– Richard Nixon forced to resign as President
– SearsTower becomes world’s tallest building
– Hank Aaron beats Babe Ruth’s home run record
Winner: The Godfather Part II
– The Conversation
– The Towering Inferno
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, John Cazale
Wins (6): Picture, S. Actor (De Niro), Director, Art Direction, Original Score, Adapted SP
Nominations (11): Actor (Pacino), S. Actor (Gazzo), S. Actor (Strasberg), S. Actress (Shire), Costume Design
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Coppola achieves a hitherto unmatched feat by very nearly perfectly completing his film adaptation of Mario Puzo’s novel with The Godfather Part II. This film delves into the back story of Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) in Italy, his coming to America and his rise to the top of organized crime; all of which are brilliantly explained with beautiful technique and style while the present day happenings and goings on of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) expanding the family business to Las Vegas are told as a parallel storyline. When I think of The Godfather Part II, the first thing that comes to my mind is the exquisite lighting that exists especially in the back story scenes of a young Vito. The golden flames inhabiting those old lamps not only give light to the scene, but also add a noir element and give the scenes that aged looked that it benefits so much from. It is indeed quite amazing the feat of Francis Ford Coppola. These two separate films are each their own film and story. Yet, they are each a masterpiece in their own right, combining to tell one amazing story. Vito and Michael, two of the heads of the Corleone family are terrible people, but they are our protagonists and this makes the films all the more gripping. Aside from its technical achievements, The Godfather Part II helps to tell one of the greatest crime/mafia tales ever told. Much like the two heads of these families that don the name, “The Godfather” films also are quiet, calculated and cold.
Director: Roman Polanski
Starring: Faye Dunaway, Jack Nicholson, John Huston
Wins (1): Original SP
Nominations (9): Picture, Director, Actress (Dunaway), Actor (Nicholson), Cinematography, Costume Design, Sound, Film Edit, Score
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Roman Polanski directs this neo-noir set in Los Angeles and centering on a water scandal uncovered by private investigator, J.J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson), who finds himself getting in a little deeper than he originally anticipated when he’s hired to investigate the not too alarming disappearance of a Water and Power engineer. Chinatown is quite a noir film of old, but with only the necessary updates from modern-day technicalities, like color. Faye Dunaway plays Evelyn Mulwray, the femme fatale of sorts and John Huston, in a wonderful supporting role that tragically wasn’t nominated, plays the powerful Noah Cross. Just like those hard-boiled crime novels of old, Chinatown’s story develops quickly and Gittes, like many P.I.’s of the genre, catch on to what’s happening perhaps a little quicker than the audience; keep us slightly out of the know. Jack Nicholson’s performance is great as Gittes, who is as fearless and hard-nosed as they come. And though he may blur the lines of right and wrong when it comes to his detective work, Gittes, like many of the best crime novel private P.I.’s, is immovable in his ethics. Chinatown is a beautifully shot film with a story that is both intriguing and gradual in moving, but takes a swift and abrupt and dark turn at the end, both catching us off guard and enlightening us with the revelation of more than just the Water and Power mystery.
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Cindy Williams, Harrison Ford, Robert Duvall
Nominations (3): Picture, Original SP, Sound
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
The Conversation is a patient and quiet film, much like the work of Harry Caul (Gene Hackman), a brilliant sound surveillance specialist for hire and protagonist, who expertly records peoples’ conversations. Worried at what horrible ends the present couple in question might meet due to the conversation he has recorded, Harry attempts to take matters into his own hands. Harry’s confidence in his own understanding of the situation never wavers and the ensuing twist that comes later is quite a magnificent turn of events, to say the least. Aside from the main story at hand, The Conversation deals heavily with the man, Harry, and his detachment from society and his inability to have a normal, intimate relationship due to the business he is in. Francis Ford Coppola pulls double duty and releases two films this year. The Conversation was released in April and The Godfather Part II in December. Amazingly, both films are exceptional and easily belong in the group of best films of 1974. I cannot end this compendium without mentioning the quite beauty of one Cindy Williams, of whom I can’t help but compare to a modern-day Zooey Deschanel. The Conversation has a loaded cast that also includes John Cazale and the young Harrison Ford and Robert Duvall. Notice how this paragraph did not compare The Conversation to The Godfather Part II. And why would I?
Director: John Guillermin, Irwin Allen
Starring: Everybody and their mothers
Wins (3): Cinematography, Film Editing, Original Song
Nominations (6): Picture, S Actor (Astaire), Sound, Score
Rotten Tomatoes: 77%
The Disaster Film genre saw it’s most successful period of time in the early 70’s and The Towering Inferno is probably one of the best of its kind. Unfortunately, disaster films really don’t hold up as far as I’m concerned. One can easily attribute this depreciation to special effects. Special effects become obsolete rather quickly and that really doesn’t help matters and in the case of The Towering Inferno, which involves the burning of an extremely tall building. The effects involve lots of scenes with miniature models. Not that this is the only reason for Disaster Films not holding up, though. Much like Airport (1970), The Towering Inferno has a loaded cast with several storylines that take place (like most disaster films) and much like Airport, many actors in the film are from the 50’s era of acting (Astaire, Holden) and their acting style, especially in high pressure and intense situations, is not very convincing. Another thing that prevents The Towering Inferno from holding up (and most other disaster films) is the way the disaster is handled in the film. It’s laughable what some of these characters do to ignore obvious warning signs and their behavior around the fire, with the benefit of almost 40 years space between now and then, is quite unrealistic. This is exposed due to the fact that stuff like this has happened in real life since and we know these procedures are not to be true. Fred Astaire has a bit part and is nominated because he’s Fred Astaire. The Towering Inferno is by no means a bad film and it was obviously well-received at the time, but it doesn’t stand the test of time.
Director: Bob Fosse
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Valerie Perrine
Nominations (6): Picture, Director, Actor (Hoffman), Actress (Perrine), Adapted SP, Cinematography,
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
This is easily the best year of the decade so far and that’s without having seen Lenny. The term, “neo-noir”, could be used to describe most of the films nominated this year. The Godfather Part II, Chinatown and The Conversation all have elements of a noir style: The Godfather Part II in its tone and art direction, Chinatown in its mere essence and The Conversation in its mystery and its loner, saxophone-playing protagonist. I’ll say it again, one cannot look past the fact that 40% of the films in the Best Picture group were directed by one, Francis Ford Coppola and they are likewise films which, without question, belong in the discussion of Best Picture of the year. One becomes more awestruck when one considers the fact that he hasn’t made a decent film in about 20 years. But can someone please tell me why The Godfather Part 2 didn’t get nominated for Film Editing? Only 7 Best Picture winners were not nominated for Film Editing (10%). John Huston should have been nominated for Supporting Actor and I can say that, having seen both films, Fred Astaire seemed to only be nominated for his very brief performance in The Towering Inferno because he was old and loveable and represented a different era of film. But didn’t John Huston, also? 1974 was a fantastic year. Be on the look out for an update once I’ve seen Lenny.
Other Films Worth Mentioning
Murder on the Orient Express is directed by Sydney Lumet and has a stellar cast, including the stunning performance of Albert Finney, who plays detective Poirot as well as Ingrid Bergman, who won Supporting Actress.
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is a great film, if not one of his lesser known, directed by Martin Scorsese and stars Ellen Burstyn, who won Best Actress as well as Kris Kristofferson.
Young Frankenstein is the Mel Brooks parody of Frankenstein starring Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Teri Garr and Cloris Leachman.