“And the winner is…Crash? Wait that can’t be r…”
Like it or not, the Academy Awards carry a lot of influence in terms of what movies we deem to be worth remembering. It doesn’t matter if it’s about a ruthless mob family, or the subtleties of fish fucking, the Academy Award for Best Picture ensures all winners go down in history. But sometimes history is wrong, and in the case of the Academy Awards, it’s wrong often. Now, Academy Award voters don’t have the benefit of hindsight, but we do. We have all the hindsight. ALL OF IT.
That’s why we decided to go through every Academy Award ceremony from 1970 through 2009 and give out those Best Picture Oscars one more time. Sometimes this will mean that the same movie is going to win. But a lot of the time, we’re going to be taking away Academy Awards and giving them to more deserving films. Yes, you are going to get mad a lot reading this series. And yes, you are going to be very confused by our decision to go with the year each award was given out, as opposed to the year the winning movies were released. Listen, when you make an omelette, you’re going to mix up a few metaphors, alright?
Here’s what we’re going to do. For each Academy Award ceremony, we’ll tell you who won, and who else was nominated. We will list the IMDB user rating for each film—it’s an imperfect marker of quality, for sure, but it at least can give you an idea of how the general public views the movie today. Then, we’ll tell you which movie gets the AFFotD-awarded Oscar. For all we know, the movie might end up being one that wasn’t even nominated. Either way, we’ll go through the important movies that came out each year, and tell you who wins that designated Oscar (again, remember, the ceremony takes place after the movies are released, so the 1970 ceremony is for 1969 movies, 1971 is for 1970, etc.) All clear? Good.
So strap yourselves in, because the next few weeks, America Fun Fact of the Day is going to fix the Academy Awards. You’re welcome.
Re-Awarding the Academy Award for Best Picture (1970-1974)
Midnight Cowboy (7.9/10 on imdb.com)
You know this movie as the “I’m walkin’ here!” movie, but it also was the first gay-related Best Picture winner, as well as the only X-rated film to ever be awarded the Academy’s top honor. It’s probably the first winning movie to be about a male prostitute too, we guess? Anyway, it won three Oscars this year, including Best Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture. The film still retains some name recognition nearly fifty years later and it ranks pretty high on the AFI list of 100 greatest movies of all time. But is it good enough to keep its Oscar? Let’s see the other movies it went against that year.
What Else Was Nominated
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (8.1, 209th top rated movie all time)
When you’re talking about iconic film moments, the ending to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ranks pretty high as [spoiler alert for a 49-year-old movie, we guess?] the two title characters race out and freeze-frame to the audio of a barrage of bullets. Surprisingly, though it was nominated for seven Academy Awards, and won four, neither Robert Redford nor Paul Newman got nominations for their work, which seems wrong here. Like, Burt Bacharach got two statues this year thanks to the song “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head” but no love for the stars? Anyway Butch Cassidy has settled into history as an iconic film, and can easily make a compelling case for Best Picture.
Anne of the Thousand Days (7.6)
If anyone of our readers has actually seen this movie, please let us know, we’ll honestly buy you a beer. Apparently Richard Burton plays Henry VIII in it? We don’t really have much to say about this movie, other than maybe, look at that tagline. “He was King. She was barely 18. And in their thousand days they played out the most passionate and shocking love story in history!” That 100% sounds like the plot of a like, classy soft core porno, not a movie that got *checks* holy shit, 10 Academy Award nominations? What?
Hello, Dolly! (7.2)
Hey look, it’s that musical your High School put on your Sophomore year. So, obviously, this was a Broadway musical before it became a movie, with Carol Channing starring in the original 1964 run. Apparently she didn’t have enough star power to take the role to the big screen (even though Channing would play Dolly intermittently between 1964 and, we swear this isn’t a typo, 1995), so they decided to get Barbara Streisand to star in the thing which…well, yeah, makes sense. She was one year removed from winning an Oscar for Best Actress in Funny Girl, and she’s Barbara Streisand, and she knocked this one out of the park, so we can’t really fault that logic. (Fun fact, Babs tied with Katharine Hepburn for her 1969 Academy Award. Wait, you can tie for an Oscar? Seriously? The film industry was super weird back in the 60’s.)
Anyway, this got nominated for Best Picture, which like, is fine. We at least have heard of this movie. Since apparently *cough cough, looking at you, Anne of a Thousand Days* any movie with a well-regarded British actor could get all the Oscar nominations back then, this nomination is, like, fine. It’s not better than Sundance or Cowboy, but it’s not an outlier on this list.
This movie is, we’ve been told, pretty intense. Directed by Costa-Gavras (which…we’re not sure…why that’s hyphenated?), this political thriller actually won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film. It more or less depicted a slightly fictionalized account of the assassination of a Greek politician that occurred in 1963, and definitely feels like the kind of movie that can only come out of a climate of political unrest and turmoil. So, you know, bleak and European. We may have just said the same two adjectives twice in a row in that previous sentence.
And the Revised Winner is…
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
This might be a tough one for fans of Midnight Cowboy, but Butch Cassidy gets it here for being a more enjoyable movie that enjoyed a larger cultural footprint at the end of the day. The only other movies that came out this year that could try to sneak in the conversation were True Grit and Easy Rider, but we’re going with Newman and his crew. Or, what, we could say it was a tie between Midnight Cowboy and Butch Cassidy, because apparently that’s a thing you could do back then, because apparently the Academy had like, fourteen voting members back in the day. God, that’s so weird.
But no, we’re not actually giving out the seventh tie in Academy Award history. Congrats on your new Oscar, Butch.
We all know Patton. It’s the story of one of America’s most badass Generals, played by one of America’s most curmudgeony actors in one of the best performances of the decade, if not of all time. George C. Scott refused his Academy Award for Best Actor this year, because he felt that every performance was unique, and that acting competitions were, basically, bullshit. And he stuck to that. Like, one of the Producers picked up the Oscar for him, just in case he might change is mind, and George C. Scott was like, “I said no, Frank. Now send it back.” They nominated him again the following year for The Hospital, but the Academy must have learned their lesson because they gave the award to Gene Hackman instead.
Anyway, this is one of the few “biopics that, really, are just showcases for a great performance” movies that actually hold up as an actual movie. It’s been called “to this day one of Hollywood’s most compelling biographical war pictures,” is listed #89 on the AFI’s top 100 movie list, with Patton listed #29 on its list of best heroes, but it was also Richard Nixon’s favorite film, so like, eh, let’s call it mixed reviews.
Did you know that apparently there was a made-for-tv sequel to this movie? We’re serious, it was called The Last Days of Patton, it came out in 1986, and they somehow drove enough money to the doorstep of George C. Scott to get him to reprieve the role for it. The 80’s were wild, man.
What Else Was Nominated
You guys, Airport made a shitload of money somehow when it came out. Like, this movie was just “wow, a bunch of people had a crazy day at an airport in Chicago, and then a guy hijacks a plane,” but it made $100 million (which, adjusted for inflation, would be over $600 million, makes it the 47th highest grossing film of all time as of the writing of this article) and spawned three separate sequels over the following decade. That’s pretty incredible, considering the fact that its place in cinematic history can best be summed up with the following Wikipedia screenshot.
Anyway, the movie was hugely successful, made all the money, won an Academy Award for Helen Hayes, and was nominated for nine other awards that it didn’t win. Oh, and Roger Ebert’s review of it started with the savage opening lines of, “On some dumb fundamental level, ‘Airport’ kept me interested for a couple of hours. I can’t quite remember why.” Spoiler alert, this is not taking Patton’s statue.
Five Easy Pieces (7.5)
At least 50% of all Oscar nominated films, and 75% of Oscar nominated Sad Dramas, sound hilarious when you dilute the plot into a single sentence. Like, an entirely truthful summation of the Jack Nicholson film, Five Easy Pieces, is “A blue collar oil-rig worker spends his days getting drunk and cheating on his waitress girlfriend, but he’s hiding a secret…he’s actually a classically trained piano prodigy from a family of musicians.” Like, hell yeah, 1970s screenwriters, lay on that Shyamalan twist baby!
Anyway, yeah, any movie that devotes 30% of its Wikipedia page to the “famous” “chicken salad sandwich scene” is probably not going to win any Oscars, even retroactively.
Love Story (6.9)
Has anyone watched this movie since, like, 1973? No, right? We get that this film was massively popular, even though the whole “love means never having to say you’re sorry” line from it has surely been disastrously used in thousands of fights between significant others over the years, but come on, when was the last time someone sat down and was like, “Yeah, let’s watch Love Story and get sad.”
Admittedly, Love Story made an absolute insane amount of money at the time (adjusted for inflation, the movie made the equivalent of $642 million dollars). That’s…a lot of money for a movie with the generic plot summary of “a boy and a girl from different backgrounds fall in love…and then tragedy strikes.” If you haven’t seen it you are a male born sometime after the year 1980, but Love Story basically follows a rich dude marrying a working glass girl, then getting cut off financially from his parents, then finding out his wife is terminally ill, and then not telling the wife (what the fuck, were doctors not allowed to talk to women in the 70’s, or what the hell?), and then like, the wife dies in the rich dude’s arms at the end. God, that sounds like a fucking slog. But when it came out, it was the sixth highest grossing movie of all time! Were things that depressing under Nixon? We have so many questions for the 1970’s.
Oh hey, it’s finally a movie we recognize. Now, M*A*S*H made a decent amount of money (adjusted for inflation, it made the equivalent of almost $500 million), though that only made it the third-highest grossing film of the year, which is just baffling to us. We’d argue more people are familiar with M*A*S*H than Love Story or Airport, but that’s just us. Anyway, if you don’t know what this movie is about, we don’t know what to tell you. Like, that’s a big gap in popular culture you have there, buddy. This movie ended up winning the Oscar for Best Screenplay, and was the first time Robert Altman would be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director. That’s some pretty good Oscar pedigree, and it aged well enough that we didn’t throw our hands up and go, “What the hell?” when we saw it received a nomination this year.
And the Revised Winner is…
It might look that way two entries in, but we promise we are not taking a “the highest IMDB user rating wins” approach with this feature. You’ll have to trust us on that. But in this case, the highest IMDB rating clearly belongs to the best film. The only movie that anyone remembers anything about was like, Love Story, which, come on, no, and M*A*S*H, which probably has more to do with the tv show it inspired than anything else. Plus, Patton literally has a general standing in front of an American flag. We’ve got a brand to maintain here, people. So this Academy Award stays right where it’s at.
The French Connection (7.8)
The French Connection, also known as “oh right, that one with the car chase scene,” was the first R-rated film to win an Academy Award (even though, now, Midnight Cowboy is technically R-rated. That movie was only rated X when it came out because, and we’re completely serious here, there was some gay stuff in there. The early 70’s were a trash fire). If you don’t remember what the movie was about, well that makes two of us, so to refresh your memory, Gene Hackman played a cop trying to hunt down a French heroin smuggler. It actually was based on real events as they were described in Robin Moore’s 1969 book, The French Connection: A True Account of Cops, Narcotics, and International Conspiracy. It went on to win five Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Hackman and Best Director, and spawned a sequel (The French Connection II) that, surprisingly, wasn’t trashed by critics. Huh.
What Else Was Nominated
A Clockwork Orange (8.3, 84th top rated movie all time)
This movie shouldn’t need any introduction. It’s a classic Stanley Kubrick film that is a must-see for fans of both milk and of watching people get bludgeoned to death with giant penises. This dark, violent dystopian film made $26 million on a $2 million budget, and was the most popular film in France in 1972, a random fact that feels, somehow, very fittingly French. It still remains a pretty controversial film, and it didn’t win any of its four Academy Award nominations at the time (for Best Picture, Director, and Writing for Kubrick, as well as a Best Film Editing nod), but as time has gone by it has become an increasingly influential and well-regarded, if still somewhat problematic, film.
Fiddler on the Roof (8.0)
You guys know this movie. It’s the classic Jewish-centered film adaptation of the 1964 Broadway show, starring Topol who got an Academy Award nomination for his performance. Topol would go on to play Tevye for decades, with his last performance taking place in 2009. He literally played the part over the course of 40 years. Anyway, you’re probably humming “If I Were a Rich Man” in your head right now, so we’ll go on to the next nominee.
Nicholas and Alexandra (7.3)
Sigh, of course the immediately forgotten biopic about Tsar Nicholas II and his wife won more Oscars than Clockwork Orange. That sounds Oscar-baity as fuck. Anyway, probably the most interesting thing about this movie is that Laurence Olivier is in it, but doesn’t even appear in the first page of the cast on the movie’s IMDB page. It was nominated for six Academy Awards. Whatever.
The Last Picture Show (8.1)
The Last Picture Show straddles that line between “culturally relevant” and “kind of obscure.” Like, you definitely recognize the name, but only about a quarter of you reading this have ever seen it. Filmed in black and white, and starring Cloris Leachman, Cybill Shepherd, Jeff Bridges and Randy Quaid, this coming-of-age Sad Drama is one of the few movies rocking a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. It honestly can make a decent case for being the Best Picture of the year, since none other than Roger Ebert called it his favorite film of 1971. It won two Oscars for Acting (to Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman), and got nominations for Writing, Cinematography, Director, Best Supporting Actress (for Ellen Burstyn) and Best Supporting Actor (the first Oscar nomination for Jeff Bridges).
And the Revised Winner is…
A Clockwork Orange
This year was actually pretty stacked, with a legitimately classic Kubrick film, an adaptation of a revered musical, one of Roger Ebert’s favorite films of all time and a movie that, let’s be honest, you only remember because of a frankly overhyped car chase scene. But this one is a slam dunk—it should have gone to Clockwork. By the way, you want to know a sure sign that the Oscars are full of shit? Stanley Kubrick only ever won one Oscar, and that was for Special Visual Effects on 2001: A Space Odyssey. How is that even possible in a society where, like, 99% of people have working eyes and ears? He got thirteen nominations, but one of the best directors of all time never won a single statue for Best Picture or Director. You’ve got to be shitting us. We’re rectifying that wrong right here and giving A Clockwork Orange its deserved trophy.
The Godfather (9.2, 2nd top rated movie all time)
If we have to explain anything to you about The Godfather, largely considered one of the best movies of all time, and also the highest grossing film of all time from 1972 to 1976 (adjusted for inflation, the movie brought in over $700 million domestically), then, like, why are you even reading this article? Have you just never seen a movie before and decided that this article would be a good way to learn what movies are? Who are you, and why do you fascinate us so, hypothetical reader?
One thing we would like to point out here, however, is easily our favorite little factoid we learned in the process of researching this article series. So film scholars (read as: NERDS) undoubtedly remember that Marlon Brando won the Academy Award for Best Actor this year. And they probably also remember that he boycotted the ceremony, and instead had Sacheen Littlefeather, a Native American actress, attend in his place to inform the Academy that he would not accept the award because of the poor treatment of Native Americans in entertainment. But what none of our staff knew was that Al Pacino also boycotted the Oscars this year. Why? Because he was only nominated for Best Supporting Actor, and he was like, “This is BULLSHIT I was the LEAD ACTOR in this damn movie, FUCK IT I’M SKIPPING THE OSCARS.” Which is probably the most Al Pacino thing we’ve ever heard of.
What Else Was Nominated
You know what’s extremely surprising? Like, we’re making a point of saying “this sounds like it’s a lie but it’s not” because we make jokes on this site and you’d otherwise potentially assume we’re joking? Cabaret won five more Oscars than The Godfather did. The Godfather only won for Best Picture, Best Lead Actor, and best Writing (as much as Pacino huffed and puffed about being placed in the Best Supporting Actor category, he still lost to Joel Grey, from Cabaret). Pretty much every other award, with a handful of exceptions, went to Cabaret, including Best Director for Bob Fosse.
Granted, this is one of the most successful “it was a movie before a Broadway show” musicals of all time, and most of its awards were relatively deserved, but, like, come on. Better than The Godfather? Naw.
Well, most of these Best Picture nominations we’ve at least heard of. And Deliverance is definitely a movie that stayed in the cultural zeitgeist, even if its main contributions are the dueling banjos and the “Squeal like a pig” line. Anyway, we try not to spend a lot of time writing about male rape, or any kind of rape really, so we don’t have much to say about this movie once we take that topic of conversation off the table. It was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2008, so it’s definitely a movie that’s survived the test of time.
Sounder is a movie that you might recognize from the young adult novel it’s based on about a black sharecropper family in the Depression-era south. Oh and a dog. Sounder is a dog. It was pretty well regarded when it came out, especially since it was a more serious and respectful film about the black experience at a time where Blaxploitation films were extremely popular. The 15th highest grossing film of the year, Sounder received four Academy Award nominations in a year that didn’t have a lot of duds in the Best Picture category.
The Emigrants (8.1)
So, as we’ve established with that whole “Kathleen Turner and Barbara Streisand sharing Best Actress one year” thing, the Oscars are really weird, but the nominations for this film remains one of the weirdest things we’ve seen. The Emigrants, a Swedish film based on a series of novels that originally had the title Utvandrarna was nominated in 1972 for Best Foreign Language Film. It didn’t win that year (that went to the Italian film The Garden of the Finzi-Continis), but then, the next year, somehow, apparently because it opened in the United States a year after it opened in Sweden, it got nominated again, only this time for Best Picture, along with three nominations for Best Actress, Best Director and Best Screenplay. So, this is a movie that got nominated for five Academy Awards over two years…and somehow still didn’t win Best Foreign Language film? This is so strange to us.
Anyway, this stars Max von Sydow, who you had actually have heard of well before his little appearance in The Force Awakens, and tells the story of a Swedish group emigrating to Minnesota in the 1800s and facing various hardships. So like, your typical Oscar-worthy immigrant Sad Drama. Roger Ebert gave it four stars, and it sits at 89% on Rotten Tomatoes currently. Sure, it only has 9 reviews, but still. There’s no way this gets an Oscar, as it’s a film that’s been largely forgotten, but it’s at least a well-regarded film among those that actually have seen it.
But come on, we all know how this is going to end.
And the Revised Winner is…
Duh. Like, this was a pretty strong year, all things considered, with other films like The Poseidon Adventure and Last Tango in Paris coming out, but, come on. This isn’t even a discussion worth having. Godfather keeps its statue.
The Sting (8.3, 95th top rated movie all time)
The Sting is a classic caper film that won seven Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Screenplay, and ranks 20th all time in the domestic box office when adjusted for inflation (it’s $156,000 box office total is the equivalent of $820 million, yeesh). In case you haven’t seen it, or the Community episode making fun of it, it follows two con men (played by Paul Newman and Robert Redford) who try to swindle a mob boss. Just looking at the poster of this movie makes “The Entertainer” by Scott Joplin play in your head. Most people would say that this is a worthy Best Picture winner, and we’d agree. But is it the most worthy? Let’s see what else we have here.
What Else Was Nominated
A Touch of Class (6.5)
Yup, never heard of it. It’s a movie about two people having an affair who fall in love, which, again, rings roughly zero bells for us. Glenda Jackson won her second Academy Award in a three year span for this role (she ended up being nominated four times in her career, all in the 70’s, and then like, randomly became a member of Parliament in the 90s) but like, again, if anyone who is reading this remembers this film ever existing, we’d be frankly shocked.
American Graffiti (7.5)
American Graffiti will go down in history as A- that movie that George Lucas made that is absolutely nothing like Star Wars, B- the film responsible for Ron Howard’s adult acting career and, by extension, the creation of the show Happy Days, and C- one of the most profitable films of all time. Adjusted for inflation, it cost about $4 million to make and made over $600 million, which is impressive considering that executives at the time, in their infinite, wisdom decided there was no way the movie would be profitable, fought to release it as a TV movie. It currently sits at #62 on AFI’s list of greatest movies, and it made George Lucas rich enough that he could set aside $300,000 to help fund some space opera movie he was trying to get made. The movie has aged amazingly well—watching it today feels pretty similar to watching it when it came out, and David Fincher even credited the film as influencing the visual style of Fight Club. In case you can’t tell, we really like this movie.
Cries & Whispers (8.2)
Like, we guess you know about this movie if you’re a big Ingmar Bergman fan? It’s the story of a three sisters dealing with one of the woman’s terminal cancer. So like, an Ingmar Bergman Sad Drama, if that’s what you’re into?
The Exorcist (8.0)
Here’s another film that needs no explanation. The Exorcist is, arguably the best, and definitely the most decorated, horror film of all time. It was the second-highest grossing film of 1974, behind The Sting, but with re-issues and additional screenings it eventually racked up $232 million domestically, which adjusted for inflation is over one billion dollars. This film is easily the third film nominated in 1974 that you could safely call “timeless.” But is it timeless enough to take a statue from The Sting?
And the Revised Winner is…
It gives us no joy to take away a statue from The Sting, which is a legitimately great movie, but in an insanely stacked year (this easily is one of the strongest top 3 you’ll see in any this decade, and don’t forget that Paper Moon came out this year too, it just didn’t get a Best Picture nomination). American Graffiti, which, for what it’s worth, scores slightly higher on Rotten Tomatoes, ekes out the charming Newman and Redford collaboration. In the end, while both these movies were great (so great, in fact, that we’re not even focusing much on The Exorcist, arguably one of the best and most influential horror films of all time) American Graffiti still remains one of the best and influential “high school students about to go to college” movies of all time, while The Sting is more of a “very fun caper movie.” Plus, we’re giving American Graffiti extra points for inadvertently giving us Star Wars.
So there you have it. Five years down, five Oscars handed out. And so far, we’ve taken away three Academy Awards and let two stay with their original winners. You’re probably a little pissed at us for The Sting, but trust us, you’ll want to save your ire for when we get farther along in this list. So make sure to come back in a few days to watch us continue our fool’s errand as we re-live the Academy Award ceremonies of 1975 through 1979. And boy, you’re not going to like some of those choices.