Friday, February 8, 2019

Oscar Look Back - 1978

My fourth look back at Oscars of years past comes to 1978 – a year in which I actually agree with the choice for Best Picture.
Best Picture
1.     The Deer Hunter - WINNER
2.     Coming Home
3.     An Unmarried Woman
4.     Midnight Express
5.     Heaven Can Wait
Why This Ranking: This is actually a pretty good lineup. I don’t love Heaven Can Wait, but it’s a very charming, funny comedy and quite good, so iut’s hard to complain too much. Midnight Express is a hard hitting prison drama about the consequences of drug smuggling outside of America – and it really is unforgettable. An Unmarried Woman is a brilliant examination of what happens to a middle aged woman when she is left by her husband – and has to rediscover who she is. Then you have the twin Vietnam films. Coming Home is an intimate drama about the problems on the homefront, those left behind, and those you return – and is a great film by Hal Ashby. But it’s epic The Deer Hunter which I like the most – a story of male bonding, and how it is torn apart by the war. Yes, its takes liberties (a lot) 0 but as drama, it is brilliant, so it’s one of the few times I think the Academy got it right.
What Was Overlooked: Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven got some attention in below the line categories, but really is a masterpiece – arguably the year’s best film – and deserved a Best Picture nomination. On the complete other end of the spectrum is John Carpenter’s Halloween arguably the best film of its kind ever made, and it would have been awesome to see it get a nomination. On the foreign front, I would have loved to see one of my favorire Bergman films – Autumn Sonata – sneak into the lineup.

Best Director

1.     Michael Cimino, The Deer Hunter - WINNER

2.     Hal Ashby, Coming Home
3.     Alan Parker, Midnight Express
4.     Woody Allen, Interiors
5.     Warren Beatty & Buck Henry, Heaven Can Wait
Why This Ranking: It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that this is the ranking – it’s basically the same as the Picture ranking, with Woody Allen for Interiors thrown into the mix. Why they didn’t nominate Paul Mazarusky for An Unmarried Woman, I don’t know – his work is better than Allen’s, which is one of those rarer cases where I liked the lone director nominee less than most of the others. This was Allen’s first “serious” film, and he basically aped Ingmar Bergman – and did a decent job on that – but he figured the mix of comedy/drama better later on.
Who Was Overlooked: Instead of nominated Woody for a Bergman clone, why not nominate Ingmar Bergman for Autumn Sonata himself? And then there was Terrence Malick for Days of Heaven and John Carpenter for Halloween would have been great nominees as well.


Best Actor

1.     Jon Voight, Coming Home - WINNER
2.     Robert DeNiro, The Deer Hunter
3.     Warren Beatty, Heaven Can Wait
4.     Laurence Olivier, The Boys from Brazil
Have Not Seen
Gary Busey, The Buddy Holly Story
Why This Ranking: Like the Academy, I may well have preferred The Deer Hunter to Coming Home, but I cannot deny just how great Jon Voight is in that film, as a disabled Vietnam vet trying to integrate back into his life – especially in that long, brilliant final speech. That doesn’t take away from Robert DeNiro in The Deer Hunter who really does hold that whole film together – an emotional anchor who I still a full character. Warren Beatty in Heaven Can Wait is in pure movie star mode here, and he’s charming as hell – but from the actor who did Bonnie & Clyde, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Shampoo and Reds (and many more) this hardly great. Finally, I kind of enjoy the odd The Boy From Brazil but I don’t think it really warranted Oscar attention – but if they were going to nominate someone it wouldn’t be Laurence Olivier (getting his 10th, and final nomination here) but rather Gregory Peck – in this case, I’ll take the Nazi over the Nazi hunter.
Who Was Overlooked: One of the best performances of Dustin Hoffman’s career was in Straight Time as an ex-con, and far too few people have seen it, and I keeping hoping people check it out. The best dramatic work of Richard Pryor’s career was in Paul Schrader’s Blue Collar – which showed just how great an actor he really was.

Best Actress

1.     Ingrid Bergman, Autumn Sonata
2.     Jill Clayburgh, An Unmarried Woman

3.     Jane Fonda, Coming Home  - WINNER

4.     Geraldine Page, Interiors
Have Not Seen
Ellen Bursten, Same Time, Next Year
Why This Ranking: I love Ellen Burstyn but to be honest, I’ve never really heard anyone talk about Same Time, Next Year – although it sounds interesting. I love Gerladine Page – but her work in Interiors, much like the film itself is far too joyless – and a bit of a slog. I think Jane Fonda is great in Coming Home – but it a less interesting role than Voight’s. Jill Clayburgh delivers her best performance in An Unmarried Woman – and really one of the great female performances in American movies of the 1970s, and would have been a great winner. But my choice for the win would easily be Ingrid Bergman in Autumn Sonata – the Swedish actor returning to work with the greatest Swedish director in history, in the kind of swan song performance of all time. Bergman won three Oscars – none for her best performances – but this really is one of her great ones.
Who Was Overlooked: They nominated Bergman, so perhaps it’s just being greedy – but I would have loved to see Liv Ullman also get nominated for Autumn Sonata – this is a mother/daughter two hander, and Ullman is every bit as good as Bergman was.


Best Supporting Actor

1.     Christopher Walken, The Deer Hunter - WINNER

2.     Bruce Dern, Coming Home
3.     John Hurt, Midnight Express
4.     Jack Warden, Heaven Can Wait
Have Not Seen
Richard Farnsworth, Comes a Horseman
Why This Ranking: I’ve had Comes a Horseman as a possible watch since Richard Farnsworth was nominated for The Straight Story, so the chances I get to it now aren’t great, but it’s there. Jack Warden in Heaven Can Wait is fine – he does the job that you hired Jack Warden to do in the 1970s quite well, but it’s not great. John Hurt in Midnight Express is very good in the film – as the veteran prisoner who the lead definitely does not want to become (its amazing that Hurt had such a long, great career – and he only got two nominations). Bruce Dern in Coming Home delivers one of his very best performances – the veteran who returns to his life and marriage, and finds it has changed – in part because of who he is, and why he is home in the first place. But then newcomer Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter really did earn this win – as one of the group of friends who head to Vietnam, and are never the same again – his final scene in the emotional lynchpin of the film, and he’s largely silent. It’s a great performance from Walken before he become the figure he would become.
Who Was Overlooked: The Deer Hunter received a lot of nominations – including three acting noms – but I still think that John Savage could have easily been another contender. No, they have never liked superhero movies – but why not Gene Hackman in Superman for playing Lex Luthor?

Best Supporting Actress

1.     Maggie Smith, California Suite  - WINNER
2.     Meryl Streep, The Deer Hunter
3.     Maureen Stapleton, Interiors
4.     Peneloipe Milford, Coming Home
5.     Dyan Cannon, Heaven Can Wait
Why This Ranking: Much like the rest of the noms it got, Dyan Cannon in Heaven Can Wait does precisely the job you hire her for, and it’s fine, but hardly best of the year stuff. There is nothing wrong with what Penelope Milford in Coming Home does – it’s just that this is the type of nomination where a good performance gets elevated because they love the movie. Maureen Stapleton in Interiors is far and away my favorite part of that movie – the “vulgarian” who wants to add some color to this dull, grey world. The young Meryl Streep in The Deer Hunter – her first nomination ever – really is excellent as the supportive wife back home – but it stands out as being the type of role Streep never really had to take after. And yet, although I don’t love California Suite as a whole, you have to love Maggie Smith playing a vain actress, who during the course of the movie loses the Oscar, and has to deal with that. It’s a great performance in a largely forgotten movie.
Who Was Overlooked: A young Susan Sarandon in Pretty Baby – the very controversial Louis Malle film, is quite good as the mother who pimps out her child. Young Linda Manz in Days of Heaven is excellent in the film, especially in her haunting voice over performance.

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