1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979
* Indicates that the film/performance was not nominated for an Academy Award in this category

 

1970
Patton
Actor: George C. Scott (Patton)
Actress: Glenda Jackson (Women in Love)
Supporting Actor: John Mills (Ryan's Daughter)
Supporting Actress: Helen Hayes (Airport)
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner (Patton)
Little Big Man*
Actor: George C. Scott (Patton)
Actress: Glenda Jackson (Women in Love)
Supporting Actor: Chief Dan George (Little Big Man)
Supporting Actress: Sally Kellerman (M*A*S*H)
Director: Robert Altman (M*A*S*H)
 

Patton, the Academy's choice for Best Picture, boasts one of the greatest, most charismatic performances in film history from George C. Scott in the role of World War II hero General George S. Patton, Jr. The intense actor had already shown his skill at playing demagogic military figures in Dr. Strangelove, and he manages to elevate every scene in Patton in which he appears to a higher level by the sheer alchemy of his presence (it is hard to imagine that he was only cast in the role after Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, and Rod Steiger had turned it down). But take Scott (and the haunting musical score by Jerry Goldsmith) out of the mix, and Patton crashes to the ground as a forgettably acted, unimaginatively directed run-of-the-mill war movie. Particularly disappointing are the dramaless battle scenes, which look like they were thrown together on an empty lot in the San Fernando Valley. And the film's climax where a German beaurocrat takes the time from desperately destroying incriminating documents as Berlin falls to reflect on an 8"x10" glossy of the general is nothing short of laughable.

Not nominated for Best Picture was a far more courageous and cohesive film, Little Big Man. Not taken as seriously in its own time as the comparable Dances With Wolves, Little Big Man is actually far more successful at showing the humanity of the Native Americans because it avoids the Kevin Costner epic's path of maudlin sanctimoniousness in favor of laugh-out-loud comedy. The Native Americans depicted in Dances With Wolves are fabricated idols of nobility designed to manipulate. The ones in Little Big Man are flawed, soulful human beings who are designed to be alive. And unlike Patton (which lives and breathes on the powerful shoulders of George C. Scott), Little Big Man offers a dazzling ensemble of delightful performances surrounding Dustin Hoffman's brilliance in the title role: Faye Dunaway, Martin Balsam, Richard Mulligan, Jeff Corey and most especially Chief Dan George (who received the film's only nomination) all deliver wonderfully memorable characterizations.


Helen Hayes had a brief period of movie stardom in the 1930s before realizing that her true calling was as one of the most distinguished theatre actresses of the 20th century. She made only 16 credited film appearances in her career, being awarded two Academy Awards on the basis of her awesome theatrical reputation. Her 1931/32 Best Actress Oscar for the forgotten The Sin of Madelon Claudet was at least awarded for a superior performance, but her 1970 Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Airport was the worst kind of sentimentality, and anointing her silly cameo as an eccentric little old lady who makes a habit of stowing away on jetliners to visit her daughter as superior to the nominated Sally Kellerman in M*A*S*H, Karen Black in Five Easy Pieces, Lee Grant in The Landlord, or the unnominated Faye Dunaway in Little Big Man, Ruth Gordon in Where's Poppa?, Jeannie Linden in Women in Love - oh, hell; just pick the name of any female member of the Screen Actors Guild who appeared in a movie in 1970 out of a hat, and you'd have as good a choice as the Academy made.


George C. Scott made history by turning his back on the Oscars in 1970 because he didn't respect the Academy's taste, and when one considers what was nominated it's easy to see his point. Little Big Man's near shutout in the Oscar nominations would be puzzling in any year, but it was particularly confusing in 1970, when the Academy nominated not one, but two, cynical pieces of populist drivel for the Best Picture Award. Love Story and Airport were both badly written, appallingly acted box office smashes which received multiple nominations. The Academy, the self-appointed elite of the art of filmmaking officially considers the plywood posing of Ryan O'Neal in Love Story to be markedly superior to Dustin Hoffman's tour de force as Jack Crabb. Helen Hayes' cutesy-poo cameo in Airport is authoritatively established as more skillful than Faye Dunaway's sexy and manipulative Mrs. Louise Pendrake. And George Seaton's collection of stereotypical episodes that make up the Airport screenplay has been anointed as more memorable than Calder Willingham's brilliant job of adapting Thomas Berger's novel to the screen. (Dick Smith's astonishing makeup for Hoffman as the 120 year old Jack Crabb would have been a no-brainer for the Best Makeup Award had it been given at the time, but in retrospect the Academy voters of the period probably would have given it to something like Godfrey Cambridge's attempts look like a white man in Watermelon Man, with the end result being closer to a burn victim.) It's a good thing these experts are around to point out what constitutes real quality, or else we'd go to our grave not recognizing true art when we saw it.

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1971
The French Connection
Actor: Gene Hackman (The French Connection)
Actress: Jane Fonda (Klute)
Supporting Actor: Ben Johnson
(The Last Picture Show)
Supporting Actress: Cloris Leachman
(The Last Picture Show)
Director: William Friedkin (The French Connection)
The Last Picture Show
Actor: George C. Scott (The Hospital)
Actress: Jane Fonda (Klute)
Supporting Actor: Ben Johnson
(The Last Picture Show)
Supporting Actress: Cloris Leachman
(The Last Picture Show)
Director: Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show)
 

The Academy tossed aside their usual preference for pretentious prestige pictures in 1971, selecting a slam-`em-up cop movie as the year's best. Bypassing more typical Best Picture nominees like the inspiring Fiddler on the Roof or the dreary Nicolas and Alexandria, they went with the exciting cop melodrama The French Connection, only the second Best Picture in history to feature a police officer as its central character (the first was In the Heat of the Night in 1967). Energetically directed by William Friedkin and wonderfully acted by Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider, The French Connection nevertheless seems like a lackluster Best Picture today in part because of the many derivative rip-offs that it spawned. But even taken on its own merits, The French Connection is a fairly empty diversion; a wonderfully made entertainment that features an almost incomprehensibly confusing plot and bone-rattling violence, and hardly a film that continues to reverberate inside you after the final credits role.

Film students would select Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange as the year's best, but it was a highly controversial in its own day (it and Midnight Cowboy remain the only X-rated Best Picture nominees); and while there is no denying its savage intensity, it continues to polarize its audiences. Some consider it among the greatest films ever made, while others think that its relentless brutality makes it unwatchable. Of greater universal appeal is Peter Bogdanovich's brooding coming-of-age drama The Last Picture Show. Only his third film after the chilling apogee to Boris Karloff's career, Targets and the best-forgotten Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women, the limitless promise that Bogdanovich displayed with this moving tale of small town angst only sporadically materialized in the decades since. But watching the stellar acting of Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn, Randy Quaid, Jeff Bridges, Timothy Bottoms, and (to a far lesser degree) Cybil Shepard and (to a far greater degree) Ben Johnson, it's exciting to imagine contemporary audiences' expectation of the greatness that was surely to come.


The Academy sprang back from the embarrassing picks of 1970 with much saner choices this year, and while we may not agree with all of their selections, we can certainly see the logic behind them. Therefore we'll zero in on the choice of The Garden of the Finzi-Continis for Best Foreign Film, not because it was bad choice (although it was not on a par with director Vittorio de Sica's best work), but because it presents one of the more amusing complications in Oscar history. One of the films The Garden of the Finzi-Continis was selected over for Best Foreign Film was Jan Troell's The Emigrants. But because the Foreign Film Oscar is on a different timetable from the others, The Emigrants was up for awards in other categories the following year. In 1972, it was nominated for several awards, including Best Picture. But since The Emigrants was considered one of the five best pictures of 1972 but inferior to The Garden of the Finzi-Continis in 1971, it would seem to indicate that not only would The Garden of the Finzi-Continis be a certain Best Picture nominee in 1972 (since it had already been declared as superior to The Emigrants), but that all five Best Picture nominees for 1972 were better than anything that wasn't nominated in 1972. So, my friends, it's official that the interminable Nicolas and Alexandria is a better movie than Sleuth, The Heartbreak Kid, Limelight, The Candidate or Play It Again, Sam. We just wanted to clear that up for you.


As with the costume design awards, the Academy gives a leg up to art directors who design settings that predate the 20th century. This trend continued in 1971, with period pieces Fiddler on the Roof, Mary, Queen of Scotts and Nicolas and Alexandria all vying for the top prize, with the stupefyingly boring Nicolas and Alexandria taking the award home for its predictably opulent depiction of royal decadence in pre-revolution Russia (the two nominees with modern settings - The Andromeda Strain and Bedknobs and Broomsticks - ironically had much more imaginative art direction than the winner). It is a rare thing when a contemporary films win the art direction prize (only three films that won the award in the 1970s - All the President's Men, Heaven Can Wait and All That Jazz - were set in the decade that they were made). This is an unfortunate trend, since films set in contemporary settings face far greater demands in rising above their familiarity. Few designers faced this challenge more successfully than John Barry, Peter Sheilds and Russell Hagg for their sterile conception of 1971 England in A Clockwork Orange. Every room in which the ultra-violent "protagonist" Alex de Large sets foot in has an antiseptic, dehumanized atmosphere that seems to feed his sociopathic rage and contributes a performance as integral to the success of the film as the superb work of Malcolm Macdowell or Patrick Magee. Barry had a distinguished career as a designer before his untimely death in 1979, winning an Oscar for his indelible work on Star Wars. But both Shields' and Hagg's output as artistic directors was sparse - Hagg only served in that capacity on one other occasion, for 1968's Girl on a Motorcycle, and Sheilds' only other screen credit was as the assistant designer on the cult classic The Conqueror Worm.

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1972
The Godfather
Actor: Marlon Brando (The Godfather)
Actress: Liza Minnelli (Cabaret)
Supporting Actor: Joel Grey (Cabaret)
Supporting Actress: Eileen Heckart
(Butterflies are Free)
Director: Bob Fosse (Cabaret)
The Godfather
Actor: Al Pacino (The Godfather)
Actress: Liza Minnelli (Cabaret)
Supporting Actor: James Caan (The Godfather)
Supporting Actress: Claire Bloom (Limelight)*
Director: Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather)
 

1972 was a very strange year for movie awards, as the Academy managed to honor The Godfather and snub it at the same time. One of the most eagerly anticipated films ever made, The Godfather didn't disappoint, featuring an iconic performance by Marlon Brando and star-making ones by Al Pacino, James Caan and Robert Duvall, dynamic direction by Francis Coppola, and one of the most quoted and memorable scripts in film history. After toppling The Sound of Music as the all-time box office champ, The Godfather was the overwhelming favorite at the Oscars and took home the Best Picture award. Yet the Academy's admiration for The Godafther was grudging at best, allotting its only additional awards to Marlon Brando as Best Actor and for the film's screenplay. The movie the Academy really seemed to prefer in 1972 was Bob Fosse's comparatively forgotten film of the stage musical Cabaret, giving it eight awards, the most ever awarded for a film that didn't go on to win Best Picture. With the landmark status now afforded The Godfather, some of the awards Cabaret was given seem very peculiar indeed (especially Fosse's selection as Best Director over DGA winner Coppola and Best Supporting Actor Joel Grey over Pacino). Cabaret is a fine film on its own merit, but compared with the masterpiece that is The Godfather, it simply ceases to exist.

But an overview of the awards given out that year is surprising: the only other major awards group that named The Godfather their Best Picture was the Golden Globes. Cabaret also won that honor from the Golden Globes (who split their classifications in two for drama and musical/comedy), as well as the BAFTA Awards and the National Board of Review (the New York Film Critics gave the award to Cries and Whispers, which was not eligible for the Oscars until the following year). Yet the AFI named The Godafther the third greatest film ever made on its 1998 compilation of the hundred greatest films and it is listed as number one on IMDb.com's list of the 250 top-rated films (Cabaret is not included on either list). It's difficult to come up with a reason why "experts" were so grudging in their appreciation of The Godfather when it came out, but time has settled the injustices and the film is now firmly settled in its place as one of the great works of art in movie history.


When NBC aired An Evening With Fred Astaire in 1958, the landmark special won an unprecedented nine Emmy Awards. But the only award Astaire won personally, Best Single Performance by an Actor, caused a major controversy; because while his indelible charm and magnificent dancing made the show one of the most memorable in television's Golden Age, his performance couldn't really be categorized as acting. Joel Grey's Best Supporting Actor winning-turn as the Master of Ceremony in Cabaret falls into a similar situation, because while there is no denying his brilliance in singing and dancing the numbers in the title setting or that he provides a chilling presence, the role does not require him to create a characterization where he truly interacts with the other characters. He has no dialogue in the role, and the character (which is really nothing more than a dramatic device) does not have what acting students typically describe as "an arch." In a lesser year it might not have mattered, but 1972 offered some of the greatest acting ever seen in supporting film roles. The best of these were from The Godfather, which garnered a record-tying three supporting nominations for Al Pacino (who really should have been nominated - and won - in the Best Actor category), James Caan and Robert Duvall, but which offered equally impressive work by Sterling Hayden, John Marley, and particularly by the underappreciated Richard Castellano (who The Godfather author Mario Puzo felt was robbed of a nomination). Enduring work was also offered by Eddie Albert in The Heartbreak Kid (whose nominated performance would have deserved the award if The Godfather crew hadn't been in the running), the never-nominated but always-memorable Howard DaSilva in 1776, Ned Beatty in Deliverance, Alistair Sim and Arthur Lowe in The Ruling Class, and (what would have been admittedly a strictly sentimental choice) the great Buster Keaton, who had died in 1966 but was eligible in this category when his performance in Chaplin's Limelight was finally shown in Los Angeles twenty years after it was made.


When considering artists who were absurdly overlooked by the Academy Awards, names like Charles Chaplin, Greta Garbo and Edward G, Robinson invariably come up. But as integral to the list is cinematographer Gordon Willis, who was the name behind such gloriously photographed films as The Landlord, Klute, The Paper Chase, The Godfather: Part II, All the President’s Men, Annie Hall, Interiors, Stardust Memories, The Purple Rose of Cairo, and Manhattan, receiving a total of zero nominations for that impressive roster. But Willis must have known what he was up against when his landmark work on The Godfather was overlooked, in a year when the Academy chose to honor such conventionally photographed films as 1776, Butterflies are Free and Travels With My Aunt. Willis finally received his first nomination for Zelig in 1983, and wasn't honored again until the Academy nominated what was arguably his weakest effort, the lamentable Godfather Part III.

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1973
The Sting
Actor: Jack Lemmon (Save the Tiger)
Actress: Glenda Jackson (A Touch of Class)
Supporting Actor: John Houseman (The Paper Chase)
Supporting Actress: Tatum O'Neal (Paper Moon)
Director: George Roy Hill (The Sting)
American Graffiti
Actor: Jack Nicholson (The Last Detail)
Actress: Barbra Streisand (The Way We Were)
Supporting Actor: Randy Quaid (The Last Detail)
Supporting Actress: Candy Clark (American Graffiti)
Director: George Lucas (American Graffiti)
 

The Academy went Hollywood in 1973, awarding Oscars to big budget, big profit bubblegum flicks like The Exorcist, A Touch of Class, and the biggest and most enjoyable bubblelicious funfest of all, The Sting. This Depression-era tale of con men and their marks is a joy ride of cinematic delight, served up flawlessly by the charming performances of Paul Newman and Robert Redford, the fast-paced direction of George Roy Hill, and the hairpin corner-turning script of David S. Ward (who was unjustly accused of plagiarism for his wonderful screenplay, a scandal that sadly derailed his career), and cemented the trend for "Buddy" films started by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. But as entertaining a movie as The Sting is, it is not a film that engages the emotions. It is diverting to see Redford and Newman outwit the cartoonishly sleazy Robert Shaw, but we always are very aware that the characters in the film are the slick creation of Hollywood's Dream Factory, not relatable human beings. Henry Gondorff and Johnny Hooker might have all the moxy and guile that Ward's typewriter could muster, but they lack a soul.

It's ironic that the Oscars were a testament to such trifles, because the year offered a wealth of soulful films about serious subjects that continue to resonate in the collective heart. Cries and Whispers, Last Tango in Paris, The Last Detail and Mean Streets were all powerful films (as opposed to the movies the Academy preferred this year) that are still enthusiastically viewed and discussed by discriminating cinémeastes despite their dismissal by the entertainment elite in their year of release. But the most affecting and adult movie of all is about a group of young people just on the cusp of adulthood, ironically made by the biggest popcorn filmmaker of all. George Lucas' American Graffiti is a tale of four recent high school graduates cruising the streets on a summer night in Modesto. Teenage audiences can relate to to the youthful soul-searching that their screen archetypes go through, while adult viewers know that the resolutions they come to are only the beginning of the journey, not the end. Lucas has directed only six films in his career, and with the exception of American Graffiti they have all been summer science fiction movies that are firmly rooted in a teenage mentality. It was only when he made a film about teenagers that Lucas ever showed his adult side.


Melvyn Douglas refused to show up to collect his 1979 Academy Award for Being There because he thought it was ridiculous that one of the nominees was eight year old Justin Henry in Kramer Vs. Kramer. Douglas had a point, because while there have certainly been some magnificent performances by child actors (Jackie Cooper in The Champ, Mary Badham in To Kill a Mockingbird, Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense), most preteen thespians achieve success only because of a skillful director who is able to manipulate them in a way that is unnecessary with experienced professional actors (Shirley Temple was the outstanding exception). One of the best examples of this was Tatum O'Neal in Paper Moon, whose by-the-numbers depiction of a precocious Depression-era junior con artist was much more the product of Peter Bogdanovich's directorial abilities than of the acting skills of a ten year old prodigy. What's more, Tatum's role as Addie Loggins in unquestionably the largest one in the film, giving her a decided advantage in the "Supporting" Oscar race over actresses who actually were playing secondary roles. After the success of Paper Moon, Tatum enjoyed a brief vogue as a child star in films like The Bad News Bears and Little Darlings before returning to the anonymity she clearly deserved, with only an occasional television appearance to immortalize the mediocre acting ability that she always had.


In Stardust Memories, Woody Allen lampooned his fans' fondness for his "early, funny films" after his work took a bittersweet turn with Annie Hall. But while these youthful efforts are undisciplined and somewhat juvenile, they offer an originality that was unique in Hollywood of the time. Allen's screenplay for Sleeper, while certainly suffering from an anemic budget and Allen's immaturity as a director, is far fresher and more inventive than the relatively conventional scripts for Save the Tiger or A Touch of Class which were nominated in its place. Despite the protests of comedy purists, the Academy didn't take interest in Allen until his work dealt with increasingly serious themes, ultimately nominating him for more Oscars than any other writer and giving him the award for Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters. But his "early, funny films" continue to delight.

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1974
The Godfather, Part II
Actor: Art Carney(Harry and Tonto)
Actress: Ellen Burstyn
(Alice Doesn't Live Here, Anymore)
Supporting Actor: Robert DeNiro
(The Godfather, Part II)
Supporting Actress: Ingrid Bergman
(Murder on the Orient Express)
Director: Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, Part II)
Chinatown
Actor: Jack Nicholson (Chinatown)
Actress: Liv Ullman (Scenes from a Marriage)*
Supporting Actor: Robert DeNiro
(The Godfather, Part II)
Supporting Actress: Madeline Kahn
(Blazing Saddles)
Director: Roman Polanski (Chinatown)
 

The Academy may have been feeling a trifle guilty about giving their top award to an empty-headed entertainment flick in 1973, so they turned around the following year and awarded one that was stupefyingly somber. The success of The Godfather, Part II came as something of a surprise on Oscar night, as no sequel had ever won the big prize before (indeed the only sequel that had received a nomination for Best Picture was The Bells of St. Mary's in 1945, the film that Michael Corleone had ironically just seen when he learned of the assassination attempt on his father in the original). And while the continuation of the Corleone saga won the Best Director awards from the DGA and the National Society of Film Critics, it was not named Best Picture by any other major awards group prior to the Oscars. Still, it is a brilliantly acted film (equaling its predecessor's mark of three nominations for Best Supporting Actor for Lee Strasberg, Michael V. Gazzo and winner Robert DeNiro; with comparably superior work by the unnominated John Cazale and Robert Duvall) and a worthy successor to its unforgettable first part, although Coppola and Mario Puzo's Oscar winning screenplay takes the characters from being spectacularly successful thugs in the original to major players on the world political stage in the second, a leap that does not always defy credibility.

1974 was a wonderful year for movies that saw classics like Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, The Three Musketeers, and Scenes from a Marriage (which certainly would have been nominated for - and probably won - Best Actress for Liv Ullman if the film had not been declared ineligible because it had been shown on Swedish television prior to its theatrical release) bypassed for a Best Picture nomination in favor of the powerhouses Lenny and The Conversation (the selection of the potboiler The Towering Inferno for the Best Picture final five can only be ascribed to the deep pockets of 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros., who co-produced the film). But the 800 pound gorilla of 1974 was Roman Polanski's Chinatown, one of the seminal films of the decade and arguably the greatest detective movie ever made. This spellbinding tale of incest and intrigue centering around Los Angeles' water crisis during the 1930s received only a single award, for Robert Towne's masterpiece of a screenplay. In retrospect it should have swept the awards, winning Best Picture, Best Director for Polanski, Best Editing (over the inexplicable win for The Towering Inferno), Best Art Direction, and particularly Best Actor for Jack Nicholson, who turned in the greatest performance of his blue chip career.


When Ingrid Bergman won Best Supporting Actress for Murder On the Orient Express she spent her acceptance speech apologizing to Valentina Cortese, who Bergman felt should have won for Day for Night. It was a classy gesture (although insensitive to the other nominees, who were equally deserving of the award), especially as the brilliantly talented Bergman turned in one of her least memorable performances as a "backwards" missionary in the Agatha Christie whodunit; not even the best supporting turn in the film (that honor surely belongs to the pushy diva of Lauren Bacall) much less the movie year. In less competitive years the Academy does like to turn the supporting categories into testimonials for screen legends whose performances might not be considered against stronger competition (Helen Hayes in Airport, George Burns in The Sunshine Boys, James Coburn in Affliction), but 1974 was a watershed year in film acting, and to turn the award into a sentimental tribute to Bergman (who had already won two Best Actress prizes) showed extraordinarily poor timing on their part.


Art Carney’s selection as Best Actor for the relatively forgotten (and forgettable) gentle comedy Harry & Tonto was considered a major surprise on Oscar night, with the award being anticipated to go to Jack Nicholson in Chinatown. Carney had only won one other major award for the story of an elderly man who makes a cross-county journey with his pet cat, the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Actor - Musical/Comedy. The fact that the other nominees in this category were Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in Billy Wilder's regrettable remake of The Front Page, James Earl Jones in Claudine and Burt Reynolds in The Longest Yard was a good example of what a joke the Golden Globes were in this era, because they overlooked what is arguably the greatest comedy performance in the funniest film in the history of motion pictures: Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein. Wilder’s snub by the Academy was a little less inexplicable than the Globes because he was bypassed for recognition by superb work by Nicholson, Al Pacino in The Godfather, Part II and Dustin Hoffman in Lenny; but to honor Carney (a marvelous stage and television actor who gave a splendid, though hardly award-worthy performance in Harry & Tonto and whose only other notable big screen appearance was in the 1977 comedy The Late Show) or fifth nominee Albert Finney in Murder on the Orient Express over Wilder’s unforgettably manic and hilarious characterization is an indication of how little regard the Academy has for broad comedy. Young Frankenstein was only nominated for two awards in this strong year, for Wilder and Mel Brooks’ one-of-a-kind screenplay (losing to The Godfather, Part II in an honorable, though debatable decision) and Best Sound. When looking at some of nominees in other categories, it is inconceivable to think what the Academy considered superior to this immortal classic: The Towering Inferno for Best Picture, John Cassavetes for A Woman Under the Influence over Brooks for Best Director, Jeff Bridges in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot over Marty Feldman or Peter Boyle for Best Supporting Actor, or the genuinely ludicrous selection of Ingrid Bergman in Murder on the Orient Express over Cloris Leachman for Best Supporting Actress. Wilder was only nominated for one Oscar for acting, for his sublimely silly Leo Bloom in another Mel Brooks classic, The Producers. After his double-whammy in 1974 of Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles (another classic that was absurdly under-rewarded at the Oscars) Wilder fell into a lamentable period of auteurism; writing, directing and starring in such flops as The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975), The World's Greatest Lover (1977), and Haunted Honeymoon (1986) while the quality of Brooks’ films also went into decline as his acting roles got more and more prominent in them. But when Mel Brook and Gene Wilder were working together, they were a monster partnership.

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1975
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Actor: Jack Nicholson
(One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest)

Actress: Louise Fletcher
(One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest)
Supporting Actor: George Burns (The Sunshine Boys)
Supporting Actress: Lee Grant (Shampoo)
Director: Milos Foreman
(One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest)
The Man Who Would Be King*
Actor: Jack Nicholson
(One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest)
Actress: Isabel Adjani (The Story of Adele H.)
Supporting Actor: John Cazale (Dog Day Afternoon)*
Supporting Actress: Louise Fletcher
(
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest)*
Director: John Huston (The Man Who Would Be King)*
 

The Academy continued with its Serious is Superior philosophy in 1975, anointing the depressing One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest as Best Picture, a powerful film that finds its charismatic protagonist lobotomized and brutally suffocated by its end. It boasts a stunning performance by Jack Nicholson (who finally won the Oscar that had eluded him after a string of magnificent performances that is equaled only by the masterful half decade that jump-started Marlon Brando's film career), but is an incredibly somber work whose ultimate descent into tragedy and defeat is almost unbearable to watch. Three of the other Best Picture nominees are almost as grim (Dog Day Afternoon, Nashville and especially the breathtakingly beautiful but stupefyingly boring Barry Lyndon), with only the exciting blockbuster Jaws providing any entertainment (its failure to win the Best Picture Award was the first time that an all-time box office champ didn't win the prize, with previous record blockbusters Gone With the Wind, The Sound of Music and The Godfather all taking home the Oscar).

Almost completely overlooked in the nominations was John Huston's brilliant and madly enjoyable film adaptation of Kipling's The Man Who Would Be King. Huston had attempted for decades to get the project off the ground, originally as a vehicle for Humphrey Bogart and Spencer Tracy and later for Paul Newman. But good things are worth waiting for, and the ultimate casting of Michael Caine and Sean Connery (and Christopher Plummer [pictured] as Rudyard Kipling) is so perfect that it seems inconceivable for any other actors to even be considered. The Man Who Would Be King was nominated for a paltry two awards (for art direction and Huston and Gladys Hill's screenplay), doubtless because of the perception that such an entertaining movie couldn't possibly have artistic merit as well.


The Academy recently considered doing away with their awards for documentaries and short subjects, feeling that those categories were obsolete in today's movie world. It is a good thing they reconsidered, not only because such modest films benefit more from Oscar recognition than the big budget features that is the Academy's bread and butter, but because the makers of such works (who invariably face bigger obstacles with a far smaller payoff than your Steven Spielbergs or James Camerons) generally give the most heartfelt and memorable acceptance speeches on Awards Night. But the documentaries branch has been particularly controversial in recent years, not only because they have bypassed such highly-regarded films as The Thin Blue Line, Hoop Dreams, Roger & Me and Crumb for nominations, but the films they do honor are frequently regarded as inferior to others in the running. Such was the case in 1975 when the Academy selected The Man Who Skied Down Everest as the year's best, a monotonous film about Japanese skiier Yuichiro Miura's attempt to ski down the summit of the title, most of which shows his extensive preparation for the event and ends with him disastrously tumbling down the side of the mountain. It is a sluggish film (narrated by Douglas Rain, who provides the same dull monotone that he gave to Hal, the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey) that raises some serious (and unanswered) questions about the shallowness of the journey - six men died on the ascent just for the sake of Miura's ski vacation. The film was hardly superior to the other four nominees, especially Walter F. Parkes' and Keith F. Critchlow's gripping account of members of the American Nazi party, The California Reich.


1975 was an appallingly weak year for movies, so it's stunning that so many outstanding achievements were overlooked in the nominations. Steven Spielberg was considered such a sure thing for his direction of Jaws that a documentary crew filmed his witnessing the announcement on television with the expectation of following him along through the awards process, only to see him bypassed in favor of inferior work by Robert Altman and Stanley Kubrick. John Cazale only appeared in five films in his career before his untimely death from cancer, all of which were nominated for Best Picture. Cazale was never nominated for his acting, although his stellar performance as Al Pacino's partner in crime in Dog Day Afternoon was one of the best of this weak year. But the most outstanding oversight was the omission of The Man Who Would Be King in so many categories, especially Best Picture, Best Director for John Huston, and Best Actor for both Sean Connery and Michael Caine. In a stronger year it might not have mattered, but when perusing some of the films and performances that were selected (Barry Lyndon, Nashville, Maximilian Schell in The Man in the Glass Booth, James Whitmore in Give `em Hell, Harry!), it seems a particularly curious snub.

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1976
Rocky
Actor: Peter Finch (Network)
Actress: Faye Dunaway (Network)
Supporting Actor: Jason Robards
(All the President's Men)
Supporting Actress: Beatrice Straight (Network)
Director: John G. Avildsen (Rocky)
Network
Actor: Robert DeNiro (Taxi Driver)
Actress: Faye Dunaway (Network)
Supporting Actor: Jason Robards
(All the President's Men)
Supporting Actress: Lauren Bacall (The Shootist)*
Director: Sidney Lumet (Network)
 

Now it seems inconceivable to think there was a time when Sylvester Stallone was compared favorably to Marlon Brando, but that was precisely the impact he had on critics with his sensitive performance as Rocky Balboa. In the decades since, of course, Stallone has proved himself to be a woefully inept actor whose star-making characterization proved to be an aberration, with his leaden work on films like Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, Rhinestone, Driven, Rambo, and Over the Top proving to be a far better indication of his nonexistent dramatic abilities. Still, he was excellent as Rocky, and the film itself is an exciting, if somewhat manipulative diversion. Its spectacular, unexpected success upon its release was due in no small part to Stallone's brilliant marketing of himself as an underdog hero much like the protagonist of the film (a far cry from his subsequent career, in which he became famous for commanding massive upfront fees for movie duds that failed to even make his salary back at the box office). But based on its own merits, Rocky is little more than a highly formulaic sports movie chalk-full of clichéd characters with a 1940s sensibility. It is an entertaining movie, but more for its familiarity than for offering anything original to the history of film.

Original is the only word for Network, which provided a spellbinding blueprint for the future of network television that seemed nothing short of apocalyptic in 1976. But in our current age of the Fox network and reality television, the antics of Howard Beale and The Mao Tse-tung Hour seem more like an inevitability than the cautionary omen that screenwriter Paddy Chaevsky intended and has even more relevance with each passing year. The film also provides a showcase of brilliant performances, particularly a perfectly cast Faye Dunaway (pictured) giving the finest performance of her career, although the Oscars given to Peter Finch for his one-note secondary role as Howard Beale and Beatrice Straight for her forgettable cameo as William Holden's wife now seem like woefully bad selections for standout recognition. But with wonderfully complex work by Holden and Robert Duvall, an intelligent, clever screenplay by Chaevsky and precision-perfect direction by Sidney Lumet that should have finally won him the Oscar he had always been denied in his stellar career, Network is a genuinely unique film and a far better selection for the year's best.


Beatrice Straight's Oscar-winning performance in Network offered her only a little over five minutes of screen time, and with the scene-stealing histrionics of William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Peter Finch, Robert Duvall, and Ned Beatty going on around her, it's astonishing that anyone even remembered her presence in the film, much less voted it Oscar-worthy. Straight was a distinguished theatre actress (she won a Tony for the original Broadway production of The Crucible) and teacher who had the amazing good fortune to find herself cast in a small, but juicy role in a popular prestige picture in an incredibly weak year for female supporting roles; but even amongst such flimsy competition Straight's glorified cameo never should have done more than round out the field. Among her co-nominees, Piper Laurie in Carrie and Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver made far greatest impact than Straight, but the omission of Lauren Bacall in her change-of-pace role as a stern but compassionate widow in The Shootist, the underrated valedictory to John Wayne's career, seems a particularly glaring oversight in such a weak category.


John Wayne
received two Academy Award nominations in his long career, for The Sands of Iwo Jima in 1949 and for his Oscar winning performance in True Grit twenty years later. He would have received Hindsight Award nominations for both these performances and won the award for The Searchers in 1956, but he should have been honored a final time for his film farewell in The Shootist. The role of John Bernard Books, a legendary gunfighter dying of cancer, was a courageous one for Wayne who faced many of the challenges the character went through as the film's blurring of fantasy and reality gave it a moving poignancy. Don Siegel's flat direction and the casting of a myriad of familiar actors best known for television work drags the film down as the characters are immediately identified as the famous faces playing them rather than as individual human beings, but Wayne's dignified portrayal (matched by the aforementioned Lauren Bacall as the boardinghouse owner he rents his final room from) lifts the film to a level it's impossible to imagine another actor taking it to.

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1977
Annie Hall
Actor: Richard Dreyfuss (The Goodbye Girl)
Actress: Diane Keaton (Annie Hall)
Supporting Actor:Jason Robards (Julia)
Supporting Actress: Vanessa Redgrave (Julia)
Director: Woody Allen (Annie Hall)
Annie Hall
Actor: John Travolta (Saturday Night Fever)
Actress: Diane Keaton (Annie Hall)
Supporting Actor: Peter Firth (Equus)
Supporting Actress: Vanessa Redgrave (Julia)
Director: Woody Allen (Annie Hall)
 

Woody Allen made his debut as a film writer/performer with 1965's What's New, Pussycat, and was never so much as considered for an Academy Award for the string of madly enjoyable screenplays and comic performances he supplied to films like The Front, Play It Again, Sam and Love and Death - films that were admired, but not taken as seriously as such Oscar-approved classics as Hello, Dolly!, Airport or Nicolas and Alexandria. But with the release of the masterpiece Annie Hall, he was suddenly hailed as one of the greatest filmmakers in the history of cinema who could do no wrong, turning out an almost nonstop string of unforgettable achievements like Manhattan, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Hannah and Her Sisters, Broadway Danny Rose, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Bullets Over Broadway and Radio Days. Then, just as suddenly, Allen could do no right and his subsequent output - Celebrity, Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Anything Else, Hollywood Ending, Melinda and Melinda - weren't only not up to his usual high standard, they were terrible. It's difficult to determine how Allen's gifts so suddenly blossomed and how they equally suddenly burned out, but it's safe to say that when he was at his best, there was never a more unique voice in American film. And it is a credit to the Academy that with such predictable Best Picture offerings as Julia, The Turning Point and the blockbuster Star Wars available to choose from, they selected a heartfelt little romantic comedy as the year's best. Annie Hall was the first comedy selected as Best Picture since the far more pretentious Tom Jones in 1963, but time has vindicated the selection as one of the decades' best.


1977 was one of those rare years where the Academy's selections were almost universally impeccable, and it's painful to have to pick a "worst" among such fine choices. Richard Dreyfuss' performance as a struggling actor in Neil Simon's The Goodbye Girl was actually a brilliant characterization, and certainly worthy of the award - which made him at the time the youngest winner of the Best Actor Award, and following a string of successes like American Graffiti, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and Jaws, one of the most exciting new talents in film. But as good as Dreyfuss was in The Goodbye Girl, there is no denying that he is somewhat mannered and has a tendency to relish in his own cuteness in the romantic comedy. His Oscar win was a surprise, as the award was expected to be the sentimental choice of Richard Burton for his exceptional performance in the flawed but wonderfully acted film version of the play Equus. But the performance of the year was actually the young John Travolta, whose astonishing work as Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever capitulated him to the top level of stardom with blockbusters like Grease and Urban Cowboy to follow. Both Dreyfuss and Travolta were in their twenties at the time of their professional surge and seemed unable to handle its pressure as their careers took nose-dives after their initial success and required a major comeback film (Dreyfuss in Down and Out in Beverly Hills and Travolta in Pulp Fiction) to put them back on track. Of the two, Dreyfuss has had by far the more distinguished acting career on both stage and film, but 1977 belonged to Travolta.


The Oscars were slow to warm up to the influence of popular music in the 1970s, and while The Beatles and Isaac Hayes were awarded statuettes during the decade, nominations usually went to members of the old guard like Henry Mancini and Burt Bacharach. The Academy showed their most blatant disregard towards Pop by snubbing the Bee Gees' song score for Saturday Night Fever in 1977, not only the best selling album of the decade but the best use of popular songs to set the atmosphere of a film since The Graduate. It's impossible to fault the selection of the mega-smash "You Light Up My Life" as Best Song, but for the Academy to say that forgotten nominees like "Candle on the Water," "Someone's Waiting For You" or "The Slipper and the Rose Waltz" were better songs or had a greater impact on the films in which they were created for than "Stayin' Alive" is enough to suggest that there was a conspiracy against the Disco movement by the Academy. Not such a bad idea in retrospect, but certainly not in keeping with the ideals that the Best Song Oscar is supposed to represent.

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1978
The Deer Hunter
Actor: Jon Voight (Coming Home)
Actress: Jane Fonda (Coming Home)
Supporting Actor: Christopher Walken
(The Deer Hunter)
Supporting Actress: Maggie Smith (California Suite)
Director: Michael Cimino (The Deer Hunter)
Coming Home
Actor: Jon Voight (Coming Home)
Actress: Ingrid Bergman (Autumn Sonata)
Supporting Actor: John Hurt (Midnight Express)
Supporting Actress: Maggie Smith (California Suite)
Director: Ingmar Bergman (Autumn Sonata)*
 

1978 was by far the worst year in movie history, with the only truly memorable Hollywood release being the grandaddy of all teenage gross-out comedies, National Lampoon's Animal House. In the Oscar race, the battle was between the first two major studio release to deal with the Vietnam War, The Deer Hunter and Coming Home (a third Vietnam-themed film, Go Tell the Spartans, was also released that year - which made no impact in the Oscar race despite being more highly praised in some quarters than the two Award winners). Both films give the war the Hollywood treatment - Coming Home is a highly romantic love triangle centering around a handsome paraplegic war veteran whose sexual performance is strangely unaffected by his injuries, while The Deer Hunter takes shocking liberties with the facts, showing the American POWs being forced to play Russian Roulette for the amusement of their captors - a completely fictional device which depicts the Viet Cong as nothing more than subhuman barbarians and reduces The Deer Hunter into as much of a propaganda film as The Green Berets. This wouldn't matter if The Deer Hunter was the powerful statement on the war that it presents itself as, and not the pretentious bore that it really is. Coming Home is anything but boring - no less a glamorous soap opera than Peyton Place, it boasts powerful performances by Jon Voight, Jane Fonda and Bruce Dern and makes a brave stab at enacting the struggles real life veterans faced on their return home. In another year, a slick melodrama like Coming Home would have to battle for a nomination, but in the abyss of 1978, it was the best that Movieland had to offer.


No film career has undergone the staggering highs and lows of Michael Cimino. After winning universal praise and the Academy Award for The Deer Hunter, he quickly plunged himself into the legendary depths of Heavens Gate, a financial disaster of epic proportion that ended his brief stint as a major player in Hollywood. In retrospect, neither extreme seems fair. While Heavens Gate never found its audience (to put it mildly), it is a highly watchable film that some overzealous fans have vainly tried to award the mantle of "classic" to counterbalance its infamous reputation. But his critical zenith for The Deer Hunter is equally undeserved, as it is a leaden-paced borethon that received undue praise because it had the gimmick of being ostensibly set within the context of the Vietnam War. With the inventive work of Waldo Salt for Coming Home, Alan Parker for Midnight Express and Woody Allen for Interiors in the running (and the great Ingmar Bergman being overlooked), Cimino's bust in the Oscar Hall of Fame now seems strangely out of place.


With the dearth of quality films released this year, the Oscars recognized more films of dubious quality than usual. This was especially apparent with the nine nominations for Heaven Can Wait, a humdrum remake of the 1943 classic Here Comes Mr. Jordan that netted nominations for Warren Beatty in the Best Picture, Actor, Screenplay (with Elaine May) and Director (with Buck Henry) categories, tying the record set by Orson Welles in 1941. Beatty's recognition for such a mediocre entry can only be ascribed to his marketing genius and the fact that competition was so scarce in this weak year. But on closer examination, it seems astonishing that Beatty received his Best Director nomination over one of the greatest filmmakers ever - some would say the greatest - who produced one of his finest films. The great actress Ingrid Bergman made headlines in 1978 by making her return to Swedish film in Ingmar Bergman's Autumn Sonata, a devastating drama about a famed concert pianist coming to grips with her estranged relationship with her daughter (brilliantly played by Liv Ullman). This magnificent adult drama was nominated Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay for the two Bergmans, but not for Ullman or for Bergman's compelling direction. In a stronger year the omission might have been written off to the Academy's prejudice against foreign language films, but to say that the Beatty/Henry tandem or Michael Cimino did a better job of direction than the great master Bergman indicates an ignorance that is nothing short of astounding.

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1979
Kramer Vs. Kramer
Actor: Dustin Hoffman (Kramer Vs. Kramer)
Actress: Sally Field (Norma Rae)
Supporting Actor: Melvyn Douglas (Being There)
Supporting Actress: Meryl Streep
(Kramer Vs. Kramer)
Director: Robert Benton (Kramer Vs. Kramer)
Manhattan*
Actor: Peter Sellers (Being There)
Actress: Sally Field (Norma Rae)
Supporting Actor: Melvyn Douglas (Being There)
Supporting Actress: Meryl Streep
(Kramer Vs. Kramer)
Director: Woody Allen (Manhattan)*
 

Kramer Vs. Kramer was the overwhelming favorite for Best Picture in 1979, winning not only the Academy Award but being anointed by most of the other year-end movie awards as well. The film is a well-acted, diverting melodrama about a father trying to retain custody of his son (played by eight year old Justin Henry, who ludicrously received a Best Supporting Actor nomination over performances like Laurence Olivier in A Little Romance, Michael Murphy for Manhattan, Ron Leibman in Norma Rae and Paul Dooley in Breaking Away) after the boy's mother walks out on them. It is an engaging but highly conventional film that seems more important than it is because of the big name talent involved. In fact Kramer Vs. Kramer has a highly offensive aspect to it, as Hoffman's character is virtually deified in the film for assuming challenges that countless single mothers go through on a daily basis. But if Kramer Vs. Kramer had simply switched genders and been about a single mother trying to raise her son after the father walked out, there would have been no film because the premise would have been too commonplace to hold our interest.

1979 deserved a better Best Picture than this, and there were some astonishingly challenging films in the running that the Academy overlooked in favor of the ultra-safe Kramer Vs. Kramer. All four of the other nominees for Best Picture now seem stronger choices - All That Jazz, Apocalypse Now, Breaking Away and Norma Rae - and are much more courageous and powerful creations than the slick Kramer Vs. Kramer. None are perfect - the front-runner today would probably be Francis Coppola's Vietnam allegory Apocalypse Now - which for all its pictorial splendor is a pretentious muddle that doesn't seem connected with the real war in Vietnam in any way (it could easily have been set in World War II without missing a beat). The finest and most cohesive film of the year was Woody Allen's Manhattan, a brilliant drama about neurotic, self-involved New York intellectual elite. The film received the Best Director citation at the New York Film Critics Awards but received scant attention at the Oscars, receiving only two nominations for Screenplay Written for the Screen and Mariel Hemingway as Best Supporting Actress.


The Academy's devotion towards the formulaic Kramer Vs. Kramer seems puzzling in any year, but with so many fine entries in the running it seems nothing short of cowardly. Both All That Jazz and Apocalypse Now, while certainly highly flawed films, were much more courageous in following their filmmaker's personal visions than the much more conventional Oscar winner. Breaking Away and Norma Rae were far more honest than Kramer Vs. Kramer, whose convenient ending that depicts the mother returning the boy to the custody of his father after winning it in court seems tacked on simply to supply us with a happy ending. And non-nominees Being There and Manhattan were both more highly original than then Academy's choice, whose predictable structure held no surprises for the viewer. Kramer Vs. Kramer is a fine film for what it is, but it wasn't the best picture of 1979 or any other year.


The most surprising category was cinematography, with breathtaking work by Caleb Deschenel for The Black Stallion and especially perennial snub Gordon Willis for Manhattan being bypassed in favor of the forgettable photography of Kramer Vs. Kramer and The Black Hole. Woody Allen's seminal work received only two nominations (for Mariel Hemingway's supporting performance and its screenplay) in a year that it should have dominated, with awards for Best Picture, Director and Original Screenplay, and nominations for Art Direction, Best Supporting Actor for Michael Murphy and Best Actress for Diane Keaton. But the outstanding distinction of the film was Willis' cinematography, and his bold work on Manhattan signaled a brief renaissance of black and white photography and which was surely the most courageous film achievement of 1979, in addition to being the best.

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THE TOP 10
FILMS OF
THE 1970s

1
The Godfather

2
Chinatown
3
Annie Hall
4
Young Frankenstein
5
The Godfather, Part II
6
Network
7
Manhattan
8
The Last Picture Show
9
A Clockwork Orange
10
American Graffiti

BEST MALE
PERFORMANCE Al Pacino
in
The Godfather

BEST FEMALE
PERFORMANCE Liv Ullmann
in
Scenes from a Marriage