The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1973
I must have said this already, but fuck it, I’ll say it again. It bears repeating. 1973 is a year that I really like, but I’m never sure just how much everyone else likes it, so I always temper my volume when talking about it. I think The Sting is a perfect film and was the perfect choice to win Best Picture this year. But I’m never sure if everyone else feels that way. They might think The Exorcist was a better choice. Which, to each his own, but I’m still taking The Sting. Some people might also think American Graffiti should have won, in which case — I say you’re wrong. Good film, but — no. Either way, I love this year. The Sting was a wonderful choice.
Also this year, Jack Lemmon finally wins Best Actor for Save the Tiger, a decision I like a lot. Glenda Jackson wins Best Actress (again), for A Touch of Class, which I talked about (vehemently, I hope) here. John Houseman wins Best Supporting Actress for The Paper Chase, which I lament, but am kind of okay with, here. And Tatum O’Neal wins Best Supporting Actress, a decision that I’m over the Paper Moon about. See what I did there? I know, I’m clever.
Anyway, regardless of what you think of the Best Picture decision this year, I think this is a category that everyone can get behind. Because even though William Friedkin directed the shit out of The Exorcist, George Roy Hill also directed the shit out of The Sting, and he also directed Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Friedkin had already won an Oscar for directing The French Connection. So all around, I think we can agree that giving George Roy Hill this one was a superb decision. Right? Right? Right. Okay.
BEST DIRECTOR – 1973
And the nominees were…
Ingmar Bergman, Cries and Whispers
Bernardo Bertolucci, Last Tango in Paris
William Friedkin, The Exorcist
George Roy Hill, The Sting
George Lucas, American Graffiti
Bergman — And we start with Mr. Bergman. I’m gonna be the first to say — I just don’t get this man’s films. From a technical perspective, I get why they’re well-made and compositionally well-done, but of the ones I’ve watched (which, admittedly, are the ones he’s been nominated for Oscars for, plus The Seventh Seal), the only one I really enjoyed was The Seventh Seal. Everything else just felt tedious. I’m sure hardcore film people like them and can find pleasure in them, but I just don’t, really. And I want to get that out there as much as possible on these Quest articles, because, if people know that, then they can more accurately gauge their film tastes against mine and know how to interpret these articles. You know? If you know I don’t like Woody Allen films, but that you do, then you’ll know that I’m going to be slightly more biased against those and that when I say I don’t recommend it (which I rarely say. I never tell people not to see something, but you know what I’m getting at), you might think, “Well, he doesn’t like those, and maybe I will.” That’s what I’m aiming at here.
Anyway, this film is about a woman who is dying. And it’s mostly about pain and suffering. That’s what I find all Bergman films are about, after a certain year. The film does look nice — they put a shitload of effort into the art direction. But it’s boring as hell. The woman is dying, and her sisters come and stay with her on her way out. And we see people interacting with one another — strained family relationships and all. And there’s a fucked up dream sequence at one point — and vaginal blood. There’s vaginal blood in this movie. And here I thought The Exorcist was the only film featuring vaginal blood nominated for Best Picture this year. But yeah, it’s all fucked up and has flashbacks and shit. Chamber drama. No thank you.
As you can tell, I don’t like the film. The direction was good and all. I at least understand that Bergman was a master director, but, I just didn’t like the film. And being a subjective human being, that affects my vote. So he becomes my #5. That’s just how it is.
Bertolucci — And this film. I heard for years how wonderful and brilliant this film was. Then I saw it. I don’t get it. See? Me and art films just don’t work a lot of the time. Sometimes it clicks, most of the time — nope. This film, to me was — woman comes to Paris. She gets an apartment. She meets Marlon Brando, an American who has run away from something. They fuck. They fuck a lot. They fuck a lot on screen. They refuse to tell each other anything about each other. There are scenes of people shooting a movie, which I think she is in. They fuck some more. He sodomizes her and makes her go out and “get the butter.” They break it off. Then he comes back, she shoots him, he dies. The end. That’s what I remember this film as being.
I didn’t particularly love the film so much, though I did enjoy watching Brando adlib all of his dialogue. It’s pretty clear there was no set structure here and they just let Brando and Schneider create the scenes on their own. And you know they were shot in just a take or two. So I liked that aspect of it. Otherwise, I saw films of two people fucking a lot. That’s really it. Just like Bergman, I didn’t love the film that much, so I’m not gonna vote for it. But I liked it more than I liked Cries and Whispers, so it becomes my #4. I’m sure some people will see this film and love it, and will see the masterpiece that everyone sees when watching this, but I just didn’t. That’s how it is, sometimes.
Friedkin — Everyone knows about The Exorcist, right? It’s such an unquestionably major and essential film that I assume the only people who haven’t seen it are those who are purposefully avoiding it because they think it will scare them. I think you people should just man up and watch it. If you’ve seen The Switch and haven’t seen this, there’s nothing more I have to talk to you about. (Note: The Switch can be switched with any film of that sort — you know which sort — and the sentiment would still stand.)
The film starts as a regular kind of film. Ellen Burstyn is an actress who moves into a house with her daughter while she shoots a film. And pretty soon her daughter starts acting strangely, and she thinks it’s the daughter’s doing. She thinks she’s acting out. Pretty soon, weird shit starts happening. She takes her to doctors, and they say there’s nothing wrong with her. And then she really starts acting strangely, like, you know — masturbating with a crucifix and crawling down the stairs backwards on her hands and turning her head completely around backwards. Kids do the darndest things. Then Burstyn goes to a priest, who does a couple of tests and observes the girl to see if she’s possessed by the devil. And they spend most of the film confirming that she’s possessed, and then they bring in the exorcist — Max von Sydow, for the big confrontation at the end of the film. It’s a fucking great film.
Friedkin’s direction was good enough to win here. But he won two years earlier for The French Connection, and George Roy Hill was passed over for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and his direction on The Sting was also good enough to win. So I’m voting for him here every day plus Sunday. But Friedkin did a great job and definitely was good enough to win. I’m just glad he didn’t.
Hill — George Roy Hill is a director I love very much. He made a bunch of really great films in his time, the big two obviously being Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting. But, for those who don’t know his ouevre as well, he also directed The World According to Garp, which is a fucking incredible film with Robin Williams and Glenn Close. It’s a film that, by all accounts, shouldn’t work, and yet does, really fucking well. He also directed Thoroughly Modern Millie, which is one of my favorite musicals. It’s such a great film. It knows exactly what it is and plays with it. It’s so fucking funny. I really recommend all four of these movies, but especially Millie. It’s the best (and only) musical about white slavery you’ll probably ever see. It’s so fucking great.
Hill also directed a little film about hockey called Slap Shot. You may have heard of it. He also directed Period of Adjustment, which I haven’t seen but got Jane Fonda her first Golden Globe nomination. He directed The World of Henry Orient, with Peter Sellers, Hawaii, which is a big epic film for which Joyce LaGarde was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. I’ve yet to see it as of this article’s writing. He also directed the film version of Slaughterhouse-Five. That’s something, right? He also directed A Little Romance, which was Diane Lane’s first film (with Sir Laurence Olivier, no less), and his last film was Funny Farm, with Chevy Chase. Quite the career, wouldn’t you say?
Anyway, The Sting — I hope you’ve seen this film, because I shan’t be recapping it for you. This is one you need to have seen on their own. You should know why and why it’s so good on your own. All I’m gonna say is, Newman, Redford, confidence game, Robert Shaw, horse racing, “ya follow?” and ragtime music.
Perfect film. Direction was perfect, writing was greater than perfect, acting was perfect, everything about this film was spot the fuck on. Hill deserved this Oscar 100%. And even if it were less than 100% — Butch and Sundance. I rest my case.
Lucas — Oh, they nominated George. I find this hilarious. I also find it hilarious that, through no part of his own doing, he becomes a default #3 for me in this category. I feel like that’s how it always is for Lucas. Through no part of his own doing (and sometimes despite his best efforts), good shit happens for him and his films. (I’m speaking of course, of his constant attempts to ruin the great thing he created. And this is coming from someone who doesn’t even care about that great thing all that much to begin with.)
The film, though, is actually very entertaining. It’s not so much a great film. In fact, as a basic piece of storytelling, it’s riddled with cliches and nostalgia that would make you throw up if you looked at it objectively. But you really can’t look at it objectively, and that’s why, once again, despite everything, I can’t really say anything bad about Lucas.
It’s about a bunch of teens, the night they graduate from high school, going out on the town one last time before they go to college. That’s it, really. And they do regular shit and stuff, and I guarantee you the whole film is based on Lucas’s teens. The plot of the film is not interesting in the least. Like, at all. Even the music choices are so on the nose. It’s like you took a generic “50s music” CD you bought from an infomercial and set a film to it. But, they are good songs, and just hearing them you’re like, “Yeah, it’s an obvious choice, but I like the song a lot.” Unlike now, when it’s an obvious choice and the song sucks.
The great part about the film is watching all the 50s nostalgia as well as seeing a bunch of famous people when they were young. Here’s the cast of the film: Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Charles Martin Smith, Mackenzie Phillips, Harrison Ford, Kathleen Quinlan, and a bunch of other vaguely familiar faces. Just watching all of them when they’re young is all you need to enjoy this movie. This movie is nothing more than 110 minutes of a good time. And that’s it. So, watch it, and enjoy. That’s what it’s there for.
Now, as it comes to Academy Awards — no, this film should not have won at all. That’s why I think it’s laughable that Lucas was nominated for Best Director here. It’s a film that caters to the baby boomers, and they were the majority of the Academy here. You think John Wayne voted for this film? Really? Lucas directed it on the level of, “Oh, wasn’t that a nice film?” and not at the level of “Best Director nominee.” That’s how I feel about it. No vote.
My Thoughts: George Roy Hill is really the only choice here. I would say Friedkin was the choice, but, he had one already, and Hill got passed over for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Plus, this is The Sting. I’ll accept Friedkin not winning this with the simple fact that Hill did. The Sting is seriously one of the best movies ever made.
My Vote: Hill
Should Have Won: Hill (and Friedkin, if Hill weren’t here, or, had won for Butch and Sundance. But even then…)
Is the result acceptable?: Absolutely. One of the best decisions of all time. The Sting is so fucking great. I’m glad Hill got an Oscar.
Ones I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen The Sting, you’re dead to me. If you haven’t seen The Exorcist, what’s wrong with you? Seriously. It’s not that much of a horror movie. It’s not that terrifying. And it’s fucking incredible. Also, I highly suggest you check out American Graffiti. There might not be much in terms of plot, but, it’s a great film to just watch. It’s fun, and you get to see a shitload of famous people when they were really young. And you should see Last Tango in Paris because Marlon Brando sodomizes a Parisian woman.