We have a very diverse quartet to recognize today, starting with the earliest. Abel Gance’s passion project Napoleon, covering the early years of the French leader’s life, became one of the most innovative efforts of the silent era: pioneering numerous techniques such as multi-camera set-ups and multi-screen projection (making it one of the first truly widescreen movies) that influenced countless generations of filmmakers. It opened today in 1927.
Most people remember Francis Ford Coppola’s other movie released in 1974 — the one with Fredo in the boat — and end up overlooking The Conversation, his brilliant meditation of surveillance and paranoia that feels more pertinent than ever. Gene Hackman stars as a surveillance specialist who slowly becomes unhinged, and it marks one of that great actor’s highlights as well. (Also, look for a pre-Star Wars Harrison Ford in the mix.)
If you want to look at Hollywood’s problem in a nutshell, compare the original Bad News Bears — released today in 1976 — with the utterly gutless remake in 2005. The original version had real bite to its humor, including an overtly racist ten-year-old and a climax that involves a father physically striking his son. The remake tried to ease around all that without looking the Gorgon in the face. Big mistake. Sometimes funny movies have something important to say, and they can’t do that by backing off.
Finally, we’re going to end with Rob Roy, the 1995 movie about a Scottish legend that wasn’t directed by a raging anti-Semite. Besides the fetching sight of Liam Neeson in a kilt and John Hurt getting his villain on in a big way, there’s Tim Roth… who earned his only Oscar nomination to date for playing the scariest dandy in the whole wide world. (He lost to Kevin Spacey. It was a good year.)