The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1971
If 1967 was when we transitioned to a grittier Hollywood, 1971 is when we transitioned to the 70s. As in, the 70s as we know them. Because 1968 was Oliver!, big musical holdover, in a year the Academy didn’t want to adapt to the changing times. 1969 was Midnight Cowboy, sort of adapting. Then 1970 was Patton, right back to the comfort zone. Now, 1971, they went straight 70s.
The French Connection wins Best Picture. It would be the first of many great 70s choices. Gene Hackman wins Best Actor for the film as well. Best Actress went to Jane Fonda for Klute, a very 70s movie. Best Supporting Actor went to Ben Johnson and Best Supporting Actress went to Cloris Leachman, both for The Last Picture Show. So, you have two 70s movies and an auteur 70s movie. That’s fucking ballsy. This from an Academy who rushes to nominate and vote in any kind of historical epic for Best Picture whenever they can.
BEST DIRECTOR – 1971
And the nominees were…
Pete Bogdanovich, The Last Picture Show
William Friedkin, The French Connection
Norman Jewison, Fiddler on the Roof
Stanley Kubrick, A Clockwork Orange
John Schlesinger, Sunday Bloody Sunday
Bogdanovich — This is a film a lot of people love, that I only like, but respect as a film. I don’t love this as much as everyone else does, but I can understand why a lot of people do like it. It just, didn’t appeal to me that much.
The film is about life in a sleepy Texas town. Everyone knows everyone else, there’s nothing to do, and that’s that. And we see the people and their lives. Jeff Bridges is the captain of the high school football team, and he and his buddy don’t want to be in the town much. Or maybe it’s his buddy and not him or him and not his buddy. Fuck, I can’t remember. And his buddy, I believe, is the one that starts fucking Cloris Leachman, who is the wife of the football coach, and is a bored housewife. And Ellen Burstyn is dealing with her daughter, who is dating Jeff Bridges (actually, she may be the one that wants to leave), and she also had a relationship with the guy who owns like, half the businesses in town, like, the diner, the movie theater and the drug store. They’re all literally owned by one man. And he’s the wise old dude that’s just there. It’s one of those movies. Slow, meditative. Black and white. Classier, that way. That’s what it is.
The direction is fine. But it’s not something I’m gonna vote for. It’s one of those, great it’s nominated, but not for the win, films. Even if I liked it the way everyone else does, I think they’d all agree, there are better choices this year.
Friedkin — God-damn, look at that car chase. This and Bullitt are considered the best car chases ever put to film. There’s a reason for that.
This film is about two detectives investigating a big shipment of drugs coming in from France, and trying to figure out who’s behind it. This is one of the films that epitomizes the 70s. The grit and the grime. The shooting inside real apartment buildings. Traffic outside. People dressed like bums and pimps all the time. It looks like the 70s. It looks like real life. And it’s a great thriller. I really support this film and this directing job.
Jewison — It’s a Jewish musical, that alone makes it awesome. The only downside to it is that it’s clearly shot on a set. That is, even though it’s shot outdoors, you can tell that they built this town from scratch and shot on it. Which gives the film a weird sort of fake-real quality to it that actually works really well when you watch it, but not so much when voting on it for Best Director. You feel the artifice, which, it’s a musical, you’re supposed to. But, compared to the other films on this, I can’t vote for it. I can’t. But it’s Fiddler on the Roof, it’s an awesome movie. Yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum.
Kubrick — What a weird, fucked up movie. Which, as we all know, is what’s so great about it.
I can’t even begin to describe this movie. I’m not going to. Just fucking watch it. And if you’ve seen it, you’ll understand why it’s so great. And if you don’t, that’s fine too. The fact that they even nominated this film for anything is amazing. It was never going to win. There was no way the Academy was going to embrace a film like this past a nomination or two. Ever. Which is kind of a shame, given that Kubrick never won a Best Director Oscar (what happened in 1964 and 1968, Academy?). He clearly did an amazing job with this film, and 90% of the look and design of it was due to him, which automatically shortlists him to top two in this category. Now it comes down to whether or not I prefer him to Friedkin.
Schlesinger — Yeah, I didn’t like this film at all. It’s about a woman sleeping with a doctor, who happens to be bisexual, and he won’t commit to her because he likes to go out and sleep with a younger man, but she wants him to commit. It’s one of those British, racy, relationship dramas that Glenda Jackson did all during this time (and won two Oscars for — why, I have no idea). I was bored to tears during this film, did not enjoy it at all. And to top it off, John Schlesinger already had an Oscar from two years earlier, so, that gives me more of a reason not to vote for him. Like I needed one.
My Thoughts: It’s really between Friedkin and Kubrick, for me. And as much as I love Clockwork, I really don’t think it’s Kubrick’s best work. He should have won for either 2001 or for Strangelove. Seriously, not giving it to him for 2001 was shameful. Now, the reason I vote for Friedkin here is two-fold. One, I just like his direction better. It’s a marginal difference between the two, but that’s just my opinion. And second, this is where the whole stupid Academy part comes in. If Friedkin wins his Oscar now, then when 1973 comes and he directs The Exorcist, he doesn’t need to win for that (even though he was absolutely deserving). And since the Academy passed over George Roy Hill for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969, and the fact that in 1973 George Roy Hill directed The Sting, I feel he definitely deserved an Oscar for at least one of those films. So, I’m taking Friedkin having one Oscar instead of zero, mostly because the Academy fucked up by never giving Kubrick one, especially by having two plum years to do so. It’s one of those things where, if they weren’t going to do it then, they were never going to do it. Though technically he did have one for the special effects of 2001, so I guess maybe that counts. Still, I’m taking Friedkin. I took Kubrick in ’64 and ’68, and despite him not winning those, I just don’t think he did the best job here. So, it’s Friedkin for me.
My Vote: Friedkin
Should Have Won: Friedkin. And I guess Kubrick too.
Is the result acceptable?: Yes.
Ones I suggest you see: The French Connection is awesome, and a classic, and a great film. I highly recommend it. A Clockwork Orange is a film that most people end up seeing throughout their lifetime. If you haven’t seen it, I’m very surprised. Fiddler on the Roof is a lot of fun. See it if you want to watch a jaunty Jewish musical. Last Picture Show is good, if you want to see it. Though it’s kind of slow. You have to want to see it.