The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1972

Let’s not waste time here. The Godfather won Best Picture, it was a great decision. A top three decision of all time. Coppola lost Best Director to Bob Fosse and Cabaret. Unacceptable for this year, acceptable for all time. No need to waste space on something we can all agree on. (We can agree, can’t we?)

Marlon Brando won Best Actor. Nuff said. Best Actress went to Liza Minnelli for Cabaret. Nuff said. Great decision. Best Supporting Actor — which I talked about very recently — was Joel Grey, also for Cabaret. To echo my sentiments in the article, unacceptable, but understandable how it happened. And Best Supporting Actress went to Eileen Heckart for Butterflies are Free. That was a very weak category, and is what it is. So, now, this one.


And the nominees were…

John Boorman, Deliverance

Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather

Bob Fosse, Cabaret

Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Sleuth

Jan Troell, The Emigrants

Boorman — Deliverance is a movie that everybody knows about before they ever see it (if they ever see it). Honestly I hadn’t watched the movie until — probably until this year. Maybe late 2010. And yet, I’d still seen it. Because it’s just one of those films you know about. (Gator, on the other hand, isn’t. How I managed to see that before I saw Deliverance — well you’ll just have to figure that shit out for yourself.)

I actually think the reason I hadn’t seen it was because, whenever I thought to watch it, I went, “Yeah, yeah, dueling banjos, hillbillies, Ned Beatty gets raped, yeah, yeah, yeah.” And you think that the movie’s appeal is solely that one scene, and that the rest of it isn’t memorable outside of it. Well, I’ll come flat out and say it — I was wrong. This fucking movie is amazing.

It starts off kind of slow, and you don’t really (if ever) get a sense of the characters aside from the fact that they’re businessmen of some sort. But, do you really want to get to know the characters? Because, not knowing much about them past simple surface things makes them more like you than you can imagine. And that’s why it’s so scary. I think of this movie almost like a backwoods Deer Hunter. No, no, hear me out. I’m talking about the relationships. Burt Reynolds is De Niro. He’s the dude that’s out there all the time. He’s the veteran who’s like, “This is this.” You know? If you’ve seen the movie this will make more sense. Hell, if you’ve only seen Deer Hunter this should make sense. Reynolds is De Niro. And Jon Voight is the Walken character, the one who’s got enough experience to know what he should and should not do, and is at least kind of a pro about it. That whole, “You’re the only one I can ever go hunting with,” kind of deal. While the other two, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox, are the two that are just planning on having fun — John Cazale and uhh, Axel there. George — Dzunda. Something like that. Dzundza. Damn. That was pretty good from memory. They’re the two that have no experience at all.

Anyway, I’m gonna recount the film now. If you haven’t seen it, I highly suggest you DON’T READ THIS SYNOPSIS. If you haven’t seen it in a while, this is more of a refresher. If you don’t plan on seeing it, then, fine, read away. But if you have any inking to ever see this, I suggest you don’t actually read this, just because, it’s more harrowing that way. So, they’re out going boating, and at the beginning, they meet some hillbillies and Ronny Cox has a Dueling Banjos duet with the kid. Then they go out and most of the film for a bit is them doing outdoorsy shit. Then one day, while they’re camping, Cox and Beatty, or maybe it’s Voight and Beatty — I think it’s Voight and Beatty — are happened upon by two hillbillies. They tie Voight up to a tree and, at knifepoint, make Beatty take off his pants. They then proceed to ride him around and make him “Squeal like a pig.” Then one of the guys proceeds to rape him. While this is happening, Reynolds comes up and kills one of the guys. The other guy then runs away into the woods. The men then regroup and keep going, since the only way out is down the river. So they go down the river, and out of nowhere, Ronny Cox falls into the river and disappears. It’s heavily suggested that he was shot in the head, as the one man who they let run away is now stalking them (with another dude). And in this whole panic, Burt Reynolds ends up breaking his leg. So they stop, and as they stop to tend to Reynolds, Voight, a champion archer, climbs a rock to look for the shooter. And then the climax of the film is them taking out the two men who are aiming to kill them. And then they do it and get out, just the three of them, severely traumatized by the whole thing, and then in the town they get to (which is about to be flooded to make way for a dam), it’s highly suggested that the sheriff knows what happened, but is agreeing to keep the whole thing secret, so that the town can “die peaceful.” So the men go home, and the final scene is Jon Voight having a nightmare of a dead man’s hand coming out of the lake.

The movie is fucking brilliant. It’s a great film. They really manage to build tension in ways I did not expect. There’s a reason this film is looked upon so well. Seriously, for me, this is second choice for a vote. Coppola is obviously number one, but this effort is number two for me. Fosse the man is number two, but in terms of which effort I liked the best, this is definitely number two.

Coppola — It’s The Godfather. Do I actually have to say anything here?

Fosse — Cabaret. I just described this film like three days ago.

It’s about the free-wheeling Cabaret lifestyle in Germany in the days before World War II. Michael York shows up in Germany and starts living with Liza Minnelli as her roommate. She tries to sleep with him, he doesn’t go for it, she thinks he’s gay. There are a lot of numbers of her performing in the Cabaret with Joel Grey, the androgynous master of ceremonies who is basically the musical narrator of the film. It’s weird how he operates within the whole thing. Then Minnelli and York start dating, then a second dude shows up that they both want to sleep with, and the three of them go on jaunts together, they each end up sleeping with the dude separately, then he goes away, then Minnelli gets pregnant but doesn’t know which one the father is, then has an abortion, then Michael York goes and gets the shit beat out of him by a group of Nazis, then there’s one final musical number that ends with Nazis in the crowd, showing that the war is on.

As a musical, it’s a classic. As a Bob Fosse film, it’s not my favorite. That distinction goes, by far, to All That Jazz. Then Lenny. This is a solid third. What’s great about it is that it’s a musical that’s a complete 180 from the musicals you’d normally see. Put it this way, the last three musicals nominated for Best Picture were Hello, Dolly!, Oliver! and Doctor Dolittle. Guess how many of them have Nazis and abortions featured in them? Add that to Fosse’s ability to have such sensual dancing and suggestive numbers, and you have a real landmark film. It’s really great. I wasn’t blown away by the film, but I respect it and enjoyed it very much. That’s not to belittle it either, it’s legitimately a really great film. It’s just, not my first choice. But I’m heavily biased to All That Jazz. So take that as you will.

As for Fosse’s direction, it’s great. He’s always great. The thing is, I don’t think it’s as polished as it would have been in his later films. In Lenny you really see him messing around with linear storytelling and pacing, and then All That Jazz is his masterpiece, where everything just works. That’s why I felt he should have won for that, because that really is his magnum opus. Here, I felt there were way too many scenes shot in closeups. It felt like everything was so tight it was hiding some sort of budget deficiency. I’m sure that was a choice on his part, but I just didn’t see anything that really screamed “This should have beaten The Godfather.” So, it’s really my third choice for a vote. But, like I said, I want Fosse to have an Oscar, so I’m totally cool with him winning here. Though that might be a “to each his own” kind of decision.

Mankiewicz — Oh, Sleuth. I fucking love this movie. I’m so glad I started this Quest. I had known about this movie for a long time. I knew it was nominated, I knew Michael Caine was in it. I think I had looked it up because Caine remade it with Jude Law in 2007. Branagh directed that one (which, seriously, how much of a boner has that dude got for Olivier? He’s even going to play him now in that new Michelle Williams movie! Jesus!), and, I can’t say I loved it very much. I remember seeing it while also reading the synopsis of this first one to see how they diverted. But, had I saw them the way I was supposed to — this one first — I’d probably have enjoyed that second one a whole lot more. That one plays off of this one in particular ways. I didn’t know that at the time. So I saw I movie I had no idea what was going on with. And I didn’t enjoy it all that much aside from what I saw were two dedicated performances.

This is also a film I’d have probably seen before the Quest had started had it been available. The film isn’t available on DVD (on Netflix at least), so I never actually got to see it. It never showed up on TCM when I was around to watch it, so I just sort of put it to fate to get me to see it. And boy, am I glad it did.

Okay — here’s the set up. Laurence Olivier is a mystery writer. He’s been writing these cheap pulp mystery books for years. So much so that he knows all this useful (or useless, depending on how you look at it) trivia about what the best way to commit murder is, how to break into somebody’s house, where people normally hide their jewels and shit. All that stuff you’d research if you were gonna write those kinds of books. Kind of the way that John Grisham or James Patterson need to know a bunch of shit in order to have it in their books. So he’s now old, and his wife (presumed younger) is sleeping with Michael Caine. He’s a hairdresser. And Caine comes over at Olivier’s request, and — I’m actually wanting to not talk about the film now, because the joy is just watching everything unfold.

Okay, here’s what I’m going to do. If you want to go in fresh — and I recommend very highly that you do — DO NOT READ THIS NEXT PARAGRAPH — weird this is the second film I’m doing this for on this list. Seriously, just don’t. I’m not going to ruin more than the first, maybe thirty to forty minutes, but still, just don’t read it. Because  I really do think you should see this film. In fact, let’s make it easy for you.

Here is the film in it entirety, on Youtube. (Well, this is just part 1. You’ll have to click the remaining parts yourself.) I highly recommend you dedicate 100 minutes to seeing it.

Now, here’s the synopsis I told you to avoid if you want to go in fresh. I’ll tell you when it ends at the bottom if you actually do decide to listen to me (you won’t regret it) and go in fresh.

Caine comes over at Olivier’s request, because Olivier knows he’s having the affair. And what he does is, he tells him, he doesn’t care about the affair. In fact, he says that he’s also having an affair. What he’s concerned with, is Caine’s ability to keep his wife living the lifestyle she’s accustomed to. So what he suggests is, stage a phony robbery of Olivier’s house (planned, of course, by Olivier himself, who’s had a career of writing stuff like this), and steal some of his wife’s jewels, which he can then sell and keep her in the money, so to speak. And the first thirty minutes is literally just Olivier walking Caine through the robbery, explaining what he’ll do and how it’ll work, and how it’ll look one way to the police and how no one will find out, and really works through it. Then the day comes, and Caine does the robbery, at which point Olivier explained that the whole thing was just a ruse to get Caine in the house so he can kill him with motive.

Actually, fuck it, I’m gonna keep going. Whether you read this or not, maybe reading it will get you to see the film. So, Olivier shoots Caine. Cut to three weeks later, and Olivier is in his house having dinner, and a police inspector shows up. And the inspector is questioning the disappearance of Caine three weeks earlier. And the detective asks questions, and Olivier senses him getting too close, even going so far as to notice things Olivier’s trying to hide. So Olivier explains that the gun had blanks in it and that his only intention was to scare Caine. At which point the inspector then finds blood on the spot where he “shot” Caine. So now Olivier is nervous. That’s not supposed to be there. So now he panics, and it seems like he’s about to be under arrest for a murder he didn’t commit, until the policeman reveals himself to be Michael Caine in disguise. Now, this is supposed to be a big revelation in the film. I, personally, figured that shit out as soon as the policeman got there. You can just tell that he sounds like Michael Caine. Though I’ve noticed that I tend to be better at picking out voices than most people (as evidenced by the amount of times that I watch a commercial and go, “That’s Tommy Lee Jones doing the voiceover,” and everyone else is like, “What? Really? No it isn’t. And I’m like, “Yeah, it is. It clearly sounds exactly like him.” And no one believes me. So I really don’t know how easy or difficult it is to find these things out). Maybe some people will hear the similarity and dismiss it. The film does a good job of hiding it, because they credit a third actor as the inspector to allay suspicion.

So, Caine then tells Olivier that, in the three weeks since his “disappearance,” he’s been concocting a scheme of his own. He went to Olivier’s “mistress,” and killed her. And Olivier’s like, “Yeah, right.” And Olivier calls her roommate, who confirms the suspicion. So now Olivier’s like, “It was just supposed to be a game.” And Caine is like, “Game on.” Because, what he did, was, he killed the girl, and systematically hid her things around Olivier’s house. And they’re all things that would lead an unassuming policeman to figure Olivier committed the murder. They’re hidden around the house in such a way that they look like Olivier was hiding them to cover his tracks. And Caine says he’s phoned the police and told them about the murder. And that Olivier has exactly x number of minutes to find all the items before the police arrive to arrest him. But, Caine only tells him the clues the way Olivier fucked with Caine earlier in the film. So everything is a riddle that Olivier must solve. And we see Olivier get more and more panicked as time goes by, and the film really does a great job of building the tension. Then finally Caine is like, “It was all a joke. The police aren’t coming.”

He explains the whole thing is a set up, and that the mistress was in on it because, she’s not really his mistress because, he’s impotent and really she finds him kind of weird. He says the whole thing was really an excuse for him to come and get Olivier’s wife’s clothes, because she’s actually leaving Olivier for him. At which point Olivier pulls a gun and is like, “I’m gonna kill you for real this time.” Then Caine is like, “Well, I actually did call the police and reported the earlier incident to them. They’re probably not gonna do anything, since I’m just some fuck who’s screwing a dude’s wife, but, on the off chance that you do kill me, the police won’t believe the story of “he was here to rob the house.”” So now Olivier has to figure out if Caine is bluffing or not. So he shoots him, figuring it’s a lie to save his ass, because earlier Caine begged for his life before Olivier “shot” him. But now, this time, the police actually do show up. And they’re knocking on the door, while Olivier is trying to keep quiet and pretend like he’s not home. Meanwhile, Caine, dying on the floor, triggers all of Olivier’s toys (which had been used multiple times throughout the film), to make a bunch of noise, thereby royally screwing Olivier.

It’s a fucking BRILLIANT movie. It’s the kind of movie I wish I could come up with. There are very few movies I actually wish I came up with (and I don’t even include my favorite movie of all time in that), and this is one of them. This movie is so fucking brilliant.


Now, the direction here, is wonderful. I’d actually throw my support behind this as my second choice, except, Mankiewicz has two Best Director Oscars, and one of them, I feel is undeserved. (He won in 1949 for A Letter to Three Wives, a film I wouldn’t have given him an Oscar for, but also a decision I’m okay with because of a relatively weak directing class, and again in 1950 for All About Eve, a film he should NOT have won for because of the fact that he had won the year before, and because he was up against two films that are constantly stated as being two of the best directed movies of ALL TIME, one of which is in my top five favorite films of all time, Sunset Boulevard, and The Third Man. He beat the fucking Third Man! Have you seen that movie? What the fuck?!) So, I can’t vote for him.

But I will say, he takes what is essentially a play on screen, and makes it cinematic. He really uses a lot of great techniques to turn a great play into a great film that doesn’t actually look so much like a play. I mean, it can’t help it to a certain extent, because the whole thing literally takes place inside this dude’s house the whole time, but, after a while you completely forget about that. That’s the mark of great direction. So, second best for me in the rankings, fourth best on a vote, purely because he won twice before. What a great film to have as his final directorial effort though.

Troell — I’ve been dreading this one. Here’s a movie I watched twice, and both times I still can’t tell you what it’s about. Twice. I have not encountered too many movies that just repel my attention.

Here’s the thing. The film looks like it was shot for BBC television. It’s very slow paced, it’s in Swedish, and not very much happens. So, even my trained attention, which can make it through films like this with moderate effort, was just incapable of getting through this one. Twice. Once, okay. You can say I didn’t try. But twice. I promise I will force myself to sit through this, Clockwork Orange-style, by the time Best Picture comes around. I will talk about it for Best Picture. But, here’s the thing. This is Best Director. And I did see the direction. It was good, but, compared to the rest of the nominees, there was no way in hell this was ever going to win. It seriously felt like it was made for the BBC. Plus, even if I did need to take it seriously for a vote, it’s the year of the fucking Godfather. So, I won’t apologize for this one at all. I did try. Twice. Trust me when I say that when Best Picture comes around, I will have seen it and will be able to talk about it more. But what I can tell you is, the film, despite looking the way it does, was shot well. I will give it that. It at least looks like a well-made film shot in the backyard with a camera. (I feel like such a dick now. But at the same time, there are very few films on this Quest that I out and out don’t like. This is seriously one of the ones that people consider a classic that I just don’t get. I mean, maybe it’s the story, immigrants working their way over here, that they like so much, but, I just don’t get it. Maybe someone will enlighten me.)

My Thoughts: It’s The Godfather. What do you think I’m gonna vote for?

My Vote: Coppola

Should Have Won: Coppola

Is the result acceptable?: Absolutely. Why? Because we have history to tell us that it is. Bob Fosse deserved a Best Director Oscar as much as Francis Ford Coppola did. They both got one, so it’s okay. Now, if I had it my way, Coppola would have won for both Godfather and Godfather Part II, and Fosse would have won for All That Jazz, as that was his best directing effort of his career. Granted, he’d have beaten Apocalypse Now, but on my timeline, Coppola already had two. So, it was more acceptable. But, since neither won Best Director that year (what the fuck was the Academy thinking there?), it’s totally cool that Fosse won here.

Ones I suggest you see: The Godfather. Nuff said. If you haven’t seen this, you don’t have a pulse. Or rather, you having one is irrelevant to the rest of us. Cabaret is a great film and worth watching. I don’t love it as much as All That Jazz or Lenny, but it is a great film. Better than Chicago, anyway. And Deliverance is also a fucking phenomenal movie. It’s so fucking well-done. Whatever you heard about it does not matter. It will grab you in ways you probably don’t want it to. That’s a film I recommend to everyone, even though most people won’t see it out of some preconceived notion (similar to the one I had before I saw it). But trust me, it’s fucking incredible. Oh, and Sleuth. Sleuth is a film that I recommend to everyone, even though I know about, maybe half of them will actually see it. The film has now become one of my favorite films. It’s just wonderful. It’s very stagy, but that doesn’t matter. If you’ve seen the update with Caine and Jude Law — this one is better. It will certainly go down on my top ten list of films I’m glad I saw because of this Quest.


5) Troell

4) Fosse

3) Boorman

2) Mankiewicz

1) Coppola

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