"I'm walkin here! I'm walkin here!"

The 42nd annual Academy Awards for the film year 1969.  The nominations were announced on February 16, 1970 and the awards were held on April 7, 1970.

Best Picture:  Midnight Cowboy

  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  • Z
  • Anne of the Thousand Days
  • Hello Dolly!

Most Surprising Omission:  They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

Best Eligible Film Not Nominated:  Once Upon a Time in the West

Rank (out of 82) Among Best Picture Years:  #44

The Race: In the spring, Midnight Cowboy became the first major film to receive an X rating.  The rating didn’t stop it from getting great reviews or from big box office and it quickly became one of the biggest hits and most talked about films of the year.  But bigger box office was right around the corner.  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid quickly became the biggest film of the year and one of the biggest of all-time while Easy Rider, made for less than half a million, quickly became one of the most profitable films of all-time.  But Peter Fonda, star and co-writer of Easy Rider, had to share his press with his sister Jane and her new film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, the film that finally established her as a bona fide actress and not just a sex kitten.  Part of the same new wave of American film-making was Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, an adult satire about sex and marriage.

As was beginning to become the standard, however, many of the big films were released just before Christmas in order to qualify for the Oscars.  That included Z, the Algerian film that was earning reviews as good as any foreign film had, Anne of the Thousand Days, the big epic about Henry VII and Anne Boleyn starring Richard Burton and Hello Dolly!, the big musical that Fox had been sinking money into for almost two years.

The New York Film Critics went first and they had decided to drop the category of Best Foreign Film and make foreign films eligible for Best Picture.  The result was Z winning both Best Picture and Best Director.  While the National Board of Review went with Horses, the National Society of Film Critics agreed with the New York critics for the first time, also picking ZHorses would get support from the Golden Globes as well, joining Anne of the Thousand Days, Midnight Cowboy, Hello Dolly and The Secret of Santa Vittoria in the Picture and Director races (both of which would be won by Anne of the Thousand Days).  The Directors Guild was next, giving their award to Midnight Cowboy, while nominating Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Z, Easy Rider and HorsesButch Cassidy and Midnight Cowboy went on to win awards at the Writers Guild, positioning themselves with Horses and Anne of the Thousand Days as the favorites, with Easy Rider, Hello Dolly and Z vying for the final spot.

The Results: Z and Hello Dolly were both in and it was Horses that was on the outside, in spite of its 9 nominations (a new record for a film without a Best Picture nomination), including Director, Adapted Screenplay and Actress.  With Z a surefire winner in the Best Foreign Film category and Anne of the Thousand Days and Hello Dolly lacking Best Director nominations, the race had been brought down to Midnight Cowboy and Butch Cassidy – and with 7 nominations for both films, it meant that for the first time since 1952, the winner would have fewer nominations than a film without a Best Picture nomination.

Going into the final, big six awards on Oscar night, Butch had won three Oscars and Midnight Cowboy hadn’t won a single one.  They then split the two Screenplay awards and came to Best Director.  This year the DGA predicted correctly and Midnight Cowboy was the winner, a win it would repeat a little later with Best Picture.

The only X rated film to win Best Picture: Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Midnight Cowboy

  • Director:  John Schlesinger
  • Writer:  Waldo Salt  (from the novel by James Leo Herlihy)
  • Producer:  Jerome Hellman
  • Studio:  United Artists
  • Stars:  Jon Voight, Dustin Hoffman, Sylvia Miles, Brenda Vacarro
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium, Actor (Voight), Actor (Hoffman), Supporting Actress (Miles), Editing
  • Oscar Points:  395
  • Length:  113 min
  • Genre:  Drama
  • Release Date:  25 May 1969
  • Box Office Gross:  $44.78 mil  (#3  –  1969)
  • MPAA Rating:  X  (later changed to R)
  • Ebert Rating:  ***
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #6  (year)  /  #198  (nominees)  /  #49  (winners)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Hoffman), Actor (Voight), Art Direction
  • Nighthawk Points:  130

The Film:  At the heart of this film is the relationship between these two men and the performances by the two actors that play them.  There are other strengths to the film.  It is well written, well directed, has two very interesting supporting performances from Brenda Vacarro and Sylvia Miles, has fantastic art direction, that lets you feel the utter misery of the poor and downtrodden who are just trying to find anywhere to survive in New York City.  It is very much a film of its time, rated X by the MPAA (today it not only gets rated R, it’s not a very hard R at that – though its original rating and even the current rating show how much the MPAA are afraid of sex while they’ll approve almost any type of violence) and even having an Andy Warhol party in the film.  It opens with the wonderful song “Everybody’s Talkin” (which would easily have gotten a Nighthawk nomination had it been written for the film), even though the song plays over the type of leaving-home-montage that was already a cliche in 1969 (as pointed out by Ebert).

But it is a great film, a film that is actually greater than the sum of its parts.  The key parts are those two performances and that relationship.  The relationship comes from the writing.  It perfectly establishes the two and how they interact, how they come to depend on each other.  But that wouldn’t be enough without these two actors in these two parts.  It wouldn’t be until nearly a decade later when Voight and Hoffman would finally win Oscars, but it was clear here that they were part of the new generation of actors emerging on the scene.

There is a wonderful moment, the second time that Voight, as Joe Buck, (“I may not be a real cowboy, but I am one hell of a stud.”) sees Ratzo Rizzo sitting in a diner.  For a second, his eyes light up as he stares inside.  He has come from Texas because he believes he can make good money from women looking to be pleasured and he has found himself in way over his head.  Rizzo is one of the few people to really interact with him and he is happy to see a familiar face.  Then he remembers that Rizzo set him up the last time they met and suddenly, that pleasure goes right out of his eyes and he runs inside to yell at Rizzo.  Even without the rest of the film, that one moment was probably enough to earn Voight the two critics awards he won.

Then look at Dustin Hoffman’s performance.  It is likely that most people who saw the film only knew him from The Graduate, but also entirely possibly that many of those people did not even recognize him.  In The Graduate, he had so perfectly epitomized the young California grad.  But here, he disappears so completely into the seediness and repulsiveness that is Rizzo that we get a true glimpse of the talent of one film’s greatest actors.  We never, for a second, would believe that this is the same man.

Midnight Cowboy is far from a perfect film, but in its performances, in the new style of film-making that captured the underside of New York City, in the moments that instantly established it as a film to be remembered (“I’m walkin here!”), it does become a great film.

of the three brilliant westerns from 1969, only Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid succeeded at the Oscars

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

  • Director:  George Roy Hill
  • Writer:  William Goldman
  • Producer:  John Foreman
  • Studio:  20th Century-Fox
  • Stars:  Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katharine Ross
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Story and Screenplay – Based on Material Not Previously Published or Produced, Cinematography, Original Score for a Motion Picture (Not a Musical), Sound, Song – Original to the Picture (“Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”)
  • Oscar Points:  315
  • Length:  110 min
  • Genre:  Western  (Historical)
  • Release Date:  24 October 1969
  • Box Office Gross:  $102.38 mil  (#1  –  1969;  #5 all-time upon original release)
  • MPAA Rating:  M  (later changed to PG)
  • Ebert Rating:  **.5
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #2  (year)  /  #39  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor (Newman), Supporting Actress (Ross), Editing, Cinematography, Original Score, Sound, Art Direction, Sound Editing, Costume Design, Makeup, Original Song (“Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”)
  • Nighthawk Points:  380

The Film:  It is a film that has survived through the ages.  It was a massive box office hit (one of the biggest of all-time), a huge success with the awards groups (setting a record with 9 BAFTA awards that has never been surpassed to go with its 4 Oscars and its WGA win – though both the WGA and Golden Globes considered it a drama, while I strongly consider it a comedy), was one of the first songs that really established a pop music hit in a scene where the song is played over the scene, and yet, today, is still widely loved.  Perhaps because it works for whatever age you want.  When you are a kid, it isn’t too violent and you can enjoy the action; as a teen you begin to understand how incredibly funny it is, from the early fight between Butch and Harvey, the use of too much dynamite and the inability of Sundance to swim and you can appreciate how damned cool both Butch and Sundance are; for adults, you can look at how well the film is constructed and even what they did when they didn’t have a chance to do more (the New York scenes were originally supposed to be actual scenes, but they couldn’t get permission to use the Hello Dolly set, so one day they just took a bunch of still photographs and set up the montage that way – which works perfectly, because the film doesn’t suddenly get bogged down, but moves straight on to Bolivia).

It starts out so perfectly – the great line “Not that it matters but most of what follows is true,” followed by the sepia colored opening segments.  By the end of that opening scene, we have established Butch’s humor and Sundance’s talent.  Immediately following, we establish the closeness of their relationship.  Etta will ask Butch about whether or not they would have gotten involved and Butch will explain that they are involved, but really it is Butch and Sundance who are involved – two brothers in the way they work together, the kind of relationship where they will die together.

That closeness is what the entire middle section of the film is all about.  As they are relentlessly chased by the superposse, they must rely on each other to survive.  Yet, their friendship, their humor, their strength in each other never falters.  Ironically, there are parts here that have been criticized not only by Roger Ebert (who was not a big fan of the film and thought the middle section went on way too long and completely undermined the film), but also by writer William Goldman himself (Goldman felt that there were too many reversals, too many moments where Butch will say “I think we lost ’em.  Do you think we lost ’em?”, Sundance replies “No” and Butch answers “Neither do I.”).  But it is the humor that they manage to keep up between themselves as they are pursued by death on wings, a certain death that will never stop coming that makes the film so wonderful.

Then of course, we get to the one of the great moments in all of film history.  If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean, you can think of the dialogue yourself, might even have it all memorized.  It all comes down to one famous line, so perfectly said: “I can’t swim!”  And let’s face it, if you haven’t seen it, then what the bloody hell are you doing reading this review?

By the way, I get most of my posters from a place called IMPAwards.  If you go here, they have 11 different posters from Butch Cassidy.

In 1969 Z became only the second Foreign Film ever nominated for Best Picture

Z

  • Director:  Costa-Gavras
  • Writer:  Jorge Semprun  (from the novel by Vasilis Vasilikos)
  • Producer:  Jacques Perrin  /  Hamed Rachedi
  • Studio:  Cinema V
  • Stars:  Yves Montand, Jean-Louis Trintigent, Irene Papas
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Director, Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium, Editing, Foreign Film
  • Oscar Points:  225
  • Length:  127 min
  • Genre:  Foreign  (Historical Drama)
  • Release Date:  8 December 1969
  • Box Office Gross:  $14.28 mil
  • MPAA Rating:  M  (later changed to PG)
  • Ebert Rating:  ****
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #3  (year)  /  #74  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Editing, Cinematography, Original Score, Sound, Foreign Film
  • Nighthawk Points:  310

The Film:  It is a measure of the greatness of Z that my mother first recommended it to me.  She is a lover of happy endings, of films that make her feel good as they conclude.  Yet Z, like Breaker Morant, has a story that is compelling (all the more so in both cases because they are both real stories) and is so well made on every level that she still heartily recommends it.  It’s interesting.  It was made in Algeria (and submitted by that country at the Oscars – the first African film to ever win, or even get nominated) by a Greek director who had been living for years in France.  The action in the film takes place, ostensibly in Greece, but it almost could be a metaphor for any of those countries and even the United States in the late sixties.  In the film (and in Greece), it was a peace movement, but it could have been students in France or civil rights here.

The story is such: the leader of a peace movement, after being harassed by the police, is murdered by men who were obviously allowed access to him by the police.  Suddenly the peace movement finds itself without a leader and with a government that not only wants to ignore it, but pretty much committed the murder itself.  What nobody counts on, not the other members of the movement who fear for their lives (one of them, on his way to testify, is chased by a car for several blocks in one of the greatest chase scenes ever put on film), not the wife of the murdered leader who is certain that nothing will happen to those who did it, and certainly not the top members of the police themselves, are the actions of the investigator placed in charge of the case.  He is not interested in the politics of the case.  He will not be intimidated and he will not be stopped.  Played perfectly by Jean-Louis Trintigent (he just misses a Nighthawk nomination for Supporting Actor), he moves forward with all deliberate speed, not missing any clues, finding out quickly who did it, and then proceeding from there as to why it was done.  The film is expertly edited as it moves between the different characters (there is also a reporter who is determined to get the story told) without ever letting us slip into confusion.  We always know what is going on and we learn as the inspector does, the depths of this plot.

When I asked my mother about recommending the film, she remembered very clearly how it ended, how the inspector indicted all of those members of the police who were responsible and culpable, no matter how powerful they were, how the film focused so perfectly on one of the peace leaders racing to the beach to inform the grieving widow of how justice has actually triumphed.  What she didn’t remember was the sad look on Irene Papas’ face (she is so, so much better in this film than she was in her other Best Picture nominee for the year – Anne of the Thousand Days) and her refusal to believe that anything lasting will actually happen to those men who helped murder her husband.

The sad truth is that she is correct.  All of the men end up with light sentences and by 1966 (the film was set in 63), had taken over the country.  But, years later, there would be a better ending.  The right wing party would lose control of the country and the man played by Trintigent would eventually end up as President of Greece.  And we are left with a brilliant film about a very sad time.

the original movie poster for Anne of the Thousand Days (1969)

Anne of the Thousand Days

  • Director:  Charles Jarrott
  • Writer:  Bridget Boland  /  John Hale  /  Richard Sokolove  (from the play by Maxwell Anderson)
  • Producer:  Hal B. Wallis
  • Studio:  Universal
  • Stars:  Richard Burton, Genevieve Bujold, Anthony Quayle, Irene Papas, John Colicos
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium, Actor (Burton), Actress (Bujold), Supporting Actor (Quayle), Cinematography, Original Score for a Motion Picture (Not a Musical), Sound, Art Direction, Costume Design
  • Oscar Points:  310
  • Length:  145 min
  • Genre:  Drama  (Historical)
  • Release Date:  18 December 1969
  • MPAA Rating:  M  (later changed to PG)
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #42  (year)  /  #388  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Actor (Burton), Actress (Bujold), Art Direction
  • Nighthawk Points:  90

The Film:  The story of Henry VIII, his love for Anne Boleyn, their tempestuous relationship and its effect upon England seems like a thrilling story.  We have two meaty roles – the lecherous king and the tempting woman.  So why is it that the story seems to fall flat on screen?  It’s not just in Anne of the Thousand Days, either.  The Anne Boleyn story is one of the least interesting parts of the The Private Life of Henry VIII, they barely bothered with Anne in A Man for All Seasons and The Other Boleyn Girl is just flat.  (I expect to have someone chime in about The Tudors, but we’re talking about films here).

It’s not the fault of the actors.  Richard Burton does sink into the role – not going over the top, but showing just enough power as the king who very much wants this young woman to be his queen.  And Genevieve Bujold (perfect casting since Anne was educated in France) also does a great job.  And while Anthony Quayle doesn’t make my shortlist, he is quite solid as Cardinal Wolsey (though, having recently re-watched A Man for All Seasons, I expected him to be dead much earlier in the film).  Even John Colicos (I kept looking at him and thinking, What is Baltar doing in a real film?) is good as Cromwell (who used to be the forgotten man in all of this, but that was before Wolf Hall).  If there is blame to be placed here, it is on the stolid direction from Charles Jarrott (the Academy and DGA rightfully ignored him, yet, somehow he managed to actually win the Golden Globe – the first person to do that since 1956 and one of only five all-time) and the meandering, rather overlong script.

It is also, I think, a mistake to start from the day of Anne’s execution.  It sets such a melancholy tone to the film (and Burton is at his worst in those scenes that bookend the film) that the film is never really able to get off the ground – even those of who know the history can at least be inspired by some romantic scenes were we not already worn down by the lackluster opening.  It is, as the poster says, one of the most shocking love stories in history (he does, after all, have the audacity to want an annulment from his first wife and does sentence his second to death), but it never quite establishes the passion.

Just because the makers of Wall-E love it doesn't make it a good film

Hello Dolly!

  • Director:  Gene Kelly
  • Writer:  Ernest Lehman  (from the musical by Michael Stewart, from the novel The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder)
  • Producer:  Ernest Lehman
  • Studio:  20th Century-Fox
  • Stars:  Barbra Streisand, Walter Matthau, Michael Crawford
  • Oscar Nominations:  Picture, Editing, Cinematography, Score of a Musical Picture (Original or Adaptation), Sound, Art Direction, Costume Design
  • Oscar Points:  215
  • Length:  146 min
  • Genre:  Musical
  • Release Date:  16 December 1969
  • Box Office Gross:  $33.20 mil  (#5  –  1969)
  • MPAA Rating:  G
  • My Rating:  **.5
  • My Rank:  #57  (year)  /  #422  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Art Direction, Costume Design
  • Nighthawk Points:  35

The Film:  Wall-E had it right in one sense.  “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” is really a wonderful song.  It has that wonderful beginning with Michael Crawford expressing his longing for escaping from Yonkers and finding so much more.  And it is wonderfully shot, with some great choreography.  It’s simply too bad that nothing else in the film lives up to it.  Well, not quite true.  There is one line from the film that matches up to it, one of my all-time favorite lines from any film (“All the facts about you are insults!”).  But seeing as how that line comes even before the song, you might as well just stop watching the film.

Perhaps that is too harsh an assessment.  This is not a bad film.  It is simply a severely flawed, relentlessly mediocre film.  As a musical, once you’re into the film there are no great numbers.  As entertainment it leaves much to be desired.  It is far too long, drags badly in a number of spots and leaves you anxious to get up and go be somewhere else.  As a story, it isn’t particularly original and everything that develops in the course of it can be guessed within the first few minutes.  As a film, it does have some strengths.  It is beautiful to look at.  While it was one of the films being made that was documented in the disaster time for Fox in the book The Studio, the money is all there on screen.  The costumes are extravagant, the sets are beautiful, everything is sumptuous.  But there is more to a film than looking beautiful.  It stars Walter Matthau in one of those terrible musical decisions (not as bad as Lee Marvin in Paint Your Wagon, but still pretty bad), because he can’t sing worth a lick.  It stars Barbra Streisand, and while she can pull off all the songs, she is obviously far too young, and quite frankly, far too attractive, the way she is dolled up, to be playing the part of someone so desperate.  She can’t be so desperate for the money that she’ll marry Horace out in Yonkers.  She can do much better.

There’s no question in my mind that the boys over at Pixar are far more fond of this film than I am.  I thought that when watching Wall-E in the first place (Hello Dolly, I was thinking to myself.  Are you kidding me?).  There are some enjoyable moments and that wonderful, wonderful song.  But really, after that, it’s all downhill.

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