By John H. Foote
They happen, each and every year. There are films, performances, direction, writing, cinematography, or many crafts ignored for their obvious artistry.
Who knows why it happens, but it does, without fail, each year. In this first of five pieces, I explore the greatest decade in film history, the seventies and the major snubs within the Academy Award nominations of that extraordinary decade. Bear in mind there are just five nominees in each category and sometimes there is simply not room for others, but in many cases, the very best work of the year has been ignored. How in the world does that take place? Purely indulgent.
I cannot explain why snubs happen, but I can explain why those snubbed should not have been. Enjoy and please send me yours.
No order here other than chronological.
1971 – BEST ACTOR – MALCOLM MACDOWELL IN A CLOCKWORK ORANGE: With his bouncy, eve jaunty performance as the cruel sociopathic, deeply psychotic Alex, MacDowell gave a stunning performance that was at once iconic. As the leader of a group of Droogs, up to no good after dark, he was a complete astonishment. Dangerous, violent, explosive, a Beethoven junkie, he is miraculous in the film, the heart and soul, for better or worse. He deserved to be a nominee, no question. One of the most astounding and daring performances of all time.
1972 – BEST ACTOR – ROBERT REDFORD IN JEREMIAH JOHNSON: Often terribly underrated as an actor for much of his career, Redford is onscreen the entire running time of this powerful western directed by Sydney Pollack, who seemed able to draw out of Redford what other filmmakers missed. As a mountain man seeking peace and solitude as America was being tamed, he is remarkable, going for long stretches not even speaking to another person. He carries the film and is superb throughout.
1972 – BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – BURT REYNOLDS IN DELIVERANCE: After delivering a powerfully macho performance as Lewis, the outdoorsman leading the canoe trip of four city slickers, Reynolds finally silenced his critics about his acting abilities. An Oscar nomination seemed likely and then he posed for a Cosmo cover nude. Should it matter? No, one has nothing to do with the other, but the conservative Academy at once failed to take him seriously and he would go without a nomination for the next quarter century. He is riveting here, filling the screen with his power, and his immediate ability to react when threatened. Remarkable.
1974 – BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – ROBERT DUVALL IN THE GODFATHER PART II: Oddly Duvall was left out of the trio of actors from The Godfather Part II nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Truth be told the five nominees could have all been from the film, and perhaps the Academy could have increased the five to seven given the plethora of brilliance in this category in 1974. Once again as Tom Hagen Duvall was quietly brilliant as the lawyer to Michael and the Corleone family. Superb, but by then we were used to it.
1974 – BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – JOHN CAZALE IN THE GODFATHER PART II: Poor doomed Fredo. From the moment he is approached by the Corleone family enemies he is doomed to die. Not knowing his betrayal of Michael will result in an attempt on his brother’s life, he is paralyzed with terror when it happens. Once found out, he pours his heart out to an unfeeling Michael, and meets his maker after they have seemed to make amends. Cazale’s best performance, and he gave five of them, each within a Best Picture nominee. He was robbed folks.
1974 – BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY – THE GODFATHER PART II: As he did with The Godfather, cinematographer Gordon Willis made dark magic out of the shadows, blacks and greys of the film. Snubbed for The Godfather Part II, dubbed the Prince of Darkness, he gave the films their distinctive look, allowing us to glimpse the behind-the-scenes world of the mafia. Stunning.
1974 – BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – BRUCE DERN IN THE GREAT GATSBY: Dern WAS Tom Buchanan. It was as if he suddenly manifested himself directly from the book and owned the character. Imposing, blustering, comfortable in his obscene wealth, Tom is a bully, but had the money and formidable size to intimidate just about anyone in his path. His hatred of Gatsby was clear from the beginning, and in Gatsby he had found someone who did not fear him, which simply terrified Tom. An exceptional performance from one of the decade’s near forgotten actors – until recently.
1974 – BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – JOHN HUSTON IN CHINATOWN: As the wrinkled old millionaire, Huston is the personification of evil in portraying Noah Cross in Chinatown. Roman Polanski’s masterful film noir. Like a cackling old demon, Cross feels he is above the law, and given his money he likely is, but when it is discovered he fathered a child with his daughter, his life spirals out of control. The single adversary he fails to size up is his damaged daughter, superbly portrayed by Faye Dunaway.
1975 – BEST ACTRESS – MARILYN HASSETT IN THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN: As the famous skier Jill Kinmont, headed to the Olympics before a devastating accident left her paralyzed from the shoulders down, Hassett – a virtual unknown actress – was miraculous. Nominated for a Golden Globe, she richly deserved to be an Oscar nominee as well, and in such a lean year it was rather shocking she was not. Rising above the film’s tear-jerking elements to deliver a fine performance, she was truly exceptional, as a woman who had more pain than she ever deserved.
1975 – BEST DIRECTOR – STEVEN SPIELBERG FOR JAWS: So how does this happen – really? One of the finest directed films ever made, Spielberg created art, making a stunning thriller about a killer Great White shark feasting off bathers on the Eastern Seaboard. When the three mechanical sharks failed to operate as they had hoped, he was forced to think on the spot, and he did, showing less of the shark, finding ways to suggest its presence, and the bloody aftermath of the attacks. Genius. Did I mention the performances he brought from his actors? The repeat viewings and the gigantic box office? How was he passed over for a Best Director nomination? Shameful really.
1975 – BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – ROBERT SHAW IN JAWS: Jaws is a grand at sea adventure as three very different men search for a man eating Great White shark off the East Coast. There are some terrifying moments but none as frightening as when Quint (Robert Shaw) recalls his experience aboard the S.S. Indianapolis, a ship sunk as it was returning from delivering the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. The ship sunk and for the next few days the men clinging to life on whatever they found to hang onto, were picked off by swarming sharks. The intensity of quiet with which he tells the story, reliving each moment, the terror still with him, and at once we know why he hates sharks. Shaw was brilliant, deserving of winning the Oscar. Haunting.
1976 – BEST DIRECTOR – MARTIN SCORSESE FOR TAXI DRIVER: Again, a great director is snubbed for his astounding film, which was among the darkest pictures ever made in the seventies and spoke to descending into madness. Scorsese gave us images that suggest Hell was just below New York City, boiling away, threatening to blow up onto the streets at any moment. Into this comes our hero (?), Travis (Robert De Niro), a Vietnam veteran disgusted by what the city has become and is a ticking time bomb as to when he will explode. When he does, it was unlike any slaughter on screen we have ever see. How does the director of such a flat-out masterpiece get ignored?
1976 – JILL CLAYBURGH IN GABLE AND LOMBARD: Critically crucified by the critics, Pauline Kael in particular, this film was among the highest tested audience rated films from Universal in its history. The studio believed it had a smash hit, but instead they were killed by Ms. Kael, a gifted however sometimes unnecessarily cruel critic. She missed the boat here with Jill Clayburgh who was a dizzy delight as thirties comedienne Carole Lombard, a notorious party girl, who married Clark Gable and was killed in a plane crash on her way home from selling war bonds during WWII. Clayburgh seems to be channeling the spirit of Lombard in her superb performance.
1976 – JOHN WAYNE IN THE SHOOTIST: The Duke gave one of his greatest performances in this, his final film, exactly 20 years after his finest work in The Searchers (1956) which should have won him an Oscar for Best Actor. He deserved the nomination for his haunting, melancholy performance as gunfighter J.B. Books who comes to a growing western town to seek counsel from a doctor he knew years ago. It is confirmed with blistering honesty, he has advanced terminal cancer … he is going to die, and very soon. “I’m a dying man, afraid of the dark” he tells his landlady as the cancer advances, ravaging his body. Little did anyone know that at the time of the making of the film, Wayne too was dying of cancer. Not even nominated? The Academy in every way, blew this one. He was superb.
1977 – BEST PICTURE – CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND: So this time the Academy gets it almost right, nominated Steven Spielberg for Best Director, richly deserved, but his film, the year’s best in my opinion, is ignored as a Best Picture nominee? How does this happen? In exploring man’s first contact with alien life, Spielberg directed a bliss out, a film about how it should be, how two worlds should come together. The last 45 minutes are like seeing God and knowing that yes, he is there.
1977 – BEST ACTOR — BRUCE DERN IN BLACK SUNDAY: I have written extensively about Bruce Dern and Black Sunday. Yes, he was snubbed and should have not only been nominated, the man should have won. Still after 40 years the finest American film made about international terrorism, Dern is terrifying as a man who wants to get even with America for forgetting about him and his service to the country. John Frankenheimer directed the film, Dern dominates it in every way.
1979 – BEST PICTURE AND BEST DIRECTOR – MANHATTAN AND WOODY ALLEN: Allen’s best film landed on the cover of TIME magazine upon release, greeted with rave reviews, hailed as the finest American comedy of its time. As with all Allen’s best films he draws upon his life here as a writer involved with a very young woman, a senior in high school portrayed winningly by Mariel Hemingway, who turns out being the wisest character in the film. Upon breaking up with her, he falls in love with the narcissistic Mary, portrayed by Diane Keaton. Shot in near glowing black and white, New York always looks better in black and white. Outstanding and near perfect, a lovely film. Incredible that it was not nominated for Best Film or Director, downright shameful.
1979 – BEST ACTOR – MARTIN SHEEN IN APOCALYPSE NOW: As the army assassin sent into deep Cambodia to terminate a Colonel who has gone insane fighting the Vietnam war, Sheen held the psychedelic film together. Haunted by his deeds, haunted by the men he has murdered for the military, he takes on the killing of Kurtz with relish, needing something to keep him alive. He slowly is going mad in the hotel room, waiting for them to bring the mission to him, and they do. On the river he learns more about Kurtz than Kurtz likely knows about himself, and when he finally encounters him, he does not know what to do. He sees much of Kurtz in himself, and that frightens him. Sheen is electrifying as he descends into the hellish jungles of Vietnam where fires seem to burn eternally.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.