Each week this column will highlight one winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, progressing chronologically until all winners have been discussed. There will be a brief discussion of the film itself followed by a mention of what we wish won from the nominees in the given year (though in many cases there were films that were superior in terms of quality and/or impact that were not nominated). This week’s entry is The French Connection (1971).
Continuing the quality of 1970s Best Picture winners, albeit on the lower end in my mind, The French Connection is a compelling crime drama that follows two detectives trying to take down a French heroin smuggler. It does an excellent job of capturing the grimy feel of New York City that has been imitated in many films, a couple of compelling performances, and a thrilling story with a bit of thought provoking content about the nature of drug smuggling, but the real power of the film comes primarily from the car chase scene. An expert display of cross cutting between Gene Hackman driving through the city in pursuit of a train and crashing into a bunch of cars on the way, and Marcel Bozzuffi, the killer facing his own confrontations on the train, it certainly deserves the praise it gets. As for the rest of the film, it starts a bit ambiguous and it takes a while to really figure out what’s going on and become invested, though a violent Santa Claus early on does make it amusing from the start. It’s among the better films of its type but not quite one I would give all the praise that it has been given.
The Real Best Picture:
In a departure from my usual disdain for the acclaimed musicals of the time, Fiddler on the Roof is a film I adore and even prefer to The French Connection. However, The Last Picture Show is perhaps the greatest coming of age film and it would have to be my pick.