1977 Ten Best Movies

from Killer of Sheep

1977’s list has this going on: my choice for #1 is a film I didn’t see until decades after the year itself had passed, although I was aware and conscious (well, more or less) and “into” movies in 1977. At the time, the debate was simple: there were people who thought Star Wars should win the Best Picture Oscar, no question, and other people (like me) who thought Annie Hall was the only possible choice and that Star Wars, while nice enough for the masses, should not win anything. (It was, in fact, a great day when Annie Hall won.)

Time, while making me less high-minded on that subject, also introduced other movies to the year’s bounty. A couple of years after it was released in Europe, The American Friend arrived on the arthouse circuit, and made a huge impact on me as I was taking my first film class. Now that was a movie to write a paper about. (No, I will not be posting “Red Lights and Murder: Madness in Recent Movies” to The Crop Duster.) Also, repeat viewings of Close Encounters of the Third Kind showed what a beauty that film is, although I’m a little irritated by the multiple versions.

And then eventually came Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep, a movie barely seen by anybody in its early years of existence; that finally settled a very close race at the top of the ’77 heap. Blending realism and poetry in a highly original way, and looking at a particular world (Watts, where the protagonist works in a slaughterhouse) from the inside, Killer of Sheep maintains an amazing balance through its measured, deliberately-chosen moments. And so it perches at the top of the ten best movies of 1977:

1. Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett)

2. The American Friend (Wim Wenders)

3. Annie Hall (Woody Allen)

4. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg)

5. That Obscure Object of Desire (Luis Bunuel)

6. The Ascent (Larisa Shepitko)

7. Stroszek (Werner Herzog) and Eraserhead (David Lynch)

8. New York, New York (Martin Scorsese)

9. Camouflage (Krzysztof Zanussi)

10. Star Wars (George Lucas)

Just missing out, mostly because it’s been a while, are Bresson’s The Devil, Probably, and Resnais’ Providence; a  notch below are Altman’s 3 Women and Truffaut’s Man Who Loved Women, all top-ten-worthy. But New York, New York is exciting in ways that flawed movies are exciting, and Camouflage is a brilliant effort by a Polish director who is still very active but whose movies haven’t been shown over here (at least not near Seattle) in a long time. A Criterion Eclipse DVD has brought The Ascent to a broader audience than it ever knew, and this WWII film by a short-lived Soviet filmmaker (she died at age 41, in a car accident) is an uncommonly intense experience. And, you know, Star Wars.

I couldn’t find a spot for Jonathan Demme’s Handle with Care, which I liked a lot back then but liked less when I watched it again on a crappy VHS tape. The year has quite a few movies that offer various levels of pleasure: The Duellists, The Gauntlet (Eastwood doing a screwball comedy as a shoot ’em up), Sorcerer, The Last Wave, Soldier of OrangeSaturday Night Fever, The Late Show, and the shamefully entertaining Capricorn One (among the great all-time cable-TV time-suckers). And what about the brainy, self-conscious horror offerings of the year? Cronenberg had Rabid, Romero had Martin, and John Boorman came up with a notably audacious franchise-killer, Exorcist II: The Heretic. They’d never allow that one to happen these days.