Summary: I rashly predicted that 1971 would end up as the strongest year of the Boffo project, but 1972 quickly proved me wrong. With four 10 ratings and a conspicuous lack of genuine stinkers, 1972 rode all-time great The Godfather to an insanely high 7.53 Boffo per-week average (see below). Part of the glory of 1972 was that the top-rated films were also among the most popular: Fully 23 weeks saw a 10-rated 1972 release at the top of the list.
Will we ever see again a string of #1 movies as strong as the consecutive releases of Cabaret, What’s Up, Doc?, and The Godfather? (They clocked in at 10-9-10 in the Boffo ratings.) It seems unlikely.
If Boffo’s first two years were marked by a young/old split, 1972 smoothed out the difference, integrating that youthful spirit and a dollop of ethnic diversity into time-tested genres like the screwball comedy (What’s Up, Doc?), the gangster film (The Godfather), and the showbiz biopic (Lady Sings the Blues). Sounder, Lady Sings the Blues, and the second installment in the Shaft series established once and for all that black movies were truly a part of mainstream cinema.
If 1970’s Five Easy Pieces and 1971’s Klute showed where Hollywood could go, then Cabaret, The Godfather, and Deliverance were the destination — attained remarkably soon, too. Popular American movies were as rich, expansive, and ambitious as they would ever be. Fat City showed the possibilities of low-down, observational cinema — even in America — while What’s Up, Doc? established that an outstanding movie needn’t be so serious.
The volatility of previous #1s, even great ones, ripened into a kind of equilibrium. Deliverance and The Godfather and Jeremiah Johnson had plenty of disturbing violence, but repose increasingly seemed an option, exemplified by … the selfsame trio, oddly enough, as well as the miraculously beatific Sounder. The good movies didn’t overstrain to land their points — the issue-centered The Boys in the Band and Diary of a Mad Housewife, typical of 1970, had only one true heir, Butterflies Are Free; the gloriously intelligent Cabaret seemed more the order of the day. Alas, the slick nastiness of the year’s closing #1, The Getaway, seemed a portent of the future of Hollywood.
Of the 19 movies, 8 were set in the past (1776 seemed to fetishize this particular trait), 10 were set in the present (counting Everything You Always Wanted to Know as present-day, which is a fudge), and 1 was set in the future. The Vietnam War was entirely out of the picture at this point — did it become passé, perhaps? — supplanted by the more thoroughgoingly critical trioka of Deliverance, The Godfather, and Jeremiah Johnson, all of which pointed to deeper flaws in the American fabric.
Academy Awards: The Godfather dominated the awards, of course, garnering trophies for Best Picture, Best Actor (Brando), and Best Adapted Screenplay. In most other years, Cabaret would have won Best Picture, but it had to settle for Best Actress (Minnelli), Best Supporting Actor (Grey), and, interestingly, Fosse over Coppola for Best Director. Sounder and Deliverance were both appropriately nominated for Best Picture as well; I would have liked to see Fat City in that group, but no luck. Eileen Heckart won Best Supporting Actress for her work in Butterflies Are Free, but Fat City‘s Susan Tyrrell would have been a far better choice. The other actors from #1 movies who were nominated were Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield from Sounder, Shelley Winters in The Poseidon Adventure, Diana Ross in Lady Sings the Blues, and a trio of Corleone siblings (one adopted) in James Caan, Robert Duvall, and Al Pacino.
The Godfather (10)
Jeremiah Johnson (10)
Fat City (9)
What’s Up, Doc? (9)
Joe Kidd (7)
===== 6.5 =====
Lady Sings the Blues (6)
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) (6)
The Hot Rock (6)
The Cowboys (6)
Play It Again, Sam (5)
Shaft’s Big Score (5)
The Getaway (5)
Butterflies Are Free (4)
The Poseidon Adventure (4)
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (4)
MVPs: Robert Redford, Woody Allen, Stefan Gierasch, Al Lettieri, Francis Ford Coppola, Al Pacino, Jon Voight, Liza Minnelli, Bob Fosse, Burt Reynolds, Stacy Keach, Susan Tyrrell, John Boorman, Peter Bogdanovich, Sydney Pollack, Madeline Kahn
Pleasant surprises: Jeremiah Johnson, Sounder, What’s Up, Doc?
Disappointments: The Getaway, Play It Again, Sam
Weighted IMDB average for 1972 #1 movies (56 weeks): 7.56
Weighted Boffo average for 1972 #1 movies (56 weeks): 7.53
Notable movies that did not reach #1: Across 110th Street, Avanti!, Aguirre: the Wrath of God, Bad Company, Behind the Green Door, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, Blacula, Boxcar Bertha, The Candidate, The Canterbury Tales, Chloe in the Afternoon, Cries and Whispers, Deep Throat, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, The Emigrants, Fellini’s Roma, Frenzy, Fritz the Cat, The Harder They Come, Images, The King of Marvin Gardens, Pink Flamingos, The Ruling Class, Silent Running, Slaughterhouse-Five, Sleuth, Solaris, Super Fly, Tout va bien, The Valachi Papers
Further reading: Pauline Kael, Deeper Into Movies; J. Hoberman, The Dream Life