Last Picture Show [1971]

Like Easy Rider, Bonnie and Clyde, The Wild Bunch, and The Graduate, The Last Picture Show is one of the signature films of the "New Hollywood" that emerged in the late 1960s and early '70s. Based on the novel by Larry McMurtry and lovingly directed by Peter Bogdanovich (who cowrote the script with McMurtry), this 1971 drama has been interpreted as an affectionate tribute to classic Hollywood filmmaking and the great directors (such as John Ford) that Bogdanovich so deeply admired. It's also a eulogy for lost innocence and small-town life, so accurately rendered that critic Roger Ebert called it "the best film of 1951," referring to the movie's one-year time frame, its black-and-white cinematography (by Robert Surtees), and its sparse but evocative visual style. The story is set in the tiny, dying town of Anarene, Texas, where the main-street movie house is about to close for good, and where a pair of high-school football players are coming of age and struggling to define their uncertain futures. There's little to do in Anarene, and while Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) engages in a passionless fling with his football coach's wife (Cloris Leachman), his best friend Duane (Jeff Bridges) enlists for service in the Korean War. Both boys fall for a manipulative high-school beauty (Cybill Shepherd) who's well aware of her sexual allure. But it's not so much what happens in The Last Picture show as how it happens--and how Bogdanovich and his excellent cast so effectively capture the melancholy mood of a ghost town in the making. As Hank Williams sings on the film's evocative soundtrack, The Last Picture Show looks, feels, and sounds like a sad but unforgettably precious moment out of time. --Jeff Shannon

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