LIFE WITHOUT OSCAR: 1975 and 1976

Posted by · 7:00 pm · September 15th, 2010

Catch up with the idea behind this series here.

These two years offer two of the best slates of Best Picture nominees ever in my opinion. ’75 of course belonging to the second ever winner of the top five awards, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” I’ve got no qualms with that particular film, but for my money, “Barry Lyndon” is inch perfect, every frame.

1976 is viewed as one of the biggest Oscar travesties of all time. “Rocky” beating out films like “Network,” “Taxi Driver,” and “All the President’s Men” doesn’t sit well with most cinephiles. Guess what though, “Rocky” is in my top five films of all time and totally deserved it. Don’t listen to the haters, Sly!

Stallone would join Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles as the only people nominated for acting and writing the same film at that time. Lina Wertmuller would also make history as the first female ever nominated for Best Director, possibly taking Marty Scorsese’s spot.

The underdog box office champion winning top honors didn’t help the broadcast from becoming the lowest rated ever, and the first to last longer than three and a half hours.

1975 – “Love and Death” (Woody Allen)

Woody Allen’s entire output from the 1970’s is fantastic, each film more interesting and inventive than the last. You could do worse than sitting down and watching them all to see how the figure in the grand career of one of the most prolific filmmakers of all-time, which is exactly what longtime reader James D. seems to be doing over on his blog. Gently nestled between “Sleeper” and “Annie Hall,” “Love and Death” represents the moment where Allen decided to stretch his ambition.

In a 1993 interview, Allen stated, “Existential subjects to me are the only ones worth dealing with. Any time one deals with other subjects, one is not aiming for the highest goal. One can be aiming at some very interesting things, but it’s not the deepest thing… I just feel that you must- if you’re operating at the maximum of your capabilities- aim at very, very high material. And that to me would be the spiritual, existential realm.” The man clearly changed his tune before making “Anything Else,” but the period that begins with “Love and Death” is sufficiently covered.

The key to what makes Allen so great though, is that he doesn’t let these new ideas and themes override his sensibilities. His ability to incorporate existential and intellectual humor into his slapstick physical comedy and sexual innuendos are what truly made him a unique voice. Like the aforementioned Chaplin, he has managed to make an entire career out of more or less portraying the same character, and when done correctly, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

He’s teamed here with Diane Keaton, for the third time, and the actress sparkles as usual. Their chemistry is cinematic magic and with each film, Allen gave Keaton more room to stretch her considerable comedic talents. Harold Gould, who unfortunately passed away this week, provides brilliant support and features in a duel scene that has to go down as one of the funniest I’ve ever seen.

It may not be as genre-defining as “Annie Hall,” or as self-dissecting as “Manhattan,” or even as funny as “Take the Money and Run,” but “Love and Death” signals a comedic talent coming to terms with his medium as a playground to explore the issues that matter most. That, in and of itself, is extremely exciting to watch, but even outside the context of the Allen oeuvre, it’s an immensely enjoyable film.

1976 – “The Man Who Fell to Earth” (Nicolas Roeg)

Nicolas Roeg loves fucking with his audience. He never met a non-linear narrative he didn’t like and his foray into science fiction was the perfect vehicle for him to get giddy in the editing suite. Loosely, the film is about an alien who comes to Earth in search of water to bring back to his dying planet. He becomes a hugely successful business man to fund this operation, but slowly but surely become entangled in the politics of life on Earth.

First off, Roeg is a genius for casting David Bowie in his film debut. The man perfectly encapsulates alienation from the first frame of his face, but more importantly, probably surprised a lot of people with his delicate, subtle acting. His androgynous appearance is one of many ambiguities that Roeg thrives upon and exploits, but at the end of the day, if he didn’t have the chops then the stunt casting is just that.

Rip Torn, Candy Clark and Buck Henry fill out the supporting cast and yes ladies, you do get to see Rip Torn’s penis. It’s hard to talk about the film in any sort of plot-related capacity. It stands more as a formal and visual storytelling triumph than anything. And I won’t stand here and pretend that all of it registers with me, despite multiple viewings. The cross-cutting of seemingly dissociative images is a direct challenge from Roeg to discover just what he’s up to. The beauty of the images, by cinematographer Anthony B. Richmond, is more concrete. Can we please save this man from working on films like “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” these days?

Also of note, is Roeg’s deliberate avoidance of Bowie’s music. Despite the promotional images of this film and his album, “Low” being identical, and Bowie’s output at this point certainly fitting the bill, the film’s reluctance to simply be a cross-promotion tool is admirable. Instead former Mama and the Papa, John Phillips, shares score duties with Japanese composer Stomu Yamashta and the results are fantastic and unworldly.

Expanding on the quote from Woody above, Roeg clearly has existential and metaphysical questions on his mind here, and he explores them in a daringly personal way. An almost stream-of-conscious narrative, from the point of view of an outer space being, draped in explicit sexuality and anti-consumerism sentiment is not exactly the type of film the Academy will ever go for. In truth, it’s not the type of film I’m likely to go for if you catch me on the wrong day. But “The Man Who Fell to Earth” has always stuck with me and remains a shining example of science-fiction, muddled with ideas that carry no easy answers.

Those are my picks. What do you guys think?

[Photo: Chicago Sun-Times]
[Photo: The Guardian]

→ 20 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Life Without Oscar

20 responses so far

  • 1 9-15-2010 at 7:03 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Maybe “The Passenger” for ’75? Not my favorite, but worth mentioning.

  • 2 9-15-2010 at 7:09 pm

    Rashad said...

    ’75 I’d go with Jaws.

    Have no qualms with Rocky winning.

  • 3 9-15-2010 at 7:23 pm

    Sean C. said...

    “Rocky” is definitely a much more conventional film than many of its competitors, but it’s a worthy choice all the same. The sports movie has rarely, if ever, been done better.

  • 4 9-15-2010 at 7:35 pm

    Carson Dyle said...

    All my favourites from 75 were BP nominees, but for 76 I’ll go with Lester’s Robin and Marian. Or The Tenant. But Network was far and above the year’s best.

  • 5 9-15-2010 at 8:08 pm

    Mark Kratina said...

    1975 Best pic without a nomination:

    Gene Hackman’s Night Moves.

  • 6 9-15-2010 at 8:53 pm

    James D. said...

    I am very touched right now. Thanks, Chad.

    Love and Death is my favorite of the early Allen films. Sleeper, Bananas, and Take the Money and Run are all fantastic films, but this stands above for me with all of its philosophical nonsense and a wonderful setting. Keaton has so much to do here after a somewhat more conventional role in Sleeper, as well. For me, no one has ever been better with Allen than Keaton. I really hope they find another time to work together before it is too late.

  • 7 9-15-2010 at 9:02 pm

    James D. said...

    Also, another indicator of your top five. So far I have counted The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly and now Rocky. The plot thickens.

  • 8 9-15-2010 at 9:22 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Actually, the last time I sat down and made a list was 2007 and it came out like so-

    10. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
    9. A Clockwork Orange
    8. Paper Moon
    7. The Godfather
    6. Manhattan
    5. Pulp Fiction
    4. Citizen Kane
    3. Rocky
    2. Sunrise
    1. Apocalypse Now

    I’m sure it would look quite different if I did it again today.

  • 9 9-15-2010 at 10:48 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    I’m okay with Rocky winning, if only because the producers of my favorite film of ’76 (Michael and Julia Philips for Taxi Driver) already won Best Picture three years prior, and I figure if the legendary producer Irwin Winkler was going to win his sole Oscar for Rocky (and NOT for Raging Bull, The Right Stuff, or Goodfellas!) then that’s better than none at all.

    Plus, it’s a good movie.

  • 10 9-15-2010 at 10:50 pm

    Filmoholic said...

    Love and Death is a great choice. One of Allen’s best. Three are so many hilarious lines and exchanges, I don’t know where to begin.

    Napoleon: I heard you speaking to someone.
    Sonja: Oh, I was praying.
    Napoleon: But I heard TWO voices.
    Sonja: Well, I do both parts.

    Russian gentleman: So who is to say what is moral?
    Sonja: Morality is subjective.
    Russian gentleman: Subjectivity is objective.
    Sonja: Moral notions imply attributes to substances which exist only in relational duality.
    Russian gentleman: Not as an essential extension of ontological existence.
    Sonja: Can we not talk about sex so much?

    Just brilliant.

  • 11 9-16-2010 at 12:15 am

    red_wine said...

    Ah Chad a bit conventional coming from you. Apart from Rocky and Paper Moon, all are widely regarded canon titles. And no foreign language title in there. But I concur with Sunrise and think that it is the greatest film ever made.

    My favorite film from 1975 (and indeed one of all time) is Nashville, a film that towers over the 70’s American cinema.
    Other good films
    Jeanne Dielman (feminist domestic epic)
    Salò (Pasolini’s masterpiece)
    The Passenger
    Picnic At Hanging Rock
    I really can’t say I like One Flew Over… all that much. Much prefer Nashville and Lyndon.

    From 1976 I’d probably pick 1900 (probably my favorite Bertolucci along with Conformist) , I think it is extremely under-rated.
    Also In The Realm Of The Senses which I found somewhat grotesque but strangely affecting.
    The Mirror too though all I remember from that film is some vivid images without the vaguest recollection of what actually happened in the film.

  • 12 9-16-2010 at 1:18 am

    Chad Hartigan said...

    The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is essentially foreign. But good point nonetheless. That particular list, you had to go to #14 to find The 400 Blows and the first foreign film. Highest doc was Baraka at #20 and animated movie was Toy Story 2 at #99.

    But again, the list would look much different today.

  • 13 9-16-2010 at 5:27 am

    Larry said...

    Look at the state of television today and you have to realize Network was one of the most prophetic movies ever made. Does anyone see Glenn Beck as today’s Howard Beale?

  • 14 9-16-2010 at 6:01 am

    Mike Smolinski said...

    For my money, the most overlooked film of 1976 was Paul Mazursky’s brilliant “Next Stop, Greenwich Village.” From writing to acting to atmosphere, it remains one of my all-time favorite films.

  • 15 9-16-2010 at 6:36 am

    RJL said...

    1975: Night Moves
    1976: Robin and Marian

  • 16 9-16-2010 at 6:40 am

    David Morgan said...

    Beyond the 1975 nominees, which were great, I’d root for “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

  • 17 9-16-2010 at 11:53 am

    evelyn garver said...

    Mike S. thank you for reminding me of the delightful NEXT STOP, GREENWICH VILLAGE. I hadn’t thought of it for many years. Loved it.

  • 18 9-16-2010 at 2:29 pm

    AdamL said...

    I was certain you were joking with the Rocky thing. Then you posted your list. And having Citizen Kane in there is a bit cliched no?

    Wasn’t a fan of Love and Death, I actually prefer Allen’s 80s films.

  • 19 9-17-2010 at 1:39 am

    Edward L. said...

    Sonja: “Sex without love is an empty experience.”
    Boris: “Yes, but, as empty experiences go, it’s one of the best.”

    I do like Love and Death (and Woody Allen is probably my favorite filmmaker). Though my choice for non-nominated film of ’75 would probably be The Passenger.

    I don’t know what my choice for non-nominated film of ’76 would be. Pretty much every film I liked from that year was nominated for something. Even Bugsy Malone got a nomination. But the Best Picture should definitely have been Network. Much as I like All the President’s Men, Rocky and Taxi Driver (haven’t seen Bound for Glory yet), I think Network is the best. It’s just so bold and outrageous and hair-raising – and, looking at TV today, utterly right.

  • 20 9-17-2010 at 5:59 am

    ChrisP said...

    1975: I think the only film not deserving of a Best Picture nomination was ‘Nashville.’ The other four are perfect. For the fifth slot I’m torn between ‘The Day of the Locust,’ or Fassbinder’s finest film ‘Fox and His Friends.’

    1976: I enjoy the end of ‘Rocky’ but the best part about it is the score. It’s too talky – none of the characters worked for me.

    ‘Seven Beauties’ is amazing and should have been nominated (and won) for Best Pic over ‘Rocky.’ Also take away the OK ‘Bound For Glory’ and put in ‘Man on the Roof.’ Freaking awesome.