The Oscar Quest: Best Picture – 1975

What is it with the 70s? Great films on top of great films. We’ve rarely had it this good, before or since. The 1972-1976 years are perhaps the strongest consecutive years ever, Oscar-wise. It’s just ridiculous. And what’s great about them is, you can quibble about what won, but you cannot deny the fact that the film that won was better than at least half the other Best Picture winners.

This year, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest wins the big five — Best Picture, Best Director for Milos Forman (talked about here), Best Actor for Jack Nicholson (talked about here), Best Actress for Louise Fletcher (talked about here), and Best Screenplay. If you’ve seen the film, you know how good it is and how good of a decision those were. (Though, personally, I’d have gone another way on Director no matter what won here, just because of personal preference.) Best Supporting Actor was George Burns for The Sunshine Boys (talked about here), which is awesome, and Best Supporting Actress was Lee Grant for Shampoo (talked about here), which works, given the weakness of the category and her stature as an actress.

So, overall — 1975 is an amazing year, and really all we can quibble about is what we liked instead, even though we all know what did win is more than perfectly acceptable. I love years like this.


And the nominees were…

Barry Lyndon (Warner Bros.)

Dog Day Afternoon (Warner Bros.)

Jaws (Universal)

Nashville (Paramount)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (United Artists)

Barry Lyndon — How to begin with this film…

The film is about, as the first act tells us, “By What Means Redmond Barry Acquired the Style and Title of Barry Lyndon.” We follow Barry throughout his life. First he falls in love with his cousin, and shoots one od her other suitors in a duel. Then he flees and is robbed as he wanders the roads. Then he manages to join the army, but deserts. He is then found by the opposing army and is forced to join them. Then, after the war, he ends up taking in with a professional gambler, whom he helps cheat at cards until be becomes bored and marries a rich countess. And her young son (he married her shortly after her husband died) doesn’t like Barry and grows to hate him. The fact that Barry openly has affairs and only cares about her money doesn’t help. So the kid grows up to hate Barry, who has another son with the boy’s mother and openly dotes on him. And the stepson leaves the country, but comes back after the other son dies and Barry becomes an alcoholic and the mother is so depressed she tries to kill herself. And the older son has a duel with Barry (which is really the centerpiece of the film. It’s amazing), which results in Barry’s leg being amputated. And then Barry is sent away to live on an annual allowance for the rest of his life.

It’s a really great film. It’s literally two halves. The rise, and then the fall, of Barry Lyndon. It’s not for everyone though. It’s a three-hour film, and some people will be bored to tears by this. I saw this for the first time in a theater and was spellbound by the whole thing. It’s incredible. Thing is, though — in this category, and knowing Kubrick’s other films — I don’t know if I can vote for it. I’d rather vote for three films over this one. So, sadly, Kubrick again falls by the wayside. Which is a shame.

Dog Day Afternoon — This is a film about a robbery.

On a hot summer day in New York, Al Pacino and John Cazale walk into a Brooklyn bank and rob it. And very quickly it turns into a hostage situation as police arrive at the bank and surround it. And the rest of the film is the hostage situation playing out. It’s a perfect film. You need to have seen it.

I can’t tell how much I’d vote for this film. It’s a really tough category. Jaws has the action-adventure edge, and Cuckoo’s Nest has the emotional edge. This one is a wild card for me. I don’t know. But it definitely was good enough to win. There’s no doubt about that.

Jaws — It’s Jaws. Don’t tell anyone you needed a synopsis to know what Jaws is.

Nashville — Robert Altman films are interesting because in them, nothing happens and everything happens.

Nashville is the quintessential Robert Altman film. It’s the perfect example of his style. The film takes place over five days in Nashville before a political rally. And we follow about 20 or so people over those five days. That’s the film. We cut between a bunch of different people, and in the scenes, most of the time everyone is talking at once, kind of like being in a room full of people and only catching bits and pieces of the dialogue. That’s how Altman films are. There’s really no way to talk about the film without going into everything, so that is really the best I can do in terms of plot.

It’s a great movie. There’s a reason so few of his films were nominated for Best Picture. This one definitely deserved to be here. Only, I’m not the biggest fan of Altman’s style, so I wouldn’t vote for it.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — Cuckoo’s Nest is a classic. If you haven’t seen it, do so. The only synopsis you’re getting out of me is — Randle P. McMurphy, attempting to escape a prison sentence (for statutory rape), gets transferred to a mental hospital. And while there, he butts heads with the authoritarian head nurse, Nurse Ratched. Those who’ve seen it know how amazing it is.

I’m having a hard time deciding between this, Dog Day Afternoon and Jaws. They all have their upsides and drawbacks. Either way, it’s nice to be able to have such an abundance of greatness in a category.

My Thoughts: One of the strongest Best Picture categories of all time. All five of these films are amazing. I wouldn’t really be upset if any of them won. (Though, Nashville, to me, is the weakest. I’d rather one of the other four.) And in terms of voting — I love Barry Lyndon, but I wouldn’t want it to win against the remaining three. Between the other three — I have no idea. I’ll just take Cuckoo’s Nest, because I really don’t know. I’d feel bad taking Jaws, without Spielberg being able to win Best Director for it. It’s my favorite on the list, but it didn’t need to win. And between Dog Day Afternoon and Cuckoo’s Nest — despite how stagy it is, I’ll take Cuckoo’s Nest. And that’s probably only because it won, and since I can’t decide, it’s just easier going with what won. I still say Lumet should have won Best Director this year, but here — I’ll take Cuckoo’s Nest.

My Vote: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Should Have Won: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Jaws, Dog Day Afternoon

Is the result acceptable?: Yes. It’s like 1976. Pretty much any film could have won and it would be acceptable.

Ones I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen Jaws, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Dog Day Afternoon — you’re dead to the world, you’re dead to me, and you don’t really love movies.

You need to see Barry Lyndon. It’s Kubrick. He’s a master. Everything he made is essential viewing.

Nashville is also essential. Really, if you haven’t seen any one of these five films, you don’t really love movies. So, get on that shit if you haven’t.


5) Nashville

4) Barry Lyndon

3) Dog Day Afternoon

2) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

1) Jaws

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