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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Director, 1969-1970)

The Oscar Quest began in May of 2010. I finished about fifteen months later, and wrote it up for this site. That was essentially the first thing I did on here. Five years have passed since then. I’ve grown as a person. My tastes have changed, matured (or gotten more immature, in some cases). So it feels fitting, on the five year anniversary of the site and of the Oscar Quest, to revisit it.

I want to see just how my opinions about things have changed over the past five years. I didn’t do any particular work or catch-up for this. I didn’t go back and watch all the movies again. Some I went back to see naturally, others I haven’t watched in five years. I really just want to go back and rewrite the whole thing as a more mature person, less concerned with making points about certain categories and films than with just analyzing the whole thing as objectively as I can to give people who are interested as much information as possible.

This is the more mature version of the Oscar Quest. Updated, more in-depth, as objective as possible, less hostile. You can still read the old articles, but know that those are of a certain time, and these represent the present.

1969

Costa Gavras, Z

George Roy Hill, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Arthur Penn, Alice’s Restaurant

Sydney Pollack, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

John Schlesinger, Midnight Cowboy

The analysis:

Z. Our token foreign nominee. It’s pretty great. It’s about a right-wing, militaristic government and a leftist pacifist figure who is opposing them. He gets murdered after a fiery speech, and the government is quick to blame it on a drunk driver. Though pretty quickly, the hospital and a photojournalist (there’s a profession you don’t see much of anymore) find enough evidence to implicate the government in the murder. (Making it an assassination.)

It’s a great film. It’s one of those films that’s designed to make you angry. You know the government is behind it and you’re gonna watch them get away with it. It’s incredibly well-directed and may even be worth the vote. I could not argue for one second that this is worth a vote.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The title speaks for itself. We know the title, we all remember about a half-dozen images from this film, it’s iconic.

The story doesn’t matter, it’s essential, and you’ve probably seen it. If not, just see it. You’ll understand.

I understand how people wouldn’t vote for this. It’s not necessarily representative of the state of film in 1969, and it’s more of a fun movie than a movie that really wows you with its direction. But it’s my favorite film, and I’m probably gonna vote for it because of that. Sometimes personal preference is what I vote for. Nobody’s perfect.

Alice’s Restaurant. I can’t believe they made a movie out of a song. This film is so late 60s. I’m shocked it got nominated, but I like it because it’s so representative of the era. And I’d rather this got in there than something like Hello, Dolly!, which is the exact kind of movie that Hollywood needed to get away from during this time.

Arlo Guthrie made one of the greatest songs of all time with “Alice’s Restaurant,” which is now a staple on classic rock stations during Thanksgiving. It’s half crazy anecdote that happened to him one time, and half statement about the draft. Love that song. Used to be able to quote it beginning to end. Still can probably do about 75% of it.

There’s really no way to describe what this film is about except — yes. It’s the song, it’s the 60s, it’s hippies, it’s everything you think of when you think of the 60s. Peace and love, and drugs, and all the film techniques — yes. It’s all of that.

I love that Arthur Penn was nominated here. I really do. The film just makes perfect sense and I like that he at least had a sporting chance at winning after not winning for Bonnie and Clyde. That said — no. Can’t vote for this at all. This is fifth choice for me. Easily. Would anyone consider this for a vote? Sure, put it third or fourth, but would anyone actually vote for this?

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?. This film took me by surprise. It’s about such small subject matter, and yet it makes that small thing something huge, and then it gets you invested in something you’d never think you’d be invested in, and then it just turns completely out of nowhere into something else. I really liked that. And I really like how Pollack shot this. Putting the camera guy on roller skates and rolling around to get shots – this film has an energy to it. I get why, to most people, it’d be a third or fourth choice, but, the more I think about this, the more I may want to have this as my second choice. It’s a tight race.

Oh, right, the story. A guy wanders into a dance marathon and is recruited to take part and be the replacement partner for a woman (Jane Fonda). The idea is simple — between the hours of 9 and 5 (or whatever the hours are when the place is open), you dance. Sometimes it’s fast, sometimes it’s slow. If you stop dancing, you’re out. And every once in a while they throw in some challenges to eliminate some people. All this is presided over the master of ceremonies (Gig Young), who finds out about the contestants and exploits their weaknesses and insecurities. Because after all, it’s all about audience amusement and not these people. And whichever couple wins gets $1,500. And you get so invested in this dance marathon. You want to see the main characters win. And then, out of nowhere, the film becomes about something so completely different. I won’t reveal what it is. But it’s… unexpected. And it ends rather abruptly after that. It’s a powerful film.

Pollack really directs the hell out of it. I could really make a case for voting for him. The problem with this category is that fourth is just as good as first. They’re all right there. Thank god I have a personal preference. Otherwise you could go nuts trying to pick one effort over another.

Midnight Cowboy. Also very famous. “Everybody’s talkin’ at me…”

Jon Voight goes from Texas to New York, trying to become a male gigolo. Usually this type of person comes to be an actor. He’s trying to sell himself to women. (Owing to something awful that happened to him when he was younger.) He’s completely naive and eventually gets taken for most of his money. (There’s a hilarious scene where he so completely misjudges a situation he has to pay the woman after he sleeps with her.) And eventually he meets Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), a small time con artist, who agrees to let him stay with him and be his pimp. And the film is about these two broken people coming together and forging a friendship on the outskirts of society.

It’s a really great film. I watched it again fairly recently, and I think it was definitely one of those movies that was more revolutionary and radical at the time, but doesn’t seem so much now. For instance, coming out, that movie was rated X. Now, it’s like… PG-13. Maybe. It’s really good. Schlesinger does a great job directing it. He’s probably a second choice for me. The top four are all right there, and it comes down to me just liking one film over the others.

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The Reconsideration: I’ll always take Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid here. It’s my favorite film, and it holds up as a great and iconic film for all time. I’ll take Hill. But you could easily take Costa-Gavras, or Schlesinger, or even Pollack. It’s a wide open category. Hill and Schlesinger have the iconic nature of their films (Hill more so) going for them. The other two films aren’t remembered as much. The other two films, however, have a much more vibrancy to them, the way they are shot. They’re all really close. So make your case and go for whatever, because you can’t really go wrong. My favorite film happens to be the one that people remember the best, which makes my justification easy. But really, it’s such a wide open category.

– – – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. George Roy Hill, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  2. John Schlesinger, Midnight Cowboy
  3. Sydney Pollack, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
  4. Costa-Gavras, Z
  5. Arthur Penn, Alice’s Restaurant

Rankings (films):

  1. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  2. Midnight Cowboy
  3. They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
  4. Alice’s Restaurant
  5. Z

My Vote: George Roy Hill, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Recommendations:

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is such an essential movie that it’s not even something you see as a film buff. It’s one of the movies that makes you a film buff. I can’t even call it essential because you should have seen it before you even get to looking at what films you need to see. It’s like that prerequisite book you need to have read before you even take the class.

Midnight Cowboy is an essential movie. It won Best Picture, it’s representative of the 60s, and it has Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight in extremely memorable roles, an all-time film song, and “I’m walkin’ here!” Essential.

Alice’s Restaurant — not essential. But nice and weird and great. Very 60s. Very, very 60s. No other way to explain it. It’s definitely fun, especially if you love the song. I can’t push this on anyone, but for those who want to expend the effort, it’s definitely one of the most interesting movies you’ll see. And one that’s very representative of its era.

is a great movie. I think Roger Ebert said it was #1 for him that year (but I could be misremembering that). It’s a movie that really gets you up in arms, and is really well made, and deserves to be seen. Definitely one of the great foreign films of all time. On a list of the top 100, this is probably on there. Worth a watch. Not essential, but highly recommended.

They Shoot Horses Don’t They? is one of the best gems you will uncover during this quest. I know most people won’t have seen it or heard of it, and that’s good. Go in cold, and be blown away like I was. It’s great. I cannot recommend this highly enough. You should see it. I can’t say it’s essential because to do that would eliminate the hidden gem element to it. But man, is this great. I think you should see this post haste.

The Last Word: You’ve got options. I say Penn probably isn’t worthy over the others, but be my guest if you want to make that case. Costa-Gavras has a real energy to his film that could easily be voted for. Schlesinger has a real urban, gritty feel to his film, and is definitely a choice. Pollack does such great things to bring you into this very unique (and tiny!) world, and makes you really invested in subject matter that would be laughable if you tried to pitch it to anyone. And George Roy Hill made one of the most iconic movies of all time, and easily one of the ten best westerns ever made. You can go with any one of them. To me, Butch and Sundance is my favorite movie, and since it’s also the most memorable and most iconic, that makes it a really easy choice for me. But damned if I don’t feel bad about the other three I could also have voted for.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

1970

Robert Altman, MASH

Federico Fellini, Satyricon

Arthur Hiller, Love Story

Ken Russell, Women in Love

Franklin Schaffner, Patton

Analysis:

MASH. Classic film, funny film. One of the few Altman films I really like. (Just not a huge fan of his style in certain movies. It distracts from the plot a lot and too often feels a lot like style over substance.)

The show is one of the most famous in the history of television, so you probably know what this is about. A MASH unit in the Korean War that’s more known for its hijinks than its war efforts. The climax of this movie is a football game. It’s crazy. And it’s so funny.

This is one of my favorite Altman movies, and is probably one of his three best. Would I vote for it? No. But he does belong here. This is one of the best examples of his directorial style (the peak being Nashville, of course). He feels solidly middle of the pack here. Maybe fourth, if you like one of the foreign nominees.

Satyricon. Fellini. Episodic. A lot of crazy Roman shit. I can’t even begin to tell you the plot.

I can’t believe he got nominated for this. Is there something I’m missing? Do people even remember this film? That’s really my main question. The amount of foreign language nominees that got on here, all-time, and this being one of them… in the canon of Fellini films, does this rate in the top, say, five? He got nominated four times. Is this a top four?  I’m guessing they nominated him because it’s Fellini. I don’t get it. This is fifth for me. An easy fifth. Does anyone think he should have won here for any other reason than the fact that he’s Federico Fellini?

Love Story is one of my favorite films. It’s beautiful. But also horribly dated. Which I understand. I can’t push this on people because it comes off as so hokey and cliche now. Kind of the way I imagine people younger than I am would scoff at Jerry Maguire for being cliche. Even though movies like this invented the cliches.

Ryan O’Neal is a rich guy at Harvard who falls for a poor Ali MacGraw. They are in love, and want to marry. And that’s pretty much the movie. Hard to explain, but this was a huge film at the time of release. This single handedly saved Paramount from bankruptcy. This was the biggest grossing movie of the year. This was a monster hit. Clearly doesn’t hold up as well, but in its day, this meant something.

The direction — not even I would vote for it, no matter how much I love the film. Hiller is probably a third choice, but I love the film, so I might give him second. This is one of those categories that’s pretty boring overall and seemingly has a clearcut winner.

Women in Love is a film that I’m very torn about. Mostly owing to the Best Actress win. Which we won’t discuss here.

It’s about two sisters falling in love with two men. There’s a lot of sex involved. There’s not a whole lot of story to it.

I get why they nominated Russell. This direction is really showy and makes sense. That said — was this year really that bad that something like this got on? It’s not a bad film, and the direction is really good. It’s just — without this category, have you heard of this film? But to be fair, if there’s one thing to take away from this film (aside from the naked wrestling scene), it’s the direction. It’s very stylish, and does make the film more interesting to watch than it probably would have been otherwise.

That said – I still wouldn’t vote for it. I’d rather have three other films win over this. And again, Patton, Love Story, MASH. And Women in Love. Sometimes not having heard of a film is grounds to not vote for it. If you want to make a case for this, go ahead. I’m not. I don’t see it.

Patton is a biopic of General Patton. And just by knowing that, you can probably guess it’s the easy winner of the category. I mean, opening scene alone, the image of Patton standing in front of the American flag — that alone is enough to give Schaffner this award. That is one of the most famous film images of all time. He also directs the hell out of this movie, giving you great images and great battle scenes. Easy winner here.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: To me, this category starts and ends with Franklin Schaffner. Altman is a distant second on effort alone, and while I love Hiller’s effort, it’s no better than third. Maybe even fourth. And then Fellini — no idea. And Russell — not for me. Maybe third, but I’m putting it fourth. This is an easy win for Schaffner. It’s cut and dry and boring as hell. I guess all the good stuff was in the year before this.

I’d also like to point out that for the DGA Award, Bob Rafelson was nominated but was left off this list. He might have been someone you consider second or third if he’s nominated. Mostly I want to start introducing the DGA into this, because 1970 is when they switched over to five nominees every year instead of ten, making it noticeable when the Academy nominates someone the DGA doesn’t.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Franklin J. Schaffner, Patton
  2. Robert Altman, MASH
  3. Arthur Hiller, Love Story
  4. Ken Russell, Women in Love
  5. Federico Fellini, Satyricon

Rankings (films):

  1. Love Story
  2. MASH
  3. Patton
  4. Women in Love
  5. Satyricon

My Vote: Franklin J. Schaffner, Patton

Recommendations:

Love Story is an essential movie. Not because it’s an all-time film (it is one of the most famous romance films of all time), but because of what it means for film history. It was the biggest hit of 1970, saved a studio, and is an important film when you’re talking about the history of film. So if you care about film, you need to see it.

Patton is a great film, a Best Picture winner (and Best Actor winner, featuring one of the great lead performances of all time), and has one of the most iconic scenes in all of cinema, that’s been referenced and parodied dozens of times. It’s essential. Lower tier essential, but essential.

MASH is probably essential. An all-time comedy. Great cast, directed by one of the great directors, and it spawned perhaps the most successful TV show of all time. You should see it.

Women in Love — don’t love it, but it won Best Actress. So there’s that. And it’s very evocative. Lot of sex and 60s/70s style directing. Zooms and jump cuts and shit. So there’s some artistry there. I don’t particularly care for the film, though, so I can’t recommend it too highly.

Satyricon — Fellini directed it. So there’s that. If you want to see everything he made, this is there. Otherwise… don’t love it, can’t say too much about it except… he’s a good director, and it’s okay.

The Last Word: Boring category. Schaffner seems the easy winner. Wouldn’t vote for Fellini or Russell. Can’t see most people making cases for them. Hiller has a great film, but it hasn’t held up well the past forty-plus years and the directorial effort isn’t the strong part of the film. So I doubt people would argue for him. Which really leaves only Altman. And I imagine a lot of people would want to take him because they love the film and his style. Which I could understand. The category’s not that interesting. I think it’s Schaffner though, with a case to be made for Altman.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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