Sunday, August 30, 2009

1969: The Movies

The best movies of '69?

Well, naturally, that's somewhat subjective ...

We can tell you which films won The Academy Awards that year ...

We can run down a list of the Box Office Giants ...

But ultimately it really boils down to which films hit YOUR buzzer or rang YOUR bell ...

And which ones have held up over the past 40 years of time.

Academy Award Winners were as follows:
BEST PICTURE: Midnight Cowboy
BEST DIRECTOR: John Schlesinger (for Midnight Cowboy)
BEST LEADING ACTRESS: Maggie Smith (in The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie)
BEST LEADING ACTOR: John Wayne (in True Grit)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Goldie Hawn (in Cactus Flower)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Gig Young (in They Shoot Horses, Don't They?)
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: William Goldman (for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Waldo Salt (for Midnight Cowboy)
BEST MUSIC: Hello Dolly (Lennie Hayton and Lionel Newman)
BEST SONG: Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head (by Burt Bacharach from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)

Midnight Cowboy became the first ... and ONLY ... X-Rated Film to win a "Best Picture" award. In hindsight, it's pretty tame ... but by 1969 standards (which also gave us the cult classic "I Am Curious ... Yellow") it was really considered something else.

It was interesting to see Dustin Hoffman go from "The Graduate" to Ratso Rizzo in just two short years ... already he had established himself as one of the best actors of our generation.

A personal favorite? "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid".
I've probably seen it 30 times ... and, in fact, we just watched it again recently ... TWICE!!!
It's just a well-made film ... entertaining ... and, perhaps because it IS a period piece, it doesn't seem even the least bit dated some forty years later.

Talking about "cult favorites", we can't rule out "Easy Rider" which, by most standards, is a pretty crappy film ... but it made a HUGE impression on the youth movement of the day and, as such, remains a film that people are still talking about some 40 years later. Made with money earned from "The Monkees" television series, it is probably MOST interesting today because of the early intensity displayed by the now-legendary Jack Nicholson, prominently featured acting beside Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper.

Other notables: Disney's "The Aristocats", "The Wild Bunch", "Patton" ... Academy Award Winners "They Shoot Horses Don't They", "Cactus Flower" and "True Grit".
(And who could forget when John Wayne, winning his first Oscar EVER, commented "If I had known that, I would have put that patch on thirty five years earlier!"
Click here: YouTube - John Wayne winning Best Actor for "True Grit"

1969 holds another very special silver screen memory for me ... as part of a High School Field Trip that year, we were required to see the new film version of the classic Shakespeare piece "Romeo And Juliet" ... first time EVER for me to see boobs up on the big screen!!! (Olivia Hussey was certainly easy to look at, too, at the ripe old age of 16!!!) She went on to marry Dino Martin of Dino, Desi and Billy fame, breaking the hearts of teen-aged boys everywhere in the process.
I remember there being some bit of controversy about her topless scene due to her age at the time ... in fact, LEGALLY (because of the film's "R" Rating) she wasn't old enough to see the film because it contained nudity ... even though SHE was the one who was nude IN the film!!! lol
(Maybe Billy Hinsche can shed some light on THIS topic!!!)

Box Office Giants that year?
The Top Ten films (based on total grosses for the year) were:
1) Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (nearly $46 million ... which, when adjusted for inflation brings that tally today to about $257 million!!!)
2) The Love Bug ($23 million ... sorry, but you'll have to do your OWN math from this point foward!!!)
3) Midnight Cowboy ($20.5 million)
4) Easy Rider ($19 million)
5) Hello Dolly ($15 million)
6) Bob And Carol And Ted And Alice ($14.6 million)
7) Paint Your Wagon ($14.5 million)
8) True Grit ($14.25 million)
9) Cactus Flower ($11.85 million)
10) Goodbye Columbus ($10.5 million)

Other notable films released in 1969 include Alice's Restaurant (of course we HAD to go see THAT one after falling in love with the album ... for the record, the movie is a pale comparison); The April Fools; Anne of the Thousand Days; Goodbye Mr. Chips; Hook, Line and Sinker (starring Jerry Lewis!); If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium; the original version of The Italian Job (starring Michael Caine); John And Mary; Last Summer; The Magic Christian (Starring Ringo and Peter Sellers ... and featuring the Badfinger hit "Come And Get It", written by Paul McCartney ... no way we were gonna miss this one either!!!); Marlowe (saw that one a few times!); On Her Majesty's Secret Service; The Sterile Cuckoo; Support Your Local Sheriff; Take The Money And Run (another personal favorite, I've probably seen this one AT LEAST thirty times!!!); The Wild Bunch and Winning.

Wanna feel old??? Anjelica Huston, Al Pacino, Sylvester Stallone and Jon Voight each made their film debuts this year ... even worse, 1969 is the year that Anne Heche, Jennifer Lopez, Edward Norton, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Cate Blanchett and Jennifer Aniston were BORN!!!

For more on The Movies of 1969, we went to our resident Film Buff, TheOneBuff, for HIS take on which films might be worth renting this weekend!!!

1969 ... Reflections of an Old Movie Buff
Over forty years ago, yet many movie memories are fresh in my mind. It was the year of Midnight Cowboy and the media posed the question, "Dustin Hoffman's Ratso Rizzo or John Wayne's Rooster Cogburn for Best Actor Oscar". Now Oscar meant more to me in my thirties than it does now, so I had a rooting interest. My own pick was Jon Voight whose Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy was central, riveting and incredibly real, if not as colorful as costar Hoffman or one-eyed Wayne. Given John Wayne's long career and his status with the Hollywood elite, it was not surprising that he won the award. Hoffman and Voight probably cancelled each other out anyway. If I ruled the world, such tandem performances would be nominated as a team.

Midnight Cowboy was rated X in 1969 but was changed to R, later. Compared to modern stuff, it is pretty tame.

Other goodies that year included Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, a funny and fun movie with the already established Paul Newman giving a hand up to Robert Redford in his big breakthrough role. It marked the second time the lovely Katharine Ross was on hand for a breakthrough since she had been opposite Dustin Hoffman two years earlier in The Graduate. Katharine never went too far up the Hollywood ladder but she was gorgeous.

Then there was Support Your Local Sheriff, an even funnier western with no pretensions other than to make you laugh. James Garner and Joan Hackett displayed considerable comic skills, no surprise in Garner but quite a surprise from Joan, who did mostly serious roles before and after. The likes of Walter Brennan and Bruce Dern in comic form and folks like Harry (the eternal) Morgan made this a favorite.

Maggie Smith lit up the screen as Jean in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and the Oscar was virtually guaranteed. Meanwhile, Goldie Hawn was picked as Best Supporting Actress for Cactus Flower. I have seen Cactus Flower and her role did not seem like a supporting one to me. However, she was quite good in a lightweight movie.

This was the year Jane Fonda got her first critical acclaim from the Oscar people for her portrayal of a doomed, miserable soul, in They Shoot Horses, Don't They, a depressing movie about the depression. Jane was the shootee who inspired the title quote at the end of the movie when she asked Michael Sarazzin to put her out of her miserable life.

Meanwhile, while Butch Cassidy did the freeze-frame bit to spare audiences the sight of Paul and Robert being riddled with bullets, The Wild Bunch showed no such compunction. Stars William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Ben Johnson and Warren Oates all got chewed up pretty good at the end of this one, but not until after that magnificent scene of these outlaws walking four abreast towards their fate. Good stuff. It should be noted that Holden was a replacement for Lee Marvin in the role of the leader. This was not new for Holden. He had replaced Monty Clift in Sunset Boulevard and Kirk Douglas in Stalag 17.

After splashing around in the surf 16 years earlier in From Here To Eternity, Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr were getting it on in color and with nudity in The Gypsy Moths which also featured Gene Hackman, a rising star. This was also an adulterous romance with an unhappy conclusion.

Peter O'Toole got one of his many Oscar nominations in a musical remake of Goodbye Mr. Chips which featured pop sensation Petula Clark as his significant other. Barbra Streisand was miscast in Hello Dolly, but at least we got to see Louis Armstrong sing the song he had made his own. This was mostly a miss, directed by Gene Kelly who should have known better. It was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, however, in another instance where Oscar and I were not on the same page.

Easy Rider came out in 1969 and it remains a cult classic to this day. Those fellows on motorcycles, the songs, and Jack Nicholson moving towards superstardom all help to make this interesting watching today. Coincidentally, Peter Fonda was getting his big role in the same year as sister Jane. She went on to win two Oscars. Peter just went on, getting a single nomination in his career. Dennis Hopper, of course, is Dennis Hopper and has had a flock of interesting roles. He also directed Easy Rider.

Jean Simmons was Oscar nominated for her role in a forgotten movie called The Happy Ending. The most lasting thing from that movie is the song "What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life", which is now a standard. A beautiful song, it was Oscar nominated but was overwhelmed by the popularity of Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head which finally gave Bacharach and David the Oscar which had eluded them. In retrospect, Raindrops seems the lesser song, but Oscar is a thing of the moment. The Best Song category, which is in total disarray nowadays, is littered with things which were very popular at the moment, but which don't have lasting power. This is true of all such awards and people who are critical of the award process should take that into consideration. I could write a whole thing on awards but in the end it would be my opinion versus theirs. I am content to say it was what those people thought at that time and leave it alone.
End of Oscar soapbox

Some of my other favorite movies of that year are:
The Good Guys and The Bad Guys: Robert Mitchum and George Kennedy having a lot of fun as friendly enemies...a lawman and a badman respectively
Sweet Charity: Shirley Maclaine and a bunch of great musical numbers slowed down by bland leading man and a downbeat story. Bob Fosse's choreography and the appearances of Ricardo Montalban, Sammy Davis Jr and Ben Vereen all help to make it watchable. I fast forward a lot.
Anne of The Thousand Days: Genevieve Bujold joining the long list of Anne Boleyn portrayers and Richard Burton the equally long list of Henry VIII's. We know how this is going to end, but it is literate and colorful.
-- Mister Hil

Thanks, Hil ... there are at least a dozen of these I want to see ... things I missed the first time around because I was either too young or I didn't yet appreciate the movies as an art form. (I've spent the entire month of August listening to nothing but 1969 music in the car ... maybe during September Frannie and I can spend our weekends catching up on some of these 40-year-old classics!!!)