Since many of you readers have commented here and on Twitter that 2010 could be a repeat of 1976. I thought it might be fun to take a look back at that pivotal year. I must admit to having written about it on more than a few occasions over the years. It is one of those memorable Oscar years that we here at Awards Daily keep going back to. The other years that are often brought up is the year Driving Miss Daisy won without a Director nomination, the year that Chariots of Fire beat Reds (others have compared that to this year as well), and of course, the biggest one of all, How Green Was My Valley beating Citizen Kane.
A few points often drift in and out of this discussion, but it is most often brought up to rationalize the possibility of another film than the “favorite” winning. Of course, we’re not to the most deciding phase of the race, when the DGA, the PGA and the ACE announce their winners. Heck, we haven’t even gotten to their nominees. Nor have we even gotten to the Oscar nominations themselves. We have a long way to go yet.¬†¬† There will be many ups and downs as we head through it. Nothing is set in stone – how could it be. Votes are still outstanding. Predicting behaviors is never as easy you think it’s going to be.
The reason people call upon this year time and time again is merely to point out how the most popular film can sometimes beat the most critically acclaimed, or certainly the one that stands the test of time as All the President’s Men, Network and especially Taxi Driver. Taxi Driver was, and is, one of the best films ever made. It wasn’t just the story, the loner cab driver played so beautifully by Robert De Niro, carving out a character for all time, not just the strange, moody writing by Paul Shrader, but also how Scorsese’s camera illustrates Schrader’s script and De Niro’s performance so well; if you took away one of them you would have the masterpiece that it is. But, as far as Oscar voters were concerned, it was a downer. All the President’s Men fires similarly on all cylinders – exceptional writing by William Goldman – Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford as Woodstein – endlessly quotable, with a lean, elegant screenplay by William Goldman. . And another downer – in a way. It was about two reporters tracking down Tricky Dick. And that made for great suspense. But still, what a downer. Our President is caught and resigns. That was life in the 1970s, along with the downer of the lost war, the gas lines, free love and the “me” generation taking off.
Here is how Scott Feinberg sort of positioned it last week when he wrote on this topic:
‚ÄúRocky‚Äù (populist boxing movie/moving love story) tops ‚ÄúNetwork‚Äù (brilliantly-written social commentary) and ‚ÄúAll the President‚Äôs Men‚Äù (stirring recreation of political historical events)
‚ÄúThe Fighter‚Äù (populist boxing movie/moving love story) tops ‚ÄúThe Social Network‚Äù (brilliantly-written social commentary) and ‚ÄúThe King‚Äôs Speech‚Äù (stirring recreation of political/historical events)
The first thing you have to know about Rocky is that it was the favorite heading into the race. It was not considered the underdog. It came into the race with 10 nominations, which Network also had. It had already won the DGA, so if we were all talking about that year right now most of us would have little doubt what film was going to win. In fact, anyone who was alive back then will remember that there was no way Rocky could lose. In its own way, it was a Titanic of sorts; it was too big to ignore. It was, by then, part of our culture’s DNA. That iconic shot of Rocky jogging up the steps in Philly – it’s the stuff cinematic legends are made on. Moreover, it was one of Oscar’s favorite, irresistible themes: underdog overcomes adversity and triumphs at life, if not at boxing. Doesn’t he lose his final match? But he’s still a winna. Adrien!
Network, which was probably Rocky’s biggest challenger, was a big downer. Not only did it sort of nail our vulgar media culture perfectly (it seems to have more resonance today than ever) but it also featured fairly unlikable characters. Even the ones we’re supposed to like we don’t like all that much.¬†¬†¬† But Network was a part of our culture too. “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” was said so many times it’s still considered over-used. Network probably would have done better with the Academy if it hadn’t gotten bogged down with the whole marriage thing. But what writing. The fact that Network didn’t win Best Picture makes no difference to how we view it in history. Same goes for Taxi Driver and All the President’s Men.
Network headed into the race with ten nominations, and had won the LA Film Critics for Director, and tied with Rocky for Picture. Network had the added prestige of having been written by famed playwright Paddy Chayefsky (won the WGA), and of course, was directed by Sidney Lumet.¬†¬† All the President’s Men had eight nominations. It won three awards from the New York Film critics, including Best Picture, and Best Picture from the National Society of Film critics. Bound for Glory, about the life of Woody Guthrie, directed by Hal Ashby, entered the race with six nominations, and seemed to be getting much acclaim for the cinematography by Haskell Wexler, for which it eventually won an Oscar (along with music).
Rocky, though, had what those movies didn’t have: emotional uplift. It didn’t reach too high so it couldn’t fall short. It was just a good movie. Everyone loved the character Rocky – how could you not. Rocky WAS the movie of the year. There was no question about it and so when it won Best Picture it wasn’t a surprise to anybody. It is only a surprise now because it stands out so prominently as a year when the movie of the moment won.
Rocky was the film of the moment. It tied the Los Angeles Film Critics for Best Picture (with Network), the DGA award for Best Director, and was the movie everyone I knew (even though I was only 11) were quoting on the streets. It won Supporting Actress at the NY Film Critics. Can The Fighter be that movie? It is not out of the realm of possibility, though it doesn’t have the same support from the critics. It is not yet the movie of the moment because it would need more time to become that. Had it been released earlier in the year it might have gotten there. Can it still become that? It features many of the same plot elements of Rocky: love story, boxing. But there is another part to The Fighter that is not there in Rocky – the whole Christian Bale storyline. Still, one would be foolish to call this race over yet. Can The Fighter be Rocky?
In order to really look at 1976 you have to really look at the Oscars themselves, what they meant back then, what they mean now. You have to look at the mood of the country, but specifically, the mood of industry types. The Oscars used to be much more of a general population thing. But in the past decade, most of the popular, really popular, entertainment has been aimed at young boys, but for a few exceptions here or there. The adults in the Academy had no choice really but to turn to more specialized filmmaking – art house fare, and the odd mainstream film that can also satisfying to adults, critics, industry voters. There aren’t many of them, but we’re probably seeing more of them this year than in any year up to now.
There has been a significant shift in the Best Picture race. It now matters a lot more what the critics think, what the tastemakers think. It used to be that the film had to be a hit with the public, not just because of box office but because of the random sampling of the voters. If the public liked it that much, it would be a pretty good bed that the Academy would too. These days, since the public proves again and again that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public, it isn’t a completely implausible idea that a film like The Social Network could win, even up against a crowdpleaser like The Fighter.¬†¬†¬† But it is also possible that Academy voters are still susceptible to the charms of a triumph-over-adversity story. It is just too early to tell one way or the other.
But let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that we are entering a year like 1976, when Rocky overtook the Oscars, beating three critics darlings, Taxi Driver, All the President’s Men, and Network. What The Fighter, 127 Hours, The Kids Are All Right, Toy Story 3 and The King’s Speech all have going for them is that they lead with the heart and they have feelgood endings. They’re anything but downers. So what might give The Fighter the edge over those other films? It could have to do very well at the box office. It can’t beat Toy Story 3, but it can certainly edge up towards $100 million. If that happens, it might become the cultural phenomenon that Rocky was. Rocky made around $117 million, which, adjusted for inflation is about $400 million, give or take.
I don’t really think any old boxing movie can be Rocky. That was the right film at the right time. But it’s worth noting that the race is shaking up for sure. If you had thought it was The Social Network vs. The King’s Speech, you should probably start thinking about it as The Social Network vs. The King’s Speech vs. The Fighter.