The Oscar Quest: Best Picture – 1971
The 70s had balls. That’s the best way to describe it. In the 80s, you’d look at this list and assume Nicholas and Alexandra was going to win. In the 60s, you’d assume Fiddler on the Roof. Nothing against either of those films, they’re both actually really amazing (this entire list is), it’s just — here, in the 70s — the right film won.
Outside of Best Picture, The French Connection won Best Director for William Friedkin (talked about here) and Best Actor for Gene Hackman (talked about here). Both were awesome decisions. Best Actress was Jane Fonda for Klute (talked about here), which is another great decision and another 70s decision. Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress were Ben Johnson (talked about here) and Cloris Leachman (talked about here) from The Last Picture Show. I don’t love either decision, but am more okay with Supporting Actress. Still, I’d have gone another way on both of them.
Again, though, the 70s are just terrific at awarding good things. There’s so much good stuff nominated that almost no matter what they choose, the result will be good (or at the very least, acceptable). It’s amazing.
BEST PICTURE – 1971
And the nominees were…
A Clockwork Orange (Warner Bros.)
Fiddler on the Roof (United Artists)
The French Connection (20th Century Fox)
The Last Picture Show (Columbia)
Nicholas and Alexandra (Columbia)
A Clockwork Orange — First off, you need to see it. Second — it’s nearly possibly to explain accurately. No matter how well I can explain the plot of this film — I can’t. There’s just too much going on here to really explain it via synopsis. Again, I refer you to #1.
In terms of this category — it was never going to win. I know it was the 70s, but the Academy is still the Academy. This is way too weird for them. Let’s seriously be glad they even nominated it, especially considering Kubrick’s history here. It had no chance. This is a voting body that does not like violence, sex, and weirdness. (I was gonna give examples, but I think history speaks for itself.)
Fiddler on the Roof — “If I were a rich man…”
This musical is so joyous. You should probably know about it, it’s very famous. A story of a Jewish milkman and his family. Simple as that. It’s so much fun. Just see it.
It shouldn’t have won at all, though. Way too 60s. Plus, not a film that should have won at any time anyway. So, nice to see it here, but no way.
The French Connection — I love this movie so much. I’m actually kind of amazed it won, since, after all, it is an “out and out thriller,” as the tagline for the film says. But man, is it a great out and out thriller.
The film revolves around two separate stories, which are (or become) related. The first is a big shipment of drugs from France to the U.S. That’s one. And the second is “Popeye” Doyle and his partner Buddy Russo. We follow them doing routine police work and slowly finding their way involved in taking down the big drug shipment. It’s a great film. It’s a nice procedural with lots of thriller elements, and that great chase at the center of it. It’s a perfect film. Not a classical Oscar winner, but, as I always say — one that needed to happen. It’s a quintessential 70s movie.
The Last Picture Show — This is essentially a film about a small town. We follow a group of people who live in the town. They include:
Jeff Bridges, the popular jock, who is dating Cybill Shepherd, the richest girl in town. Timothy Bottoms, who starts sleeping with Cloris Leachman, the football coach’s wife. Ben Johnson, the man who basically owns the town. Ellen Burstyn, Cybill Shepherd’s mother who used to sleep with Ben Johnson, and now sleeps with another guy (who Cybill Shepherd also ends up sleeping with). There’s not really a set plot here, we just follow the individual experiences of all the characters. It’s a very good film, it’s just hard to explain without talking about everything.
As for this category, I don’t think it was good enough to win. I wouldn’t vote for it. It wouldn’t have been a terrible choice, this being the 70s and there needing to be a “70s” choice to shift away from the 60s, but I don’t think this would have held up that well.
Nicholas and Alexandra — I was amazed by this one. I went into it expecting to be bored to death for three hours, and then, by 45 minutes in, I was riveted. I don’t know what it was, but this film just transfixed me.
It’s a film about Nicholas II, the last czar of Russia. We follow them from the Russo-Japanese War all the way to World War I and the Russian Revolution. And we see all their personal and public moments. Their son being a hemophiliac, Alexandra falling under the influence of Rasputin, everything. It’s incredible. And what’s great is that it leads right up to that moment where the family sits down for that “portrait,” which, if you know your history — didn’t end well.
I love films like this. Like Marie Antoinette (either version). Where you know the history (even if it’s generally), and the film focuses on the personal lives, and the history is used as a timeline. So you can sort of plug in the personal stuff with the history (which, when done correctly, is not necessarily a major part of the narrative). Even The King’s Speech is like that, though not so much as sweeping. Still, these films are just great. This is a really, really terrific film, and it surprised the hell out of me. Of course, it shouldn’t have won at all, since it’s too stagy, too much reminiscent of the costume dramas of the 60s. This is a film that wins in the 60s (maybe) and the 80s (probably more so the 80s). Not the 70s. It’s just not a good choice, historically, for 1971.
My Thoughts: For me, it has to be The French Connection. I love A Clockwork Orange, but it shouldn’t have won. Same for Fiddler on the Roof. The Last Picture Show, I don’t like enough to vote for, and Nicholas and Alexandra is too on-the-nose to vote for in the 70s. The French Connection is the perfect choice.
My Vote: The French Connection
Should Have Won: The French Connection
Is the result acceptable?: Oh yeah. It’s totally 70s. Which is awesome. That’s what we needed here. A tone-setter.
Ones I suggest you watch: If you haven’t seen The French Connection or A Clockwork Orange, we’re not friends and you don’t love movies.
You need to see The Last Picture Show. It’s essential.
Fiddler on the Roof is an essential film, culturally. You should definitely see it. It’s awesome. It’s so much fun.
And Nicholas and Alexandra — I’m telling you that you need to see it. Because it’s so damn good. I went into this expecting to be bored out of my mind, but I loved this film so much. It’s so riveting. I don’t know why, but it just is. This is definitely one of the best hidden gems this quest has to offer.
5) The Last Picture Show
4) Fiddler on the Roof
3) Nicholas and Alexandra
2) A Clockwork Orange
1) The French Connection