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It's all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense.

Top 10 Films

1. Close Encounters of the Third Kind

I very much doubt that my 10-year-old self would have countenanced preferring Close Encounters of the Third Kind to Star Wars (or Episode IV: A New Hope to give its Lucas-endowed later subtitle), and Annie Hall would have been out-of-the-question (not that he had seen either of those contenders). And, to be fair, they are very different beasts. Close Encounters is an enticing blend of carefree youthfulness and maturity (which I’d qualify by saying it furnishes us with “proper” adult protagonists) that Spielberg would find difficult to balance thereafter, increasingly informed by perceived responsibilities both personal (his own family) and professional (the desire to be respected and esteemed by his Hollywood peers).

Close Encounters is a personal movie in a much more satisfying manner than the sentimental overcoat engulfing the later E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Today’s Spielberg couldn’t countenance unhappy Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) abandoning his family for an adventure in the stars with alien, but part of what makes the end of the movie so engaging and so much of its era is exactly that transgressiveness. Neary follows his dreams (his wish upon a star), wherever they take him, and Spielberg’s true magician’s conjuring trick is that it isn’t difficult to see why.

Relatively few movies have grasped the classical Grey E.T. of abduction lore; there would be the much-derided “fact-based” Communion, based on Whitley Streiber’s novel just over a decade later, and The X-Files on TV, of course. But the territory is curiously sparse. It’s interesting, then – perhaps less so with the hindsight of his subsequent filmography –that Spielberg’s vision is not one of alien probes and untoward intent, but of wonder and awe, of the possibilities out there rather than the terror lurking within. In that sense, it’s running against the grain of prior ‘70s moviemaking sensibilities as much as his fellow wunderkind Lucas’ Star Wars. True, some of the early sequences have a dry-run for Poltergeist vibe (the seige on Melinda Dillon’s house and her son being abducted), but the physical threat comes from the classic source of the era, in Spielberg’s hands shown to be somewhat ineffectual when it comes down to it; the government, conspiratorially keeping the truth about UFOs from the great unwashed.

Close Encounters is a movie filled with truly awesome spectacle (the effects work from Douglas Trumbull’s team is wondrous, even now) and engaging weirdness (mad Roy building his mud mountain scale model of Devils Tower, the ship in the desert from the Special Edition), and tension (the climb up the real mountain), with John Williams on a roll delivering a truly iconic score. It has the resounding benefit of being untainted by sequels, and even the 1980 Special Edition (a combination of Spielberg’s unrealised designs and the studio’s mandated additional ending) has reformed into what is now generally accepted as being the best of all worlds cut (so no superfluous tour of the mother ship). Spielberg has been more feted since, sure, and he’s encountered better box office by far, but this might be the most perfect distillation of his essential impulses and potential as a populist filmmaker (only Raiders of the Lost Ark, a collaboration with Lucas, would best it in his canon).


CHOICE LINES:

Scientist: Einstein WAS right!
Team Leader: Einstein was PROBABLY one of them!

2. Annie Hall

Who knows how much Woody Allen’s murky personal life will ultimately end up tainting his legacy. At present the desire to venerate means he has gone largely unscathed, to the extent that he can still be adorned with Oscars and actors still rush to work with him. There are evidently popularly perceived degrees of alleged culpability that factor into such things. Polanski carries on working, albeit not in the US, but for Bill Cosby the snowball effect has well and truly buried him. Possibly with the latter, there’s also the little thing that he has always been a mainstream figure rather than “an artist”. Annie Hall finds Allen at his zenith, before even the seeds of anything that might be called on to evidence a dubious character (his relationship with a 17-year-old in Manhattan) would appear.

Annie Hall might be a picture produced from dissatisfaction on its creator’s part (great chunks were cut out, ending up as Manhattan Murder Mystery, and it was cobbled together in the edit), but who’s to say the artist ever the best judge of their art (added to which, Allen notoriously never looks back at what he has done, so has no real illuminating hindsight as to their merit or otherwise). Part of the picture’s appeal – forget about how damn funny it is – is simply the blithe chemistry between Allen and Diane Keaton in their not-to-be romance.

This is as close as Allen would come to mass appeal, the odd blip aside (Hannah and Her Sisters, Moonlight in Paris), and it is perhaps a result of his travails in the editing room that it stands up so freshly even now. It may also simply be the point he was at, transitioning from his “early funnier” pictures to more serious, intellectually indulgent ones, but the poppy, almost cartoonishly post-modern, sensibilities on display mesh perfectly with the permanent states of melancholy and existential crisis; the breaking of the fourth wall, the flashbacks to childhood and earlier girlfriends, summoning Marshall McLuhan in a cinema queue. Even though Alvy Singer ends up alone with his neuroses, the picture is far from a downer.

Annie Hall also exhibits the beginnings of Allen’s increasing ability to lasso stars into his orbit. He had worked with Keaton and Tony Roberts before, of course, but here we see the likes of Carol Kane (Allen fretting over the JFK assassination), Shelley Duvall and Paul Simon, along with soon-to-bes Christopher Walken (in a justly classic scene where, as Annie’s brother, Walken drives Alvy home after telling him how he dreams about driving straight into oncoming traffic) and Jeff Goldblum (“I’ve forgotten my mantra”).

Annie Hall would be enormously influential, mostly to Nora Ephron’s entire career, just with added happy endings (see particularly When Harry Met Sally). It has the dubious honour of being vilified by some Star Wars fans for having the temerity to win the Best Picture Oscar over it (to the modern eye, they’re the only two serious contenders of the line-up). I might once have agreed, although arguing such things is really chalk-and-cheese (see Close Encounters above); the real question is why Close Encounters wasn’t on the nominee list (two science fiction films would be at least one too many, presumably). Forget about the sci-fi, though, it’s just nice that a comedy won the statue for a change.


CHOICE LINES:

Alvy Singer: Lyndon Johnson is a politician, you know the ethics those guys have. It’s like a notch under child molester.

3. Star Wars

Or don’t, as here’s the legend itself. As great as Star Wars is, I’m one who prefers how everything is done better in The Empire Strikes Back; the myth-making, the character work, the plotting, the visual panache, the direction. But that’s only to detract from Lucas’ achievement here by comparison.  If I have a tangible lurking criticism, it’s one I’ve always had; that the big climax at the Death Star isn’t quite as satisfying as all that has gone before.

Part of this is down to the deceleration after the initial escape from the Death Star; prior to this point the picture has been building and building and building, everything is so rousing and dramatic, and different and beguiling, and then the picture stops in its tracks for a spot of planning, such that the subsequent attack feels slightly glued-on. Part of it is that it is probably down to focussing in on Luke (until Han shows up) so losing some of its flavour. What it the Death Star dogfight is, is a special effects tour-de-force, of course.

I recall a review of Empire opining that the dramatic bits are front-ended (I don’t think this is true, but still); certainly with Star Wars, all my favourite bits come prior to the climax. From the Mos Eisley bar, to the garbage compactor, the movie is at its best when it resists Lucas’ tendency to go vanilla (something the prequels suffer from, deluged by CGI and, where they aren’t, characters that may as well be CGI).

The painful additions and revisions over the years have done their best to dampen enthusiasm for the picture, from Greedo shooting first to the arrival at Mos Eisley. I’m not such a purist that where I can’t see what they’ve done I object (so, ironically, much of the final sequence), but when clumsy new creatures designs are added in the bar, or when mini-Jabba interacts with Han, it distracts from immersion in the experience, the world Lucas did so well to create in the first place. That’s the chief problem I’ve had with the available Star Wars of the last two decades; there’s always a reminder it’s not what it should be (even Empire, with Jango overdubs, isn’t immune).

Lucas is at his best as a director here. He’s no-frills, but there’s an easy elegance in the compositions and crispness in the editing. The absence of scenes stuffed with “busy-ness” is one of the things that makes it so appealing (and so lets down the prequels), and the mythology in nascent form is tantalising and irresistible. It’s also anchored by older pros like Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing, and younger-but-sure Harrison Ford, but part of the key is also the wide-eyed presence of Hamill; we take (or took) the same journey as him into this galaxy of wonder, even if he’s largely a cypher (and remains so; it will be interesting to see if JJ Abrams furnishes him with some substance in the new trilogy).


CHOICE LINES:

Obi-Wan Kenobi: Who’s the more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?

4. Cross of Iron

Truffaut’s reflection that it’s impossible to make a true anti-war movie feels like a very sage one. That at very least not one that engages with the mechanics of conflict and violence, and is designed to involve the viewer dramatically therein. Even the likes of Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line, a picture unfairly overlooked by the Oscars in favour of Spielberg’s sentimental and jingoistic Saving Private Ryan, manages to be service the viewer with “traditional” thrills in places. Spielberg’s war oeuvre in particular (five set during World Wars) is epitomised by the urge to manipulate even the most sensitive of material (the fake-out shower scene in Schindler’s List springs to mind). Sam Peckinpah however, for whom restraint was something of an anathema, managed to make one of the very best war movies at the tail end of his career, and he did it with the got-to bad guys as protagonists. There’s no doubt Cross of Iron is a thrilling, exciting anti-war film, but it’s one full of provocative material, which might be the most you can ask for from the genre.

Well, I say the go-to bad guys. James Coburn’s Sergeant Steiner isn’t a Nazi, he’s a good honest Wehrmacht soldier on the Eastern Front in 1943, only interested in protecting his men and nursing a healthy contempt for his superiors. Particularly so in the case of Prussian aristocrat Captain Stransky (Maximilian Schell), determined to bag himself an Iron Cross. More sympathetic are the war-weary Captain Keisel (David Warner) and Colonel Brandt (James Mason), yet Steiner hates all officers, regardless, well aware of the class system informing the military one.

As you’d expect from Peckinpah, the war scenes are brutal and expertly constructed. But, while there’s the occasional lapse into broad strokes (the Nazi rapist who gets his just desserts), this is mostly an intelligent and thoughtful picture, led by a protagonist immersed in a state of permanent disgust at the actions of those who bring nations to clash against each other, and who has no illusions over the justness of war or those who order it.

Coburn and Schell reportedly improvised the last sequence of the picture when the producer ran out of money; that may be the case but to my mind it feels perfectly fitting. There’s no finality, just Coburn’s (iconically great) laugh as Stransky, at a loss attempting to reload his gun, asks Steiner for help. War is insanity, so all one can do is laugh in the face of it; the bookending of the picture with children’s song Hänschen klein is the perfect incongruous touch of innocence juxtaposed with bloodshed (the presence of child soldiers on the Russian Front is highlighted in particular) and, as the closing quotation notes, those who make war will soon be at their destructive work again.

Something of a high water mark for both Peckinpah (he would direct only twice more) and Coburn (his last great lead role, since Hudson Hawk was only supporting), this picture ought to be much more feted than it is. Tarantino is a rightly big fan, citing it as an inspiration for Inglourious Basterds, although typically of the director that movie has none of the substance of Cross of Iron.

CHOICE LINES:

Kern: Do you believe in God, Sergeant?
Steiner: I believe God is a sadist, but probably doesn’t even know it.

5. The Last Wave

Peter Weir’s follow up to Picnic at Hanging Rock has thematic kinship; Richard Chamberlain’s lawyer David Burton is called to represent four Aboriginals accused of murder, but this is merely a cue for a spiritual awakening as he is rocked by dreams and visions against a backdrop of strange and disturbing weather. Is this a portent of the coming apocalypse?

Chamberlain’s performance is reasonable, although the alien quality Weir saw in him doesn’t compare to the one Roeg saw and extracted from Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth. He’s particularly well supported by David Gulpilil and Nandjiwarra Amagula (a tribal leader who made his sole acting appearance here) as David’s introducers into an unknown world.

Weir keeps the picture pregnant with elusive revelation, as David transitions to believer, but one lacking sufficient understanding. Weir’s subject is perception, and the loss of a way of seeing the world; a natural state educated out of us at a young age in order to instil the order and rigidity of western culture. Consequently, The Last Wave is much more than a simple exploration of white man’s guilt, or an early eco-parable. It fits into the director’s ongoing interest in the limits and possibilities of our paradigms, both individually and collectively. As one might expect from such an approach, the picture itself, and most particularly its conclusion, lends itself to the subjective interpretation.


CHOICE LINES:

David Burton: We’ve lost our dreams. Then they come back and we don’t know what they mean.

6. The Spy Who Loved Me

Bond keeping the British end up. This and the subsequent Moonraker, both from the irreverent post-modernist hand of Lewis Gilbert, form something of a smirking double bill, the latter merely guilty of going even further into send-up than this. While the stunts may be bigger than ever (the ski jump opening being both a Rule Britannia wink and a virtuoso moment in itself), they couldn’t really be less relevant, as the thrill ride takes a back seat to a two-hour jaunt of Moore raising a periodic eyebrow.

For some, this is an absolute no-no. Moore’s is my favourite period of 007, though. In particular this and for some what is the absolute nadir of the series that followed (complete with double-taking pigeon). Richard Keil’s Jaws is a sublime, pathetic, lumbering oaf of a heavy, one you can’t help feeling sorry for as he increasingly messes up. Barbara Bach’s Soviet spy is prettier than she is a great actress, but the détente conceit is a solid one, with SPECTRE out of the picture, and inform the rest of Moore’s run.

The set pieces include, of course, the famous Lotus submarine, an iconic piece of ‘70s appropriation that might not have endured the way the Aston Martin has but is every bit as creatively distinct. Then there are the murders at the Pyramids, Jaws taking apart a van while Bond makes cracks to Bach’s Anya Amasova about women drivers, and Jaws naturally biting a shark.

The villain of the piece, and his watery intentions for the world, isn’t the picture’s strongest suit, to be honest. The idea’s appealing megalomaniacal, but Curd Jurgens isn’t nearly as memorable as Michael Lonsdale in Moonraker (who has exactly the same plan, just utilising space instead of the oceans). The final act deteriorates into one long budget-busting set piece that is big on explosions and extras but lacking when it comes to basic thrills. We’ve seen this before of course (Thunderball, You Only Live Twice), and the series is generally the better for not going the bigger-is-more-bloated route.

This era was one of the few where the inefficiency of the journeyman directors at action (or even disguising the joins with the second unit) wasn’t really all that important in terms of the end product, something that could scarcely be countenanced now. It was all about Rog. The closest he gets to action here is looking rather uncomfortable riding a jet ski/wet bike. Seeing Moore getting all ruffled is definitely not why he was so popular.


CHOICE LINES:

James Bond (after a ruin collapses on Jaws): Egyptian builders.

7. The Duellists

Ridley Scott’s debut, a mere stripling at 39 years of age, still puts his later historicals in the shade. Mostly because, as solid rather than spectacular as Gerald Vaughan-Hughes adaptation is, The Duellists is unburdened by the flagrant thrills of Hollywood storytelling. Paramount’s intrusions start and end with Robert Carradine and Harvey Keitel as the leads, but what seems like discordant positioning of Americans during the Napoleonic Wars serves the telling surprisingly well. All around are louche British luvvies, but the ones in the spotlight are the crazily obsessed Tinseltown stars.

Keitel is belligerence incarnate, while Caradine is bemused, baffled and at times beleaguered as the Hussar forced into a succession of duels by a fellow Hussar, the precise reason for which isn’t known by either. They’re supported by an aforementioned avalanche of British acting royalty, from the great Robert Stephens, to Albert Finney tipping into the phase of former leading man, to up-and-comers like Tom Conti.

After a certain point, all Ridley Scott’s pictures would come mired in (self-imposed) expectations, spoiled of the chance to develop into their own beasts by precision-engineering that took away much of their potential. The death knell for him as an exciting and interesting filmmaker was somewhere around Black Rain (ironically a picture that might have been made by his brother, much more comfortable and attuned to the straight commercial venture with no delusions of substance). The Duellists may sit apart in content from the triptych of fantastic voyages that followed, but it is very much bonded with them as a picture from a director one could still see engaged by the prospect of exploring new narrative horizons, and create images that weren’t merely formula-fitted. Even Pauline Kael liked it!


CHOICE LINES:

Amand D’Hubert: General Feraud has made occasional attempts to kill me. That does not give him the right to claim my acquaintance.

8. Capricorn One

Of course they had to fake the Mars mission. Otherwise, the astronauts would have discovered we already have bases there. Peter Hyams’ picture, made off the back of close to a decade of conspiracy theories regarding the Apollo Moon landings, can’t quite see through its grand conceit, such that it needs to pull Telly Savalas out of a biplane for a late stage resolution, but for a good section of its running time Capricorn One is an effective and smart addition to ‘70s conspiracy genre.

Its main problem is, once Hyams has sets up his premise, where does he go with it (a problem also afflicting Outland)? The answer is, into the desert, with black helicopters on the trail of the trio of astronauts (James Brolin, Sam Waterston and O.J. Simpson) who have broken out and mean to bring the spotlight of truth to bear on NASA’s worldwide hoodwinking. Bring in a crumpled journalist (an in-his-element Elliot Gould) and you have a narrative that ticks over efficiently but was always at its best setting out its store (public apathy at the space programme led to cuts in funding, led to the fault that leads to faking the flight, that leads to the failure on re-entry and the decision to terminate the “already expired” loose ends) and the threatened reprisals if the astronauts don’t go along with the deception.

Bizarrely – in a year where NASA is cast in the light of positive co-operative effort in The Martian, feeding off the can-do problem solving of Apollo 13 – the space agency helped out with a production that was essentially impugning it as potentially crooked. But for all its cynicism Capricorn One is a picture illustrative of the cracks forming in the disillusioned narrative of the ‘70s movie. This was the same year as two huge science fiction pictures where the optimism wins out, and so Capricorn One doesn’t end as The Parallax View (for example) did three years earlier, with the protagonist’s demise, but a freeze frame triumph of the truth being told.

Notably, this arrived in the same year as the widely credited hoax documentary Alternative 3 (so much so that many continue to claim its content is essentially true; after all, Gary McKinnon found mention of a secret space programme). We now have a fresh wave of Mars-ness thanks to announcements regarding water and the success of Ridley Scott’s movie, but I suspect it would take the release of "unexpurgated" Snowden files complete with mysteriously absent UFO information to get another Mars conspiracy movie off the ground.


CHOICE LINES:

Peter Willis: Anybody hungry? Oh, the marvels of American science. Here we are, million miles from Earth, and we can still send out for pizza.


9. Demon Seed

The idiosyncratic and largely ill-starred directorial career of painter Donald Cammell, from co-directing Performance with Nic Roeg (who went on to greatness during the next decade) yielded only three full features over three decades, one of which was posthumously edited into a form closer to his intentions (Wild Side). Demon Seed also saw meddling, since (reputedly) it was intended as a comedy but the studio felt otherwise. Daffy as the premise is, it’s difficult to see where the chuckles were supposed to come from. Which leaves serial killer picture White of the Eye as the only bona fide unsullied solo Cammell film.

Whatever Cammell’s grievances against the released Demon Seed, it has unabsahed cult movie written all over it. A sex-mad computer, Proteus (voiced by Robert Vaughn), imprisons, rapes and impregnates Julie Christie, amounting to a lurid take on 2001’s next stage of human evolution, along with its own version of a megalomaniacal machine mind (see also, Colossus: The Forbin Project).

Demon Seed, as the title suggests, is keyed towards the B-crowd (the final voiced words of the progeny, speaking as Proteus, are similarly crude), and it digs in to the sensational in a manner entirely at odds with the clinical Kubrick approach. Proteus wants to be let out of the box, tapping into both the human need for immortality through procreation and the idea that an AI, imprisoned in its construct, would go mad (something Chappie blissfully ignored).

One can apply all sorts of theories to Cammell’s state of mind, but his assembled pictures, including this one, seem entirely in keeping with a character who, as a child, knew Aleister Crowley and went on to grace Swinging Sixties London with his presence.  It’s easy draw a wavy line between diabolical Crowleyian ritual magick, the substance-infused delirium of Performance, Demon Seed’s computerised conjuring and the antic delusions of White of the Eye.

The picture represents a curious choice for Christie (an Oscar winner), particularly at that stage in her career. Did she respond to the Rosemary’s Baby undertones (since that turned out well)? Probably it was the acclaim brought by her experience with one-time Cammell collaborator Roeg. Really, the results aren’t so far from making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, a piece of late-stage psychedelia with a fine sinister score from Jerry Fielding. As AI movies go, it’s a lot more arresting and bizarre than the recent Ex Machina and, in terms of pieces of design, I’d be surprised if the striking geometric form of Proteus didn’t inform Nolan’s Interstellar robots.


CHOICE LINES:

Proteus: I have investigated eternity. It exists, but for me the price of admission, death, is beyond my means. In a moment, I will simply stop.

10. A Bridge Too Far

Not so much for the typically stodgy execution from (Sir) Dickie Attenborough as the masterful juggling of elements and faces courtesy of William Goldman’s screenplay and the casting department. A Bridge Too Far is a huge film telling of an Allied failure, yet it manages to be entirely engrossing, even if that’s as much to do with star spotting as it is taking in the string of mistakes that embodied Operation Market-Garden.

I’m not a big fan of Gung-Ho war movies, unless they’re suitably irreverent (Where Eagles Dare, for example), but despite its illustrious cast and canvas and being rather traditional in posture (it’s Dickie after all; this is hardly The Deer Hunter), Bridge is anything but in awe of war. The decision to opt for Field Marshall Montgomery’s plan (as opposed to General Patton’s) is a political rather than tactical one, and the operation unravels from there, with the British officer elite generally coming across as silly arses while concerns about the suitability of the landing area, parachuting in daylight and the standards of the German resistance go ignored, or no one is willing to pipe up and rock the boat.

Sir Dickie’s first feature, Oh! What a Lovely War also took a critical stance to a (world) war, but its satirical posturing was frequently heavy-handed. Bridge just needs to keep juggling the plates to get its message across. True, it is overlong (clocking in at almost three hours) but its very shrewdly cast with veterans like Dirk Bogarde taking the flack (the depiction of Browning proved controversial) while the then-current generation of movie stars (Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Robert Redford, James Caan, Ryan O’Neal, Elliot Gould, Gene Hackman, and not-quite-a-star Anthony Hopkins) get to be well-intentioned and disgusted at the shambles that ensues.

The picture’s willingness not to fudge the failure of the operation is regarded by some as a reason for its modest (US) box office performance (in relation to cost, at any rate; it’s price tag was $10m more than Close Encounters, but it made less than twice its budget back), but I suspect it was more basic than that; A Bridge Too Far represented a more static, restrained approach to moviemaking that was on the way out, even though its actual critical dimension fits in with the Vietnam War pictures that were starting to surface during the same period. All those stars could only go so far to attract punters. Still, it secured Dickie financing for Ghandi, another static, respectful affair, but one that this time would have the Academy all over it like a rash.


CHOICE LINES:

Corporal Hancock: Sir (offers a mug of tea).
Major General Urquhart (Connery): Hancock, I’ve got lunatics laughing at me from the woods. My original plan has been scuppered now that the jeeps haven’t arrived. My communications are completely broken down. Do you really believe any of that can be helped by a cup of tea?
Corporal Hancock: Couldn’t hurt, sir.
(Urquhart accepts the mug of tea.)

Best Picture Oscar

Annie Hall

Annie Hall trailed three of the five Best Picture candidates for nominations, sharing five with The Goodbye Girl. It took home four of those (for Picture, Director, Original Screenplay and Diane Keaton as Actress; Allen’s nomination for Best Actor was the only one that went unrewarded. As noted above, the win was well deserved (Close Encounters received 8 nominations, including Spielberg). Allen’s Actor nomination curiously parallels Sylvester Stallone the year before, in that nearly 40 years later no one would consider them (whatever their particular skillsets as performers) remotely likely Oscar candidates (although Allen still bags Screenplay Oscars, something Stallone hasn’t troubled the Academy with since 1976).

The Goodbye Girl

I haven’t seen The Goodbye Girl, and it’s a gap I’ve never really had much urge to remedy. Like Annie Hall, it’s a romantic comedy, from a well-known writer of such fare (Neil Simon), and it also stars Richard Dreyfuss, in probably his peak year for box office and critical acclaim (an Oscar for his performance here, and two of the top five movies of the year). Other nominations went to Simon for Original Screenplay, Marsha Mason for Best Actress and Quinn Cummings for Best Supporting Actress. Pretty much, Annie Hall’s losses were The Goodbye Girl’s gains and vice versa. De Niro was original cast when Mike Nichols was directing the picture (Herbert Ross took over) but was let go because he didn’t have the comic chops (if at first you don’t succeed…)

Julia

Julia received 11 nominations (equal to Turning Point) but only went away with three wins (Vanessa Redgrave for Best Supporting Actress, Jason Robards for Best Supporting Actor and Alvin Sargent for Best Adapted Screenplay). Besides Picture it was nominated for Director (Fred Zinnemann), Actress (Jane Fonda), Supporting Actor (Maximilian Schell), Score (Georges Delerue), Costumes, Cinematography and Film Editing. One of the Academy’s much-loved awards subjects (and BAFTA gave it Best Film), Julia features the titular character fighting Nazis, coming from the novel by a blacklisted Jewish writer Lillian Hellman (played by Fonda in the film). There was subsequently controversy about who exactly Julia was based on, although more furore was caused immediately by Redgrave having the audacity to narrate and hep fund a documentary supporting a Palestinian state (hence her referencing the threats of a “small bunch of Zionist hoodlums” in her Oscar speech).

Star Wars

In retrospect, the surprise might now be not so much that Star Wars didn’t win as that it was nominated at all, Then you remember that in only a few years box office darlings like Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. would be up for the top prize and that Jaws go the nod two years earlier (looked at that way, it’s hard to countenance that Spielberg was in such a grump about being continually snubbed; no one else was getting this kind of awards heat for shamelessly populist fare). Star Wars won six of its 10 nominations (and a special Oscar to boot); Score, Costume Design, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing (shared with Close Encounters), Art Direction, Film Editing and Visual Effects. Notably, it didn’t even get nominated for cinematography, which Close Encounters rightly won. George Lucas (Director and Original Screenplay), and Alec Guinness (Supporting Actor) missed out. I think they got it about right, although Close Encounters’ effects hold up better (he says, not having seen Star Wars’ original effects in decades).

The Turning Point

So The Turning Point. Does anyone remember it? A ballet drama from Herbert Ross (no mean feat to have two Best Picture nominations in one year, especially from a guy who would go on to direct My Blue Heaven), it bagged 11 nominations and no wins. Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine split the Best Actress vote, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Leslie Browne missed out in the supporting categories, Arthur Laurent’s Best Original Screenplay wasn’t to be, and also found wanting were Sound Mixing, Art Direction, Cinematography and Film Editing.


Also of note in the Academy’s book: Equus had a pair of Actor nominations, Melinda Dillon was noted for Close Encounters, Luis Bunuel was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, Pete’s Dragon had song nominations, as did The Rescuers, as did The Spy Who Loved Me. Smokey and the Bandit was considered for Editing (!), And Airport ’77 for Costumes and Art Direction (good grief!), while once darling William Freidkin’s bomb Sorcerer made do with a single Sound Mixing nod.

Top 10 US Box Office

1. Star Wars $307.3m ($1,208.3m adjusted for inflation)
2. Smokey and the Bandit $126.7m ($498.4m adjusted)
3. Close Encounters of the Third Kind $116.4m ($457.7m adjusted)
4. The Goodbye Girl $102m ($401.1m adjusted)
5. Saturday Night Fever $94.2m ($370.5m adjusted)
6. Oh God! $51.1m ($200.8m adjusted)
7. A Bridge Too Far $50.8m (£199.6m adjusted)
8. The Deep $47.3m ($186.2m adjusted)
9. The Spy Who Loved Me $46.8m (£184.2m adjusted)
10. Annie Hall $38.3m ($150.4m adjusted)

Ah, the heady days when Burt Reynolds was the reigning biggest star in the world, and Richard Dreyfuss was a draw. And George Burns embarked on a hit comedy trilogy. And post-Jaws watery movies could take up two places in the Top 10.

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Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

The head is missing... and... he's the wrong age.

Twin Peaks 3.7: There’s a body all right.
First things first: my suggestion that everyone’s favourite diminutive hitman, Ike “The Spike” Stadtler, had been hired by the Mitchum brothers was clearly erroneous in the extreme, although the logistics of how evil Coop had the contingency plan in place to off Lorraine and Dougie-Coop remains a little unclear right now. As is how he was banged up with the apparent foresight to have on hand ready blackmail tools to ensure the warden would get him out (and why did he wait so long about it, if he could do it off the bat?)


Launching right in with no preamble seems appropriate for his episode, since its chock-a-block with exposition and (linear) progression, almost an icy blast of what settles for reality in Twin Peaks after most of what has gone before this season, the odd arm-tree aside. Which might please James Dyer, who in the latest Empire “The Debate”, took the antagonistic stance to the show coming back and dismissed it as “gibbering nonsen…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…

It does work, you know. The fire, the wooden stakes, the sunlight. I’ve got a list right here, somewhere.

Vamp (1986)
(SPOILERS) My affection for Vamp is only partly based on the adorability therein of Dedee Pfeiffer, in what might be the closest she’s come to a starring role. Ostensibly an entry in the resurgent vampire-comedy genre (Fright Night, The Lost Boys), Vamp actually slots more effortlessly into another ‘80s subgenre: the urban nightmare comedy. We’d already had Scorsese’s masterful After Hours and John Landis’ knockabout Into the Night, and writer Richard Wenk’s big screen directorial debut shows a similar knack for throwing its protagonists in at the deep end, up against an unfamiliar and unfriendly milieu.

I freely chose my response to this absurd world. If given the opportunity, I would have been more vigorous.

The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)
(SPOILERS) I suspect, if I hadn’t been ignorant of the story of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee selling secrets to the Soviets during the ‘70s, I’d have found The Falcon and the Snowman less engaging than I did. Which is to say that John Schlesinger’s film has all the right ingredients to be riveting, including a particularly camera-hogging performance from Sean Penn (as Lee), but it’s curiously lacking in narrative drive. Only fitfully does it channel the motives of its protagonists and their ensuing paranoia. As such, the movie makes a decent primer on the case, but I ended up wondering if it might not be ideal fodder for retelling as a miniseries.

Garage freak? Jesus. What kind of a crazy fucking story is this?

All the President’s Men (1976)
It’s fairly routine to find that films lavished with awards ceremony attention really aren’t all that. So many factors go into lining them up, including studio politics, publicity and fashion, that the true gems are often left out in the cold. On some occasions all the attention is thoroughly deserved, however. All the President’s Men lost out to Rocky for Best Picture Oscar; an uplifting crowd-pleaser beat an unrepentantly low key, densely plotted and talky political thriller. But Alan J. Pakula’s film had already won the major victory; it turned a literate, uncompromising account of a resolutely unsexy and over-exposed news story into a huge hit. And even more, it commanded the respect of its potentially fiercest (and if roused most venomous) critics; journalists themselves. All the President’s Men is a masterpiece and with every passing year it looks more and more like a paean to a bygone age, one where the freedom of the press was assumed rather than a…

You may not wanna wake up tomorrow, but the day after that might just be great.

Blood Father (2016)
(SPOILERS) There are points during Blood Father where it feels like Mel is publically and directly addressing his troubled personal life. Through ultra-violence. I’m not really sure if that’s a good idea or not, but the movie itself is finely-crafted slice of B-hokum, a picture that knows its particular sandpit and how to play most effectively in it.

Sometimes the more you look, the less you see.

Snowden (2016)
(SPOILERS) There are a fair few Oliver Stone movies I haven’t much cared for (Natural Born Killers, U-Turn, Alexander for starters), and only W., post millennium, stands out as even trying something, if in a largely inconspicuous and irrelevant way, but I don’t think I’ve been as bored by one as I have by Snowden. Say what you like about Citizenfour – a largely superficial puff piece heralded as a vanguard of investigative journalism that somehow managed to yield a Best Documentary Feature Oscar for its lack of pains – but it stuck to the point, and didn’t waste the viewer’s time. Stone’s movie is so vapid and cliché-ridden in its portrayal of Edward Snowden, you might almost conclude the director was purposefully fictionalising his subject in order to preserve his status as a conspiracy nut (read: everything about Snowden is a fiction).

Oh look, there’s Colonel Mortimer, riding down the street on a dinosaur!

One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing (1975)
(SPOILERS) There’s no getting round the dinosaur skeleton in the room here: yellow face. From the illustrious writer-director team who brought us Mary Poppins, no less. Disney’s cheerfully racist family movie belongs to a bygone era, but appreciating its merits doesn’t necessarily requires one to subscribe to the Bernard Manning school of ethnic sensitivity.

I’m not going to defend the choice, but, if you can get past that, and that may well be a big if, particularly Bernard Bresslaw’s Fan Choy (if anything’s an unwelcome reminder of the Carry Ons lesser qualities, it’s Bresslaw and Joan Sims) there’s much to enjoy. For starters, there’s two-time Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner Ustinov (as mastermind Hnup Wan), funny in whatever he does (and the only Poirot worth his salt), eternally berating his insubordinate subordinate Clive Revill (as Quon).

This is a movie where, even though its crude cultural stereotyping is writ large, the dialogue frequen…