Friday, September 6, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 1975

The Contenders:

And Now My Love
Dog Day Afternoon (winner)
Lies My Father Told Me

What’s Missing

This is a better year than it looks on paper based on the nominations. Truthfully, I like only two of the nominations as movies, and since the screenplay is in many cases the heart of the movie, I think there’s a lot to be improved upon here. Two foreign-language movies in this category is pretty rare, but I know of two others that I like about as well as one and better than another: The Man in the Glass Booth and Cousin, Cousine. To be fair, the second of those movies got its nominations the following year. I like Rollerball far more than everyone else seems to, and I would have loved to have seen it here. Sure, it’s an old story, but it’s a damn good version of it. Nashville seems like a really serious miss here, particularly since it was nominated for both Best Picture and Best Director. Personally, I’d have loved to have seen a nomination for Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. The greatest sin a movie can commit is not being too long or too offensive; it’s being boring. Lies My Father Told Me commits that sin in spades. I lost interest in this film not long after it started and had to gut my way through it. Nothing that happened ever reversed that initial impression of it being dull and plain and without much merit. I can deal with offensive, grotesque, and even stupid, but boring is so hard to handle in a film. If you really need a film from this era that explores Jewish culture, Fiddler on the Roof is a better choice, and Hester Street from this same year is far more interesting.

4. Much of the same thing could be said about And Now My Love, a film for which I wrote a substantially shorter than normal review because, ultimately, I couldn’t really be bothered to care about anything that was happening. The ending also feels like the dirtiest of dirty tricks, something that is a bigger extended middle finger than having a character wake up and realize that it was all only a dream. I cannot fathom how a movie that offers that terrible of a kick in the crotch to the audience wound up here.

3. I said when I reviewed Shampoo that this is a movie that is far less than the sum of its parts, and I stand by that. I like that it moves inexorably from overt comedy to overt drama through its running time without really revealing when or how that happens. That’s actually quite masterful, and it’s a feature that moved this into third. But it also often feels like there’s not a great deal at stake, even if there is. Our main character seems to have always gotten whatever he wants. If he still does, we’re not surprised. If he doesn’t it’s just desserts. In either case, it’s kind of hard to care.

2. Amarcord is notable for being a Fellini film that I don’t hate. In facdt, I think it’s a pretty good movie and one that has a great deal to recommend it. Like a lot of Fellini, though, it’s a bit overblown and flowery; that’s just Fellini. For me, it’s probably a part of what keeps it out of a chance of winning despite being a very good screenplay. It’s more or less a memoir, though, and while it’s well-made and interesting, it’s also spending an awful lot of time in the mind of Fellini, which isn’t a place I honestly feel comfortable .

My Choice

1. There’s a lot I would like to change from this particular set of nominations, but I wouldn’t change the winner. Dog Day Afternoon has everything I want in a screenplay, adapted or original. It’s gutsy, entertaining, and it takes a lot of risks and sticks the landing. It doesn’t cheat the audience or treat us like we’re stupid, and from the opening moments to the very end, there is always a great deal at stake, and it keeps ramping up. This was absolutely the right choice from the five nominations, and in an expanded field, we’d have a closer race, but with the same result.

Final Analysis


  1. I still haven't seen Dog Day Afternoon but I have seen Shampoo and Amarcord (one of my favorite Fellini films) as I do agree with you on The Holy Grail as it's a film made by geniuses. Not nominating Nashville for Best Original Screenplay is fucking wrong! Other films that I feel got overlooked in that category are Jeanne Dielman 23 quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles, Love & Death, Wrong Move, and Cria Cuervos.

    1. In addition to the films that have been mentioned, we also get Jeanne Dielman, Love and Death, and Cria Cuervos tossed into the mix! I do love Dog Day Afternoon … I saw it on TV later in the 1970s when I was a teenager and it was my introduction to INTENSE 1970S FILMMAKING! I've seen it a few times since and it just gets better and better!

      But in the same category with Monty Python and the Holy Grail! Yeah, that's the winner!

    2. Dog Day is absolutely worth seeing--it's Pacino at his best and another great John Cazale role.

      Love and Death would have been an interesting choice. It has my single-favorite Woody Allen line:
      Her: We'll have three children.
      Him: Yes, yes. One of each.

      For the record, I absolutely hate Jeanne Dielmann. I am not apologetic about that.

    3. Yay! Someone else who hates Jeanne Dielmann!!! I was in a slack jawed stupor by the time that endless lump of nothing finally ended. The praise for it baffles me the same way Last Year at Marienbad is praised to the skies. Coincidentally both starred Delphine Seyrig who I think was a good actress but those films were torture!

    4. I've seen (I think) five Delphine Seyrig movies and have absolutely hated three of them--Jeanne Dielmann, Last Year at Marienbad, and India Song. In fact, my review of Marienbad is what turned this blog from a PG-13 rating to R in terms of language.

  2. No matter what else was or wasn't nominated there really shouldn't have been any other winner than Dog Day Afternoon (for that matter there shouldn't have been any other winner of Best Actor than Pacino but that's a discussion for another day). It just gets everything right and gives the actors and director so much to work with.

    Amarcord was an interesting film and I don't object to its nom but that's as far as it goes. The other nominees were meh, well Shampoo is a bit more than that but its so of its time and place.

    You mentioned Hester Street, a good if not great film but I think that is based on a novel or novella.

    I didn't like Nashville but it's more a case of the film just not being my cup of tea rather than it being a bad film and a nomination miss for it is surprising considering the way they ladled nominations on it.

    The only other film I'd add is the Gene Hackman thriller Night Moves which is far better than at least three of the nominations.

    1. Dog Day Afternoon is the clear winner for me, too. It doesn't matter what else gets nominated, and while something like Nashville or Holy Grail would be a much closer second (and third), it's still Dog Day's Oscar.

      My metion of Hester Street wasn't as a possible nomination, but as a better cinematic look at Jewish culture--essentially the same observation made about Fiddler on the Roof.

  3. I've seen Holy Grail a bunch of times but a few years ago I found the script and started reading. I was gasping with laughter sitting at my desk. I *knew* what the script was going to say and I was still convulsing with laughter. THAT is the sign of an amazing screenplay.

    1. Yeah, it really is--there's a lot of old Python that is just as funny now as it was 50 (50!) years ago. It absolutely should have been nominated, and while Dog Day Afternoon has a script that ticks every box, I wouldn't have been too upset had Holy Grail been nominated and won.