In “Worst Best Picture” we search every single Best Picture Oscar winner of all time from 1927 to present to uncover the worst of them all. Conventional wisdom says that 2005’s winner Crash is the worst winner in history. We won’t stop until we’ve tested every last one. Read the the first, our review of Crash, here. Posts will be relatively spoiler free, but there may be some details revealed. Today’s installment is the 1971 winner The French Connection. Is it better than Crash?
If anyone ever asks you if you’ve seen The French Connection, all you have to do is say “oh, man, that car chase is awesome!” That’s it. Maybe mumble something about Gene Hackman. Then change the subject and ask whoever you’re talking to about a neat fish you saw once. You made it out of that conversation, and I’m proud of you.
The French Connection is all about a good cop who ain’t all that good, y’know? Gene Hackman plays “Popeye” Doyle, a cop bent on bringing down the drug trade. Some street arrests and small-time guys lead him to some French druglords in the heroin game, and there’s your movie. Let’s get after it.
Shit, do they ever get after it. There’s just about no time invested in character in The French Connection, which usually strikes me as obnoxious in a movie. Popeye should come off as stiff or uninteresting, but instead it’s clear that everyone involved in this movie knew where to find the meat. It’s 100% tone: everything is about dirty, gritty New York and the intensity of the cat-and-mouse chase. Every line exists to hammer home those things and only those things.
It’s an action movie, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. The French Connection is the greatest version of something that’s become pretty awful in the last few decades. It never goes deeper than the frustration of the chase or the desire to escape, but that’s all okay, too. Plenty of action movies on this list look at more intense themes — there’s plenty of action in movies like Platoon and No Country for Old Men –– but few of them stand as a love letter to a genre as well as this one.
The Best Part: The iconic scene is rarely actually the best part, but in this case I’ll make an exception:
The Worst Part: It comes across as a little slight when compared directly with the rest of this list. Just as Marty is just a love story, The French Connection is just an action movie. There are worse things to be, though, and it is rare that a movie does everything it set out to do.
Is It Better or Worse than Crash? They both have driving! Other than that, the best comparison is the fact that Gene Hackman’s character is a bit of a racist (he calls the head French druglord “Frog One,” though I guess that guy is an international heroin dealer, so, well, uhm) and an asshole, just like everyone in Crash. This comparison goes back to one of the first topics considered in this space: is it better to try to say nothing and say nothing or try to say something deep and fail? One of these two movies achieved everything it meant to. You’ll never guess which one.
Worst Best Picture Archives: Crash | Terms of Endearment | Forrest Gump | All About Eve | The Apartment | No Country for Old Men | Gentleman’s Agreement | 12 Years a Slave | The Last Emperor | The Silence of the Lambs | The Artist | A Man for All Seasons | Platoon | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King | The King’s Speech | Rain Man | The Departed | The Bridge on the River Kwai | Marty | Gigi | It Happened One Night | Driving Miss Daisy | Shakespeare in Love | Wings | Midnight Cowboy | Rocky | Gone with the Wind | Chicago | Gladiator | Cavalcade | The Greatest Show on Earth | You Can’t Take It With You | The Best Years of Our Lives | The Godfather | Casablanca | Grand Hotel | Kramer vs. Kramer | The French Connection
Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @alexbad.