A collage of many great scenes from The Godfather (1972)

The 45th Academy Awards for the film year 1972.  The nominations were announced on February 12, 1973 and the awards were held on March 27, 1973.

Best Picture:  The Godfather

  • Cabaret
  • Deliverance
  • The Emigrants
  • Sounder

Most Surprising Omission:  Sleuth

Best Eligible Film Not Nominated:  The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

Best English Language Film Not Nominated:  Sleuth

Rank (out of 82) Among Best Picture Years:  #18

The Race: The Godfather had originally been slated for a December, 1971 release, but it wasn’t going to be finished in time so it was pushed back to March.  When it opened, two weeks before the Oscars, it seemed like the conversation already moved to the next year, especially with Bob Fosse’s magnificent Cabaret already in theaters.  But The Godfather quickly became a cultural phenomenon, setting box office records for opening night and opening weekend.  For the rest of the year, while various films came out to good reviews and strong word-of-mouth and even good box office, nothing could compare to The Godfather, not Deliverance, not Sounder, not Sleuth, nor even the pair of critically acclaimed foreign films: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and The Emigrants.

It took the first group of awards to finally put a pause on The Godfather.  The National Board of Review did place The Godfather in their Top 10, but their Best Picture and Best Director both went to Cabaret (the first time in 6 years that both awards had gone to the same film).  Next up was The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, and, like usual, they went foreign, giving their Best Picture and Director to Discreet Charm.  The New York Film Critics went with Cries and Whispers, the new Bergman film that wouldn’t even be eligible for the Oscars until the following year for their Best Picture and Director.  The Golden Globes finally brought some attention back to The Godfather by giving it 7 nominations, but that was one short of Cabaret‘s 8 noms.  But The Godfather would win Picture, Director and Screenplay among its record five wins and take the lead.  Taking the next positions with Picture and Director nominations were Deliverance, Avanti and Frenzy.  The Directors Guild just confused things, again nominating The Godfather, Cabaret and Deliverance, but putting Sounder and Slaughterhouse-Five in the other two spots.  The Writers Guild didn’t clear it up much, giving awards to both Godfather and Cabaret with nominations for Deliverance, Sounder, Slaughterhouse-Five and Avanti, but with foreign films often not eligible for the guild awards, it wasn’t clearing anything up, other than, with a DGA, WGA and Golden Globe win, The Godfather seemed headed for an Oscar win.

The Results: With the initial announcement of the nominations, The Godfather was in the lead with 11.  However, soon after it was decided that the score was ineligible as it used too much pre-existing music and it then fell into a tie with Cabaret with 10 nominations.  For the first time in the history of the five-nominee era, only two films had more than 4 nominations, so while Deliverance, Sounder and The Emigrants (only the third Foreign film to make it) were nominated for Best Picture, the race was down to The Godfather and CabaretThe Godfather had the box office figures and was riding the wave of awards wins, but once the ceremony began, Cabaret started racking up the awards.  When Bob Fosse won Best Director, only the second person to win the Oscar while losing the DGA, the tally stood at Cabaret – 7, The Godfather – 0.  Then came the writing awards and Godfather finally picked up its first Oscar.  But after the lead acting trophies were split, Cabaret was up 8 to 2.  But in the end, The Godfather would prove to be the film of the hour, and of all-time, taking home Best Picture.

The iconic film poster for the original Best Picture winning The Godfather (1972)

The Godfather

  • Director:  Francis Ford Coppola
  • Writer:  Francis Ford Coppola  /  Mario Puzo  (from the novel by Puzo)
  • Producer:  Albert S. Ruddy
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Stars:  Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, James Caan, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Richard S. Castellano, Sterling Hayden
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Brando), Supporting Actor (Pacino), Supporting Actor (Duvall), Supporting Actor (Caan), Editing, Sound, Costume Design
  • Oscar Points:  445
  • Length:  175 min
  • Genre:  Crime  (Mafia)
  • MPAA Rating:  R
  • Box Office Gross:  $134.96 mil  (#1 – 1972, #3 – all-time when released)
  • Release Date:  24 March 1972
  • Ebert Rating:  ****
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #1  (year)  /  #3  (nominees)  /  #1  (winners)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Brando), Supporting Actor (Pacino), Supporting Actor (Duvall), Supporting Actor (Caan), Supporting Actor (Castellano), Editing, Cinematography, Original Score, Sound, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Costume Design, Makeup, Song (“Speak Softly Love”)
  • Nighthawk Points:  805

The Film:  Look at one shot near the end of the film.  We have just witnessed one of the greatest displays of editing in the history of film – the back and forth between the baptism and the killing of the heads of the five families.  Now, Michael is coming to the house to deal with Carlo – his brother-in-law and the man responsible for the death of his older brother.  Michael stands there and the light falls upon him from the window.  One side of his head is in the light.  The other half is perfectly covered in darkness.  It is one of the single greatest shots in the history of cinema.  This is the heart of the film – the light of Kay and a life away from the family that Michael was striving towards and the life of darkness, inherited from his father, the inheritance that he now claims, and when the film ends with those haunting words “Don Corleone” and the final shot is of his wife having the door shut upon her, the darkness has completely claimed him.

There are film classics like Citizen Kane and Raging Bull that we look back upon and wonder how the hell they lost Best Picture.  Then there are classics like Lawrence of Arabia and Schindler’s List, which were obvious from day one that they were destined for Oscar gold.  But then there are two of the most interesting choices in Academy history: Casablanca and The Godfather.  They are widely acknowledged as two of the greatest choices, if not the greatest choices in Oscar history (how wide that acknowledgment is is shown in the rare agreement between the Top 1000, AFI and the voters on the IMDb – the Top 1000 ranks them 1st and 3rd among the winners, the AFI ranks them first and second and the IMDb ranks them first and sixth).  But if you look at the race going into the Oscars, neither one was assured of anything.  Casablanca had only the third most nominations, was facing off against three different films that had won Best Picture from the critics groups, was behind The Song of Bernadette in wins going into Best Picture and though it had won Best Director, four of the previous eight Best Director winners had failed to win Best Picture.  Likewise, The Godfather had tied Cabaret for the most nominations, but had failed to win Best Picture from one of the critics groups, had already become the second film to win the DGA and not win the Oscar for Best Director and had only two Oscars to Cabaret‘s eight going into the final award (in fact, because Best Director was given out before the writing and lead acting awards, at one point Cabaret had seven Oscars and The Godfather had zero).  What, today, seem like two of the most obvious choices in Oscar history were anything but safe bets going into the actual award.

Now go back to that shot again.  Think of the baptism / killings dichotomy.  Think of the performance of Robert Duvall as he informs Tessio of his fate.  Think of the performance of Al Pacino as he makes things clear to Carlo.  Thing of the amazing cinematography in that shot.  Think of the magnificent sets that all of these scenes have taken place in.  Now remember this: Duvall and Pacino both lost to Joel Grey.  Cabaret beat The Godfather for Best Editing.  Nether the perfect cinematography of Gordon Willis nor the brilliant art direction was even nominated.  The Godfather, one of the most magnificent films ever made on a technical level, brilliantly constructed from the ground up, failed to win a single technical Oscar.  It’s a good thing that the Academy as a whole came through for the film because it didn’t actually do all that well at the Oscars.

Do I need to include a plot summary?  A description of how good the film is, how well constructed?  Do I need to mention that it takes an enjoyable novel – not great literature, but a very good read – and turns it into a masterpiece?  Explain how Al Pacino wins the Nighthawk Award for Best Supporting Actor – one of the greatest performances in the history of the category – because the Oscars couldn’t grasp what the Golden Globes and the National Society of Film Critics could – that Pacino is, in fact, the lead?  Do I need to mention that the script is so full of perfect lines, not just the lines themselves, but the way they are delivered, that the annotated screenplay has an entire page titled “Index of Memorable Lines” so you can look them up and find them?  From the beginning of the film (“I believe in America”) straight to the end (“Don Corleone”), every moment is memorable – whether it be the wit of “Leave the gun.  Take the cannolis.”, the brilliance of Sonny’s death, the dark menace of “My father made him an offer he couldn’t refuse” or the sheer horror of the horse’s head.  But if you don’t know all this, if you haven’t seen the film, then you wouldn’t be reading all of this.  For any love of film must encompass at the very least, seeing certain films and there is no question that The Godfather is right at the top of that list.

winner of 8 Oscars, but not Best Picture: Bob Fosse's Cabaret

Cabaret

  • Director:  Bob Fosse
  • Writer:  Jay Presson Allen  (from the musical by Joe Asteroff, based on the play I Am a Camera by John Van Druten, based on the stories by Christopher Isherwood)
  • Producer:  Cy Feuer
  • Studio:  Allied Artists
  • Stars:  Liza Minnelli, Michael York, Joel Grey
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actress (Minnelli), Supporting Actor (Grey), Editing, Cinematography, Sound, Art Direction, Score Adaptation
  • Oscar Record:  Most wins without winning Best Picture (8)
  • Oscar Points:  510
  • Length:  124 min
  • Genre:  Musical
  • MPAA Rating:  PG
  • Box Office Gross:  $41.32 mil  (#7  –  1972)
  • Release Date:  13 February 1972
  • Ebert Rating:  ***.5
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #3  (year)  /  #132  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actress (Minnelli), Supporting Actor (Grey), Editing, Cinematography, Sound, Art Direction, Costume Design, Makeup, Song (“Money”), Song (“Mein Herr”)
  • Nighthawk Points:  380

The Film:  I have had a strange journey with this film.  I first saw it in 8th grade, when we watched parts of it in history class, focusing on the rise of the Nazis in the film.  I saw the brilliance in Minnelli’s performance but I couldn’t really connect to the film.  I wasn’t that thrilled by the songs and the film didn’t really draw me in (though I always remembered the lines “Screw Max.”  “I do.”  “So do I.”).  Then, eight years later I saw the musical on stage when it was performed at my university, with several of my friends in it.  It seemed very different.  While you still had the obvious rise of the Nazis, from the early scenes, to the song “The Future Belongs to Me” to the way they populate the Kit-Kat Club at the end, it didn’t seem like the musical I remembered.  There seemed to be more of a story, more songs, more light-heartedness.  Of course, I hadn’t realized that they are in fact, very different, that when Fosse brought it to the screen he cut many of the songs, cut away entirely from the sub-plot about the landlady and the Jewish grocer and focused much more on Sally (even some of her songs were cut, as “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” was the only remaining song that didn’t take place in the Kit-Kat Club).  A couple of years later I taped the film and watched it again.  I had seen All That Jazz in the intervening years and was impressed by what Fosse had done.  I knew that Coppola absolutely should have won the Oscar, but it no longer seemed so out of place that Fosse won, for his direction is the heart and soul of the film.  There is possibly no film musical made from a stage musical that bears more of an imprint from its director than Cabaret.

Watching it again this time, I wasn’t as impressed by the film as a whole.  Fosse’s direction is magnificent, Minnelli’s performance is flawless and if Joel Grey shouldn’t have won the Oscar and indeed finishes third in my awards (behind Pacino and Duvall), his is still one of the best third-place performances in the history of the category.  (That is not mere hyperbole – the only performances I rank third that I feel are better are two other Oscar winners who gave performances worthy of their Oscar, but whom, I felt were bettered by others in their year – George Sanders in All About Eve, finishing behind Erich von Stroheim in Sunset Boulevard and Orson Welles in The Third Man and Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men, finishing behind Tom Wilkinson in Michael Clayton and Tommy Lee Jones in No Country.)  It is also extremely well-made on every level and again, if I don’t give it my awards, it usually is finishing in second place behind one of the greatest films ever made, so there is no shame in that.  The art direction, cinematography, costumes and sound are all superb.

So what is it that keeps it out of the range of the truly greatest films of all-time?  I would have to say that it’s the script and the story.  Make no mistake, this is a better film than it would have been if they filmed the original musical, with all the songs – for those songs are too light for this film and the subplot is kind of distracting – but then again, the subplot they did put in is also kind of distracting.  The strength of the film lies not in the relationship between Sally and Brian, but in Sally and her appearances in the nightclub and the growth of the Nazi party.  There is a certain aura of malevolence in the emcee, but Sam Mendes did Fosse one step better when he staged it in London almost thirty years later by taking the emcee and having him appear at the end in the costume of a homosexual in a concentration camp.  Cabaret is a musical like no other, in the darkness of its vision.  It is not of the school of bright colors and fun songs like My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music.  It takes West Side Story and one-ups it for sheer descent down into darkness, with both music and atmosphere and Fosse makes it a film to remember.

Do you hear the banjos?

Deliverance

  • Director:  John Boorman
  • Writer:  James Dickey  (from his novel)
  • Producer:  John Boorman
  • Studio:  Warner Bros.
  • Stars:  Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Ronnie Cox
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Editing
  • Oscar Points:  120
  • Length:  110 min
  • Genre:  Horror  (Rural)
  • MPAA Rating:  R
  • Box Office Gross:  $46.22 mil  (#4  –  1972)
  • Release Date:  30 July 1972
  • Ebert Rating:  **.5
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #5  (year)  /  #183  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Editing, Cinematography, Sound, Sound Editing
  • Nighthawk Points:  185

The Film:  What is a horror film?  When film began, and certainly during the era where it was transitioning to sound, horror was all about the supernatural monsters – Dracula, Frankenstein, Mr. Hyde, The Mummy.  In more recent years, that seems to have been supplanted by an urge to make films about slashing killers, the less realistic, the more likely to earn a big number on Friday night and then fade quickly.  But what about films that show the true depths of the horror of mankind?  To me, the three greatest horror films of all-time are what I classify as “urban horror”, in which we see the depths of mankind and what people will do to themselves.  Those three, of course, are A Clockwork Orange, Taxi Driver and Trainspotting.

But then there is a different kind of horror: rural horror.  In one very real sense, the more exaggerated kind of horror films like The Last House on the Left and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre would belong to this genre.  But the real crowning jewel of this would be Deliverance, for not only is the violence the most realistic, but it quite simply is a better film than almost anything else that could come to mind.  The character played by Burt Reynolds in the film would have you believe that this is all about man vs. nature.  But really this film is about man vs. himself.

It’s an interesting sidenote in John Boorman’s career.  Boorman is a great director and that was evident from his very early films, but in the seventies, something truly horrible seemed to happen to his film attempts and we ended up with films like Zardoz and The Exorcist II.  But in the middle of all of that we also got Deliverance.  By now, most people associate two things with Deliverance: the dueling banjos (which is incorrectly named, as Ronnie Cox is playing a guitar) and the rape scene.  But there is more than that.

I think back to my college roommate.  He lived way the hell out in the middle of nowhere along the Columbia River, in an area in which the fog rolled in every night.  When he first directed me on a drive around the area he kept humming the Dueling Banjos music.  Most of his neighbors were uneducated, most of them were dirt poor and the next door neighbor had murdered some people with an axe and was due out on parole before too long.  Though Deliverance takes place in Georgia, it could easily have come from any number of different areas in the country.  It marks the stark divide between those who think they have made civilization and those who make their living in the only form of civilization they have ever known.  It is well written, very well directed, very well made (the only technical nomination it received was for Editing, which is absurd since its Cinematography was passed over in favor of Butterflies are Free and “1776”) and well acted.  Amazingly enough, this was the first film appearance of Ned Beatty and it was the role that essentially turned Burt Reynolds into a superstar.  And through it all it is anchored by Jon Voight in a very good performance that was nothing like the roles by which most people had known him up to that point – Joe Buck and Milo Minderbinder.

Jan Troell succeeds where Bergman had yet to - getting his film (The Emigrants) nominated for Best Picture

The Emigrants (Utvandrarna)

  • Director:  Jan Troell
  • Writer:  Jan Troell  /  Bengt Forslund  (from the novels Utvandrarna and Invandrarna by Vilhelm Moberg)
  • Producer:  Bengt Forslund
  • Studio:  Svensk Filmindustri
  • Stars:  Max Von Sydow, Liv Ullmann
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actress (Ullmann), Foreign Film
  • Oscar note:  Nominated for Best Foreign Film in 1971
  • Oscar Points:  190
  • Length:  151 min
  • Genre:  Foreign  /  Drama
  • MPAA Rating:  PG
  • Release Date:  24 September 1972
  • Ebert Rating:  ****
  • My Rating:  ***.5
  • My Rank:  #6  (year)  /  #258  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Actor (Von Sydow), Actress (Ullmann), Cinematography, Costume Design, Foreign Film
  • Nighthawk Points:  130

The Film:  So here we have a Swedish film, nominated for Best Foreign Film, nominated for Best Picture and Director, starring Max Von Sydow and Liv Ullmann and it isn’t a Bergman film.  Were they trying to poke Bergman with a stick?  Saying, hey, we know you’ve done some of the most magnificent films in all of film history, but we’re going to pass you over and nominate Jan Troell instead?  Well, no, not really, even if it feels this way.  There are two reasons we know that.  The first is that Bergman himself was nominated for Best Director the following year for his Best Picture nominated Cries and Whispers.  The second is that this film is much more of a fit for the more middle-brow audiences of the Academy than any Bergman film (Bergman won three Best Foreign Film awards but never actually won an Oscar and Foreign Film and the other categories have different voting audiences).

In spite of the presence of Von Sydow and Ullmann, this is really nothing like a Bergman film.  Bergman’s films are dark meditations on the very meanings of life, death, faith, sex, love, pain.  This isn’t much of a meditation at all.  It’s a journey.  We have a group of outcasts, who are forced away from their native Sweden for various reasons, some because of faith, some because of poverty.  But they band together to make the long journey to America in the middle of the nineteenth century, eventually finding themselves setting in Minnesota (there is even a sequel called The New Land that deals with more of their story).  The film is filled with lush cinematography, from the cold, desolate Swedish lands, to the green filled fields and forests of the America that they find.  There are strong performances from everyone in the film, though, of course, it is Von Sydow and Ullmann who are really the stand-outs.  It is a very American story, the immigrant experience, and similar to another mostly over-looked Best Picture nominee, America America (neither is available on DVD).  It is perfect fare for the Academy and after getting passed over for Best Foreign Film the year before (to Garden of the Finzi-Continis, which really is a better film), it somehow managed to sneak into the competition in a rather strange year (the sequel was nominated the same year for Best Foreign Film – submitted by Sweden rather than Bergman’s Cries and Whispers which would earn a Best Picture nomination the next year).

Sounder (1972) - the little film that could

Sounder

  • Director:  Martin Ritt
  • Writer:  Lonne Elder III  (from the book by William H. Armstrong)
  • Producer:  Robert B. Radnitz
  • Studio:  20th Century-Fox
  • Stars:  Paul Winfield, Cicely Tyson
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Winfield), Actress (Tyson)
  • Oscar Points:  160
  • Length:  105 min
  • Genre:  Drama
  • MPAA Rating:  G
  • Box Office Gross:  $16.88 mil
  • Release Date:  24 September 1972
  • Ebert Rating:  ****
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #25  (year)  /  #295  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Actress  (Tyson)
  • Nighthawk Points:  35

The Film:  It had been a long time since I had watched Sounder, and I went in expecting it to be like The Yearling or Old Yeller, the experience of the poor young farmer boy with a pet.  But really, that’s not what this film is about and the name doesn’t really fit.  The Yearling and Old Yeller both dealt with young boys who grew because of their attachment to the animal.  Sounder is simply the family dog.  This boy is going to grow no matter what, because this is life that is teaching him, not a relationship with an animal.

The key here is the genre.  This is not a kids film.  Sure, it is a great film for kids to watch, especially for any kid hooked into all the technology today and still wants more.  It is a good reminder, not only of what life used to be like not all that long ago, but what life is still like for many people outside the United States and some still inside.  It starts with a fun little chase of a raccoon, with father, son and family dog all running along, but when you realize that they need to shoot that raccoon or they might not have anything to eat for the night, well, then your opinion can change.

Is Sounder one of the five best films of 1972?  No, especially when you realize that it lost out on a Best Director nomination to Sleuth (a much better film) and it was nominated over The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.  But it is a good film, one that convincingly portrays a poor black sharecropping family in the South, the things they must do in order to keep food on the table and the ties that bind between them.  In a lot of films, the father would fight against the son trying to keep him out of school.  But this father knows that his way of life is limited and that his son has a chance for something better, so he fights against his son to make him go to a school that will get him a little ahead in life.  Not a lot, but every little bit counts.  Every little bit counts in the film as well, for it is well directed, well written and has two very good performances at the heart of it – those of Paul Winfield and Cicely Tyson, and if I don’t nominate Winfield for my awards, well, that is not to say that he wasn’t good because he was – they both were.  They are convincing in every scene and in a film like this that sometimes can be the hardest thing.

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