Friday, July 31, 2015

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 1969

The Contenders:

Anne of the Thousand Days
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Hello, Dolly!
Midnight Cowboy (winner)

What’s Missing

Thre’s a surprising amount of missing films for 1969, which was a better year than the nominations indicate. I think it’s likely that Easy Rider was too new for the Academy or simply too different, although in retrospect, I think it belongs as a nominee. Both The Damned and Kes feel like movies that earn nominations like this, and both feel like they could belong (I wouldn’t nominate either of them). True Grit was perhaps the wrong genre for 1969 and the same could be said of The Wild Bunch. If there is a single movie missing that belongs here, though, my vote is for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, a movie that continues to be moving and interesting to me with each viewing.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. It’s probably not a shock that I’m dumping the musical first. The truth is that I don’t hate Hello, Dolly!, but I don’t really like it that much. It’s overlong for starters. The bigger issue is that the romance that is supposed to be at the heart of this film seems to exist as a result of the narrative rather than as a result of the characters. The costumes are beautiful and some of the songs are good, but I like almost all of the movies mentioned in the previous paragraph more than I like this.

4. The second to go is Anne of the Thousand Days. Again, there is nothing particularly wrong with the movie, but in this case, there’s not enough there to warrant a second viewing. If I had to find a reason to watch it again, it would almost certainly be for Richard Burton’s almost Shatnerian performance as Henry VIII. But like Hello, Dolly!, this is overlong and overstays its welcome. It’s worth seeing, but it’s definitely not worth seeing twice, and that’s a deal breaker for Best Picture for me.

3: John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy is a masterfully made film. I do not deny that. It’s actually still a little surprising that it won in 1969 because it seems like such a stretch for the Academy at the point in time. This is a movie I respect a lot more than I actually like, though, and it’s not a movie I look forward to seeing again despite how well made it is. This is a film that hurts to watch, and I have to be in the right mood for a movie that makes me want to open a vein. So while I think it’s close to miraculous that it won and it’s a hell of a choice, it’s not my choice.

2: I love that Z was nominated for Best Picture. It makes me genuinely happy that a movie this ballsy earned a nomination for Best Picture even if it really didn’t have a chance of winning. Z is a political drama and almost certainly makes a lot of people uncomfortable. For politically liberal Hollywood, it’s also empowering, which might be how it got the nomination. But that also might be why it didn’t win. This is a great film and would have been an interesting winner.

1: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is my pick of the five nominees. The one knock against it is that it could be argued that this did win; it just won four years later when it was called The Sting. The chemistry works beautifully between the two principle actors. It even manages to make a desperate situation for our heroes both entertaining and funny. While the montage goes on a bit long in the middle of the film, I otherwise like it front to back, and limited to the five nominees, it’s my choice.

My Choice

My favorite movie of 1969 is They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Often, I have a favorite movie that I don’t bring up in a post like this because it’s not really relevant. Even if I think something is a great or entertaining movie, it doesn’t mean that it’s something that should legitimately be nominated. Here I can make a strong case for this movie. Plot, character, performances, camera use, build of tension, killer ending…They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? has the whole package. It should’ve replaced Hello, Dolly! in the five nominations and it should’ve taken the top prize.

Final Analysis


  1. Great job mentioning The Wild Bunch and They Shoot Horses Don't They. Two of the greatest films of all time, in my humble opinion. On the other hand, Easy Rider is awful. It has no plot, no likable characters, and poor acting (other than Jack Nicholson).

    Of the five nominated movies I have only seen Butch Cassidy and Midnight Cowboy. I don't really care for either one. If I had to I would go with Midnight Cowboy, because at least that movie tried to do something a little different for its time. Butch Cassidy is by the books, which would be ok, if it was actually interesting.

    From the films I have seen, I do agree with your final verdict. They Shoot Horses for the win.

    1. I like Butch and Sundance strictly from an entertainment perspective. I agree that there's not a huge amount that's new here, except for its attitude and the chemstry of the two leads. But those are the parts of it that I really like. Midnight Cowboy winning was a huge step forward for the Academy, and in that respect, I think it was a worthy choice.

      But I can't really find any faults with They Shoot Horses, Don't They? The Academy completely missed the boat by not even giving it a nomination.

  2. I haven't seen They Shoot Horses, Don't They, so I can't comment on that.

    Among the nominees, I agree Butch Cassidy is a movie that is more fun than Midnight Cowboy, but had it won I would have been calling it out for being too lightweight for a Best Picture winner. (Something I would say about The Sting, too.) I'd have Midnight Cowboy as the winner among the five nominees.

    It's funny about Anne of the Thousand Days because the one thing I would have called out as the biggest reason to see it was not Burton's acting, but Bujold's. I felt she more than held her own against the much more experienced and critically lauded Burton. I freely admit that part of my being impressed was that she looked like a teenager in the movie and I thought she actually was. It was only after the fact when I looked up the movie that I found out she was 26 or 27 years old when it was being filmed.

    1. Had I known that They Shoot Horses, Don't They? was a part of your unseen list, I'd have put it on your list for this year. I can't recommend it enough. There's not a moment of uplift or joy in it, but it's a truly amazing piece of film.

      I can see that about Butch Cassidy. I have a similar opinion on The Sting, which we'll get to eventually. Aside from my thinking they forgot to nominate the right movie, I'd have been pretty happy with any of my top three on this list.

    2. I believe you didn't see They Shoot Horses until sometime in this year - after you had already picked the films for me. (Or at least that's my memory of when you reviewed it.) There's always next year, if you want to do it again.

    3. This year's watch was a rewatch. It's a film I've known and loved for about a decade. I just assumed you'd seen it.

  3. I have never seen They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? so I cannot say if that should have one. OF the ones I have seen Midnight Cowboy is the movie that stands out for me, followed closely by Z. There were no that many great movies in 69, at least no on the List, but Easy Rider could have been a fun pick. Here 50 years later that is the movie you would remember from 69.

    1. Track down They Shoot Horses, Don't They? even if you never review it. That it's not on The List is nearly criminal. It's one of the great movies thats never been included. It's not uplifting and you won't be happy at the end, but you'll be absolutely glad you watched it.