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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Picture, 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.

1975

Barry Lyndon

Dog Day Afternoon

Jaws

Nashville

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Analysis:

Barry Lyndon is Stanley Kubrick’s overlooked masterpiece. Everyone runs to Clockwork Orange, but I prefer this one.

It’s about Redmond Barry, a dude who lies, cheats and steals his way into prominence. The first half is him being a foundling of sorts, working his way up, and the second half is him having what he wants and then fucking it up. It’s really terrific.

This is one of those movies that at least a half dozen people have told me (and I’m also one of these people), “I thought it was gonna be boring, but then I started watching it and it was amazing.” That’s just what it is, and you can’t really explain it. (Except to say that Kubrick is a genius.) You don’t think you’re gonna like it, and then you’re two hours in and are mesmerized by it.

I can’t say this should have won Best Picture. It’s probably a fourth choice in the category, if not outright fifth. It’s also a very strong year, with four other classics on it. So I get that this isn’t gonna rate like those. But it’s incredible. I wish I could want to take it. But not in this category.

Dog Day Afternoon is just so fucking great. Sidney Lumet, man. This movie just feels like the 70s.

On a hot August day, Al Pacino and John Cazale rob a bank in Brooklyn. Eventually it becomes a standoff, with the two inside the bank with a bunch of hostages and the cops outside, along with hundreds of onlookers. And we watch as this volatile situation unfolds. It’s great.

There’s an embarrassment riches in this category. You could vote for all five of these films. This is one of the five strongest categories of all time. They don’t come much better than these five.

Jaws. You know it.

A lot of us would take this here. I can’t really argue with it. Jaws is amazing. This is one of those — and a lot of Spielberg gets into this — is it the best film or our favorite film? And at that level, does it matter?

That’s a discussion that will happen for the next 15 years with Spielberg. For now — it’s fucking Jaws. I love it, you love it. Would I take it? Yeah. Will I take it? I don’t know. But we’re gonna find out soon.

Nashville is Robert Altman’s masterpiece.

There’s no real way to describe it. A bunch of people are in (insert title here) over the weekend of a political convention. If you know how Robert Altman makes films — it’s very much that.

If anything Altman ever did deserved to win Best Picture, this is the one. Like all the others so far, this is worth a vote. I’m not at the point where I’d take it. I used to not fully appreciate this, now I do. Let’s see if in five years it jumps up enough for me to want to take it. So far, I just think it’s a masterpiece but wouldn’t vote for it. If there ever was a year not to vote for a masterpiece, this is it. Because I’m not voting for four of them.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is another masterpiece. It’s so wonderful.

Jack Nicholson is arrested and manages to get himself put in an asylum instead of actual jail time. He figures this will be a cake walk… but then he ends up on the wing of Nurse Ratched, the most evil fucking nurse you’ve ever seen. And it becomes a battle of will between the two. It’s… amazing.

It’s hard to argue with this as a winner. Though with five amazing choices here, I don’t automatically take it. In fact, I almost never take this. I love it, but I just… with the other choices here… this isn’t my first instinct. Usually you have a film like this and you go, “Yeah, but… I also love this other one,” and you have to decide between the best choice and your favorite. Here, anything could be your favorite and be the best choice. You can’t go wrong with this one.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: This is such an interesting year to go back to. I imagine hardcore cineastes would take either Barry Lyndon or Nashville in this one. I imagine the populists all go to Jaws. Cuckoo’s Nest will get a fair share of votes, but will it be the winner if people were voting today? And Dog Day Afternoon seems like it would be overlooked no matter when this category was voted on.

For me — I love Barry Lyndon, but not enough to take it. Same for Nashville. Cuckoo’s Nest, I also love, and I would think about it, but in the end, I love the other two films far more. So it comes down to Jaws, which is just a wonderful film, and then Dog Day Afternoon, which that little nagging feeling inside me keeps saying, “Take that, take that.” So I’m gonna go with that feeling. I just love that movie, and it’s such an experience to watch it. I’m gonna take Dog Day. Maybe I’m avoiding an answer by deliberately going to the “lesser” chosen nominee here, but I love it. And to me, they’re all worthy of being the vote, so I don’t feel so bad.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

Good question. What’s the best “film” in the category and what holds up as a winner? I don’t know.

  1. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  2. Nashville
  3. Jaws
  4. Dog Day Afternoon
  5. Barry Lyndon

Let’s go with that for now. Based on nothing.

Rankings (films):

  1. Jaws
  2. Dog Day Afternoon
  3. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  4. Barry Lyndon
  5. Nashville

My Vote: Dog Day Afternoon

Recommendations:

Jaws is top 50 all-time essential.

Dog Day Afternoon is top 100 all-time essential.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is top 100 all time essential.

Barry Lyndon is essential Not top 100, but in the next 100. Must see for all film buffs.

Nashville is top 100 all time essential.

You need to see all of these, it’s non-negotiable. Even Barry Lyndon. Trust me on that one.

The Last Word: This is an interesting one. Cuckoo’s Nest is the second of three films to win the “big five.” It’s definitely deserving. And it’s held up great as a winner. But, given the category, was it the best choice? You look at these five films, and Cuckoo’s Nest definitely feels like a “safe” choice. Dog Day Afternoon is definitely more of an edgy choice. Jaws is something that would be completely out of form for them. Going for what was essentially considered a horror movie at the time. Nashville feels right in line with what they’d do today. And given their aversion to Kubrick, I can’t see Barry Lyndon being something they’d do. So, them going with the film that best fits their tastes, I get it. Though that definitely does make it look like a bland choice among the others, in a way. No matter what they choice here, it would be a strong winner. Though Barry Lyndon, had it won, would have joined The Last Emperor in that realm of “great, but boring” winners. It’s not a particularly sexy choice. Jaws would be liked by people, but did Jaws need to win Best Picture to validate its greatness? I’m not sure that’s the way to go either. We’ll get into something similar with Star Wars in two years. Then — Dog Day — it would look fine but it’s not like it’s gonna join the ranks of the great Best Picture winners of all time. It’s just an awesome winner we all like. Not overly better than Cuckoo’s Nest. Nashville is the one — that could have been a better choice, possibly. But I feel like I’d have wanted to see it before I could say for sure. I think they made a good choice, and there was no bad choice they could have made. This was a top two choice in what was one of the strongest years ever, and they acquitted themselves well, with a film that’s held up as a great one over time.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

1976

All the President’s Men

Bound for Glory

Network

Rocky

Taxi Driver

Analysis:

All the President’s Men is — how many different ways can I say masterpiece? Nine of the ten films on this list are widely known to be masterpieces. I don’t even have to say anything about most of these because everyone knows them and how good they are.

This is Woodward and Bernstein investigating Watergate and uncovering all the stuff that led to the resignation of Nixon.

It’s perfect. You can vote for this, and you’d be right. I’m gonna say that four times in this category.

Bound for Glory is a completely forgotten film. Pretty much anything that’s not on the level of these other four was going to be.

It’s a biopic of Woody Guthrie. Who I’m guessing most people don’t know nowadays unless they’re hipsters. (He’s a folk singer. His famous song is “This Land Is Your Land.”) It’s about him traveling out west during the Dust Bowl and seeing the land as it is, which was a huge influence on his music.

The movie is gorgeous, and incredibly well made. It doesn’t have the stature of these other four, but it’s definitely good enough to compete with them in this category.

Unfortunately, and I think we all understand this — it’s a fifth choice in the category. This would have been the worst winner, historically, even if on its own it would have been a solid choice. It’s a great film, maybe Hal Ashby’s best (which I know is sacrilege to some — I’m a Being There guy, myself. There’s a lot of Harold and Maude people out there, not to mention the Coming Home, Last Detail and Shampoo people… have we mentioned how Hal Ashby made some fucking masterpieces and is criminally overlooked as a filmmaker?)

Network.

Yup, that movie. Peter Finch is a network anchor who is told he’s gonna be fired and has a breakdown and says he’s gonna kill himself live on the air. Then he starts ranting and raving and the studio, rather than get him help, exploits his deepening insanity for ratings.

This movie predicted the state of television forty years ago. It’s incredible. Perhaps Sidney Lumet’s best, and you could also take this and be right.

Rocky.

You’d be surprised how many people haven’t seen this movie.

You don’t get a synopsis. It’s fucking Rocky.

I know it’s trendy for people to hate on this as a choice, but you’re wrong. This movie is perfect and it also deserved to be in the conversation for this award and be a good choice as a winner. Don’t be the pretentious asshole who shits on this just because it’s not cool to like it next to the other movies.

Taxi Driver.

Like you haven’t seen this. This is like, pre-reading for being a film buff. You watch this to get into the class.

It’s fucking Taxi Driver. Of course you can vote for it. This category is stacked. It’s not about how great they are, it’s what you choose knowing how great they are.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: You can’t go wrong here, but people will have opinions. The important thing is to not give a shit about anything other than, “What do you prefer as a choice?” And we do this every time — my choice is Rocky. It’s fucking incredible. If it’s not Rocky for me, it’s All the President’s Men. I love Network, but I wouldn’t take it. And Taxi Driver — ehh. (As a choice, not as a film.) Give me Rocky every day. I love that movie and I think it’s absolutely perfect on every level. As are most of these choices. I prefer Rocky, and there we are.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Rocky
  2. All the President’s Men
  3. Network
  4. Taxi Driver
  5. Bound for Glory

Rankings (films):

  1. Rocky
  2. All the President’s Men
  3. Taxi Driver
  4. Network
  5. Bound for Glory

My Vote: Rocky

Recommendations:

Rocky. Really?

Taxi Driver. REALLY?

Network. I mean come on, now.

All the President’s Men. Seriously, just come on now.

If  you don’t see any of these three, you don’t love movies. They’re all top 100 all-time essential films.

Bound for Glory is a solid to high recommend. Really well made film. Not essential, but worth seeing. It’s become a hidden gem just because it’s been so forgotten over time. But it’s great. Definitely worth seeing.

The Last Word: I think it holds up great. Who doesn’t know Rocky? And who doesn’t love Rocky? I mean as a film. Let’s not put the layers of pretension onto it. Don’t be that person. Everybody loves Rocky. It’s a great choice and it holds up. All the President’s Men and Network would have held up great too. Hard to have gone wrong here. But for what it’s worth, I think they made the best decision. So there.

– – – – – – – – – –

(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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