The Deer Hunter (winner)
Heaven Can Wait
An Unmarried Woman
Lots of good movies were released in 1978, although many of them aren’t the sort that are typically considered Oscar films. These include movies like Superman, Animal House, Dawn of the Dead, Halloween, and the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It also includes my absolute favorite martial arts movie, Five Deadly Venoms. More on the edge of that category are Grease, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, and the animated Watership Down. For movies that really could be considered for Best Picture, the sort that normally run in those circles, there are four worth considering. The Buddy Holly Story is better than it’s been remembered. Autumn Sonata may have been a little too slow, but it certainly seems like the sort of movie that belongs in contention. The two surprising misses are Days of Heaven and Interiors, both of which seem designed to get a Best Picture nod and both of which were good enough to get one.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. I understand why An Unmarried Woman was nominated for Best Picture, something I can’t say about at least one other film on this list. So why is it last? Because it’s hateful in a lot of ways. This is supposed to be something like a female empowerment movie, which I have no problem with. Where I have a problem is that the film creates this sense of female empowerment specifically by making virtually all of the men hateful and terrible. There are better ways to do this, and An Unmarried Woman is ugly in its soul.
4. I like Heaven Can Wait more than I liked An Unmarried Woman, but this is a movie that should never have gotten hint of a nomination for Best Picture. The story is good, if a little twee, but the way the story actually unfolds borders on the ridiculous. I wanted to like this a lot more than I did, and everything I have a problem with comes specifically from the way the plot unfolds and the decisions the characters make. It’s not a bad movie; it’s just kind of a dumb one, and there’s no reason it should be on this list, considering what was left off.
3. I think everyone in the world likes The Deer Hunter more than I do. I don’t hate the film, but I don’t really love it, either. It certainly has one of the most iconic moments of its decade, but that really isn’t enough to make this the best film of its year. When you add in the fact that the opening wedding sequence goes on forever, a lot of this comes across as being done in service to Michael Cimino’s ego rather than the story. I know people like, or even love it, and I can even kind of see why. I’m just not there myself.
2. I like Coming Home quite a bit. It feels to me like the natural bridge between The Best Years of Our Lives and Born on the Fourth of July, containing a touch of the sweetness of the former and a handful of the anger of the latter. The most impressive thing about it is that it manages to tell its story without dropping into the melodrama that absolutely lurks underneath the characters. That it edges there in the first place doesn’t work in its favor, though. I like the nomination and a lot about it, but not enough for the top position.
1. By process of elimination, that puts Midnight Express in the top position, and it’s an unusual pick, both for me and for Oscar. I love that it was nominated, and I understand also why it didn’t win. It’s such a dark movie in so many ways, brutal and ugly, but also tremendously acted and produced. There’s a lot to recommend it, and with the choices I’ve been given, it’s far and away the pick. But, of course, this blog doesn’t limit itself to the choices that are given, and I think the snubs are strong enough to take the top spot multiple times.
Days of Heaven and Interiors are, I think, objectively the best two movies of 1978. I might put Autumn Sonata in that company as well, even though it’s not a movie I like as much as the first two I mentioned. I do think that these three movies are all better than all five of the actual nominations, though, so they are were I’d put the statue.