*Annie Hall (1977)*

annie

Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Carol Kane, Paul Simon (his first acting role), Shelley Duvall, Christopher Walken

Director: Woody Allen

Summary: A comedian and an aspiring singer try to overcome their neuroses and find happiness

Other Nominations: Director*, Actor (Allen), Actress (Keaton)*, Original Screenplay*

Positives

-This is a much meatier film than the vast majority of romantic comedies. The relationship feels authentic with both characters being very well fleshed out and it does a great job of covering the ups and downs of a relationship in a way most films don’t. It does a good job of balancing the comedy with the more introspective and sometimes poignant moments, which is hard to do without going too far into one direction or the other, or making it feel like “here’s the comedy section, here’s the more character-based and serious section” which was a major issue with A Touch of Class. While it’s a bit less funny than I remembered (I really liked it when I saw it at age 12 which is hard for me to believe watching it again, but it’s true), it’s a lot deeper than I remembered it so it balances out.

-Diane Keaton won the Oscar and based on the other performances I saw (all of them actually, one of the rare years I can say that), she probably deserved it even if Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft were great as well in a movie I’ll cover later. She has a lot of charm to offset Allen’s character and she makes the character feel realistically lonely and sensitive.

Negatives

-Allen’s character ends up being grating after a while, even if that’s kind of the point. At some point, a character becomes so neurotic that they get annoying, and his character flies past that line from the get go. Although it’s probably my main complaint, the relationship still works well because of the writing otherwise and how well the characters work with each other.

Overall

Top-notch romantic comedy because it has way more depth than most films in the genre even if I’ve liked others more either because they were funnier or because I got more into the romance between the characters.

Rating: A-

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The Goodbye Girl (1977)

goodbye

Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Marsha Mason, Quinn Cummings (her film debut)

Director: Herbert Ross

Summary: A dancer discovers her runaway boyfriend has sublet her apartment to an aspiring actor

Other Nominations: Actor (Dreyfuss)*, Actress (Mason), Supporting Actress (Cummings), Original Screenplay

Positives

-I thought that Dreyfuss himself was good even if I wasn’t fond of the character he played-a lesser actor would have been completely insufferable instead of being merely annoying. Same applies to Cummings who shows a lot of maturity and sophistication for a 9 year old.

-I liked the Gustav Klimt print in Mason’s apartment (titled Judith and the Head of Holofernes-http://frenchquartermag.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/judith_rahmen.jpg) as he’s long been a favorite of mine even if this isn’t my favorite of his works.

Negatives

-I disliked all three of the major characters for various reasons. In the first half, the two basically act like miserable jerks to each other and even though you know they will end up together at the end, you have to at least sort of like the leads (or at least one of them) throughout the movie for it to work. Mason’s character gets less irritating but doesn’t add much of a personality to go along with it in the second half, while Dreyfuss’ continues to be this really grating guy who never shuts up and always has a snarky quip. Cummings plays the stock “overly-smart and adult for her age precocious kid” which was fresh the first time I saw it but has been done to death and this adds nothing new to that formula.

Overall

Below average rom-com where the performances were good and the dialogue had its moments, but the characters are either annoying, boring or completely stock and unoriginal.

Rating: C-

Julia (1977)

julia

Starring: Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave, Jason Robards, Maximilian Schell, Hal Halbrook, Rosemary Murphy, Meryl Streep (her on-screen film debut)

Director: Fred Zinnemann

Summary: To help a childhood friend, playwright Lillian Hellman carries money for the resistance into Nazi territory

Other Nominations: Director, Actress (Fonda), Supporting Actor (Robards)*, Supporting Actor (Schell), Supporting Actress (Redgrave)*, Adapted Screenplay*, Original Score, Costume Design, Cinematography, Film Editing

Positives

-While she really on has one big scene despite being the title character, Redgrave nailed it and is the highlight of the movie with her soulful eyes and understated strength. That she won the Oscar was somewhat surprising given the controversy around her producing a pro-Palestinian documentary that same year, but she definitely earned it. Fonda’s pretty good as well in the lead as playwright Lillian Hellman (The Little Foxes, The Children’s Hour), although I’ve seen her do better work.

Negatives

-The first 50 minutes are kind of giant nothing: it’s not a character study, there’s very little story, there’s no bigger themes, it’s just kind of there. After that, it starts heading in a real direction, but it’s mostly lifeless, with Hellman’s character (who is the focus of 90% of the film) not being all that engaging. The character of Julia is potentially very interesting, but we see very little of her in the movie and I think the film suffers for it.

Despite the cast being amazing on paper, it’s still somewhat underwhelming, and I don’t know how Robards won for a second straight year given his performance here as writer Kirk Hammett (The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man) was just fine but nothing that stuck out to me.

-While it doesn’t have a direct impact on the movie itself, the fact that the “true events” depicted (based on Hellman’s autobiography) almost certainly were made up by her to make her look awesome has to leave a bad taste in your mouth while watching it. Hellman never identified who “Julia” actually was, and there was a person who was almost an exact match for Julia’s life story (minus the ending) who shared a lawyer with Hellman and had no interactions with Hellman at the period in time.

Overall

Limp Oscar-bait type period drama with a great cast that’s mostly disappointing

Rating: D+

Star Wars (1977)

starwars

Starring: Mark Hamill, Alec Guinness, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels (his film debut), Kenny Baker (his first credited role), Peter Mayhew (his debut), Peter Cushing, James Earl Jones (Voice), David Prowse

Director: George Lucas

Summary: Luke Skywalker joins forces with a Jedi Knight, a cocky pilot, a wookiee, and two droids to save the galaxy and rescue Princess Leia

Other Nominations: Director, Supporting Actor (Guinness), Original Screenplay, Original Score*, Costume Design*, Sound Mixing*, Sound Editing*, Art Direction*, Film Editing*, Visual Effects*

Positives

-This is the kind of movie where the elements that often get overlooked (at least compared to things like directing, acting or the screenplay) end up being the main reason for why it’s so great. John Williams’ score is of course legendary and many consider it the best score of all-time which I would probably agree with (at least if you are looking at just a single film, more on this much later), with “Throne Room Theme”, the Main Theme, “Cantina Band” and “Binary Sunset” all being simply amazing. The sound design was by the best in the business Ben Burtt who made a name for himself by creating numerous memorable sound effects (the lightsaber hum, wookie noises, Darth Vader’s breathing, R2-D2, the screeching sounds of the Tie Fighters, etc.) that just seemed to fit perfectly. The costumes and sets are fantastic with tons of original and inventive creature/robot designs (even if a couple of them look a bit cheesy today, they still have the charm that comes from practical effects) that all look very lived in (i.e. C-3PO and R2-D2 being dirty and dinged up) and make the world feel real as opposed to some of the later films. Finally, it’s then-revolutionary special effects (among other things) are what made Star Wars the box office smash that it was-just compare it to 1975’s Best Visual Effects winner Logan’s Run: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SiyPqbyHXIg. I will always enjoy good miniatures, matte paintings and light effects (laser guns, lightsabers) because they at least look distinctive and show more individualized craftsmanship in comparison to current CG effects which kind of all blend together and look the same at this point (at least for most big blockbuster movies anyway).

-The screenplay has some flaws, but it’s a textbook example of simplicity and accessibility with broad appeal to people of all ages, nationalities and genders (well, more men than women, but hey Princess Leia is portrayed as pretty darn competent especially for a female character in an old-school adventure movie). It’s also incredibly focused with everything being tied to Luke’s quest to save Leia and destroy the Death Star, which is a problem that Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace had where way too many characters were in way too many places.

-Harrison Ford was the big breakout actor from the movie, and it’s very easy to see why-he’s attractive, likeable while also being snarky and selfish with charisma to spare. Alec Guinness is great as Obi-Wan Kenobi even if he didn’t take it all that seriously and hated the movies in general (something that would really show in his appearances in the next two movies) and along with Cushing adds a lot of class to this sci-fi adventure movie. James Earl Jones only provided the voice of Darth Vader, but few casting decisions have ever been better with him giving the character both elegance and a threatening quality.

Negatives

-I love him and he would do much better work later on (especially his amazing career in voice acting, but Mark Hamill is just terrible here. It’s a credit to how good almost every other aspect of the film was that his doofiness in the lead didn’t bring down the whole movie.

-The script as mentioned has some flaws. The dialogue is spotty even if it does have some outstanding lines as well, and there are a handful of things that kind of feel dumb: I’ve heard people mention “why didn’t they still shoot down the escape pod even if there were no organic lifeforms on board in a universe with droids everywhere?”, but the one that stood out to me was “why does the Death Star have ports laying around on the deck that random droid can access and control parts of the ship with?”

Overall

It’s Star Wars, there’s a 98% chance you have seen it if you’re reading this. I love it for numerous reasons, although I can’t shake the question of how I would feel about it I hadn’t had watched it previously as a kid (along with the other films in the series) and grew up on the kind of CGI-heavy movies that have come out the last 15 years. Nevertheless, it’s still great and regardless of times changing, will still age well in most aspects.

Rating: A-

The Turning Point (1977)

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Starring: Shirley MacLaine, Anne Bancroft, Leslie Browne (her debut), Tom Skerritt, James Mitchell, Mikhail Baryshnikov (his film debut), Martha Scott, Daniel Levans

Director: Herbert Ross

Summary: When her daughter joins a ballet company, a former dancer is forced to confront her long-ago decision to give up the stage and have a family

Other Nominations: Actress (Bancroft), Actress (MacLaine), Supporting Actor (Baryshnikov), Supporting Actress (Browne), Original Screenplay, Sound Mixing, Art Direction, Cinematography, Film Editing

Positives

-MacLaine and Bancroft’s interactions with each other are easily the best thing about the movie, with the big scene between them towards the end being extremely entertaining to watch. Both are equally terrific and feel very natural in their roles, and even when they’re not in a scene together (which is a lot of the time), they’re still very good and deserving of their nominations.

-The screenplay has some definite strengths-the movie has a really nice driving pace to it and I liked the two lead female characters quite a bit

Negatives

-The screenplay however has some issues. It’s a very wordy movie that’s heavy on expository dialogue and is very blunt-everybody’s extremely direct about everything all the time and it comes off as very unnatural, where people are always explaining their deep-seated emotions, feelings and regrets so openly with each other without having to prod at all. Browne’s character (MacLaine’s daughter) also doesn’t have much of a personality and is more of a necessary device to bring the main two characters together and have them confront their past decisions. It doesn’t help that Brown herself is a professional dancer and not really an actor, which you could work around alright where the actress/dancer doesn’t have to do that much heavy lifting (like in The Red Shoes), but I think she bit off a little more than she could chew here.

-Plenty of ballet dancing scenes which have a lot of athleticism (Baryshnikov is of course amazing), but they don’t have a lot of visual flair to them (again, contrast this with The Red Shoes) and dragged for me.

Other Stuff

-The movie’s 11 Oscar nominations set the record for most without getting a win; this has since been tied by The Color Purple. It did win the Golden Globe for Best Drama however (in a weird year where your 5 BP nominees are 2 dramas, 2 romantic comedies and a sci-fi action-adventure movie)

Overall

I had no expectations going in, but the strong lead performances and the pacing made it a fairly enjoyable watch even if there’s plenty of flaws with it

Rating: B-

1977 in Review

Other Notable Films from 1977

Saturday Night Fever: It birthed one of the most influential and famous soundtracks of all-time and it made a movie star out of TV up-and-comer John Travolta. Probably the most interesting thing about it that I didn’t know before is that they originally released it as an R-rated movie (yeah, this is no fun dance movie), but two years later they did a re-release of it with edits to bring it down to a PG with reduced or completely excised profanity, nudity, rape and violence; I’m trying to think of any other cases like that (maybe edited for TV versions, but even those usually just go down to about a PG-13). In the National Film Registry.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Probably the biggest snub in terms of a film that had massive contemporary success both financially and critically but wasn’t given a Best Picture nomination (I don’t think the Academy could have swallowed 40% of the nominees being sci-fi movies). It got 8 Oscar nominations including Director, but lost most of them competing in the same categories with Star Wars (including terrific scores for both by John Williams). It was the first of many forays into sci-fi for Spielberg and showed that Jaws wasn’t a one-off success for him. In the National Film Registry.

Eraserhead: David Lynch’s debut film and one that clearly stated his style: surreal, often uncomfortable to watch, but incredibly unique and with an underlying brilliance. The movie took 6 years from casting to release due to constant money problems (one person who kept the project afloat was Sissy Spacek) and Lynch’s meticulous direction, but unlike most extreme long-term projects (such as Duke Nukem Forever and The Thief and the Cobbler), this one actually was worth the wait and is basically a living nightmare of a film that’s extremely engaging to watch, featuring one of the creepiest practical effects ever. In the National Film Registry.

House: This is a Japanese horror film that first saw a U.S. release (by Criterion) in 2009, and let me say it gives Eraserhead a run for its money in the overall weirdness department. This is a very visual film, so the best way to describe what it’s like and to get across the bizarre shifts in tone it has is to show you its amazing trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQ_Yo06kIIA.

The Kentucky Fried Movie: A sketch-comedy film that served as a portent for things to come from its director John Landis and its writers the Zucker brothers and Jim Abrahams. While the sketches vary in quality as one would expect, some of them are gems: Catholic High School Girls in Trouble is hilarious, as is A Fistful of Yen and the idea of casting Donald Sutherland as “The Clumsy Waiter.”

Pumping Iron: The documentary that led to a huge growth in the bodybuilding industry for a while but most of all introduced the world at large to the greatest of 80s action stars, Arnold Schwarzenegger and future Incredible Hulk Lou Ferrigno.

Suspiria: Dario Argento’s most famous movie and one of the last films to be made under the old technicolor process-boy does it make a difference as the reds (and there’s a LOT of red) stand out and almost look like paint. It stars Jessica Harper as an American ballet student who decides to go to a ballet school in Germany but finds out soon enough that she really picked the wrong one. While the movie does kind of goes downhill after the insane opening sequence, it’s still a very good horror film.

1977 Nominees in Review

Annie Hall: A- (Won Best Picture)

Star Wars: A-

The Turning Point: B-

The Goodbye Girl: C-

Julia: D+

Two obvious standouts that have stood the test of time with a mostly forgettable rest of the field (although I think I liked The Turning Point more than most because of how much I liked MacLaine and Bancroft in it). Annie Hall is one of the rare comedies to win Best Picture and it deserved the honor as it has a lot more insight into relationships than most, and Star Wars is one of the extremely rare sci-fi nominees and it changed the way films got made forever in multiple aspects. Julia is classic Oscar bait and got a ton of nominations but is one of the weaker nominees of the decade in my opinion.

For 1978: The first two Best Picture nominees about the Vietnam War, both dealing with the after-effects of the war on veterans; the only time an original film and its remake were both nominated for Best Picture (this is the remake); a movie whose name and “Chase Theme” would be adopted by one of the best wrestling tag teams of the 1980s; and An Unmarried Woman.

First though, we have two “Best of” lists: one for 1968-1977 and one celebrating the first 50 years of the Academy Awards.

Best of 1968-1977

Top 10 Best Nominees of 1968-1977

  1. Network (1976): A
  2. A Clockwork Orange (1971): A
  3. Chinatown (1974): A
  4. The Godfather Part II (1974): A
  5. Barry Lyndon (1975): A
  6. Taxi Driver (1976): A
  7. The Godfather (1972): A
  8. The Conversation (1974): A
  9. The Last Picture Show (1971): A-
  10. Z (1969): A-

Ranking the Best Picture Winners 1968-1977

  1. The Godfather Part II (1974): A
  2. The Godfather (1972): A
  3. Patton (1970): A-
  4. The French Connection (1971): A-
  5. The Sting (1973): A-
  6. Annie Hall (1977): A-
  7. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975): B+
  8. Midnight Cowboy (1969): B+
  9. Rocky (1976): B+
  10. Oliver! (1968): B-

Best Actor/Actress/Director

Actor: Al Pacino (The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Dog Day Afternoon); Runner-Up: Jack Nicholson (Five Easy Pieces, Chinatown, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)

Actress: Faye Dunaway (Chinatown, The Towering Inferno, Network); Runner-Up: Diane Keaton (The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Annie Hall)

Director: Stanley Kubrick (A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon); Runner-Up: Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, The Conversation)