The closing "God Bless America" scene in The Deer Hunter

My Top 20:

  1. The Deer Hunter
  2. Midnight Express
  3. Autumn Sonata
  4. Interiors
  5. Watership Down
  6. The Ascent
  7. Heaven Can Wait
  8. The Chess Players
  9. Superman
  10. Coming Home
  11. Halloween
  12. Pretty Baby
  13. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
  14. California Suite
  15. Get Out Your Handkerchiefs
  16. Bread and Chocolate
  17. Animal House
  18. The Buddy Holly Story
  19. Days of Heaven
  20. The Last Wave

Academy Awards:

  • Best Picture:  The Deer Hunter
  • Best Director:  Michael Cimino  (The Deer Hunter)
  • Best Actor:  Jon Voight  (Coming Home)
  • Best Actress:  Jane Fonda  (Coming Home)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Christopher Walken  (The Deer Hunter)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Maggie Smith  (California Suite)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Midnight Express
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Coming Home
  • Best Foreign Film:  Get Out Your Handkerchiefs

Consensus Awards:

  • Best Picture:  The Deer Hunter
  • Best Director:  Michael Cimino  (The Deer Hunter)
  • Best Actor:  Jon Voight  (Coming Home)
  • Best Actress:  Ingrid Bergman  (Autumn Sonata)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Christopher Walken  (The Deer Hunter)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Mona Washburne  (Stevie)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Midnight Express
  • Best Original Screenplay:  An Unmarried Woman

Note:  Mona Washburne actually earned most of those kudos in 1981 when Stevie found a wide release.  But it had been Oscar eligible back in 1978, so that’s where I put it.

Terrence Malick's beautiful, but slow-moving Days of Heaven

Top 5 Films  (Top 1000):

  1. Days of Heaven –  #164
  2. The Deer Hunter –  #200
  3. The Tree of Wooden Clogs –  #246
  4. In a Year With 13 Moons –  #335
  5. Halloween –  #465

Note:  This is how weak a year it is.  That’s the whole list from this year – the first year in decades I couldn’t find 10.  Hell, there weren’t even 6.

Top 5 Films  (1978 Best Picture Awards):

  1. The Deer Hunter
  2. Coming Home
  3. Midnight Express
  4. Heaven Can Wait
  5. Days of Heaven

Top 10 Films  (Awards Points):

  1. The Deer Hunter –  1511
  2. Coming Home –  1123
  3. Midnight Express –  1024
  4. An Unmarried Woman –  625
  5. Heaven Can Wait –  617
  6. Days of Heaven –  593
  7. Interiors –  506
  8. Stevie –  430
  9. Autumn Sonata –  428
  10. California Suite –  357

Top 5 Films  (Box Office Gross):

  1. Grease –  $159.97 mil
  2. Superman –  $134.21 mil
  3. Animal House –  $120.09 mil
  4. Every Which Way But Loose –  $104.26 mil
  5. Jaws 2 –  $102.92 mil

AFI Top 100 Films:

  • The Deer Hunter –  #79  (1998)  /  #53  (2007)

Ebert Great Films:

  • Gates of Heaven
  • Days of Heaven

Nighthawk Golden Globes:

Ingrid Bergman deserved the Oscar yet again for Autumn Sonata - and Liv Ullmann would be my second choice

Drama:

  • Best Picture:  The Deer Hunter
  • Best Director:  Michael Cimino  (The Deer Hunter)
  • Best Actor:  Robert De Niro  (The Deer Hunter)
  • Best Actress:  Ingrid Bergman  (Autumn Sonata)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Christopher Walken  (The Deer Hunter)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Meryl Streep  (The Deer Hunter)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Midnight Express
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Autumn Sonata

Comedy:

  • Best Picture:  Heaven Can Wait
  • Best Director:  Warren Beatty  /  Buck Henry  (Heaven Can Wait)
  • Best Actor:  Warren Beatty  (Heaven Can Wait)
  • Best Actress:  Julie Christie  (Heaven Can Wait)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Michael Caine  (California Suite)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Maggie Smith  (California Suite)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Heaven Can Wait
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Animal House

Nighthawk Awards:

  • Best Picture:  The Deer Hunter
  • Best Director:  Michael Cimino  (The Deer Hunter)
  • Best Actor:  Robert De Niro  (The Deer Hunter)
  • Best Actress:  Ingrid Bergman  (Autumn Sonata)
  • Best Supporting Actor:  Michael Caine  (California Suite)
  • Best Supporting Actress:  Maggie Smith  (California Suite)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay:  Midnight Express
  • Best Original Screenplay:  Autumn Sonata
  • Best Editing:  Midnight Express
  • Best Cinematography:  The Deer Hunter
  • Best Original Score:  Superman
  • Best Sound:  Superman
  • Best Art Direction:  Pretty Baby
  • Best Visual Effects:  Superman
  • Best Sound Editing:  Superman
  • Best Costume Design:  The Chess Players
  • Best Makeup:  The Wiz
  • Best Original Song:  “Bright Eyes” from Watership Down
  • Best Animated Film:  Watership Down
  • Best Foreign Film:  Autumn Sonata

Pure brilliance as Clark Kent takes one look at the phone booth before changing to Superman in the revolving door.

Nighthawk Notables:

  • Best Film to Watch Over and Over:  Watership Down
  • Best Line:  “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?”  (John Belushi in Animal House)
  • Best Ending:  Animal House
  • Best Scene:  the first appearance of Superman
  • Best Ensemble:  Interiors
  • Performance to Fall in Love With:  Meryl Streep in The Deer Hunter
  • Best Use of a Song: “Louie Louie” in Animal House
  • Best Soundtrack:  Animal House
  • Read the Book, SKIP the Film:  Lord of the Rings
  • Listen to the CD, SKIP the Film:  Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (the Beatles CD, not the soundtrack)
  • Funniest Film:  Animal House
  • Best Guilty Pleasure:  Battlestar Gallactica
  • Worst Film:  Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

Film History: The number of film releases from Hollywood falls drastically – 354 as opposed to the 560 from the year before.  Five executives from United Artists resign and form Orion Pictures.  Roman Polanski flees to France.  Marlon Brando earns an unprecedented $2.25 million and top billing for less than 10 minutes of screen time in Superman.  Ingrid Bergman stars in Autumn Sonata – her first film in Sweden in 40 years.  Indian films finally allowing kissing on screen.  Gig Young kills his wife, then himself.  John Cazale dies on 12 March.  Jack L. Warner dies on 9 August.  Leigh Brackett dies on 18 March after completing a first draft of The Empire Strikes Back.  George Lucas purchases the land that will eventually become Skywalker Ranch.  The Star Wars Holiday Special airs on CBS.  The Utah/US Film Festival, which will eventually become the Sundance Film Festival, opens for the first time with Girlfriends winning the Grand Jury Prize.  The Tree of Wooden Clogs wins the Palme d’Or at Cannes.

Academy Awards: Coming Home becomes the 12th film to get nominations in all four acting categories.  It is only the second to win both leads, but is also the 2nd in only 3 years (Network).  Woody Allen is nominated for Director and Screenplay but not Picture for the first of four times.  For the first time in 8 years all five Foreign Film nominees are from Europe.  With only 31 nominated feature films and 11 different winners, it is the highest percentage of winning films (35.48%) in 30 years and will not be passed again until 2001.  The Deer Hunter wins Best Picture, with Christopher Walken in his second consecutive winner and John Cazale in his third winner (and fifth nominee) in the decade.  Meryl Streep receives her first Oscar nomination.

It is a strange year.  The Deer Hunter is my #1 film of the year – one of only two times I agree with the Oscar in the decade.  However, it is also my weakest #1 film of the decade – almost 70 spots lower on my Oscar list than any other of my best films of the other years.  It would repeatedly get mentioned in 2006 in arguments about The Departed – the argument being that if you are the best of the year, then you are the best of the year, even if you wouldn’t be the best of any other recent years.  The Academy gets it right with its nominations for Autumn Sonata (Actress, Screenplay) – but they fail to nominate Liv Ullmann, Bergman for Director, the film for Best Picture – and of course nothing for Foreign Film.  The last one wasn’t strictly the Academy’s fault – Sweden didn’t bother to submit any film.  In fact, after the failure to nominate Persona and Shame, Sweden wouldn’t submit a Bergman film again until 1983.  So, in the seventies, when Bergman would be nominated for Director for Cries and Whispers and Face to Face and Screenplay for Cries and Autumn Sonata, he would fail to earn a Best Foreign Film nomination.  Aside from that, there are some blatant other omissions – Michael Caine in California Suite, who was so fantastic that Maggie Smith insisted he deserved half her Oscar, the Art Direction and Costume Design for The Chess Players and Pretty Baby and the magnificent creepy score of Halloween.  The Costume Design omissions are the most egregious, especially as it was one of the worst years ever and they nominated The Swarm and Caravans, neither of which deserved to be within 100 miles of a nomination.

  • Worst Oscar:  Best Original Song for “Last Dance” from Thank God It’s Friday
  • Worst Oscar Nomination:  Best Costume Design for The Swarm
  • Worst Oscar Omission:  Best Supporting Actor for Michael Caine from California Suite
  • Worst Oscar-Nominated Film:  The Swarm
  • Best Eligible Film with No Oscar Nominations:  Watership Down
  • Best Foreign Film Submitted But Not Nominated:  The Chess Players
  • Worst Oscar Category:  Best Original Song
  • Best Oscar Category:  Best Supporting Actress
  • Oscar / Nighthawk Award Agreements:  Best Picture, Director, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Supporting Actress, Sound, Visual Effects (Special Achievement)

Golden Globes: Midnight Express wins Best Picture – Drama, Screenplay, Supporting Actor and Score but loses Director to The Deer Hunter (its only win).  Coming Home loses at Picture, Director and Screenplay, but takes home both top acting awards (something that not been done in the Drama category since).  An Unmarried Woman is the fourth Picture, Director and Screenplay nominee.  Interiors, like at the Oscars, is nominated for Director and Screenplay, but not Picture – the last time this will happen to a film eligible for Best Picture for 27 years.  It loses out on Picture to Days of Heaven, which also picks up the final Director nomination (there are six this year).  Heaven Can Wait manages to win both Picture – Comedy and Actor – Comedy.  Stevie is nominated for Actress and Supporting Actress, proving that at least some people saw it in 1978.  Autumn Sonata wins Best Foreign Film – the fifth time it goes to a Bergman film (in 7 nominations).  Foul Play sets a record for Comedy films by going 0 for 6 (losing Picture, Screenplay, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor and Song).

Awards: There is complete disagreement on Best Picture among the major critics groups.  They go to Coming Home (LA Film Critics), Days of Heaven (National Board of Review), The Deer Hunter (New York Film Critics) and Get Out Your Handkerchiefs (National Society of Film Critics).  There isn’t much agreement on Director either – the LA Film Critics choose NYFC Best Picture The Deer Hunter, Autumn Sonata wins from the NBR and while the NBR was the group that chose Days of Heaven as Best Picture, it wins Best Director from the final two critics groups.  The groups do better on the leads – Ingrid Bergman wins three of four (not LA) and Jon Voight wins NY and LA and ties from the NBR.  The other winners are Laurence Olivier in the tie (for Boys from Brazil), Gary Busy from the NSFC for The Buddy Holly Story and Jane Fonda from LA for her trio of Coming Home, Comes a Horseman and California Suite.  But all three groups that chose a Screenplay (NBR does not) concur on An Unmarried Woman.

For the second time in four years the DGA matches the Academy for Picture, but not Director.  Just like at the Academy, The Deer Hunter wins the DGA and the ACE, but loses the WGA to Coming HomeComing Home, Heaven Can Wait and Midnight Express all win WGA awards and get DGA nominations with An Unmarried Woman getting nominations from both (the final WGA winner is Movie Movie).  Superman and Hooper join The Deer Hunter as the ACE nominees and Damien: The Omen II wins both Motion Picture Sound Editors awards.

Midnight Express is the only one of the Oscar nominees to repeat at the BAFTA’s.  The Deer Hunter would be nominated the following year, An Unmarried Woman would only manage an Actress nomination and Heaven Can Wait and Coming Home would fail to earn anything.  Midnight Express would win Supporting Actor, Director and Editing but would lose Best Picture to JuliaJulia would also pick up Actress and Screenplay and receive 10 nominations.  The other two nominees would be the big Sci-Fi films of 1977: Close Encounters (9 nominations but wins only Art Direction) and Star Wars (6 nominations, but nothing for Lucas, two wins, for Score and Sound).

Larisa Shepitko's beautiful film: The Ascent (1977, U.S. release 1978)

Under-appreciated Film of 1978:

The Ascent (dir. Larisa Shepitko)

There is no more problematic category at the Academy Awards than Best Foreign Film.  The first problem lies in the rule that only one film can be submitted from each country.  This means in a year where Germany sees the release of both The Marriage of Maria Braun and Nosferatu, it has to decide which film to send.  Of course, they sent The Tin Drum, which showcases the next problem: a country has to decide what film to send.  In some years, most notably 1985 when Japan did not submit Ran and 2002 when Spain did not submit Talk to Her, it seemed that the Academy (or at least the director’s branch) essentially said to the nominating boards in each country, “you are a bunch of idiots” and responded by nominating Kurosawa and Almodovar themselves.  Then there is the third problem: the history of the category is wrought with mediocrities in both the nominees and winners.  In 1977, the Academy nominated the mediocre Madame Rosa and Iphigenia, the decent A Special Day, the solid Operation Thunderbolt and the magnificent That Obscure Object of Desire – which had won Best Director from the NBR and NSFC and Best Foreign Film from the LAFC and even earned a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay from the Academy.  It lost to Madame Rosa – the third year in a row that a film was deemed strong enough by the writers to earn a nomination but lost to a film that earned no other nominations (following Scent of a Woman in 1975 and Seven Beauties and Cousin, Cousine in 1976).  What was worst of all, was that the second and third best Foreign Films of 1977 – Larisa Shepitko’s The Ascent and Paul Verhoeven’s Soldier of Orange were both submitted, but neither was nominated.

I had never heard of The Ascent.  It was not nominated for the Oscar, of course.  Its only awards attention came from the Berlin Film Festival.  Its director, Larisa Shepitko had not been in the 501 Directors book that had been an inspiration to seek out new films.  And it does not appear on the Top 1000 list.  I might possibly have never heard of it, were it not for my obsession with seeing all of the films released on DVD by Criterion – including those released in its Eclipse box sets.  But then, in August of 2008 came Eclipse Series 11: Larisa Shepitko.  And suddenly I was introduced to The Ascent in all of its magnificence and beauty.

It is the story of two Belarusan soldiers during World War II, their experiences together after being captured by the Nazis and the eventual redemption and condemnation that awaits them.  It is beautifully filmed in black and white out in the snow, in the forest and the countryside.  It contains a heart-wrenching scene of a man trying to hang himself with his own belt, but unable to get the loop to go around his head and it contains scenes of absolute serenity.  It earns Nighthawk nominations for Best Director (taking the spot that Watership Down doesn’t get), Best Editing (it is wonderfully constructed and never drags for even a second) and Best Cinematography (it is incredibly beautiful in every scene) as well as for Best Foreign Film of 1977.  It just misses out on a Best Picture nomination as well.

Shepitko only finished three feature-length films, one of which is still mostly unavailable, before she died in a car crash at age 41.  She is still mostly unknown in the west, but thanks to Criterion, we can at least appreciate the work that she did complete.  Certainly The Ascent is a film that absolutely worth watching.  Far more worth watching than most of the films that the Academy nominated instead of it.

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