The Oscar Quest: Best Picture – 1970

1970 is one of those years that I call “checkpoint” years. As in, you’re going and looking at all the Best Picture winners, and you go, “Like that, like that, don’t like that, oh man, that one’s horrible…” But when you get to this one, you see Patton and go, “Uh huh,” and you move on. Because it’s unquestionably a film that was gonna win. Gone With the Wind is like that. Lawrence of Arabia. These years are checkpoint years, because you mentally rest for a second before moving on.

Outside of Best Picture, Patton wins Best Director for Franklin Schaffner (talked about here) and Best Actor for George C. Scott (talked about here). Both were terrific decisions (though huge shout out to James Earl Jones in The Great White Hope. I’m not kidding when I say (racism notwithstanding) in almost any other year, he wins hands down). Best Actress this year was Glenda Jackson for Women in Love (talked about here), which is the single worst decision of all time by the Academy, in any category, bar none. (I hate it, in case you couldn’t tell.) Best Supporting Actor was John Mills for Ryan’s Daughter (talked about here), which I consider probably one of the worst three decisions of all time in the Best Supporting Actor category. And Best Supporting Actress was Helen Hayes for Airport (talked about here), which was a wonderful veteran Oscar. I’m glad she won.

So, overall, 1970 is a solid year. However, due to my insane love for another film, I will not be voting for the obvious choice in Patton here. I don’t care what anyone says, but Love Story, to me, is one of the greatest films ever made. Man’s gotta vote with his heart.


And the nominees are…

Airport (Universal)

Five Easy Pieces (Columbia)

Love Story (Paramount)

MASH (20th Century Fox)

Patton (20th Century Fox)

Airport — The father of disaster movies. There weren’t really disaster movies before this. I mean, there were sci-fi invasion films, and stuff like that, but those were more sci-fi than disaster. This is straight disaster. And I think this was really the first one. The High and the Mighty has some parallels to this (they also have very similar basic premises), but that was more couched as a melodrama. This is the first real disaster movie as we know it today.

We follow a group of people all in this airport. Burt Lancaster basically runs everything, and we follow him dealing with all this, and then personal business with his wife and all that. And we get all the passengers, like D.O. Guerrero (Van Heflin) who brings a bomb on board a plane and plans on taking it down. All this stuff. It’s standard disaster movie fare. Lots of characters, storylines overlap,  something happens, and they need to deal with it. Here, it’s the bomb, and it goes off, and then they need to figure out how to land the plane with a big hole in the side. And all the people on board have their own stories. Like Dean Martin being married and also sleeping with a stewardess who has just gotten pregnant, or Helen Hayes as the old woman who likes to swindle the airlines out of money (she finds a way to get on board without ever paying for a ticket). All that stuff.

It’s a terrific, terrific film. The great thing about it is that, before now, there was no concept of the disaster movie, so this was treated as an A-picture. It was a classy film. Now, we treat them as preposterous blockbusters. But this, The Poseidon AdventureThe Towering Inferno — they got lots of Oscar nominations. I love that.

Anyway, this film is great, but it shouldn’t have come anywhere near winning. Come on, now. It’s Airport.

Five Easy Pieces — Now this is a 70s movie.

Jack Nicholson is a piano prodigy who comes from a family of musical geniuses. And he doesn’t want his talent, so has deliberately gone out and wasted it. He takes odd jobs across the country — we first see him working at an oil rig. He doesn’t much care, he just does it. There’s this great scene where he, on the way to work, sees a piano in the back of a truck on the highway, so he climbs up the back and starts playing the piano. And he plays the piano even as the truck travels away from where his buddy (who he was driving with) has to turn to go to work. And he just doesn’t go. Because he doesn’t care. And he’s dating a lower class woman (Karen Black), who his family would consider vulgar. And the film is about him finding out his father is sick and dying and having to go back home to see his family. It’s a really great film.

Here — it had no shot. The other contenders are just too strong for it. This seems like it would be considered a smaller, independent movie. Those don’t get enough votes, even though they have a strong base of support (which is why they’re nominated). I see this being a 4th choice at best, maybe 3rd. I wouldn’t vote for it, but it definitely deserved to be here.

Love Story — It’s a story of a couple. Ryan O’Neal is a rich “preppy,” going to Harvard. Ali MacGraw is a poor girl, going to Radcliffe. They meet one day and start flirting. Then they start dating. They fall in love. They get married. It’s a simple love story between this couple, with an ending that, even though you know it’s coming, fucking destroys you. This movie is so good. What I loved most about it is the banter between them at the beginning. It’s so good. This film is better written than 99% of all romances. This film is so perfectly tailor made to me that I’m amazed it  took me 21 years to see it. It’s the kind of film that, if you haven’t seen, I can’t even speak to you. It’s perfect.

This will be my vote, and, honestly, were Patton not the perfect storm of Oscar (like Titanic, like Ben-Hur, etc.), this would have won.

MASH — The film that spawned the TV show.

It’s a Robert Altman movie, but enjoyable. I can stomach his style more when it’s a comedy. This is a very funny movie. A very funny movie. The name MASH is so ubiquitous that you should know about this. There’s really no way to explain what it’s about except — Korea, MASH unit, hijinks, hilarity. That’s all you need. It’s a great film.

This film is no better than a #3 here. It shouldn’t have come close to winning (nor did it). Love Story and Patton are the choices here.

Patton — It’s a biopic of General George S. Patton. George C. Scott gives one of the greatest lead performances ever put to film, and this is about as slam-dunk a choice as there ever could be. It’s a great film. Long, but great. It was going to win no matter what. And I won’t be voting for it.

My Thoughts: Like I said, Patton is an easy winner, but I have to take Love Story. That’s the way it goes.

My Vote: Love Story

Should Have Won: Love Story

Is the result acceptable?: Not to me. Not really even in general. (Get it?) No, it’s totally acceptable in general. I just wanted to make that pun. It’s a great choice.

I’ll also say, though, that this might be about as well-balanced a Best Picture field as I’ve ever seen. Look at the choices: Patton, the big biopic, the classy winner. Love Story, the romantic tragedy, the emotional film. Five Easy Pieces, the independent film. Airport, the blockbuster. And MASH, the comedy. That’s pretty much the entire spectrum of Oscar films. That’s cool.

Ones I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen Love Story, we can’t be friends. Times a thousand.

You need to see Patton. It’s so good. It’s really so, so good. It’s pretty much essential, too. So see it.

MASH — you need to see it. It’s essential. Don’t be a douche.

Airport — also essential. It’s like The Towering Inferno. You need to see them both. And throw in The Poseidon Adventure. All three are very much essential. They’re so good.

Five Easy Pieces is also a landmark film, and is probably essential. So you should see it.


5) Five Easy Pieces

4) Patton

3) Airport


1) Love Story

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