Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Top 10 Lists: 1974

I'm starting to get towards the end of the My Favorite Era series and as a sort of epilogue to it, I will be going through my top ten films for each of the years covered as well as honorable mentions and guilty pleasures.  That's a ways off though so I'll also be covering 1995 to the present as well as some other years I particularly enjoy.

We begin with 1974, right in the middle of the big 70's boom in quality film making.

10. The Street Fighter


A grindhouse classic, this is a gritty, stunningly violent martial arts flick starring Sonny Chiba as Terry, a martial arts mercenary ostensibly hired to kidnap a millionaire's daughter, who ends up going against the Yakuza.  Brutal, exciting and pretty nasty, this is one of the best martial arts films of the year.

9. Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell


One of two Hammer productions on the list, this is the last in their series of Frankenstein movies starring Peter Cushing as the doctor, this one takes place in an insane asylum where Frankenstein has conned his way into having the run of the place.  He gets a new assistant and creates a new creature (a rather dumb looking thing played by future Darth Vader David Prowse) and while it ends rather predictably, Cushing is outstanding as usual and the end result is a fine piece of Gothic horror.

8. Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter


Even as the end drew near for Hammer, they still managed a few out and out classics.  A precursor to the Blade movies, this stars Horst Janson as a vampire slayer and also features Caroline Munro in a supporting role.  A clever, witty script and some good action help this stand out from the rest of the films Hammer was churning out around the time.

7. Mr. Majestyk
I've written about this one elsewhere on the blog but it's still one of Bronson's best films.  Bronson plays a simple watermelon farmer who runs afoul of a rather psychotic mobster and has to fight for his life.  Based on a script by Elmore Leonard (he also wrote a novel based on his script), it's an enjoyable low key thriller.


6. Murder on the Orient Express


A thoroughly entertaining adaptation of the Agatha Christie novel, this sports an all-star cast led by Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot, top notch direction from Sidney Lumet and a surprisingly light pace considering its length.  It also sparked a mini revival of Christie adaptations with huge casts of stars.  One of the best of the 70's.

5. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre


One of the best horror films of all time, this iconic bit of terror from Tobe Hooper is well shot and almost unbearably tense (no gore though which just makes it even more awesome) with an iconic villain in Leatherface and quite simply one of the best poster taglines you are likely to find.

4. Chinatown


I'm not the biggest Roman Polanski fan out there (I find most of his films have crappy endings after decent starts) but this wonderfully shot bit of film noir is an outstanding detective story with a wonderful performance from Jack Nicholson that probably should have landed him an Oscar that year.  It also has good support from Faye Dunaway and John Huston and still has a nice bit of potency today.

3. Truck Turner


The best action film of the year stars Isaac Hayes as a bounty hunter who goes up against pimp Yaphet Kotto in a red hot blast of action.  Great action, good acting (especially Nichelle Nichols as a foul-mouthed madame) and a nice sense of style makes for one hell of a fun ride.

2. The Godfather Part II
Even though it's not as good as the first one, this is still a magnificently shot and acted gangster drama with dynamite turns from Al Pacino and Diane Keaton.  Robert DeNiro and John Cazale are also superb and while the film does run a bit long, it's still a master class on acting.

1. Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein

I gotta give the top spot to these two.  If there was ever a banner year for Mel Brooks, 1974 was it.  Two films, two absolute classics.  Hell, Coppola made two movies the same year and neither one of them is as good.  The Godfather Part II is great but The Conversation is a little too arty for its own good.

Richard Pryor co-wrote this wonderfully politically incorrect western spoof with Cleavon Little as a Sheriff brought in to clean up a small town.  He gets great comic support from Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman, Madeline Khan and many others.  This is a true classic comedy.

Incredibly, this film is even better with Gene Wilder as the doctor and Peter Boyle as the creature.  The film is chock full of hysterically funny moments and it even manages to make me like a Teri Garr performance!  Wilder is great, Brooks uses a lot of his regulars (Khan is back, Cloris Leachman is memorably great and Marty Feldman is funny as hell) and the end result is simply the best film of the year.

Honorable Mentions:

 The Longest Yard is one of Burt Reynold's best films, a football comedy with some serious stuff thrown in as Reynolds plays a former star player who ends up in prison and gets into a game between the guards and the prisoners.  It's pretty funny for the most part and has some fantastic football sequences.

 A solid Pam Grier action film, this has the lovely Ms. Grier as a one-woman army who goes up against some typically scummy villains with her fists, guns, barstools and a small airplane.  It's not high art, but it's damn fine exploitation cinema.

Guilty Pleasures:
 This is actually a fairly crummy mad scientist movie livened up by Donald Pleasence as said mad doc.  Well, there's that and a Venus Flytrap man that is pretty memorable but really, Pleasence is the only reason to seek this one out.

 I wrote about this recently so I won't get back into it but needless to say, as bad as it can be, it's still fairly entertaining.

1974 was quite the year for movies with a wide variety of releases and quality entries in every single genre.  It was probably the last truly typical 70's-esque year for film until Jaws came around the next year and changed everything.

1 comment:

  1. Great bunch of films; great year for films to choose from. If I were to make a list I'd have to find spots for THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE, MACON COUNTY LINE and guilty pleasure SUGAR HILL.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.