The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Director, 1975-1976)
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.
Robert Altman, Nashville
Federico Fellini, Amarcord
Milos Forman, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Stanley Kubrick, Barry Lyndon
Sidney Lumet, Dog Day Afternoon
Nashville. Robert Altman’s masterpiece.
A bunch of people all live and work around Nashville in the days leading up to a political convention. That’s all you need to know. It’s a true ensemble cast, and if you’re not familiar with Altman’s style, it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.
The film is perfect. Could you vote for it? Absolutely, and twice on Sunday. Will I vote for it? Probably not. But that’s personal preference. It’s a great film and extraordinarily well-directed. The only downside to it is that you have some other great choices too.
Amarcord. This is what kept Spielberg off the list.
The film is mostly a series of vignettes centered around an Italian town. Mostly centered around the coming of age of a young boy.
This film is pretty likable. Much more so than Satyricon. That said – I’d still rather Spielberg got on here, since at least he’d get more votes than Fellini would in this. But that’s neither here nor there. Fellini is here, so we consider him alongside everyone else.
Oh, he’s our token foreign nominee, by the way. We’re nearing the end of this trend. Ironically it ends right as the era of auteurs and 70s movies ends and the age of the blockbusters and studio conglomerates sets in. At best I think you rank him fourth here. And that’s not even because it’s a foreign language nominee. That’s purely because the other three nominees are so good. I doubt almost anyone would put him higher than fourth.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Another classic.
Jack Nicholson is a criminal who gets his sentenced commuted to an asylum because he thinks that’ll be easier than hard time. But he shows up in the mental ward run by Louise Fletcher, who runs a tight ship. And he realizes pretty quickly that she’s actually quite a tyrant, and doesn’t take too kindly to his ways. So naturally, he rebels. The result — a masterpiece.
This movie is GREAT. It is a pure classic, and the performances, the story, everything about it is wonderful. That said — the direction — honestly fifth in the category. Maybe fourth. You could easily put Fellini over him, though I don’t. Based solely on effort, you can’t put him higher than fourth. I love this film and it arguably was the best picture of 1975, but the effort is not automatically something that needs to be voted for. It’s standard compared to the others.
Barry Lyndon. This is Kubrick’s most underrated film, I feel. Mostly because I think this is the one the least people will have seen and will proclaim as a masterpiece. The way people proclaim 2001, Clockwork, Dr. Strangelove — all those other movies. Yet I think this is the one that most people actually think is a masterpiece.
The movie is about Redmond Barry, a rogue who, by all kinds of ways and means, attains the title of Sir Barry Lyndon. I have no way of explaining this movie except to say — just watch it. I saw this on the big screen for the first time. I went to see it on a Saturday night because my school was screening it for free as part of their film series. I had no expectations for it and really don’t know why I went. And the print burned like twice, so instead of three and a half hours, it was like four hours. And yet, I was riveted. That’s what this movie is for most people. You can’t explain why, but you’re really invested in everything that happens.
This film is incredible. It’s so engrossing and so good, despite being one of Kubrick’s least accessible movies. And in this category, this actually might be the film to vote for. It’s so good.
Dog Day Afternoon. This film is one of those movies that epitomizes the 70s. And it’s Sidney Lumet, who had such an incredible run of just iconic films in the 70s. Network is probably the pinnacle of it all, but this one, to me, is the one with the most energy.
On a hot day in August, Al Pacino and John Cazale walk into a bank in Brooklyn and hold it up. The cops come and they lock themselves inside with a bunch of hostages. And we watch the standoff happen over the course of the day. It’s a perfect movie.
There’s such an energy to this movie, it’s so well done. This category comes down to Lumet, Altman and Kubrick. I don’t know which way to go. They’re all completely worthy of a vote.
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The Reconsideration: Hell of a category. Milos Forman won Best Picture and is somehow either the fourth or the fifth choice here. And Fellini — nah. Wouldn’t vote for him. (Not gonna get into the Spielberg of it all, but… yeah. DGA had him instead of Fellini, too. Must have been a real gut punch to be left off.)
The choice is either Altman, Lumet or Kubrick. I… honestly have Kubrick third. I don’t know why, but I do. And Altman and Lumet — I’m taking Lumet. To me, that’s the movie that feels the best directed. But they’re all worth it. Altman is a 1A choice in the category, and Kubrick is a 1B. Go with your gut. My gut says Lumet.
If I watched all three back to back to back, I might have a better idea, but right now, everything I know says Lumet is the choice. Again, really though.
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- Sidney Lumet, Dog Day Afternoon
- Robert Atlman, Nashville
- Stanley Kubrick, Barry Lyndon
- Milos Forman, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
- Federico Fellini, Amarcord
- Dog Day Afternoon
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
- Barry Lyndon
My Vote: Sidney Lumet, Dog Day Afternoon
Dog Day Afternoon, Nashville, Barry Lyndon and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest are all 100% essential movies. First tier essential movies, too. You need to see them as a film buff. No arguments.
Amarcord — fun movie. Solid Fellini. Worth seeing, but not essential. But as foreign films go, it’s one of the better and more famous ones.
The Last Word: To me, it’s one of three: Kubrick, Lumet or Altman. You could go with any of them. My gut is Lumet. He feels like the choice. Altman sometimes could feel like the choice for me. Kubrick always feels like he could be the choice. Take your pick, they’re all worthy.
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John G. Avildsen, Rocky
Ingmar Bergman, Face to Face
Sidney Lumet, Network
Alan J. Pakula, All the President’s Men
Lina Wertmuller, Seven Beauties
Rocky. You know the movie.
Nothing to say, plot-wise, so we’ll just talk about the direction. It’s really strong. It’s worth a vote. You might not want to vote for it, but there’s no denying that it’s worth a vote. We’ll get to specifics later. All we need to get at here is that this is Rocky, it’s an all-time classic, and it’s worth a vote.
Face to Face. Our token foreign film of the group. Two of them here this year, actually. It’s Bergman again.
Liv Ullmann is a psychiatrist whose husband is also a psychiatrist. She then has a breakdown. And the movie is about her losing her shit. She’s great — I’m not so sure about the movie.
Look, I’m sure this is a great movie and the direction is flawless. All I’m gonna say is this — is it better than Taxi Driver? Because that wasn’t nominated. Also, no way does anyone actually vote for this over the three American classics on this list. This is easily fourth or fifth for everyone.
Network. All-time classic. News reporter is told he is getting fired (because the network is all about ratings now) and he has a breakdown. And he tells his viewers he’s going to kill himself live on the air in one week. And ratings soar. So the network keeps him on. And the movie is all about the internal politics that go into TV. And it correctly predicted the fate of broadcast TV thirty years early.
It’s a perfect movie and is clearly worth a vote. Again, this category is such that we’ll get to specifics later.
All the President’s Men. Another perfect movie. Woodward. Bernstein. Watergate. Conspiracy. Nixon.
Spotlight won Best Picture this year. That movie owes everything to this movie. The original movie about the power of print journalism and true investigative reporting in the face of adversity.
This movie, worth a vote. Again, specifics in a minute.
Seven Beauties. Our other token nominee. And to get it out of the way — better than Taxi Driver?
Here’s the premise — Giancarlo Giannini (you remember him as Mathis in Casino Royale) is a man with seven sisters. He is ruthlessly protective of them. He ends up killing a pimp who got one of his sisters to become a prostitute. He goes to prison. We then watch him, quite comically, go from prison to the psych ward, to the army. He tries to take the easiest way out. Only, he gets captured and goes to a concentration camp. And shit gets real serious. But then he manages to survive by having sex with the biggest and ugliest female guard in the barracks. It’s ultimately a comedy, but there are some really serious elements.
It’s actually a really good movie. Wertmuller was worth the nomination. I know there are other films from this year that also should be here, but this movie actually is not an outlier. I understand it. That said — no better than fourth. Come on, now. Look at those top three movies.
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The Reconsideration: Omissions aside (Scorsese was nominated for the DGA instead of Bergman), this is a tough category. I think we can all agree the only choices are Avildsen, Pakula and Lumet. And I have no idea which one to vote for. We should also agree that all three are worth a vote and that it comes down to personal preference. I don’t want to shit on another nominee just because I preferred another. So if we agree they’re all fine, then we can start to get honest without getting mean.
Of the three, I put Lumet third on pure effort. To me, what makes Network soar is the writing and the acting. I think Lumet does a great job, and you could vote for him, but mostly his direction is not getting in the way of those other two elements. So that’s why I wouldn’t vote for him against the other two, all things being equal and all three being worth a vote.
So now we have Pakula and Avildsen. Both of these films are right near the top of my absolute favorite films of all time.
The way Pakula tells his story, what elements to keep in and not keep in, and how he increases the sense of paranoia and discovery — it’s really impressive.
And Avildsen — yeah — I think the tiebreaker here for me is the amount of iconic images Avildsen gets out of his story. Pakula is right there, but to me, Rocky — the steps, the running along the docks, the punching of the meat, the final shot — the writing can only do so much there. That counts for a lot that we remember so much of that movie, because otherwise the movie is great but not iconic. That’s my tiebreaker. But fuck, is it a tough decision to have to make. I know highbrow people are loathe to admit that, but Avildsen actually did deserve this, and Rocky is a deserving Best Picture winner. They’re all deserving. But all things being equal, I’ll take the most iconic effort of the bunch.
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Rankings (category and films):
- John G. Avildsen, Rocky
- Alan Pakula, All the President’s Men
- Sidney Lumet, Network
- Lina Wertmuller, Seven Beauties
- Ingmar Bergman, Face to Face
My Vote: John G. Avildsen, Rocky
How does one get through life without seeing Rocky?
Also, if you like movies, you need to see All the President’s Men and Network. To say they are essential is an understatement. The need there is as italicized and underlines and capitalized as much as can be.
Seven Beauties is a great film. Really worth seeing. Much better than you’d think. And since it’s a foreign language nominee you’ve never heard of that no one remembers, you probably don’t think much. But it’s really entertaining. This is almost like Life Is Beautiful. It gets humor out of a concentration camp. In different ways, but that’s not the worst comparison. Definitely recommended. A nice gem.
Face to Face is fine. Mostly Ullmann’s performance. I don’t recommend it one way or the other. It’s Bergman. See it, don’t see it. I’m not a huge fan.
The Last Word: Avildsen, Lumet and Pakula are all worth a vote. Pick a favorite, defend it, and don’t shit on the others, and you can’t go wrong. My favorite is Avildsen. My reasoning is that it contains the most iconic images of the bunch. That’s my tiebreaker. Because they’re all separated by less than a hair. Go however you want, I’m just explaining how I did.
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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)