- Hearts and Minds
- The Conversation
- Lacombe Lucien
- The Godfather Part II
- Celine and Julie Go Boating
- A Woman Under The Influence
- Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
- Young Frankenstein
As the inimitable Lenny Bruce in Bob Fosse’s biography Lenny, Dustin Hoffman goes straight for the jugular and gives us the comedian’s deadly wit as well as the roller-coaster personal life that fed his obscenity-laced and (at the time) controversial humour.
One of the most deserved Academy Awards ever handed out was to Ellen Burstyn as the widowed mother who has to put her life together with very little time and resources in Martin Scorsese’s effective Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Burstyn unapologetically goes for the character’s humour, warmth, bitterness and anger in easy strides that have no awkward transitions. She often made a career of complicated women, blessed with the opportunity to be non-glamorous in the decade when movies welcomed it so readily, and this is the pinnacle of those roles.
The only time in Oscar history that two people won Academy Awards for playing the same role came when Robert De Niro picked up his first of two prizes for his portrayal of the young Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II. It’s not the most fascinating performance of his career, not with Taxi Driver and Raging Bull still to come, but he does have a quiet intensity to him that bursts forth in crazy moments (knife in the gut, anyone) and provides the film’s flashback sequences with a lot of colour.
Honour Roll: Harvey Keitel, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
Once again stealing films with her brilliant comedy, Madeline Kahn had two plum roles in Mel Brooks films in 1974 and shines in both of them. Her prissy wife who becomes the bride of the monster in Young Frankenstein provides the film’s funniest moments, while her raucously hysterical sendup of Marlene Dietrich in Blazing Saddles was so perfectly pitched that it earned her an Academy Award nomination for acting, something which almost never happens for spoofs. These two films (and last year’s Paper Moon) are strong reminders of a talent that was lost much too soon.
The most exciting and stylish film of 1974 is one that I’ve seen many times and still have trouble wrapping my head around. Roman Polanski gives so much dangerous flair to Robert Towne’s insanely complicated script in Chinatown that it still feels as modern today as it did when it was first released. It also inherits the trademarks of film noir without ever feeling like an empty tribute. No film would do such a good job of co-opting a classic genre tradition until Todd Haynes absorbed Douglas Sirk’s candy-coloured melodrama into his own sensibilities for Far From Heaven, while Polanski might here have made his very best film (though so many of them are so very good it’s hard to decide).