1979 Academy Awards – An Introduction

52nd Academy Awards - Wikipedia

The 52nd Academy Awards were again hosted by Johnny Carson and saw three movies taking most of the glory – Kramer Vs Kramer, All That Jazz, and Apocalypse Now. All three movies will make multiple appearances in my nominations, with one of them being a more obvious category winner for me. However, some other notable films of 1979 will also appear as frequent nominees and winners in my picks, so stay tuned for some large variances.

Honorary Awards were presented this year to Alec Guinness, Hal Elias, Ray Stark, Robert Benjamin, John O Aalberg, Charles G Clarke, and John G Frayne. Presenters included William Shatner, Jamie Lee Curtis, Steven Spielberg, and Farrah Fawcett, while performances were from Kermit, Miss Piggy, and Paul Williams, Dionne Warwick, and others.

Come back over the next few weeks to see my picks in each category, and be sure to share your own thoughts and choices!

Best Cast – 1978

My Nominations: The Boys From Brazil. California Suite. Dawn Of The Dead. The Deer Hunter. Heaven Can Wait. Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. Midnight Express. Superman.

A great selection of films with either ensemble casts or smaller quality over quantity focused casts. The Boys From Brazil is not a film which is often spoken of anymore, but it is well worth revisiting giving its cultural significance – Oliver picked up an Oscar nomination – and because it takes a number of renowned actors known mainly for their heroic good guy roles, and having them act as some of the most horrible humans in history. James Mason, Gregory Peck, Bruno Ganz, Steve Guttenberg, Lilli Palmer, Denholm Elliot, Prunella Scales, and Michael Gough are among those rounding out the cast.

California Suite seems like the sort of film which would have been nominated had this category existed in 1978. It’s a Neil Simon comedy directed by Herbert Ross, and features a variety of A Listers and Oscar Winners – Maggie Smith winning another for this film, along with Michael Caine, Bill Cosby, Alan Alda, Jane Fonda, Walter Matthau, Elaine May, and Richard Pryor. One which would absolutely not have been nominated, but which remains a firm favourite in my personal mini category of single/near single location siege movies with a tight cast, is Dawn Of The Dead. Ken Foree is the standout, but the surrounding trio of Gaylen Ross, David Emge, and Scott Reiniger make a the film one of the all time great horror movies. It’s difficult to see another movie wrestling the win away from The Deer Hunter – De Niro was nominated for Best Actor, Christopher Walken won Best Supporting Actor, Meryl Streep was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, then you also have John Savage and John Cazale.

Heaven Can Wait is another cert for a nomination if this category had been around – Warren Beatty, James Mason, Julie Christie, Jack Warden, Dyan Cannon, Charles Grodin – good cast, decent movie. Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is a Sci Fi classic which treats the audience and subject matter with respect, as well as giving a high calibre cast – Donald Sutherland, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, Brooke Adams. Midnight Express is filled with intense performances – John Hurt, Brad Davis, Randy Quaid, Irene Miracle, while Superman ushers in the age of the comic book blockbuster and features a huge and notable cast – Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeves, Ned Beatty, Margot Kidder, Jackie Cooper, Terence Stamp, Trevor Howard, Susannah York, Maria Schell etc.

My Winner: The Deer Hunter

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Stunt Work – 1978

My Nominations: Superman. Hooper. The Wild Geese. The Drunken Master. Jaws 2. Go Tell The Spartans. The Driver.

We’re in the peak era for many types of physical stunts, but even as computer trickery as displayed in the likes of Superman was coming to greater prominence, the duties were shared to make a more exciting whole. Some of the action set-pieces in Superman would go on to influence everything Marvel/DC touches today, and the combination of effects and physical stunts is still impressive. Hooper is essentially the Hal Needham biopic, and as such features some truly wonderful action, including some of the most batshit stunts you’ll ever see – a fall from a helicopter and a bridge jump in a TransAm spring to mind. It’s a film where cars inexplicably flip and buildings blow up simply by coming into contact with air – it’s great.

The Wild Geese is your typical 70s ensemble action war film, with hardened military types leaping out of airplanes, mowing down bad guys, shouting ‘go go go’ and blowing shit up. What more could you want? The Drunken Master takes a more personal approach and allows Jackie Chan to showcase his unique and almost lethal approach to stunts – putting his own body on the line for our amusement and bewilderment. While he would increase the danger levels in later films, here he fights and increasingly introduces more of his surroundings into the action. In Jaws 2, the action is heightened over the first film leading to some famous moments, most notable the helicopter attack.

Go Tell The Spartans is a little different from The Wild Geese, being a distinctly anti-war film which uses its action in a more harrowing way. It has its fair share of running and gunning and leaping over flames, but it takes the time and effort to make you think of the true cost of the reality. Finally, The Driver is almost like a series of stunts tied together by a loose narrative about a cop and a driver and the puppet-master. Where the car action in Hooper feels like a spectacle, like something which was planned meticulously for weeks, The Driver feels like they simply let loose a bunch of maniacs in cars upon the streets and filmed the results. It’s superb and has some of the best stunt guys in the business – Laurie and Everett Creach, Micky Alzola, Billy Barton, Chris Howell and others.

The Driver tunnel scene

My Winner: The Driver

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Make-up – 1978

My Nominations: Dawn Of The Dead. The Fury. Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers. The Wiz.

We’re only a few years away from this category becoming official, so for now lets continue to honour those who came before. The zombies in Dawn of The Dead have a very unique look – that blue hue which makes them look very cartoonish. Depending on your personal taste, you’ll love or hate this. Beyond that, the gunshot and gore effects for the time are second to none and while much of it doesn’t hold up today thanks to the deliberate over the top colours, it’s better than anything else of the era. Rick Baker was one of those figures who ensured that this category even existed – his work on horror going back to The Exorcist and earlier lower budget movies. He picked up a Saturn Award (along with mentor William Tuttle) for The Fury in which psychic kids learn how (not) to control their powers.

The Wiz is an obvious choice with great work by Stan Winston to turn Michael Jackson and pals into The Scarecrow, The Tin Man, and The Wiz etc. Finally, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers offers some gooey alien goodness as duplicate humans in various forms try to wake up and take over the lives of everyone in San Francisco. Not to mention that dog.

My Winner: Dawn Of The Dead.

House of Horror: Dawn of the Dead (1978) – Place to Be Nation

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Best Visual Effects -1978

My Nominations: Superman. The Fury. Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. Jaws 2.

It’s pretty clear what the winner in this category will be this year. Superman made you believe a man could fly, and was another knock on the head of the Oscar’s board to make an official Visual Effects category, especially after A New Hope from the previous year. Sure it looks hokey now, but for the time, and throughout my childhood, it was the go to film for making flying look realistic. On top of that, there are plenty of great effects showpieces – most notably the entire Hoover Dam/car burial/fly around the world sequence. The Fury is an example of the world crying out for more Stephen King, without having anything to do with Stephen King. Like Carrie, it introduces an adolescent girl who discovers an array of psychic powers, like Carrie it builds to an explosive finale, like Carrie it features Amy Irving, and like Firestarter there is a shady Government Agency exploiting the powers of these kids. Aside from the typical scenes of violence, the glowing eye effect is quite cool.

The Invasion Of The Body Snatchers benefits from technological advances since the 1950s version. Having a more visceral approach and tone leads to such crawling treats as the spores seeming more sentient, and of course the infamous dog/human later in the film. Finally, Jaws 2 builds upon the visual effects of the original, showing more of the shark but also having the shark become more of a Slasher villain than an instinctual animal.

My Winner: Superman

Superman (1978) | Anti-Film School

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Costume Design – 1978

Official Nominations: Death On The Nile. Caravans. Days Of Heaven. The Swarm. The Wiz.

Agatha Christie works are usually good for a nomination here, alongside other period pieces. It deserves a nomination for sure, but there’s nothing to stand out. Caravans is a mostly listless film which has never received much critical or fan praise, so it seems odd that it received any nomination beyond being another nod for the lady who worked on Cleopatra. The Swarm is equally odd given the fact that it is a mostly ridiculed film and that it doesn’t seem to have any Design flair beyond any other movie of the week. Days Of Heaven at least looks the part, even if the costumes themselves don’t stand out in any shape or form, while The Wiz succeeds where the others mostly fail, making the costumes an extension of the character as well as being memorable on their own.

My Winner: The Wiz

The Wiz: Michael Jackson Behind the Scenes on the Original | Time

My Nominations: The Wiz. Superman. Halloween. Dawn Of The Dead. Days Of Heaven. The Deer Hunter. Death On The Nile. Grease.

The official winner and my winner survive to my list of nominations, joining some obvious and less obvious options. Superman features one of the all time iconic costumes and while that costume wasn’t designed from scratch for the movie, this version of it is probably still the most famous and preferred. Throw in the work to compare Clark’s childhood country life with the design of the big city, alongside those used in the Krypton scenes, and it’s obvious a lot of thought and care went into the design. If Superman features a famous whole costume, then Halloween features a single iconic item – the Michael Myers mask. It’s more than a mask, becoming a symbol of fear in the film and its sequels. Dawn Of The Dead takes special, zany, consideration to the costume design of its zombies with an array of ridiculous and individual costumes.

The Deer Hunter could have earned a nomination here mainly on the basis of being nominated elsewhere, but its clever contrast of home versus ‘over there’, and before versus after is another weapon in its arsenal. Finally, Grease is a film I would have guessed received more nominations than it actually did, with this category being a fairly obvious choice. Both Travolta and Olivia Newton John parade around in costumes which have been parodied over the years, and the backing collection of characters and dancers are each attired in colourful extensions of various 1950s caricatures.

My Winner: Grease

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Animated Feature – 1978

My Nominations: The Lord Of The Rings. The Mystery Of Mamo. Watership Down.

As we near the end of the 70s, the world of Animated movies was still in a lull – Disney was struggling to find a new identity (and would continue to do so for another ten years) while the heralded Studio Ghibli was a few years from being created. Japan was still cranking out hits, but the likes of Toei and Nippon Animation were making films more dedicated to their domestic market. Ralph Bakshi was known till this point for his indie, adult oriented animation work but in 1978 he tackled more family friendly work with The Lord Of The Rings, an ambitious attempt to tell Tolkein’s story in a single work – eventually deciding to focus on the first two books instead. As you would expect, it isn’t always successful and can be bewildering for those new to the story, but it is frequently impressive visually.

For fans of the Lupin III series and character, The Mystery Of Mamo is a fun and energetic adventure, but isn’t the easiest entry point to the series despite it being first. Finally, Watership Down is a film which was shown in schools, and frequently around the holiday periods when I was young. While it still features regularly at Christmas, I highly doubt it being presented to School kids now, such is the nature of both its content and our world now. Both mystical, realistic, and apocalyptic, it tells the story of a group of rabbits struggling with survival and heading towards an idyllic land glimpsed in a dream. While not as overtly political as Animal Farm, the story nevertheless appeals to the intellect as much as the imagination and portrays an often harsh and violent world of hope, danger, and war.

My Winner: Watership Down

See the source image

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Best Art Direction – 1978

Official Nominations: Heaven Can Wait. The Brink’s Job. California Suite. Interiors. The Wiz.

Heaven Can Wait was a shoe-in for the win this year, more to do with the calibre of the cast and director than the actual Art Direction. Visibly it’s good, but it takes too much of a leave out of A Matter Of Life And Death’s book without really adding anything new. The Brink’s Job is one of the forgotten William Friedkin movies – a comedy heist type caper raised by its performances and assured direction. Taking place in many familiar places around Boston likely nailed its nomination. Interiors in name alone seems like it should be nominated here, but it mimics Bergman without truly capturing the stark and often paranoid look his films were known for. California Suite gets as meta a nomination as you could think of, taking place in LA in and around The Academy Awards themselves with many locales known to the voters. Finally, The Wiz takes one of the most famous films of all time and some of its most iconic fantasy lands and twists them into a bizarre version of 70s NYC. At least in taking elements that audiences are familiar with, it tries to do something different and largely succeeds.

My Winner: The Wiz

The Wiz Redux; or, Why Queer Black Feminist Spectatorship and ...

My Nominations: The Wiz. Heaven Can Wait. Midnight Express. Superman. Days Of Heaven. A Wedding.

Only my winner and the official winner make it onto my personal list of nominations, joining a vicious satire, a vicious prison movie, and Clark Kent. Midnight Express paints an excessively bleak picture of prison life with all life and colour ripped from the screens, while Robert Altman’s lesser known A Wedding spares no expense in showcasing and pulling apart a day in the life of a bunch of rich people. Out of all the films this year it seems most odd that Days Of Heaven was missed here, an obvious nomination to most. My vote goes to Superman – from exploding dams to busy media offices, to the fortress of solitude to the planet of Krypton, Superman travels from one edge of the galaxy to the other and never misses a beat in portraying the adventures in a more or less human and realistic way.

My Winner: Superman

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Writing (Adapted) – 1978

aionOfficial Nominations: Midnight Express. Bloodbrothers. California Suite. Heaven Can Wait. Same Time Next Year.

A certain winner for me in Midnight Express, with Oliver Stone switching up some key scenes from the book but retaining the core terror of a brutal penal system. Neil Simon is beloved by The Academy – less so by me – but it was inevitable his California Suite would see a nomination. Heaven Can Wait seemed like another obvious choice, and perhaps could feel aggrieved to not be the winner, while Bloodbrothers is your offbeat family drama of the year, except that it’s not very offbeat or interesting. Finally, Same Time Next Year is another Robert Mulligan directed movie in the category but given that it’s another romantic comedy it doesn’t do anything for me personally.

My Winner: Midnight Express

Midnight Express by Billy Hayes

My Nominations: Midnight Express. The Boys From Brazil. The Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers. Superman. Watership Down.

Only my Winner makes it over for my personal list. The Boys From Brazil sees Ira Levin’s novel condensed into a tense thriller which poses some interesting questions over the nature of good and evil, while Invasion of The Bodysnatchers erases the Communist subtext of the 1950s adaptation and instead transported to film to the liberal San Francisco and argues, with its relentless descent towards a twist ending, that nobody is safe from being trapped by conformity. While there had been Superhero movies before, it was 1978’s Superman which laid the groundwork for everything else which has come since – the tone, the spectacle, the origin story. The work out into the Screenplay pays off – the first half split into Krypton’s destruction and Kent’s upbringing, and the second into the unveiling of Superman and his nemesis. Few comic movies made since don’t owe this, at the script, a heavy debt. Finally, Watership Down is an impressively faithful adaptation of a dark story concerning the war and survival of a group of rabbits – much of the mythology of the novel is abandoned to make a more simple story which kids can be traumatized by.

My Winner: Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Original Song – 1978

Official Nominations: Last Dance. Hopelessly Devoted To You. The Last Time I Felt Like This. Ready To Take A Chance Again. When You’re Loved.

It’s the late seventies, so that means disco and Donna Summer. She won an Oscar here for Last Dance from a film she appears in – Thank God It’s Friday. It’s like a crappy, Disco version of Slackers or Dazed And Confused. Last Dance is a simmering ballad that seems to be going nowhere until there’s a pause and the disco comes. That’s when the song really gets going, but for me it’s never more than just okay.  Hopelessly Devoted To You is the single entry for Grease – a little odd when there is at least one more obvious choice. It’s a pretty wanky ballad which starts out with that country twang I hate, then has a bit of the 50s ballad thrown in, then has a belting chorus by Newton-John – unsurprisingly it doesn’t work.

Both of the previous songs were big hits outside of the movies – our remaining options seem minor by comparison. The Last Time I Felt Like This is a nice, simple Mathis/Olivor ballad which starts promisingly but quickly becomes boring while Barry Manilow’s Ready To Take A Chance Again doesn’t start well but has a better chorus. Finally, The Magic Of Lassie is a musical about Lassie and Jimmy Stewart, with a lot of not very good songs. The Sherman Brothers know how to pen a hit, but When You’re Loved is yet another meandering, aimless ballad.

My Winner: Last Dance

Last Dance (Donna Summer song) - Wikipedia

My Nominations: You’re The One That I Want. Summer Nights. Greased Lightning. Copacabana. Ease On Down The Road. Caravans. Another Fine Mess. Bright Eyes.

Before we get to Grease, lets look at the other contenders – Caravans, from the movie of same name, is a much more interesting ballad than any of those officially nominated – an epic sounding folk song. Ease On Down The Road from The Wiz is a bit of a forgotten Michael Jackson song – a slice of Mowtown funk from before he truly hit it big as a solo artist. Another Fine Mess from The End is a much better ballad than those above – nice melodies, interesting shifts, good lyrics, and a good Glenn Campbell performance.

The only genuine contender here to Grease is of course Bright Eyes from Watership Down. It’s a haunting piece forever intertwined with visuals from the movie and is arguably the best song here. It’s not quite as iconic as those from Grease though, so that may have a bearing on what you select. Greased Lightning is cheesy rock’n’roll fun. Summer Nights is horny and fun, though I’ve never been keen on the actual vocal performance – it would be much better served without all the backing vocals and musical theatre crap – just do it right. What can you say about You’re The One That I Want? It was always played at school discos when I was young and it occasionally pops up in weddings I’ve been to – it’s fast, fun, changes tone nicely, its infectious, and is one of the most famous songs from the movies.

My Winner: You’re The One That I Want