The Oscar Quest: Best Picture – 1976
Oh, I hate having to talk about this year. This is one of the most contentious Best Picture choices of all time. It really is. Everyone has an opinion.
Generally considered one of the strongest Best Picture categories ever — Rocky takes the win. Fortunately, the film has become iconic, so the win doesn’t look as bad as something like Chariots of Fire does. It also wins Best Director for John G. Avildsen (talked about here). That actually helped the decision seem stronger, since it helps when they show it more support than just the Picture win. Best Actor was Peter Finch for Network (talked about here), and while he was more of a strong supporting role in the film, he was actually a good decision, since William Holden had an Oscar already and De Niro would win his later. Faye Dunaway also won Best Actress for the film (talked about here), which actually was a great decision, since she was so overdue by this point. And Beatrice Straight won Best Supporting Actress for the film (talked about here), after giving a 5 1/2 minute performance. I don’t really think she should have won, but hey — Jodie certainly came out okay from it. And Jason Robards won Best Supporting Actor for All the President’s Men (talked about here), which was an amazing decision. He’s so good in that.
Now, let me say — there’s a lot of contention here. And everyone is entitled to their opinion. I see why Rocky is considered a “lesser” film to at least three of the other nominees. But, honestly — I love the film so much, and knowing that it won — it actually makes it a lot easier for me to vote for it, guilt-free. I probably could have said that for any one of four films if they had won this category. In a year like this, I personally just marvel at the films rather than quibble about what should have won.
BEST PICTURE – 1976
And the nominees are…
All the President’s Men (Warner Bros.)
Bound for Glory (United Artists)
Network (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, United Artists)
Rocky (United Artists)
Taxi Driver (Columbia)
All the President’s Men — This film is about Woodward and Bernstein. And it is perfect. I’m not kidding when I say this is a perfect film.
It opens with the Watergate break-in. Then, the next day, Woodward is sent to the court to report on it, and just haphazardly gets some information. And very slowly, he starts uncovering (eventually along with Bernstein), all these inconsistencies in the story, these shady dealings, and basically they start working their way up the government until they eventually find out it ends with Nixon. And the film is them getting to all of this. It’s perfect because of how it’s essentially a procedural from a journalism standpoint. At the end of the film, we don’t see the dominoes fall. We see the point where the first domino is tipped, and it ends with newspaper headlines. That’s incredible.
Like I said, the film is perfect. Which is great, since there are three other perfect films on this list (or near-perfect, at least).
Bound for Glory — This film is a biopic of Woody Guthrie. It’s about him traveling the west during the Depression and meeting all the people out of work along the way, which influenced his music. It’s a great film. Some gorgeous cinematography. Also, fun fact — this is the first film in which the Steadicam was used.
It’s a good film, but clearly the weak link in this category. Not because it’s bad, but because, of all the films on this list, this is the one that’s not an American classic. It’s just a regular classic. So it shouldn’t have won. But it doesn’t take away from what is probably the best or second best (I still think 1939 takes it) Best Picture category of all time.
Network — Another perfect film.
The film is the story of Howard Beale (Peter Finch), as we’re told in its opening moments. Howard Beale is a network news anchor, who is fired at the beginning of the film because of low ratings. The film is basically about the idea that television has become all about ratings and networks don’t care about anything but ratings (scarily foretelling the downfall of television thirty years early). So Beale is fired and it causes him to lose his mind a bit. And on his next show (since he’s given a week before he will be dismissed), he says that he will kill himself live on the air the following week. And this, of course, makes the ratings pop huge. And the next night, as he loses his grip on his sanity a bit more, he goes on an angry rant (“I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”), which gets even more ratings. And what happens is, while he’s going on these rants on live television, the ratings are going up. So back at the network, Faye Dunaway, who is a ruthless executive who only cares about ratings (she’s involved with a reality show about a terrorist cell. Again, amazing how this film got it right thirty years early). She has the network give him his own show, which becomes a ratings bonanza. Meanwhile, William Holden, who has been Finch’s friend for a long, long time, feels bad the way the network is using him and really wants to help his friend get help for what are clearly emotional problems. And this all spirals out of control, as Beale starts ranting against his own network (which is owned by a major corporation), which is a no-no. So they bring in Ned Beatty to use Beale’s fragile state against him and make him rant for the corporation, which starts to come of as disingenuous and corporate, and ratings start to go down. So, what they do is, in order to bolster ratings on the terrorist show, have the terrorists shoot and kill Finch live on the air. That’s the film.
It is perfect. Seriously, a perfect movie. It’s an embarrassment of riches, this category.
Rocky — It’s Rocky. Who doesn’t know Rocky? It’s awesome.
Taxi Driver — Who doesn’t know Taxi Driver? You don’t need a synopsis. And if you do, you need to see this movie more than you need a synopsis.
My Thoughts: They’re all so fucking good. I mean, Bound for Glory I don’t love as much, but even so — great crowd here. The other four are perfect films. In terms of which are my favorites, Rocky is my absolute favorite of the bunch, with All the President’s Men a close, close second. Then Network, then Taxi Driver. Which is ridiculous, since if you put any of these four films against almost any other year, they’d probably be #1 by far. Throw any of them in 1977 and they win hands down. But, since it is so difficult, I’m just gonna go with Rocky. It won, and it’s my favorite film on the list. So it’s just easier to go with it, even though it’s the weakest film of the four, probably. But man — what a year, right?
My Vote: Rocky
Should Have Won: Rocky, All the President’s Men, Network, Taxi Driver
Is the result acceptable?: Yes. It won’t go down as one of the best choices of all time, because of the stiff competition, but it’s definitely a great choice. Any one of those four would have been a great choice.
Ones I suggest you watch: If you haven’t seen Rocky, All the President’s Men, Network or Taxi Driver — you’re dead to the world, you’re dead to me, you don’t really love movies, and we’re not friends.
Also, Bound for Glory is a terrific film. You should check it out. Great film, great cinematography, and very important from a historical standpoint, especially technically (first use of the Steadicam). It definitely should be seen.
5) Bound for Glory
4) Taxi Driver
2) All the President’s Men