Best Films of 1970!


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January 21, 1971, Vol. XVI, No. 3

Films in Focus
By Andrew Sarris

The time has not only come, it is probably long past, to survey the moviegoing year of 1970 (itself either the last year of the ’60s or the first year of the ’70s), to point with pride and view with alarm, to rejoice and to despair, to hail and to harumph, to plug and to pan, and, above all, to unveil and justify one’s ten-best list. Unfortunately, my blushing ten-best list has long since been unveiled (in the Sunday Times of December 27, 1970, to be precise) as follows: ” ‘Au Hasard Balthazar,’ ‘My Night at Maud’s,’ ‘Tristana,’ ‘On a Clear Day You Can See Forever,’ ‘Raven’s End,’ ‘Brewster McCloud,’ ‘This Man Must Die,’ ‘The Ballad of Cable Hogue,’ ‘There Was a Crooked Man,’ ‘Two Mules for Sister Sara.’ And a very special mention to the Buster Keaton and Ingmar Bergman Festivals at the Elgin, to Kenji Mizoguchi’s sublime ‘Yang Kewi Fei’ at the New York Film Festival, and to the Russian and Japanese program at the New Yorker.”

My acting choices for both the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics were as follows: Best Actress: Tuesday Weld (“I Walk the Line”), Francoise Fabienne (“My Night at Maud’s”), Annie Girardot (“Love is a Funny Thing”), Best Actor: Marcello Mastroianni (“The Pizza Triangle”), Jean-Louis Trintignant (“My Night at Maud’s”), George Segal (“Loving,” “Where’s Poppa,” but not “The Owl and the Pussycat”). Best Supporting Actress: Jenny Runacre (“Husbands”), Ellen Burstyn (“Alex in Wonderland”), Candy Barr (“History of the Blue Movie”). Best Supporting Actor: Hume Cronyn (“There Was a Crooked Man”), George Sanders (“The Kremlin Letter”), Ralph Meeker (“I Walk the Line”).

Actually, I feel most strongly about the first three films on my ten-best list (“Balthazar,” “Maud’s,” and “Tristana”). And I liked Bresson’s “Balthazar” much more than his “Mouchette,” and Bunuel’s “Tristana” more than his “The Milky Way.” As for the next seven films, they could be joined by a great many more (in no particular order): “M*A*S*H,” “Patton,” “Loving,” “Boy,” “The Forbin Project,” “The Grasshopper,” “Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon,” “Darling Lili,” “Me,” “The Rise and Fall of Louis XIV,” “Five Easy Pieces,” “Kes,” “The McKenzie Break,” “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes,” “The Pizza Triangle,” “Husbands,” “I Walk the Line,” “A Very Curious Girl,” “Lovers and Other Strangers.”

Musical documentaries were very big this year, and the people who make them seem to be getting the hand of them as evidenced by “Johnny Cash: the Man, His World, His Music,” “Elvis — That’s the Way It Is,” “Woodstock,” “Carry It On,” “Let It Be,” and “Gimme Shelter.” All these films seemed light years more timely than, say, “Song of Norway.” But next year? The performers may remain fresh, but the self-advertised modernism of the style seems stale even now.

“Performance,” “Trash,” “Ice,” “Riverrun,” “Early Works,” “Antonio ads Mortes,” “Passion of Anna,” “Fellini Satyricon,” “A Married Couple,” “An Event,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” “See You at Mao,” “Pravda,” “Two or Three Things I Know About Her,” “Le Gai Savoir,” “Catch-22,” “Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion,” and “Little Big Man” were movies I found more ambitious than affecting. And I must say I remain a Mizoguchi man, not having been overwhelmed by Ozu.

On the other hand, I found myself sympathetically stirred by the failed ambitiousness of “Zabriski Point,” “In Search of Gregory,” “Leo the Last,” “Ryan’s Daughter,” “The Kremlin Letter,” “The Only Game in Town,” “The Liberation of L.B. Jones,” and “Mandabi.” But this is all shooting from the hip. The more I dive into the flux of film history, the more I realize that I will have a much sounder line on the films of 1970 in the year 2000. Right now I’m rushing off to catch the two Metro silent Keatons at the Bijour Theatre: “The Cameraman” and “Spite Marriage.” And “White Heat” at the New Yorker coming to us all the way from 1949. Now there’s a year I know two or three things about.

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