Friday, August 17, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 1971

The Contenders:

The Hospital (winner)
Investigation of a Citizen above Suspicion
Summer of ’42
Sunday Bloody Sunday

What’s Missing

There are a lot of things I could say about the movies of 1971 and original screenplays from this year, but I think I want to start with how good a year it was for Clint Eastwood. 1971 was the year of Dirty Harry, the first of his iconic turns as Harry Callahan. It was also the year of Play Misty for Me, his directorial debut. On the horror front, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is an odd one, which may make it worth a little consideration (but probably not). A Bay of Blood isn’t really the sort of film that gets nominations, but in retrospect, it’s proven to be pretty influential. The big miss, though, is Harold and Maude, that absolutely should be here.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I had real issues with Sunday Bloody Sunday, and surprisingly, the chewing-on-tinfoil presence of Glenda Jackson isn’t the one that jumps out at me. No, the biggest issue is how much of this film seems contrived to make a point that doesn’t need to be made. There’s enough natural drama here—a love triangle where a man is having an affair with both a man and a woman—that it doesn’t need a great deal of dressing up, and it’s still dressed up with pet monkeys and pot-smoking children. There’s too much here that isn’t necessary, and the story gets lost in it.

4. Much of what I said about Sunday Bloody Sunday could be said about The Hospital. Sure, it’s an interesting film in a lot of respects, but it goes far too far to make the points that it wants to. This is ostensibly a comedy and I didn’t laugh at it once. Sure, we can look at this as being the sort of comedy that is a little deeper than that and I might accept it, but I don’t really recall this being that funny in general. Maybe it simply hasn’t aged well, but I wouldn’t give it an Oscar, and I don’t think I would nominate it at all.

3. Klute is a sort of neo-noir that is perhaps the height of Jane Fonda’s career. Truthfully, I prefer her a couple of years earlier in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, but Klute is the film that serves as a real centerpiece of her career. It’s a fine film with good performances from Fonda and from the always-reliable Donald Sutherland, but it’s also not a film that made a huge impact on me in terms of its story. It’s honestly not too terribly different from a lot of other movies in that respect. It’s a fine example of its type, but I expect a little more from something getting an Oscar.

2. I honestly expected nothing out of Summer of ‘42 and found it surprisingly moving. And honestly, I’m not entirely sure why, because if we switch the genders of the two main characters, this becomes a very disturbing film of statutory rape. What Summer of ‘42 has going for it, though, is that it very closely approximates that feeling of wanting to participate in something like sex and not really knowing what sex is. That’s a weird moment in people’s lives, and I think it’s hard to do that accurate. This does, and it’s noteworthy for it.

My Choice

1. In a world where Harold and Maude is nominated, we’ve got an interesting position to deal with here at the top. However, since this feature has started, the tie has always gone to the Academy. In this case, that means Investigation of a Citizen above Suspicion ends up winning. This is a film based on a very simple idea—a man abusing power to an absurd degree. From that simple beginning, the film goes in some disturbing and terrible directions and does so with humor and while maintaining interest. It’s a hell of an idea carried out as well as it could be. It would be a tighter race in other situations, but I’m still going here.

Final Analysis


  1. I haven't seen Investigation yet, it's in my queue so soon, but I can't comment on it though the fact that it's your winner makes me want to see it more. While Klute is the one out of these five I liked the best I'd probably go with Summer of '42 as my pick for the win.

    It's the performances in Klute that really sell it more than the screenplay.

    1. I honestly hope I haven't built it up too much. I think it's a very smart movie, and that's always going to play well for me.

      I agree on Klute. The plot isn't bad, but it's nothing special. It's the performances that make it work.

    2. By the way I agree about Jane Fonda and her work in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? She really gets under Gloria's skin and is amazingly vivid and raw. I think she deserved to win for Klute but I wish she had won for Horses as well then perhaps the Academy would have bypassed her in Coming Home (she's fine in that film but not the best) so that Ingrid Bergman could have won her rightful third for Autumn Sonata.

    3. She is so good in Horses. There is such a real, raw anger that emanates from her in every frame. So often in that film there is the genuine feeling that she exists moment to moment only through her absolute will to not give in to someone else. She survives on pure, high-octane hate.

      I still have one movie to go for Best Actress 1978, but I'll get there eventually.