The Oscar Quest: Best Director – 1975

Ever see the video of Steven Spielberg watching the nominees be announced this year? It’s great. He’s like, “I got beaten out by Fellini!” Even he can’t believe he wasn’t nominated. That about describes this category. How the hell are you not gonna nominate Jaws? But I digress. Let’s recap.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pretty much sweeps all the awards, winning Best Picture, Best Actor for Jack Nicholson (talked about here), Best Actress for Louise Fletcher (talked about here), and this category. The awards it didn’t win were Best Supporting Actor, which went to George Burns for The Sunshine Boys (talked about here), and Best Supporting Actress, which went to Lee Grant for Shampoo. Both were strong decisions. Pretty much this entire year was really strong.

The only category I really have a problem with this year is this category. I know the Picture/Director link-up is nice and all, but — it didn’t need to happen here. Cuckoo’s Nest is a very stagy film. I think they could easily have split Picture and Director, and the two acting wins would have stopped anyone from thinking twice about it. Especially if they gave this to one of the two people they should have. It wouldn’t have mattered at all. (But seriously — no Jaws — that’s laughable.)


And the nominees were…

Robert Altman, Nashville

Federico Fellini, Amarcord

Milos Forman, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Stanley Kubrick, Barry Lyndon

Sidney Lumet, Dog Day Afternoon

Altman — Nashville is the perfect example of a Robert Altman movie. If you can’t do this, you probably can’t do Robert Altman movies. I can do this, but I didn’t particularly enjoy it much. That about describes me and Robert Altman movies. I only like A Prairie Home Companion, MASH, The Long Goodbye, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, and maybe The Player. But even that, not so much. I’m weird like that.

But anyway, this film is about a shitload of people congregating around a political convention in Nashville. There are lots of people, lots of storylines, and it feels kind of like a slice of life. It’s a good film. I did enjoy it. I just don’t love it. And I don’t subscribe to the “Oh my god Rober Altman doesn’t have an Oscar!” argument, so, to me, he was like, a fourth choice here. Maybe a third, just because I know Forman would win again in 9 years. So, that said — not voting for Altman. Just not gonna do it. I have plausible reasons, don’t worry.

Fellini — Amarcord is a comedy about all the people in a small town. It’s a recollection of what this town was like, and Fellini reaches back into his childhood and comes up with a pseudo-comic (though largely comic) tale of a bunch of different people in a small town. I’m not gonna bother summarizing it, because I know people who haven’t seen it either: won’t see it, because it’s a foreign film, or will see it, because it’s Federico Fellini and you know the quality of filmmaker he is. All that really matters here is how I’m voting.

And I’m not voting for it. To me, he should have won for 8 1/2, and this is a lesser effort. Plus, literally every other director was a better choice here. Every single one. Not basing this on the fact that it’s a foreign film, it’s just — every other director had reasons to win that superseded Fellini and his effort here. So no vote.

Forman — One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a film you need to have seen. Nicholson, convict, mental hospital, Nurse Ratched — classic.

The film is perfect, it’s just — stagy. It’s a very stagy film. And I don’t think it needed to win Best Director. I knew it would, but it didn’t need to. So I don’t feel the nee to vote for it. That’s it, really.

Kubrick — Barry Lyndon. How do you describe this one?

Ryan O’Neal is Barry Lyndon, and the film is about how he, an Irish rogue, manages to gain, and lose, and gain again, nobility and fortune, over the course of his life. You know how Tom Jones was this picaresque comedy? Well, this is the picaresque drama. We’re just following Barry as he goes through all of these different stages of life. It’s just utterly captivating. I don’t know how else to explain it. It’s just — brilliantly done. From the opening duel — to the closing duel — to the part with the army, the gambler — goddamn this is a great film. It’s long, so, be prepared. It’s unlike any of Kubrick’s other works, but that’s what made him such a genius.

The reason I love the direction is because it’s so precise and meticulous. Every image is almost composed like a painting. I don’t know how the man did it. Perhaps that’s why he spent years making the films. Personally, I feel this was a much more worthy effort than Forman’s, based on both the effort and the fact that he also made Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange by this point. Those three, plus this film — equals one Oscar, I feel.

Lumet — And then there’s Dog Day Afternoon. You also need to have seen this. It’s a classic.

Lumet directs the hell out of this movie. For my money, this is what should have won this category. I’ll accept Kubrick as a substitute, but no one else. Lumet, to me, is possibly the biggest snub, along with Kubrick, in the Best Director category, all time. So, while I get that some people would go differently, I say this is Lumet’s category all the way.

My Thoughts: First off, let me just say — again — Steven Spielberg should have been nominated for Jaws. What he had to go through on that movie, and what he accomplished with it as well — he should have been on here. (Plus that film, at the time, was practically the biggest film of all time. It was the highest grossing film by far, it was the first film to make $100 million — at that time, that practically put it on par with The Sound of Music and Gone With the Wind.)

That said, let’s count this one down.

First off the list, sadly, is Federico Fellini. I like Amarcord a lot, but he really should have won for 8 1/2. To give it to him for this is just a cop out. That’s why I rank him #5. I also rank him #5, because, while I don’t like Robert Altman films in general — the man did have a very definitive style. And Nashville was the zenith of that style. This was his masterpiece in terms of showcasing that style to the fullest. I don’t really love the film, but I do recognize great directing when I see it. He did a wonderful job here, and I think he deserved the vote more than Fellini, simply because, Fellini’s masterpiece was in 1963. That said, neither is better than fourth here.

Now, third for a vote I pute Forman, simply because — the film isn’t all that visually interesting. It’s a great film, no doubt, but, you can’t tell me he won Best Director because of the effort. It’s because of the film. Not only that, looking back historically, Forman did a much better job with Amadeus. So he’d get an Oscar anyway. And all the men he beat — never got one. So why should this be okay?

Stanley Kubrick should have won an Oscar for 2001: A Space Odyssey. Plan and simple. He didn’t. Based on this category, he could very easily have won for Barry Lyndon. This category is clearly between him and Sidney Lumet, in my eyes.

And Lumet — I feel he really should have won this. Hands down. Have you seen Dog Day Afternoon? The direction there is clearly better than the direction on Cuckoo’s Nest. Plus, Lumet never got an Oscar, and he directed some great films. He’s my vote all the way. Forman winning for the Best Picture winner, I understand, but, Lumet or Kubrick should have won here, and I vote Lumet.

My Vote: Lumet

Should Have Won: Lumet, Kubrick

Is the result acceptable?: Honestly — no. I mean, yes, because Best Picture/Best Director, link up, has to be acceptable and all that. But honestly — no this isn’t acceptable. You know how this would have been acceptable? If Milos Forman doesn’t win for Amadeus nine years after this. Obviously, there’s no way to foresee that, but even so, just watching the films nominated in this category, it’s pretty clear that Forman didn’t really do all that much accept put a camera on Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher and let them do their thing. The whole film takes place in a psych ward, aside from one jaunt on a fishing boat. It’s not really visually interesting at all. Lumet and Kubrick never got Oscars (that visual effects one doesn’t count). Why would this be at all okay?

Ones I suggest you see: Dog Day Afternoon and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest — if you haven’t seen them, you’re dead to me, and you don’t really like movies.

Barry Lyndon — it’s a Kubrick film. That, to me, makes it essential to any real film person. I know it’s long, and a lot of people are gonna find it boring, but I think the film is gorgeous, and I was riveted almost the entire time. I think it’s a brilliant film. But it’s Kubrick. And Kubrick, if you like films, is someone whose entire filmography wou need to see.

Nashville — probably essential just because it’s so well-regarded. I don’t really like Altman films, so I’m not gonna be as strict on this as some other people would. But the fact that this film shows up on many people’s lists of the greatest films ever made probably should tell you that you need to see it.

Amarcord — it’s enjoyable. But most people probably wouldn’t love it. You need to appreciate Fellini and/or foreign films to truly enjoy it. If you only like American stuff, don’t bother, you won’t like this.


5) Fellini

4) Altman

3) Forman

2) Kubrick

1) Lumet


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