The French Connection (1971)

The French Connection (1971)

Dir. William Friedkin

Oscars: Best Picture (Philip D’Antoni); Best Director (William Friedkin); Best Actor (Gene Hackman);Best Adapted Screenplay (Ernest Tidyman); Best Editing (Gerald B. Greenberg)

Other Nominees: A Clockwork Orange; Fiddler on the Roof; The Last Picture Show; Nicholas and Alexandra

The French Connection was an early sign of a filmmaking community at a crossroads: one turning away from the epics of the 50s and 60s (when Oscar saluted grand films like Lawrence of Arabia, My Fair Lady, and Patton) and into a more contemplative exploration of the medium (70s Oscar triumphs were films like The Sting, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and the first two Godfather films). The French Connection is a small-scale, simple film of narrow ambitions. Focusing on a NYPD narcotics cop, Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) and his partner, Buddy (Roy Scheider), trying to bust a heroin trail rooted in France, this film, lean in structure and heavy in atmosphere, reaches more for the gutter than to the sky, and is probably better off for it.

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Gene Hackman (R, foreground) in The French Connection.

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The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

Dir. Robert Z. Leonard

Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actress (Luise Rainer), Best Dance Direction (Seymour Felix)

Other Nominees: Anthony Adverse, Dodsworth, Libeled Lady, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Romeo and Juliet, San Francisco, The Story of Louis Pasteur, A Tale of Two Cities, Three Smart Girls

I decided to give The Great Ziegfeld a shot when I heard of the death of Luise Rainer a few days ago, who, at 104, was the oldest living Oscar-winner. She was also the first person to win back-to-back acting Oscars, a feat later repeated by Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, and Tom Hanks, and her first was for Ziegfeld. Ziegfeld also holds the honor of being the first musical (sort of, but more on that later) to win the big prize as well as the first biographical film – not that there had been much competition, as this is one of Oscar’s early films.

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Florenz Ziegfeld (William Powell) and Anna Held (Luise Rainer) in The Great Ziegfeld.

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