Top Ten 1971

1. The Emigrants
2. Straw Dogs
3. Murmur of the Heart
4. McCabe & Mrs. Miller
5. Klute
6. The French Connection
7. Sunday Bloody Sunday
8. Walkabout
9. The Devils
10. The Ceremony


Gene Hackman really did have the role of a lifetime when he played Popeye Doyle in William Friedkin’s Oscar-winning The French Connection. Not quite the robust hero, he is angry and complicated, with a fully loaded temper that is part of what makes the film such a manic good time. While it is a film with very little flourish, purely driven by its need to capture its villain, Hackman’s performance matches with a portrayal of a human being that shows none of the work being done: there are no layers of complicated character depth, simply a man and his job. The fact that he makes it look that easy is a tribute to his terrific work.

Honour Roll: Clint Eastwood, Dirty Harry; Dustin Hoffman, Straw Dogs; Malcolm McDowell, A Clockwork Orange; George C. Scott, The Hospital


Despite a terrible notoriety she gained for her anti-Vietnam activism, Jane Fonda‘s performance in Klute was so impressive that she won an Academy Award for it anyway. It’s still very easy to see why; it’s a superb thriller with an exceptional performance in the lead. She shows us her game face as a prostitute trying to make it as an actress, but when the character is required to show her private fears, Alan J. Pakula’s direction never allows it to feel contrived. It’s a movie that is still as fresh as when it was first released, and Fonda’s work would still earn her the gold today.

Honour Roll: Julie Christie, McCabe And Mrs. Miller; Glenda Jackson, Sunday Bloody Sunday; Vanessa Redgrave, Mary Queen of Scots/The Devils; Liv Ullmann, The Emigrants


Two excellent films in 1971, and Roy Scheider got to be in both of them. In The French Connection he earned his first Oscar nomination as Hackman’s less volatile partner, while in Klute he ups the creep factor as Fonda’s scuzzy underworld colleague. Scheider wouldn’t get to play first string to noticeable effect until Jaws four years later, but in both of these films he commands the screen with a shocking lack of effort.

Honour Roll: Jeff Bridges, The Last Picture Show; Michael Gothard, The Devils; Richard Jaeckel, Sometimes A Great Notion


By the seventies, the cinema realized that it was time to find the dark side of Ann-Margret; having spent years as the perpetual sex kitten, she entered her thirties and forties prepared to deal with what happens when women who embody fantasies outlive their usefulness. Mike Nichols directed her to great success (and her first Oscar nomination) in his otherwise unmemorable Carnal Knowledge as a woman who does just that for Jack Nicholson. The sex kitten turns out to be a raging cat who falls apart with the best of them; a few years later she would be nominated again, this time for an all-singing role, as the lead in Tommy.

Honour Roll: Genevieve Bujold, The Trojan Woman; Ellen Burstyn, The Last Picture Show; Glenda Jackson, Mary Queen of Scots; Cloris Leachman, The Last Picture Show


Louis Malle was born of the New Wave, though compare what he was doing at the time with his fellow Vaguers Truffaut and Godard and you realize that his talent blossomed after the movement was over. Among his very best, which are hard to choose given the insane amount of good dramas, comedies and documentaries he made, was Murmur Of The Heart, a pristinely perfect coming-of-age tale about a young boy who has a love affair…with his mom. Yeah, it doesn’t sound appetizing, but it is done with a surprising level of taste and a minimum shock.

Honour Roll: Peter Bogdanovich, The Last Picture Show; William Friedkin, The French Connection; Alan J. Pakula, Klute; Sam Peckinpah, Straw Dogs; Jan Troell, The Emigrants