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The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1974

I like years like 1974. Because all you need to say is something like — The Godfather Part II — and everything takes care of itself. Everyone’s like, “Oh, yeah, I get it.”

The Godfather Part II swept Best Picture, Best Director for Coppola (which is what we’re talking about here. Sorry to ruin the surprise) and Best Supporting Actor for De Niro. I talked about Best Supporting Actor already. Ellen Burstyn won Best Actress this year for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, which I’m very okay with, and I’ll explain why when I get to the category. Best Supporting Actress went to Ingrid Bergman for Murder on the Orient Express, which I’ve discussed in detail here. And Best Actor went to Art Carney for Harry and Tonto in what I consider one of the worst, if not the worst Best Actor decision of all time (I forget what the final prognosis was, but you can read all about it here).

Wow, I’m almost done with this year. Just Best Actress left to talk about. Which makes sense. This is a year where most people tend to see all the films very easily, even if they aren’t on an Oscar Quest.

BEST DIRECTOR – 1974

And the nominees were…

John Cassavetes, A Woman Under the Influence

Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather Part II

Bob Fosse, Lenny

Roman Polanski, Chinatown

François Truffaut, Day for Night

Cassavetes — John Cassavetes is definitely not the most accessible filmmaker to watch. But those who can make it through his films with the patience of a seasoned film student will be greatly rewarded by the depth and grittiness of his films.

How was that? I tried to sound academic. Not bad, huh? Hang on, let me balance it out. Fuck, shit, damn it. Cock, balls. Okay, that’s better.

John Cassavetes style, as I should tell you know, if you’re not already familiar with him, is — okay, have you ever seen a Mike Leigh film? Or seen Blue Valentine? It’s like that. Only better, because it was done first. What he did was, he wrote a script, mostly everything was written out, and then he had his stable of actors, here it’s his wife, Gena Rowlands (who is fucking sublime in this film) and Peter Falk, and he just gave them the script and let them go. And what would happen is, he’d let them interpret the script however they wanted. And he just filmed it. Mostly handheld. So you have something that’s very documentary in look and feel, and performances that are very rough and raw. If you can deal with a film like that, then I highly, highly recommend this movie, because it’s incredible how good it is.

The film is about a husband and wife. That’s all. It’s slow moving, and not too much happens. The joy is watching these people act and interact. It feels real. That’s why it doesn’t matter how slow it moves. Gena Rowlands plays the housewife of Peter Falk, who is a construction worker. And she’s a little — odd. She does some off the wall things, and seems like she might be a little crazy. But she loves her husband and loves her children. And she’s prone to — impulsiveness, is more the way to explain it. Like, at the beginning, she sends the kids off with her mother in the hopes of having a night alone with her husband. But her husband ends up being called to work overtime, and, despite him saying he refuses to work, ends up having to work or be fired. And despite telling her he has to work and will make it up to her the next day by calling in sick, she goes out to a bar, picks up a man and sleeps with him in the bed she and her husband share. And she doesn’t think twice about it. But the next day, she’s wracked with guilt because, she would never do something like that. See where the oddness comes in? And there’s a great scene where Falk brings all the guys from work home and she makes spaghetti for them, and — actually, here. Just watch it. This shows you everything you need to know about the performance —

And the film is about her being the way she is and Peter Falk getting upset and committing her to a mental institution. But the thing about the film is, by the end, you realize, it’s not that she’s crazy, or rather, it’s not that she’s the crazy one, as Peter Falk shows that he isn’t much better than she is, albeit in a different way. It’s a fascinating character study, with two amazing performances. Peter Falk wasn’t nominated, because, well — fucking Art Carney was, but Gena Rowlands was nominated, and should have won. But there’s a reason she didn’t and I’ll explain that when I get to the category.

As for the direction, it’s really good. Problem is, it’s very low budget and documentary style, on a list with The Godfather and Chinatown and Lenny. And no matter what, those three will always come first. Though, for a vote, Cassavetes is third, since Fosse won in ’72, so he didn’t need another one. Still, Coppola and Polanski come first. I think we can all agree on that.

Coppola — It’s The Godfather Part II. Communion, big party, assassination attempt, Michael goes to Cuba, Hymen Roth, “You broke my heart” Fredo, “Keep your friends close,” senate committee, Mama dies, fishing trip, boom. Flip side, Godfather, smallpox, Ellis Island, Don Fanucci, boom, “Gonna make him an offer,” “The rent stays the same,” “My father was Antonio Andolini,” “Michael, your father loves you very much,” theme music.

How’d I do?

It’s The Godfather. Coppola didn’t win for Part I. I don’t care what anyone says, nothing makes him lose this, nor should he have.

Fosse — Love me some Bob Fosse. But you know this by now. You know All That Jazz is in my top five favorite films of all time. You know I think this film is amazing. I say it all the time.

This is the biopic of Lenny Bruce starring Dustin Hoffman. It’s difficult to explain, since it’s nonlinear, and tries to get at the heart of who the man is and his act. We see it cut back and forth between him as a young man just starting out and him when he’s crazy high and in trouble with the courts. It’s a fascinating film and is great because it’s so well-directed and acted. Dustin Hoffman deserved an Oscar for this role (but he wasn’t gonna get it, because, well, fucking Art Carney won, and also because Pacino also should have won first). It’s a great film and you really get to see why Lenny Bruce is such an important man in the history of comedy and freedom of speech. I highly, highly recommend you see this movie.

Fosse directs the hell out of it, and edits it really well too. It’s really a superb job. But I’m not gonna waste time talking about how good it is, because, I’m not voting for it. He won for Cabaret and he shouldn’t have. Okay, fine. Over and done. He’s not beating Coppola this time too. Weird though, how he got nominated the same three times Coppola got nominated in the 70s. And really, the only time Fosse should have won over Coppola was for All That Jazz. But, he won the first time. It happens. Coppola wins here though.

Polanski — It’s Chinatown. That should be nuff said, but, I said something about The Godfather, and if that is the ultimate nuff said, I should probably say a bit more about this.

Nicholson, he’s the low rent private detective, is hired to investigate a man who may be having an affair. He takes pictures, gets them in the paper, makes some money. Then he finds out the person who hired him wasn’t the man’s wife, because the man’s wife is now suing him for doing it. Then he ends up getting mixed up in something bigger than he imagined. He finds a whole conspiracy involving the local water supply, and how they’re selectively choosing where water is being sent in order to get rid of the farms and build Los Angeles into the city it’s become. So it’s corruption for the future, that sort of thing. And it’s a fantastic film, since you really only know as much as Gittes does, and it’s the quintessential noir, as there are women, corrupt businessmen (how oily is John Huston here?), nosy people getting their noses cut, and even a little incest. And of course, the famous line from the film. But I assume you’ve seen it, because, if not, how have you made it this far on my blog? There’s essential, and then there’s, so essential we don’t even mention it because it’s assumed you’ve seen it. This is one of those.

The direction is flawless, and honestly, I bet if Coppola won in ’72 like he was supposed to, Polanski would have won this one by a mile. But, he didn’t, and Polanski would have to wait 28 years to get his (which coincidentally fucked over Martin Scorsese once again in 2002). It’s a shame, but, it had to happen. Polanski is clearly good enough to win here, and would have been okay to win had Coppola won for the first Godfather. I mean, he should have won for this one two, but it would have been okay if he lost for the second one if it were for something like this. But, shit happens.

Truffaut — And, this film. Netflix said I’d really like this film. Guessed I’d give it a 4.2. Then I saw it. I have no idea why.

I’ll be the first person to come out and say — I just don’t get art films. Even as a film student, I’m never one to actually get why some of these films are so great unless it’s explained to me. And even then, not always. It’s usually the foreign films. Or those weird art films the hardcore film students and hipsters love so much. I just don’t see why some of them are so great. Granted, a lot of what I’m thinking of, I haven’t exactly seen too many of the particular directors’ oeuvres, but, put it this way, I’ll take Bringing Up Baby over an Ingmar Bergman film every day of the week and Funday. (Anyone get that? Huh, huh? All right.) I just needed to get that out. It’ll explain — well, it’ll make more sense come the end of this Quest, but even now — why I always end up not particularly liking the same types of films. It’s just never been my cup of tea. I’ve never been into the high art films and I’ve never really been into the really mainstream shit either. Which is why I’ve never fit in with the whole film student culture and can’t stand the rest of the stupid moviegoing public. (Note: Where the fuck do you think the name of the blog came from?) The point here is, if you’ve ever spoken something remotely similar to this phrase, “OMG, Nostalghia/The Hangover Part II is the best/funniest thing evah!”, we’re probably not close.

So, that said, I didn’t particularly mind this film so much, but I wasn’t particularly invested, either. I got 40 minutes in on the first watch before I realized I had no idea who any of the characters were or what was going on. Basically, from what I can gather (I did go back and watch it again, but, I can’t say it helped) the film is mostly an episodic look at the making of a film. Truffaut shows you all the random things that happen on a film set and behind the scenes. All the mini-breakdowns, the crazy shit actors do, all the near catastrophes that end up enhancing the film in ways the audiences have no idea about — all that. That’s what I’ve gathered. Whether that’s true or not — well, who knows.

I guess the direction here was good. I’m sure it was lively and such. This wasn’t the film for me, so I can’t say either way just how much I liked or disliked the direction. But, I’ll put it this way — Truffaut is a great director and should have been nominated for an Oscar (he probably should have won for The 400 Blows too. Somehow he lost to Pillow Talk and all its innuendo). So that alone makes him worthy of this list. A lot of Hollywood nominates foreign directors 20 years after all the films they’re most known for. However — this is the year of The Godfather Part II and Chinatown, so it really doesn’t matter what I think of the direction here, does it?

My Thoughts: He didn’t win for The Godfather, which makes this automatic. And even if you didn’t think this was automatic before, know that he also directed The Conversation this year, which makes him responsible for 40% of the Best Picture nominees. No contest. No matter how you look at it.

My Vote: Coppola

Should Have Won: Coppola.

Is the result acceptable?: Top five best decisions of all time. It’s the fucking Godfather Part II, people.

Ones I suggest you see: The Godfather Part II — if you haven’t seen it, go under a rock and die. Seriously. I think we can all agree on this. Chinatown, why the fuck haven’t you seen it? It’s essential, it’s wonderful, it’s one of the best, probably 100 films ever made as well. See it. Lenny — great film. Wonderful performance. Maybe not the most accessible, but if you’re a fan of Lenny Bruce, standup comedy, Dustin Hoffman or Bob Fosse — or of good films in general — you should absolutely see this. I don’t see how most people don’t fall into at least one of the above categories. It’s a fantastic film. And A Woman Under the Influence is also a great, great film. This probably is the one with the most limited appeal, because, it’s mostly unscripted. I mean, the dialogue is there, but, the performers were free to do what they wanted. So it has a very indie feel to it. It feels like improv. It’s slow, but, I can say without a doubt this is probably Cassavetes’s best film. I think others might say his best is Opening Night or Gloria, but, this one is probably the best for first timers. If you have the patience, go for it. You’ll be treated with great performances and a very realistic film. Very realistic. And that’s what’s so great about it. Think of it like Blue Valentine of the 70s.

Rankings:

5) Truffaut

4) Cassavetes

3) Fosse

2) Polanski

1) Coppola

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