Best Foreign Film – 1978

Official Nominations: Get Out Your Handkerchiefs. The Glass Cell. Hungarians. Viva Italia! White Bim Black Ear.

1978 is interesting in that it’s the first year in a while that doesn’t have an obvious ‘big’ movie – one that everyone recognises no matter if they’ve seen it or not. None of the films are standouts either, unfortunately. White Bim Black Ear is three hours worth of man and dog – it’s basically a Russian version of The Littlest Hobo. The Glass Cell is about a guy who has been wrongfully imprisoned for years and has heard rumours about his wife’s unfaithfulness. He leaves prison a more paranoid and dangerous man – his stay turning an innocent man guilty. Viva Italia! ranks among the most bizarre choices for an Oscar – an episodic Italian comedy with multiple directors and featuring short films about things like having sex with a monkey, corrupt cops letting a bunch of terrorists go free because they have rich families, and plenty of mini character studies about lies, sex, religion etc. It’s an Italian Monty Python film with at least twelve fewer laughs.

Hungarians is an average drama about a bunch of migrants who have fairly good conditions in Germany during World War II but find that when they go home they can’t escape a War which tarnishes and changes everyone. This year’s official winner – Get Out Your Handkerchiefs – is another Gerard Depardieu vehicle. He plays a man who decides his wife’s depression can only be cured by another man’s cock, so he picks one at random to have sex with her. The woman then has sex with a child and the men go to prison. France, eh?

My Winner: The Glass Cell

My Nominations: Watership Down. The Glass Cell. Drunken Master. The Demon. La Cage Aux Folles. The Green Room.

It says a lot that I’m having to include certain films here that wouldn’t normally make the cut. The Glass Cell is the only one which makes it over to my list, joining two from France, two from Asia, and one from Britain. Drunken Master isn’t one of the best Martial Arts movies, but it is certainly one of the most influential. Jackie Chan had been blending buffoonery with action for a while but it was in Drunken Master that both sides were honed and the audience ‘got it’. The Demon is maybe Yoshitaro Nomura’s most famous film, an uncharacteristically bleak drama which tears at the fabric of the traditional Japan family and examines the results of selfish, petty acts. La Cage Aux Folles is frequently funny yet more dated than most comedies of the time while Truffaut’s La Chambre Verte is a surprisingly touching and thought-provoking look at one man’s coping/obsession with death. My winner is the ever-young, ever-shocking Watership Down  – a film that I am not as enamoured with as most but one which remains more or less unique in its ability to scar and teach.

My Winner: Watership Down

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Supporting Actor – 1978

Official Nominations: Christopher Walken. Bruce Dern. Richard Farnsworth. John Hurt. Jack Warden.

As strong as this category is, Christopher Walken is the clear winner for me. Walken had already been appearing in movies for over a decade, but it’s his heartbreaking, devastating turn as the damaged Vietnam vet, Nick, who is so traumatized by his experience that he forces himself to relive them over again afterwards. He isn’t yet going full Walken, but the early twitches and vocal acrobatics are there, yet it is a performance grounded in reality and delivered with an uncanny force leading to one of the most famous climaxes in Cinema.

Bruce Dern plays another man damaged by the war and returning home to find his former life shattered. It’s another strong performance characterized by Dern’s singular approach and in another year would be a worthy winner. Richard Farnsworth had been an uncredited actor and stunt performer for decades but finally broke through with a surprise performance and nomination in the little remembered Comes A Horseman. It’s not a role overly vital to the plot or significance of the film but it’s nice to see a professional getting recognised and being allowed to take that next step with great success.

Jack Warden is always a commanding presence in any film, his brand of stern authority and comedy merging to great results in many cases – here he also gets to show a softer side. Finally, John Hurt gets a nomination for Midnight Express as a shriveled addict who befriends the lead character. In theory any of the supporting cast could get a nomination here, but Hurt plays the character who stays longest in our memory.

My Winner: Christopher Walken

My Nominations: Christopher Walken. John Hurt. Gary Busey. John Savage. Gene Hackman. Michael Jackson.

Two of the official boyos make it onto my list to craft a very motley crew. Along with his official Best Actor nomination this year, I stick Busey into the Supporting sphere thanks to yet another Vietnam coming of age film – Big Wednesday. Busey is one of the lead trio, in a role that would perhaps inspire the rest of his career as ‘the crazy one’. It is more grounded than what he would later deliver, but it’s a clear jumping off point. John Savage continues the nominations for The Deer Hunter, justifiably getting some of the attention usually reserved for Walken and De Niro. His turn as the eventually paraplegic Steven is one of the many reasons why the film is still held in such high regard.

Gene Hackman has another stab at comedy after being mainly known for his serious roles in dramatic thrillers. His Lex Luthor is joyfully maniacal and suitably camp – Superman was never meant to be a ‘dark’ or ‘gritty’ story (sorry Release The Snyder Cut fans) given it’s about a wholesome corn-fed fella flapping about the sky in fetching spandex. Hackman plays it a level of sophistication above the 60s Batman TV series, but with knowing smirks – one suspects he wasn’t aware that the film was going to be such a success. Finally, keeping things in a pseudo-camp vein is The Wiz – a jived up retelling of The Wizard Of Oz. Not content with being one of the best, most successful singers and dancers in the world at the time, Michael Jackson tried his hand at acting. Honestly, based on his performance here it’s unfortunate he never attempted much more subsequently as he is arguably the best reason for watching the film.

My Winner: Christopher Walken

Let us know in the comments who you pick as your Best Supporting Actor of 1978!

Best Actor – 1978

Official Nominations: Jon Voight. Warren Beatty. Gary Busey. Robert De Niro. Laurence Olivier.

In the late 70s, De Niro took over from Pacino in The Best Actor official category, here gaining his third nomination. It was Jon Voight though who picked up the win in a genuinely tough category. I think all five performances here are contenders, but I would have four front-runners including Voight as the severely injured soldier Coming Home. De Niro’s performance also sees him returning home from, going to, and being in Vietnam and I feel it’s the more iconic, more rounded of the two. Gary Busey hits the big time with his superb portrayal of Buddy Holly, one of the most underrated biography performances of all time, while Laurence Olivier gets a veteran nomination as a Nazi Hunter in The Boys From Brazil. Unlike most veteran nominations, this one is deserving on its own merits. Finally, Warren Beatty is the outsider and this feels more like a ‘we love you, Warren’ nomination than anything else. A good performance sure, but not on par with the others.

My Winner: Robert De Niro

My Nominations: Jon Voight. Gary Busey. Robert De Niro. Christopher Reeve. Donald Pleasence. Jan Michael Vincent. Gregory Peck. Brad Davis. Ryan O’Neal. John Belushi.

Three make it over from the official list, joining a mixture of possible snubs and personal favourites. Christopher Reeve burst onto the scene as the only Superman who will ever matter (sorry Dean Cain), a role so all-encompassing that he could never escape it. It’s a great lead performance surrounded by a stellar cast – his comedic talents giving Clark Kent that awkward, clumsy charm while easily transitioning into the all-powerful hero figure. Also kind of playing an awkward and heroic character is Donald Pleasence as Dr Loomis in Halloween, one of the great good guys of horror cinema. the sequels have a fair bit of scenery chewing, but here Pleasence looks like he’s relishing the performance and film, having fun as this slightly manic protector of a child who wsa pure evil. Is he truly a lead though? Tough, I’m adding him.

Jan Michael Vincent didn’t really stand a chance against De Niro and Voight, but his performance in Big Wednesday shares a lot of similarities and should have been a stepping off point to much bigger things. Unfortunately, things never quite panned out that way, perhaps some critical praise would have helped. Gregory Peck goes against type and plays one of the most despicable humans ever in The Boys From Brazil – proving that everyone’s favourite wholesome figure could be much more. Brad Davis could have become a household name if he had received more high profile praise for his star making turn in Midnight Express while John Belushi became an icon after Animal House. Finally, Ryan O’Neal stars as the titular Driver in Walter Hill’s action/chase classic. When people think of Ryan O’Neal they invariably go to Love Story or Paper Moon but for me it’s The Driver which features his best performance, much against type, as the cool and detached getaway driver whose apparently obvious desires are perhaps not so obvious upon reevaluation.

My Winner: Robert De Niro

Let us know your picks in the comments!

Best Supporting Actress – 1978

Official Nominations: Maggie Smith. Dyan Cannon. Penelope Milford. Maureen Stapleton. Meryl Streep.

One thing that has been reinforced as I go through these Oscar posts is the fact that some of these performers and directors – even though they were nominated for, and in some cases won – the most prestigious award in all of entertainment, have all but disappeared from public consciousness. This happens almost every year, and you can tell in the Awards in recent years that there will be that nominated performer who most people will never hear from again. Then again, providing that person still works, all it takes is one more appearance in a hit movie or show, or one more appearance in something ‘important’ to put them back into the hearts and minds of the masses. I always used to assume that once you made it, you had made it for life. And while that is true to some extent – they can’t ever take away what you achieved – it doesn’t mean you’re going to be remembered. This is even more prevalent in music – look at some of the artists of the 1930s-1960s – people who sold millions of copies, toured the world, and had numerous number 1 albums and songs – almost no-one today knows they exist.

Which brings me back to this category – Meryl Streep everyone knows, and the same goes for Maggie Smith. Maybe without Downton Abbey she’d have fallen by the wayside. Aww balls, there’s a Downton Abbey movie coming out this year (time of writing, 4.07pm GMT 26th March 2019) so she’s bound to get a stupid Oscar Nomination for it, assuming she’s in it. Maureen Stapleton… most more dedicated film fans will know her but if you only watch recent stuff then obviously you will be less familiar. The other two nominees; you’d struggle to find anyone on the street who would know who they are. Case in point – Dyan Cannon was married to Carey Grant and was nominated for three Oscars, yet she’s not exactly a household name. She did have a prominent return in the late 90s with a recurring role in Ally McBeal – that show that made idiots want to be lawyers. She has a definite comic flair, hence her nomination this year in Heaven Can Wait. Penelope Milford is even less well known, due to appearances in lesser films, and on stage. Nevertheless, she netted Coming Home yet another acting nomination this year as the sister to one of the returning vets who has to deal with the fallout of their trauma.

Maggie Smith won her second Oscar this year for California Suite in which she ironically plays a down on her luck actress who has just received her first Oscar nomination. For me, not a huge fan of Neil Simon’s work, it’s an okay film and an okay performance in a weak year for actresses. Meryl Streep then, in one of her true breakout roles, even though she’d already been good before this. As much as I love The Deer Hunter, Streep doesn’t have all that much to do in the film and it’s a fairly bland role. She isn’t weak by any means, but this is a film about the male performances and if it was any smaller name here instead of Streep, you’d forget her. That leaves Maureen Stapleton for Interiors. Woody Allen movies aren’t usually my thing, and while Stapleton gets plenty of mileage out of the loud and uncouth woman trope, it’s again not something I would pick. A weak year then, so most people will go with their preference. Smith seems like the most obvious choice.

My Winner: Maggie Smith

My Nominations: Maggie Smith. Linda Manz. Brooke Shields. Dyan Cannon.

I go for a couple of child performances this year. Brooke Shields, as the young girl being brought up in a whorehouse, is particularly strong but it probably deserves to be in the Best Actress category. The year is weak though, so I’m adding it here. Linda Manz is the young sister of our anti-hero in Days Of Heaven and acts as the narrator so we see the film technically through her eyes – potentially making her a contender for lead too. I don’t know anymore – it’s a good performance in a bad year.

My Winner: Brooke Shields

Best Actress – 1978

Official Nominations: Ingrid Bergman. Jane Fonda. Jill Clayburgh. Ellen Burstyn. Geraldine Page.

This year it’s another fairly weak category. Fonda got her win for the underrated Coming Home, but I feel like the male performances are so strong as to make everyone else seem on a lower level. Ingrid Bergman delivers her final big screen performance, it’s good but I don’t rate it as highly as some from previous decades. Jill Clayburgh is great in An Unmarried Woman, running the gamut of emotions as her marriage, and life unravels catastrophically. The final two performances get votes more because of who the performers are rather than the performances themselves – fine again, but nothing special.

My Winner: Jill Clayburgh

My Nominations: Jill Clayburgh. Lynn Holly Johnson. Margot Kidder. Jamie Lee Curtis.

Only Clayburgh makes it to my choices, and to be honest I’ve struggled finding a collection of worthy performances. Ice Castles isn’t the best film in the world, but it’s sweet and where it does succeed is down almost entirely to Lynn Holly Johnson’s performance as a young woman who dreams of becoming an Ice Skating champion only to suffer a freak accident. Margot Kidder became just as iconic as Lois Lane as Christoper Reeves did as Superman, a performance often overlooked. Finally, Jamie Lee Curtis makes up the numbers as one of the most famous horror movie survivors Laurie Strode, whose screams and strength and perseverance essentially created both the Scream Queen and Final Girl archetypes. She wasn’t the first, but she’s the poster girl, and for a debut performance few have become more famous.

My Winner: Jill Clayburgh

Let us know your winner in the comments!

1978 Academy Awards – An Introduction

51st Academy Awards - Wikipedia

The 51st Academy Awards found the world in a post-blockbuster, post Star Wars world. Although there was successful fantasy/sci-fi in the form of Superman and Heaven Can Wait, most of the winners and nominees focused on real people or events – The Deer Hunter, Coming Home, Midnight Express etc. Rest assured that these and more will be featured in my personal picks.

Johnny Carson led the proceedings, with Robin Williams and Woody Woodpecker (!), Mia Farrow, and Francis Ford Coppola among those presenting awards. Performances from Donna Summer, Barry Manilow, and others livened up the show while King Vidor, Laurence Olivier, Walter Lantz, and Leo Jaffe were given Honorary awards. A special award was given for the Visual Effects of Superman while the Musuem of Modern Art  Department Of Film was also honoured, for some reason.

Join me over the next few weeks as I share my picks in each category, and don’t forget to leave your thoughts and choices in the comments!

Best Cast – 1977

My Nominations: Star Wars. Airport 77. A Bridge Too Far. Sorcerer. The Duellists.

I mean, I have to pick Star Wars again here, surely? You may say the cast don’t deliver the best individual or group performances of the year, but has there ever been a cast of performers creating a cast of more iconic characters in movie history? Every generation there’s a film which pulls the same trick, but in most cases those characters are based of an existing property. In any case, you have Mark Hamill perfecting the young man thrust into a huge adventure trope, Harrison Ford bringing the rugged space cowboy charm, Fisher as the feisty Princess, and Alec Guinness as the wise teacher – and that’s me being as simplistic as possible – and not mentioning James Earl Jones, Peter Cushing, Daniels, Baker, or Prowse.

Airport 77 brings together another sparkling cast – James Stewart, Jack Lemmon, Christopher Lee, Lee Grant, Olivia De Havilland, Joseph Cotten – just a pity the film isn’t great. Similarly, A Bridge Too Far brings the stars without quite hitting the heights – Sean Connery, James Caan, Laurence Olivier, Anthony Hopkins, Robert Redford, Gene Hackman, Michael Caine, Max Schell, Ryan O’Neal, Liv Ullman – it’s a ridiculous cast. Sorcerer pits the always reliable Roy Scheider alongside a still little known cosmopolitan cast including Amidou, Bruno Cremer, Ramon Bieri, Paco Rabal, and Joe Spinell. Finally, The Duellists is more condensed in terms of casting, but exceeds in terms of quality – with Keith Carradine, Harvey Keitel, Stacey Keach, Albert Finney, Tom Conti, Cristina Raines, and Diana Quick all contributing.

My Winner: Star Wars

Best Stuntwork – 1977

My Nominations: Star Wars. Stunts. Grand Theft Auto. Smokey And The Bandit. The Spy Who Loved Me. Viva Knievel!

Don’t worry, it’s not going to be a clean sweep for Star Wars. While that film does indeed include some great stunts, it’s more of a Special Effects vehicle and would feel false given the other films which use a great array of practical stunts this year. Like I alluded to in previous years, the stuntman was at his commercial peak here, with a number of movies released each year featuring the world or actors portraying stuntmen. Mark Lester’s Stunts (the clue’s in the title) is one such movie, a film starring Robert Forster as a Stuntman investigating the suspicious death of his brother – also a stuntman. It’s more of a mystery, but Lester cranks up the tension and allows for a number of cool stunts – it was one of those movies which always seemed to turn up when I was younger. In a similar vein, Viva Knievel takes an interesting look at the lives and gambles of the people who put their bodies on the line for our entertainment and stars probably the most famous stunt guy of them all (the clue’s in the title). The stunts here are still exhilarating as always but maybe less interesting due to a lack of variety.

Taking things on a more varied route is Grand Theft Auto (clue’s in – you get the idea). It’s a bit of a farce and a not-quite-satire on the media as a young couple steal a car and head for Vegas followed by a increasing number of chasers in different vehicles who want to win a reward for apprehending them. Lots of car action though. Keeping it on four wheels is of course Smokey And The Bandit – which features Burt Reynolds zipping about in a TransAm and jumping over rivers. It’s maybe the most authentic of the bunch given the second most famous stuntman ever Hal Needham was the director. It remains one of the most famous car chase movies, for good reason. Finally, we have 007 and The Spy Who Loved Me featuring more car antics – underwater, over bending roads, and one of the most ambitious one man stunts seen till that point, in the intro, as Bond skies away from a bunch of gun toting villains only to leap off a cliff edge and parachute to safety.

My Winner: The Spy Who Loved Me

TSWLM-not roger

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Visual Effects – 1977

Official Nominations: Star Wars. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.

The Academy had persisted through the middle of the 70s with Special Achievement Awards, but by the time 1977 rolled around it became clear that more and more films were pushing the bar where Visual Effects were concerned and a dedicated category was needed like any other category. Having said that, it would still be a while before The Academy fully relented and gave a complete batch of nominees. Here, we have two of the seminal effects movies of the decade vying for the win. Both are great, but the win has to go to Star Wars. It just blew open the door for everything which came after and pioneered so much that it’s one of the most obvious wins of all time.

My Winner: Star Wars

My Nominations: Star Wars. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. A Bridge Too Far. Hausu. Pete’s Dragon. Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger. The Spy Who Loved Me.

I tryto spice things up by adding a few other notable entries – Pete’s Dragon is not a movie I enjoy but it did do some pioneering work in the merging of animation with live action. A Bridge Too Far is a war epic coming a few years too late, but still manages to bring plenty of effects to the table to extend the realism of the piece. The Spy Who Loved Me has all manner of amusing visual gags, while Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger continues Harryhausen’s amazing run with Cavemen, a Saber-Toothed Tiger, baboons, monsters, and plenty of nifty transformations.

My Winner: Star Wars

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Original Score – 1977

Official Nominations: Star Wars. The Spy Who Loved Me. Julia. Mohammed Messenger Of God. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. A Little Night Music. Pete’s Dragon. The Slipper And The Rose.

Well well well, John Welliams (Williams) was on a bit of a roll this year, with two nominations and one win – both scores of course being indisputable classics which are still listened to by thousands of people today. Lets not kid ourselves – Star Wars is winning this every day of the week. From the main theme, to Leia’s theme, to the Cantina theme, it’s littered with classics and is obviously one of the best and most famous movie scores ever. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind is mostly known for the famous ‘do di do duh doo’ communication melody, but elsewhere the score has many other great pieces ranging from tense buildups and wailing melodies of foreboding.

The Spy Who Loved Me remains one of the most critically acclaimed Bond entries, netting three Oscar nominations. Marvin Hamlisch took over from John Barry and ironically got the first nomination of the series (Skyfall would pick up the second decades on) – his score patriotic, quintessentially Bond yet self mocking. Julia is one of George Delerue’s most suitably poignant efforts while Mohammed Messenger Of God (or The Message) isn’t a film you can see being made or becoming so successful today – Maurice Jarre’s blends East and West quietly. On to the other category and A Little Night Music picked up the official win – you already know how I feel about musicals. Pete’s Dragon is there too, never a favourite film of mine but the music is okay, and finally The Slipper And The Rose is a bizarre British live action musical of Cinderella with some decent songs and tunes.

My Winner: Star Wars

My Nominations: Star Wars. The Spy Who Loved Me. Julia. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Black Sunday. A Bridge Too Far. The Deep. Eraserhead. Hausu. Martin. Saturday Night Fever.

Does anything else stand a chance against Star Wars this year? Well, John Williams didn’t only make two scores this year – he ain’t no slacker – he also made Black Sunday – another string heavy piece which actually has a lot in common with his two official nominations though not as bombastic. A Bridge Too Far is yet another classic war epic with a massive cast  – you know I love those, and while John Addison’s score is not as memorable as others it does still have a great lead theme. The Deep isn’t a great film, but for some reason certain scenes have always stayed with me, usually those involving eels (Louis Gossett Jr never seems to have much luck with aquatic wildlife). The music is good though, reminiscent of Jaws of course, but going its own way too. I’d love it if Eraserhead had received a nomination here (or anywhere) so I’m adding it, for it’s washing, industrial, hissing noise.

The soundtrack to Hausu is great because it was completed before the film had actually been made, yet it manages to be as buck nuts as the film itself, sounding like a children’s TV show and a cheesy rock based musical. The soundtrack of Martin is one of the most beautiful, haunting, and underrated in horror, while we can’t have a discussion about soundtracks without mentioning one of the biggest selling albums ever – Saturday Night Fever – a soundtrack brimming with disco classics. If we’re going to include that, then we must also include Smokey And The Bandit – as much as I’m not a fan of disco, I hate country music more, yet both these soundtracks are great. Susperia remains Argento’s most famous film and probably Goblin’s most acclaimed score – reminding me of Rosemary’s Baby but with hissing and arcane whisperings and chants in place of the lullaby ‘la las’. It’s one of the few soundtracks I can put on and listen to the whole way through, a rip-roaring ride of devilish funk, rock, synth, screams, and more. It would be my winner if not for Star Wars. I think that’s quite enough soundtracks for one year.

My Winner: Star Wars

Let us know in the comments which Score of 1977 you would choose!