– Sonny Walkman introduced
– Voyager I takes photos of Jupiter’s rings
– Nickelodean launched
– ESPN begins broadcasting 24/7
Winner: Kramer vs. Kramer
– All That Jazz
– Apocalypse Now
– Breaking Away
– Norma Rae
Kramer vs. Kramer **** out of ****
Director: Robert Benton
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Justin Henry, Jane Alexander
Wins (5): Picture, Director, Actor (Hoffman), S. Actress (Streep), Adapted SP
Nominations (9): S. Actor (Henry), S. Actress (Alexander), Cinematography, Film Edit
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Kramer vs. Kramer is a really great film and one that only gets better and better with each viewing. Joanna (Streep) leaves Ted (Hoffman) and their young son, Billy, out of the blue. Her reasons for leaving are a blend of a want to pursue personal ambitions as well as the stress that comes with dealing with a struggling marriage. There is no evidence that their marriage was downright awful, but it wasn’t picture perfect, either. Ted is ambitious, himself, but his ambitions take a backseat to the priority of raising his son. Ted attempts to juggle his incredibly demanding job and an unsympathetic boss in Manhattan with the added struggles of being a single father, which also includes raising a son who is dealing with the fact that his mother left him with no warning. Ted also must deal with having someone he loves up and leave. The performances are inspiring and the writing is spot on. Joanna returns, again out of the blue, and attempts to demand custody of her son, which leads to her dragging Ted through the mud in some pretty dirty custody court battles, which make for some of the best scenes of the film. It’s a heart-wrenching drama that resonates on every level. We feel for some of these characters and we come to hate others. As in the case of Ted, we feel for him while at the same time finding ourselves frowning at his decisions and attitude. Benton directs a near masterpiece here and deserving of the Best Picture win.
All That Jazz **out of ****
Director: Bob Fosse
Starring: Roy Scheider
Wins (4): Adaptation Score, Art Directon, Costume, Film Edit
Nominations (9): Picture, Director, Actor (Schedier), Original SP, Cinematography
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Bob Fosse takes a stab at his own version of Fellini’s 8 ½ with a quasi-autobiographical film that dances ever so pompously and over-confidently between reality and an obnoxious near-death/dream/vision fantasy. Roy Schieder is Joe, a Broadway director, womanizer, chain-smoker, alcoholic and one who obviously cares nothing for his wife (ex-wife?) and young daughter. He has a girlfriend (mistress), played by Anne Reinking, on whom he cheats with any auditioning dancer that meets his criteria. He’s such a work-a-holic and takes such little care of himself that he ends up in the hospital and dreams or envisions himself directing his newest musical. Within these visions, he converses with some sort of angel or being that he has created in his mind that resides between fantasy and reality or life and death, played by Jessica Lange. It’s these conversations with this being that Fosse uses to narrate the story and transition us from scene to scene. I would say All That Jazz was an ambitious film if it hadn’t been done similarly 16 years before. Scheider was nominated for performance, which I suppose is deserved, but the entire film is a chore with its attempts at giving an homage to Italian Neorealism.
Apocalypse Now **** out of ****
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando
Wins (2): Sound Mix, Cinematography,
Nominations (8): Picture, Director, S. Actor (Duvall), Adapted SP, Art Direction, Film Edit
Rotten Tomatoes: 99%
Francis Ford Coppola owns the 1970’s and what a brilliant way to cap off such a successful decade of filmmaking by adapting Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness into the present-day story of a soldier in the Vietnam War. Apocalypse Now really sunk in with me on my second viewing as I watched the original theatrical version on Blu-ray and found it to be a truly spectacular piece of work and the look of it to be amazing. Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) goes on a journey up a river right in the middle of the Vietnam War to take out a rogue officer, Colonel Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando, who has managed to create his own tiny kingdom out in the jungle. It’s a road trip film painted with the Vietnam War as its backdrop. You meet some crazy characters, including Robert Duvall’s brilliantly acted Lieutenant Kilgore, and traverse through many bases and warzones that seem to balance just on this side of reality. The cinematography is the thing to really admire in this film, though the acting is inspired, as well. Apocalypse Now is quite an experience and one that slow unfolds and boils until its bizarre ending.
Breaking Away ** out of ****
Director: Peter Yates
Starring: Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Jackie Earle Haley
Wins (1): Original SP
Nominations (5): Picture, Director, S. Actress (Barrie), Adaptation Score
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
I’m not sure what to make of this movie because it’s not one I would expect to see in a Best Picture lineup. David Stoller (Dennis Christopher) is obsessed with Italian bicyclists to the extent that he rides a racing bike everywhere, dresses in bicyclist garb and speaks in a cliché Italian accent while throwing in a few actual Italian words here and there. He and his group of friends (Dennis Quaid, Jackie Earle Haley, etc.) are from the town of Bloomington, Indiana and are referred to as Cutters by the young men and women attending Indiana University because they do not attend said University. They walk around with a chip on their shoulders because they live in a college town and don’t go to college; and all because they decided not to go. There’s this really big bike race involving the town and college and David basically beats everyone on his own. His friends help out a bit when he gets injured, but he does the bulk of the work. There’s a romantic relationship with him and a college girl because she’s naïve enough to think he’s a real Italian until he tells her the truth and she gets mad. The intended comedic relief of the film is David’s parents, whose bickering is dispersed here and there throughout the film. His father seems to think it’s feminine to speak like an Italian and shave your legs for a quicker biking time. His mother, naturally, takes up for David. The film cuts to the two bickering back and forth lightheartedly until, finally, they accept David’s love of biking and are proud of his accomplishments. It’s on AFI’s Top 10 sports movies list and I really don’t understand how that could be. What’s more, it won Original Screenplay, which is preposterous.
Norma Rae ***1/2 out of ****
Director: Martin Ritt
Starring: Sally Field
Wins (2): Actress (Field), Original Song
Nominations (4): Picture, Adapted SP
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Martin Ritt is a stellar director that really deserves a lot more credit than he received. His work in the 60’s and 70’s is really something to be admired, especially with this film, Norma Rae. Sally Field’s performance is quite impressive as a young, attractive, mother, wife and hard-working woman in a textile factory. Ron Leibman is a union representative who comes into town passing out pamphlets and spreading out information regarding bringing the union into town. His reception is unkind and met with some violence. He manages to befriend Norma Rae and convince her of the need of the union in her town and she manages to make an impact on many of the other employees of the factory. Norma Rae is the story of her struggles in dealing with the backlash she receives from trying to bring in this union. Martin Ritt is a blue collar director, no pun intended. Not only do many of his films center on hard working blue dollar people (Hud, Sounder), but there’s nothing fancy or flashy about the films themselves. They are grainy and simple, but they are technically exceptional films that are character-driven.
Should Have Won: Apocalypse Now
As with the previous year, with the end of the 1970’s brings an end to just over a decade of some pretty stellar filmmaking. There are still films being made at this time that stand out, but the initial movement from big budget to indie is pretty much over at this point. Coppola manages to get the best of both worlds out of his films. Kramer vs. Kramer and Apocalypse Now are easily the best films in this group and Norma Rae isn’t very far behind. The problem is that Norma Rae doesn’t have that impact that the other two have as far as the experience of watching them goes. I understand why Apocalypse Now didn’t win Best Picture. Perhaps it’s a bit too much to grasp or maybe too violent. It could also be that they weren’t far enough removed from the Vietnam War itself. That will change in about 7 years with Platoon. Apocalypse Now, without question, takes place in reality, though there are scenes that are so well shot that they cause us to question if that could possibly be real. All That Jazz is an utter failure in this regard, though it purposely relies on more of the fantasy element. I’m not sure what Breaking Away is doing here and I can’t even begin to understand how it won Original Screenplay when you have Woody Allen’s wonderful film, Manhattan, in the mix.