In this project, I’ll be watching each Best Picture winner, regardless of if I’ve already seen it, at random years, and then watching the two nominees with the most Oscar nominations for that year to find out, in my pompous assessment, if the Academy made the right choice. If I’ve already seen the subsequent nominee, I’ll move on to the next most nominated for that year.
The 47th Academy Award Best Picture nominees I watched: The Godfather Part II, The Towering Inferno (8), Lenny (6)
[ bold = winner / italics = losers (nominations) ]
When I watched these: January 7th – 9th
The snacks: shrimp and empanadas made appearances this week
The year: 1974.
Did I skip any of the movies?: I bypassed the underwhelming nominee Chinatown, a convoluted flick starring Jack Nicholson that felt lost from the start.
So why did the other movies lose?
You just need the first five minutes to find out what kind of movie The Towering Inferno is: a spark triggers a fire in some storage closet which O.J. Simpson can’t find until it’s way out of control, and Paul Newman, as his presumed lover makes out with him, delivers the thoughtful line, “Well I’m not a cheeseburger, you know.” The rest of the movie turns out the way you might expect, with overacting and unnatural agonizing dialogue coupled with a fire we don’t really care about. Despite the absurdity, it’s not entirely boring — it features realistic effects, explosions, and plenty of gnarly casualties. The movie closes with a couple more *sarcasm* gems *end sarcasm*:
“You know, we were lucky tonight. Body count’s less than 200. You know, one of these days, you’re gonna kill 10,000 in one of these firetraps, and I’m gonna keep eating smoke and bringing out bodies until somebody asks us… how to build them.”
“I don’t know. Maybe they just oughta leave it the way it is. Kind of a shrine to all the bull**** in the world.”
Lenny‘s lines are at least somewhat useful, yet the director spends so much time illustrating “the point”, which is basically how the comedian Lenny Bruce was a martyr and spokesman for free speech rights and a counterculture icon for railing against The Man that he sort of forgot to make a movie out of it. Dustin Hoffman is as brilliant as you’d expect, but he is undercut by bizarre but occasionally interesting cinematography and a chopped up screenplay. It could have been about the slow burn and gradual destruction of show business and been more effective overall, but ironically the big message got in the way.
So why did The Godfather, Part II win?
You put Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro at arguably the height of their careers in a renowned anthology, with basically the same cast, director, producer, and cinematographer, and it’s hard to go wrong. The film is tense from the start, contrasting the peaceful Italian countryside with the terror of the local Italian mobsters, and this rhythmic rocking back and forth between tranquility and sudden violence is maintained from beginning to end. It employs focusing, panning, angling, and lighting, all subtle but effective. The most important scene might be when Michael confronts his brother Fredo — for the last time, really — and Michael stands composed, casting a near silhouette at the window overlooking the water while Fredo lays reclined, prone, at the extreme other side of the frame, already sort of begging for his life. It’s clear Coppola knows what he’s doing, and the entire cast is in on it. Like Lenny, the film goes the non-linear route but manages to draw profound and occasionally haunting parallels between Vito and his eventual son Michael for a tremendous screenplay.
The movie that should have won: The Godfather, Part II
There really wasn’t another choice. The Godfather, Part II is overwhelming in stature, now an icon in cinema along with its prequel.