Friday, February 3, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1975

The Contenders:

Federico Fellini: Amarcord
Stanley Kubrick: Barry Lyndon
Sidney Lumet: Dog Day Afternoon
Robert Altman: Nashville
Milos Forman: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (winner)

What’s Missing

First, can we get a little love for Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones for Monty Python and the Holy Grail? I know it would never get nominated in a million years, but when we talk about influence, this qualifies. Was this award to have nominations made today, I think we might well see Steven Spielberg nominated for Jaws, another film that has cast an incredibly long shadow over the films that followed. I’m actually surprised at the lack of nomination for Peter Weir and Picnic at Hanging Rock, which certainly deserves some consideration. John Huston’s work on The Man Who Would Be King merits some serious consideration here as well. I know that Norman Jewison’s work on Rollerball would only be considered in my own fantasy world, but it’s a film that deserve more love and credit. Finally, Sydney Pollack’s work on Three Days of the Condor should be better remembered than it is.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I have made no secret of the fact that I don’t love Barry Lyndon. I’ve seen almost all of Kubrick’s films—everything from The Killing to his final one, and Barry Lyndon is the one I like the least. There are some very good things about Barry Lyndon and some very bold choices. The problem I have with it is that I find it utterly dull. It’s hard to want to recommend a dull movie for the top spot, or even for nomination. I know it has its supporters, and they are welcome to disagree with me.

4. I like Fellini less than I like Kubrick in most cases. In fact, I like a Fellini less than a lot of directors I could name. I suppose that makes me a bad film nerd, not liking the clown prince of Italian film. Amarcord is one I like better than I do most of his films, and I won’t argue that it’s not well made. It’s just…I don’t see that the direction here is that exceptional. I may well be speaking from a bias against Fellini in this case. I won’t deny that as a possibility, but it also won’t get Federico above fourth place.

3. I have an odd relationship with the films of Robert Altman. There are plenty I like and plenty I dislike tremendously. Nashville is one I like pretty well, far more than I thought I would. I actually like the nomination pretty well. Altman does a fine job of keeping all of the various threads of the story working and making sense. In a lesser year, I might consider Altman for Best Director a lot more seriously. In a year with better nominees, though, he can’t climb above third place.

2. I like Milos Forman’s work a great deal, and I think he’s a director who often doesn’t get the credit he deserves. That’s an odd thing to say for a guy with two Oscars and who made one of the most iconic movies of the 1980s. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest swept the major awards, but it really shouldn’t have. It’s not a terrible choice, though. I think an argument could be made for him, and clearly one was, since he won. There is at least one better choice, though, and for as much as I like Milos Forman, he really shouldn’t have won.

1. Limited to the five nominations, I’m giving this to Sidney Lumet. Dog Day Afternoon is about as good as a crime drama as you can find. The story builds beautifully and there are some many small things that happen early on and build into something so much bigger by the end of the film. Lumet’s work stands up today as well--Dog Day Afternoon is as vital and interesting and good now as it was when it was first made. Of the five nominations, it’s the winner in a walk.

My Choice

Dog Day Afternoon is not the best directorial performance of the year, though. That belongs to Steven Spielberg and Jaws. I view Best Director as the award for the best storytelling of the year, and while there are some great films from 1975 and some worthy nominations, no one told the story better than Spielberg did. If you haven’t seen Jaws recently, watch it again. It hasn’t lost a step, and while some of that goes to the cast, most of it goes to Spielberg’s pitch-perfect direction, use of camera, and everything else. He wins this 100 times out of 100 if nominated.

Final Analysis


  1. Well I haven't seen Amarcord, that's a blind spot I always forget I have probably because I'm not of a Fellini fan, but otherwise my placement would be the same or similar. I didn't like Barry Lyndon but it's beautifully put together whereas I hated Nashville and in my view not so beautifully put together so it would most likely place last but BL would be right on its heels. I never understood the wholesale love for Cuckoo's Nest, nominations yes wins no, of these five Dog Day is so obviously deserving of the win it now seems crazy that it lost both director and picture.

    The year is so full of worthy work that it makes it difficult, and maddening, to understand how a stately bore like Barry Lyndon, and Kubrick work for it, got in and remarkable things like Jaws and Picnic at Hanging Rock were not. A good case could be made for Lumet, Spielberg or Weir to take this and while I lean towards Weir for director and Dog Day for picture I'd wouldn't have complained it Jaws had taken either.

    My five would be this:

    Milos Forman-One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
    Sidney Lumet-Dog Day Afternoon
    Sydney Pollack-Three Days of the Condor
    Steven Spielberg-Jaws
    Peter Weir-Picnic at Hanging Rock-Winner

    1. I could happily live with that list of five nominees. With that list and that result, I wouldn't complain terribly, but I think this was Spielberg's award to lose. So much of Jaws still works so well. Picnic at Hanging Rock, though, remains one of the most haunting movies I have ever seen.

  2. Of the 5, I would have given it to Cuckoo's Nest. I loved both it and Dog Day, but Dog Day just has this weird narrative/tonal shift halfway through I can't get over. I don't remember having many, if any, issues with Cuckoo. But you're right. Jaws should have taken this, easy.

    1. I think that's fair. I like the tonal shift in Dog Day because it's so unexpected, but it works.

      Jaws, though, is going to work the way it does forever.

  3. I'm with you all the way on this one. Spielberg really did deliver the best directing performance of the year, at least of what I saw. Though I will say Forman and Lumet were pretty darn close.

    1. If you haven't seen Picnic at Hanging Rock, it's one to add to next year's list of missing films. It's haunting and disturbing without being nasty, and much of that comes from Peter Weir. Joel's list of five nominees would be hard to top for this year, and all five of them are worthy of being seen.

  4. 1975 was hit or miss for me. Very little middle ground. The interesting thing with best director is that I do not have to actually like the movie to appreciate the directional effort. But it helps.
    Jaws and Picnic at Hanging Rock tops the list for me, closely followed by Dog day afternoon and The man who would be king.

    1. That's honestly not a bad top four. It rates The Man Who Would Be King higher than I would, but it's still a damn fine movie.