January 28, 2013
The Winner: Midnight Cowboy
My Pick: Midnight Cowboy
The Winner: John Schlesinger, Midnight Cowboy
My Pick: John Schlesinger, Midnight Cowboy
The Winner: John Wayne, True Grit
My Pick: Jon Voight, Midnight Cowboy
The Winner: Maggie Smith, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
My Pick: Jane Fonda, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
The Winner: Gig Young, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
My Pick: Elliott Gould, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
The Winner: Goldie Hawn, Cactus Flower
My Pick: Susannah York, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
The Winner: Z (Algeria)
My Pick: Z
I wasn't completely enthusiastic about any of the best picture nominees this year. Z received a number of critics' awards, but I found it so low-key as to be rather dull. This is not the first, and certainly not the last, picture to make me wonder if members of critics' groups respond more to the ideology of a film than to the actual experience of watching it. The Oscar winner for best picture, Midnight Cowboy, is not without its flaws, but it is well directed and compelling, particularly after Joe Buck hits New York. This part of the film actually doesn't amount to much more than half the movie, and the first part of the film seems to me padded with an unnecessarily detailed account of Joe Buck's past. Still, of the nominees, I found it the most acceptable as a best picture winner. Even if the script was off in its overemphasis on the main character's backstory, the flamboyant direction by John Schlesinger was most accomplished and I had no qualms about seconding the Academy's choice of him as best director.
The Academy's choice of John Wayne as best actor for True Grit was panned by observers at the time, but when I saw the movie years after it was released I was impressed by both the movie and Wayne. (It strikes me as a better film than the year's most popular Western, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.) Still, I went for Jon Voight's remarkable star-making performance in Midnight Cowboy. The Academy gave its award for best actress to Maggie Smith in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Smith is a wonderful actress. But either she or the director decided to exploit her strength at character roles to make her Jean Brodie an eccentric, naively misguided Ms. Chips rather than the manipulative fascist sympathizer she has always seemed to me. (I would love to see what Vanessa Redgrave, who played the part on stage, would have done with the character.) I went instead for another star-making performance by a young actress, Jane Fonda's as the doomed marathon dancer in They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
The Oscar for best supporting actor went to Gig Young for They Shoot Horses, Don't They? But I preferred Elliott Gould in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. He came off as the most sympathetic person in the film, his character somewhere midway between the shallow trendies played by Natalie Wood and Robert Culp and his sour, uptight wife played by Dyan Cannon. The Oscar for best supporting actress went to Goldie Hawn for her charming film debut in Cactus Flower, but I opted for Susannah York as another marathon-dance contestant in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Even if I couldn't bring myself to support Z for best picture, I did select it for best foreign language film. It was just the best in a weak field. Some might have gone for the talky soul-searching of Eric Rohmer's My Night at Maude's, but I find this film even duller than Z. Biggest omission: The Wild Bunch for best picture, director (Sam Peckinpah), actor (William Holden), and supporting actor (Robert Ryan).
The Winner: Patton
My Pick: M*A*S*H
The Winner: Franklin J. Shaffner, Patton
My Pick: Robert Altman, M*A*S*H
The Winner: George C. Scott, Patton
My Pick: Jack Nicholson, Five Easy Pieces
The Winner: Glenda Jackson, Women in Love
My Pick: Glenda Jackson, Women in Love
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
The Winner: John Mills, Ryan's Daughter
My Pick: Chief Dan George, Little Big Man
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
The Winner: Helen Hayes, Airport
My Pick: Karen Black, Five Easy Pieces
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
The Winner: Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (Italy)
My Pick: Tristana (Spain)
This was the year the 1967 revolution in American film finally came to fruition, and the beginning of what just might be the most fecund five-year period in American movies. But you wouldn't know anything much had changed in the industry—or in the country, for that matter—from the Academy Awards for 1970. The Academy's choice for best picture was the flag-waving epic Patton. My choice was another picture about war, M*A*S*H, a film whose attitude toward the subject was as provocative as Patton's was traditional. In style and tone it was like no movie before it. The Academy gave the directing Oscar to Franklin J. Schaffner for his proficient work on Patton. I went instead for Robert Altman, whose innovative direction of M*A*S*H made it one of the most important and influential American films of the 1970s.
George C. Scott got the Oscar for best actor for his florid impersonation of Gen. George S. Patton. In 1961 he declined his nomination for best supporting actor for The Hustler. (He almost certainly would have won; instead George Chakiris won for West Side Story.) This time around, though, he didn't decline the nomination, just the award after he won it. My choice for best actor: Jack Nicholson, Five Easy Pieces, the first of a series of brilliant performances that made him the American actor of the 1970s. Best actress is the one major award where I did agree with the Academy: Glenda Jackson, Women in Love. None of the other nominated performances came anywhere near hers.
This year the Oscars for best supporting actor and actress went to two veteran performers who were likely recognized more for their entire film careers than for the performances that got them nominated. Best supporting actor was John Mills, Ryan's Daughter. That Oscar was a nice sentimental gesture, but for me the best performance of the year in this category was by Chief Dan George, who managed to scoop up most of the critics' awards, in Arthur Penn's comic Western Little Big Man. In another sentimental gesture, Helen Hayes was named best supporting actress for Airport, nearly forty years after being named best actress of 1931/32. My choice was Karen Black as Jack Nicholson's good-hearted but dim girl friend in Five Easy Pieces, with Sally Kellerman's memorable Hot Lips Houlihan in M*A*S*H a very close second. The nominees for best foreign film were another weak lot this year, with the best of them easily Luis Buñuel's Tristana, not quite the equal of his greatest films but nonetheless an excellent film with an eye-opening performance by Catherine Deneuve. Biggest omission: Little Big Man received only a single nomination, for Chief Dan George, with no nominations for best film, director (Arthur Penn), best actor (Dustin Hoffman in a tour de force turn), or best supporting actress (Faye Dunaway, showing an unexpected talent for comedy).
What are your picks for these years? You can search the Academy Awards Database for a complete list of nominees.
Labels: Academy Awards