Roman Polanski: Chinatown
Francois Truffaut: Day for Night
Francis Ford Coppola: The Godfather Part II (winner)
Bob Fosse: Lenny
John Cassavetes: A Woman Under the Influence
The list of contenders for Best Director for 1974 is a strong one, but there are a few people who might bear some mention here. Coppola had a hell of a good year, and while two nominations for director would probably be pushing it, he may have well deserved some recognition for The Conversation. Speaking of good years, Mel Brooks made both Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein in 1974. The “not in English” contingent was almost certainly taken up with Truffaut’s nomination, but what about Andrei Tarkovsky for The Mirror? Or Rainer Werner Fassbinder for Ali: Fear Eats the Soul? Just for fun, let’s throw in Tobe Hooper for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Why not, right?
Weeding through the Nominees
5. John Cassavetes was a fine director, but for me, A Woman Under the Influence rides on two things—a very smart (and unnominated) screenplay and a truly monster performance from Gena Rowlands. I don’t want to downplay Cassavetes here, because as the director, he got that performance from Rowlands and he wrote the screenplay. But I need to keep the director separate from everything else he did here, and I like his work elsewhere here more. In a list like this one, fifth place is no shame, even if putting him in fifth feels a little like a crime.
4. The best thing about Bob Fosse as a director is that he had absolutely no fear. This was a man who would go to dark places to see what he could find and dredge up whatever he could find to expose it to the sunlight. Lenny is exactly that sort of a film and Fosse dives into the good and the bad of Lenny Bruce’s life with a sort of clarity and focus that is truly impressive. The problem is that it might actually be too much. It’s perhaps overdramatized, and it might have had to be to really get to the meat of the story. I like Fosse’s work in general and he was certainly the best in other years. Just not this year.
3. My issue with Francois Truffaut is entirely personal. I always want to like Truffaut more than I actually like his films. I like Day for Night quite a bit, but I think a lot of what I like about it is Truffaut’s appearance. He’s just so damn likeable. I like a lot of what happens here, but as with Cassavetes above, I just like the other directorial performances from this year more. A little of the magic of the film is killed for me when so much of the behind the scenes is shown. That’s the point of the film, of course, but I can’t help but think that there are things here that I probably shouldn’t be privy to. Still, third place in a year this good isn’t bad.
2. I’m torn in a year like this one, and it was a struggle not to put a lot of these directors as potentially good winners. The truth is that I could almost certainly make a case for all of them. That’s especially true with Roman Polanski and Chinatown. The truth is that it might actually be the single best directorial performance in a year that had a lot of them, including a number that weren’t nominated. I love just about everything there is about Chinatown, and a great deal of what I love is how the story is told and just how carefully everything is maintained. It’s great work. It just can’t compete with one of the great directorial years in movie history.
1. Coppola was the right choice. The Godfather Part II is rightfully considered one of the most fundamentally important films in American film history. It’s an incredibly complex film and it all holds together perfectly. That in and of itself might be good enough to get him the trophy he ended up winning. Coupled with the fact that he also directed The Conversation this year—a film far better than remembered—and you’ve got a case that it would be difficult to ignore. He won the trophy, and I’m not going to be the one who takes it away from him. Oscar did right.