Best Picture – 1974

Official Nominations: The Godfather Part 2. Chinatown. The Conversation. Lenny. The Towering Inferno.

One the most renowned and brilliant years for the Best Picture, you would think that any year any of those nominated could be winner. The Godfather Part 2 got the official win, and how can you possibly argue against it? Coppola, Pacino, De Niro, the survivors from the first film, ‘you broke my heart’, ‘just enough to wet my beak’ etc. It’s glorious.

Chinatown is glorious too, just slightly less so. Polanski, Nicholson, Dunaway, Robert Towne – all doing career best work. It doesn’t even sound remotely interesting on the surface – a private investigator is hired to look into a man who is an engineer for some LA water company. As the plot unravels more and more mysteries emerge, leading to threat, violence, sex… it’s Chinatown. The Conversation is interesting primarily because Coppola made and released it in the same year as he did The Godfather II – how is that even possible? To be honest I’m not a huge fan of The Conversation – Hackman is good, his character is interesting, but the plot and repetition leave me mostly cold. I’m in the minority.

Lenny is Bob Fosse’s least regarded major work, but my favourite of his, probably to do with the lack of singing and dancing. It still deals with a lot of dark subject matter like his other movies do – the price of fame, addiction, relationships – and it features a terrific Dustin Hoffman performance as the great comedian. We finish with one of the finest disaster movies ever, and arguably the most tense and action packed. As was the case with these, the cast is packed with stars – Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Fred Astaire, Robert Vaughn etc are among those trapped or involved with the world’s tallest building going up in flames. As difficulty as the category is, there’s still a clear winner.

My Winner: The Godfather Part 2

My Nominations: The Godfather Part 2. Chinatown. Blazing Saddles. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Young Frankenstein.

The Mid-Seventies choices are difficult to argue with, but nevertheless there are a few films I feel deserved a nomination too. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is primary among those, but it’s a films which stood zero chance of garnering a single nomination – the film was simply too brutal, too shocking for its time, going beyond even what The Exorcist achieved. It is a film which retains that quality even today, in a world where more extreme, more bloody, more disgusting films are released yearly, yet few if any of those match the sheer force which surrounds The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. From the all too real performances, the grainy , gritty look, the crawling, uncomfortable soundtrack, it’s a film which doesn’t beg to be recognised – it kicks down your door, lashes you to a hook, and forces you to watch. Blazing Saddles is an altogether lighter affair, yet it’s equally groundbreaking, a satirical affair which is both whip smart and blazingly funny, while Mel Brooks somehow achieves a double nomination with Young Frankenstein – a film which drops the satire and heightens the farce.

My Winner: The Godfather Part 2

Let us know in the comments what you pick as the Best Film of 1974!

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Best Supporting Actress – 1974

Official Nominations: Ingrid Bergman. Valentina Cortese. Madeline Kahn. Diane Ladd. Talie Shire.

Few arguments this time with the nominations, the obvious choice to drop though being Valentina Cortese for the now little known Truffaut classic Day For Night. Diane Ladd follows Burstyn’s lead in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore – being essentially a road movie, there are any number of notable supporting performances, but they are all fairly small, yet each stands out in its own way, a testament to the quality of the cast and the director. Madeline Kahn featured in both of the Mel Brooks hits this year, but it’s Blazing Saddles where she got a deserving nomination, while Talia Shire further bolsters the foundations laid out previously as Connie Corleone tries to grow out of the shadow of her family. Finally, Ingrid Bergman picked up her third Oscar for Murder On The Orient Express, a performance which is almost entirely focused on a single scene, but it’s one which will stay in the viewer’s mind.

My Winner: Talia Shire

My Nominations: Ingrid Bergman. Madeline Kahn. Diane Ladd. Talie Shire. Valerie Curtin. Margot Kidder.

I only add two further nominations to the four carried over – Valerie Curtin as the shy counterpoint to Diane Ladd in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and Margot Kidder for her… well, I don’t want to spoil Black Christmas now, do I?

My Winner: Talia Shire

Best Supporting Actor – 1974

Official Nominations: Robert De Niro. Fred Astaire. Jeff Bridges. Michael V Gazzo. Lee Strasberg.

Lets be clear – basically any of the male supporting cast from The Godfather II could be nominated here. We get three of them, but there’s room for more, and there’s a case for De Niro being in the Lead category too. Any way you slice this though, De Niro wins. His Vito Corleone performance is a marked step up from anything he had done previously, and he arguably covers more ground than Brando did. The legendary teacher, Lee Strasberg got a nod too – ordinarily I would be cynical about this, but his performance is terrific – as is Gazzo’s as the side-switching ‘Five Fingers’. Elsewhere, Jeff Bridges continues his string of early hits with an endearing performance as the petty crook Lightfoot, while Fred Astaire gets the unnecessary veteran nod in The Towering Inferno – thankfully there isn’t much dancing.

My Winner: Robert De Niro

My Nominations: Robert De Niro. Jeff Bridges. Michael V Gazzo. Lee Strasberg. John Cazale. Gastone Moschin. Kris Kristofferson. Christopher Lee. Gene Wilder. Marty Feldman. Peter Boyle.

Four make it over, and a host of others join them. The Godfather Part II is the big winner, with the dastardly duo of Fredo and Don Fanucci joining their comrades, while Wilder gets a nod here for Blazing Saddles as well as a lead nod in the other category. Feldman and Boyle both excel in Young Frankenstein, Christopher Lee makes for one of the most charming and memorable Bond villains, and Kris Kristofferson brings the beard and heart-throbbing in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. 

My Winner: Robert De Niro

Best Actress – 1974

Official Nominations: Ellen Burstyn. Diahann Carroll. Faye Dunaway. Valerie Perrine. Gena Rowlands.

This is a tight one, because there are at least three terrific lead performances you can pick from, and another two decent options. Ellen Burstyn got her win here for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore – it’s not as iconic as The Exorcist but she arguably does more here and gets more of the spotlight. After the death of her husband, Alice travels across the US with her son hoping to find light at the end of a dark tunnel. Burstyn is funny and sympathetic and you feel like the film and the performance should be better known than it is. Faye Dunaway joins Nicholson in an acting masterclass with Chinatown, Dunaway bringing the noir Femme Fatale into yet another decade and crafting a more sinuous, slippery archetype. Gena Rowlands stars in her husband’s A Woman Under The Influence as a woman deemed to be crazy, for lack of a better word. Through the inner workings of her family, and husband in particular, we view her actions in a more sympathetic vein although it’s clear she is batshit, desperately so. It’s an audacious, largely extraordinary performance, though it does become tiresome and slips into over the top theatrics at times.

The final two choices were never going to win against the previous three, but deserve mentions. Claudine is a decent film, and the cynic in me says the performance feels like The Academy bowing to pressure rather than them honouring a good actor. It is a good performance and it does deserve a nomination, it makes you think of the actors in previous years who missed out but deserved equally. Finally, Valerie Perrine, better known as Miss Teschmacher from Superman, gets a dubious nomination for Lenny as the woman Lenny Bruce stalks and marries. She’s good, no doubt, but is in the shadow of Hoffman’s performance.

My Winner: Faye Dunaway

My Nominations: Ellen Burstyn. Faye Dunaway. Gena Rowlands. Lauren Bacall.

Having said all that, I struggle to choose any additional performances who would be on par with the three above, at least in the lead category. Lets add one more anyway, with Lauren Bacall’s moaning motormouth in Murder On The Orient Express.

My Winner: Faye Dunaway

Best Actor – 1974

Official Nominations: Art Carney. Albert Finney. Dustin Hoffman. Jack Nicholson. Al Pacino.

Another of the great WTFs in the history of The Academy sees Art Carney – dead last in the category by anyone’s reckoning, winning. Having said that, it’s still a good performance, worthy of a nomination, but it’s totally a nomination and win purely for the fact he had been around so long. He plays an elderly man who with his cat whose home is taken from him. He decides to travel across America with his cat to get to LA and one of his sons, but it’s more about the journey, the people he meets, the quirky situations. I feel like this should be more of a cult movie and it feels like the sort of thing hipsters would love – good film, good performance.

Almost everything else here is legendary. Albert Finney’s performance in Murder On The Orient Express is fine again, surrounded by a stellar cast, but I think we all know the real Poirot is David Suchet. It’s one of the most famous novels and mysteries of all time, and a very successful, authentic version. Dustin Hoffman is incredible as Lenny Bruce, a performance which hurries back and forth between an energetic force of nature coming up in the world, and an addict in the throes of depression and excess. Jack Nicholson gives yet another defining performance in Chinatown as a dogged PI sucked into intrigue, romance, and danger. Finally, Pacino gets another nomination, this time in The Godfather II. You already know it, it’s fantastic. Last year for me it was between Nicholson and Pacino. That time I picked Pacino, but we’ll flip it now and give it to Jack.

My Winner: Jack Nicholson

My Nominations: Jack Nicholson. Al Pacino. Dustin Hoffman. Gene Wilder. Gene Hackman.

Three of the official nominees cross over, leaving two new choices who arguably deserve to have officially replaced Carney and Finney. Interestingly, both Wilder and Hackman appear in Young Frankenstein, but it’s Wilder’s wide-eyes, manic comedic masterclass which gets the nod, while Hackman’s geeky voyeur introvert who grows increasingly paranoid is, for me, the best thing about The Conversation. 

My Winner: Jack Nicholson

Let us know in the comments who you pick as the Best Actor of 1974!

1974 Academy Awards – An Introduction

The 47th Academy Awards had a very masculine, mafia-based tone, what with hosts including Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, and Sammy Davis Jr, and The Godfather II and Chinatown picking up several nominations and wins. You can expect both of those movies to lead the way in my personal picks, with hopefully a few surprises along the way.

Jean Renoir, Howard Hawks, and Arthur B Krim were the honorary winners this year, while other categories were presented by Lauren Bacall, OJ Simpson, Goldie Hawn, Warren Beatty, and many more. The four hosts performed music, along with Aretha Franklin and Frankie Laine.

Join us over the next few weeks to see where my wins go, and feel free to share your own picks!