Friday, December 18, 2020

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1970, Day Twelve: Best Picture of the Year

This has been one of the more interesting retrospectives for me. It's the first time in a while that I've disagreed with all but one of Oscar's choices (though it was close for some of them!). I've liked more movies than I've disliked, many of them equally, so that making a Top Ten and deciding a winner here have been equally frustrating tasks. I'm sure it was the same for the Academy 50 years ago; only the National Board of Review agreed with their pick:

Unless...I agree, too? Oh, ho-ho, read on, my friends...

produced Ross Hunter
first and only nomination; Golden Globe nominee for Best Picture - Drama

Ensemble blockbuster about an airport's general manager, a pilot, and various others brought together by a record-breaking snowstorm. I adore this movie, seen it more than any other nominee in any category from this year. However. While it's a nice, big-studio, all-star romp, good for some "look at those clothes" thrills and "wow what a score" chills, as for actual thrills and chills...well, it's lacking. There's no real organic chemistry among the cast, just stars barking lines at each other. And even the bomb plot - you know, the disaster at the heart of the film - is tension-less, one forgets it's even part of the show. It's fun, it's re-watchable, but Best Picture?

Five Easy Pieces
produced by Bob Rafelson / Richard Wechsler
first and only nominations in this category for either; NYFCC Awards winner for Best Film; Golden Globe nominee for Best Picture - Drama, National Board of Review's Top Ten Films of 1970

The patina of effortlessness is commendable, I think. Of course, one appreciates the difficulties of wrangling personalities and resources for a big studio picture like, well, any of the other nominees, yet there is something equally impressive about putting together a movie like this: modest, fly-on-the-wall character study about a guy who just doesn't like himself or where he is and doesn't know what to do with all that. A universal theme, one that I think most of this year's cinematic protagonists identify with, but few of which can actually so succinctly, so accurately get it the way this film does.

Love Story
produced by Howard G. Minsky
first and only nomination; Golden Globe winner for Best Picture - Drama; National Board of Review - Top Ten Films of 1970

Undeniable chemistry between leads Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw, plus a profound supporting performance from John Marley. Beautiful score. Trite writing. The highest-grossing movie of the year. Better executed than Airport, but like Airport, as charming and nice as it is, I cannot imagine looking at all the offerings from this year and going, "Yes, Love Story, that was truly the best of the best." I suppose this is an ideal lineup, though, one that not only embraces both art and commerce, but also different genres: how often does a youthful romantic drama make the cut?

produced by Ingo Preminger
first and only nomination; Golden Globe winner for Best Picture - Musical/Comedy; BAFTA Awards nominee for Best Film, NYFCC second runner-up for Best Film

Growing up among firefighters, I am well familiar with the anarchic, cathartic sense of humor exhibited by men and women whose calling puts them face-to-face with mortality multiple times on a daily basis. MASH feels like coming home, though we're following army doctors in the Korean War. The scene, for me, is when the docs go into town with their Korean aide, Ho-Jon: they've drugged him so he will fail his physical exam for enlistment; the Korean doctors, wise to this, keep him anyway, so they can reexamine him. The always-witty Hawkeye is at a loss for words, all he can muster is an impotent, "!" There it is: the "whoo-hoo" fratty camaraderie of the doctors undone by war's insistence on human sacrifice. It doesn't matter how many asides with football games or geisha houses or broadcast sex they distract themselves with, there is still death and destruction waiting to be dealt with.

produced by Frank McCarthy
second and final nomination; National Board of Review's Best Film of 1970; Golden Globe nominee for Best Picture - Drama

Speaking of war! A genius character study of a man who was built for battle and little else, Patton charts the exploits and frustrations of the infamous WWII general of its title: a believer in reincarnation, an admirer of the Nazis, a dedicated American soldier, and just as egotistical as all that would suggest, Patton the man often sucks! Patton the film never does, and rarely seems at a loss about what to do with a man with chutzpah who you'd never want to meet in real life. Fearless and goal-oriented and fierce, yes...but what about after the black-and-white of war?


Three of these films are in my personal longlist (which I make before my Top Ten) for the best films of 1970. Only one of them can get my Oscar vote. That one is:

produced by

It ain't over yet, of course! My personal Top Ten is Sunday, followed by the Retro Hollmann Awards nominations (Monday) and actual awardage (Wednesday, Thursday)!

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