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Winner: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
– Jaws
– Barry Lyndon
– Dog Day Afternoon
– Nashville

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest **** out of ****

Director:Milos Forman
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Brad Dourif, Danny Devito
Wins (5): Picture, Director, Actor (Nicholson), Fletcher (Actress), Adapted SP
Nominations (9): S Actor (Dourif), Cinematography, Film Editing, Original Score
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Milos Forman directs this brilliant film based on the 1932 novel written by Ken Kesey.  Jack Nicholson is the star of the show here, but the cast of characters, being mainly a band of mentally deranged individuals, isn’t lacking in entertainment value.  Nicholson plays Randle McMurphy, a prisoner transferred to the mental hospital where the film takes place.  McMurphy is easy going, always smiling or laughing and intent upon lightening things up and have a good time.  His light-heartedness, as harmless as they seem, causes him to not fully realize the seriousness of the fate that his continual insubordination will lead to.  Nicholson is brilliant in this role playing this likeable, yet self-destructive individual.   McMurphy, though silly, is genuine in his concern for the other patients and very quickly takes to forming friendships with them, especially the silent, Chief.  McMurphy also encourages the patients to fight against the establishment, one Nurse Ratched, played by Louise Fletcher.   Ratched is not humored by McMurphy’s behavior and, in the end, draws him into a horrific retaliation that sets his doom in one of the most deflating and heart-breaking endings to a film.  Both Nicholson and Fletcher won Oscars for their performances and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is only one of 3 films to ever sweep the major categories at the Oscars by winning Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay.  (It Happened One Night 1934 and Silence of the Lambs 1991).  Look out for an incredibly entertaining ensemble performance by a talented cast.  The synergy among this ensemble is something to be admired and some of the best parts of the film are the group sessions.

Jaws  **** out of ****

Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfus
Wins (3): Sound Mixing, Original Score, Film Editing
Nominations (4): Picture
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
There is virtually nothing wrong with this film.  Though, probably not thought of at the time, Jaws is about as close to a perfect movie as you can get and has been gotten since.  And what a great movie experience it is, too.  Jaws is based on the Peter Benchley novel about a gargantuan great white shark that attacks and kills swimmers on AmityIsland, bringing chaos to the island and its inhabitants.  There’s nothing better than that feeling of watching a film that is edge-of-your-seat entertaining while at the same time meeting those lofty requirements to which even the most pretentious of film snobs hold films to.  I’m not sure if this has ever been researched, but if one were to rank the best films with an acting trio, then Jaws would surely be at the very top.  A team of 3 individuals bring either the expertise or experience to the shark hunt.  Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and Quint the shark hunter (Robert Shaw) team up to form a shark hunting team and a truly great ensemble for the film.  Jaws is a stellar exercise in horror and suspense, but not at all without that Spielberg touch.  Where the film lacked in budget and manpower, in hindsight, yielded a product that turned out to be one of its strengths.  A mechanical shark malfunction led Spielberg to remove many traces of the shark altogether and rely on thematic tricks and the haunting John Williams score to speak for itself.  Only great filmmakers can make this happen and Spielberg is definitely that.  From its simple, yet gripping, opening to its neatly wrapped and vengeful payoff of an ending, Jaws is high intensity storytelling it its finest.

Barry Lyndon *1/2 out of ****

Director:Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Ryan O’Neal
Wins (4): Costume Design, Adaptation Score, Art Direction, Cinematography
Nominations (7): Picture, Director, Adapted SP
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
This film insists that you sit still with your hands in your lap and behave for the entirety of this nearly three-hour exercise in pretentious and exhaustive storytelling.  If you like watching a heart-broken Ryan O’Neal for upwards of 3 hours, then Barry Lyndon just might be the film for you.  The film documents the life and times of one Raymond Barry, an incredibly selfish, immoral and unethical individual who managed to claw his way to the top of society, traveling from Ireland to France to England riding on coat-tails and, at times, stabbing his unfortunate benefactors through the backs of the very coat-tails he is riding.  What I can appreciate about the film is Kubrick’s desire and efforts to use natural light whenever possible.  In particular, the indoor, candle-lit scenes are spectacular.  It’s just too bad that the substance of the scenes, the narrative, lacks anything worth putting on film.  Deservingly, the film won Costume Design, Adaptation Score, Cinematography and Art Direction.  Without a doubt, all of these awards are well-deserved.  However, Kubrick’s pretention shines through a little too much if only for the mere length of many of the scenes that drag on and on without any semblance of a payoff or, at the very least, a decent stopping point.  Scenes where little happens seem to go on and on for other reason that I can think of but to lengthen the running time of the film.  There’s no doubt that the Academy saw the need to give attention and show appreciation for Stanley Kubrick’s films, evidently still trying to make up for lost time and by doing so go too far in awarding the man and not the work.

Dog Day Afternoon   **** out of ****

Director: Sydney Lumet
Starring: Al Pacino
Wins (1): Original SP
Nominations (6): Picture, Director, Actor (Pacino), S Actor (Sarandon), Film Editing
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
The great Sydney Lumet, that master of movie-making efficiency, directs one of his many stellar films by adapting a P.F. Kluge article about an actual botched bank robbery.  In Dog Day Afternoon, Al Pacino emerges from the calm shell in which we’ve known him to be encased, as Sonny, a down-on-his-luck father, husband and boyfriend.  The script, written by Frank Pierson, is, perhaps, won of the greatest scripts ever written.  It’s got some of the greatest back and forth dialogue ever including especially the tense and hurried banter between the police mediator, Charles Durning and Al Pacino, which has this natural ad-libbed feel to it and captures the essence of such a situation.  Chris Sarandon’s performance as Sonny’s boyfriend is one of a kind and earned him a Supporting Actor nomination, but the entire cast entertains the audience by their performances, including the handful of young women who played the bank tellers/hostages in the bank.  Sonny doesn’t really scare us.  Though he’s robbing a bank and though his intentions for doing so were bizarre to say the least, his intentions were not to inflict harm.  We can tell by his countenance that he doesn’t really want to hurt anyone and the hostages believe this as well.  It’s the behavior of his quietly dangerous friend, Sal (John Cazale) that worries us.  This is the behavior of a true psycho path.

Nashville ***1/2 out of ****

Director: Robert Altman
Starring: Ned Beatty, Keith Carradine, Lily Tomlin, Henry Gibson
Wins (1): Original Song
Nominations (5): Picture, Director, S Actress (Blakley), S Actress (Tomlin)
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Nashville is Robert Altman’s epic film about the country music city that is Nashville.  Altman does what he does best in this film and that’s a manifold story-line plot involving many characters and many subplots that converge and diverge into and around one another.  Nashville, in a way, is a musical, with all of the actors writing their own songs (Keith Carradine winning the Oscar for his) to give it that touch of kitch and capturing that charm of country music.  As hokey as the songs are and self-aware as the actors are that perform them, the whole music thing really works here.  The film is like a product placement for legendary Nashville locations, most of which are still standing today.  Altman’s directing style and the way he shoots his scenes is unorthodox, but at times can really get great performances out of his actors.  However, Nashville comes very close to information overload.  There are almost too many things to be keeping up with here.  What I really appreciate about the film is how the characters require the audience to feel certain ways toward them and those “certain ways” have a very wide range.  There are some characters that we never like because of their coldness and horrible actions, but there are also those that we love because of their genuineness, though they too make mistakes.  Nashville is a very good film, but just like the seemingly constant sweeping and panning of Altman’s camera, the film itself wanders around and finally settling on an unsettling finale.

Should Have Won:      Jaws

1975 is arguably the greatest Oscar year ever.  In fact, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that all of the films in the Best Picture group are widely regarded as masterpieces.  What’s more, all films but Barry Lyndon and Dog Day Afternoon are on the AFI Top 100 movies list as well as my personal Top 100 at the time of this article.  It’s years like this that make this project, which is looking like it will take a total of 7 years to complete, well worth my time.  I can’t really argue with the fact that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest won Best Picture.  I have no qualms with that decision as it’s a brilliant film and, while if fits the mold of Best Pictures that have won in the past, it doesn’t have that “poster-boy” feel to it.  It’s not a safe pick in that its subject matter is dark, sad and uncomfortable.  However, Jaws is my favorite of the group.  I understand why it didn’t win Best Picture.  Among many other reasons, Jaws is too horror-flickish.  It’s too Hitchcockian, too scary and insinuates too much gore to win Best Picture.  Sydney Lumet is in the process of hitting one of the main peak of his career and Dog Day Afternoon, a great film, was too overshadowed by the others.  Barry Lyndon is epic and technically pristine and widely regarded as a masterpiece and the Academy were ready to anoint it with awards, but the payoff not being worthy, they gave it only the technical/artistic awards.  Nashville has a great cast, but much like Dog Day Afternoon, was just overshadowed by the rest.  If only they could all be this good.

Overall Year Score:         85%


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