striding towards death: The Wild Bunch (1969)

My Top 20:

  1. The Wild Bunch
  2. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  3. Z
  4. Once Upon a Time in the West
  5. Oh! What a Lovely War
  6. Midnight Cowboy
  7. Stolen Kisses
  8. They Shoot Horses Don’t They
  9. Take the Money and Run
  10. Boudu Saved from Drowning
  11. Easy Rider
  12. The Round-Up
  13. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
  14. The Rain People
  15. The Rite
  16. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
  17. The Brothers Karamazov
  18. Medium Cool
  19. Andrei Rublev
  20. Cactus Flower

Academy Awards:

  • Best Picture:  Midnight Cowboy
  • Best Director:  John Schlesinger  (Midnight Cowboy)
  • Best Actor:  John Wayne  (True Grit)
  • Best Actress:  Maggie Smith  (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Gig Young  (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Goldie Hawn  (Cactus Flower)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Midnight Cowboy
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  • Best Foreign Film:  Z

one of the greatest of all chase scenes: Z (1969)

Consensus Awards:

  • Best Picture:  Z
  • Best Director:  John Schlesinger  (Midnight Cowboy)
  • Best Actor:  Jon Voight  (Midnight Cowboy)
  • Best Actress:  Maggie Smith  (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Jack Nicholson  (Easy Rider)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Goldie Hawn  (Cactus Flower)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Midnight Cowboy
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
  • Best Foreign Film:  Z

Top 10 Films  (Top 1000):

  1. The Wild Bunch –  #58
  2. Once Upon a Time in the West –  #73
  3. Pierrot le fou –  #84
  4. Midnight Cowboy –  #285
  5. Easy Rider –  #331
  6. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid –  #402
  7. Teorema –  #466
  8. Antonio das Mortes –  #477
  9. The Damned –  #524
  10. If . . . –  #599

Top 5 Films  (Consensus 1969 Best Picture Awards):

  1. Z
  2. Midnight Cowboy
  3. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  4. Anne of the Thousand Days
  5. They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

Top 10 Films  (1969 Awards Points):

  1. Midnight Cowboy –  1259 points
  2. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid –  1170 points
  3. They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? –  912 points
  4. Anne of the Thousand Days –  748 points
  5. Z –  743 points
  6. Hello Dolly! –  533 points
  7. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice –  512 points
  8. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie –  408 points
  9. Oh! What a Lovely War –  407 points
  10. Easy Rider –  315 points

Top 5 Films  (Box Office Gross):

  1. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid –  $102.30 mil
  2. The Love Bug –  $50.57 mil
  3. Midnight Cowboy –  $44.78 mil
  4. Easy Rider –  $41.72 mil
  5. Hello Dolly! –  $33.20 mil

AFI Top 100 Films:

  • Midnight Cowboy –  #36  (1998)  /  #43  (2007)
  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid –  #50  (1998)  /  #73  (2007)
  • The Wild Bunch –  #80  (1998)  /  #79  (2007)
  • Easy Rider –  #88  (1998)  /  #84  (2007)

note:  one of three years (along with 1976 and 1982) to have four entries on the 2007 list; one of two years (along with 1960) to have all of the films on the initial list of 400 from the year make the list

Nighthawk Award winner Jane Fonda in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969)

Nighthawk Golden Globes:

Drama:

  • Best Picture:  The Wild Bunch
  • Best Director:  Sam Peckinpah  (The Wild Bunch)
  • Best Actor:  William Holden  (The Wild Bunch)
  • Best Actress:  Jane Fonda  (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Henry Fonda  (Once Upon a Time in the West)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Susannah York  (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Z
  • Best Original Screenplay:  The Wild Bunch

Comedy:

  • Best Picture:  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  • Best Director:  George Roy Hill  (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)
  • Best Actor:  Paul Newman  (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)
  • Best Actress:  Mia Farrow  (John and Mary)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  John Mills  (Oh! What a Lovely War)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Goldie Hawn  (Cactus Flower)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Oh! What a Lovely War
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Nighthawk Awards:

  • Best Picture:  The Wild Bunch
  • Best Director:  Sam Peckinpah  (The Wild Bunch)
  • Best Actor:  William Holden  (The Wild Bunch)
  • Best Actress:  Jane Fonda  (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Henry Fonda  (Once Upon a Time in the West)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Susannah York  (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Z
  • Best Original Screenplay:  The Wild Bunch
  • Best Editing:  The Wild Bunch
  • Best Cinematography:  The Wild Bunch
  • Best Original Score:  Once Upon a Time in the West
  • Best Sound:  The Wild Bunch
  • Best Art Direction:  Oh! What a Lovely War
  • Best Visual Effects:  Marooned
  • Best Sound Editing:  The Wild Bunch
  • Best Costume Design:  Oh! What a Lovely War
  • Best Makeup:  The Wild Bunch
  • Best Song:  “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”  (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)
  • Best Foreign Film:  Z

"I can't swim!"

Nighthawk Notables:

  • Best Film to Watch Over and Over:  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  • Best Line:  “I can’t swim!”  Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  • Best Opening:  Once Upon a Time in the West
  • Best Ending:  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  • Best Scene:  the “I can’t swim” scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  • Best Ensemble:  Oh! What a Lovely War
  • Best Use of a Song:  “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”  (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)
  • Sexiest Performance:  Pamela Franklin in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
  • Performance to Fall in Love With:  Claude Jade in Stolen Kisses
  • Coolest Performance:  Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  • Read the Book, SKIP the Film:  True Grit
  • Worst Film:  Krakatoa – East of Java

Ebert Great Films:

  • The Wild Bunch
  • Easy Rider

Film History: MGM goes through three presidents in one year.  After 25 years at Paramount, Hal B. Wallis leaves for Universal and earns an Oscar nomination for producing Anne of the Thousand Days.  Judy Garland dies from an overdose of sleeping pills; her funeral draws 20,000 fans.  Sharon Tate, an actress and the wife of Roman Polanski, is murdered along with four others by the Manson Family.  Midnight Cowboy becomes the only X rated film to win Best Picture (the rating would later be downgraded to an R).  The Killing of Sister George is banned in Boston due to its lesbian love scenes; a court rules against seizure of the film and it continues to play in Boston.  Army of Shadows opens in Paris on 5 September; it will not play in the United States until 2006.  Francis Ford Coppola forms American Zoetrope.  Boris Karloff and Thelma Ritter die in February and Josef von Sternberg dies in December.

Academy Awards: Midnight Cowboy becomes only the second film to win Picture, Director and Screenplay without winning anything else (Casablanca is the other).  It is the first winner since 1955 not to win any technical awards and the first winner to only earn 1 technical nomination since 1949.  They Shoot Horses Don’t They sets a record with 9 nominations without a Best Picture nomination (it it still a record).  For the first time, neither Italy nor Japan earns a Foreign Film nomination, while Algeria earns its first nomination and only win.  The nomination for Algeria is the first, and until 1976, the only nomination for an African country.  Only 30 feature films receive Oscar nominations – the fewest since 1934.  Jane and Peter Fonda both earn their first Oscar nominations.  Jack Nicholson receives the first of his 12 Oscar nominations.  Z becomes the second foreign film to earn a Best Picture nomination and the first of three to win Best Foreign Film while losing Best Picture.

It’s probably not an accident that a big studio with financial problems (2oth Century-Fox) would end up taking home a Best Picture nomination for Hello Dolly rather than the independently made They Shoot Horses, Don’t They.  And of course, in this year of three of the greatest Westerns of all-time, while one would make the top 5 (Butch Cassidy – the first in 6 years and the last until 1990), one would earn a couple of nominations (The Wild Bunch) and one would fail to earn any nominations at all (Once Upon a Time in the West).  But the new direction of the seventies would be foreshadowed, with major nominations for Easy Rider and Alice’s Restaraunt.  Of course, in a last gasp for the old regulars, John Wayne would finally win an Oscar for a pretty ridiculous performance, while the brilliant performances of Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman would go unrewarded.

  • Worst Oscar:  Best Sound for Hello Dolly!
  • Worst Oscar Nomination:  Best Special Visual Effects for Krakatoa – East of Java
  • Worst Oscar Omission:  Best Director for The Wild Bunch
  • Worst Oscar-Nominated Film:  Krakatoa – East of Java
  • Best Film with No Oscar Nominations:  Once Upon a Time in the West
  • Worst Oscar Category:  Best Actress
  • Best Oscar Category:  Best Sound
  • Oscar / Nighthawk Award Agreements:  Best Special Visual Effects, Best Song – Original to the Picture, Best Foreign Film

Golden Globes: Anne of the Thousand Days would become the first film to win Picture, Director and Screenplay at the Globes but not win any of them at the Oscars (Love Story would repeat the feat the next year, but it has never happened again since).  The loser to Anne in all three categories would be Midnight Cowboy, which would go on to win all three at the Oscars (it would go 0 for 6 at the Globes – the first Oscar winner to fail to win Best Picture at the Globes since 1955).  No other film would manage to win multiple awards.  The Best Picture – Comedy would go to The Secret of Santa Vittoria, but it would be the first film in seven years to be nominated for both Picture and Director at the Globes, but neither at the Oscars and the first in seven years to win Best Picture – Comedy and fail to earn a Best Picture nomination from the Oscars.

Awards: The New York Film Critics went first and for the first time ever, they chose a foreign film for Best Picture – Z (also giving it Best Director).  With their new way of voting, they had dropped Foreign Film, but finally added supporting acting categories  The National Society of Film Critics would agree on Best Picture, but would give their Best Director to a different foreign director – Francois Truffaut for Stolen Kisses.  The National Board of Review, on the other hand, would completely ignore Z – not even naming it one of their top 5 foreign films.  Instead, they would buck everyone – with their Best Actor (Peter O’Toole for Goodbye Mr Chips) the only one of their winners even earning an Oscar nomination (Their other awards would go to They Shoot Horses (Picture), Alfred Hitchcock for Topaz (Director), Geraldine Page for Trilogy (Actress), Philippe Noiret for Topaz (Supporting Actor), Pamela Franklin for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Supporting Actress) and Shame (Foreign Film)).  The NYFC and NSFC would agree on Actor (Jon Voight for Midnight Cowboy) and Supporting Actor (Jack Nicholson for Easy Rider), but split on two the actress categories (Jane Fonda for Horses and Dyan Cannon for Bob & Carol for the NYFC, Vanessa Redgrave for Isadora and Sian Phillips for Goodbye Mr Chips and Delphine Seyrig for Stolen Kisses for the NSFC).

Midnight Cowboy wins both the Directors Guild and the Writers Guild.  The Writers Guild establishes new categories – instead of just by genres, they separate them also by original and adapted.  The new categories are Adapted Drama, Original Drama, Adapted Comedy and Original Comedy, with the initial four winners being Midnight Cowboy, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Goodbye Columbus and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.  The other DGA nominees are Butch Cassidy, Z, Easy Rider and They Shoot Horses Don’t They (all but Z are also nominated by the WGA).  The ACE (Editors) give their award, inexplicably, to Hello Dolly.  The Sound Editors, on the other hand, give both of their awards, rather correctly, to The Wild Bunch.

Midnight Cowboy would sweep the BAFTAs, winning Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor and Editing.  It’s opposite number would be Women in Love (which wouldn’t be eligible for the Oscars until the next year), which would become the first film to ever reach double digits in BAFTA nominations, but would set a record by going 0 for 10, which wouldn’t be broken until 2004.  Joining those two films with Picture and Director nominations would be Oh! What a Lovely War, which would win 5 awards out of its 9 nominations.  The final Best Picture slot would go to Z.

Richard Attenborough's brilliant directorial debut: Oh! What a Lovely War (1969)

Under-appreciated Film of 1969:

Oh! What a Lovely War (dir. Richard Attenborough)

There have been 550 films that have earned BAFTA nominations but not any Oscar nominations.  Of those, only Jean de Florette had greater success at the BAFTAs than Oh! What a Lovely War.  Only a handful have been as good (all foreign except Paths of Glory, Chimes at Midnight and The Ice Storm).  While the Academy was handing 7 nominations and 3 Oscars to that clunker of a musical Hello Dolly!, they were ignoring one of the great films of the year, a much better musical and a truly unique film experience.

Consider one sequence early in the film.  The sequence begins at a British seaside resort, with a family walking all the boardwalk.  They stop to look at a small carousel, filled with toy soldiers.  Then, suddenly, we are atop a hill in France and the soldiers are all real, but they are still on a carousel.  This is followed by a French soldier singing a lively song about French troops fighting under Napoleon, with maidens dancing around.  Yet, when they all turn back to the carousel, all the soldiers are now dead, and it pulls back from dead and broken toy soldiers to reveal the crowd on the boardwalk, no longer so interested.  Such is the metaphor for the early drastic loss of life in the battles in France.

That’s how the film functions.  It is the directorial debut of Richard Attenborough, who would later win an Oscar for Gandhi.  It is filled with so many incredible performers that four of them would later go on to win Oscars (John Mills, Maggie Smith, John Geilgud and Vanessa Redgrave).  It uses popular songs from the 1910’s to give a full experience of the first World War.  Perhaps that was the American audiences (and the Academy) couldn’t connect with.  America finally entered the war in 1917 and made certain it ended.  On the other hand, Britain, like France, Germany and Russia, left an entire generation on those battlefields.  This wasn’t just a short little war for them – it was the most incredible waste of life of all-time.  There was no great evil to fight.  It was just a bloody stupid war that devastated a continent.

Aside from the snub from the Academy, this film was also very hard to find for a very long time.  I tried for years to track it down (it had won 5 BAFTA awards) to no avail, until finally, thankfully, it was released on DVD in late 2006.  I wondered if it had been one of those over-rated films that was finally getting a DVD release because Netflix would buy enough copies to justify the release.  I was stunned to discover how brilliant it was, how much I (and everyone else) had been missing for all of those years.  There is the magnificent short scene with Maggie Smith, where she lures men into her arms, and then right into their waiting death.  There is the tragic finale with John Mills and that shot of the endless graves.  There is the brilliant little number with all the heads of state that opens the film and makes us realize what a folly of this was.

It also takes a good several minutes to look at one of the strangest things to ever occur in wartime – the Christmas peace in 1914 and 1915.  This truce involves the lesser known actors in the film, because of course all the big names are playing all the important men in government and military.  The truce was something among the regulars, the ones actually fighting the war, the ones dragged into dying for god and country while the commanders watched from a distance.  All those men, dying, and none of them really knew why.  The night before re-watching this film, I watched Green Zone and Matt Damon’s words from the end of that film stay with me.  The neocon involved in pushing bad intelligence says to him “None of this matters anymore.  WMD?  This doesn’t matter.” when talking about why they are there.  Damon’s response really says everything:  “Of course it fucking matters!  The reasons we go to war always matter!  It’s all that matters!”  He’s desperately trying to figure out why he is in that war.  For all the boys in World War I, this film seems to say it all.  It was just a big song and dance routine and they were just there to die.

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