best film: Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid from Sam Peckinpah barely edges out the five (5) other masterpieces from 1973 for the top slot. This sort of quietly gives Peckinpah the best film of the year for the second time in five years. Peckinpah’s second masterpiece is a stylistic treatise that is shockingly close to The Wild Bunch in overall quality. The Bob Dylan music, death scene of Slim Pickens’ character, the masterful opening credit sequence are all artistic highlights.
most underrated: Pat Garrett is woefully underrated at #542 on the TSPDT consensus list but there have been multiple versions of the film out there for years so I think a definitive “final cut”-like version (like Blade Runner) of the film could remedy that. The real choice here as far as underrated goes for 1973 is Lady Snowblood. Toshiya Fujita film is nowhere to be found in the TSPDT consensus top 1000 and I have it currently sitting at #385 on my list. It is extremely ambitious all around: stylistically, thematically and narratively—it does not treat itself as a b-film.
- Starts off with a bang- a gorgeous white snow landscape and then turning that snow into red for the credit sequences
- Clearly the film had a massive influence on Kill Bill and Tarantino
- Long chapter break titles (like QT) and plays brilliantly with narrative structure manipulating the flashbacks, having one flashback accomplished with voice-over and black and white drawings, another one with black and white photos- these are absolutely stunning
- Constantly moving the camera
- Tons of projectile spray blood- Tarantino
most overrated: The Spirit of the Beehive by Victor Erice is #105 on the TSPDT consensus list which makes it #3 from 1973. I’d get to as many as fifteen films from 1973 before it including Fassbinder’s World on a Wire and Lucas’ American Graffiti (not to mention those on my top 10 obviously).
gems I want to spotlight: The Sting is here—a film that I couldn’t find room for in my top 10 (1973 is a fantastic year even if it doesn’t have a The Godfather or 2001). George Roy Hill, Newman and Redford team up again just four years after Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Robert Shaw is superb here as well. Again, it is one of those “no it shouldn’t have won Best Picture, but its not overrated”. Sadly, Newman and Redford never worked together again- frustrating. For something off the beaten path a little (and off the top 10)- try The Day of the Jackal from Fred Zinneman. It is an extraordinary thriller.
trends and notables:
- 1973 doesn’t match 1960—but I actually think there could be more masterpieces from 1973 than 1939 (Hollywood’s Golden Year). There are not many years where the sixth best film is as good as Badlands or the seventh is The Long Goodbye. In fact, think about how strong the 1970’s are – I have ten films from 1973 in the top 56.
- Pat Garrett is important for Peckinpah’s career—if it isn’t right next to The Wild Bunch, it is at least in the realm- and having that second masterpiece puts him in quite another echelon historically
- 1973 marks the emergence of Scorsese with Mean Streets– it is his third film overall, second archiveable (Boxcar Bertha is rough) and he’d find his stride- and never really look back (he does not have peaks and valleys like Godard, Roeg, Coppola and others). The film also marks the emergence (and first archiveable film) of Robert De Niro- the greatest actor (and certainly most accomplished) of all-time.
- The Exorcist is a massive hit- the biggest box office smash to date in 1973 (without adjusting for inflation) to keep the streak alive of great films that also made a lot of money (again including The Graduate, The Godfather). In 1973 it must have felt like William Friedkin was destined to be an all-time great auteur with this and The French Connection just a few years before (1971). Overall, it is also just the glory days for horror cinema- Don’t Look Now is often (rightly) listed among the best films in the genre alongside The Exorcist.
- Malick has been mentioned above already with his debut but Brian De Palma’s first archiveable film here lands in 1973 with Sisters. This sort of completes the so-called Movie brats – the Michael Pye book (well John Milius and Paul Schrader get thrown in there as well I guess). This group (also noted for their beards) consisted of Scorsese, Spielberg, De Palma, Coppola, and Lucas.
- As far as acting firsts- American Graffiti brought forth a bunch of new talent including Harrison Ford and Richard Dreyfuss (also in Dillinger from 1973). Sissy Spacek is phenomenal in Badlands and I’ve mentioned De Niro’s first archiveable work already. Also, Helen Mirren gets her start in the archives with O Lucky Man! and how about Arnold Schwarzenegger? He’d go on to be one of the biggest stars of the late 1980’s and 1990’s and you can’t miss him in his few seconds on screen in Altman’s The Long Goodbye.
best performance male It is a special time in American cinema with the New Hollywood and the movie brats and there is no shortage of astonishing acting performances. I don’t think you could do 1973 justice without mentioning a whopping eleven (11) male acting performances from 1973. I think that makes sense in a year with ten of the best 55-60 films of the decade and as many as six potential masterpieces. If we’re talking Mean Streets I think Harvey Keitel gives the slightly stronger performance. When I first saw the film I was blown away by De Niro’s manic performance (which I’m definitely still recognizing here as one of my choice) but over the years I’ve come to realize that the more subtle, and slightly greater performance, is Keitel’s. Martin Sheen is a revelation in Badlands. James Coburn and Kris Kristofferson are this year’s William Holden and Robert Ryan from Peckinpah’s masterpiece. Erland Josephson proves yet again in Scenes From a Marriage that he is no second-class citizen to Max von Sydow (who also has a decent argument for a mention here in 1973 for his work in The Exorcist but we have enough already) in the Bergman stable of thespians. Donald Sutherland continues his impeccable work in the 1970’s with Don’t Look Now even if he’s slightly bested in 1973 by his MASH running mate Elliot Gould in The Long Goodbye. I’m not sure Al Pacino lands here for either Scarecrow or Serpico but when you combine them- he has to get a slot. Lastly, the team of Redford and Newman are back in another George Roy Hill collaboration. They each deserve about half a nod for their work in The Sting.
best performance female: The depth isn’t quite as strong on this side as far as acting in 1973 but the quality of work of these five actresses is every bit the equal of the men. These five women are all astonishing (and basically equally deserving). I’ll start with Ellen Burstyn in The Exorcist. She’s actually stronger here in 1973 than she is in 1974 when she won the Oscar for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Meiko Kaji absolutely blew me away in Lady Snowblood and Sissy Spacek isn’t far behind in Badlands. Spacek’s voice-over doesn’t get mentioned oven enough among the greatest voice-overs (Shawshank, Barry Lyndon, Magnificent Ambersons, Sunset Boulevard, Jules and Jim, The Big Lebowski and of course Apocalypse Now all come to mind but I’m sure I’m leaving some out). Julie Christie is here yet again in Roeg’s Don’t Look Now. Roeg shot her when he was the DP on Far from the Madding Crowd in 1967. Last but not least, Liv Ullmann gets a mention in this category for the fourth time in seven years for Scenes From a Marriage.
- Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid
- Mean Streets
- Don’t Look Now
- The Exorcist
- The Long Goodbye
- Lady Snowblood
- The Holy Mountain
- Scenes From a Marriage
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|American Graffiti- Lucas||HR|
|Amarcord – Fellini||MP|
|Charley Varrick- Siegel||R|
|Day For Night- Truffaut||MS|
|Dillinger – Milius||R|
|Distant Thunder- S. Ray|
|Don’t Look Now-Roeg||MP|
|Enter the Dragon – Clouse||R|
|High Plains Drifter- Eastwood||HR|
|Lady Snowblood – Fujita||MS|
|Mean Streets – Scorsese||MP|
|O Lucky Man- L. Anderson||R|
|Paper Moon – Bogdanovich||R/HR|
|Papillion – Schaffner||HR|
|Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid- Peckinpah||MP|
|Robin Hood- Reitherman||R|
|Save the Tiger-Avildsen||R|
|Scenes From a Marriage- Bergman||MS|
|Scorpio – Winner||R|
|Serpico – Lumet||R/HR|
|Sisters- De Palma||R|
|The Day of the Jackal- Zinnemann|
|The Exorcist- Friedkin||MP|
|The Friends of Eddie Coyle- Yates||R|
|The Holy Mountain- Jodorowsky||MS|
|The Last Detail- Ashby||HR|
|The Long Goodbye- Altman||MS|
|The Paper Chase – Bridges||R|
|The Spirit of the Beehive – Erice||HR|
|The Sting- Roy Hill||HR/MS|
|The Three Musketeers- Lester||R|
|The Way We Were – Pollack||R|
|The Wicker Man – Hardy||R/HR|
|Theatre of Blood- Hickox||R|
|Touki Bouki – Mambéty||R|
|White Lightning – Sargent||R|
|World on a Wire- Fassbinder||HR|
*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