taxidriver

This story is the first in a three-part series called Best Picture (redux), a historical revision of the Academy Awards’ Best Picture nominees and winners from the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

The selection of Rocky over Taxi Driver as Best Picture at the 1977 Academy Awards is either a real-life underdog story that mirrors Rocky itself or one of the great miscarriages of justice in the history of American movies.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle. By the time Jack Nicholson announced Rocky as the night’s winner, the film had won Best Motion Picture at the Golden Globes and the top prizes presented by the Los Angeles and Kansas City film critics. All the President’s Men had been equally lauded, winning best film honors from the National Board of Review, the National Society of Film Critics and the New York critics. Network, which won three Academy Awards in the acting categories and another for its screenplay, finished tied with Rocky in the voting by the Los Angeles critics. But Taxi Driver, which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival the previous spring, had not received any major awards in this country.

Based on the awards leading up to the Oscars, there was no indication that Martin Scorsese’s film would win Best Picture. In fact, it’s possible that Taxi Driver finished fourth in voting, ahead of only Bound for Glory.

There are two types of Academy Awards mistakes — ones that were obvious on Oscar night and those that become increasingly so in the fullness of time. Rocky vs. Taxi Driver belongs in the second category.

By every survey of the American Film Institute, critics, media outlets, directors and everyday cinephiles, Taxi Driver is the best film of 1976 and among the best of all time. Scorsese’s best work is one of deep isolation, visceral violence and wide-ranging influence.

Rocky is a classic, too. But the beauty of Sylvester Stallone’s film — unlike its many sequels — is that Rocky lost his title fight. That poetry is restored here.

The Best Picture (redux) goes to …

1970 | PATTON (Franklin J. Schaffner)

The nominees were …

Airport
Five Easy Pieces
Love Story
MASH
Patton

The nominees should have been …

Five Easy Pieces
Husbands
MASH
Patton
Woodstock

Honorable mention

Diary of a Mad Housewife
Husbands
I Never Sang for My Father

Best Picture | Patton

Best Picture (redux) | Patton

George C. Scott won Best Actor, but rejected the award, claiming the Oscars were “a two-hour meat parade, a public display with contrived suspense for economic reasons.”

You would have a hard time proving him wrong.

1971 | A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (Stanley Kubrick)

The nominees were …

A Clockwork Orange
Fiddler on the Roof
The French Connection
The Last Picture Show
Nicholas and Alexandra

The nominees should have been …

A Clockwork Orange
The French Connection
Harold and Maude
The Last Picture Show
McCabe & Mrs. Miller

Honorable mention

Bananas
Carnal Knowledge
Dirty Harry
Shaft
Straw Dogs
THX 1138

Best Picture | The French Connection

Best Picture (redux) | A Clockwork Orange

An ultra-violent dystopian Britain, with a soundtrack by Rossini and Beethoven.

1972 | THE GODFATHER (Francis Ford Coppola)

The nominees were …

Cabaret
Deliverance
The Emigrants
The Godfather
Sounder

The nominees should have been …

Cabaret
Deliverance
Frenzy
The Godfather
Sounder

Honorable mention

The Getaway
The Heartbreak Kid
Pink Flamingos

Best Picture | The Godfather

Best Picture (redux) | The Godfather

The gangster film as family drama, with Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall and Diane Keaton.

1973 | MEAN STREETS (Martin Scorsese)

The nominees were …

American Graffiti
Cries & Whispers
The Exorcist
The Sting
A Touch of Class

The nominees should have been …

American Graffiti
The Exorcist
Last Tango in Paris
Mean Streets
The Sting

Honorable mention

Coffy
The Day of the Jackal
Don’t Look Now
Enter the Dragon
The Last Detail
Serpico
Sleeper

Best Picture | The Sting

Best Picture (redux) | Mean Streets

Martin Scorsese’s most personal film, with Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel, and his first Best Picture (redux) win.

1974 | CHINATOWN (Roman Polanski)

The nominees were …

Chinatown
The Conversation
The Godfather: Part II
Lenny
The Towering Inferno

The nominees should have been …

Chinatown
The Conversation
The Godfather: Part II
A Woman Under the Influence
Young Frankenstein

Honorable mention

Badlands
Blazing Saddles
The Front Page
The Longest Yard
The Parallax View
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Best Picture | The Godfather: Part II

Best Picture (redux) | Chinatown

Film noir in 1930s California during a water crisis, with Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. Produced by Robert Evans.

Coppola had the best year, with The Godfather: Part II and The Conversation. Or maybe Mel Brooks, who made Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles.

1975 | ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (Milos Foreman)

The nominees were …

Barry Lyndon
Dog Day Afternoon
Jaws
Nashville
One Few Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

The nominees should have been …

Barry Lyndon
Dog Day Afternoon
Jaws
Nashville
One Few Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Honorable mention

Love and Death
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Shampoo
The Stepford Wives
Three Days of the Condor

Best Picture | One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Best Picture (redux) | One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Jack Nicholson in a mental institution and Louise Fletcher as possibly the most hated villain in movies. Produced by Michael Douglas, with supporting performances by Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd and Will Sampson.

1976 | TAXI DRIVER (Martin Scorsese)

The nominees were …

All the President’s Men
Bound for Glory
Network
Rocky
Taxi Driver

The nominees should have been …

All the President’s Men
The Bad News Bears
Network
Rocky
Taxi Driver

Honorable mention

Carrie
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
The Outlaw Josey Wales
Silent Movie

Best Picture | Rocky

Best Picture (redux) | Taxi Driver

Loneliness and isolation in New York, with Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Albert Brooks, Harvey Keitel, Peter Boyle and Cybill Shepherd.

Martin Scorsese’s second Best Picture (redux) win.

1977 | STAR WARS (George Lucas)

The nominees were …

Annie Hall
The Goodbye Girl
Julia
Star Wars
The Turning Point

The nominees should have been …

Annie Hall
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Saturday Night Fever
Star Wars
The Turning Point

Honorable mention

Eraserhead
The Late Show
Opening Night
Rolling Thunder
Slap Shot

Best Picture | Annie Hall

Best Picture (redux) | Star Wars

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away … George Lucas made his last good movie.

1978 | THE DEER HUNTER (Michael Cimino)

The nominees were …

Coming Home
The Deer Hunter
Heaven Can Wait
Midnight Express
An Unmarried Woman

The nominees should have been …

Coming Home
Days of Heaven
The Deer Hunter
Midnight Express
An Unmarried Woman

Honorable mention

Blue Collar
Halloween
Interiors
The Last Waltz
Superman

Best Picture | The Deer Hunter

Best Picture (redux) | The Deer Hunter

Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken and John Savage play Russian roulette in Vietnam.

1979 | APOCALYPSE NOW (Francis Ford Coppola)

The nominees were …

All That Jazz
Apocalypse Now
Breaking Away
Kramer vs. Kramer
Norma Rae

The nominees should have been …

Apocalypse Now
Being There
Breaking Away
Kramer vs. Kramer
Manhattan

Honorable mention

10
Alien
The China Syndrome
Dawn of the Dead
The Jerk
Richard Pryor: Live in Concert
The Warriors

Best Picture | Kramer vs. Kramer

Best Picture (redux) | Apocalypse Now

Francis Ford Coppola’s heart of darkness in Vietnam, with Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper and Marlon Brando.

• • •

Footnotes | I am not initiating the myth that I have seen every movie from the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Or even most of them.

These lists are partly the result of research and aggregation, employing Metacritic, Rotten Tomatoes, AFI’s 100 Greatest Films, the Sight and Sound polls (critics and directors), Time’s 100 Movies, The Hollywood Reporter’s 100 Favorite Films, Entertainment Weekly’s All-Time Greatest movies and IMDb’s top-rated movies.

The annual awards from critics organizations were also considered: National Board, National Society, New York, Los Angeles and Kansas City in the 70s. Chicago began its awards in 1988, then Boston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Florida, San Diego and the Southeastern critics in the 90s. The Golden Globes and Producers Guild awards were included in this group.

Finally, the annual top 10 lists from critics Siskel & Ebert and Andrew Sarris had their say.

But ranking movies is a nutty, little pursuit. It is art, not science.

Movies are personal. So when a tie-breaker was needed, I broke it. Sometimes, when one was not needed, I barged in and made a personal choice anyway.

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