Alan J. Pakula

Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford as Bernstein and Woodward in All the President's Men (1976)

Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford as Bernstein and Woodward in All the President's Men (1976)

  • Born:  1928
  • Died:  1998
  • Rank:  66
  • Score:  548.60
  • Awards:  NYFC / NBR
  • Nominations:  Oscar / DGA / BAFTA / Golden Globe
  • Feature Films:  16
  • Best:  All the President’s Men
  • Worst:  Rollover

Top 5 Films:

  1. All the President’s Men – 1976
  2. Sophie’s Choice – 1982
  3. Presumed Innocent – 1990
  4. The Parallax View – 1974
  5. Klute – 1971

Top 10 Best Director Finishes (Nighthawk Awards):

  • 1971 – 8th – Klute
  • 1974 – 8th – The Parallax View
  • 1976 – 2nd – All the President’s Men
  • 1982 – 2nd – Sophie’s Choice
  • 1990 – 5th – Presumed Innocent

There are many paths to directing.  They say the best start as editors, because they understand how the film is put together (like David Lean).  Many start as cinematographers because they know how to make it look.  Many writers become directors to get better control of their scripts (like John Huston or Billy Wilder).  Actors of course, always want to direct.  But Alan J. Pakula actually came to films as a producer (including getting an Oscar nomination for To Kill a Mockingbird) before moving into the director’s chair with The Sterile Cuckoo.

Pakula was an actor’s director.  He drew the initial burst of acting talent from first Liza Minnelli, then Jane Fonda (with Fonda winning the Oscar).  He later directed Jason Robards and Meryl Streep to Oscars as well and got the best serious performance of Harrison Ford’s career in Presumed Innocent, a film filled with great acting from under-rated actors.  All of his awards and nominations were for All the President’s Men, but he will always be remembered as well for Klute and Sophie’s Choice.  After Sophie his career declined, with Presumed Innocent the lone bright star of the later years until his death in a bizarre auto accident.

All the President’s Men – #1 film of 1976

The Oscars are an interesting thing to us film buffs.  There are the years where we concede that the Academy got it right (1943 – Casablanca, 1972 – The Godfather, 2003 – The Return of the King).  There are years where we all agree what should have won (1941 – Citizen Kane, 1980 – Raging Bull, 2005 – Brokeback Mountain).  Then there are years like 1976.  Ask a thousand film buffs what should have won and few of them will mention the actual winner, Rocky.  But you’ll find three large piles of answers.  There is the large contingent for Taxi Driver (and with good reason – it was my #2 of the year and wins Best Director from me).  There is the group that goes with Network.  And then there is the final group, the one I am part of, the one that says the best film of 1976 was All the President’s Men.

I know when I started to get really interested in film.  It was the spring of 1989 and I was a freshman in high school when I first started keeping the notebook where I listed all the films I had seen (which would late become an Excel spreadsheet, which is good both because it is sortable and because there are as of today 6082 films in it).  One of the first films listed was All the President’s Men, and it got five stars (later changed when I went to a four star system).

I could see right away what was so brilliant about it.  First there was the acting.  There was Redford being more than just a pretty boy.  Dustin Hoffman being solid as usual.  But they were surrounded by all sorts of character actors in great roles – Jack Warden, Jason Robards, Martin Balsam and Jane Alexander.  Then there was the script.  Part drama, part detective story.  Full of suspense, keeping you on your toes even though you know the story is real and you know the ending.

There are the production values.  The cinematography is great and the editing is top notch, but APM won two technical Oscars and it absolutely deserved both – Best Sound and Best Art Direction.  Both of them have to do with the brilliant set for the movie of the Washington Post newsroom.  The authenticity went down to the tiniest details (they actually imported trash from the real Post newsroom) and it feels like the real newspaper office, the kind of place where reporters do these kinds of things.

Which brings us to the final aspect.  I saw this in 1989, fresh out of the Reagan years, living in heavily conservative Orange County, but in a liberal household.  This was the downfall of Nixon, the ultimate enemy.   I’d been stuck in Republican wasteland for most of my life (George Duekmajian – and I don’t care if I spelled it wrong because he doesn’t deserve to have his name spelled correctly – was the governor of California and he kept trying to kill the gifted education program that I credit with making me the intellectual I am) and to see this great story unfold, to see it get what I call a happy ending, was just so fantastic at that age.