Sunday, November 26, 2023

1977 Alternate Oscars

I'm told the kids today have never seen the original theatrical version of what in my youth was known simply as Star Wars.

In case you don't remember Star Wars, that was the out-of-nowhere surprise indy hit of 1977 that knocked the movie world on its ear, launching a thousand movie franchises and driving the final nail in the coffin of what Quentin Tarantino refers to as hippie auteur cinema. I myself haven't missed the likes of Bob Rafelson and Paul Mazursky but I sure do miss the original cut of Star Wars.

Han shot first! And if you're under thirty and don't know what that means, I weep for you. Trying to describe the impact of that version of the movie in 1977 is like trying to describe filet mignon to somebody who's only ever eaten Soylent Green.

(If you're over thirty and don't know what I'm talking about, consider yourself lucky.)



Raymond Chandler wrote in his introduction to Trouble Is My Business: "There are things in my stories which I might like to change or leave out altogether. To do this may look simple, but if you try, you find you cannot do it at all. You will only destroy what is good without having any noticeable effect on what is bad. You cannot recapture the mood, the state of innocence, much less the animal gusto you had when you had very little else."

George Lucas didn't get the memo ...

My choices are noted with a ★. A tie is indicated with a ✪. Historical Oscar winners are noted with a ✔. Best foreign-language picture winners are noted with an ƒ. A historical winner who won in a different category is noted with a ✱.

Thursday, November 2, 2023

1976 Alternate Oscars

I think the consensus pick for best drama of 1976 is Taxi Driver, Martin Scorsese's classic tale of a violent, paranoid loner who's spent far too long with the himself as the hero of the movie playing in his head. I recognize its importance in film history, and I have chosen its star, Robert De Niro, as the year's best actor, but just between you and me, I've always had a bit of trouble connecting with it. Maybe I'm not supposed to.

Another good pick would be All The President's Men, a really nifty mystery about Nixon, Watergate, and the two intrepid reporters, Woodward and Bernstein, who blew the lid off the biggest political scandal of my lifetime (well, until the neverending scandal that is Donald Trump arrived on the scene. I mean, the man single-handedly tanked the USFL in 1986, a disaster that would have croaked most careers. But does anybody care? Apparently not ...). And given that I met Katie-Bar-The-Door while working for the college newspaper, not to mention that I worked for years in downtown Washington, D.C., All The President's Men really resonates for me on a personal level.

And then there's Rocky, which won the Oscar and sold a lot of tickets and which might have a better reputation today if Sylvester Stallone had taken an early retirement.

Or how about Network, a scathing look at television and our obsession with celebrity and novelty which was considered pretty far out back in the day but which plays more like a documentary now.

But I'm going with The Outlaw Josey Wales, Clint Eastwood's post-Civil War tale of a Southern guerilla fighter who refuses to be re-assimilated into society only to find himself playing caretaker to a motley assortment of losers and underdogs, and rediscovering his humanity in the process.

Orson Welles had this to say about it: "When I saw that picture for the fourth time, I realized that it belongs with the great Westerns. You know, the great Westerns of Ford and Hawks and people like that." It's full of action, yes, and at first seems like it's going to be a re-run of the Man With No Name spaghetti westerns, but it unexpectedly turns warm and funny and finally quite touching. Personally, I like it better than Unforgiven which won the Oscar and tons of praise as a revisionist Western. This one, which I came to late during my taping frenzy of the mid-90s, is plenty revisionist for me.

I know, I know, Josey Wales is not a consensus pick at all — what pollsters these days would call an "outlier" — and normally, I value consensus above nearly everything. But I'm sticking with it.

My choices are noted with a ★. A tie is indicated with a ✪. Historical Oscar winners are noted with a ✔. Best foreign-language picture winners are noted with an ƒ. A historical winner who won in a different category is noted with a ✱.