Friday, January 3, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1970

The Contenders:

Arthur Hiller: Love Story
Robert Altman: M*A*S*H
Franklin J. Schaffner: Patton (winner)
Federico Fellini: Satyricon
Ken Russell: Women in Love

What’s Missing

I dislike three of the five movies nominated for Best Director for 1970, but dislike only two of the nominations. There are plenty of possibilities for how to improve the list we have. I should start with a mention of Michael Wadleigh as the director of Woodstock as well as Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin for Gimme Shelter. All of them deserved some mention here, but directors of documentaries tend to be ignored for this award. The horror movie/foreign language couplet almost certainly left out Dario Argento and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. A bigger miss is Elio Petri and Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion. Frank Perry could have been named for Diary of a Mad Housewife very conceivably, or at least with less of a stretch than Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell for Performance, although I think that’s a serious miss. Last but not least, I’m genuinely surprised at the snub for Bob Rafelson and Five Easy Pieces.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Fellini’s Satyricon is not my least favorite of the five nominees, although it’s close, but it is my least favorite directorial performance of these nominations. Why? Because I think Fellini was a self-indulgent wanker and no film is more representative of this than Satyricon. Someone else is welcome to tell me how wrong I am an how much I should learn to appreciate Fellini, and while I appreciate the effort, it’s not going to happen. Screw him, and screw this movie.

4. If you want to know what my least favorite of these five movies is, guess no further—it’s Love Story, a completely maudlin and syrupy pile of celluloid. I dislike these characters as much as I have disliked any characters from any movie ever and only wish whatever Jenny had was contagious. I find this movie virtually irredeemable, and hate the fact that it got so many nominations, including this one for Arthur Hiller. Only the presence of Fellini would have stopped me from putting this in last place.

3. I think Ken Russell is an acquired taste, and while I appreciate some of his more gonzo film moments (like The Devils, for instance), Women in Love was not a film that worked for me. That said, I’m not sure I hate the nomination despite not really liking the film. Russell took a lot of chances, not the least of which was a male-on-male naked wrestling sequence, about as homoerotic as you could get for 1970. I wouldn’t peg Russell as my winner, but I rather like the fact that the Academy rewarded his bravado with the nomination.

2. Franklin J. Schaffner won this Oscar for Patton. This isn’t terribly surprising given that Patton won Best Picture and George C. Scott won for Best Actor in the title role. Schaffner’s win was understandable because of this, and it’s a well-directed film. In fact, it’s well-enough directed that I don’t hate the win even if it’s not my pick. Patton, after all, was my pick for Best Picture for this year. So, while I can’t fully endorse this as the win, I am of the opinion that the Academy could have done a hell of a lot worse.

My Choice

1. My winner is Robert Altman for M*A*S*H. I have a strange relationship to the films of Altman. I like some of his films well enough and genuinely dislike others. My problem with him tends to be that his films go in a lot of directions, have dozens of characters, and never seem to really end up anywhere. M*A*S*H is admittedly a film that has a great deal in common with that, and yet it works really well. The fact that it works that well is exactly why Altman deserved this Oscar. In lesser hands, this would have collapsed under its own weight, but it never does.

Final Analysis


  1. I do love Fellini but Satyricon I will admit is not one of my favorites. I don't hate it but I don't think it's great either as my opinion of it is down the middle. I loathe Love Story and Arthur Hiller is hit/miss for me as a director as he can make some damn good films but he's made some awful shit like that and Man of La Mancha.

    The big snubs for me in the direction camp is Francois Truffaut for The Wild Child, Jean-Pierre Melville for Le Cercle Rouge, Bernardo Bertolucci for The Conformist, Sam Peckinpah for The Ballad of Cable Hogue, and Jacques Demy for Donkey Skin. I would be totally cool with Robert Altman winning Best Director for M.A.S.H. while I have problems with Franklin J. Schaffer winning for Patton as I enjoyed the hell out of that film. My wild card pick for Best Director would've been Alejandro Jodorowsky for El Topo, that shit is fucked up but fucking awesome.

    1. El Topo is one of those films that I don't know if I like or not. I know I'm supposed to and I think I might, but I haven't made up my mind and may never.

      A lot here that you mention that I haven't seen. As always, I have more work to do.

  2. I agree with your choice of Altman and feel similarly to you about his body of work. Sometimes his multi story shambling narratives really come together and others it blows apart. But M*A*S*H* is one place that it all works.

    Love Story is a piece of trash but you have to take into account it was an enormously profitable piece of trash when it was out and Hollywood embraces huge successes like that even if in hindsight they rue their decision. At least it didn't win!!!

    I'd kick the rest of the nominees to the curb as well (Schaffner would probably come in about sixth or seventh for me) and choose these instead.

    Costa-Gavras-The Confession
    Howard Hawks-Rio Lobo
    Elio Petri-Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion
    Bob Rafaelson-Five Easy Pieces-this would be my number two.

    I'd also say David Lean for Ryan's Daughter and Arthur Penn's work on Little Big Man are much better than some of what got in.

    1. Yeah, a lot of Altman leaves me both cold and confused because there's just so much packed into it. I wonder if M*A*S*H doesn't have that problem for me because I grew up on the television show and thus know most of the characters really well.

      I think Petri might be my number two.

  3. MASH would be my choice as well. Altman went new ways in direction and that paid off. In my book that deserves a pad on the shoulder.
    The missing nominee for me was The Garden of the Finzi-Continis by De Sica. It did get a nod as Best Foreign Language movie in 72, so it was likely not eligible in 71, but it was in every respect a better movie than Satyricon.
    El Topo Seems to get a lot of love. For the record, I would like to send it it to the place you have reserved for Zabriskie Point.

    1. I can see that about El Topo, although my reaction to it wasn't that strong. I'd be very interested to see your reaction to a film like Santa Sangre.