Monday, January 20, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1971

The Contenders:

Stanley Kubrick: A Clockwork Orange
Norman Jewison: Fiddler on the Roof
William Friedkin: The French Connection (winner)
Peter Bogdanovich: The Last Picture Show
John Schlesinger: Sunday Bloody Sunday

What’s Missing

1971 was a fine year for movies if also one where I do not understand the desperate love for what eventually won Best Picture. As is often the case, I have a lot of suggestions for where we could nominate. I’ll mention Robert Altman and McCabe and Mrs. Miller right away because I know if I don’t someone else will. This is not a movie I like as much as everyone else, though. Others that would likely never sniff a nomination include Melvin van Peebles for Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song, Gordon Parks for Shaft, and Ken Russell for the completely bonkers The Devils. Asked today, a lot of people would certainly mention Mel Stuart and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and I could definitely see him in the final five. Steve Spielberg was just starting out and Duel would be a great choice, but it was ineligible since it was initially made for television. Eventual Oscar darling Clint Eastwood directed his first film, Play Misty for Me in 1971; with more cred behind him, it’s likely he might have earned a nomination for it. Speaking of Clint Eastwood, this was the same year for Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry. Other movies and directors we could be talking about here are Monte Hellman for Two Lane Blacktop, Nicolas Roeg for Walkabout, Robert Mulligan for Summer of ‘42, and Mike Hodges for Get Carter. It was probably the violence in Straw Dogs get kept Sam Peckinpah off the dais. Finally, the big miss for me is Hal Ashby and Harold and Maude.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I have no issues with William Friedkin, but I genuinely do not understand the love people have for The French Connection. I understand that people are blown away by the chase scene, and it is a pretty good chase, but it’s not any better than the chase in Bullitt, which was from a few years previous. Nothing in The French Connection wasn’t done better somewhere else in my opinion. I know that’s not a common opinion, but this is my website and I’m putting it last.

4. Sundy Bloody Sunday is a fine movie and one that is daring in certain elements of the story. It’s a love triangle that is surprising for 1971 and I respect it for that. But that’s also something that comes directly from the screenplay and not the direction of John Schlesinger. This feels like a case where the director was nominated for the story that was told in the movie rather than the movie itself specifically. While I don’t hate the movie, it’s not a nomination I like that much and I wouldn’t put it on my short list.

3. When I went through the 1001 Movies list and completed it the first time, I kept The Last Picture Show for the end because of the name. As it happens, I rather liked the film. This is not a shock since I like the cast and I have tended to like the work of Peter Bogdanovich. I was surprised that it didn’t really live up to what I was expecting, though. It’s slow and perhaps a bit dry, even if I think it is a nicely put-together film. Once again, though, the quality here is less the direction and more the story and the performances.

2. It’s perhaps a shock for Fiddler on the Roof to hit second place for me, but I like this as a musical, I like the story quite a bit, and I’ve always been kind of a sucker for the work of Norman Jewison. A lot of what works here is just how much we become involved in the lives of our characters, and much of that comes from what Jewison shows us and how he does so. In a lesser year, this might win from me. In this year with me choosing the nominees it probably doesn’t end this high, but I think it’s in the conversation.

My Choice

1. Perhaps the biggest shame of the Academy is that it never gave a competitive Oscar to either Hitchcock or Stanley Kubrick. If Kubrick was going to win one, it almost certainly should have been for 2001: A Space Odyssey. If he wasn’t going to win for that, though, I’d have loved him to have won for A Clockwork Orange. Kubrick was as ballsy with what he did as Burgess was with his novel. It’s insane and transgressive and visually astonishing. This is what film should be like and this is why it should have won.

Final Analysis


  1. It should've gone to Stanley Kubrick for A Clockwork Orange as this is my all-time favorite film from Kubrick.

    For me, runner-up would've gone to Robert Altman for McCabe & Mrs. Miller followed by Sergio Leone for Duck, You Sucker, Hal Ashby for Harold & Maude, and Peter Bogdanovich for The Last Picture Show. I haven't seen Sunday Bloody Sunday nor Fiddler on the Roof though I do love The French Connection as a thriller. I'd also make mention for Nicolas Roeg for Walkabout, Francois Truffaut for Two English Girls, Jacques Tati for Trafic, Jan Troell for The Emigrants, Roman Polanski for Macbeth, and Richard C. Sarafian for Vanishing Point (extended U.K. cut).

    1. A Clockwork Orange is such a bold movie in so many ways. There's no fear in its production, which is why Kubrick should have walked away with this.

      I genuinely don't understand the love for The French Connection. I've watched it multiple times and all I remember is a decent chase sequence (although I still think the one in Bullitt is better) and Gene Hackman standing outside a restaurant watching a fat guy eat.

      One of these days, I should really get to Macbeth and Vanishing Point. The same is true of Trafic, which is one of the few feature-length Tati films I haven't seen (not that he made that many).

  2. I like French Connection but not wildly. Hackman is excellent but that's not surprising and the chase is fantastic but honestly when I think of the film that's all I remember about it.

    Sorry but I hate Clockwork Orange with a passion. It's bold and challenging true just not my cup of tea.

    My vote would go to Bogdanovich for The Last Picture Show. It's not my favorite movie out of these five, that would be Fiddler, but in his elegiac way he captures the trapped, slow lingering feeling of an era ending.

    I'd add Alan J. Pakula for Klute and Robert Wise for The Andromeda Strain as worth consideration. I'm really shocked that Mulligan didn't make the cut for Summer of '42. It was so popular and he did a great job of capturing the period.

    1. I liked Summer of '42 a lot more than I thought I would. I wouldn't have a problem with a nomination for Mulligan.

      A Clockwork Orange is a polarizing film. I like it because I love the novel and Kubrick really stayed true to it, even to the point of not including the 21st chapter because the 21st chapter didn't exist in the American version of the book. I don't know of a case where something has stayed truer to the source material, and that's going to figure in for me, at least a little.

  3. The considerations here are much the same as for best picture except here Harold and Maude is only my runner up. I may not think A Clockwork Orange is the Best Picture of 71, but Kubrick's was the best direction. There is a lot of Kubrick here.

    1. Yeah, I see Best Director as the best storytelling of the year. Harold and Maude is a better movie in a lot of respects, but Clockwork is the biggest statement.