Monday, March 5, 2012

FILM'S BEST YEARS: 1975


You could arguably point to any year in the decade of the 70s and make an argument for that year being one of film's best.  1975 sticks out above even 1976 where Rocky beat out Taxi Driver and Network, or 1977 where George Lucas introduced the world to Star Wars and Woody Allen made waves with Annie Hall.  1975 was the most powerful year in the most powerful decade for American cinema.  The 48th Annual Academy Awards held that year was unbelievably loaded with films and directors, all legendary and fighting for immortality.  Only three times in history has a film won the "Big Five" awards - Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay - so any of those years must be examined to see who the film beat and what it says about the year itself.  I would argue that this year's "Big Five" winner had the stiffest competition.

LEGENDARY OSCAR PRESENCE


One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest would become only the second film to win the five major Oscars, winning Best Picture, Best Director Milos Forman, Actor Jack Nicholson, Actress Louise Fletcher, and Best Adapted Screenplay.  The psych-ward film that challeneged the establishment was a testament to the decade, and is truly a great film.  And the competition was decidedly fierce.  The four other Oscar nominees for Best Picture were Dog Day Afternoon (my personal favorite), Barry Lyndon, Jaws, and Nashville.  In their own ways, all five of these pictures are great.  Some of them belong on a list of the greatest films of all time, including Cuckoo's Nest, Dog Day Afternoon, and Jaws


But go beynd the film on the screen and consider the talent behind the camera.  Steven Spielberg was not nominated for his directing job with Jaws, no, the five nominees included the legendary Federico Fellini for Amarcord to go along with Robert Altman, Stanley Kubrick, Sidney Lumet, and Forman.  Take a second to consider the five Best Director nominees and I challenge anyone to point to one of these auteurs and say they are not legendary in the business.  It is hard to understand how Lumet, Kubrick, and Altman would never win Best Director, but to consider the years in which they ran and the competition they faced it may be at least a bit more understandable.  

THE BIRTH OF THE BLOCKBUSTER

1975 was also one of those very special years that changed the landscape of film forever.  These are rare moments, and it takes some time to look back and see where the pendulum swung in film history.  This was the year where the summer blockbuster became an item for studios.  Steven Spielberg spent nearly a year in the water, fighting a robotic shark, a ballooning budget, and low expectations to terrify audiences with Jaws, one of the most pivotal and thrilling adventure films of all time.  Despite the overwhelming odds against Spielberg's shark thriller, it would open huge in 1975 with $7 million and become the highest-grossing American film at the time.  It was also the first film to cross the $100 million mark.  The success of Jaws opened the floodgates for studios to spend big bucks on summer films, and they have never looked back.  Without the success of Jaws, it could be argued that Star Wars would have never seen the light of day.

THE REST OF THE YEAR

Even if 1975 was as overwhelmingly top heavy year it should be considered as one of the very best.  But the year saw many other great films and personalities emerge.  John Wayne was still on the silver screen, starring in Rooster Cogburn.  Warren Beatty made a splash with his offbeat sex romp, Shampoo, which also found some love on Oscar night.  In May, one of the biggest cult-comedy favorites ever, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, hit the big screen.  The box-office haul was not that impressive, but a film like this need not worry about the box-office debut.  It has become a legendary comedy in the last 30 plus years.  The same thing goes for The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the very definition of cult classic, released in late September. 

For horror crowds, The Wicker Man was released in 1975.  For spy thriller greatness, Three Days of the Condor came out in September.  Overall, 1975 has to be one of the three or four best and most important years for film.  It was a year about legends, making great films, and perhaps not even realizing the legendary world they were creating.