Winner: The Deer Hunter
– Coming Home
– Heaven Can Wait
– Midnight Express
– An Unmarried Woman
Look, I already had this whole thing written out and ready to post and then my jump drive crashed hard so you’ll excuse me if I’m a little under-motivated in getting this thing churned out. I won’t begin to explain how far behind I am. However, I think this tragedy has brought about a new leaf in the Wizard of Oscar; brevity.
Director: Michael Cimino
Starring: Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep, John Cazale
Wins (5): Picture, Director, S. Actor (Walken), Sound Mix, Film Edit
Nominations (9): Actor (De Niro), S. Actress (Streep), Original SP, Cinematography
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
A 3-hour film naturally cut into 3 parts about a group of friends: Michael (De Niro), Steven (Savage), Nick (Walken) and Stan (Cazale), making their preparations before they departure for Vietnam including, Steven’s wedding followed by a deer hunting trip. This opening segment is an all-around moody setup one which the following two hours will boil and simmer. We immediately cut to a rough-looking riverside prisoner of war hut where our friends, Michael, Steven & Nick, are being held captive in an underwater cage full of river rats. That is, until they are brought out and forced to play Russian Roulette for their inhumane captors. This iconic scene deserves its place in film history as one of the greatest. DeNiro and Walken’s performances are so good (De Niro nominated for Lead and Walken winning the Oscar for Supporting) that they cement this scene in our minds. The final third of the film shows the loyal Michael’s return to Vietnam in search of his long lost buddy, Nick. Meryl Streep gives a wonderful supporting performance as did her real-life friend, John Casavettes. The Deer Hunter doesn’t necessarily attempt to comment on or expose the horrors of war, neither at war or at home, though it does expose us to jarring and disturbing wartime horror. Though the war scenes might be exaggerated (or not), the film, at least on a human level, is an honest film; one that we, as human beings, can relate to and that’s due in large part to the writing, directing and acting.
Director: Hal Ashby
Starring: Jane Fonda, John Voight, Bruce Dern, Penelope Milford
Wins (3): Actor (Voight), Actress (Fonda), Original SP,
Nominations (8): Picture, Director, S. Actor (Dern), S. Actress (Milford), Film Edit
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%
Coming Home is your basic Vietnam War movie where the real battle takes place at home. Not as refreshing as one might think, considering the fact that The Best Years of Our Lives did it over 30 years prior. At any rate, Coming Home is about Sally, a military wife whose husband, Bob, is being shipped off to war. Sally wants to help out the injured soldiers who have returned from Vietnam, so she starts volunteering at a military hospital, where she falls in love with Luke (Jon Voight), a veteran who is paralyzed from the waist down and whom we see mobile on a bed and paddling himself with walking sticks. To say that Luke and Sally getting involved in an affair would be a gross understatement. Yet, to go into detail of this affair would also be gross. Luke opens Sally’s eyes to a new world and, perhaps, to love for the very first time. Luke isn’t the only one dealing with the difficulties of returning home from war paralyzed. Bob returns home not with physical injuries, but a drinking problem and a broken heart. He comes home to find his wife is in love with someone else. I’m not the biggest Hal Ashby fan, though he’s a talented director and he surely has his own style and signature. Aside from the directing, the ensemble adds to the film, as well; getting nominations in each acting category. Jon Voight is the real star here, winning the Oscar for Lead and I have expressed my dislike for Jane Fonda’s acting in the past, who also won Lead. However, a film winning both Lead Actor and Actress is quite impressive.
Director: Warren Beatty & Buck Henry
Starring: Warren Beatty, Julie Christie
Wins (1): Art Direction
Nominations (9): Picture, Director, Actor (Beatty), S. Actor (Warden), S. Actress (Cannon), Adapted SP, Score, Cinematography
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
This is a complete joke of a film. For whatever inexplicable reason, this nonsense was nominated for Best Picture and it just might be one of the worst Best Picture nominees ever. Beatty is, Joe, the quarterback for the Rams, who dies. He refuses to go down that easy and demands that the angel double-check his list, the angel in charge does, indeed, consults a list and agrees that he wasn’t supposed to die yet. As a consolation, they allow him to take over the body of a greedy old man whose wife and her lover have just attempted to murder. About an hour in TV time go by of surprise, frustration, misunderstandings, the introduction of the Julie Christie character and more attempts to assassinate this old man; who by now, being embodied by Joe, isn’t so greedy and mean. This old man buys the Rams and convinces his old trainer who he really is and what’s really happened to him and to train him to get back into shape. Naturally, Joe falls in love with the Julie Christie character. We only see Beatty’s body, despite the fact that he is in command of someone else’s and I don’t doubt that this is in order to keep Beatty’s big beautiful mug on the screen. He appoints himself the QB of the rams and miraculously leads them to the Super Bowl during which he is tackled and killed. Joe then takes over the body of the back-up quarterback, and wins the game. Again, we see Beatty, not the back-up quarterback’s body. After the game, Joe ‘s memory is wiped and he lives the life of this person new person. Joe remembers nothing; not even Julie Christie, yet they leave together and we are meant to think they fall in love and live happily ever after. Chalk this one up to Hollywood’s love affair with Warren Beauty Beatty.
Director: Paul Mazursky
Starring: Jill Clayburgh, Alan Bates
Nominations (3): Picture, Actress (Clayburgh), Original SP
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
With the late 70’s comes a lack of boundaries between parents and children. As seen in The Goodbye Girl, An Unmarried Woman, too has issues with boundaries with her daughter. Although, An Unmarried Woman is loads better than The Goodbye Girl. Erica (Jill Clayburgh) and Martin (Michael Murphy) live in a nice Manhattan apartment and make no bones about their sex life in front of their daughter because Sue, upon coming home from school, asks if they have their door closed because they are having sex. Any kid who might think for a second that that is what was going on would immediately put it out of their mind and make no more mention of it. Not the case here and, frankly, I’m not sure if this is realistic or not. It just seems weird. Erica and her friends have this whole Sex and the City thing going on with the meeting up at hot spots, having drinks and talking about their marriages, sex lives and affairs. Martin leaves Erica for another woman and as he breaks the news to Erica in a way that would resemble someone recalling the moment they first met their true love. What I mean to say is what kind of soulless lunatic would have such a lack of tact to bend the ear of his wife with this news. He’s telling his wife he cheated on her as if it’s a classic love story and as if she would be happy for him. Guys, being single is hard! That’s what An Unmarried Woman is trying to tell us. Times are tough and Erica gets through it with the help of some therapy and with the edgy conversations with her girlfriends, which now include her young teenage daughter.
Director: Alan Parker
Starring: John Hurt, Brad Davis, Randy Quaid
Wins (2): Adapted SP, Score
Nominations (6): Picture, Director, S. Actor (Hurt), Film Edit
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
This has the look and feel of a Lifetime movie and the writing is just as amateur as if it were written for that network. That is quite something since the screenwriter for the film is none other than Oliver Stone, who actually won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. That’s a head-scratcher right there, folks. This film is an adaptation of Billy Hayes’ autobiographical book that he wrote based on his experience attempting to smuggle marijuana from Turkey to the U.S. and his extended and unfair imprisonment in a Turkish prison. I say it’s unfair because after serving about 3 years, which was the duration of his original sentence, they slapped a life sentence on him. Alan Parker directs this film and somehow manages to back his way into the group of Best Picture nominees in much the same way that the 2012 Notre Dame Football team blundered their way into the National Championship. Billy is put into prison and is visited by his father. The dialogue that they exchange is more small talk than the type of conversation that a father and son might have when the son is in a horrible, foreign prison. Billy rots away and all the while, his friends, played by Randy Quaid and John Hurt, are constantly trying to find ways of escaping. Billy’s girlfriend finally pays him a visit and manages to sneak in money to bribe the guards with. In the end, Billy escapes in a pretty hair-raising way and one that might skirt the truth a bit. The film is mediocre on its best day. Parker and Stone, can’t seem to get the tone they want out of the script nor can they get their characters to have conversations that resemble people in such a predicament. Midnight Express should not have been nominated.
Should Have Won: The Deer Hunter
There is no discussion on what should have won Best Picture in 1978. Despite the fact that The Deer Hunter is in this group, this was a pretty weak year. It seems that with the late 70’s come weaker films and it’s only marginally better in 1979. Heaven Can Wait and Midnight Express are complete jokes. An Unmarried Woman tries too hard. It’s a pretender, though it and Coming Home are the only other decent movies in the group.