Best Actress – 1971

Official Nominations: Jane Fonda. Julie Christie. Glenda Jackson. Vanessa Redgrave. Janet Suzman.

Jane Fonda was the runaway winner this year for her performance in Klute. It was the performance which launched her career and was a modern revision of those noir heroines of old invoking tradition, mystery, sympathy, and sensuality. Julie Christie received her second Oscar nomination this year, playing Miller versus McCabe, an opium addicted raconteur and opportunist while Glenda Jackson gets a nod for the unhappy, disappointed Alex Greville in Sunday Bloody Sunday. The final two choices are fine, but feel a little like ‘we have to pick these performances because of the film’ – Redgrave for Mary, Queen Of Scots and Janet Suzman for Nicholas And Alexandra. 

My Winner: Jane Fonda

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My Nominations: Jane Fonda. Julie Christie. Glenda Jackson. Jennifer O’Neill. Mia Farrow. Jenny Agutter.

I can’t really improve upon the three main choices from the Official Nominations, so I add a random trio – Jenny Agutter for the challenging Walkabout, Mia Farrow in the Wait Until Dark rip-off See No Evil, and Jennifer O’Neill for Summer Of ’42. 

My Winner: Jane Fonda

Let us know in the comments who you pick as the Best Actress of 1971!

Best Actor – 1971

Official Nominations: Gene Hackman. Peter Finch. Walter Matthau. George C Scott. Chaim Topol.

There were two clear front-runners this year, with Gene Hackman picking up the win for his (arguably) career best performance in The French Connection. Missing out was Topol in Fiddler In The Roof – a full-blooded performance but one I’m never going to pick over Hackman. Peter Finch plays one third of a sexual triangle in Sunday Bloody Sunday, a million miles away from camp, while Walter Matthau is not grumpy in the forgotten, curious, and light Kotch. Finally, George C Scott is grumpy and stressed and more besides in The Hospital. As mentioned – only one winner.

My Winner: Gene Hackman

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My Nominations: Gene Hackman. Gene Wilder. Dustin Hoffman. Al Pacino. Sean Connery. Malcolm McDowell. Oliver Reed. Michael Caine. Warren Beatty. Richard Roundtree. Robert Duvall.

Only Hackman transcends reality to make it onto my list, joining a list of snubs and others. Gene Wilder seems like a major snub here, at least with hindsight – his portrayal of Willy Wonka one of the most beloved ever, commanding every scene he is in and providing many memorable moments. Similarly, Dustin Hoffman may feel aggrieved that he didn’t get a nomination for Straw Dogs – Hoffman slowly cracking then shattering. Al Pacino got off to his first major lead role in Panic In Needle Park, an interesting film raised by his performance while Sean Connery plays a more dastardly version of Bond in The Anderson Tapes. Malcolm McDowell gives a tour de force performance as Alex in A Clockwork Orange, ensuring he would have a career playing madcap characters while Oliver Reed furthered his legend with The Devils. Staying in England, Michael Caine earns another nomination from me thanks to his meanest performance in Get Carter while back in the US, Warren Beatty should feel aggrieved by not getting a nomination for Mccabe & Mrs Miller. Finally, two performances which never would have got a nomination – Robert Duvall in a rare lead role for THX 1138 and Richard Roundtree for the ground-breaking Shaft. 

This is a tough one, but I think it’s between Wilder and McDowell for me.

My Winner: Gene Wilder

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Who do you pick as the Best Actor of 1971? Let us know in the comments!

Best Picture – 1971

Official Nominations: A Clockwork Orange. The French Connection. The Last Picture Show. Fiddler On The Roof. Nicholas And Alexandra.

1971 was a great year for films and for the Oscars as they mostly got everything right. With so many strong films though, only a panel of comatose cyborgs would get it wrong. William Friedkin would come to popularity (after releasing a few art-house and small films) this year with the action-packed thriller The French Connection, highly regarded as one of the best cop films ever. As well as the perfect partnership between Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider the film is famous for its breathless car chase and for being the first R rated film to win Best Film. Unlike films of just a few years before this feels modern timeless, and the script, characterizations, and story don’t feel like they have aged at all. It would be difficult to argue against this film winning the main award, but the year had a couple of other masterpieces.

Stanley Kubrick returned after a three year hiatus bringing one of the most famously controversial films ever made to screen. He turned Anthony Burgess’s novel into a funny, scary, futuristic vision of the world and filling it with violence, bizarre imagery, sex, and some of the most famous scenes ever committed film. Not shying away from the argot which Burgess used in the novel, Kubrick creates a flawless social commentary on youth, on fear, on paranoia, on authority and any number of other subjects. The lack of redemption which appears in the movie serves Kubrick’s typically bleak style and sets up McDowell’s character Alex as an anti-hero for the ages. The film was banned in many countries including Britain for content, for its messages, yet today it stands as a powerful look at an extreme, yet not impossible future. The cast is uniformly brilliant, McDowell is never better, the classical score is used as a plot device rather than simply background noise, and everything moves at a sickening pace.

Just as famous and proof that the musical was still dragging its tippedy tappedy heels around is The Fiddler On The Roof. Unusual for a musical is that the story is mildly interesting, Williams’ score is decent, while the songs are bouncy enough but hardly memorable. Topol gives a good performance as the poor Jewish lead but the film is largely forgettable. Also forgettable is Schaffner’s Nicholas and Alexandra. It is epic, tragic, inspiring, but lacks the strength in its cast to make it as powerful as it could have been.

That leaves Bogdanovich’s smart coming of age drama The Last Picture Show to complete the roster. Featuring all round wonderful performances, particularly from Bridges, Johnson, and Bottoms and filmed in beautiful black and white it is probably the director’s best. It is a much more simple film than the two big ones here but equally as affecting. My winner is A Clockwork Orange for its daring, for its shocks, for the visual flare, and for an engaging story which forces your brain to tick rather than tide over, though either of the other two big boys would be a worthy winner.

My Winner: A Clockwork Orange

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My Nominations: A Clockwork Orange. The French Connection. The Last Picture Show. The Big Boss. Wake In Fright. Get Carter. THX 1138. Walkabout. McCabe & Mrs Miller. The Devils.

As is generally the case I expand my search to the wider movie world, bringing in Britain, Hong Kong, and Hong Kong into the mix. The Big Boss is the first true Bruce Lee film and remains a startling introduction to his performing skills, and not just as a fighter. It’s a fairly straight film with Lee helping out his neverending group of cousins and investigating corruption and murder in a small town but it has an energy and inspired rebellious spirit like few other films. McCabe & Mrs Miller is another Robert Altman classic – he had a string of these all the way through this period – this seems just as worthy of a nomination as those which got one. With no chance of getting such honours, The Devils remains one of the most highly sought after and rarely seen controversial movies – certainly not an easy watch it nevertheless is one of a kind.

Get Carter is one of the finest British movies of the decade, and for my money one of the last truly great British films. Wake In Fright is equally one of Australia’s best – a biting satire with gripping action, machismo, violence, and a stark style while Walkabout is a joint venture between the two countries and offering a different but equally deadly glimpse of the outback. It features some gorgeous cinematography and haunting images. Finally, THX 1138 is an early George Lucas effort before he set his sights on a galaxy far, far away. His dystopian film is a world away from what we think of when we think of George Lucas movies – this is stark, cold, but bold and inventive in crafting an imaginary world. The film was dismissed upon release but has been re-evaluated over time as a near-classic, a sign of a young writer, director finding his feet, and a chilling vision of a future which seems increasingly plausible.

My Winner: A Clockwork Orange

Let us know in the comments which film of 1971 you would pick as winner of the Best Picture Oscar!

1971 Academy Awards – An Introduction

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The 44th Academy Awards had three films with runaway success – pity for everyone else. Fiddler On The Roof, The Last Picture Show, and The French Connection each received eight nominations with the latter taking the most wins with five. It was another sign of the film landscape leaning towards more gritty output – realism rather than fantasy, and real people struggling with genuine problems which viewers could relate to.

As usual the standard list of performers were called upon to present awards and sing – Frank Capra, Betty Grable, Tennesse Williams, Gene Hackman, and Liza Minelli all presented, while The Carpenters, Issac Hayes, and Henry Mancini were among those performing. Another notable moment was when Charlie Chaplin arrived to receive an Honourary Award, also picking up the longest standing ovation in Oscar’s history.

As for my thoughts on the films of 1971 – some of the major official players will feature heavily while a few under-represented, cult, and personal favourites will get some stealth nominations. Join me over the next few weeks and share your thoughts and picks in each category!