Best Writing (Adapted) – 1971

Don’t worry, I’m not dead! I think. I’ve been renovating my garage and internet has been off the grid for a while, but I’m back!

Official Nominations: The French Connection. A Clockwork Orange. The Conformist. The Garden Of The Finzi Continis. The Last Picture Show.

Two foreign movies unexpectedly make the grade – I’ve discussed them before and as they are both 1970 movies they won’t be in my category this year. The French Connection won this year, fictionalizing a non-fiction work by Robin Moore. The Last Picture Show is the story of any number of American youths over any number of years – an adaptation of the sort of biography by Larry McMurty. My win though goes to Kubrick’s retelling of A Clockwork Orange – enough similarities to the source material to follow the central plot and characters and dialogue, but with enough changes to make it stand on its own without harming the novel.

My Winner: A Clockwork Orange

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My Nominations: The French Connection. A Clockwork Orange. The Last Picture Show. Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory. Straw Dogs. The Devils. Get Carter. Johnny Got His Gun.

Three official choices make it over and join five others. Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory gets rid of much of the frumptious dialogue of Dahl’s novel but keeps the spirit of wonder while allowing Gene Wilder free reign. Dahl wrote the main script but David Seltzer made many changes to it – adding songs, developing Slugworth – so much so that Dahl disowned the film. Straw Dogs is a very loose adaptation of an earlier novel, keeping some basic ideas and character names but streamlining into a tale of breakdown and revenge while The Devils takes a book which many would have deemed unfilmable and makes a movie which is now almost unwatchable due to availability. Get Carter is a mostly faithful retelling of Jack’s Return Home with plenty of hardass English gangster speak that actually makes sense (unlike that recent Cockney muck), while Johnny Got His Gun sees Dalton Trumbo re-write and film his own novel with the stark visuals heightening the anti-war sentiment and peppered with one-liners you’ll see quoted on many a comments sections today.

My Winner: Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory

Best Costume Design – 1971

Official Nominations: Nicholas And Alexandra. Bedknobs And Broomsticks. Death In Venice. Mary, Queen Of Scots. What’s The Matter With Helen.

Two obvious picks with two big costume dramas – three other normals. Take your pick between Yvonne Blake and Antonio Castillo’s Nicholas And Alexandra and Margaret Furse’s Mary, Queen Of Scots. 

My Winner: Nicholas And Alexandra

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My Nominations: Nicholas And Alexandra. Mary, Queen Of Scots. A Clockwork Orange. McCabe And Mrs Miller. Red Sun. Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory.

Along with the costume dramas I add three should-have-beens, and one never-would-have-been. A Clockwork Orange may not at first glance seem as visually arresting as some of Kubrick’s other work, but the attention to detail in costume and set design is paramount. A Clockwork Orange wouldn’t be see unnerving without the pale, iconic, almost jumpsuit look of Alex and his droogs often as a counterpoint to the more stylized 70s flair of everyone else. McCabe And Mrs Miller is of course a gorgeous movie with the costumes a huge part of the overall tone, while the characters in Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory appear as extensions of their clothing – from the drab look of Charlie and his grandfather to the exuberant red festive attire of Veruca, not to mention Wonka and the Oompa Loompas. Finally, lets add Red Sun as it doesn’t get mentioned enough.

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My Winner: A Clockwork Orange

Let us know your winner in the comments below!

Best Foreign Film – 1971

Official Nominations: The Garden Of The Finzi-Continis. Dodesukaden. The Emigrants. The Policeman. Tchaikovsky.

Look at the names of those movies and their countries of origin – just look. Isn’t this just the most cliché list of ‘Best Foreign Film’ sounding films ever? It’s a strange year for the category, given that the first two choices above were actually released in 1970 and the third would be nominated for actual Best Picture the following year. The Garden Of The Finzi-Continis is a terrible title but a decent film following a group of Jewish people as fascism is rising in Italy – they manage to avoid and largely ignore the turmoil in Europe by being enclosed in their vast, wealthy manor but inner struggles and turmoil begin to surface as the outside world becomes increasingly dangerous. Dodesukaden I covered in my 1970 nominations – one of Kurosawa’s strangest films, while The Emigrants is a fine, but long movie about a bunch of Swedes moving to the US in the 1800s – the journey, the hardships etc. It’s basically The Animals Of Farthing Wood. The final two choices are typically odd – The Policeman is an occasionally funny film about a shy and morale policeman who is trodden on by everyone but eventually gets some notice, while Tchaikovsky is about dinosaurs (a biopic of the composer).

My Winner: The Garden Of The Finzi-Continis

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My Nominations: The Big Boss. Bleak Moments. A Clockwork Orange. The Devils. A Fistful Of Dynamite. Get Carter. Red Sun. Bay Of Blood. Wake In Fright. Walkabout.

A whole host of alternatives to choose from this year, so I’m not picking any of the Official nominations. Most of these I talked about in the Best Film category too, so I’ll skip those ones. Bleak Moments was Mike Leigh’s stunning, well acted,  low budget debut while The Devils is Ken Russell and Oliver Reed up to no good again, making one of the most controversial films ever. Naturally it is tame by today’s standards but due to the mixture of sex and religion it is still deeply conflicting. A Fistful Of Dynamite is on the other end of the spectrum – another enjoyable spaghetti western by Leone which is not spoken of as highly as his other epics. It’s a problematic film but still one with great entertainment value and Leone’s vision. Get Carter is one of the great British films and one features one of Michael Caine’s best performances – a gritty, no nonsense thriller with a lack of pretense and a sense of inevitability. Red Sun is an odd film which has never received the cult status it deserves – Charles Bronson trading blows and quips with Toshiro Mifune should be enough to sell it to anyone, but throw in Capucine, Ursula Andress, and Alain Delon in a plot about bandits and samurai – all directed by Terence Young. Finally, A Bay Of Blood is a confusing mess, but set up a lot of rules for horror films to come and was a benchmark in blood-letting.

My Winner: A Clockwork Orange

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Let us know in the comments which film of 1971 you would pick as Best Foreign Film!

 

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!

TTT – Stanley Kubrick

No other director, past or present, has attracted the same amount of critical and cult acclaim and such rabid fans. No other director, or perhaps person has had so many urban legends and speculation written about him. A director who was an absolute master of his craft, but who was also extremely intelligent to the point that many have assumed his movies were saying a lot more than they actually were on the surface, leading to hundreds of wild theories linking him to stories about fake moon landings and obsessive fan documentaries. It’s clear Kubrick played up to such things, and yet his works have such depth and range of subject, theme, and genre that it is hardly surprising that so many think he is the greatest director ever/immortal/a wizard. With a career spanning five decades it is shocking and perhaps disheartening that he only has 13 credits to his name. Making only 1 film in the 90s, 2 in the 80s, and 2 in the 70s, one wonders and dreams what could have been had he managed to make another film in each (or one) of those eras. Nevertheless, we are left with one of the finest filmography in history – a series of films that will continue to entertain and teach for eons to come. Here are my top ten favourite Kubrick directed movies.

10: Eyes Wide Shut

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Really I could have included The Killing here, but I felt like I needed to include Eyes Wide Shut. The important thing being that those early few Kubrick films don’t really feel like Kubrick films, while Eyes Wide Shut feels 100% like Kubrick, even if it feels even more like one big joke from beyond the grave. I seem to remember the film was largely torn apart upon release, and I’m not sure if there has yet been a favourable critical consensus in the years since – looking on Wikipedia though it seems like general consensus has always been positive so my memories may have been falsely planted. It certainly looks the part, and there is certainly a lot to say about the film and the real-life goings on going on at the time of filming. It’s just too dense and ultimately silly to truly appreciate, but as a final hurrah it is surely one of the most effective and bizarre.

9: Paths Of Glory

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One most other lists of top films I would rank Paths Of Glory higher. It always naively impresses me that films from so long ago can have such an impact on me and still have the ability to wow on a technical level and still be intellectually, morally, and artistically relevant today. The rather simple story is given emotional gravitas mainly due to a terrific central performance by Kirk Douglas, in which he rages against the machine in an all too convincingly futile manner. One can imagine these same little speeches and injustices going unheard and unpunished in every walk of life today and although the machine remains unfeeling and uncaring, the individual never stops fighting. Kubrick’s camerawork here marks it as the first truly Kubrickian film, with the dolly work through the trenches marked by eerily prescient dialogue and stark glimpses on the faces of each beaten soldier being an obvious highlight.

8: Lolita

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In 1962 Kubrick had made it big, thanks to the critical success of his last few films and the commercial success of Spartacus. What better way to continue that success by filming one of the most controversial books of all time? The film was of course controversial too, and Kubrick’s vision was severely hindered by the censorship of the times – he wanted the sexual tones to be more obvious in alignment to the novel, but that was never going to happen in 62. We are still left with an unsettling, well-acted, and tautly directed film which still prompts uncomfortable viewings and discussions decades later.

7: 2001: A Space Odyssey

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Kubrick had already broken new ground in Cinema before he began making 2001, but it is his 1968 masterpiece which saw him transform cinematic storytelling and propelled the art form over strange and wonderful new horizons. Few films have created as much discussion as this one, and it is frequently cited as either (or both) the best film or the most important film ever made. With a non-linear structure, spanning millennia, prompting discussions on a myriad of philosophical topics, and with truly extraordinary visual effects which are still impressive today, it is a film which everyone should experience once. Perhaps ‘experience’ is the best word to describe it, more than ‘film’, because it still seems so foreign from traditional cinema. The sheer amount of technological advances that were created and pioneered with the film is incredible. And yet I do feel it is overlong, that the dialogue and the characters who speak it are too plain – non entities in the vastness of space and time. Many will likely continue to view it as boring, confusing, abstract, and pretentious, while others will proclaim it as the second coming.

6: Spartacus

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The film that established Kubrick as a major talent, and as someone who would bring the big bucks, Spartacus is an enjoyable epic that merges the Golden Age of Hollywood with the newer, encroaching modern era. It’s apt then that the subject matter also deals with the rebellion against old ways and traditions. Ironic too that it is perhaps the only film in Kubricks catalogue that he did not have complete control over – the film was the studio’s baby, and the star power of Kirk Douglas meant that Kubrick was always number three. Nevertheless, the meticulous nature of Kubrick, his eye for detail and depth are obvious. We get a heady mix of standard, grandiose epic drama, romance, tragedy, but with a scale, scope, and pathos rarely seen before. With breathtaking set pieces, iconic moments, and a strong cast it is rightly seen as one of the greatest epics ever made.

5: Barry Lyndon

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A period drama unlike any other, and quite unlike anything else Kubrick had done, this is the film fewest will have seen of his post 1950’s work. Not a great commercial or critical success upon release, it seemed that this was Kubrick shying away from controversy and crafting something personal from a technical and directorial perspective. We follow Ryan O’Neal as Barry, an Irish teen who flees his home and life and has various escapades involving war, gambling, espionage, dueling, greed, etc over the course of his life. Visually stunning, lavish, and with a hollow core with neither approves or disproves of any action, it is a candle-lit tale of debauchery and loss, with one of Kubrick’s most interesting, underrated characters.

4: Dr. Strangelove

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A comedy, a political statement, a protest song delivered as a farce in the medium of film, Dr. Strangelove is as much a vehicle for Sellers as it is for Kubrick. Two unique perfectionists come together to make a successful comedy with jokes that remain funny, and themes that remain potent and relevant today, arguably the best political satire ever made. The film for me is most curious because of the fact that when Sellers is on screen it feels like a Sellers film, but when he is not present it feels like a Kubrick film – there is little, but subtle overlapping.

3: A Clockwork Orange

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Kubrick’s most infamous film, banned in many countries and banned by the director himself. Linked to many youth crimes after release, A CLockwork Orange’s stark portrayal of crime is exuberant, stylized, extravagant, and does not offer much redemption or hope with the message being that violence breeds more violence, attempts to quell violence are violent, and in the end violence may be all we know. Once again Kubrick evokes a tremendous performance, this time from Malcolm McDowell as lead droog Alex, a teen with a taste for ultra-violence and the old in out. We watch his various crimes and adventures, witnessed with an sometimes satirical eye, at other times with a voyeuristic one. We have a glorious soundtrack and scenes that will pop out of your memory without warning any time you hear one of the classical pieces, we have a visual flair that creates a hyper-realistic view of youth culture and modern society, and scene after scene of manic carnage. Looking at it now, it is hardly violent when compared with any horror movie post- Texas Chainsaw, and yet it still leaves an impact more keenly felt than a hundred gore flicks. It’s also hilarious, quotable, and begs you to watch just one more time.

2: The Shining

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The film I think would appear at the top of fan lists, though likely not critic lists, The Shining is a film which, once seen, can never be forgotten. The Steadicam moving through endless coloured hallways, the thunder of tricycle wheels, the immense torrent of blood cascading from the elevator doors, the shock cuts between girls standing, and girls in pieces – all these are etched indelibly into the psyche of viewers and popular culture – even if you haven’t seen the film, you’ll recognise it from those scenes. Although most of Kubrick’s work has elements of horror and moments of revulsion, fear, and violence, this remains his only overt horror film, a tale of isolation, claustrophobia, paranoia, and the weakness of man. Taking King’s story and making it something entirely separate, Kubrick has crafted a dizzying, looping story which would be monotonous (correctly so) if not for the creeping, insidious dread we feel as the hours and days in The Overlook tick by. Modern audiences have criticized Nicholson’s depiction of Jack Torrence as either being too Nicholson, or too crazy – from the first scene we know something is not right with this man – he starts at 7 and doesn’t take long to dial up to 10. My view is that yes, he is demented from the outset, and that the Hotel has drawn him here seductively; Torrence has already been abusive to his family in the past and they are completely under his thrall, just as much as he is caught in the hotel’s web. The Overlook is a central character, with its endless corridors layered with sinister corners and doors, vistas which seem to shift in a serpentine manner so that when you think you have traveled in a circle you finish somewhere completely different from where you began; once inside there is no escape – Torrence the captain of this labyrinth, but victim of the more traditional maze outside the walls. I do feel the film would have been better served by someone other than Duvall, but then there wasn’t much she could do with the character – a passive, reactive scream queen cliche who doesn’t complete a journey in the film so much as be carted along by the choices of others and forces outside her control.

1: Full Metal Jacket

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A macho film which once again returns to anti-war themes. A film of two distinct parts, dripping with tension, action, quotable dialogue and fantastic performances. I do feel that the second part struggles to follow the first part, but it nevertheless comes out as my favourite Kubrick film. The coldness which often inhabits his work may be apparent here, but it doesn’t get in the way of this being his most re-watchable film. You may not learn as much with each re-watch as you would with his other work, but you will always be entertained. For some reason I always think this is a 90s movie – it has the smarts and the attitude which set it apart from most of its ilk. It masquerades as an action movie, with training montages and war games, but of course it is more similar to Platoon. As always there are themes of moral ambiguity, but perhaps those on display here are the most striking, with Joker so long detached and rebelling against the idea of a soldier merely being an extension of his weapon until he finally becomes that weapon. Modine, Baldwin, and particularly Ermey and D’Onforio are exceptional, Kubrick’s meticulous eye, ear, nose for detail is present and accounted for in every shot, and the film contains some horrific moments which rank it close to The Shining in terms of chills. It may be said that Kubrick, not for the first time, takes a God-like detached chair and simply shows us what life can be like for people involved in war – good, bad, indifferent are the choices the viewer and the characters need to make, while Kubrick sits above, fingers intertwined, pondering and watching the results.

What are your favourite Stanley Kubrick films? Do you think he is the greatest Director of all time, or is he overrated? Let us know in the comments!