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What's your favorite decade for American cinema?

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What's your favorite decade for American cinema?

#1

Post by cinewest »

Even though I like American movies from every decade, it is clearly the 70's for me, though the more I see from the 2010's the stronger this last decade is beginning to look.

But why is it the 70's?

Well, I grew up on movies from the previous 3 decades, mostly shown on TV, and as I got older, I not only began to appreciate the growing realism in genre based cinema, but the evolving attitudes and sophistication in the scripts, as well as the filmmaking itself. My love of movies also jumped to another level in the 70's as I became a teenager and University student by the end of that decade.

Truth is, my favorite American films (in just about every genre besides musicals) were made in the 70's, and that has a lot to do with the revisionist realism, as well as the social commentary and reflection that every film seemed to be imbued with in some way as the counter cultural revolution came to a close. American movies of the 70's were also given a big shot in the arm by the first generation of filmmakers who graduated from film schools and had a historical sense of the medium that went beyond studios in Hollywood.

Here's my preliminary list of my favorites with comments (work in progress)

1970
Little Big Man (Penn)- This satiric "tall tale" Western is all encompassing in its recasting of the Hollywood myth.

Five Easy Pieces (Rafelson)- featuring Jack Nicholson, perhaps the quintessential American 70's actor in his breakthrough starring role. This counterculture "dramedy" about society and family relationships is a great place to start.

Husbands (Cassavetes)-Amazing, natural performances in perhaps the best American "buddy movie" of all time that at the same time makes the best of Cassavetes cinematic theater

Zabriskie Point (Antonioni)- American Counter cultural politics in the desert as seen by an Italian.

Patton (Schaffner)- George C Scott is outstanding in this critical biography of one of America's top WW2 Generals.


1971
*McCabe & Mrs. Miller- My favorite Western, and a kind of revision of High Noon, drenched in Altman's poetic realism.
The Last Picture Show- top notch drama about coming of age in a small town
The French Connection- Top drawer police drama introducing William Friedken.
Klute- Sterling, revisionist noir abounded in the 70's, and this is one of my favorites
Harold & Maude- Quirky, bizarre 70's love story and the anecdote to the one with Ryan O'Neal and Ali McGraw

1972
*The Godfather- My favorite gangster drama (together with part 2) of all time.
Cabaret- Interesting atypical musical drama set during the rise of Hitler in Germany
Deliverance- Buddy adventure tale that shows surviving nature's challenge can be less dangerous than dealing with other humans in the wild.
The King Of Marvin Gardens- Another very good Rafelson satire with Nicholson playing against type alongside the incomparable Bruce Dern
Jeremiah Johnson- Another wilderness adventure / survival tale / revisionist Western, with Redford at his peak

1973
*Papillon- Perhaps my favorite adventure / survival film about one man's relentless will to escape a godforsaken penal colony in the jungle
Badlands- Malick debut about a sociopathic couple on a rampage in Texas. What an impression it made
Mean Streets- First Scorsese, also introduced Keitel, DeNiro, and Paul Schrader.
Sleeper- My favorite early Woody Allen
The Long Goodbye- Revisionist Noir from Altman updated to early 70's LA
American Graffiti- George Lucas debut about small town high school friends spending one last night roaming the streets before transitioning to adulthood
The Last Detail- Another quasi buddy film with a rebellious vibe from one of my favorite 70's directors, Hal Ashby.
Serpico- The fight against corruption was another 70's theme, and this one tackled a real life case at the NYPD

1974
*Chinatown (My favorite Noir, even though it's Neo). I loved the old Bogart movies from the 40's and 50's, Orson Welles, and others, as well as the B & W expressionist cinematography from that time, but Chinatown outdoes them all in my book.

*Godfather II (see '72)- Together with Godfather I, this is a very ambitious master crime drama that not only reaches across generations but well beyond the limits of other gangster movies.

Woman Under The Influence- Cassavetes at his best and perhaps most mature.

The Conversation- Another great Neo-noir crime drama from Coppola

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore- Underrated modern romantic drama from Scorsese.

The Parallax View- Another very good thriller about political and corporate corruption, and conspiracy

1975
Nashville- quintessential Altman weaving a cast of characters into a social commentary on America at the time

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest- Dramedic look at America's corrupt institutions (another 70's theme), with a classic Nicholson performance

Dog Day Afternoon- Perhaps Lumet's best biographical social commentary of the decade, with standout performances from Pacino and Cazale

Night Moves- Very under appreciated Neo-noir diving into the Deep South from Arthur Penn, and starring one of the best actors of the decade: Gene Hackman

Shampoo- underrated social satire of LA in the 70's from Hal Ashby

Smile- Another very good social satire. This time from Michael Ritchie, and with Bruce Dern at his sleaziest best

Three Days of the Condor- another very good conspiracy thriller.


1976
Taxi Driver- Scorsese, Schrader, and DeNiro strike in very way with this gritty inner city expose on social decay in the 70's
All the President's Men- Certainly one of the best adaptations of real life events concerning hero journalists who uncover and expose conspiracies reaching all the way to the Whitehouse
Network- Classic 70's themes: standing up to corruption- this time in the media. A bit heavy handed, but still very memorable.
Next Stop Greenwich Village- Masursky's debut about New York Bohemia in the 60's, featuring fresh faces (Chris Walkan, among them) and energy. Too bad the lead died as his acting career was just getting started.
Mikey and Nicky- Cassavetes and Falk are fantastic in this dramedy about two small time hustlers in trouble

1977
Annie Hall- Not as crazy about this one as many people, but still maybe the most memorable American films in a weak year. And it began a trend of contemporary relationship comedies from Allen that raised the bar for him.

1978
*Days of Heaven- Depression era drama that raises the ante on poetic realism. One of my top 100 as all the starred films here are
Deer Hunter- Very powerful Vietnam War film that begins with small town friendships and watches them get torn asunder by the war
Killer of Sheep- Low budget but excellent African American drama about a working class family in LA
Gates of Heaven- Hilarious documentary about a family run pet cemetery
Who'll Stop the Rain- Underrated counterculture crime drama
Coming Home- Underrated Vietnam film that focuses on love triangle involving two very different soldiers who returned
Straight Time- Underrated realistic crime drama with Dustin Hoffman at his very best.
An Unmarried Woman- More early Mazursky Dramedy on the pulse of social themes in New York City during the 70's

1979
*Apocalypse Now- Surely one of the best American war films, no?
*Manhattan- Perhaps my favorite from Woody Allen, and ode to New York City
Being There- One of the better political satires with a great performance from Peter Sellers
All That Jazz- This Fosse musical can hold its own with the best
Alien- Sci-fi horror at its best
Hair- Milos Forman's Film version of the iconic counter culture musical about the mid 60's
Wiseblood- John Huston demonstrated that he was still alive and well with this American satire (he actually did it several times in the 70's, but Man Who Would Be King wasn't American)
Last edited by cinewest on September 4th, 2022, 11:05 am, edited 20 times in total.
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#2

Post by Onderhond »

It's the current one for me, with a steady decline all the way to the 50s. It seems to follow my average ratings rather well.

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#3

Post by Torgo »

Probably 00s with some big admiration for the later 40s/earlier 50s (although I only happen to know the very surface of that - the, you know, classics), some of the 70s, less of the 60s. Mostly NOT the 80s, lol. The 30s also had a very slow start for me ..
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#4

Post by OldAle1 »

For quite a while I've reflexively said the 1950s, but I decided for once to actually look a bit at my stats. Turns out I do in fact have more American films on my favorite film list from the 50s than any other decade - 56, vs 54 for the second-ranked 40s. American cinema in the 40s had the advantage of not having that much competition; by 1950 most of the world's great pre-war cinematic nations were fully back on their feet, and the decade brought new cinematic importance from several countries that hadn't produced that much in the 30s and earlier, like Brazil and Egypt and Hong Kong. So for American cinema to still thrive just as highly really shows the economic muscle of the country, and the power of the Hollywood dream factory over the world's imagination.

Still it's pretty close for me between the 40s-50s, and those two decades and the 30s are the only three where American films make up more than half of my favorites; the 60s, by contrast is the decade with the most overall favorites on my list (119), but only 25 of them are American. There's a big bump up from that pitiful number in the 70s with 43, and then 30-33 for every decade since, representing typically 35-45% of the totals for all countries. So clearly the 60s are the weakest decade by a good margin, but the 50s doesn't stand out as the peak by nearly so much. Why then do I always default to it?

Because Hollywood has always been best at making entertainments, generally of the lighter and less intellectual sort, and that's where the 50s really shines. And for me, much of what I love in American cinema - cartoons, westerns, musicals, film noir, science fiction - peaks in that decade or comes close to it. I have 60 American westerns from the 50s on my favorite westerns list, which is more than the numbers from the 40s, 60s and 70s combined. The 30s wins for musicals but only by a 24-22 margin, and my favorite 50s musical beats anything from the 30s easily. Etc, etc. And while there is plenty of terrible schlock in the decade (as there is in every decade), I find more of the 50s schlock enjoyable than that of most periods, with two Ed Wood films on my favorites list - no other terrible, incompetent director from any other decade is as much fun.

The 50s has a big black mark on it - the blacklist - which pushed a number of great filmmakers into exile, sometimes permanently; but it's also a great decade for some of the country's many immigrant directors, like Hitchcock, Lang and Wilder, so on balance I'd say the losses are equaled by the gains. And that dichotomy between those Americans pushed out, and those non-Americans still welcomed, is indicative of the greater American story, of course.
Last edited by OldAle1 on September 5th, 2022, 5:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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#5

Post by cinewest »

OldAle1 wrote: September 3rd, 2022, 2:40 pm For quite a while I've reflexively said the 1950s, but I decided for once to actually look a bit at my stats. Turns out I do in fact have more American films on my favorite film list from the 50s than any other decade - 56, vs 54 for the second-ranked 40s. American cinema in the 40s had the advantage of not having that much competition; by 1950 most of the world's great pre-war cinematic nations were fully back on their feet, and the decade brought new cinematic importance from several countries that hadn't produced that much in the 30s and earlier, like Brazil and Egypt and Hong Kong. So for American cinema to still thrive just as highly really shows the economic muscle of the country, and the power of the Hollywood dream factory over the world's imagination.

Still it's pretty close for me between the 40s-50s, and those two decades and the 30s are the only three where American films make up more than half of my favorites; the 60s, by contrast is the decade with the most overall favorites on my list (119), but only 25 of them are American. There's a big bump up from that pitiful number in the 70s with 43, and then 30-33 for every decade since, representing typically 35-45% of the totals for all countries. So clearly the 60s are the weakest decade by a good margin, but the 50s doesn't stand out as the peak by nearly so much. Why then do I always default to it?

Because Hollywood has always been best at making entertainments, generally of the lighter and less intellectual sort, and that's where the 50s really shines. And for me, much of what I love in American cinema - cartoons, westerns, musicals, film noir, science fiction - peaks in that decade or comes close to it. I have 60 American westerns from the 50s on my favorite westerns list, which is more than the numbers from the 40s, 60s and 70s combined. The 30s wins for musicals but only by a 24-22 margin, and my favorite 50s musical beats anything from the 30s easily. Etc, etc. And while there is plenty of terrible schlock in the decade (as there is in every decade), I find more of the 50s schlock enjoyable than that of most periods, with two Ed Wood films on my favorites list - no other terrible, incompetent director from any other decade is as much fun.

The 50s has a big black mark on it - the blacklist - which pushed a number of great filmmakers into exile, sometimes permanently; but it's also a great decade for some of the country's many immigrant directors, like Hitchcock, Land and Wilder, so on balance I'd say the losses are equaled by the gains. And that dichotomy between those Americans pushed out, and those non-Americans still welcomed, is indicative of the greater American story, of course.
Agree with much of what you've said about the 50's, and you make a strong case (it might be my second favorite decade for American films if not one of the two most recent ones), and the difference is probably reflected in our own difference in taste (I am much less enamored of classic Hollywood, though I think the it reached its apex in the 50's). For me, there was Kazan, the rise of Kubrick, Hitchcock crossing the pond for his best period, Welles returning briefly, and also Wilder, Zinneman, Mankiewicz, Huston, and Nicolas Ray, not to mention the Hollywood Musical reaching its peak, but as I said at the top, the 70's ushered in a new kind of realism, and social commentary, as well as a new breed of filmmaker that played more to my own sensibilities, and almost every one of my favorites in any genre was made during that decade (I'm working on a list with comments that might take me a day or two to finish). And just consider the actors who arrived during that period...
Last edited by cinewest on September 4th, 2022, 9:45 am, edited 1 time in total.
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#6

Post by cinewest »

Finished my expose on my favorite American films of the 70's, so time to bump this thread.

Not sure whether to count 1970 or 1980 for this investigation. Both are transitional years, and seem all the more so when I look at my favorites from each year:

While 1970 features Arthur Penn (who made his first big splash in the 60's), Cassavetes (who also pretty much continues what he was doing a decade before), Rafelson (who did lower budget stuff in the 60's), and Antonioni (mostly famous for what he did in the 60's, even earlier, my top films from 1980 are mostly more mature films from directors who got started in the 70's:

Raging Bull from Scorsese, Elephant Man from David Lynch, The Shining from Kubrick, Atlantic City from Louis Malle, and Melvin and Howard (the directorial debut of Jonathan Demme), which still had the feel of something from the 70's.
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#7

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faves by decade as of 9/22 [us figs approximate - too lazy to check everything]

1910s - 11 (US 5)
1920s - 43 (US 17)
1930s - 25 (US 11?)
1940s - 24 (US 15)
1950s - 69 (US 27)
1960s - 81 (US 19)
1970s - 66 (US 10)
1980s - 87 (US 27)
1990s - 115 (US 23)
2000s - 118 (US 3)
2010s - 151 (US 17)
2020s - 6 (US 4)
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#8

Post by Torgo »

3eyes wrote: September 5th, 2022, 5:02 pm 2000s - 118 (US 3)
2020s - 6 (US 4)
:o
Talk about an improved strike rate ..
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#9

Post by 3eyes »

:lol:
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#10

Post by peeptoad »

For American cinema 1970s, but it's close between the 60s and 70s.

If all cinema was included, then probably the 60s. That's my highest rated decade considering it's ~9.7% my total viewings, whereas 70s is 16.5% and overall rated slightly lower (but for US films specifically it's higher than 60s).
By doing that exercise I just learned that the 2000s is my lowest rated decade given # films seen, followed by 1990s. Oddly the 2020s is very high considering we are less than 3 years into the decade.
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#11

Post by St. Gloede »

I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of why the 70s stand out in American cinema, Cinewest.

The 70s was the decade when America adjusted to freedom, not just following the end of the Hays Code, but also the disruption of how the traditional studio system worked, affording young directors budgets and creative freedom previously unthinkable. Looking at my US favourites I'm a little stunned that the 60s are actually at a lower number than most other decades. It is of course not a decade known for American dominance, quite the opposite, but it still took me aback. The 70s seems to have built on the promises set out in the 60s, and the young directors - in many cases getting b-movie starts, and let everything come together.

Beyond the talent that truly flared up, from Scorsese, to Coppola, to Altman, to Cassavetes, etc. I also love the aesthetics and what films were allowed to be, that is to say bleaker, rougher, dirtier - often more character driver or less formulaic - more importantly, doubt and nuance was fully introduced - and there was an interrogation of the past, especially in the western. A portion of this may just be that heroes became anti-heroes, or more flawed, and not that much deeper than that, but the shift was notable and clear - but it also allowed for far more variety, with many European aesthetics being imported in - included a decent line-up of master directors who made their best films in the US, such as Forman and Polanski.

-

I can also fully get behind OldAle's case for classic Hollywood, and this is a period I need to revisit more as it is no longer as fresh in my mind as it once was. The 50s certainly has a strong case, and obviously, there has been no decade dominated as clearly by the US as the 1940s - and though this is mainly just to a lack of output elsewhere, there was some exceptional films being made. The number of strong studio directors is frankly humbling, and the old system, even with its formulas, truly was a magic factory.

-

I would add that, looking over the number of American favourites I'm surprised the 2010s is doing exceptionally well. The US really has been on a bit of a row of late, in part due to A24 and once again creating a room for young directors to flourish - very much like the 70s, and that is very nice to see.
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#12

Post by cinewest »

St. Gloede wrote: September 5th, 2022, 8:37 pm I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of why the 70s stand out in American cinema, Cinewest.

The 70s was the decade when America adjusted to freedom, not just following the end of the Hays Code, but also the disruption of how the traditional studio system worked, affording young directors budgets and creative freedom previously unthinkable. Looking at my US favourites I'm a little stunned that the 60s are actually at a lower number than most other decades. It is of course not a decade known for American dominance, quite the opposite, but it still took me aback. The 70s seems to have built on the promises set out in the 60s, and the young directors - in many cases getting b-movie starts, and let everything come together.

Beyond the talent that truly flared up, from Scorsese, to Coppola, to Altman, to Cassavetes, etc. I also love the aesthetics and what films were allowed to be, that is to say bleaker, rougher, dirtier - often more character driver or less formulaic - more importantly, doubt and nuance was fully introduced - and there was an interrogation of the past, especially in the western. A portion of this may just be that heroes became anti-heroes, or more flawed, and not that much deeper than that, but the shift was notable and clear - but it also allowed for far more variety, with many European aesthetics being imported in - included a decent line-up of master directors who made their best films in the US, such as Forman and Polanski.

-

I can also fully get behind OldAle's case for classic Hollywood, and this is a period I need to revisit more as it is no longer as fresh in my mind as it once was. The 50s certainly has a strong case, and obviously, there has been no decade dominated as clearly by the US as the 1940s - and though this is mainly just to a lack of output elsewhere, there was some exceptional films being made. The number of strong studio directors is frankly humbling, and the old system, even with its formulas, truly was a magic factory.

-

I would add that, looking over the number of American favourites I'm surprised the 2010s is doing exceptionally well. The US really has been on a bit of a row of late, in part due to A24 and once again creating a room for young directors to flourish - very much like the 70s, and that is very nice to see.

You have expanded on all of the reasons I like American film from the 70's as the counter cultural revolution (the Vietnam war, political assassinations, the civil rights movements came to an end) was being reflected upon, and just before Ronald Reagan came to power and "the blockbuster" (which began in the 70's as well) took over, I experienced my 20's (the 80's) during one of the most unappealing periods of American popular cultural expression, whether we are talking about music, film, literature, whatever I was into, and the AIDS epidemic was rolling, to, which pretty much killed off "free love."
I still loved that time of my life though, diving into past eras that still had a few living remnants (saw lots of great jazz and blue's musicians in their elder years trying to keep the traditions alive, etc.). I just didn't really connect so well to the culture of my time.

As for the 2010's, I agree that American film is on the rise again after decades of not being very interesting as a whole. And, yeah, small production companies like A24 have been part of it, but let's not forget the new investors like Netflix, Amazon, Apple, etc. I also think that American Indie film is finally growing up and becoming more interesting as cinema, rather than just being stranger and stranger dysfunctional relationship stories with very little cinematic quality, aside from a few exceptions.
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#13

Post by cinewest »

3eyes wrote: September 5th, 2022, 5:02 pm faves by decade as of 9/22 [us figs approximate - too lazy to check everything]

1910s - 11 (US 5)
1920s - 43 (US 17)
1930s - 25 (US 11?)
1940s - 24 (US 15)
1950s - 69 (US 27)
1960s - 81 (US 19)
1970s - 66 (US 10)
1980s - 87 (US 27)
1990s - 115 (US 23)
2000s - 118 (US 3)
2010s - 151 (US 17)
2020s - 6 (US 4)
Like you, my percentage of American films viewed is much lower than most on this board, but that's also what prompted me to start this thread, believing that more people would chime.
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#14

Post by St. Gloede »

cinewest wrote: September 6th, 2022, 4:07 am As for the 2010's, I agree that American film is on the rise again after decades of not being very interesting as a whole. And, yeah, small production companies like A24 have been part of it, but let's not forget the new investors like Netflix, Amazon, Apple, etc. I also think that American Indie film is finally growing up and becoming more interesting as cinema, rather than just being stranger and stranger dysfunctional relationship stories with very little cinematic quality, aside from a few exceptions.
Agreed re: Netflix, Amazon, Apple, etc. especially towards the end of the decade, though I think their impact is being felt much more in the 20s and will be interesting to see where American cinema goes this decade with so many new outlets for mid-budget films and directors daring to be different getting the funding. I still can't believe a film like A Ghost Story got made, and with huge actors and decent exposure, for instance.
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#15

Post by Torgo »

cinewest wrote: September 6th, 2022, 4:07 am I also think that American Indie film is finally growing up and becoming more interesting as cinema, rather than just being stranger and stranger dysfunctional relationship stories with very little cinematic quality, aside from a few exceptions.
I watched and liked a lot of those, but damn, you do have a point .. :geek:
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#16

Post by 3eyes »

cinewest wrote: September 6th, 2022, 4:10 am
3eyes wrote: September 5th, 2022, 5:02 pm faves by decade as of 9/22 [us figs approximate - too lazy to check everything]

1910s - 11 (US 5)
1920s - 43 (US 17)
1930s - 25 (US 11?)
1940s - 24 (US 15)
1950s - 69 (US 27)
1960s - 81 (US 19)
1970s - 66 (US 10)
1980s - 87 (US 27)
1990s - 115 (US 23)
2000s - 118 (US 3)
2010s - 151 (US 17)
2020s - 6 (US 4)
Like you, my percentage of American films viewed is much lower than most on this board, but that's also what prompted me to start this thread, believing that more people would chime.
Seems that (aside from so far in current decade) the only one where I watched over 50% US was the 40s - of course we didn't get foreign films during WW II. We prolly got a lot of 30s reruns tho I didn't realize it at the time.
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#17

Post by cinewest »

Torgo wrote: September 6th, 2022, 2:02 pm
cinewest wrote: September 6th, 2022, 4:07 am I also think that American Indie film is finally growing up and becoming more interesting as cinema, rather than just being stranger and stranger dysfunctional relationship stories with very little cinematic quality, aside from a few exceptions.
I watched and liked a lot of those, but damn, you do have a point .. :geek:
I liked some of them, myself, but not much great cinema there (PTA was one of the few American filmmakers from that era with a strong cinematic sense).
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#18

Post by St. Gloede »

Yup, spot on, + "quirkiness", getting flashbacks to the heights of Zooey Deschanel's career now thinking back to the 00s. :D
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#19

Post by cinewest »

St. Gloede wrote: September 7th, 2022, 11:30 am Yup, spot on, + "quirkiness", getting flashbacks to the heights of Zooey Deschanel's career now thinking back to the 00s. :D
A lot of those indie movies seemed to match the indie pop music of the time, with lyrics and lines that sounded straight out of personal diaries, and played like confessionals, with each successive film trying to further push the envelope in terms of how provocative they could get with their stories. Unfortunately, they seemed to lose sight of the art form in the process... These films no doubt spoke to a certain generation and demographic, but the best of them were carried by their writing, and were not very imaginative as cinema. And that's what seems to be changing among American Indies of the decade, which has also been nourished by the greater diversity (many more women directors, and filmmakers of color lately).
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#20

Post by BulldogDrummond »

I don't keep a log but for the last couple of years I've watched almost exclusively Film Noir, so from the 40s and 50s. It's an addiction.
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