1. The Descendants
5. The Artist
7. Margin Call
8. Martha Marcy May Marlene
9. A Separation
10. Young Adult
As I watched Nicolas Winding Refn’s measured, explosive film unfold, I kept thinking that it reminded me of movies from the 1970s, something I said in my review. Something a lot of people said.
I felt the same way when I saw – and then re-saw – Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene. Here was a movie that refused to smooth things out for audiences, or to supply them with a neatly wrapped-up happy ending – a trait of some of the better films of that decade.
So what it is about the 1970s that still makes critics who were working – or seeing movies then – drool when they talk about what is considered a golden era?
It was the willingness, even the eagerness, to do something that went against the grain – to make movies that were thoughtful and complicated, movies that refused to give audiences an easily understood or even likable main character. They were movies that didn’t hedge their bets in order to maximize their audiences.
Above all, they were movies that weren’t afraid to end unhappily or, worse, inconclusively, a trait shared by Drive and MMMM. I’d also include Oren Moverman’s Rampart in my little round-up of movies with that 1970s feel. And Jason Reitman’s Young Adult, a movie that puts the happy ending to shame. Think Chinatown, Night Moves, Nashville, McCabe & Mrs. Miller or Taxi Driver.
…What gave those ’70s movies their spark was their willingness to go against the grain, to look at old ideas in new ways. That’s still the case – and that’s what the best of today’s most exciting films share with their predecessors.
So let’s celebrate films such as Drive and Martha Marcy May Marlene – and the rest of the films on this list as creative visions that challenge conventional wisdom of what a movie can be. Enjoy them for what they are. And hope that they don’t remain so few and far between.