best film:  The Godfather from Francis Ford Coppola

  • It’s certainly not hard to find aspects to praise even after ten viewings of the film
  • The opening long take is an absolute stunner and certainly not something I appreciated when I first started getting into cinema

I think I may have referred to Fincher as “the master of darkness” on past posts but of course Godon Willis- the DP here- is that (he was NOT nominated for an Oscar here). Pakula films, Woody Allen films- but nothing better than this this collaborations with Coppola.

  • So many dissolves in the editing style. I love it- one highlight is the ellipsis editing dissolve approach at the horse head scene- wonderful
  • It’s just one dizzyingly beautiful set piece after another
  • The ending montage is one of the greatest in film history
  • This may also be the greatest pure narrative in the history of film
  • There’s zero fat here- Enzo the baker and the undertaker at the beginning – both come up later
  • There is real love here in the two scenes between Clemenzo and Pacino- one showing him how to cook and the other how to shoot.
  • The greatest single scene in the film, and there’s a lot to choose from, is the train audio sound mix close-up of Pacino

yes, a beautiful frame within a frame doorway shot, but certainly it is as tied to the narrative as any doorway shot in cinema history as Michael shuts Kay out

a strong three field of depth shot here with the Statue of Liberty in the background


most underrated:   This isn’t my official choice because technically the TSPDT agrees with me that it is a masterpiece, but Bergman’s Cries and Whispers at slot #150 from the consensus bothers me. I just can’t fathom choosing 149 films over it. Again, I’ll admit it is a nitpick but Bergman’s transcendent use of color is so obvious– just frustrating. I just laughed at the Academy’s miss of the cinematography of Gordon Willis- so it is worth noting the brilliant choice in 1973 (took an extra year to get to the US) for Sven Nykvist’s work here– it won best cinematography.

if you’re making a list of the greatest use of color in cinema– Bergman’s Cries and Whispers has to be on it

Bergman saturates the cinematic painting


Ultimately, it is Altman’s Images that is the most underrated film of 1972. It was a difficult film to find for years– but this is that stretch of time where Altman could do no wrong.  Images is ambitious auteur cinema and should be somewhere on the TSPDT consensus top 1000 and is not.

  • Altman’s only foray (maybe more like a toe in the water) into horror- a thriller, closer to Repulsion, Persona, (Altman himself mentioned Bergman’s masterpiece as an influence) or Mulholland Drive. It is challenging film but rewards- a strong formal work.
  • In that vein, it makes for a companion piece to Three Women from Altman five years later in 1977
  • It just adds to the early Altman 1970’s already legendary run of brilliant films– he’s the Godard of the 1970’s (churning out great film after great film), Altman made ten archiveable films from 1970-1977— I’m not sure if Images will make the cut yet but seven of those ten are among the 100 best film of the 1970’s– the most by any auteur in that decade
  • based on Susannah York’s (main protagonist here) novel “In Search of Unicorns”. York reads aloud from it during the film in certain spots
  • Altman’s trademark zooms are prevalent- eerie- a perfect match for the uneasiness in the entire film and York’s state of mind—we start with a zoom actually moving in from the outside of the window on an opening shot
  • A series of disturbing phone calls—right away Altman questions the dependency of our narrator and York as our central narrative vehicle. Unreliable. He also sets the tone early with the motifs-there’s the object dancing on the car rearview mirror and obstructing the frame in her living room
  • Like Polanski’s Repulsion (and unlike most of Altman) we have a central character- no ensemble here. Disturbed, schizophrenia (unlike Repulsion and the Deneuve character this word and awareness is in the text).
  • Doppelgänger in the film- like Bergman’s Persona– – Altman names the young girl’s character (a loner who becomes York’s best friend and looks like her)  Susannah (York’s name in real life) and vice versa with the girl actor. This doubling may imply different realities and time narratives going on simultaneously in the film, it may imply abuse (the father of the girl has his hands all over York) and be an explanation for her mental issues now as an adult. There are no concrete answers given in the text

a stand alone great shot- yes– but also– Altman names the young girl’s character (a loner who becomes York’s best friend and looks like her)  Susannah (York’s name in real life) and vice versa with the girl actor. This doubling may imply different realities and time narratives going on simultaneously in the film

Triple mirror shot at 73 minutes- fracturing — not just a cool shot of course with what is going on with these two characters

  • Roeg comes to mind- 1970’s Performance is about doubling, doppelgängers, almost all of Roeg’s work is about fracturing. Certainly Black Swan feels like a relative– hallucinations, Under the Skin maybe a second cousin
  • York with her modified Jane Fonda Klute haircut—one of many in 1972 I’m sure- haha
  • Altman’s camera glides through the staircase rails with this zooms
  • Jigsaw puzzle reoccurring motif (and over the end of the film), the camera as well
  • Experimental score by the great John Williams- a nod to Psycho and Herrmann in one scene in the shower with the shrieking violins (Stomu Yamashta doing work as well on sound design), camerawork by Vilmos Zsigmond—all-star crew
  • At 49 minutes a character is talking to York, and her inner monologue is overlapping—wild—great Altman touch
  • Ends with a dissolve on the puzzle and unicorn book (unicorn itself questioning the reality—which Blade Runner would do a decade later)
  • York is superb- best actress winner at Cannes


most overrated – John Waters Pink Flamingos lands on the consensus top 1000 list at #899 and it isn’t a film that would land in my top 1000.  Overall though, I want to applaud the consensus TSPDT list, there are very few problems with their list for 1972. It shares 9 of the top 10 with my list.


gems I want to spotlight: – If you want to see film form (as well as a funny film) Luis Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is a textbook example. The reoccurring and interwoven shot of the characters walking down the open road is brilliant. If you want to go off the top 10– I could watch Play It Again, Sam with Woody Allen and Diane Keaton (not actually directed by Woody) once a month and not get tired of it.

the brilliant formal connective tissue of Bunuel’s masterpiece — the long road to nowhere


trends and notables:

  • 1972 is the year of The Godfather– it is a pillar of American cinema,  it wins the most awards of 1972, is the box office champion of 1972, it is a major comeback for Brando and the grand announcement of all-time talents Francis Ford Coppola and Al Pacino.
  • Talking box office— certainly there are flashes since The Godfather when good taste and the almighty dollar match up (The Dark Knight and Avatar in 2008 and 2009 come to mind) but we’re just in a stretch here from 1967-1972 where films like The Graduate, 2001, The French Connection and The Godfather are massive hits- either like #1 or #2 for their respective year– it is fair to look back nostalgically when art and commerce aligned
  • The German New Wave or New German cinema fully arrives in 1972. I’ve seen the era traced back as far back as 1962 but with Fassbinder and Herzog both landing for the first time in the top 10 this year (they are the Truffaut and Godard of this wave) this feels like the true beginning.

from Fassbinder’s The Merchant of Four Seasons –a stunning Antonioni-like (he’d probably prefer Sirk-like) frame.

from The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant– Fassbinder would be a major figure in cinema for the next decade until his death in 1982

This is the first of five collaborations between Herzog and Kinski-  Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972), Woyzeck (1978), Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), Fitzcarraldo (1982) and Cobra Verde (1987)

  • They aren’t quite on the level of Herzog and Kinski but this is the first of four archiveable collaborations for Sydney Pollack and Robert Redford as well – Jeremiah Johnson (1972), The Way We Were (1973), Three Days of the Condor (1975) and Out of Africa (1985)
  • Coppola and Gordon Willis cement the shadowy naturalism look of the era (Fassbinder has a similar look, ditto for a film like Cabaret- a dark musical), while at the same time Bergman and Sven Nykvist make a masterpiece with some of the most striking uses of color in cinema history

the naturalism in the era’s lighting isn’t just Gordon Willis– it touches other countries (Fassbinder for sure) and even historically lighter genres like the musical (Cabaret here)

  • The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie makes for one masterpiece in each of the last three decades for Bunuel (Los Olvidados in the 1950’s, Viridiana in the 1960’s)

one of the best single frames of 1972 and from Tarkovsky’s Solaris— any Tarkovsky year is a special year (his last effort was 1966). His trademark high angle shot here as well- the ground/pond/reflection takes up over half the frame

  • Three years in a row with an Altman film in the top 10– and we’re just getting warmed up
  • regret it if you like, but the disaster film is a major subgenre during this era- Airport is 1970, The Towering Inferno is 1974– but 1972 with The Poseidon Adventure seems like as good a time as any to mention it. This genre has roots that go back farther, and still exist today– often with all-star ensembles and big budgets
  • 1972 has some very notable artists getting their first archiveable works. I’ve already mentioned Coppola (this isn’t his debut, he has some rough drafts that may land in the archives with another look but for now this is still his first) and Fassbinder (two films in the archives here for him in 1972). Diane Keaton lands here with two films (The Godfather, Play it Again, Same), John Cazale (The Godfather), Liza Minnelli (Cabaret), Hanna Schygulla (in both Fassbinder’s films- The Merchant of Four Seasons and The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant),

the young and beautiful Hanna Schygulla here (foreground) in a strong Fassbinder composition from The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant

best performance male There are four possible correct answers here. In no particularly order you have Klaus Kinski in Herzog’s masterpiece. Few actors (if any) historically can play mentally unhinged and dangerous as well as Kinski and this is his career best work.  Al Pacino in The Godfather is the second correct answer for this category for 1972. Pacino hinted at his potential in 1971 but here he goes toe to toe with perhaps cinema’s all-time most talented actor (Brando) and arguably wins. The Godfather is really about Michael Corleone’s arc and transformation. The last two correct mentions for the best male performance of the year are both Brando. In most years either one, The Godfather or The Last Tango in Paris, would walk away with this category. It has been eighteen years since Brando has received a mention in this category so to do it with two films in one year is a truly remarkable comeback. Fernando Rey in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is fifth.  Donatas Banionis is sixth for Solaris and though he didn’t deserve the best supporting actor win over Pacino in 1972, Joel Grey in Cabaret chews up every scene he’s in. Lastly, I could go on praising the entire ensemble for The Godfather. Part of me wants to give a shot out to Salvatore Corsitto as the undertaker with the opening monologue — but I won’t. I’ll agree with the academy here and give the love to James Caan and Robert Duvall. Not every masterpiece that is on or near The Godfather’s level (which we’re already talking about a very elite group of films) relies on the acting as much as this film. Four slots here in this category for 1972 is warranted.

I have this as Pacino’s third best performance and Brando’s second, but I think there’s a compelling case for this being the best work of both– and this scene together here, and this perfect frame, is special- capturing two great artists

great work in lighting from Bertolucci in The Last Tango in Paris

yet another example of Tarkvosky’s high angle shot– a great frame here- look at the skyline and how small of a percentage of the screen it takes up

Joel Grey only appears in the musical sequences that connect the forward-moving narrative. It makes him an almost elusive, mythic figure. It is a masterful stroke of genius from Bob Fosse

best performance female: If most of the great male acting performances of 1972 reside in The Godfather, than it is fair to say that most of the great female performances of 1972 are in Bergman’s Cries and Whispers. Harriet Andersson, Ingrid Thulin and Liv Ullmann are here front and center. I also think maybe a little further in the background is Kari Sylwan. So we’re already at four actors just talking about one film so far- matching The Godfather on this side. If forced to pick the single greatest for this category though it would tough to ignore Liza Minnelli. Liza’s work in Cabaret rivals the very best work of her mother Judy Garland. Maria Schneider‘s achievement isn’t on the level of Brando in terms of their respective importance to Bertolucci’s The Last Tango in Paris, but still- she’s deserving and here. Lastly, I’ll agree with Cannes and give a spot to Susannah York for Images. Again, I don’t love going this far down my year’s best films list to find the best performances but I probably owe York a half a mention for her work in 1963’s Tom Jones still.

Cries and Whispers is yet another feather in the cap for the great Liv Ullmann

Ingrid Thulin here- all of the actors in Cries and Whispers owe a debt of gratitude to Bergman for the wonderful close-ups

Maria Schneider foreground left here with Brando background right in The Last Tango in Paris

top 10

  1. The Godfather
  2. Cries and Whispers
  3. Aguirre, the Wrath of God
  4. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
  5. Solaris
  6. Cabaret
  7. The Last Tango in Paris
  8. Deliverance
  9. The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant
  10. Images


the indelible dueling banjos scene in Deliverance

a haunting final image as well from John Boorman’s Deliverance

Conrad Hall’s photography in Fat City

like Army of Shadows, Melville’s Un Flic is draped in a foggy blue/grey

Melville’s level of detail here in the set piece on display here- including blue paneling

a trench coat of course– it seems like every decade that goes by, Melville’s reputation improves

a very strong composition in Fellini’s Roma

The King of Marvin Gardens is a chance for Bob Rafelson to prove Five Easy Pieces is no one-hit wonder, and a chance for Nicholson to play against type early in his career. His performance here is so internal

another strong frame from Fosse in Cabaret


Archives, Directors, and Grades

1776 – Hunt R
Across 110th Street- Shear R
Aguirre, the Wrath of God- Herzog MP
Avanti- Wilder R/HR
Bad Company- Benton R
Cabaret- Fosse MS
Chloe in the Afternoon- Rohmer
Cries and Whispers- Bergman MP
Deliverance – Boorman HR/MS
Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex… – Allen R
Fat City- J. Huston HR
Frenzy- Hitchcock R
Images  – Altman HR
Jeremiah Johnson- Pollack R
Junior Bonner- Peckinpah R
Last Tango in Paris- Bertolucci MS
Play It Again, Sam – Ross R
Roma – Fellini R/HR
Slaughterhouse-Five – Roy Hill R
Sleuth- Mankiewicz
Solaris – Tarkovsky MS
Sounder- Ritt R
Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me- Truffaut R
Super Fly – Parks Jr. R
The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant- Fassbinder HR
The Candidate- Ritchie R
The Canterbury Tales- Pasolini
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoise- Bunuel MP
The Getaway – Peckinpah HR
The Godfather – F. Coppola MP
The Heartbreak Kid – May
The King of Marvin’s Gardens- Rafelson R
The Merchant of Four Seasons- Fassbinder R
The Poseidon Adventure – Neame R
The Ruling Class- – Medak HR
The Seduction of Mimi – Wertmüller
Tout Va Bien- Godard R
Ulzana’s Raid- Aldrich R
Un Flic- Melville
What’s Up, Doc?- Bogdanovich R



*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-See- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives