FOR YOUR RECONSIDERATION: 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.
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).....
LOOKIN' 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 nominated and 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