Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
Day for Night
Harry and Tonto
I don’t know that I have a lot of complaints regarding Best Original Screenplay for 1974, since the movies that I would love to see here are generally the type that would never receive an Oscar nomination. We’re not going to get one for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Black Christmas, for instance. Blazing Saddles could be here; there’s precedent for Mel Brooks receiving (and winning!) Oscars for screenplays, but this one may have been too far over the edge for the Academy. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul would have been an interesting choice, but the foreign language slot was taken by Day for Night. For me, the biggest miss and the one I really want to see here is A Woman Under the Influence.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. Harry and Tonto is a sweet movie and one that certainly was nominated because of its feel-good nature, but based on the rest of the competition and what wasn’t nominated, it really doesn’t belong in this company. This is much more a character study than it is a movie with a plot, and the characters that we are given are little more than a collection of different quirks. It’s a harmless film, and while I realize that Oscar frequently likes the harmless, I prefer to reward films and projects that take some real risks.
4. I want to be clear that I really like the other four movies that were nominated, and at this point, putting one down here isn’t a knock on the film. That’s going to be cold comfort for Day for Night, which is better than fourth place in a lot of cases. It’s an interesting distinction that I need to make here—I like what is happening on the screen here and I find it fascinating, but there’s not a great deal of story that happens in this film. The events are interesting, but ultimately, there isn’t much narrative. That’s a bit of a problem for a screenplay award.
3. I ended up being very pleasantly surprised by Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and on a different day, I might well bump this up a notch. I expected this to be a bit light and fluffy and was instead given something that is surprisingly intense and gripping. This is a strong enough year in this category that I could see this winning in a weaker year. While the story is good, it really is the performance of Ellen Burstyn that makes the film worth watching. She’s so damn good that she overshadows everything else.
2. The Conversation is incredibly intense, and has one of the most paranoia-inducing closing 20 minutes I have experienced in a film. This is a wonderful exercise in mistrust and psychological claustrophobia, and while some of that comes from the performances, a great deal of it comes from the way that the story works its way through the characters. This is a subtle movie, one that bears watching with close attention. It also doesn’t assume that the audience is stupid, and I’m always a fan when my movies treat me like I’m smart.
1. But really, this was Chinatown’s Oscar and it was rightfully rewarded. There are so many things that could have easily gone wrong with Chinatown’s screenplay, and absolutely nothing did. This is a complex and deep story that never becomes confusing. Sure, a part of that is the skill with which the story is told, but most of it is the detail and skill with which that story was put together. If there hadn’t been a film noir movement already, this would be the centerpiece story and screenplay. It was the right call.