The Revisionist Oscars: 1975


I chose the 1975 Academy Awards this week, not because there was a voting error, as I see it, like there was in the 1995 Oscars, but because there were just so many legitimate choices to pick from. You can truly call this the year of Francis Ford Coppola, though. He owned 1974 like very few writer-directors ever had since back in the times of the assembly line studio system days. Not only did he have The Godfather II on the ballot, but also The Conversation and Jack Clayton-directed The Great Gatsby, which he scripted, starring Mia Farrow, Sam Waterston, Bruce Dern and Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby. It was somewhat of an injustice, I believe, that Gatsby won an Oscar and The Conversation, one of my favorite films, didn't, but I think Coppola survived with his paltry take of just three measly Oscars that night. The Godfather II swept the Oscars, of course, taking home six little golden men, including Best Picture and Best Director. This all happened five years before I was born, so I can only see it through the prism of time and history. But time and history are the best way to judge films anyway. BEST PICTURE: The Godfather: Part II Chinatown The Conversation Lenny The Towering Inferno So, here we have the five nominees. One sticks out, of course: The Towering Inferno, really? We can cross that shit right off of the list. Lenny, the Bob Fosse-directed biopic of Lenny Bruce, is a great film, and a great job of directing by Fosse (who had beaten Coppola for best director when Cabaret and The Godfather were both nominated), but it's just not in the same league as The ConversationChinatown or The Godfather II. These three are, in fact, so great that there isn't even a point of looking at other films, despite there being very good ones (Amarcord, for instance, won Best Foreign Language picture, and there is the matter of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore and Young Frankenstein).


I fell deeply for The Conversation the first time I saw it in my mid-twenties. I don't think I would have liked it much as a teenager or in my early twenties. It is a serious film about adult things, but its protagonist, Harry Caul (Gene Hackman), is only an adult by definition of age. He is a tinkerer, not far removed from the realm of modern manchild, playing with and inventing audio equipment for his surveillance business, much like a hacker might tinker with code today. Today he might be a complete loner, not graced with the remotest of social skills. He is not your standard loner because he requires other humans in his job, but he should be. If the film were made today, he might be. He basically is, so secretive is he, to the point of extreme paranoia, and in that time and in his line of work, rightly so. Even though it owes a huge debt of gratitude to Antonioni's Blow-Up, and maybe even Bertolucci's The Conformist, Coppola really made the story his own. It's the most astute film of the paranoid 70s, I think, one that really strips the concept down to the basics of how the human mind works -- rational to itself, irrational to everyone else -- in a way that The Parallax View and, later, Blow Out, never achieved (despite being great films on their own).


As the cliche goes, "any other year." Chinatown was the first film that Polanski made in Hollywood after the brutual cult murder of his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, by the Manson family in 1969, though he did make two films in Europe in the interim, including an adaptation of MacBeth. Written by Robert Towne and based on pieces of Los Angeles's municipal history, Chinatown can be said to be a realist horror story, the digging up of the sins of the powerful against the weak. You don't need Satan when you've got Noah Cross, especially when he's being played by John Huston. Then there is Jack. Nicholson may never have been better on screen than he was here, as Jake Gittes, the streetwise dick who, it turns out, don't know shit. It's an incredibly powerful film, one that wipes its ass with The Code when wiping your ass with The Code was still newfangled.  Any other year, truly...
...but The Godfather II was the rightful winner in this scrap. It's almost pointless to write anything about the film, so much has been said about it in the past. I always find it hard to split the first two Godfathers when it comes to list-making, but between the two films, The Godfather II is my favorite. The Frank Pentangeli scenes alone make it worthwhile, but the young Vito scenes, his rise to power, Kay's revelations, Michael and Fredo, and Pop Goes the Weasel put it so far over the top that it's just unfair to other films, even The Godfather. And by the way, God help you if you are one of those people who call these films "GF1" and "GF2". There is a special place, one right next to Noah Cross, reserved for you in hell. Some other picks (Key: Wonshould’ve won): BEST DIRECTOR The Godfather: Part II - Francis Ford Coppola Chinatown - Roman Polanski Day for Night - François Truffaut Lenny - Bob Fosse A Woman Under the Influence - John Cassavetes BEST ACTOR Harry and Tonto - Art Carney Chinatown - Jack Nicholson The Godfather: Part II - Al Pacino Lenny - Dustin Hoffman Murder on the Orient Express - Albert Finney BEST ACTRESS Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore - Ellen Burstyn Chinatown - Faye Dunaway Claudine - Diahann Carroll Lenny - Valerie Perrine A Woman Under the Influence - Gena Rowlands BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY Chinatown - Robert Towne Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore - Robert Getchell The Conversation - Francis Ford Coppola Day for Night - François Truffaut, Suzanne Schiffman and Jean-Louis Richard Harry and Tonto - Paul Mazursky and Josh Greenfeld BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY The Godfather: Part II - Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz - Mordecai Richler and Lionel Chetwynd Lenny - Julian Barry Murder on the Orient Express - Paul Dehn Young Frankenstein - Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks

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