One of the best things about the two prominent film critics at the New York Times, AO Scott and Manohla Dargis, isn’t necessarily their take on new releases, although that’s certainly valuable, though often frustrating — and I don’t think it’s their Q&As particularly, at least not the way they do them now — and they don’t really dig into film discussion the way most movie bloggers do – which puts The Times at a disadvantage, I think: they really need a couple of hard core movie bloggers on their team because their film critics will never offer the same kind of ruminating. But where they are essential is in their knowledge and appreciation of great cinema. Check out this critics pick by Scott on The Last Picture Show:
A while back, when we were still doing them (we’re trying to get it together to start them again), Craig Kennedy, Ryan and I discussed the year that The Last Picture Show was up for the Oscar. For me, this year stands up as one of the best and a moment in Oscar’s history, and frankly in the DGA’s history as well, when they didn’t only want to pick the movie that most moved them, but seemed to have an appreciation for films that were breaking new ground, pushing the envelope, and not giving us the kind of the easy way out that Oscar winning films, and Oscar nominated films, often do, and certainly, with a few exceptions, have since the 1970s.
The five nominated films that year were:
The French Connection – won 5 (Picture, Director, Actor, Editing, Screenplay) out of 8
A Clockwork Orange – won 0 out of 4
Fiddler on the Roof – won 3 out of 8
Nicholas and Alexandra – won 2 out of 6
The Last Picture Show – won 2 out of 8
If 1971 were 2010, Fiddler on the Roof would have won, let’s face it. And no way The King’s Speech wins in 1971. But The King’s Speech winning is far more the norm, which is why the 1970s stand out the way they do in Oscar history and why people like me continually revisit them; it was probably the only time (other than five years prior to 2010) when critically acclaimed films were more profitable and therefore won more Oscars. It isn’t that The King’s Speech wasn’t critically acclaimed: it was. It was also a crowdpleaser/period piece/weepy/Oscar formula movie. For all of those reasons it is a more traditional best picture.
But 1971 remains astonishing because three of these films, The Last Picture Show, A Clockwork Orange and The French Connection still have resonance today. When I look at that year I think about the reasons the Last Picture Show could not have won Best Picture. That question is what has dogged me for the eleven years I’ve covered the Oscar race.
Why not? Why can’t a movie like that win? There are many reasons but none of them are particularly satisfying. The most simple explanation is that more people liked The French Connection. “Liked” being the operative word.
What would it mean if thousands of voters went for something as difficult as The Last Picture Show for the win? It would mean that they had to really really like the director or the star, iff they don’t like the movie that much. Neither Stanley Kubrick nor Peter Bogdanovich were ever going to be the John Fords or the Clint Eastwoods. They were outsiders. The best ones always are. In my heart of hearts I kind of think it’s better to remain an outsider. Actors do better once they’ve won Oscars. But directors? Don’t we always wish they would keep making the kinds of movies that can’t win? I know I do.
We still don’t have all of the answers. As Grizzly Man says, there is still much work to be done.
In the meantime, it’s worth keeping an eye on films from our past, those that have withstood decades of scrutiny and reveal more about themselves over time, just as they reveal more about us then as they do now.