Friday, July 4, 2014

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 1976

The Contenders:
All the President’s Men
Bound for Glory
Network
Rocky (winner)
Taxi Driver

What’s Missing

We have a surprisingly strong list this time. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any snubs, but that I think the Academy did a decent job with the nominations. The Outlaw Josey Wales jumps out at me as a miss, but the Academy didn’t take Clint Eastwood seriously in 1976. I think Marathon Man is an unfairly forgotten classic of the era as well. On the foreign front, I might toss out The Ascent. There may be others, but I haven’t seen Seven Beauties, Face to Face, or Cousin Cousine yet. If I’m honest, though, I don’t have a huge issue with the five nominations.

Weeding through the Nominees

5: I try not to watch a film and then do one of these posts involving that film in the same week, but the chance to do the bicentennial year on July 4th was too great a temptation. Regardless, that most-recently viewed film, Bound for Glory lands on the bottom. I liked this film pretty well, but like its subject, it rambles far too much. I’m not bothered at all by this not being close to actual history because in a real sense, it’s legend-making more than biography. It takes too long to get started, though, and because of that, it’s goes on about half an hour too long. There’s much to like here, just not enough to love.

4: It’s common for the winner to land in the fourth spot for me, and that’s where our winner Rocky alights. Don’t think for a second that I dislike Rocky because it has a lot going for it. It’s a good story with a great ending and it’s appropriately told all the way through. I give Stallone a lot of credit for how he got the film made as well. Rocky may well be a great film and it’s a much smarter one than people tend to think. I like that it concentrates on character more than on boxing. It’s just not enough to be considered Best Picture in a year with this many great ones.

3: I like All the President’s Men very much, but it almost suffers from the opposite problem of Bound for Glory. Here, it perhaps doesn’t do quite enough myth making of the principle characters. I’m not surprised at its nomination and I have no real, serious complaints about it as a movie or as a Best Picture nominee. After all, the story was a national scandal that rocked the country for years, and there is no question that the story needed to be told, and it’s told as well as it could have been. I might pick this in a different year, but in 1976, the closest it can come is the top of the also-rans.

My Choices

2: If you take a poll of people who have seen all of these nominees, my guess is that most will have the same top two in one order or another. It’s a tough choice which one goes where, but I’m putting Taxi Driver in the shotgun seat. I admit to being a huge Scorsese fan, and I don’t think I’m going out on much of a limb when I claim that Taxi Driver is one of his best, if not his best film. Like any truly great film, Taxi Driver is as valid and important now as it was when it was made. This is a story that could be retold today with almost no change. That it contains iconic performances is just icing on the cake. It’s transcendently great and I’d be fine with it winning, but it’s not my pick.

1: That leaves us with Network, which I stand by as the greatest film of 1976 and one of the greatest films of its decade. I’m not completely surprised that it didn’t win, because I’m not sure the genius of Network could be seen in 1976. The true brilliance of the film is that what was a terrifying possibility in 1976 has become our everyday reality in terms of our relationship to the media, and the news media in particular. Network is a staggering achievement not simply because it is great or prescient. It’s a staggering achievement because it’s better now than it was 38 years ago. It wins, hands down.

Final Analysis

22 comments:

  1. Can you believe I have never seen Taxi Driver? Me either ... It was a good list of nominees, wasn't it? I loved Mikey and Nicky but not more than Network.

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    1. You should watch Taxi Driver when you can. It's not a fun movie or a happy movie, but it's genuinely great in every way a movie can be.

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  2. William Goldman wrote an interesting piece in one of his books about this Oscar race and put the same nominees in different time periods and making a case that each could have won at one time or another.

    When I wrote about this on my blog, comparing Rocky to Network, I came to the same conclusion that you did. Case closed, right? Then I watched Taxi Driver for the first time in about ten years and that is a film that is more powerful every time I see it. I agree with your top two and am torn which one I'd pick as well. Scorsese not even being nominated for Best Director that year was one of Oscar's all-time great oversights.

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    1. It's not an easy choice, and in a lot of other years, I wouldn't hesitate to pick Taxi Driver. Network is just too good. It trumps everything.

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  3. Taxi driver is one of those movies I really look forward to write about. It is interesting in so many ways. Somehow Network has escaped me. 1976 will be a good year.

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    1. I look forward to hearing what you have to say about Network. I think it will be eye-opening for you.

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  4. This was a really strong year. I'd have All the President's Men below Rocky, but I'd be happy with any of Rocky, Taxi Driver, or Network winning the top prize. And I've seen Cousin Cousine, but not much of it has stuck with me many years later.

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    1. I genuinely liked all five of the movies from this year, which doesn't happen that often. I thought long and hard about the placement of Rocky and All the President's Men and came close to flipping them several times. If I do this award on a different day, those two might be flipped. Positions 1, 2, and 5 are pretty set, though, and I'm not sure I'd add another film to what I think should have won.

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  5. I'd go with Network, too, but Rocky would be my second pick--Taxi Driver is just so dark.

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    1. This was an interesting year to do because I did like all the movies. Taxi Driver is dark. Then again, so is Network

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    2. Network is darkly funny, though, whereas Taxi Driver is darkly frightening.

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    3. That's fair, although I'd say that Network is often funny in the "I'm laughing so I don't scream" way.

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  6. I actually don't know how to rate these ones. For me, Rocky is getting emotionally stronger over the years (maybe I'm just getting sappier with old age). Taxi driver is very powerful and direct, almost overwhelmingly so. Both Network and All the president's men are brilliant movies, but maybe more cerebrally than viscerally. And I haven't seen Bound for glory yet...

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    1. It's a really strong year, on of the first where I couldn't pick at least one that really didn't belong at all. Makes choosing tough, but a lot more interesting.

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  7. Network is great, but I think I'd give the award to Taxi Driver.

    But my other favorite movie of 1976 (tied with Taxi Driver) is The Tenant, and nobody has mentioned it yet.

    Is that an oversight, or am I the only one who likes The Tenant that much?

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    1. Anything that shows up under the "My Choices" tag is one I'd accept as winning, even if it's not my top choice. I stand by Network as my favorite of the nominees and the best film of the year, but had the Academy awarded the statue to Taxi Driver, you'd never hear a complaint from me.

      I need to rewatch The Tenant. It's been a few years, but I do tend to like Polanski's films and I remember liking it pretty well.

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    2. I was lucky enough to see The Tenant in the theater with an enthusiastic crowd. I've seen it a couple of times at the New Beverly Theater in Los Angeles, a legendary revival house. The first time I saw it, I was sitting next to a Frenchman who had come with a group of American friends, and he was VERY CONFUSED by the movie. He kept looking around with a look of horror on his face and saying things like "Why is everybody clapping?" with a thick French accent. "Why is everybody laughing? Is not funny! Is ver' trageek!"

      The confused Frenchman added so much to an already amazing movie experience. I've seen it twice on the big screen. I'm not sure I would enjoy it half as much if I watched it on television.

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    3. There are certainly movies where that sort of experience would detract, but I can see a confused Frenchman enhancing The Tenant in a number of ways.

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  8. Mine is not the popular opinion of your top two choices but I'm not a fan of either. Network was eerily on point about the rank commercialization of news and the blending with entertainment and is loaded with excellent work and I can respect it for that but I didn't like it. De Niro and Jodie Foster are great in Taxi Driver but I actively hate the film, I barely made it though watching it once.

    Rocky is all kinds of admirable for its pluck both before and behind the camera in getting it made and it's a very enjoyable film but hardly the best picture of the year and the nomination for Bound for Glory mystifies me. It earned it Cinematography prize and I was surprised that Carradine missed out on a nomination but the film felt like a long ramble to me.

    Love the mention of Marathon Man a great edge of your seat thriller that deserved a nomination. It would definitely have made my list along with Assault on Precinct 13, 1900,
    The Seven Percent Solution and my only hold over from the actual nominees and my choice of winner All the President's Men.

    It's one of my favorite films, so seamlessly made and it creates it own sort of tension. I've watched it many, many times and I notice different things in it each time. Pakula would have been my choice to director as well, he made a story that could have been dry as dust consistently involving. What really seems incredible to me is that Hal Holbrook's brilliant performance as Deep Throat was passed over for recognition.

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    1. Assault on Precinct 13 is a movie I hadn't seen when I wrote this post but have seen since. It's not what one thinks about with Best Picture, but it's a very gritty and gutsy film, one that doesn't pull any punches. I liked it when I watched it, and while I can't really see it as a Best Picture, it's one I probably would mention in that first paragraph as a worthy movie from this year. I enjoyed The Seven-Per-Cent Solution as well, but I don't think that would make my list, either.

      Rocky really is a good movie. I love that it focuses on the people, and I love the ending, which sells the entire thing for me.

      I get the opinion on Taxi Driver. It's not a movie I would chose to watch that often. Network, though, I think is one of the great films of all time. I find it mesmerizing and funny and terrifying all at the same time.

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  9. Rocky, I don't have much of a problem with. I dig its spirit, but its win over Taxi Driver and especially Network is...yeah, that's tough. Thankfully, it doesn't sting like The King's Speech winning over its competition because that film feels more manufactured than Rocky does.

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  10. I like Rocky, too. I just don't think it's a Best Picture winner. It was the right movie for its year, though.

    For what it's worth, I really like The King's Speech, but I haven't done that particular race yet.

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