By Dan Skip Allen
This is the first article in a series of five where I’ll run down my favorite and or best films from a given year starting with my birth year in 1974 and ending with this year, 2023. Sometimes there may be a tie if I can’t decide between two movies I love or if they have both impacted me on some major level. These articles will pop up periodically throughout the year leading up to my 50th Birthday next January. Each list will consist of films from ten years leading up to the present day. This will be a fun list. It will bring back many memories of these films and the time and place I watched them in. I have had a lot of experience watching films and these lists will bring back a lot of memories for me. It will start from when I was a baby and go through when I was a boy and end with me as an adult in the middle part of my life.
1974-The Godfather Pt 2
9/10 IMDB 96% Rotten Tomatoes 90% Metacritic
The compelling sequel to “The Godfather,” contrasting the life of Corleone father and son. Traces the problems of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) in 1958 and that of a young immigrant Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) in 1917’s Hell’s Kitchen. Michael survives many misfortunes and Vito is introduced to a life of crime.
Release date: December 20, 1974 (USA)
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
The Godfather Part II brought a whole new level of evil to the character of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino). He was fully immersed in the world of gangster life after the first film in the trilogy, but after the second film, went to a place he couldn’t come back from. He alienated his wife (Diane Keaton) and killed his only surviving brother, Fredo (John Cazale). He had finally become the man his father never wanted him to become. Coppola sent him to Hell on Earth, and when he came back, he was the Devil. Pacino gives the performance of his career as this man who is so far gone there is no coming back. Ultimate power has corrupted him ultimately and those who got in his way paid the price. While Pacino was running the family, Robert De Niro was learning how to be the Don Vito Corleone and leader of this family. The two sides of this story were very good in their own way. They represented two distinct sides of the family’s story. This is a masterpiece that may have topped the original in every sense of the word. And that’s a hard feat to do.
8.1/10 IMDB 97% Rotten Tomatoes 87% Metacritic
When a young woman is killed by a shark while skinny-dipping near the New England tourist town of Amity Island, police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) wants to close the beaches, but mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) overrules him, fearing that the loss of tourist revenue will cripple the town. Ichthyologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and grizzled ship captain Quint (Robert Shaw) offer to help Brody capture the killer beast, and the trio engage in an epic battle of man vs. nature.
Jaws took place in the fictional town of Amityville Rhode Island, which was a nice quaint New England town until a great white shark started lurking about killing innocent victims off the coast of this seaside town during the Fourth of July holiday. Steven Spielberg captured horror like never before, and it was great. It reminded me of when my family went to the beach when I was a kid. The suspense was very real and the drama was off the chain. This film coined the phrase blockbuster because people were lined up around the block to see it. Once they sat down they screamed like little babies. This film kicked Steven Spielberg’s career into overdrive. John Williams’s iconic score helped create a great horrific atmosphere as well.
Release date: June 20, 1975 (USA)
Director: Steven Spielberg
8.1/10 IMDB 91% Rotten Tomatoes 70% Metacritic
Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), a small-time boxer from working-class Philadelphia, is arbitrarily chosen to take on the reigning world heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), when the undefeated fighter’s scheduled opponent is injured. While training with feisty former bantamweight contender Mickey Goldmill (Burgess Meredith), Rocky tentatively begins a relationship with Adrian (Talia Shire), the wallflower sister of his meat-packer pal Paulie (Burt Young).
Rocky was the ultimate underdog story. Anybody who had a rough life growing up could relate to this story of this down-on-his-luck Philadelphia boxer who was given a once-in-a-lifetime chance at the heavyweight boxing championship. Nobody gave Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone, who also wrote the script) a chance, including his grizzled old manager Mickey (Burgess Meredith). This was also a love story where Rocky meant the love of his life, Adrienne (Talia Shire). Anybody who was the underdog and felt like they were down and out to get behind this great story. Even the champ Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) was a cocky guy who had a lot of confidence and swagger. This is one of the best sports stories ever and films.
Release date: November 21, 1976 (USA)
Director: John G. Avildsen
Screenplay: Sylvester Stallone
8.2/10 IMDB 96% Rotten Tomatoes 94% Metacritic
Suffering from insomnia, disturbed loner Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) takes a job as a New York City cabbie, haunting the streets nightly, growing increasingly detached from reality as he dreams of cleaning up the filthy city. When Travis meets pretty campaign worker Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), he becomes obsessed with the idea of saving the world, first plotting to assassinate a presidential candidate, then directing his attentions toward rescuing 12-year-old prostitute Iris (Jodie Foster).
Taxi Driver depicts a loner and a man who is trying to find his identity having PTSD after the Vietnam war. Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) seeks a romantic relationship with a worker for a man running for president, but his proclivities for dirty movies waylay his attempts for being with the beautiful Betsy (Cybil Shepard). Eventually, he wants to rescue another young girl Iris (Jody Foster) from her pimp. This is a descent into madness for this insomniac cab driver. He even gets a strange passenger who wants to spy on his wife played by the director Martin Scorsese. The script by Paul Schrader is impeccable and the cinematography is amazing. New York has never looked better than in this film.
Release date: February 8, 1976 (USA)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay: Paul Schrader
8.6/10 IMDB 93% Rotten Tomatoes 90% Metacritic
The Imperial Forces — under orders from cruel Darth Vader (David Prowse) — hold Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) hostage, in their efforts to quell the rebellion against the Galactic Empire. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford), captain of the Millennium Falcon, work together with the companionable droid duo R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) to rescue the beautiful princess, help the Rebel Alliance, and restore freedom and justice to the Galaxy.
George Lucas took a lot of inspiration from classic films and literature to create his sci-fi epic Star Wars. A young farm boy, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), ends up being the savior of the galaxy a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. The crew is rounded out by a princess that needs saving, Princess Leia (Carey Fisher), a gunfighter and his loyal companion, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca, an old wizard, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Sir Alec Guinness), who sees a lot of potential in the boy, and two bickering droids C3-PO and R2-D2. This a film that inspired a generation of kids to be fans and the merchandising impact was astronomical. Forty-Five years later, Star Wars has spawned many films, tv shows, theme park rides, and even an annual convention dedicated to it. The impact of this little sci-fi film will never be quantified regarding its impact on the film industry or how films were made since.
Release date: July 21, 1978 (USA)
Director: George Lucas
Music composed by: John Williams
1978-The Deer Hunter
8.1/10 IMDB 86% Rotten Tomatoes 86% Metacritic
In 1968, Michael (Robert De Niro), Nick (Christopher Walken) and Steven (John Savage), lifelong friends from a working-class Pennsylvania steel town, prepare to ship out overseas following Steven’s elaborate wedding and one final group hunting trip. In Vietnam, their dreams of military honor are quickly shattered by the inhumanities of war; even those who survive are haunted by the experience, as is Nick’s hometown sweetheart, Linda (Meryl Streep).
The Deer Hunter shows what the impact of friendship and companionship means in a small Pennsylvania town adjacent to Pittsburgh. How the Vietnam War is depicted regarding the toll it has on these men from this town is astronomical. The penalty they pay for what they see and do over there is beyond comprehension. These men go to hell and back and they lose what innocence they had. Only one of them comes back unscathed from the effects of the war. This story is very hard-hitting and gives a grueling look at war at home and abroad. The direction is impeccable by Michael Cimino. And the film has one of the most dramatic scenes in film history. You can cut the tension with a knife during that scene where a group of men plays Russian roulette.
Release date: February 23, 1979 (USA)
Director: Michael Cimino
8.5/10 IMDB 98% Rotten Tomatoes 92% Metacritic
In Vietnam in 1970, Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) takes a perilous and increasingly hallucinatory journey upriver to find and terminate Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a once-promising officer who has reportedly gone completely mad. In the company of a Navy patrol boat filled with street-smart kids, a surfing-obsessed Air Cavalry officer (Robert Duvall), and a crazed freelance photographer (Dennis Hopper), Willard travels further and further into the heart of darkness.
Apocalypse Now is Francis Ford Coppola’s descent into hell, literally and figuratively. What he went through making this movie was one of the worst experiences of his career and what came out of that experience was incredible. He showed a side of the Vietnam war that was seedy and dirty and ugly. What Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) experienced in his journey in the film was eye-opening and repulsive. The characters he met on the way down that river include an air cavalry officer (Robert Duvall), Colonel Kurts (Marlin Brando), and a crazy freelance photographer (Dennis Hopper). The debauchery, blood & gore, and hypocrisy are shown to their fullest extent in this trip into hell. That doesn’t even include his fellow boat patrol members which are a bunch of streetwise men. Sheen and the others all give great performances in this crazy film. Coppola turned an awful experience into an absolute gem of a film — one of the best war films ever.
Release date: August 15, 1979 (USA)
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
1980-Raging Bull/The Empire Strikes Back
8.7/10 IMDB 94% Rotten Tomatoes 82% Metacritic
The adventure continues in this “Star Wars” sequel. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) face attack by the Imperial forces and its AT-AT walkers on the ice planet Hoth. While Han and Leia escape in the Millennium Falcon, Luke travels to Dagobah in search of Yoda. Only with the Jedi master’s help will Luke survive when the dark side of the Force beckons him into the ultimate duel with Darth Vader (David Prowse).
What Star Wars captured with the happy ending, The Empire Strikes Back turned on its head with one of the most depressing endings ever yet rewarding for film fans like me. I cried when Darth Vader (David Prouse, James Earl Jones) said he was Luke’s father. And it was equally depressing to see Han Solo get frozen in carbonite. The film introduced a new seedier and darker side to the galaxy far far away. A bounty hunter known as Boba Fett, a friend of Gan’s with a past Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), and another alien wizard known as Yoda who trains Luke in the ways of the Jedi, a group of space knights who wield lightsabers. This film affected me deeply as a child and the look and feel of it were astounding from the ice planet Hoth to the incredible score, Imperial March, once again by John Williams.
Release date: May 21, 1980 (USA)
Director: Irvin Kershner
Story by: George Lucas
8.2/10 IMDB 93% Rotten Tomatoes 89% Metacritic
The story of a middleweight boxer as he rises through ranks to earn his first shot at the middleweight crown. He falls in love with a gorgeous girl from the Bronx. The inability to express his feelings enters into the ring and eventually takes over his life. He eventually is sent into a downward spiral that costs him everything.
Raging Bull is a portrait of a man who is constantly in conflict with himself. No matter if he has a good life with a wife and a couple of kids. He’s paranoid that something is wrong. He’s constantly getting upset with his wife whether it’s because she overcooked his steak or if he’s going out at night late. It causes him to separate from his first wife and at the time I guess it was okay to fall in love with a sixteen-year-old (Kathy Moriarty) sunbathing at the local pool. That’s who this man Jake LaMotta (Robert Deniro) was though. Even though his brother Joey LaMotta (Joe Pesci) was his only true friend in the world he pushed him away. He accused him of having sex with his wife and gave him a beating he would not soon forget. Jake was his own worst nightmare except when he was in the ring. He was literally a killer. His six fights with Sugar Ray Robinson were legendary. This film reminded me of my own father to some extent and that’s why it resonates with me so much. A quote near the end of the film says it all though ” Hey Ray, Ray, You Never Got Me Down Ray” No matter how bad of a beating he took he was never knocked down by one of the greatest fighters ever. The cinematography and editing were all impeccably done and the film was masterfully directed by one of the greats of all time Martin Scorsese.
Release date: December 19, 1980 (USA)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cinematography: Michael Chapman
1981-Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
8.4/10 IMDB 96% Rotten Tomatoes 5/5 Common Sense Media
Epic tale in which an intrepid archaeologist tries to beat a band of Nazis to a unique religious relic which is central to their plans for world domination. Battling against a snake phobia and a vengeful ex-girlfriend, Indiana Jones is in constant peril, making hair’s-breadth escapes at every turn in this celebration of the innocent adventure movies of an earlier era.
don’t think I’ve ever seen an action-adventure film as good as Raiders of the Lost Ark in my lifetime. Steven Spielberg took his love of the serials from the ‘40s and ‘50s and created his own world where this professor-by-day and treasure hunter would fight Nazis and get into all kinds of trouble. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) was perfectly cast as this iconic character that had multiple sequels and has endured for decades to come. Once again, a great score by John Williams helped to get the audience into the movie right away. There are some amazing stunts and action sequences along with some funny moments as well. The fight scenes are fantastic too. This movie was a blast from beginning to end, and along with Han Solo, turned Harrison Ford into a bonafide movie star.
Release date: June 12, 1981 (USA)
Screenplay: Steven Spielberg, Lawrence Kasdan
1982-ET the Extraterrestrial/First Blood
9.7%/10 IMDB 99% Rotten Tomatoes 5/5 Common Sense Media
After a gentle alien becomes stranded on Earth, the being is discovered and befriended by a young boy named Elliott (Henry Thomas). Bringing the extraterrestrial into his suburban California house, Elliott introduces E.T., as the alien is dubbed, to his brother and his little sister, Gertie (Drew Barrymore), and the children decide to keep its existence a secret. Soon, however, E.T. falls ill, resulting in government intervention and a dire situation for both Elliott and the alien.
When I first saw E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial when I was 8 years old, it gave me one of the greatest cinematic experiences of my life. I felt when E.T. was riding that bike with Elliot (Henry Thomas) they seemed to go right through my drive-in theater screen and right off into the stars. It was an experience I’ll never forget for the rest of my life. This movie was the epitome of what was a great movie for me growing up. I cried at the scenes when E.T. almost died and was happy crying when he finally was able to go back home with his people. Reese’s Pieces are still my favorite candy to this day. The rest of the cast from little Drew Barrymore as the kid sister to Robert MacNaughton as the big brother, Dee Wallace as the single mother, Peter Coyote as the FBI Agent, and C. Thomas Howell as the friend. Spielberg captured what it was to make the movie relatable and enjoyable for the whole family. This film will always be one of my favorites as long as I live.
Release date: June 11, 1982 (USA)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Music composed by: John Williams
7.7 IMDB 86% Rotten Tomatoes 61% Metacritic
Vietnam veteran and drifter John J. Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) wanders into a small Washington town in search of an old friend, but is met with intolerance and brutality by the local sheriff, Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy). When Teasle and his deputies restrain and shave Rambo, he flashes back to his time as a prisoner of war and unleashes his fury on the officers. He narrowly escapes the manhunt, but it will take his former commander (Richard Crenna) to save the hunters from the hunted.
A war hero who comes into this small Washington town looking for a hot meal gets more than he bargained for with a sheriff who has a superiority complex. Little does he know John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is a Green Beret. This film shows just how veterans were treated in this country after the Vietnam War. Like third-class citizens. Stallone creates one of the icons of the action genre which would become one of the biggest genres in film history. I have always gone back to this movie because of the villain played by Brian Dennehy, the direction by Ted Kocheff, and the story by David Morell. They single-handedly made Stallone into an action star. With the Rocky franchise and Rambo franchise, he created two of the greatest characters in film history. As a loner myself I couldn’t help but relate to this man who fought against huge odds just to show he didn’t do anything wrong. A quote that comes up throughout this whole film is “God Didn’t Make Rambo, I Did” said by Colonel Troutman (Richard Crenna) He was his commanding officer in the special forces.
Release date: October 22, 1982 (USA)
Director: Ted Kotcheff
Story by: David Morrell
Cinematography: Andrew Laszlo
8.3/10 IMDB 81% Rotten Tomatoes 65% Metacritic
After getting a green card in exchange for assassinating a Cuban government official, Tony Montana (Al Pacino) stakes a claim on the drug trade in Miami. Viciously murdering anyone who stands in his way, Tony eventually becomes the biggest drug lord in the state, controlling nearly all the cocaine that comes through Miami. But increased pressure from the police, wars with Colombian drug cartels and his own drug-fueled paranoia serve to fuel the flames of his eventual downfall.
Al Pacino gives almost as great of a performance as Tony Montana as he does as Michael Corleone. He creates a picture of the gangster archetype that many men would follow over the years and decades to come. The picture of drugs and abusing and selling them has never been depicted on screen this way before or since. It’s a gritty yet sometimes glamorous look at this world, and the cost of it took its toll on loved ones, friends, and compatriots. This world in Scarface is very bloody and violent and all those who get into it no matter their background religion or upbringing pay the price. This film is not for the faint of heart. The script by Oliver Stone and the direction by Brian De Palma are both terrific.
Release date: December 9, 1983 (USA)
Director: Brian De Palma