Cabaret (1972)

Cabaret

Starring: Liza Minnelli, Michael York, Helmut Griem, Fritz Wepper, Joel Grey, Marisa Berenson

Director: Bob Fosse

Summary: A young writer gets mixed up with a pleasure-loving singer in the decadent world of 1930’s Berlin

Other Nominations: Director*, Actress (Minnelli)*, Supporting Actor (Grey)*, Adapted Screenplay, Musical Score*, Sound Mixing*, Art Direction*, Cinematography*, Film Editing*

Positives

-Liza Minnelli & Joel Grey are both pretty fantastic-Minelli is a ball of fire when she needs to be but can also be sensitive in those moments too. Her singing and stage presence is perfect for what the movie was going for (even if I don’t agree with the producers 100%, more on this later). Looking back at who else was in the Best Supporting Actor category for 1972 (see: Pacino, Al), I was surprised that Grey won the Oscar (and most of the other awards for the category), but there’s no denying he’s great for the role (which is an interesting one, as you learn essentially nothing about his actual character, only what he does in front of an audience.

-For the time, this was a very unconventional musical and kind of redefined how a musical could be successful in an era when audiences were tired of the classic movie musical. All the songs are diegetic, the tone is downbeat and feels much more realistic, and there’s only 9 songs (which are generally really good); they restructured the entire musical in adapting it to a film, taking out a dozen songs (the ones that weren’t diegetic), adding new characters, etc. and it works well. Ultimately, it doesn’t really even feel like a musical at all and is almost just a straight drama with a couple of musical interludes that are pulled way-back from the big flashy numbers most musicals had.

-I liked the relationship arc between Minelli and York’s characters, as they stayed true to the characters themselves throughout and it ended like it should have (although the whole “Minelli turns him from gay to bisexual, or at least Minelli-sexual” thing was odd, but I guess it could happen in real life maybe?).

Negatives

-I wouldn’t say it’s his fault (even if I don’t think he’s that great and maybe could have made it better), but York’s character isn’t all that compelling, either in or out of a romantic setting. I know he needs to be the more grounded character vs. Minelli’s, but other than “he’s British, bisexual and doesn’t like Nazis or being cuckolded”, there’s not much I can say about him. I would have been much more interested in their relationship (which is at the core of the whole movie) with a more interesting lead male actor or character.

-One significant difference among the many from the stage version is that here, Minnelli’s character Sally Bowles is extremely talented vs. her being not all that great in the stage version. Minnelli’s great and everything and is the best thing, but her character being mediocre makes her more interesting-her being a dreamer who keeps trying to make it big but doesn’t have the talent is better than “why isn’t this character a bigger star, she’s amazing.”

Other Stuff

-While a modern viewer would say “of course The Godfather won Best Picture, how could it not?”, anyone watching the Oscar ceremony that year would have been stunned after Cabaret won 8 Oscars going into the Best Picture announcement (including Director which is usually the highest correlated to BP, Actress, and Editing, another award that often correlates) vs. The Godfather that had only won for Actor and Screenplay (two big awards, but 8 vs. 2 is a big difference). 8 Oscars without Best Picture is still the record.

Overall

This was a huge departure from the classic musical and was an indication where the genre would be heading towards in the future. If you don’t like musicals, give this one a try as it’s quite different and has some great performances and songs even if some of the story elements could have been better.

Rating: B

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Deliverance (1972)

Deliverance

Starring: Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty (his debut), Ronny Cox, Bill McKinney

Director: John Boorman

Summary: During a hunting vacation, four men fight against a murderous clan of backwoodsmen       

Other Nominations: Director, Film Editing

Positives

-I thought the central conceit of the movie, “modern man has grown apart from his roots and the need to fight for his own survival in the modern world” and then forcing the characters to prove they can do what’s necessary is interesting, even if I have some qualms with it. It’s fairly original for a Hollywood movie, and it works well as a thriller with more going on that most.

-The movie looks terrific with some outstanding location footage on the Chattanooga River and some borderline insane stunts-they cut costs by having the actors do their own stunts and didn’t insure them in this movie with tons of dangerous river rapids and some bare-handed rock climbing. I also thought the brown-ish tint to the whole film fit well with the nature theme they were going for.

-I liked the whole central cast, but I will say this in particular: there’s never a bad time for prime Burt Reynolds (this being his breakout role), and this movie-this, along with The Longest Yard and Boogie Nights, is probably the best work of his career. He always had such effortless charisma and charm, even in a role like this where he’s not given a lot to work with in those terms. It’s a shame this is the only time I’ll see him in the project, but it’s good that he’s a part of it at all.

Negatives

-The movie sort of fizzles out at the end-not that I’m going to spoil the direction it goes, but it’s surprising and just how they went about it surprised me and felt unnecessary to what was at the core conflict of the movie.

-I know night shooting was difficult back then, and there’s no way you would actually shoot the scenes at night due to safety reasons under the circumstances, but this movie has some of the worst day for night I’ve ever seen.

Overall

Very solid thriller that’s unique for a number of reasons, with a good story that’s generally well paced and enjoyable.

Rating: B

The Emigrants (1972)

Emigrants

Starring: Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, Eddie Axberg, Allan Edwall, Pierre Lindstedt, Monica Zetterlund

Director: Jan Troell

Summary: An impoverished farming couple decides to move from Sweden to the U.S. in the 19th Century

Other Nominations: Director, Actress (Ullmann), Adapted Screenplay, Foreign Language Film (1971 Oscars)*

Positives

-The movie truly has the feeling of an epic, yet one that feels completely different from others of the genre because the story told in it isn’t actually all that exceptional-millions had similar stories to tell It’s incredibly stripped down, for good and bad, with the result being an incredible feeling of authenticity from top to bottom. It’s vivid in depicting why America was such a beacon of opportunity for the European immigrants of the 1800’s, why it was so important for them, and the incredible lengths they were willing to endure to get there. This idyllic vision the characters have of America is in sharp contrast to what Americans felt about America in the 70s (and ever since), which adds an interesting underlying element to the movie and also an element of sadness for what has been lost.

-The performances are generally good, with Ullmann, Sydow and Edwall (who plays my favorite character in the movie, the uncle Danjel) being the standouts.

Negatives

-This is a glacially paced, 191 minute film; if that’s a deal-breaker for you, then don’t watch this movie. The big problem is that a lot of the film, especially the first half, lacks energy: I mentioned the movie feels stripped down, but that applies everywhere-the editing is fairly minimalist, there’s almost no score (it shows up sporadically), and the acting in general is restrained. I readily admit that I like my movies to be fast-paced and for things to feel like they’re driving forward from start to finish, and this is not that.

Other Stuff

-This movie and its sequel (The New Land) have a unique distinction-you had two movies from the same series nominated at the same Oscars ceremony, as they were both released in the U.S. in 1972, with The Emigrants nominated for 4 Oscars this year (and Foreign Language Film the previous year because it had different qualifications requirements back then) and The New Land nominated for Foreign Language Film.

-I watched this on Amazon Video (not the recent Criterion release because Netflix doesn’t have it yet), but the subtitles were terrible; not enough that I couldn’t understand everything, but there were numerous grammatical errors.

Overall

This is a difficult movie to rate, as it’s an exceptionally well-made and effective movie, yet I was frequently looking at how much time was left, especially in the first half-it appeals to my brain but not to my heart. Nonetheless, I have to admit this is a really good movie even with the caveat that it’s very long and very slow.
Rating: B+

*The Godfather (1972)*

godfather

Starring: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Richard Castellano, Diane Keaton, John Cazale (his film debut), Talia Shire, Al Lettieri, Abe Vigoda, Alex Rocco

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Summary: The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son

Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Brando)*, Supporting Actor (Pacino), Supporting Actor (Caan), Supporting Actor (Duvall), Adapted Screenplay*, Costume Design, Sound Mixing, Film Editing

Positives

-The arcs of Michael & Vito Corleone are some of the best in film history. Michael’s journey from normal guy who happens to be from a powerful mafia family to ruthless and extremely competent head of the family is both thrilling and tragic, as you can imagine a world where he didn’t have to let out his inner demons (which is what his father wanted for him), or have to make the choices he did in the sequel; if he had been his biological son, Tom Hagen would have been a perfect head of the family, but alas fate said no. Vito represented the old way of doing things: still brutal when need be, but wisened, measured, knowing where to stop; he is sadly a man passed by a younger and greedier generation who doesn’t appreciate how easy it is to lose it all. He also unfortunately had great plans for his dynasty that didn’t go to plan, even if the best possible choice did end up taking over

-This is one of the best casts assembled, especially considering only Brando was a name at that time. Pacino has a star-making turn here, and very deservedly so-his body language and expressions are so key to the audience buying his metamorphosis, and he absolutely crushes those aspects of his performance. Somehow, 1) he was nominated for Supporting Actor despite getting the most screentime of anybody in the movie and 2) didn’t win for Supporting Actor (probably because he boycotted the Oscars over not getting a Best Actor nom, although boycotting didn’t hurt George C. Scott in 1970 or Marlon Brando this very year. Duvall is also fantastic and will continue to be one of my favorites throughout the rest of the decade. I actually think Brando is only very good and is overshadowed by some of the other performances; his Best Actor award (despite not getting THAT much screen time relative to others) is more of a testament to this being his comeback movie.

-The score is one of the best and most distinctive in film- it sets the tone, period and setting perfectly. It was not nominated because it re-used some elements from a previous score by the same composer but otherwise should have easily won.

Negatives

-While this is a great movie (and I liked it more the second time watching it), it’s never going to be one of my absolute favorites like it is for so many people. The first hour does a good job of setting up the characters and world they live it, but it had me waiting for the second and third hours which are more compelling and sees the story ramp up.

Other Stuff

-One cool thing about this project is that I will see John Cazale’s entire filmography-he was only in 5 movies (6 if you count archive footage) before his tragic death from lung cancer at age 42 in 1978, and all of them (including the one where he’s in archive footage) were nominated for Best Picture (with 3 of them winning). He’s a great supporting actor, even if The Godfather is his smallest role and his skills aren’t really reflected in it.

-This movie was amazingly enough not nominated for the BAFTA for Best Picture-instead, they only had 4 nominees: Cabaret (the winner), The Last Picture Show, A Clockwork Orange and The French Connection (all of which were in the 1972 ceremony for the BAFTAs and not 1971).

Overall

Even if I don’t agree with its reputation as maybe the greatest movie ever made, this is still an excellent movie with some of the best character arcs in film and an incredible cast. I look forward to watching its sequel again in two years time.

Rating: A

1972 in Review

Other Notable Films from 1972

Aguirre, the Wrath of God: Werner Herzog’s breakout film as a director, and was his first collaboration with Klaus Kinski, these being two of the great personalities in the history of cinema and they had a legendarily volatile relationship despite working with each other often. This film’s reputation has grown as the years have gone on and Time named it one their 100 Greatest films.

Solaris: Much like Kubrick did with 2001: A Space Odyssey, legendary director Andrei Tarkovsky wanted to bring something more intellectual to the science fiction genre than usual for movies; the result is this deliberately paced character study about scientists aboard a space station. It didn’t premiere in the U.S. until 1976 (and even then, only in a truncated form), but eventually got its due around the world and is now considered one of the best films to come out of Eastern Europe.

Fritz the Cat: Ralph Bakshi’s debut of the R. Crumb comic sent shockwaves through the country: it was an X-rated animated feature with sharp social commentary that found a surprisingly large audience (it was at the top 10 of the 1972 box office). It proved that animation could be taken seriously by adults in this country; although the old Warner Bros. shorts were catered towards adults and children, they never really explored any kind of deeper commentary or themes that this film and other after it in the U.S. and Japan did.

What’s Up, Doc?: Peter Bogdanovich followed up his success The Last Picture Show with something completely different-a tribute to the old 30’s screwball comedies that ended up being one his biggest successes. It stars Barbara Streisand, Ryan O’Neal and comedy legend Madeline Kahn in her feature film debut. On both the AFI 100 Laughs and 100 Passions lists.

Deep Throat & Behind the Green Door: When 2 of the top grossing movies for a year are pornos, you know times have changed. These two films ushered in the “Golden Age of Porn” that lasted for a couple of years, where there wasn’t the same stigma of seeing a porno and some of the movies had higher aspirations than simply titillation (well, maybe). Sadly, the personal lives of the people within the industry didn’t fare any better than they do today and the era did not last.

The Last House on the Left: Wes Craven’s debut was this movie inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s Virgin Spring, and was notable as one of the first major horror exploitation films in the U.S. and was highly influential within the genre.

1972 Nominees in Review

The Godfather: A (Won Best Picture)

The Emigrants: B+

Cabaret: B

Deliverance: B

Sounder: B-

A great year just based on there being 5 quality nominees which is pretty rare, capped off by one of the most celebrated films of all-time (even if I think it’s a bit overrated). Whenever a foreign film is nominated for Best Picture, there’s usually a good reason for it considering the hurdle it has to get over; that was the case here, with The Emigrants being a very good (if long and slow) film. As for the rest, they were all pretty distinctive as far as Best Picture nominees go and were pretty easy watches.

For 1973, we have another great slate with: A movie Universal had such little faith in that at one point, they wanted to release it as a TV film; Ingmar Bergman’s only BP nomination; The first (and only depending on how you define it) straight horror film to get a BP nomination; A re-teaming of the two leads and the director from Butch Cassidy, except it was even more successful this time; and a film starring a woman who won an Oscar for this film and would later be a member of British Parliament for 23 years.