Fixing Oscar For One Film: Part Five 1969-1977
We all have that one movie we really wish had taken home the Best Picture Oscar that one time – even if we say we don’t care about the Oscars at all. At least most of us do if we’re reading an article on the subject on a pop culture blog on the internet. Well, LeBlog is teaming up with its readers to select one Best Picture loser from the previous eighty-nine years of the awards as our favorite also-ran. This is the picture we will be affording a unique honor here with the title of “Best-Loved Loser.” Come help us weed out the good from the great as we consider five more movies that came up just short on movies’ biggest night.
In this installment we have a pretty good representation of the birth of the modern blockbuster film and how the film business developed over the course of the last fifty years. Although it is true that I never played with any Travis Bickle or Howard Beale action figures.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
While it’s pretty easy to see how both Jaws and Star Wars influenced big dollar moviemaking, it would be a mistake to assume that Roy Hill’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid wasn’t just as influential in its own way. Butch and Sundance helped establish, not only the upward climb at the box office, but the buddy action movie paradigm that would be so prevalent right on through the late 1980s and still pops up from time to time (Nice Guys from a couple of years ago come to mind). The movie approached the $100 million mark at a time when that was unheard of, more than doubling the box office take of the second highest-grossing film of the year (Best Picture winner Midnight Cowboy, by the way), while also checking a lot of boxes in other ways. The script was written on spec and sold at an unprecedented $40,000, the leads included an established superstar and a big up-and-comer, and the song “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” won the Oscar for Best Original Song and topped the pop singles charts for a full month in January of 1970. Also, my family owned the sheet music, so I got to hear my Dad playing it on the piano over and over for a while when I was a kid. This was a huge movie.
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Director, sound
Oscar Wins: Best Original Screenplay, Original Score, Original Song, Cinematography
Remember when Richard Dreyfuss was a big movie star? Following Butch and Sundance, big event movies started bringing in more and more money at the box office despite the continued competition from television. Filmmakers had figured out that they simply had the prestige and budgets to create product that the three big television networks simply couldn’t. Yet somehow they managed to whine about the competition and have people take them seriously for most of twenty years. That kind of had to stop once Jaws hit the big screen. This was something like nobody had ever seen before both in its marketing blitz and in its following success at the box office. Plunked down in theaters at the end of June when lots of families had teenagers out of school for the summer and looking for something to do, Jaws managed to secure a PG rating (much to the consternation of some onlookers at the time who deemed it far too gory for family fare), putting it in the position to attract a wide audience looking for escapist thrills. The movie was rolled out in big blocks of theaters as it gained momentum, became the biggest hit of the year, and with a re-release the following year became the highest-grossing film of all time – for less than a year.
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture
Oscar Wins: Best Original Score, Sound, Film Editing
“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” This is the key line from Network. It caught a bit of the zeitgeist of the time period as the 1970s limped along like the living embodiment of a hangover from the late 1960s. There was a social revolution and it only kind of succeeded, leaving everybody groping through the corporate appropriation of what were supposed to be the ideals and aesthetics of the anti-establishment. There was a recession on and gas prices were going through the roof and inner city violence was on the rise and people were feeling plenty insecure. The line seemed to capture that feeling and it was on many lips in 1976. But here’s the thing…that version of the line wasn’t really quite right. The line as written by Paddy Chayefsky was “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take THIS anymore,” then a physically and emotionally drained Peter Finch flubbed it in his big speech, making it “I’m AS mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.” It’s not until we travel outside in the big scene that we hear some of the nameless New Yorkers moved to action delivering the line the way we know it. It was the only flubbed line in the movie in which the writer Chayefsky had final cut.
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Cinematography, Film Editing
Oscar Wins: Best Actor, Actress, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay
Taxi Driver (1976)
Yeah, I’m talking to you. If you really want a taste of what the mid seventies were like for an adult, particularly in a big city, Sidney Lumet’s Network and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver seem like a pretty good one-two punch, hitting the intellect and the gut of America’s growing uncertainty and paranoia. It probably shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the relatively conservative membership of the Academy decided that Rocky, which aimed for the heart and a bit of uplift, was the more ideal representative for posterity of 1976. Taxi Driver almost received an “X” rating from the MPAA, but it seems that simply by de-saturating the color in the final assault on Sport’s brothel to decrease the emphasis on the amount of blood present in the scene he was able to squeak by with an “R.” Paul Schrader wrote the script in less than a month while living in an ex-girlfriend’s apartment during her absence, taking inspiration from George Wallace shooter Arthur Bremer’s diaries. Scorsese intentionally placed the audience in what he called a “limbo between sleeping and waking” with the effect that both personalizes Bickle and holds the audience at a distance as if they’re watching something they desperately want to change, but know they can’t.
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Score
Oscar Wins: None
Star Wars (1977)
This might well be the most interesting set of Best Picture losers we will look at in this series. The cynicism and brilliance of both Network and Taxi Driver stand in sharp contrast to the rest of the films here which were enormously influential in establishing tent pole filmmaking as the dominant form in Hollywood. It’s both exciting and a little depressing. After all, I was one of those school-aged kids who helped make Star Wars into not only an enormous box office success, but perhaps the most significant piece of pop culture since the Beatles. The merchandising was certainly at least on par with the Fab Four’s, and the movie even pushed its wildly famous John Williams score into the top 40, scoring two hits. A version focused only on the main theme reached number ten on the singles charts while a different version that also incorporated the music from the Mos Eisley cantina actually held the number one slot for two weeks in October of 1977 and is still the highest-selling instrumental single in history. Yeah, Bill Murray wasn’t the only one singing that tune.
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay
Oscar Wins: Best Original Score, Sound, Costume Design, Art Direction, Film Editing, Visual Effects
Here. Choose between these movies why dont’cha? Then go to the comments section and curse me for roping you into this painful task.
Posted on February 22, 2018, in 1970s, Awards, Movies, Oscars, poll, Star Wars, trailers and tagged Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Jaws, Network, Star Wars, Taxi Driver. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.