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Best Picture Movie Marathon, Part 78

Part 78: 1978


MOVIES:

  • Annie Hall (winner)

  • The Goodbye Girl (hidden gem)

  • Star Wars

  • Julia

  • The Turning Point



Annie Hall

Director: Woody Allen

Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Carol Kane, Paul Simon, Janet Margolin, Shelley Duvall, Christopher Walken, Colleen Dewhurst, Donald Symington, Joan Newman, Mordecai Lawner, Marshall McLuhan, Truman Capote, John Glover, Jeff Goldblum, Beverly D'Angelo, Sigourney Weaver, Laurie Bird

Oscar Wins: Best Actress (Diane Keaton), Best Director, Best Writing (Original Screenplay), Best Picture

Other Nominations: Best Actor (Woody Allen)

 

One of my favorite moments in the film 500 Days of Summer is a small one. Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel) are lying in bed, discussing her past relationships. Tom asks her what happened that made all her past relationships end. She responds, “What always happens – life.”

 

Oftentimes the breakups that hurt the most are the ones we don’t understand. These are not breakups brought on by fighting or cheating, but by growing and learning: Ted and Alexis in Schitt’s Creek, Kevin and Winnie in The Wonder Years, Mia and Sebastian in La La Land. In these instances, love becomes victim to life – be it new job opportunities, different goals and dreams, or desires to escape what’s close and comfortable.



In what’s easily one of the best rom-coms in recent years, Annie Hall uses a variety of comedic and cinematic styles to essentially dissect a relationship. To watch Annie Hall from start to finish is similar to flipping through a scrapbook of memories. It’s a film that establishes its tone by constantly switching tones. It features an array of visual bits and tactics, including split screens, breaking the fourth wall, animations, man-on-the-street interviews, and subtitles that reveal the inner thoughts of characters while they make awkward small talk. Instead of distracting us from the plot, these bits make it all the more authentic.

 

Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) is a pessimist. He’s the classic “neurotic Jew”: compulsive, anxious, and overcome with his obsession with death. “I feel that life is divided up into the horrible and the miserable,” he says. “The horrible would be like, terminal cases…and the miserable is everyone else. That’s all. So, when you go through life, you should be thankful that you’re miserable…you’re very lucky to be miserable.”



Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) is the complete opposite. Dressed in clothes taken from Diane Keaton’s own closet, Annie is a beige ray of sunshine. She loves to sing. She easily finds humor in everything. She’s young at heart and in spirit. She’s vivacious, pretty, smart, scatterbrained, and hopelessly optimistic about everything.

 

Together, Alvy and Annie are the perfect rom-com couple. Opposites attract, right? And, indeed, if Annie Hall were any other rom-com, this story would probably relay the entire courtship of these two misfits. He would use self-deprecating humor to win her over…she would use her wit and charm to help break him out of his shell. Then, before anything got uncomfortable, the movie would end with them walking hand-in-hand through Central Park, two intellectuals talking about how they hate intellectuals. But Annie Hall doesn’t care about that stuff, at least, not as much. This movie is much more concerned with why it all fell apart.



Through the creativity of filmmaking, Woody Allen performs an autopsy on Alvy and Annie’s love life, using the intricacies of human relationships to explore how love is found, then lost, then hopefully found again. The plot is scattered and constantly interrupted by comical bits or Allen’s running commentary on love, life, and everything in between. And, like so many of Allen’s characters, Alvy loves to talk. He lives so he can talk about living. And talk he does. Annie Hall is a movie built on talking. Characters walk and talk, sit and talk, talk with therapists, talk over lunch, make love and talk, and talk to the camera. The dialogue is the driving force here. And the script is filled with wonderful quips, comments, and conversations that might even help you process broken relationships in your own life!

 

With relatable characters and conversations, Annie Hall is easily one of the most relatable relationship movies ever made…but the core of the film’s authenticity comes from Alvy’s unconventional character arc.



Like many classic neurotic Jewish characters (Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm, Mort Goldman in Family Guy, basically everyone in Seinfeld), Alvy doesn’t really have many redeeming qualities, which somehow makes him more endearing. He complains about everything (mostly himself) and can’t understand why all his relationships seem to fail. Throughout the movie, he displays egocentrism, sexist attitudes, pessimism and a complete lack of self-awareness and learns little about himself by the end. In fact, his arc is probably more of a line since he’s really no different at the end than he was at the beginning. While this would make for a pretty boring movie in many other instances, Alvy’s inability to grow and learn from his mistakes is pivotal to him understanding why his relationships never work out.

 

Annie, on the other hand, grows because of her relationship with Alvy. She learns to assert her independence and get what she wants out of life. She refuses to let Alvy’s negativity bring her down. By the end, we’re rooting for both of them to be happy in their own way, even if that means them not being together.



The fact that Annie Hall was originally titled Anhedonia, or the clinical inability to express happiness, has become part of its legend, especially because the film has given everyone so much happiness. It’s a film that teaches us that not all couples live ‘happily ever after’, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. After all, life isn’t necessarily about getting what you want all the time. It’s about experiences. It’s about living. And, even if it doesn’t work out, we can at least be hopeful that we’re all the better for the memories we made, the love we shared, the laughs we had along the way.

 

The Goodbye Girl

Director: Herbert Ross

Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Marsha Mason, Quinn Cummings, Paul Benedict, Barbara Rhoades, Theresa Merritt, Michael Shawn, Patricia Pearcy

Oscar Wins: Best Actor (Richard Dreyfuss)

Other Nominations: Best Actress (Marsha Mason), Best Supporting Actress (Quinn Cummings), Best Writing (Original Screenplay), Best Picture

 

Paula McFadden (Marsha Mason) and her daughter, Lucy (Quinn Cummings) are pumped for their upcoming move from New York to Hollywood. Warmer weather, more space, celebrity sightings – what’s not to love?!

 

Unfortunately, all joviality is demolished by a letter left at their apartment by Paula’s boyfriend, Tony. He’s taken a job in Italy and peace, love, and happiness to ya, babe. Just like that, any plans to move to Hollywood are destroyed as Paula is left with no choice but to find a job in NYC.

 


Not only has Tony left them high and dry, his final act was to sublet his apartment (Paula and Lucy lived there but were not on the lease) to a fellow Chicago actor named Elliot Garfield (Richard Dreyfuss), who has already paid for three months’ rent and, at this very moment, is knocking on her door, ready to move in.

 

The two shout at each other for a sufficient period of time, at least long enough to let us know that Paula is the uptight, obsessive one and Elliot is the low-key, granola-munching one. Ultimately, they come to an agreement – he has nowhere else to go and she doesn’t have the legal high ground, nor the money, to continue living there on her own. And just like that, Paula has a new roommate.



Like all the best domestic slap-stick comedies (The More the Merrier, for one), Paula and Elliot are suddenly thrust together in an uncomfortable – but amusing – scenario. Elliot is an eccentric person who sleeps in the nude, plays guitar at midnight, meditates (loudly) at 6 am, and only eats healthy food. Paula is a protective mom who wants to keep her daughter safe. She’s been hurt by men before and she’s incredibly hesitant to put any positive feelings towards Elliot.

 

But love knows no bounds. In fact, it only flourishes in these cute enemy-to-lover scenarios. Total warfare eventually de-escalates into a guarded truce, followed by forays into warmth and friendship, then ending in eventual romance. Maybe not the most realistic formula, but one that’s worked in Hollywood for years.

 

While The Goodbye Girl does a fine job putting this enemy-to-lover trope to use, Paula and Elliot spend almost too much time as enemies, making the lover part seem misplaced. Their romance doesn’t have enough time to really build because these two are constantly bickering, fighting and picking on each other – it’s hard to believe their relationship would ever turn into romance in reality.



Paula is also not a very sympathetic character. Yes, she’s been burned before, but her edges are still hard and it’s difficult to believe someone like Elliot would spend so much time trying to crack her open.

 

Elliot, on the other hand, is wonderful. In fact, Richard Dreyfuss won his first and only Oscar (thus far) for his raspy, loveable performance in The Goodbye Girl. He’s warm and charming with Lucy and the two develop an almost instant friendship. He’s also overly patient with Paula, abiding by her rules and trying to be as respectful as he can while she only brings him down. “He’s like a lost puppy I can’t get rid of,” she says.

 

Still, I found The Goodbye Girl a fun time, particularly thanks to Dreyfuss. It has all the bits and pieces I love about rom-coms – adorable characters, witty writing, romantic forehead kisses – and offers up an enjoyable story, even if it’s largely familiar.

 

Star Wars

Director: George Lucas

Starring: Peter Geddis, Denis Lawson, Colin Higgins, David Ankrum, Leslie Schofield, Jack Purvis, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Garrick Hagon, Alex McCrindle, Alfie Curtis, Sadie Eden, John Wayne, Paul Blake, Maria De Aragon, Larry Ward, Nick Joseph, Alec Guinness, Christopher Muncke, Shelagh Fraser, Phil Brown, Richard LeParmentier, Carrie Fisher, Kenny Baker, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Don Henderson, Peter Cushing, David Prowse, James Earl Jones, Eddie Byrne, Michael Bell, Angus MacInnes, Robert Clarke, Cathy Munroe

Oscar Wins: Best Art Direction, Best Sound, Best Costume Design, Best Visual Effects, Best Music (Original Score), Best Film Editing, Special Achievement Award

Other Nominations: Best Supporting Actor (Alec Guinness), Best Director, Best Writing (Original Screenplay), Best Picture

 

Oooh boy – this one is intimidating. May the force be with me…

 

Whenever a list is compiled of the most influential films ever made, there’s a good chance that Star Wars will be ranked somewhere in the top 10. Its groundbreaking mix of special effects and otherworldly locations made this series one of the biggest blockbusters in the history of Hollywood. Its impact is evident in the ever-growing film franchise, not to mention the books, toys, and entire freaking theme parks it inspired. Quotes like “Use the Force” are so ingrained in our lexicon that, even if you’ve never seen the film, you still know it’s a reference from Star Wars.



If we compare it to the other films released in 1977, we can safely say that this is an excellent movie. Whatever it lacks in character development or plot it makes up for in sheer spectacle. It’s an escapist film, an action-packed, family-friendly, fun-filled romp of a great freaking time…and the fact that people continued to line up around the block to see it more than a year after it hit theaters suggests that others would probably agree.

 

Watching this film today is interesting – especially as someone who didn’t grow up idolizing this franchise. As an 80’s kid, I was certainly familiar with it, but I never donned a Princess Leia costume for Halloween or brought a Han Solo lunchbox to school. This was probably my third time seeing this film and, I’ll tell ya what, it holds up.



Even with a silly plot, dated set designs, and a super cheesy script, Star Wars is still a kick-ass time. It appeals to kids (and the kid inside us old folks) because of its very simple, yet relatable, formula: it’s a fairytale. There’s a hero, a princess, a witty side kick, and a villain. Though it brings us to galaxies far, far away, it doesn’t stray far from those nostalgic stories of our youth – filled with action, adventure, and yes, even love.

 

While I think it’s safe to assume that most people have a very general idea of the plot of this movie, here’s a brief synopsis:

 

The galaxy is in civil war. A brave Rebellion against the Galactic Empire is trying to escape with stolen plans for the Empire’s newest weapon, the Death Star. Darth Vader (body by David Prowse; voice by James Earl Jones) is working to destroy the Rebellion, starting with its leader – Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). Knowing she needs help, she records a message on one of her droids, R2-D2, hoping it gets into the right hands.

 

R2-D2, along with his worrisome companion C-P3O, then escape to Tatooine, where they eventually fall into the hands of one Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Luke accidentally hears the message the princess left for on her droid and sets out to find its proper recipient, a man named Obi Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness).



Eventually Luke and Obi Wan unite and the message is relayed. The team, including the droids, set out to rescue the princess, but they need transportation. Enter the rugged beefcake Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his walking carpet of a companion, Chewbacca. These two pilot and operate the Millenium Falcon, a large spaceship that has plenty of room (and speed) to take Luke and Obi Wan on their mission.

 

In the ultimate Catch 22 situation, the Millenium Falcon is captured by the Death Star; however, the group soon realizes that Princess Leia is aboard the ship. Luke, Han and Chewbacca set out to rescue her while Obi Wan takes care of some old business with Darth Vader. A series of adventures unfold, climaxing with Obi Wan and Darth Vader doing the best duel two old men with lightsabers can do. The rest of the crew escape in the Millenium Falcon, battle a few enemy fighters along the way, then finally reach the secret base of the Rebel Alliance.

 

But our hero’s mission is not yet complete. Vader’s Imperial forces have tracked the Falcon, so Luke joins a small band of Rebel pilots tasked with destroying the Death Star. Vader barely escapes, the heroes get medals, and the galaxy is saved! Well, at least for now…



When Star Wars first hit theaters, George Lucas had no idea the behemoth he created. While he always envisioned it as part of a larger whole, he wanted to see how it performed before giving any inkling to the sequels he intended to make. As soon as the film became a world-wide sensation, a new batch of prints was ordered – and audiences began seeing “Episode IV – A New Hope” added to the opening crawl.

 

At first, audiences were confused. Those who had seen the movie in its initial run didn’t know why this new chapter head was added. Furthermore, this was episode IV? Why are we starting this story in the middle?

 

Say what you will about George Lucas, but this was genius – at least from a writing perspective. Starting this franchise in the middle gives the saga the aura of an ancient tale…and an ongoing one. It not only sets us up for what’s to come, but for what has come already. Who was Luke’s mysterious father? How did the Empire rise to popularity? And what the hell is a Jedi? Starting it smack dab in the middle gave Lucas the freedom to move his story both backwards and forwards and helped it stand out from all the other journey stories (The Wizard of Oz, The Lord of the Rings) that simply moved from beginning to end.



Of course, no film is without flaws. Because Star Wars is part of a greater whole, the characters in this film are painfully one-dimensional. The acting is comical (not always in a good way) and the flatter roles, like poor Luke, are honestly kind of forgettable (at least in this movie – he has his day, though!) Hamill did the best he could with the lackluster lines he was given, but Luke Skywalker falls victim to the same thing most heroes do: they’re boring. He can barely stand as an interesting character on his own, let alone when he’s compared to the likes of Han Solo.

 

Harrison Ford’s Han Solo is iconic in every way. He easily carries every scene he’s in and his constant bickering at Luke provides us with the relief we desperately need from what is otherwise a pretty traditional hero story. He’s charming, he’s masculine, and he’s honestly kind of an asshole. Pure catnip for us females, amiright?!

 

Star Wars effectively ushered in a new era of filmmaking: big-budget, special-effects blockbusters. It’s a trend we’re still living through today. While it’s by no means a perfect film, its strengths far outweigh its weaknesses, and it remains integral to the fabric of our culture. With the now-classic opening words of “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”, Star Wars used a familiar “Once upon a time” formula to show us something we had never seen before. And that, my friend, is the power of The Force.

 

Julia

Director: Fred Zinnemann

Starring: Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave, Jason Robards, Hal Holbrook, Rosemary Murphy, Miximilian Schell, Dora Doll, Elisabeth Mortensen, Meryl Streep, John Glover, Lisa Pelikan, Susan Jones, Maurice Denham, Gerard Buhr, Cathleen Nesbitt, Lambert Wilson

Oscar Wins: Best Supporting Actor (Jason Robards), Best Supporting Actress (Vanessa Redgrave), Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

Other Nominations: Best Actress (Jane Fonda), Best Supporting Actor (Maximilian Schell), Best Costume Design, Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Music (Original Score), Best Film Editing, Best Picture

 

It’s the film that launched a thousand Meryl’s…the cinematic debut of the queen of modern Hollywood. But besides being the first feature film to cast Meryl Streep, Julia doesn’t have much going for it. Weird, because the parts were all right. Director Fred Zinnemann already had 4 Oscars to his name; three of the four main cast members (Jane Fonda, Jason Robbards, and Maximilian Schell) each had one, too – and the fourth (Vanessa Redgrave) had been nominated 3 times. The story is also pretty interesting: two (possibly gay?) gal pals work together to smuggle money into Berlin to help fight Nazis. Very Thelma and Louise.



Unfortunately, these good elements are lost in a film that doesn’t seem to know its own purpose. Julia is the story of a fascinating woman, told from the point of view of someone who grew up with her, yet hardly knew her at all. It’s slow, it’s boring, and it’s not intriguing enough to really help us care for either of these women…which is sad because it had such potential. It’s a film that both tells us too much and not enough.

 

Julia is ostensibly about the relationship between Lillian Hellman (Jane Fonda) and her lifelong friend, Julia (Vanessa Redgrave). In flashbacks to their adolescence, Julia and Lillian are virtually inseparable, with Lillian viewing her older, wealthier friend through a veil of hero worship.



As the girls grow, their interests drive them apart. In the years prior to World War II, Julia leaves for England to attend medical school at Oxford, then moves to Vienna to study with Sigmund Freud. When the Fascist regime begins to rise to power and the Nazi party starts to assert their authority in Europe, Julia uses her personal resources to help fight them.

 

Meanwhile, Lillian struggles to get her career as a writer off the ground. Her mentor/lover Dashiell Hammett (Jason Robbards) lives with her and is, in turns, encouraging and gruff, prodding her to be the best that she can be, but also intolerant of her complaining.

 

Lillian is the very epitome of what we expect a 1930s playwright to be: she bangs out her frustrations on the typewriter, chain-smokes a bazillion cigarettes a day and drinks just as much (if not more) than Dashiell. If the movie were solely about this Lillian, I would have no complaints.



But, it’s not. As her struggles continue, Dashiell suggests a change of scenery to help get those creative juices flowing. Hoping to meet up with her long-lost friend in Vienna, Lillian journeys to Europe; however, she finds Julia has been hospitalized due to injuries she received in a fight.

 

Ever the gal pal, Lillian stays by her bedside day and night. One morning she awakes to find Julia gone. All that’s left is a note, telling her to leave Vianna immediately.

 

Some time passes, some stuff happens, and Lillian eventually finds herself back in Paris with some friends. While there, she’s approached by Johann (Maximillian Schell), who informs her that Julia needs her to help smuggle money through Nazi Germany. Though ill-suited for the task, Lillian agrees.

 


It is now, about an hour and half in, that Julia finally picks up the pace a bit. Set on a train, the final 30 minutes of the movie are as exciting as this film gets. Lillian is met by one stranger after another, each of whom help guide her to the next step in the journey. She hides the money in the lining of her fur coat, which she wears while all of her baggage is confiscated and searched. This adds some natural suspense to the film, as does the presence of Nazis, but it’s almost too little too late. Getting to this point in the story took a lot of effort – and the entire time, the moving plot kept getting sidetracked by more flashbacks to Julia and Lillian growing up. We get that their friends. You don’t have to keep proving it.

 

Though the film bears Julia’s name, she remains just as much of an enigma to us as she does to Lillian. In fact, Lillian seems to know very little about her, despite having spent most of her life idolizing her. Julia is like a mythological character who keeps disappearing from the film for long stretches. As a result, the relationship between these two women can’t hold the narrative together. No amount of back and forth between their times together when they were younger and Lillian’s later desperate searches for Julia can hide the fact that there’s just no depth to this relationship. And, in the middle of the film when the two women reunite after years of being apart, there’s a physical coldness that makes the whole thing feel off.

 

By the end, I both wanted more and less at the same time. What this film gave me wasn’t enough, yet I didn’t care enough to really want any more. Ultimately, Julia is like the Bran Flakes of cinema. Bland, forgetful, and – quite frankly – hard to swallow.

 

The Turning Point

Director: Herbert Ross

Starring: Shirley MacLaine, Anne Bancroft, Tom Skerritt, Leslie Browne, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Martha Scott, James Mitchell, Alexandra Danilova, Lisa Lucas, Philip Saunders, Antoinette Sibley, Marshall Thompson, Starr Danias, Anthony Zerbe, Daniel Levans

Oscar Wins: No wins.

Other Nominations: Best Actress (Anne Bancroft), Best Actress (Shirley MacLaine), Best Supporting Actress (Leslie Browne), Best Supporting Actor (Mikhail Baryshnikov), Best Art Direction, Best Writing (Original Screenplay), Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Film Editing, Best Director, Best Picture

 

Are any of you out there dancers? Why is ballet ALWAYS SO DRAMATIC?!

 

In Oklahoma City, a flustered Deedee Rodgers (Shirley MacLaine) attempts to get her husband Wayne (Tom Skerritt) and their three children, Emilia (Leslie Brown), Janina (Lisa Lucas) and Ethan (Philip Saunders), off to a performance by the American Ballet Company. The event is bittersweet as, 20 years ago, Deedee abandoned her ambitions to become a dancer, instead moving to the suburbs with her growing family. The stage gave way to a split-level house and a long station wagon, and weekends once spent training are now spent mowing the lawn and preparing meals for her family. In the great battle of home and work, Deedee chose love over her career.

 

Her best friend, Emma Jacklin (Anne Bancroft) chose success. She became the Ballet Theater’s prima ballerina and remains with the group as a trainer and coach. Seeing Emma again reignites a feeling of regret in Deedee for having given up her career, though her children – particularly Emilia – are all now very talented dancers. Whereas Deedee regrets the past, Emma fears the future. She sees the inevitable end to her career as a dancer looming ever closer.

 


At an afterparty, fueled by wine and resentment, Deedee immerses herself in the revelry of the choreographers, directors, stage managers and dancers, reminiscing about what could have been. She still holds resentment toward Emma, who took the spotlight away from her when Deedee got pregnant. And when Adelaide (Martha Scott), the company’s owner, takes a special interest in recruiting Emilia, Deedee gets a funny feeling about seeing her daughter follow the very path that she abandoned so many years ago. Her resentment grows as Emilia becomes closer to Emma, finding in her a different, more supportive motherly figure than Deedee.

 

As these two women subsequently bond and clash, differences manifest in harsh judgments about each other’s lives. Through both meaningful and unstimulating conversations, the film covers everything from the unfairness of growing older to the sacrifices made to commit to this type of career.

 


Loosely based on the true-life story of Leslie Brown (who effectively plays herself), The Turning Point sets up all the drama pretty quickly. Deedee and Emma establish who they are in the first 20 minutes, then never evolve or learn from each other. Deedee whines on, endlessly bringing up the past and unable to move beyond her decision to abandon her dream. Emma is the classic elder ballerina, drinking and smoking her sadness away because she can’t accept that she’s well past her prime. A few minutes of this is fine, but 2 hours of it? After a while, it lacks engagement.

 

Which leaves the film with plenty of time to kill. All the cracks and crevices are filled with ballet performances that have nothing to do with the story, complete with on-screen captions introducing the piece, the music, and the choreography. These pieces feel more like an education segment, attempting to celebrate ballet as an art form. Fine – but that’s not why we’re here.



All the feuding and fighting between Deedee and Emma finally culminates in a hilarious fight between these two has-beens, where they smack each other on the ass and throw purses at each other. By the end, they’re laughing, we’re laughing, and it seems clear that they’ve finally reached that turning point towards accepting their chosen paths.

 

But do we really sympathize with either of these women? I didn’t. By the end, they both realize that they have all they’ve ever wanted, all it took was seeing what they had to give up for it. Though it stars two of Hollywood’s most beloved leading ladies, they’re thoroughly smothered by the tutus, ballet shoes and uninspired drama trying in vain to offer us a quality film.

 

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