“You’re going to really regret giving me this Academy Award, AFFotD.”
Earlier this week we decided on a whim (read as, while drinking whiskey in the middle of the day) that we would go through all the Academy Awards for Best Picture that were handed out in every ceremony from 1970 through 2009 and determine what movies from that year should really have come away with the win. And, well, it took us 4,500 words to cover five years. Yeah, um, this is going to take a while. So let’s keep motoring through.
But first, a quick refresher on our process here. We will list each Academy Award by the year the award was presented, as opposed to the year that the films came out. Yes, it’s frustratingly confusing, but we’ve made this arbitrary decision and are sticking to it. So all of our entries for 1975 came out in 1974, 1976’s Oscar is for films released in 1975, you get the idea. We’ll tell you what movie won originally as well as what films were originally nominated. We will include the IMDB user ratings for each film as a widely imperfect marker of quality. Then, we’ll decide who actually deserves that Academy Award. In our first article, two films kept their statue, while three were handed out to different nominees. A film doesn’t have to have been nominated originally to get the award, but it does help.
Now, with that all being said, let’s dive into our next batch of films.
Re-Awarding the Academy Award for Best Picture (1975-1979)
The Godfather: Part II (9.0, 3rd top rated movie all time)
Yeah, considering the fact that there are legitimate arguments of “which is better, Part I or Part II” it’s pretty obvious that this one is going to keep its statue. But let’s see what it had to fend off.
What Else Was Nominated
Chinatown (8.2, 129th top rated movie all time)
This classic neo-noir film is uncomfortable to talk about because of the, you know, Roman Polanskiness of it all, but many still consider Chinatown one of the greatest films of all time. It’ll always be known for the “my daughter and my sister” scene, as well as the classic closing line that we don’t even have to repeat here because we know that you know it. Robert Towne won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay here, which many consider to be one of the best screenplays ever put to paper, and it was nominated for ten other Oscars that it didn’t win.
Of the seven films that have earned Dustin Hoffman an Academy Award nomination, Lenny is by far the least well-known other than, like, mayyybe Wag the Dog. This Bob Fosse-directed biopic was about the famous comic, Lenny Bruce, who died of a morphine overdose in 1966, which is the most Oscar-baity sentence we’ve ever had to type. It was pretty good movie, garnering six Oscar nominations, but it’s just not a movie that people thought about much in the years that followed. Consider this—using completely arbitrary (and sometimes downright dumb) IMDB user ratings as a guide might not be the best way to talk about these films, but it can give you an idea of how many people care to take the time and rate certain movies. Chinatown has an 8.2 rating out of 245,000 votes. The Godfather has had over 900,000 people rate it on IMDB. How many votes does Lenny have to go with it’s completely acceptable 7.6 rating? Just 12,000. So, you know, nothing against the movie, but it definitely doesn’t really scream “memorable Best Picture winner” to us.
The Conversation (7.9)
Man, 1975 was an insane year for Francs Ford Coppola. He was nominated for five Oscars that year alone between this and Godfather Part II. The movie also has John Cazale, a.k.a. the actor who played Fredo in The Godfather Part I and II who only appeared in six films in his career (one of which was posthumous), but who apparently knew how to pick a script because every single one of those received Best Picture nominations. Of those films (This, the three Godfathers, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter) we’ll probably wager a guess that The Conversation is by far the least known of his films. While the movie did get added to the National Film Registry in 1995, and Gene Hackman says it’s the best film he’s ever been in, this movie just doesn’t surpass The Godfather Part II in either popularity or influence.
The Towering Inferno (6.9. Nice.)
Roger Ebert called this the “best of the mid-1970s wave of disaster films” but like, we’d call that a “Tallest Building in Wichita” situation. Hmm. Okay, we swear that pun wasn’t intentional. Basically it was a blockbuster film about a fire starting in a big shitty building. It had Paul Newman and Steve McQueen in it. It was like, fine, but not like, “give this film three Oscars and nine nominations” good, you know? Like, apparently they thought it was three Oscars and nine nominations good at the time, but the 70s were weird. Though, fun fact, Fred Astaire, at the age of 75, received his only Oscar nomination for Inferno. Which counts for something, we guess?
And the Revised Winner is…
The Godfather: Part II
Chinatown really tries here, but you can’t take away from Godfather: Part II, which was the first ever sequel to win Best Picture, and is probably the best sequel of all time. Don’t even talk to us about Part III, shut up.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (8.7, 16th top rated movie all time)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was, and remains, a classic. If you haven’t seen the movie, then you clearly have lived a life where you have never made fun of either the electrotherapy scene or the smothering scene, and as such you have not lived as full and rich of a life as our staff writers. This won five Oscars, including Best Actor for Jack Nicholson (in arguably his best and most defining role) and Best Actress for Louise Fletcher (in absolutely her best and most defining role, like, what else the fuck has she been in, Cruel Intentions?). In fact, it was only the second film ever to win both Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay, which hadn’t happened since It Happened One Night in 1934 and wouldn’t happen again until The Silence of the Lambs came out. It also made over $100 million in the box office, or about $500 when today’s ticket prices are taken into consideration.
So yeah, this one is tough to beat.
What Else Was Nominated
Barry Lyndon (8.1, 225th top rated movie all time)
Oh hey it’s that Kubrick film you’ve been meaning to see for years now but can never quite pull the trigger because of all the 18th century costumes. But yeah, this is the story of a 1700s Irish man who marries a rich widow in order to climb the social latter. It’s mostly well known for being one of the more beautiful films ever shot, employing cinematographic techniques that were practically unheard of at the time. It received seven Academy Awards nominations, and won every single one except for the three that Kubrick was nominated for (Picture, Director and Screenplay). But, like, if you’re going to give Kubrick an Oscar…it’s not for this, right? Even at the time, it was viewed as kind of a yawner.
Dog Day Afternoon (8.0, 249th top rated movie all time)
It’s crazy to think that Dog Day Afternoon was released in 1975. Like, if they released an anti-establishment film today about a bank robbery where the motive is “pay for the main character’s gay lover’s sex change operation” Trump would probably tweet so hard his thumbs would snap in half, but they made that exact film over forty years ago. That’s just insane to us. Granted, it’s a great film, and there’s a reason why you see the poster for it on like, 15% of all college dorm room walls (well, the actual reason is just that 20-year-old guys are weirdly obsessed with Young Al Pacino, plus it goes well with the Scarface poster).
It won for Best Original Screenplay, but also earned nominations for Best Acting, Directing, Supporting Acting and Editing. While it was critically and commercially successful, it’s only gained notoriety and influence as it has aged. Plus, people can shout “Attica!” because of this, which is always fun to do.
By the way, and this has nothing to do with the quality of the film, it’s just super interesting—the whole “paying for a sex change operation” thing? The movie was based on a real bank robbery, and that was the real motive, and when John Wojtowicz (who Pacino’s character was based on) let them make the movie, he got paid $7,500 and 1% of the film’s net profits, which was eventually used to actually pay for that very sex change operation for his former lover. So technically Elizabeth Eden got her sex change operation paid for by a bank robbery, in a very roundabout way. And it looks like Trump has now broken all of his Twitter fingers.
Jaws (8.0, 236th top rated movie all time)
Well damn. Another legitimate classic. We guess Jaws ended up having a bit of a legacy. Like, sure, it was just Steven Spielberg inventing the summer blockbuster as we know it. And it was the highest grossing film of all time until the release of Star Wars. No big deal. Now granted, it spawned three sequels that ranged from “Bad” to “Come on, stop fooling, you didn’t see it,” but the original movie was a master class in taught, edge-of-your-seat suspense. And also master class in naked lady getting eaten by a shark. People stopped going to the beach because of this movie, which gives you an idea of how big of a deal this movie was when it came out. In any other year, this would be a slam dunk selection for Best Picture, but then again that’s like the third or forth time we’ve said that about movies released this year. 1975 was pretty stacked.
Haha, oh man, poor Robert Altman. Look at those monster movies it was up against. Nashville is arguably the best work of Robert Altman’s career, but this little satirical musical dramedy never had a chance. Like, this was listed number 59 on the 2007 AFI listing of the 100 best films of all time, but we’re not even going to try to make a case for this taking this Oscar. The year was just too stacked.
And the Revised Winner is…
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Jesus, look at the movies that came out this year. The best picture category had one of Spielberg’s best film (and, at the time, the highest grossing film ever), a Kubrick film, a Robert Altman flick, and two other films that are considered American classics. And that’s not even including films that came out that year without nominations, like Rocky Horror Picture Show, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (103rd top rated movie all time), and, of course, the tour de force that is Death Race 2000. But we think the Academy got this one right, actually. One flew east, one flew best, cuckoo’s nest remains the best.
Rocky (8.1, 219th top rated movie all time)
Rocky winning an Oscar is one of those ultimate things you say at a bar that makes someone immediately call bullshit, take out their smart phone, and then go, “No fucking way!” about thirty seconds later. Now, while most people assume you’re lying when you tell them that Rocky won an Oscar for best picture they’ll definitely think you’re fucking with them when you tell them that Sylvester Stallone got a nomination for writing. Granted, this movie kind of started the whole “underdog sports hero” genre, as well as the “happy ending even without the hero winning” genre. But still, it’s crazy to think that this movie was considered an Academy Award movie when it came out. Consider this—Sylvester Stallone became the third person ever to be nominated for Best Acting and Best Writing in the same year. The other two? Orson Welles for Citizen Kane and Charles Chaplin for The Great Dictator. That’s… not a list where we’d expect to see the Italian Stallion.
All in all, Rocky won three Oscars out of the ten it was nominated for. It was a pretty strong movie, but then again, this was another pretty strong year for film. So how does it fare now against the following?
What Else Was Nominated
All the President’s Men (8.0)
Oh man, a film starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford that takes a long, two hour shit on Richard Nixon? That’s like 1970s Oscar bingo right there. What, was the working title of this film “All the Statues, Man”? Granted, the film, which documents Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s uncovering of the Watergate scandal, stands the tests of time as an award-caliber film. The American Film Institute named it 77 on its top movie list, was added to the National Film Registry in 2010, and made $70 million on a $1.5 million budget. Honestly, this one could give Rocky a run for its money. Hell, we’re amazed it didn’t win in the first place, this is literally the cinematic equivalent of slipping a $50 bill to the Academy voters and whispering, “How about you get me something a bit…shinier?”
Taxi Driver (8.3, 88th top rated movie all time)
Did you know that Martin Scorsese never got nominated for an Oscar until Raging Bull in 1981? Isn’t that wild to think about? Like, if we told you that Taxi Driver got nominated for four Oscars, and those were for Best Picture, Best Actor (De Niro), best Supporting Actress (Foster) and Best Music, you’d be like, “Oh, so with Scorsese’s Best Directing nomination, the movie got five nominations then, right? You said four, but you meant five.” This film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, with some saying it is the best film to ever win that award. Time Out magazine also listed this as the number one best film set in New York City, which is like, ugh New York, why would you even make that list?
But yeah, Taxi Driver is pretty rightfully considered a masterpiece. Like, you know, we could do without all the…um, child…prostitution. But..um…okay you know what, let’s go on to the next movie.
Network (8.1, 189th top rated movie all time)
Most people know Network because of its “I’m as mad as hell speech,” but in fairness, that speech is so great. It won four big ticket Academy Awards—Best Screenplay, Best Actress (Faye Dunaway’s only Oscar), Best Actor (RIP Peter Finch ☹) and Best Supporting Actress (Beatrice Straight). It’s one of the great satirical films of the 70s, if not of all time, with one of the best Screenplays in history. This is a definite powerhouse movie in a year of powerhouse movies.
But we still have one more nominee to look at, and that is…
Bound for Glory (7.4)
Haha, get the fuck out of here with that, Bound for Glory. This is like the easiest game of “spot the item that doesn’t belong” in history. Like, it’s a biopic about Woody Guthrie starring David Carradine, but it’s such a forgotten film that you probably just read this sentence and said, “Wait a minute, the Kung Fu/Kill Bill guy who died from auto-erotic asphyxiation played Woody Guthrie in a movie?” Yeah, this…like, the movie was fine. But come on, let’s get real here.
And the Revised Winner is…
1976 (as in, the films released in 1976 that were nominated in 1977) was an insane year for movies. Look at those heavy hitters! Also up for Oscars this year were Carrie, Marathon Man, and, of course, fucking Gator. And as much as we love Rocky, and we do oh so very much love Rocky, like, this is the same series of films that had this shit happen.
We were super tempted to give the award to Network, but then we realized that the only part of that entire movie that anyone remembers was the (again, admittedly great) “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore” speech, which already got a (postmortem, ☹) Oscar for Peter Finch. But you know what is another speech that people remember? “You talkin’ to me?” People still quote that line to this day, and they still sound like douchebags when they do. And listen, we know this is a movie about a mentally unstable guy who gets obsessed with a 13-year-old prostitute, tries to kill a Senator, and then shoots up a brothel. Which, like, is kind of problematic. Definitely doesn’t age well. But we at least remember what it’s about. Apart from the speech, what actually happens in Network? Like, there’s a scene with people wearing berets we think? Right?
Anyway, Taxi Driver ekes this out, but man, 1976 was an outright bloodbath.
Annie Hall (232nd top rated movie all time)
Annie Hall is often credited for creating the romantic comedy genre, and it’s definitely one of the best examples of that. And honestly, the movie ages impressively well, despite, you know, being a 1970s comedy that was written by Woody Allen, all things that don’t really play very well in the late 2010s. If you don’t know what Annie Hall is about, just look at how Diane Keaton dresses herself, and imagine a movie essentially about what it’s like to date that. It won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actress (at wearing a tie) for Diane Keaton, Best Director and Screenplay for Woody Allen, and Allen was even nominated for an Oscar for Acting, which still seems like a typo. It was responsible for the first three nominations of Woody Allen’s career (though really, come on, acting? Let’s take that nomination away from him while we’re here), and is widely considered to be his best film. So, it definitely has the pedigree of a Best Picture winner.
What Else Was Nominated
Julia is the story of two women whose friendship suddenly becomes a matter of life and death. What? Sorry, you read that on the poster up above too? Shit, okay, we’ll have to actually dig into this Jane Fonda movie we know fuck-all about despite it winning three Academy Awards on eleven nominations. The movie tells the (supposedly true) story of playwright Lillian Hellman, who was asked by a friend to try and smuggle funds into Nazi Germany to fight Hitler. We haven’t seen it, so it could be a solid movie we guess. Then again, here’s what TV Guide said about it in their own review of the film. “If you like red nail polish, faux-cynicism, painfully brave smiles and European train stations, Julia may be your kind of cocktail.”
So maybe we’ll pass.
Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (8.6, 20th top rated movie all time)
Star Wars is going to get this trophy, and there’s nothing you can do to stop us. You hear us? Star Wars gets its trophy. No, fuck you, let go of us, Star Wars gets its trophy! It wouldn’t even be that out of place, it won six Oscars, and was nominated for four more. Give *clap emoji* Star *clap emoji* Wars *clap emjoi* its *clap emoji* statue.
The Goodbye Girl (7.4)
Nothing takes you back to the 1970s like “Neil Simon wrote a movie starring Richard Dreyfuss.” Apparently the film centers on a struggling Manhattan actor, his friend’s ex-girlfriend who lives in his apartment, and her “precocious” young daughter, which is a sentence we could have made a lot simpler by just typing “the film was written by Neil Simon.” It got good-to-fair, if someone mixed, reviews, but yeah, this is not a real threat to take away any statues. It won Richard Dreyfuss an Oscar, and was nominated for four more, but otherwise, yeah, let’s move on to the next one.
The Turning Point (7.0)
Maybe this is just because our staff only has room in our alcohol-addled minds for one ballerina-movie, and that spot has been taken by Black Swan, but we’ve never heard of this. How the hell did it get eleven nominations? This Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft film saw both its leads receive a Best Leading Actress nomination. That’s only happened five times, but you’ve actually heard of the other four movies (All About Eve, Thelma and Louise, Terms of Endearment, and Suddenly, Last Summer. Okay so you’ve only heard of three of the other four movies.) It also tied the record for most Oscar nominations without a win, going 0-11, which is an ignominious honor that it shares with The Color Purple, which again, is a movie you’ve actually heard of. We don’t think we’re way off base by saying that most people don’t remember this movie, as the section on Wikipedia that lists times that this movie has been referenced in pop culture contains only five items, and one of them is a one-off joke from an episode of The Nanny. But hey, if you like movies that delve into the ballet scene of New York in the mid-20th-century, then have we got a movie for you. For the rest of us, though, this isn’t going to make a lot of noise in the revised Best Picture race.
And the Revised Winner is…
Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
The real winner here is the IMDB rating of 7.4, which randomly accounts for two movies on this list. But let’s be honest, while Annie Hall was a seminal movie, Star Wars was Star Wars, and we are giving it its damn statue. Again, we don’t think it’s that out of left field, considering it already has six Oscars to its name. And that doesn’t even include the fact that the movie was so pioneering they actually gave it a special Oscar that year to Ben Burtt to be like, “Hey, you made the Sound Effects in Star Wars this year, so we’re giving you a special one-time-only trophy just for that. Best R2-D2 bleeps or whatever, it’s your statue put whatever you want on it.”
And frankly, this year wasn’t even that intense in terms of competition. Annie Hall was good and all, but Star Wars was more important, and just about every other nominated picture was kind of a dud. Even when you look outside of the Best Picture nominations, the most important movies in the year other than Star Wars are Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Saturday Night Fever. So it was a great year for science fiction, and a terrible year for music lovers who correctly hate Disco. But otherwise, it’s not asking too much to give *clap emoji* Star *clap emoji* Wars *clap emjoi* its *clap emoji* statue
The Deer Hunter (161st top rated all time)
When we think about The Deer Hunter, after we finish making jokes about that one Russian Roulette scene (this usually involves about thirty minutes of us saying “GIDDY MAO”), we think about how weird it is that Christopher Walken has won an Academy Award. But then we cue up some of his scenes in that movie, and we’re like, oh. Damn. This movie was nominated for nine Academy Awards, winning five, including the heavy hitters of Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Walken), and Best Director for Michael Cimino (a director who had only done one movie prior, which was the Clint Eastwood/Jeff Bridges film Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, and who to this date has only directed 7 feature films). It’s on AFI’s list of the 100 greatest films of all time, and you could argue it’s responsible for a few dozen deaths. Wait, that last one isn’t…you know what, forget that last part. There’s been some pushback on this film’s iconic status, since Cimino’s next film was a bomb and, let’s be honest, this movie is like, three different movies spread over three hours. But most people still view it as a classic film in its own right, and one that’d be very hard to overtake.
What Else Was Nominated
An Unmarried Woman (7.2)
Oh excellent. A movie about a rich newly-single woman from the Upper East Side written by a man in the 1970s. We’re sure this aged fucking fantastically.
Coming Home (7.3)
Jane Fonda playing a military wife to Bruce Dern and befriending a paralyzed veteran played by Jon Voight feels so mid-to-late 70s that the only thing missing is a jab at Jimmy Carter and an SNL skit featuring hippie Muppets saying “Groovy” a bunch. Fonda and Voight won Oscars here (*gasp* the guy playing the handicapped character won an Academy Award? This is unheard of!) and it also ended up winning for Best Original Screenplay, but it’s not exactly gone down as one of the indispensable films about the Vietnam War or anything. Like, The Deer Hunter was a bit on-the-nose at times, but it’s definitely going to be less blunt than the Jane Fonda film focusing on the anti-war paraplegic veteran.
Heaven Can Wait (6.9. Nice.)
Warren Beatty was nominated for an Academy Award 14 times in his career (his only win came in 1982 for Best Director with Reds), and four of them were for Heaven Can Wait. Beatty got nominated for Best Picture, Director, Lead Actor and Screenplay for this movie that doesn’t scream “One Academy Award win and nine nominations” considering that it’s based on the same stage play that was remade again in 2001 as the Chris Rock vehicle Down to Earth.
If you’ve not seen it, the basic concept involves Warren Beatty as a Los Angeles Rams quarterback who was taken away from his body by an angel prematurely, and was placed in the body of a recently murdered millionaire to make up for the mix up. That’s…a lot. So far, other than The Deer Hunter, this is probably the best well known of the nominated films we’ve covered so far. Though we’d argue that the last nominee of the year is slightly better known.
Midnight Express (7.6)
Admittedly, we might only know this movie because we wrote about Billy Hayes about seven years ago, but this has the second most ratings among IMDB users of this year’s crop, so we’re going to say it’s been seen by more than most of these other films. It’s a heavily adapted account of Billy Hayes, who was an American college student who escaped from a Turkish prison that he got tossed into while trying to smuggle drugs. It won two Oscars, including the first nomination and win for Oliver Stone, who wrote, but did not direct, the film. It’s typically a well-reviewed movie, even though it’s portrayal of Turkish people veered into the “the late 70s were not great at portraying non-white people” territory pretty hard.
And the Revised Winner is…
The Deer Hunter
Man, after the slew of classics that came out in 1975 and 1976, 1977 and 1978 really kind of felt like duds. Each of those years had at most two classic movies, and that’s it. Hell, apart from The Deer Hunter, there’s nothing really of note that even came out this year. In addition the the underwhelming nominated films, 1978 saw the release of Halloween, Superman, Animal House and Grease, none of which really are making a case to hop onto the podium. 1978 was a pretty big dud. Let The Deer Hunter keep it’s award and continue to inspire dozens of accidental Russian roulette deaths, and let’s be done with it.
And now we are done with the 1970s in their entirety. Over the course of the decade, exactly half of the films to win an Academy Award for Best Picture got to keep their Oscars, while history has decided to steal five more away. Next up, we’re going to do the same thing, only with a lot more cocaine (because, 80’s.) So stay tuned, because in a couple of days things are going to get a little bit more nutty.