Tuesday, December 1, 2020

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1970: The (Non-Oscar) Nominees

Fifty years ago, the films of 1970 came out. Most of them, at least - some made their festival or international debuts one or several years earlier. Point being, we're ending 2020 by going back a full 50 years to the films of 1970. Last week, I posted the 74 films screened. Next week, we begin our look at the 30 Academy Award nominees. This week, the remaining 44.

Let's start with the 14 films that just missed Oscar, films that saw themselves up for Golden Globes, critics prizes, and honors from their respective guilds, but just didn't have the votes in the Academy to make the cut.

Alex in Wonderland
NYFCC Awards runner-up for Best Supporting Actor (Paul Mazursky)

writer-director Paul Mazursky's follow-up to his (and co-writer Larry Tucker's) hit comedy Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is about a writer-director trying to come up with a follow-up to his hit comedy. Actually, it's not even out yet, but it's a sure-to-be hit, and already Alex is breaking down trying to come up with an equally perfect sophomore feature. It's a navel-gazing film, purposely so, poking fun at Hollywood's narcissism, shruggingly owning up to the self-indulgent myth-making of "movies about movie-making" while reminding us (and Alex) just what it is that makes cinema so magical. Terrific Donald Sutherland performance. Mazursky's cameo as a studio exec is quite funny.

The Boys in the Band
Golden Globe nominee for Most Promising Newcomer - Male (Kenneth Nelson)

The first adaptation of Mort Crawley's off-Broadway smash about a group of gay men (pre-Stonewall!!) gathering for a birthday party. Friedkin embraces the play's single set and finds the cinema in it, the increasing claustrophobia of being trapped at an event long past the point where you were having fun. Sets, costumes, cinematography, and most of the performances (I'm particularly a fan of Leonard Frey, Laurence Luckinbill, and Frederick Combs) impress. There are sections that still scream of theatrical contrivance, such as the telephone game in Act Two; the race conversation feels skin-deep and tossed-off; Cliff Gorman's performance is inauthentic in so many ways. Nelson really is a compelling center for the film, handling the desperate hostility and projected self-hatred with complexity and empathy. A mixed bag, to be sure, but such a well-made one. 

BAFTA Awards nominee for Best Cinematography (David Watkin)
WGA Awards nominee for Best Adapted Drama (Buck Henry)

Adaptation of Joseph Heller's black comedy about WWII - the absurdity, the circular reasoning of uniformed bureaucracy, the horrifying and unbeatable stream of violence; Henry and director Mike Nichols find the balance. A large and impressive cast that you have to keep an eye on: there's always something happening, whether they're the focus of the scene or not. Beautifully photographed by Watkin. The sound work is incredible! The loud, loud, loud drone of the planes as they take off, drowning out the shouts of military men still giving and receiving orders! Golly!

The Cheyenne Social Club
WGA Awards nominee for Best Original Drama (James Lee Barrett)

In which an aging cowboy inherits his late brother's brothel. Such a fun movie! Watching James Stewart slowly suss out that the locals want and need the brothel and trying to come to terms with running a den of sin is honestly delightful. I don't know what more to say, it's a romp and a time. IMDb says this is actually based on a novel by Davis Grubb, but this appears to be in dispute.

The Liberation of L.B. Jones
Golden Globe nominee for Most Promising Newcomer - Female (Lola Falana)

Wyler's swan song is about a small Southern town and the repercussions of its black undertaker divorcing his wife after learning of her affair with a white cop. One of those maddening small town storylines where everyone seems to know everyone else's business anyway, it's just official confirmation they're trying to avoid. Loved seeing a showcase for Roscoe Lee Browne, an often reliable supporting player who here takes on the titular role of Lord Byron Jones, tackling it with dignity and pathos. Kind of a snoozy, wandering film, though, taking as its bookends the story of local lawyer (and proud racist) Lee J. Cobb and his newly-arrived liberal nephew, a decision that greatly misjudges who the protagonist is.

The Out-of-Towners
Golden Globes nominee for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy (Jack Lemmon)
Golden Globes nominee for Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy (Sandy Dennis)
WGA Awards winner for Best Original Comedy (Neil Simon)

Ohio couple visit New York for the first time; it's a nightmare from start to finish. I don't know what the opposite of a valentine is, but this screamingly funny takes a pretty sharp knife to New York film takes no prisoners. The police are ineffective, the locals are violent, the out-of-towners themselves are snotty and presumptuous. Dennis gives a master class on comedy; Lemmon's sweaty victim-of-life routine gets a hostile, unpleasant edge that works hilariously. I'm a fan!

The Passion of Anna
National Board of Review's Top Foreign Films
NYFCC Awards runner-up for Best Film
NYFCC Awards second runner-up for Best Actress (Liv Ullmann)

Isolated man and passionate woman take up together during a volatile time on their island, broken up by interviews with the cast reflecting on their characters and the films' themes. A breezy Bergman watch, even if I don't fully get what it's all about. I guess the interviews aren't just opportunities for the actors to "make their case" for their characters, but to emphasize their self-deception, the excuses they make to justify our moods and actions. wonderful for Max von Sydow's performance and Sven Nykvist's cinematography.

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
WGA Awards nominee for Best Original Comedy (Billy Wilder & I.A.L. Diamond)

I'd love to revisit this one: its serious treatment of Sherlock Holmes psychologically, sexually and politically fascinates, the gradual linking of the first third with the rest of the movie thrills in its precision. There's more here than just a mystery romp. Robert Stephens gives a deep, complex performance as the great detective, matched by a debonair Christopher Lee, not matched by a loud and constipated Colin Blakeley. 

Puzzle of a Downfall Child
Golden Globes nominee for Best Actress in a Drama (Faye Dunaway)

A model recalls her career post-breakdown. Dunaway gives a performance, for better and worse, full of tics and mumbling and slurring and general manic behavior. It doesn't always feel organic. Painterly compositions by cinematographer Adam Holender.

Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx
WGA Awards nominee for Best Original Comedy (Gabriel walsh)

Mild-mannered character study about a Dubliner who sells horse manure. Very mild. Perhaps too mild to really make much of a dent. Gene Wilder is almost too straight-faced here. Why he appeals to Margot Kidder's American student is a mystery, beyond the script demanding it.

Something for Everyone
Golden Globes nominee for Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy (Angela Lansbury)

Beautiful Michael York schemes his way to a life of luxury, targeting an aristocratic family fallen on hard times. A star vehicle for York's good looks, and on that level, it succeeds, as he boinks every man and woman who could make his dreams come true. Lansbury's quite game as the very picture of titled indifference - her best line reading is when she dismisses the Nazis as, "boring enough when they were all over the place, strutting around, inviting themselves over for dinner." Film lacks follow-through on tension, plotting, even eroticism. Love the costumes.

Start the Revolution without Me
WGA Awards nominee for Best Original Comedy (Fred Freeman / Lawrence J. Cohen)

Send-up of costume dramas, taking as inspiration the legend of the master swordsmen Corsican Brothers and their radical peasant lookalikes. One of those joke-a-minute spoofs, throwing enough out there that something's bound to connect. It does! Chase scene near the end is great, a ballroom sequence where secret messages are passed en masse is hilarious, but nothing surpasses Orson Welles' lead-up to the opening titles.

The Twelve Chairs
National Board of Review's Best Supporting Actor of 1970 (Frank Langella)
WGA Awards nominee for Best Adapted Comedy (Mel Brooks)

In Communist Russia, desperate men travel the country in search of a collection of chairs that have diamonds secreted in the lining. Brooks ably executes the absurd and the melancholy, grounded by Ron Moody as the grasping, gasping former aristocrat. Langella co-leads as a young conman looking to get rich quicker. Mostly shifts between being amusing and being chuckle-worthy, but the climax surprises with a gut punch that takes serious stock of the socio-political setting.

Where's Poppa?
WGA Awards nominee for Best Adapted Comedy (Robert Klane)

A man just wants to get rid of his senile mother. Lot of rape jokes. A few incest ones. Poop gags, too. All executed with the flair of an elbow dig. Not unfunny, just not as zany as it thinks it is.

Tomorrow, 10 films from the first five months of 1970.

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