Friday, May 20, 2016

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 1973

The Contenders:

American Graffiti
Cries and Whispers
The Exorcist
The Sting (winner)
A Touch of Class

What’s Missing

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.

My Choice

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.

Final Analysis


  1. I'd switch Cries & Whispers and American Graffiti but otherwise I agree with your ranking. I really don't like American Graffiti at all and I do like A Touch of Class, but that's more due to Glenda Jackson, cinematically though Graffiti is a richer film.

    Actually The Exorcist is the only one of the five that would make my own list and it wouldn't be my winner there but of the actual nominees it should have taken the prize.

    As to what's missing aside from those you mentioned, and at least Day for Night won Best Foreign Film, I'd add The Three Musketeers, The Last of Sheila and the film that would be my winner The Day of the Jackal.

    1. In these posts, I'm always limited by what I've seen, of course. I'm pretty sure I've seen The Day of the Jackal, but I'm also pretty sure it was during the Carter administration, so it's not one I feel like I can speak on.

      For the record, I almost did switch Cries and Whispers and American Graffiti up until the moment I actually posted.

  2. There are so many great movies mentioned here that I don't even want to wade into this one.

    My only comment is: You really really need to see Paper Moon.

    And I probably really really need to see Wicker Man.

    1. And I forgot to congratulate you for mentioning Spirit of the Beehive. If I had to pick a favorite out of the movies mentioned here, the first thing I'd do is narrow it down to three, maybe four, and Beehive would certainly make the cut.

    2. Paper Moon is on the list, so I'll get to it one of these days. The Wicker Man is a load of fun, provided you find the one with Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward and not the Nicolas Cage version.

  3. I saw The Exorcist in the theater when it first came out and I'm not enough of a completist to ever chance seeing it again. It bothered me that people even wanted to look at it. That's just me though. Can't quibble with your rankings really.

    1. I get that--it's a sort of film that often comes with an extreme reaction. Since I'm not a believer in the spiritual side of things, it affects me a lot less than it does other people. I think it's pretty brilliant all the way around.

  4. I've always thought "American Graffiti" was Lucas's best film. It is so naturally appealing and the characters are winsome without being cloying. Like The Sting, it suffers a little from not being about much more than an interesting slice of life. "The Sting" is a perfectly constructed toy that delights exactly the way you want it to. The first viewing is for the surprise, the second to see how it was done and then you need to wait a while to be able to enjoy it again, like a good piece of candy, too much at one time is tough on the tummy. Speaking of tough on the tummy, "The Exorcist" managed to scare the begeezus out of everyone, and contain three impressive performances, and convince us that this stuff could be real. It also asks some moral questions and raises issues of faith, but I know that's not why you had it number one, it's because it kicked you hard, you know where, and still holds up.

    1. Actually, if you read my review of it, The Exorcist really didn't kick me that hard. I think it is a genuinely great film, but I didn't find it as terrifyingly scary as most people do because I don't have a belief system that includes any of it.

      It's a film that remains impressive because of just how much influence it still holds on the industry and the genre. Really, as I watched The Exorcist I wondered about Linda Blair being forced to mouth the things she had to.

      Still, I do think it's the best of 1973 for a lot of reasons, even if you really need to be Catholic to have it work completely.