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Best Films of 1972: Eight 10-Best Lists (And ‘The Godfather’ Only Makes One of Them!)

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Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.
January 11, 1973, Vol. XVIII, No. 2

films in focus
by Andrew Sarris

‘Tis the season to grind out 10-best lists, and this is certainly not the year to turn one’s back on tradition. Still, there is at least one prominent film critic who has never run the gauntlet of outraged readers with a published 10-best list.

We at the Voice have always been made of sterner stuff. Anyway, after being blasted all year, what do we have left to lose by the time another January rolls around? And so without further ado or apologia, here is my 10-best tap-dance for 1972:

Luis Bunuel’s “THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE,” Alfred Hitchcock’s “FRENZY,” George Cukor’s “TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT,” Kenji Mizoguchi’s “UTAMARO AND HIS FIVE WOMEN,” Francois Truffaut’s “TWO ENGLISH GIRLS,” Joseph Losey’s “THE ASSASSINATION OF TROTSKY,” Marcel Ophuls’s “THE SORROW AND THE PITY,” Robert Aldrich’s “ULZANA’S RAID,” Sergio Leone’s “DUCK, YOU SUCKER,” Blake Edward’s “THE CAREY TREATMENT,” Claude Jutra’s “MON ONCLE ANTOINE,” Billy Wilder’s “AVANTI!”, Robert Benton’s “BAD COMPANY,” Anthony Friedman’s “BARTLEBY,” Robert Altman’s “IMAGES,” Gordon Parks, Jr.’s “SUPER FLY.”

If you count carefully, you will see that my 10-best list consists of 16 titles. Perhaps my raging unconscious is reacting against 10-best-list-makers this year with only a super-eight or elitist-eight-10-best list. Or perhaps I am getting too old to wrestle with the annual nightmare of which film to place in the paradise of 10th place and which film in the purgatory of 11th. In either case, I wish to take a stand against the notion that 10-best lists comprise the only films that are worth seeing in the course of a year. Priority, not exclusivity, is the point of my list. And I will continue to think about the films of 1972 in the years to come.

As it is, a great many fascinating alternatives present themselves for consideration. Yasujiro Ozu’s “Late Spring” and “The Tokyo Story” stay in my mind for their extraordinary virtuosity and control, but something that I cannot articulate adequately still bothers me about Ozu. Alain Resnais’s “Je t’aime, je t’aime” and Robert Bresson’s “Four Nights of a Dreamer” are curiously disembodied works by artists worthy always of support and recognition. Alain Taner’s “The Salamander” and “Charles, Dead or Alive” seemed more important when they came out than they do now. Tanner, even more than Rohmer, represents the triumph of the verbal over the visual, and the visual takes its revenge in memory. But then Rohmer’s “Chloe in the Afternoon” struck me as considerably less appealing than either “My Night at Maud’s” or “Claire’s Knee.” John Huston’s “Fat City” almost made my list, but I decided finally that it took too long to get to its high point in the ring with Stacy Keach and Sixto Rodriguez. Jacques Rivette’s “L’Amour Fou” was a massive achievement, but it reminded me more of “Paris Belongs to Us” than of “La Religieuse,” and I have always much preferred the latter to the former. There is ultimately something too heavy about Rivette. Robert Mulligan’s “The Other” and Waris Hussein’s “The Possession of Joel Delany” were interesting, but very uneven horror fantasies, but both were engrossing to watch. Jean Pierre Melville’s “Le Samourai” (expediently retitled “The Godson”) was more interesting stylistically than Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather,” but try telling that to the Internal Revenue Service. Peter Bogdanovich’s “What’s Up Doc?” and Woody Allen’s “Play It Again, Sam” and his sexless sex hodgepodge made fortunes at the box-office with the most strenuously flat gags since the Golden Age of the Three Stooges.

I’m already getting frowning glances for not bowing down to Ingmar Bergman’s “Cries and Whispers,” but I’m waiting impatiently for a literate analysis of the film from one of its professed admirers rather the “Wow! look at Bergman be deep and mysterious and bloody about Life and Death” teaser ads masquerading as reviews. I don’t happen to think that Bergman has earned his shock effects with characterization or observation. When the Ingrid Thulin character simulates the slashing of her vagina with the jagged fragment of a wine glass, and then rubs the blood across her face, the cryptic fortune-cookie comments which precede this gesture seem in retrospect more an excuse than an explanation for the marital Grand Guignol. Similarly, when Liv Ullmann is dragged before the mirror to have the duplicity of her features described by her cynical lover, the eye of this erstwhile Bergmaniac picks up the familiar subtitled pomposities of the author as they were delivered in a dozen previous movies (usually by Gunnar Bjornstrand). It is Ingmar scolding Liv and all women for losing their monumental innocence, but also scolding himself for his own selfish narcissism. It all goes back to God being dead and Death playing chess, but if I am to get into Scandinavian mysticism I prefer to read the worldly ruminations of Kierkegaard rather than depress myself with the insular images of Bergman.

Some negative feedback has been funneled to me also over my reservations toward Jacques Tati’s “Traffic.” My heresy here can be traced to a misconception I picked up in my childhood about comedians being supposed to make you laugh at least once in a while. I realize that this is a dangerously reactionary Gilbert Seldian position to uphold in this age of humorless Zen and solemn spirituality of all sorts. But there you are. I remain unrepentant in 1973. Then there were the uninspired UNESCO films like “The Emigrants” and “Sounder.” On the positive side were such nice flicks as Stephen Frear’s “Gumshoe,” Lamont Johnson’s “The Groundstar Conspiracy,” Burt Kennedy’s “Hannie Caulder,” and Sam Peckinpah’s “Junior Bonner.” And I wound up being involved in “The Poseidon Adventure” almost in spite of myself. And although I did not end up being enchanted by the films of Bergman, Fellini, and Tati. I still hold to the position I expressed to McCandlish Philips of the Times this summer to the effect that directors like Bergman and Fellini (and Tati) deserve inclusion in the New York Film Festival sight unseen if necessary.

Among the actresses I applauded were Susannah York in “Images” and “X, Y, and Zee,” Janet Suzman in “A Day in the Death of Joe Egg,” Cybill Shepherd (but not Jeannie Berlin) in “The Heartbreak Kid” (but then I don’t believe that actresses should win awards simply because they smear egg-salad over their face for grotesque pathos), Bulle Ogier in “La Salamandre,” “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” and “L’Amour Fou,” Anna Massey in “Frenzy,” Valentina Cortese in “Assassination of Trotsky,” Candy Clark in “Fat City,” Carol White in “Dulcima,” Diane Keaton in “Play It Again, Sam,” but not in the macho mush of “The Godfather,” Ida Lupino and Barbara Leigh in “Junior Bonner,” Deirdre Lenihan in “Glass Houses” and “The Carey Treatment,” Diana Ross in “Lady Sings the Blues,” Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis, and Holly Woodlawn in “Women in Revolt,” Juliet Mills in “Avanti!,” Vonetta McGee in “Melinda,” Trish Van Devere and Janet Leigh in “One is a Lonely Number,” Lee Remick in “Sometimes a Great Notion,” Barbara Harris in “The War Between Men and Women,” Sandy Ratcliff in “Wednesday’s Child,” Madeline Kahn in “What’s Up, Doc?”, and Barbara Hershey in “Dealing etc.” and “Boxcar Bertha.”

Actors worthy of remembrance were Alec McCowen in “Travels with My Aunt” and “Frenzy,” James Mason in “Child’s Play,” Richard Burton in “Assassination of Trotsky” and “Bluebeard,” Walter Huddleston in “Bad Company,” Jeff Bridges in “Bad Company,” Paul Scofield and John McEnery in “Bartleby,” James Coburn in “The Carey Treatment” and “Duck, You Sucker,” Stacy Keach, Nick Colasanto, and Sixto Rodriguez in “Fat City,” Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Richard Castellano, James Caan, Richard Conte, and Al Lettieri in “The Godfather,” Steve McQueen, Robert Preston and Ben Johnson in “Junior Bonner,” Richard Pryor and Billy Dee Williams in “Lady Sings the Blues,” Ron O’Neal, Carl Lee, and Julius W. Harris in “Super Fly,” Joel Grey in “Cabaret,” Roscoe Lee Browne and John Wayne in “The Cowboys,” David Carradine and Ben Casey in “Boxcar Bertha,” Jorge Luke, Burt Lancaster, Richard Jaeckel, and Bruce Davison in “Ulzana’s Raid,” Paul Benjamin and Antonio Fargas in “Across 110th Street,” Robert Culp and Christopher Lee in “Hannie Caulder,” Alberto Sordi in “Why,” Clive Revill and Jack Lemmon in “Avanti!”, Tony Perkins in “Play It As it Lays,” Richard Jaeckel, Paul Newman, and Henry Fonda in “Sometimes a Great Notion,” and James Earl Jones in “The Man.”

Also, as an afterthought, Wojciek Has’s “The Saragossa Manuscript,” Elia Kazan’s “The Visitors,” Richard A. Colla’s “Fuzz,” and Curtis Harrington’s “Who Slew Auntie Roo.” A Happy New Year to the New Yorker, the Elgin, the St. Mark’s Cinema, the Theater 80 St. Mark’s, the Museum of Modern Art, the Gallery of Modern Art, the Film Forum, the Anthology Archives, the Whitney Museum, the Columbia University Cinematheque, and all the many revival and first-run houses around New York. And already in 1973 we have the first strong candidate for next year’s 10-best list in Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Spider’s Stratagem” at the New Yorker. Death be not proud and all that, but 1972 decimated the ranks of the dream-makers by taking from us Gene Austin, Ross S. Bagdasarian, Howard Barlow, Sally Benson, Dan Blocker, Betty Blythe, William (Hopalong) Boyd, Pierre Brasseur, Harry Joe Brown, Bruce Cabot, Leo G. Carroll, John Chapman, Maurice Chevalier, Dorothy Comingore, Jerome Cowan, Paul Czinner, Jacques Deval, Brandon de Wilde, William Dieterle, Robert Emmett Dolan, Andrea Feldman, Frances H. Flaherty, Ennio Flaiano, Max Fleischer, Sidney Franklin, Rudoff Friml, Goeren Gentele, John Grierson, Ferde Grofe, Jennie Grossinger, Gabriel Heatter, Jerome Hill, Stuart Holmes, Miriam Hopkins, Rochelle Hudson, Steve Ihnat, Mahalia Jackson, Isabell Jewell, Jessie Royce Landis, Sidney Lanfield, Walter Lang, Joi Lansing, Rose La Rose, D. Ross Lederman, Bert Lee, Jr., Mitchell Leisen, Oscar Levant, Albert Lieven, John Litel, Don Loper, Marilyn Maxwell, David McCallum, Hugh McDermott, Ruth McKenney, Jorge Mistral, Janet Munro, Tom Neal, Asta Nielsen, Max Nosseck, Reginald Owen, Lew Parker, Dita Parlo, Louella O. Parsons, Stanley Prager, George Prud’Homme, B.S. Pully, J. Arthur Rank, Harry Richman, Wesley Ruggles, Margaret Rutherford, Aline B. Saarinen, George Sanders, Gia Scala, Adrian Scott, Betty Smith, A.C. Spectorsky, Akim Tamiroff, Frank Tashlin, Helen Traubel, Edgar G. Ulmer, Margaret Webster, Billy Williams, Edmund Wilson, Marie Wilson, Walter Winchell, Claire Windsor.

The cinema and I are growing older together, but neither one of us has lost our capacity for hope and enthusiasm. Next year may or may not be better, but insofar as I have any critical credo at all, I shall strive to make it seem clearer. The members of The Voice film staff have contributed the following 10-best lists:

MOLLY HASKELL: “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” “Two English Girls,” “Utamaro and His Five Women,” “The Sorrow and the pity,” “Ulzana’s Raid,” “Mon Oncle Antoine,” “The Assassination of Trotsky,” “Travels With My Aunt,” “The Carey Treatment,” “Women in Revolt,” Runners up: “Bartleby,” “L’Amour Fou.”

STUART BYRON: “Late Spring,” “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” “Four Nights of a Dreamer,” “The Sorrow and the Pity,” “Frenzy,” “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean,” “Ulzana’s Raid,” “Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son,” “Fat City,” “Savages,” Runners up: “Cabaret,” “Tokyo Story,” “The Carey Treatment,” “L’Amour Fou,” “Utamaro and His Five Women,” “Without Apparent Motive,” “The Heartbreak Kid,” “The Assassination of Trotsky,” “Super Fly,” “Avanti!” Never saw: “Arruza,” “Mon Oncle Antoine.” Hors concurs; “L.A. Plays Itself.”

RICHARD CORLISS: “Two English Girls,” “Love,” “Duck, You Sucker,” “Gumshoe,” “Cries and Whispers,” “The Heartbreak Kid,” “Bad Company,” “Travels With My Aunt,” “The Visitors,” “Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde.”

TOM COSTNER: (in no particular order) — “Sleuth,” “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” “Slaughter-House Five,” “Fellini’s Roma,” “Four Nights of a Dreamer,” “Chloe in the Afternoon,” “Play It Again, Sam,” “La Salamandre,” “Ulzana’s Raid,” “The Groundstar Conspiracy.”

MICHAEL KERBEL: “Utamaro and His Five Women,” “Four Nights of a Dreamer,” “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” “The Godfather,” “Tokyo Story,” “Prime Cut,” (The Complete) “Pandora’s Box” (at the Elgin), “Four Nights of a Dreamer,” “Deliverance,” “Frenzy.”

WILLIAM PAUL: “Travels With My Aunt,” “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” “The Other,” “Frenzy,” “Avanti!,” “Two English Girls,” “Ulzana’s Raid,” “The Groundstar Conspiracy.”

JONATHAN ROSEMBAUM: “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” “L’Amour Fou,” “The Central Region” (Michael Snow), “Such Good Friends,” “Phantom India,” “Umbracle” (Pedro Portabella), “Last Tango in Paris,” “Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania,” “Fat City,” “Frenzy.”

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]

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