Crash! Landen’s Best 10 Films of 1976

It was easy to come up with the Top 8 for this year. After that, I had some trouble.  Some other movies that got consideration: Midway, which I enjoyed it when I saw it, but I don’t know how well it would hold up after a second viewing seeing as how it’s been decades since i last saw it. All the President’s Men would probably be on other people’s list. While I found it to be a good movie, I also thought that it was soul crushingly paced. The story itself has some problems, also. The shadowy ‘Deep Throat’ character (that we now ‘know’ was former FBI assistant director William Mark Felt, or at least one of the sources that made up the sources) is like a Dues Ex Machina that doesn’t drop out of the sky at the end, but does so in the beginning, middle and end. It takes the fun out of it, when you have characters that can’t really figure anythhing out for themselves, but have a guy that keeps turning up  saying “Woodward! Bernstein! IDIOTS! It’s right in front of you! It’s right there! Why can’t you— aw, Hell. All right. Take this down…” the whole movie. Paraphrasing, of course. Anyway, I struggled with the last two, but here is my list of 10.

10 The Picture of Dorian Gray (A British TV movie, but a very well done British TV movie. What it lacks in the budgetary department, it makes up for with the standard high quality British acting.)

9 King Kong (It’s my list and I don’t care what anyone says, this was a very well made update of the 1933 classic. Jessica Lange in her prime is worth it, in and of itself. Lacked the dinosaurs from the other versions, but it actually helped to get this down to the bare bones of the story.)

8 Carrie (Bizarre. Creepy. Kind of disturbing. And it has one of the creepiest horror movie endings. One of Stephen King’s most successfully translated stories to the big screen.)

7 Network (A great film that probably should be higher on my list. Peter Finch won the posthumous award, but William Holden was also tremendous in this.)

6 Marathon Man (Is it safe? Olivier’s villain is one for the ages. Hoffman, like Jack Nicholson, did some of his best work in the 1970s.)

5 The Omen (Richard Donner is one of those under-rated directors that doesn’t get his name mentioned when the Kubricks, Kurosawas and fellinis are being bantered about, but he deserves to be. He’s a solid story guy that has covered a wide variety of genres. The Omen is one of the most effective horror films that I’ve ever seen that doesn’t have a negative for the sake of being negative end as a lot of contemporary horror films do. This one has an atmosphere that is as creepy as Carrie with Donner having a little fun with his audience. Just that one shot where a certain person is decapitated is worth it alone. Not because I like gore, but for Donner’s sly sense of humor. He actually set it to extra slo-mo, knowing that some viewers would look away to avoid seeing it, but by slowing down the setup instead of the actual beheading, when those viewers chose to again look at the screen they would typically be seeing the thing they were hoping to avoid. Genius. Sheer genius.)

4 The Outlaw Josey Wales (My favorite Clint western? Hard to say. It’s right up there. Chock full to top of the spitoon with distinctive characters in scenes. Has all of the standard Eastwood players like Locke, McKinney, Bottoms and Parfrey as well as just a ton of great character actors like Farnsworth (a former stuntman), Sampson, Chandler  and  the unmistakably cool Cheif Dan George. This is one of the more quotable Estwood films and he’s had a great number of those.

3 Rocky (Cue the music. Iconic and a star making vehicle for writer/actor Stallone. That the characters are all so rough edged and imperfect is what made this movie rise very high above being ordinary. Probably the best boxing movie ever made and there have been some good ones. That’s right. Better than Raging Bull, whose fight scenes made Rocky’s seem subtle.)

2 The Bad News Bears (I went back and forth on whether Rocky or this is the better film. After at least 20 seconds of intrnal debate, I went with da’ Bears for a few reasons, but mostly because this one had a poster by Big Bad Jack Davis.. I thought the boxing scenes in Rocky were the weakest part of the film being so over the top. the punches sound like someone hitting the walls of your house with a sledgehammer. That’s not what punches sound like. The entire atmosphere of this film was far more accurate. This covered (pretty accurately) nearly all of the typical occurrences that happen at an organized youth sports league, especially at that time. Apart from the main characters, Vic Morrow played a great villain, the opposing coach that took the games a littl too seriously. I felt like the ball park in this film could have easily been switched out with the one I played at as a kid. It’s more than a kids sports movie, though. The personalities of the kids and adults alike, as well as being politically incorrect and  NOT having a pre-packaged standard Hollywood ending all combined to make this one of the best sports movies ever made. So what if it’s a kids’ sports film?)

1 Taxi Driver (Scorsese crafts a brilliant story around DeNiro’s extremely dedicated performance. It’s dramatic, comical, satiricala and works like a boiler with no pressure release. It inevitably explodes in shocking violence. DeNiro’s portrayal of Travis Bickle never feels like a performance. His awkward inability to adjust to normal everyday life is both hard to watch and unforgettable. As many times as I’ve seen Taxi Driver, I would have thought that it would lose its shock value, but it hasn’t. The final scenes are so brutally visceral that it almost feels like watching an actual crime take place. The movie feels like it rambles, but the attention to the psychology of the central character and his near methodical progression towards violence is the work of a fine craftsmen in Scorsese and writer Paul Schrader. I think it’s Scorsese’s best film and certainly right up there with DeNiro’s best roles. It holds up well, even after 35 years.)


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