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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Director, 1971-1972)

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.

1971

Peter Bogdanovich, The Last Picture Show

William Friedkin, The French Connection

Norman Jewison, Fiddler on the Roof

Stanley Kubrick, A Clockwork Orange

John Schlesinger, Sunday Bloody Sunday

Analysis:

The Last Picture Show. Peter Bogdanovich’s magnum opus. Life in a small town.

We follow a group of characters as they live in a small town. Jeff Bridges is dating Cybill Shepherd. She’s the prettiest girl in town who wants to get out. He doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life. Then Timothy Bottoms starts sleeping with the neglected wife of his football coach. Ellen Burstyn is Shepherd’s mother. Eileen Brennan is the town waitress. Ben Johnson is the guy who basically owns the town and is a sort of mentor figure for everyone.

It’s a really good movie. I think it’s great. Some people would want to vote for it, but I imagine that not many actually would. It’s shot in black and white, but the direction is pretty standard. There are two much more impressive and iconic efforts than this, even though I understand some people wanting to vote for this.

The French Connection. Hell of a film. Popeye Doyle trying to bust a drug smuggler. Everyone remembers the car chase. It’s one of the best thrillers ever made.

The plot is simple, and it’s all about the execution. Watching the car chase alone, you can see why this won and should win. Maybe you have another preference that makes you not want to vote for it, but there’s no denying this is a deserving winner.

Fiddler on the Roof. Pretty famous film/musical. “If I were a rich man,” you know the whole thing. It’s about a Jewish peasant trying to marry off his daughters. It’s good.

The film is kind of a big, lumbering musical, but it has its charm. I don’t mind it being here, but I’d never vote for it. I think we can all agree on this. Most of us would have it bottom 2. Some would have it 5, and I get that. But there’s no way anyone puts this over the top three.

A Clockwork Orange. Another one you’ve heard of and have probably seen. An incredibly strange film.

How does one even try to explain this plot? Alex is a criminal in futuristic England, and he ends up getting arrested and subjected to a kind of treatment to make one averse to violence. But there’s… so much more crazy shit that happens in this.

It’s Kubrick, it has iconic images, and it’s a great film. I can understand people wanting to vote for it. I am not as in love with this movie as some people might be. I think Kubrick is typically a good choice in this category, but here, I have him second. I just think he did better with other movies. Not that it matters in this category. I just feel like I don’t feel the insistence in my gut to vote for this the way I’ve had with him other times. I know a lot of people will vote for this on Kubrick alone, and I can understand that. But for me — no way do I think this was a better effort than Friedkin.

Sunday Bloody Sunday. John Schlesinger again. This is actually a straight up drama, and is clearly personal to the director.

Peter Finch and Glenda Jackson play two people in a love triangle with another man. They’re both aware of the other’s relationship with the man, and are okay with it so long as they can keep seeing him. And it’s about these people accepting the situation in order to make their lives better.

I’m kind of surprised this got on here. The film’s not bad (not that I particularly loved it), and the direction is fine, but I didn’t see that much special about it. To me, this is easily fifth in the category. Maybe you can make a case for fourth. I think 99% of people would have at least three films ranked ahead of this. I’m just not feeling this one.

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The Reconsideration: It’s Friedkin all the way for me, with Kubrick second and Bogdanovich third. I know a lot of people will go Kubrick here, but for me, it’s Friedkin and always Friedkin. The way he constructs the chases and shoots the scenes where they’re following the targets — he really directs the shit out of this movie. He’s my vote. I understand Kubrick, and I guess I can understand Bogdanovich, but I’d be curious what people’s rationale is for that one. And the other two, I can’t see voting for at all.

FYI, the DGA had four of the five nominees, with Robert Mulligan being nominated for Summer of ’42 instead of Jewison. Jewison’s film has held up over time, but I think Mulligan made the better film. The efforts feel about the same. They’re both pretty much a wash in the category.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category and films):

  1. William Friedkin, The French Connection
  2. Stanley Kubrick, A Clockwork Orange
  3. Peter Bogdanovich, The Last Picture Show
  4. Norman Jewison, Fiddler on the Roof
  5. John Schlesinger, Sunday Bloody Sunday

My Vote: William Friedkin, The French Connection

Recommendations:

A Clockwork Orange is, on title alone, essential. You need to see it as a film buff. No questions asked.

The French Connection and The Last Picture Show are also very essential movies. One is one of the best thrillers all time with perhaps the best chase in film history. Plus it’s a Best Picture winner. And The Last Picture Show is one of the most respected films ever made, often appearing on a lot of “Greatest movies of all time” lists. So as a movie buff, you’ll need to see both.

Fiddler on the Roof is an iconic title, and a memorable film, but it’s not essential. You can get away with not seeing it if you want, just as long as you know the references from it. It’s worthwhile, but it is a very Jewish musical, and that’s not for everyone, the way Jesus Christ Superstar isn’t for everyone. It’s also really long and not exactly lively. So I won’t force it on anyone, but it is definitely charming.

Sunday Bloody Sunday is a drama. I didn’t love it, I haven’t seen it in a few years, and I imagine it’s one of those movies that either I will grow in my appreciation for over time and as I get older, or it’s one of those movies I’ll just never get.

The Last Word: To me, it’s Friedkin. I can understand Kubrick, but I think that people are doing that because it’s Kubrick and because the feel like Clockwork should win. Looking at the effort, I don’t see how it’s not Friedkin. But to each his own. Bogdanovich could also be the vote for some, but I doubt it’ll be a whole lot of people. And then Jewison and Schlesinger I can’t see being the vote. I think it’s probably one or the other, and as long as you can justify it in a way that doesn’t feel exclusive to the others, I’m cool however people want to vote. Though to me, I don’t see how Friedkin isn’t the choice.

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– – – – – – – – – –

1972

John Boorman, Deliverance

Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather

Bob Fosse, Cabaret

Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Sleuth

Jan Troell, The Emigrants

Analysis:

Deliverance. You know this movie. You’ve heard this movie referenced before. “Dueling Banjos.” “You got a purdy mouth.” You’re generally aware of this movie. Maybe you don’t know exactly what happens in this movie, in which case — good. See it. It’s… interesting.

Four businessmen are on a river rafting trip in the South. We see that all the locals nearby are all inbred. The men get separated at one point and run into some mountain men. Things happen. I’ll leave it at that.

This is a great film. Really edge of your set tension. Some crazy shit happens here. This would be that sleeper choice you could vote for in any other year but this one. Here, it’s maybe a third choice. You’re not beating the top two.

It’s The Godfather. You know it, it’s iconic, and it’s clearly worth a vote. Nothing else needs to be said.

Cabaret is one of the greatest musicals ever put to screen. It’s about Germany pre-World War II. All the decadence and the carefree attitude of everyone. It’s about a gay British man who arrives to live in the same boarding house as an American cabaret singer (Liza Minnelli). They become good friends. And we follow them as they live this bohemian lifestyle, with great musical numbers and lots of sex… until the Nazis start to take over.

It is a near perfect movie. Fosse directs the shit out of it, and feels like a deserving winner. I can’t argue against this effort having won, in and of itself. Having won against The Godfather? I don’t know if I love it. But it’s not awful. I like that Bob Fosse has an Oscar, because between this, All That Jazz and Lenny, he deserved one. I’m not gonna vote for this, but he is a completely deserving winner and you’d be an idiot not to admit as much.

Sleuth is a fucking incredible film, and while it is mostly a play on film, there are a lot of cinematic flourishes on top of it that make it a deserving nominee.

It’s a simple story. Laurence Olivier is a mystery writer. Michael Caine is a hairdresser who is sleeping with Olivier’s wife. Caine comes to Olivier’s house to tell him he’s going to run away with the wife, and the meeting devolves into a series of games between the two of them. I won’t ruin what happens, but there are only three characters in the entire movie. And it is TERRIFIC.

I’m very happy that Mankiewicz got nominated, but at best he’s a fourth choice here. It’s basically a play on film. I like the flourishes, but let’s not pretend like it’s better than the top choices in the category. No way anyone actually votes for this over Coppola, Fosse and Boorman.

The Emigrants. Our token foreign nominee. It was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in 1971, and then got four nominations this year (Picture, Director, Actress and Adapted Screenplay).

A Swedish family emigrates to the United States.  That’s the story. Guy meets a woman, they get married, have kids, and they work to come to America. Simple story.

My main issue with this is the same confusion as most of these foreign language nominees. Why this? Why over everything else?  Other than that, it’s fine. Well made and all. I consider it fifth in the category. Maybe some people have it fourth. Maybe third. Whatever you want. I don’t think it takes down either of the two top contenders. Pretty sure no matter how many times this category is gone over, this never wins.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: It’s Coppola. He will always be my vote. It’s The Godfather. You can’t argue with The Godfather. And if you don’t want to vote for him, Bob Fosse is a perfect alternative. I would not argue with that for a second. I’d respectfully go another way, but I would never argue. Two perfect and deserving choices, and I’m taking arguably the more obvious of the two.

As for the DGA — Troell wasn’t nominated by them, nor was Mankiewicz. They had Martin Ritt for Sounder (a Best Picture nominee), and George Roy Hill for Slaughterhouse-Five, which I’ve actually yet to see. So I can’t speak to that exclusion. I’m fine with what they did.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather
  2. Bob Fosse, Cabaret
  3. John Boorman, Deliverance
  4. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Sleuth
  5. Jan Troell, The Emigrants

Rankings (films):

  1. The Godfather
  2. Sleuth
  3. Cabaret
  4. Deliverance
  5. The Emigrants

My Vote: Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather

Recommendations:

How have you gotten this far without having seen The Godfather? If you haven’t. This is so life essential that people are aware when they haven’t seen it that it’s a thing.

Cabaret is an essential movie for film buffs. You need to have seen it. It’s almost perfect. Liza Minnelli is a force of nature here and won an Oscar for the part. It’s definitely a movie you need to see.

Sleuth is a GREAT film. If you agree with my tastes even 50%, you will enjoy this movie. Trust me on this. It’s awesome. Olivier and Caine are so fucking good in this, and it’s such a wonderfully crafted story. Not essential, but a great hidden gem that most people don’t even know about anymore. They tried to remake this a decade ago, and it didn’t quite work. This is a story that deserves to get a good remake again some day.

Deliverance is a near essential movie. I can’t make people see it because it’s… well, the subject matter. But you should see it because it’s one of the most famous/iconic movies ever made. It gets referenced a lot. It’s become a cultural touchstone, in a weird way.

The Emigrants is fine. It’s a good film. I don’t love it. But arguably it should be seen because the story is universal and is one of those — it’s a Criterion movie. If that makes sense. One of those movies that Criterion fans love. That’s how I can best explain it.

The Last Word: Coppola. Fosse. Both perfect choices. Boorman, I’d wonder why you went apart from the other two choices. The other two — don’t think they’re good winners. The first two are so perfect and iconic that it’s hard to say anyone else should have won. Outside of those two, take your pick. They’re both good choices. I will always go Coppola, but Fosse is also completely deserving.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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One response

  1. Slaughterhouse-Five is a major hidden gem in my book. I’ve only read the novel in part, and I haven’t gone back to the film in a while, but I enjoyed the hell out of it and I think Hill did a great job with it. I’d say his direction there is better than his work on The Sting—certainly more unique.

    March 29, 2016 at 3:23 pm

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