Main Events
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–  NPR first broadcast

Winner: The French Connection
– A ClockworkOrange
–  Fiddler on the Roof
– The Last Picture Show
– Nicola and Alexandra

The French Connection *** out of ****

Director: William Friedkin
Starring: Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider
Wins (5): Picture, Director, Actor (Hackman), Adapted SP, Film Editing
Nominations (8): Supporting Actor (Scheider), Sound Mixing, Cinematography
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
The French Connection is fun and exciting to watch and it’s challenging to keep up with its pace.  Everything about it feels hurried what with an almost hand-held essence to the cinematography and a story that moves slightly faster than a New York Minute.  It’s a great inner-city loosely-moralled copper action flick where Popeye (Gene Hackman) and Cloudy (Roy Scheider) go out of their way and against orders from their superiors to expose what they are sure is a narcotics ring that extends all the way toFrance.    The story is told in an interesting, dramatic-irony sort of way where the audience knows that Popeye and Cloudy are correct in their hunch that there is, in fact, a drug ring, yet their superiors won’t give them free reign to investigate.  It’s an entertaining film with an intriguing story and it’s made exceptionally well, but I wouldn’t say it’s the Best Picture, though it is a great product of 70’s cinema.  It works as an action flick and a mystery and the cinematography, storytelling and performances are top notch, but The French Connection is just not a memorable film for me.

A Clockwork Orange  **** out of ****

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Malcolm MacDowell
Wins (0):
Nominations (4): Picture, Director, Adapted SP, Film Editing
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
What can I say?  It’s a disturbing film and I’ll never forget the first time I saw it hunkered down in my dark, dank and musty room in college watching it on my computer with headphones on.  I almost turned it off at around the 45 minute mark; or just after the infamous Singin’ In the Rain scene.  But I pressed on and, looking back, it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my entire life.  One must be in the correct mood in order to take this film in.  That or they need trusted peers to encourage them when they want to turn back.  A Clockwork Orange insists that you feel something when you watch it.  When taken into the context of time, it’s plain to see through Kubrick’s films that he remained steps ahead of every other director making films.  Kubrick seemed to always put style first, but very rarely did that ever take precedent over the substance of his films.  A Clockwork Orange takes place in a futuristic and stylistic world where the youth run rampant and have their way with the city and its inhabitants.  There’s more ultraviolence here than there are rotting teeth in a British mouth.  Kubrick injects his trademark style and pacing into the dystopian world of Anthony Burgess’ novel by the same name.  Kubrick makes a satirical comment on society, but at the same time he’s not so caught up in getting out some sort of message that he’s able to put together a masterpiece of a film.  A Clockwork Orange is not exactly an approachable film, nor is it mainstream.  However, it’s one of the greatest films ever made and if one gives it the time, they will assuredly appreciate it.

Fiddler on the Roof  ** out of ****

Director: Norman Jewison
Starring: Chaim Topol, Leonard Frey
Wins (3): Adapted Score, Sound Mixing, Cinematography
 Nominations (8): Picture, Director, Actor (Topol), Supporting Actor (Frey), Art Direction
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
This is a tough one.  I like musicals, but this music doesn’t exactly have me tapping my feet and singing along.  Fiddler on the Roof is adapted from the Tony Award-winning 1964 Broadway musical.  The film takes all the time it wants and the Hebrew-style music along with Tevye’s incessant narration from the first person made the film feel longer than all 8 nights of a Polish Hanukkah.    Fiddler on the Roof does something interesting in communicating a passing of time.  For instance, Tevye, upon speaking to his daughter and son-in-law, has one of those conversations with himself that only the audience can hear.  All of a sudden the audience can see that Tevye has wandered 50 yards away from his daughter and future son-in-law and has been talking for who knows how long.  It was confusing and removed me from the film.  The film picks up the pace during Tevye’s Dream, a number that takes place in a graveyard where Tevye is visited by all of the rotting, skeletal carcasses of his dead family.  It really is a turning point in the movie and one that perked my interest for the rest of the film.  What starts off has a lolly-gagging, light-hearted film turns rather serious in the second half when their persecution becomes more prominent and they are driven out of their homes.

The Last Picture Show   **** out of ****

Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Starring: Ben Johnson, Jeff Bridges, Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn, Cybill Shepherd
Wins (2): Supporting Actor (Johnson), Supporting Actress (Leachman)
Nominations (8): Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Bridges), Supporting Actress (Burstyn), Adapted SP, Cinematography
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
The Last Picture Show is the film adaptation of the book written by Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove, BrokebackMountain).  The film is set in 1951 in a rotting and dusty Texastown and centers around a young man, Sonny Crawford, and his friends over a period of about a year.  It’s an old-school version of the teen films that the ‘80’s and ‘90’s produced, though of course without all of the iconic music and heart-throbs and with a much better everything else.  The Last Picture Show is shot in a grainy, rough looking black and white and looks decades older than it really is, which works well since the film is set 20 years earlier.  It’s written incredibly well and has a cast that is more loaded than a Texaswino with 4 acting nominations and 2 wins: Cloris Leachman, who plays the lonely middle-aged wife who falls for Sonny and Ben Johnson, who gives an outright memorable performance as Sam the Lion.  Peter Bogdonavich does interesting things to keep the details of McMurtry’s semi-autobiographical novel close to accurate if only by subtle nuances and manages to intricately weave them through out the film indirectly.  The Last Picture Show is like a Friday Night Lights for the early 1950’s.  We never really see them play football, but in several scenes the youngsters are trolled by old men of the town for not winning the previous Friday night.  Oh, and by the way, the last picture show was Howard Hawkes’ Red River.

Nicholas and Alexandra *** out of ****

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Starring: Janet Suzman, Michael Jayston
Wins (2): Costume, Art Direction
Nominations (6): Picture, Actress (Suzman), Original Score, Cinematography
Rotten Tomatoes: 69%
For a film that runs over 3 hours and is as dense as the snow in a Russian winter, Nicholas and Alexandra is actually a rather engaging film, but it could just be me, because for some reason I tend to like any film that has anything to do with Russia.  It’s the story of the last Russian monarch, Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra, their relationship, family and the rise of political parties of Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky.  Nicholas struggles to remain in control of a stir-crazy Russian people and, his family having been in power so long, fails to listen to reason and perhaps lighten the damage to come.  He’s not made out to be some sort of dictator, but his people are desperate for a change and one that becomes a rather violent one.  The film shows the change in regime from Nicholas and Alexandra’s point of view and it’s not pretty.  One could easily compare this film to the boring, costume dramas of the 1960’s, but there’s a certain element existing in the film that makes it tolerable.  I suppose this mainly comes from the fact that its leading man, Michael Jayston, is subtle and lacking of that pompous air that might be found in leads 10 years earlier.  It also doesn’t have that look of hand-made sets one might find on a stage.  Not a lot happens and not a lot happens for a long time, but overall it’s a good film.

Should Have Won:      A Clockwork Orange

The French Connection doesn’t really stand out for me.  We’re getting into the thick of the 1970’s influence on cinema and I think, perhaps, that is why The French Connection won Best Picture.  It’s rougher than the standard film released at that time, yet it wasn’t offensive enough to warrant a scoffing from the Academy.  I think people were ready and willing to praise a film that runs off the beaten path and strays outside the mainstream.  It’s not the first film, by any means, but it was certainly in line with the movement of the tide at that time.  This is why, I think, A Clockwork Orange didn’t win Best Picture.  It’s too much.  It’s a brilliant film and not at all exploitative, but it understandably rubs some people the wrong way.  I think the Academy showed their appreciation for the work by giving it a nomination, but there was never any chance of it winning Best Picture.  The Last Picture Show falls right into the same lines as The French Connection, though its attention to sexuality, especially among teenagers, is probably what kept it from winning Best Picture, though it’s a much better film than The French Connection.  Fiddler on the Roof is the most approachable of the bunch, but doesn’t really line up with the way film was changing at that point in time, though it is most definitely better than those Period Pieces from the 1960’s….as is Nicholas and Alexandra, though less approachable.  A Clockwork Orange is the best film here, but this is coming from someone who has watched them over 40 years later.


Overall Year Score – 80%


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