OSCAR WATCH: THE CINEMATIC SEVENTIES.

Editor’s Note: We are just ten days away from the 82nd annual Academy Awards. In these final days leading up to the event, our resident movie maven Patti will be exploring the past and present of the Oscars.

To kick things off, we have a look at the 1970s and the films of that era:

If I look at a list of the movies that have won the Oscar for Best Picture from the Academy of Arts and Sciences over the years, often I’m surprised at the film chosen. Sometimes, that particular movie spoke to an era. American Beauty is a good example of a film that perhaps seemed better than it was. (Needless to say this is a very subjective piece).

There are a few movies that stand out as truly deserving, however. Films that seem as fresh today as they did in the year of their original release. And then there were the seventies. Between 1969 and 1977, there was a particularly good run of films. I’d eliminate Patton in 1970—a good performance does not a good film make. But the other films over that period were diverse, well-made, brave, and still seem like credible choices forty years later. Beginning in 1969: Midnight Cowboy (tell me that wasn’t a gutsy choice), The French Connection, The Godfather, The Sting, The Godfather, Part 2, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Rocky, Annie Hall and The Deer Hunter all won best picture. We could quibble over one or two of these, but let’s just say they were original, well-made and deserving of accolades in some essential way.

There’s no other period that produced such a strong string of films. And indeed, this decade was followed by the more conventional choices in the eighties. Chariots of Fire, Gandhi, Terms of Endearment, Amadeus, Out of Africa. These are certainly not the worst selections the Academy ever made, but they are far less exciting films. Biopics do well with Academy voters—four of these five are biographical. Terms of Endearment is another favorite genre among voters-the tear-jerker or domestic drama. (Kramer v. Kramer, The Turning Point, Ordinary People, The Color Purple). Again, not bad movies just not as good as those seventies winners.

Why did the seventies produce such strong films? The films the Best Picture winners competed with were nearly as strong. The French Connection competed with A Clockwork Orange and The Last Picture Show. The Godfather 2 had Chinatown and The Conversation to contend with. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest bested Dog Day Afternoon, Jaws and Nashville. And Rocky beat out All the President’s Men, Network and Taxi Driver. Very few of these movies would be make by major Hollywood studios today. In fact, some of the most creative work is on cable television.

The wisdom is that the blockbuster put an end to pictures like these being made by big studios. But the ten choices of 2010 are pretty strong films. Perhaps we will see a return to big studios making films for the thoughtful viewer. But perhaps not given the case of Avatar.

Patti