In a great decade for American movies, the Best Picture Oscar winners of the 1970s encompassed gritty war movies, quirky comedies, groundbreaking science fiction and searing dramas. With so many fine classic movies released every year of the ‘70s, Oscar left many deserving classics out of the nominations altogether.
The epic war movie with George C. Scott in an amazing performance as General "Blood and Guts" Patton bested the crowd-pleasing Airport, the gooey-but-popular Love Story, bleak, brilliant drama Five Easy Pieces and my personal pick for the year, the groundbreaking black comedy M*A*S*H. Snubbed were the racially themed biopic The Great White Hope, sweeping costume drama Ryan's Daughter and quirky western Little Big Man.
A dark crime thriller powered by Gene Hackman, The French Connection beat out the psychopathic violence of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, the artful black-and-white Texas tale The Last Picture Show (my pick for the year), historical epic Nicholas and Alexandra and the lovely musical Fiddler on the Roof. Snubbed were crime drama Klute, the sexual triangle Sunday, Bloody Sunday and the immortal debut of Clint Eastwoods' bad, bad cop, Dirty Harry.
The lush, shockingly violent film of the blockbuster novel with Marlon Brando in the title role took the top honor, winning out over the decadent, dark Cabaret; the worst canoe trip ever in Deliverance; Depression-era drama Sounder; and coming-to-America drama The Emigrants. Oscar ignored the Billie Holiday biopic Lady Sings the Blues and Woody Allen’s nebbish comedy, Play It Again Sam.
Paul Newman and Robert Redford paired in this winning, clever caper film to win out over other terrific films in an amazing year. Nominated were: American Graffiti, the bittersweet coming-of-age classic that launched George Lucas; the scare-your-socks-off Exorcist; Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers; and sophisticated rom-com A Touch of Class. Great films that didn’t even make the Best Picture nomination list in ’73 were: Badlands, Mean Streets, The Last Detail, Paper Moon, The Paper Chase, and Sleeper. Yowzer.
A great movie, but I might have picked have picked Roman Polanski’s film noir Chinatown out of this field, which also included voyeuristic crime film The Conversation, the biopic of groundbreaking comedian Lenny Bruce, Lenny, and the inferior disaster flick Towering Inferno. Great films that didn’t make the list in 1974 included a rollicking costume piece, The Three Musketeers, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and a clever heist movie, The Taking of Pelham 123. And while comedies rarely win, Mel Brooks had two that deserved to be nominated: Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles, both hilarious.
Jack Nicholson was never better, and the movie is unforgettable; a well-deserved win. But take a look at the competition: Spielberg’s blockbuster Jaws, bank robbing classic Dog Day Afternoon, costume drama Barry Lyndon, and the unclassifiable, mesmerizing portrait Nashville from Robert Altman. Not even nominated: epic adventure The Man Who Would be King with Sean Connery AND Michael Caine, rock classic Tommy, and the irreverently hilarious Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Fun and inspiring as it is, the boxing classic that inspired a lucrative movie dynasty didn’t deserve to win in a strong field: Paddy Chayefsky’s prescient Network; Watergate thriller All the President’s Men; Woody Guthrie biopic Bound for Glory, or Scorcese’s spellbinding Taxi Driver. Whew. A slew of my favorites were snubbed in 1976, including taut, intelligent thriller Marathon Man; Clint Eastwood’s masterful The Outlaw Josey Wales, Hollywood blacklist tale The Front; and my trashy-but-great horror fave, Carrie.
In a rare win for a comedy, Woody Allen’s original, funny tale of a doomed Manhattan romance bested Neil Simon rom-com The Goodbye Girl, the affecting Lillian Hellman memoir Julia; ballet soaper The Turning Point, and the immortal sci-fi classic Star Wars. Meanwhile, Close Encounters of the Third Kind didn’t make the nomination list. Neither did the conroversial bar hook-up cautionary tale Looking for Mr. Goodbar, or the film of the Broadway play Equus.
A dark drama tracking the effects of the Vietnam War on returning veterans, The Deer Hunter beat out Coming Home, a similar but slightly more hopeful take on the devastating effects of the war. Also nominated was the charming Warren Beatty remake Heaven Can Wait (an update of Here Comes Mr. Jordan), the Turkish drug prison nightmare Midnight Express and domestic drama An Unmarried Woman. The light-hearted blockbuster of the year, retro musical Grease, was snubbed.
Divorce tearjerker Kramer vs. Kramer brought the decade to a close, beating Coppola's Heart of Darkness retelling, Apocalypse Now; sweet, uplifting bike race film Breaking Away; and my choice, Bob Fosse’s semi-autobiographical All That Jazz. Not even nominated were the eerie, seminal sci-fi classic Alien; the wildly original political satire Being There; nuclear plant nightmare The China Syndrome; and a wry, thoughtful football movie, North Dallas Forty.