Friday, November 21, 2014

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 1977

The Contenders:
Annie Hall (winner)
The Goodbye Girl
Star Wars
The Turning Point

What’s Missing

There are a couple of genuinely great films and a few pretty good ones in the five nominees. That said, these are hardly the be-all, end-all of movies from 1977 that deserved some love. In my opinion, the two most obvious exclusions off the top are Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Saturday Night Fever. Killer of Sheep almost certainly passed under the radar of the Academy, but I’d argue it shouldn’t have. The same can be said for Stroszek. A documentary like Pumping Iron would never get a nod, but who’s to say it shouldn’t? And really, Eraserhead is just too weird and inaccessible. On the foreign front, 1977 was a strong year, including such films as The American Friend, Man of Marble, and The Ascent. It’s also worth noting that 1977 was also the year of release for Suspiria.

Weeding through the Nominees

5: While I don’t necessarily agree with all of the nominations, I understand all of them but one: Julia. There’s a definite kernel here that should be interesting, but right when the film should become as interesting as it gets, it falls apart completely. If it remained a film about the relationship between the two women involved, it would have been far more interesting than its sudden shift into espionage and intrigue. Ultimately, this left me cold and I don’t understand a single nomination the film earned, particularly this one.

4: For me, the best part of The Goodbye Girl is the only good thing about The Goodbye Girl, and that’s Richard Dreyfuss. Okay, I liked Paul Benedict as the insane director as well. This is intended to be a romantic comedy, though, and it fails in that respect for me because Marsha Mason’s character is so genuinely unlikable that I can’t buy the romance. No one would put up with her unless the script required it, and that’s really the only way this film works. That feels like a cheat to me.

3: With two kids involved in ballet, it’s not surprising that I appreciated The Turning Point. I was surprised I liked it as much as I did, though. The Turning Point is tied for the sad distinction of most nominations (11) without a win, and while it may not have earned every one of its nominations, I don’t argue with this one. It’s a smart enough film that it’s about ballet and dance in the same way Field of Dreams is about baseball. It uses the dance world to explore the relationships of the people involved, and I’m always interested in films that do that.

My Choices

2: I’ve been doing these posts for almost a year now, and I don’t think I’ve come across a more difficult decision than separating 1 from 2 in this specific category and race. I’m going to put Star Wars here for the single fact that I don’t think I can be objective about it. My childhood is far too tied up in Star Wars for me to look at it in any way other than heavily-tinted rose colored glasses. I’m not ashamed of my love for it, and there’s a reason it is still influential. But I don’t know if I can really judge how good or great it is because I cannot view the film through an objective lens. My guess is that most of the comments will tell me I should flip 1 and 2, and I support that, because my heart tells me the same thing.

1: This leaves us with Annie Hall. As a kid, I was pissed that Star Wars didn’t win because it was so obviously the best movie of the year. As an adult, though, I get it. Annie Hall isn’t just funny (which it is); it’s also devilishly smart. Woody Allen delves into his insecurities here in a way that is incredibly insightful—he justifies his past actions with his present understanding, the same way all of us do without realizing it. Annie Hall may not be my favorite Woody Allen, but I think it’s the best Woody Allen, and that deserves some respect. Chip Lary, I already know you disagree with me, so you can beat me up in the comments. Ask me to pick this race again, and there's a good chance I'll change the order of the top two. I could make arguments for both, but in the case of a tie, the tie goes to the Academy.

Final Analysis


  1. I can agree with this. I've only seen the Top 2 of these 5, but it's been probably over a decade--if not close to two decades--since I last saw the original Star Wars (I know!). But I loved Annie Hall. I could easily do a reflection on the original SW trilogy without the rose-tinted glasses. Which I plan to do at some point, once they finally re-release the original trilogy without all the CGI changes and whatnot (which last I heard, Disney is actually planning on doing in the next few years).

    1. Judging Star Wars for me is like judging Little Shop of Horrors for you. I don't have a way to do it without getting all gushy.

  2. Annie Hall is a great film and I usually enjoy Woody Allen's films. However, I personally would go with Star Wars because for better or worse I feel it has had a greater impact on cinema and culture, in general. Of course, you could argue whether the impact has been good or bad, but Star Wars remains very popular today, with many generations.

    Still, Annie Hall is one of Allen's best. Ultimately, I guess this one comes down to personal preference and how you view best picture. For me a lot of times it comes down to what movie stands the test of time and both of these films do, so Annie Hall is a solid choice.

  3. I was 13 when Star Wars came out and I saw it maybe 10 times over the summer of 1977.

    I only saw Annie Hall twice.

    I don't think I paid much attention to the Oscars in 1977, but if I had, I think I would have been a little disappointed that Star Wars didn't win. But just a little.

    But Annie Hall is an awesome film. My favorite Woody Allen film at the time was probably Sleeper. Or maybe What's Up, Tiger Lily? But as the years go by, I find myself watching Annie Hall pretty regularly, every two or three years. Great great great movie.

    It's been probably ten years since I saw Star Wars. It's still a good movie, but I feel like I'm done with it.

    Oscar got it right.

    1. I'm surprised (happily, mind you, but surprised) when I suspect I'm going to buck a trend and find out that I'm not. Picking between these two movies was really difficult and I stared at it for a long time. In fact, when writing up #2, I wrote everything up to the name of the movie and let it sit for 10 minutes until I decided which one I was going to put there.

      @Larry--The impact of Star Wars and its continued presence in world culture is the biggest reason I almost put it first. It's impossible to deny that it's one of the most influential films and franchises (as you say, for good or ill). I'll always love it and I'll say that with pride.

      @Tony--I saw it every Saturday in the summer of 1978 since it played for the whole summer at my local second-run theater. The fact that it lost to Annie Hall biased me against Annie Hall for years. I was angry that the talkie geek film beat Star Wars...until I watched it.

      I don't know if I can pick a favorite Allen film. Radio Days is my favorite of his scripts, but I do love his early comedies.

  4. I'm not going to tell you to swap 1 and 2 around...because I'd drop Annie Hall even further than that. :-) I realize I'm in the minority, though.

    Your connection to ballet made The Turning Point more interesting for you. I'd have it below Julia on my list. And I liked The Goodbye Girl, so I would have had it higher.

    Finally, that leaves Star Wars for the win, but here's the thing: I don't really think of it as a "Best Picture" kind of movie. Sure, the social impact it's had in the years since has been amazing and undeniable, but in the year it was released it came across more as just a really fun, popular movie, no different from The Avengers in 2012 or Guardians of the Galaxy this year. I think Annie Hall beat it because of that.

  5. No question that Annie Hall is a great movie. But it's not especially unusual or different from many, many other dramas/comedies of its time. Star Wars is not only a great movie, but groundbreaking, trend-setting, and absolutely unique when it was released. There had been nothing like it.

    Star Wars for the win.

    1. @Chip--I knew that about you and Annie Hall. In fact, I'd have been surprised if you didn't have it last on this list. My problem with Julia is that it comes across as so dull.

      And you're probably right about why Star Wars didn't win. It's not always easy to tell what is going to be influential, but it's definitely stood the test of time.

      @Ipecac--We'll disagree on Annie Hall being different. I think Allen brings a very interesting perspective to the idea of his failed relationships. I don't think he should have won Best Director for it (I'd give it to Lucas: but it's a surprisingly smart and insightful screenplay and it's really well made.

  6. I agree with your top two, and I would not argue either way about their ranking: both Star Wars and Annie Hall are terrific, and either one would have been a deserving winner.

    Of the non-nominated films, I'm a big fan of the spectacular and ambitious A Bridge Too Far, which was simply ignored by the Academy. It was probably several years ahead of its time, with no public appetite at the time for historically accurate treatments of failed war missions.

    1. I like A Bridge Too Far as well, and sometimes feel like I'm the only person who knows it.

  7. A Bridge Too Far is an excellent movie, but with Vietnam in clear memory failed military operation were probably still an open wound. In my best of all worlds Close Encounters would not only get a nomination, but win the title. Even ahead of Star Wars. Doh-dih-doh-duh-doooh.

    1. While I think I'd still go with Annie Hall, I think Close Encounters is the biggest miss from the nominations.

  8. Your ten year old self had it right. Star Wars is the film that had the greatest impact and most impressive accomplishment of 1977. The music, the editing, the inventiveness, the technical wizardry all remain standards by which other films are measured. Annie Hall is a modestly told romantic comedy that benefits from a good story and solid casting. It's victory is largely a success attributable to The Z Channel being available on the West Side of L.A. in the fall and winter of that year.

    1. I think Annie Hall is better than that. It is a romantic comedy--a failed romance at that--at its heart, but it's really a lot more. It's one of Allen's better screenplays

      Star Wars absoultely has the influence and Lucas was robbed on Best Director, but I'm honestly not sure which way my vote would go today.