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Staff Picks: 1973
Celebrate three films turning 50.
Feature Presentation’s Staff Picks is not a best-of list. How do you even craft a list of the best of something as subjective as film? This is a list designed to highlight films (and occasionally television shows or other mediums of entertainment) of a certain theme or topic. It’s a watchlist, they are suggestions. Movies on this list will very in quality, length, genre, and home video or streaming availability.
This list’s theme: 1973
Two drifters bum around, visit earthy women and discuss opening a car wash in Pittsburgh.
Scarecrow is the very cinematic representation of bittersweet.
Sweet, oh so sweet, when two of our nation's finest, two that can be represented by only their surnames: Pacino and Hackman, combine for the makings of a buddy comedy road trip movie. As two drifters who drift into each other's lives at just the time that they need a companion, they latch onto each other as they make their way to a destination of prosperity. They don't quite get along, but they need each other. Hackman is tough, likes to fight, and then likes to "take a little nap after every fight." Pacino is demure, quirky, and supremely funny (the scene where he makes a scene in the store is a top-tener for him) as his newfound partner.
Bitter, oh so bitter, when the Steinbeck of it all comes crashing down around them. The hijinks are over. The car wash that they want to build in Pittsburgh probably won't transpire, the child that Pacino's Lion wants to meet will probably never be met, and their hopes and dreams are probably just that. A movie with highs this high can really make you feel lows this low and the '70s existentialism comes down hard. Underseen and underappreciated.
The Outfit (1973)
A two-bit criminal takes on the Mafia to avenge his brother’s death. Earl Macklin is a small time criminal who is released from prison after an unsuccessful bank robbery only to discover that a pair of gunmen killed his brother.
One of the top Letterboxd reviews for this movie is: def goes into the "QT faps to this" pile
User dankwit, who wrote that in April 2022, was prophetic. Quentin Tarantino actually ended up writing an entire chapter about The Outfit in his latest book, the nonfiction quasi-textbook, quasi-memoir, Cinema Speculation, where he writes about his love for the source material novel series' first three entries, his experiences seeing the film twice in one year in two different parts of the country (in Tennessee, the film played under the much more fitting title The Good Guys Always Win), and his desire to remake the film as his career was taking off in the '90s.
I'm glad he didn't - he wanted to do it with Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel and although they are two greats, the '73 flick is totally made by the pairing of Robert Duvall and Joe Don Baker.
Duvall (an actor whose career has spanned 70 years and numerous accolades, but is still somehow still underappreciated) is a year removed from The Godfather and uses all of those cold, plotting, intense intentions for his version of the Parker character. Baker is the Baloo to his Bagheera, the lovable goof but essential literal partner-in-crime, ("They laughed at everything Joe Don Baker said," writes Tarantino about that Tennessee crowd) and their chemistry, partnership, and polar-opposite compatibility alone make this one to watch. Luckily, it's a really solid gangster flick on top of those performances.
The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973)
A black man plays Uncle Tom in order to gain access to CIA training, then uses that knowledge to plot a new American Revolution.
I first encountered The Spook Who Sat by the Door when I couldn't walk to my favorite lunch spot one weekday afternoon in 2021. I turned the corner and...they were filming a television pilot! No more than a block from my front door. They retrofitted an old apartment building to look like a hotel, and period cars and people were roaming the block.
A little Googling lead me to the show (that did not get picked up by FX - damn!) which lead me to the book (which I read in my COVID isolation) which lead me to the movie. The book has this brilliant authorial voice, the third-person nameless narrator is a guy I'd like to spend time with. Or maybe that's just the speaking voice of author Sam Greenlee.
The movie can't really get that across thanks to the narrative conventions of film, but the story is still ballsy as hell. I would recommend that exercise, reading the fairly short (182 pages) book and tracking down the hard-to-find (I got it at my local library!) DVD. It's worthwhile.
Credit: Each plot synopsis comes from Letterboxd via TMDb.
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