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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Director, 1973-1974)

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.

1973

Ingmar Bergman, Cries and Whispers

Bernardo Bertolucci, Last Tango in Paris

William Friedkin, The Exorcist

George Roy Hill, The Sting

George Lucas, American Graffiti

Analysis:

Cries and Whispers. Token foreign nominee. Bergman. They loved him during these years. This won Cinematography. It’s a chamber drama. And I’m not gonna lie — I was bored as shit during this movie. Looked great, but man, was I not ready for this when I watched it.

Two sisters are in a mansion, watching over their other sister, who is dying. They go between wishing she’ll survive and hoping she dies. It’s slow, kind of morbid, and there are a lot of flashbacks.

I’m really not a fan of this. And while Bergman is a great director, I just can’t get on board with these chamber dramas. I’m sure there are some who love this movie. That is not me. Maybe you could put it third, but there’s no way I can see people having this top two in the category. But that’s just me.

Last Tango in Paris. Famous movie. Foreign, but in English.

Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider are two strangers who meet and start a purely sexual affair. No names, no personal information at all. That’s really all you need to know. Oh, and there’s a famous scene where butter is used as lube during an anal rape scene. But that’s no different from The Sound of Music.

It’s a good film, but this should never have won this category. It’s a nice little miracle that it even got nominated, but that’s the 70s. Still – as classic as this movie is, it’s not beating the next two nominees. It’s just not. The direction’s good, but it’s not that good. Great film, though. And I also understand how much this meant when it came out, how sexually liberating it was. Still, wouldn’t vote for it.

The Exorcist. It’s an art horror film. Which is pretty incredible. It’s a really riveting and frightening film, that still works, now forty years later. It’s definitely a film you could vote for very easily.

Easy film to talk about. We all know it. A little girl gets possessed, and a priest is brought in to figure it out and get rid of the demon. It’s classic.

This direction is great. And Friedkin is probably the vote. Yet…

The Sting. This is one of my favorite movies of all time. I’m biased toward it completely, and I will vote for this, even if the direction doesn’t necessarily need to win.

You should know The Sting. If not — con men. Big con. Paul Newman. Robert Redford. Ragtime. It is a perfect movie. It’s hard not to love it.

I’m voting for this, and that’s all purely personal preference. William Friedkin probably gives the best overall effort in the category.

American Graffiti. Where were you in ’62?

George Lucas’s first classic movie. A bunch of high school seniors on their last night before graduation go around the town before they either go off to college or start their real lives. Lots of 50s/60s cars, and great music. This soundtrack is off the charts good. And a lot of actors who all became super famous later on.

This is a movie that Richard Linklater owes a lot to. This is Dazed and Confused for an earlier generation. Every generation should have a Dazed and Confused. Or rather every generation should have an American Graffiti.

It’s a real classic and it’s hard not to love the film. But it’s basically nostalgia. There’s nothing really amazing about the direction here. It’s just good. No way can you actually consider it for a win. Not against this competition. Nice, but no dice.

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The Reconsideration: Yeah, William Friedkin had the best effort, but The Sting is far and away my favorite film in the category, so I’m voting for George Roy Hill. I’m aware that his effort was second best, but that’s why this is subjective. I like what I like. Lucas did a great job, but isn’t worth a vote. I do not like Cries and Whispers very much and would not vote for Bergman. And Last Tango in Paris — meh. Hill is my vote and Friedkin is also very much worthwhile.

The DGA, by the way, did not nominate Bergman. They had Sidney Lumet instead for Serpico. Which I guess is a cultural argument. I think his inclusion here would have been great.

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Rankings (category):

  1. William Friedkin, The Exorcist
  2. George Roy Hill, The Sting
  3. George Lucas, American Graffiti
  4. Bernardo Bertolucci, Last Tango in Paris
  5. Ingmar Bergman, Cries and Whispers

Rankings (films):

  1. The Sting
  2. The Exorcist
  3. American Graffiti
  4. Last Tango in Paris
  5. Cries and Whispers

My Vote: George Roy Hill, The Sting

Recommendations:

The Sting is a 100% essential movie. I want to say life essential, but just movie essential. Paul Newman and Robert Redford. They only made two movies, and they’re both perfect. If you even remotely care about movies, you need to see this.

The Exorcist is probably life essential. I mean, you just end up seeing that at some point, right? If not, movie essential for sure. You need to see that movie, as it’s one of the ten best horror films ever made. It almost transcends the genre.

American Graffiti is a cultural classic and is just a great movie. The soundtrack, the look, the colors — it’s so good. And all the actors in it. It’s basically an essential movie. It’s a big cultural touchstone for this era.

Last Tango in Paris is probably an essential movie. It’s important historically, is still a cultural reference point in cinema, and the title alone sounds essential. It’s like the hall of fame test for athletes. When you say the name, do they sound like a Hall of Famer? Then they’re probably a Hall of Famer. This sounds like an essential movie. I think you could wait to see it a while and not feel bad. But eventually you should get around to it.

Cries and Whispers — some people call it a masterpiece. It’s Bergman, it’s gorgeous-looking. I think it’s boring. You know you better than I know you. Do you think you’re gonna like this? I haven’t at this juncture seen enough Bergman to know how you’ll react to it based on what you know of his other work. Not like Woody Allen, where I can tell you flat out “if you like these kinds of his movies, you’ll like this one.” Though, if you saw Woody Allen’s Interiors (which we’ll be talking about in two days), however you felt about that, you’ll feel about this.

The Last Word: I’ll always take Hill, but Friedkin gives the best effort. I’ll leave it to others to decide how they feel about Bergman’s entry, as I’m not a big fan. Bertolucci does a good job, but I doubt most people would vote for it, but I guess they could. And then Lucas — solid entry, probably not worth a vote for any reason except nostalgia. Objectively, the choice is probably Friedkin. My preference is Hill, so that’s what I’m taking. I think you could make an argument for just about anyone here, should you so choose.

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1974

John Cassavetes, A Woman Under the Influence

Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather Part II

Bob Fosse, Lenny

Roman Polanski, Chinatown

François Truffaut, Day for Night

Analysis:

A Woman Under the Influence. This is, to me, Cassavetes’ best film. I’m not always a big fan of his style. Some of his films just don’t translate for me. But this one — this one is just so incredible. Falk and Rowlands are Oscar-worthy.

Gena Rowlands is a housewife who is… unusual. She’s just weird. And her husband is Peter Falk. He starts to get worried about her behavior and has her committed. Meanwhile, he tries to care for their three kids alone for six months. And then she returns home, and neither of them are ready for it.

It’s a great film. The two performances are jaw-droppingly good. And the direction is really fine. But this category is just way too strong. It’s a third choice at best here. Which sucks, but that’s the 70s. That was the last great decade in American film. But this film – great. Vote-worthy, yes. In this category – it’s rough.

The Godfather Part II. We all know this movie, so I don’t need to talk about it.

I will also mention, before we get to the vote — aside from the fact that he hadn’t already won for the first Godfather, he also directed The Conversation this year, which was also nominated for Best Picture. So he has both of those efforts on his plate this year. And while you shouldn’t necessarily take that into account, there’s no way that’s not on your mind in 1974 when you’re voting.

Lenny. Bob Fosse directed five movies. Three of them are either perfect or near perfect. This is the middle of the three.

This is a movie about Lenny Bruce. It is incredible. It’s black and white, completely experimental, and Dustin Hoffman is fucking phenomenal in it. Again, Bob Fosse is worth a vote. But this time, I think Coppola edges him out. Oh, and there’s also Roman Polanski to take into account…

Chinatown. It’s perfect. We all know this. It wins if not for Godfather II. It might still even be the vote.

It’s Chinatown. You should know this movie. Jack Nicholson, private eye, uncovers a scandal about the water in L.A. There’s not an imperfect moment in the film.

Easily this could be voted for. This category goes three deep. Maybe even four.

Day for Night. People call this a masterpiece. I watched it and didn’t quite see it. I’m due to see it again at some point. Back then, these foreign movies either hit with me or I didn’t like them out of spite. Oh, and this is the token foreign nominee of the year, FYI.

It’s a movie about the making of a movie. The actor is a fading movie star, the actress is a former singer, another actress just had a nervous breakdown, and then the director is dealing with the problems of making the movie along with his own shit. And we follow all of this during the production of the film.

I honestly need to see it again to really put forth an opinion on it. I remember thinking it was okay but not spectacular. And even if I did love this film, there’s no way I’d vote for this over any of the other four nominees. This is one of the strongest years ever, and this is a foreign nominee. It’s not happening. So my feelings on this film wouldn’t change anything except maybe putting it fourth instead of fifth. (And even then, it’s not gonna overtake the others anyway.)

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: One of the strongest categories of all time. I wouldn’t vote for Truffaut. That’s me. I need to see it again to really put forth an opinion on it. But wouldn’t vote for it. And then, other four — all vote-worthy. Cassavetes comes off first, because while it’s great, can’t vote for it over the other three. Fosse — next off. Completely worth a vote. But I wouldn’t over the other two. Because the other two are The Godfather Part II and Chinatown. And both are worth votes in most years. For me, it’s always Coppola, purely because it’s The Godfather II. And he also had The Conversation, so even if I thought that far to consider someone else, the fact that he had two classics this year would be my tiebreaker. (The DGA actually nominated him for both.) Sorry Polanski, sorry Fosse, sorry Cassavetes. This is all Coppola.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category and films):

  1. Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather Part II
  2. Roman Polanski, Chinatown
  3. Bob Fosse, Lenny
  4. John Cassavetes, A Woman Under the Influence
  5. François Truffaut, Day for Night

My Vote: Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather Part II

Recommendations:

The Godfather Part II and Chinatown are A#1 essential movies. One you need to see as a person, and the other you need to see as a precursor to even being a film buff. That’s pre-entry level. That’s the pre-req to get into the class.

Lenny is an essential movie. You may not believe me offhand, but it is. It is a perfect movie. You need to see it.

A Woman Under the Influence is also essential, because at least one of Cassavetes’ movies needs to be. This is what independent cinema was, in the greatest decade for filmmaking. You must see it as a movie buff.

Day for Night is thought of as a masterpiece and an all-time essential movie, and I can’t argue against that. I’d say that it’s good, and it’s worth seeing, but I’m not gonna demand that people see it or call it completely essential. I just think it’s something that’s worth it should you so choose.

The Last Word: You could go four deep, and honestly, when I see Day for Night again, it might be all five. Cassavetes and Fosse are completely worth a vote. Polanski in any other year would probably win this. Here, it’s Coppola. Godfather Part II and The Conversation. He’s good enough to win on one of those alone. But when you factor in that he did both, I can’t see this going any other way. Shit, this year is good.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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