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The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1978

1978 is one of those years people look at and go, “Hmm, yeah,” as though it were a good decision. I know I do. I love The Deer Hunter. I think it was one of the best Best Picture choices they ever made. Though I’m sure there are people who don’t care for the film as I do. Meh.

Best Actor went to Jon Voight for Coming Home. I don’t necessarily understand the strength of the performance, but I like that Jon Voight has an Oscar. Plus De Niro would win his two years later anyway. The other three really weren’t in contention. Jane Fonda won Best Actress for Coming Home. Which, surprises me. They gave her two before they gave her father one. That’s, strange. Best Supporting Actor was Christopher Walken for The Deer Hunter. I fully support Christopher Walken winning an award for anything, so that’s awesome. And Best Supporting Actress was Maggie Smith for California Suite. Maggie Smith is awesome.

That’s really it. Overall a strong set of winners, and the whole, “who should have beat who” is just a matter of personal preference. I like that in my Oscar years. I’d rather it be, “Yeah, I like (this) better, but I can see why that won.” I like being able to understand and not get angry.

BEST DIRECTOR – 1978

And the nominees were…

Woody Allen, Interiors

Hal Ashby, Coming Home

Warren Beatty & Buck Henry, Heaven Can Wait

Michael Cimino, The Deer Hunter

Alan Parker, Midnight Express

Allen — Yeah, Woody Allen won the year before this, and, as I’ll say every time one of his films comes up, I just don’t see why he’s always nominated for them. For writing, fine, I’ll allow it. But for directing? Are we watching the same movies? Or do people just let it go because, “Well, you know, he’s Woody Allen”? I’ll never understand this one.

This film, is Woody Allen doing an Ingmar Bergman film. Seriously. That’s what he did. He followed up Annie Hall, a movie that originally was a straight drama, that he recut and turned into a comedy-ish, movie, a movie that won Best Picture and gave him the most exposure he ever had in his career, and followed it up with a movie that’s just like an Ingmar Bergman family drama. I’ll always respect the man’s ability to do whatever the fuck he wants and not care about the public. That’s a boss move.

This movie is basically about three daughters, Diane Keaton is one of them, I forget the other two, who are worried about their mother, because I think their father leaves her after like, forty years. So they think she’s gonna be losing her mind, when instead she ends up pushing herself into decorating houses or something. I don’t really remember it. I was bored to tears. Really, bored to tears. It was family drama – which, shoot me now – with Woody Allen dialogue about Dostoyevsky and opera and shit. Seriously, just slit my wrists and call it a day. This movie was not even close to my cup of tea. He got an Oscar, that’s fine, but he’s #5 here by far. Not even close to a vote.

Ashby — Hal Ashby never really got his due during his career. He directed a really astounding amount of good films. The thing is, I don’t really love any of his films abnormally. I just see them as, “yeah, they’re good, but, I would never actually own them on DVD.” That’s my mark for liking a film, whether or not I would buy it on DVD. Granted, I still haven’t seen the one film of his that everyone loves (which, is because I’d somehow managed to not see it until college – Harold and Maude, this is – and then in college, everyone was like, “I really like that” – or if it wasn’t people in college, that was just the dominant opinion of that movie – and when that happens, I try not to watch it until it’s on my terms. I need to be holed up in a dark cave, isolated from the world, and then watch it, because then I’ll get my true feelings for the film. Plus I’m doing this Oscar thing now, so, I’m not gonna get to it for a while.

Still though, Hal Ashby’s films — he was editor on The Cincinnati Kid, The Russians are Coming The Russians are Coming, In the Heat of the Night and The Thomas Crown Affair. Pretty nice resume, as far as editors go. Then as a director, he made, The Landlord, Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Shampoo, Bound for Glory, this, and Being There. All this from 1970-1979. Fucking incredible, right? This man is like, filmmaking royalty in the 70s, with Sidney Lumet, Francis Coppola, Spielberg and Scorsese. It’s incredible what he did in these ten years.

Now, as for Coming Home. This is the flip side to The Deer Hunter. Deer Hunter is one of those movies that’s both very specific and yet strangely universal – with Russian roulette thrown in for good measure. It’s about these specific people, yet, it’s a portrait about people who came back from Vietnam (or didn’t) and had all these issues. Coming Home, however, is more of a different specific instance, yet still deals with the same circumstances. This one involves Jon Voight as a dude who lost his legs in the war. Much like Born on the Fourth of July. In fact, almost exactly like Born on the Fourth of July. The beginnings are very similar. Only difference is, this one starts in the hospital. The other has Cruise before the war and in the war. Though this movie is partially the reason why Cruise did not win the Oscar (Daniel Day-Lewis being the other 90%). And he gets used to the fact that he won’t have use of his legs anymore, and while he’s there, he starts fucking Jane Fonda, who is a nurse at the hospital. She’s also married, and her husband is Bruce Dern. And he comes home suddenly, and now they must all deal with the fact that they’re fucking. Mostly because Dern is scarred mentally and not physically like Voight is. And there are side stories about another nurse and her brother, all that. Personally, I thought it was a nice companionpiece to Deer Hunter. I prefer Deer Hunter, so that’s where my vote is affected. But Hal Ashby is a big name in cinema, it’s a shame he never won (he won for editing, but, it’s not the same), but, hey, shit happens.

Beatty & Henry — I like this movie a lot. It’s a perfect film for them to have updated. The original is a great premise, also nominated for Best Picture, and was probably largely forgotten by the time this one rolled around. Also, the fact that the original was nominated for Best Picture basically answers every question as to why this one was not going to win for anything. (It’s a longstanding Oscar tradition that remakes do not get Oscars. Especially when the first one was also nominated for an Oscar. Whether it won or not usually doesn’t matter. Case and point, True Grit. I guarantee you the fact that John Wayne won for the original had a huge impact in that movie not getting voted for.)

The movie is – I guarantee you you’ll know the story if you’ve never seen it. It might be because you’ve seen the movie Down to Earth, which was Chris Rock remaking this movie. So, 1942/3, 1978, 2001. We should be due for a remake within the next 15 years. It’s about a dude, in this instance he’s a football player, who dies before he’s supposed to. He’s riding his bike into a tunnel, and there’s an accident. Now, the angel from heaven sent to collect the bodies, accidentally pulls him out of there too early. He thinks it’s out of composure – save him the pain of death – but, really, he was supposed to survive. He was supposed to live another fifty years. So, he goes to heaven and argues his case. And eventually they let him go into another body – the body of a dude about to be murdered by his wife and her lover. And he goes into the body and takes over as this guy until they can find him a body. And in the meantime, he finds love with the body, and wants to stick with it. Problem is, the dude was supposed to die, so, he gets taken away from his woman and put into the third body. And then, it ends with him meeting the girl as the new guy, not remembering his old identity, but we know that they’re gonna eventually end up together. It’s a nice story overall.

This version is really well done. It’s very funny. The only part of it I thought that held it back was Warren Beatty’s performance. And even that wasn’t so much. Beatty’s one of those actors I felt who would have been a lot better if he were held in check a bit more by directors. But, it’s a great movie. I’m glad it was nominated. But it shouldn’t have won. For multiple reasons. The most important of which is this next film.

Cimino — I’m not even gonna hide my choice. This is my vote. I fucking love this movie. I love how slow it is. Most people think the movie is insanely long, and it kind of it, but it’s so fucking watchable, all the way through. I love how it starts really slow, and the first hour is just following these people around and getting to know them. Literally, the first hour of the movie is them getting out of work, hanging out at the bar, getting ready for a wedding, having the wedding, and having a huge fucking party afterwards. And then they go deer hunting afterwards (well, all except the groom), and everything is just lazy. Then out of nowhere, we’re just in Vietnam and they’re killing people. That’s literally what it is. Split second transition. Of course, we know they’re going to fight, and it’s sort of hanging over the whole first hour, but, they themselves don’t really take it seriously. It’s about the loss of innocence due to war, but, you know, that’s every war movie, pretty much. Then the middle of the film is the whole famous Russian roulette scene. Then the rest of the movie is the after effects of that. It’s really, really great. I love this movie so, so much. I cannot speak of it highly enough. Of course, it’s not for everybody. It’s long, and it’s a war movie. You really need to be ready for it, and also not be the kind of person who gets bored easily. It’s possible to get bored by this movie if you’re not ready. But don’t let its length deter you, this is a fucking incredible movie and deserved every accolade it ever got (and probably even some more).

Parker — This is the movie I’d probably be voting for if not for Deer Hunter. This movie surprised the hell out of me at how much I liked it. I had heard about it for years and years. It’s always the cornerstone of the genre. It’s the one all the jokes are referencing. “You better hope you don’t end up in a Turkish prison.” That’s because of this movie.

The film is about a dude trying to smuggle hashish out of Turkey, and at the border he gets caught. And he’s thrown in the prison and the rest of the movie is him dealing with prison life and trying to get his ass the fuck out of there. Problem is, the government was all fucked up and gave him, like, a twenty year prison sentence, when in a, let’s say, more normal country he’d have been given like, one, with probation. It’s fucked up. And in the prison, he gets raped by the guards, beaten, treated like shit. People go crazy. It’s fucking insane. Halfway through they plan an escape, but that fucks up. It’s a really harrowing movie. The best part about it is watching it the second time, because you see this dude change so much that, the second time around, you’re like, “Oh, you fucking idiot, what are you doing?” It’s a great, great film. I don’t know if it’s one I’d ever have on constant repeat, but, it’s a great film. Too bad I can’t vote for it. But, you know, it happens.

My Thoughts:  For me, it’s all about The Deer Hunter. That’s the film here to vote for. Nothing else. I can see where other people might prefer Midnight Express or maybe Coming Home, but, I vote Deer Hunter all the way.

My Vote: Cimino

Should Have Won: Cimino

Is the result acceptable?: Hell, yeah. Top 20 best decisions of all time (I kept it at 20 just because there are a surprising number of great decisions. I tried ranking them once, and still might do an official one for the blog, but, god-damn are there are a lot of good ones to go along with the bad ones.

Ones I suggest you see: Deer Hunter is such a classic that, how have you not seen it by now, if you haven’t? Coming Home is a nice companion piece to it, so I do suggest that as well. I don’t like it as much, but it does feature great performances. Heaven Can Wait is a great film as well. And Midnight Express, just do it to yourself once. Seriously. Then you can be like, “Jesus…”, when it’s over. Really, I recommend them all except the Woody Allen. Big fucking surprise that is.

Rankings:

5) Allen

4) Beatty & Henry

3) Ashby

2) Parker

1) Cimino

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