Sunday, December 6, 2020

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1970, Day One: A Bunch of Nominees

The year: 1971 (remember, each Academy Awards ceremony is held the year after the one they're honoring). The date: April 15th (funnily enough, 50 years later, the 93rd Academy Awards is scheduled for April 25th, the first time the Oscars have been held in April since The Last Emperor took home Best Picture in 1988). The place: the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in downtown Los Angeles, currently part of the Music Center and home to the LA Opera (I saw Satyagraha there!).

And the nominees? That's what the next two weeks are all about, as we go into depth on the acting categories, the writing categories, the music categories, Director, and Picture. Today, though, we focus on films not nominated in any of those categories, but elsewhere:

The Hawaiians
nominated for Best Costume Design (Bill Thomas)

A tale of one generation of Hawaiians: a white slave trader who pivots to water mining, and a Chinese slave who becomes a wealthy landowner. It's not so old-fashioned as far as epics go, and while the portrayal of some of the Chinese characters and their relationship with Charlton Heston's white supremacist is uncomfortable, it is complex and not inauthentic. A great showcase for Tina Chen. A box office bomb, the one nod for Costume Design has to suffice; it figures, then, that as eye-popping as that work is, it's not my favorite element of the film. Spanning something like 25 years and multiple classes and cultures, they never really feel lived-in, you know? Lost to Cromwell.

The Molly Maguires
nominated for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Tambi Larsen / Darrell Silvera)

Irish miners fighting back at their mistreatment are infiltrated by a spy. Recreating an entire Pennsylavnia coal mining town circa 1870s: the muddy streets, the wooden pubs and shops and town center, the houses up against each other like the miners' native Ireland, and of course, the maze of tunnels making up the mines themselves. It's a worthy nomination in its category - but why just the one? It's a great movie about the exploitation of workers and the system's crackdown on justice and revolution, with genuinely surprising plot turns. Richard Harris leads as the spy who may come 'round to a change of heart, Sean Connery supports as the leader of the titular group fighting against their oppressors. Lost to Patton.

Tora! Tora! Tora!
won Best Visual Effects (A.D. Flowers / L.B. Abbott)
nominated for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Jack Martin Smith / Yoshirô Muraki / Richard Day / Taizô Kawashima / Walter M. Scott / Norman Rockett / Carl Biddiscombe), Best Cinematography (Charles F. Wheeler / Osamu Furuya / Shinsaku Himeda / Masamichi Satoh), Best Film Editing (James E. Newcom / Pembroke J. Herring / Shinya Inoue), Best Sound (Murray Spivack / Herman Lewis)

A sprawling epic depicting the road to Pearl Harbor from both the American and Japanese points of view. A fair treatment, painting nobody with a black brush, laying out clearly the bureaucratic red tape, delays, and bad faith that led to the Japanese successfully carrying out the attack. Great work from the combined US-Japanese film crews. Are there times when it seems more like a timeline of events than an actual narrative with characters? Actually, no! Neatly avoids that trap, especially considering the frequent information dumps, but they did it! Its win in Visual Effects bested another WWII film, Patton. Lost Art Direction-Set Decoration, Editing, Sound to Patton; Cinematography to Ryan's Daughter.

nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Spain)

Luis Buñuel directs this drama about a young lady taken in by an aging nobleman (poorer than he seems), first as his charge, eventually as his bedmate and bride. I didn't care much for it, and perhaps that speaks to a level of ignorance on my part as to the broader social commentary within it. I did like Lola Gaos' supporting performance as the housekeeper who sees all, knows all, keeps all secrets. Lost to Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (nominated the very next year for its screenplay).

won for Best Documentary Feature (Bob Maurice, producer)
nominated for Best Film Editing (Thelma Schoonmaker), Best Sound (Dan Wallin / L.A. Johnson)

Three hours of music, mud, and a community that can't quite come together on how it feels about the deluge of hippies and youths flooding their town. Come for the performances, of course: you won't get much better than the bookends of Richie Havens and Jimi Hendrix, though Roger Daltrey's torso is a sight to behold, and Crosby, Stills, & Nash's acoustic medley left me floating. The real appeal for me, though, is the nuts 'n' bolts: the daily announcements, the calls home to reassure parents everyone's safe, the working of the public toilets, the locals either defending or decrying those damn kids with their pot and whatnot. Its win in Documentary bested Chariots of the Gods, Jack Johnson, King: A Filmed Record...Montgomery to Memphis and Say Goodbye. Lost Editing and Sound to Patton.

Tomorrow, the nominees for Best Supporting Actor: Richard S. Castellano (Lovers and Other Strangers), Chief Dan George (Little Big Man), Gene Hackman (I Never Sang for My Father), John Marley (Love Story) and John Mills (Ryan's Daughter).

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