Apologies to Willy Wonka, Omega Man and Bananas right up front. Geez, this decade was full of classics at every year and every turn. Cuts must be made and that's how it goes. Right off the bat though in 1971 it seems that more "real" type of feel was in place with films that dug into and pushed limits. We'll be talking about some of the significant ones here in my list, but unlike the other decades when I've done this list, the 70s seems to have just found itself right away and went strong throughout.
The Academy connection...
WINNER - The French Connection
A Clockwork Orange
Fiddler On The Roof
The Last Picture Show
Nicholas And Alexandra
And for me
The Abominable Dr. Phibes
Before Hannibal Lecter, before John Doe, before Jigsaw, there was Dr. Phibes. This movie is the archetype for some of the more "adult" horror fare that would start blossoming in the 90s. Vincent Price gives one of his best and creepiest performances in a role where he doesn't even speak a single word (Well, he does but, if you see this you know what I mean). There are some cool, deaths and gore abound here too. This film is also oozing with remnants of that 60s fashion and style with its colors and sets. This is one of the best horror movies that time may have forgot or doesn't get recommended enough nowadays.
A Clockwork Orange
Through my youth, this was my favorite Kubrick film. There's a lot of "cool" from some of Stanley's films, but this one rang the most. Maybe its because I grew up in the angsty teen 90s that this attracted me. Its a ruthless and mean spirited film, but it has to be to get its message across. Highly controversial at the time, this movie was pulled from many theaters and countries. Like Fight Club almost 3 decades later, people got the wrong message from this film. While no longer my favorite, I still love it, and its got a great sense of style and the synth score is pretty dynamite. While it may be a challenging watch for people, I think its also one of Kubrick easiest films in terms of commercial accessibility.
Once again, Harry Callahan graces this list. Possibly my all time favorite cop/crime drama film that I feel sort of planted the seeds of what would become the 80s/90s pure action hero. The film tackles not only vigilantism, police taking the law way into their own hands and also a "ripped from today's headlines" story. Scorpio was based on the Zodiac killer and even used some of his own dastardly threats and deeds. This film made a huge impact on me when I first saw it as even in the 90s I was still "wow'd" by the hard attitude and tactics of Harry Callahan. It was incredibly entertaining and engaging. And, as I mentioned before, I've written about it...to the right!
Escape From The Planet Of The Apes
If you look at all the Apes films, no matter how weird the second one gets at the end, its Escape that truly stands as the most unique film in the series. For starters, it has the fewest Apes...no more than 3 at a time during this film. Its a reversal of roles from the first film. But, what's most striking is its demeanor and tone compared to the others. This film is mostly a comedy that takes a dark turn only for its third act then closes insanely dark. Its also the only film in the canon that set the stage for another film intentionally. The film is completely different during its meat than the other films and could stand alone easily from the others. I love the original Apes canon and while ranking had this one low on my favorites list...I still love it very much.
The French Connection
Does it get more street level than shooting car chases without permits and some during regular traffic? Friedkin was such a badass and daredevil with his filmmaking back in his heyday. One of my favorite all-time cop/detective team ups is Roy Scheider and Gene Hackman in this film. Hackman's Popeye is one of the best all time "troubled" cops, and the man is every bit deserving of his Oscar received for this. This crime thriller is unmatched in its quality and one that influenced many generation. There are so many iconic chase scenes and cat and mouse sequences that keep the film moving along and gripping. The subway sequence with "the wave" is one of my all time favorite film moments. This is one of those films that really broke out and help strongly to set the tone for the rest of the decade with its realness and streetlevel filmmaking that made the audience feel they were right there and a part of the action.
When I rented Dirty Harry for the first time, this was the film that my friend and I were out looking for. No video store had it. I had to special order it (One of the many "Soul Cinema" titles in my old VHS collection). Gordon Parks may not have birthed the Blaxploitation film or genre, but Shaft is very much the Friday the 13th to Sweet Sweetback's Halloween. Once you get beyond some of the camp of the film, its actually a pretty good detective story and action film to boot. Richard Roundtree commands every frame he even so much as breathes on. Its just a really good film. There's a reason that this one stands tall among the other films of the genre and 70s, it just happened to be THAT much better crafted and executed than the rest. A great film in general, regardless of genre, rating or purpose.