There’s often much talk about the ending of Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now. Just who exactly is this mysterious figure? Why does she do what she does? And what could it all necessarily mean? Having recently watched the film a second time around, I’ve come to the conclusion that it really doesn’t matter. What I do remember is that scene early in the movie when a father grips the body of his lifeless daughter and carries her to shore. The wail of despair in his echoed voice as he comes to the realization that she’s drowned. I also remember a mother attempting to come to terms with her child’s death, and how that in turn affects her marriage with her husband. But the strange thing about this all is that none of it is ever directly addressed. Nicolas Roeg somehow manages to leave an indelible impression about the movie’s sense of dread by not really leaving anything at all. He plays with time and space, dissects it, twists it around, and ends up giving you the story in a radically new way, where the fragmented pieces coalesce to make better sense of the character’s state of loss and grief through ellipses than any conventional narrative could ever deliver. If it all sounds like a puzzle, then maybe it is. But then again so is the movie, mounting its way up to my number one spot by trumping another dazzling display of formalism told through a young girl’s perspective.
1. Don’t Look Now (Nicolas Roeg)
2. Badlands (Terrence Malick)
3. Amarcord (Federico Fellini)
4. The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman)
5. Day for Night (Francois Truffaut)
6. O Lucky Man! (Lindsay Anderson)
7. The Spirit of the Beehive (Víctor Erice)
8. Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese)
9. Scenes from a Marriage (Ingmar Bergman)
10. Pat Garret and Billy the Kid (Sam Peckinpah)
Elliot Gould and Malcolm McDowell offer up a couple of tour de force performances that are as much about their personalities as they are about their talents, which work wonderfully well because the two of them are just so damn likable. Then there’s Fellini’s Amarcord and Truffaut’s Day for Night, both of whose warmth and endearing look into the past are like a breath of fresh air in a year – hell, a decade – where the movies often threw out genre conventions and opted for ambiguously bleak endings. The Spirit of the Beehive is a Spanish landmark directed by an underrated filmmaker whose body of work is as sparse and whose reputation as elusive as Terrence Malick’s. And then we have Pat Garret and Billy the Kid just nipping it above a couple of other potential films by offering as much insight and texture for James Coburn’s Pat Garret as that of the infamous but admittedly “been done” treaded ground of the gunslinging Kid.
Those that just missed the lower rungs include Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore, which I have stored in my mind in a horribly truncated and poorly subtitled print that doesn’t do its reputation justice. Two solid American New Wave staples, Serpico and Scarecrow, that make a case for Al Pacino as actor of the year. Hal Ashby had the hilariously foul-mouthed The Last Detail, while Paul Mazursky warped the rules of the romantic comedy with Blume in Love. American Graffiti introduced the world to George Lucas, and John Frankenheimer’s The Iceman Cometh is quite possibly the best adaptation of any Eugene O’Neill play set to film.
Then there’s Senegal’s Djibril Diop Mambéty and his masterful Touki Bouki with a Josephine Baker score you’d swear was handed to the filmmakers on scratched vinyl. India had Ritwik Ghatak’s A River Called Titas, now gorgeously restored by the Criterion Collection. And the Netherlands had Paul Verhoeven’s Turkish Delight, a commercial success that established Verhoeven’s name at home and one to look out for overseas.
Below those films are a couple of Hollywood soft spots that nabbed a few Oscars along the way (i.e. The Sting, The Way We Were, and a personal favorite of mine, Paper Moon). Some gritty U.S. of A. crime dramas: Charley Varrick, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, and The Outfit, balancing out some horror turns from the likes of Romero, Friedkin, and De Palma – The Crazies, The Exorcist, and Sisters respectively. Blaxploitation films gave us two kick ass female leads – Coffy and Cleopatra Jones – while cult favorites like Enter the Dragon, The Wicker Man, and Jesus Christ Superstar would soon find their audiences. Seal it off with a couple of eccentric sic-fi quirks, Fassbinder’s World on a Wire and Michael Crichton’s Westworld, and you’ve got yourself quite the crammed year.
Next week: 2009. A good time as any to pull out that Jefferson Airplane album of mine.