Nolte: What Should’ve Won the Best Picture Oscar – 1970 to 1979

Promotional portrait of American actor George C. Scott (1927- 1999) saluting before an American flag for the film 'Patton,' directed by Franklin Schaffner (1920 - 1989), 1970. (Photo by 20th Century Fox/Courtesy of Getty Images)
20th Century Fox/Courtesy of Getty

In part six of this series we look at the movies that should have won the Best Picture Oscar between 1970 and 1979.

By 1970 the old studio system and the Production Code were officially dead, the New Hollywood-era was in full bloom, and what an era it was. As you will see below, the swingin’ seventies produced classic after classic, and although many were filled with R-rated content, they were almost old-fashioned in their morality, especially when it came to one of this decade’s overriding themes: the importance of the individual over the collective.

The noble cause of Individualism, of fighting the Establishment, of laughing at prudes, snitches, corporatism, bureaucracies, and busybodies drove this decade, and what a decade it was.

Let’s begin…


  • What Did Win: Patton

Francis Ford Coppola would win a well-deserved Oscar (his first) for a masterpiece of a screenplay that delivers one of the most fascinating, complicated, irritating, and sympathetic characters ever put on film.

That such a movie could be released in the Vietnam era, a mature movie that sought to explain and examine militarism rather than condemn and lecture against it, is what made the seventies so special. Sure, the kids had taken over, but these kids were talented and mature artists.

  • What Should’ve Won: Five Easy Pieces

What can you say about a movie that twists Tammy Wynette’s classic “Stand By Your Man” into the anthem for a clingy, needy, insufferable woman (a fantastic Karen Black) suffocating her lover (Jack Nicholson).

Brilliant from beginning to end, Five Easy Pieces doesn’t demand we like our protagonist, only we understand him.

See also: Little Big Man, M*A*S*H, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, Gimme Shelter, and Joe.



  • What Did Win: The French Connection

Director William Friedkin’s directs the hell out of what is still the greatest urban cop movie ever made. Hackman is perfectly cast as Popeye Doyle, a casual racist who’s so driven to catch Frog 1, he barely blinks after accidentally shooting one of his own.

Perfect movie.

  • What Should’ve Won: The French Connection

Nothing proves just how great this movie is than the competition listed below, each of which is an all-timer.

See also: Last Picture Show, Dirty Harry, Fiddler on the Roof, Carnal Knowledge, A Clockwork Orange, THX 1138, Vanishing Point, Klute, Shaft, The Hired Hand, Play Misty for Me, Straw Dogs, Harold and Maude, and The Hospital.



  • What Did Win: The Godfather

Who’s going to argue with this choice…?

Not me…

  • What Should’ve Won: The Godfather

See also: Deliverance, Jeremiah Johnson, Cabaret, The Getaway, Silent Running, Play it Again, Sam, Frenzy, Prime Cut, Last House on the Left, Sounder, Bad Company, The Mechanic, Across 110th Street, and Sleuth.



  • What Did Win: The Sting

An endlessly clever script filled with more movie star power than any one movie can handle. A legitimate crowd-pleaser that made a well-deserved fortune.

  • What Should’ve Won: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

My pick is awfully high praise considering the competition listed below. This was the beginning of the end for Sam Peckinpah. His drug use, alcoholism, and non-stop bitterness towards authority (namely the studios that hired him) all caught up with him and Pat Garrett suffered almost as much as Peckinpah. The studio wanted “Bloody Sam” to deliver Wild Bunch 2, a movie filled with blood and gunfights. Peckinpah was more interested in what happens to a man, namely Pat Garrett (a superb James Coburn), after he sells his ambitious soul to the highest bidder.

The studio butchered this masterpiece. The re-cut will take your breath away. There is nothing in the world sadder than Slim Pickens’ death scene.

See also: Papillon, The Laughing Policeman, Scarecrow, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Serpico, American Graffiti, Paper Moon, High Plains Drifter, Enter the Dragon, Charley Varrick, Save the Tiger, The Last Detail, Day of the Jackal, Electra Glide in Blue, The Exorcist, Badlands, The Stone Killer, Walking Tall, and Bang the Drum Slowly.



  • What Did Win: The Godfather II

My heart belongs to Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, but…

  • What Should’ve Won: The Godfather II

See also: Chinatown, Phase IV, The Super Cops, The Gambler, Blazing Saddles, Harry and Tonto, The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3; Black Christmas, Young Frankenstein, That’s Entertainment, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Conversation, Foxy Brown, Death Wish, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, The Longest Yard, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.



  • What Did Win: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

A full-blown masterpiece the Woke Gestapo would blacklist on sight as sexist, racist, you name it… Their primary opposition would come from Cuckoo’s Nest’s timeless theme, which not only stands up for the rights of the most vulnerable minority there is – The Individual – but informs us in no uncertain terms that in order to keep us down and stop us from infecting others with the virus of self-determination, the vile Establishment will tell us we are crazy, lock us up, drug us, and then lobotomize us.

Sound familiar?

Still one of the most important movies ever made.

And, of course, today’s Woke Gestapo have turned Cuckoo’s Nest’s villain, Nurse Ratched, into a sympathetic anti-hero… Of course these monsters have.

  • What Should’ve Won: TIE – Dog Day Afternoon and Cuckoo’s Nest

Look at that list below. Amazing, simply amazing.

Director Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon is something entirely different from Cuckoo’s Nest, and then again it’s not. In the case of Dog Day, out hero (a superb Al Pacino) is in the wrong… A criminal who attempts to rob a bank and not everyone out to stop him is a villain. But he’s also a man suffocated and made desperate by the pressure of conformity; something revealed in movie’s poignant closing moments that will still shock first-time watchers.

Inspiring, hilarious, and something that could only have happened in real life. Attica! Attica!

See also: Jaws, The Prisoner of Second Avenue, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Return of the Pink Panther, Love and Death, Nashville, Night Moves, Bite the Bullet, The Man Who Would Be King, Shampoo, and Three Days of the Condor.



  • What Did Win: Rocky

Even as a ten-year-old in 1976, I knew America needed a big boost and along came Sylvester Stallone with a character so iconic, beloved, and timeless they are still making movies about him.

  • What Should’ve Won: Rocky

A Sophie’s Choice between Rocky, All the President’s Men, and Bound for Glory, but I’m gonna stick with Italian Stallion.

See also: All the President’s Men, Car Wash, Outlaw Josey Wales, The Shootist, The Front, Harlan County USA, Bad News Bears, Assault on Precinct 13, Network, Bound for Glory, and Taxi Driver.  



  • What Did Win: Annie Hall

There are not enough words to describe just how much I love Annie Hall, one of the most influential movies of all time, and not just in the way it forever shaped the romantic comedy. The mighty Woody Allen wrote, directed, and starred in an endlessly charming, engaging, and moving story that jumped around in time, broke the fourth wall, and ignored all the rules about how voice-over is a crutch. I could live a million years and never get enough of Annie Hall. (P.S. Woody is innocent.)

  • Annie Hall

Easy choice.

See also: Close Encounters, Smokey and the Bandit, The Goodbye Girl, Saturday Night Fever, Cross of Iron, The Hills Have Eyes, Rolling Thunder Slap Shot, The Spy Who Loved Me, and Twilight’s Last Gleaming.



  • What Did Win: The Deer Hunter

Today’s critics continue to lash out at director Michael Cimino’s masterpiece. They declare it racist for portraying the Viet Cong communists as the godless animals they were. They claim it spends too much time portraying working class life. They really hate the ending where the survivors, the broken men and women, as exhausted and disillusioned as they are, try to hold tight to their love of country.

Everyday, working class Americans…? Evil communists…? Love of country…? Another gloriously inappropriate and problematic masterpiece that you might want to buy on DVD before the Woke Nazis “disappear” it.

  • What Should’ve Won: Blue Collar

Writer, director Paul Schrader’s unsparing, unsentimental, but deeply sympathetic look at working class America is still a stunner and a marvelous look at how the working poor, bogged down with responsibilities and problems brought on by their own bad choices, try to hang on to who they are as three separate collectives bear down on them: peer pressure, the corporation, and the union.

Brilliantly directed by Schrader (his debut), brilliantly designed and shot, and brilliantly acted by Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel and Yaphet Kotto (who all reportedly hated one another so much it drove Schrader to a nervous breakdown). This is easily one of the most underrated and under-appreciated movies ever made.

See also: Superman, Grease, Coming Home, Dawn of the Dead, Big Wednesday, The Driver, Foul Play, Animal House, Midnight Express, Halloween, Silent Partner, and Heaven Can Wait.



  • What Did Win: Kramer vs. Kramer

Another classic that could not get made today; the story of a hopelessly self-involved married couple (Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep) who had no business being parents… The victim is their son and it is only through a brutal custody battle the two of them finally grow into the selfless parents every child needs.

A movie that dares to make the mother the villain and expose a court system that discriminates against fathers… The Woketards would lose their minds today..

  • What Should’ve Won: Apocalypse Now

Everything a movie should be and then some…

See also: Being There, North Dallas Forty, Over the Edge, Richard Pryor: Live in Concert, The China Syndrome, Life of Brian, 10, Breaking Away, Hardcore, Manhattan, The In-Laws, Alien, Going in Style, All That Jazz, Norma Rae, and The Wanderers.


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