Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Bicentennial Original Screenplay

Spoiler alert: I love Paddy Chayefsky. I love that he was the first screenwriter to win three Academy Awards. I love that he wrote in multiple genres, in every format possible, that he was stylized yet human, serious and hilarious. The Hospital - not a fan, regrettably. But this win was well-earned!


Paddy was up against his fellow Americans and two European films - France's Cousin cousin, and Italy's Seven Beauties. A different time indeed - from 1945-1980, a 35-year period, 38 foreign language films were nominated for Best Original Screenplay! That's at least one a year, and then some. After that, though, it starts to get more scarce - a Life is Beautiful here, a Barbarian Invasions there - until A Separation becomes the most recent foreign language nominee in this category...and that was already five years ago.

(It should be noted - 2006 was an unusual year, with the multilingual Babel, the Japanese-language Letters from Iwo Jima, and the Spanish-language Pan's Labyrinth all in competition. Another outlier, considering recent history, is 2002, where Y Tu Mamá También was nominated, and Talk to Her won.)

What will the future bring? Maybe more like this year's Oscars, where foreign writers are nominated for English-language works, such as The Lobster's Greek filmmakers Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou. But I do hope that, eventually, we can get back to an international lineup.

And now, the nominees of 1976.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Bicentennial Adapted Score

Did you know that this is a category that still technically exists? Yeah. According to official Academy Rules, Best Original Musical can be activated if it is determined that there are enough quality-level films to qualify. All they have to do is have at least five original songs that propel the narrative, not just incidental or "poppy" songs.

Now, it didn't used to be that way. Back when this was Adapted Score, all you had to do was arrange previously-written work, or the songs within your original musical, into an instrumental score. Which, like, if that rule was still in place, the number of studios that would squeeze an extra nomination out of that would be nuts. Think of Into the Woods, Pitch Perfect, Les Miserables, Black Swan, True Grit - they all would have been nominated here, you know it. Though the fact that they couldn't open up this rule for La La Land, Sing Street, and Moana makes me wonder if anyone knows this rule exists anymore.

Anyway. The 1976 nominees included arrangements of Woody Guthrie songs; arrangements of Paul Williams songs; and Paul Williams. The folk hero took the prize...sort of:


Actually, it was Leonard Rosenman, his second Oscar in a row, as he points out, having won the previous year for Barry Lyndon; he would eventually be nominated for his original score for Cross Creek.

The nominees for Best Adapted Score:

The Bicentennial Song

It is incredible that the category of Best Original Song has lasted as long as it has. It is possibly the most expendable category at the Oscars. I know people who think the ceremony runs too long always suggest moving the Short Categories to the Governors Awards, but at least those serve as calling-cards for obscurer filmmakers.

But Original Song? It is not like it was in the 1930s, when musicals were as common as romantic-comedies and a song was as much a part of the studio package as a leading lady and a happy ending. When was the last time the winner even played on the radio? Outside of a dance remix? You know Justin Timberlake isn't going home with the Oscar this year!

Still, it makes for an entertaining category, a fun diversion during the ceremony, and a chance for Neil Diamond to accidentally call Ayn Rand a nominated songwriter:


(It's kind of bad form for Diamond to openly root for Barbra, but very gracious of her to cede the mic to Paul Williams)

So, consider this a musical break - the nominees, with video, after the jump.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Bicentennial Supporting Actor

Our journey through the 1976 Oscars continues. We've talked Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Original Dramatic Score, and Supporting Actress. Now we're back to acting...with the Best Supporting Actor nominees.

If we look at the other awards ceremonies that we now call The Precursors, we see that, then as now, this race was over from the start. Oh sure - Marathon Man's Laurence Olivier won the Golden Globe for his role as the Nazi who comes out of seclusion for the sake of diamonds, but they're always a little perverse, aren't they? BAFTA had different qualifying dates for Network and Rocky, and so neither film was nominated at that event until a year later - and even then, the former's Ned Beatty and the latter's Burgess Meredith and Burt Young were left out in the cold.

No, friends, only one nominee in this category was also nominated for the BAFTA Award and Golden Globe, and had already won the National Board of Review and New York Film Critics Circle awards. And that man wound up winning the Oscar:


And as if all that weren't enough, Jason Robards wound up winning the year after, too, for Julia! But we'll get to that when we cover 1977. Until then, a closer look at this year's nominees


Monday, February 13, 2017

The Bicentennial Adapted Screenplay

I've always been partial to this category, even over Original Screenplay. It's fascinating to know what works have inspired others to create, or how someone else's story or characters can plant a seed that morphs into something new and exciting. Think the Socialist novel Oil! focusing in on the father instead of the son to become There Will Be Blood; think the Jane Austen classic Emma becoming the modern comedy of manners Clueless; think the impossibility of JFK working as well it does, coming from two books and mountains of speculative reports, pamphlets, and rumors.

And so in 1976, cinema is made out of a non-fiction account of a recent crime, a singer's autobiography, an erotic memoir, fan fiction, and a non-fiction account of a past crime. The recent crime won:


The nominees, after the jump.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Bicentennial Cinematography

It's all-star lineup of Cinematographers for 1976, with three former winners and two previous nominees - and many of them faced off against each other before.

Just the year before, in fact, Haskell Wexler's co-DP'ing of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest faced off against Robert Surtees' solo work on The Hindenburg. Both had won previously, but they both settled for bridesmaid status - John Alcott's work for Barry Lyndon went home with the Oscar. Surtees already had three to his name, and Wexler already had one. Soon to be two:


In 1973, Surtees was once again up for the award, this time for Best Picture Oscar Winner The Sting. His competition? The Sting's only real rival for the Big Prize, The Exorcist, photographed by Mr. Owen Roizman. They lost to Sven Nykvist's Cries and Whispers, which made it the second time they'd both competed and lost - in 1971, Roizman was up for the first time in his career for The French Connection, while Surtees had a two-for-one special in The Last Picture and Summer of '42. The Oscar went to Oswald Morris for Fiddler on the Roof.

Ernest Laszlo met none of these men on the battlefield when he won for Ship of Fools. And indeed, he didn't meet them the year after, either: his Fantastic Voyage work was nominated in the Color category, while Wexler's winning work for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? won in the Black-and-White category. By the following ceremony, there was no separation, so that the black-and-white In Cold Blood competed with Surtees' work on both Doctor Dolittle and The Graduate, as well as first-time nominee Richard H. Kline for Camelot.

What I'm saying is, some categories tend to have the same names batted around. It's probably why the Class of 2016 is such a breath of fresh air - Rodrigo Prieto is the one previous nominee of the bunch, and his only other nomination was 11 years ago.

The nominees and rankings of 1976, after the jump.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Bicentennial Score

Original Score looks wonky as hell in 1976, and that's for a very good reason: Best Picture was populated by minimalism. All the President's Men has a moody score that doesn't kick in for thirty minutes; Network does not have a score at all. Bound for Glory uses its score sparingly, and even so, it's all Woody Guthrie songs - therefore, it has no business being here. Only Taxi Driver and Rocky could boast traditional scores, noticeable scores, scores that would go down in history as two of the most iconic of all time. No wonder both found themselves nominated right here!


Haha, just kidding. Bill Conti's Rocky score was left out in the dust, just as Ludwig Goransson's for Creed would be 39 years later. And baby, I don't know why that is. It couldn't be the bombast - Obsession isn't exactly about subtlety, you know? It couldn't be that its theme is mostly within the context of original song "Gonna Fly Now" - The Omen made it in both categories, after all. It couldn't be its unabashed Americana - The Outlaw Josey Wales is filled with fifes and drums and patriotic-sounding...ah, but wait. There was an irony there, given the central conflict between the titular outlaw and his country, both North and South.

But then one remembers that Bernard Herrmann had died the year before, Christmas Eve 1975. And Herrmann was a man who'd been under-appreciated by the Academy. Oh sure - three previous nominations, with one resulting in a win, but that was it. And not one of those movies was Psycho or Vertigo or Beneath the 12-Mile Reef or Jason and the Argonauts.  Thus he gets in twice - including one for Obsession, a riff on his Vertigo theme.

As for the other three slots? Goldsmith was a frequent presence at the Academy Awards, having been nominated for A Patch of Blue, Planet of the Apes, Chinatown, The Wind and the Lion, and oh so many more. Hell, he'd be nominated another eight times after this, including for Under Fire, which he lost to...Bill Conti. But only one of those nominations would result in a win. This very one:


And then there were Lalo Schifrin, his third nomination for a disaster epic that was, for a time, catnip in this category; and Jerry Fielding, on his third final nod following The Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs.

Let's listen...after the jump.


Monday, February 6, 2017

The Bicentennial Supporting Actress

So begins our descent into the madness of 1976...with the best category in almost every Oscar year, Best Supporting Actress.

Rare as it is now, there were times in the past when a supporting actress category was undeniably full of actual supporting actresses, no debate about it. Nowadays, people can't decide what category Viola Davis belongs in (I have my opinion, but I confess it's a borderline case) - or they give the prize to the damn lead of the movie - or have the audacity to say, "But they were only in the minutes of the movie!", as though a supporting role should take up half the runtime. Wasn't always the case. Time was, when you only had to show up for six minutes to make this happen:


Beatrice Straight's Network performance, as the wronged wife of  is the shortest win in Academy history. The bulk of it is one scene, where she reacts to husband William Holden leaving her for Faye Dunaway. But one look and there's no arguing that she earned her place on the ballot.

The other nominees this year weren't much longer. Jane Alexander, as someone who could make the connection between the Watergate break-in and All the President's Men, has two scenes and a total of 5 minutes and 40 seconds. Lee Grant gets twelve minutes for the almost three-hour Voyage of the Damned, as one of many Jews bound away from Nazi Germany towards Cuba. Jodie Foster's iconic teenage prostitute in Taxi Driver barely passes the 15-minute mark; Piper Laurie's fanatically religious matriarch is the closest to a co-lead as we get, taking up 20 minutes of Carrie.

Yes, these were true supporting performances, and in such disparate films. Voyage is an all-star disaster movie with a social conscious (and a terrible bore), All the President's MenNetwork and Taxi Driver are bleak depictions of America Now, and Carrie is a female-focused horror movie. Not too many of those getting Oscar traction, now are there?

(Personally, too, I think Talia Shire should have been campaigned as Supporting for Rocky, and part of me believes she could have won the category and given the movie its only acting triumph. We'll never know for sure)

The nominees after the jump...

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Mom and Dad: Spirits of '76

As usual in my retrospectives, I will go through the nominees in 13 different Oscar categories. That's nothing new. But something has changed: my parents will be joining in the fun, ranking the movies, and sometimes adding their own commentary.

I think this was 3 or 4 years ago?
Mom and Dad are celebrating 38 years of marriage this May, and have been together since high school. The story of how they met is a legendary one in my family: he was on the wrestling team, Mom saw him during practice, and without even knowing his name, announced to her mother that she saw the boy she was going to marry. Sometimes, you know. Both are retired: Dad was a firefighter, Mom worked at a Jewish pre-school.

They had four children together, including me, the youngest and only boy. My father, too, is an only son, born in Puerto Rico to German immigrants, with two older sisters and one younger one. My mother was born in Pensacola, FL, on her older brother's birthday; she is also the third of four kids, and grew up all over the place.

From Dad, I got my sense of humor; from Mom, my practicality. From both, my love of movies and books and music, as they were always in steady supply growing up. I once watched A Clockwork Orange after they forbade it; when they found out, instead of punishment or a scolding, we discussed its merits. While other parents may hope for their children to choose a practical career path, mine not only defended my majoring in film - it was their idea in the first place. Mom occasionally sends me texts - or, more often, handwritten letters - that include her reviews of the cinema's latest offerings, while Dad and I discuss older films he caught on TV or On Demand. And their tastes run the gamut from The Man Who Shot to Liberty Valance to The Other Guys to Trail of the Screaming Forehead.

So it was only natural that I wanted to learn about their own experience with the movies, especially in regards to their youth. And what better year to ask them about than 1976?


Wednesday, February 1, 2017