Cries and Whispers
The Sting (winner)
A Touch of Class
Who knew that 1973 was such an incredible year in film? On the “seriously got robbed of a nomination front” we get films like Badlands, Papillon, The Last Detail, and Serpico, all of which could make a strong case for being in the mix. On the foreign front we have Day for Night (which at least won for Best Foreign Feature) and the gorgeous The Spirit of the Beehive (which somehow avoided any nominations). I think I can make cases for both The Long Goodbye and The Paper Chase at least as being in genres that Oscar typically likes. Documentaries don’t get Best Picture nominations and Orson Welles stopped getting any love from the Academy, but this is also the year of F for Fake. Since we’ve got The Exorcist as a nomination, there’s probably no room for films like Don’t Look Now, The Wicker Man and The Legend of Hell House. High Plains Drifter probably wasn’t serious enough, which is almost certainly the case for Sleeper as well. And, Enter the Dragon just isn’t going to get Academy love no matter what. As for The Way We Were and Paper Moon, I’ve heard good, but I haven’t seen them yet.
Weeding through the Nominees
5: The only thing I liked about A Touch of Class was Glenda Jackson and I didn’t like her enough to think that the movie deserves to be here. With the large number of really strong movies from 1973, this is clearly the one that doesn’t belong in this august company. I could see pretty much any of the films I listed in the paragraph above as a nominee above this one, and while plenty of those might still come in fifth, I’d feel better about them being here. For as good as the other choices are, this one shouldn’t be able to sniff a nomination.
4. After the first elimination, things immediately get difficult, because I like all four of the remaining films. It breaks my heart a little to stick Cries and Whispers in fourth place. I think it might well be Bergman’s greatest film in a lot of ways and it is without question one of his most important. The problem is that I’m not sure I understand it fully. That’s probably my fault. Were I smarter or a better film viewer, I can see placing this film not just higher on this list but at the top. Sadly, I seem to like my Bergman a lot more accessible, and this one is pretty opaque in places. It’s unfair, but I’m not of the opinion that a film gains greatness by being impenetrable.
3. If we needed proof that George Lucas actually could write dialogue, American Graffiti stands as that proof. This is a great coming-of-age story. It’s entertaining, and even if it doesn’t go anywhere really, it has a lot of fun getting there. The closing credits that tell us what happened to the main characters detract from this a little bit for me—I’m not sure I really wanted to know what happened to these guys after the movie ends. Still, it’s a dandy film and has one of the truly great soundtracks in movie history. It manages to be nostalgic even for people who didn’t come of age in the early 1960s.
2. The Sting is arguably a perfect movie. There isn’t a single frame that is out of place, nor a single hair on a character’s head that doesn’t work. The cast, the plot, the setting, the scenery, the music, the costuming…it’s all perfect. What stops it from being on the top for me is simply that The Sting is ultimately a trifle. It’s a two-hour con game, and while that con game is wildly entertaining and I always enjoy watching this movie, when it’s done it’s not unlike having a delicious piece of candy. It’s wonderfully made and a great experience, but once it’s gone, there’s not much left of it.
1: In a real way, The Exorcist even being nominated for Best Picture was kind of a win since horror is a genre that doesn’t get a great deal of love from the Academy no matter how good the movie. This is one of the granddaddies of the genre, one of the very few films by which all other horror films are measured. It still has a great deal of impact as well. If The Exorcist has suffered a bit from the ravages of time, it has done so only because virtually every horror film that has followed it has built on the foundation it established. It was groundbreaking and trend setting in all of the best ways. The Academy should’ve done more than give it a “win” by putting it in such good company. It should have gotten the statue.