Often, people are quick to declare what merits Best Picture, with many claiming that it should go to the movie that is (a) most relevant to the time and (b) most likely to be remembered in the years to come. Which is fucking stupid, because how on earth are people supposed to judge what will be most remembered in the years to come? Most of the time, I forget about The Hurt Locker's existence, though it fit criteria a nicely and is used as one of the examples of the Academy "getting it right". Also, how is one supposed to choose something that is both timely and timeless? I personally think The King's Speech is a timeless story -- anyone who's had a best friend in time of need should be able to look past the class system -- yet apparently it's old-fashioned and stodgy to many others.
The voters of 1974 lucked out, with period pieces Chinatown and The Godfather: Part II reflecting contemporary concerns regarding corruption, times changing for the worse, crooks in power; it's better to approach these things when through the safe barrier of 1930s outfits. Meanwhile, the intimate The Conversation faced a paranoid, post-Watergate public; the biopic Lenny asked questions about the nature of censorship (cinema is no stranger); and then there's The Towering Inferno, which felt that the in vogue skyscrapers of the day would become death traps. My post-9/11 self feels eerie while watching certain moments of Inferno, but I'd never give it my vote. The Conversation is probably the most dated of the other four, but isn't it still a prime example of great filmmaking? I'd rather vote with my gut, and hope that others don't despise me for having feelings different from their own.
So here's what my gut tells me concerning the five Best Picture nominees of 1974. I've illustrated each with my favorite scene.
|Meeting Noah Cross|
There are two movies on this list that held my attention throughout the run-time. As in, I never left to go to the bathroom, tweeted during, or checked the time. This is one of them. Suspenseful, funny, romantic, and devastating. The performances are tops, from the lead to the brief appearances by Diane Ladd, John Hillerman and Fritzi Burr. Fantastic all-around, even if the music is forgettable.
I don't think I quite emphasized how much I admire this film. The sound is pretty much all diegetic, with the film compelling us to listen as attentively to each nuance as Gene Hackman's Harry Caul does. Of course, we find ourselves becoming just as paranoid, just as doubtful over what we think we might have heard, who can be trusted, who's in on "it", whatever "it" may be. It's not just the technical achievements, of course: Hackman's performance is one of his best, a private individual so afraid of exposure that the idea of someone leaving a birthday present in his apartment deeply unsettles him. Hackman's silence breaks my heart, especially in his scene with Teri Garr; even more heartbreaking is when he actually opens up, as in the after-party scene. The film builds the tension and never releases. Very cool. I do think it gets too slow in parts and takes a while to get the ending, but I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and say this was the fault of the lateness of my viewing.
The Godfather: Part II
Must I reiterate? "Meh" to the Vito stuff, "wow but..." to the Michael stuff, "absolutely!" (bow) to the Fredo stuff. A great film, I'm happy for its win, but there were better films this year. Still, it's a great achievement.
|The Phone Call|
Hey, did you know that I absolutely love this film? This is the only other film that I paid complete attention to while watching. Just incredible, haunted me the rest of the week, leaves me awed just thinking about it.
|Any Scene with William Holden, His Awesome Glasses, and That Dinner Jacket|
The Towering Inferno
A bone is thrown to the highest-grossing film of the year. The scope is epic, the leads are game, the action sequences are impressive, but overall a pretty dull film. Perhaps the problem lies in its conception: when Fox and Warner Bros. greenlit separate adaptations of The Tower and The Glass Inferno, they pooled resources to make one gargantuan disaster flick rather than release similar films against each other. Sometimes I think, "Take a lesson, Snow White producers." Then I remember that there is far too much going on in The Towering Inferno with little payoff. As a result, characters are introduced and forgotten (Faye Dunaway) or are given one-scene arcs (Robert Wagner). The best disaster films remember to be big and intimate -- certainly the greatest disaster film, Airport, remembered this, with a handful of connected characters, each one driving the plot. I love disaster flicks, but as good as it looks (and despite wonderful turns by Steve McQueen and William Holden), it doesn't deliver.
I try to vary the stars up a bit, usually only allowing for a repeat of one rating. Alas (or maybe not), this year had a pretty solid lineup. As stated, I can roll with the Academy choosing The Godfather: Part II. But hey, I bet you can't guess where my vote goes...
yeah, you saw this coming