Official Nominations: Midnight Cowboy. Anne Of A Thousand Days. Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. Hello Dolly. Z.
1969 saw a return to form and a return to the New Hollywood. With the new decade beckoning, Vietnam raging, and fear, paranoia, and crime rising throughout the country, many younger, more adventurous film makers were emerging. Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy was the first X Rated film to win best film, featuring rampant sex and knocking more than a few boundaries to grateful dust. Dustin Hoffman features again, his relationship with newcomer Jon Voight proving highly effective. The film has memorable music, scenes, and dialogue, and portrays small town America, New York, and innocence in a less than glamorous or appealing light. This type of thins had rarely been seen before on screen even though it was surrounded audiences daily lives. Sandwiched between this and Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, is the unfortunate and quite frankly embarrassed to be there Anne Of The Thousand Days. Between two films of brutal realism, and exciting freshness, this out of touch costume drama looks like it was made during the time it was portrayed and stands out only because there are big name actors and silly clothes. Reportedly the studio plied the Academy with champagne and lavish meals to win them over. Thankfully good sense prevailed – it’s a by the numbers drama with a fine cast, but completely out of place here.
George Roy Hill’s BCATSK features Robert Redford and Paul Newman in their career defining, and probably best performances. The outlaws are portrayed in a sympathetic light, Bacharach’s famous song ensuring that we come to love these characters before they are inevitably frozen in sepia and bullets at the end. The many dreamlike sequences serve to both interrupt and strengthen the film showing that the director wasn’t sure to go for an all out adventure or merge with his prior aesthetic. Gene Kelly’s directed Hello, Dolly! is another Streisand musical, this time devoid of any music of note while Gavras’ Z is a stark, funny, and gripping thriller dealing with the assassination of a Greek politician. This one has largely become forgotten over the years but comes highly recommended for all lovers of freedom, common sense, and good movies.
Three very good films then this year, one of which has gone on to iconic status, one which is still highly revered, and one which should be re-consumed. It’s a tight one, but my choice as winner goes to Midnight Cowboy.
My Winner: Midnight Cowboy
My Nominations: Midnight Cowboy. Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. Easy Rider. The Italian Job. The Wild Bunch. Z
I take the three main picks from the official list and add another three iconic films. Nothing says 1960’s counter-culture like Easy Rider and while it has dated more than some of the other movies in the list its importance cannot be underestimated. With Hopper, Fonda, and Nicholson, a realism and style which had never been mainstream before, and an assured and honest look at part of the country and its people which had been largely ignored by cinema, it is vital viewing. Not quite as influential but just as essential and a hell of a lot more fun is The Italian Job – some of the biggest names in British culture appear in this caper, probably the best of its type, and it is filled with quotable dialogue and memorable scenes all while moving at top speed. My final pick is one of the greatest Westerns ever made, a defining moment for the genre while simultaneously acting as a nail in the coffin for a genre which had dominated for the last couple of decades. Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch has the smarts to merge standard Western plot fare with ultra modern and vibrant techniques and sensibilities – the editing, the soul-searching, and of course the stylized violence are all significant. Peckinpah depicts a world filled with aging men well past their best days, yet still trying to survive using their old wits as time marches on with increasing brutality.
My Winner: The Wild Bunch.
What is your pick for the Best Picture of 1969? Do you pick something from my list, or the official one, or something different entirely? Let us know in the comments!