Vogler) who struggles to produce an essay about the United States because of writer’s block. When trying to book a flight, he runs into a German mother and her nine-year-old daughter Alice (Yella Rottländer) who is also planning to return to Germany.
The story is masterfully conveyed in the film, which also cemented Wenders’ standing as a director and set the tone and mood for the subsequent two films in the trilogy. Don’t let the black-and-white subtitles turn you off; Alice in the Cities is a family movie with plenty of charm, intelligence, and enthusiasm that perfectly captures the beauty of the road movie genre.
9 ‘Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore’
Following a tragic event that compels Alice (Ellen Burstyn) to make life-changing decisions, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore follows the titular character on a journey with her intelligent little boy (Alfred Lutter), wanting to turn a new leaf as a singer.
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is the story of millions of other women who have sacrificed their careers for family and home. Due to Martin Scorsese’s mastery of technical skills and a beautifully relatable story, the film is one of his most enjoyable and underrated films that audiences of all ages can find a piece of themselves in.
8 ‘Phantom of the Paradise’
Phantom of the Paradise follows a young singer-songwriter Winslow Leach (William Finley) who is duped into giving up his life’s work by renowned but dishonest music producer Swan (Paul Williams). In retaliation, the composer assumes a terrifying new identity and terrorizes Swan’s brand-new concert venue while demanding Phoenix (Jessica Harper) sing his song.
Phantom of the Paradise has all the essential elements of a cult classic, including an oddball plot, crazy characters, outrageous clothing, and a piece of catchy music. Moreover, under Brian De Palma’s direction and penmanship, the film is one of the very few “backstage” rock tale pictures, capturing the gaudiness of the glitter scene of its day.
7 ‘Blazing Saddles’
When the Western town of Rock Ridge is on the verge of being rerouted, it’s soon realized to be worth millions. Thus, to successfully steal the land, a crooked politician named Lamarr (Harvey Korman) chooses a Black railroad worker (Cleavon Little) to be the new sheriff by making it invalid. However, the newly appointed sherrif soon establishes himself to be a formidable foe.
Blazing Saddles provides an incredible amount of uninhibited laughter for the mature and not easily offended audience whom director Mel Brooks aims to please. Despite the politically inappropriate content and limited narrative, many of the jokes are hilarious in criticizing systemic racism.
6 ‘The Phantom of Liberty’
The Phantom of Liberty is a French surrealist comedy film that combines brief moments from the director Luis Buuel‘s life under a title that alludes to the Communist Manifesto. These overlapping, loosely related incidents, all without a reoccurring protagonist, span the time period from the 19th century to the 1970s and are all presented as fortuitous encounters.
Made around the conclusion of Buuel’s career and it’s surely not his best film and undoubtedly a hard pill to swallow for many viewers. However, it does contain some of his most memorable moments with its charming humor goes down just as easily. Additionally, underneath its clear-cut façade and its classical style, The Phantom of Liberty is one of those poetic works of a cogent riddle and infinitely prismatic.
5 ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre follows Sally (Marilyn Burns) and her brother Franklin (Paul A. Partain) who go on an investigation after learning that her grandfather’s grave had been desecrated. They take a detour to the family farmhouse, where they learn a vicious cannibal inhabits the neighboring house.
A punishing, relentless nightmare that never gives spectators even a split second of rationality or security, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is still regarded as a true classic of the genre until these days. Moreover, thanks to every facet of filmmaking being in sync with the story’s evil, the result is a horror classic in the truest sense of the word.
4 ‘Young Frankenstein’
Young Frankenstein begins when a reputable physician (Gene Wilder) receives his infamous grandpa Victor Frankenstein’s castle as an inheritance. With the aid of an elderly housekeeper, a hunchback, and a lab assistant, he starts to duplicate his ancestor’s experiments after discovering a diary containing all of them.
Its wit, absurdity, and plenty of one-liners—all lovingly crafted by Mel Brooks—make the movie seem like a fitting homage to the Karloff classic. Also, Young Frankenstein demonstrates a director’s artistic development and a more assured command of the material from someone who previously seemed prepared to do anything for a laugh.
3 ‘The Conversation’
The Conversation follows Harry Caul (Gene Hackman), a surveillance expert, who is hired to follow a young couple. Caul is able to capture a mysterious dialogue between the two of them while following the pair across Union Square in San Francisco. He then sets out to establish whether the pair is in danger after being haunted by recollections of a past case that went horribly wrong.
The Conversation is a timeless and thought-provoking thriller that explores the narrow line between privacy and technology. In contrast to his other masterwork of the year, The Godfather: Part II, Coppola successfully transforms an expert thriller into an illustration of the tension between ritual and accountability without ever letting the intensity levels drop or the convoluted plot become confused.
Chinatown follows a seemingly straightforward chore of finding an unfaithful husband in 1930s Los Angeles leading private investigator Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) into a web of corruption and treachery.
While Chinatown has many characteristics of a Roman Polanski movie, it manages to stay the closest to its film noir roots and is still regarded as a milestone in the industry today. For many people engaged in the production, especially Robert Towne, who went on to win numerous honors for his screenplay, Chinatown represented their creative apogee. Moreover, as Jake Gittes, Nicholson provides one of his best performances, with an old-school charm that none of his contemporaries can equal.
1 ‘The Godfather: Part II’
Serves as the second installment in the same-name franchise, The Godfather: Part II ties together the tale of Michael Corleone’s (Al Pacino) rise to fame as a mafia lord in the 1950s with the early life of Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) in New York City in the 1920s.
Part II is the best illustration of how a sequel may be better than its predecessor and one of the greatest movies ever made. In the previous movie, Coppola created a completely realized gangster melodrama; in this one, he pushes his creative boundaries to create a true American tragedy. The film’s strength, in addition to the mafia business, derives from the way it captures the experience of a young immigrant in the land of opportunity.
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