Friday, May 11, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1972

The Contenders:

Bob Fosse: Cabaret (winner)
John Boorman: Deliverance
Jan Troell: The Emigrants
Francis Ford Coppola: The Godfather
Joseph L. Mankiewicz: Sleuth

What’s Missing

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I tend to think of Best Director as not the best story of the year, but the best storytelling. That being the case, there are some places in 1972 where we can make changes or additions. In the “could never be nominated” department we can include Gordon Parks Jr. for Superfly and Ronald Neame for The Poseidon Adventure. Wes Craven would never get a nomination, but The Last House on the Left was certainly innovative and influential. Woody Allen is the sort of director who gets nominated, but not for a film like Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex. I think it’s also worth mentioning Peter Sasdy and The Stone Tape, not eligible by virtue of the film being on BBC television. There’s plenty of possibilities for foreign films. Here we can start with Andrei Tarkovsky and Solaris, followed by Luis Bunuel for The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Werner Herzog for Aguirre: The Wrath of God, and Ingmar Bergman for Cries and Whispers arguably his best film. Beyond those, I’d consider John Huston for Fat City and Robert Altman for the disturbing Images.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. The Emigrants and Jan Troell took up the foreign nomination for 1972, which seems like a waste of a nomination to me. There’s nothing specifically wrong with The Emigrants aside from it being long and a bit self-indulgent because of that length. Compare it with the four foreign movies I mentioned above and, regardless of how I might rank them depending on my mood, Troell and The Emigrants is going to come in fifth place out of five every single time.

4. I really like Sleuth as a film and I like Joseph Mankiewicz as a director. In this case, though, my reason for liking Sleuth as much as I do is entirely based on the wickedly sharp screenplay and the wonderful characterizations presented by Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier. This is a performance film and a screenplay film, not a director film. Mankiewicz really just needed to stick his camera in the right place and let the actors do their work. When you’ve got two actors this accomplished, I wonder how much he had to do to get this performances out of them.

3. Deliverance is remembered for two particular scenes. You’ve got Dueling Banjos and you’ve got the “squeal like a pig” scene. Because of that, it’s easy to forget just how tight of a thriller it manages to be. Deliverance is a far better movie than those two scenes, and a lot of that comes from Boorman’s tight direction. He gets a great deal from his cast here and manages to build up a lot of tension in what should be a very simple story. I like this nomination pretty well once I really think about it; I don’ t like it for the win, though.

2. Bob Fosse’s work on Cabaret puts me in an interesting situation. This is a film that I respect a great deal more than I like. I don’t like the characters at all, and yet I find them completely pitiable. And I can’t deny that Fosse’s work on it is a great deal of the reason that it works. Fosse demonstrated throughout his career that he could be innovative in a way that enhanced the story he was telling. That’s true in all of his best work, and Cabaret belongs in that category. I understand the win, even if I don’t entirely agree.

My Choice

1. Could there really be a different winner? Francis Ford Coppola created a behemoth with The Godfather, and he didn’t really get his due or full credit until a couple of years later with the sequel. The truth is that I like the idea of The Godfather more than I like the actual film, but I can’t deny that it has affected so many films that came after it. Coppola reinvented the mob genre, updating the idea of film noir in so many ways, and giving us a sprawling story that works beautifully. I’m happy he won a couple of years later, but he should have won here, too.

Final Analysis


  1. I'm a Fosse fan and also a big admirer of Boorman's film. There were also no shortage of other good candidates from this year. All that being said, it was Coppola above everyone else that made The Godfather the film that it was. He should have won by a mile. I'm glad he won for Godfather II and probably should have won for Apocalypse, Now, as well.

  2. I'm the voice of dissent.

    I'm not a fan of Cabaret, many aspects of it are good (the music most of all) but I struggled though it. The Godfather was trendsetting and a major event but my vote would go to Boorman for Deliverance. Godfather is an epic tale writ large and masterfully told but Deliverance is much simpler and pulled as taut as a tightrope. Because the scope is so concentrated harder to maintain that tension throughout but Boorman manages it expertly.

    1. That's kind of where I am with Cabaret. I admire it as a project in a lot of ways and find it fascinating that it managed to get me to care about Sally, who I find reprehensible as a character. Fosse has to get some credit for that.

      And I see your point on Deliverance. There's a lot to be said for creating that sort of taut thriller that well, but there's a part of me that will tend to side with a masterfully created epic when given the chance.

  3. Honorable mention could also go to Douglas Trumbull for Silent Running , Bob Rafelson for The King of Marvin Gardens, Sydney Pollack for Jeremiah Johnson and George Roy Hill for Slaughterhouse-Five. Looking back, A very strong year.

    1. I considered a mention for Trumbull and Silent Running. I like that film as an idea more than I do as a film, though. It's just so slow!

  4. It is easy for me to confuse Best picture with Best director. The Godfather is undisputedly the best picture of 72, but there was a lot of more interesting directorial efforts in otherwise poorer films. I have a lot of complaints with Deliverance, but directionwise this point forward big time. The Bourgeoisie is a director's vision perfectly executed.

    1. I get that, and I have a strange relationship with The Godfather. I think it's a great movie, but it's also one I never think to want to watch. But I do think that Coppola told that story as well as it could be told, and for me, that's the entire point of Best Director.