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William C. Altreuter
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Friday, April 08, 2011

The 70's are pretty generally regarded as a peak moment in movie making, and it is not hard to see why when you run down the movies on these lists of the best of 1972. Holy crow, Andrew Sarris (generally my favorite critic) doesn't even have "The Godfather" in his top 16. I'm surprised by how many of these I haven't seen, and I suppose a visit to my Netflix queue is now in order. "Travels With My Aunt"-- in many ways an oddity in Graham Greene's oevre, although a novel that I really like-- is not available on dvd. It sounds like it might be a bit of a mess. "Slaughter-House Five" is a mess too, as I recall, but why wouldn't it be? I used to not like the novel, but now I think it may be the greatest WWII novel of all time, with all due respect to Norman Mailer. Sarris' list seems very auteur theory driven-- there are a lot of great directors, but the movies by them seem to be "interesting" rather than "wonderful". "Frenzy" is minor Hitchcock, "Avanti" is last gasp Billy Wilder. I've never seen "Duck, You Sucker". I recall liking "The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie", but I haven't been struck by the impulse to see it again. Some of the movies Sarris didn't like as much are notable in retrospect as well: "Play It Again, Sam" is sub-optimal Woody Allen from the period just before his peak, but Peter Bogdanovich's "What's Up Doc?" holds up well, and I wonder why it was overlooked at awards time.

Much of the time-- maybe most of the time-- I'm inclined to go with critics' lists like this rather than looking to the Oscars as a guide to what was notable and excellent in a given year, but the nominees for Best Picture at the 45th Academy Awards don't seem very far off the mark at all: "The Godfather" won, beating "Deliverance", "Cabaret", "Sounder" and "The Emigrants". (Sarris thought "Sounder" and "The Emigrants" were "uninspired". I haven't seen "The Emigrants", but it certainly sounds grim. Depending on how you think of "Sounder" that's three or four pretty good movies on a list of five, which is a better percentage than you might expect. For the sake of argument you could swap "Sounder" out for the Bogdanovich (it wouldn't win, because it is a comedy), and substitute Marcel Ophuls's "The Sorrow and the Pity" for "The Emigrants" (also not a winner, because it isn't Amurican) and have a pretty great list.

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