The Oscar Quest: Best Picture – 1977

1977 is a tough year to recap, especially in the Best Picture category. There are certain things to take into account. Even though some people would go, “Wow, how did Star Wars not win?!”, you have to realize — Annie Hall was actually a huge upset winner. The film with the most nominations that most people were expecting to win was The Turning Point, which is literally the worst film on this list and the one that has not held up at all. So, in a way, the Academy made perhaps the second best decision, considering. Which makes me go a lot easier on this category than I might have otherwise.

Aside from Best Picture, Annie Hall wins Best Director for Woody Allen (talked about here) and Best Actress for Diane Keaton (talked about here). The Allen win is par for the course (you have to realize, back then, Star Wars winning any of these categories would have been like Transformers winning now. The voting Academy thought it was just a mainstream adventure film. It really had no shot at the big awards), while the Keaton win is actually really terrific, since she also gave an amazing performance in an almost completely forgotten movie called Looking for Mr. Goodbar. Watch that performance alongside Annie Hall and you’ll see why she deserved the award this year. Best Actor was Richard Dreyfuss for The Goodbye Girl (talked about here), which was really the only decision that could have been made in the category. Best Supporting Actor was Jason Robards for Julia (talked about here), which was a good decision in a very weak category. Vanessa Redgrave also won Best Supporting Actress for the film (talked about here), which, while I don’t love the performance, has held up as a good decision (she’s had the best career of all the nominees).

So, now, while I will be voting for Star Wars, since, while I’m not a huge fan of the franchise (really, I only like this and Empire — the rest are just entertainment for me), you can’t deny the lasting impact it’s had on cinema. Annie Hall is a great film, but I just feel like Star Wars has held up better. (Though, really, against The Turning Point, both were amazing decisions. So let’s applaud the Academy for that averted near-disaster.)

BEST PICTURE

And the nominees were…

Annie Hall (United Artists)

The Goodbye Girl (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Warner Bros.)

Julia (20th Century Fox)

Star Wars (20th Century Fox)

The Turning Point (20th Century Fox)

Annie Hall — I’m not quite sure how to explain what happens in this film. So, let’s just call it — an analysis of a relationship. It’s Woody Allen’s quintessential movie. So if you even care about film, you need to have seen this. Don’t read a synopsis, see the film.

The Goodbye Girl — Neil Simon is one of the greatest film and stage writers in history. In the pantheon of great screenwriters, he is definitely in the top ten. Look at the list of films he is responsible for: Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, Sweet Charity (he wrote the book of the musical), The Out-of-Towners, Plaza Suite, The Heartbreak Kid, The Sunshine Boys, Murder by Death, The Cheap Detective, California Suite, Chapter Two, Only When I Laugh, Biloxi Blues. All him.

This one is about a dancer — or former dancer. She stopped when she had a kid — who has been living with a man for a while and suddenly finds out he’s left her and rented out his half of the apartment. And Richard Dreyfuss, a neurotic actor, shows up, having rented half the apartment. So, in order to save money, she agrees to share the apartment with him. So he lives with her and her daughter, and at first, they do not get along. He likes to meditate while naked and play his guitar. And he just gets under her skin with everything he does. But of course they grow to like one another and get together and all that, and it becomes a romance.

It’s just a great film. Neil Simon is just a master. And this is one of his absolute best. Should it have won? Probably not. But in terms of this list, I’d put it third. Maybe second. But I think we’re all taking Star Wars or Annie Hall, right?

Julia — This film is not really very well-known today. Which is weird. Because it’s a really solid film.

Jane Fonda is Lillian Hellman, who was a playwright, living with Dashiell Hammett (Jason Robards), who is living her life, when she gets a letter from her friend Julia, whom she grew up with. And Julia’s been on and off the map for many years. And we find out she’s involved with anti-Fascist activities in Europe, and asks to see Lillian. So Lillian goes to help her out, which involves smuggling money to her. So there’s a nice section where she travels on trains through German-occupied areas, trying not to be caught, because then she’ll likely be arrested. It’s actually really thrilling and tense. Then she gets there and meets Julia and finds out she has a daughter. And they have a brief meeting at a cafe, and Lillian returns home. And when she gets there, she finds out Julia was murdered.

Not much actually happens in the film, yet it’s really engrossing. It’s a really solid film. Shouldn’t have won, though. But very underrated, as Best Picture nominees go.

Star Wars — It’s Star Wars. Come on, now.

The Turning Point — I am amazed that this film was the favorite to win this category. Of all of these films this did not hold up at all.

The film is about two ballerinas, Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft. Shirley quit dancing in order to have a family and raise children, and Anne went on to become the top dancer in the company. And now, twenty years later, each is envious of the other. Anne wants a family and feels like she should have did what Shirley did, and Shirley wishes she never gave it up. And now both feel they’re past the point of being able to do what they want. And this all starts to come to a head when Shirley’s daughter decides she wants to be a dancer and Anne starts to mentor her. So now they both need to confront all this stuff. And it’s a melodrama, and stuff happens, there’s a subplot with the daughter and another dancer, a bunch of stuff. And this culminates with a big catfight between Bancroft and MacLaine. It’s — the movie’s not bad, but, when you watch it, and you know that this was seemingly the film that was the favorite to win this category — interesting to think that this film was going to win this. When you know that, it makes any other decision a good one.

My Thoughts: I already told you I was gonna vote Star Wars.

My Vote: Star Wars

Should Have Won: Star Wars. But over The Turning Point — also Annie Hall and The Goodbye Girl. And honestly, really over The Turning Point, also Julia. In the order I listed them. But objectively, really only Star Wars. (Though maybe I could agree on Annie Hall as well.)

Is the result acceptable?: Not really, but in a way, yes. Considering The Turning Point was seemingly going to win, this was the second best decision they could have made outside of that happening. So I think this is a terrific decision, in context.

Ones I suggest you watch: If you haven’t seen Star Wars, you’re seriously dead to the world, and probably shouldn’t be allowed to procreate.

If you haven’t seen Annie Hall, you don’t love movies.

If you haven’t seen The Goodbye Girl, we’re not friends.

You should see Julia. It’s quite terrific. Another great but horribly underseen film. Trust me when I say it’s one of the better films on this Quest that you’ve never heard of.

The Turning Point — it’s okay. It’s not a terrible watch — it has its moments. Ultimately, though, it’s not anything special, is nothing more than a melodrama, and has a cat fight between Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine as its major climax. The idea that this was gonna win over all four of those other films is pretty laughable. But the film itself is not bad. I would recommend it if you can sit through melodrama.

Rankings:

5) The Turning Point

4) Julia

3) Annie Hall

2) The Goodbye Girl

1) Star Wars

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