Each week, this column will cover one film on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest American films of all time, covering my general thoughts on the film and whether or not I think it belongs on the list. You can also see my personal ranking here. This week’s film is #93 on the list: The French Connection (1971).
Arriving at the height of the New Hollywood era, The French Connection set the bar for gritty crime-thrillers and realistic police procedurals. It ushered in a new age where film protagonists could be not only dislikeable, but flat-out despicable, and further proved that you didn’t need a loud score and constant action to enthrall an audience. At the time, it was praised for being bold and original and, somewhat surprisingly, won the Academy Award for Best Picture, but by today’s standards, its edges seem relatively antiquated. Instead, it’s now most appreciated for its formalism—the grounded cinematography framing New York City as equal parts alluring and disgusting, and the editing punctuating the films action sequences to perfection–rather than the story and characters. The long-celebrated sequences deserve the acclaim and academic deconstruction, but as a film overall, it’s less engrossing than I imagined.
Does It Belong on the List?
I don’t see any reason why. Friedkin has others more deserving, and if you’re looking for a great ‘70s New York City crime-thriller, there’s none better than Dog Day Afternoon—a jaw-dropping omission from this list.