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OSCAR DENIED!: The 1977 Best Picture Race

Oscar is a registered trademark of... bah, let 'em sue.
by Charles Tatum

Much like this year, 1977 saw a cultural phenomenon kick box office records, entertain millions, and get nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. Unfortunately, "Star Wars" lost to Woody Allen's "Annie Hall." Before we hold our breath on Oscar night, praying "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" is read as Best Picture, I thought it would be interesting to watch all five nominees for Best Picture in 1977. Has everyone been wrong about how good "Star Wars" was for all these years? Maybe "Annie Hall" did deserve the Oscar, or maybe also-rans like "Julia," "The Goodbye Girl," or "The Turning Point" should have scored the big one. Of the five, I did see "Star Wars" in the theater back when it came out. I turned nine in 1977. I saw "The Turning Point" in junior high, "Annie Hall" and "Julia" in college, and I had never seen "The Goodbye Girl." That seems like a good place to start.

"The Goodbye Girl" is a very funny comedy written by Neil Simon and expertly directed by Herbert Ross. Marsha Mason and her daughter Quinn Cummings find themselves sharing an apartment with Richard Dreyfuss. Mason and Dreyfuss do not get along, so naturally they begin to fall in love. Aside from Mason's sometimes schizophrenic performance and some of Simon's limp dialogue, this is a good strong film that may have been funnier than "Annie Hall."

Ross scored again with "The Turning Point," turning his own eye to the backstage world of a ballet company. Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft canceled each other out in the Best Actress category, both are brilliant as former best friends and rivals whose old wounds open up again when MacLaine's daughter joins the company. While the film runs a little long, and ballet just does not interest me, "The Turning Point" is great because of Bancroft and MacLaine.

"Julia" impressed me the first time I saw it. The film tells the story of writer Lillian Hellman's friendship with the mysterious Julia, played by Vanessa Redgrave. Hellman is portrayed rather well by Jane Fonda, and the two actresses have a great chemistry, with classic direction by Fred Zinnemann. I loved this film. Watching the brassy Hellman reduced to a speechless nervous tic while trying to smuggle money to Julia's social cause is great. Whether Julia existed or not did not matter, "Julia" captures the 1930's pre-war Europe perfectly, and it never bored me.

"Star Wars." It was magic when I saw it as a kid, and still thrilled me on my first viewing of it as a film critic. The cast are mostly freshly scrubbed new faces who act out George Lucas' script with a wonderful sense of fun. The film felt like the old movie serials my father's generation grew up with. While some of the special effects shots were a little obvious, the story and characters had me enthralled. It almost made me sad to see what Lucas has done with his series today. That same magic and awe that everyone experienced in 1977 can never be repeated.

The winner of the year, "Annie Hall," is not a bad film but I found it to be the lesser of the five nominees. Woody Allen chronicles his romance with the title character, played by Diane Keaton. While Allen's one-liners and situations are now classics, I did not think the film held together well. Both main characters turn into a couple of talking heads who we never get to know very well (despite seeing family and past relationships), and eventually Allen lost me. The Best Picture Oscar should have gone to his "Manhattan" or "Radio Days," not this one.

It looks like the two best films of the nominees were "Star Wars" and "Julia," and on my imaginary ballot, I would have chosen "Star Wars." Back then, it was a brilliant technical achievement, but many today forget John Williams' perfect musical score, Alec Guinness having fun as Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Harrison Ford being the ultracool Han Solo. "Star Wars" was just plain great, a two hour thrill ride that never stops to let the viewer catch their breath. Ranking the five films from best to worst:

1. Star Wars
2. Julia
3. The Goodbye Girl
4. The Turning Point
5. Annie Hall

"...and the Best Picture Oscar goes to 'Star Wars'!"...oh, well, we'll never hear those words. The film's two sequels and two prequels never scored the amount of Oscar nominations and wins the first film did. I hope the same kids who grew up with George Lucas' original vision are now voters in the Academy, but we will have to wait and see if "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" is truly a slamdunk. In the meantime, I award "Star Wars" a new and improved Golden Chucky: a life size nude statue of me from the waist up- holding a copy of the Atkins diet in one hand and a stick of butter in the other. Mr. Lucas, send me your address and I will come to your house and re-enact the award in person.


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=1003
originally posted: 02/18/04 03:02:22
last updated: 02/19/04 07:18:03
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