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
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.
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.