Airport (1970)

airport

Starring: Dean Martin, Burt Lancaster, Jean Seberg, Jacqueline Bisset, Helen Hayes, Van Heflin (his final film), George Kennedy, Maureen Stapleton, Barry Nelson, Lloyd Nolan, Dana Wynter

Director: George Seaton

Summary: A mad bomber plots to blow up a jet on a snowy night

Other Nominations: Supporting Actress (Hayes)*, Supporting Actress (Stapleton), Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Sound Mixing, Costume Design, Art Direction, Cinematography, Film Editing

Positives

-While the acting varies wildly, I really liked some of the performances. Hayes is easily the most memorable thing in the movie playing a wily old woman who repeatedly finds ways to stow away on flights and I can see why she won the Oscar (although I’ll be able to judge better later, as 4 of the 5 nominees were also in BP nominees). Stapleton and Kennedy don’t get a ton of screentime, but both were good as well, with Kennedy having way more fun with his role than anyone else besides Hayes.

Negatives

-Most everything else. The dialogue is horrendous, it’s boring and lifeless most of the time, feeling like a really expensive B-movie from the 50s or a TV movie with the amount of cheesiness it has (including how many times they mention how amazing the Boeing 707 is, clearly as compensation for access to the planes), but somehow lacks camp value, and it does a very poor job of building suspense. While it is nice that they spent a good chunk of time with the characters before we get in the air, they’re way too many storylines for most of them to feel properly developed; we have: Heflin has a bomb on the plane (the main conflict), Martin & Bisset’s relationship and her pregnancy, the Lancaster-Seberg-Wynter love triangle, the airport trying to get one of the planes out of the snow so it stops blocking a runway, the plane noise causing pressure on the airport from locals (which gets no payoff at all) and Hayes life as a stowaway. It fails in most aspects and is one of the weakest Best Picture nominees since the mid 1930s, but it made tons of money so there you go.

Overall

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jmb0IbuBowl. I’m probably being overly-harsh on this movie, but man we should be past having movies like this get BP nominations in 1970-it doesn’t even have the great disaster spectacle at the end that the 30s disasters movies San Francisco and In Old Chicago had. On the other hand, nothing about it really made me angry, and without it we would have never gotten Airplane! Here’s hoping the other disaster movie Best Picture nominee, The Towering Inferno, is better.

Rating: D+

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Five Easy Pieces (1970)

easy

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, Susan Anspach, Lois Smith, Ralph Waite, Billy Bush, Helena Kallianiotes, Toni Basil, Sally Struthers

Director: Bob Rafelson

Summary: A classical pianist who’s dropped out of society returns to the family he deserted

Other Nominations: Actor (Nicholson), Supporting Actress (Black), Original Screenplay

Positives

-This is a wonderful character study. Nicholson plays a man who you feel sympathy for because he’s a man without a place in the world, yet he’s a mostly awful and empty person; he hates the pretentiousness of the upper-class (or at those who think they’re smarter/more profound than others), yet mocks the lower-class and is indignant at being compared to them. He’s an interesting and complex character that presents interesting themes in an intelligent way. I especially liked the contrast between the intelligent but arrogant, empty asshole Nicholson and the dumb white trash but much better person and isn’t emotionally dead inside Black.

-This is a smartly-written movie: it does a great job of avoiding expository dialogue and lets the audience put two and two together; it uses music as a way of contrasting characters without being to blunt about it; and it lets you come to you own feelings about its main character.

-Nicholson is always good to see and this was his breakout starring role after his significant supporting role in Easy Rider. A different actor may have tried to soften some of the extremely rough and unlikeable aspects of the character, but he embraces them and the movie is very much better for it. Black, who is not a supporting actress at all by the way, does a great job with the opposite-she embraces the low-class aspects of the character, but makes her honestly more likeable than Nicholson’s character.

Negatives

-There isn’t much of a plot since it really is just character and theme kind of movie-it’s as aimless as its lead character. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but until we get to the second half of the film and we really get a full understanding of who Nicholson’s character is and why, I didn’t like it as much and probably would have with a more plot-focused movie.

Overall

Really good character study that shows off some of the best of what New Hollywood was going for, something more on the pulse with the times and with a lot of themes, topics and character types that weren’t explored much previously. This also feels like a movie I might like even more on a rewatch, but for now I give it…
Rating: B+

Love Story (1970)

lovestory

Starring: Ryan O’Neal, Ali MacGraw, John Marley, Ray Milland, Tommy Lee Jones (in his film debut)

Director: Arthur Hiller

Summary: Students from opposite sides of the tracks fight for their love

Other Nominations: Director, Actor (O’Neal), Actress (MacGraw), Supporting Actor (Marley), Original Screenplay, Original Score*

Positives

-I liked how the movie movies at a brisk pace-it’s a tight 100 minutes and never starts dragging

-For whatever I have to say about the characters, the performances themselves are fine. I’m also happy seeing Ray Milland in something a little less demeaning than most of the other stuff he was doing around this time like The Thing with Two Heads and X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (which actually isn’t a bad movie but still).

Negatives

-The basic story structure is perfectly fine and the performances aren’t an issue either; what makes this movie so irritating to watch are the loathsome lead characters. McGraw’s character is a jerk-constantly taking digs at O’Neal, constantly swearing (in that “we’re trying to be hip and cool” kind of way), and is very pretentious. O’Neal is arguably worse: he’s not only really whiny but acts appallingly towards his father-what kind of person cuts off all contact from his father even though the father wants to mend bridges, and then out of the blue goes up to him and asks for $5000 ($30,000 in 2016) but says it’s none of his business what the money is for when asked? A completely worthless human being, that’s who. It may be possible for a straight romance film to work when your leads are insufferable, but that questioned will have to be answered another day I guess.

-It’s an extremely odd decision to tell you in the very first scene that one of the romantic leads is going to die during the course of the movie and I have no idea why they did it. Sure, some movies you go in knowing that will happen, but those are usually biographical films (or Sunset Boulevard), but they aren’t usually when the character’s death is such a huge part of the movie.

-Even the one Oscar it did win, for Original Score was undeserved. I know it’s a romance movie, but the movie is pretty much just variations on the main theme which is incredibly sappy even for the genre.

Overall

The two highest grossing movies of 1970 by far were Love Story and Airport, which is why they got Best Picture nominations (and 17 total nominations) despite being bad movies. Even in the context of the “Me Generation”, these characters are awful and I hated this movie.

Rating: D

M*A*S*H (1970)

mash

Starring: Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Tom Skerritt, Sally Kellerman, Robert Duvall, Roger Bowen, Rene Auberjonois, Fred Williamson

Director: Robert Altman

Summary: The staff of a Korean War field hospital use humor to keep their sanity during wartime

Other Nominations: Director, Supporting Actress (Kellerman), Adapted Screenplay*, Film Editing

Positives

-Although it occasionally missed for me, this is overall a pretty funny movie with strong black comedy elements. Unlike the tv series, the movie never has the characters actually reflect on the human death toll they have to experience every day, and instead lets the audience put two and two together about why they do what they do, which is what makes it work as a black comedy.

-This was a very subversive movie for its day and was clearly reflective of the ongoing Vietnam War: it was unafraid to show full bloody result of war before this film, it has a very unromantic depiction of American servicemen and it comments on preferential treatment of soldiers who came from privileged backgrounds. While there had of course been anti-war films to come out of Hollywood before this, this comes in as pure cynicism and bluntness rather than as a melodrama which was unusual.

-I liked the meta humor from the end of the movie (and the PA announcer jokes in general)

Negatives

-I know these aren’t supposed to be upstanding characters at all, but some of the humor at the expense of Kellerman felt mean-spirited and not all that funny-what is this, a Porky’s movie? As stuck up as she was, it didn’t feel justified.

-For a movie with as many actors as a like who are in it, none of them really stood out to me, and all would do better work during the rest of the decade, especially Duval who was the ace supporting actor of the 70s (this, the Godfather movies, Network, Apocalypse Now and The Seven-Per-Cent Solution) and Donald Sutherland (with Don’t Look Now, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Animal House, Klute and in 1980, Ordinary People); he might be the best actor who never got an Oscar nomination in his career.

Other Stuff

-Robert Altman said he wanted the opening theme (which is replayed again later) to be “the stupidest song in the world”, and was having trouble writing the lyrics, so he enlisted his 14 year-old son to write them. His son ended up getting paid $2 million for his 5 minutes of work (due to the royalties from when the song was played as the theme to every episode of the the show) whereas he only got $75,000 for directing it.

-The football game has a number of current/former players in uncredited roles: Johnny Unitas, Fran Tarkenton, Buck Buchanan, Ben Davidson (who is highlighted and I immediately recognized), Joe Kapp and future coach Howard Schnellenberger; it’s like a proto-version of The Longest Yard.

Overall

Even if some anti-war films after it have aped its tone and style and the TV series overshadowed it, this is still a very good movie that works as both a comedy and as a commentary on war.

Rating: B

*Patton (1970)*

patton

Starring: George C. Scott, Karl Malden, Michael Bates, Paul Stevens

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner

Summary: The legendary general’s rebellious behavior almost costs him his command during WWII

Other Nominations: Director*, Actor (Scott)*, Original Screenplay*, Original Score, Sound Mixing*, Art Direction*, Cinematography, Film Editing*, Visual Effects

Positives

-Scott’s performance is one of those rare examples of an actor so completely becoming a character that after a while, you forget it’s a performance at all. He’s able to lets the many different facets of his character speak for themselves and presents an unvarnished portrayal of a fascinating person. It speaks to how good he was that the Academy still gave him the Oscar even though he made it clear that he would refuse it, as he despised awards in general because of the politics and idea of studios campaigning for them.

-Jerry Goldsmith was absolutely robbed when he didn’t win for Original Score-it’s use of an echoing trumpet fanfare and marching drums are something I associate with military movies in general and forgot this is where it came from. On a related note, the sound mixing was terrific and it makes excellent use of silence-for one notable example, the opening speech has no audience reaction.

-The opening speech is one of the most famous scenes of the last 50 years of American cinema, and for good reason. Not only does it immediately engage you with the movie, but it quickly tells you everything you need to know about Patton and how he thinks about combat and the world in general, and how he was a man out of time and not built to adapt to the changing 20th century.

-The battles are very well-done and reflect the film’s remarkable feeling of authenticity and accuracy as to events and its central character (at least for a biopic) on the whole.

Negatives

-For whatever you want to say about the Brits and Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s abilities, I doubt you’ll find a more negative portrayal and is arguably unfair. That, and it presents Bradley as somewhat of a saint which shouldn’t be a surprise considering he wrote one of the two books the movie is primarily based on and was an advisor on the film.

-There is one aspect of Patton that isn’t covered in the film isn’t touched upon that a current adaptation likely would have-that he was a racist and an anti-semite. While he didn’t act on his racist tendencies as a general (meaning that skipping it over isn’t too big a problem), him being the head of the “displaced persons” (concentration camp survivors) operations for the U.S. was when he believed that Jews were lower than animals and treated the former Nazis well (which is vaguely alluded to in the movie). However, most of these attitudes came out in his diaries once they were released, which the makers of the film did not have access to, so it’s an oversight with the movie(and would have made you lose sympathy with the man) but an understandable one.

Overall

I’d seen this movie many years ago (I was probably 10-12) and only remembered liking it, but beyond that nothing else; watching it now, it surpassed my expectations and is one of the best biopics ever to come out of Hollywood.

Rating: A-

1970 in Review

Other Notable Films from 1970

Woodstock: The people who financed the festival invested in everything related to it except for the documentary, which was the only thing that ended up making money. It was the first significant concert film and showed off a lot of the iconic bands at the time as well as hippie culture a nation at large. It won Best Documentary and was nominated for Editing and Sound. In the National Film Registry.

The Boys in the Band: It’s pretty amazing that this was the movie William Friedkin did immediately before his two massive critical and commercial successes, The French Connection and The Exorcist, as it was one of the first movies that revolved around gay men and portrayed them sympathetically. Surprisingly, it’s NOT in the National Film Registry.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls: This satire of the original Valley of the Dolls is notable for a couple of reasons. First, it was one of the bigger successes for director Russ Meyer, a man who knew what he liked (women with large breasts)and is one of the most colorful characters in the history of Hollywood. Second, the screenplay was the first by his friend and sometimes collaborator Roger Ebert, who also wrote Up! and Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens with him (yes, this was the kind of stuff Ebert did as a screenwriter). Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is actually well-regarded today as a satire on the turbulent times.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage: The directorial debut of Dario Argento and one of the most famous Italian giallo films (thriller-horror movies) during the height of that genre.

Little Big Man: Dustin Hoffman starred in this film about a white child raised by Indians and contrasts the lives of the westward expanding whites vs. the Native Americans-since times had changed, the white people are the villains this time. In the National Film Registry.

1970 Nominees in review

Patton: A- (Won Best Picture)

Five Easy Pieces: B+

M*A*S*H: B

Airport: D+

Love Story: D

This was a wild year in terms of everything falling close to one extreme or the other, with two movies being garbage and the other three being good to great. This is also one of the first years in awhile (1962 to be exact) where I thought the Academy picked the best nominee for Best Picture. To be fair, 1970 was a pretty shallow year in terms of the kind of movies that usually get Oscar nominations, and the two stinkers were also the two box-office smashes of the year, so their inclusion isn’t as egregious as it could have been.
For 1971: The other X-rated movie nominated for Best Picture (and this one earned it); John Williams’ first Oscar (although he didn’t compose the music); a Best Picture winner that inspired the name of a fried chicken restaurant chain; a film that launched the careers of Jeff Bridges, Ellen Burstyn, Cybill Shepherd and its director Peter Bogdanovich; and the Doctor Who with a scarf playing Rasputin.