– World Trade Center becomes tallest building in the world
– Roe vs. Wade
– The Dark Side of the Moon released
– Peace agreement with North Vietnamsigned
– Skylab launched
Winner: The Sting
– American Graffiti
– Cries and Whispers
– The Exorcist
– A Touch of Class
The Sting ****out of ****
Director: George Roy Hill
Starring: Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Robert Shaw
Wins (7): Picture, Director, Adaptation Score, Costume Design, Original SP, Art Direction, Film Editing
Nominations (10): Sound Mixing, Cinematography, Actor (Redford)
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
The Sting is a good, old fashioned caper tale that takes place in the 1930’s New York City. Great acting is what you would expect from such a cast that includes Robert Redford, Paul Newman and Robert Shaw and great acting is what you get. Though it takes place in the city, the film looks as if it was shot on a handmade, stunning-looking set. This, along with the exceptional art direction and costume design gives the whole production a unique touch of character. George Roy Hill composes a fantastic film and it’s for all of these categories and more that the film won Oscars; that is except for acting. The Sting is one of those rare films where the good guys win constantly and if you’re anything like me, that’s a good thing. Too much of the underdog tale or too much unnecessary suspense can really turn me off. This is not the case in The Sting. Even when you think our grifters have been beaten or hoodwinked, they are actually excelling at their confidence tricks and it’s all a part of the good guys’ plan. The Sting is about making the long con and the film itself is one super long con. In both cast and story, I can’t help but compare the film to Soderbergh’s Oceans series. As I’ve mentioned before on The Wizard of Oscar, the Newman/Redford combo of the late 60’s early 70’s is strikingly similar to the Clooney/Pitt combo of today, except that the older Newman resembles the younger Pitt while the younger Redford reminds me a lot of the older Clooney and when they’re ever cast together, all hell breaks lose. As always, a well-written script is essential in pulling a film together and David S. Ward wins the Oscar for his.
American Graffiti ****out of ****
Director: George Lucas
Starring: Richard Drefuss, Ron Howard, Harrison Ford, Cindy Williams, Candy Clark, Suzanne Somers
Nominations (5): Picture, Director, S. Actress (Clark), Original SP, Film Editing
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
This film is not nostalgic for me per se in that it doesn’t remind me of my younger days, but it’s plain to see how this film could have an incredible impact on those who spent their teenage years in the 60’s. Also, watching this film from almost 40 years off is pretty cool. All of these great actors are now old and it’s fun watching them do their thing at such a young age. Oddly enough, Candy Clark, the blonde who spends the evening riding around with the dorky, Terry, was the only won to get an acting nomination. For me, this is Richard Dreyfus’ best performance. There’s something cool and collective about his demeanor that doesn’t exist in most of his other performances and that causes me to see him in a different light. It’s pretty incredible to see that much of the film was shot in or around moving cars and I find it odd that the film wasn’t nominated for cinematography. There are several ongoing storylines, some are open-ended and some begin and end within the film, and characters that interweave. Another thing I like about American Graffiti is that it takes place all in one night. It’s about a group of high school friends on the night before many are going off to college. Others still have another year or more in high school. Friends say goodbye. Couples break up. Movies about teens today don’t get nominated for Best Picture. Also, props to George Lucas, who proves that at least some point in his career he was able to actually director actors to act, though without the presence of a green screen.
Cries and Whispers ***out of ****
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Starring: Harriet Andersson, Liv Ullman
Wins (1): Cinematography
Nominations (5): Picture, Director, Original SP, Costume Design
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
I have no idea what this film is about, but for some reason I really like it. It’s only slightly pretentious with its voice-overs and flashback sequences and frequent use of the color red. Cries and Whispers just has that certain something that catches my attention and allows me to remain impervious to boredom and my usual bout with ADHD. The film is 1800’s meets that typical Bergman Swedish style and it doesn’t outshine its substance. The film is both mundane and shocking, but never dull. It’s a story of 2 sisters who are at the home of their dying 3rd sister. The film, in sections, goes back in time and tells a small bit of back story of each of the sisters as well as that of the dying sister’s beloved maid. The audience sees a different side of each sister through their past as we observe their behavior towards one another in the present day. Both sisters that are well seem quite fond of their sickly sis, but are quite cold to each other. However, it doesn’t appear that they care very much for what happens to the estate of their dying sister nor the future of her maid. It’s the maid’s true devotion and love for the sick sister and the others’ flippant attitude toward her that pull creates an emotional attachment between the film and the audience. Though they speak a different language, it’s obvious that the acting was quite good. The cinematography by Sven Nykvist, who also won the Oscar, is one of the several great things about this film and Ingmar Bergman, the legendary Swedish director, earns his first Academy Award nominations for direction.
The Exorcist ***1/2 out of ****
Director: William Friedkin
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Jason Miller, Linda Blair
Wins (2): Adapted SP, Sound Mixing
Nominations (10): Picture, Director, Actress (Burstyn), S. Actor (Miller), S. Actress (Blair), Art Direction,
Cinematography, Film Editing
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
The Exorcist is one of the first films that introduced me to the idea that some films are better than other movies. I sat down early in my high school career to 3 different films that I watched alone, in my room and in the dark. The Exorcist was one of those films and it obviously made a pretty big impact on me and my love for film. One of the many things that I like about The Exorcist is that it sort of plays with the idea of Demon Possession juxtaposed against Mental Insanity. Doctors diagnose the young demon-possessed Regan (Linda Blair) with several different non-supernatural ailments and even perform a procedure that is as hard to watch as any of the demon scenes (they stick a needle into Regan’s neck). The doctors pin her behavior down to anything BUT demon possession. And even when they, themselves, enter Regan’s bedroom to find dishes flying at them they’re still not buying into it. Even Regan’s mother, Chris (Ellen Burstyn), takes a while before she is convinced. When Father Damian Karras goes to visit his mother in the mental hospital, the patients who are actually mentally ill think he can heal them of their illnesses just like in an exorcism. It’s this slight confusion between Possession and Mental Illness that the film successfully throws at the audience. But by the end, the film makes it plain that this young girl indeed has a fever for demon possession and the only cure is more exorcism. The Exorcist is not without its style, though. The flashback scenes remind me of the French New Wave style; silent scenes with quick, off-beat cuts.
A Touch of Class **out of ****
Director: Melvin Frank
Starring: George Segal, Glenda Jackson, Paul Sorvino
Wins (1): Actress (Jackson),
Nominations (5): Director, Original SP, Original Score, Original Song
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
This is a film about a married man, named Steve (George Segal), who lives in London while his wife and two daughters live inAmerica. Steve meets a divorced mother of one, Vicki (Glenda Jackson) and they, in a very business-like fashion, plan to have an affair. However, the two don’t just have the affair. They think it best to plan out an elaborate vacation to Spain together to consummate the relationship. This breaks 1 of my film-viewing rules where when some action within a film isn’t in conjunction with its cause I tend to withdraw from the film. I don’t stop watching, but I begin to resent the film. Be that as it may, they plan the trip. To their surprise, Steve’s wife, daughters and parents-in-law come into town and we spend about 20 minutes on the edge of our seat battling the tension of the possibility that Steve’s family might join him and his new girlfriend’s trip to Spain (unbeknownst to the family, of course). They do not go and that storyline is over. The next 45 minutes are an attempt at slapstick. The couple arrive in Spain to not a small number of inconveniences. They drive a terribly small car, switch rooms several times and run into a friend of Steve’s. Once settled, their big moment of glory never seems right so they force it and of course it’s a disaster and they fight. It would be one thing if all of this Spain business were the entire film. It’s not, though, and we return to London where the two, upon reconciling a pretty severed relationship rent an apartment together. We watch as Steve juggles a demanding job, time with his family and shoe-horning in this adulterous relationship that exists within this other apartment. It’s not funny. It’s not particularly well-written. The acting is decent, I suppose, but Jackson’s performance is most definitely not Oscar-worthy, even though she won.
Should Have Won: American Graffiti
This is a tough year with some really strong films in contention. None of the films really strike a strong chord with me, personally, but there’s no denying the quality. The Sting has virtually everything you could want in a film, not to mention the biggest duo of the time in Robert Redford and Paul Newman. It’s not the greatest film ever, but it fits that Best Picture mold. Everything about The Sting is great and its Oscar is more than deserving. I completely get why The Sting won. It is the epitome of Best Picture and I’m not disputing that. However, I might have to give the slight edge to American Graffiti, though my mind could change at any given second. American Graffiti, too has an incredible cast and the fact that the whole film seems to be moving, whether the actual camera is moving or the scenes in the cars are meant to suggest movement. I also understand why the Academy wouldn’t award a film about teenagers in the early 60’s, although many Academy members probably had kids that age at that time or perhaps were themselves teenagers in the early 60’s. However, it’s encouraging to see the Academy nominating such a young director in George Lucas. Cries and Whispers, while it deserves the acclaim it received, couldn’t win Best Picture then, nor could it now. Although today, the Academy would nominate at least one of those women for Supporting Actress. It’s foreign and bleak and doesn’t embody the definition of Best Picture. But again, it’s encouraging to see the Academy award such a stylistic foreign film. The Exorcist is too scary, harsh and polarizing to take home the big prize. A Touch of Class is the only film of the group that doesn’t belong and Glenda Jackson winning Best Actress is a head scratcher. That award should have gone to Ellen Burstyn in The Exorcist, the decadent Barbra Streisand in The Way We Were or Sissy Spacek in Bad Lands.
Overall Year Score: 83%
…you might also want to check out Terrence Malick’s Badlands.