1976

Main Events
– United States Bicentennial
– Son of Sam attacks
– Howard Hughes dies
– Apple company formed
– NASA unveils first space shuttle: Enterprise
– US Spacecrafts land on Mars

Winner: Rocky
 – All the President’s Men
– Taxi Drive
– Network
– Bound for Glory

Rocky  out ***1/2 of ****

Director: Sylvester Stallone
Starring: John G. Avildsen
Wins (3): Picture, Director, Film Editing
Nominations (10): Actor (Stallone), Actress (Shire), S Actor (Meredith), S Actor (Young), Original SP, Original Song, Sound Mixing
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Rocky is a good film and I would say that its goodness begins and ends with the fabulous script, which was written by Sylvester Stallone, himself.  It’s a solid story and in particular the dialogue is exceptional.  The film is rough at times, but it’s endearing and doesn’t come off as overly dramatic.  However, Rocky is not without its flaws.  I’m not sure I’m a fan of the structure and where they went with the story. There’s plenty of time leading up to the big fight, but during that time, they neither expanded on the lead-up to the fight, how and why they picked Rocky to fight, the rapidly evolving relationship between Rocky and Adrian nor further developing the story between Rocky and his manager, Mickey.  The lead-up to the fight consists of the, what is now a cliché, musical montage of Rocky jogging as well as a newscast of Rocky punching hanging meat.  A short scene of Apollo picking Rocky out of a picture lineup is all we get in explanation for how and why this is the lucky average Joe who gets the title shot.  Rocky’s relationship with Adrian, as lovely as it is, develops way too quickly.  She goes from destructively shy to one who’s having a lover is second nature.  That’s completely fine, but show us the development.  Goodness knows they had the time.  Also, Mickey’s role is confusing.  What very little we’ve seen of the old man is mostly coldness to Rocky and in the middle of the film we see that it’s because years before Rocky threw away his chance, even though he has a chance now.  By the time the big fight rolls around, I’m not convinced of their reconciliation, their friendship or even the need for a manager at all.  If they had shown Rocky’s desperate need for a manager and his having no other choice, then I would buy it.  The big fight itself was okay, but I don’t feel it was dramatized in a way that best suits the build-up to that point.  I would rather it be too little than too much because an overly-dramatized boxing scene is one of my Top 10 Worst Movie Cliché’s.  Despite the negativity of this blurb, I really do like the film and the best thing about it is the man, Rocky.  Flight of the Conchords sang of “Inner City Pressure” and I’m sure Rocky felt it as much as anyone.  He’s a good-natured, kind and honest man against the backdrop of a hard-nosed and rough inner city Philadelphia.

All the President’s Men  ****out of ****

Director: Alan J. Pakula
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford
Wins (4): S Actor (Robards), Adapted SP, Sound Mixing, Art Direction
Nominations (8): Picture, Director, S Actress (Alexander), Film Editing
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
I was shocked to learn, in mid-viewing, that I was watching this film on the anniversary of the Watergate Scandal.  I was also pleasantly surprised to find that such a convoluted and politically charged story based on actual events could be so riveting to watch.  All the President’s Men is a great example of a political film based on a true story done right.  It’s so easy to screw this up and, just like any other movie, the script has to be strong to pull this off.  All the President’s Men is adapted from Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s book that they wrote based on their actual first-hand experiences investigating these events and written for the screen by the versatile William Goldman.  What’s more, the Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford performances greatly benefited this film.  Big name actors with great, yet toned-down performances will do wonders for a film.  Jane Alexander’s supporting role is strong as well and foreshadows a future film, Kramer vs. Kramer, where she shares scenes with Dustin Hoffman again.  Another great thing about All the President’s Men is that you know there’s a political side that the film is coming from, but it doesn’t rely on beating to death any particular political party or belief.  As dense as the actual story really is, mystery is unveiled to us as the Bernstein and Woodward characters (Hoffman/Redford) stare deeper into the abyss even against the instruction of their superiors at The Washington Post.  The film needs nothing else, but an accurate portrayal of the truth.  All the President’s Men reenacts the story as well as it can from the perspective of these two journalists from both the perspective of their investigation and publishing the story at the Washington Post.  Maybe the events in the film aren’t portrayed exactly to a T, but there is no part of the film that feels over-dramatized.

Taxi Driver **** out of ****

Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Robert De Niro
Wins (0):
 Nominations (4): Picture, Actor (De Niro), S Actress (Foster), Original Score,
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Taxi Driver is a masterpiece.  Robert DeNiro gives, arguably, the best performance of his career as Travis Bickle, a Vietnam war vet and loner who has no real ambitions and simply seeks a job as a cab driver in order to work long hours.  A young woman, named Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), catches Travis’ eye as he drives the streets of New York.  What he lacks in ambition he makes up for in confidence and convinces her to go out with him.  It is during their incredibly awkward outing that we really see that there’s something not quite right with Travis.  He becomes obsessed with Betsy and goes to bizarre lengths to take out his aggression toward her.  Travis undergoes a complete transformation, toting guns and sporting a crazy hairdo and attempts to assassinate the Politian for whom Betsy works.  During Travis’ obsession, he befriends a very young and misguided prostitute, named Iris (Jodie Foster).  Narrowly escaping the authorities after a botched assassination attempt, Travis takes out his aggression on Iris’ pimp and all of the other men that contribute to her prostitution.  A bloodbath ensues and Travis is then misconstrued as some hero, instead of the psychopath of which we know him to be.  Taxi Driver exposes that thin line between hero and villain, psychopath and clear-thinker and how easily either side could be misconstrued for the other, both by society and the media.  Taxi Driver not only exposes it, but picks at it to the point of disturbance.  There are some really great standout scenes in this film, like when Travis meets an arms dealer in a hotel room to buy guns and of course the scene with Martin Scorsese himself as the cuckold.  The cinematography is really great with frequent shots of New York City at night with the camera attached to the taxi driving through the city showing the bright and blinking street lights and neon signs.  Many shots are just after a rain where the streets are wet and reflect those lights and signs shining down on it.  It’s an incredible dark and gloomy look at this reality, but nearly perfectly made.  Taxi Driver didn’t have a chance at winning Best Picture then and it still wouldn’t today.  It’s too dark; too harsh.  Still though, these films go down in the pantheon of the greatest films ever.

Network  **** out of ****

Director: Sydney Lumet
Starring: William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Peter Finch, Robert Duvall, Ned Beatty, Beatrice Straight
Wins (): Actor (Finch), Actress (Dunaway), S Actress (Straight), Original SP
Nominations (): Picture, Director, Actor (Holden) S Actor (Beatty), Cinematography, Film Editing
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Network is one of my favorite all-time films and is one of the best from the great Sydney Lumet.  The film has one of the premiere ensemble casts in the history of film.  Each actor, whether a large or small role, is meaningful and important to the overall film.  Peter Finch won the Supporting Actor award posthumously for his brilliant performance as Howard Beale, the news anchor turned lunatic.  William Holden and Faye Dunaway both give stupendous performances and make what is surprisingly a believable couple, romantically.  Television networks are willing to do anything for the ratings and we’re shocked to see just how far they will go.  Network was one of my very first forays into legitimate film.  It’s sleek cinematography and sharply written dialogue inside a corporate world obsessed with TV ratings was intriguing to me.  It is a dark satire on the news media of the time and it’s both shocking and satirically humorous, in the end, what they decide to do with the very personality they use to skyrocket their ratings.  The acting in Network is so good that a couple of actors get Oscar nominations basically from one scene each.  The first one is Ned Beatty’s brilliant board room monologue about the “state of things today” and the other is that of Beatrice Straight, who plays William Holden’s wife who’s been hung out to dry.  Straight’s and Holden’s breakup scene is some well acted melodrama, which earned her the nomination.  In fact, Network won the Oscar for all acting categories except for Supporting Actor (Jason Robarbs, All the President’s Men), which I think Beatty more than earned an Oscar for.  His monologue is that good. Network is a commentary on the state of the media of the day and how well this film holds up over time!

Bound For Glory **1/2 out of ****

Director: Hal Ashby
Starring: David Carradine
Wins (2): Cinematography, Adaptation Score
Nominations (6): Picture, Adapted, Costume Design, Film Editing
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Bound for Glory is Hal Ashby’s mixture of a road trip and biopic about the folk singer, Woody Guthrie.  David Carradine plays Guthrie, the guitar-playing, sign-painting fellow who can’t leaves his wife and three kids in the dust bowl of Oklahoma to find work in California.  Woody hops trains and rides and has some fun along the way with apparent ease finds his way into that promised land, California, though so many others could never bet past the state line.  Characters that Woody meets come and go throughout the film and there’s not really any finality to their presence, though I suppose reality can be that way.  Woody begins playing union-themed folk songs for those out of work poor folk who live in those little towns made of wooden shacks and cars.  Woody is discovered and the relentless fight between himself and the radio head honchos on about playing these union songs begins and ends only with the rolling credits.  Bound for Glory looks wonderful and there are some really nicely shot scenes, including one in particular with Woody and an acquaintance on top of a boxcar on a moving train.  The cinematography has this filtered and dreamy look at times and a grainy appearance at others.  The whole of the film has richness to its color.  The movie, itself, doesn’t grab me.  I’m not really a Woody Guthrie fan.  David Carradine’s not my favorite actor in the world and the story isn’t particularly well-told.

SHOULD HAVE WON:      Taxi Driver

Should Have Won:      Taxi Driver
It’s extraordinary that a year like 1975 can be followed with a year that almost matches it in quality.  4 of the 5 nominees are on the AFI Top 100 (Network, Taxi Driver, All the President’s Men, Rocky).  3 of the 5 nominees from 1976 could be seen as political (All the President’s Men, Network, Taxi Driver) and they all portray rather bleak outlooks on our society during that time.  Network and All the President’s Men shows what sick lengths people will go to for entertainment and success, Taxi Driver shows what sick lengths psychos with guns are able to go to and Bound for Glory shows what extraordinarily depressing lengths many people actually went through in order to survive.  So it’s conceivable that the Academy, not willing to be give in to this dirty image of society, would give the Best Picture to Rocky, a film that shows us that, though times are rough, the American dream is till out there for the taking.  A rough young man from the streets, but a hard-worker with a good heart, can still make it to the top.

Overall Year Score:      90%

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