in this segment i will look back at various years in the history of the academy awards and reconsider their nominations and winners. the focus will be on the "best picture" category, but that discussion will often lead to looking at some of the other categories and films/artists - and my final pick for best picture will not necessarily be even one of the five nominated films. also, since i can obviously not go and watch every movie released in the year in discussion, i reserve the right to follow up these posts in the future if/when i see other films from said oscar year that change my current verdicts.
FOR YOUR RECONSIDERATION : 1969 ACADEMY AWARDS
Broadcast Date: April 14th, 1969
NOMINEES (winners in bold)Picture:
, Funny Girl, The Lion in Winter, Rachel, Rachel, Romeo And Juliet
CLIFF ROBERTSON in Charly, Alan Arkin in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Alan Bates in The Fixer, Ron Moody in Oliver!, Peter O'Toole in The Lion in Winter
KATHARINE HEPBURN in The Lion in Winter and BARBRA STREISAND in Funny Girl (tie), Patricia Neal in The Subject Was Roses, Vanessa Redgrave in Isadora, Joanne Woodward in Rachel, Rachel
JACK ALBERTSON in The Subject Was Roses, Seymour Cassel in Faces, Daniel Massey in Star!, Jack Wild in Oliver!, Gene Wilder in The Producers
RUTH GORDON in Rosemary's Baby, Lynn Carlin in Faces, Sondra Locke in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Kay Medford in Funny Girl, Estelle Parsons in Rachel, Rachel
SIR CAROL REED for Oliver!, Anthony Harvey for The Lion in Winter, Stanley Kubrick for 2001: A Space Odyssey, Gillo Pontecorvo for "The Battle of Algiers", Franco Zeffirelli for Romeo And Juliet
Oliver! is a great musical. for me a musical has to do two things right: like any film it has to be a good movie with good acting and a good script, yada yada yada. but, then a musical also has the extra burden of the songs to deal with, and if they aren't good then it doesn't matter how good the "movie" is, it won't be a success for me (and i would assume for others as well). well, Oliver! gets them both right. the movie itself is fun and sweet and the songs are great and many of them have made their way into our popular songbook. i had never seen this film before about a week ago and yet i recognized a bunch of the songs throughout the film and am still singing them to myself today (as a write this as a matter of fact).
Funny Girl was barbara streisands first film and she is incredible in it. really this is her film. she is on screen about 95% of the time and the real success or failure of this film rides on her shoulders. and she carries this one to a complete success. the film is the story of comedienne fannie brice and her rise from the lower east side to great success with the ziegfeld follies. fanny is very funny and has an incredible voice, but she is also self-conscious about not being "beautiful" like the popular stars, and barbara captures this all so well. the film is a simply told biography. it doesn't do anything different or special with the story, but that's okay, cause it is a good story and with barbara in the lead one can't help but be engaged.
The Lion In Winter is so good! i went into this thing expecting a somewhat dry royal drama, but what i got was a film that felt like masterpiece theatre written by david mamet.... the year is 1183. it is christmas. king henry II, his (imprisoned) wife, his mistress, his three sons and king philip of france. his plan is to name his successor over the holidays but things don't go as planned as all the participants plot and scheme to try and get what they want. this ain't your parents british royal drama!! the dialogue is fast and witty and the film moves from one plot to another taking us right along with it. the performances are great all around, but hepburn and o'toole are just fantastic. when they are on screen together i was completely mesmerized by these two screen legends. Oh ya, don;t forget the great score (won the oscar for best score).
Rachel, Rachel is another first among the best picture nominees. the film is paul newman's directorial debut and it stars is wife joanne woodward as a new england school teacher living with her mother upstairs from the funeral home that her dad used to run and own when she was a little girl (they sold it after he died). rachel is innocent and smart, and sexually repressed and emotionally confused and completely stuck in a rut. she has bursts of fantasy in which she lets the person she wants to be out and then pulls it back in to be the person she is (then often berates herself for not being stronger). when an old acquaintance comes into town she lets herself out of her shell a little, but it isn't smooth and easy. woodward is great and gives rachel so much more depth behind the simple/quiet exterior.
Romeo And Juliet is the epitome of a movie that you watch knowing exactly how it is going to end. i mean not only is it stated right in the opening dialogue, but, unless you have been living under a rock for the last 500 years, you know the story of these star-crossed lovers. i don't know the stats on it, but i would think that Romeo And Juliet is one of, if not the most, filmed stories in movie history, so it's not like it hasn't been done before. zifforelli's version is traditional. there is no modern setting or pop music (like in the great version baz luhrmann did in the 90s), but rather a great telling of a great story. the leads are great in their roles and the cinematography (oscar winning) is beautiful.
LOOKING AT THE LIST
to me this years list of nominees felt like that segment from Sesame Street, "one of these things is not like the other ones." can you find the one that "doesn't" belong? we have the full-blow hollywood musical, Oliver!. we have the big comedy/musical Funny Girl. next there is the beautiful dramatic and romantic production of one of the greatest stories ever told, Romeo And Juliet. then there is the large and star-studded attraction, The Lion In Winter. and finally we have the small town character study drama, Rachel, Rachel... if you answered Rachel, Rachel then you would be right. how that little film made it onto the list, among all these big and grand films is quite interesting.
the other interesting thing that struck me when watching these films was that it was 1968.
-on january 30th, 1968 the viet cong launched the tet offensive which many pin-point as the turning point in american mass public opinion against the war in vietnam.
- on februrary 8th a civil rights protest staged at an all-white bowling alley in south carolina is broken up by highway patrolmen and three college students are killed.
- in august police clash with protesters in chicago outside of the democratic national convention
- in march president johnson announces that he will not seek re-election
- on april 4th martin luther king jr. is assassinated
- on april 11th, lbj signs the civil rights act of 1968
and so on.... you get the idea. 1968 is a huge year in the history of america and i found it kind of interesting to see that the nominated movies do not reflect that at all. in fact, the films nominated feel like an attempt to escape from the realities of the world and the time. you got two musicals, a classic love story a royal political drama set hundreds of years in the past and actually only one film set in the present day, Rachel, Rachel - and this one makes no reference to political and historical times they are in. - i should say here, that i don't say this to at all diminish the value of the nominated films, but rather to point out some interesting ideas that crossed my mind while watching the movies and thinking about the year in question.
look at some of the other films released that year: The Battle Of Algiers about the bloody algerian revolution as they fight the french for their independence (the french having just left vietnam defeated). 2001: A Space Odyssey which looks at mans evolution and the evolution of violence and technology and power and what could possibly be in store for the future. those are two examples of films that seem to be making a much more relevant statement to the times and a harder look at mankind and yet both were passed over for nominations (although both did get best director nods and "Algiers" was nominated for best foreign film. also, they both lost in the screenplay category to mel brooks' The Producers - more fun escapist fare)...1968 was also the year of The Planet Of The Apes which was is a satire of sorts and is trying to say something about mankind and nuclear war and violence and class structure, etc... (not that i am saying it deserved a best picture nomination).
to get an even fuller view of the year in film and where i am coming from based on what i have seen...
films among the years' nominees that i haven't seen: The Fixer, The Battle Of Algiers, Charly, The Subject Was Roses....
films i have seen with nominated outside of the top five categories: Bullitt, The Thomas Crown Affaire, The Planet Of the Apes, The Odd Couple,
THE NOMINEES: although i hadn't seen any of the best picture nominees before, i went into this week of viewing already knowing which film deserved to win this year. and, now, after having seen all five films and a few others from the year in question, my opinion hasn't changed. 1968 should have belonged to 2001.
not only was 2001: A Space Odyssey the best film that year, it is one of the best - and it could be argued the best - films of all time!! i would also argue that Rosemary's Baby being left off the best film list was a mistake as well.
given that, it means that room would need to be made on the list for both those films. so what should go? well, i would drop Rachel, Rachel to give 2001 a spot and then to make room for Rosemary's Baby i think either Funny Girl or Romeo And Juliet would have to go - although i did really like both films. and i'm also thinking that polanski would edge out zeffirelli and take over his spot on the best director list (remember that i haven't seen The Battle Of Algiers, whose director, gillo pontecorvo, is also among the best director nominees. so i can't make a judgment on that spot)
THE WINNER: 2001: A space Odyssey
as much as i really did love Oliver! and feel it did deserve the nomination, it was not the best movie released in 1968. in fact, of the five nominees the best of the bunch is The Lion In Winter, and in many other years it would get my vote for best picture. but in the year of 2001: A Space Odyssey every other movie is just fighting for second place!
Broadcast Date: April 2nd, 1974
NOMINEES (winners in bold)
THE STING, American Graffiti, Cries and Whispers, The Exorcist, A Touch of Class
JACK LEMMON in Save the Tiger, Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris, Jack Nicholson in The Last Detail, Al Pacino in Serpico, Robert Redford in The Sting
GLENDA JACKSON in A Touch of Class, Ellen Burstyn in The Exorcist, Marsha Mason in Cinderella Liberty, Barbra Streisand in The Way We Were, Joanne Woodward in Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams
JOHN HOUSEMAN in The Paper Chase, Vincent Gardenia in Bang the Drum Slowly, Jack Gilford in Save the Tiger, Jason Miller in The Exorcist, Randy Quaid in The Last Detail
TATUM O'NEAL in Paper Moon, Linda Blair in The Exorcist, Candy Clark in American Graffiti, Madeline Kahn in Paper Moon, Sylvia Sidney in Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams
GEORGE ROY HILL for The Sting, Ingmar Bergman for Cries and Whispers, Bernardo Bertolucci for Last Tango in Paris, William Friedkin for The Exorcist, George Lucas for American Graffiti
The Sting is a great movie. I have loved this film for years and it is partly because of this film that so many other con movies always seem to disappoint. I remember watching The Sting when i was younger and actually being surprised by some of the twists and double-crosses that are so common in pretty much any con movie i have seen since - even the good ones like Hiest and Matchstick Men don't seem to fully work for me because i never trust anything i see and am always waiting/looking for the "twist" - which i then can usually spot in advance. Sometimes one will still get me - like Nine Queens - but The Sting is still the classic in my books.
American Graffiti is the really good film George Lucas made before he started on the whole Star Wars franchise - which got him another best film nomination three years later. This film takes place on earth in the 1950's when kids used to spend their nights driving up and down "the strip" (kind of like what hanging out at the mall is for kids today). What was so original about this film - besides the fact that lucas wrote the script and the dialogue wasn't bad - was his use of a different "pop" song for pretty much every scene - about 45 in total. The film really captures a moment in time and shows us that Lucas is more then a one hit wonder.
Cries And Whispers is the best ingmar bergman film i have ever seen (to be fair, i have only seen about 3 of them). the film on the surface is about three sisters and their long time maid. one of the sisters is dying of cancer and the other two come home to take care of her along with the maid who has devoted years of service to them all. that is on the surface however, and if you have ever seen any bergman film you know that most of what he does and says happens beneath the surface. did i "get it" all? nope. was i drawn into the film? most definitely. for me the movie was about an experience rather then "understanding" it at first glance. it is about the emotions and the film and the characters and the visceral experience of the gorgeous cinematography and editing choices. this is a film that will stay with you and is a great movie to watch with someone - cause you are going to want to talk about it afterwards. what struck me the most about the film were the visuals, which were incredible. from the use of the color red to the gorgeous framing of so many of the shots - the great sven nykvyst won a very well deserved cinematography oscar for his brilliant work.
The Exorcist isn't just a great horror film. it is a great film. it is also not a horror fim in the way that genre has come to be recognized over the last 20 years or so. this film doesn't go for the "shock" scare. it doesn't kill off main characters one by one. it doesn't have at least one low angled booty shot or any of the other conventions that populate so many horror movies these days - in short: this isn't one of the films that the Scream movies were satirizing. instead i think of The Exorcist as more of a horror/drama or a "dramorror" if you will. sure it is frightening at times, but those frights aren't superfluous scares, but rather they are weaved into the film as necessary to what the movie is all about.
A Touch Of Class was the one film of the five nominees that i had never even heard of. the film is a romantic comedy about a married man and a divorced woman and the relationship that develops between then after they run off to spain for a week. the film is about that week and about how things develop when they come back to london and try to settle into a casual situation. both george segal and glenda jackson are great and the film was actually quite funny. the film wades across different niches: it is part comedy-of-errors, part love story drama and part slapstick and it works - in fact parts of the film reminded me of some of the great fast-talking comedies from the 40s and 50s like, The Philadelphia Story. this is one of those movies where it would be appropriate to say: i laughed, i cried... (i mean, i personally didn't cry. but i could have).....
LOOKING AT THE LIST
what an interesting list of nominees this year. first off we got a foreign film in the running for best picture (which is a very rare occurrence). then we got a "horror" movie and a romantic comedy in there, which are two genres that don't tend to get a lot of best picture love (horror even less so than romantic comedy - four years later one of the best ever, Annie Hall, won best picture -) and even looking at the other two films, The Sting is a crime/comedy or a "crimeady" and American Graffiti is a coming of age dramady. really the only drama here is Cries And Whispers.
noticing that, i wanted to look at the awards in historical context of the day. what was going on in 1973/74? well, there was this little thing called watergate going on - you may have heard of it (or at least seen the best picture nominated film from three years later, All The Presidents Men). in january 1974 nixon refused to hand over the 500 tapes that had been subpoenad by congress and g gordan liddy was found guilty on watergate charges. nixon resigned in august of that year as well. then there was the energy crisis and the patty hearst kidnapping....... now, i don't want to take this thing too far, but, one could argue that the films nominated were in response to watergate and the state of disillusionment of the country at the time. American Graffiti and The Sting take place in the 30s and 50s (cool cars and sock hops and trying to get under girls' skirts) respectively. and then in The Sting you also have the working class guys taking the big rich and powerful badguy for all he is worth (i don't gotta spell out the woodward/bernstien vs. nixon analogy there do i?). then you have A Touch Of Class that is a total escape from the problems of the moment even though it takes place in the present day. it's also funny and i even pointed out how it took me back to those comedies of the 40s and 50s - a different time....
having said all that, i also immediatley noticed a crack in the "historical context" theory with the lack of a best picture nod for Serpico. you would think that in a time of mistrust of men in power and bribes and dishonor, that a film about a police officer who went up against the system to take down corrupt cops would be perfect. also, it is just a really good film regardless of context or anything else.
also, you may have noticed that 4 of the 5 best film nominees also got their directors nominatedand then one director, bertolucci, took the fifth spot even though his film wasn't nominated - now, that on its own isn't interesting, since most years that is how the nominations go. what is interesting though, is the director that didn't make the list is melvin frank, the guy who directed the romantic comedy (A Touch Of Class). the lack of respect directors of romantic comedies, and comedies in general get, is something we see throughout the history of the awards... for example:
1995: Four Weddings And A Funeral nominated for best picture, mike newell not nominated
1997: Jerry McGuire nominated for best picture, cameron crowe not nominated
1988: Broadcast News nominated for best picture, james l. brooks not nominated
1967: The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming and Alfie nominated for best picture, norman jewison and lewis gilbert not nominated
part of me also wonders how much of it had to do with the fact that Last Tango In Paris was so controversial that it couldn't get a best film nomination, but they could at least give bertolucci the director nod. hmmmmmm?!
films among the nominees that i haven't seen: The Paper Chase, The Day Of The Dolphin, Paper Moon, The Last Detail...
the nominees: as much as i liked American Graffiti and A Touch Of Class, one of them should have been replaced with Serpico in the best picture list. also, with that being the case, i would have then given lumet a best directing nod as well
the winner: The Sting.
of the five nominees i am happy The Sting won, however, if The Exorcist had taken it, i would not have had a problem with that either. for me the big mistake the academy made this year was not giving Serpico a best film nomination and giving a director nomination to lumet