1976 Ten Best Movies

Zischler and Vogler, Kings of the Road

Despite the much-vaunted excellence of Seventies U.S. cinema, a quick look through the offerings of 1976 proves it wasn’t all gold, despite the strong offerings of a few of that era’s leaders (Scorsese had Taxi Driver, Hal Ashby did Bound for Glory, and DePalma had a good year, with the perhaps overrated Carrie and the perhaps underrated Obsession). But Bogdanovich and Altman had down years, Coppola and Friedkin were missing in action, Spielberg and Lucas were off building starships, and Peckinpah had run out his streak of luck.

The best American film of the year was the still-remarkable All the President’s Men, Alan Pakula’s wisely stripped-down journalistic equivalent of a policier. My #1 slot came down to a battle between the clean classical virtues of that title and the sprawling, noodling glories of Wim Wenders’ Kings of the Road, a three-hour road movie and hang-loose ode to cinema. Im Lauf der Zeit – in the course of time, as its German title has it – is not quite like any other movie, and it’s one of those long-form things that cast such a mysterious spell you don’t actually realize how much time they are taking.

The only other up-there contender is The Marquise of O..., part of Eric Rohmer’s mid-career break from his usual survey of contemporary relationships. The ten best movies of 1976:

1. Kings of the Road (Wim Wenders)

2. All the President’s Men (Alan J. Pakula)

3. The Marquise of O… (Eric Rohmer)

4. Robin and Marian (Richard Lester)

5. Assault on Precinct 13 (John Carpenter)

6. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese)

7. The Devil’s Playground (Fred Schepisi)

8. The Man Who Fell to Earth (Nicolas Roeg)

9. Carrie (Brian De Palma)

10. Small Change (Francois Truffaut)

Close calls for The Tenant (Polanski) and The Outlaw Josey Wales (Eastwood), and Fassbinder made a couple of movies that are aggressively minor, although when you watch them again you can see how wickedly well-crafted they are: Satan’s Brew and Chinese Roulette. Some older directors came up (and in some cases bowed out) with unusual titles, the best of which is probably The Shootist, Don Siegel’s John Wayne tribute; also Family Plot, Hitchcock’s final picture; The Last Tycoon, Kazan’s last movie; The Innocent, Visconti’s lush swan song; and Mr. Klein, an interesting late Losey film.

Alongside the bloat of Bertolucci’s 1900, the virtues of something like The Bad News Bears begin to look pretty good. But none of this really matters all that much, because the Oscar went to Rocky, which – while very far from the worst example of an undeserving film winning Best Picture – put the writing on the wall.

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4 Responses

  1. Wow. The year’s clear winner for me went without a mention here: Sidney Lumet’s Network. It might even be my favorite film of the whole 1970s, but of course there is a lot of competition there. I looked it up on the IMDb, and it seems to have been a 1976 festival film and a 1977 general release — but it missed mention in your 1977 column, too. An oversight, or do you not love it like I do?

    I love lots of things about it: the acting, which is great across the board, its black sense of humor, and the characters that go over the top and yet stay “real.” But mostly I love the language. The film uses words as well as any has. It runs the range from lengthy monologues to sharp quips. They sparkle. Somehow they’re profound and absurd at the same time.

    My runner-up would be Small Change. Like many Truffaut movies and more than some, it’s a movie I just want to give a big hug to, so fondly and lovingly does it celebrate the stuff of life. “Life may be hard, but it’s also wonderful,” a teacher says in the middle of a speech near the end. I can’t think of a better one-sentence summary of Truffaut’s entire filmography.

    • Correction: I misread the IMDb. Network seems to have been released to the rest of the world in 1977 but was in general release in the USA in 1976.

  2. This is a terrific list which is to say very similar to my own. But my favourite film was a political thriller ILLUSTRIOUS CORPSES by Francesco Rosi which was not widely shown. Have you seen this one?

  3. I saw the Rosi film a long time ago, but have managed to lose it from the memory bank, which says more about me than it does about the movie. I’ll have to see it again.

    Belatedly on Network – I enjoy the movie’s sense of outrage, its Old Testament fervor, and its overall ripeness, but it doesn’t go Top Ten for me. Certainly the decades since it came out have found its dire predictions justified.

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