The Year in Review: 1973

High Plains DrifterSummary: A very strong year, to be sure, and yet — perhaps not quite as overpowering as the myth of the cinema of the 1970s would lead us to expect. Not as strong as 1972, with its four 10s; note that the recipient of that distinction this year is not a movie that is ordinarily singled out to that degree (although, to be fair, lots of people think more highly of several of the other movies here). Plenty of 7s and 8s, though. If the absolute peak of the early 1970s cinema had passed, the gains were being consolidated.

Judging from the 1973 hits, Americans were finding new ways to experience uncompromising expression, from Bruce Lee’s placid mask of concentration to Marlon Brando’s Whitmanesque yawps. The point is, genre movies were increasingly taking the hint too, but the end result was by and large more ecstatically individual than anything anyone would classify as brooding — Watergate/Vietnam or no. Penetrating and focused, the movies struck out in all kinds of directions. With the possible exception of Mean Streets and Serpico, which both used grimy Greenwich Village, you wouldn’t mistake any of these movies for any of the others.

American Graffiti, Mean Streets, Serpico, Paper Moon, and Last Tango in Paris and others represented the kind of bracing, unexpected, personal, and yet brazenly commercial cinema that represents the best of the era. One is tempted to say that grand ambitions were scaled down in favor of emotional accuracy, although that can’t exactly be said of High Plains Drifter, as cerebral and peculiar a work as Hollywood has ever produced. Sympathy grabs Save the Tiger and The Way We Were were more calculated — and hollow. Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Walking Tall, Paper Moon, and Serpico form a loose group as movies unafraid to foreground unpleasant attributes in their heroes; Mean Streets and American Graffiti, alike in so many other ways, were a little cagier on this score.

For the first time in the Boffo project, 1973 saw a fair number of children’s movies, which, as is to be expected, hewed to a nice middlebrow accessibility, even if the cautious note of professionalism predominated. (Perhaps this is inevitable.) Of the 21 movies, ten were set in the past, ten in the present, and one — it’s always the Planet of the Apes entry — was set in the future. Locales ranged as far afield as French Guiana, Hong Kong, Paris, and Berlin; American settings included Modesto, New York, Tennessee, San Francisco, Missouri, Los Angeles, and Miami. All in all, pretty well distributed.

Academy Awards: The Oscars were dominated by The Sting, which was released in late December but was blocked by Magnum Force and The Exorcist (which first hit #1 in 1974) from ever hitting #1. American Graffiti is the only movie listed here that was nominated for Best Movie, but Lucas was joined by Bertolucci in the Best Director category. Jack Lemmon and Tatum O’Neal won for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress, for Save the Tiger and Paper Moon, respectively; other acting nominees included Brando (Last Tango in Paris), Pacino (Serpico), Streisand (The Way We Were), Jack Gilford (Save the Tiger), Candy Clark (American Graffiti), and the always awesome Madeline Kahn (Paper Moon). Serpico, Paper Moon, Save the Tiger, and American Graffiti were nominated in the two Best Screenplay categories.

My ranking:
High Plains Drifter (10)
Mean Streets (9)
Magnum Force (8)
Enter the Dragon (8)
Last Tango in Paris (8)
Paper Moon (8)
Serpico (8)
Robin Hood (8)
American Graffiti (8)
Walking Tall (7)
Papillon (7)
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (7)
Charlotte’s Web (7)
===== 6.5 =====
Hitler: The Last Ten Days (6)
Save the Tiger (6)
The Way We Were (6)
Battle for the Planet of the Apes (6)
Live and Let Die (5)
Tom Sawyer (5)
Charley and the Angel (3)
Lady Ice (2)

MVPs: Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Bruce Lee, Joe Don Baker, Maria Schneider, Peter Bogdanovich

Pleasant surprises: High Plains Drifter, Magnum Force, Robin Hood, Walking Tall

Disappointment: Lady Ice

Weighted IMDB average for 1970 #1 movies (47 weeks): 6.83

Weighted Boffo average for 1970 #1 movies (47 weeks): 6.98

Notable movies that did not reach #1: Amarcord, Badlands, Bang the Drum Slowly, Blume in Love, Charley Varrick, Cleopatra Jones, Coffy, Day for Night, The Day of the Jackal, Don’t Look Now, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Last American Hero, The Last Detail, The Laughing Policeman, The Long Goodbye, O Lucky Man!, The Paper Chase, Scenes from a Marriage, Sisters, Sleeper, Soylent Green, The Spirit of the Beehive, The Sting, A Touch of Class, The Wicker Man

Further reading: Pauline Kael, Reeling; J. Hoberman, The Dream Life

Get High Plains Drifter at Amazon!


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